NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre strenuously opposed new gun laws — including expanding the background check system — during a contentious Wednesday morning hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
When committee chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) pressed LaPierre on his opposition to the universal background check, LaPierre repeatedly placed blame on the law currently in place that fails to prosecute individuals who are denied to purchase and own guns. “None of it makes any sense in the real world!” LaPierre said of background checks, after arguing that they would only impact “the little guy,” while criminals continue to buy guns illegally.
LaPierre’s reasoning drew a sharp rebuke from Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), who heatedly told LaPierre, “criminals won’t go to purchase the guns, because there will be a background check! We’ll stop them from the original purchase,” adding, “You missed that point completely!”
LaPierre’s position is a complete reversal from his 1999 testimony, when he told the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, “We think it’s reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone.”
Despite LaPierre’s bluster, a majority of gun owners actually disagree with him on background checks. According to a Johns Hopkins Center For Gun Policy and Research survey conducted in October 2012, “82 percent favored mandatory background checks for all firearms sales, not just for those by licensed dealers.”
Under the current laws, the federal government has prosecuted 44 individuals out of the 80,000-plus who have lied about their criminal histories in an effort to obtain a gun. Despite the fact that the federal government has prosecuted few, there is no doubt that it has in fact kept guns out of the wrong hands.
Testimonies also came from Captain Mark Kelly, husband of former representative Gabrielle Giffords, victim of Jared Loughner’s Tucson, AZ shooting rampage in 2011, Adjunct Professor of Advanced Constitutional Law at Denver University and policy analyst for the Cato Institute David Kopel, Police Chief James Johnson of the Baltimore Police Department, and Gayle Trotter, attorney and Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.
The hearing began with an emotional appeal from Giffords, who still struggles with her speech as a result of her injuries. “Too many children are dying. We must do something,” Giffords said. “It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”
Kelly maintained that as a gun owner, that “right demands responsibility,” a responsibility that the U.S. is failing to uphold in allowing dangerous individuals to obtain dangerous weapons.
Like Kelly, Chief Johnson — who has over 30 years of experience in law enforcement — spoke out in full support of expanding background checks to private gun sellers and gun shows, declaring, “The best way to stop a bad guy from getting a gun in the first place is a good background check.”
Other individuals on the panel, like David Kopel and Gayle Trotter, chose to focus on the proposal to place armed guards in every school and guns in the hands of teachers, rather than amending the law to assure that the wrong individuals can’t obtain guns in the first place. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), agreed with them, warning that because of America’s fiscal situation, “there will be less police officers, not more, in the next decade.” For Graham – who has received contributions from the NRA — the solution to this problem is not increasing funding for trained professionals like Chief Johnson, but having more Americans to arm themselves (a goal that universal background checks would hinder).
Although he largely opposes gun control, Kopel did argue that gun control does not violate the Second Amendment, so long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of responsible Americans. This raised the question of why he opposes the proposed reform efforts; after all, common-sense restrictions on unnecessary guns and magazines and a repair to the current federal background check system would pose no discernible threat to any responsible gun owners.
Even as the senators were debating gun violence on Capitol Hill, another mass shooting was taking place in Phoenix, Arizona.
Photo credit: AP/Susan Walsh