Cecil Roberts, the president of the United Mineworkers of America who presented Kerry last week with the 12-gauge shotgun that the Democrat waved at his Labor Day rally, said it is crucial to counter Republican and NRA attempts to convince voters in key states that Kerry opposes guns.
"What has already started is an attempt to portray Kerry as someone who will take everyone's guns if he's elected, and that's just absurd," said Roberts, a West Virginia native. "We wanted to send the message that this is somebody who believes in protecting hunters' rights to guns."
Roberts and other Democrats say that if Kerry could allay the fears of gun owners about losing their rights, he would almost certainly be able to win them over on other domestic issues.
"We're saying that we can trust John Kerry on guns, and we can certainly trust him to protect our jobs and our health care. ... We can do all of this," Roberts said.
Still, political scientists suggested that Kerry would be hard-pressed to appeal to voters who worry about losing their gun rights, or to profit much from the support of gun control backers. Gun control supporters seldom base their votes solely on that issue, said John M. Bruce, a political science professor at the University of Mississippi. But gun rights advocates have mobilized against candidates they fear will take away their firearms.
"The people who are willing to go out and have guns, or [have] the gun issue drive their vote, are all on the Republican side," Bruce said. The issue might have only "a small influence" on the presidential race, he added, but "the magic of this year is that small influences might matter a lot."