Bush caught in concealed-guns crossfire

Candidates draw debate battle lines, Nader plans a sneak attack, polls keep Bush and Gore on the defensive and the WWF enlists young voters.

Published October 3, 2000 7:12AM (EDT)

In Texas at least, George W. Bush's support of concealed handguns may be right on target. But now that he's going on the national stage, his gun record could backfire. The Los Angeles Times investigated whether Texans applying for permits to carry concealed guns have undergone the "rigorous background checks" that Bush promised. Its conclusions should give plenty of new ammunition to Bush foes.

The investigation found that permits went to 400 Texans with prior criminal records, including convictions for crimes like rape and armed robbery, and that 3,000 permit holders were later arrested. Furthermore, the background checks frequently missed those with histories of mental illness and serious psychological disorders. Though these numbers represent a small percentage of the 215,000 Texans who've received concealed-gun permits, and a handful of the concealed weapons have been used to thwart crimes, the details of the problematic cases are sufficiently lurid to fuel a few attack ads.

Auditioning for the part of Willie Horton is gun nut and convicted felon Terry Ross Gist, also known as "Holsters," who received his permit in 1997. Gist's wife had taken out a restraining order against him in 1993, citing his habit of grabbing for his guns to settle marital disputes. He'd also been arrested for brandishing a weapon during a souvenir purchase gone bad in Haiti. In 1998, Gist was convicted of molesting an 8-year-old girl, who told the court she feared for her life because "he had lots of guns." Though he's currently serving a 10-year prison sentence, Gist was still licensed to carry a concealed weapon in Texas as of Monday.

Tonight's the night
Bush can expect the concealed-gun issue to come up at his big debate Tuesday night with Al Gore. USA Today reports that both candidates have been getting major history lessons in debate do's and don'ts. The advice for Bush is not to make a fool of himself like Gerald Ford did against Jimmy Carter in 1976, when he declared that Eastern European countries, including Poland, were not dominated by the Soviet Union. As for Gore, he needs to watch out for Michael Dukakis syndrome -- the inability to know when an uncontrollable emotional outburst is the only appropriate response. Dukakis blew that test in 1988 with his underreaction to a question involving the hypothetical rape and murder of his wife.

On the outside looking in
Green Party candidate Ralph Nader won't get a chance to prove his mettle in Tuesday's debate, but that doesn't mean he can't make some noise. Reuters reports that the consumer advocate is willing to take one of the cheap seats at the debate as a consolation for being deprived of a podium. "We're looking for people to give us tickets so I can be right in the audience," Nader said on CNN's "Larry King Live." "I can't be on the stage. We're excluded. It's a two-party monopoly," he declared. The Commission on Presidential Debates has required candidates to reach 15 percent support in major polls to get an invitation to participate in its events, effectively excluding all third-party candidates.

Tight as a drum
According to the latest surveys, Nader and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan need a miracle to be included in any of the upcoming presidential debates. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Gore leading with 48 percent support, compared with 46 percent for Bush. Nader has only 3 percent, and Buchanan trails at 1 percent. The New York Times/CBS News poll paints a similar picture, with Gore at 45 percent and Bush at 41 percent. Nader scored 4 percent, and Buchanan was in the basement with 2 percent. Both polls have a three-point margin of error.

Getting Generation X into the ring
Most public opinion surveys focus on "likely voters," and consequently don't include many of the young and other voters who will be going to the ballot box for the first time. But the World Wrestling Federation wants to be sure that even if young people don't make the cut in the polls, they will count on Election Day. The WWF took its "Smackdown Your Vote" registration drive to Capitol Hill on Monday, and is pushing to make youth issues the focus of the Oct. 17 presidential debate in St. Louis.

On the trail
Bush: Massachusetts.
Buchanan: Massachusetts.
Gore: Florida and Massachusetts.
Nader: Massachusetts.

Poll positions
Presidential race:

  • Bush 45 to Gore 45 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Sept. 29-Oct. 1).
  • Gore 45 to Bush 41 (Zogby Sept. 29-Oct. 1).
  • Gore 48 to Bush 46 (Washington Post/ABC News Sept. 28-Oct. 1).
  • Gore 45 to Bush 39 (New York Times/CBS News Sept. 27-Oct. 1).
  • Gore 45 to Bush 43 (MSNBC/Reuters Sept. 28-30).
  • Bush 45 to Gore 44 (Newsweek Sept. 27-29).
  • Bush 48 to Gore 42 (Los Angeles Times Sept. 23-25).

    Third-party candidates:

  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Sept. 29-Oct. 1).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (Washington Post/ABC News Sept. 28-Oct. 1).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 2 (New York Times/CBS News Sept. 27-Oct. 1).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1, Browne 1 (MSNBC/Reuters Sept. 28-30).
  • Nader 2 to Buchanan 1 (Los Angeles Times Sept. 23-25).

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  • By Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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