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Charlton Heston Wins NRA Presidency

June 8, 1998

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The National Rifle Association elected Charlton Heston as its president Monday in the hope that the man who played Moses on screen would give it instant credibility and lead it to the promised land of a more mainstream public image.

``We’ve been demonized by the media to a certain extent. I think this is a way of saying, `Hey, Moses is on our side,‴ said Wayne LaPierre, who was re-elected NRA executive vice president.

The NRA has come under fire recently following a series of school shootings across the country since last fall.

The election of the 73-year-old star of ``The Ten Commandments″ capped Heston’s rapid rise through the hierarchy of the nation’s oldest and largest gun rights organization, with 2.8 million members _ down from a peak of 3.4 million three years ago. He was previously first vice president.

Heston and LaPierre want to bring back supporters who were scared away by more extreme members who oppose nearly all restrictions on guns.

Following his nearly unanimous election by the 76-member board of directors, Heston vowed to use his star power to broaden membership and to recast the NRA as a moderate organization.

``I think it’s a question of restoring the image the NRA has enjoyed for, what, 120-some years,″ the movie star said. ``I think we will find ourselves back in the mainstream of American public life.″

He said the NRA under his leadership will worry less about changing policy than about doing a better job communicating the message that the NRA’s members are regular, all-American folk.

``At least that’s a skill I have, and my public face is useful, too,″ Heston said.

The group’s efforts to improve its image took a blow shortly before the vote, when NRA security guards had a confrontation with the husband of a board member who made a complaint about the organization’s bylaws. Guards told Ken Brodbeck, 39, of Des Moines, to be quiet and stop videotaping the session after he stood to speak and was called out of order.

``Next thing I knew they tackled me onto the ground,″ he said. Tris Barry, NRA security manager, said Brodbeck fell.

After Heston’s election, the new leadership challenged President Clinton to allow the NRA to work with one American city beleaguered by gun violence for a single year. The NRA hopes to prove that the problem is not guns but lax enforcement of the law.

``Philadelphia would probably be good,″ Heston said. ``Over the last few days, I’ve been talking to Philadelphia cops, and every one of them say, `By God, you guys are on the right track. What is wrong here is that they are not prosecuting the crimes.‴

Mayor Ed Rendell has threatened to sue the gun industry over the city’s high gun homicide rate.

On Saturday, Heston offered a bristling attack on Clinton.

``Mr. Clinton, sir, America didn’t trust you with our health care system. America didn’t trust you with gays in the military. America doesn’t trust you with our 21-year-old daughters, and we sure, Lord, don’t trust you with our guns,″ Heston said.

Though only one board member voted against Heston, some within the organization question his record on guns rights. He supported a federal gun-control law in 1968 after Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination. And he said during a radio show last year that AK-47s ``are inappropriate for private use.″

Opponents within the NRA worry about the more moderate stance of Heston and LaPierre, saying the group ought not compromise with gun-control advocates.

``He is a beautiful, eloquent spokesman for the Second Amendment,″ said Neal Knox. ``I hope that he will make it clear that he is a credible spokesman.″

Gun opponents said there is no difference between the NRA’s two factions.

``Frankly, if the NRA is mainstream, then we live on the `Planet of the Apes,‴ said Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., author of the Brady Bill, referring to another Heston role. ``Even two-thirds of gun owners support reasonable gun restrictions. Charlton Heston does not speak for them. He speaks for those who believe no amount of guns is enough.″

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