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NRA Targets Clinton

In televised ads and media interviews, the National Rifle Association has launched an all out attack on the Clinton administration as the president lobbies for more extensive gun laws in the wake of recent shootings.

But as CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart reports, that's not just hot smoke and insults the NRA is blowing at President Clinton. It's a tried and true political strategy.

In the past week, the president has blamed the NRA for influencing lawmakers to stall gun control reforms, and the rifle association has accused the president of dragging his feet on enforcing existing gun laws. Then the gun group charged the president tolerated gun violence for political advantage.

Observers say the strategy looks familiar.

Every time there's a school shooting or mass killing, Clinton urges passage of new gun control laws. And every time—in order to deflect from the carnage, say some observers—you can count on the NRA to attack Clinton.

The NRA Speaks
In an exclusive interview, CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer asked National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre why he said Sunday that President Clinton is "willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda."

LA PIERRE:If you can do something about it and you don't, you accept it. He has the power by enforcing existing fed gun laws to make neighborhoods all over the country safe. We begged the president to give us a zero tolerance on violation of the fed gun laws and he won't do it.

SCHIEFFER: But Mr Lapierre, I mean President Clinton may be many things, but do you really believe that when you say he's willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda I mean, do you mean that literally?

LA PIERRE:Bob, I don't know why it's happening but the policy is getting people killed.

SCHIEFFER: So I want to make sure I understand this, you stand by those words exactly as you spoke them?

LA PIERRE:I absolutely stand by those words.

When you don't prosecute under the national instant check, then you've got felons committing new felonies standing right in front of you and you let 'em go back to the streets where they can buy guns illegally and continue their crime sprees. You're getting peope killed.

I don't know why they're not doing it, but it's a horrible policy and it needs to be changed. We need zero tolerance. It will save lives. That's the heart of the argument between the National Rifle Association and Bill Clinton.

"They're on the defensive on this issue," political analyst Stuart Rothenberg told CBS News. "They're on their heels because of the number of shootings, because of the talk on capitol hill and because of the visibility of the issue."

The reasoning behind the tactic, say critics, is that it's an election year.

Every time the NRA makes such attacks, hardcore members contribute more money that the NRA then doles out to candidates who will vote just like they want them to.

The last time the NRA tried this was in 1995, when Clinton backed efforts to expand the Brady background check on gun buyers.

The NRA responded with a fundraising letter calling federal agents "jack-booted government thugs," a position they defended even after the Oklahoma City bombing.

Former President George Bush was so outraged he resigned from the NRA.

The most recent assaults are far more personal. One ad featuring NRA President and actor Charlton Heston, appears to make reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal when it refers to lies the president has told.

"Mr. Clinton, when what you say is wrong, it's a mistake. When you know it's wrong, it's a lie. Remember?" Heston says in the ad.

The ad campaign also appears to twist the truth.

For example, Heston charges in one ad, "Under Bill Clinton federal gun prosecutions are half, half of what they used to be."

But while technically true, Heston ignores the fact that state gun prosecutions are up sharply and federal cases against major gun offenders have increased 25 percent.

It is the NRA's other major claim, that the president in effect condones murder to advance his political interests, that has stunned gun owners like Ernest Lisabett, who quit the NRA over just such attacks.

In an interview Sunday, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said Clinton was "willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda."

"That's crazy, the idea that the President of the United States condones violence and killing in America," Lisbett said. "That's preposterous."

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