NRA Starts Ads Critical of Kerry

Times Staff Writer

The National Rifle Assn., one of the country’s most influential lobbying groups, is wading into the presidential campaign with television commercials that criticize Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts as an opponent of gun-owner rights.

The Democratic nominee’s camp flatly denies the charge.

The NRA’s advertising drive, including a 30-second spot that aired on cable TV last weekend, comes as the gun lobby is savoring two recent legislative victories here in the capital.

On Sept. 13, the Republican-led Congress allowed a 10-year-old ban on certain kinds of assault weapons to expire -- with no public protest from President Bush. Last week, the House voted to repeal a law banning certain handguns in the District of Columbia.


The assault-weapons ban became a campaign issue, with Kerry castigating Bush after the ban lapsed. The president had said he favored an extension of the ban, but he did not push Congress publicly to act on it. Kerry said he would have done so if president, citing support for the assault-weapons ban from law-enforcement groups.

Now the NRA is moving to depict Kerry as a politician who has long favored gun control over the rights of gun owners.

The latest ad shows an NRA lobbyist, Chris W. Cox, walking through a field with a shotgun slung over his shoulder. In the ad, which aired on the Outdoor Life Network, Cox contends that Kerry is not a hunter even though the Democrat is a gun owner who says he has been an avid shooting sportsman since he was a youth. During the presidential campaign, to prove that point, Kerry also has arranged for pictures to be taken while he has hunted with a shotgun.

But Cox says Kerry’s voting record in the Senate belies his claim to be a friend of hunters.

“Remember, John Kerry’s not a hunter,” Cox says in the ad. “He just plays one on TV.” In a telephone interview, Cox said the NRA planned a $20-million effort this year to mobilize voters for the Nov. 2 election. Another recent NRA ad, which aired in Florida, accused Kerry of wanting to shut down gun shows.

While the NRA is critical of Kerry, Cox said it had not endorsed Bush.

Gun issues are widely considered to have hurt Al Gore in 2000 in states such as West Virginia and his home state of Tennessee -- both of which Bush carried. For much of that campaign, Gore stressed his support for gun control legislation, including a proposed requirement for background checks of prospective firearms buyers at gun shows. Such legislation arose in response to the 1999 student massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado.

In 1999, Kerry also cast key votes in the Senate in support of gun show background checks.

This year, Kerry is emphasizing his own background as a gun owner and sportsman, which could help him with rural voters.

In response to the NRA ads, Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton said: “The Bush attack machine is in overdrive. John Kerry is a lifelong hunter, and he’ll never do a thing to impinge on sportsmen’s rights.” Clanton added: “If we keep with Bush’s antijobs, pro-outsourcing agenda, we’re all going to need a shotgun and a fishing pole just to put food on the table.”