ST. LOUIS – John Kerry (search) linked U.S. assault weapon sales to worries about terrorism Friday and said President Bush (search) was bowing to the National Rifle Association (search) by not pushing to keep alive an expiring ban.
If Bush is serious about fighting terrorism, the Democratic presidential candidate said, he world extend the 10-year ban on sales of 19 kinds of semiautomatic assault weapons (search), due to expire on Monday.
"In the Al Qaeda manual on terror, they were telling peoplzation helped in the successful campaigns against him in the swing states of West Virginia and Ohio.
This year, the Democratic presidential nominee is again fighting the NRA in battleground states where its membership is strong — also including Florida, Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania.
The NRA says it is spending $400,000 a week to run a 30-minute anti-Kerry infomercial in several states. It says Kerry's voting record in the Senate shows he would erode gun rights if elected president.
The Kerry campaign distributed a poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania that said two-thirds of the public and one-third of NRA members support an extension of the assault weapons ban.
"It's a minority of people in this country who want to get rid of the assault weapons ban," said Kerry adviser Joe Lockhart. "You can slice and dice the polls anyway you want, you can say it's helpful or it's hurtful, but the bottom line is that it's a matter of principle for Senator Kerry."
Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt said Kerry's links between the gun ban and the war on terrorism "are the flailing attacks of a politician who's behind in the polls."
Kerry has been reaching out to gun owners as he campaigns in recent weeks, frequently talking about how he has been hunting since he was young.
"I've handled all different kinds of guns and I've gone out and I've shot — I've shot birds and deer and you name it," Kerry said Friday night during a rally in Allentown, Pa. "And I believe in the Second Amendment. But I'll tell you this — I have never thought about going hunting with an assault weapon, with a weapon of war."
He said earlier in St. Louis: "Heavens to Betsy, folks, we've had that law on the books for the last 10 years and there's not a gun owner in America who can stand up and say, `They tried to take my guns away."'
On the eve of the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Kerry also met privately with widows of victims from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut who his aides said are supporting his campaign. The campaign wouldn't say how many widows were at the meeting.
"They looked at me and every single one of them said, 'Our husbands didn't die on Sept. 11 because of what happened with Iraq,"' Kerry told thousands of supporters at the Allentown fairgrounds. "What happened with Al Qaeda, with Usama bin Laden in Afghanistan? And what George W. Bush has done has tried to scare America, to try and scare Americans and make you believe that one is the other and the other is the same."