Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

April 2, 2013

The political gun battle comes to Indiana

By Brian Howey
CNHI

— Four months after the horrific Newtown massacre and five months after Indiana witnessed a $51 million U.S. Senate race, the political TV ads have returned.

Viewers in the Indianapolis TV market are witnessing what those in 12 others states are - an actor wearing a plaid shirt, sitting on the tailgate of his pickup truck, his finger on the trigger - telling us that while he's a hunter, our 2nd Amendment rights come with "responsibilities."

The ads come from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC. The billionaire mayor is becoming the financial bookend to the National Rifle Association, and their targets are U.S. Sens. Dan Coats, the Republican, and Joe Donnelly, the Democrat. The goal is to get the two senators to commit to expanded background checks that would include the plethora of gun shows that occur in Indiana.

Bloomberg announced the ad campaign by Mayors Against Illegal Guns just days after Senate Democrats touted stronger background checks while acknowledging insufficient support to a ban of assault-style weapons.

"While I think we are going to win this, celebrating in advance isn't the right thing to do," the mayor said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We've got to go out, we've got a lot of work ahead of us. But I don't think we should give up on the assault weapons ban. But clearly, it is a more difficult issue for a lot of people I don't know that reflects the NRA's power. It may be just that people have different views about assault weapons than they do about background checks. Ninety percent of the people want background checks, period."

National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre called Bloomberg's rhetoric on gun reform "reckless" and "insane" when he appeared on "Meet the Press."

"He's going to find out that this is a country of the people, by the people, and for the people and he can't spend enough of his [money] to try to impose his will on the American public," LaPierre said.

On Jan. 16, soon after President Obama unveiled gun reforms in the wake of Newtown, Donnelly said in a TV interview, "I'm a supporter of the 2nd Amendment and I am also a dad. I think it is absolutely critical our children know they can go to school and be safe and we can go to a workplace and be safe."

Asked about background checks, Donnelly said, "I think we can tighten those up. While we have 2nd Amendment rights, we have responsibilities."

Recently in Fort Wayne, Donnelly said, "I want to make sure that people with, say, a felony or dealing with mental illness cannot get their hands on weapons that can cause so much destruction. And so we're trying to put together a piece of legislation that will reflect that."

Sen. Coats, who has an "A" rating from the Indiana chapter of the NRA but whose 2010 Senate opponent (former U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth who received the NRA endorsement), reacted to President Obama's gun legislation on Jan. 16 by saying, "The Newtown shooting was a horrific tragedy that had an impact on all Americans but especially every parent, teacher, and student, and it is right for our country to reflect on how we can prevent such events in the future."

Coats added that 2nd Amendment rights need to be protected.

"Laws alone cannot eliminate all acts of violence," he said. "As Americans we need to examine a culture that increasingly glamorizes violence and determine how we can better identify and address mental illness in our society."

Coat spokeswoman, Tara DiJulio told me, "Sen. Coats wants to see what the final legislation is."

On the expanded background checks proposed in the Senate bill, DiJulio said that Coats believes "more needs to be done on existing laws."

In 1991, Coats voted for the Brady Bill and background checks, according to the OnTheIssues website.

Can a New York City mayor sell these reforms to Hoosier voters?

The ads come to Indiana after Bloomberg dropped $2.2 million in the Illinois 2nd CD special election earlier this year on Democrat Robin Kelly to replace U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. That district borders just to the west of the Indiana state line. Much of that money was spent in the sprawling Chicago TV market, which covers the northwestern corner of Indiana.

U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Howe, chairman of the House Republican Study Committee's 2nd Amendment Initiative, responded to Mayor Bloomberg's television ads by saying, "Here in Indiana, responsible gun owners value the 2nd Amendment and know that Mayor Bloomberg's knee-jerk reactions on everything from sodas to firearms aren't going to solve the problem."

Former Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke, who headed the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence from 2006 to '11 and is now a professor at Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs in Bloomington, told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, "If Congressman Stutzman and others would be actually willing to discuss the issue and have an open mind on the issue and learn about the issue, then it could be positive."

Helmke still owns a home in Stutzman's 3rd CD.

The political gun battles here have just begun.

- Brian Howey publishes online at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol.