Over the years, I have written six letters on the subject of sensible gun control. In almost every one, I pointed out that the National Rifle Association has blocked every attempt by government to place sensible limits on the manufacture and sale of guns in the U.S. I pointed out that the NRA has contributed huge sums from its coffers to elect Republican legislators. In 2013-14, the figure was more than $26 million, and over the years Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, received some $72,000. Who said we don’t have the best Congress money can buy?
I also pointed out that if we truly wanted to we could cut back on “death by guns.” Here are some solutions: effective criminal background checks, magazines holding no more than 10 bullets, closing the gun show loophole, no sale of armor piercing bullets, safety locks to prevent children from firing guns and the reporting of all gun sales.
Needless to say, the NRA has fought these common sense solutions. So after decades of voicing my opposition to the NRA, I became pessimistic. Little did I know that help was on its way from none other than the NRA itself. Let’s take a deep dive into the facts.
In May 2018, retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Oliver North became the head of the NRA. You may remember his name because of the Iran-Contra scandal. This was a Reagan administration scheme to sell arms to Iran with the cash being sent to the Nicaraguan rebels, aka “the Contras,” who stood in opposition to the allegedly Communist regime of Daniel Ortega. No one could have predicted that there would be a series of charges and countercharges between North and Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and longtime public face of the NRA. Each sought the allegiance of the 5 million members of what may be the most powerful lobby in Washington, D.C.
Specifically, what should we know about the history of this rift? Before taking over the reins of the NRA, North was convicted of three felony counts in connection with the Iran-Contra incident, but in 1990 the conviction was overturned. He went on to become a darling of the right and a frequent guest on Fox News shows.
Here are examples of the growing squabble within the organization. An ad agency, Ackerman McQueen, paid North millions of dollars annually and threatened to release a letter that would be devastating to LaPierre because of expenses charged to the NRA as well as sexual harassment charges. These charges included $39,000 for one day of shopping at a Beverly Hills clothing boutique; $18,300 for a car and driver in Europe; and $13,800 in rent for a summer intern. The grand total billed to Ackerman McQueen Inc. was more than $542,000. In spite of this, the NRA board was able to force North out. The image of a circular firing squad comes to mind.
For his part, Oliver North asked that the NRA president, previously a ceremonial position, receive a salary. Lest you think this will all blow over, New York state Attorney General Letitia James has opened an investigation into the NRA’s tax-exempt status. And where was Trump during all this? He delivered an address to the NRA convention proclaiming himself a champion of the Second Amendment.
I always try to find lessons to be learned from historic events. Here’s my takeaway from the above. One can never predict the future. Remember the 2016 presidential election when even Trump thought he’d lost. A second lesson: Allies may arise in unexpected places, to wit, Attorney General James opening an investigation into the NRA’s tax-exempt status. Whether this is the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning for the NRA has yet to be determined.
I will end on a poignant note. When the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre occurred, President Barack Obama went to Newtown, Conn., to console those who had lost loved ones. Remember that 20 of those killed were only 6 and 7 years old.
The president took a deep breath and steeled himself. Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander-in-chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son. Tell me about your daughter.” Their parents described favorite foods and the sound of their laughter. I saw his eyes water, but he did not break. And then the entire scene would repeat. We spent what felt like a lifetime in those classrooms and every single person received the same tender treatment. It became some small measure of love on a weekend when evil reigned.
Imagine, if you will, Trump in this situation
Dr. Hal Sobel