A new video from the National Rifle Association's (NRA) executive vice president Wayne LaPierre claims that President Obama “has all the laws he needs to stop the bloodshed” of gun violence in big cities but chooses not to because he supposedly refuses to enforce federal gun laws.
In fact, the NRA has engaged in a decades-long campaign to hinder the efforts of the federal law enforcement agency charged with enforcing federal gun laws, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF).
In an October 27 video released by NRA News, LaPierre claimed, “Under the existing federal gun laws, [Obama] could take every felon with a gun, drug dealer with a gun and criminal gangbanger with a gun off the streets tomorrow and lock them up for five years or more. But he won't do it, his Justice Department won't do it, and the media never asks why.”
The video also featured LaPierre's continued apparent use of racially coded language by contrasting “thugs like De'Eris Brown,” “criminal gangbangers with illegal guns in Chicago,” and “violent thugs” with “the good, honest Americans living out in farm towns in Nebraska or Oklahoma or working two jobs in inner-city Chicago or Baltimore.” The video was introduced by LaPierre claiming "[n]othing illustrates America's breakdown like the way the president's hometown celebrates its holidays," before describing Chicago shootings as a “kind of third-world carnage.”
LaPierre concluded with a false claim: “No organization has been louder, clearer or more consistent on the urgent need to enforce the federal gun laws than the NRA.”
The NRA's lie is brazen given widespread reporting explaining how the gun group interferes with ATF operations. As USA Today reported in 2013, “lobbying records and interviews show the [NRA] has worked steadily to weaken existing gun laws and the federal agency charged with enforcing them.”
According to The Washington Post, “the gun lobby has consistently outmaneuvered and hemmed in ATF, using political muscle to intimidate lawmakers and erect barriers to tougher gun laws. Over nearly four decades, the NRA has wielded remarkable influence over Congress, persuading lawmakers to curb ATF's budget and mission and to call agency officials to account at oversight hearings.”
The NRA's opposition to the ATF has been extreme. The gun group has threatened to attempt to abolish the agency all together and LaPierre infamously called federal law enforcement agents “jack-booted government thugs” who wear “Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms.”
Here are four things the NRA does that are detrimental to the enforcement of federal gun laws:
The NRA Interferes With ATF's Ability To Enforce Federal Gun Laws Through The Congressional Appropriations Process
The NRA routinely cajoles its allies in Congress to limit the ATF's budget (even as other federal law enforcement agency budgets grow) and pass riders to appropriations legislation that further limit the agency's ability to enforce federal gun laws. As a 2013 report from Center for American Progress explained, one set of riders, often called the Tiahrt Amendments, “have limited how ATF can collect and share information to detect illegal gun trafficking, how it can regulate firearms sellers, and how it partners with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.” The NRA has also backed legislation to hamper the ability of the ATF to go after criminal gun dealers, in one instance backing a bill that the Washington Post editorial board explained, “would make it all but impossible for the ATF to press forward with any case.”
The NRA Helped Create The Senate Confirmation Requirement For A Permanent ATF Director, Then Fought Against The Confirmation Of Any Permanent Director
In 2006, an NRA-backed amendment to the re-authorization of The Patriot Act created the requirement that the Senate confirm permanent ATF directors who are nominated by the president. The NRA subsequently opposed nominees for a permanent director, in one case comparing Obama's 2010 nominee Andrew Traver to an arsonist. After seven years of not having a permanent director, B. Todd Jones was confirmed by the Senate in 2013, but resigned after just two years. Unsurprisingly, law enforcement officials have told The New York Times that having a permanent director vacancy “has inevitably depleted morale and kept the agency from developing a coherent agenda.”
Just Months Ago, The NRA Attempted To Force The ATF To Divert Its Limited Resources To Restoring The Gun Rights Of Convicted Felons
While LaPierre repeatedly referenced felons with guns in his video, his organization attempts to make the ATF use its budget to rearm felons. For more than two decades, standard appropriations language prohibited the ATF from using budget money on a program that allowed people who had lost their legal right to buy or own a gun because of a felony conviction to apply for restoration of that right. Without having to operate the program, the ATF has had more funding to enforce federal gun laws. In June, an NRA ally in Congress offered a successful amendment to reverse the longstanding language. While the amendment was under consideration the NRA repeatedly promoted it with the blatant falsehood that the program would only be available to nonviolent felons.
The NRA Opposes Closing The “Charleston Loophole” Which Makes The ATF's Job More Difficult
Under current federal law, gun dealers are allowed to proceed with a gun sale if the federal background check is not returned as a “proceed” or “denied” after three business days. Known as a “default proceed” sale, this feature of federal law is also called the “Charleston loophole” after the gunman who perpetrated the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME church, who received his gun without a completed background check (he would have been disqualified because of a drug charge). The “Charleston loophole” allows a significant number of prohibited persons to obtain firearms and diverts the resources of the ATF and other law enforcement agencies who must attempt to recover guns that would not have been sold without a completed background check. The loophole was created by an NRA-backed amendment to the 1993 Brady background check bill and following the Charleston massacre, the NRA vigorously defended the loophole as “a critical safety valve” to shield prospective gun purchasers from undergoing delays in the completion of background checks -- even though more than 90 percent of background checks are completed instantly.