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NRA Joins the Recall Effort Against Roberti : Elections: But group refuses to put a dollar value on its contribution to force the lawmaker from office.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With less than two weeks before the election, the National Rifle Assn. is throwing its weight into the fight to recall state Sen. David Roberti (D-Van Nuys), a top executive of the huge gun owners organization told reporters Wednesday night.

While Roberti has long maintained that the drive to push him from office is the work of guns rights advocates, the NRA had not officially taken any role in the campaign until now.

“We’re going to encourage our members to support the recall,” said Stephen Helsley, an NRA lobbyist in Sacramento. However, Helsley refused to map out the NRA’s strategy or put a dollar value on the contribution it will make to the anti-Roberti campaign.

“You’ll just have to wait and see,” Helsley told reporters at a candidates forum in Van Nuys sponsored by the NRA for candidates seeking to unseat Roberti in the April 12 recall election.

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Staci Walters, Roberti’s press secretary, said the last-minute NRA decision to join the battle comes as no surprise. “It just adds to the evidence that this campaign is really all about assault weapons,” Walters said.

Roberti has claimed all along that the recall is the work of the gun lobby seeking revenge because of his support for a 1989 law banning military-style semiautomatic rifles, loosely known as assault weapons.

The NRA’s decision puzzled some observers because it seemed to confirm Roberti’s allegations on the motives behind the recall at a time when recall leaders have complained that Roberti and the media had falsely characterized the race as the work of gun interests.

“We could have used their support earlier,” added recall leader Russ Howard, commenting on the NRA move.

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A crowd of about 175 attended Wednesday’s event, to which only NRA members, reporters and candidates were invited.

The crowd seemed unanimously supportive of the recall and of the five candidates for Roberti’s seat, who promised, if elected, to fight a growing tide of gun control proposals coming from Sacramento.

Although invited, Roberti declined to attend the forum.

Prior to Wednesday’s event, candidate Randy Linkmeyer, a Canoga Park gun store owner, held a news conference to preview campaign ads that he will seek to place on cable television channels, including CNN’s popular news channels.

Linkmeyer also accused Roberti of supporting a series of new gun control initiatives being pushed by state Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara). But Walters said Roberti has not endorsed the Hart measures, which include a proposal that would require people to obtain a firearms license--which would have to be renewed periodically--before they could own a handgun or buy ammunition for one.

Helsley said Roberti has not made his views on the Hart proposals known yet. “But a betting man could reasonably conclude that if it’s a bill we (the NRA) don’t like, Roberti would support it,” he said.

During the forum, candidate Al Dib, a retired businessman, stirred the crowd by saying he supported the repeal of laws prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons. “If we were all able to carry our guns on the streets, there’d be less criminals on the streets,” he told the crowd, drawing some applause.

Candidate Dolores White, a real estate broker and veteran GOP activist, told the crowd: “We need to draw a bead on David Roberti and bring him down to send a message to Sacramento.”

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Also attending the forum were Linkmeyer and candidates Larry Martz, a handyman and officer of a local gun group, and Bill Dominguez, a Cuban emigre and key organizer of the petition drive that put the recall measure on the ballot.


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