Ahead of tomorrow's hearing on gun violence before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the National Rifle Association released the testimony of its representative, executive vice president Wayne LaPierre. When reporting on LaPierre's remarks, the media have a responsibility to provide context for his frequently inaccurate statements.
In his remarks, LaPierre dismissed the idea of requiring a criminal background check on every gun sale while unwittingly demonstrating how these checks keep guns out of the hands of criminals, falsely suggested that assault weapons are no more dangerous than firearms available to civilians 100 years ago, and exaggerated the effectiveness of armed guards in schools.
Background Checks Have Prevented Hundreds Of Thousands Of Firearms Sales To Prohibited Purchasers
In his testimony, LaPierre attacked the proposal to require criminal background checks on nearly all gun sales "because criminals will never submit to them." According to LaPierre's rigid reasoning, because background checks will not stop every dangerous person from acquiring a gun, there is no point in strengthening the system.
But even under our current set of laws that allow a significant proportion of firearms transactions occur without a background check, evidence has shown that over 1.5 million individuals have been prevented from acquiring a firearm after failing a background check.
LaPierre even acknowledged earlier in his testimony that over 76,000 firearms purchases in 2011 were denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). It should be noted that LaPierre is either referring to FBI denials only or understating the figure, as over 150,000 purchases a year are typically denied through the background check system, with about half of denials being processed by the FBI.
According to the FBI, less than five percent of denials are reversed upon appeal. The primary reasons for denial were a felony conviction or indictment (47.4 percent) or status as a fugitive (19.1 percent).
Crimes Committed With Assault Weapons Usually Result In More Victims
In his remarks, LaPierre lumped in assault weapons with all semi-automatic firearms to claim that they "have been around for over 100 years" and that "[t]hey are the most popular guns made for hunting, target shooting and self-defense." In doing so, LaPierre invoked a common argument that assault weapons are no more dangerous than other firearms.
In fact, an examination of mass shootings between January 2009 and January 2013 by Mayors Against Illegal Guns determined that shootings where the perpetrator used an assault weapon resulted in 54 percent more deaths than other incidents and 123 percent more combined wounded and killed. A previous study by the Urban Institute comparing shootings involving assault weapons to other firearms reached the same conclusion.
Furthermore, changes in design have increased the lethality of assault weapons, even in the last decade. A recent report on assault pistols issued by the Violence Policy Center documented the recent surge in popularity of these weapons. According to VPC, because assault pistols can accept ammunition designed for assault rifles that can more easily penetrate police body armor, these weapons, "have the penetrating power of an assault rifle in the concealable format of a pistol." As such, it is no surprise that a VPC analysis of drug cartel firearms trafficking cases uncovered numerous instances of assault pistol trafficking.
Schools Shootings Occur In Spite Of Armed Security Presence
LaPierre asserts in his testimony that armed guards in schools "make our schools as safe as possible" even as academic research and the circumstances of previous school shootings proves his claim to be baseless.
It is unclear whether armed guards in schools actually stop shootings. Notably, the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech demonstrate that armed guards cannot be the end-all solution to school violence.
An armed police officer present at Columbine attempted to fire on one of the shooters, but was quickly pinned down by the greater firepower of the shooter's assault weapon. At the time of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, the school had an accredited police force with an emergency response team that was described in a report on the mass shooting as "like a SWAT team."
By falsely characterizing armed guards at schools as a proven solution to prevent gun violence, LaPierre sidesteps all other discussion of how to prevent these tragedies. LaPierre's questionable solution only takes into account the moment that a gunman arrives at a school prepared to kill and fails to incorporate any policy changes that could prevent dangerous individuals from easily obtaining high-powered firearms in the first place.