For a century after its founding in 1871, the National Rifle Association served its members and the country by promoting hunting, marksmanship, and responsible gun use. It supported common sense gun laws, including measures to license firearm dealers and restrict access to machine guns, and advocated for passage of major federal gun legislation like the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Federal Firearms Act of 1938.
That organization no longer exists.
The leadership of today’s NRA would be unrecognizable to the people who led it for most of the twentieth century — or to NRA member Ronald Reagan, who endorsed a 7-day waiting period for gun purchases and thought background checks were “just plain common sense”In a speech at George Washington University, Reagan said, “it’s just plain common sense that there be a waiting period to allow local law-enforcement officials to conduct background checks on those who wish to purchase handguns.” Steven A. Holmes, “Gun Control Bill Backed by Reagan in Appeal to Bush,” NY Times, March 29, 1991. He signed a 15-day waiting period into law while governor, and urged passage of the Brady bill that originally required 7-day waiting periods. Ronald Reagan, “Why I’m for the Brady bill,” N.Y. Times, March 29, 1991. And he signed a joint letter with Presidents Carter and Ford urging Congress to pass the assault weapons ban and saying that the ban was “a matter of vital importance to the public safety.” William J. Eaton, “Ford, Carter, Reagan Push for Gun Ban,” Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1994. – positions that are anathema to the contemporary gun lobby.
Over the last thirty years, the Washington leadership of the NRA has led the organization through a fundamental transformation. The organization’s leaders now cater to the most extreme members of its base and fight even modest efforts to close loopholes in the nation’s gun laws. They take a scorched-earth approach to politics, compiling an enemies list that includes any organization or individual who dares question the party line.See NRA-ILA, “Fact Sheet: National Organizations with Anti-Gun Policies,” Sept. 17, 2012 (on file with Everytown for Gun Safety) (compiling a lengthy list of individuals and organizations the NRA claims endorse “anti-gun policies,” media organizations it claims “have assisted in the attack on Second Amendment rights,” and companies it claims have “lent their corporate support to gun control”). And they bury evidence,See generally Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Access Denied 20-30, Jan. 2013, at maig.us/accessdenied. silence researchers,See generally id. at 10-20. and blacklist companies that contradict the NRA’s agenda or cooperate with those who seek to reduce gun violence.See, e.g., Jackie Koszczuk, “NRA Turns Against Smith & Wesson,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Mar. 23, 2000; Jessica Chasmar, “NRA boycott of outdoors show shuts it down,” Washington Times, Jan. 24, 2013, at http://bit.ly/1eWYzNK.
American children, families, and communities are paying a high price. Guns kill 86 Americans every day.See Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Fatal Injury Reports, National and Regional, 1999-2010, at http://1.usa.gov/INLSVQ (5 year average of gun deaths from 2006 – 2010 is 86 deaths/year). Meanwhile, the NRA relentlessly presses legislators in every statehouse in America to enact more dangerous gun laws.For example, during the 2014 legislative session in Georgia, the NRA pressed for sweeping gun legislation that critics called the “Guns Everywhere Act,” and which proposed to allow felons using illegal guns to claim protection under the state’s Stand Your Ground law and permit guns on college campuses and in churches, government buildings, and unsecured areas of airports. When a modified version of the legislation passed, the NRA applauded it as the “culmination of all the hard work that NRA members, Second Amendment supporters and Georgia legislators accomplished.” NRA-ILA, “Georgia: Governor to Sign Comprehensive Pro-Gun Bill on Wednesday,” Apr. 22, 2014, at http://bit.ly/1nGxEFC. And the organization’s Washington lobbyists work to block Congress from taking any action to address the national epidemic of gun violence.
This report highlights some of the extreme positions the NRA has taken and some of the tactics it uses to advance its agenda, which is making America less safe. They include:
- Fighting for the rights of felons and terror suspects to buy and own firearms and explosives;
- Campaigning to put guns in places like bars, despite the documented dangers of mixing guns and alcohol;
- Promoting gag orders to block pediatricians and military commanders from discussing gun safety with parents and service members at risk for suicide;
- Handcuffing law enforcement and impeding their efforts to fight gun crime by sabotaging the introduction of proven, innovative technology; and
- Hobbling communities beset by gun violence by thwarting their efforts to tailor gun laws to local conditions.
How the Leadership of the NRA Puts Americans at Risk
During congressional debate over the National Firearms Act of 1934, which regulated the machine guns used by Prohibition era organized crime, the NRA’s president testified that he “never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons,” and said carrying guns “should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”Adam Winkler, Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America 210-11 (WW. Norton 2011). The executive vice president told Congress that the group was “absolutely favorable to reasonable gun control.”Id. at 211.
Today’s NRA has remained true to its roots in some important ways. The organization’s gun safety and marksmanship programs remain useful contributions to the shooting sports and to public safety. And it is largely because of these nationwide programs that the organization is well known, and relatively well liked, in much of the country. This is the NRA most American gun owners know and trust.
But in other ways, the Washington leadership of the National Rifle Association has led the organization in a very different direction from that of its founders. The contemporary NRA would be unrecognizable to the people who led it for most of the twentieth century.
Today’s radicalized NRA was born in 1977, when an insurgent group seized control of the organization’s leadership. At the annual NRA meeting that year, the insurgents mounted a coup and elected as their new leader Harlon Carter, whose views would fundamentally reshape the organization. He rejected calls for prohibiting dangerous classes of persons from possessing guns, saying that allowing “convicted violent felons, mentally deranged people, violently addicted to narcotics people to have guns” was simply the “price we pay for freedom.”See generally Josh Sugarmann, National Rifle Association: Money, Firepower & Fear, Chapter Two: “Revolt at Cincinnati,” 1992, available at http://bit.ly/1tfzT6R.
Carter’s views have since been institutionalized as NRA orthodoxy. Whereas more than eight in ten gun owners — including 74 percent of the NRA’s own members — support requiring a criminal background check of anyone purchasing a gun,Luntz Global, Gun Owners Poll for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, July, 2012, at http://maig.us/1qlOoBJ. the NRA now opposes them, proclaiming that background checks are a nefarious government plot to create a national registry of guns.See “Wayne LaPierre: Executive Vice President and CEO,” Who is the NRA Leadership, at http://www.meetthenra.org/nra-member/wayne-lapierre (collecting quotations from LaPierre denouncing background checks).
The leadership of today’s NRA supports arming dangerous people and allowing almost anyone to carry guns anywhere, including our most sensitive areas — government buildings, daycare centers, bars. It systematically undermines efforts to enforce the law against the small handful of gun dealers who sell an overwhelming percentage of guns that end up at crime scenes. It works to ban any discussions of gun safety by doctors and military commanders and counselors. And it promotes vindictive state legislation to thwart local responses to gun violence, and ostracizes those who take issue with any of its positions.
Simply put, the NRA’s intransigence thwarts efforts to implement strategies proven to reduce gun injuries, and helps perpetuate the firearm deaths of 31,000 Americans every year.
Arming Felons & Terrorists
After a series of high-profile assassinations, including President John F. Kennedy, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, the Gun Control Act of 1968 made it illegal for certain categories of particularly dangerous people to purchase or possess firearms — including convicted felons. Nine out of ten Americans — including 82 percent of gun owners and 74 percent of NRA members — support this common-sense prohibition.See Quinnipiac University Poll, March 26 – April 1, 2013, at http://bit.ly/1ticB01; see also Luntz Global, Gun Owners Poll for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, July, 2012, at http://every.tw/luntz. And yet the NRA’s Washington leadership opposes laws that would prevent not only felons from acquiring firearms, but individuals on the government’s terror watch lists as well.
Federal law bars individuals with felony convictions from purchasing or possessing guns.18 U.S.C. §§ 922(d)(1), (g)(1). But the NRA has lobbied at both the federal and state level to ease these restrictions, and to let convicted felons overturn their prohibitions and regain access to guns.
In 1986, the NRA successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOPA),See Dave Hardy, “No Surrender: The straight skinny on the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act (FOPA) the law that saved gun rights,” NRA-ILA.org, Jan. 25, 2011, at http://bit.ly/1hihqwU. which allows felons convicted of gun crimes to reverse their gun prohibitions. FOPA also let states set their own standards for restoring gun rights and removed federal restrictions on criminals who have had their state prohibitions overturned.See Pub.L. 99–308, 100 Stat. 449, enacted May 19, 1986.
In Minnesota, for example, thousands of felons — including those convicted of violent crimes — regained access to guns under the new statute. When Minnesota Republican Senator David Durenberger saw a public safety crisis brewing and sought to address it, he “ran into a stone wall” when he raised the issue with the NRA.Michael Luo, “Felons Finding It Easy to Regain Gun Rights,” N.Y. Times, Nov. 13, 2011.
Durenberger’s concerns played out as he had feared. In one case, convicted felon David J. Byrne, who was prohibited from possessing guns after killing his estranged wife and a family friend, had his gun rights restored as a result of FOPA. Byrne bought a gun and went on a shooting rampage, injuring three police officers in a half-hour gun battle that ended only when police shot and wounded him.David Chanen, “Legislators propose lifetime ban on weapons for felons,” Star Tribune, Jul.27, 2001.
The change also had a predictable outcome in Washington State. In 1995, the NRA successfully lobbied for a law that, except for the most violent felons and sex offenders, requires judges to reverse a criminal’s gun prohibition if he has not been convicted of any new crimes in the five years after completing his sentence; a judge cannot consider an applicant’s character, mental health or any other factors.Michael Luo, “Felons Finding It Easy to Regain Gun Rights,” N.Y. Times, Nov. 13, 2011. After the law’s passage in 1995, more than 3,300 convicted criminals regained their gun rights, and more than 400 — fully 13 percent — went on to commit new crimes, including murder, child rape and drive-by shootings.Id.
Felons who have had their gun prohibitions overturned thanks to NRA-backed efforts include convicted murderers and individuals guilty of transferring explosives to international terrorists, threatening family members with guns, illegally selling prohibited weapons like machine guns and committing aggravated assault, robbery and rape.Violence Policy Center, “Guns for Felons: How the NRA Works to Rearm Criminals,” 2000, at https://www.vpc.org/studies/felons.htm But the NRA’s leaders are undeterred, and continue to campaign relentlessly in favor of state laws that let dangerous criminals buy guns legally.See Michael Luo, “Felons Finding It Easy to Regain Gun Rights,” N.Y. Times, Nov. 13, 2011.
As a result, at least 11 states now allow for automatic reversal of felons’ gun prohibitions after a certain period of time, either for all felons or those convicted of certain crimes.These states include Alaska, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Texas. See Alaska Stat. § 11.61.200(b)(1)(C); Kan. Stat. Ann. § 21-6304(a); La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14:95.1(C); Mass. Ann. Laws ch. 140, § 129B(1)(i); Mich. Comp. Laws Serv. § 705.224f; N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-7-16(C)(2); N.D. Cent. Code § 62.1-02-01; Or. Rev. Stat. § 166.270; R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-47-5 (b); S.D. Codified Laws § 22-14-15; Tex. Penal Code § 46.04(a). Many other states, like Washington, allow felons to petition to reverse their prohibition — often through processes that presumptively restore gun rights to criminals and remove judges’ discretion to deny a petition if basic criteria are satisfied — despite the risk that these individuals will go on to commit additional crimes.See Michael Luo, “Felons Finding It Easy to Regain Gun Rights,” N.Y. Times, Nov. 13, 2011.
The FBI currently has no authority to block firearm sales to individuals on the country’s terrorist watch lists — so someone deemed too dangerous to board a plane is allowed to buy guns under federal law.
Gun owners, including NRA members, overwhelmingly support proposals to close this “terror gap:” a 2012 survey by Republican pollster Frank Luntz found that 76 percent of gun owners, including 71 percent of NRA members, support prohibiting people on terror watch lists from purchasing guns.Luntz Global, Gun Owners Poll for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, July, 2012, at http://every.tw/luntz.
But the NRA’s leaders virulently oppose proposals to close this dangerous loophole.NRA-ILA, “Are you an American or are you a terrorist?” Aug. 30, 2009, at http://bit.ly/1mZFxWj.
In June 2011, Al Qaeda issued a video message that featured an American-born member of the terrorist group urging followers to commit violent acts of jihad by exploiting weaknesses in U.S. gun laws. “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms,” he said in the video. “You can go down to a gun show…and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check and, most likely, without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”Video available at http://youtu.be/EpRQzTP8H1o.
The danger of gun-wielding terrorists is far from hypothetical. According to the Government Accountability Office, individuals on terrorist watch lists attempted to buy guns and explosives at least 1,453 times between February 2004 and December 2010, and in 91 percent of those occasions — 1,321 separate incidents — they succeeded.Government Accountability Office. May 5, 2010. “Terrorist Watchlist Screening.” http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10703t.pdf Numerous terrorism-related incidents on U.S. soil since 9/11 — including shootings in Fort Hood and Little Rock in 2009, and plots in Fort Dix (2007), Quantico (2009), and Seattle (2011) — involved firearms.Pre-9/11 terrorist incidents on American soil, like shootings at the Empire State Building (1997) and CIA headquarters (1993), also involved firearms.
In response, legislation originally proposed by the Bush Administration and endorsed by the Obama Justice Department (S.34 and H.R. 720) would give the Justice Department discretion — subject to judicial review — to block gun and explosives sales to terror suspects.
But the NRA’s Washington leadership has fought strenuously any efforts to close the terror gap, describing attempts to tighten the law as a conspiracy by “politicians who hate the Second Amendment.”Dana Milbank, “Terrorists who want to buy guns have friends on Capitol Hill,” Washington Post, May 6, 2010, at http://wapo.st/1ltI6yJ; see also NRA-ILA, “Are you an American or are you a terrorist?” Aug. 30, 2009, at http://bit.ly/1mZFxWj. Due in large part to the NRA’s mobilization against terror-gap legislation, it has repeatedly stalled in Congress.
To this day, nothing prevents suspected terrorists from legally buying guns and explosives at federally licensed dealers or from unlicensed individuals.
Mixing Guns & Alcohol
Just as the NRA’s leaders oppose efforts to keep guns out of the hands of the most dangerous people, they aggressively advocate putting guns into every setting, including volatile environments like bars.
Common sense and academic research show that alcohol and guns can be a deadly mix. There is a strong correlation between per capita alcohol consumption and firearm violence.Wintemute G.J., “Association between firearm ownership, firearm-related risk and risk reduction behaviours and alcohol-related risk behaviours,” Injury Prevention, P422-427 (Jun. 13, 2011). A report by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that approximately 40 percent of those convicted of homicide had been drinking alcohol at the time of their offense.Jennifer C. Karberg & Doris J. James, Substance Dependence, Abuse, and Treatment of Jail Inmates, 2002, U.S. Dep’t of Justice, July 2005, at http://1.usa.gov/1nCKEft. And data from the National Violent Death Reporting System indicate that 62 percent of murder victims have a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit.D. Karch, J. Logan & N. Patel, “Surveillance for Violent Deaths — National Violent Death Reporting System, 16 States, 2008,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Aug. 26, 2011.
The American public understands these dangers: in a nationwide poll, more than nine in ten Americans opposed laws that would allow people to carry guns in bars or on college campuses where binge drinking is common.David Hemenway, Deborah Azrael & Matthew Miller, “National Attitudes Concerning Gun Carrying in the United States,” 7 Inj. Prev. 282, 283 (Dec. 2001), at http://1.usa.gov/1hULSSa. A Columbia University study found that half of college students engage in binge drinking or abuse of prescription and illegal drugs and that nearly one in four college students meet the medical criteria for substance abuse and dependence. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America’s Colleges and Universities,” Mar. 2007, available at http://bit.ly/1g57Qhc.
Yet, despite public opinion and scientific research showing the danger posed by firearms in the hands of alcohol users, the NRA presses to allow customers in bars to carry hidden, loaded guns.Amanda Lee Myers, “Guns Allowed in Arizona Bars Starting Wednesday,” Huffington Post, Sept. 29, 2009, at http://huff.to/1i8Avlv
There is no shortage of evidence that drunken bar fights can turn deadly when guns are involved — and that all bar patrons are at risk. For example, in April 2014, a 30-year-old man was fatally shot at point-blank range after a fight broke out at a popular bar blocks from the University of Pennsylvania campus.Emily Babay, “Man shot to death outside University City bar,” Philly.com, Apr. 15, 2014, at http://bit.ly/1noA6Aw On Easter Sunday that month, another man was killed and a second person wounded when shots were fired inside a bar popular with fraternity members at the State University of New York — New Paltz.Pauline Liu, “Update: Search continues for shooter in New Paltz fatal shooting,” RecordOnline, Apr. 20, 2014, at http://bit.ly/1i8nIp3. In February, 2014, a Lexington County, South Carolina man was shot and killed when he tried to break up a bar fight between other patrons.Jason Old, “Man fatally shot trying to break up fight outside bar, deputies seek witnesses,” WISTV.com, Feb. 4, 2014, at http://bit.ly/1mVSBfg. The same month, in Fort Worth, Texas, a 56-year-old grandmother who joined her friends for a drink was killed when an altercation broke out at the bar and she was caught in the crossfire. She was an innocent bystander, in the wrong place at the wrong time.Claire Cardona, “Woman killed during shooting at North Side Outlaws bar in Fort Worth was innocent bystander,” DallasNews.com, Feb. 17, 2014, at http://bit.ly/1epas9g.
Despite the obvious dangers, the NRA’s leadership has pushed legislation across the country to allow hidden, loaded guns in bars, and the organization claims that more than 40 states now allow guns in businesses that sell alcohol.Amanda Lee Myers, “Guns Allowed in Arizona Bars Starting Wednesday,” Huffington Post, Sept. 29, 2009, at http://huff.to/1i8Avlv. Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin all recently passed guns-in-bars legislation. When Arizona passed such a law in 2009, one bar owner lamented that allowing guns in bars would allow minor scuffles to turn deadly; he complained that “[t]he idea of anyone coming in with guns in a place that serves alcohol just seems ludicrous.”Id.
In Tennessee, State Representative Curry Todd pushed a guns-in-bars law with the NRA’s support. A Republican Representative named Joe McCord — a member of the NRA with an A-plus NRA rating — condemned the NRA-supported bill in the strongest terms and criticized the organization for its support and strong-arm tactics. McCord explained, “Essentially, the NRA is saying to us, if you don’t support and vote for carrying guns in bars, we will not endorse you… This line of reasoning borders on lunacy. What line will we not cross for the NRA? At what point do we say that’s too much?… I’m sorry for those [legislators] who feel you have to hold your nose and vote for it… because of the NRA.”Tom Humphrey, “‘Guns in Bars’ bill heads to Bredesen,” Knoxville News, May 5, 2010, at http://bit.ly/1jeOyZ6. Despite intense opposition, the legislature approved the bill and overrode Governor Phil Bredesen’s veto to enact it into law.Malcolm Gay, “More States Allowing Guns in Bars,” N.Y. Times, Oct. 3, 2010.
In 2014, lawmakers in GeorgiaGeorgia H.B. 875, the Safe Carry Protection Act. and South Carolina enacted laws allowing concealed guns in bars. One bar owner in Clemson, South Carolina explained the reason he chose to post a sign barring guns from his bar: “On some nights you have college kids wall to wall in here drinking,” he said. “You don’t want a gun in here.”Kim Severson, “Want Guns With That? Chefs Find Politics Hotter Than Kitchen,” N.Y. Times, Mar. 31, 2014
The NRA evidently disagrees.
Silencing Doctors & Military Commanders
The extremism of the NRA’s leaders is not limited to arming dangerous people and putting guns in sensitive places. The gun lobby has also written and passed legislation that bars doctors from even talking to parents about gun safety and gagged military commanders and mental health professionals from discussing firearms with soldiers at risk of suicide.
Pediatrician Gag Orders
Just as they routinely counsel parents about other ways to prevent childhood injury — like car seats, swimming pool covers, and bike helmets — American pediatricians can help protect children by discussing responsible firearm ownership with their parents.
Scientific evidence indicates how. More than two million children live in homes with unsecured firearms,See Mark A. Schuster et al., “Firearm storage patterns in US homes with children,” American Journal of Public Health, 90, no. 4 (2000): 588-594, available at: http://bit.ly/1cxGGDU; Okoro et al., Prevalence of Household Firearms and Firearm Storage Practice In the 50 States and the District of Columbia: Findings From The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2002, Pediatrics 116(3): e370-e376 (Sept. 1, 2005). and research consistently shows that these children are at an elevated risk of accidental firearm injury.See, e.g., Guohua Li et al., “Factors Associated with the Intent of Firearm-Related Injuries in Pediatric Trauma Patients,” Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine 150, no. 11 (1996): 1160-1165; Garen J. Wintemute et al., “When Children Shoot Children; 88 Unintended Deaths in California,” Journal of the American Medical Association 257, no. 22 (1987): 3107-3109. But doctors are uniquely positioned to help. A study of family practice patients who reported gun ownership found that those counseled by a doctor about safe firearm storage were 2.2 times as likely to improve their gun storage practices as those who did not receive counseling.Teresa Albright and Sandra Burge, “Improving Firearm Storage Habits: Impact of Brief Office Counseling by Family Physicians,” Journal of the American Board of Family Practice 16, no. 1 (2003): 40-46. Another nationwide, randomized controlled trial found that patients who were counseled by their pediatrician about gun safety and offered free firearm cable locks were 22 percent more likely to continue following the recommended gun storage practices six months later.Shari L. Barkin, et al., “Is office-based counseling about media use, timeouts, and firearm storage effective?Results from a cluster-randomized, controlled trial,” 122(1) Pediatrics (2008). In keeping with this evidence, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians and the Society for Adolescent Medicine all recommend that doctors inform parents of the risks of gun injuries and how to prevent them.See Prevention of Firearm Injuries in Children (Gill et al., 2013).
But the NRA’s leaders disregard this scientific evidence and fight for laws that would gag doctors from even discussing gun safety with parents.
In 2011, the group pushed Florida lawmakers to pass a bill prohibiting doctors from asking their patients whether they owned guns.Florida H.B. 155 (2011). The NRA’s former president (and current lobbyist) Marion Hammer endorsed the law, claiming in testimony before the state legislature that it was necessary to prevent doctors from discriminating against or harassing patients who chose to own guns.See House H&HS Comm. Hr’g at 43:00, Apr. 5, 2011 (Marion Hammer, NRA), at http://myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/PodCasts/PodCastArchives.aspx. But a federal court found the law unconstitutional because it infringed doctors’ free speech rights by preventing the sharing of truthful, non-misleading information about guns with patients — while doing nothing to limit gun owners’ Second Amendment rights.Wollschlaeger v. Farmer, 880 F. Supp. 2d 1251 (S.D. Fla. 2012). Governor Rick Scott appealed the decision, and the NRA filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the appeals court to reinstate the law.See Wollschlaeger v. Governor State of Florida, Brief of Amicus Curiae National Rifle Association of America, Inc. Supporting Appellants and Reversal, No. 12-14009 (11th Cir. Oct. 1, 2012). A decision is pending.See Curt Anderson, “Court Hears Florida Appeal in ‘Docs vs. Glocks’ Case,” Naples News, July 18, 2013, at http://bit.ly/1b8p0bR.
In 2013, Montana followed in Florida’s footsteps, enacting a law that prohibits doctors from using questions about gun ownership to determine what patients they will treat.Montana H.B. 459 (signed April 19, 2013) In total, state legislators in at least thirteen states have followed the NRA’s lead by introducing laws that would discipline doctors who ask patients whether they have guns in their homes, or prohibit doctors from recording information about gun ownership in medical files.Bills restricting what doctors can ask patients about guns or what gun data they can record in medical records have been introduced in Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia; the bills were signed into law in Florida and Montana. So far in 2014, such bills have been introduced in at least four states: Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia. The NRA also added an amendment to the Affordable Care Act which prohibits doctors from collecting data on gun ownership. See Title X, Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights, Affordable Care Act.
Muzzling Military Commanders and Counselors
The pediatrician’s office is not the only place where the NRA disregards scientific evidence and meddles with public health. The group also fought to restrict military commanders and counselors from taking steps to prevent gun suicides among American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.See NRA-ILA, “Sen. Inhofe Introduces Legislation To Protect Second Amendment Rights of Military and Dept. of Defense Civilian Personnel,” May 28, 2010, at http://bit.ly/1sx3TuC.
Over the last decade, the U.S. military has endured an epidemic of suicides among active-duty troops, and more than two-thirds of these deaths involved firearms.Department of the Army, Army 2020: Generating Health & Discipline in the Force ahead of the Strategic Reset 57, 2012, at http://bit.ly/1mrWl8L. The suicide rate hit a record high in 2012 when more than 349 service members took their own lives — more than were killed in battle in Afghanistan that year.Bill Briggs, “Military Suicide Rate hit Record High in 2012,” NBCNews.com, at http://nbcnews.to/PNeIcR.
Military commanders determined that these suicides could be prevented by talking with soldiers about whether they had personal firearms in their homes and removing guns from those most likely to hurt themselves. After studying hundreds of military suicide cases, retired U.S. Army Colonel Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, MD, MPH, concluded “that the easy availability of weapons is a major part of the problem.”Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, Suicide and the United States Army: Perspectives from the Former Psychiatry Consultant to the Army Surgeon General, at http://bit.ly/PqMUuw. Former Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli explained that the “majority of [suicides] have two things in common: alcohol and a gun. That’s just the way it is. And when you have somebody that you in fact feel is high risk, I don’t believe it’s unreasonable to tell that individual that it would not be a good idea to have a weapon around the house.”Anna Mulrine, “Military Fights NRA in Wake of Suicide Epidemic,” NBCNews.com, July 27, 2012. As Chiarelli explained, “if you can separate the individual from the weapon, you can lower the incidences of suicide.”Anna Mulrine, “Pentagon vs. NRA: Will gun-rights law raise risk of soldier suicides?” Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 4, 2011.
Despite the evidence supporting this common-sense conclusion, the NRA’s leaders defied the military and lobbied to prevent commanders from asking even basic questions about service members’ privately owned guns.Id.
The NRA-backed restriction was introduced in 2010 as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and took effect the following year.NRA-ILA, “Sen. Inhofe Introduces Legislation To Protect Second Amendment Rights of Military and Dept. of Defense Civilian Personnel,” May 28, 2010, at http://bit.ly/1sx3TuC. Chris Cox, the executive director of the political and lobbying arm of the NRA, applauded the restrictions as “protect[ing] the privacy and Second Amendment rights of gun-owning military personnel and their families.”Chris W. Cox, “Political Report,” NRAPublications, http://bit.ly/1qgHKys. But military commanders were outraged by the new policy, which muzzled them even when service members were at serious risk of harm.Anna Mulrine, “Gun Control: Why the US military is fighting with the NRA,” Christian Science Monitor, July 27, 2012, at http://bit.ly/PohN2a (describing commanders “increasingly expressing frustration” with the NRA for blocking “vital measures to keep troops safe”).
Fortunately, the military fought back — and prevailed. Working with suicide prevention advocates and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group of retired generals and admirals lobbied Congress to remove the dangerous gag order, and it was rescinded in the 2013 NDAA.See Stephanie Gaskell, “Bloomberg taps retired military brass in war on illegal guns,” Politico, Mar. 6, 2013, at http://politi.co/PohYe2. Along with the expansion of behavioral healthcare services and the distribution of thousands of gunlocks to promote the safe storage of firearms, repeal of the NRA-backed policy contributed to a 22 percent decline in military suicides in 2013.AP, “Military Suicide Rate Down More than 22 Percent Since Last Year, Defense Officials Say, Nov. 11, 2013, at http://fxn.ws/1qgHQWZ.
Handcuffing Law Enforcement
Beyond endangering those who risk their lives to defend our country overseas, the NRA leadership undermines enforcement of our gun laws here at home, and promotes policies that put police in danger.
Standing your ground – against police
In 2012, the NRA led a fight that drew national headlines for its audacity. Their objective was to pass an Indiana law that explicitly allowed Indiana residents to use lethal force against uniformed law enforcement officers.See Mark Niquette, “NRA-Backed Law Spells Out When Indianans May Open Fire on Police,” Bloomberg News, June 5, 2012, at http://bloom.bg/OPv97z. This statute expanded the state’s already controversial “Stand Your Ground” law to a once-unthinkable extreme.
Indiana law turns traditional self-defense doctrine on its head, and now allows a person to use a gun against a police officer if the person “reasonably believes” the officer is trying to enter his or her home unlawfully or otherwise unlawfully interfering with his or her property — even if the homeowner is mistaken and the officer was breaking no laws.Indiana Code § 35-41-3-2(i).
Law enforcement officers in Indiana were outraged. The president of Jeffersonville Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 100 warned, “Somebody is going get away with killing a cop because of this law.” Another Indiana police chief called it a “recipe for disaster” that put a “bounty on our heads.” In response to the group’s support for this dangerous law, the police chief terminated his NRA membership.Mark Niquette, “NRA-Backed Law Spells Out When Indianans May Open Fire on Police,” Bloomberg News, June 5, 2012, at http://bloom.bg/OPv97z.
Fighting Gun-Tracing Technology
The NRA’s leadership also opposes the use of technology that would help law enforcement track down gun criminals.
Law enforcement work tirelessly to solve crimes, but each year in the U.S. nearly 40 percent of homicides“Crime in the United States 2010: Offenses Cleared,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, http://1.usa.gov/1lvNaqU. and 60 percent of aggravated assaults with a firearm“Crime in the United States 2010: Table 27,” Federal Bureau of Investigation. go unsolved. That means that tens of thousands of violent criminals evade arrest each year.“Crime in the United States: Table 25,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, http://1.usa.gov/1gNoMJE. When guns are involved in these crimes, there is often little law enforcement can do to track the specific gun used in a shooting if they do not recover the gun at a crime scene. So-called “microstamping” technology could change that.
Microstamping is a state-of-the-art technique that would help law enforcement connect shell casings found at crime scenes directly to the guns that fired them. When a semiautomatic handgun is fired, the cartridge casing comes into contact with the gun’s firing pin and breech face before it is ejected and a new cartridge is loaded into the chamber. Microstamping imprints a unique code on the casing whenever the gun is fired. This allows law enforcement to determine which gun fired any casings they recover — aiding them to ultimately determine who perpetrated the crime.
Microstamping would provide police with invaluable intelligence for solving crimes, which is the reason leading law enforcement agencies like the International Association of Chiefs of Police strongly support using it in all new semiautomatic handguns.“Legislative Agenda of the International Association of Chiefs of Police: January 2011-January 2013,” International Association of Chiefs of Police, http://bit.ly/1lfqsmw. As Frederick Bealefeld III, a former Baltimore Police Commissioner, said, microstamping “is one of these things in law enforcement that would just take us from the Stone Age to the jet age in an instant. I just can’t comprehend the opposition to it.”Erica Goode, “Method to Track Firearm Use Is Stalled by Foes,” N.Y. Times, June 12, 2012, http://nyti.ms/1ltG8hV.
Incomprehensible or not, the NRA strongly opposes microstamping, and has used misinformation, political expenditures, and every other trick in the book to block adoption of the technology.
The NRA and other gun lobby groups have speciously argued that microstamping would make guns prohibitively expensive,Adam Cohen, “The Latest Crime Solving Technique the Gun Lobby Doesn’t Like,” Time.com, April 9, 2014, at http://ti.me/1lKPkQ0. but the micro machining firm Laser Light Technologies estimates that they can produce microstamping components for between $1-$6 per gun.“Letter from Phyllis A. Hannan to California State Assemblyman Mike Feuer,” September 10, 2007, http://bit.ly/1i7Fg4v. NRA leaders have also attacked microstamping technology as unreliable,See NRA-ILA, “California’s Microstamping Requirement Bans Sale of Improved Pistols - Dealers Face Shortage of Handguns Approved For Sale,” Jan. 23, 2014, at http://bit.ly/1jsjzaN (describing microstamping as “flawed technology that manufacturers cannot comply with because it does not work”). although studies have shown that all six microstamped characters on a single expended shell casing could be correctly identified 87 percent of the time.LS Chumbley, et al, “Clarity of Microstamped Identifiers as a Function of Primer Hardness and Type of Firearm Action,” Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners Journal 44, no. 2 (2012).
The NRA has poured extensive resources into its fight against microstamping. In 2010, it spent more than $100,000Staff Report, “NRA Flooding Albany With Cash To Block Bullet Microstamping,” Gothamist, April 11, 2012, at http://bit.ly/1g9kbEz. in New York State to defeat microstamping legislation that was supported by law enforcement agencies and over 100 mayors.New York Mayors Against Illegal Guns, “100 New York Mayors Ask: Will Leaders in Albany Stand with Police?” Stamp Out Gun Crime, at http://stampoutguncrime.com/index.php. And New York is not alone: the NRA targeted microstamping legislation in Maryland,NRA-ILA, “Maryland’s 2006 General Assembly Adjourns,” April 14, 2006, at http://bit.ly/1i2tgzH. Massachusetts,NRA News, “MA Microstamping Legislation Threatens Gun Industry,” NRANews.com, August 29, 2011, at http://bit.ly/1n4VjPI. Oklahoma,NewsOn6, “Oklahoma Representative Boren: Microstamping Bill Is Pro-Gun Legislation,” NewsOn6.com, October 21, 2010, at http://bit.ly/1qsgPOA. Rhode IslandNRA-ILA, “Microstamping Legislation to be Considered in Rhode Island,” April 17, 2008, at http://bit.ly/1g9nsUv. and Wisconsin.Richard Moore, “First shots fired over handgun microstamping in Wisconsin,” The Lakeland Times, March 31, 2009, at http://bit.ly/1krOiLA.
It also opposed microstamping in California, but it was unsuccessful: in 2007, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a microstamping bill into law.See Cal. Penal Code § 31910(b)(7)(A). Even then, NRA leadership tried to delay implementation. Because the developer of microstamping technology held patents that could have delayed its implementation, the California law provided that it would not take effect until gun manufacturers could use the technology without interference from the patents. Seeking to delay their ability to do so, a former board member of the NRA’s official California affiliate personally paid the $555 fee to extend the patents so as to delay manufacturers’ access to the technology and put off the effective date of the law.“Former Directors Who Want to Save CRPA,” Save California Rifle and Pistol Association, at http://bit.ly/1nCKQv8.
In 2013, with these delay tactics exhausted, the California Attorney General certified that patents were no longer a bar to implementing the microstamping requirement. But even after the law took effect, the NRA continued to resist its implementation. The NRA’s attorney in California said the group would seek to convince regulators to block the law or legislators to overturn it,See Phil Willon, “Smith & Wesson joins fight against ‘microstamping,’” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 23, 2014, at http://lat.ms/1lvFQLU. and the president of gun maker Smith & Wesson announced that it “would continue to work with the NRA” to block microstamping from taking effect.Emily Miller, “Smith & Wesson to stop selling guns in California due to microstamping law,” Washington Times, Jan. 22, 2014, at http://bit.ly/1askXMx.
Hobbling Local Efforts to Fight Gun Crime
Among the most insidious of the policies the NRA has pursued is its campaign to stop cities from taking action to protect the public in their own jurisdictions. In more than 40 states, the NRA has persuaded state legislators to pass so-called “preemption” laws that broadly limit the ability of local governments to adopt gun violence prevention measures suited to local conditions. Only seven states had such laws in 1979, but when the new generation of NRA executives took over the organization, they launched a nationwide campaign to convince state legislators to prohibit cities from adopting their own gun rules.See Joe Palazzolo, “Gun Rights Groups Target Local Rules,” Wall Street Journal LawBlog, Feb. 6, 2013, at http://on.wsj.com/1mWeIFb.
These laws are strongly associated with increased rates of gun trafficking: states with broad preemption laws send crime guns out of state at a rate more than four times higher than states that allow cities to regulate guns.Interstate crime gun export rates measure the number of traced guns initially purchased in one state but recovered from crime scenes in another, controlling for the population of the state where the gun was purchased. States that allow local governments to pass gun laws export crime guns at a rate of 4.4 guns per 100,000 residents. By contrast the states with preemption laws have an export rate of 18.2 crime guns per 100,000 residents.
Preemption laws also defy common sense — and longstanding tradition — by requiring crowded, high-crime cities to apply the same gun laws as those in sparsely populated, low-crime rural areas. This misguided approach to gun regulation prevents urban areas from addressing the unique challenges and concerns they face regarding guns — and has perilous implications.
In March 2014, for example, West Virginia’s governor signed a preemption law that prevents cities from restricting guns in city parks and municipal community centers. The law allows people with concealed carry permits to bring guns into after-school and youth recreation programs held in city facilities.See Ariel Rothfield, “Gun law triggers controversy from community,” WOWKTV.com, Mar. 26, 2014, at http://bit.ly/1qeBPrR. It prompted the mayor of West Virginia’s capital and largest city to produce signs reading: “Warning, Children Entering Municipal Recreation Centers May be Exposed to Strangers Carrying Concealed Weapons.”Chris Eger, “WV: Bill signed by Governor strikes down city gun bans; Mayor vows to fight,” Guns.com, Mar. 26, 2014, at http://bit.ly/PSxu2g. Stripped of the power to restrict guns in youth facilities in his city, the mayor opined: “If there are either shootings or shootouts, we hope none of the innocent children that take part in the programs there are hit with any stray rounds of ammunition.”Id.
In Pennsylvania, NRA management has campaigned for years to add punitive conditions to the state’s already broad preemption law, even though it has already produced illogical and lethal results. Under the law, the state legislature can prohibit gun-carrying on state property, but municipalities are powerless to do the same. Cities must allow citizens to carry guns on local government property, including municipal buildings.18 Pa.C.S. § 6120 This produced tragic results in Ross Township, Pennsylvania, where an armed man entered the Municipal Building and shot and killed three people in 2013.Staff Reports, “Ross Township shooting suspect: ‘I wish I killed more of them!’” Pocono Record, Aug. 6, 2013, at http://bit.ly/PNG3vF.
The NRA is now trying to make Pennsylvania’s preemption law even worse. After unsuccessfully challenging a number of local laws requiring gun owners to report when their guns are lost or stolen, the NRA convinced allies in the legislature to sponsor a bill giving the NRA legal authority to sue Pennsylvania cities. Under a version of the bill considered in 2012, if the NRA sued a city over a local gun law like a lost and stolen ordinance, the city would have to pay the NRA’s legal fees if the city backed down and repealed its law within 30 days. And if a city fought to preserve its law but eventually lost, it could face a $5,000 fine and would be required to pay triple the NRA’s legal fees — a windfall to the NRA, paid with taxpayer dollars, for suing to overturn a common-sense safety law.See Editorial, “Measure would punish cities, coddle criminals,” LancasterOnline.com, Feb. 10, 2012, at http://bit.ly/1nkEAuH That measure failed, but the NRA now supports a new version of the bill that would still require cities to turn over taxpayer dollars to the NRA’s trial lawyers if they sued over a local gun law and it was repealed or struck down in court.See NRA-ILA, “Pennsylvania: Firearms Preemption Bill Still Stalled in House, Your Immediate Help Needed,” Apr. 15, 2014, at http://bit.ly/1pnmE4z. A broad coalition of Pennsylvanians, including mayors, leaders of law enforcement and prosecutors, the state organizations for city and county leaders and newspapers across the state has persuaded the legislature to reject the bill.See Dana DiFilippo, “Rules on reporting stolen guns could soon cost cities some money,” Philly.com, Feb. 9, 2012, at http://bit.ly/1hptlZW.
Such community opposition has not diminished the NRA’s support — and it has not dissuaded the NRA from promoting similar legislation in other states. In Florida, for example, the state legislature added numerous provisions to the state’s preemption law in 2011 — one of which gave the NRA legal standing to challenge local laws in court and made them eligible for attorneys’ fees and damages. By expressly giving NRA lawyers authority to sue over local gun rules — and subsidizing their efforts to do so with taxpayer money — these extreme preemption laws send a strong signal to local leaders: if they dare take any action to protect their communities from gun violence, the NRA’s trial lawyers will respond aggressively — and will be expected to be paid from the public purse for doing so.
The leaders of today’s NRA put ideology and agenda over public safety and they take a no-holds barred approach to any dissenters, blacklisting any individual, organization or company that bucks the party line.See NRA-ILA, “Fact Sheet: National Organizations with Anti-Gun Policies,” Sept. 17, 2012 (on file with Everytown for Gun Safety).
A leading gun manufacturer, Smith & Wesson, discovered the hard way how the ideologues running today’s NRA deal with those who question modern NRA orthodoxy. In 2000, Smith & Wesson entered an agreement with the Clinton Administration to voluntarily promote responsible sales practices and so-called “smart gun” technology. While the measures Smith & Wesson agreed to were modest, the NRA’s reaction was anything but. Its Washington leaders accused Smith & Wesson of “an act of craven self-interest” and running up “the white flag of surrender… [in the] fight for the Second Amendment,” and claimed that the company’s agreement would “force down the throats of an entire lawful industry [the] anti-gun policies” of the Clinton administration.NRA-ILA, “The Smith & Wesson Sellout,” Mar. 20, 2000, at http://bit.ly/1iFKtzj. NRA leadership called for a boycott of the gun maker, making the company an “industry outcast.”See Leslie Wayne, “After taking bullets, Smith & Wesson lives,” N.Y. Times, Apr. 6, 2006. Smith & Wesson’s sales declined by nearly 40 percent and, on the verge of bankruptcy, it was sold to a new owner that repudiated the agreement.See Jeffrey Seglin, “The Right Thing; When Good Ethics Aren’t Good Business,” N.Y. Times, Mar. 18, 2001, at http://nyti.ms/1nEuNNp; Christina Austin, “How Gun Maker Smith & Wesson Almost Went Out of Business When It Accepted Gun Control,” Business Insider, Jan. 21, 2013, at http://read.bi/1iG8vtV.
Smith & Wesson managed to earn its way back into the good graces of the NRA leadership by making strategic financial donations; by 2012, after its contributions surpassed one million dollars, the gun maker was inducted into the NRA’s “Golden Ring of Freedom.”Press Release: Smith & Wesson, “Smith & Wesson to be Inducted into the NRA Golden Ring of Freedom,” May 24, 2012, at http://bit.ly/1k3WIW5. But in other cases, NRA leaders have not been so forgiving of companies, organizations and individuals whose views on gun violence undermine their agenda.
Lamar Advertising in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, found itself on the NRA’s enemies list after donating billboards to be used as part of a gun violence prevention initiative. Target ran afoul of the NRA’s zero-tolerance approach because its stores do not sell real firearms, and it enforces a longstanding policy in which the only toy guns it sells are brightly colored or oddly shaped and cannot be mistaken for actual weapons. And the NRA’s leaders blacklisted FedEx after a FedEx spokeswoman had the temerity to defend the company’s ban on guns in its facilities and parking lots by saying, “We believe that a property owner’s right to provide a safe work environment trumps an individual’s right to possess a firearm on the owner’s property.”Margaret Newkirk, “Guns-to-Work Laws Spread in U.S. as Business Fights NRA,” Business Week, Dec. 12, 2012.
Police or physician, military commander or local leader: the NRA’s leadership metes out the same punishment to all those who question the party line. And their unyielding adherence to this dogma isolates them from the vast majority of the American public — and from the majority of their own membership.