CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Charlton Heston was unanimously re-elected Monday to an unprecedented third term as president of the National Rifle Association and predicted membership will soar to 4 million by Election Day because ''President Clinton's point of view on firearms has united a lot of people.''
Heston's re-election was the last big item of business at the NRA's 129th annual convention.
''I'm amazed. I must be doing something right,'' the 75-year-old ''Ten Commandments'' star said after the voice vote by fellow board members.
And Heston hinted that he might run again next year for a fourth term as president of the nation's largest gun group.
The NRA amended its bylaws to allow Heston, first elected in 1998, to run again. Traditionally, NRA officers are elected to one-year terms and may serve only two consecutive terms.
Heston said that he backs Republican candidate George W. Bush for the White House and that his top priority is to ''defeat Al Gore.''
Heston used an anecdote from his film career to describe his campaign strategy, recalling how he practiced for weeks to learn how to drive a four-horse chariot for the epic ''Ben-Hur.'' When it came time to film the chariot scenes, his trainer told him: ''Chuck, you stay in the chariot, and I guarantee you'll win the damn race.''
Heston told NRA members he feels the same way about leading the organization into the fall elections: ''I take no credit for what you do. You will win the damn race.''
Heston said he was heartened by the record turnout of more than 52,000 people or the convention, which opened Friday. The previous record was 41,000 two years ago in Philadelphia.
NRA statistics also show that membership mushroomed by 200,000 to more than 3.6 million in the past six weeks. Heston predicted an additional 400,000 members by November.
''I think President Clinton's point of view on firearms has united a lot of people,'' Heston said. ''He didn't realize that would be the case.''
This year's convention was more upbeat than last year's in Denver, when the NRA met less than a month after the Columbine massacre in nearby Littleton, Colo. That meeting was scaled back to just a day, and gun exhibitions were canceled.
This year, more than 300 exhibitors showed off their latest guns at the Charlotte Convention Center. While there were anti-NRA protests, most of them were held several blocks away.
''Let's put it this way: The Second Amendment is alive and well,'' Heston said with his signature clenched-teeth smile.