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Inside Politics

Assault weapons ban due to expire Monday

By Bill Schneider
CNN Political Unit

Wayne LaPierre
National Rifle Association
Brady campaign

(CNN) -- Can you get away with defying public opinion? Sometimes. Sometimes you can even get the political Play of the Week.

President Bush says he will sign a bill renewing the assault weapons ban if Congress passes it. How likely is that?

"There are not the votes to pass the bill," explained House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, on Wednesday. "If the president asked me, I would tell him the same thing."

Democrats blame President Bush.

"George W. Bush says 'I'm for that.' Never asked the Congress to pass it. Never stood up. Caves in to the NRA," said Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry on Friday.

Senate majority leader Bill Frist said, "I think the will of the people is consistent with letting it expire. So it will expire.''

But a National Annenberg election survey shows two thirds of the public favors extending the ban. So why won't Congress pass it?

"The NRA, with all of its selfishness, has the ability to go into certain districts and defeat people," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, on Thursday.

The Democrats learned that lesson in 1994, just after Congress passed the assault weapons ban.

"President Clinton, after the '94 election, thought this issue probably cost the Democrats the House of Representatives," said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association.

Why should the minority on this issue have so much power? Simple: They vote the issue.

"Gun owners and hunters that know guns deeply, resent the mischaracterizations and the fact that the other side is attempting to mislead the American public on this," said LaPierre. "And they will go to the polls and vote against the congressmen that go with the lies."

Most gun control supporters do not vote the issue. So even though they are in the majority, their views don't matter.

"When the general public is not so aroused, small interest groups can have a greater say," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, on Thursday.

They can even get the political Play of the Week.

Let's say you're a member of Congress and two-thirds of your constituents favor renewing the assault weapons ban. So you vote for it. Are you safe?

No. Because you are likely to lose more votes from the minority who oppose the ban -- and who will vote against you for that reason alone -- than you will gain from the two-thirds majority who agree with you but will not vote for you for that reason alone.

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