The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


January 12, 2013

How NRA’s true believers converted marksmanship group into mighty gun lobby


WASHINGTON, D.C. — He had a shaved head (“bullet-headed” was one description) and vaguely resembled Nikita Khrushchev. A former U.S. Border Patrol agent and chief, Carter was an outstanding marksman who racked up scores of national shooting records. (Four years into his tenure, he would acknowledge that, as a 17-year-old, he’d shot and killed another youth, claiming self-defense. He was convicted of murder, but the verdict was overturned on appeal.)

Within months, thanks to Carter, Knox was working in the NRA headquarters, running Carter’s old lobbying unit. And Carter made clear in an interview with The Washington Post that the NRA wouldn’t be relocating to Colorado:

“This is where the action is,” Carter said.

Over the next few years, NRA membership tripled. With the presidential election of Reagan, the energized activists went on the offensive, hoping to roll back the 1968 gun-control laws and, in the process, abolish the ATF.

Aquilino, who became the top NRA spokesman, remembers those days as great fun: “We were a bunch of 25-year-olds, and we created the whole grass-roots lobbying concept.”

The hard-charging style of Knox created internal and external turbulence. Carter kept looking over his shoulder at Knox, who clearly wanted the top job. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers chafed at NRA pressure. Sen. Bob Dole complained of the NRA, “You have to have a litmus test every five minutes or you’re considered wavering.”

One day in 1982, Knox came to work and discovered that he’d been locked out. He’d been fired as head of the NRA’s lobbying shop and replaced by a mellower character, Warren Cassidy. Cassidy portrayed himself in an interview with The Post as a reasonable man: “There have been lobbyists at the NRA whose zeal has occasionally gotten in the way of their common sense.”

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