By Donald Wittkowski
Incoming National Rifle Association President Oliver North plans to discuss his Christian beliefs in his first visit to Ocean City in more than 50 years.
He is scheduled to speak at the Ocean City Tabernacle on July 8 at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. He will also be on hand to sign copies of his books, including “Under Fire: An American Story,” the autobiography that focuses on his trial and role in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s.
For North, it will be his first trip to Ocean City in about 55 years. He recalled visiting the town when he was still a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
“Obviously, it’s grown up a lot and has been battered by storms,” he said of the city’s redevelopment since he last visited.
During his speaking engagement, North, who grew up Roman Catholic and was an altar boy, plans to talk about the religious beliefs of America’s Founding Fathers, his own spirituality and the challenges Christians now face in the modern world.
Calling the United States a “very secular society,” he said Christians are being “demonized” as they try to practice their faith and express their views.
“There’s a lot of devout Christians today and they are practically muzzled,” he said Tuesday during an interview with OCNJDaily.com in advance of his Tabernacle appearance.
North said he wants his 17 grandchildren to grow up in a society where they are free to pursue their religious beliefs and “honor the Second Amendment” legalizing gun ownership.
In his interview, he also spoke of his plans as the new NRA president. After he takes over in July, he wants to dramatically expand the size and clout of the lobbying group by doubling its current membership of 6 million.
He said he originally planned to push for 1 million new members, but has now set his sights much higher as the group looks to fend off calls for more gun control following a series of mass school shootings.
“We’ve never tried that before,” he said of the strategy to double the membership.
The 74-year-old North, a high-profile choice to head the NRA, said he is determined to defend the Second Amendment by increasing the organization’s political clout in time for November’s midterm elections, a battleground for control of Congress.
“I’m a Marine,” said the retired lieutenant colonel. “I’m always ambitious.”
The NRA hopes to expand its influence amid calls for more gun control in the wake of the mass shootings at the Santa Fe High School near Houston and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Ten people were killed in the Santa Fee shooting in May and 17 in the Florida massacre in February.
North reiterated the NRA’s position that guns are not to blame for the school shootings. He pointed to the troubled shooters who were responsible for the attacks.
“We want to remind Americans that the Second Amendment is not the problem,” he said.
Following the 2012 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the NRA introduced a “School Shield” program that focuses on school safety and security. North said the free program has helped more than 150 schools so far through confidential assessments of their safety procedures and security measures performed by teams of experts from the NRA.
“This is the right way to protect kids from the horror that can happen,” he said, calling School Shield the only program of its type in the country.
North said the NRA does not specifically advocate arming teachers as a school safety measure, an idea that has been broached by President Donald Trump. However, the NRA is willing to help train school districts in firearms safety if they decide to have armed resource officers or armed teachers, he noted.
According to North, the news media have a critical role in helping to prevent “copycat” school massacres. He believes the media have too often focused on the shooters instead of reporting on the heroics of the teachers, police officers and others who have responded to the school tragedies.
North was a media personality when he hosted the program “War Stories with Oliver North” for Fox News. He also served as a political commentator for Fox News, but retired from the network following his appointment as NRA president.
He is best known as the central figure of the Iran-Contra scandal in the late 1980s during President Ronald Reagan’s administration. While serving then as a staffer with the National Security Agency, North was part of a plot in which the Reagan administration used the proceeds from the secret sale of arms to Iran to aid the Contra rebel forces in Nicaragua.
North was convicted in the Iran-Contra affair, but he was successful in fighting his convictions and having them reversed. All charges against him were dismissed in 1991.