During the January 30 hearing on gun violence, National Rifle Association representative Wayne LaPierre said a proposal to expand background checks would be a "nightmare" for Americans, contradicting his 1999 testimony on behalf of the NRA in support of such an expansion -- a flip-flop highlighted by Sen. Pat Leahy during the hearing. In their coverage of the hearing, several major national newspapers failed to pick up on this important position switch, which highlighted the hardline stance of the NRA towards gun violence prevention proposals.
Sen. Leahy Points Out NRA's Background Check Flip-Flop
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT): NRA Leader Supported Background Checks On Every Gun Show Sale In 1999 Testimony Before Congress. From the January 30 hearing on gun violence held before the Senate Judiciary Committee:
LEAHY: And in your testimony in '99, you supported mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale and every gun show. You said, quote, "No loopholes anywhere, for anyone."
Now, today, of course, you say criminals would never submit to background checks. Statistics show that plenty of them do. Nearly 2 million convicted criminals and other dangerous people have tried to buy firearms and (inaudible), as Chief Johnson said, were prevented.
So let me ask you this: Do you still, as you did in 1999, still support mandatory background checks at gun shows? Yes or no?
LAPIERRE: We supported the National Instant Check System on dealers. I -- we were here when Senator Birch Bayh, 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 livelihood and profit, yes. If you were a hobbyist, then no.
LEAHY: OK, so you do not support mandatory 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's working. [Senate Judiciary Committee, 1/30/13 via Nexis]
LaPierre In 1999: "We Think It's Reasonable To Provide Mandatory Instant Criminal Background Checks For Every Sale At Every Gun Show, No Loopholes Anywhere For Anyone." In an appearance before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime on May 27, 1999, LaPierre said he had "been on the record on this point consistently" in advocating for background checks on every firearms sale at gun shows:
Some think our insistence on enforcement is unreasonable. Others say we oppose reasonable restrictions on gun ownership. So let's talk about what's reasonable and what's not.
We think it's reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show, no loopholes anywhere for anyone. That means closing the [attempted Reagan assassin John] Hinckley [Jr.] loophole so the records of those adjudicated mentally ill are in the system.
This isn't new or a change of position or a concession. I've been on the record on this point consistently, from our national meeting in Denver to paid national ads and position papers, to news interviews and press appearances. [House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, 5/27/99 via Nexis]
Major Newspapers Discuss NRA Background Check Position Without Noting Flip-Flop
The New York Times Doesn't Provide Context To NRA's Opposition To Expanded Background Checks. A January 30 New York Times article noted that LaPierre called background checks on every gun sale "a universal federal nightmare imposed upon law-abiding people all over this country" in his testimony without noting the NRA leader's flip-flop:
Mr. LaPierre said he did not support the measure that appeared to be gaining the most support among both parties -- enhanced background checks for gun buyers -- raising the prospect that perhaps even modest changes to gun laws would be hard to accomplish. "Universal background check, which sounds, whatever," he said, "ends up being a universal federal nightmare imposed upon law-abiding people all over this country. [The New York Times, 1/30/13]
The Wall Street Journal Includes LaPierre's Argument Against Checks Without Referencing Exchange With Sen. Leahy. From a January 30 article:
The National Rifle Association chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, urged lawmakers to look at privacy laws "that needlessly prevent mental-health records from being included in the National Instant Check System." But he disagreed with expanding background checks to gun shows, saying that "you're never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks." [The Wall Street Journal, 1/30/13]
Chicago Tribune Reported On Heated Background Check Exchange Involving Sen. Leahy Without Noting NRA Flip-Flop. The January 30 article noted that Sen. Leahy told LaPierre that "I'm not trying to play games here" while seeking an answer to his question concerning expanded background checks:
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the committee, engaged in a heated exchange with LaPierre, pressing the NRA leader on his opposition to background checks at gun shows, which currently are subjected to minimal federal regulations.
"Please, Mr. LaPierre, I'm not trying to play games here," Leahy said curtly following an answer he regarded as insufficient, prompting LaPierre to clearly state his opposition to the background checks.
"It does not make sense to extend the law to hobbyists and private sellers," LaPierre said, claiming that "the law right now is a failure," and any background check extensions will be ineffectual due to improper enforcement by federal prosecutors. [Chicago Tribune, 1/30/13]
LA Times Discusses NRA Opposition To Expanded Background Checks Without Noting Gun Organization's Changing Position. From a January 30 article:
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is crafting a background checks bill, announced at the hearing that he was "having productive conversations with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, including a good number with high NRA ratings."
That agreement does not extend to the NRA itself, as LaPierre made clear.
"Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals," he said.
Later, he specifically rejected the idea of universal background checks for gun purchases. "My problem with background checks is you're never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks," he said, prompting a heated exchange with Illinois Sen. Richard J. Durbin. [Los Angeles Times, 1/30/13]
The Washington Post And USA Today Report On NRA Flip-Flop
Washington Post: Leahy Challenged LaPierre With Past Support For Background Checks. From a January 30 article:
[Former House member Gabrielle Giffords' husband Mark] Kelly and several Democrats on the committee advocated expanding background checks so that they cover all gun purchases. But the NRA's LaPierre said such a strategy would accomplish little.
"So, we're going to make all those law-abiding people go through the system, and then we aren't going to prosecute any of the bad guys if they do catch one. And it -- none of it makes any sense in the real world," he said.
At that point, Leahy cut LaPierre off, because the time for that period of questioning had expired. The next senator up was Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who challenged LaPierre.
"Mr. LaPierre, that's the point. The criminals won't go to purchase the guns because there will be a background check," Durbin said. "We'll stop them from the original purchase. You miss that point completely."
At another point, Leahy noted that LaPierre had supported universal background checks when he testified at a similar House hearing in 1999. [The Washington Post, 1/30/13]
USA Today: NRA Position On Background Checks "Appeared To Be A Reversal Of LaPierre's 1999 Testimony On The Issue." From a January 30 article:
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre criticized universal background checks, saying they would be as ineffective as current laws are today.
The statement appeared to be a reversal of LaPierre's 1999 testimony on the issue to the House Judiciary Committee, during which he said, "We think it's reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone."
When pressed on the change by Leahy during the Wednesday hearing, LaPierre said, "Senator, I do not believe the way the law is working now, unfortunately, that it does any good to extend the law to private sales between hobbyists and collectors." [USA Today, 1/30/13]