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How did Democrat Tim Walz get his A rating from the NRA?

Tim Walz was one of the NRA's choicest candidates once upon a time.

Tim Walz was one of the NRA's choicest candidates once upon a time. Star Tribune

In 2008, Minnesota Democratic Congressman Tim Walz was congratulating the United States Supreme Court for ruling the District of Columbia’s ban on carrying concealed firearms unconstitutional.

“Gun ownership is a basic right in America, not to be infringed upon by anyone or any government entity,” he said in a statement. “...It is a victory that gun-owners, hunters, sportsmen, and everyday Americans waited too long for.”

Later that year, he earned an A rating from the NRA “because of his unwavering pro-gun support,” according to Chris Cox, then-chairman of the NRA Political Victory Fund. He went as far as to call Walz a “true and consistent friend.”

The organization also endorsed his reelection campaign, and would do so again in 2010 and 2012.

Walz is now running for Minnesota governor in an age defined in part by a long string of mass shootings in schools and churches. Supporting gun control is a growing part of the liberal party line, and Walz -- who made his name representing Minnesota’s conservative southern district -- is being forced to reckon with his old NRA ties.

He’s done so by pointing to a recent history of supporting “common sense” measures, like backing universal background checks, funding gun control research, and banning bump stocks. He has also donated the $18,000 he received from the NRA to charity. The NRA recently bestowed upon him a new letter grade: F. He characterizes his past gun rights support as a hunter and military veteran standing up for Minnesota’s grand tradition in firearms.

“I know many gun-owning Minnesotans still think of the organization [the NRA] as it was when I was growing up: as an advocate for sportsmen and women that held gun-safety classes,” he wrote in the Star Tribune. The current NRA is different -- obstructionist and irresponsible. He can no longer accept its support.

It’s not certain what the NRA saw in Walz, but it’s possible to find out. The group uses questionnaires to grade politicians. So Students Demand Action Minnesota, a grassroots, student-led group pushing for gun control, asked Walz if they could see how he answered the questionnaires.

Walz has thus far stonewalled, saying he has no plans to release them. He didn't respond to specific questions on his record other than to point to his recent stances, which means it’s impossible to know where he fell on issues beyond his public comments. But a 2008 questionnaire leaked to City Pages reveals the kinds of positions Walz presumably agreed with.

It’s 27 items long. Some are pretty straightforward, such as “I agree with the NRA that the Second Amendment guarantees law-abiding individuals the right to keep and bear the arms.”

But it soon evolves into a gun rights wishlist, like opposing federal background checks for gun show vendors, fighting bans on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and .50 caliber weapons, and keeping owners from having to register firearms.

These are the kinds of questions Walz aced in the NRA’s eyes, and he continued to make good on his fealty long after by voting to forbid the District of Columbia from using government funds to enforce gun laws (2014) and giving veterans deemed “mentally incompetent” the right to purchase firearms (2017).

There isn’t much evidence showing the NRA has changed as an organization. Whether or not Walz has is unclear.