NRA News Falsely Casts Firearms Recovery Program As “Confiscation Under The Guise Of Safety”

The National Rifle Association's news show inaccurately portrayed a California program that seeks to recover guns from felons and other prohibited individuals as a means of placing law-abiding gun owners in danger of firearm confiscation.  

The June 20 special targeted a California law enforcement program that works with the Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS), a database of individuals who are no longer legally allowed to possess guns. The database works by combining gun registration records with the records of individuals who are barred from owning a firearm because of a felony conviction, restraining order or adjudication of serious mental illness.

According to Pacific Standard magazine, the database includes 20,000 people who possess at least 38,000 handguns and 1,600 assault weapons.

Setting up the segment, NRA News' investigative reporter Ginny Simone said that the special would tell the story of a person who was “wrongly targeted,” despite the fact that the person featured is prohibited by federal law from owning a gun. NRA News host Cam Edwards also claimed that “there are so many issues right now for the law-abiding in California because you got lawmakers going after their rights, meanwhile the criminals are getting put back out onto the streets, and it sounds like you've got a government that is in many ways just out of control.”

During the segment, a man identified as a former California Department of Justice special agent said, “I think it is a confiscation. It's a confiscation under the guise of safety,” and later added, “I think [APPS] is overbroad, overreaching, and absolutely there is an intimidation factor there that makes you not trust law enforcement too. That's a slippery slope to go down.”

The special focuses on the story of Lynette and David Phillips. Earlier this year, law enforcement enforcing the APPS list visited the Phillips' home and confiscated three firearms, one of which was registered to Lynette Phillips. Phillips ended up on the APPS list because she was involuntarily committed to a mental health hospital. According to a California attorney general spokesperson, two guns registered to her husband were also taken because, “The prohibited person can't have access to a firearm.”

The NRA News special acknowledges that Phillips was involuntarily committed, but makes no mention that this makes her prohibited from owning a firearm under federal law.

The claim furthered by NRA News that Phillips was “wrongly targeted” and is a “victim[] of a system” -- even though she cannot legally own a gun -- is evidence of the NRA's duplicitous stance on mental health and guns.

In theory, the NRA supports limiting firearms access to individuals who have serious mental illness. In a February appearance on Fox News, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said that his organization had been “fighting to get the mental records computerized for 20 years,” but claimed that the “mental health lobby won't do it.” LaPierre was referring to the placement of mental health records, like the one possessed by Phillips, into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), an FBI-administered database of people prohibited from purchasing a gun.  

LaPierre was even criticized for overreaching on the scope of mental health records that should be included in the system when he decried “our nation's refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill,” in the NRA's first public comments after the Newtown mass shooting.

In practice, however, the NRA has supported legislation that could loosen the prohibition on gun ownership for individuals with serious mental illness.

In April, the NRA backed legislation authored by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would have changed the way mental health records are reported, potentially invalidating mental health records that are currently in the system. Specifically, Section 103 of the legislation would have changed current law by only creating a disqualifying NICS record if an individual is designated as dangerously mentally ill by a court or other adjudicative body. Under present law, adjudications by all lawful authorities, including those made by doctors at mental health facilities, create a record that prohibits an individual from buying a firearm.