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Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008

More Bark Than Bite from the NRA This Year

Candidates backed by the gun-rights group lose in Wisconsin and

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"I’m the NRA and I vote,”read the campaign buttons.

But on Nov. 4, the progun-rights voters fired up by the National Rifle Association (NRA) were in the minority. In fact, a slew of NRA-backed candidates were defeated across the country— including the Republican presidential ticket, lawmakers on the national scene such as Sen. Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina, and even Wisconsin state Rep. Frank Lasee (R- Green Bay), who just last year proposed allowing public school teachers to carry guns in class.

In contrast, a report by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence discovered that candidates who support gun control measures had far greater success, even in areas with high levels of gun ownership, such as Wisconsin, or where the NRA was actively campaigning.

The Brady Campaign report concluded that while the NRA promised to deliver single-issue voters on Election Day to vote for sympathetic candidates, it got trounced this year. “In 2008 (as in other years), those voters were insignificant in number, and did not make a critical difference in the primaries, the general election or any down-ticket races,” it stated.

Not only did NRA-backed candidates lose throughout the country, but NRA ads targeting President-elect Barack Obama didn’t work. The NRA ran TV ads in 13 states—including Wisconsin, Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio. But Obama lost only two states in which the NRA blasted him on the airwaves: Texas and Missouri.

Buster Bachhuber, a Wausau-based director of the national NRA, said that gun rights just weren’t top-most in voters’ minds this year, when the cratering economy became the most decisive issue. I wish that it would have been a bigger issue,” he said.

While the NRA had promised to spend $40 million during this election cycle, which it said was the most important election in its history, Bachhuber said the organization spent $5 million on all state, local and federal races, “$1.25 per member.”

Wisconsin’s Shift

Jeri Bonavia, executive director of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort (WAVE), said that the NRA lost key races in Wisconsin and weren’t able to “take out” lawmakers who have opposed the group’s legislative agenda.

Big gun-control wins include Democrat Ted Zigmunt, who won Lasee’s seat in the Assembly; Democrat Jim Holperin of Eagle River, who beat NRA-backed Tom Tiffany for the Senate seat vacated by Democrat Roger Breske, another NRA supporter; and Democrat Fred Clark, who defeated state Rep. J.A. “Doc” Hines of Oxford, rated A by the NRA.

Bonavia said these results disprove the myth that lawmakers must fear the power of the NRA at the ballot box and therefore tread lightly on gun control issues during the legislative session. “They should look at reality,” Bonavia said.

The Nov. 4 election also shifted the balance of power in the state Assembly, which, in Republican hands, had supported measures such as concealed carry and stymied a bill seeking more background checks for gun purchases. Now that Democrats control both houses of the state Legislature and the governor’s office, a background-check bill that languished last year will be revived this term, Bonavia said.

Bachhuber said that while gun issues are nonpartisan and many Democrats are supported by the NRA, “the Republicans not having control of the state Assembly puts us a little on the defensive.” He said the organization would still seek to lower the age of adult-supervised or “mentored” hunting from 12 to 10.

Bachhuber said the NRA isn’t totally opposed to increased background checks on gun sales, but that the previous bill contained too many broadly worded provisions that would have infringed on free speech rights as well as the right to bear arms.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.

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