Tags: Elections | Near | Democrats | Rethink | Opposition | Gun | Rights

As Elections Near, Democrats Rethink Opposition to Gun Rights

Wednesday, 15 May 2002 12:00 AM

In Pennsylvania's Democrat primary for governor, former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, who supports limiting handgun purchases to one a month, has stressed he would not support measures limiting the rights of sportsmen. Rendell's opponent, Auditor General Bob Casey, openly opposes new gun control laws.

A group of Southern Democrat governors recently said Al Gore's views about gun control hurt him in the South during the 2000 presidential race. Exit polls, in fact, had showed that gun owners went for George W. Bush in a big way, 61 to 39 percent.

"The Democrats know that gun control will work against them," said John Velleco, director of federal affairs for Gun Owners of America, echoing the analysis of national political analysts such as Mort Kondracke, Bill Sammon and Ceci Connolly.

If Senate plurality leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., brings gun control legislation, such as mandatory background checks for gun show sales, to the floor for a vote, he's going to hurt Democrats such as Zell Miller and Max Cleland of Georgia, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, according to Velleco.

All but Miller are running for re-election this year, and all but Miller, the keynote speaker at the 2002 National Rifle Association convention, "are not pro-gun by any means, but they come from rural states," Velleco noted.

"If they vote against gun control, they risk alienating their own base within the Democratic Party. If they vote for gun control, they risk losing the election entirely," said Velleco.

According to Miller, when a West Virginia coal miner criticized Gore's gun policy in a pre-election day interview, "I knew right then that Gore was going to lose West Virginia" in the 2000 presidential race. Tennessee and Arkansas also ended up in the Republican column because of the Democrat's advocacy of gun control, Miller said.

Democrat strategists once viewed gun control as an issue that would win undecided female voters. But that strategy failed, said David Keene, chairman of American Conservative Union, because gun owners felt more strongly about the issue.

"The reason Democrats got on this gun issue is that they're able to point to polls which show that a majority of people are anti-gun," said Keene. "The problem with that is that it's not a political majority, because most of the people who are anti-gun are non-gun owners who don't really care ... who don't have that anywhere near the top of their priority list.

"When really faced with it, they don't vote on that issue at all, whereas the people that own guns are a political majority and do vote on that issue," said Keene.

In the 2002 election, Democrats may have another reason for avoiding gun control issues.

"It's my understanding that they've been under heavy pressure from the AFL-CIO to lay off the gun issue because a lot of the people who are deer hunters and others are union members, and Republicans have used it as a wedge issue to pry them away from the Democratic Party," said Keene.

But Amy Stilwell, communications director for

"Certain districts might have a harder time with this issue than others," said Stilwell. But "the media [have] misread how gun issues played in the 2000 election."

To the contrary, gun control has been a winning issue, Stilwell said.

"The NRA outspent the gun control movement by a margin of five to one [yet] lost five of the top U.S. Senate candidates it backed and seven of the top nine House races it targeted," said Stilwell.

In contrast, she said, Brady Campaign succeeded in defeating nine out of 12 "dangerous dozen candidates," and in "two traditionally pro-gun Western states," Colorado and Oregon, voters "overwhelmingly approved citizen-led ballot initiatives to close the gun show loophole."

"We've got enough evidence right there that common-sense gun violence prevention, not banning guns, is a winning election issue," Stilwell concluded.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., are co-sponsoring a bill to require background checks on gun show sales.

The duo is launching a $50,000 radio ad campaign, sponsored by Americans for Gun Safety. The ads begin airing in the Washington, D.C., area on Wednesday with Americans for Gun Safety indicating a television ad campaign will follow.

The ads will argue that background checks are necessary in helping to stop terrorist attacks. "It just makes no sense to allow criminals and terrorists to evade background checks at a time when we are tightening homeland security," McCain says in the commercial.

McCain has said his strategy for passing the bill this year will be to attach it as an amendment to another Senate bill.

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In Pennsylvania's Democrat primary for governor, former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, who supports limiting handgun purchases to one a month, has stressed he would not support measures limiting the rights of sportsmen. Rendell's opponent, Auditor General Bob Casey, openly...
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Wednesday, 15 May 2002 12:00 AM
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