WASHINGTON -- Former President George Bush has resigned his lifetime membership in the National Rifle Association after expressing outrage at what he called vicious slanders comparing federal agents to Nazi storm-troopers.
"I am a gun owner and an avid hunter," Mr. Bush wrote NRA President Thomas Washington. "Over the years I have agreed with most of the NRA's objectives.
"However, your broadside against federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country. It indirectly slanders a wide array of government law enforcement officials, who are out there, day and night, laying their lives on the line for all of us."
The NRA, which backed Mr. Bush in 1988 but made no presidential endorsement in 1992, criticized Mr. Bush's decision to publicize his letter.
"Surely a private exchange between us might persuade you to at least reserve a final opinion until all the facts are examined," Mr. Washington said in a letter sent late yesterday to Mr. Bush.
Internal critics of the association said the former president's letter was the most powerful sign yet that the NRA leadership's growing militancy threatened to drive away members and bankrupt the organization.
"There could be a lot of members who resign because the NRA has been embarrassed by some of the people running it now," said Richard Riley, a former gun dealer who presided over the association from 1990 to 1992.
The president's letter drew special thanks from a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which enforces federal gun laws and has been singled out for particularly harsh criticism by the NRA.
"It's always good to hear the voices of good, decent people supporting you," said ATF spokesman Jack Killorin.
Before the April 19 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, an NRA fund-raising letter described ATF agents as "jack-booted thugs . . . wearing Nazi bucket helmets and storm trooper uniforms."
The gun-owners' group also said federal authorities threatened to "harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens."