Threats of gun control re-energizing the NRA

April 26, 1993|By Dallas Morning News

NASHVILLE, TENN. — 2/3 TC NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For the first time in a dozen years, ther is a hostile administration in Washington. Two more states recently enacted laws curtailing access to firearms. And new federal gun controls seem all but a certainty.

It's not exactly the best of times for the granddaddy of all %J gun-rights groups in America, the National Rifle Association.

Yet, NRA leaders and members who gathered in Nashville for their 122nd annual convention over the weekend insist that the adversity has produced an important, positive result: It shattered any complacency among gun-rights advocates.

And it spurred the NRA, long considered an almost invincible lobbying force, to reshape its public image and reposition itself politically in an attempt to weather what it expects to be a stormy four years -- or more.

"We've got a hard four years ahead of us, a real legislative slugfest," says John C. Dugan, general manager of the Oklahoma Ammunition Co. in Skiatook, an exhibitor at the convention.

"It frightens me. I go home every day just whipped from talking about it to people all over the country."

According to experts, the NRA and gun-rights advocates may find it increasingly difficult to stop the momentum toward more gun restrictions. Supporters of gun control have some powerful arguments: the growing violence in America's cities and the images of television.

"We accumulate [through mass media] the episodes of homicides and mass killings in a way our ancestors never did," says Dr. Marvin E. Wolfgang, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Studies in Criminology and Criminal Law.

"We become aware that these things go on in all 50 states . . . that there are 13-year-old kids out there with Uzis. It scares people, as well it should."

President Clinton, who angered the NRA during the campaign for his stance on gun control, has said he supports further restrictions.

Statistically, at least, the NRA's efforts to remake itself appear to be succeeding. It reports attracting 600,000 new members in the past 18 months -- roughly since the 1992 presidential campaign hit high gear -- pushing its total membership to a record 3.2 million.

And if the weekend's annual meeting is any indication, enthusiasm -- or concern -- also is higher than normal. The NRA estimates that as many as 18,000 members were attending, nearing another record.

"It's the re-energized NRA, and it's the threat of the Clinton administration," says Wayne R. LaPierre Jr., the group's executive vice president.

"Gun owners see what's happening at the national level, the misguided efforts to take away their rights and do nothing about the criminal justice system. They're activated throughout the country."

Still, the NRA may be losing some important supporters. Several police organizations, for example, have joined the call for gun control.

Nonetheless, the NRA is following a strategy aimed at bolstering its political position and energizing gun owners who have become complacent about their rights to own firearms.

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