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Former spokesman fires on 'bloodsucking' gun lobby

By Leonard Doyle in Washington

America's most powerful political lobby, the National Rifle Association, is having a torrid time: nobody wants to fight with it and so far gun control is not an issue in the 2008 presidential election campaign.

Even the bloody toll of the Virginia Tech shootings – which left 33 students dead and 29 injured, – was not enough to mobilise public opinion into seeking changes to the country's gun laws. Politicians are so afraid of the power of the NRA to destroy them that few dare call for serious controls on the sale of handguns and assault weapons.

All this, says Richard Feldman, a former NRA insider and gun lobbyist, is bad news for an organisation that likes nothing better than a fight. Confrontation enables the NRA to engage in "financial bloodsucking" of its members and to make "deceitful appeals" for cash.

Mr Feldman, who is public enemy number one for the NRA, has just published Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist, in which he accuses the association of using scare tactics to keep the money pouring in so that its executives can pay themselves vast salaries.

The NRA, he says, would love to see Hillary Clinton in the White House, because once again it would have an adversary in power. "In the endless struggle, it is always better to fight than to win," he said yesterday. "For the NRA, losing is winning."

Should Mrs Clinton get the Democratic nomination, the gun issue may quickly return to the centre of the political debate. She is wisely remaining quiet on the issue of gun control, though in the past she strongly favoured it. This earned her an "F" on the NRA's scorecard for presidential candidates.

At the moment the NRA is busy blanketing its four million members with ads, mailings and phone calls in the hope of driving up membership numbers during the election. The gun control issue has been off the radar in US elections for years. The three leading Republican candidates, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, have all at one time or another gone to war with the NRA and now, like Mrs Clinton, are ducking the issue.

When Al Gore lost the 2000 presidential race, it was not because a couple of hundred votes were lost thanks to "hanging chads", but because 300,000 or so gun owners were motivated enough to vote against him. "As vice-president he supported all the Clinton gun-control initiatives, so he was a target just like Hillary will be," said Mr Feldman. "The NRA really hates her."

Back in 2000 when she was campaigning to become a New York senator, Mrs Clinton endorsed a series of stringent gun-control measures, saying "we have to licence and register all handguns", and participating in a Million Mom March on Washington to demand more gun control.

Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's long-time chief executive, has already sounded the alarm with his members. "It's inevitable that terrorists will infest America for generations to come," he said. "It's also inevitable that an anti-gun president will occupy the White House, and anti-gun forces will control the House and Senate.

"When these two certainties intersect,' Mr LaPierre continued, "America's anti-gun agenda will emerge in full force masquerading as an anti-terrorist agenda. Unless we are well-financed to face that moment, the disarmament of law-abiding Americans will occur beneath the shroud of anti-terrorism legislation."

Such calls, says Mr Feldman, are really aimed at getting money for the NRA in order to pay the chief executive's salary, which is more than $1m (£500,000) a year.

For years, the organisation's president was the Hollywood actor Charlton Heston. In a speech to the NRA convention in 2000, Heston raised a musket over his head and warned that the then Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore would have to take away the right to bear arms "from my cold, dead hands".

Mr Feldman remains a gun advocate, but he parted company with the NRA when he became too close to "the enemy" and was sacked as a lobbyist.

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