|The New York Times
April 16, 2004
N.R.A. Opens an All-Out Drive for Bush and Its Views
PITTSBURGH, April 15 — When the National Rifle Association opens its annual meeting here on Friday, it will do more than celebrate hunting, weaponry and the Second Amendment. It will also kick off a vigorous campaign to whip up support among its nearly four million members for President Bush's re-election.
Before tens of thousands of gun owners at the Pittsburgh Convention
Center, the association's leadership plans to label Mr. Bush's likely
Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry
of Massachusetts, as a liberal threat to gun ownership. It is a
they will repeat again and again until Election Day, using the
Internet, mailings, television advertising and their formidable
nationwide network of gun clubs.
"What you see in John Kerry," Wayne LaPierre, the association's
executive vice president said in an interview this week, "is a
politician that spent his life voting against the Second Amendment.
What I see is the same thing I saw in Michael Dukakis and Al
an elitist arrogance."
It is no accident, N.R.A. officials said, that this year's convention is being held in Pittsburgh. Two-thirds of the attendees are expected to come from within a 100-mile radius that spans three battleground states: Pennsylvania, which voted for Mr. Gore in 2000, and Ohio and West Virginia, which voted for Mr. Bush.
"These are states where the N.R.A. can make a difference," said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Keystone Poll at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.
At the convention, the association also plans to unveil plans for an
N.R.A. news company that would produce programs for the Internet, radio
and possibly television, Mr. LaPierre said. A daily
Internet news talk
show featuring a conservative host will begin broadcasting online on
Friday. The association hopes to announce acquisition of a radio
station within two months, he said.
Creating a private news company would allow the association to
disseminate its gun-rights views without having to follow new federal
campaign finance restrictions, which prohibit the use of unlimited
"soft money" close to a presidential or Congressional election,
LaPierre said. The association and other groups challenged those
restrictions, but lost.
"We have every bit as much a right to provide news and information to the American public as Disney has through ABC, Time-Warner has through CNN and News Corporation does through Fox," Mr. LaPierre said. "If you own the outlet, you can say whatever you want. This an act of defiance, but it is completely in keeping with the law."
The boost from the rifle association also comes at an opportune time for Mr. Bush, who is facing unexpectedly sharp criticism from some gun rights activists for his position on a federal ban of assault weapons.
The president has said he would sign legislation renewing the 1994 law that bans 19 types of semiautomatic weapons. That almost certainly will not happen this year because of opposition to the legislation in the Republican-controlled House. Many conservatives consider the bill a deep infringement of their rights under the Second Amendment, which they contend gives individual Americans the right to own firearms.
"Gun owners who know the issues know that Bush is all talk," said Angel
Shamaya, executive director of KeepAndBearArms.com, which is
encouraging gun owners to vote for anyone but Mr. Bush. "He's
out to be a phony in so many ways, I'm embarrassed I voted for him in
The Bush campaign has begun trying to mend fences with gun groups by
meeting with members and appointing liaisons to the groups in almost
every state. A 27,000 member Sportsmen for Bush group
And the president met with leaders of the N.R.A. and an array of
hunting and fishing groups at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., last
But the White House's biggest move has been to dispatch Vice President Dick Cheney, a popular figure among gun owners, to the convention, where he will deliver the keynote speech on Saturday night.
"There is a clear choice in this election between President Bush, who is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and bill of rights, and Senator Kerry, who has a record of weakening those rights," said Scott Stanzel, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign. On Monday, the president is scheduled to be at the Pittsburgh convention center for a campaign event for Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania. Though the White House said Mr. Bush did not have plans to stop by an N.R.A. board meeting that will be going on next door, officials of the association say they hope he will, to send a strong message of support to gun owners.
Grover Norquist, an influential conservative strategist and association board member who is close to the White House, called the president's position on the assault weapon ban "a hiccup," but nevertheless a potential problem. "The president has been so good both in the campaign and in governing," Mr. Norquist said. "This is the one high profile part of the center-right coalition's agenda that they got wrong."
For its part, the rifle association will try to paint Mr. Kerry,
decorated Vietnam veteran who says he has been a lifelong hunter, as a
Kennedy-style liberal who supports strong gun restrictions — a "gun
grabber," in the
group's lingo. <<NYT-editorial
Though the association's political action committee has yet to make an endorsement in the presidential race, its support for Mr. Bush is a foregone conclusion. The association backed him in 2000.
One of the first things convention attendees will receive in Pittsburgh
is the latest issue of the
association's monthly magazine, which
features a cover photograph of
Mr. Kerry posing triumphantly with
Senators Edward M. Kennedy, Charles E. Schumer and Diane Feinstein
after they helped defeat legislation intended to protect the gun
industry from lawsuits. The association had made the bill
one of its
top priorities this year. <<
? frivolous lawsuits ? -NYT-editorial
inside 'news >>
"You talk about the four horsemen of apocalypse — that's the picture," Mr. LaPierre said.
The rifle association has also created a Web site devoted to attacking the federal ban on assault weapons, Clintongunban.com. The name of the site underscores the association's central strategy: to link Mr. Kerry to former President Bill Clinton, who remains widely reviled by conservative gun owners.
Mr. LaPierre declined to say how much the group plans to spend on
campaigns this year. The association has been plagued
deficits, but its political action committee still has more than $4
million on hand, according to recent federal reports.
In 2000, it spent
$16.8 million on federal campaigns. <<NYT-editorial inside
Clearly, the Bush administration values the rifle association's help.
At last year's N.R.A. convention in Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush, the
president's brother, told members, "If it were not for your active
involvement, it is safe to say that my brother would not have been
Aides to Mr. Kerry contend the association's influence has been grossly
exaggerated. Most gun owners are more concerned about the
Iraq this year than gun control, the aides contend. <<NYT-editorial inside
But they acknowledge that the N.R.A. was effective in defining Mr. Gore as a threat to gun owners' rights in 2000, and vowed that Mr. Kerry will be quicker to counter such assertions.
The Democrats expect to recruit labor unions to disseminate Mr. Kerry's
positions on guns, and to have Mr. Kerry meet with sportsmen's groups
and perhaps go hunting. Chad Clanton, a spokesman for the
campaign, said Mr. Kerry intended to present himself as "a lifelong
hunter and gun owner" who believes in protecting the Second Amendment
but also supports "common
sense" laws restricting military-style
assault weapons and requiring gun-safety locks.
<< Perhaps this should have appeared on the Editorioal Page,