The following was taken from http://www.thehill.com
An influential gun-rights group known for backing Republicans is unlikely to endorse President Bush until after the federal assault-weapons ban expires in September.
Bush supports the renewal of the 10-year ban but has not called on the GOP-controlled Congress to act. If he does so, the move would probably cost him the endorsement of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Some political observers believe that the NRA’s endorsement is a certainty, pointing out the group’s stinging criticism of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
But gun-rights activists dispute the claim that Bush can count on the NRA’s support; the group remained neutral in 1992 and 1996. The NRA did not endorse Republican nominee Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential bid because of his wavering stance on the assault-weapons ban and opted not to back George H.W. Bush in his 1992 re-election effort. The NRA did endorse George W. Bush in 2000.
Many Capitol Hill aides and lawmakers say Bush will determine whether the ban is extended beyond Sept. 13. An aide to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has said privately that if Bush pushes for it, the ban will probably be reauthorized. But if he doesn’t, the chances of legislation’s passing this year are remote.
Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, said the group usually does not endorse presidential candidates until the fall and will not be changing its schedule this year.
He acknowledged that this year is a bit different from previous election years: “Clearly, there are some issues that are still on the table [in 2004].”
Cox declined to say when the NRA will make an endorsement decision, saying, “I’m not going to broadcast our strategy six months before the election.”
He said the policy on the assault-weapons ban will be resolved by Congress, adding that it is no coincidence that soon after the 1994 ban was enacted, Republicans took control of Capitol Hill.
NRA officials said the statements and voting records on what the NRA calls the “Clinton gun ban” are key factors in its endorsements for all political candidates.
Centrist Republicans in the House are urging the administration to get involved. In an interview, Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.) said, “Pressure will build” to renew the ban in the coming months.
Castle said he is working with Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) to pass a bill that parallels the gun bill passed in 1994.
“The legislation would pass if it came to the floor,” Castle said. “There are a number of Republicans who would support this.”
Gun-rights activists dispute Castle’s vote count, but, at least for now, the question is whether the bill will make it to the House floor.
House Majority Tom DeLay (R-Texas) is against extending the ban, which was passed when Democrats were in control of Congress and the White House.
Hastert, meanwhile, has given mixed signals on the issue, and police chiefs from his state are lobbying him to call for a vote.
A majority of the Senate in March voted to extend the ban.
“The House is the issue,” Castle said. “The problem is in the House.”
If Bush and Hastert do not act, it is likely that a discharge petition would be launched to force a vote on the floor.
Castle, however, said, “It is too early to discuss discharge petitions,” adding that House GOP leaders frown upon them.
So far this year, Bush has given no indication that he will speak out on the gun ban. Instead, the administration appears to be courting the NRA’s endorsement.
Late last year, NRA officials visited with Bush at the White House. Last month, Vice President Dick Cheney spoke out, at an NRA conference, about protecting the right to bear arms.
Castle downplayed the significance of an NRA endorsement, saying a vast majority of NRA members are not going to vote for Kerry, whether Bush gets the group’s backing or not.
But others said such an endorsement is key to Bush’s re-election hopes because it would mobilize an integral cog in the conservative movement.
Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said many Reagan Democrats voted for Bush in 2000 partly because of the NRA’s endorsement. He added that Bush’s triumphs in states such as Tennessee, Virginia and Arkansas were attributable to the NRA’s grassroots effort and Al Gore’s strong gun-control views.
Asked when the NRA would likely endorse Bush, Pratt said, referring to the day after the ban would expire, “I think Sept. 14 would make a good date.”
Liberal Democrats in Congress are getting ready to force their party’s presidential nominee down the same road that led to the defeat of Al Gore and his running mate four years ago.
In the days following the 2000 election, a number of Democrats realized that their fixation on guns and gun owners had cost their candidates millions of votes that year. Even before leaving office, President Bill Clinton warned that the “gun issue” and the efforts of the National Rifle Association (NRA) had cost Gore five states that he might otherwise have won and, thus, the election. Labor leaders began urging the party to “get the gun issue off the table” after watching droves of their own members desert Democrats they were afraid would restrict their right to own firearms.
And Democratic candidates took heed. Candidates two years later began taking to the skeet range and the hunting fields to counter the presumption that as Democrats they were automatically “anti-gun” and a closet enemy of the 2nd Amendment guarantees that so many Americans take seriously. It didn’t work every time, but the ploy seemed at least to take the edge off an issue that threatened even more devastation unless it was, in fact, taken off the table.
The irony is that as Democrats prepared for the 2000 elections, many of them believed in their bones that if they could get their candidates to focus on the gun issue and “go after” the NRA, they would win millions of new votes. In those days it was an article of liberal and Democratic faith that most Americans loathe guns and live in fear precisely because guns are legal in this country. It followed that their opposition to what they liked to describe as the “gun culture” would be applauded by an appreciative public and would help their candidates win.
Their inability to realize before the votes were counted that they were dead wrong stems from the fact that Democrats and Republicans, or liberals and conservatives, really do live in different worlds. Recent evidence of this comes in the form of data from a poll conducted by John Zogby for Southern Methodist University’s Tower Center and the O’Leary Report. The poll was unique in that Zogby broke down the results by looking at contrasting attitudes in the states that voted for George W. Bush and for Gore four years ago. The data showed on issue after issue that those who live in the so-called “red states” won by President Bush harbor far different beliefs and attitudes than those who live in the “blue states” carried by Gore.
Surprisingly, however, the data showed that while more people in the blue states favor new and tougher gun laws than those in the red states, most voters in both groups of states are far more supportive of the right to own firearms than the Democrats suspected. Indeed, only the sorts of urban and campus-based liberals who dominate the leadership of the Democratic Party were found to be as hostile to gun ownership as Gore and his running mate had been in 2000.
This late realization may explain why Democratic candidates this year are striving mightily to take the gun issue off the table. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and his supporters tout his generally pro-gun record in Vermont, retired Gen. Wesley Clark assures us that he loves to hunt and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) even gave up his surfboard long enough to be photographed shooting pheasant in Iowa (albeit with a borrowed shotgun).
Whether this effort works, however, will depend more on what happens in Congress between now and November and how the Bush administration responds to it than on the candidates’ posturing. During the Clinton years, the Democratic Congress that passed what has come to be known as the “assault weapons ban” consciously or unconsciously planted a land mine that is about to ignite.
That law will expire this September unless Congress acts to extend it. The NRA and its supporters are determined to bury the ban for symbolic as well as substantive reasons, and the data suggest that it hasn’t had much effect on anything anyway.
But liberals in Congress already are gearing up to extend the ban and add new restrictions on gun ownership. The debate, coming just before the election, will reinject the gun issue into the campaign and could create conditions similar to those that resulted in the Bush victory four years ago.
At this point, however, Bush himself is on record as favoring the renewal of the ban, based largely on the position he took back before the votes were counted four years ago and he thought it would be in his interest to take the issue off the table.
It is now clear that his interests have changed, but presidential inertia could keep the Democrats from doing themselves in again.
Nra Endorsment Of Bush
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