NRA names Oliver North as new president

A former US marine who was at the centre of the Iran-Contra affair three decades ago has been named as president of the National Rifle Association, giving it star power in the midst of a backlash over the Florida and Las Vegas massacres.

The appointment of retired Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North has been criticised by gun-control advocates who say it shows the NRA is tone-deaf given North’s role in the arms-trafficking scandal that engulfed the White House in the Reagan years.

But conservatives and gun-rights supporters say the 74-year-old is a patriot who will vigorously battle efforts to restrict access to firearms.

North is the biggest celebrity to lead the five million-member gun lobby since Hollywood star Charlton Heston.

“Oliver North is a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader,” NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said on Monday.

Momentum for gun control has been building since last year’s mass shooting in Las Vegas killed 58 people and the February 14 rampage at a Parkland, Florida, high school left 17 dead.

“The election of Oliver North is the clearest sign yet that the NRA is floundering in the face of plummeting popularity, scrutiny into its Russia ties, and state lawmakers who are defying the gun lobby left and right,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, founded by former New York mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, said.

“The NRA doesn’t need a new leader – it needs an entirely new direction.”

North was picked by the NRA’s board of directors, which elects a president every two years, and is expected to assume office within the next several weeks. He succeeds Pete Brownell, who did not seek a second term.

LaPierre remains as vice president and chief executive.

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.

In a statement, North said he was honoured to be selected and “eager to hit the ground running.”