National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre claimed to support increasing the number mental health records in the gun background check system, even though his organization was instrumental in blocking legislation that would have made that change earlier this year.
LaPierre appeared on the September 22 edition of NBC's Meet the Press to deliver his first public comments since the September 16 mass shooting at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard. During the segment, LaPierre claimed that “the NRA supported the gun check because we thought the mental records would be in the system.” In April his organization was singled out by President Obama for influencing the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey proposal to improve the background check system that was filibustered by a largely-Republican coalition of Senators. The NRA falsely claimed that the legislation would have created a national gun registry, even as the bill itself explicitly prohibited such an action. Instead, Machin-Toomey would have expanded background checks to all commercial gun sales -- including sales at gun shows and over the Internet -- and would have increased the number of disqualifying records in the background check system.
LaPierre bemoaned the fact that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the FBI-administered tool for processing background checks on gun sales from licensed dealers, is missing mental health records that would disqualify individuals from buying a gun. However, Manchin-Toomey would have given states funding incentives and disincentives for submitting records. NRA-backed alternative legislation would have also provided funding incentives to increase the number of records, but would have weakened the background check system by changing the way mental health records are reported, potentially invalidating mental health records that are currently in the system.
LaPierre also distorted the issues associated with private gun sales without a background check.
Host David Gregory asked LaPierre to address a question that had been posed earlier in the week by Virginia Tech massacre survivor Colin Goddard, “Do you think that as a responsible human being, that if you sell a gun to somebody you don't know that you should require a background check to make sure they legally own it?” LaPierre responded, “Private sales between hunters, a hunter to a hunter in another state, a farmer to a farmer, shotgun, no I don't believe you ought to be under the thumb of the federal government.”
Private sales, however, represent far more than transactions between individuals who know each other to be allowed to own a gun, as LaPierre suggested. Indeed, there is significant evidence that many crime guns are sold without a check. A 2004 survey of prison inmates found that nearly 80 percent obtained a firearm though a private transaction without a background check, in many cases from a friend or acquaintance. Private sales have also been linked to a 2012 mass shooting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, and are an acquisition method employed by Mexican drug cartels. A 2011 undercover investigation conducted by New York City found that 62 percent of online private sellers agreed to sell a firearm to someone who said they probably couldn't pass a background check. To the contrary, states that have strong background check laws see reductions to violent crime and in particular a lower rate of intimate partner homicides.
During his appearance, LaPierre also adopted the right-wing media's claim that the Navy Yard shooting, which claimed the lives of 12 victims, could have been prevented by the presence of more firearms. Despite the presence of armed guards - and the fact that the shooter reportedly obtained one of his handguns from a fallen guard -- LaPierre claimed that Navy Yard was “completely unprotected” and suggested that the shooting would have been stopped within 30 seconds if more people had been armed.