In the heated debate over gun control one particular issue has been the focal point of the discussion both because of its popularity with the public and because of its political feasibility of becoming law: Universal Background Checks.
On this particular front, the pro-gun control organization Mayors Against Illegal Guns struck a blow over the weekend with a Super Bowl ad that depicts the National Rifle Association’s Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in May 1999, approximately one month after Columbine.
In the ad, LaPierre explicitly and unequivocally endorses UBCs at gun shows.
“We think it’s reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show,” LaPierre told the congressional panel. “No loopholes anywhere for anyone.”
Now, though, it appears that the NRA is singing a different tune on the matter. That is, the gun lobby’s position has seemingly evolved over the years.
Last week, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, LaPierre was asked again about UBCs at gun shows.
“Let’s make this easy,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said. “I’m talking about gun shows. Should we have mandatory background checks at gun shows for all sales of weapons?”
“If you are a dealer, that is already the law,” LaPierre said
“That is not my question,” Sen. Leahy interjected. “Please, I’m not trying to play games here. If you could, just answer my question.”
“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,” LaPierre responded.
“You do not support background checks in all instances at gun shows?” Leahy asked.
“We do not because the law right now is a failure the way it is working …”
Okay, so not taking anything for granted, two questions emerge (a) did the NRA flip-flop on UBCs at gun shows? and (b) If so, why? And how isn’t it working?
Well, former president and current NRA board member Sandy Froman answered both of those questions when she appeared on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.”
“The answer, Anderson, is yes,” she told Cooper. “The NRA has changed its position and the reason it’s changed its position is because the system doesn’t work.”
Well, the obvious follow up, which Anderson posed, “If the system’s fixed, would you then support UBCs” (paraphrased).
To which Ms. Froman said, “Let’s get it working. Let’s make sure that the 23 states that aren’t reporting the names of people who are mentally ill and have violent tendencies let’s get those into the system.”
Ms. Froman’s responses in some ways accord to what LaPierre said in a Sunday interview with Fox News Anchor Chris Wallace. Yet, LaPierre takes it one step further, saying that he doesn’t have faith that NICS, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, will ever be fully functioning, nor will it ever prevent criminals from obtaining firearms.
WALLACE: You are for universal background checks?
LAPIERRE: Well, universal, but, now, that’s what President Obama is now putting forward and let me talk about that. It’s a fraud to call it universal. It’s never going to be universal. The criminals are not going to comply with it. They could care less.
You are not going to computerize — you have seen you’re not going to computerize the mental health records. So here’s what’s going to happen. We ought to quit calling it now universal check. The real title ought to be the check on law abiding people all over this country.
And then let’s talk about how it will work. They’re going to take a failed system. If you are in Broken Bow, Nebraska, or if you’re Anselmo, Nebraska, out there and you are a hunter or a rancher, if I want to sell you a shotgun or something like that, the federal government, we’ll have to go find a dealer, or walk into a police station, who’s going to do the check?
There’s going to be fees. There’s going to be paperwork. There’s going to be law-abiding people caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare, and, there’s going to be abuse in terms of prosecutions. And, it’s going to affect only the law-abiding people them. Criminals could care less.
The point was brought up a second time toward the end of the interview when Wallace specifically brought up the MAIG campaign ad.
WALLACE: One last question, because we are running out of time. President Obama is making it a big issue. He’s going to Minneapolis tomorrow. You know, that Capt. Kelly and Gabrielle Giffords are making it an issue.
Mayor Bloomberg is going to launch a big campaign. In fact, they are running an ad during the Super Bowl here in the Washington area pointing out the fact that in 1999, you supported a universal background check.
LAPIERRE: Not universal. We supported a check at gun shows.
WALLACE: OK. All right.
LAPIERRE: Not universal.
WALLACE: Expanded. Correct — stand corrected.
So, if you’re following all of this, the answer is the NRA has flip-flopped on UBCs at gun shows. In the past, the gun lobby supported UBCs at gun shows, meaning all private transactions would have to undergo background checks, not just those made through FFLs.
However, in terms of UBCs outside of gun shows – true UBCs (in the real sense of “no loopholes anywhere for anyone,” not just confined to the context of gun shows) – it appears the NRA never supported that wide-reaching policy.
Hopefully, this clarifies the NRA’s stance.