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NRA SHOOTS DOWN GALLEGLY BEAR BILL.

Byline: Lisa Friedman Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Ventura County Republican Congressman Elton Gallegly has come under fire from hunters, sportsmen and firearms advocates for pushing legislation to outlaw bear-baiting.

The practice involves setting out sweets or an animal carcass to entice a bear, which is then shot while enjoying the food.

Gallegly's measure failed 163-255 in a floor vote late Thursday, the result of what many lawmakers said was intense opposition from the National Rifle Association.

``Sometimes you get special-interest folks that like to play hardball,'' Gallegly said.

Calling bear-baiting a practice that ``runs against the norms of fairness and sportsmanship,'' Gallegly said he finds the gun lobby's opposition confounding.

``I've been a strong Second Amendment guy for a very long time,'' he said. ``(But) I've been having a hard time making the connection between firearms and a truckload of Twinkies.''

Just how a conservative Republican from a largely suburban district became a target of the nation's most powerful gun lobby while aligning himself with vocal animal-rights groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on an issue that doesn't even affect his home state - California prohibits bear baiting - is its own political tale.

Political handicappers, however, doubt that a black mark from the NRA on bear-baiting will hurt Gallegly.

``It's a very safe Republican seat. I don't think Elton has much to worry about,'' said California GOP political consultant Allan Hoffenblum. ``The only thing the NRA could do is try to recruit a Republican opponent, but I've got to think it would take more than a single issue to defeat Gallegly.''

For years, the losing battle against bear-baiting was led by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. This year, however, Gallegly - a longtime supporter of animal-rights issues - agreed to sign on and became the Republican front man for the bill.

Seemingly popular among members of both parties, the measure at one time had as many as 179 supporters. Until last week.

As the legislation neared a vote in the House Resources Committee, supporters started dropping like flies. Californian Reps. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, and Darrel Issa, R-Vista, were among 16 lawmakers who withdrew their names from the bill.

Neither returned calls to explain his decision, but those who worked closely on the legislation blamed the NRA pressure.

``Gallegly was building support with a lot of traditional NRA supporters. I think they said, 'Hey, this thing is a moving train,''' said Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States.

``The NRA started working it very hard, telling members that it's going to be a scorecard vote'' - a reference to tallies that special-interest groups use to rate lawmakers' votes on issues important to them.

NRA spokeswoman Kelly Hobbs said the organization launched a widespread letter-writing campaign against the bill.

``We're certainly concerned. All outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen should be concerned about the impact of this legislation,'' she said.

For animal-welfare groups, the issue is one of cruelty to bears and safety for humans.

Pacelle contends that bear-baiting is an ``outrageous, unsporting and reckless'' practice that many hunters consider cheating.

``I don't understand why the NRA is preserving the right to set out jelly doughnuts on public lands,'' he said.

Officials with the NRA, as well as hunting groups like the Safari Club International, said the issue is one of states' rights. Nine states - Alaska, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming - still allow the practice.

Moreover, they worry that a ban on bear-baiting will clear a path to eventually outlawing all hunting.

``Baiting has proven to be very effective in helping to control the (bear) population. Nine states have concluded it's a humane and ethical management of hunting,'' Hobbs said.

``Ultimately, this legislation has nothing to do with unsportsmanlike hunting and everything to do with banning all hunting in America,''she said.

Lisa Friedman, (202) 662-8731

lisa.friedman(at)langnews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 19, 2003
Words:645
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