A BuzzFlash Guest Commentary
September 3, 2002
A Wake-Up Call to Democrats: The NRA is the GOP
by Joe Sudbay, Political Director, Violence Prevention Campaign
According to the National Rifle Association (NRA), "In politics, one rule counts: the side with the biggest numbers wins. Nothing else matters." Following the 2000 elections, every American knows that is not always the case. But even in the context of an election where its "rule" did not apply, the NRA is happy to use half-truths and exaggeration to take sole credit for electing George W. Bush and re-shaping the current state of American politics. And, unfortunately, many Democrats have fallen for the NRA's warped world view and are actively strategizing to figure out how to assuage the gun group.
The political reality is that the current NRA can never be mollified by Democrats. The organization has become the grassroots for the right wing, and hence, the GOP.
This change has taken place over the past few years under the leadership of Charlton Heston and Wayne LaPierre. They placed leaders of the conservative movement such as Grover Norquist from Americans for Tax Reform and David Keene from the America Conservative Union on the NRA Board. It is in their interest then to ally themselves at all costs with Republican leaders and to keep Republicans in power. NRA Vice President Kayne Robinson, who will succeed Heston as President of the NRA next year, was not kidding when he famously boasted that the NRA would be working out of the White House if Bush won.
in the 2000 election cycle, the NRA is a key player in the GOP/Bush plans
for the 2002 and 2004 elections -- and that's why they are benefiting immeasurably
from this Administration -- even if it means weakening our efforts to combat
terrorism. In the days after September 11, Attorney General John Ashcroft,
who benefited from $500,000 in NRA spending in his unsuccessful 2000 Senate
race, put Americans at risk by prohibiting the FBI from utilizing the
Brady Law background check system to see if potential terrorists had been
buying guns. Apparently, Ashcroft was willing to guarantee terrorists
the same Second Amendment "rights" he has now made available to every
criminal charged with a federal gun crime in America -- all to appease the
NRA. With this kind of unquestioning support for its agenda, it is no
wonder the NRA wants to keep Bush, Ashcroft, and Tom DeLay in charge.
The NRA makes it crystal clear that they want a Republican-led House, "In the case of the U.S. House of Representatives -- in this coming election -- if the Democratic party ends up with the biggest numbers, absolute control of legislative power will fall to a majority of lawmakers zealously long-dedicated to erasing America’s firearms freedoms."
The efforts of pro-gun Democrats to moderate the party on the gun issue has resulted in Democrats abandoning a principled stand designed to address a serious policy issue: nearly 30,000 firearm-related deaths every year. The strategy of abandonment, however, carries no political benefit if the NRA is setting its sights not on individual races based on a candidate's record -- but rather on the Democratic Party itself. In reality, the gun issue plays out along geographic lines, not political party lines. In rural districts and rural states, most candidates support the NRA. In the ever-growing suburbs, Republicans and Democrats support gun control. The NRA's nightmare is that they lose their ability to dominate the House leadership as the suburbs continue to expand into more and more Congressional Districts.
The suburban strength of the gun issue is illustrated in an August 28, 2002 article in The Washington Post, "Gun Control Issue Emerges as a Key In Md. 8th District." The piece reported "for candidates going after suburban voters who live near high-crime urban areas, gun control can be a powerful and motivating issue, particularly among women, said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center....Gun control has not loomed quite as large in other House races across the country, said Jenny Backus, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But Howard Wolfson, executive director of the organization, said that in similarly affluent inner suburbs, voters generally see guns as threatening, do not own them and do not believe others should."
There is a silver lining for advocates of gun control: Since the NRA is practically an arm of the Republican National Committee, there must be serious concerns for them to be sounding such a desperate alarm. If the NRA's magazine is trying to scare their members about Democrats taking control of the House, the Republicans must believe it is a serious possibility. In today’s political world, the NRA apple doesn't fall too far from the GOP tree. This blatant partisanship of the NRA should be of particular note to NRA-backed Democrats, like John Dingell, who preached the gospel of supporting the gun lobby to his fellow Democrats. His "friends" at the NRA are now doing everything in their power to keep him from regaining the chairmanship of the all powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Nevertheless, the gun issue cannot be avoided. There will be a debate in the next Congress over the federal assault weapons ban which sunsets on September 13, 2004. The American public strongly supports the assault weapons ban. Few, if any, urban and suburban constituencies see the need for readily available AK-47s and Uzis with 30-round ammunition magazines. The NRA knows it does not have public support -- which is another reason that the NRA needs a Majority Leader like Tom Delay who crowed "This House is a pro-gun House" in the wake of Columbine. And there is no amount of pandering that will allow the Democrats to get around that.
Copyright 2002 Violence Prevention Campaign
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