WASHINGTON, D.C. — “They felt Dad was too extreme and too uncompromising and they could get more mileage with honey than vinegar, so Harlon pulled the rug out from under him. It was hugely painful. They were best of friends,” Jeff Knox said. “Dad showed up to work in the morning and there was a security guard with his boxes of stuff at the front door, and he wasn’t allowed back into the building.”
Neal Knox hovered around the organization. He managed to get elected to the board in 1983, only to be expelled a year later. (“My mistake — Mine! — was not to have cleaned house on the board when I had a chance,” Knox told The Post in 2000.) Carter, meanwhile, retired in 1985.
What happened next revealed the NRA’s delicate position as a Washington institution representing a large and increasingly hard-line membership. After years of lobbying by the NRA, Congress passed the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, which, among other gun-friendly provisions, eased restrictions on interstate sales of firearms and expressly prohibited the federal government from creating a database of gun ownership.
A huge NRA triumph, the media declared. Some lawmakers said off the record that they would have voted against the act but feared retaliation from the gun lobby. And yet the Second Amendment fundamentalists were furious. The NRA endorsed the act even though it included a last-minute amendment pushed by gun-control advocates that banned the sale of fully automatic weapons — machine guns.
The hard-liners like Knox feared that the NRA had gone wobbly. Membership declined. Knox blamed the organization’s financial and membership problems on Cassidy and a general “compromising and wimpiness.” Cassidy shot back in the press: “Neal is unhappy about everything about an NRA that can function without Neal Knox. . . . Neal believes that the sun does not rise unless he permits it and does not set unless he permits it.”