President Clinton Monday sharply rebuked the National Rifle Association for attacks on law enforcement officials and praised former President George Bush for canceling his longtime NRA membership to protest the group’s tactics.
Clinton also used his speech, at a memorial service for police officers killed in the line of duty, to vow to fight NRA efforts to repeal gun control and to chide Congress for stalling passage of anti-terrorism legislation that the White House proposed after the Oklahoma bombing a month ago.
Clinton reiterated his pledge to protect the assault weapons ban if Republicans try to lift it. “When the NRA holds its annual meeting later this week,” Clinton said, “I want them to know they can pressure Congress all they want to try to repeal the assault weapons ban, but as long as I am president, that ban will be the law of our land.”
Clinton’s comments came during a turbulent period for the politically influential 3.5 millionmember gun organization, which gathers in Phoenix later this week for its annual meeting. Since the April 19 Oklahoma City bombing, the NRA has come under fire for its harsh condemnations of federal law enforcement agencies in fund-raising and membership materials. Bush’s recent resignation from the group - and poignant defense of federal agents killed in the line of duty - was widely applauded.
Monday the NRA took out full-page advertisements in The Washington Post and other newspapers containing its lengthy letter to Bush asking him to reconsider his resignation. The letter, from NRA president Tom Washington, listed cases in which ATF agents supposedly harassed gun owners, and described the agents as “black-suited, masked, massively armed mobs of screaming, swearing agents invading the homes of innocents.”
Several thousand police officers and their supporters turned out to hear Clinton’s remarks near the Capitol Monday and applauded as Clinton said, “law enforcement officers in this country deserve our respect and support. No one has the right to run them down or to suggest that somehow it is all right for them to be put in harm’s way.”
The president echoed Bush by saying that denigrating law enforcement officers “is not the American way, and anybody who does it ought to be ashamed.”
Bush spokesman Jim McGrath said Monday that the former president has no plans to reconsider his decision despite the NRA’s appeal. “He was pretty straightforward and curt about it,” McGrath said.
John Magaw, the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said Monday that he is outraged at the recent NRA attacks on his agency. “When they can’t win in court and in Congress, they attack the regulatory agency,” said Magaw. “Everything they have said has had little substance.” Magaw said he has investigated many NRA complaints against ATF and concluded they are mostly unfounded.