Dueling for the NRA Vote


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Harry Tuttle
July 15, 2004, 11:21 PM
http://www.alternet.org/election04/19223/

Dueling for the NRA Vote

By Evan Derkacz, AlterNet. Posted July 14, 2004.
Believers in the Second Amendment aren't necessarily believers in a second term for Bush.

John Kerry takes aim at a clay bird during a trap shooting in Wisconsin July 3, 2004. REUTERS/Allen Fredrickson
In October of last year - after he railed against then-Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean for his opposition to the assault-weapons ban - Kerry went outside, brandished his 12-gauge shotgun and in two shots blew two pheasants out of the sky. -CBS News

Quicker than you can say "Charlton Heston, Defender Of Liberty, NRA Commemorative Coin," Americans, 80 million of whom own guns, will cast their vote for president. To woo these voters each candidate must decide just where to position himself on the political tightrope that is the Second Amendment.

And it's a perilous balancing act, indeed.

With the predominantly rural "gun rights" activists on one side and an emerging "gun control" movement on the other, even a modest misstep can cost an election - as Al Gore learned in 2000.

The most common mistake when courting, combating, or talking about the NRA is to view the issue of gun control the same way we do, say, abortion rights - a single issue whose supporters and opponents have nearly identical positions and can be counted on to vote for a particular party. The NRA is much closer to an antiwar coalition whose members have a wide range of views and affiliations. And its leadership's ability to galvanize significant electoral support often depends on the specific policy or electoral race at stake.

Although Kerry seems to have learned from Gore's mistakes and Bush has lost favor among much of the vigilant Second Amendment crowd, conventional wisdom grants NRA endorsement - a lock for Bush - a great deal of political weight. The NRA has been heavily involved in politics since at least 1980, when it endorsed Ronald Reagan for president. Since then, it has become the bogeyman of many a political campaign, wielding clout beyond its numbers, and is largely responsible for what many consider to be some of the world's most reckless gun control policies. But does it deserve the mythic make-or-break reputation this time around?

GOP is no NRA VIP

The story of the GOP's relationship with the NRA and the gun rights movement as a whole is one of a roller-coaster effort to tame the movement's predominantly libertarian sympathies into a faction of the Republican party - with varying degrees of success. NRA leadership often functions as a liaison between the Republican party and its membership, often testing its own political skills along the way. To that end, the board currently includes Bob Barr, whose previous job was to represent the state of Georgia in the U.S. Congress.

Still, while the NRA leadership is capable of talking a good Second Amendment game - at least while appealing to the lowest common denominator - most of its members tend to be pragmatic when it comes to policy.

In a 2002 appearance, Executive VP Wayne LaPierre compared one gun-control group's effort to limit the Second Amendment to "a shadowy network of extremist social guerrillas... like Osama bin Laden." But when Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who's almost single-handedly kept the Assault Weapons Ban in play, was able to tack the ban's renewal onto an NRA-backed bill designed to provide gun manufacturers with immunity from lawsuits, the same LaPierre was ready to play ball.

Here's how it went down according to former NRA executive and gun industry lobbyist, Robert A. Ricker:

"The tension between pragmatic NRA leaders and the minuscule number of diehard right-wing board members played itself out in the debate over the immunity bill. According to insiders, LaPierre was willing to accept a renewed assault weapons ban in exchange for passage of gun industry immunity. But when the far-right factions of the NRA found out, Wayne's world came crashing down. The NRA was forced to issue a statement denying any deal and ultimately had to oppose final passage of the immunity bill with the assault weapons ban and gun show amendments attached."

Ricker says, "The power of the gun lobby is more perception than reality." In fact, he claims that even among the NRA's 4 million members, "many of these join only to get the gun magazines or insurance. They believe in the Second Amendment but understand that an AK-47 isn't a hunting rifle." It often puts them at odds with the group's top brass which so often parrots GOP talking points to suggest that they're actually more politician than freedom fighter. At its convention in April in the gun-saturated swing state of Pennsylvania, NRA President Kayne B. Robinson warned members "In Kerry's America, guns and hunting are like polo and yachting - for the elite."

Second Amendment fundamentalists, not so affectionately referred to as "gun nuts," are fed up with Bush. Sam Cohen, director of a New Hampshire NRA affiliate, asked Karl Rove "whether President Bush was aware that many thousands of gun-rights activists around the country felt so strongly about this that we had drawn a line in the sand (my exact words), and would not support any politician - even President Bush himself - who supported this atrocious legislation." Angel Shamaya, executive director of KeepAndBearArms.com, a proud member of the Anybody But Bush crowd is equally disenchanted ''Gun owners who know the issues know that Bush is all talk...he's turned out to be a phony in so many ways, I'm embarrassed I voted for him in 2000.''

In sum, the gun lobby today is divided into at least three camps: A political leadership more interested in electing Republicans and strengthening connections with the Washington elite; strict libertarians less interested in Bush's second term than in the Second Amendment; and sporting enthusiasts who like the magazine.

The NRA Deserves a Place Next to Nader and the Supreme Court in 2000

The value of an NRA endorsement should not be underestimated: Since 1980, with it no Republican candidate has lost an election; without it, no Republican has won.

One such success story was the 2000 presidential election. Not only did the group endorse Bush, it sold a video optimistically proclaiming that with him, "we'll have a president ... where we work out of their office."

Last month, while promoting his new book on The Charlie Rose Show, Bill Clinton didn't mince words when explaining why Gore lost in the former president's home state: "I'll tell you exactly what happened in Arkansas... The NRA beat him in Arkansas. The NRA and Ralph Nader stand right behind the Supreme Court in their ability to claim that they could put Bush in the White House."

Guns played a major role in securing Bush victories in Arkansas, West Virginia, Tennessee, Florida and New Hampshire (whose license plates succinctly capture the libertarian streak in the gun rights' rank and file: "Live free or die"). West Virginia is historically a Democratic state. Before 2000, Democrats had carried the state in three consecutive presidential elections, five of the past six and eight of 10.

Party affiliation was not the problem for Al Gore; it was about guns, plain and simple. According to the Congressional Quarterly, "Bush is credited with carrying the state because there is a sizable population of Democrats who favor gun owners' rights..." Even more surprising is the fact that Gore lost his home state of Tennessee - the first time a major presidential candidate had accomplished this feat since George McGovern's doomed campaign of 1968.

Then of course there's Florida where, at last year's NRA convention, Gov. Jeb Bush told members, ''if it were not for your active involvement, it is safe to say that my brother would not have been elected president.''

As Clinton and others have pointed out, the NRA poured its resources (including $16.8 million dollars on federal campaigns as reported by the New York Times) into the election, pairing an effective phone-banking effort with a targeted ad campaign to spread its doomsday message that "Al Gore wants to take away your guns."

While Gore never proposed any such thing, the NRA's scare tactics received the unexpected assistance of one of his worst enemies: Al Gore. Though most gun-control groups insist that NRA influence was overblown, Kristen Rand, of the Violence Policy Center, disagrees. She points out that Gore's support for the licensing of all new handguns, which went beyond any measure then in Congress (and had virtually no chance of passing anyway), was a major miscalculation. According to Rand, it cleared the way for NRA activists to convince swing voters that Gore was, in NRA parlance, a "gun snatcher": "What was not understood was what a real rallying cry licensing would be. (For gun rights advocates) licensing equals registration; registration equals confiscation."

A single misstep cost Gore key states in a close election.

NRA Endorsement in 2004: What's it Good For?

The marquee gun issue of 2004 is the Assault Weapons Ban. The NRA has thus far withheld from endorsing Bush officially, choosing instead to dangle it as a Sept. 14 carrot. On Sept. 13th the highly contentious Assault Weapons Ban will "sunset" after 10 years if congress doesn't act to extend it. The ban targets semi-automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns with certain combat features but doesn't effect hunting rifles or guns designed specifically for sport.

Polls show that nearly four out five Americans - including over half of all gun owners - are in favor of the ban, putting Bush in an awkward political position. Fully comprehending the importance of the "gun vote" to his campaign, the Bush team headlined a news release, "Top 10 Reasons Why John Kerry Is Wrong for Rural America," and placed his "F" rating from the NRA at Number 4.

In a successful attempt to eat his cake and have it too, Bush has lent his verbal support to the ban's renewal but refuses to make any overtures to Congress. In turn, the Republican leadership, Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Bill Frist of - you guessed it - Tennessee, refuses to bring the bill to the floor saying it will only do so if prompted by the president.

Voila! Bush strikes a pose for public safety while winking to his Second Amendment supporters. As for the bill, the signing of which would be "political death" according to a lobbyist for gun manufacturers? It never reaches his desk.

Which would be the whole story if the top brass of the NRA represented America's gun owners. Bush gets the NRA seal of approval; the whole of the gun rights movement campaigns on his behalf; and he wins again.

But there are several reasons why the GOP dreams of a replay are unlikely to come true.

To begin with, unlike 2000, when NRA ads were instrumental in defeating Gore, campaign finance laws now ban the use of corporate and labor union money for ads targeting a particular candidate (either pro or con) within 30 days of an election. This would, of course, severely hamper any advertising aimed at drawing a distinction between two candidates who, according to CBS News, "hold the same position on the most pressing gun-control issues - extending the assault weapons ban, closing the gun show "loophole" and strictly enforcing existing gun laws."

Phone banking and other methods are an option but they require a sizable volunteer force and you don't get the same bang for your buck. In response, the NRA has created its own news agency, because, as LaPierre says, "if you own the news operation, you can say whatever you want. If you don't, you're gagged." NRA News may well survive legal challenges and successfully open a loophole in campaign finance law allowing them to broadcast editorials 24 hours a day to listeners. Problem is, NRA News hasn't really got any. The press has jumped all over its campaign finance shenanigans but the actual content and listenership of the "news agency" hasn't registered a blip on anyone's radar.

Then there's the fact that the political and ideological wings of the gun rights movement are often at odds, and never more so than during this election year. Many libertarians are up in arms at the Bush administration's cavalier treatment of the Bill of Rights. In the name of the "war on terror," the Patriot Act has turned certain rights - illegal search and seizure, due process, right to counsel, trial by jury, cruel and unusual punishment; aka amendments 4 through 8 - into mere contingencies.

A writer for a prominent libertarian blog caused a ripple in libertarian circles recently by proclaiming that, "This is really the first presidential race of my adult life in which I've had a very strong commitment about which major-party candidate was the lesser evil." The "lesser evil" he's referring to, the one he's voting for in November, is John Kerry.

Democrats can also breathe easier knowing that Kerry is no Al Gore. While Gore took to gun control rhetoric - presumably seeing, in the anti-gun million-mom march, a million polling levers pulled in his direction - Kerry has heeded the lesson and taken up arms. Waving his shotgun, he eagerly identifies himself as a lifelong hunter and is even reported to be a good shot. In a well-publicized photo op last Halloween in Iowa, he shot a couple of pheasants like a pro. Kerry is clearly aiming to persuade moderate gun owners - those who understand that the AK-47 isn't a hunting rifle - that their guns are their guns.

Yet, Kerry could attach a shotgun rack to his campaign jet and still be opposed by the NRA leadership. More important is the fact that in the end the imprimatur of the NRA isn't as decisive as it is rumored to be. As long as the gun rights movement remains fractured into Second Amendment fundamentalists, GOP-connected politicos and sportsmen in it for the freebies, the NRA isn't quite the bogeyman it once was.

And when the NRA begins to crop up in Democrats' nightmares, they should remind themselves that the most abhorred "gun snatcher" in the consciousness of the gun rights movement is William Jefferson Clinton - a man who made it to the White House, twice.

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Standing Wolf
July 16, 2004, 12:22 AM
Second Amendment fundamentalists, not so affectionately referred to as "gun nuts," are fed up with Bush.

Not to mention the First Amendment extremists, the Fourth Amendment radicals, and the...

Shanghai McCoy
July 16, 2004, 12:32 AM
If Second Amendment fundamentalists are "gun nuts" can we refer to 1st Amendment "fundamentalists" as Porn Fans?:rolleyes:

VaniB.
July 16, 2004, 01:30 AM
Mr. Tuttle,

With due respect, I am starting to associate your name with endless pages of downloaded print. This is especially tedious and a distraction when you have chosen to post in this manner in the middle of other peoples threads/conversations. (Though, that's not what you did this time.) At first I thought this was a random act, but discovered this is a repetitive function and style in your posts.

You would do well to perhaps consider using excerpts from your chosen reference material, supply the URL as an option for us to use (if we choose to do so), and communicate the news and ideas in a summary of your own words.

Admittedly, I have my own faults, mainly being caustic with those I politically disagree with, or whom I deem this country's enemies from within. (There's just something that irks me about seeing my country destroyed by Democrats, liberals, and militant gays.) But, hopefully most would agree that it would be more entertaining to observe you respond to me now by calling me "a rude jerk", instead of proceeding with another 2 pages from out of the likes of Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Ok, your turn. Fire away...

priv8ter
July 16, 2004, 02:47 AM
and militant gays

So, one could then assume that you are not a big fan of the Pink Pistols, a Lesbian Gun Rights group, fighting bravely for our side? :scrutiny:

As someone still runnning a 56K modem, I appreciate people who don't make me waste 2 minutes uploading a new website to read a story.

All in all, a decent story, but with the constant references to hunting and sport, there is very little doubt as to the writers view point, and absolutely NO mention of the wording of the Second Ammendment.

sigh

:(

Here's to being a 'Gun Nut' and a 'Porn Fan'. And damn me to heck for wanting a Jury at my trial...

greg

Bartholomew Roberts
July 16, 2004, 10:02 AM
More important is the fact that in the end the imprimatur of the NRA isn't as decisive as it is rumored to be. As long as the gun rights movement remains fractured into Second Amendment fundamentalists, GOP-connected politicos and sportsmen in it for the freebies, the NRA isn't quite the bogeyman it once was.

Strip out the negative spin applied to those words to shoehorn gun rights supporters into several narrow groups and there is a good lesson here. The Democrats realize that gun owners are a diverse group and they are basically pushing a "divide and conquer" approach to the problem rather than change their policy to accommodate us.

We are all arguing about why we haven't got more repealed while ignoring the fact that the Democrats are remaining steadfast in their goal of more gun control and quietly moving to neutralize our political power by exploiting that divisiveness. Without that unified power, no gun laws are going to get repealed.

priv8ter
July 16, 2004, 12:29 PM
I agree, Mr. Roberts. What this article gets out is that this fight isn't over 80 milion American gun owners, it's only over maybe 2 or 3 million. I'm not going to say that the 76 million of that number who aren't in the NRA don't care, because I myself am an on-again-off-again NRA member, and I most assuredly care.

Out of the 80 milion gun owners, and 4 million NRA members, how many are single issue voters? And, then the question comes down to, out of those single issue voters, how many will vote for 'The Lesser of Two Evils' and how many are going to go third party?

As someone who is considering voting Libertarian this year for somethings, I have no illusions of one of my candiadates winning a national office. I just want one of candidates to score well enough that the two Major parties stop this slide to the middle, and have to embrace some 'Radical' position about SOMETHING, heck ANYTHING. I'm sick of a system where you have a Democrat, and an Anti-Abortion, Anti-Gay Marriage Democrat-Lite running for office.

greg

RVSinOK
July 16, 2004, 01:34 PM
a Democrat, and an Anti-Abortion, Anti-Gay Marriage Democrat-Lite running for office.

:D
Perfect description!

Cosmoline
July 16, 2004, 01:47 PM
Excellent article. I've often had misgivings about the NRA's increasing connections to the GOP. I have no doubt GW will be less damaging to my RKBA than Kerry, but I also have many problems with GW. And the fact is he does support the AWB. Frankly when Moore first started talking about his documentary I hoped it would be an expose on the GOP's efforts to make the organization into a party PAC. Sadly I vastly overestimated Moore's interest in truth or analysis.

Bartholomew Roberts
July 16, 2004, 02:12 PM
The article is a good read; but it was pretty much written as a propaganda piece for the Democratic party. They don't want to see the union vote split by the gun issue like 2004 so they are trying to simultaneously provoke dissension among RKBA groups by highlighting what GWB has done that the RKBA groups oppose and at the same time reassure the "hunting-only" crowd that their guns are safe (ha!)

Check out this quote:

Kerry is clearly aiming to persuade moderate gun owners - those who understand that the AK-47 isn't a hunting rifle - that their guns are their guns.

Notice no mention of Kerry's support for the Kennedy Ammo Ban bill in March 2004 or Kennedy mentioning the banning of .30-30 by name on the Senate floor. After all, what is a Winchester 94 except a lever-action AK47?

Robert Ricker is also quoted as saying the NRA made a deal on the ban and then backed out; but they don't mention he was let go from the NRA in 2000 and is currently in the employ of the Brady Campaign. I'm afraid I have to question the integrity of anyone who can make that switch since he obviously lied for money at some point in his career.

To me, the best value of the article is it is a good look through the eyes of antis at how they view the political problem posed by gun owners. Not once do they suggest that they need to alter or change their goals, rather they suggest we are stupid enough that we can deceived and defeated in detail.

I've often had misgivings about the NRA's increasing connections to the GOP.

Yes, me too. On the one hand, I don't think it is a great idea to remove incentive from the Democrats to return to the fold; on the other that bipartisan process didn't seem to help the NRA much in the 1980s or 1990s. Still, putting all of our eggs in the Republican basket means there will be an omelet the first time the Dems get the chance.

Jeff White
July 16, 2004, 02:14 PM
The author doesn't even know what year McGovern ran for president. I wonder if Hubert Humprey's descendants know that McGovern was the democratic candidate in 1968?

All this is, is the democrats figuring out a new way to lie to us about being for gun rights.

Jeff

Harry Tuttle
July 16, 2004, 02:43 PM
VaniB.

ever see a webpage disappear?
i'm all about archive density

ninjaj448
July 16, 2004, 02:57 PM
For me, it's the 2nd Amendment, as written(not interpreted by spin doctors); the NRA and Bush. Voting is going to be simple!

Any wavering I had at the onset of the campaign season was set straight by Gore's ranting; Moore's super-edited 'documentary' and, lately, the New York celebrity Demo fund raiser last week. I'll probably lose my groceries after a day of the Demo convention, but I'm gonna give it try anyway to see if anything revelant to reality is said.

F4GIB
July 16, 2004, 06:43 PM
VaniB posted "You would do well to perhaps consider using excerpts from your chosen reference material, supply the URL as an option for us to use (if we choose to do so), and communicate the news and ideas in a summary of your own words."

I think YOU are a army of one. Most of us like to read stuff right here. The ideas come over much better when the entire post is here. But do give the URL as well.

If you recognize the poster's name and want to skip ahead, go ahead and do so. Otherwise, no one appointed you the THR "policeman."

P. S. I know Robert Ricker. He lost his cushy gun industry job because he tried to arrange a sellout with the Clinton administration. NRA got him fired. He'll do or say anything to get back at NRA and undercut the pro-gun movement. He's just another "front" for HCI these days. I wouldn't be surprised if he was taking their 40 pieces of silver.

oct_97
July 16, 2004, 06:57 PM
When it comes to guns I am a single issue voter. Regardless of all else, GW is less of a danger to my right to own and carry than JK. A vote for a third party candidate is a vote for Kerry.

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