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Politics and the assault weapons ban

Page 2 of 2 -- My favorite involved the seizure, for paperwork irregularities, of a Turkish ship in Italy that was on its way late last spring to American ports. The ship, the MS Adnan Bayraktar out of Romania, was carrying 7,500 to 8,000 assault weapons. Linked to the shipment was one of the major gun outfits in the United States, Florida-based Century International Arms - don't you love the CIA in the name? - which maintains a large warehouse near the Canadian border in Fairfax, Vt. File that one under Getting Ready.

In addition, a well-known Illinois gun company, ArmaLite, is pushing consumers not only to order assault weapons now for shipment after the ban expires, but also to add bayonets and even flash suppressors to their weapons. I can't quite figure out how a flash suppressor helps a hunter just because the deer can't see where the shot is coming from, but it sure helps a crook, which is why they were previously banned.

The NRA, in case no one has noticed, has yet to endorse Bush for reelection. The cover story is that the politically skilled gun lobby was waiting until each party's convention had ended before making its choice. The real story is that if the assault weapons ban expires, Bush will get endorsed, and the first board of directors meeting to discuss endorsement will take place this weekend.

The conventional wisdom is that guns are off everybody's table this election season; there is much evidence that Al Gore's tough stance on handguns hurt him in 2000 in states like West Virginia, Missouri, and New Hampshire.

This view is powerfully refuted, however, by data assembled by the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania, whose massive polling this year has shed light on several important questions. The truth is that assault weapons, as opposed to handguns, are an issue that splits Republicans, unites Democrats, and even divides the NRA.

In a sample of nearly 5,000 people during August, extending the ban was supported by 68 percent of the respondents overall, including 61 percent of the Republicans, 62 percent of conservatives, 57 percent of people in gun-owning households, and even 32 percent of NRA members.

The ban, however, will expire. Bush will get his endorsement. And people are going to die.

Thomas Oliphant's e-mail address is oliphant@globe.com. 

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