Leaders of the National Rifle Association, who had been accused of becoming conciliatory on gun control, overwhelmingly fended off a takeover attempt today by a faction of the organization.
Nearly 3,000 voting members and many followers gathered here for the annual NRA convention this weekend to settle a fight carried on in recent weeks through charges and countercharges in gun-related publications.
President Reagan appeared here Friday pledging to fight gun control and asking for unity in the group.
Today Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), an NRA director, urged the group to support executive vice president Harlan Carter, the group's chief operating officer.
"In Alaska we have a strong feeling that if something ain't broke, we don't try to fix it," he said.
Stevens also warned members against publicizing their internal bickering.
"My grandmother once told me that I had the liberty of fighting with my brothers at home. But outside we had to stick together because, although we were growing in numbers, there were still very few of us," he said.
The revolt was led by Neal Knox, who was dismissed last year by Carter as head of the NRA's institute for legislative action, the NRA's powerful lobbying and political arm.
Knox had circulated a series of vague charges about the current NRA leadership, hinting at possible fiscal mismanagement and charging that Carter is willing to compromise on gun control--a charge that comes close to heresy in the NRA.
Knox proposed a series of bylaw changes that would have immediately thrown Carter out of a job by cutting his elective term from five years to one. The changes would also have transformed Knox's old job to an elective position, presumably clearing the route for his return.
Carter, who has led the organization since 1977, answered the charges by saying that he is as tough as ever in his opposition to gun control and by pointing out his record in office, including the NRA's success in defeating a California gun referendum, its growing annual budget (now $43 million) and its increase in membership to 2.6 million this year.
Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), a member of the NRA's board of directors, stood up for Carter, asking the members to vote "without debate" to reject all of the major bylaw changes proposed by Knox.
In a stunning defeat for Knox, the members voted overwhelmingly with Dingell, waving their voting credentials in the air.
The victorious Carter later told reporters: "You have just now seen the reunification of the NRA, the strength of our position of no compromise on gun control. We are a one-issue people . . . that issue is the right of law-abiding and decent people to keep and bear arms."
NRA members from all over the country flew in for the convention, many in cowboy hats and string ties, others in farmer caps bearing the insignia of firearm manufacturers. Members spent much of their time filing through displays of thousands of weapons, ranging from tiny antique handguns to semi-automatic Uzis to a 7-lb. collapsible backpacking rifle.
Just outside the meeting, a full line of NRA memorabilia sold briskly. One item arousing much curiosity was a small gun mounted on a plaque and labeled "Morton Grove Commemorative," a reference to the town of Morton Grove, Ill., which voted in 1981 to ban handguns. The plaques sold for $35, and the money is to be used to promote junior marksmanship.
An Arizona man in an NRA hat commented indignantly: "If we've got any of those Morton Grove type politicians around here, I'll be happy to take them out and put them in an ant hill."