NRA brings guns into presidential race

The presidential candidates have struck a delicate balance on the issue.

In an election year when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its first decision defining the rights given in the Second Amendment, guns and gun control have become an issue in the presidential race.

Both major candidates have tried to strike a delicate balance: supporting gun ownership but also advocating some safety regulations. Attempts to strike that balance have affected campaign decisions from the latest attack ads and perhaps a vice presidential choice.

The National Rifle Association, which has endorsed Republican presidential candidate John McCain, has attacked Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in campaign ads.

The NRA's political action committee, the Political Victory Fund, has created a Web site that features several videos attacking Obama's Senate voting record on guns. On the Web site, the organization states that, if elected, Obama "would be the most anti-gun president in American history."

For his choice of running mate, McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, an avid hunter who has spoken on the campaign trail about her hunting trips. In past remarks, McCain has said he supports the current interpretation of the Second Amendment.

The decision on the Washington D.C. handgun ban by the Supreme Court in March presented a contrast between the two candidates on the issue, as the court ruled that the District's ban on handgun ownership was unconstitutional.

Before the verdict was returned, McCain signed a friend-of-the-court brief that urged the Supreme Court to overturn the ban. Obama, who endorsed a state ban on the sale and possession of handguns in Illinois, took a neutral position on the ruling. He said he agreed that people have a right to own firearms, but "just because you have an individual right does not mean that the state or local government can't constrain the exercise of that right."

MU political science professor John Petrocik said in an e-mail that the NRA's ads appeared to be having the most drastic effect on undecided voters because Obama felt compelled to respond to them.

"Ads can make a difference by raising the salience of an issue and linking preferences on an issue to the vote," Petrocik said. "It seems clear that BHO is or was worried enough about it to make soothing statements about the Second Amendment to several different audiences in recent months."

James Knowles, the Missouri Federation of Young Republicans chairman, said his group supports the NRA's stance against Obama. He said that even though fewer members of his group, which is based in St. Louis, would likely be affected by Obama's policies, they still oppose limitations on gun ownership.

"It's interesting that even though many of our members may not be gun owners themselves, they understand the need for the right," Knowles said. "I think they're concerned about eroding one right in place of another."

Nate Kennedy, the Young Democrats of Missouri College Federation chairman, said the group opposes the NRA's "A+" criteria that candidates must favor legislation that allows students to carry concealed weapons on college campuses.

"I think its outrageous especially after the Virginia Tech incident and the scare at Western Kentucky University," Kennedy said.

Kennedy said the NRA's ads against Obama do not represent a major change in its strategy and that the attacks overstate the impact of the candidate's positions.

"That's the same attack they lobby every two years," Kennedy said. "I grew up hunting and I'm looking forward to deer hunting after the election. I'm not worried about my ability to buy a gun under Barack Obama's policies."


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