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Way Off Target Special Contributor Lloyd Garver thinks the NRA just doesn't get it.

The National Rifle Association shot itself in the foot the other day. At their annual meeting in Reno, Nev., they took credit for George W. Bush's 2000 election. When the president read the newspaper headline, "Bush Owes Presidency to NRA, NRA Says," the sound we heard coming from the White House was, "Shhh, not so loud!"

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told approximately 4,500 delegates that they "are why Al Gore isn't in the White House." This and other pronouncements made at the meeting may constitute the greatest miscalculation since ABC put "Millionaire" on four times a week. I'm sure these statements made NRA opponents all over the country break out in a big smile. I wouldn't be surprised if The Democratic National Committee sent the NRA flowers along with a note reading something like, "Keep talking. You just gave us some great 'ammunition.' Thanks, DNC."

The NRA didn't just say they supported Bush or that they helped him win. They took credit for his election and said they deserved his gratitude. I'm sure if you asked President Bush how he got into office, he'd answer the way every elected official would: "I'm here because the majority of voters elected me." OK, bad example. But at the very least, he'd say he was elected because the voters liked him and agreed with his policies, not because of one small but powerful group. To say that they were the reason that he was elected is not only an insult to President Bush, but to all those who voted for him and don't happen to belong to the NRA.

George W. Bush was embarrassed by the NRA during the presidential campaign. He tried to distance himself from them when one of their spokesmen said that if Mr. Bush were elected, the NRA would be able to work out of the president's office. George W.'s father made headlines when he resigned from the NRA back in 1995. The NRA can't take a hint. They're like a teenage boy who keeps telling everyone that he's dating the head cheerleader, even though she keeps telling everyone that she wants nothing to do with him.

You'd think this one self-destructive statement would have been enough for one NRA convention. No way. LaPierre told members that gun control advocates were engaged in "political terrorism," and that they pose "a far greater threat to freedom than any foreign force." Just for good measure, another NRA spokesman denigrated the Million Mom March. They're putting down mothers?! What's next? The flag? Baseball? Puppies? Apparently, they passed a foot around so everyone had a chance to put it in their mouths. Georgia's Democratic Senator Zell Miller received loud applause when he told the audience, "Like many of you, I've got more guns than I need, but not as many as I want." After this convention, it's going to be harder to find the NRA's credibility than it would be to pick off an innocent animal at 200 yards.

At around the same time these statements were being made, there were some horrifying gun-related deaths. If a school in Germany is too far away to relate to, let me point out that while the NRA was meeting in Reno, something else was going on in a different part of the state. A shootout erupted in Laughlin, Nev., involving rival motorcycle gangs. Guns blasted away in a crowded casino, and three people were shot to death. I can't help being struck by the irony that these deaths, all the injuries that took place, and the terrorizing of so many people occurred while, just a few hundred miles away, the NRA folks were characterizing gun control advocates as terrorists at worst or laughable fools at best.

Maybe you're wondering why the NRA wasn't satisfied just to say that they were an important factor in Mr. Bush's victory. Why couldn't they just say they were happy he won? Why did they need to say they were responsible for his election? All I know is that whenever someone toots his own horn so loudly, it's because he desperately needs to hear that sound.

E-mail your questions and comments to Lloyd Garver

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver

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