Move over, Bill Clinton. The National Rifle Association, which has made the president a personal target in its campaign for gun rights, has selected a new enemy, and it is Al Gore.
The Democratic presidential candidate was slammed again and again Saturday as a "liar" and a "dangerous" force who, NRA top brass warned members, would take away their guns.
Ridiculing last weekend's Million Mom March in Washington as a "Misled Moms March," NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre accused Gore of orchestrating the march and manipulating its participants. "Mr. Gore, you're going to find out it's not smart to lie to Mom," LaPierre told thousands of cheering members gathered for the annual meeting.
While Gore has been arguing that mandatory licensing and registration for gun owners would save lives, "it's all a big, stinking, dangerous, Al Gore lie," LaPierre said. "We're going to beat Al Gore because he can't lie to America's moms and get away with it."
Gore's campaign spokesman, Chris Lehane, welcomed the attacks.
"If you can judge your character by the enemies you make, Al Gore has a very strong character," Lehane said. "The NRA is opposed to common-sense gun reform, and they have George Bush in their hip holster, and they're planning on having an office in Bush's West Wing," Lehane added, referring to the Texas governor and presumed Republican presidential nominee.
"But Al Gore will continue to fight for America's families, and to fight against the NRA," Lehane said.
While NRA officials painted Gore as their No. 1 enemy, rank-and-file members, in a festive mood, wandered among booths at a massive gun fair at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Exhibitors displayed everything from pistols to hunting rifles, along with such items as the "Tree Lounge," which allows a hunter to sit comfortably in a hammock-like chair while shooting animals from a treetop perch. Everything at the show, NRA officials said, would be endangered under a Gore White House.
"This election will determine whether or not the right to keep and bear arms will survive into the next century. It's that simple. We are at a crossroads," said James J. Baker, the NRA's chief lobbyist.
"It all boils down to Election Day. The extremists will never be satisfied, and they will use every dollar and every vote to elect Al Gore.
"Today, I make you this promise: not on my watch," Baker said, winning a standing ovation.
It was actor and NRA President Charlton Heston who captured the biggest applause from the members, holding up a rifle and delivering an ominous warning to Gore and other NRA opponents.
"The NRA is b-a-a-ack. All of this spells very serious trouble for a man named Gore," said Heston.
"I want to say those fighting words, to hear and to heed, and especially to you, Mr. Gore," Heston said, waving the rifle. "From my cold, dead hands."
The comments refer to a legendary NRA slogan: "I'll give up my gun when they pry it from my cold, dead hands."
Baker said the organization plans to pour $10-million to $15-million into the coming election campaign, which he said is "25 to 30 percent" more than the politically powerful gun rights group has ever spent during a single election cycle.
Membership in the NRA has surged to an all-time high of 3.6-million, which Baker attributed to the "white-hot rhetoric over the last few months." NRA officials said they expected an attendance of 40,000 at the annual convention this weekend.
_ Information from the Chicago Tribune was used in this report.