- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2003

COLO, Iowa (AP) — Sen. John Kerry charged that Democratic presidential rival Howard Dean has a history of pandering to the gun lobby by opposing a ban on assault weapons.

Mr. Dean said Mr. Kerry was distorting positions he took while running for governor of Vermont.

On Friday Mr. Kerry, campaigning in central Iowa, passed around National Rifle Association questionnaires that his rival had filled out in 1992 and 1994 as evidence. Mr. Kerry said that Mr. Dean used those questionnaires to get the backing of the powerful NRA while Congress was trying to pass the assault weapons ban.

“During the time that we were struggling and every law enforcement officer in America wanted to pass it, Howard Dean was asking for the NRA’s endorsement and he got it,” the Massachusetts senator said.

Mr. Kerry made his remarks on a farm about an hour northeast of Des Moines, where he planned an afternoon of pheasant hunting. Dressed in blue jeans, a flannel shirt and rubber boots, he spoke against a backdrop of stacked hay bales and illuminated by a row of television lights.

“When I go out there and hunt, I’m going out there with a 12-gauge shotgun, not an assault weapon,” Mr. Kerry said. “I’ve been a hunter since I was 12.”

The Dean campaign immediately denounced Mr. Kerry as one of the “Beltway Boys,” who have made a pattern of attacking its candidate. Spokeswoman Sarah Leonard said Mr. Dean has raised the issue of assault weapons many times on the presidential campaign circuit.

“Governor Dean has always supported a ban on assault weapons,” Miss Leonard said. “To suggest otherwise is to peddle a pack of untruths and Iowans don’t appreciate dishonesty.”

Mr. Dean routinely argues that he favors current federal gun-control laws, wants to close the gun-show loophole and, beyond that, wants states allowed to go their own way.

“I come from a rural state with a very low homicide rate,” Mr. Dean told reporters in New Hampshire. “We had five homicides one year. It’s a state where hunting is a part of our life. I understand that’s not the traditional Democratic position.”

Mr. Kerry rejected that argument.

“You cannot favor federal gun control and allow the states to do it their own way,” he said. “That’s a complete contradiction.”

The attack is the latest against Mr. Dean who, along with Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, sits atop the field of contenders for Iowa’s leadoff precinct caucuses in January. Mr. Dean’s rise in the polls has been accompanied by rising attacks from his rivals.

“I believe we must put the safety of our children and families ahead of special interests like the NRA,” Mr. Kerry said. “I will never pander to the extremist NRA for personal or political expediency.”

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