The National Rifle Association has added a microphone to its holster.
The 4-million member gun owners’ rights group offered its first online broadcast Friday afternoon — an initial volley in an effort to become both a news organization and talk-radio presence.
“Creating this is our way of saying the NRA will not be silenced. It is designed to circumvent the campaign-finance restrictions, which would bar us from communicating to our members before elections,” said NRA spokeswoman Kelly Hobbs.
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre calls the broadcast outreach “freedom’s last channel.”
He said, “The U.S. Supreme Court let Congress rewrite the First Amendment to muzzle our voice during the elections, but we maintain that no Congress, no Supreme Court, no law, no gag order, no force or fear will ever silence the legitimate political voice of this great association.”
The three-hour “NRA News” debuted as the organization convened in Pittsburgh for a mammoth annual meeting.
At the NRA’s 133rd annual convention last night, keynote speaker Vice President Dick Cheney noted that Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has promised to stand up to the NRA and that his “approach to the Second Amendment has been to regulate, regulate and regulate some more.”
In contrast, President Bush has staunchly supported the Second Amendment right to bear arms and has opposed restrictions on law-abiding gun owners and gun manufacturers, Mr. Cheney said.
NRA News joins a diversified field. Bush-bashing liberals like Al Franken have their own radio outlet via New York-based Air America. The fledgling broadcast group is already beset by financial woes and corporate misunderstandings since it went on the air two weeks ago.
“The line between politics and broadcast can get blurred. Consider Air America, which is funded by political zealots who just want to get George Bush out of the White House,” said Michael Harrison of Talkers Magazine, which tracks talk radio.
“Is political talk radio an entertainment tool or partisan force? It’s tricky, and the kinks haven’t been worked out yet,” Mr. Harrison said.
Meanwhile, critics have quickly surfaced, dismissing NRA’s project as a cunning political scheme in an election year.
The New York Times billed it as “an aggressive campaign to whip up support” for President Bush and “to hammer Bush’s likely Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry, as a liberal threat to gun ownership.”
Mr. LaPierre — who has been a talk-radio host himself for years — sees the enterprise as legitimate, just as “Disney owns ABC, just as GE owns NBC,” he told the Associated Press, adding that the NRA was best qualified to offer news on firearms and hunting.
NRA News will offer free news updates twice a day and a talk show with Oklahoma-based host Cam Edwards from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time through the Web site www.nranews.com, complete with a call-in line (866/NRA-NEWS.)
The group is also shopping around to buy its own radio station for a potentially large and hungry American audience of some 16 million licensed hunters and 80 million gun owners.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.