Gun-Control Lobby Runs out of Ammo

Article excerpt

Gun control has largely fizzled as an election-year issue despite strong efforts by congressional Democrats, activists say.

"On the gun issue, the reason that we are losing is that we are being out-organized," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat and an advocate for stronger gun-control laws. "It's that simple. . . . "[Pro-gun activists] are organized and mobilized, so that is shame on us."

This time a year ago, congressional Democrats were confidently predicting they would use public outrage over a series of highly publicized school shootings to topple Republican control of the House. They took every opportunity to speak on the House floor or stage rallies around the Capitol to criticize Republican leaders for defeating a package of gun-control measures that passed the Senate but failed in the House.

Vice President Al Gore, meanwhile, began his presidential bid vowing to pass new gun-control laws - including requiring all handgun owners to obtain a government license - and promising to "stand up to" the National Rifle Association. Gun-control backers, led by a woman with links to the Clinton administration, organized the "Million Mom March" in May to put pressure on lawmakers to pass new gun laws.

But recent polls show the public has little taste for new gun laws and doesn't necessarily blame Republicans for the failure of the gun-control package on Capitol Hill. Mr. Gore has muted his attacks on guns as he struggles for votes in the Midwest and South, where hunters and gun owners are a major power.

"The bottom line is Democrats have figured out that the gun-control issue isn't as popular as they thought," said Rep. J.C. Watts, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Republican Conference.

Gun-control supporters held a press conference Thursday on Capitol Hill to premiere a pro-gun control documentary and "bring new energy to the gun violence debate."

"I think their admission of, if not defeat, . . . the need to regroup, is absolutely correct," said Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican and a leading gun-rights activist. "They have misread how far they can push this issue with the American people."

Except for Mrs. Schakowsky, the organizers of the gun-control press conference were reluctant to say that their effort to inject the issue into the election has failed, but there was a clear tone of irritation in their remarks.

Mike Beard, president of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, blamed the media for the flagging gun-control campaign. He said many people are interested in the issue but are discouraged by the lack of attention it is getting. He cited some students he spoke to in North Carolina last week.

"They're a bit confused and quite angry about what's going on with the issue of gun violence," Mr. …