Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) caught National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre in a significant contradiction during Wednesday’s hearing on preventing gun violence. Since the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut the nation’s most influential gun lobby has opposed the growing bipartisan push for universal background checks, arguing that such a policy would infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law abiding Americans. But as Leahy pointed out, the group has supported the reasonable background checks in the past.
Under current law, gun purchasers buying firearms from federally licensed dealers are subject to background checks. As a result, more than 2 million applicants have been prohibited from purchasing guns. Unfortunately, 40 percent of firearm acquisitions are from individuals who are not licensed gun dealers and do not undergo any background checks. Gun safety advocates have sought to close the loophole for years and in the 1999, the NRA backed this effort.
“We think it is reasonable to provide mandatory, instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show,” LaPierre said during a hearing held on May 27, 1999, in the wake of the Columbine High School shooting. “No loopholes anywhere for anyone. That means closing the Hinckley loophole so the records of those adjudicated mentally ill are in the system.”
Leahy pressed LaPierre on why the organization has since changed its mind:
LEAHY: Do you still, as you did in 1999, still support mandatory background checks at gun shows? Yes or no?
LAPIERRE: We support the national check system on dealers. We were here when one of your colleagues held the hearings in terms of who would be a dealer and who would be required to have a license. If you did it for live the good and profit, yes. If you did it for a hobby, no. [...]
LEAHY: You do not support background checks in all instances at gun shows?
LAPIERRE: We do not, because the fact is, the law right now is a failure the way it is working. You have 76,000 people that have been denied under the present law. Only 44 were prosecuted. You are letting them go. They’re walking the street.
LEAHY: Back in 1999, you said no loopholes anywhere for anyone. But now you do not support a background checks for all buyers of firearms?
LAPIERRE: The system the way it is working now is a failure. This administration is not prosecuting the people they catch. 22 states are not even putting the mental records of those adjudicated incompetent into the system. If they try to buy a gun, even if you catch them, and they try to walk away, you let them. They are criminals, homicidal maniacs, can’t mentally ill — and mentally ill. We all know that, maniacs and the mentally insane do not abide by the law.
While NRA leadership opposes universal background checks, its members back the change. A national survey conducted by Johns Hopkins University found that “89 percent of all respondents, and 75 percent of those identified as NRA members, support universal background checks for gun sales. Similar surveys by Pew Research Center and Gallup have also found background checks to be by far the most popular gun control proposal in the aftermath the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.”
Here is a copy of the ad the NRA took out in 1999 saying, “We think it’s reasonable to provide for instant checks at gun shows just like at gun stores and pawn shops.”
The NRA broke its commitment to support background checks for “every sale” and lobbied for a watered down provision in 1999.