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Gun-Ban Lobby Suffers Miserably At Polls

Sunday, November 10, 2002

Anti-gun lawmakers and candidates were not the only big losers on Tuesday, as the gun-ban lobby formerly known as HCI suffered enormous setbacks at the polls. Each election cycle, the extremist organization looks for what it considers to be the 12 most vulnerable pro-gun candidates that it can target for defeat. This year, the group’s "Dangerous Dozen" list went after 10 candidates endorsed by NRA, one candidate who was not initially endorsed but had been endorsed in the past, and another candidate not even rated by NRA, but who was running against one of the gun-ban lobby’s favorite federal lawmakers of all time—Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). Lautenberg stepped in to replace U.S. Senator Bob Torricelli (D), whose ties to corruption had him heading for likely defeat. And while HCI’s endorsed candidate won that race, the vast majority of America’s voters continued to reject HCI’s extremist agenda. In the 10 targeted races where NRA had made an early endorsement, seven of our candidates won. HCI split the two remaining races, with Lautenberg winning against an unrated candidate, and pro-gun U.S. Representative Bob Ehrlich (R)— who received a late endorsment from NRA-PVF via a Get Out The Vote phone bank—winning his race for governor of Maryland.

In New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District, where NRA-PVF-endorsed Scott Garrett (R) trounced HCI-backed Anne Sumers (D), the campaign took a decidedly nasty turn when a Sumers ad tried to exploit the recent string of shootings in the Maryland/ Virginia/Washington, D.C. area. The ad pictured one of the accused killers, John Allen Muhammad, and implied Garrett’s pro-gun views may have contributed to the crime spree.

In the Maryland gubernatorial race, which pitted Bob Ehrlich against virulently anti-gun Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D), promoting attacks on law-abiding gun owners was one of Townsend’s central themes. Townsend, who was endorsed by HCI, also sought to exploit the crimes Muhammad has been accused of committing. According to the Washington Post, one day after her campaign promised it would avoid raising gun control as a campaign issue as long as the killer remained on the loose, Townsend reversed herself. An October 11 Post article stated Townsend "shipped a new ad to Washington TV stations that bashes her GOP opponent in the Maryland governor’s race for voting against a ban on [so-called] ‘assault weapons.’" Paul E. Schurick, a spokesman for Ehrlich, stated prior to the capture of the suspects, "We’ve got a killer on the loose, we have funerals taking place, and she and her campaign have decided to put that to use for their political gain. It’s shameful." And Townsend’s campaign went the added step of following up its "assault weapons" ad with one that called for "ballistic fingerprinting." A Townsend spokesman, Peter Hamm, defended his candidate’s strategy, stating "[I]t is certainly fair—and I think Washington [sic] residents will agree—to talk about where we both stand on the issue of gun control." Of course, Hamm should have been more concerned with what Maryland residents think, who clearly thought poorly of a politician who tries to use tragedy to promote her campaign. Ehrlich defeated Townsend, sending a Republican to the governor’s mansion for the first time in Maryland since the 1960s.

But HCI’s ineffectiveness at the polls was not confined to its "Dangerous Dozen" target list. HCI also failed to defeat any of the six pro-gun lawmakers it included in its "Dishonerable Mention" list. Furthermore, only three incumbent Republicans lost reelection in the House of Representatives, and two of those candidates were endorsed by HCI. And in many of the high-profile races where the gun-ban lobby made endorsements, such as in the gubernatorial races in Kansas and Pennsylvania, and U.S. Senate races in Colorado, Georgia, and Missouri, their candidates did everything possible to distance themselves from being labeled as anti-gun. In Missouri, where HCI-endorsed U.S. Senator Jean Carnahan (D) lost to NRA-PVF-endorsed Jim Talent (R), Carnahan tried disguising her anti-gun views by publicizing her fondness for skeet shooting and promoting her "Sportsmen for Carnahan" bumper stickers, although that tactic failed to win over the pro-gun community.

In the wake of what HCI should consider demoralizing losses at the polls, the gun-ban lobby’s tenuous grasp on reality has shown signs that it is slipping more than ever. Its press release on the elections makes the outrageous claim, "Where guns were a campaign issue, supporters of [gun control] won," and President Michael Barnes claimed, "The [NRA] did not win this election." The same release, however, also proclaims, "The NRA and their allies now control Congress...." And the release goes on to imply HCI’s anti-gun, anti-Ehrlich campaign in Maryland "was a winner." It’s hard to imagine how the group can consider the loss of Townsend, the candidate it supported more than any other, as "a winner." Especially considering both Townsend and HCI ran numerous ads attacking Ehrlich’s pro-gun record and his ties to NRA. Then again, this is the same organization that considers banning firearms, imposing ineffective licensing and registration schemes, and abusing our judicial system with reckless lawsuits designed to bankrupt law-abiding gun manufacturers as part of its "sensible gun policies."

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