Weary of being seen as an extremist, right-wing organization that is out of touch with mainstream America, the National Rifle Association is going on the offensive.
From Monday's election of Charlton Heston as its next president, to a slick new advertising campaign starting later this month, the country's largest gun-owners' organization, with 2.8 million members, contended at its annual convention this weekend that lazy prosecutors, lenient judges, gratuitous television violence and irresponsible parents cause more problems in America than guns.
While these are not new concepts for the NRA, the sales pitch is changing. And with a celebrity like Heston leading the organization, officials say they have their best opportunity in years to get a fair hearing from the public.
"The great thing about Charlton Heston is that he becomes the megaphone to get our message out, a message that is not being heard right now," Wayne R. LaPierre Jr., the group's executive vice president, said in an interview Sunday.
The rifle association has always argued that gun-control legislation is not the way to combat gun violence, and now the challenge of persuasion falls to Heston, 73, whose measured, deep voice served him so well in movies like "The Ten Commandments" and "Ben-Hur."
But as the rifle association embarks on its latest efforts at spin, officials are banking on more than Heston's celebrity and passion to balance the scales of public opinion.
"You are the mainstream of America," said the keynote speaker, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, "and anyone who portrays you as something other than that shows how far out of the mainstream they are."
LaPierre, whose association lobbies for weapons makers and distributors, said he discussed an experiment with Lott in which one city would be designated to test the rifle association's crime-fighting ideas. Theoretically, LaPierre said, that would include vigorous prosecutions for gun-related crimes. The plan would also encourage law-abiding residents to own guns.
"Just give me one large American city, and I'll show you this would work," he said.