- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — Pennsylvania sportsmen aren’t “bitter” about their guns and balk at what they call Sen. Barack Obama’s double-talk in courting their support.

In a state that boasts one of the country’s highest per capita rates of membership in the National Rifle Association (NRA), Mr. Obama’s stance that Second Amendment gun rights are compatible with new tough gun laws falls flat.

And it didn’t help when he said the state’s “bitter” small-town voters hurt by the economy were not supporting him because they “cling” to religion, guns and anti-immigrant views.

“It just tells me he is anti-gun,” said Debbie Schultz, owner of Schultz’s Sportsmens Stop in Apollo, Pa., about 40 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

“We don’t need more gun laws and we don’t need tougher gun laws, the ones we’ve got are pretty stringent,” said Mrs. Schultz, 53, who has been selling sporting and target firearms for 39 years. “You can’t keep a thug from getting a gun [unless] you try to take all the guns from every gun owner and that will never happen in the United States.”

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    Rocco S. Ali, president of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, said the two viewpoints embraced by Mr. Obama are incompatible.

    “He’s tried to satisfy both sides [but] they don’t go together,” said Mr. Ali, whose organization represents about 95,000 hunters and outdoorsmen in more than 350 clubs.

    He said Mr. Obama’s pledge to go after “straw purchasers” who dump guns in crime-plagued urban neighborhoods is a pretext for new restrictions that make it harder for everyone to buy firearms. Existing federal and state laws, he said, authorize law-enforcement agencies to investigate any firearm purchase.

    Both Mr. Obama and his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, have shied from riling gun owners on the campaign trail, especially in this divergent state where inner city politicians’ desire for stricter gun rules clash with its hunting history.

    Neither has taken a position on the historic case before the U.S. Supreme Court over whether the District’s ban on handguns violates the Constitution’s Second Amendment. The court, taking up the Second Amendment “right to keep and bear arms” for the first time in 69 years, is expected to rule in June.

    Likewise, the two candidates did not sign a bipartisan amicus curiae brief filed in the Supreme Court that supported the amendment’s guarantee of individual gun rights and opposed the District’s law. The “friend of the court” brief was signed by 250 House members and 55 senators, including presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain.

    And both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, despite talking up her support of gun rights, say they would reinstate the assault-weapon ban, which the Republican-led Congress allowed to expired in 2004.

    “They think they can disguise their real position,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said of the Democratic contenders. “The campaign rhetoric doesn’t match [Mr. Obama’s] voting record at all. … He’s not pro-Second Amendment.”

    The NRA gave an “F” grade to Mr. Obama’s and Mrs. Clinton’s voting records, which include votes to ban certain types of ammunition and to make firearm manufactures liable for gun violence. Mr. McCain got a “C.”

    Although Mr. McCain has a strong gun rights voting record, he supports campaign-finance laws that limit political advocacy by issue groups, such as the NRA, and supports tighter firearms sales regulations at gun shows.

    The gun issue regained prominence following Mr. Obama’s “bitter” comment at a private fundraiser in San Francisco. Criticized for his elitist tone, Mr. Obama apologized for offending gun owners and churchgoers but said people are frustrated with Washington and seek reassurance in these traditions.

    The Obama campaign also dismissed a candidate questionnaire from his 1996 run for the Illinois state Senate that showed he supported legislation to “ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns.”

    Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor said an aide, not Mr. Obama, filled out the questionnaire and that some of the answers did not reflect Mr. Obama’s views then or now.

    Howard Wolfson, chief spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said the explanation about the questionnaire “simply strains credulity.”

    In a debate here Wednesday, Mr. Obama pledged to “bridge this divide [between gun rights and gun control laws], which I think has been polarizing and, frankly, doesn’t reflect the common sense of the American people.”

    Earlier this week, he told newspaper executives at the Associated Press annual luncheon in Washington that respecting “deeply held traditions” of gun ownership in rural America didn’t preclude strict laws to keep handguns out of embattled cities.

    Mr. Obama said the country must “acknowledge the importance of gun ownership in huge swaths of the country and recognize the Second Amendment actually means something,” and also “recognize that for us to put in place strong, tough background checks, to close the gun-show loophole, to be able to trace guns that have been used in crimes to the gun dealers who sold those guns to see if they’re abiding by the law, making sure that they’re not working with straw purchasers to dump illegal handguns into vulnerable communities — that those two visions are compatible, that they’re not contradictory.”

    The Obama campaign the next day touted an endorsement by the American Hunters and Shooters Association (AHSA), a national group that promotes some new gun control measures and describes itself as an alternative to the NRA’s “radical” gun rights views.

    Critics say the group is a front for the gun control lobby because it promotes outlawing some caliber of guns and certain types of ammunition and the abolition of firearm sales at gun shows.

    The association’s leaders said Mr. Obama proved his support of gun rights with his 2006 vote for an amendment by Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana that prohibits the government from confiscating legal firearms during a major disaster.

    “We know Senator Obama gets it,” AHSA President Ray Schoenke said in a campaign conference call with reporters, noting that Mrs. Clinton of New York voted against the Vitter amendment, which passed 84-16.

    Mr. McCain of Arizona voted for the Vitter amendment, but the group criticized him for unsteady support of gun rights, including voicing support for the 1994 assault-weapon ban and then voting against it.

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