The perception that Democrats are hostile to the rights of gun owners has damaged the party in the last two elections and will do so again in 2004 unless they change their ways, the Democratic Leadership Council said yesterday.

Al From, founder of the centrist DLC, and Democratic Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas said the antigun image perpetuates the idea that Democrats are “cultural elites,” alienating them from mainstream voters. . . .

Mr. Bayh, chairman of the DLC, said Democrats “have a credibility problem” on guns and national security issues.

“We cannot be perceived as cultural elitists and weak on national security issues,” Mr. Bayh said. “That’s not a prescription for victory for the Democratic Party.”

Makes sense to me. Hey, maybe if they work hard, they’ll have a shot at winning votes from guys like this:

GREENSBORO — Ron Simpson knows guns — and instantly knew the one in front of him Wednesday night was a phony.

Sure, the gun in the hands of the would-be robber at Action Video at 1058 Alamance Church Road had the look of a 9 mm, but Simpson, the manager, said he was “95 percent sure” the muzzle was too small to project a bullet.

“That is not a real gun,” Simpson told the robber. “This is a real gun,” he said, pulling a .25-caliber derringer from his front-right jeans pocket.

Sadly, right now the Democrats would be more likely to support prosecuting him for daring to defend himself with a gun — and a “Saturday night special” at that! (And yet Arlie Hochschild wonders why the Democrats can’t win over “NASCAR dads.”) But maybe they’ll improve. That would be a good thing, for the Democrats, and the country.

UPDATE: The Democrats are going to have to do better here — this approach doesn’t even win over a gay gun enthusiast from Vermont.