Monday, August 02, 2004

The Assault Weapons Ban: Radioactive to Kerry?

Patrick O'Connor of TheHill does an admirable job in untangling the web of issues surrounding the Assault Weapons Ban, which expires September 13th, and is bound to be a campaign issue in Karl Rove's crosshairs:

"Gun-control advocates say that Sen. John Kerry�s presidential campaign is divided about how vocal the senator should be in calling for the assault-weapons ban to be renewed. Kerry�s reluctance to mention the controversial issue on the campaign trail has agitated proponents of the ban.

"Sen. John Kerry�s campaign is running television commercials showing him hunting.

"Kerry supports the ban, and, earlier this year, he changed his campaign schedule to vote for it to be extended. But some gun-control advocates say he has not done enough.

"Asked if Kerry will highlight the issue in his campaign, Blaine Rummel, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence said, 'There is some shiftiness.'

Not a good sign, surely ("... and don't call me, Shirley") as this feeds into the Republican characterization of Kerry as a flip-flopper. Further, Senators have glass jaws in the Presidential gladitorial fundament -- they are "legislative compromisers," and, the longer they linger in those aristocratic Senate corridors, the longer the record.

Karl Rove knew what he was doing when he affixed the sobriquet "flip flopper." This politically lethal nickname is twofold poison: it erodes Kerry's support on the Left, by portraying him as not a stand-up guy, thus strengthening, however slightly, Nader; and, on the other hand, it weakens his efforts to gain a stronghold among moderates, who, by and large, favor mavericks like John McCain (who is the sole Senate exception as a "Senate lingerer" who is a straight talker) O'Connor continues:

"The 'issues' section of Kerry�s campaign website lists 15 topics, ranging from healthcare to homeland security to rural America. Gun matters are not listed."

"The (assault weapons) ban has been debated heavily since it was enacted in 1994 by Congress at the request of then-President Bill Clinton. In 1996, the House voted to repeal the ban, and the current House GOP leadership will not move to renew the ban without consent from the White House. Bush supports extending the ban but has not urged Congress to act."

O'Connor notes that as Dems tiptoe around this radioactive issue in an election year, Clinton toom it on front and center on Monday's Democratic Convention speech in prime time. Ever protective of his legacy, Clinton said, "As gang violence is rising and we look for terrorists in our midst, Congress and the president are also about to allow the 10-year-old ban on assault weapons to expire."

O'Connor then notes:

"In his new book, My Life, Clinton wrote that the 1994 vote to ban assault weapons came at a high political price, costing many House Democrats their seats in Congress. Gun-control advocates, who have consistently argued for years that gun control is a winning political issue, were somewhat exasperated by Clinton�s claims. The NRA has seized on Clinton�s words, highlighting them in recent newspaper ads. Clinton�s line of thinking has scared a number of congressional Democrats from the gun-control debate, Hummel said.

"The 2004 Democratic primary on guns is distinctly different from the 2000 battle between former Vice President Al Gore and former Sen. Bill Bradley (N.J.), Cox said, when both candidates made gun violence a major campaign issue. This election cycle, Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean have attempted to reach out to voters who strongly support the Second Amendment."

While the Jim Brady campaign claims to have the votes in the Senate to extend the ban, and, "Sixty-four percent of gun-owning households and half of the NRA members polled were in favor of extending the ban, according to a recent poll conducted by the Annenberg Election Survey," it could be a potent election issue if done up right by the spinmeisters in rural swing states. This could be an especially effective strategy in the last days, where Kerry might be unable to respond to such an attack in time to make a difference.

Anyway, check out Patrick O'Connor of TheHill's thoughtful piece.

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