THE NATIONAL Rifle Association has done itself a good turn by making Charlton Heston its president. Mr. Heston is a powerful actor who believes in the cause.
Despite the stridence of what he said at the NRA's meeting in Philadelphia, Mr. Heston is a comparative moderate within the leadership of that organization. It fronts for the interests of gun manufacturers and distributors while purporting to speak for some 2.8 million hunting, target-shooting, farming, antique-collecting legitimate gun owners and enthusiasts.
Mr. Heston was put forward by the gun lobby's top paid lobbyist and executive vice president, Wayne R. LaPierre Jr. The kookier part of the leadership finds him insufficiently confrontational or politically threatening. Mr. LaPierre understands that extremism alienates potential members who want instruction in gun maintenance, use and safety. Mr. Heston, at 73, has a great voice and more contributions to make. But it would be a mistake for the NRA to believe that it only has an image problem. What puts people off is its policies, not the personality of the spokesman.
What matters is NRA leadership on gun locks, especially in homes with children; on import of assault rifles, which are modified to fit through customs loopholes; on a waiting period for handgun sales; on limiting legal handgun purchases to one a month per buyer, to cut down resales to criminals; on curtailing gun exports to criminal gangs in Japan or Colombia or other countries that try to control guns; on markers for explosives that could help identify purchases of bomb materials; and on a registry and safety training for handgun owners.
NRA leadership positions on these issues have everything to do with the interests of merchants of lethal weapons and nothing to do with the rights of gun hobbyists, hunters and collectors. What also matters is NRA's chanting of just part of the Second Amendment as a sacred mantra without ever quoting the whole amendment or the Supreme Court's consistent interpretation of it. The NRA should stop misleading its constituency about the Constitution.
If President Heston can lead the NRA to sensible moderation and truer representation of the interests of most gun owners, he will do a service to the nation and not just to the NRA. If not, he's just another craggy face with good diction.
Pub date: 6/09/98