Fact Check

Did George H.W. Bush Resign from the NRA?

Former president George H.W. Bush was a Life Member of the NRA, but not for his whole life.

Published Dec 22, 2012

 (Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Wikimedia Commons
In 1995, former president George H.W. Bush resigned as a Life Member of the NRA.

A month after the 19 April 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City which killed 168 people and injured 680 more, the Wilmington Star-News noted of the National Rifle Association (NRA) that:

The explosion brought out the best in many Americans. It brought out the worst traits in the NRA, especially its hotheaded hype.

The most ill-timed screed was an NRA fund-raising letter slamming federal agents as "armed terrorists dressed in Ninja black ... jack-booted thugs armed to the teeth who break down doors, open fire with automatic weapons and kill law-abiding citizens."

Even on TV shows a week after the Oklahoma blast, NRA executive veep Wayne LaPierre wouldn't disavow the slurs.

That rabid zealotry is losing the gun lobby its clout and friends in high places — and could self-destruct the NRA with inner feuds.

The most prominent defector is George Bush, so furious that in effect he ripped up this NRA membership card.

What steamed Mr. Bush was NRA President Tom Washington's calling the 1993 Waco, Texas, raid an example of "black-suited, masked, massively armed mobs of screaming, swearing agents invading homes of innocents."

The former president, who knew an agent slain at Waco and another in Oklahoma City, flared: "Your broadside deeply offends my sense of honor and decency ..."

What the Star-News noted in 1995 was later turned into meme form after a rash of school shootings in the U.S.:

The background for this item was that in a protest over statements made by NRA officials following the February 1993 Waco siege and the Oklahoma City bombing, particularly a March 1993 fund-raising letter (sent out over NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre's signature) that referred to federal law enforcement agents as "jack-booted thugs" who wear "Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms" and "attack law abiding citizens," former president George H.W. Bush submitted a letter dated 3 May 1995 to the NRA, resigning his Life Membership in that organization:

Dear Mr. Washington,

I was outraged when, even in the wake of the Oklahoma City tragedy, Mr. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of N.R.A., defended his attack on federal agents as "jack-booted thugs." To attack Secret Service agents or A.T.F. 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.

Al Whicher, who served on my [United States Secret Service] detail when I was Vice President and President, was killed in Oklahoma City. 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.

In 1993, I attended the wake for A.T.F. agent Steve Willis, another dedicated officer who did his duty. I can assure you that this honorable man, killed by weird cultists, was no Nazi.

John Magaw, who used to head the U.S.S.S. and now heads A.T.F., is one of the most principled, decent men I have ever known. He would be the last to condone the kind of illegal behavior your ugly letter charges. The same is true for the F.B.I.'s able Director Louis Freeh. I appointed Mr. Freeh to the Federal Bench. His integrity and honor are beyond question.

Both John Magaw and Judge Freeh were in office when I was President. They both now serve in the current administration. They both have badges. Neither of them would ever give the government's "go ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law abiding citizens." (Your words)

I am a gun owner and an avid hunter. Over the years I have agreed with most of N.R.A.'s objectives, particularly your educational and training efforts, and your fundamental stance in favor of owning guns.

However, your broadside against Federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country. It indirectly slanders a wide array of government law enforcement officials, who are out there, day and night, laying their lives on the line for all of us.

You have not repudiated Mr. LaPierre's unwarranted attack. Therefore, I resign as a Life Member of N.R.A., said resignation to be effective upon your receipt of this letter. Please remove my name from your membership list.

[signed] George Bush

A week after President Bush's letter was publicized, NRA vice president Wayne LaPierre offered an apology on behalf of the NRA:

The National Rifle Association has apologized for a recent fund-raising letter that described some federal agents as "jack-booted thugs."

"I really feel bad about the fact that the words in that letter have been interpreted to apply to all federal law-enforcement officers," NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said.

"If anyone thought the intention was to paint all federal law-enforcement officials with the same broad brush, I'm sorry, and I apologize," LaPierre said.

LaPierre insisted that the fund-raising letter was intended to criticize only isolated actions, primarily involving the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

But at least one section of the letter offered a more sweeping condemnation of federal law-enforcement efforts.

The letter referred to federal law-enforcement agents as "jack-booted government thugs" and said that "in Clinton's administration, if you have a badge, you have the government's go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens."


Grady, Sandy.   "Bush's Defection Showed Guts."     [Wilmington] Star-News.   14 May 1995   (p. E7).

Kell, Richard.   "NRA Apologizes for 'Jack Boot' Letter."     The Seattle Times.   18 May 1995.

The New York Times.   "Letter of Resignation Sent by Bush to Rifle Association."     11 May 1995.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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