Gun Rights Activists See 2002 Election As Critical

Gun Rights Activists See 2002 Election As Critical

Phoenix ( - Gun rights activists say the outcome of the 2002 mid-term election will be critical in determining the fate of a handful of important gun bills pending in Congress.

Issues that hang in the balance include arming airline pilots; keeping gun show sales free of regulation; preempting municipal lawsuits against gun manufacturers; repealing the Clinton-era ban on semi-automatic guns; and preventing efforts to ban .50-caliber rifles.

"We have to stay on the offense," National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre told several hundred gun rights activists gathered in Phoenix, Ariz., for a gun rights policy conference.

"These elections are going to be critical," said LaPierre. "We've got to win and beat the anti-gunners and elect the good guys."

Gun issues aren't driving this year's election as much as terrorism, homeland security and the economy are, said Alan M. Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, which co-hosted the Phoenix conference. But gun issues can be the determining factor in many close races if pro-gun forces turn out on Election Day, he believes.

"In a close election, an issue like guns is two to four percent of the electorate," said Gottlieb. "In a race that can be won or lost by two points, we can be the difference."

"If we can get control of the U.S. Senate as well as the House, the assault ban bites the dust [and] basically we're back to pre-Clinton on a federal level" because the Brady bill is just the background check part, said Gottlieb.

Gottlieb is closely watching 15 Senate races in Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas. Democrats now control the Senate by just one seat.

Republican wins in those states won't guarantee a pro-gun voting record in every case, Gottlieb acknowledged; but it would put pro-gun forces in control of the Senate and most committee chairmanships.

One problem facing gun rights advocates, however, is that candidates aren't talking about gun issues. Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America, believes that both Republicans and Democrats view gun issues as a political liability.

Sen. Charles E. (Chuck) Schumer (D-N.Y.) is talking about gun issues, but he's mislabeling himself as pro-Second Amendment, according to Firearms Coalition chairman Neal Knox.

"We've got a bunch of 'make-nice Dems' like Chuck Schumer that are saying 'Oh, I believe in the Second Amendment,' [but] don't let them for one moment define what being for the Second Amendment means," said Knox.

Too many pro-gunners want to believe such claims, said Knox, but "it really doesn't mean a thing when they say it because they have a little...footnote that says, 'This is how I interpret it.'

Put them to the wall on how they feel about concealed carry laws at the federal and state level, Knox urged; and demand that candidates reveal how they will vote on extending the 1994 "assault weapons" and magazine bans, which are likely to come before the 108th Congress.