THE NATIONAL RIFLE Association readily acknowledges its unwavering commitment to the protection of the rights of all law-abiding (is there any other kind?) American hunters. In fact, the commitment extends to all sportspersons whose sport includes pumping bullets into skeet and deer.
Most hunting is still done outside the major urban areas of the nation, and understandably that is where the NRA membership basically lives. Not only is the NRA's membership mostly non-urban, but its politics can be called country-slick. Few lobbies have so mastered the marble halls and concrete canyons of Washington.
Post reporter Morton Mint has written recently about the rising activity and influence of the political action committees, particularly in the matter of "independent expenditures." The election reform act still limits contributions to a candidate for federal office by an individual ($1,000) and by a political action committee ($5,000). But committees independent of a candidate's formal campaign are free to spend as much as they can raise in support of or opposition to any candidate. Such contributions are called "independent expenditures."
The NRA was one of the first political organizations to master the use of direct mail in raising money and reaching Congress through its constituency. It was active early this year in the independent expenditure department. Indeed, in the Democratic presidential primaries, the NRA Political Victory Fund spent $205,595 against Sen. Edward Kennedy in his unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
President Jimmy Carter had run in 1976, you may recall, pledged to a strong federal gun control law. A Carter bill was never submitted to the Congress. Sen. Kennedy has long been one of the Senate's most visible and vocal supporters of tough gun-control laws. It is hardly necessary to remind anyone of his devastating personal experience with the tragedy that the promiscuous availability of firearms commonly begets.
But the NRA through its Political Victory Fund did not leave it to others or to luck to alert Democratic primary voters to the threat Sen. Kennedy posed to law-abiding hunters. The NRA used its own PAC and the "independent expenditure" route to deliver that message. To deadly effect, you might say.