- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2002

A few years ago, Democrats were talking "common-sense gun control" to anyone who would listen.
In the wake of the Columbine massacre, where two Colorado high school students used guns to kill 15 persons including themselves, the issue was high on the political agenda leading up to the 2000 election.
Democrats championed new gun-show rules, mandatory child-safety locks on guns, a ban on importing high-capacity ammunition magazines, and other gun-related measures. A parent of a Columbine victim spoke at the Democratic National Convention, and President Clinton named the White House briefing room for Jim Brady, who became a living emblem for gun control after suffering a gunshot wound to the head in the 1981 attempted assassination of President Reagan.
Fast forward to 2002, and gun control has dropped off the political map.
"There's no question that the gun issue has come about 180 degrees from where it was in '99," said Matt Bennett, spokesman for Americans for Gun Safety, a gun-control group that claims a middle ground on firearms issues.
In an 11-page April memo describing the Democratic "meat and potatoes strategy" for the 2002 congressional elections, gun control is not mentioned.
Democrats can win elections by focusing on domestic issues such as environmental protection, prescription drugs, middle-class tax cuts and securing the future of Social Security, said the report, prepared by James Carville, Stanley Greenberg and Robert Shrum at Democracy Corps, a Democratic research group.
Merle Black, a professor of politics at Emory University, said Democrats are wise to stay away from gun control in certain races.
Guns are a losing issue for Democrats in rural areas, and not just in the South, he said. Rural communities throughout the United States see guns as recreation and don't automatically associate them with violence, he added.
In some statewide races, Democrats have succeeded by proving themselves "gun-friendly," such as Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner, who was elected with the help of several conservative western counties that rejected Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, Mr. Black said.
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said Mr. Warner's campaign is "more the prototype" for Democrats this year.
Mr. LaPierre said that during the 2000 election, Democratic support from labor unions was diluted because of the gun issue.
"Their membership is big-time supportive of the Second Amendment and owns guns," he said, adding that Mr. Gore's support for gun control "cut right against the heart of their membership."
Mr. LaPierre said the issue cost Mr. Gore the election.
"It probably cost them Tennessee, Arkansas and West Virginia [and] drained their resources in states they wouldn't have even had to worry about," Mr. La Pierre said.
But some political analysts say the gun issue was not a determining factor, but one of many in Mr. Gore's loss.
Ed Sarpolus, a pollster for EPIC-MRA, a nonpartisan Lansing, Mich.-based survey research firm, said blaming Mr. Gore's defeat on his position on gun control is "insane."
The swing states of Pennsylvania and Michigan voted for Mr. Gore despite a strong anti-Gore campaign there by the NRA, he said.
Gun-control advocates say that the gun-control issue is helping Democrats in many state and local races.
"Where the swing voters are the suburban voters, gun control will be an issue," said Joe Sudbay, political director of the Violence Prevention Campaign, a gun-control lobbying group. "In those states and in those districts gun-control supporters will tout their records and point out the positions of their opponents who don't support gun control."
For example, California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat running for re-election, mentions his strong record on gun control in his latest television ads, Mr. Sudbay said.
But in some close races, Democrats are careful not to alienate gun owners.
Sen. Max Cleland, Georgia Democrat, who is facing a strong challenge from Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss, will hold a news conference and rally at a skeet-shooting range on July 2 with a group called Sportsmen for Cleland.
Despite his military record, Mr. Cleland could be vulnerable on the gun issue because of a 1999 vote for a juvenile justice bill that included provisions such as increasing background checks at gun shows. A month after the Columbine shootings and the same day as a school shooting in Conyers, Ga., Mr. Cleland voted for the measure.

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