by Joseph P. Tartaro
Many political and media observers noted that the acceptance speeches of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Vice President Albert Gore on successive nights during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles departed from the traditional Bill Clinton anti-gun rhetoric.
Guns and new gun legislation were briefly mentioned, but not in the detail that other speeches or the Democrats platform would indicate.
Sarah and Jim Brady didnt make their prime-time appearances on the convention stage. Rosie ODonnell, the Million Mom godmother, didnt show either, going off in a huff after a squabble with the producers of the TV extravaganza.
Of course extreme liberal war-horses, like Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, had their chance to rant some, but it was not in the prime hours with the most television coverage.
There were a few Democrats who explained the paucity of anti-gun rhetoric on the traditional divisiveness of the gun issue, even among Democrats. But underneath the lower profile on guns was the assurance that the Gore-Lieberman campaign of fear would rely heavily on guns, gunowners and the NRA to be their bogeymen.
Dems Hit Bush
Actually, the Democrats spent a good deal of time attacking Texas Gov. George W. Bushs gun record, Dick Cheneys votes against gun legislation, and the Republican-controlled Congress. They will be repeating their claims on the national stump until Nov. 7, as well as using the gun issue to flay Republicans in swing congressional districts.
A squadron of gun-control advocates on Aug. 16 called Bush an extremist who lets Texans take guns to church and protects gunmakers from lawsuits, even as 80 Americans die in gun crimes every day, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Theyre exactly on the wrong side of this issue, Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo said at a poorly attended gun control forum outside the Democratic convention, hosted by Handgun Control Inc. (See story in GunWeek Reports online this week.)
Cuomo and others focused on a pair of votes that Bushs running mate, Cheney, cast while representing Wyoming in Congress. Cheney was one of four House members to oppose a ban on non-existent plastic guns, and one of 21 who voted against a ban on armor-piercing cop-killer bullets that never killed a cop.
When he selected Cheney, he endorsed Cheneys record, and Cheney, on guns, is truly an extremist, Cuomo said.
Nobody likes being labeled an extremist on the right or the left. After all, even real extremists in politics try to duck that label.
But since joining the GOP ticket, Cheney has tried to distance himself from the gun votes and other similarly politically incorrect votes he recorded while in Congress. He vowed to follow Bushs lead on the issues.
Democrats still see the gun issue as a winner, especially among suburban womenbut they dont want to make it high profile either.
Democratic pollster Peter Hart said a poll conducted last month showed a broad consensus, in some cases reaching 70%, for a number of gun control measures supported by Gore and opposed by Bush including gun licensing and background checks for all firearms sales at gun shows. The challenge, he said, is that most voters dont perceive much difference between the candidates on the issue of guns.
He (Bush) will do anything the gun lobby asks him to do, Mike Barnes, president of Handgun Control Inc., said as part of the campaign of fear. HCI is running TV ads that show an NRA leader boasting that if Bush wins, well have a president where we work out of their office.
Republicans defended Bushs record and said it would not hurt him.
We stand for common-sense gun reform. And we stand for enforcement of existing gun laws, Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson said.
In March, Cuomo negotiated the deal with Smith & Wesson that calls for the company to guarantee certain product and trade practices and to submit to control by an outside committee. Other manufacturers refused to sign on to the deal and, while they attempted to negotiate some issues with anti-gun extremists in federal and state government, they largely walked away from meetings after Bush emerged as the GOP nominee.
The gun issue will be complicated for the Democrats nominees, particularly in debates. Lieberman voted in 1992 for legislation that would have barred the District of Columbia from suing gunmakers; Gore voted against it. Gore also voted pro-gun while representing a Tennessee district in the House and later as a senator. He voted for the Firearms Owners Protection Act in 1986.
Throughout the convention in Los Angeles, as in the case of the earlier GOP confab in Philadelphia, protesters were clearly in evidence. Thousands protested but there was no one clear message and theme to unify them. At times they got overly rowdy and were quickly controlled by police.
This led to cries of police brutality, but no one appears to be in a mood to take the protesters claims seriously. Not even Kennedy or Jackson.
Ironically, as a panel of show business people and Democrats in government discussed the effects the media have on the nations culture in the Los Angeles Central Library on the afternoon of Aug. 16, all hell was breaking loose a few blocks away in front of Staples Center, where the convention was held.
While the discussion inside the library was reasoned, humorous and civil, protesters on Figueroa Street were chanting, Use force! Use force! Use force! during their standoff with phalanx of riot-gear armored police.
The scene on the street, broadcast live on television, provided an eerie parallel to some of the things being said inside the library during the Creative Coalition program Youth Violence in America: Whos Programming Our Children.
As actor and talk show host Montel Williams waxed poetic about the effect of the Zapruder film on the mediaFrom that point on we decided to show it allthe protesters were trying to create a mayhem of their own. Williams point was that lambasting fiction aired on television, shown on the movie screen or delivered via the Internet for coarsening society has little relevance when the news of the day is just as violent or sexually oriented. News images from the hostage crisis in Iran during Carter Administration to President Bill Clintons impeachment trial have at least as much impact as fiction, he said.
Our Senate and Congress described sexuality for a year and a half every night at 6:30, Williams said. Now our kids refer to some sex acts by the name of one woman. Of course, no one mentioned that was because of Clinton.
Williams and the other panelistsproducer-director Sydney Pollack, CBS president Leslie Moonves, Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), actress Juliette Lewis, and former Education Secretary Bill Bennettneed only to have walked a few blocks to see his words on violence turned into prophecy. There, police faced off with about 2,500 demonstrators.
Smits on Guns
During the conference, Anthony Edwards, who plays a doctor, talked health care. Juliette Lewis, star of Natural Born Killers, debated violence in film. And former TV cop Jimmy Smits pitched gun control. Smits won a coveted prime-time speaking slot to pitch diversity and praise Gore as the candidate fighting against gun violence.
Almost as soon as the convention ended, the headlines blared that Gore had pulled ahead of Bush in the polls. Bush had been at least 10 points ahead when the DNC convention began.
Gore suddenly was a few points ahead, or at least even, depending on how you read the margin of error.
From now on, it will be a tight race. And gunowners, their children and grandchildren will have a major stake in defeating the campaign of fear.
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