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After a career as a political operative for the National Rifle Association and a lobbyist for sporting goods and gun manufacturers, Richard Feldman has written a subspecies of the turncoat memoir. The book, Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist, combines a paean to the Second Amendment’s advocates with a broadside at the NRA. It’s a topic Feldman has the credentials to address. After years as a regional political director and consultant to the NRA during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, Feldman assumed the helm of the American Shooting Sports Council in 1991, a now-defunct gun manufacturers trade association. Feldman’s rupture with the NRA came about, he says, after he arranged for a voluntary manufacturers’ agreement to include child safety locks on guns. For the ASSC, the move was a reasonable concession that undercut President Bill Clinton’s plans to push legislation mandating them. For the NRA, it was blasphemy, and the association helped orchestrate his ouster, both he and other observers have said. Perhaps it’s understandable that he’s got some personal scores to settle. “Like an amoeba, [future NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre] seemed to lack a spine, a solid core,” he writes, accusing LaPierre elsewhere of having a weak handshake, a lack of interest in both firearms and women, and perhaps most strangely, a resemblance to a “well-fed beaver.” But Ricochet is a more serious book than that innuendo might suggest. It’s a first-person account of modern NRA history, from the association’s decisive entry into lobbying to the peccadilloes and internal struggles of its top leadership. Interspersed are campaign war stories of victories achieved through grass-roots might, strategic alliances, and, no shortage of swashbuckling by NRA political operatives. But the cornerstone of Ricochet, while certainly not uncontested, is the tale of the lobbying icon’s gradual progression from sincere advocacy to cynical self-preservation. As its spending on executive staff salaries, consultants, and the private ad agency Ackerman-McQueen climbed, Feldman writes, the NRA became addicted to fund-raising. Whether its battles legitimately advanced gun ownership rights was less important than whether it “gave the NRA the chance to shake the membership’s money tree.” The result, he suggests, was the lobbying equivalent of George Orwell’s state of perpetual war. After coming across a series of anti-gun cartoons depicting NRA members as knuckle-dragging, criminally inclined hicks, the association reproduced them for direct mail fund-raising materials. During the fight over the Brady Bill in the early 1990s, Feldman describes an NRA campaign against provisions of the law that internal polling showed even its own members supported. “The NRA had to be careful not to present too logical a case because we needed the Brady Bill as a fund-raising tool,” he writes.
Jeff Horwitz can be reached at [email protected].

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