7. Dawn

March 1991

Colt Industries — West Hartford, Connecticut

Connecticut had a problem, and its name was Colt.

The “Constitution State” had long been the heart of America’s gun industry — home not just to Colt, but to Winchester, Sturm & Ruger, Marlin, Mossberg, and dozens more. Still, Colt was special to Connecticut, because over the years, the state’s interests, and the fate of the company, had become intertwined. And now, Colt needed help.

The iconic gun maker had been in trouble ever since 1,000 of their workers had walked off their jobs at the plant in West Hartford in 1986; for decades, they had built Colt’s M-16s for the military, and the AR-15s for the civilians. The factory continued operating throughout the strike — but with cheaper, non-union labor, and at reduced capacity — until 1988, when the United States Army announced that they were dropping Colt as their supplier of M-16s. Colt had relied on revenue from that contract since 1964, and now, it was all gone. (The Pentagon said that their M16s were as good as ever — but a Belgian company, Fabrique Nationale, had simply given the lower bid.)

Then, Stockton happened. When California passed its gun ban, they singled out Colt’s AR-15 by name, and so Colt had opted to surrender the model to the ATF, and stop making the guns entirely.

The strike was in its fourth year by that point, the longest labor dispute in state history; finally, Colt’s parent company decided to call it quits, and put their firearms unit up for sale.

That was when Connecticut placed its bet: the state’s treasurer assembled a group of investors to purchase Colt Firearms, and invested $25 million of Connecticut’s pension fund along with them. “The state’s participation is not a bailout, not a handout and not a subsidy,” the Treasurer told the New York Times. “Let me emphasize that this is a carefully thought out, carefully structured, potentially very profitable business venture.” The state legislature was soon on board, though a few members expressed uneasiness about the wave of gun legislation that seemed to be imminent after Stockton. A colleague reassured them: “The state treasurer has made very clear his opposition to the manufacture of assault rifles by companies in which the state has invested, [and] I think the treasurer has in fact been shown to be extremely prudent.”

The state approved the investment, and Colt’s firearms division was reborn as an independent entity, Colt Manufacturing Company Inc.

The new ownership agreed to the union’s demands; the strike ended, and the UAW workers finally came back to the plant, where all the machine tools had been updated and reconfigured to produce Colt’s brand-new product, the one they all now needed to be a success: the Colt Sporter.

It was a name meant to evoke “sporting purposes.” But the Sporter was a familiar-looking black rifle, one that fired the exact same ammunition as Colt’s now-retired AR-15. In fact, when the finished Sporters came down the end of the assembly line, even the workers who had been making AR-15s for decades were hard-pressed to tell the difference.

The name was the difference — the only one that mattered. In California, it had been enough to get the gun past the post-Stockton ban, filling the empty shelves where Colt’s now-outlawed AR-15s had sat. That state’s lawmakers, who had just been praising Colt’s benevolence, now were furious; they sued to get the Sporter added to the name-ban at the last minute — “The Colt Sporter rifle is a redesigned, renamed and renumbered version of the banned Colt AR-15 assault rifle,” they said — but it didn’t matter. Different name, different gun. It would take them years to get the Sporter added to their list.

June 8, 1993

Connecticut General Assembly — Hartford

Given its heritage, few were surprised when Connecticut was one of the states that resisted the initial shockwaves from Stockton, and voted down an assault weapons ban that year. It had marked an important victory for the NRA, in their efforts to contain the damage to as few states as possible.

So now, four years later, it seemed unlikely that the same bill would fare any better. But those four years had not been peaceful; violent crime was at its peak across the nation, and like every other state, Connecticut’s cities were seeing more and more gang-related shootings. There was an increasing sentiment that something had to be done.

In 1993, supporters of a ban on assault weapons in Connecticut decided the time was right to try again. And they were determined to learn from California’s mistakes: their legislation would have a “name ban,” but they’d combine it with a “military features” ban, like the ATF did with imports. And one of the features they’d ban would be any detachable magazine carrying over 15 rounds, like Bill Ruger suggested (though this only applied to the magazine that came with the gun, from the factory. After-market magazines would not be affected.)

Colt’s AR-15 was on Connecticut’s name-ban list, just like it had been in California. But then another of that state’s lessons reared its head: what about the Sporter?

The Sporter would make it through the “features” ban, the Colt loyalists said. And it wasn’t on the list of named guns. But a lawmaker who supported the ban headed them off: “There’s a funny thing about the Colt Sporter. You take out the clip for five bullets and you stick in a new one, readily available on the market for 30, for 50, for 70 bullets. It’s an assault weapon. Make no doubt about it.”

An officer from the state police provided a demonstration for the legislators, with a Sporter in one hand and an empty 30-round magazine from an AR-15 in the other: “It snapped right in. This is basically the same gun.”

Soon the Sporter came to symbolize the “assault weapon” debate, and the opponents of the ban decided to use the controversy to take a risky maneuver: they added the Sporter to the proposed list of name-banned guns — a “poison amendment.” Dare the state to shoot themselves in the foot. One of the undecided representatives begged everyone to reconsider: “Why in God’s name would you invest in a company, whether you agree with it or not, and then try to restrict their operation by limiting the use of the weapon that they produce? I think we have our priorities a little mixed up here.”

His fears were well-founded; the ban’s advocates called their opponents’ bluff, and agreed to add the Sporter to the list.

As the now-poisoned ban continued on the path toward becoming law, the exchanges on the assembly floor grew more heated; at one point, a representative challenged a colleague to list his “credentials” when it came to firearms, and the man answered back that he owned a piece of Colt, just like everybody else. “I guess all of the taxpayers in the State of Connecticut are now part-owner of a gun factory.”

As time was running out on the legislative session, and the final vote approached, one of the opponents of the ban called attention to the gallery overlooking the Assembly chamber, where a throng of men and women in signature yellow Colt caps — the recently-returned employees from the factory in Hartford — were watching, as their jobs once again hung in the balance:

Do they look like gun-toting maniacs to you? They’re here for one reason. You look in their eyes. When they lose their job if the assault rifle is not made at Colt — and you maybe say one percent [of the workforce] isn’t much — one percent of 1,000 is 100 people. It may be everybody up in that balcony up there…. Those are not gun-toting maniacs. Those are people that are wondering if it’s going to be worth shooting themselves in the head with an assault rifle or a pistol if they could lose their jobs.

Meanwhile, the ban’s advocates insisted that Connecticut needed to do something about assault weapons before it was too late; a new and even deadlier epidemic of gun violence seemed just around the corner. One assemblyman described visiting the Bridgeport Police Department’s gun locker, and seeing the seized firearms, grouped by year, unfolding across time like a military preparing for war. “There’s a box — one box — for 1978. It’s not even a very big box. And you look for 1979. That box is not a very big box either.” But suddenly, something changes in the 1980’s, and the same trend seen in LA and Oakland takes hold; instead of just one box, two or three are needed to hold all the guns seized in Bridgeport in a year. And, “not only is the number of boxes growing larger and larger, but the guns in them are changing. They’re bigger. They’re stronger and more and more frequently they are assault weapons.” With the trajectory going the way it was, the senator said, it was “only a matter of time” before tragedy struck.

His vote put it over the top; when the governor signed Connecticut’s assault weapons ban into law in June of 1993, he remarked proudly, “This is a vote for our children and against the NRA. This New-England state very much has its head screwed on straight, and its priorities in order.”

In the aftermath, one disappointed legislator openly struggled to comprehend what had just unfolded: that after Connecticut “invested $25 million in Colt on a pledge by the former State Treasurer that Colt did not make assault weapons, the legislature has now concluded that that is exactly what the company does.” Indeed, the Colt Sporter had been banned in its home state; but it would still be produced there, for interstate sales. As a consequence, not only was every Connecticut citizen “part owner of a gun factory,” they were now part owners, officially, of an assault rifle factory.

November 30, 1993

The White House — East Room

James Brady watched from across the stage, as the bill named in his honor was signed into law by the president. It was a milestone for him, the end of a long journey. As President Reagan’s first White House Press Secretary, he had been walking next to Reagan on the morning of March 30, 1981, exiting the Washington Hilton hotel in D.C., when an attempted assassin shot them both. Jim Brady never walked again.

It turned out the shooter that day had purchased his .22 revolver from a pawn shop in Dallas; he had lied on the paperwork, so it was an illegal sale, but there was no way for anyone to know that. Not until it was too late. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was a first step toward fixing all that. The “Brady Bill” would create a permanent 7-day waiting period, and a background check requirement for all handgun purchases (later expanded to include long-guns). To process the background checks, the bill also created the National Instant Criminal Background Check system. “NICS” is what the country would rely on going forward, to tell if a person was allowed to have a handgun or not.

In the immediate aftermath of the ‘81 assassination attempt, both Reagan and Brady had been rushed to the hospital at nearby George Washington University. On the tenth anniversary of that day, President Reagan returned to GWU, to accept an honorary doctorate. In his acceptance speech, he thanked the staff for healing him, and saving his friend:

Speaking of Jim Brady, I want to tell all of you here today something that I’m not sure you know. You do know that I’m a member of the NRA, and my position on the right to bear arms is well known. But I want you to know something else, and I’m going to say it in clear, unmistakable language: I support the Brady bill, and I urge the Congress to enact it without delay…

[Pauses for cheering, applause]

…It’s just common sense to have a waiting period, to allow local law enforcement officials to conduct background checks on those who wish to buy a handgun.

Reagan reminded everyone that the .22 he and Jim Brady were shot with was yet another “Saturday night special” — a gun practically anyone could get — and that “with the right to bear arms comes a great responsibility to use caution and common sense on handgun purchases.”

Congress didn’t meet his challenge, not then. It took two more years.

Jim said a few words himself at the White House signing ceremony: “Twelve years ago, my life was changed forever by a disturbed young man with a gun. Until that time, I hadn’t thought much about gun control or the need for gun control.” He tapped his wheelchair with his cane. “Maybe if I had, I wouldn’t be stuck with these damn wheels.”

Turning the ceremony back over to the president, Brady promised, “What we are witnessing today is more than a bill signing, it is the end of unchecked madness and the commencement of a heartfelt crusade for a safer and saner country.”

This wasn’t hyperbole. There really was a crusade underway in Washington.

The man signing the bill next to Mr. Brady was not the secretary’s fellow Reagan-administration veteran, President Bush; instead, the pen was held by a former Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, who had dethroned Bush in an upset in 1992. And there was no question as to the new president’s allegiances to the NRA: he had none. “We all know there is more to be done,” Clinton said to the audience. “I ask you to think about what this means, and what we can all do to keep this going. We cannot stop here.”

* * *

Earlier that month, the latest attempt at a federal Assault Weapons Ban passed the Senate. With the bill now halfway to becoming law, and facing a fierce battle in the House, President Clinton released an “Open Letter to Hunters and Sportsmen” — he wanted the classical gun owners to know that he was on their side. In fact, he needed their help: “I have been a hunter since I was 12. Where I come from, it’s a way of life. And I will not allow the rights of hunters and sportsmen to be infringed upon,” he promised, in language that is — at first — jarringly reminiscent of a gun-lobby mailing. “But I know the difference between a firearm used for hunting and target shooting, and a weapon designed to kill people.” He said that the guns on the ban list “have no place on a deer hunt, in a duck blind, or on a target range — and they certainly don’t belong on our streets, in our neighborhoods, or on our schoolyards.” The president urged these gun owners to call their representatives, and voice their support for the federal ban on assault weapons.

National Rifle Association Headquarters — Fairfax, Virginia

From the top floor of a glass-and-steel office tower near Washington, D.C., a man named Wayne R. LaPierre Jr. watched the crusaders charge, with growing anxiety. Clearly, there was no longer an ally of the NRA in the White House. And as hostile as the political environment had been after Stockton, after Clinton’s win, it was even worse.

As the NRA’s Executive Vice-President, Wayne knew how to rally his organization’s base. Accordingly, NRA mailings around this time started to sound like the notorious gun advertisements of the 1980s, when “assault weapons” were first marketed: in 1993, after the FBI (who would be in charge of the NICS system) endorsed the Brady Bill, the NRA paid for multi-page ads in Field & Stream and other mainstream gun magazines, asking readers in huge type, “WHAT’S THE FIRST STEP TO A POLICE STATE?”

The dot on the ad’s question mark was made from a scrap of a black-and-white photo, showing the boots of an army formation in mid-goose-step. The answer came on the next page: “WHEN THE FBI STATES THE RULES.”

The rest of the ad was a letter from Wayne, signed next to his icy portrait. He implored readers to donate to the NRA, and fight the FBI: “Such abuse of broad investigative powers is the first step toward our Founding Fathers’ worst fear; a federal police force disarming the law-abiding populace.”

Later, after the Brady Bill passed, rhetoric from the NRA became downright apocalyptic. In the January 1994 issue of American Rifleman (a monthly magazine published by the NRA) they wrote, “When Bill Clinton signed the Brady Bill on November 30, a drop of blood dripped from the finger of the sovereign American citizen.” Six months after that, the magazine contained a “special report” from Wayne LaPierre himself, titled plainly “The Final War Has Begun.”

* * *

Wayne’s “war” was Clinton’s “crusade,” seen through another lens. The first shots had been fired at Ruby Ridge, in Idaho, two years before; the ATF had been trying to recruit a man named Randy Weaver (who had illegally sawed off some shotguns) as an informant against the Aryan Nations — but Randy turned them down, and went back to his cabin up on the ridge with his family, to wait for his court date. Except, when the court notice came, it was misprinted, and the feds thought Randy had skipped out. They surrounded his cabin, starting a standoff that lasted for 12 days — and which ended only after a federal marshal was shot dead, followed by Randy’s wife, and son. (After Randy surrendered, the U.S. Government paid him a substantial settlement.)

Around the same time that Randy was coming down the mountain, there was a UPS driver in Texas who was loading packages into the back of his delivery van. One box snagged, and tore; what fell out looked like a hand grenade.

The grenade was inert, as were the dozens more that were boxed the same shipment, but then the driver remembered the other packages he had delivered to the same recipient, out in Waco: several had been stamped with warnings. Something about being careful when handling volatile chemicals. Other purchase records would show that the same folks had been buying up AR-15s, as well as tool kits that could convert the rifles to allow automatic fire. That was very, very illegal to do.

Soon the ATF were on the case, and everything that happened at Ruby Ridge happened again, at Waco, on a grander scale. An attempted arrest turned into the biggest gunfight in American law enforcement history. When the feds retreated, a standoff commenced that stretched for 51 days. And while the cabin in Idaho held only Randy and his family, in Texas there was a sprawling compound, containing one hundred human beings who were members of another kind of family: all united in faith that the man leading them was god. And god would not surrender.

On April 19, 1993, the ATF raided the Mount Carmel compound, their agents clad in black body armor and backed up by tanks and helicopters. The cultists fought back. There was a spark — neither side would ever claim responsibility for it — and the Branch Davidians perished on live television, a giant orange fireball enveloping their church. The scene looked like a war crime.

May 3, 1994

Senate Chamber — United States Capitol Building

One week after Clinton’s letter to hunters, a group of his predecessors from the Oval Office sent their own message, addressed to every member of the U.S. House of Representatives:

We are writing to urge your support for a ban on the domestic manufacture of military-style assault weapons. This is a matter of vital importance to the public safety. Although assault weapons account for less than 1% of the guns in circulation, they account for nearly 10% of the guns traced to crime.

Every major law enforcement organization in America and dozens of leading labor, medical, religious, civil rights and civic groups support such a ban. Most importantly, poll after poll shows that the American public overwhelmingly support a ban on assault weapons. A 1993 CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll found that 77% of Americans support a ban on the manufacture, sale, and possession of semi-automatic assault guns, such as the AK-47.

The 1989 import ban resulted in an impressive 40% drop in imported assault weapons traced to crime between 1989 and 1991, but the killing continues. Last year, a killer armed with two TEC9s killed a large number of people at a San Francisco law firm and wounded several others. During the past five years, more than 40 law enforcement officers have been killed or wounded in the line of duty by an assault weapon.

While we recognize that assault weapon legislation will not stop all assault weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals. We urge you to listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of these weapons.

Sincerely,

Gerald R. Ford

Jimmy Carter

Ronald Reagan

With Reagan’s signature, and the letter’s reference to banning “semi-automatic assault guns, such as the AK-47,” the former president finally confirmed his stance on guns like the Norinco used at Stockton: he wanted them banned.

* * *

Clinton’s assault weapons ban was essentially the same as Connecticut’s: a name-ban of 19 rifles (including the AK-47 and Colt’s AR-15, but not the Sporter) on top of a features-ban. There was one major difference from Connecticut: it would also outlaw any ammunition magazine holding more than ten rounds, and not just the ones the manufacturer included standard. The bill had been put together by a freshman senator from California, who reminded the chamber about her state’s tragic history: the McDonald’s shooting, Stockton, and the office building in San Francisco. She shared a lesson California was learning the hard way: that “local and state initiatives are meaningless, because gun buyers can simply cross state lines and purchase their weapons of choice.”

In another session on the federal ban, Suzanna Gratia made an appearance. She told her story from Luby’s — by now, well-polished — before urging the representatives to reject the new ban. “I hear all this talk about how many bullets can go in a clip,” she said: “I’ve been there. I can tell you, it doesn’t matter. It takes one second to switch out a clip. You can have one bullet, or a hundred bullets. It doesn’t matter, guys. He goes—” and Suzanna then demonstrated the motion, ejecting the magazine from her pantomime-pistol, and with the other hand, almost immediately, inserting another — “that’s not enough time to rush a man, I promise you.” She knew. She saw her father die trying.

* * *

The senator from California could see that her bill was going to fail. So she set about cutting provisions from it, narrowing its scope, desperate just to keep it alive. She agreed to add a ten-year “sunset provision” that would automatically cause the bill to expire when the time was up, if it was not renewed. Another compromise: current owners of banned assault weapons would be allowed to keep them, and sell them. Same for high-capacity magazines. The changes hurt the bill, the Californian thought, but at least its fate now appeared more hopeful. “I was amazed to see the degree to which the National Rifle Association controls this body,” she told reporters. “If this cannot pass the Senate of the United States, I fear for the streets of America.”

It passed, just barely, and on September 13, 1994, President Clinton signed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban into law. He cast the moment as the latest victory over chaos: “My fellow Americans, this is about freedom. Without responsibility, without order, without lawfulness, there is no freedom. Today the will of the American people has triumphed over a generation of division and paralysis. We’ve won a chance to work together.”

Finally, the lingering shockwaves from Stockton came to a rest.

April 13, 1995

For the NRA, it was the most crushing loss yet. There were only two gun laws in American history that could even compare; back in 1934, when the National Firearms Act sought to take the gangsters’ Tommy guns away, the NRA’s president at the time openly supported that law, even saying that he “did not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns,” and, “I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” The executive Vice President — holding the same office that Wayne would assume sixty years later — said that the NRA was “absolutely favorable to reasonable legislation.”

In 1968, when the big Gun Control Act was passed, creating the ATF, Wayne’s predecessor in office gave a measured response; while some of that bill’s provisions “appear unduly restrictive and unjustified in their application to law-abiding citizens,” the executive wrote to members, “the measure as a whole appears to be one that the sportsmen of America can live with.”

He was wrong; the hard-line gun rights advocates in the NRA grew angry after 1968, sensing that their rights were not being defended. They established the “NRA Institute for Legislative Action” (NRA-ILA) in 1975 to focus exclusively on political strategy, and preventing another gun bill like ‘68’s. This faction represented not the hunters and sportsmen that were traditionally associated with the NRA, but the subsection of members who were opposed to any restrictions on handguns, and who were more concerned with self-defense, and their right to bear arms, than going hunting.

The NRA’s old-guard leadership recognized the NRA-ILA as a threat, and denied the hard-liners the funding they needed. NRA management even announced that they would be selling the old NRA headquarters near D.C., and relocating all the way to Colorado Springs; this physical move would mirror a shift of priorities, back to traditional “sportsman” shooters, and away from fighting against gun laws. It would make the NRA-ILA all but obsolete.

Things quickly came to a head, and the NRA brass ultimately decided not even to wait for the relocation; in 1976, they simply sacked all eighty employees that worked on the NRA-ILA program, or who were allied with its management.

The dismissed hard-liners regrouped, calling themselves the “Federation,” and hatched a plan to dethrone their enemies in the NRA. They would exploit a vulnerability in the NRA’s by-laws, which required an immediate hearing of any concern raised by a lifetime member, from the floor, during the organization’s annual meeting. The Federation began direct-mailing as many of these members as they could find (of which there were more than 200,000) seeking common cause, so that when the 1977 meeting opened in Cincinnati, the board of directors’ vote on the move to Colorado would be derailed. Coordinated by Federation members roaming the floor with walkie-talkies, the lifetime members called for a series of their own votes: casting out the current leadership en masse, installing the Federation in their place, rewriting the by-laws to protect their power, and rededicating the NRA to a fight against gun control — mainly, by rebuilding the Institute for Legislative Action.

Deliberations went on well into the next morning, but by the time it was all over, the Federation hard-liners got everything they wanted. Not long after, they hired Wayne LaPierre to man the NRA-ILA, and in 1991, they put him in charge of the whole organization, calling him “our champion and fiercest warrior.”

* * *

The coup in Cincinnati was what launched the NRA on its modern trajectory. Now, almost twenty years later, the Federation regime was still in power, but Wayne feared that their momentum may have finally stalled. The losses were mounting. Member donations were down. He worried that if he didn’t fight back now, the NRA might even die.

Wayne began saying things he would regret.

On April 13, 1995, he sent a fundraising letter to all NRA members. It began, “I’m not looking for a fight, but when you consider the facts of our current situation, you too, will see we have no other choice.” He went on, “The semi-auto ban gives jack-booted government thugs more power to take away our Constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property, and even injure or kill us.” He then named the senator from California, who wrote the bill, as one among a group that would “stop at nothing until they’ve forced you to turn over your guns to the government.”

Plunging deeper into apocalyptic imagery, Wayne painted the current reality as freedom’s struggle against a tyrannical force, and cast the orange fireball that rose from Mount Carmel as a consequence of government oppression:

In Clinton’s administration, if you have a badge, you have the government’s go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens. Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge… Waco and the Branch Davidians… Not too long ago, it was unthinkable for Federal agents wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms to attack law-abiding citizens. Not today, not with Clinton.

When he invoked Waco, Wayne didn’t know that the provocative language he was using was remarkably similar to that of another gun rights activist, of sorts — a man who had been seen near the ATF checkpoint on the perimeter of Mount Carmel during the fateful 51-day standoff. The man’s name was Tim, and he was a veteran of the Persian Gulf war. He was there selling homemade bumper stickers that he had spread out on the hood of his car; they were starkly lettered with patriot-movement slogans: “Fear the Government that Fears Your Gun” and “A Man With a Gun is a Citizen, A Man Without a Gun is a Subject.”

A journalism student, visiting the Waco perimeter one day during the siege, happened across Tim, and asked a few questions about his beliefs. Articulate and polite, Tim told the aspiring reporter that he urged gun ownership, because, “The government is continually growing bigger and more powerful, and the people need to prepare to defend themselves against government control.”

Tim sounded a lot like Wayne’s letter; but then, he sounded like a lot of pissed-off gun owners at the time. Probably no one would have even noticed the similarity — except that just a week after Wayne had mentioned Waco in his fundraising later, on April 19, 1995, the second anniversary of the morning Mount Carmel burned, Tim blew up a federal building in Oklahoma.

Timothy McVeigh wasn’t inspired by the letter from the NRA — he had been filling barrels with racing fuel and fertilizer weeks before that — but his rationale came from a familiar place, and Wayne’s timing couldn’t have been worse. Still, despite a wave of public pressure in the wake of the bombing, Wayne held firm, and refused to apologize. That was war.

May 10, 1995

Park Laureate Office Building — Houston, TX

Former President Bush had retired to a small town in Texas shortly after Clinton was sworn in. But he still kept up his work, revising a manuscript for a book on foreign policy, and drafting correspondence. However, his name had been conspicuously absent from the letter his three predecessors had sent, in support of the assault weapons ban.

Being a lifetime NRA member, President Bush received a copy of Wayne’s message; Bush had been in office when Ruby Ridge happened, and his feelings about the ATF and other federal agencies were informed by his years as the head of the CIA. He took out a pen, and started a letter of his own, addressed directly to the NRA. He did not mince words:

…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 NRA, said resignation to be effective upon your receipt of this letter.

Sincerely,

George Bush

* * *

The next day, Wayne had a change of heart. He told reporters “I really feel bad about the fact that the words in that letter have been interpreted to apply to all federal law-enforcement officers.” He went on Larry King Live, looked into the camera, and assured the country that the he “never meant [to] broad-brush all of federal law enforcement, all of [the] ATF, or all of law enforcement in general.” He had lost another battle, but held out hope for the war.