WASHINGTON: Wayne LaPierre would just as soon read a book as fire a gun.
That’s right, the National Rifle Association’s fire-breathing defender of gun rights is more academic than marksman.
“A policy wonk,” said Joseph Tartaro, president of the pro-gun Second Amendment Foundation. “He is more professorial than you would think.”
“Wayne is a Washington-type person,” said John Aquilino, a former NRA spokesman who worked with LaPierre. “He is best characterized as an absent-minded professor.”
A professor, that is, with a million-dollar megaphone and a well-honed ability to dish apocalyptic warnings about a tyrannical government angling to grab people’s firearms.
“It’s about banning your guns ... PERIOD!” LaPierre wrote in a January email to the NRA’s 4 million-plus members.
For decades, LaPierre, 63, has been serving up heated us-vs.-them rhetoric to rally the NRA faithful. Usually it works; sometimes it backfires.
There was his 1995 reference to federal law enforcement agents as “jack-booted government thugs.” (He later apologized.)
And his 2000 declaration that President Bill Clinton was “willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda.” (No apology.)
And his 2002 complaint that tougher airport screenings after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks signaled that “I guess it’s OK to wand-rape someone’s daughter in public.”
A week after the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn., LaPierre gave a fiery speech calling for armed guards in every school. He blamed violence on a culture that celebrates gory video games and “blood-soaked slasher films” and rewards killers with fame.
“Gun nut!” the New York Post screamed on its front page.
“The most revolting, tone-deaf statement I’ve ever seen,” tweeted then-Rep. Chris Murphy, now a Democratic senator from Connecticut.
“Call me crazy,” LaPierre retorted on NBC’s Meet the Press. “I think the American people think it’s crazy not to do it,” referring to armed school guards.
In fact, a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted in January found that 55 percent of Americans said they would support a law “placing an armed guard in every school in the country.”
In the weeks since Newtown, LaPierre has been the ever-present public face of gun-rights forces, shuttling between speeches, hearing rooms and TV studios to forcefully reject proposals for tighter gun controls as misguided ideas that will do nothing to stop criminals and everything to tangle law-abiding citizens in a bureaucratic nightmare.
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.
Richmond attorney Tom Lisk, whom LaPierre later recommended for an NRA job, remembers LaPierre as “a person that people gravitated toward” at the organization. LaPierre has been richly rewarded for his efforts: NRA tax returns show he received $835,000 in salary and $126,000 in other compensation in 2010.
For all of LaPierre’s tough talk, friends and former colleagues describe a soft-spoken man who’s a little scattered.
Aquilino, the former NRA spokesman, said he once asked LaPierre what he wanted to do eventually and was told, “To tell the truth, I’d like to run an ice cream parlor in Maine.”