George Will

     ``The NRA beat him in Arkansas. The NRA and Ralph Nader stand right behind the Supreme Court in their ability to claim that they put George Bush in the White House. ... If I had known how big the NRA problem was, could I have gone down there and spent three days calling people on the phone and hollering people in and talking to them and turned it? Probably. ... I think the NRA had enough votes in New Hampshire, in Arkansas, maybe in Tennessee and in Missouri to beat us. And they nearly whipped us in two or three other places.''

     Labor unions have awakened to the NRA's power. For example, a flier published in Marseilles, Ill., by Local 393 of the Laborers' International Union lists three Kerry virtues. The third is that he will ``fix NAFTA'' (the North American Free Trade Agreement). The second is that he ``will continue to fight to protect overtime pay.'' But at the top of the list -- first things first -- is: ``Supports protecting our right to own a gun.''

     Nationwide in 2000, gun ownership was a countervailing pull against union membership as a determinant of political sympathies: Union households with guns split 48 percent for Bush and 48 percent for Gore. In 2000, 80 percent of Tennessee union households had at least one firearm. In West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Michigan the percentages were 61, 60 and 55. Gore lost the first two states and might have lost the other two if he had not prudently stopped talking about gun control.

     Some liberals who are no more respectful of the First Amendment than they are of the Second saw campaign finance reform as a way to inhibit the NRA from talking against gun control. Advocates of the McCain-Feingold bill for extending government regulation of political speech repeatedly mentioned the NRA as a group whose speech could be curtailed by complicating the process of financing political advocacy.

     There are 170,000 precincts in America and the NRA says it has election volunteer coordinators in every one. Even on Manhattan's Upper West Side? In West Hollywood? Yes.

     By Election Day the NRA will have sent out 15 million pieces of mail to susceptible men. And women. One in three women owns at least one gun. Hear them roar, in numbers too big to ignore.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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