(ATLANTA) — Retired Lt. Col. Oliver North, the gung-ho Marine at the center of the Iran-Contra affair three decades ago, was named president Monday of the National Rifle Association, giving it star power as it faces a powerful backlash over the massacres in Florida and Las Vegas.
North, 74, will be the biggest celebrity to lead the 5-million-member gun lobby since Hollywood leading man Charlton Heston, who famously declared in 2000 that his guns would have to be taken “from my cold, dead hands.”
“Oliver North is a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader,” NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said.
Momentum for gun control has been building since the mass shooting in Las Vegas last fall that killed 58 people and the Feb. 14 rampage at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 dead.
North was picked by the NRA’s board of directors, which elects a president every two years, and is expected to assume office within the next several weeks. He succeeds Pete Brownell, who decided not to seek a second term.
LaPierre remains as vice president and chief executive, running the powerful lobbying group’s day-to-day operations.
North will lead the board, and NRA observers say they anticipate he will take on a more public role in the style of Heston, a fiery presence who used his acting background to energize members.