Fire . . .
Has John Kerry given up trying to suck up to gun-owning America?
BY KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL
Friday, September 17, 2004 12:01 a.m.
The political class was busy this week trying to figure out why, after months of sucking up to the gun-owning public, John Kerry tossed aside all his hard work and condemned the end of the "assault" weapons ban. Was it a play for the soccer moms? Were his advisers on a coffee break?
There is another possibility, one that even as I write millions of rural Americans are praying is the correct answer. Perhaps John Kerry has given up trying to pretend he's one of them.
Ever since Al Gore had the powder wrung out of him in key electoral states by the National Rifle Association, Democrats have been trying to neutralize the gun issue. And no one has worked harder than Mr. Kerry. Nearly every newspaper in America has featured him posed, gun in hand, orange safety vest at the ready, preparing to squeeze off a round for the history books. His stump speech is aimed at buttering up hunters and gun owners, and just last week his campaign declared: "John Kerry's opponents are worried because he's the first Democratic candidate to support Second Amendment gun rights and to be an avid hunter."
Now, Lyndon Johnson, who used to shoot deer on his Texas ranch from a Lincoln convertible, would undoubtedly take issue with this claim. But John Kerry's problem is bigger than dead presidents. Nobody alive is buying his act, either, and he has only himself to blame.
Watching someone try to be something he isn't is always embarrassing, but there's something particularly painful about watching Mr. Kerry try to convince you that you'd want him in your duck blind for eight hours. Certain elites still believe that all you have to do to fit in with "country folk" is put on a flannel shirt and gush about firearms. But none of that counts for much if you still don't know a gun rack from an art installation.
And Mr. Kerry has trouble on that count. Take, for instance, a July interview in which he was asked what kind of hunting he preferred. Here was our Nantucket Natty Bumppo's response: "Probably I'd have to say deer. . . . I go out with my trusty 12-gauge double-barrel, crawl around on my stomach."
Now, let's admit that hunters can do some silly things. They climb up trees and go numb sitting still for hours. They tramp across nasty terrain. They drink too much beer and pass out in their tents and then later lie to their buddies that they missed the biggest buck in [you fill in the state] by only half an inch. But most have learned that lying with one's face in the mud is not conducive to bagging a big one. Mr. Kerry seems to have confused his time in the Mekong Delta with his supposed many hunting trips.
His other credibility problem is his record. Guns have been a big voter issue for a long time, and there is no shortage of organizations on both sides of the debate to keep track of votes. Whether you ask the NRA or the Brady Campaign, the word on John Kerry is the same: He has voted for every gun-control bill in the Senate over the past 18 years.
That fact led to national snickering when Mr. Kerry was pictured in West Virginia brandishing a new shotgun that was a present from the United Mine Workers of America. One gun expert noted that in accepting the gun and taking it back to Massachusetts, Mr. Kerry could break certain gun laws (undoubtedly many of which he supports), at least one of which carries prison time. Oops.
The October edition of Outdoor Life will feature interviews with both presidential candidates. When asked about their favorite guns, President Bush responds: "My favorite gun is a Weatherby Athena 20 gauge." Mr. Kerry says (reminding us yet again where he was 35 years ago): "My favorite gun is the M-16 that saved my life and that of my crew in Vietnam. I don't own one of those now, but one of my reminders of my service is a Communist Chinese assault rifle." So Mr. Kerry's favorite gun is an "assault" rifle designed for war. Funny talk coming from a guy who just went ballistic over the end of the "assault" weapons ban.
This all explains why Mr. Kerry is getting shot down in his gun efforts. This past weekend, while interviewing potential voters at a Pennsylvania gun show, I asked several if Mr. Kerry's attempts to look gun-friendly had made an impression. Those attendees who didn't immediately bust out laughing or roll their eyes noted that it was the past 20 years that would matter when they entered the voting booth, not the past 20 months.
So here is a little advice from gun-owning America to you, John. Stop, please. Before you really do shoot yourself in the foot.
Ms. Strassel is a senior editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal.