James B. Reinke

President, National Rifle Association

1600 Rhode Island Ave. NW

Washington, D.C. 20036.

Dear Mr. Reinke:I'm sure that like the rest of us, you've been following the stories of the hijacked Kuwaiti jet. It's a pretty helpless feeling to realize the power of nations is meaningless once a band of madmen take over a commercial plane. I guess that's why I decided to write you. Instead of just sitting by helplessly, I thought this might do a little good.

I suppose the NRA gets blamed for almost everything bad that happens because of guns. That's not what this letter's about. As your organization has stressed, guns don't commit crimes, people do. The NRA certainly isn't responsible for hijackings; fanatics are.

So I'm not pointing the finger here. Instead, I want to ask for your help. I want to ask your help in minimizing the risk of this kind of crime in the future. Whether you know it or not, you have more power to do that than almost anyone in this country.

How? Well, it comes down to one issue plastic handguns. As you well know, technology's about at the stage of being able to produce guns without any metal. That means guns able to be sneaked through airport detectors. I don't think that's how the hijackers of the Kuwaiti jet got their weapons on board, but if we end up with a world of plastic guns, it's pretty safe to say we'll have a world of more hijackings.

I hope you don't feel I'm being dramatic for saying you have more power to influence this issue than almost anyone else. But I think it's true. Right now, the future of plastic guns is in the hands of the Senate. First, there's a bill sponsored by Sens. Howard Metzenbaum and Strom Thurmond. It would ban guns with less than four ounces of metal in them.

The other bill is sponsored by Sen. James McClure of Idaho. That also requires that all guns have enough metal to be picked up by airport detectors. The problem is that it specifies no minimum. A lot of people have pointed out it would allow legal guns that could only be picked up by detectors at top setting. At that level, anyone wearing a zipper or hairpin would set off the detectors as well. Experts have testified it would create chaos at airports.

I don't need to tell you that the McClure bill is opposed by every police and air transport organization in America. Nor do I have to tell you that it's supported by the NRA. You've managed to gain some powerful allies in the fight. Edwin Meese's Justice Department supports it as well.

You have a right to be proud of having won his support. You also have a right to be proud of standing up for a cause you believe in. Your mission, I'm sure, is to back the legitimate use of guns for both sport and self-defense. In this case, I'm sure you believe that a concession on the plastic handgun issue could lead to your losing ground on other fronts.

But please, Mr. Reinke, on this week of this terrible hijacking, won't you think about this one more time? Were the NRA to move its support from the McClure bill to the Metzenbaum bill, it could make all the difference. That's what I mean by saying you hold the key to this issue.

Of course, Capitol Hill holds the voting key, and I'd hope that interested readers would send this column to their congressmen, care of the U.S. House, Washington, D.C., 20515. The Senate ZIP code is 20510. But I also hope they send it to you.

What would you gain by shifting your support? You know far more about power than I do, Mr. Reinke. The NRA is a model of lobbying influence. But I think I know another rule of power. It goes this way: Power comes not just from having officeholders on your side, it comes from having the public on your side.

There are people that will always be against the NRA, Mr. Reinke, but there's a great middle ground that could give you new support if you stood up and said that yes, on certain issues, like this one, it's time for restraint.

Too many people think the NRA is fanatic. Please show us that you're not.