Forgotten already? John McCain's 2004 vote for the Clinton Gun Ban

By Chad D. Baus

I opposed the ban on so-called "assault weapons," which was first proposed after a California schoolyard shooting. - John McCain, NRA Annual Meetings, Louisville, KY, May 16, 2008

To understand just how insulting this statement was to the intelligence of every NRA member present at this year's Annual Meetings, take a short trip in a time machine with me, back to good ol' 2004...

That spring, Presidential candidate John Kerry was spending very little time on his duties as a Senator from Massachusetts, but there was one subject that could get him back to the capitol. The Senate was about to vote on an NRA-backed bill that sought to rein in reckless lawsuits against gun makers (S. 1805), and anti-gun forces in the Senate needed Kerry's vote to hijack the bill and amend it into their own image.

During the first four years of the Bush administration, Congress had offered strong resistance to the gun ban lobby. Just a year earlier, the Federal assault weapons ban (coined the Clinton Gun Ban by the NRA) had been allowed to expire. In an effort to reverse the tide, the gun ban extremists hatched a plan to amend several key gun control issues into a bill that had a great deal of popular support, as well as strong support among their Senate colleagues. And so, on March 2, 2004, John Kerry lurched off the campaign trail to join gun ban allies including Schumer, Feinstein and Kennedy.

The plan was perhaps more successful than its opponents had planned. Rather than accept the gun banners' "poison pill" amendments in order to win passage of the overall bill, the NRA reversed its support for the bill, asking pro-gun Senators to cast votes that would kill it.

I've no doubt few gun owners have forgetten the celebratory grins captured in a "thumbs up" photo taken after the vote. John Kerry's infamous Ohio goose hunt later that year failed to overcome the resultant outrage from the NRA and its membership.

In a press release issued following the death of the bill, the NRA-ILA stated that "the votes that were cast today will tell us who our friends are..."

Four years later, however, it appears the NRA indeed may be on the verge of forgetting just that. You see, despite amendments that, according to the NRA-ILA's press release, "would have reenacted the 1994 Clinton gun ban and shut down gun shows", there were eight Senators who still found the bill worthy of their support. One of them is the candidate the NRA-ILA appears on the verge of offering their endorsement just four short years later.

John Sidney McCain.

From a story written the day the bill died:

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, co-sponsored the loophole bill, arguing that it is needed to prevent known criminals and terrorists from buying guns at gun shows.

Saying several suspected terrorists have been arrested after purchasing weapons at gun shows, McCain wondered, "How many were not arrested?" His amendment passed on a 53-46 vote...

[The bill's primary sponsor, Sen. Larry] Craig said McCain's measure failed to "go after the criminal element." Instead, he said, it "puts a whole new trip-wire in front of the law-abiding citizen."

That's right - John McCain's "poison pill" amendment was one of the chief reasons the NRA was forced to kill the bill.

"...We have said from the start that we would not allow this bill to become a vehicle for added restrictions on the law-abiding people of America," NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told Senate supporters after the vote.

The next time you hear McCain claim to have once opposed an assault weapons ban, be mindful of another "added restriction" which prompted the NRA to kill S. 1805 - the Clinton Gun Ban renewal sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California. The amendment, which sought to ban the sale of 19 different types of semi-automatic rifles, became part of the bill on a 52-47 vote.

In speaking of both McCain's gun show 'loophole' amendment and Feinstein's Clinton Gun ban renewal, Sen. Ted Kennedy said "the Senate's adoption of these amendments today is a welcome step in the right direction, and I intend to do all I can to see that they are enacted into law this year."

The NRA's friends in the Senate responded to the organization's request that the poisoned bill be stopped, and it failed by a 8-90 vote. John McCain, however, made a statement about the status of his 'friendship' with gun owners that day, by voting (yet again) against the NRA's wishes and in support of the poison-pill laden bill.

So indeed, when it comes to discussing the assault weapons ban, John McCain can clearly say he voted for it, after he voted against it.

What, you ask, could cause the NRA-ILA to consider supporting McCain's Presidential candidacy just four short years later, when he was every bit (if not more) as responsible for the destruction of the bill than was Kerry or Kennedy? The answer, of course, is the most anti-gun candidate in United States history - Barack Hussein Obama.

Sure, he's scary. But even in this dark hour, with McCain and Obama having secured the major party nominations, I want to encourage the endorsement decision-makers at NRA-ILA to stand by their principles.

Pro-gun voters deserve to be reminded of who McCain is every bit as much as they need to be taught who Obama is.

Win or lose, McCain and Obama will one day be nothing but history. But if the NRA is going to remain the most influential grassroots lobbying and civil rights organization in American politics, they must live up to the intellectual honesty they preach to elected officials every time they're tempted to buy into the latest gun control (or, ahem, campaign finance) scheme that comes down the pike.

The NRA-ILA should honestly and openly discuss the truth about both candidates, explain what the stakes are, and let them decide. To pretend away McCain's very recent anti-gun record, on the other hand, would be a serious insult to pro-gun voters' intelligence.

Chad Baus is a Member of the Fulton County, OH Republican Central Committee and the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman.

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