As thousands of gun owners gathered for the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting here Friday, the group’s leaders brushed off President Clinton’s suggestion that it donate proceeds from a controversial fund-raising letter that referred to “jack-booted government thugs” to families of police officers killed in the line of duty.
At a meeting with law enforcement officials at the White House, Clinton for the second time this week denounced the mailing, which was sent to all 3.5 million NRA members last March.
“They ought to give up the illgotten gains from their bogus fund-raising letter,” the president declared.
But NRA leaders dismissed the president’s remarks as grandstanding and said they had no intention of following his suggestion. “It’s all political,” said Tanya K. Metaksa, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Affairs.
The dust-up with Clinton underscored the turmoil surrounding the nation’s leading organization of gun owners as it gathered for its 124th annual meeting. Over the past month the NRA has been embroiled in escalating controversy over its sharp criticism of federal law enforcement agents, particularly the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the agency charged with enforcing the federal gun laws.
Earlier this month, former President Bush resigned from the NRA, citing the language in the same March fund-raising letter that Clinton criticized.
On Wednesday, NRA executive vice president Wayne R. LaPierre said the letter - which drew about 1 million responses and sources say is expected to raise as much as $6 million - meant to refer only to specific allegations of abuse the NRA has compiled.
Citing such language, a small group of NRA dissidents led by a former board member from Texas held a media conference Friday to denounce the organization’s direction.