Earlier versions of this article, including in the print editions of The Washington Post, incorrectly said that former president George H.W. Bush was a member of the National Rifle Association for decades. He was a member from 1985 to 1995. This version has been corrected.
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NRA-led gun lobby wields powerful influence over ATF, U.S. politics
Critics say the NRA and other gun organizations used Obama's candidacy and election to scare gun owners and boost their memberships. In TV ads and on the Internet, the NRA warned that Obama planned to ban handguns and close 90 percent of gun shops.
"Never in NRA's history have we faced a presidential candidate . . . with such a deep-rooted hatred of firearm freedoms," LaPierre wrote in a fundraising letter in 2008. He declined to be interviewed for this story.
Obama never said anything about banning handguns or closing gun shops. His campaign platform promised to pursue long-standing proposals to address urban violence: reinstating the assault weapons ban, outlawing "cop killer" bullets and closing the "gun-show loophole" that permits firearm sales without background checks.
The campaign said Obama favored "commonsense measures" to protect gun rights "while keeping guns away from children and from criminals who shouldn't have them." Obama also said he would repeal the Tiahrt Amendment.
The NRA created a Web page that is still active, www.gunbanobama.com , to attack Obama's gun record. The site states, "Hillary was Right: You Can't Trust Obama With Your Guns." It then links to a mailer that Hillary Rodham Clinton used in the Democratic primary against Obama.
Recognizing his vulnerability in swing states, Obama began to run an alternate campaign to calm the worries of gun owners, said Ray Schoenke, a former Washington Redskins lineman who founded a moderate gun rights group, the American Hunters and Shooters Association, as part of the Obama effort.
The Obama campaign paid for Schoenke's travel to 40 events in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Colorado to address pro-gun voters.
"The opposition said Obama was going to take away everyone's guns, tax ammunitions, tax guns, register guns and reinstate the assault weapons ban," Schoenke said. "We said, 'He is not going to do any of these things.' And he didn't."
When Holder, then Obama's nominee for attorney general, repeated Obama's gun control platform at his confirmation hearing last year, 65 Democrats wrote Holder vowing to "actively oppose" any effort to restore the assault weapons ban. It was taken off the table, along with the other proposals.
Schoenke said he was in touch with the White House after Holder's comments, and he was assured that Obama would not be making a move toward stricter gun laws unpopular with gun groups. "We basically said it ain't gonna happen," Schoenke said recently. "And it hasn't happened."
In his first 20 months in office, Obama has virtually been silent on guns.
When the Obama administration passed its budget last year, it left the Tiahrt Amendment virtually intact. It expanded police access to the gun trace data but tightened restrictions on public disclosure of the data.
Gun control advocates are disappointed.
"President Obama's first-year record on gun violence prevention has been an abject failure," said the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The NRA, whose membership has tripled since 1978, says it remains on guard.
"We're up against, in the next two years, an Obama administration embedded with people that have spent a lifetime trying to destroy this great American freedom," LaPierre said on an NRA election-night webcast, "and we're going to have our work cut out for us."
Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.