Washington (AFP) – Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra arms sale scandal under US president Ronald Reagan, is set to become the next president of the National Rifle Association gun lobby.
North was convicted on three charges in connection with the Iran-Contra scheme, under which money from arms sales to Tehran was funneled to rebels in Nicaragua, but the convictions were later overturned.
The NRA said that its board had approved North’s candidacy on Monday and that he would take over as president in the next few weeks, after current president Pete Brownell chose not to seek a second term.
“Oliver North is a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader,” NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre said in a statement. “In these times, I can think of no one better suited to serve as our president.”
“This is the most exciting news for our members since Charlton Heston became president of our association,” LaPierre said, referring to the Hollywood star who held the post from 1998 to 2003.
After retiring from the US Marine Corps as a lieutenant colonel, North, now 74, authored several best-selling books and worked as a conservative commentator on Fox News.
He is leaving Fox effective immediately, according to the NRA.
While assigned to the National Security Council in the 1980s, North was involved in the Iran-Contra affair, an international arms sale scandal about which he lied to Congress.
– Arms sale scandal –
Weapons were sold to Iran “in contravention of stated US policy and in possible violation of arms-export controls,” according to a report on the scandal, a move Reagan administration officials hoped would help facilitate the release of Americans held hostage in civil war-racked Lebanon.
Money from the weapons sales was funneled to the Contras — US-backed rebels who were fighting Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government — despite a congressional prohibition on such aid.
North became a household name, spending days before a joint congressional committee tasked with investigating the scandal and admitting he had lied to Congress about his involvement in it.
But his convictions — for shredding and altering documents, aiding and abetting obstruction of Congress, and accepting an illegal gratuity — were subsequently overturned.
His appointment to head the NRA — which has staunchly opposes tighter firearms regulations aimed at curbing widespread gun violence in the US — comes as a student-led movement pushes for stricter gun laws in the United States.
The grassroots campaign for gun control was launched by students from a Florida high school where 17 people were shot dead by a troubled former classmate on February 14.
But the Republican-controlled Congress has taken little action and polls indicate public sentiment in favor of stricter gun laws — which soared after the Parkland, Florida shooting — is cooling, as it has after previous mass killings.
President Donald Trump had flirted with tougher gun laws in the wake of the Parkland attack, but faced with pressure from donors and tough midterm elections, he quickly backtracked.
Trump gave a speech at the NRA’s annual meeting last week, rejecting calls for tighter regulations and echoing the gun lobby’s assertion that armed citizens will help prevent deadly shootings.