- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2000

LOS ANGELES The National Rifle Association crashed the party yesterday with an ad campaign accusing Democrats of being soft on protecting the Constitution, specifically the Second Amendment.

"Do Democrats want to destroy the Second Amendment?" thundered the NRA in a full-page ad that ran yesterday in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today.

The nation's largest gun rights organization is also running television spots during this week's Democratic National Convention featuring NRA President Charlton Heston, who urges voters to remember that "this election is about freedom."

The campaign is aimed at reminding gun-owning Democrats, particularly those in must-win states like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, that their party has become increasingly hostile to the rights of gun owners, said NRA spokesman Bill Powers.

"This is a week where the entire country focuses on the Democratic Party and we just want to tell Americans where they stand," said Mr. Powers. "We see this as a major wedge issue, especially in key battleground states."

Democrats wasted no time in blasting the ads, calling them misleading and inaccurate, while taking issue with the NRA's interpretation of the Second Amendment.

"It [the ad] claims we're trying to take away people's rights," said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, New York Democrat, during a forum yesterday on gun violence. "You show me one thing I'm doing to take away people's rights."

The ad accuses the Clinton-Gore administration and Democratic mayors of trying to put "honest gunmakers" out of business with expensive lawsuits. It goes on to claim that trial lawyers, anti-gun activists and their supporters are "almost all Democrats."

"The gun-hating celebrities who want their bodyguards armed, but not you, are almost all Democrats," says the ad. "From anti-gun mayors and march organizers to a gun-hating Hollywood and White House, they're almost all Democrats."

It wasn't always so, said Mr. Powers. The NRA has in the past drawn support from both Republicans and Democrats, including Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore, who drew A-ratings from the NRA as a Tennessee congressman in the 1980s. Even Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, now Mr. Gore's vice-presidential pick, earned a B-plus during his 1988 campaign.

But the Democrats are now the party of gun control, said Mr. Powers.

"We've talked to our members in states like Michigan and Ohio, and they're troubled because their party, the party they've identified with for 30 years, has moved away from defending freedom for law-abiding people," Mr. Powers said.

David Bernstein, spokesman for Handgun Control Inc., said the ads show the NRA's growing allegiance to the Republican Party. "The NRA has no doubt become more partisan in this election cycle than I've ever seen them," he said. "The initials 'NRA' could now stand for 'National Republican Association.' "

He pointed to the recent remarks of Kayne Robinson, the organization's first vice president, who told an NRA gathering in February that if Republican George W. Bush wins the presidency this year, "we'll have a president where we work out of their office."

"His words are scary to many voters," said Mr. Bernstein.

Mr. Powers retorted that groups like Handgun Control had complete access to the Oval Office during the Clinton administration. "They've been working out of the White House for eight years while 80 million law-abiding gun owners have been shut out," said Mr. Powers.

The NRA isn't the first to crash an unfriendly party this year: During the Republican National Convention, Handgun Control ran television ads on local and cable stations in Philadelphia targeting Mr. Bush's support of measures such as Texas' concealed-carry law.

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