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Bush and the NRA

GEORGE BUSH'S resignation from the National Rifle Association should stun other gun owners and hunters into examining the direction that the NRA has taken recently.

Mr. Bush strongly objected to a description of federal law-enforcement agents as ''jackbooted government thugs'' in NRA fund-raising letters. So should other Americans.

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The NRA official who penned those words, executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, has been trying to defend his choice of language ever since the letter was received by members and found its way into public view -- shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing.

He conceded on a recent McNeil-Lehrer NewsHour that he might have chosen different words had it been a public statement, rather than a missive aimed at the faithful.

The NRA has repeatedly argued that when the facts are in on incidents like the federal storming of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, people will see that the NRA's descriptions aren't that far off the mark.

Episodes like the Waco raid do raise questions about the judgment of federal officials and deserve further investigation. But the NRA language is inappropriate in any case.

Bush was right in pointing out that the LaPierre letter impugns a whole class of public servants who do tough, sometimes life-threatening work. He knows personally many of the officials smeared by the NRA with Nazi imagery -- including a Secret Service agent who protected him during his years in the White House and was killed in Oklahoma City. In his letter of resignation, Bush personally affirms the honesty and commitment to country of these public servants.

The letter that forced Bush's decision to leave the NRA was part of a larger campaign by that organization, which is determined to repeal last year's ban on assault weapons.

The NRA has taken the dangerous tack of implying that such weapons may be needed to fend off aggressive federal agents bent on disarming the American public.

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That line of thinking fits nicely with what we know about the exaggerated fears fueling various militia groups in the United States. The NRA has disavowed the goals and activities of such extremists.

Now it should disavow its own extreme language.

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