The Magazine

Trigger Happy

The NRA outguns its opponents.

Sep 27, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 03 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
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And true to his record, in Pennsylvania last week--where legend has it that on the first day of hunting season enough of the state's 1 million hunters emerge to form a body of armed men larger than any army in the world--Kerry lit into Bush. Bush, he said, "never asked the Congress to pass [a renewal of the ban], never pushed the Congress to pass it, never stood up, caves in to the NRA, gives in to the special interests, and America's streets will not be as safe because of the choice that George Bush is making." He has also said that Bush is making "the job of terrorists easier and . . . the job of America's police officers harder." A recent swing puts Bush up 3 to 4 points in the state.

Kerry voted on another gun bill this month, and this time his side won. It was the NRA's only significant defeat this year. Designed to stifle lawsuits against gun manufacturers whose products have been used to commit crimes, the bill passed in the House by a 2-1 margin but was shot down (sorry) in the Senate at the last minute by NRA backers when amendments reviving the assault weapons ban were tacked onto it.

The NRA has gained a lot of ground since those "dark days." Pilots can now carry guns into the cockpit; the restrictions on gun merchants have been eased; the assault weapons ban has expired; state legislatures have expanded the right to carry, reinforced protections for shooting ranges, and passed state limits on lawsuits against gun manufacturers; more federal hunting lands have opened up; and, perhaps most impressive, the State Department put a firm kibosh on the United Nations' efforts to effect an international ban on certain firearms. Or, as Cox puts it, "The Bush administration, given their correct interpretation of the Second Amendment, sent representatives to convey the message 'Keep your hands off.'"

This list is indeed impressive. Yet these accomplishments pale beside the remarkable fact that John Kerry, a candidate for the presidency with a substantial anti-gun record, has gone out of his way to be photographed holding a large gun and to reminisce for the record about hunting trips. Even as he consistently votes to defeat the NRA legislatively, he knows that he can't afford not to suck up. Four years ago, the NRA couldn't have foreseen such a thing in its wildest fantasies.

The reporters who trekked from Washington to Lorton the other day hoping to get a story out of Gilbert's Small Arms Range were looking in the wrong place, so they missed the real news. It was unfolding back on Capitol Hill--the latest chapter of the most fantastic fairy tale success story in recent memory. And the person who should be the most nervous about whether this fairy tale ends with a "happily ever after" is John Kerry. Right after the assault weapons ban expired, the NRA formally endorsed George W. Bush--and it's on one heck of a winning streak.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a reporter at The Weekly Standard and a former member of the Yale Rifle Team.