Sunday, July 6, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Rep. Dean Heller once explained that as proud as he was to have bagged the giant elk whose head is displayed at his home in Carson City, his greatest hunting prize has been persuading his wife, a one-time USC song leader, to go shooting with him.
He did. And she’s a pretty good shot, he said.
Gun culture remains strong in much of Nevada, but particularly so in Heller’s far-flung district, which includes the entire rural North.
Heller, a Republican, has been a fierce advocate of gun owners’ rights during his first term in Congress.
He was an early signatory to an amicus brief in the recent Supreme Court case overturning the ban on keeping guns at home in the District of Columbia. Last year, he supported legislation that would have done as much.
And he supports the Bush administration’s proposal to lift a ban on concealed weapons in national parks in some states, including Nevada.
“As a gun owner and sportsman, I am a strong advocate of our Second Amendment rights,” Heller said in a statement praising the recent Supreme Court decision. He called it “a great victory for gun owners and all Americans.”
It comes as no surprise then that Jill Derby, who is challenging Heller this fall in a rematch of their closely watched 2006 race, would reassert her enthusiasm for the Second Amendment as well.
Derby is one of those Democrats who break with her party in support of gun owners’ rights. She shoots for sport, and earned an A- grade from the National Rifle Association during the 2006 campaign.
In her statement supporting the high court’s ruling, she said laws need to respect “gun ownership as a part of American culture.”
“This ruling affirms that law-abiding citizens have a right to gun ownership for self-defense in the home and for hunting,” she said. “Thanks to today’s decision, that right will remain strong through the 21st century.”
The National Rifle Association has said it plans to spend $40 million this election cycle, more than half of that in state and local races.
Even though gas prices, the economic downturn and the Iraq war may be uppermost in voters’ minds in polls, the NRA believes gun issues also capture voter interest, “particularly during difficult times such as this.”
“This is especially true in areas where a lot of people depend on hunting as a means of putting food on the table,” said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam.
Democrats in Nevada believe otherwise, sensing other issues are more pressing for voters. If anything, gun owners are feeling more secure in their rights following the Supreme Court’s decision.
Still, the NRA was emboldened after Sen. Barack Obama, the presumed Democratic presidential candidate, said economically distressed Americans are “bitter” with Washington, and clinging to guns and religion for solace. Its Web site offers “I’m a bitter gun owner and I vote” yard signs.
Yet Sen. John McCain, the presumed Republican candidate for president, has had his own troubles with the NRA. McCain’s most recent grade by the group dropped to a C+ because of his support for restrictions on gun show sales (as well as campaign finance reform). It is expected to improve when new ratings come out later this year.
Lifting the ban on guns in national parks, as the Interior Department is proposing, has been on the NRA’s agenda for years, ever since concealed carry permits became widespread.
Park and wildlife activists are opposed, worried that allowing concealed weapons on the trails in Great Basin or Death Valley would change the special culture of the parks and increase poaching. The department announced Friday it was extending the comment period until early August.
But countless Second Amendment activists have written in to support the proposal and lift the ban. It’s no surprise that a few of them come from Nevada.