Gun Battle Ahead

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Campaigning in Wisconsin over the Fourth of July holiday, John Kerry stopped by the Gunslick Trap Club in Holmen, snapped up a Beretta 12-gauge shotgun and coolly dispatched 17 of 25 clay pigeons. "I'm just doing what I normally do," Kerry told reporters. But Kerry supporters see their candidate's hunting skills as a shield against the National Rifle Association, which in 2000 gave the Bush campaign nearly $92,000 and spent more than $2 million helping the G.O.P. ticket attack Al Gore. Of late, the N.R.A. has been uncharacteristically quiet. The lobby has given the Bush ticket just $1,250 this year and spent nothing at all on supportive issue ads, according to the Center for Responsive Politics and FEC records.

That is set to change. The N.R.A. claims Kerry has voted against its positions 51 out of 55 times. He has supported banning assault weapons and armor-piercing bullets, requiring background checks at gun shows and regulating gun sales over the Internet. "John Kerry hasn't fought for gun owners' rights once in 25 years," asserts N.R.A. executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, who says the group will attack Kerry's record in TV spots that will begin airing this week in Washington and other large markets. The tag line: "How can you keep a straight face and talk out of both sides of your mouth?" The N.R.A.'s first print ads are scheduled for a special edition of the National Journal, to be circulated at the Democratic Convention next week. LaPierre denies that the group is having fund-raising problems (though he won't share figures) and says the N.R.A. campaign will peak in October, when it will formally endorse candidates.