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Inside Politics
The Morning Grind / DayAhead

Bye-bye, gun ban

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Editor

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Is it right to let the assault weapons ban expire?
Morning Grind

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- We bid adieu today to the 10-year-old ban on assault weapons, loopholes and all, another centerpiece of Clinton-era domestic agenda dismantled by President Bush and his GOP allies in Congress.

The National Rifle Association starts celebrating this morning, and ArmaLite Inc., an Illinois-based gun maker, has been working 'round the clock to make sure they have enough AR-15 rifles ready for sale. "People are excited," an ArmaLite flack told Knight Ridder. One federal gun expert predicts that the ban's demise "will cause a frenzied buying spurt," according to Knight Ridder.

That's all well and good. But today also triggers a seven-week waiting period, leading up to Election Day, in which Bush and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay will cross their fingers, hold their breath and just plain pray that America doesn't wake up to headlines of bloody new gun crimes. One or two tragic incidents involving AK-47s, Uzis, what have you, could do more to hurt Bush's poll numbers than a whole file of 30-year-old National Guard documents, forged or authentic.

For now, at least, violent crime remains low. The Justice Department reported yesterday that the nation's crime rate last year held steady at the lowest levels since the government began surveying crime victims in 1973. Violent crime has fallen by 55 percent, including a 14 percent drop from 2000-2001 to 2002-2003.

John Kerry focuses on the ban's end this morning in D.C., where he discusses his $5 billion, 10-year plan to reauthorize the weapons ban, increase the number of beat cops by 10 percent over the next decade and hire 5,000 new prosecutors.

"George Bush made a choice today," Kerry will say, according to advance excerpts of his 9:30 a.m. EDT speech at the Thurgood Marshall Center. "He chose his powerful friends in the gun lobby over the police officers and the families he promised to protect. The president made the wrong choice. When I am president, we will set America in a new direction with a plan to fight crime and keep our communities safer."

Also this week, Kerry plans to unveil what he calls a "Sportsmen's Bill of Rights" that includes the right to bear arms and the right of access to fishing and hunting habitats. Camp Kerry also is touting a sportsmen's group of gun-toting supporters led by Senate Democrats Tim Johnson of South Dakota and John Breaux of Louisiana.

The senator overnights in Wisconsin, where the Green Bay Packers open their season this evening on "Monday Night Football." The Packers, perhaps this year's most politically powerful football team, have had a heavy campaign presence, and we believe, will continue to do so right up until their October 31 game against the Washington Redskins. (More on this below.)

Following a week in which Kerry talked health care in the Midwest, Bush responds during three stops on his Michigan bus tour. First stop: the Democratic stronghold of Muskegon. The "looser and livelier" president, in the words of The New York Times, then heads to the GOP-friendly town of Holland and Battle Creek, a swing area that he lost to Al Gore in 2000.

For the third year in a row, poverty and the lack of health-insurance coverage have worsened in Michigan, and the average household income is down, the U.S. Census Bureau reported last month.

Also today, the Media Fund will announce a $5 million ad campaign targeting black voters, mostly in the battleground states of Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The pro-Kerry 527 group will launch its ads on TV, radio, print and the Internet. Fuse, a St. Louis, Missouri-based minority media firm, is producing the spots.

The ads accuse the president of trying to suppress black voter turnout and working against the interests of African-Americans. "Bush has a plan for America. But you're not part of it," an announcer says in one TV ad. In another, we hear that "Bush said prosperity was right around the corner, but he wasn't talking about the corners in your neighborhood."

"Your neighborhood?" Calling Charlie Rangel!

CNN's Steve Brusk notes that the Green Bay Packers open their season this evening on "Monday Night Football." Kerry created a mini-flap while visiting this football-crazy city August 25 when he mispronounced the name of the team's sacred stadium, confusing Lambeau Field with Lambert Field.

That caught the attention of Vice President Dick Cheney, campaigning last Thursday in Green Bay. He told a local audience after Kerry's visit, "I wanted to be sure to see Lambert Field all for myself." Cheney then said, "The next thing you know, he'll be confusing Vince Lombardi with a foreign leader who supports his candidacy."

Virtually every candidate visit to the battleground state is full of Packer references ... from the president joking about Cheeseheads, to John Edwards' children, campaigning in Milwaukee in July, ramming each other with Cheesehead hats on. Cheney visited the Packer Hall of Fame on Friday morning and campaigned with Packer legend Bart Starr at his side.

There is, of course, another Packer connection to the election: Legend goes in the last 18 presidential elections, if the Washington Redskins win the game before Election Day, the incumbent party wins the White House. If they lose, the opponents win.

Well, this year the Redskins play the Packers on October 31, two days before Election Day. That prompted Kerry during a May 28 rally across from Lambeau Field to proclaim, "No matter what it means to the New England Patriots, no matter what it means to the future of the NFL, anything on October 31, when the Redskins play against the Pack ... you're looking at the biggest Cheesehead in America right here. Here I am! Go Pack."

(By the way -- the Lambeau slip isn't the first time football has gotten Kerry in a little hot water on the trail. On August 1, he accidentally talked of the Ohio State Buckeyes while in Taylor, Michigan (like mentioning the Red Sox in the Bronx.) After hearing a few boos, he recognized his mistake and said,"'That's while I was in Ohio. Now I'm in the state of Michigan, and [you've got] your great big 'M' and a powerhouse of a team, and the bottom line is all of us are still waiting for Massachusetts to somehow get in there."

And finally today, signs that New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey and his wife, Dina, are separating. One month after announcing his resignation and acknowledging he'd had an adulterous affair with a man, McGreevey has yet to comment publicly on his plans. But five of the governor's friends told The Newark Star-Ledger that he's eyeing a move to Bergen or Hudson County. Dina Matos McGreevey, meanwhile, has been house-hunting in Cranford and nearby towns, according to the paper.

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