by Joseph P. Tartaro
Guns and gun control legislation were not mentioned directly in the first televised presidential debate between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush. But that wont prevent media advocates from throwing it into the spin mix.
If you watched the debate from Boston on Oct. 3, youve probably drawn your own conclusions. Personally, I would give the edge to Bush, who proved in a smooth performance that he is far from the bubbling lightweight that the media and Democratic spin doctors have been trying to portray.
Gore, however, came off as the petulant grammar school principal who spent most of his time huffing indignantly into the microphone.
Associated Press the next morning reported that three out of four polls said Gore did better, although both candidates apparently improved their images with voters.
Clearly, however, there were no knock-out punches thrown. This years important presidential election remains too close to call and there are two more presidential debates and one vice presidential debate to come.
Gunowners Favor Bush
While there have been no specific endorsements of Bush by the National Rifle Association, it is clear that national gun groups favor Bush over Gore. The anti-gun groups, like Handgun Control Inc., however, are showing no reticence about pushing Gores election and are doing everything possible to frighten people away from Bush.
Meanwhile, Gore who has made his anti-gun agenda quite clear at other times, is running away from the gun issue in key battleground states, particularly in the Midwest and Pennsylvania. In fact, so obvious has been his avoidance of the gun issue that The New York Times recently ran a lengthy article calling attention to his gun strategy.
The Gore campaign isnt just medi-scare, as Bush termed it during the debate, but safety-scare, too.
It was not surprising then when the pro-Gore, anti-gun Los Angeles Times regurgitated an old anti-gun canard about the Texas law that Bush signed.
Hundreds of convicted criminals in Texas have received licenses to carry concealed weapons under a bill signed by Gov. George W. Bush ending a ban on the practice, the Los Angeles Times reported on the day of the first debate.
Bush promised that the law, which ended a 125-year prohibition on concealed weapons in Texas, would require rigorous background checks for license applicants.
But a Los Angeles Times investigation found that convicted rapists and armed robbers, as well as people with histories of violence, drug problems and psychological disorders received licenses to carry concealed weapons, the newspaper continued.
The Times reported that 215,000 Texans are currently licensed to carry concealed firearms. But Texas officials concede more than 400 were licensed despite prior convictions and more than 3,000 other licensees have since been arrested, the report said, without explaining all of the details of the examples provided earlier in a Violence Policy Center report. And without quoting any of the police officials, lawmakers and newspaper editors who had opposed the right-to-carry measure and later said that the law had worked so well it had turned them into converts.
To make sure that the story frightened some voters, The Times and Reuters news service added, While Bush has had support in Texas for lifting the ban on concealed weapons, nationally it could pose a political problem for him in his tight race against Vice President Al Gore. Polls show these laws are controversial, particularly among women and independent voters. And three of the critical swing statesIllinois, Ohio and Missouriban carrying concealed weapons.
And Bush has said that if elected president he would not back a nationwide version of the Texas law allowing concealed weapons, the article concluded.
Another bogus issue that keeps surfacing is the soft-money campaigning by special interests. To hear Gore and his press allies, it is Bush who is exploiting the support of special interests. But an Associated Press story recently ripped the mask off that bit of chicanery.
Special interest groupsnotably unions and the gun control lobbyspent more than $1 million in a single week on television ads aiding Al Gore, overwhelming the outside money spent to help Texas Gov. George W. Bush, reported Laura Meckler of the Associated Press.
The AFL-CIO, Handgun Control Inc. and other pro-Gore groups spent $1.15 million in the 75 largest markets during one week, according to an analysis of spending data by the University of Wisconsin. That compares to just $17,000 in pro-Bush ads, Meckler said.
Its been the same story since June 1, when the presidential ad war began, she continued.
Outside groups have spent $3.6 million on pro-Gore spots, versus $335,000 on commercials aiding Bush, although that is expected to even out. Conservative organizations, including anti-abortion groups, are reported gearing up to support Bush.
The biggest players so far have been the political parties. Together, the Republican and Democratic national committees have spent more than $52 million since June 1 in the top 75 markets, more than double the $21 million the Bush and Gore campaigns have spent.
Overall, Republicans are outspending Democrats, Meckler said.
In the most recent week for which data are available, Sept. 13-20, the RNC spent about $2.3 million on ads in the top 75 markets, versus $1.8 million for the DNC. And Bushs campaign nearly doubled Gores in ads, spending nearly $2 million versus about $1.1 million for Gore.
Each side received $67.6 million in federal funds for the campaign, most of which will pay for ads. Bush is using his chunk more quickly, having already spent some $25 million. Gore has spent just over $20 million.
Interest groups have been tilting the spending balance for Gore. Between June 1 and Sept. 20 Handgun Control spent $1.3 million on ads critiquing Bushs record on guns in Texas. In the same period, the AFL-CIO spent $1.1 million on ads accusing Bush of raiding the Texas teacher retirement fund and a union-related organization, American Family Voices, which is tied to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, spent $640,000 on pro-Gore spots, Meckler noted.
Associated Press said the No. 1 group helping Bush, the National Rifle Association, spent $257,000 on ads.
The movie and television industry, while under a cloud in the public and congressional mind, continues to work and spend on behalf of Gore. In a new TV ad, a pretend president on a highly popular TV series has weighed in on a real-live campaign. And like his character, Martin Sheen is siding with the Democrats.
Handgun Control Inc. is spending about a half million dollars to air a new campaign commercial featuring Sheen talking about Republican George W. Bushs record on gun control. And HCI has said it will be spending more.
Should the next president be the candidate of the gun lobby? Sheen asks, speaking to the camera with an American flag filling the background. Should he have signed a bill that allows hidden handguns in churches, hospitals and amusement parks?
Thats Gov. Bushs record, says Sheen, who plays President Bartlett on NBCs The West Wing.
Sheen, who donated his time, also made a second Handgun Control spot that does not mention any candidate. It has not aired yet. The Sheen ads come on the heels of a $1.4 million run in seven cities of another Handgun Control ad about Bush.
HCI isnt alone. Separately on Sept. 28, the Sierra Club launched a $3 million ad and direct mail campaign in 16 markets criticizing Bushs record on the environment and touting Gores.
If what you see and hear yourself doesnt match with what the media says you saw and heard, chalk it up to the spin.
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