The NRA's new poster boy?

May 17, 2008|Anita Chabria | Special to The Times

With the recent passing of Charlton Heston, the National Rifle Assn. lost its biggest media gun. But rocker Ted Nugent -- the man known for once performing in a loincloth and for greeting concertgoers from the back of a bison named Chief -- is prepared to fill in for the elder statesman as popular culture's most outspoken proponent of the 2nd Amendment.

In fact, he's set to debut his new song, "I Am the NRA," this weekend at the 2008 NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits convention in Louisville, Ky.

An iconoclast who lives the defiant, gun-toting lifestyle he espouses, Nugent makes his home on a ranch in Crawford, Texas, is a sheriff's deputy in Michigan and carries a concealed Glock Model 20 everywhere -- even into the recording studio.

"I'm a ranching guy. I'm a hunting guy," he says. "I'm Natty Bumppo meets Daniel Boone. This is how I live. . . . I don't tremble and I don't back off. . . ."

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre calls Nugent a "one and only" and says he has a "huge following" inside the gun-rights movement because members appreciate that he is "willing to speak out."

Nugent routinely plays at the NRA annual convention and says he is in the "heyday" of his career, performing concerts, writing bestselling books and starring in multiple reality TV shows in recent years, including VH1's "Supergroup" and the PBS production "Ted Nugent: Spirit of the Wild."

"I've never been more popular," he says, attributing much of his recent success to his lifestyle and vocal politics.

Though Nugent has not sought the presidency of the NRA (the next election is in 2009), he believes that "right now, if you literally took a membership vote of the NRA and said who would you like to be president, you're talking to the guy that would win."

Nugent grabs his share of media attention and is known for putting exceptionable opinions on record. Some believe he could be more of an asset to the organization's foes than to its followers.

"The man makes racist comments, he makes vulgar comments," says Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center and author of "National Rifle Association: Money, Firepower & Fear." "If the NRA wants to make Ted Nugent president, more power to them, I say."

With that in mind, there are those in the gun-rights movement who would prefer to see another celebrity member, such as actor Tom Selleck, take the role. Although he is an NRA board member, Selleck seldom speaks publicly about his involvement. He declined to be interviewed for this article.

"People really admire Tom Selleck, because here's a guy who's kind of stepped into the shoes of portraying the essential American hero," said Dave Workman, senior editor of GunWeek magazine.

Even Nugent acknowledges that Selleck brings a gravitas to the association that he might lack. "Selleck is universally respected. I don't think I am universally respected," he says.

Still, Nugent says Selleck's reticence in the media troubles him -- and he's told Selleck so.

"With all due respect to Tom . . . the right to keep and bear arms boils down to relating evident truths to the public -- that's called public relations," he says. "If in fact you do believe in the right to bear arms, would you please bring it . . . up?"

But as long as Selleck and other NRA celebrity members -- including comedian Jeff Foxworthy and former NBA star Karl Malone -- remain off-screen, Nugent is happy take the lead. And he says he'd take the same positions even without the organization.

"I know what I'm doing, and I know what God-given rights are, and I am one with self-evident truths. I don't need an NRA."

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