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Interview with Warren Cheek, July 6, 2004 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Warren Cheek, July 6, 2004
July 6, 2004
Warren Cheek was secretary to the board of the NRA. Brief history of the origin of the NRA and a near coup that took place. Describes NRA's organizational concept.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Cheek, Warren Interviewer: Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview: 7/6/2004 Series: SENC Length 60 minutes

Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff person with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's University Library. Today is the 6th (audio out) in James (audio out) located in Brunswick County. Our interviewee today is Mr. Warren Cheek. I should add parenthetically that I've known Mr. Cheek for a number of years and will, with reverence, refer to him as Warren. This is part of the Special Collections Division of the university's library where we are selecting and interviewing individuals in Southeastern North Carolina whose job titles, background, training or experience make them unique. Good afternoon, Mr. Cheek.

Cheek: Hi, Paul.

Zarbock: Warren, Let's start off by asking what position did you hold? You worked much of your adult life in Washington, DC. What was the job title? And how did you get that position?

Cheek: Well, my job title when I retired was, uh.. the Corporate Secretary of the National Rifle Association. And I, uh.. served in that capacity for 17 years until I retired. Uh.. prior to that I was, well, when I was -- I was hired in 1958, uh.. as, uh.. the, uh.. an assistant in the training division of NRA, and, uh.. I was always interested in athletics and had done a little bit of competitive shooting and decided that that would be an interesting field. And so, I began my career there and went from the, uh.. an assistant in the training division to the Assistant Director of Training, finally the Director of Training, and the, uh.. Assistant Director of Competitions and Training.

Zarbock: What were your duties and obligations as a trainer? Whom did you train and under what conditions?

Cheek: Okay. We trained, uh.. in the areas of rifle, pistol and shotgun, hunter safety, home firearm safety, and, uh.. law enforcement. Uh.. we trained only -- trained only instructors. We did not train the final, the person who wanted to shoot. As a national organization, we felt we could have a greater impact on training by, uh.. training instructors. And we did this all over the country. We wrote training material, training aids, developed training aids, uh.. and we did actually on-site training all over the country. Uh.. the Hunter Safety Program, for example, which is fairly well known, uh.. we actually wrote it. We developed it, wrote -- wrote the details of the program, and uh.. I traveled many, many years around the country, uh.. training the Fish and Game Department employees to -- to actually set up and run a statewide hunter safety program. And then we, many times, had to go before the -- the Commission and try to convince them to adopt the program and assisted them to really get it going.

Zarbock: But the conceptual thrust of the program was safety; is that correct?

Cheek: That's correct. That's correct. That's -- that's pretty much basic in all training program that the a-- the Association is involved in is firearm safety. The Hunter Safety is purely a safety program. Home Firing Safety as well is purely a safety program. But even when you're talking about rifle, pistol, shotgun and law enforcement, safety has been a very, very important part of all that. That's why the -- the sport of shooting is so safe, because it -- safety is an integral part of everything that's taught. Uh.. we -- NRA is in-- involved in law enforcement for -- uh.. long before I came to work for NRA. But it -- it had really, uh.. not -- not done very much with it until we were asked by the FBI to put together some things. And, uh.. the, one of the people that we contacted was a Lieutenant in charge of training for New York City. He was an excellent training man, had a great reputation nationally and we thought that -- that New York City would be able to put together much of this. They did not agree with us. They felt that the NRA was that -- because they're a large city police department. And the NRA was interested in small departments as well. And so, we picked their brains and the brains of a lot of other leading people and firearms training people in the police field, and finally put together and wrote a complete police training manual, uh.. to help law enforcement officers to teach the officers how to shoot. The NRA never put itself in a position of -- of being a -- a law enforcement officer or teaching people what -- teaching police officers what to do on the street. But we knew enough about teaching instructors, so that we taught police firearms instructors all over the country to teach their police officers how to shoot. And they, of course, had an attorney in their classes that taught them the -- the, uh.. when to shoot, when they could shoot. But, uh.. the actual mechanics of shooting is what we taught them how to teach.

Zarbock: Warren, this might be a time to give me a back-of-the-envelope history lesson on the NRA. When did it start, why did it start? Who started it?

Cheek: Uh.. it's the oldest, uh.. organization of its type and in, probably in the world -- it, uh.. certainly in this country. It was started in 1871 by a group of, uh.. former, uh.. Civil War soldiers who realized after the Civil War that, uh.. that we had -- were in a bad situation with young men not -- becoming more and more organized and not knowing enough about firearms should they be called upon to serve in an army in time of war. And uh.. so they -- the, uh.. it started in -- in the State of New York and spread pretty much all over the country. And the NRA was -- was organized in that manner. The first president of the NRA was a Civil War general by the name of Gilberts, uh.. let's see, not Gilberts -- Burnside. I'm sorry, Burnside.

Zarbock: The Burnside?

Cheek: Yes. And we've had -- and a number. Again, that's us-- Ulysses S. Grant not only was a member of the NRA. He was a past president of the NRA. And many other Civil War generals were also a part of the early days of NRA, held offices in the Association as well. But then it, uh.. went through a -- it was organized in New York, as I said. And its headquarters was in New York. In fact, I still have a copy of the handwritten minutes of the Board of Directors' meeting when Ulysses S. Grant was elected, uh.. president of the NRA.

Zarbock: You don't have the original copy?

Cheek: No. I have a photocopy of the original handwritten minutes. Part of my job as secretary of the NRA, I was responsible for the archives of the Association. So I had all of the official records going way back to that time. And I couldn't resist it. I made a photocopy of that one because it was of interest to me. But, uh.. through the years, the Association has changed. In fact, I can remember, like right now we're accused of being a fierce lobbying organization. Uh.. the fierce lobbying organization when I came on the staff of the Association was one individual in an office who was re-- our legislative man. And all he did was to look after the various, uh.. bills that were coming up for, uh.. to be acted upon in the various states and if it would have been harmful to the shooter in that state, then he would make a mailing to all the NRA members to give them the pros and cons of that particular legislation and letting the mem-- telling the members who they could write to if they want to express their opinion. And that was the fierce gun lobby.

Zarbock: I think what you said is so important for students, scholars and researchers when you say, in effect, this staff person, population of one, was in fact, what we would now call a lobbyist; is that correct?

Cheek: That's correct.

Zarbock: But to me, the crucial thing is that a lobbyist must tell the pros and the cons. You can't just do this -- give one side -- without telling the person, "If you support this, the fallout may be this." It's really not emphasized, I think, in people who have not experienced a lobbyist.

Cheek: Right. The, uh.. at that time, our membership was only about 350,000 members. And now, this fierce gun lobby, which was forced to become a lobby because of a tremendous antigun pressure, uh.. now we have a staff of people. But still, the fierce gun lobby is the membership of the Association. Right now we have a little over 4 million members. And when we tell those 4 million members that there's a problem that is going to affect them, they act, and that's the fierce gun lobby. It's just you and me and all of us who happen to be interested in the ownership of firearms, and we express that feeling and the legislators know that.

Zarbock: This probably is the time to drop in this note on associations. The budget is secured in what way? How do you get your budget?

Cheek: We simply get our, all of our -- well, 99 percent of our operating budget comes from membership dues. And we have advertising in the magazines. We have some very nice magazines and have just now put one on the news stand, but, uh.. by and large, all of the -- the money comes from -- from the membership. We do have a political action committee where you can donate money to a political action committee that can do things directly. But the Association itself, other than our PDF [ph?], cannot contribute funds to -- to, uh.. people and running for Congress. But, uh.. we have an impact because of all of our members vote, and, uh.. they have a tremendous impact. But, uh.. the money is -- is totally from the membership.

Zarbock: Let me ask you, what year was it and what was your next assignment when you moved out of the, essentially the training field into wherever you went organizationally? What year was that?

Cheek: Okay. It was -- I, it was 19, let's see, 76. And, uh.. the secretary of the Association was nearing retirement. I had worked with him a little in connection with our annual meetings. In my capacity in the, uh.. division that I was in, I had a lot of contact with people on the outside. I'd made a lot of arrangements for training courses and things like that. In the end, during the end of the meetings, we have a lot of physical activities, sections and things. And so, I was asked to assist him in organizing some of these, uh.. meetings and workshops and things during our annual meeting. Uh.. I had an op-- opportunity at that time to see the many things that he was responsible for. And when they started to look around for someone who could replace him, they then asked me to come up to the executive offices as the Assistant Secretary. Uh.. this was in, let's see, in 1976. And we were, at that time, just getting into the throes of a tremendous upheaval in the Association. Uh.. they ended up by retiring him early, the former Secretary of the Association, retiring him early, uh.. in January that year. And I went into the annual meetings, and the -- this -- these were our big annual meetings, where it in Cincinnati, Ohio. I went in as the Assistant Secretary amidst a lot of turmoil. There was talk about firing all the officers and taking over the Association. And pretty much, they did that.

Zarbock: Who are they and why were they motivated to chuck the rascals out? And why were they rascals?

Cheek: Okay. They -- there was a lot of -- of, uh.. some truth, and a lot of things that were not true in connection with this. Uh.. but they took a little bit of truth and -- and blew it all out of proportion. And, uh.. the -- one of the -- two -- couple of things were behind it. Uh.. there was, uh.. shortly before that time, they had started a, uh.. legislative arm of the Association. And that was doing fine. Uh.. they also -- there also was talk of selling the headquarters building in Washington, DC and moving the headquarters to Colorado Springs. They purchased land and were ready to break ground. Now, they didn't ev-- they never intended to move the legislative arm. They knew that had to stay in Washington, DC. But the, uh.. the rest of the Association was gonna be moved to Colorado Springs.

Zarbock: And this planning and these activities were achieved by the then administrative and executive directors, obviously?

Cheek: Right. Including support from the -- all of it had to be approved by the Board of Directors as well.

Zarbock: Right. By the way, what's the size of the Board of Directors?

Cheek: The Board of Directors is now 76, uh.. members; 75 are elected by mail ballot by the voting membership of the Association. And the 76th director is elected in person at the annual meeting of members during the annual meetings each year.

Zarbock: Do the 75 represent a geographic spread? You sort of work on...

Cheek: Yeah. There's no requirement for a geographical spread, but they are. They're from all over the country. We have several from Alaska. We don't have any from Hawaii right now. But they're all over the country. And all type -- all the way from former -- in fact, current members of the -- the U.S. Senate and Congress and a lot of former Congress. We have professional -- former professional football players, a professional basketball player. They're from -- they're doctors, lawyers, police chiefs.

Zarbock: Housewives?

Cheek: Housewives, that's right. Uh.. we have a number of females on the board, and a number of, in fact, there -- one of the past presidents in the last few years was a -- was a woman. And now, the second vice president is also a woman. And, uh.. but they're -- they're from all walks of life, and -- and all interests. They're competitive shooters, hunters, uh.. trainers, gun col-- gun collectors, uh.. activists.

Zarbock: Manufacturers of weapons?

Cheek: Yes. Yes, indeed. Yes. We have, uh.. people that, in fact, I don't -- there -- I don't know that there are any on the board now that are manufacturers in the firearms industry, but we've had, uh.. had some in the past, not makers of firearms, but makers of -- of, uh.. things that support the firearms and shooting. But uh.. so, then going into that meeting in 1977, I was, as I said, the Assistant Secretary. The Secretary had been retired or -- so I was performing as the secretary. And they, this group of people who were unhappy that the Association was gonna move to Colorado Springs, they told the members and got a lot of support, uh.. that they were gonna move the legislative arm to Colorado Springs, which was not -- was not true. We had also purchased a large tract of land in northern New Mexico and were turning it into an outdoor center. And they, again, played that as if it was gonna be a private hunting preserve for the, you know, the elite, the people at NRA that wanted to use it. That never was a part of it.

Zarbock: Somehow you're describing these sinister individuals with these hidden agendas that are really never quite fully disclosed to people.

Cheek: That's right. And they -- they were just NRA members. Some went along and were misled by some of this language, but it all boiled up in the end weeks of 1977 in Cincinnati. And they through out the -- they didn't remove the president because that was his last year and he was going to -- but they removed the -- the first vice president. And I don't think we had a second vice president at that time. But they removed him. They removed the executive vice president. They removed the vice president of finance, an office we had then, which we do not have now.

Zarbock: These are all paid staff positions?

Cheek: Yes.

Zarbock: Well, you were a lamb to the slaughter, weren't you?

Cheek: Yes. I was told, because I was just the Assistant Secretary, and my brother-in-law, Bill Benswonger also was an officer, he was the Treasurer of the Association. And I kept on getting -- hearing from them, you know, that I'm not gonna be touched. I'm gonna be all right. They are not gonna remove me and they're not gonna remove Bill Benswonger. And that is, in fact, what happened. They did not remove us, not because they liked us. They -- but they didn't think that we had done anything, uh.. that warranted being removed. And they thought that we would -- and, of course, we were -- those two positions are really administratively, kind of, we're -- we're...

Zarbock: They're pivotal.

Cheek: We're -- yeah, we're very much involved in how the organization operates. And uh.. are not -- not really political from, uh.. the sense of, uh.. outside politics. But, uh.. so they did not remove us. And after that meeting was over, which wasn't over -- started at 7 o'clock in the evening and lasted until 4 o'clock in the morning. And uh.. then uh.. on the -- and that was 2 days later. That was a Saturday night. On Monday we had our board meeting and it was at that time that I was elected, uh.. Secretary of the Association.

Zarbock: The people who were dismissed, was this just a cavalier thing? You're out?

Cheek: Yes. Yes, cavalier. They even tried to remove, uh.. several people, past presidents who were members of -- what we do with our past presidents is we elect them to the -- the board elects them to the Executive Counsel where they have voice, but no vote. Uh.. of course, there are some members of the board who say they'd like to give them two votes and no voice, because the voice is very powerful, of course. They have been through an awful lot. It's on that -- by the way, it's on that, uh.. council that I serve now. They elected me when I retired, they elected me to the Executive Council. But any way, there were two members of that Executive Council, both past presidents of the Association, that they also removed from the Executive Council. And it wasn't until later when the -- their attorneys determined that that was impossible for them to do, that they could not be removed. And so those two were restored. And if -- it's a good thing. They were both honorable men and good men and had tremendous reputations with the NRA and within their line of work, uh.. before they became members of the Executive Council. But, uh.. it, uh.. the people that caused the upheaval, uhm.. we then made a terrible mistake. One of the things that I remembered going back when, as an association for associations in Washington, DC, and one of the things that, uh.. I learned, dealing with that association was, uh.. the uh.. I guess he was the president of that association, gave a talk, which he called the "red ant talk." And they say that the worst thing that you can do if you're having trouble with troublesome members of your association who are causing, you know, problems in the association, the tendency is, by -- by some people, is to get them in, put them on committees. Bring them in closer to you. And he said, when a person is a red ant, they just are always biting you and biting you, and all you do when you bring them in closer to you is just bring them so that they bite you in a better place. And so we didn't -- we made the same mistake. We brought a lot of those people who caused the problem on the committees. Eventually, they got on the board. And the theory in this, by this president of the association on associations, was you don't invite red ants in. What you do is (sound) step on them while they're still out there. But we invited them in. They got on the board. In fact, wasn't too many years later when we came very, very close to the chief person, the chief red ant, he even became second vice president of the Association. And if it had not been for his effort to take over early instead of waiting another two years until he became president, and then he tried to take over early and then they removed him, took action and removed him from the Board of Directors.

Zarbock: The board removed him from the board?

Cheek: Yes. Yes, they actually removed him from -- from the board.

Zarbock: Let me ask you, to probe a little bit, what motivated this -- that's a beautiful phrase, by the way, and I am going to use it -- what motivated the original red ant group to become so hostile and so focused upon rearranging the whole planet?

Cheek: Well, the main thing was they were concerned about a weakness in the Association's lobby. That was the primary thing. Then in order to help them make their point, they'd use this, that I said, moving from Washington, DC to Colorado Springs, which we never intended to do with the lobbying group. But that's what they had -- had said. And also, uh.. taking the money that should be used for lobbying and buying this hundreds of thousands of acres back in Colorado Springs and spending it to make this special preserve. Well, actually, that out there, now, a lot of people, all the members have been there. We had log cabins, we have a youth camp every summer. There are rifle and pistol ranges. We've had international matches out there. We've had, uh.. so many things are going on out there. And there -- they have special scheduled hunts for members that can go out there and hunt.

Zarbock: So, it's a highly utilized...

Cheek: Yes. And it's not just for the special -- in fact, those of us on the Board of Directors are on staff. We can't use it. I mean, we go out there to run things, but we can't go out there and -- and hunt, things like that. That's primarily for the members, not just for us.

Zarbock: The staff cannot utilize the facility?

Cheek: Not -- not to go out there and recreationally hunt.

Zarbock: Right. That's right.

Cheek: But we could go out there, like I -- we've -- in fact, when I was Secretary, I had set up to allow more board members to see what was really going on out there. I set up a board meeting in Colorado Springs and then a bus trip down to Raton, New Mexico, which is where the outdoor center is, and then a complete day out there shooting on the various ranges and getting a touring by the city fathers all around the area, and a tour all around the property just to give the members of the Board of Directors a better opportunity what -- to see what goes on out there. It's -- it's a great facility.

Zarbock: But the red ant group really misinterpreted your motives and your program design.

Cheek: That's right. And they did it on purpose. In other words, that was their intent.

Zarbock: What did they want to achieve?

Cheek: They wanted to take over the Association.

Zarbock: And do what with it?

Cheek: Well, we had this one individual, who I said was the lead red ant, actually had -- he actually had -- was hired at a point at -- was the head of the institute for legislative action. That's the lobbying arm. At one point, he actually went to one of our outside lobbying firms and talked to them about, uh.. becoming president. Now, we -- he thought that he was talking about president of the NRA. But he discovered that he was talking about President of the United States. They thought they had enough clout, that gun owners had enough clout that they could become a political party, a political force in this country, the most absurd thing in the world. We are a strong political force on our issue of guns. We get off the gun issue, then we're in trouble. That's the worst thing in the world the NRA could do. Uh.. we're primarily a conservative organization, but we support conservatives and liberals and anybody who is right on the gun issue as far as we're concerned. We don't care what their political affiliation is. And to think that an individual who was tied to the Association and strong in the gun issue would have any impact nationally...

Zarbock: Warren, that is a prize winner for grandiosity.

Cheek: That's ego gone wild.

Zarbock: That is really grandiosity beyond belief.

Cheek: Yes.

Zarbock: And I guess that -- exposing me to that really suggests the level of -- well, I'm -- with all due respect, instability.

Cheek: Yes. That's true.

Zarbock: On the part of this individual. President of the United States.

Cheek: Yeah. He is no longer on the board, not -- not connected with the NRA. But he still performs as that red ant. He's still out there. He writes articles and he -- he uh..

Zarbock: He must have a following.

Cheek: Yes. Yes, there are some that, uh.. some other red ants that still go along with him.

Zarbock: Well, I'd like to go back and whittle away at that a little bit more. Morale must have slumped. Morale must have disappeared.

Cheek: Yeah, it was worse than that. Just prior to the meetings, that -- that meeting in 1977 -- person who was -- had to be -- had the big upheaval not occurred, we would have been in serious trouble because of a, uh.. an vice president for finance who simply was only interested in the money-making capability of the Association, uh.. where those of us who were career NRA people were not interested -- it's not that we knew that we thought we could operate the NRA, but operate without making money. His idea was, you know, we only have a million members, that's fine. But we'll promote it and sell things to them and we'll do well financially and that's all we need to do. He was not a target shooter. He was not a hunter. He was not a gun collector. He was just a finance man, and maybe a very good one. But he misinterpreted what the NRA members wanted out of their association.

Zarbock: But again, a single, isolated focus.

Cheek: That's right.

Zarbock: This really had little to do with the organization by culture or direction. It had to do with one aspect.

Cheek: Right. And we had s-- already sent out memorandums to all employees to find out who would be going with the Association if they moved to Colorado Springs. And there was about a third of the employees who would not make the trip. The -- just before the end of that year, all of those people were fired. And I happened to be, uh.. the -- I was the Assistant Secretary then, and I -- one of my responsibilities the personnel office. And I had to deal with all -- some employees that had been employees for years, and they were simply given -- they were asked to leave the building that day. Anyway, a great deal, of course, it turned this turmoil on the Board of Directors, as you can imagine, the old-time board members immediately descended on me because of the -- my knowledge of the records and everything else, and wanted details about how this whole thing happened. And so, there was not a lot of love lost when it came around to that big meeting when they fired all those officers, when he happened to be fired as well. In fact, I think if he had not been fired, he probably would have gotten rid of me because he and I didn't get along at all. But, uhm.. an individual in that capacity, uh.. with a weak executive vice president, which we had, that chief -- that's the -- our chief executive officer was very weak at that time. And, uh.. he simply did what he wanted to do and, uh.. and got away with it. And fortunately, that -- that meeting was, uh.. eliminated him as one of the -- one of the officers that eliminated a big problem for the Association. You won-- you wonder how we survived with some of these things.

Zarbock: How did you survive? Truly, how did you?

Cheek: Well, uh.. of course, I was determined. I was -- I still feel -- felt that I had a lot of my years ahead of me and -- and, uh.. I knew that -- that, uh.. I was very proud of what the NRA had been doing, was able to do, and I was determined not to let that -- that, uh.. get me down. Uh.. we went through Cincinnati to that big meeting when they got rid of all those people, and then a former president of the NRA, a person who had been the chief of the border patrol and the Immigration and Naturalization Service and he was retired, and they brought him back. They'd brought him back the year before to head up the Institute for Legislative Action, the legislative arm, but he was very knowledgeable.

Zarbock: When you say they brought him, who brought him?

Cheek: The Association, the board brought him in. And, actually, uh.. they -- we knew we had a serious problem with, uh.. with, uh.. leadership, because they were -- they w-- wanted to get rid of all the officers. And so, they had a meeting with the red ants and said, "Look, here's a person that you all probably will accept and we think is a good strong man and would lead the Association." And they agreed. And so, he then assumed and was elected at that point, because they changed the bylaws tremendously, so the -- the members at the annual meeting, the members elected the chief executive officer , which about five years later we had to change back, because that was absurd. You can't run an Association like that. But anyway, for a number of years, he was elected every year by the -- by the members. But he was a very, very strong individual. They thought that they had him, because we went along with this, in their hip pocket, and they didn't. And so, fortunately, that began the process of getting the control of the Association back to the Board of Directors where it belonged and also the gradual demise of the red ants.

Zarbock: What did you do to -- you, Warren Cheek -- to thwart or at least reduce the efficiency -- maybe that's a more diplomatic, politically correct -- to reduce the efficiency of the red ants? You were in a pivotal position. You're in the cat bird seat.

Cheek: Well, I guess the biggest thing was if they thought that I was an enemy and was out to do them in at every turn of the hand, which I would have liked to have done, uhm.. then they would -- they would have found a way to get around me. Uh.. I worked with them. I was honest with them. I was always honest with them. Uh.. I did an awful lot behind the scenes. But I was honest with them and they knew I was honest with them. Uhm.. they had to -- they all write biographical sketches that goes along with the ballot for those who were running for the Board of Directors. And they thought that, you know, I was going to do something tricky with this whole election, and everything was so -- was done so much above board, nobody could find fault with it. And that, I guess, was the most important thing that -- that helped me through this. I dealt with them as if they were honorable people even if I knew they were not, and I think sometimes infuriated them that -- that they thought that I would be, uh.. a roadblock to them, and I wasn't. I helped them do things. I also helped the other side to prevent them from being successful at doing what they were doing.

Zarbock: Could you recall an incident to illustrate what you just said?

Cheek: Oh, gosh. Let's see. Uh..

Zarbock: Or is this...

Cheek: I think just -- just general little things. Uh.. they -- they became committee members, chairmen of committees a -- and had to -- I had to make up budgets for their committee meetings. They had to contact me to tell me when they wanted to meet. Uh.. they would deal with the president in -- insofar as getting appointed to committees. This is -- it went -- once they got into the board, uh.. and if they wanted different people on the committee, they would have to go to the president. But once the person was on -- once the committee was established, then I established the budget. And I did so based on their requirement for need. And if they said they wanted, you know, six meetings in this next year, budget year, I would go to the president because he had to approve meetings, and I would say, "Will you approve six?" No use in me budgeting for six meetings. He'd say, "No, I will not." And if he said no, then I'd go back to them and say, "You don't have any choice. You're not -- the President is not going to approve that many. He feels that, you know, you can do it with three or you can do it with one." Normally a committee -- most of the committees only meet once or twice a year. There's a few, like, bylaws, uh.. that meet every time the board meets. Same thing with finance. Finance meets at numerous times throughout the year. Uh.. legislative policy meets several time -- a number of times during the year. Uh.. and a number of other critical committees naturally have to meet more than that. But, uh.. many of them don't need to meet a lot. But that -- just working with the chairmen of some of these committees that wanted to have meetings and wanted to meet at exotic places, I had to figure out ways of telling them, "No. You can't do that. We cannot..." and I'd -- I'd even have to prove it with cost because, uh.. some of them didn't -- would say, you know, they want to meet in Las Vegas at this time. And I, you know, I -- I had to find a way to prove that it was not worthwhile going to Las Vegas for a meeting.

Zarbock: Well, it's your pen and their sword, isn't it?

Cheek: That's right. That's right. Well, they had to -- they could always -- they could go to the president and get permission to do some of these things, then, you know, I'd have to put money in the budget for it. But, uh.. and -- but because of that, the -- the red ants -- boy, I'll tell you. We had -- committees now average, in the NRA, average about, uh.. anywhere from, say seven to ten or seven to twelve people on a committee. Back in those days, you had twenty and thirty people on committees. And when you have a lot of committee meetings all during the year, I have tremendous -- and that the tremendous amount of money was being spent on meetings, committee meetings. And they weren't accomplishing anything more than we were accomplishing.

Zarbock: A lot of smoke and no fire.

Cheek: That's right. That's right. No, t-- terrible waste of money. And they finally realized this and changed the -- the, uh.. requirement for committee structure and committee make up so that -- that this couldn't be abused by any president of the Association that happened to want to do that.

Zarbock: Well, the name Warren Cheek will go down in the archives of the National Rifle Association. But so will two other names, and I wonder if you'd give me a little sketch on them. One of the names is Wayne laPierre. And the other is Charlton Heston. Could you describe and define these individuals and who are they?

Cheek: Well, Wayne laPierre, when he first came to the Association, he was a graduate in political science, uh.. I believe the University of Virginia. I'm not sure, though, but he came from Virginia. And he was very much interested and was hired to be a lobbyist, and, uh.. in what was at that time the lobbying arm of the Association, the Institute for Legislative Action. And Wayne was very quiet, very, very well-mannered person, spoke very well.

Zarbock: And very deliberative person, I always thought.

Cheek: Yeah. And didn't seem to have a great deal of ambition at that time, I didn't think. But very nice to be around. And, uh.. very friendly, as I say, made friends quickly and made lasting friends. And he did well. He went from being just a lobbyist, uh.. on the staff to being the -- the head of the Federal lobbyists, and then finally became the -- the Director of the Institute for Legislative Action --that's one whole half of the Association, the lobbying arm of the Association -- and served in that capacity for a number of years. And then, when we were looking for a new executive, uh.. vice president of the Association, his name was put into the hopper and he was elected by the board to be the, uh.. Executive Vice President of the NRA. So he was over all of the NRA right now, and has been right now, uh.. goodness, I guess about six or seven years, which is about the longest, I think, that we've had -- had an executive vice president. He has done very well.

Zarbock: And is a relatively young man, is he not?

Cheek: Yes. Yes. Wayne must be in, I would guess, in his mid 40s at this time, maybe even -- maybe late 40s. Uh.. he's married, has, uh.. I think a couple of children. And, uh.. his -- and does very, very well. He has the support of the members. Uhm.. very much, uh.. and, uh.. does a very good job. He is -- he speaks well before committees of Congress and, uh.. speak -- does well in front of the TV camera. And uh.. Charlton Heston, now, uh.. came to us because of his tremendous interest in the Second Amendment. He is a strong Second Amendment supporter.

Zarbock: In case this gets intonational review, what do you mean by the Second Amendment?

Cheek: The Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms.

Zarbock: Second Amendment to the Constitution.

Cheek: Second Amend-- I'm sorry, yes, the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. And, uh.. Charlton Heston, in fact, he refers to the Second Amendment the First Amendment because it's the -- he says it is the -- the most important amendment that keeps -- that allows you to follow the rest of the amendments. And, uh.. he came -- was elected, uh.. to the board. He had been, prior to his being elected to the board, he was elected, uh.. to honor a life's membership. And there has only been, I guess eight people in the history of the Association have been elected honorary life members, and he was one of them. He was elected to the Board of Directors and then almost immediately they ran him against the chief red ant that I was talking about that was running for second vice president for first vice president. And he was elected first vice president. So that put him in the chair. And he was a joy to work with. I mean, he, uh.. he's so strong on our issue and the right to bear arms. And he has grandchildren that he wanted, wants to be able to -- to, uh.. participate in -- in the shooting sports and he was very concerned that the way that we were going, the way that this country was going, that if we continued in that direction, that, uh.. we would not -- he would -- his grandson would not have that privilege. And, uh.. so he not -- in order to -- at the first year as president, he was reelected for a second term, which is normal. Then, uh.. he was such a tremendous advantage to the Association that the officers talked to him and said, "Look, if we can get the bylaws changed, would you serve another term?" And so, they changed the bylaws. I s-- I sit on the bylaws committee. And we actually changed the bylaws just for him. Now, these are bylaws that were, you know, go, date back to -- to 1871. Uh.. so they've been around for a long time. And we don't like to just fiddle with the bylaws. But he was too important to us. And so, we changed the bylaws. He was elected for another term. We changed them again when that two-year term -- actually, we changed them three times so that he could be elected and reelected. And he continued to do everything well for us. Well, he finally, I guess, uh.. was starting into the traces of Alzheimer's, and, uh.. he, uh.. still, he still is not so far gone that he doesn't know what he's doing. And he still contributes a lot to doing -- and he still contributes a lot to Wayne. He's a real good friend of Wayne's now. He and Wayne became very, very close. And, uh.. he still allows us to use his name, to use his photograph and does everything to -- to assist the Association and -- and his family, uh.. allows us to do that as well.

Zarbock: Warren, this videotape will probably be seen years and years from now. And the name Charlton Heston may not trigger off an immediate memory trace. Who is Charlton Heston? How does he earn his bread and butter?

Cheek: He's a very well-known Academy Award winning actor. Uh.. been in many, many movies, and people that probably the -- before they see this tape would have seen one of the movies that he's been in. But he is -- he is a very well-known actor.

Zarbock: He's been joshed a time or two, good-naturedly, about some of the roles he played, as I remember.

Cheek: Moses. Yeah.

Zarbock: Moses.

Cheek: Yeah. He has played Moses. In fact, the first time he was on the chair at the board meeting, we were sitting there, and I forget exactly how it goes when Moses would say, uhm.. "So let it be," you know, "So it's said," or "So let it be." And he would say that at the end of a motion, you know. And -- and, uh.. he just brought the house down. The board just broke up. You know, we have another famous, at least patriotic and famous, uh.. guy, person that was on the board that just died just after the -- just before the end of the -- of the year. Uh.. and that's Joe Foss, who is a retired general, uh.. he's the World War II ace, shot down 28 airplanes in combat, then was a, uh.. the governor of, uh.. South Dakota. And uhm.. was uh.. the uh.. oh, u-- Campus Crusade for Christ. He was very much involved in that. And, uh.. his, uh.. some kind of, and was all -- traveled all over the country for us. He was a past president of the NRA, too, and traveled all over the country until his death. Just any time he could get to be invited some place where he could speak for the Association, he'd do that. And he was a grand guy.

Zarbock: Warren, who is current president of the National Rifle Association?

Cheek: His name is Cane Robinson. He is from Iowa. He is a retired chief of police from Des Moines, Iowa. And uh.. all the times that we were electing Charlton Heston, keeping him in as president, Cane Robinson continued to sit there and stay as first vice president. They elected him. He ran because Charlton Heston had to leave meetings a lot because there was so much in demand for him to come out and be interviewed and the _________ and _________ we had all of our mid-year board meetings are in Washington, DC or in that area. And, uh.. the TV crews would show up and they'd want him and he'd be running out a meeting for this and Cane would have to take over. So Cane now is in his second year now as president. And, uh.. he's got an awful lot of time chairing the board meetings because he had to do it a lot for Charlton Heston when he was president.

Zarbock: The regulations that you altered in order to permit Mr. Heston to continue on in this role, have they reverted now? Or where are you?

Cheek: The first, uh.. meeting when we knew that he was not going to be reelected, then we removed that from the bylaws. I think we may have even had his name in. I'm not positive of that. We may have even had his name during that time, because we didn't want it to be a precedent. We wanted it -- even though it is a precedent once you do something -- but we didn't want it to be -- appear to be general. This is a very specific thing done because it was Charlton Heston.

Zarbock: We're just about at the end of the tape, but I'd like to explore two areas: The current situation of the National Rifle Association, strengths and weaknesses; and number two, are the red ants continuing to burrow around in the soil around the Association or have they -- has the leadership found a new focus of activity?

Cheek: Most of them, the real avid ones, uh.. I think have mellowed. There are only a very few that are still out there. Uh.. many of them who were part of the red ant army realized the mistakes that they were making and are now solid members of the Board of Directors, uh.. some of them have gone through the chairs and have been president. Uh.. they uh.. but they -- they fight the -- the red ants that come along now. Uh.. but uh.. so while there's still a little evidence, there -- there's not the threat that it was. And also, the bylaws have now been changed in such a way so that, uh.. any -- any group of people that tried to do what they did could not be successful. It can't be done. The only way a person can take over the Association is to be elected to it by the members.

Zarbock: And what is the current situation with the National Rifle Association? Strengths, weaknesses, peering into your crystal ball? The future is always murky. I've got to get that cliche in.

Cheek: Uhm.. I -- I, of course, I think it's very, very good. Uh.. it is a tremendous organization. I -- I wish that, like I -- we always run into people, I've run into people since I've retired and moved out of that area, people find, are surprised when they find out that I'm such a nice person, you know, and I used to be connected with this wild organization, the National Rifle Association. And after you talk a little while with them about the organization and what we do, I mean, most people have a -- a terrible impression of it and don't really understand the organization. The history and -- and other things related, uh.. to it. It is the -- used to be the national governing body for shooting in the -- in the -- uh.. this country, uh.. responsible for the Olympics and the Olympic participation in the world shooting participation. We gave that up a number of years ago because we were spending tremendous amount of money on it, and we're getting very little benefit from it. And we decided we would be in a better position to put money in the domestic program and let the international thing take care of itself. And it has. We still support it. Uh.. we -- lot of the -- the international shooters that compete for -- in the Olympics and other international competitions learn their basic skills in NRA programs. But, uh.. we're still very much involved in law enforcement training, in hunter safety, and all of the training and all of the activities that -- that, uh.. we have in -- been involved in, in the past. The future looks good. Uh.. there we've got a very, very strong legislative body, uh.. in the Association that is used to dealing with people in the legislative arena. We've been forced to do that. We didn't like to do that, but we had to do that just simply to keep the Association going. The, uh.. like I leave tomorrow to go to the national matches. Since I retired I've been called back to do some things that I did used to do years ago. And now I -- I am the match director and have been for the last six years for the national pistol championship at Camp Perry, Ohio. And uh.. that is also growing again. It had taken, uh.. when the military withdrew its support at one point, uh.. we had began running the matches with volunteers and now we have hundreds of people that come to Camp Perry, volunteer their services in order to run the national championships.

Zarbock: Would you do it again?

Cheek: Yes. In a heartbeat. My wife says that it took too much of my time, that, uh.. I traveled so much in connection with it that I don't know if she'd want me to do it again. But I would. I'd do it in, uh.. again, just exactly the way I did it this time.

Zarbock: How does that phrase go that something along the line that if you really, really enjoyed what you're doing, you never go to work a day in your life?

Cheek: That's true. That's true. I used to -- I used to go to work in the morning. Our off-- office hours began at 9:30 to 5. I would go to work, uh.. for the last, say, 20 years of my life, I went to work probably -- I would get there probably about 6 -- 6:30. Because I could then get a great deal done before the staff came in and before I started getting calls from members and board members and so on. And I wouldn't leave until, you know, 6, 6:30 in the evening, again, so I could get things done. And, uh.. well that puts a little strain on your home life. Uh.. it uh.. made me a very happy person, I have...

Zarbock: But when you're working 12 hours a day and then tack a commute to the front and the back of that day, it makes a long day.

Cheek: Yes, it does.

Zarbock: Warren Cheek, thank you very much, sir.

Cheek: Thank you.

#### End of Tape ####

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