If you just listened to what National Rifle Association national spokesperson Dana Loesch said on Wednesday’s CNN Town Hall on gun violence, you might think that the NRA’s positions on background checks and bump stocks are quite reasonable.
The Tea Party co-founder and conservative radio host turned NRA flak responded to questions from survivors of last week’s horrific Parkland school shooting by suggesting that her organization backs strengthened background checks, ensuring that mental health data is included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and action to ban bump stocks that effectively turn semiautomatic guns into automatic rifles.
“This individual was nuts,” Loesch explained, “And I, nor the millions of people that I represent as a part of this organization that I’m here speaking for, none of us support people who are crazy, who are a danger to themselves, who are a danger to others getting their hands on a firearm. And we have been, for over 20 years.”
Loesch, who once mocked those who “classify everything as a ‘mental health issue’ so it absolves people of responsibility for their own actions,” lamented that not all states fully report mental health and criminal behavior into the federal system and scolded politicians who had appeared early in the forum for adequately addressed the background system: “We had three lawmakers on this stage and only one of them hinted at reinforcing the background check system. It is only as good as the records submitted to it. Only one of them even got anywhere close to mentioning that.”
Finally, she suggested that the NRA supports the Trump administration’s move to explore a ban on bump stocks. “That’s what the NRA’s position has been… And they spoke about that before the President made a move, and they spoke about that before Attorney General Jeff Sessions made an announcement about that, too.”
Not so fast.
The National Rifle Association has opposed numerous efforts to strengthen background checks, including virulently opposing the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey amendment to require checks prior to private sales at gun shows. The organization frequently dismisses the importance of background checks at all. A 2016 statement on one of the group’s websites notes that it “opposes expanding firearm background check systems, because background checks don’t stop criminals from getting firearms,” and a 2013 statement read “The sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson.”
While the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent and mental illness is not the cause of gun violence, even her suggestions that the group wants to stop mentally ill people from getting firearms is dishonest. The Obama administration took action to provide the National Instant Criminal Background Check System with Social Security data about people being treated for certain types of mental illness who might be dangers to themselves or others if armed. In 2017, Congress and President Trump repealed those rules. A statement, still on the NRA’s site, “applauds” the repeal for blocking a “back-door gun grab” that “would have stripped law-abiding Americans of their Second Amendment rights without due process.”
While the NRA has supported a review of whether bump stocks are legal, they have refused to endorse any actual action to ban them and warned a legislative proposal to prohibit them “would ban commonly owned firearm accessories.”
The truth is that the National Rifle Association’s top priority is to override state laws by requiring them to honor concealed weapons permits from other states, even if those states require no background check for such a permit. So Loesch’s implications that the NRA was open to reasonable efforts to keep guns out of the hands of people like the Parkland shooter fly in the face of decades of the group’s words and actions.