NRA -Sesame Place tie draws gun-foes' fire

Put the gun down, Elmo.

That's the war cry of gun-control advocates after learning that a National Rifle Association Web site is offering discounted tickets to Sesame Place and other kid-friendly theme parks - in return for donations to the NRA's political arm, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA).

"This is a very strange thing, the connection between guns, the NRA and Sesame Place," said Bryan Miller, executive director of Ceasefire NJ. "It looks to me like a PR nightmare."

"There is no conflict of interest by having the theme-park tickets available," said NRA spokeswoman Ashley Varner.

Varner said the tickets, which provide discounted entry to the parks, weren't purchased by the NRA, anyway, but provided by Anheuser-Busch. Besides making Budweiser and Bud Light, the beer magnate, through a subsidiary, operates Sesame Place in Langhorne; SeaWorld, in Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego; Busch Gardens and Adventure Island in Tampa Bay; and Busch Gardens and Water Country USA in Williamsburg, Va.

According to the NRA-ILA Web site, the price of a two ticket donation is $50, about half of the regular price. The other discount prices, according to the Web, are: four tickets for $100, six for $150 and eight for $200.

Anheuser-Busch responded to a call seeking information with the following statement: "We routinely offer these kinds of ticket discounts to national organizations whose members have an interest in visiting our parks."

Varner strongly criticized gun-control advocates, taking special aim at big-city mayors, including John Street.

Philadelphia's homicide rate stood at 213 as of last night, according to police.

Among actions Varner suggested that cities undertake to curb gun crime are: budgeting more money for policing, prosecuting every gun crime, refusing plea-bargains and insisting on mandatory sentences for gun crime.

"If they [mayors] were serious about lowering crime, they would stop pointing fingers of blame at the NRA and jet-setting the country on the taxpayers' dime" to attend gun-control events, she said. "There are things these mayors could do if they wanted."

Varner maintained that the NRA was a "family-friendly organization."

"We've actually trained over 20 million children since 1988 in firearms safety," through an NRA program for kids from pre-kindergarten through third grade, called Eddie Eagle GunSafe, she said.

Miller, of Ceasefire NJ, said, "We think it is just wrong to use a kids' park, and this is for small children, to raise money for an organization that is doing everything it can to protect gun-industry profits at the expense of safety, and that includes children's safety."

He said gun-control groups would rally over the issue Tuesday at the New Jersey Statehouse. Besides Ceasefire NJ, others include CeaseFire PA, the Million Mom March of New Jersey, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and a student group called Gun Free Kids. *