Democrats Are Playing NRA Roulette

Robert A. Ricker is a lawyer and lobbyist who has represented such groups as the National Rifle Assn. and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

Much has been made of the decision by some Senate Democrats to abandon their political base and support legislation backed by the National Rifle Assn. to shield gun makers from lawsuits by crime victims.

They apparently hope they can immunize themselves against attacks from the gun lobby or that the gun lobby will ease up on vulnerable Democrats at election time.

But these Democrats are making a big strategic mistake. They're following the failed strategy of feeding the political "alligator" first, in hopes it will eat them last.

Consider the facts. The Senate bill -- S 659 -- would shield even reckless gun dealers from accountability. Bull's Eye Shooter Supply, the gun store linked to the 1999 shooting at the Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills and the sniper shootings in the Washington, D.C., area, cannot account for more than 200 guns in its inventory. The bill would place it above the law. This bill -- the NRA's top legislative priority this year -- has 54 co-sponsors, nine of them Senate Democrats. A top aide to one leading Senate Democrat called the bill the "Things You've Got to Do to Get Reelected Act," according to a recent article in the Washington Post.

As a former NRA strategist and top gun industry lobbyist, I submit that the Senate Democrats have been hoodwinked.

In 1999, I saw where the NRA and the gun industry were going, and I didn't like it. They began taking grossly irresponsible positions. For example, they opposed closing the gun-show loophole, which allows anyone to buy a gun at a gun show without a background check.

But it wasn't until the change in administrations that I decided to come forward to talk about how the NRA and the gun industry work. Now more than ever, people need to know what I know.

The NRA has no intention of calling off its dogs in an election year. Why? The gun lobby has never placed its trust in the Democratic Party. Never. And, when it comes to guns, the NRA will campaign as hard as it can for a committed Republican over a "squishy" Democrat any day of the week.

What's more, NRA leaders can't believe their success at fooling Senate Democrats. The simple reason the NRA will not go easy on Democrats at election time? The organization has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party. Republican members such as Grover Norquist, Oliver North, former Congressman Bob Barr and David Keene of the America Conservative Union dominate the NRA's board of directors. The new NRA president is Kayne Robinson, former Iowa Republican Party chairman.

These people are as committed -- or perhaps even more committed -- to a Republican majority as they are to protecting the legitimate rights of American gun owners.

An example of the NRA's unwavering stance is my old friend Norquist, a particularly vocal NRA board member who recently referred to bipartisanship as "another name for date rape."

He also said, "We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals -- and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship."

And consider the NRA's most recent election activities. Ask former Georgia Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes if his pro-gun positions did him much good with local gun clubs when the NRA rolled into his state last November. Or ask former Missouri Sen. Jean Carnahan if her shotgun-toting photo ops were enough against her NRA-endorsed Republican challenger. GOP congressional campaign leader Tom Davis (R-Va.) has called the gun issue the "cornerstone" of Republican victories in last fall's elections. And Republican dreams of establishing a permanent majority rest largely in the NRA's ability to motivate its members next year.

With the GOP's Senate majority so slim, believing that the NRA will go easy on Democrats in the upcoming election is tantamount to believing in the tooth fairy.

I can tell you firsthand that most gun-owning Americans do not buy into NRA's fear-mongering, and most are unmotivated by NRA "Chicken Little" calls to action. Of the nation's 80 million gun owners, only 4 million are NRA members. Thus, the GOP's overreliance on the NRA is risky. But it is a risk that will pay off for the GOP unless the leaders in the Democratic Party wise up -- and quickly.

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