Trump says ‘common sense things can be done’ on guns, wants NRA input

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he departs on travel to Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas following back-to-back mass shootings in the cities, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Susan Heavey and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Friday called for “common sense” solutions to address gun violence without mentioning what specific measures he would support and saying the views of powerful National Rifle Association lobbyists should be considered.

Thirty-one people were killed in two weekend shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in attacks that shook the country and reopened a national debate on gun safety as Americans grapple with yet another mass shooting.

A week later, it remains unclear what, if any, specific steps the Republican president would back. Democrats are trying to galvanize public support for legislative action over what has been a contentious issue for years, even before Trump’s administration.

Trump earlier this week initially appeared to back background checks but then did not mention them in a public address on Monday that focused on mental illness and media culture. He later predicted congressional support for those background checks and blocking gun access to the mentally ill, but not for any effort to ban assault rifles.

He had promised to take action in early 2018 after 17 people were killed at a Parkland, Florida, high school but backed down after the NRA, a key financial donor to Republican politicians, weighed in.

On Friday, he appeared to want to balance any congressional action with the NRA’s views.

“I am the biggest Second Amendment person there is, but we all must work together for the good and safety of our Country,” he wrote. “Common sense things can be done that are good for everyone.”

Trump said he had “been speaking to the NRA, and others, so that their very strong views can be fully represented and respected.” The NRA, in a statement on Thursday, indicated it opposed further gun restrictions.

Congress is in recess but Trump said leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate were discussing expanding background checks for guns sales.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday rejected a plea from more than 200 mayors to call the Senate back early to consider gun legislation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said they had each spoken separately to Trump and that he had assured them he would review legislation that has already passed the Democratic-majority House.

The White House had said it would hold also a meeting with representatives from the technology industry on Friday to discuss violent extremism online. Trump is not scheduled to be at the White House for most of the day as he attends a fundraiser in the Hamptons in New York for his 2020 re-election campaign.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Bill Trott)

Oliver North steps down as NRA president amid dispute over ‘damaging’ information

Images of NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, Legislative Director Chris Cox and President Oliver North displayed during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting at the Indiana Convention center in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S., April 27, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

By Lucas Jackson

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) – Retired U.S. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North will step down as president of the National Rifle Association, North said on Saturday, adding he was being forced out due to his allegations that NRA leaders engaged in financial improprieties.

In a letter read to the organization’s annual meeting in Indianapolis by an NRA board member, North, a conservative commentator best known for his central role in the 1980s Iran-Contra affair, said he had hoped to run for re-election when his term ends on Monday.

“I am now informed that will not happen,” North said in the letter.

His departure came after NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre accused North of trying to oust him by threatening to release “damaging” information about him, according to a letter from LaPierre to NRA board members that was published by the Wall Street Journal on Friday.

NRA officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that the New York attorney general, Letitia James, opened an investigation into the group’s tax-exempt status, sending letters on Friday to the NRA and affiliated entities, including its charitable foundation, telling them to preserve relevant financial records.

James’ office confirmed she has launched an investigation related to the NRA, and that she has issued subpoenas as part of the investigation, but declined to comment further.

North, 75, who was named by the NRA as its president in May 2018, was a pivotal figure in the Iran-Contra affair involving secret sales of arms to Iran by Republican President Ronald Reagan’s administration and the unlawful diversion of the proceeds to Nicaraguan rebels.

The NRA, with more than 5 million members, is by far the most powerful and well-connected gun lobby in the United States. It has worked closely with legislators to protect firearms manufacturers from liability for gun violence and pushed a ban on U.S. health officials from promoting gun control.

When North was appointed president of the organization, LaPierre hailed him as “a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader.”

But the pair have since fallen out, with LaPierre telling NRA board members in his letter on Thursday that North was seeking to humiliate him, discredit the NRA, and “raise appearances of impropriety that hurt our members and the Second Amendment” which gives Americans the right to keep and bear firearms, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

According to the newspaper, North sent board members a response to LaPierre’s letter later on Thursday in which he defended himself, said his actions were for the good of the NRA, and that he was forming a crisis committee to examine financial matters inside the organization.

North, long a hero to some on the political right, was convicted in 1989 of three felonies related to the Iran-Contra affair, but his convictions were overturned on appeal in 1990.

He later became a conservative radio talk show host and frequent commentator on conservative television networks.

(Reporting by Lucas Jackson in Indianapolis; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Jonathan Oatis)

NRA sues Los Angeles over law requiring that contractors reveal ties to gun group

An attendee speaks to representatives of the National Rifle Association (NRA) at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) annual meeting at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland

(Reuters) – The National Rifle Association sued Los Angeles on Wednesday over a new law requiring that contractors seeking to do business in the second most-populous U.S. city must disclose their ties to the gun rights group.

The NRA said the law violates its First Amendment free speech and association rights and its equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution, according to its complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court.

Mayor Eric Garcetti was also named as a defendant.

The Los Angeles City Attorney’s office and Garcetti’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit challenges an ordinance passed on Feb. 12 by the Los Angeles City Council that requires companies that want city contracts to disclose NRA contracts or sponsorships.

That ordinance was passed in the wake of a series of recent mass shootings in the United States.

The NRA said Los Angeles adopted the ordinance “intending to silence NRA’s voice, as well as the voices of all those who dare oppose the city’s broad gun-control agenda.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

U.S. House takes aim at loose gun-sale checks; passes second bill

By Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a second bill in as many days to toughen background checks for gun purchases, but both bills were likely to face opposition from the Republican-controlled Senate and the White House.

The bills are the first major gun control measures approved in Congress in many years. They are an early move to address gun violence by Democrats after capturing majority control of the House in the November 2018 congressional midterm elections.

The Senate remains controlled by Republicans, many of whom are closely allied with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun-rights voters, who fiercely defend what they see as their constitutional right to own firearms.

While Republican President Donald Trump has said he supports stronger background checks, he has thus far toed the party line on gun control legislation, leaving Washington deadlocked on how to address frequent mass shootings in the United States.

From 2009 to 2017, there were at least 173 shootings in which four or more people were killed, with at least 1,001 total deaths, according to the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.

Thursday’s background check bill would extend the number of days government authorities have to complete a background check before a gun sale. It passed by a 228-198 House vote.

Wednesday’s bill would expand background checks to include firearm purchases at gun shows and over the internet. It was approved 240-190. Both votes were largely along party lines.

The White House said on Monday that Trump’s advisers would recommend the president veto both pieces of legislation if they reached his desk because the first would impose “burdensome requirements” and the second “burdensome delays.”

The current background check process allows a gun purchase to proceed after three days, even if a background check has not been completed, said Democratic Representative James Clyburn from South Carolina, who sponsored Thursday’s bill.

He said that process resulted in 4,800 gun sales in 2017 to individuals with criminal records, a history of mental illness and other disqualifying circumstances.

“FBI analysis of the current background check system shows that 3 business days isn’t enough time to decide if someone shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun,” Clyburn said on Twitter.

His bill aims to close what Democrats call the “Charleston loophole” in the background check law by extending the window to complete a check to 10 days. They say the loophole allowed Dylann Roof to purchase the gun he used to kill nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015.

Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, where the background check bills originated, on Thursday called them “misguided” and said “my constitutional rights could be deferred indefinitely.”

(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Susan Thomas)

Americans support gun control but doubt lawmakers will act: Reuters

FILE PHOTO: A prospective buyer examines an AR-15 at the "Ready Gunner" gun store In Provo, Utah, U.S. in Provo, Utah, U.S., June 21, 2016. REUTERS/George Frey/File Photo

By Chris Kahn

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Most Americans want tougher gun laws but have little confidence their lawmakers will take action, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday ahead of the one-year anniversary of the country’s deadliest high school shooting.

The poll of more than 6,800 adults reflects widespread frustration with state and federal lawmakers after decades of mass shootings in the United States. The Feb. 14, 2018, attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 students and staff.

According to the poll, 69 percent of Americans, including 85 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans, want strong or moderate restrictions placed on firearms. To stop gun violence, 55 percent said they wanted policies that make it tougher to own guns, while 10 percent said making firearm ownership easier would be better.

The poll shows public support for strong firearms restrictions dipped slightly from a year ago, when the media was closely following the Parkland shooting, but overall support for gun restrictions has risen since the poll started asking about gun control in 2012.

Among those who want tougher gun laws now, only 14 percent said they were ‘very confident’ their representatives understood their views on firearms, and just 8 percent felt ‘very confident’ their elected representatives would do anything about it.

Taletha Whitley, 41, of Clayton, North Carolina, said lawmakers were too dependent on campaign contributions from gun rights groups to care about public opinion.

“It would take money out of their pockets to write gun control laws,” said Whitley, a Democrat who works in customer service for a local grocery chain. “That’s why they haven’t done anything about all of these mass shootings. It’s about the dollars.”

The findings underscore the challenges for gun safety advocates who, even after a banner legislative and electoral year in 2018, continue to push against the perception that the gun lobby commands the debate.

Gun control laws have been passed in 20 states since the Parkland shooting, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Gun control advocates also outspent the National Rifle Association during last year’s congressional elections, and 150 of the 196 candidates Everytown endorsed won their races for state and federal offices.

Shannon Watts, who founded Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America after the 2012 elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, said it has taken years to build a community of activists capable of taking on the NRA. After an effort to overhaul gun laws failed in 2013, Watts continued to recruit volunteers and aligned her organization with Everytown to build a network that now has a chapter in every state.

“You cannot underestimate the significance of hundreds of thousands of volunteers telling their lawmaker you have to do the right thing,” Watts said. “We tell them that when you do we’ll have your back, and when you don’t we’ll have your job.”

Watts and others are taking advantage of a drop in activity among gun rights advocates, who have been operating with less urgency now that they have an ally in the White House.

The NRA concedes that fundraising has fallen since Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in November 2016 but said gun control groups were overplaying their hand with some of their agenda.

“There’s less to do because we’ve been so successful over the years,” NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said. “We continue to defeat gun control legislation across the country while passing gun rights legislation.”

BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR GUN CONTROL

The poll found rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans largely agree on a variety of gun-control measures, including a ban on internet sales of ammunition, stopping people with a history of mental illness from buying guns, placing armed guards at schools and expanding background checks at gun shows.

Among parents with school-age children, 65 percent said they were somewhat or very worried about gun violence in schools, and a majority of those parents were supportive of efforts intended to beef up school security.

Sixty-one percent of parents said they favored publicly funding firearms training for teachers and school personnel, and 54 percent said they approved of allowing school personnel to carry guns.

Irfan Rydhan, 44, of San Jose, California, favors strong firearms restrictions but said he did not seriously think about gun control until earlier this year when he enrolled his 6-year-old in kindergarten.

“Obviously there’s a lot of anxiety that comes with dropping your kid off at public school, and there’s no one really watching him all the time,” said Rydhan, a poll respondent. “It makes you want to be more proactive about his safety.”

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English between Jan. 11 and Jan. 28 throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 6,813 adults, including 2,701 who identified as Democrats and 2,359 who identified as Republicans. It has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

(Reporting by Chris Kahn; Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Tom Brown)

Unlikely pair could usher ‘right to carry’ gun law case to U.S. Supreme Court

George Young holds a framed photo of his late daughter Tim Young in Hilo, Hawaii, U.S., July 30, 2018. Picture taken July 30, 2018. Courtesy Lynn Viale/Handout via REUTERS

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – George Young is a Vietnam War veteran who sued the state of Hawaii three times on his own without a lawyer for the right to carry a handgun and lost each time.

Alan Beck is an independent lawyer who took on Young’s appeal for free.

Last month, the duo won a major victory for gun rights when an appeals court found Hawaii’s restrictive handgun law unconstitutional, a ruling that could lead to a landmark decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on the right to bear arms in public. And they did so without the help of the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) gun lobby.

“I went around the state of Hawaii and contacted about 17 attorneys and all of them turned me down. They said I would only lose,” said Young, 68. “I want to see it through to the end, which is the U.S. Supreme Court.”

U.S gun-control advocates favor strict laws like Hawaii’s, blaming lax gun laws for excessive gun violence and deadly mass shootings in the United States. The NRA and other gun-rights advocates oppose laws that restrict the constitutional right to bear arms and want the high court to take up a new case, hoping it will expand gun rights outside the home.

The Supreme Court has not taken on a major gun-rights case since a pair of cases in 2008 and 2010 in which the court established that the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep a gun at home.

Hawaii allows only people who work in security or who can demonstrate to law enforcement officials that they have an “exceptional case” to carry weapons, concealed or openly.

After he left the Army, Young carried a firearm for 17 years as an airport security guard but lost that right after he retired. He failed to convince the County of Hawaii’s police chief he deserved a permit, so he sued, saying his constitutional right to bear arms was violated.

He filed suits in 2008, 2010 and 2012 to challenge the denials, losing each time.

Lacking the means to hire a lawyer for an appeal, Young would normally have had to depend on a star litigator financed by the NRA or a major law firm to take the case pro bono, or free of cost.

Instead Young paired up with Beck, a solo practitioner who learned of Young’s story and offered to represent him for free.

Beck said he has limited means of his own and that his father has offered to lend him money if needed to keep the case going.

“This covers my pro bono hours for my career. It’s worth it. Sometimes you have to do the right thing,” Beck said.

NO NRA HELP

Based in California but with family ties in Hawaii, Beck said he took Young’s case because he disagreed with the ruling by the U.S. District Court and said Young was denied the leeway that should be afforded to a non-lawyer representing himself.

“I didn’t think he got a fair shake,” Beck said. “We got to know each other very well. I know his family now. I consider him a good friend as well as a client.”

The NRA turned down a request to help with the case, Beck said, declining to elaborate. The NRA was still involved in assisting another lawsuit challenging carry laws when Young filed his suit, which is why the association did not get involved, spokeswoman Amy Hunter said.

On July 24, Young scored his first victory. In a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel of the normally liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found Young has a Second Amendment right to carry a firearm in public. The NRA applauded the ruling.

Hawaii has until Sept. 14 to ask the case to be reheard by the same panel or “en banc” by a larger number of judges.

The state has defended its law by citing the 2008 and 2010 Supreme Court cases, District of Colombia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago. While those rulings were taken as a victory by gun-rights advocates, proponents of gun control say the court also established limits to the Second Amendment.

“Heller was not intended to extend the protections found in the Second Amendment to any area outside the home,” Hawaii said in a 2013 filing in the case.

‘CIRCUIT SPLIT’Some U.S. appeals courts have upheld state laws that greatly restrict gun carry rights while others have struck them down, creating what is known as “circuit split.” The Supreme Court often hears cases in order to resolve such splits, but it requires four out of nine Supreme Court justices to agree to hear a case.

“As a practical matter, there is indeed a circuit split,” said Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor.

George Young and his late daughter Tim Young in Hilo, Hawaii, U.S., in May 2006. Picture taken in May 2006. Courtesy George M. Young/Handout via REUTERS

George Young and his late daughter Tim Young in Hilo, Hawaii, U.S., in May 2006. Picture was taken in May 2006. Courtesy George M. Young/Handout via REUTERS

Young, who is part native Hawaiian and part descendant of Japanese plantation workers, became passionate about the issue while teaching his late daughter Tim, who died in a car accident in 2004 at age 21, about the Constitution.

“She was my pet. Of my three children she was the one to follow me everywhere,” Young said.

One day, as they discussed the Constitution, Young was startled when she told him he could not carry a handgun in Hawaii, so he began his quest.

“I made the promise that they cannot take your Second Amendment away,” Young said. “So to prove it to her, that’s when I started.”

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Frances Kerry)

Trump questions 3-D gun sales as U.S. states sue

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the economy while delivering remarks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barr

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday raised concerns about the sale of plastic guns made with 3-D printers, a day after several U.S. states sued his administration to block the imminent online publication of designs to make the weapons.

Eight states and the District of Columbia on Monday filed a lawsuit to fight a June settlement between the federal government and Defense Distributed allowing the Texas-based company to legally publish its designs. Its downloadable plans are set to go online on Wednesday.

The legal wrangling is the latest fight over gun rights in the United States, where a series of mass shootings in recent years has re-ignited the long-simmering debate over access to firearms.

“I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public,” Trump said in a Twitter post that referred to the powerful National Rifle Association lobbying group. “Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense.”

Representatives for the U.S. State Department, which signed off on the settlement allowing publication of the designs to go forward, did not immediately reply to a request for comment. The U.S. Department of Justice, which also signed off on the settlement, said the issue was a matter for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a spokeswoman said.

NRA officials were not immediately available for comment.

The states are asking a U.S. judge to issue an injunction to block the online distribution of the gun blueprints. They say the U.S. government has failed to study the national and state security implications of the decision and violated states’ rights to regulate firearms.

Josh Blackman, a lawyer for Defense Distributed, said the case was not about guns but instead about protecting the constitutional free speech rights of his client.

“I don’t care what President Trump says. I will be arguing to protect my client’s First Amendment rights,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Defense Distributed’s website said it would publish the files on Wednesday but blueprints for seven guns already were available for download on Tuesday. The company’s founder, self-declared anarchist Cody Wilson, told media outlets on Monday that the files went up late Friday evening.

Mark Kelly, who co-founded a gun reform group with his wife, former Democratic U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords, who was wounded in a 2011 shooting, criticized Trump for his tweet.

“He should go to the State Department, not the NRA,” he said.

Kelly said Trump should tell the department the blueprints should remain restricted under international arms trafficking regulations.

The states, in their filing on Monday, argued the online plans will give criminals easy access to weapons by circumventing traditional sales and regulations.

Gun rights groups have been largely dismissive of concerns about 3-D printable guns, saying the technology is expensive and the guns unreliable.

The gun plans were pulled from the internet in 2013 by order of the U.S. State Department under international gun trafficking laws. Wilson sued in 2015, claiming the order infringed his constitutional rights.

Until recently, the government argued the blueprints posed a national security risk. Gun control groups said there had been no explanation for the June settlement and the administration’s abrupt reversal on the issue.

Wilson said in an online video that the blueprints were downloaded more than 400,000 times before they were taken down in 2013.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Tina Bellon in New York and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Bill Trott)

Gun control support fades three months after Florida massacre: Reuters/Ipsos poll

FILE PHOTO: A student from Gary Comer College Prep school poses for a portrait after Pastor John Hannah of New Life Covenant Church lead a march and pray for our lives against gun violence in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Parkland, Florida, school massacre has had little lasting impact on U.S. views on gun control, three months after the shooting deaths of 17 people propelled a national movement by some student survivors, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Wednesday.

While U.S. public support for more gun control measures has grown slowly but steadily over the years, it typically spikes immediately after the mass shootings that have become part of the U.S. landscape, then falls back to pre-massacre levels within a few months.

The poll found that 69 percent of American adults supported strong or moderate regulations or restrictions for firearms, down from 75 percent in late March, when the first poll was conducted following the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The new poll numbers are virtually unchanged from pre-Parkland levels.

The latest poll surveyed 3,458 adults from May 5 to 17. That was before the May 18 shooting in Texas, at Santa Fe High School near Houston, that killed 10 people.

Whether Parkland would defy the trend has been closely watched ahead of the November mid-term congressional elections, especially since student survivors have attempted to turn public sentiment into a political movement on gun issues.

David Hogg, one of the student leaders from Parkland, said he would measure the movement’s success not by an opinion poll but by how many members of the U.S. Congress supported by the National Rifle Association are voted out of office in November.

“We can have all the public support that we want but if people do not get out and vote, we’re not going to have an impact,” Hogg said.

President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans who control both houses of Congress all favor gun ownership rights. Strong supporters of gun rights expect they will continue to prevail in November.

“The Democrats are way overplaying their hand,” said Larry Ward, president of Political Media Inc, a conservative public relations and consulting company. “If you think you’re going to run on gun control and win in this country, you’re out of your mind.”

One poll respondent said he believes in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to keep and bear arms, but favored moderate restrictions such as waiting periods and background checks for gun purchases.

Daniel Fisher, 46, an artist from Indianapolis, said the gun lobby does not care about individual rights but instead about the profits of gun manufacturers.

“Lives don’t matter. People don’t matter. Money matters to them,” Fisher said, saying it was “unfortunate” that the public quickly moves on to the next crisis.

Even the Dec. 14, 2012, massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, which killed 20 first-graders and six adult staff, failed to lastingly move public opinion.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll found that support for strong or moderate firearms restrictions jumped by about 11 percentage points in the two weeks after the Sandy Hook shooting, rising to 70 percent at the end of 2012. But it fell back to the pre-shooting level three months later.

However, while the dramatic gains for gun control have faded quickly, the baseline for gun control has gradually crept up since the Sandy Hook massacre, rising from the high 50s to the high 60s since 2012.

Meanwhile, those favoring “no or very few” restrictions have fallen from 10 percent in the middle of 2012 to 5 percent today.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Additional reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Leslie Adler)

NRA names Oliver North, known for Reagan-era scandal, as president

FILE PHOTO: US Marine Corps Lt. Col. (Ret.) Oliver North speaks at an NRA convention in Dallas, Texas, U.S. May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

(Reuters) – The National Rifle Association on Monday named as its next president retired U.S. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a conservative commentator best known for his central role in the 1980s Iran-Contra affair.

The group named North following its weekend annual meeting in Dallas, where President Donald Trump vowed not to tighten U.S. firearms laws despite suggesting earlier this year that he would take on the NRA in the wake of a mass shooting at a Florida school.

“Oliver North is a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader,” NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre said in a statement. “In these times, I can think of no one better suited to serve as our president.”

North, 74, who already serves on the NRA’s board of directors, was a pivotal figure in the Iran-contra affair involving secret sales of arms to Iran by Republican President Ronald Reagan’s administration and the unlawful diversion of the proceeds to Nicaraguan rebels.

North, who was a White House National Security Council aide, set up a weapons pipeline to the rebels even though Congress had forbidden military aid to them. North was convicted of three felonies in 1989, but his convictions were overturned on appeal in 1990 because witnesses in his trial may have been influenced by congressional testimony he had previously given under a grant of immunity from prosecution.

North has been a conservative radio talk show host and frequent commentator on conservative television networks since.

He is stepping down from his commentary role at Fox News television, the NRA said in its statement.

The NRA said its current president, Pete Brownell, planned not to seek a second term. Brownell serves as CEO of Brownells Inc, a maker of firearm parts, accessories and ammunition.

The February massacre of 17 teens and educators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, had seemed to mark a turning point in America’s long-running gun debate, sparking a youth-led movement for tighter gun controls.

Trump said in the days following the massacre that politicians have to disagree with the NRA “every once in a while.”

But since then, no major new federal gun controls have been imposed, although the Trump administration is pursuing a proposed regulatory ban on “bump stocks,” which enable a semi-automatic rifle to fire a steady stream of bullets. The devices were used in an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people.

North, long a hero to some on the political right, lost as a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Virginia in 1994 after former first lady Nancy Reagan publicly said that North had a “great deal of trouble separating fact from fantasy” and “lied to my husband and lied about my husband.”

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Additional reporting by Will Dunham in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)

Protests for and against gun ownership expected at NRA meeting in Dallas

A cap and shirt are displayed at the booth for the National Rifle Association (NRA) at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Lisa Maria Garza

DALLAS (Reuters) – Police are bracing for a significant amount of protests for and against guns during the National Rifle Association’s meeting in Dallas this weekend following a spate of mass shootings, pro gun-control marches, and November’s congressional elections sharpening an always volatile debate.

An estimated 80,000 gun-lovers will be in the city for the NRA’s annual convention. President Donald Trump is expected to address the NRA leadership on Friday, the first day of the three-day meeting, and Vice President Mike Pence also is scheduled to attend the convention.

The powerful gun lobby, which boasts 5 million members, faces an invigorated gun-control movement this year that has sought to curb the NRA’s influence since a man shot dead 17 people at a Florida high school on Feb. 14.

Dallas police were hoping for the “highest level of decorum and civility” from the demonstrations, which will include a “die-in” protest outside the convention hall on Friday, when Trump is due to speak.

“We will not tolerate property destruction. We will not tolerate violent behavior,” Dallas Police Assistant Chief Paul Stokes said at a news conference on Wednesday.

The gun debate in America shifted after a 19-year-old former student used a semiautomatic rifle to kill 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Students who survived became national figures by calling for gun control legislation and a check on the NRA’s influence. Florida quickly passed a law raising the legal age for buying rifles and imposing a three-day waiting period on gun sales while also allowing the arming of some school employees.

Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway had even urged the NRA to find another city for its annual meeting. Caraway is calling on the NRA to discuss strategies that will curb gun violence.

“In Dallas, gun violence survivors, students and activists are laser-focused on harnessing the momentum from the recent March for Our Lives events to push for gun safety and create lasting policy reform,” said Cassidy Geoghegan, a spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety, one of the leading U.S. gun control groups.

Guns are banned from Friday’s leadership forum because of U.S. Secret Service protocol for protecting the president but elsewhere attendees will be able to carry weapons throughout “15 acres of guns and gear” exhibits at the convention center.

Across the street from the center, a coalition of six local gun rights groups plan to hold a counterprotest on Saturday that they expect to draw several hundred people. Participants are encouraged to openly carry sidearms, instead of rifles and body armor, in an effort to appear more approachable.

“Gun control supporters have gone largely unchallenged in the protest arena as of late,” the counterprotest’s organizers wrote on Facebook. “It is time to stand up peacefully and show the media that Gun Rights matter to Texans and that we are not just the fringe.”

Bipartisan support is increasing in favor of stronger gun regulations, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll in March. Fifty-four percent of Americans support stricter gun control policies such as background checks on gun purchasers and banning so-called assault rifles.

(Reporting Lisa Maria Garza; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Grant McCool and Bill Trott)