- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2018

Conservative leader Oliver North will serve as the next president of the National Rifle Association, the gun rights group said Monday, tapping its highest-profile leader since actor Charlton Heston had the helm in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Mr. North, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who gained national attention as a figure in the Iran-Contra affair, will take the reins in the coming weeks and give up his post as a Fox News host and pundit — though he is likely to be just as visible on the airwaves defending the country’s largest gun rights organization amid the biggest gun control push in years.

The NRA said it was just that environment — spurred by the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, Florida — that pushed them to recruit Mr. North for the job. The organization said it needs his decades of experience communicating conservative and pro-Second Amendment ideas.

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the NRA, said the organization, which already counts Mr. North as a board member, is proud to elevate him to president.

Oliver North is a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader,” Mr. LaPierre said in a statement. “In these times, I can think of no one better suited to serve as our president.”

NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch said she was thrilled by the move and predicted it would upset gun control activists.

“A total warrior for freedom, this is the last person that anti-gun advocates would want as the new President of the NRA board,” Ms. Loesch tweeted.

Liberal groups did indeed criticize the decision. They questioned the NRA’s wisdom of naming someone who was accused of crimes during Iran-Contra.

Mr. North was a member of the National Security Council during the Reagan administration and was accused of overseeing illegal weapons sales to Iran, which was funneling the money to the Contras — U.S. backed rebel groups — in Nicaragua.

Mr. North was convicted on three felony counts, but the convictions were later vacated.

Former Rep. Gabby Giffords’ group said Mr. North is out of touch with the political environment, particularly surrounding guns.

“The group has chosen as its leader a 74-year-old historical curiosity best known for his shameful involvement in one of the most bizarre and sad episodes in our history,” said Jason Phelps, spokesman for the Giffords organization.

Mr. North succeeds Pete Brownell, who was chosen president last year but who said in an NRA-issued statement that the organization needed to go higher-profile amid the challenges to gun rights.

Mr. North, in a 2013 piece for The Washington Times in the wake of a movie theater shooting in Colorado, delivered a fierce defense of the Second Amendment. He also defended the NRA’s calls for placing more armed officers in schools to deter shootings.

“The NRA is our nation’s leader in firearms education, training and safety. It’s also an effective, fervent advocate for our civil liberties,” he wrote, adding that he had “owned and used firearms most of my life.”

Pro-gun advocates voiced their support for the NRA’s move.

“We all at the Second Amendment Foundation look forward to working with him at a time when our civil and constitutional right to own a firearm is not only under attack but is being demonized like never before,” said Alan Gottlieb, spokesman for the Second Amendment Foundation.

The group Everytown for Gun Safety, formed after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, said the NRA is struggling amid the national conversation.

“The election of Oliver North is the clearest sign yet that the NRA is floundering in the face of plummeting popularity, scrutiny into its Russia ties, and state lawmakers who are defying the gun lobby left and right. The NRA doesn’t need a new leader — it needs an entirely new direction,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown.

Even as gun control groups said the NRA was becoming irrelevant, the organization drew a record crowd to its annual convention in Dallas last week. Both President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence delivered in-person speeches.

Some of the gun control movement’s newest leaders — students and parents from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland — also panned the move.

“Good thing the new president of the NRA is a stand up citizen. Not!” tweeted Fred Guttenberg, father of Jaime Guttenberg, who was killed in the February attack.

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