Focusing on Ehrlich's gun stance

Campaign Ad Watch

October 01, 2002|By Howard Libit

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Million Mom March began airing a television advertisement yesterday that attacks Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. on the issue of gun control. The ad is being shown on Montgomery County cable channels.

What the ad says: The 30-second spot begins with the sound of two gunshots and a picture of an ambulance. "Bob Ehrlich is dead wrong," an announcer says.

"Uzis and AK-47s don't belong in our neighborhoods," the announcer says, as video shows men shooting automatic weapons. An image briefly flashes on the screen of students and teachers fleeing Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

"In Congress, Bob Ehrlich voted to put dangerous assault weapons back on our streets," the announcer says, flashing pictures of the U.S. Capitol and the Baltimore County congressman.

"Now he's criticizing a Maryland law that helps police catch violent gun criminals, and even wants to allow cheap Saturday night specials to be sold," the announcer says. The screen shows recent newspaper articles chronicling Ehrlich's statements on guns, then flashes images of a handgun and a crime scene with the chalk outline of a body.

"Tell Bob Ehrlich to stop siding with gun lobby extremists who threaten our neighborhoods," the announcer concludes, giving viewers the phone number of Ehrlich's Washington congressional office.

The facts: The ad follows up on comments Ehrlich made to reporters last month saying he would seek to review two of Maryland's gun control laws "to see what's working" - the ballistic fingerprint program, in which state police keep track of shell casing data, and the Handgun Roster Board, which approves all handguns before they can be sold in the state.

But it is too soon to say the ballistic fingerprint law "helps police catch violent gun criminals." Since the law was passed two years ago, Maryland State Police say they have collected information from about 17,000 casings. Police have made two matches to guns used in crimes, though no one has been convicted. Police predict they will have more success as the database grows.

The ad accurately portrays Ehrlich's congressional vote on assault weapons; he voted in Congress in 1996 to repeal the federal ban on such guns. Regarding the Columbine reference, while the weapons used included rapid-fire assault weapons, the 1996 GOP effort to try to overturn the federal ban already had failed.

Ehrlich also voted in 1988, as a member of the General Assembly, to oppose the state ban on cheaply made handguns frequently called Saturday night specials. Though he said recently that he wants to review the effectiveness of the board created by that law, he says he opposes legalizing such weapons.

Analysis: The ad continues the effort of handgun control advocates - as well as supporters of Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend - to focus attention on Ehrlich's congressional record.

Advocates believe that voters in the populous Washington suburbs are particularly supportive of handgun control and already have run radio ads in the market criticizing Ehrlich on guns.

"The Townsend campaign has calculated, and I believe calculated correctly, there is nothing left for them in the Baltimore metropolitan area. So, they have to do whatever they can to maximize their vote out of the Washington metropolitan area," said Carol Arscott of the Annapolis-based Gonzales/Arscott Research & Communications Inc. "They obviously think gun control is an issue to do this.

"But you have to wonder whether people will actually take it seriously because the ad is so over-the-top with Columbine," Arscott said. "It's almost like a parody of a negative ad."

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