Rindge man’s firearms group in spotlight

National debate on gun laws hears from independent group

Richard Feldman of Rindge has only about 1,000 members in his fledgling organization, the Independent Firearms Owners Association. But he’s been sharing a seat at the table with representatives of his former employer, the National Rifle Association, during discussions of possible changes to America’s gun laws. Feldman and other advocates for gun owners met recently with Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder and other Obama administration officials. Feldman says some of his ideas are receiving attention in the national debate in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

And Feldman’s been on a whirlwind tour with the media in the last couple of months, appearing three times on Soledad O’Brien’s CNN show, on CNN’s “Your Money” show, on BBC shows and Australian television. He did an interview with Al Jazeera, the Arab news network. On Wednesday, he was in Albany, N.Y., to campaign against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to restrict gun sales in that state, then flew to New Jersey in hopes of a meeting with Gov. Chris Christie.

In a phone conversation Wednesday, Feldman said the IFOA, which is based out of his home in Rindge, had been a side project until the Newtown tragedy suddenly drew national attention to questions of gun control.

“We really didn’t get going until after Newtown,” Feldman said. “It was an adjunct to my speaker’s business. All of a sudden, after Newtown, the NRA wasn’t speaking to anyone. I started getting calls.”

Feldman is a former regional political director for the NRA. After leaving his job, he wrote a book titled “Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist” that was promoted as criticizing the organization as “a cynical, mercenary political cult obsessed with wielding power while exploiting members’ fear in order to maximize contributions.”

But he says his disagreements with the powerful NRA are more a matter of style than substance.

“I’m a proud member of the NRA, although I haven’t been on the inside there for more than 15 years,” he said. “The issues we differ on are really relatively minor. The most important is our approach and style. I’m trying to speak to the political center. There are 18 million self-identified liberals in this country that own guns. I don’t believe the NRA speaks to them. I want to bring them into this debate.”

Feldman said he working on what he called a gun show preservation and protection act. He’d like to change the law so that gun show promoters would be required to run background checks on people who want to buy guns directly from individuals at the show. Only dealers at shows are currently required to do background checks.

“Other groups are dead set against [background checks],” Feldman said. “I was vocal about our enthusiastic support for background checks at gun shows. This would put everyone on the same footing.”

But he said background checks are not the real problem.

”We’re focusing on the little aspects” Feldman said. “Solving what they call the ‘gun show loophole’ will have zero impact on criminals getting guns.”

The IFOA’s position is that gun ownership is a right and most gun owners are responsible, according to Feldman.

“We are pro-gun, pro-law enforcement, pro-intelligent solutions to criminal justice problems. We’re getting into issues related to crime, not necessarily gun issues. I’m referring specifically to drugs. Crime levels are directly related to the illegal black market in drugs.”

Feldman said his group adamantly opposes proposals to ban military-style weapons or limit magazine sizes.

“Feel-good legislation doesn’t work,” he said. “Law-abiding citizens aren’t the problem The problem is those who are holding the guns. [Newtown shooter] Adam Lanza’s mother violated the prime rules of gun safety. Why are we having this food fight about good guns and bad guns, instead of talking about firearms safety?”

When Feldman met with the panel of experts that Biden convened, he urged the administration to support renewed funding for the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), which can use ballistic data to identify guns used in crimes. After the discussions, he said, NIBEN is now expected to be budgeted at $60 million, twice as much as in the past.

Feldman said other suggestions were also well-received.

“I also asked them to start a national firearms safety and awareness program,” he said. “There used to be federal money spent on gun locks that isn’t available any more. I have requested that they add $5 million to provide child safety locks.... I felt the vice president really did listen.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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