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Liberal Group Attacks Dean on Gun Control

But Dean's position has shifted some since the National Rifle Association endorsed him

December 8, 2003

Modified: December 9, 2003

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Summary

 

A new liberal group is running a TV ad in Iowa attacking Howard Dean for his record on gun control. The ad says Dean was endorsed repeatedly by the National Rifle Association for governor of Vermont -- which is true. Dean's position has shifted a bit since then, however.

Analysis

 

The ad attacks Dean for being too conservative on gun control, suggesting there's no difference between him and President Bush on the issue. Dean is saying otherwise but hasn't convinced gun-control advocates.

Text of Ad

"Surprise"

(by "Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values")

  Announcer : These two men have been given top grades by the National Rifle Association. One is George Bush. The other might surprise you. It's Howard Dean.

That's right. In Vermont , Dean was endorsed eight times by the National Rifle Association, and Dean got an "A" rating from the NRA because he joined them in opposing common-sense gun safety laws.

So if you thought Howard Dean had a progressive record, check the facts, and please think again.

The ad is factually accurate as far as it goes: Dean indeed was endorsed repeatedly by the National Rifle Association in his campaigns for governor of Vermont. And Dean has even boasted about his gun-control record at times in the past, as a way of defending himself against the common complaint that he's too liberal to win in November.

Dean defends his record by saying that Vermont has a low murder rate (it was about 1/3 of the national average in 2002) and so didn't need tough gun laws. Now that he's running for President he's saying that he'd bring about tough enforcement of existing federal gun laws, veto any repeal of the Brady law requiring background checks of gun purchasers, and push for an extension of the federal law on 'assault weapons' beyond its scheduled expiration next year. "After that, I would let the states decide for themselves what, if any, additional gun safety laws they want," Dean says in a position paper posted on his campaign web site.

Dean also said -- during a Sept. 9 Democratic Candidates Debate sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus -- that he still thinks some states don't need tougher gun laws and shouldn't have them imposed:

Dean:  ... What I have said is that rural states -- and this includes places like Tennessee , perhaps, that have low homicide rates -- don't need the same gun laws that urban states do.

And if urban states want to have lots of gun control, let them have it, but just don't impose the same gun laws that you have in New York City or New Jersey or California on states like Vermont, which have a very low homicide rate.

Dean's position has been criticized by leading gun-control advocates. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (formerly Handgun Control, Inc.) has called for Dean's defeat, calling his position 'backward' and saying that a state-by-state approach to gun control would be exploited by gun traffickers taking advantage of the weakest state laws.

This ad could help Dean's Democratic opponents, but is being run by a new group that says it is independent of any candidate: "Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values." According to the organization's website it is headed by Timothy L. Raftis of Orlando, FL, a former aide, fundraiser and campaign manager for Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa. Raftis was quoted by the New York Times as saying he would not disclose who has contributed money to the group until required to do so next month by federal law. The Times also said the group is spending $230,000 on the attack ad.

Sources

 

Democratic presidential campaign debate sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute and Fox News Channel Baltimore MD 9 Sept. 2003

Howard Dean, "Sensible Gun Laws," Position Paper undated

"For Backward Thinking on Gun Laws, Dean is Wrong for the White House," news release: Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence Washington DC 23 June 2003

Jodi Wilgoren and Diane Cardwell, "Dean's Ad Campaign Is Set To Broadcast Beyond Iowa" New York Times 6 Dec 2003 : A11