Washington (AFP) – Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal under US president Ronald Reagan, is to become the next president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the US gun lobby announced Monday.
The NRA said its board had approved North’s candidacy on Monday and he would take over as president in the next few weeks.
The current NRA president, Pete Brownell, chose not to seek a second term, the group said in a statement.
NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre welcomed North’s appointment.
“This is the most exciting news for our members since Charlton Heston became president of our association,” LaPierre said in a statement.
“Oliver North is a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader,” he said. “In these times, I can think of no one better suited to serve as our president.”
North, 74, has authored several best-selling books and worked as a conservative commentator on Fox News since retiring from the US Marine Corps as a lieutenant colonel.
While serving on the National Security Council in the 1980s, North was involved in the sale of weapons to Iran despite an arms embargo on that country.
The Reagan administration hoped the sale would help facilitate the release of Americans held hostage in Lebanon.
Profits from the weapons sales were funneled to anti-Sandinista rebels, the Contras, in Nicaragua.
North was convicted on three charges in 1989 but his conviction was subsequently overturned.
His appointment to head the NRA comes as a student-led movement for stricter gun laws gathers momentum in the United States.
The grassroots campaign for gun control was launched by students at a Florida high school where 14 students and three adults were shot dead by a troubled former classmate on February 14.
President Donald Trump rejected calls for tighter gun laws in a speech to the NRA’s annual meeting last week.