Monday, Oct. 27, 2008 | 2 a.m.
The National Rifle Association is pouring money and manpower into Nevada — the state’s 3rd Congressional District in particular — in hopes of defeating Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and carrying Republican Rep. Jon Porter to a fourth term in Congress.
The group is spending $40 million nationwide this election season to tell its 4 million members — and tens of millions more gun owners — Obama would be the most anti-gun president in history. In Southern Nevada, the NRA has organized 60 volunteers to promote early voting and absentee balloting. Through last week, they had made 3,800 phone calls, visited 1,800 households and dropped 11,500 pieces of campaign literature throughout the Las Vegas Valley.
The group would not say how many members it has in Nevada.
“We want voters to know that when Barack Obama talks about gun rights, when he talks about the Second Amendment, it’s plain campaign rhetoric,” NRA national spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said. “He has a lifetime record of opposing gun rights and supporting gun control. To NRA members, voting records matter — and they matter more than what a politician says when he’s running for president.”
The NRA chose Reno as one of four cities to announce its endorsement of Sen. John McCain this month and is running radio, TV and print ads in Nevada, in addition to an ambitious get out-the-vote effort. The group says it registered to vote more than 1 million gun owners nationally in the past year.
The NRA has been a potent political force in past elections. Some Democrats attribute Al Gore’s loss in 2000 in part to the group’s efforts in Tennessee, West Virginia and Arkansas. In 2000 and 2004, gun owners favored George W. Bush by an overwhelming 30 percent margin.
Though the group’s effect on past Nevada races is unclear, its efforts could be an important boost for McCain and Porter this cycle, said University of Nevada, Reno, political scientist Eric Herzik.
“If it looks like there’s going to be a surge of new Democratic voters linked to Obama, it becomes even more critical the Republican base shows up,” he said. “You’re not going to convert an anti-gun Obama person to walk away, but you will certainly reinforce the Second Amendment guys. You pull back those leaners.”
This year, the NRA created a Web site — GunBaNObama.com — and argues that Obama will, among other things, appoint anti-gun Supreme Court justices. When the high court threw out the handgun ban in Washington, D.C., in June Obama sought a middle ground, saying he supports the right to gun ownership but also the right of local communities to enact “common-sense” regulations. McCain heralded the ruling, saying it was the first step toward ensuring gun rights.
The NRA points to Obama’s legislative record, highlighting his opposition as an Illinois state senator to creating a loophole for persons violating gun-registration laws if they used the firearm for self-defense. The group also cites his vote as a U.S. senator against a bill that protected gun manufacturers from lawsuits. It points to Obama’s comment this year that “bitter” voters cling to guns and religion.
Recognizing a weakness, Obama recently called that comment his “biggest boneheaded move” and his campaign has called the NRA’s ads misleading. The Obama campaign has launched ads here emphasizing the candidate’s support for the Second Amendment.
“I believe in the Second Amendment,” he told a crowd in Elko last month. “I believe in people’s lawful right to bear arms. I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won’t take your handgun away.”
The American Hunters and Shooters Association endorsed Obama.
Among gun owners, though, the NRA’s message, through ads and mailers, is sinking in.
“He’s going to be a gun grabber, for sure,” Bill Harmon, a retired engineer, registered Republican and McCain supporter, said of Obama last week while target shooting at the Las Vegas Gun Range & Firearms Center.
Douglas Jensen, a convenience store manager and registered Democrat, stopped in to the shop to get one of his six handguns repaired. He’s voting for McCain too. “I’ve seen what he did for Illinois,” he said. “And I don’t want him to push that agenda all over the United States.”
Gun shop owners are doing their part.
At the Las Vegas Gun Range, a “NObama” T-shirt is the centerpiece of an assault rifle display. Owners Michael Morrissey and Billy Conn printed about 300 of the shirts and almost all have been sold. “We feel McCain is a better chance for us,” Morrissey said, over the sounds of muffled machine-gun fire. “There’s a theory that people have the right to protect themselves against government. Well, Obama talks about sportsmen’s rights. But that doesn’t do you any good when you’re being oppressed or someone’s kicking in the door of your house.”
Morrissey fears a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, which expired four years ago, would hit his shop hard. “I don’t think for a minute he’s going to take away all guns. It’s not practical,” he said. “Nor do I think he would intend to, if he could.”
Backed by a wall of assault rifles, Morrissey added: “What we want to know about is all this cool stuff. This is the fun stuff. This is good money stuff. People buy these literally for fun, and that’s what we’re worried about losing.”
Outside the Gun Store on Tropicana Avenue, a sign posted above a trash can reads: “Voting for Obama? Save time. Deposit your guns here.” Inside, assistant range manager Ernie Beckwith says customers worry about an Obama presidency. The shop offers free “NOBAMA” bumper stickers, as well as ones that read “NO GUNS NO RIGHTS.”
Chris Jones, a retired welder from Henderson, said he was buying a case of ammunition because “I want to get ’em before Obama says you can’t get ’em. The only reason anybody wants to disarm you is they wish to enslave you.”
To be sure, gun owners aren’t overly enthusiastic about McCain, hence the anti-Obama thrust of the NRA campaign. The Republican supported legislation that would have mandated background checks at gun shows and campaign finance reform limiting the influence of interest groups, such as the NRA.