NRA vows to retaliate over assault weapon ban

May 08, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- After last week's House vote to ban 19 types of assault weapons, both sides along the gun control siege line are reloading for the next round in their long-running policy war.

Flush with enthusiasm after the victory, gun control proponents are hatching plans for follow-on measures -- including proposals to require that all gun owners be licensed and fingerprinted.

The National Rifle Association is promising continued efforts to fight the ban in the final crime bill -- and threatening retaliation in November against legislators who crossed it on the bitterly contested vote.

With only a single vote separating victory and defeat in Thursday's House showdown, Bill McIntyre, a NRA spokesman, says the group is contemplating a renewed blitz to prevent inclusion of the assault weapon ban in the final crime bill that emerges from a House-Senate conference committee. The Senate narrowly approved a nearly identical ban in September.

"We are going to do what we can to make sure no gun ban becomes law," says Mr. McIntyre. "It's not over until it's over."

White House officials say they take such threats seriously.

"We're not done yet," says George Stephanopoulos, senior adviser to President Clinton.

"We haven't gotten an assault weapons ban yet. It would be wrong to be complacent."

Even so, most observers believe that Congress, after all the agony of passing the ban, is unlikely to change course.

"I think it is pretty much over," says Rep. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

"The House has spoken; the Senate has spoken; the public has spoken. It would take some pretty tricky legerdemain to [delete] it, and I don't think the leadership in the House or Senate will go along."

The more pressing question may be whether Congress will follow the assault weapon ban with further gun control measures.

And the answer to that may pivot on what happens in November to legislators who opposed the NRA on the assault weapon ban.

Gun control advocates say Thursday's vote -- after November's passage of the "Brady bill" imposing a waiting period on handgun purchases -- suggests that fewer legislators fear the NRA, long one of Washington's most powerful lobbies.

To reverse that perception, and slow the momentum behind gun control, the NRA may have to prove that it can still punish its enemies by defeating them at the ballot box.

"If they don't do that," said one ranking Republican Party operative who has worked closely with the NRA in the past, "they are heading for more of the same as the assault weapon ban."

That assessment reflects the critical link between the NRA's legislative success and its capacity to influence elections, both through campaign contributions and the grass-roots activities of their 3 million-plus members.

In the 1992 election, the NRA contributed more than $1.7 million to congressional candidates -- more than any other ideological or single-issue political action committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics.

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