- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2000

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Gun owners can shed their image as "beer-swilling, camouflage-wearing, Spam-eating Bubbas" by schmoozing local journalists and educating the media about firearms, a pro-gun editorial writer told a National Rifle Association audience yesterday.

The biggest reason the stereotype of gun owners as rednecks persists "is because good folks like you people … don't do anything to change that," J.R. Labbe of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said at the 129th annual NRA convention here.

Mrs. Labbe, an NRA member who has a conceal-and-carry permit in Texas, participated in a discussion of media bias against gun owners and the NRA. She urged other NRA members to write letters to the editor and call media outlets to correct journalists' bias against gun owners. She said gun owners must overcome their reluctance to draw attention to themselves in the media.

"As gun owners, by nature, we are the kind of people who prefer to fly below the radar," Mrs. Labbe said.

The anti-gun leanings of the major media have received prominent attention at the annual NRA meetings. On Saturday, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne R. LaPierre showed members a videotape of his recent interview with Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press," in which Mr. Russert badgers Mr. LaPierre relentlessly to retract his statement that President Clinton was willing to accept some gun violence to further his political agenda.

Mr. LaPierre said his mother called him after the contentious interview and, after advising her son not to quarrel on television, added, "You sure told him."

NRA President Charlton Heston took a swipe at television talk show host Rosie O'Donnell, a gun-control advocate, saying in his speech this weekend, "I like to call her 'Tokyo Rosie.' "

Jim Baker, executive director of the NRA's legislative arm, told members that the NRA must raise millions of dollars annually to counter the media's favoritism for gun-control advocates.

"They have the national media on their side, providing them with millions of dollars of free advertising through biased reporting that is served up as news," Mr. Baker said. "As they did with [shootings at] Columbine and the National Zoo, the anti-freedom zealots and their accomplices in the media will continue to shamelessly exploit every new crime and its victims.

"They will go all out to elect anti-gun candidates, and the media elite will help them," he said.

Republican pollster Kelly Ann Fitzpatrick, president of the Polling Co. in Washington, said a recent survey by her firm showed that five issues guns, homosexuals, tobacco, campaign finance regulations and the pro-choice abortion platform combined were cited by a total of only 7 percent of respondents as their "most important issue."

"And yet it's about 80 percent of the coverage you see in the media," Miss Fitzpatrick said. "There's a tremendous difference between what Americans care about and what Americans are being told they care about."

Syndicated radio talk show host Armstrong Williams said media research conducted for the NRA showed that the major television networks broadcast 653 gun policy stories from July 1997 through last June. Of those, he said, 357 stories advocated gun control and 36 reports presented gun rights positively. Mr. Williams said "anti-gun sound bites" outnumbered pro-gun sound bites 412 to 209.

But Mr. Williams said he doesn't blame an anti-gun media bias for the imbalance. He said the disparity is because of television's need to present quick, easy-to-understand solutions such as more gun laws. He said it would take more time to explain that stricter enforcement of existing federal gun laws results in less gun violence.

Mr. Williams urged NRA members to make friends with local journalists.

"Advocates of gun rights should go out of their way to make local journalists feel like VIPs," he said. "It can prevent knee-jerk reactions and generalizations" about the pro-gun rights lobby.

Mrs. Labbe advised gun owners to avoid rhetoric in letters to the editor and simply tell their own stories succinctly.

"Nobody wants to read about comparisons to Nazi Germany," Mrs. Labbe said. "Most people in this country just don't believe their government would ever turn on them in that way. And this is after Waco, Ruby Ridge and Elian [Gonzalez]."

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