washingtontimes.com
NRA hopes to counter Kerry gun ploy
By Brian DeBose       10/19/04


    Sen.  John Kerry has been "extremely effective" in portraying himself as a gun enthusiast and hunter in the 2004 campaign, said Kayne B.  Robinson, president of the National Rifle Association, whose group is preparing a push against the Democratic candidate in the final two weeks before Election Day. 

    The Massachusetts Democrat is "the most anti-gun candidate we've ever had," Mr.  Robinson said during an hourlong interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times.  He cited more than 50 Senate votes to limit gun rights.  He said the NRA is targeting its election efforts, which he said will total $20 million by Nov.  2, to battleground states. 

    Mr.  Kerry has sought to portray himself as nonthreatening to gun owners, said the NRA president, who called that posture deceptive. 

    "All of the anti-gun organizations anyone has ever heard of that rate candidates have given [Mr.  Kerry] a 100 percent rating, and all the pro-gun groups have given him an F," Mr.  Robinson said. 

    An Iowa native and former assistant police chief in Des Moines, Mr.  Robinson said the 4 million-member NRA has been working vigorously to get the truth out about Mr.  Kerry's Senate voting record favoringanti-gun laws. 

    Mr.  Kerry has neutralized much criticism from firearms owners, Mr.  Robinson said, by using a political strategy developed by the group Americans for Gun Safety.  That group's "seven-step blueprint" outlining "how Democrats can ...  win on the gun issue" was announced in October 2003. 

    "Kerry bought into that strategy wholesale," Mr.  Robinson said.  "The only thing someone like Mr.  Kerry has to do is take the tension out of gun ownership so it is not an election issue, and it is a brilliant strategy on his part."

    The NRA has endorsed President Bush.  Mr.  Robinson said the administration has opened up to hunters federal lands that had been off limits and has opposed a United Nations small-arms treaty that could threaten Americans' Second Amendment rights.  The NRA president said he doesn't blame Mr.  Bush for not making gun rights a central campaign issue, given the political climate. 

    "As a civil rights organization, when the administration or Congress does nothing in our area, we see that as a good thing," Mr.  Robinson said. 

    There are an estimated 70 million to 80 million gun owners in America and 16 million to 18 million hunters.  But there is little evidence to show how many voters cast their ballot with gun rights on the top of their minds. 

    Mr.  Robinson said, "Polling data we've seen looked like 40 percent of gun owners thought Kerry was not very threatening on gun issues."

    Mr.  Kerry has made a point of being photographed at campaign events brandishing firearms, like the Remington 12-gauge shotgun that was given to him as a gift at an event in West Virginia. 

    Despite Mr.  Kerry's firearm-wielding photo ops, Mr.  Robinson said, "We've found no evidence that he owns a hunting license."

    He said the NRA has done no "significant investigative work" into that question, adding that records in some states might not be public and that Mr.  Kerry might have hunted on private reserves where no license was required. 

    Perhaps to quell such speculation, during a Saturday campaign trip through southern Ohio, Mr.  Kerry stopped at a grocery in the village of Buchanan and paid $140 for a hunting license that he said he plans to use next weekend. 

    Even if Mr.  Kerry's gestures have had no influence on the opinions of gun owners, the NRA isn't taking any chances.  Mr.  Robinson said the organization this year will spend about $20 million on advertising and direct mailings highlighting Mr.  Kerry's record, especially in battleground states such as Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota. 

    "He is actually a co-sponsor and voted for a bill to ban the Remington shotgun he held up in West Virginia," Mr.  Robinson said. 

    The NRA president was referring to an amendment this year that Sen.  Edward M.  Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, added onto a bill to ban frivolous lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers.  The amendment would have banned any ammunition that could penetrate some types of body armor that police officers wear for protection. 

    Mr.  Robinson said that measure would have banned not only the Remington shotgun, but also the .30-caliber ammunition that most deer hunters use. 

    After Mr.  Kennedy's amendment and other gun-control measures were added, the NRA asked senators to vote against the bill, which failed 90-8 in March.  The NRA will continue its fight in the next Congress to exempt law-abiding firearms manufacturers and dealers from civil lawsuits resulting from the actions of murderers, Mr.  Robinson said. 

    A major issue for the NRA now is defeating efforts by the United Nations to limit firearms ownership.  The United Nations is debating a treaty pushed by the International Action Network on Small Arms, for which liberal billionaire George Soros is a chief benefactor. 

    "The former land-mine coalition that went out to ban mines has moved on to become an international anti-gun lobby," Mr.  Robinson said.  "President Bush, when this was introduced, sent a delegation to the U.N.  to tell them the U.S.  will not agree to anything that deals with removing gun rights for any American."