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Republican Donor Breaks With Party Over Gun Legislation

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Al Hoffman Jr. was once a major figure in the Republican Party. He served as finance chair for the Republican National Committee and both George W. Bush presidential campaigns. In those roles, he was in charge of raising money to support the party's priorities. Now he's a private citizen and a major Republican donor. And he has decided to break with his party over guns.

Hoffman has said he will no longer donate to candidates who don't support what he calls sensible gun legislation. He told me - as a veteran and West Point grad, he knows the damage that assault-style weapons can do.

AL HOFFMAN JR.: I know automatic rifles. I know assault weapons. The military did a very good job of learning how to kill people. These weapons were used. And as a result, now we have the AR-15s that are privatized. And yet they are - still remain as they are, assault weapons. And they're still designed to kill people. I don't care what anybody says, that's what they're for.

MARTIN: Ambassador, are you calling for an outright ban on assault-style weapons - in other words, even the possession of such a weapon would be illegal? Or are you just calling for a halt to the production of new weapons or the sale of new weapons?

HOFFMAN JR.: What I would like to call for is a stop to the production of new weapons. I would like to call for a national buy-in program. And I would like to follow the Australia model. You know, where Australia had a massacre in '96, they adopted a assault weapons ban, and they haven't had a mass shooting since 1996.

MARTIN: The United States has banned assault-style weapons before, in 1994 for 10 years.

HOFFMAN JR.: Correct. Yes, and it expired.

MARTIN: And it appeared to have had little impact on gun violence. The weapons were illegal to manufacture, but there were still more than a million guns already in circulation that were still legal to own and resell.

HOFFMAN JR.: If we could take these assault weapons out of the marketplace, buy them in - you know, I think that's a first step. We - you got to start with one weapon and then another and then another. And I believe that will help. We go back to the same legislation that we had banning assault weapons. There's no reason we shouldn't.

MARTIN: Gun violence, as you know, takes the lives of tens of thousands of people annually. And mass shootings, though, make up a very small fraction of that number. Most of these deaths come as the result of suicide or gun violence between two people or a small group.

HOFFMAN JR.: Right, right, right.

MARTIN: Are you thinking about other ways to have a broader impact on gun violence - longer mandatory wait times when you buy a gun or banning other kinds of weapons, restrictions on handguns?

HOFFMAN JR.: Well, you know, I'm for any kind of legislation that makes sense. That's what I said, sensible legislation, you know whether it's increasing the wait time, whether it requires, you know, medical exams for the mentally deficient. So...

MARTIN: So you say you support anything that is sensible gun legislation.

HOFFMAN JR.: To start, yes.

MARTIN: But at the same time, you say you very specifically want a ban on assault weapons.

HOFFMAN JR.: I do.

MARTIN: But the Florida state legislature just voted that down.

HOFFMAN JR.: They voted that down. They voted that down. But you know what? They're up for election. And if - I'm going to mail out a plea to every single registered voter in the state of Florida and asking them to withhold their money until they can get a pledge from their candidate to support the assault weapons ban. You know, maybe we won't get a full ban now, but we'll get a - it'll be a great start.

But I'm for a total ban on it, and I believe the law should be reinstated at the federal level, you know. May not get it in this election cycle, may not get it the next one, but I believe this is - this would be my one last hurrah. But I want to see what I can - what we can do. But, you know, obviously it's an NRA issue. And we got to move the NRA to come to our direction as well.

MARTIN: You think it's about money, about political donations and how closely those candidates and lawmakers are tied to the NRA.

HOFFMAN JR.: There's no doubt about that. There is just absolutely no doubt about it.

MARTIN: Al Hoffman Jr., thank you so much for your time and for sharing your thoughts on this issue.

HOFFMAN JR.: You're welcome, Rachel. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.