Retired Lt. Col. Oliver North’s appointment as the next president of the National Rifle Association gives some star power to the gun lobby but also inspires disdain by gun-control advocates who call it a tone-deaf move that shows an unwillingness to find solutions to gun violence.
North, 74, long a popular speaker before the NRA and other conservative groups, is being appointed at a time when the nation is roiled in debate about gun laws following several high-profile mass shootings that have tested the public’s support for the Second Amendment. North was at the center of the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s and a darling of the right, will be the biggest celebrity to lead the 5-million-member gun lobby since Hollywood leading man Charlton Heston, who famously declared in 2000 that his guns would have to be taken “from my cold, dead hands.”
Momentum for gun control has been building since the mass shooting in Las Vegas last fall that killed 58 people and the Feb. 14 rampage at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 dead. North was picked Monday by the NRA’s board of directors, which elects a president every two years. He’s expected to assume office within the next several weeks. North succeeds Pete Brownell, who did not seek a second term.
North was a military aide to the National Security Council during the Reagan administration in the 1980s when he emerged into the spotlight for his role in arranging the secret sale of weapons to Iran and the diversion of the proceeds to the anti-communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua. He was convicted in 1989 of obstructing Congress during its investigation, destroying government documents and accepting an illegal gratuity. Those convictions were overturned in 1991.