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Ashcroft's NRA membership under attack
White House says nominee will enforce gun laws

01/25/2001

By Michelle Mittelstadt / The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON – Gun-control advocates are calling on Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft to relinquish his National Rifle Association membership, saying it would be a conflict for him to remain affiliated with the gun lobby while enforcing the nation's gun laws.

"It's a clear appearance of conflict," said Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, a Washington-based group advocating stricter gun laws.

"Ashcroft should resign from the National Rifle Association, not just for their past history and their views regarding law enforcement, but also their current views and what they have articulated as far as what they expect from the administration," he added.

Also questioning Mr. Ashcroft's NRA membership was Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who on Wednesday became the first Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee to announce her opposition to the nominee, citing a record she said can "only be characterized as ultra-right-wing."

"To have an attorney general that is a present member of the NRA certainly shows a bias," the California Democrat said. "I would think that any nominee to virtually any post would refrain from membership in any controversial organization. And the NRA is a controversial organization."

Mr. Ashcroft, whose candidacy is under attack from liberal interest groups in part because of his staunch opposition to gun control, would not decide whether to leave the NRA until after confirmation, a White House spokesman said.

"If confirmed, Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft will vigorously prosecute gun crimes, and he will have zero tolerance for any criminal misuse of firearms," spokesman Taylor Gross said. "With respect to membership in the NRA, an organization committed to the lawful and responsible exercise of constitutional rights, he has not addressed that question and will not do so until after his confirmation."

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott has said all 50 GOP senators would vote for Mr. Ashcroft. And at least two Democrats have said they planned to do the same.

Democrats blocked the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation vote scheduled Wednesday by Republicans, exercising their right to a one-week delay. The panel's top Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said the delay was necessary to await answers to questions submitted by senators after Mr. Ashcroft's two-day appearance before the committee last week.

The committee's chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, bridled at what he termed a stalling tactic. And he said some of the 348 questions submitted by Democrats were an intrusion on confidential discussions that Mr. Ashcroft, a Missouri senator until his November defeat, had with other Republican senators.

"Now certainly members are entitled to ask follow-up questions to a nominee, but this seems going to the extreme," he said.

Democrats defended their questions.

"This is a painful nomination for many, many Americans," said Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis. "And it is absolutely appropriate, and even in the interests of the nominee himself in the long term, that this be reviewed carefully."

President Bush said he was untroubled by the Democrats' delay in considering his most controversial Cabinet pick.

"I think they're making sure that when they confirm him all questions have been answered," he said during a White House meeting with congressional leaders from both parties.

Mr. Ashcroft's membership in the NRA, which spent more than &#36330,000 on behalf of his re-election campaign, was not questioned during the hearing. But Democrats did examine his record opposing the ban on assault weapons and the required use of trigger locks, and his support for a Missouri concealed-carry referendum in 1999.

During the sometimes contentious questioning at his confirmation hearing, Mr. Ashcroft repeatedly pledged to enforce existing gun laws – even an assault weapons ban he had referred to as "wrongheaded."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who has emerged as Mr. Ashcroft's sharpest critic, said he was less concerned about the nominee's membership than his views.

"I'm most interested in his ... long-standing positions on the gun issue and his own standing about what you do as the attorney general," he said.

Handgun Control Inc., which opposes the nomination, shared a similar view. "I'm not going to say what he can belong to and what he can't belong to," spokesman Brian Morton said.

But Mr. Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center said it would be inappropriate for the chief law enforcement officer to retain membership in an organization that has battled to undo certain gun-control measures and has used harsh rhetoric against federal law enforcement agents – calling them "jackbooted government thugs" in one 1995 fund-raising letter.

"I think it's very important that when you're the chief law enforcement officer and you oversee law enforcement, you should not be a member of an organization that has repeatedly and vociferously attacked law enforcement," Mr. Sugarmann said.

NRA spokesman Bill Powers scoffed at criticism about Mr. Ashcroft's membership.

"To say that Senator Ashcroft is not fit to serve as attorney general because he's a member of the NRA is a pretty silly argument to make," he said.

As for the criticism that the group's rhetoric has been anti-government, Mr. Powers said: "I don't think we take positions contrary to the government."
 

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Good article!

I bet those tree huggin' posy sniffers wouldn't have a problem with him if he belonged to Earth First and HCI!

Maybe they are scared spitless that a Godly man will take the chair and enforce laws according to constitutional rule, not according to special interest whims!

IMO he's the best thing that could happen to the post of US Attorney General!

God Bless,

Marshall
 
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