In his unsuccessful U.S. Senate race last year, then-Sen. John Ashcroft hauled in a stunning $374,000 in campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association.
During the same election, at the presidential level, NRA first vice president Kayne Robinson made quite a splash by boasting that if George W. Bush won the election, "We'll have a president where we work out of their office."
You'll never guess who got a favor from Attorney General Ashcroft last week.
Proving again that you get what you pay for in politics, Ashcroft acted boldly Thursday on one of the NRA's spookier priorities: the destruction of gun-purchase records almost immediately after weapons are sold.
As gun topics go, this is a cold-button issue, one the average American has never heard of. What's at stake is the FBI's ability to audit, for fraud and corruption, the records of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS.
For you pinkos who haven't purchased a gun lately, NICS is the FBI's national clearinghouse through which gun-sellers must check the backgrounds of those purchasing guns. The approval process is generally instantaneous, but the FBI has been keeping gun-purchase records for up to six months, auditing about 10 percent of the transactions to see whether people ineligible to buy guns (such as felons) were able to do so anyway.
That seems benign, but so, I suppose, was the Clinton administration's decision -- set to go into effect next week -- that would have reduced the holding period to 90 days. For most citizens, even those on the pro-gun side, this was not exactly cause to form a human chain around the government's jackbooted thugs.
Ah, but never underestimate the paranoia of the NRA, which took the nondestruction of gun-purchase records as the final sign that the anti-gunner apocalypse was indeed upon us. Gun registration is here, they whispered in the bunkers.
But along came John. No more 180 days of holding those awful records. No more 90 days. How many days will Ashcroft allow the FBI to retain gun-purchase information for the simple purpose of making sure NICS is working properly?
That would be one day. Yes, the 180-day period that the FBI has said it needs to track fraud and corruption in gun sales has been reduced to one day.
It's what our attorney general calls "real-time auditing," which somehow "can best guarantee the integrity of the system." Now, that statement doesn't seem to make a lot of sense on its face, but neither does opposing mandatory safety locks on guns, which Ashcroft did as a senator.
I should stop here to note that I'm what the NRA would term "an anti-gun extremist," one dedicated to violating the rights of all law-abiding citizens in the hope of someday disarming them for the purpose of subjecting them to torture and eating their children. So be careful about listening to me.
Besides, the real issue remaining -- according to the NRA -- isn't whether Ashcroft should be scorned for gutting NICS. No, it's whether he should have gone further.
After praising its loyal subject for taking "a step in the right direction," the NRA made it clear that the battle was still joined. One day of holding records is one day too much.
"Those records should immediately be destroyed," said NRA spokesman Bill Powers, according to the Los Angeles Times. "What business is it of the federal government to keep files and information about individual citizens who have violated no laws?"
He's certainly got a point there. We're a government of men and women, not files and information, and it's high time we did away with passports, Social Security cards and all the rest. If we're not vigilant against the threat within, the next thing you know, they'll have a Bureau of Labor Statistics or something.
They'll be kicking in our doors for sure -- but not if you send that check to the NRA.
Now, fortunately for those of us on the gun-control side, we have folks speaking out just as stridently as the NRA. If you think I'm bad, listen to the words of the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit educational group working to stop gun death and injury:
"The so-called 'real-time' proposed by the attorney general in fact equals no real audit," says Mathew Nosanchuk, the center's litigation director and legislative counsel. "By choosing the NRA over the FBI, the attorney general has put untold American lives in jeopardy. This ruling will put guns into the hands of criminals, wife-beaters and the mentally disturbed -- guaranteed. This is an outrageous and dangerous action."
I thought this was business as usual, a mostly symbolic political thank-you from Ashcroft to the NRA for all those of hundreds of thousands in campaign gifts. I had no idea about the wife-beaters and all that.
Actually, being from Missouri, I still think it was far more outrageous that Ashcroft personally took the lead a few years back in campaigning for Proposition B, the ballot measure that would have almost unconditionally permitted the carrying of concealed weapons in the state.
Fortunately, the public was smart enough to reject Proposition B despite a $4 million advertising blitz by the NRA. But if Proposition B's gaping loopholes were any indication, it's hard to believe Ashcroft when he babbles today about "vigorous enforcement of the nation's gun laws."
It's hard to imagine that there's anything he wouldn't do for his friends and benefactors at the NRA. After seeing them take on the FBI so vigorously on something as benign as policing a background-check system, you can be sure that there's plenty more to come.
John Ashcroft's shooting war on gun control has only just begun.