"I am convinced that as these things are discussed, that we're going to come out about where we have come out in the past," National Rifle Association president David Keene said at a breakfast meeting with reporters Thursday. But the NRA is not where it was in the past, not even the recent past. Specifically, 1999. It is going to start lobbying to block legislation to require universal background checks on gun purchases, and Keene is confidently predicting they'll win.
In a May 27, 1999 congressional hearing, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre listed the many things his organization found "reasonable." The NRA no longer finds some of them reasonable. Among the things LaPierre said:
- 1999: "We think it 's reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone..."
- 2013: "My problem with background checks is you're never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks." He added that universal background checks -- meaning not just at gun dealers, but at gun shows and private sales -- would be too much of a burden for the average citizen. "None of it makes any sense in the real world!"
- 1999: "We think it 's reasonable to make gun show instant checks just like gun store instant checks..."
- 2013: "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."
- 1999: "We think it's reasonable to support the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act."
- 2012: "Politicians pass laws for Gun-Free School Zones. They issue press releases bragging about them. They post signs advertising them. And in so doing, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are their safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk," LaPierre said in his press conference last December, arguing that prohibiting guns from schools causes massacres and proposing a nationwide program to put an armed guard in each of the 99,000 public schools in the U.S.
Why the change? The NRA is making its new case based on shaky facts. Keene told the Huffington Post that less than 1 percent of criminals get their weapons at gun shows. Though research on gun violence has been restricted by Congress following NRA lobbying, two dated studies indicate that's not true. One, from the 1990s, finds that 40 percent of guns were bought at gun shows. Another, from the late 1980s, found that 80 percent of criminals bought their guns on the secondary market.
What this tells us is that contrary to two decades of warnings to its supporters of a ongoing war to dismantle the Second Amendment, the NRA has succeeded in moving the gun debate in its direction. So much so that it is now fighting the positions it held less than 15 years ago.