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Pasco gun advocate's rift with NRA deepens

Published Aug. 17, 2012

The bitter fight for re-election to his party leadership post is over, but Republican state committeeman Bill Bunting isn't done squabbling with the National Rifle Association.

The NRA recently suspended the instructor credentials of Bunting, the man who is possibly most associated with guns in Pasco. Bunting has been an NRA-certified instructor for 18 years, teaching hundreds of courses across Florida.

"His credentials are pulled," said Al Hammond, who oversees NRA field representatives in eight southern states. "If he issues anyone a certification that they have completed the necessary training (for a concealed weapon license), he would in fact be issuing a false certificate."

Hammond said Bunting was notified of the suspension within the last couple of weeks. He said Bunting has an opportunity to challenge the decision before his credentials are formally revoked. He can still be re-certified.

Bunting confirmed his credentials have been suspended, "until I get it straightened out." He declined to comment further on the issue.

Bunting is the Second Amendment chairman for the Republican Party of Florida. Fundraising dinners for the Pasco GOP often have the feel of gun shows. That's why the NRA turned heads weeks ago when it endorsed Bunting's opponent in the state committeeman race. (Bunting won a second four-year term Tuesday by a 10-point margin.)

At the time, Bunting said the endorsement stemmed from a personal grudge between him and the NRA's Tallahassee lobbyist, Marion Hammer. Hammer cited Bunting's opposition to Sen. Mike Fasano, who has an A-plus rating from the group.

There are several ways to complete the training requirement needed for a concealed weapon license from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. People can take a hunter education course or a firearms safety course offered to law enforcement. They also can prove they are current or honorably discharged members of the military.

Or, people can take a class by an instructor certified by the NRA.

Hammond said the organization recently received complaints that Bunting was not teaching classes using NRA-approved materials. Plus, he said, Bunting photocopied NRA certificates that implied his class had the NRA imprimatur.

"They think they got an NRA-issued certificate when in fact they didn't," he said.

People are allowed advertise their "NRA-certified instructor" credentials without using an NRA-approved course. But the group requires the materials include a prominent disclaimer saying the course is not approved by the NRA, according to a statement from Hammer.

Hammond said the group has received complaints over the past several months, but people only recently included their names and documentation to back up the accusations. "We do validate if the documentation is correct or incorrect," he said.

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.