- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2008

Philadelphia’s Democratic leaders say they’ll press Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama to back stricter gun laws, despite the risk of angering voters throughout the rest of Pennsylvania and possibly damaging the party’s nominee in the general election.

Gun violence in Philadelphia — 331 homicides from gunfire in 2007 — thrust firearms laws to the top of the agenda for city voters, and they don’t care about the potential political pitfalls for the presidential candidates, said Carol Campbell, a Democratic ward leader in the city.

“If you can’t deal with it, then you’ve got a problem,” said Mrs. Campbell, who supports Mr. Obama and heads an alliance of black ward leaders.

“That’s what’s on the minds of most Philadelphians,” she said.

Democratic ward leader Ralph Wynder, who is supporting Mr. Obama, said the candidates should address the pressing issues, but conceded that backing Philadelphia’s push for tougher gun laws would be “political suicide.”

“You are probably going to be damaged goods in the state,” Mr. Wynder said.

“There are just some questions you can’t win with an answer. I guess that’s why politicians double-talk so much,” he said.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have forged a middle-of-the-road response to questions about gun laws, both saying they respect the constitution’s Second Amendment guarantee of the right to bear arms and they recognize government’s need to impose “reasonable” weapon regulations.

“There can be a meeting of the minds between lawful gun owners and those who believe we can protect Second Amendment rights without giving in to the bad guys,” Mrs. Clinton, of New York, told the Dallas Morning News earlier this month.

Mr. Obama, of Illinois, vowed at the Nevada Democratic primary debate in January to respect gun rights while “we also start cracking down on the kinds of abuses of firearms that we see on the streets.”

Nevertheless, Mrs. Clinton’s and Mr. Obama’s voting records, which includes support of a federal assault-weapons ban, get an “F” grade from National Rifle Association (NRA), which has about 4 million members.

“They will do everything they can to run away from the past, run away from their record and camouflage their position on gun control,” said Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief Washington lobbyist.

Pennsylvania, which holds its Democratic primary April 22, has one of the highest per capita NRA membership rates in the nation.

Questions about gun control are expected to re-emerge on the campaign trail in June when the U.S. Supreme Court is due to rule on the constitutionality of the District of Columbia’s gun ban, the first time in 69 years the court has examined the Second Amendment.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama did not join a bipartisan amicus curiae brief filed in the Supreme Court case that supported the Second Amendment 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 presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Mr. McCain has a “C” grade from the NRA. Although he has a strong gun-rights voting record and opposes an assault-weapons ban, 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.

About 49 percent of Americans favor stricter gun laws while 11 percent want more lenient laws and 38 percent want laws to remain the same, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll last month.

The nationwide poll of 1,016 adults showed 73 percent of voters think the Second Amendment guarantees gun rights for individuals and 20 percent think it applies only to members of state militias such as National Guard.

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