HARRISBURG, Pa. – Three years ago, the National Rifle Association praised then-Philadelphia Mayor Edward G. Rendell for his "courageous leadership." Now, the organization has turned against him and is trying to defeat the Democrat in his bid for governor.
Before the Democratic primary in May, the NRA ran radio ads warning gun owners that a Rendell victory "could mean harsh new restrictions on your rights and freedoms" and urged supporters to vote for his primary opponent, state Auditor General Robert P. Casey Jr. Casey lost.
The cover story of the August issue of American Rifleman, the NRA calls Rendell "one of the most anti-gun candidates for governor in Pennsylvania history."
The article faults Rendell for encouraging cities nationwide to sue gun manufacturers for damages caused by firearms — though Rendell never carried out the threat himself — and for backing gun-control proposals while he was general chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2000.
The article does not mention that Rendell has made only one gun-control proposal in the governor's race. The measure would allow people to buy only one handgun per month, a limit in place in California, Virginia, South Carolina and Maryland.
"Everything to them is black and white," Rendell said. "To cast me as an extreme liberal on this, gosh -- I'm not for registration, I'm not for licensing, I'm not for making it more difficult for people to carry a handgun. I am for one handgun a month."
A tandem article in the NRA magazine hails Mike Fisher, Rendell's Republican opponent in the Nov. 5 election, as a man who has "won many victories on behalf of the Pennsylvania gun owners and hunters." It cites his record in the state Senate and as Pennsylvania attorney general, singling out his support for mandatory prison terms for armed violent criminals as an example of fighting crime without diminishing gun owners' rights.
It erroneously credits Fisher with organizing Operation Cease Fire in southeastern Pennsylvania -- the very program that Rendell implemented amid NRA fanfare in 1999. The program requires illegal-gun cases to be prosecuted under federal laws instead of weaker state laws.
An NRA spokesman called it a "a terminology error" but said the general thrust of the articles was accurate.
"I think Ed Rendell is on record as being a gun-control advocate," said the spokesman, Andrew Arulanandam. "No matter what he may try to do in an election year, he can't run away from that label."
When Operation Cease Fire was launched, the NRA took out ads in newspapers and magazines thanking Rendell for his support.
"Mayor Rendell is making history. By making armed felons history," the ad declared. It praised Rendell's "courageous leadership" and was signed by NRA president Charlton Heston, who joined Rendell at the news conference where they jointly launched the program.
Nearly a year after Operation Cease was announced, state lawmakers enacted a similar statewide program proposed by Fisher that increased state penalties for illegal firearm possession.
Rendell said the NRA article is an example of "disinformation" circulated by his opponents.
But Kent Gates, Fisher's campaign manager, said: "At the end of the day, the guy is for gun control. The NRA does not have to mislead its members on gun issues when it comes to Ed Rendell because his record is clear -- he has worked against the Second Amendment."