NRA seeks a place at the table

Some say proposed theme cafe doesn't fit Times Square's new family image.

The maitre d' at the World Wrestling Federation Restaurant in Times Square looks as if she's just been put into a half nelson.

She can't believe the National Rifle Association (NRA) wants to open a wild game shooting arcade and eatery within earshot.

"That would be too violent," she says, her face twisted in disapproval. In the background, dozens of video screens flicker with muscle-bound wrestlers slamming each other into the mats.

Ever since the NRA announced it hoped to serve a new clientele, New Yorkers have had trouble digesting the news. Citizen activists are vowing a fight. Politicians are pledging to do everything in their power to prevent the gun lobbyists from serving up bullets and bread at the crossroads of the world. In the meantime, it's become a veritable buffet of comedy for the late-night talk shows.

Here's Dave: "I believe it's called 'Planet Homicide.... The specialty of the house is the 'Chicken NRA.' It comes served face-down with a bullet in its back."

Jay Leno was not to be outdone. "The theme of the restaurant is: Buy one congressman, you get one free."

But Charlton Heston is not laughing. To him, this is a serious proposal. It is designed to give shooting enthusiasts a clubhouse of their own, the same opportunities enjoyed by the habitus of the All Star or the Harley Davidson Cafe. Call it a place at the table. And from the Ku Klux Klan's Adopt-A-Highway strategy to the Rainforest Cafe's largesse to environmentalists, special-interest groups are trying to broaden their appeal.

"More Americans participate in shooting sports than in basketball, hockey, baseball, soccer, and other sports," NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said at a news conference last week.

While many New Yorkers might be balking, the NRA may have hit the right recipe to attract Asian tourists. Guam, which has 31 gun and rod clubs, has become a favorite spot for Japanese - who are forbidden firearms in their own country. "Japan is our main market, and I've personally seen young Japanese girls trying their hand at these gun clubs," says Douglas King of the Guam Visitors Bureau.

There was a time when the idea of a restaurant that specializes in target practice would have fit perfectly into the Times Square milieu. That was before Mickey Mouse muscled out the strippers and the porn shops.

Now visitors to Times Square are more likely to pack Pokmon cards than Saturday night specials.

"We've worked a long time to get the guns out of Times Square," says Tim Zagat, the restaurant surveyor. "Who came up with the insane idea that the NRA could run a restaurant - we'd end up chewing bullets."

But not everyone in Times Square takes such a dim view of the proposal. One manager of a local theme restaurant says the NRA enterprise could have potential. "If they give an educational twist to it, as far as educating people about the proper way to use guns and register them, I think that might be OK," he says.

But when asked if such a venture would be successful, he paused.

"In New York? I don't think so."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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