TAKING THE FIGHT AGAINST GUN CONTROL TO THE POLICE
The Washington Post, Aug. 15, 1991, Page A-12
By Gary Lee, Washington Post Staff Writer
For Leroy Pyle, the battle against gun control has been a life-long passion. As a street cop in San Jose, Calif., he locked horns for years over the issue with the pro-gun control chief, a volatile dispute that attracted news media attention and eventually drove Pyle off the force.
Now he is back in a big way. He heads the Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA), an new Falls Church-based lobby group representing 8,000 police officers nationwide that is fighting for the ouster of Dewey Stokes, president of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and a leading proponent of tough gun control laws.
At the FOP’s biennial convention, taking place this week in Pittsburgh, Pyle has been conducting a high-profile campaign against Stokes and for Stokes’s opponent, Newark detective Tom Possumato. One of Possumato’s campaign promises is to remove gun control from the top of the agenda of the FOP, the nation’s largest association of police officers.
In an interview, Pyle said Americans need guns to protect themselves against street crime. “I think that the last person in the world who should take away the honest citizen’s right to self-defense is the policeman,” he added.
The election between two-term FOP President Stokes and Possumato, scheduled to take place today, is becoming a referendum on gun control. In the past year, the 225,000-member FOP has emerged as a leading player on the issue, lobbying for congressional passage of the “Brady Bill” which would require a waiting period before handgun purchases.
The two candidates, who faced off in speeches Tuesday, have both campaigned hard among the conventions 3,000 delegates. Stokes is expected to win.
Still, the intensity of the election is heightened by the presence — at least in the wings — of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the nation’s biggest lobby against gun control.
For the start-up of the LEAA earlier this year, the NRA put up seed money that totaled more than $100,000, according to several sources. NRA spokesman James Baker confirmed that the organization helped with funding, but declined to confirm the amount. “They were very generous with us,” said Pyle.
The NRA supported the LEAA “in order to show that there is a great body of law enforcement officers out there that doesn’t support the gun control proposals put in the hopper before Congress,” Baker said.
Other sources have said that the NRA established the LEAA to provide a counterweight to the FOP in the Washington area. NRA administrators decided to take over a defunct New Jersey organization founded to fight state gun control laws, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified.
NRA leaders conducted a search for a director for the organization, the sources added, and settled on Pyle, a NRA board member who was once named “Man of the Year” by the organization.
Baker declined comment except to say that the NRA and LEAA “are two separate entities with different memberships and different boards.”
The NRA and the LEAA joined forces in May to lobby against the Brady Bill, which called for a seven-day waiting period for gun buyers. The bill passed in the House; a five-day version passed in the Senate.
Pyle contributed to Possumato’s campaign and took out an advertisement on his behalf in a magazine distributed to FOP delegates in Pittsburgh. He is spending the week campaigning for Possumato. “I’m trying to convince everybody that there is an alternative,” he said.
“My biggest objection to Stokes,” he added, “is that he pretends to speak for the nation’s police officers on gun control. He doesn’t. He has his own agenda which he is pushing.
“We represent the line officer, the working stiff,” he continued. “We’re his voice on political issues.”