Political Report: AHSA and Anti-Gun Groups

Monday, January 01, 2007

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POLITICAL REPORT

CHRIS COX, NRA-ILA Executive Director

AHSA's deep relationship with the major gun-ban groups has already been thoroughly documented. AHSA's role as an anti-gun shell operation for political misdirection was admitted in sworn testimony.

Our political opponents played their cards quietly this election. The word was out to downplay gun control and play up lip service to our Second Amendment rights. Well before the elections, House Democrat leadership nearly fell over themselves to profess that they had no intentions of moving forward to restrict our rights if they gained control of Congress.

But today is a new day, and the enemies of freedom now disclaim their own election strategy. After working so hard to conceal their agenda, they now claim it was a centerpiece of the elections. Paul Helmke, the new president of the group formerly known as Handgun Control, Inc., told the Los Angeles Times that he "has high hopes for the assault weapons ban." "Guns are a tricky issue," Helmke said, "but the elections show there's nothing to be afraid of."

The American Hunters and Shooters Association paints itself as pro-gun, despite its lengthy roster of staff ties to, and board support for, extremist anti-gun groups. Just before the elections, it erected a similarly rickety façade for its "pro-hunting" credentials. The coldly calculated political maneuver, involving sham mailings and radio ads, was designed precisely to attack NRA and to influence the U.S. Senate race in Missouri.

We will make sure that opportunities for tests of true intentions are not long in coming. Ours is not a partisan issue--we have longtime friends and committed foes within both political parties. We always have and always will. We must work in the new Congress to ensure that our allies in both parties are given the opportunity to present our agenda, and that means that our opponents will be given the same opportunity.

It sounds straightforward, but it won't be. Our reform proposals will be demonized, and the new push for restrictions on our rights will be shielded under the false rubric of "gun safety." The deceptions will continue.

In fact, our opponents opened a new front of strategic deception before these elections were even decided. Loyal readers will recall the pre-election emergence of the American Hunters and Shooters Association (see "Anti-Gunners Don Camo As Election Looms," ). The group painted itself as pro-gun, despite its lengthy roster of staff ties to, and board support for, extremist anti-gun groups.

Just before the election, it erected a similarly rickety façade for its "pro-hunting" credentials. But this, too, was no more than a coldly calculated political maneuver involving sham mailings and radio ads designed precisely to attack the NRA and influence Missouri's 2006 u.s. Senate race.

The first mailer arrived in hunters' mailboxes just days before the election, claiming, "The NRA is Selling Us Out." It attacked NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre by name and claimed that NRA is "supporting politicians who are trying to take away our access to public lands." The second mailing asked "Why isn't the NRA standing up to Washington bureaucrats and politicians to conserve game areas and protect free access to public lands?" Laughable and false though these statements were, they were easily topped by the new slogan AHSA affixed to its mailings: "Protecting Our Gun Rights and the Lands We Love."

ahsa's deep relationship with the major gun-ban groups has already been thoroughly documented. ahsa's role as an anti-gun shell operation for political misdirection was admitted in sworn testimony. And ahsa's efforts on behalf of wildlife and habitat conservation are simply non-existent. If AHSA "loves our lands" the way they "protect our guns," hunters and wildlife had better watch out.

NRA, on the other hand, has a long and documented record on behalf of wildlife conservation, particularly in protecting hunter access to public lands. Ironically, nra's efforts to conserve wildlife are showcased nowhere more prominently than in Missouri, where NRA is working with the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance to protect thousands of acres of wetlands from development.

The true intent behind these lies was soon apparent, when the hastily formed AHSA-PAC (political action committee) began airing crude radio ads in the Missouri capital. Anonymous voices, sounding eerily like Waylon Jennings narrating the old tv series "The Dukes of Hazzard," made the same allegations as the farcical mailings, but added the proviso, "That's why hunters should support Claire McCaskill for the Senate."

Now the goal of the campaign was clear. A relentless barrage of negative, baseless attacks were designed to strip the credibility of NRA and build support for the opponent of Jim Talent, the NRA-PVF-endorsed candidate.

But these attacks were demonstrably false. They did not even comply with the rudiments of campaign finance law. The mailings were paid for by the AHSA Foundation, an "educational" arm that, under tax law, cannot participate in federal elections. And the radio ads did not carry the required federally-mandated disclaimer statement. We quickly documented the falsehoods and failings of the AHSA campaign in a report of nearly 50 pages, which we distributed to the radio stations airing the ads. Stations pulled the ads off the air within hours of receiving our extensively documented complaint.

But had the damage been done? Quite possibly. One thing is certain--Claire McCaskill went on to win the Senate race, and the NRA-PVF-endorsed candidate lost.

I am equally sure that we haven't heard the last from AHSA. When they do pop up again, it will not be in support of pro-gun or pro-hunting bills, but in forums carefully chosen to attack our credibility, confuse our supporters and defeat our allies.

We have the infrastructure to meet these challenges and defeat them. We will continue to monitor ahsa's continuing attempt to deceive hunters and gun owners throughout the country. And we will continue to stand behind our agenda, proud of our mission and unashamed of our strength. AHSA has not heard the last from us, either. Not by a long shot.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But we should refrain from feeling flattered--because AHSA is anything but sincere.

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