George H.W. Bush had no problem publicly turning his back on one of the Republican Party’s biggest allies, the NRA. Now, the stance that was seen as bold at the time is being praised as an example of Bush’s bipartisan legacy and fiercely independent political nature.
With all the memorials being written after the passing of the 41st president this week, special attention has been paid to his public rebuke of the National Rifle Association in 1995. As the Hill recalled, Bush had a lifetime membership to the gun-rights lobbyist group but vehemently disagreed when NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre referred to federal agents as “jack-booted thugs.”
This prompted Bush to write a public resignation letter.
“To attack Secret Service agents or [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] people or any government law enforcement people as ‘wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms’ wanting to ‘attack law abiding citizens’ is a vicious slander on good people,” Bush wrote (via the New York Times).
In the impassioned letter, Bush noted that a former member of his United States Secret Service detail had been killed in the bombing in Oklahoma City earlier that year. “He was no Nazi. He was a kind man, a loving parent, a man dedicated to serving his country — and serve it well he did,” Bush wrote.
To many, LaPierre’s statements marked an increasing politicization of the NRA, which has become more involved in right-wing politics beyond gun control issues. Today, the organization even operates NRATV, a conservative news network meant to compete with others in the right-wing space, including Breitbart News and Fox News.
The organization has come under fire after a series of mass shootings including a string of school shootings, with opponents saying that Republican politicians are too closely intertwined with the major donor.
The ability to stand up to the NRA earned praise from many, including Fred Guttenberg, a father whose daughter was killed in the Parkland school shooting earlier this year. Guttenberg has become something of a political activist in the wake of the shooting with the NRA his biggest target, and on Saturday he had some praise for the former president.
“A lot will be written today about President George Bush. Whether you agreed or disagreed with him, most would think that he always served with honor and decency,” Guttenberg wrote. “This resignation letter that he wrote resigning his NRA membership is only one example.”