February 10, 2013

NRA's Wayne LaPierre: Closet intellectual?

Though zealous, he's more academic than marksman -- and would like to run an ice cream parlor in Maine.

By NANCY BENAC The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Wayne LaPierre
click image to enlarge

National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre testifies last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting.

The Associated Press

How does all of that square with LaPierre's combative reputation?

"It's all done on purpose," says Grover Norquist, an anti-tax crusader and member of the NRA's board. "It's hard to say: 'The Second Amendment's in danger' and say it in a shy, soft-spoken way."

Or, as LaPierre himself put it in 2000: "When I used less strong words for the last three years, everyone dozed off."

No one snoozed in 1995 when LaPierre signed an NRA fundraising letter that accused the Clinton administration of empowering police to "murder law-abiding citizens" at will and described the ban on semi-automatic weapons as a law giving "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."

Even some NRA members were aghast. Former President George W. Bush very publicly quit the group. LaPierre at first defended the letter then offered a qualified apology.

He'd slipped over the line from hard-nosed to incendiary in an episode that still brands him.

By those standards, his words have been generally more measured since. But when LaPierre speaks, those who watch him wonder what undercurrents he's tapping.

The NRA's website describes LaPierre as "a skilled hunter, from Chesapeake waterfowl to African Cape buffalo." Online, there are lots of suit-and-tie photos of LaPierre, and a couple of hunting shots, including a picture of him next to a downed buffalo in Botswana.

But former colleagues say LaPierre did not show great interest in shooting. And they're hard pressed to recall any LaPierre hobbies beyond devouring nonfiction. LaPierre is married but does not have children.

"There was an opportunity for him to learn about firearms, and he certainly knows about them," says Tanya Metaksa, who hired LaPierre at the NRA and later worked under him. "But he's more the intellectual in his understanding of the history of the issue and the philosophical underpinnings of what it means to uphold the Second Amendment."

LaPierre's path to the top of the NRA began with an interest in politics, not guns.

Richmond attorney Tom Lisk grew up across the street from LaPierre in Roanoke, Va., and remembers him as an avid bowler, passionate about hockey and politics. As a teenager, LaPierre would take his young neighbor along to the bowling alley on Saturdays, and he'd hang out at Lisk's house to talk government with Lisk's father, who was on the city council.

The NRA executive who's worked against many a Democratic presidential candidate over the years actually cut his teeth working for Democrat George McGovern's campaign in Roanoke back in 1972, when LaPierre was 22. LaPierre, who has a bachelor's degree from Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., and a master's from Boston College, got a job early on as an aide to Vic Thomas, a pro-gun Democratic state legislator in Virginia. He worked on gun legislation for Thomas, and that led to his hiring by the NRA in 1978.

Lisk, whom LaPierre later recommended for an NRA job, remembers LaPierre as "a person that people gravitated toward" at the organization.

"Wayne wanted to be liked," says Lisk, noting that he'd send out for ice cream as the group's lobbyists met to decide which candidates would get campaign contributions.

After a surprisingly long run as the NRA's executive vice president, surviving insider plots along the way, LaPierre remains the hero to many a gun lover and villain to opponents.

The sharpened battle lines since Newtown have made it easier for LaPierre to pitch his uncompromising message that gun owners must band together to fight liberal elites out to take their firearms.

LaPierre has been here before.

When he went before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, one of the questioners was Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., his longtime nemesis on the subject of banning assault weapons.

Feinstein welcomed the witnesses and made a point of saying, "Even you, Mr. LaPierre. It's good to see you again. I guess we tangled, what was it, 18 years ago? You look pretty good, actually."


Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)