National drug director William J. Bennett has been receiving third-party threats to his political future in the name of the National Rifle Association, and he's ready to fight the powerful lobbying group in public if need be, an administration source said Friday.

"Right now, he's very angry at the NRA because he's received warnings through third parties . . . to the effect that the NRA is a pretty potent organization that can put together sizeable war chests," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The NRA denied any involvement.The source said the warnings to Bennett threaten that "if he has thoughts of a political future, he can forget them if he doesn't respect the power of the NRA."

"The allegations are absolutely ridiculous," said Wayne LaPierre, executive director of NRA's Institute for Legislative Action. Another person connected to the NRA, who declined to be identified, said it was possible an individual could have called up and claimed to have been representing the NRA, but he said, "There's nothing from the organization. That's not how we operate."

The issue arose Tuesday, when, at the urging of Bennett, Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady immediately suspended importation permits for more than 110,000 semiautomatic, assault-style rifles such as the semiautomatic versions of AK-47s and Uzi carbines.

Publicly, the NRA has reacted relatively calmly to the decision, saying it would relieve the "media hysteria" over the guns and "should provide an atmosphere for a reasoned and sensible debate on this issue."

But privately, the source alleged, the NRA has been relaying warnings via "private people" who are not in government.

Bennett said Friday through spokesman Don Hamilton: "There have been a lot of phone calls, a lot of pressure. Let's cool off."

During an interview earlier in the day, Bennett said he believed most members of the NRA do not support an "anything goes" attitude toward gun ownership and said he had spoken with "friends of mine who are hunters. These people have no use or interest in assault rifles."

He said he was not surprised that sales of semiautomatic assault rifles have boomed since the import suspension and Colt's suspension of sales of the AR-15.

However, Bennett said, "If people are doing this because they think that this could mean the end of guns, that no more guns would be available, then they're mistaken.

"The tradition in this country of a law-abiding citizen having guns, using them for lawful purposes, teaching their kids how to hunt, target shooting, is as old as this republic itself, and it's not something anybody wants to disturb," he said.

"On the other hand, the `anything goes' idea - let's just get our hands on any kind of weapon - I think that's a view of the world that's not shared by most Americans, by most members of the National Rifle Association, and I think an awful lot of people out there are concerned about the kind of firepower that we're seeing used in our streets," Bennett said.