HELENA – A top official with the National Rifle Association said Wednesday that Barack Obama is trying to mislead voters about his past support of gun control, calling the Democratic candidate “a poster child of the extremist, elitist gun control movement.”
Chris W. Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, said he was responding to recent comments made by Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a gun-loving Democrat who has earned the group’s backing in his re-election bid.
Schweitzer told reporters this week that Obama “ain’t ever going to take your gun away” and suggested there was little difference between the Democrat and Republican John McCain. The NRA said Schweitzer was misrepresenting the candidates’ positions.
“To somehow suggest (Obama) is supportive of gun owners because he says so when he is in Montana running for president is absurd,” Cox said in a telephone interview from Virginia. “We are going to make sure that anybody that tells Montana gun owners that Barack Obama is not a threat to gun owners is exposed as someone who is not shooting straight.”
Cox said, while the NRA disagrees with Schweitzer’s opinion, the group has no plans to take back it’s endorsement of the governor, who is up for re-election in November.
Schweitzer said Wednesday he stands by his comments, which included the assertion that people who vote solely on the gun issue may look to Libertarian candidate Bob Barr in November. Barr has earned an “A” from the NRA, while McCain had received a “C” and Obama an “F.”
“I don’t hand out these report cards around here,” Schweitzer said. “Barr has an A or A+, and neither of the other candidates do. That is the point I was making, and I stand by it.”
Schweitzer, who will be speaking at the Democratic National Convention later this month, said he believes Obama on guns.
“I heard him tell us in Montana that he is not going to take our guns away,” the governor said.
The Obama campaign said Schweitzer was right on the mark, noting the governor had said Obama is more outspoken than McCain on protecting hunting access to public lands.
“Despite the knee-jerk reaction from the NRA’s lobbyist in Washington D.C., Schweitzer’s argument is valid,” said Obama spokesman Caleb Weaver. “Gov. Schweitzer’s point was that McCain’s record on gun issues has been at odds with the NRA on some of the NRA’s key issues, and that for voters who care about these issues and also like to hunt, fish, and camp, Barack Obama’s strong stance on improving access to public lands will have strong appeal to Montana voters.”
Weaver added “gun owners have nothing to fear from Barack Obama.”
The Obama campaign has stressed to Western voters that the candidate’s support of “sensible” gun control won’t get in the way of their traditions. But it has not released specifics on what type of gun measures Obama would deem sensible.
Cox said there is a big difference between Obama and McCain on the gun issue.
McCain, Cox acknowledged, did have a high-profile split from the group on campaign finance and gun show laws. But the Republican has been solidly on the side of the NRA on most everything else for 20 years.
The NRA plans to spend $40 million nationally this campaign season, and has yet to determine how much will be spent in individual states.
“John McCain does not have a perfect voting record. Barack Obama does have perfect voting record: perfectly awful,” Cox said. “We are going to expose him for what he really is. We are going to make sure every gun owner in Montana and America knows the truth.”
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