NRA Backs Both Sides of Aisle (WSJ)


October 12, 2006, 09:13 PM
Somewhat non-neutral article, from the supposedly gun-owner-friendly WSJ . . . .

NRA Backs Both Sides of Aisle
Gun Lobby Seeks Republican Congress
But Endorses Some Democrats

October 12, 2006; Page A6

WASHINGTON -- The National Rifle Association has a simple agenda in Washington: protecting gun ownership. But it faces a complex challenge this campaign season: supporting Republican control of Congress while staying loyal to Democratic candidates who supported the gun lobby.

"We will endorse regardless of party," says Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action. "However, gun owners are very concerned and do not want as speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been consistently vocal against their rights. They understand the significance of these elections."

That means the NRA, which sits on a campaign war chest of $20 million, is expecting to endorse as many as 60 Democrats in House and Senate elections, about the same number it endorsed in every national election since 2002 and three times the 20 or so Democrats it supported in races during the early 1990s. At the same time, the NRA wants to make sure Republicans keep control of Congress.

The NRA's balancing act stands out in a year when other Republican-leaning industry and trade groups are working to keep Congress in Republican hands while not turning their backs on Democrats who have been helpful and who might control one or both chambers in January.

In the past five years, the NRA and its allies have notched a host of political gains on Capitol Hill. At the urging of the NRA, Congress in 2004 allowed the ban on assault weapons to lapse when no legislation was produced to extend it, although President Bush had said he would have signed such a measure. In another reversal of the gun-control lobby's heyday, the amount of time the Federal Bureau of Investigation can hold records of gun sales has been reduced to 24 hours from three days. Even protests from the FBI that it should be allowed to hold the records 72 hours to ensure that gun dealers and buyers hadn't found a way to circumvent the system were rejected.

And in a landmark win for the industry, the House and Senate easily passed a law limiting the ability of municipalities and cities to hold the firearms industry liable for some acts of violence. The lobby's power also has moved into appropriations language. Riders have been attached to appropriations for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives budget since 2003 preventing the agency from releasing firearms-tracing data collected by various law-enforcement agencies. Before heading home recently for midterm elections, the House voted 277-131 to pass a bill that would limit the ATF's ability to sanction gun dealers who are shoddy with their records keeping even though only about 100 of the more than 104,000 federally licensed dealers have their licenses revoked annually.

Behind the gun lobby's winning streak is support not only from Republicans but also from some Democrats, especially those in swing states, who remember that the backlash over the 1994 assault-weapons ban played a role in defeating several Democratic members of Congress that year. Gun control doesn't figure prominently in the Democratic platform, and beyond debates over extending the assault-weapons ban, there has been no traction for gun-control proposals.

The NRA has returned the favor. In this year's election, the group is backing Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, Oklahoma Rep. Dan Boren, Tennessee Rep. John Tanner and West Virginia Rep. Alan Mollohan, among others. In gubernatorial races, the NRA has endorsed Democrats in Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wyoming, and Bill Richardson, the former Clinton energy secretary and cabinet member, in New Mexico.

"The NRA is not an affiliate of the Republican party," said Grover Norquist, a conservative activist who also is an NRA board member. "They endorse incumbent Democrats who have voted with them on their issue. They understand that the first time they oppose a Democrat who has been supportive of the gun issue, they lose that D vote."

The NRA is still rallying its more than 20 million members and associates with the prospect of liberal Democrats, such as California Rep. Pelosi and Michigan Rep. John Conyers, controlling Congress, with Ms. Pelosi in line to be speaker and Mr. Conyers a possible chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

"While a lot of other people look at Pelosi and Chairman Conyers as sound bites, for us it's a real-life nightmare," said Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president and chief executive.

Stacey Paxton, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, says firearms aren't on the list of priorities Democrats would address if they gain control of committees on Capitol Hill. "This isn't anything that's on the radar screen right now," she said. Using the gun issue to frighten voters is "more of a desperate attempt to try to distract people from the real issues facing Congress right now and the choice people have before them in November."

Mr. Conyers earned the opposition of the NRA when -- more than 30 years ago -- he proposed banning handgun ownership by private citizens, in part because of gun violence in his district. In the intervening three decades, Mr. Conyers has participated in the debate on gun control, backing the measures passed in the 1990s and co-sponsoring the failed 2004 proposal to reauthorize the assault-weapons ban to include a wider range of guns. In recent years, though, he has focused more on questioning the Bush administration's war on terrorism, including challenging the intelligence used to invade Iraq, the secret wiretapping program and the administration's stance on torture.

In a statement, Mr. Conyers said, "If I become chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I certainly will not support or forward to the House any legislation to ban handguns. Any suggestion to the contrary represents last-minute desperation on the part of rubber-stamp, 'stay the course' Republicans frantically trying to find a way to motivate their base."

For now, the NRA plans to run radio and television advertisements similar to spots it ran in 2005 in Virginia, where it supported Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore in his failed race. However, those methods are just part of a campaign that will include direct mailing to NRA members and associates, as well as ads on Web sites.

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October 12, 2006, 10:23 PM
Good article--translating what Ms. Paxton said into English from politicalese, they've realized that regardless of how they may feel personally about guns, advocating gun control is going to burn them. Assuming they do win some seats back next month, maybe they will have the sense to leave our gun rights alone.

Must be a depressing thing at Brady campaign HQ to read that, eh?

October 12, 2006, 11:32 PM
My concern is that the rank and file pro-2A Dems will be coerced by their rabid leadership and party line. They only have to run for reelection ever few years - they have to work with their colleagues every day....

Of course, I'd love to be proven wrong.

October 13, 2006, 11:34 AM
Eh, that didn't keep Russ Feingold from voting against the AWB extension. It hasn't made Ben Nelson or Bill Richardson or Brian Schweitzer turn their guns in.

Come to think of it, can you name any Dem elected with the support of the gun community who changed their minds or their votes once they got to DC? I can't off the top of my head.

What the NRA is saying is simple--if you punish Dems after they come out pro-gun, it'll make it harder for more of them to come out pro-gun. You have to think long term--and in the long term turning your back on politicians who vote with us a losing strategy, regardless of party. Sure, if you've got a pro gun Dem and a pro gun Republican, then vote your conscience. But there's little to be gained snubbing non-Repubs who come back into the light.

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