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Former Gun Lobbyist Says NRA Aims Mostly for Money

Tuesday, October 30, 2007; Page A13

R ichard Feldman is a rarity -- a former gun lobbyist who is publicly taking a shot at the National Rifle Association.

In his new book, "Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist," Feldman accuses the powerful NRA of being in business primarily to raise money for itself and its executives, and of using self-defeating scare tactics to keep its coffers full.

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The NRA's "financial blood-sucking" and "deceitful appeals" for cash, he writes, have sustained the organization financially but have undermined its ability to work with natural allies such as law enforcement officials and moderate Republicans and Democrats.

Feldman came to this conclusion by watching from the inside. He worked for several years as a state-level lobbyist for the NRA and then, in the 1990s, went on to represent the firearms industry as executive director of the American Shooting Sports Council.

Along the way he was transformed from a young man eager to help the cause to a disheartened, embittered veteran. "Ricochet" is Feldman's memoir of his career and his vehicle for charging the NRA with becoming a bomb-throwing, self-serving impediment to what he considers the legitimate right of gun ownership.

Feldman was the man behind one of the few acts of compromise between gun lobbyists and gun-control supporters. In the mid-1990s, he was instrumental in persuading weapons manufacturers to voluntarily place locks on handguns, at the request of the Clinton administration. But it was that small example of conciliation that put a target on his back.

When he later failed to unite the industry to stop a deluge of lawsuits by cities against gunmakers, he was ousted from the American Shooting Sports Council -- at the insistence, he says, of the NRA and its then-top lobbyist, James Jay Baker. Feldman says he had gotten too close to what the NRA thought of as "the enemy," and that was unforgivable.

"Drawing nice clean lines with 'us' and 'them' to battle over makes for far more successful direct mail solicitations than actually solving problems," Feldman writes. "Protracted campaigns brought in new members and contributions."

And that, Feldman asserts, is what the NRA really wants.

Feldman's critique is not new. Ever since the NRA in 1995 called the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms a bunch of "jack-booted government thugs" and former president George H. W. Bush resigned from the organization in protest, the lobby has widely been seen as wild-eyed, even radical, mostly for the sake of keeping its membership large and energized.

At the same time, however, not even its boldest detractors have been able to credibly claim that the NRA is ineffective. Its ability to mobilize pro-gun voters was key to defeating Al Gore in the 2000 presidential race. Rarely does gun-control legislation even come up in Congress these days, so feared is the NRA.

Feldman undercuts his credentials as a critic by admitting his disdain for the group and resorting to petty personal attacks. Of Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's longtime chief executive, Feldman writes: "Wayne's chipmunk cheeks had expanded, so that he now reminded me of a well-groomed, well-fed beaver who had salted away plenty of leaves and branches for the winter."

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