Less than a year ago, it seemed as though only the most vehemently anti-gun politicians wanted to go near the issue of gun control. Polls persistently showed that, by a wide margin, most Americans didn’t support new gun control measures. In the national media, a few articles declared the gun control debate over. How quickly things can change.
As we all know, the horrific mass murder of school children at Sandy Hook Elementary school, just one of a string of high-profile mass shootings, has brought the issue of Second Amendment rights and gun control to the forefront of the current political debate, in Washington and in the media.
It’s a serious issue that deserves serious discussion, but it seems that the voice of hunters and recreational shooters is missing from most of the media coverage.
That’s why Field & Stream has launched this series of interviews on the topic. In the coming weeks, we’ll be talking about gun rights with some of the leaders in the sportsmen’s community--heads of conservation and sportsmen’s rights groups, executives from firearm companies, politicians, industry leaders and representatives. Last week we ran an interview with Vice President Joe Biden, the administration’s most vocal advocate of new gun control measures. Today we bring you a discussion with one of the most vocal advocates of Second Amendment rights: Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Rifle Association.
We sat down with LaPierre to ask him about the NRA’s position on the administration’s gun control proposals, their ideas to reduce gun violence, and the role of the NRA in this debate.
by Anthony Licata
Topic: THE SECOND AMENDMENT
Field & Stream: How confident are you that the federal efforts to ban ARs and high-capacity magazines will not be enacted?
Wayne LaPierre: Well, if I’ve learned one thing in the 30-some years I’ve been doing this, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. I tell gun owners and hunters and sportsmen and Second Amendment supporters and Americans every day that all of these freedoms we have are just words on a piece of parchment paper unless we stand up and defend them every day.
What I am confident of is the fact that the American public stands solidly in overwhelming numbers behind the Second Amendment, behind their freedom to own a firearm, to protect themselves, protect their families under the Constitution, and they want the full measure of the freedom the Second Amendment provides them. Our greatest strength is the American public backs this freedom.
F&S: Let me ask you about that. It seems to me that just six months ago there was very little appetite for any kind of new gun control legislation among the general public. The tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook, I think, has changed that for many citizens. How important do you think it is to reach out to those American citizens who don’t own a gun, [or] maybe do own a gun but are not fully committed to the Second Amendment?
WLP: You had a historic restoration of Second Amendment freedom in the U.S. the last 20 years backed by the American public every step of the way. Yet you had a President who, before he needed the support of American gun owners in his elections, was for a handgun ban, a semiauto ban, [supported] banning single-shot, over-and-under, and side-by-side shotguns. He wanted to raise the excise tax on firearms by 500 percent, which is [a] $350 federal tax on a $500 rifle. He wanted to outlaw right to carry in all 41 states [that allow right to carry], and he was one of [the] legislators in Illinois to vote to actually prosecute a homeowner that used a gun in personal protection in a case involving one of those towns where they had a complete gun ban. That’s where “cling to your guns and your religion” came from.
When the President was running for reelection, he was personally telling the American public he backs the Second Amendment. He’ll never ban rifles, shotguns, handguns. His supporters were handing out fliers in 2008 [stating] there’s no difference between John McCain and Barack Obama when it comes to guns. They both support the Second Amendment.
Well, he hasn’t even been inaugurated again and he’s trying to ban all three—rifles, shotguns, handguns.
What’s been so disappointing to me about what has happened since this horrible tragedy at Newtown is how little this debate has to do with keeping schoolchildren in our country safe, and how much it has to do with this two-decade-long agenda on the part of Vice President Biden [and] President Obama to destroy the Second Amendment.
And what NRA has been focusing on is what would actually make America safer—our nation’s schoolchildren, our streets, and every American in this country. They could enact their entire gun-ban agenda they’ve got out there right now, [and] it wouldn’t make one schoolchild safer. It wouldn’t make one American safer. We’re concentrating on what works, as opposed to what they’re doing, which is just piggyback their decades-long gun-ban agenda on the back of this horrible tragedy in Newtown.
F&S: When you announced the new initiative for school safety, in some of the press it was met with scorn. It seems to be getting a little bit more support now. Can you tell me why you think it didn’t get support, and how you’re working to get it more support?
WLP: Well, I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy going on in the media, and a lot of hypocrisy in terms of some of the political elites. The truth is we need to make every school safe and every schoolchild safe in America.
When we made that proposal, we made it for this reason: It’s an immediate step that could be taken today to make every schoolchild in America safer. It would either stop or mitigate something like this. There’s not a mom or a dad that wouldn’t feel safer dropping their child off at school and seeing a police car there. There’s not a mom or dad that wants to leave their child unprotected.
It shouldn’t be just the rich and the powerful that send their children to schools where there is armed security. Parents shouldn’t be holding their breath because there’s no security in schools they’re sending their children to. And this is something that can be done. There was a school situation in Atlanta where an armed police officer stopped a situation just last week.
I believe that the President and the Vice President need to not just look at this through a political prism of “Let’s piggyback our gun-ban agenda on the back of this tragedy.” Let’s actually do what works. Let’s cut through the nonsense and let’s put in place [steps] to make our children safer and America safer.
UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS
F&S: Let me ask about another issue that the administration’s proposing: the idea of universal background checks. In the past the NRA has expressed support for having mandatory instant checks for all sales at gun shows, but that doesn’t seem to be the position now. Have you changed your position, and why?
WLP: Twenty-some years ago, in the early ’90s, NRA backed an alternative [to a waiting period] for [firearms] dealers, who are described as people that sell for livelihood and profit. We offered an instant check—with the promise that it would be instant, [and with] the assumption that those adjudicated mentally incompetent by a court of law would be added to the system. Prohibited people that tried to buy firearms would actually be prosecuted.
[There’s] over a billion dollars into the system, and it’s still a mess. You had 76,000 prohibited people denied last year, and only 13 were convicted by the federal government. I have personally been fighting for 20-some years to get those adjudicated mentally incompetent by a court of law put into the system. It still hasn’t happened. And I don’t see any serious attempt to make it happen.
So, the current system is not working as promised. Nothing’s being done to the people that are being flagged through the system. And the whole idea of making a current mess a bigger mess I don’t think makes any sense. The problem with what the Vice President is offering right now, and President Obama—a universal check—is never going to be universal.
Criminals aren’t going to participate in the system. The mentally defective, even those adjudicated by a court of law, are not going to be in the system. Doctors are never going to report into the system people that they strongly believe are mentally defective.
You’re going to end up with a universal nightmare for average, law-abiding people that are going to be forced to go find a police station or go find somebody that will do this check, if they’re willing to do it. There’s going to be fees. There’s going to be forms. There’s going to be a massive federal bureaucracy that’s going to be set up—and keep in mind, we’re a billion dollars into it already—a massive federal bureaucracy set up with lists that will amount to a registration, a national registration system on every lawful American gun owner.
It’s going to end up being abused. We’ve seen newspapers already printing names that they shouldn’t be printing of people that have carry permits. We’ve seen WikiLeaks and people hacking into federal computers with the Pentagon. It’s going to be abused. You’re going to have innocent people that don’t even realize they’re violating the law caught up in this universal nightmare that the Vice President and the President are proposing. And it’s not going to stop one criminal. It’s not going to stop one person intent on doing harm.
That’s why the NRA is going to stand and fight. I think hunters and sportsmen and Second Amendment supporters are going to be shocked at what the federal government intends on imposing on the average citizen in this country.
It’s not a universal check. It’s universal registration masquerading as a universal check. And who’s to trust the politicians that they won’t break their promises and do exactly what they did in the United Kingdom, which is use that list to confiscate? I’ve learned enough about politicians in this town to know how far to rely on a promise.
F&S: Let me ask two follow-ups to that. The first is about the existing system. Do you see a way to improve that, to have that system better keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people?
WLP: We’ve been trying to improve the thing for 20 years. I know what goes on in the back rooms, with the HIPAA laws, with the lobbies, what they do behind the scenes in this town. I just don’t believe this is a serious attempt to keep people safe. If it was a serious attempt to keep people safe, this administration would prosecute, under the existing federal gun laws, more than 13 out of the 76,000. If it was a serious attempt to keep people safe, there would be a major effort to fix the mental health system. Instead, the only thing you really end up with is a serious attempt to take a meat cleaver to the Second Amendment and rights of American citizens in this country, and end up with the dream of the anti–Second Amendment movement, which is a national registration system on every American that owns a firearm.
F&S: Do you think it’s possible to have a universal background check system without it being a national registry de facto? Is it possible to do?
WLP: No, and the National Institute of Justice even has memos that they—and recent studies saying that, that the only way it will work is to have a national registry on lawful American firearms owners, and they’ve even gone as far in their NIJ memo as to say the only way their so-called assault weapons [ban would] work would be buybacks, which amounts to forced confiscation.
The crux of it [is], we’ve been trying to make people safe. You’ve got all kinds of federal gun laws on the books right now, against drug dealers with guns, gang members with guns, felons with guns, prohibited people, you know, with firearms, and they are universally not prosecuted and enforced.
A lot of what is going on right now on the streets of Chicago is a self-inflicted wound. It is being tolerated, when to a large degree it could be stopped by using the existing federal gun laws to go into Chicago and taking drug dealers with guns, gangs with guns, and felons with guns off the streets of that city. Unfortunately, because of the mismanagement of the financial situation at the state and federal level, your police resources are being cut, prisons are being cut, people are being turned back to the streets that shouldn’t be.
But we have all of these federal laws against drug dealers with guns, gangs with guns, felons with guns illegally doing a straw purchase. If we would enforce them it would make a dramatic impact in cutting crime in this country. There’s not a police officer on the street that doesn’t know that the way to control violent crime is take drug gangs and criminals with guns off the street before they get to their next crime scene.
The U.S. is broken down into 90 prosecution jurisdictions under federal law. Chicago, where so much of this violence occurs, is 89 of 90 in terms of enforcing the federal gun laws in this country that we have right now against drug dealers with guns, gangs with guns and felons with guns and the people doing the killing. Syracuse University tracks all of this data. I’m talking about where the federal gun charges, the one you use to put them away—Chicago did, the last I saw, 62 people last year. Richmond, Va., when Project Exile was done in the ’90s, which NRA supported, did 300-some prosecutions just in that little town.
If you’re the President and the Vice President of the U.S. and you’re serious about cutting crime on the streets of Chicago, you mobilize a federal task force. You send in prosecutors. You tell the local police that when you run into a drug dealer with a gun, a gang member with a gun and a felon with a gun, call us. We’ll prosecute the case 100 percent of the time. You immediately start to make Chicago safer. And that’s not being done.
[The] assault weapons ban—we had that on the books for 10 years. All the studies say it was a miserable failure. We had the magazine ban for 10 years. It had no impact on bringing crime down, and when they let it expire, crime didn’t go up. This universal check is going to affect only really law-abiding people. I mean, you’ve got to get in the real world here and do what works to make people safe, and that’s police officers or armed security in every school in the country. It’s fixing the broken mental health system, changing the civil commitment laws, and it’s prosecuting [criminals under] existing federal laws that we have on the books right now. But you need to change the culture of prosecution at the federal level in order to make that happen, and I have seen no will to do that in this administration.
MAGAZINE CAPACITY RESTRICTIONS
F&S: Let me go back to something I mentioned earlier, and that’s the general citizenry who maybe aren’t gun owners. I think those people are easily swayed by emotional tactics, and they don’t have a good understanding of the issue, but they could have a big effect.
WLP: People that support more gun laws tend to have the least knowledge of the laws that are already on the books.
F&S: To those non–gun owners who are somewhere in the middle, the idea of a limit on magazine capacity seems reasonable. Can you explain to that person why gun owners should be able to have a so-called high-capacity magazine?
WLP: I think it comes down to this: It’s not about magazines, it’s about protection. You can put any ban you want on the books, and criminals are not going to have lesser access than they have right now. There are hundreds of millions of magazines out there. They’re springs and metal. You could make them in Mexico and send them over the border. But there are hundreds of millions of them.
If you limit the average citizen’s access, the law-abiding citizen’s access, to semiautomatic technology and to magazines, you’re limiting their ability to survive. If you’ve got three intruders breaking into your house in the middle of the night, you need to be able to fire as many shots as you need to protect yourself, not what some politician determines is reasonable for you.
American citizens want magazines, and high-cap magazines, for the exact same reason police officers want them in their guns, for protection, from people that intend to do evil.
F&S: What is the NRA doing to help fight this legislation that was passed in New York and point out some of the glaring errors? The way I understand it, all magazines that hold more than seven shots [would be banned], including those used by cops.
WLP: Yeah, I was just in New York, and the police officers were just livid over the fact that they are restricted under that law to seven. But that’s the same sentiment that homeowners and average citizens share when some politicians say [they would be] restricted to seven [rounds].
America is unique in its freedoms. I mean, the very essence of the Second Amendment is protection of the country, protection of your rights. Personal protection is the very essence of our Second Amendment. I mean, why should I be limited to a .22 bolt-action rifle instead of an AR-15 to protect myself? Why should I be limited to a six-shot revolver instead of semiautomatic technology to protect myself as a citizen? Why should I be limited to seven rounds as opposed to what I need to save my family if some criminal is intent on harming or killing them?
That’s what it boils down to. What gives Vice President Biden or President Obama or [Sen.] Dianne Feinstein the right to say, “I’m going to determine what’s reasonable for you,” when they’re not there at the scene of the crime when something horrible happens?
The guns that Dianne Feinstein’s trying to ban right now are the most commonly used firearms for target shooting, hunting, self-defense all over the country. And the guns that she wants to ban from a performance characteristic are no different than the guns that she doesn’t want to ban. I mean, it’s all cosmetics. It’s just cosmetic nonsense on the part of the American public that doesn’t understand guns.
And I really believe that’s where the disconnect occurs. I really believe that’s why gun owners are so frustrated [with] the media right now in this country, and [with] politicians like Dianne Feinstein and Vice President Biden and President Obama. Gun owners know the truth. They may be victim[s] of these lies, but they inherently know better, and that’s why they’re standing up for their freedoms and they’re fighting back right now.
F&S: You make a very good point about the widespread misunderstanding of what an AR is, or what they call an assault rifle, and that so many of the things are just judged on cosmetics. What is the NRA doing to educate the general public or the media about that?
WLP: We’re doing everything we can. The first time they passed the semiauto ban back in ’94, it was lied into law by convincing the American public they were talking about fully automatic guns. And then Congress was educated and found out the lie. Lies that are found out don’t get renewed.
The problem is, it’s been more than 10 years since it expired, and people have to be reeducated all over again. They’ve taken a military term, “assault,” and they’re applying it to a category of civilian firearms that have nothing to do with what they’re talking about. They don’t spray bullets. They’re not rapid fire. They don’t make bigger holes. They’re not more powerful. They’re not larger calibers. They’re not heavy armor, as the media talks about, or weapons of war, like our President says, like our soldiers use—which he repeats all the time.
An AR-15 is .223 caliber, yet you have these politicians and the media looking the American public in the eye and say[ing], “No deer hunter would ever hunt with something that powerful,” while every gun owner in the country knows that everything deer hunters use [is more powerful]. I mean, .270, .25/06, .30/06, 7mm, .308s and dozens and dozens and dozens of other calibers are more powerful. It’s gotten to the point where the truth doesn’t matter anymore. You just say the most outrageous stuff, whether it’s true or not true. And it’s sad that it’s come to that in this country.
POPULATION DEMOGRAPHICS AND THE NRA
F&S: Let me ask you something about the NRA. Recent demographic studies seem to show a pronounced shift in the makeup of the American citizenry, including where they live [and] for whom they will vote. Are you worried that this shift is going to ultimately erode the base of the NRA?
WLP: No, I’m not. In fact, decade in and decade out, NRA’s strength has always been a reflection of where the American public stands. The vast majority of the American public supports the Second Amendment. For decades in this country, it’s historical fact [that] it’s been bad politics to get on the wrong side of the Second Amendment at election time. And why is that true? Because the American public, the citizens, support their freedom, don’t want politicians messing with it.
Our American culture is deeply embedded in the right of individual citizens to own firearms to protect themselves, to protect their families. There’s a constitutional individual freedom in this country that’s wrote into the Bill of Rights. Because of the way the American public feels about their freedoms, NRA is embedded into every city block in this country—black, white, Asian, male, female.
All you’ve got to do is talk to the industry, and they’ll tell you the largest growth in firearms right now is American women buying firearms for personal protection, that have learned that proficiency with a firearm leads to safety and security. These freedoms are really what make America unique. They’re what make us different from these other countries. If there’s someone trying to break down your door at 2 a.m., there’s not a government or authority on the planet that substitutes for your individual right to own a firearm to protect yourself.
That is a deeply seated, core belief of the American public, that they have a right to protect themselves, they have a right to own the firearms they need to protect themselves, and it’s their constitutional right.
F&S: Because of some of these shifts, how can the NRA make the organization more welcoming to minority [groups]?
WLP: We always have been. There is not an organization in the United States of America that has a prouder history with the minority community in this country than the National Rifle Association. We were founded in 1871, right after the Civil War. We have always had African-American and minority members of the NRA before they broke the color line in major-league sports, before they broke the color line on the national networks. NRA always had African-American, minority members of the National Rifle Association.
The Second Amendment actually is the only freedom that actually has its own act in Congress, the Freedmen’s Act that was passed after the Civil War to make sure freed slaves could own guns to protect themselves. On our board right now we have Roy Innis from the Congress of Racial Equality; Karl Malone, one of the top NBA athletes of all time; Carl Rowan, former FBI agent. And NRA is backing programs that would make a lot of inner-city communities safer right now if we could get drug dealers with guns, gangs with guns, felons with guns that are out there on those streets right now ruining kids’ lives, destroying families, destroying neighborhoods—get this administration to prosecute them under the federal laws we have with NRA support, take them off the street and make those communities safer.
This benign neglect that is going on in terms of enforcing the federal gun laws that are on the books right now against the people that are ruining a lot of communities in this country is tragic, shouldn’t be tolerated, and needs to be changed. There needs to be a change in the culture of prosecution at the federal level, and take these gangs and drug dealers off the streets before they get to their next crime scene.
And it goes way beyond that. Within the shadow of Capitol Hill right now, right under the noses of the politicians in this town, there is all kinds of gang activity going on with firearms. Everything they’re doing is illegal under federal law right now. There’s sexual trafficking going on with 13-, 14-, 15-year-old girls that is unimaginable that it’s happening in the United States of America, and we do not seem to have the will to go in and confront it and stop it. That’s what needs to change, because we could change it.
F&S: Let me ask you another question about crime. NRA in its publications has a column I expect is wildly popular called “The Armed Citizen.” [It] points out how guns are used to prevent crime. That’s not something that seems to be mentioned in other media. How do you tell that story better so that’s part of the discussion as well?
WLP: In terms of the national media conglomerates, you have a media machine in this country that hates the Second Amendment. It’s cultural elitism. They diminish the 2.5 million times a year honest people use a gun to protect themselves, and they amplify every time a criminal does something that’s illegal with a gun. And they do it because they have a political agenda, which is [to] destroy the Second Amendment. Every day in this country there are heroic acts by good people with firearms, whether it’s our military, our police, [or] law-abiding citizens standing up for their protection. And that is largely diminished or ignored by the media because the media by and large has an agenda.
If your glass breaks at 2 a.m., or if you’re assaulted by a criminal, it’s the criminal and the victim. No one else is there. The media’s not there. The politicians aren’t there. Vice President Biden’s not there. President Obama’s not there. Eric Holder is sure not there. I mean, it’s just the citizen and the criminal, and there’s no more basic right than to own a firearm to defend yourself. It happens all over the country every day, and [those stories] are usually buried on page 26 of the paper, not page one. But the American public instinctively knows it, and that’s why they stand up for their freedom.
We are the deepest part of the river of American culture. I mean, we’re almost now 5 million American families. We are 80,000 police families. We have 11,000 law-enforcement instructors that train police in shooting around this country. We have 90,000 safety-training instructors that make people safe around firearms. We do the Eddie Eagle child safety program, [which] we put millions of dollars into. A child today has one-tenth the chance of being involved in an accident than his or her parents did because of programs like the Eddie Eagle child safety program that teaches kids too young to be around guns, what do you do if you see a gun? Stop, don’t touch it, leave the area, go find an adult. It’s written by the best child psychologists and elementary-school curriculum experts in the country. The other people haven’t spent a dime on making kids safe. The NRA spends millions and millions every year to make people safe.
F&S: I understand the bias that you’re talking about in the mainstream media. Is the NRA making an effort to tell that side of the story better? Because I think for the uninformed citizen, they see the NRA on TV, they think it’s you. Or the way it’s portrayed, [it’s] this shadowy organization, that it’s not 5 million Americans of all walks of life across the country. How does the NRA fix that problem?
WLP: I think the American public already knows it, to tell you the truth. I’ll give you an example. I was in [the] Newsweek boardroom in Manhattan back in 2000. Everyone in the boardroom [was] going, “Wayne, the firearms issue—the fact that Al Gore is for banning guns is going to elect him President and defeat George Bush.” And they’re all looking at me like I’m the one that’s out of touch.
And I’m sitting there looking back at them going, “You have got to be kidding me. You have no idea what’s happening in the heartland of this country right now. And what’s actually going to happen is the gun issue is going to defeat Al Gore, just like it cost the Democrats the House in 1994.” And it turns out that happened to be true. Bill Clinton, in his book, says that the gun issue cost Gore the presidency, cost him somewhere between three and six states.
So it’s never been about me. It’s never been about the NRA. It’s [about] the vast majority of the American public. When I go on TV, and some media personality is screaming at me, or some gun-ban group or some anti–Second Amendment politician, most of America is sitting there going, “Don’t let these politicians touch our rights.” Which is exactly what’s happening now. I’m out around this country every week. I’ve got people, everywhere I go, grabbing me—men, women of every race—going, “Don’t let them touch our freedoms. This is not about guns. You’re saying the right stuff to make people safe. Secure our schools with armed security. Fix the mental health system. Prosecute the bad guys. Don’t you guys back down.”
NRA is growing at an unprecedented pace right now, because I think the American public is seeing through this stuff, and they don’t want these politicians to touch their freedoms.
LAWS PREVENTING CRIMINAL USE
F&S: Let me circle back to where we started. With the types of firearms crime that you mentioned—[involving] drugs and gangs—we all know that’s the vast majority of firearms crime in the country.
WLP: And there are reasonable gun laws that NRA supports on the book to deal with every one of those cases right now, if we could get them enforced.
F&S: Correct. But it seems to be these high-profile mass shootings in public places, not just schools—malls, movie theaters, workplaces—that seem to drive a lot of the talk about gun control. Do you have a reason why these are happening, or some thoughts? And what can we do as gun owners to help solve the problem?
WLP: I have a number of thoughts on that. I mean, one, they happen all over the world, with every type of gun control law. You’ve had it happen in France. You’ve had it happen in Germany. You’ve had it happen in the Netherlands. You’ve had it happen in United Kingdom. You’ve had it happen in Scotland. Brazil. All over the world, with every type of gun law anybody’s ever dreamed of, they still happen.
I look at some of these that have happened recently, and almost every one could have been stopped, and might have been stopped, except for deficiencies in the mental health system and our criminal justice system. And that’s what we need to really concentrate on fixing. The idea that some insane person walking into a movie theater in Colorado that had been reported to the police, been reported to the school, nobody did anything about him, is not an argument for taking firearms away from all the sane people. The fact that Chicago has lost control of big parts of the city to drug gangs that are misusing their illegal guns that they have is not an argument for taking guns away from all the law-abiding people in Chicago. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
But you also come back to why you have to enforce these laws. If it’s a drug gang or a gang member, get them off the streets and incarcerate them before they get to the next crime scene. If someone is mentally defective, get them off the streets, get them into treatment before they get to the next crime scenes.
You’ve got to do that, because you can’t legislate morality. Legislation works on the sane. Legislation works on the law-abiding. It doesn’t work on the insane. It doesn’t work on criminals. I’ve heard FBI profilers say legislation doesn’t work on homicidal maniacs.
You take all of that and you come back to, “O.K., then what are we going to do?” Well, you end up with a Secret Service study done not too long ago that said only 25 percent of school shootings were stopped by the police. The rest of them were either stopped by somebody in the system or the person killed themselves. That’s a pretty good argument for putting armed security in the schools for protection.
You’ve also got to look at the mental health system and all of these red flags. No one acts on them. It’s like being at the beach and seeing a plane come along with a big sign behind it. The red flags are that strong. These people are practically lighting themselves on fire and saying, “I’m a problem.” Whether it’s Arizona with [Jared] Loughner, whether it’s the Colorado one, or whether it’s the one in Connecticut. That’s a mental health problem.
I have police officers tell me all the time, “Wayne, we’ve emptied the institutions. You can’t get people institutionalized anymore because the civil commitment laws are so bad.” And then they stop taking their medicine when they’re on the street. And then the police officers see them walking around. We need to fix the mental health system in this country and provide the resources to do it. We need to fix the criminal justice system.
NRA will go to Congress with anybody tomorrow morning [to help] send prosecutors, federal prosecutors into Chicago to work with the local cops. Every time a drug dealer or gang member or felon touches a gun, we prosecute 100 percent of that, that would send a message. That would start making people safe tomorrow morning.
Universal checks, another phony assault weapons ban, a magazine ban that no criminal will comply with—I mean, criminals will laugh all the way to the next crime scene, and they could care less.
F&S: Let me ask you your thoughts on safe storage—whether there [should be] safe storage laws. Or if there is a case where a child who has a deficiency, mental problems, and [the parent doesn’t] secure firearms, and they’re used, should that gun owner be liable?
WLP: NRA has supported everything it takes to make people safe around firearms. Owning a firearm is a responsibility. You need to take it seriously, and you need to make sure if you own one that it’s safe. There’s not a one-size prescription that fits all. If you have young children in your house, you’ve got to lock [the guns] up. If you’re a single woman living alone in a high-crime area and there are no children in the house, that’s a different situation.
There are negligence laws in all 50 states where if you do something negligent with a firearm, something irresponsible, you can be prosecuted. No one spends more money to get those messages out in terms of safety and responsibility than the National Rifle Association. It’s one of our core tenets, and we advocate it, and we put our money where our mouth is every day in terms of teaching safety and responsibility and training and educating America about it.
NEW STATE GUN LEGISLATION
F&S: We’ve been talking a lot about this federal legislation, talked a little bit about state [legislation]. But let’s say the current federal legislation isn’t passed. How concerned are you that there’ll be more state legislation banning firearms, like what happened in New York? What should gun owners do to fight that?
WLP: I’ll come back to what I said before. All of these freedoms we have as American citizens are just words on a piece of paper unless you defend them. So if we want to pass them on, [we]’ve got to defend them every day.
There is an anti–Second Amendment industry in this country now. There are people that get up every day and go to work with the idea of tearing down the Second Amendment in this country. That’s their job. You have people like Mayor Bloomberg that wants to shame American gun owners and stigmatize guns like he’s done [with] smoking. I believe the American public will not buy into that.
Gun ownership is a constitutional right. We’re not about to be shamed for exercising that constitutional right. The fact that you want to own a gun to protect your family or go recreational shooting or go hunting or go target shooting is about as normal an activity as you can have as a law-abiding citizen. It is a right.
It is a huge recreational aspect in terms of America. I mean, you have, what, 100 million gun owners. You have 12, 15 million hunters, 30 to 40 million recreational shooters. I mean, before there was baseball in this country, before there was basketball in this country, Americans always enjoyed the shooting sports. They teach safety, they teach discipline, they teach responsibility. They’re growing in big numbers right now. And they’re not about to stand back and be brainwashed, to use Eric Holder’s word, or stigmatized, to use Mayor Bloomberg’s word, to let that happen to this whole culture that is not only a great American freedom, but is a great part of America. We’re not about to be shamed.
F&S: You’re considering that the Heller decision from the Supreme Court clearly identified the Second Amendment as an individual right, and guns that are in everyday use and normal are protected. It seems to me that the government should bear a heavy burden when trying to enact this legislation. Say it passes. Will there be legal challenges?
WLP: Oh, there will be. There definitely will be legal challenges. The Second Amendment is one of our most basic freedoms. It should be held to strict scrutiny in terms of freedom, not based on what some politician judges in their mind as reasonable.
And so we’re going to stand up for this freedom in every way possible. Whether it’s fighting the legislative fight, whether it’s fighting in the courts. One thing America can count on the NRA is, they’re going to stand and fight for this freedom. And we don’t intend to back down.