Empowered by Trump, the NRA is pushing its most extreme agenda yet

At its annual convention, the gun lobby lays out its legislative priorities.

Dick Burch, of Warner Robins, Ga., looks through a .50-caliber machine gun on display at the Nation Riffle Association’s annual convention in Atlanta, Friday, April 28, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman
Dick Burch, of Warner Robins, Ga., looks through a .50-caliber machine gun on display at the Nation Riffle Association’s annual convention in Atlanta, Friday, April 28, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman

ATLANTA, GEORGIA — To the members of the National Rifle Association, last week’s annual meeting in Atlanta was a victory lap.

Last year, the country’s most powerful lobby used its convention to demonize Hillary Clinton and to endorse Donald Trump. That meeting marked the beginning of the NRA’s tight relationship with Trump, which it then made even tighter with more than $30 million in campaign contributions.

It paid off.

“The NRA helped put President Trump into the White House, and aren’t we darned glad we did it?” Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told his members Friday, many who still wore “Hillary for Prison” t-shirts. “We never lost sight of the fact that unless we got into the fight, Hillary Clinton would have completely destroyed our rights. NRA members all over the country met that challenge, and we won together.”

But the organization is not ready to sit back to soak in the win, which also guaranteed them a U.S. Supreme Court that will remain friendly to gun rights for potentially another generation. The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Affairs (ILA), the political arm, is already rallying members on its next offensives, which would all mean more guns in more places.

Here’s a look at the legislative priorities the NRA is pushing with unified Republican control in Washington:

Concealed carry reciprocity

The gun lobby’s biggest priority this year is passing national concealed carry reciprocity.

The NRA and pro-gun lawmakers compare the legislation, which has been introduced in both chambers of Congress, to driver’s licenses. They claim that like driver’s licenses, concealed carry permits should be accepted across state lines.

Currently, each state has vastly different requirements before an individual can get a license to carry a firearm. Some states require that people show a specific need for a gun, while 11 others allow concealed carry without a permit.

A crowd watches a television from the exhibition hall as President Donald Trump speaks at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Atlanta, Friday, April 28, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman
A crowd watches a television from the exhibition hall as President Donald Trump speaks at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Atlanta, Friday, April 28, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman

National concealed carry reciprocity would not create a national standard, but would instead require each state to accept the permits from the 49 others.

“It simply says that if you have the right to carry in your home state, then you ought to have the same right to keep and bear arms in the rest of America,” Chris Cox, the NRA’s top lobbyist, told the group’s members on Friday.

Cox and other NRA leaders claim that without the legislation, ordinary people trying to travel across the country are turned into criminals.

“Innocent well-meaning people have gone to jail and had their lives turned upside down at the hands of states like New Jersey, where the Second Amendment freedom is criminalized,” he said, calling it both “illegal” and “downright immoral” that states can reject permits from others.

“It needs to change,” he said. “For that to happen, it’ll take the same intensity and moral purpose that we all brought to last year’s election. But we can and we will make Congress pass national right to carry reciprocity.”

Critics of reciprocity, including law enforcement officials and gun safety organizations, say the legislation would not function like the driver’s license system.

“It makes the weakest link the law of the land,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a call with reporters. “It’s chaotic and it’s dangerous policy… A concealed carry permit is more like a library card than a driver’s license.”

At the NRA convention, members told ThinkProgress they support efforts to move reciprocity legislation through Congress. Though some expressed skepticism and said they support states’ rights, most said they don’t think government should have the ability to limit their rights to carry guns.

Megan Mayberry, a 26-year-old NRA member from Nashville who has a Tennessee concealed carry permit, compared reciprocity to same-sex marriage.

“Each state has to recognize [it],” she said about the Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex marriage across the country. “State-issued carry permits should be the same as a driver’s license and marriage license.”

Silencers

Another gun-related issue the GOP-controlled Congress may take up this term is the accessibility of gun silencers, which currently are highly regulated under the National Firearms Act. Under a bill called the Hearing Protection Act, silencers would become more easily available.

The NRA and allied Republican politicians argue that allowing silencers, also called suppressors, would help protect the hearing of gun users who are exposed to high-volume blasts. Critics claim they would allow criminals to get away with using guns undetected.

“Your hearing is too important to be hidden behind a $200 federal tax, finger prints, and a nine- to twelve-month paper chase,” Cox said Friday. “When it comes to loud machinery, loud cars, or loud music, if there’s even a marginal benefit to protect someone’s hearing, we make it available, except for the loudest of all: firearms.”

“There’s simply no arguable reason against it,” he continued.

A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest across the street from the National Rifle Association’s annual convention where President Donald Trump is scheduled to speak in Atlanta, Friday, April 28, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman
A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest across the street from the National Rifle Association’s annual convention where President Donald Trump is scheduled to speak in Atlanta, Friday, April 28, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman

During a protest a few blocks from the convention on Saturday, Janel Green, the co-organizer of the Atlanta March for Social Justice and Women, fought back against the NRA’s narrative about silencers.

“They’re cushioning this by calling it the ‘Hearing Protection Act,’” she said. “Laugh! It’s that ridiculous… Go buy some ear plugs.”

“You have super cheap ways to protect your ears that don’t endanger other people,” she added.

NRA members who support the bill claim criminals are unlikely to use silencers, and even if they do, the shots are still audible.

Jon Henbest, an NRA member from Russellville, Kentucky, said he has used silencers and still hears the gunshot. “It’s not like everybody thinks,” he said. “It’s still loud, but it’s not loud to the point where you need hearing protection. Your criminals are not going to spend the time or effort to try to get suppressors.”

Guns in schools

During his campaign, President Trump’s most vocal promise to Second Amendment advocates was that he would eliminate gun-free school zones. He made no mention of that promise during his speech Friday, but it’s unlikely the NRA will let him forget it in the coming months.

Currently, two bills are pending in Congress to eliminate gun-free school zones. The concealed carry reciprocity bill that’s been introduced in the House by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) would allow people with concealed carry permits to carry guns in schools, preempting the Gun Free School Zones Act.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) has also introduced the “Safe Students Act,” an NRA-backed bill to repeal the 1990 ban on guns in schools.

Throughout the NRA convention, seminars and speakers warned of the supposed dangers of locations where civilians aren’t allowed to be armed. Lt. Dave Grossman, a retired West Point professor, claimed that we are raising an “assassination generation” predisposed to violence because of vicious movies and video games, but allowing more guns in school would protect students.

“There has never been a multiple homicide in a school when there was somebody in the building who could shoot back,” he said.

The majority of shootings that have occurred in schools have not involved a mass shooter, but instead have involved students getting their hands on weapons. Research also shows that the wider the gun ownership and usage, the more gun violence.

Yet Grossman’s twisting of the truth sets up a situation in which the NRA can sell more guns to more people, furthering its agenda.

“We have never needed you and the NRA like we need you now,” he said, displaying a list of countries with the highest murder rates. “Believe in who you are, believe in what you do, and fight with all of your heart and all of your might and all of your soul and all of your money to defeat any politician who wants to turn us into one of those nations.”