Even detractors will tell you he doesn't seem like a political
brawler - let alone one who'd try to paint the president as a liar.
He's unfailingly polite. He moves more in the world of tailored
suits than camouflage. And after all, the Clark Kent-looking
lobbyist with pudgy cheeks nearly went to work for liberal House
Speaker "Tip" O'Neill once upon a time.
Nevertheless, National Rifle Association Vice President Wayne
LaPierre is at the forefront of a risky maneuver questioned even by
As the feud between the White House and the NRA erupted into full-
blown rhetorical warfare - complete with television ads - Mr.
LaPierre escalated the war of words further Wednesday, laying
responsibility for the shooting death of a former coach of
Northwestern University at the president's door.
He claims the president has failed to enforce existing gun laws,
preferring to play politics with the issue.
"I've come to believe that he needs a certain level of violence
in this country," LaPierre said in his first salvo last weekend.
"He's willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his
Perhaps more than any other lobbyist in history, LaPierre is
challenging the president politically - and personally - on gun
The strategy reflects his deep personal interpretation of the
Second Amendment to the Constitution and a willingness to step over
a line of protocol observed even by a president's harshest critics.
But taking on a sitting president and his bully pulpit is not the
same thing as winning at it.
"It plays right into the administration's hands," says Robert
Spitzer, author of "The Politics of Gun Control" and a professor of
political science at the State University of New York in Cortland.
"Even if they [the administration] don't get gun legislation out
of Congress, they've made the NRA the poster child of everything
that's wrong with the gun debate," Mr. Spitzer says.
Some close to LaPierre say the strategy is an extension of his
deeply held belief that in the United States, freedom to bear arms
as a basic right has been under assault since the beginning of the
Clinton White House.
The current campaign, they say, is a commensurate response to the
White House's full-court-press effort to pass a new round of firearm
restrictions, disingenuously using tragedy to push that legislative
agenda. They point to the recent shooting in Michigan, in which a
first-grade boy took a .32-caliber handgun to school, killing a
"He was very literal in saying if Congress had passed his gun law
bill that young girl wouldn't have died, no ifs, ands, or buts about
it," declares gun author John Lott, a senior research scholar at
Yale University Law School. In that case "you had a six-year-old boy
living in a crack house with drug addicts, and all the relatives had
warrants out for their arrests," Mr. …