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The super-interesting reason President Bush resigned membership from the NRA two decades ago.

1995. Verified for real. George H.W. Bush resigned his membership because of Wayne LaPierre's statements on the Waco standoff.

The super-interesting reason President Bush resigned membership from the NRA two decades ago.

Which party is more likely to side with the National Rifle Association?

The answer might seem obvious today, but in the early 1990s, it was more complicated.

President George H.W. Bush took issue with the new direction he saw the NRA headed in and had a very clear response:


GIF from "30 Rock."

The NRA used the the Oklahoma City bombing and the standoff and siege in Waco, Texas, in order to fundraise for itself in 1993 (while President Clinton was in office). And it denigrated upstanding people who protected the public in order to do it:

"In Clinton's administration, if you have a badge, you have the government's go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens."
Wayne LaPierre, 1993 NRA fundraising letter

Bush was not having it.

A lot of NRA members resigned around that time, possibly as disgusted with its leadership's remarks as President Bush was. Public estimates and the NRA's self-reported, unsubstantiated claims of enrollment were staggeringly different. One journalist, Osha Gray Davidson, uncovered one potential way the NRA could be covering up some of its lost membership in 2000: lifetime members who'd passed away but not been removed from the lists.

Here is the president's letter resigning his lifetime membership to the NRA.

He had no qualms about standing up for what he thought was right. Image via public domain.

Dear Mr. Washington,

I was outraged when, even in the wake of the Oklahoma City tragedy, Mr. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of N.R.A., defended his attack on federal agents as "jack-booted thugs." To attack Secret Service agents or A.T.F. people or any government law enforcement people as "wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms" wanting to "attack law abiding citizens" is a vicious slander on good people.

Al Whicher, who served on my [United States Secret Service] detail when I was Vice President and President, was killed in Oklahoma City. He was no Nazi. He was a kind man, a loving parent, a man dedicated to serving his country — and serve it well he did.

In 1993, I attended the wake for A.T.F. agent Steve Willis, another dedicated officer who did his duty. I can assure you that this honorable man, killed by weird cultists, was no Nazi.

John Magaw, who used to head the U.S.S.S. and now heads A.T.F., is one of the most principled, decent men I have ever known. He would be the last to condone the kind of illegal behavior your ugly letter charges. The same is true for the F.B.I.'s able Director Louis Freeh. I appointed Mr. Freeh to the Federal Bench. His integrity and honor are beyond question.

Both John Magaw and Judge Freeh were in office when I was President. They both now serve in the current administration. They both have badges. Neither of them would ever give the government's "go ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law abiding citizens." (Your words)

I am a gun owner and an avid hunter. Over the years I have agreed with most of N.R.A.'s objectives, particularly your educational and training efforts, and your fundamental stance in favor of owning guns.

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.

You have not repudiated Mr. LaPierre's unwarranted attack. Therefore, I resign as a Life Member of N.R.A., said resignation to be effective upon your receipt of this letter. Please remove my name from your membership list.

Sincerely,
George Bush

He made no bones about it. Take that as you will.

It's interesting to note that the national dialogue up until that point had been going favorably for the NRA. There has been speculation that Bush's letter was a marked pivot point in the way the nation felt about the NRA's objectives, and that it opened up doors for moderate Republicans who supported assault weapons bans to have a chance at advancing in office, which hadn't seemed possible before Bush wrote the public condemnation.

Sometimes a piece of forgotten history can give everybody a clearer perspective on where things stand today. And that's why Americans need to see this and think about what it signals.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
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