FREDERICK -- Roscoe Bartlett is up in arms over the National Rifle Association's endorsement of Thom- as Hattery, his opponent for the 6th District congressional seat.
So Mr. Bartlett gathered with a few supporters at the Linganore Rifle Range near Frederick last week to announce formation of an organization known as Gun Owners for Bartlett.
The GOP candidate punctuated his remarks by firing off a few rounds with a .22-caliber pistol under the guidance of local marksman Steve Wade.
"The Second Amendment is an extremely important guarantee of our future freedom as a country," Mr. Bartlett said of the section of the Bill of Rights that guarantees the right to bear arms.
It's an issue that resonates in Western Maryland, and resonates particularly for Bill Kelley, owner of the Gun Center in Frederick and the man who started Gun Owners for
Mr. Kelley, a life member of the NRA, said he's well aware of the organization's ability to get its political endorsement message out via direct mail and its magazine to thousands of gun owners in the 6th District, which stretches from suburban Howard County to the westernmost part of the state, where hunting and owning a gun are a way of life.
"The gun owners of Frederick County couldn't believe it when they heard what the NRA had done," Mr. Kelley, a longtime Bartlett supporter, said of the NRA's endorsement of
Mr. Hattery and donation of $4,950 to the Hattery campaign. "Roscoe Bartlett is [a] clear supporter of the Second Amendment.
"I put a little notebook out in my store, explained what was going on to anyone who came in, and in four days almost 50 people have signed up," he said.
Mr. Kelley claimed that it is hypocritical for Mr. Hattery, a Democratic state delegate from Frederick County, to enjoy endorsements from both the NRA and the Sierra Club, which he called "an anti-hunting organization," not to mention the National
Education Association, which he said has adopted an anti-gun stance.
But he focused his attack on Mr. Hattery's support of a 1989 bill that added assault rifles to the list of weapons that require a background check for purchasers.
The NRA, which based its endorsement on Mr. Hattery's voting record in the General Assembly, did not take a position on that bill. It passed 104-4 with the support of many pro-gun legislators who saw it as a way to head off an outright ban on sales of assault weapons.
Meanwhile, at the rifle range, Mr. Bartlett shored up his pro-gun credentials. He said that his busy schedule has kept him from becoming an avid shooter; he noted that he grew up with a gun-collecting father in Kentucky and has a world-traveling, trophy-hunting brother and two sons who are skilled with firearms.
He said that in studying the Second Amendment, he concluded that its linkage of the right to bear arms to the establishment of state militias in no way restricted individual rights to firearm ownership.
As for the term "well-regulated," which precedes militias in the amendment, Mr. Bartlett said, "You have to be careful of how the words are used. They can change in meaning. This was a couple hundred years ago. You have to put them in the context of the time."
He argued that gun control laws do nothing to control crime. "All you have to do is look 40 miles south of here, where the District of Columbia has some of the most stringent gun laws in the country, but they have a Wild West shootout every night.
"I think some legislators got the wrong idea. They heard people talking about electrocuting criminals and thought they were saying electing criminals. They got mixed up on that. As for Tom Hattery, he talks like Rambo, but he votes like Pee Wee Herman."
Contacted later by telephone, Mr. Hattery said he considers the background check a crucial part of the 1989 bill on assault weapons. "If Roscoe Bartlett thinks that people
with criminal records should be allowed to buy assault weapons, then that's his business," Mr. Hattery said.
"I think all this talk about endorsements is just an attempt to distract the voters from the real issues," he continued. "We have some economic problems in our district. High unemployment. I have a plan to deal with that. Roscoe Bartlett doesn't. I have a plan on health care. Roscoe Bartlett doesn't. That's why he's bringing up these things."
Back at the range, Mr. Bartlett and Mr. Kelley said that they visited the NRA recently to protest the endorsement, but, despite a we'll-get-back-to-you promise, have heard nothing since.
"They sure don't have any trouble getting in touch when they want you to give them some money," grumbled one NRA member at the Bartlett gathering.