Tough times call for strong language. That’s how the NRA’s top lobbyist defends the group’s letter calling some federal agents “jack-booted government thugs.”
“I think sometimes the rhetoric is necessary to make a point,” said Tanya Metaksa, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. “You can whisper into the darkness, but when nobody listens, you raise the level of your voice.”
The letter led to the resignations of prominent NRA members former President George Bush and former House Speaker Tom Foley. It also triggered a storm of criticism against the NRA.
But Metaksa said the letter, detailing alleged abuses of power by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, was only the latest round in the group’s push to force hearings on the abuse of federal agents’ powers.
In April 1993, the NRA called for an investigation of the fire at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Metaksa said. None was held.
In January 1994, the NRA, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Presbyterian Church sent a letter to President Bill Clinton asking him to investigate 25 examples of abuse. Nothing happened, Metaksa said.
This January, the NRA sent a delegation to the U.S. Department of Justice, calling for an investigation. “They showed us the door,” she said.
“We were very quiet until March of this year,” she said, “when we took out an ad about the abuses of the ATF.”
Then, on April 19, a terrorist bomb blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City, Okla. As the smoke cleared, many began to wonder aloud if such anti-government rhetoric could have encouraged the bomber.
Absolutely not, said Metaksa.
“I don’t think we say the government is evil. We say there are problems in certain parts of the government,” she said. “We weren’t talking about the local Spokane cop or the Washington state trooper, but about the ATF agents that have gotten out of hand.”
She said the NRA won’t compro mise on its push to overturn the ban on so-called assault weapons.
“We’ve been trying to educate the American public - including gun owners - that there is no difference between an AK-47 and your 30.06 (hunting rifle), except the caliber and a few cosmetic changes,” she said. “We believe that if we start compromising on what a gun looks like, there is no place to draw the line.”
She discounted the complaint that group is more focused on politics than hunting. The group is offering more hunter and gun safety courses than ever, she said.
“I think it’s part of the same thing,” she said. “If you can’t own a gun, you can’t hunt. If you want to go hunting with rocks, that’s something else.”