- The Washington Times - Monday, April 29, 2002

RENO, Nev. (AP) Sen. Zell Miller wowed the National Rifle Association as the Georgia Democrat chastised his own party for failing to recognize the social and political reach of gun issues.
"There is nowhere I'd rather be tonight than right here with you, on the picket line of freedom's defense," Mr. Miller told more than 2,000 NRA members in a speech at Saturday night's banquet.
Only about half the crowd at the NRA's 131st annual meeting at the Reno Hilton hotel-casino stood when Mr. Miller was introduced as the first Democrat to give a keynote address to the gun rights group in more than a decade.
But nearly all rose to give a 30-second standing ovation by the time the popular former two-term Georgia governor finished his speech touting the NRA's 4.2 million members as the epitome of "mainstream America."
"Like many of you, I've got more guns than I need, but not as many as I want," Mr. Miller said.
"Now that may sound a bit confusing to some a Democrat wanting more guns," he said, explaining he is a life member of the NRA with an A-plus voting record from the group, "and I'm darned proud of it."
Mr. Miller echoed the words of NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, who told more than 4,000 delegates at the annual meeting Saturday afternoon, "You are why Al Gore isn't in the White House."
Mr. Miller said Mr. Gore lost partly because Democratic strategists listened to bad advice from pollsters who claimed voters favored gun control. He said Mr. Gore's stands on gun rights cost the vice president key Southern states, including Arkansas, West Virginia and Tennessee.
"I recall the surprise of national Democratic leaders at losing those states in the presidential election," Mr. Miller said.
"All their expert pollsters said voters favored some kind of gun control. Well, I stand with heartfelt conviction over a political wind gauge any day.
"What many do not understand is that the gun issue is not just about guns. It's about values. It's about setting priorities. It's about personal freedom. It's about trust," he said.
Mr. Miller said 73 percent of the Georgians he surveyed in a poll for his 1994 gubernatorial re-election bid agreed with the statement: "Whenever I hear politicians talking about gun control, it makes me wonder if they understand my values or my way of life."
The last Democrat to give the NRA's keynote address was former Rep. Jack Brooks, Texas Democrat, in 1991.
Before Saturday's speech, gun-control advocates accused Mr. Miller of pandering to the NRA.
NRA leadership "does not represent the views of mainstream Americans," said Michael D. Barnes, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

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