Despite support, NRA's LaPierre still sees challenges
High-capacity magazines, military-style firearms, illegal weapons trafficking -- sometimes the political issues taken on by the National Rifle Association can seem far removed from the simpler concerns of law abiding hunters.
As the NRA loads up for its national convention April 29-May 1 at the David Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, the wind of popular opinion seems to be at the organization's back. Mirroring other studies, a new Pew Research Center poll showed 48 percent of Americans think protecting the right to own guns is more important than controlling gun ownership. Thirty percent answered that way in 1999.
Despite the public support, Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, sees challenges looming for legal firearm owners. In a recent phone interview, he discussed federal prosecution of gun crimes, media coverage of firearms and perceived threats to the Second Amendment.
One of the convention's free seminars covers hunters' gun rights. What do you see as the biggest threats?
Wayne LaPierre: It's this constant battle that's fought out politically of whether we're going to manage hunting with science and sound wildlife management, or if we're going to manage it with a political sound bite, which is what People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States and some of these other groups want.
The core NRA issue is gun ownership, the constitutional issue. These matters of semi-automatic extended magazine capacity, things like that, how are they related to the ownership rights of the average hunter?
I think they parallel each other. In many ways it's the same movement [opposing them]. They'll take as much as they can get when they can get it, but there's no doubt what the goal is.
Looking at recent polls and Supreme Court rulings, it looks like your side is winning: the Heller case confirming "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" regardless to their service in a militia, the McDonald ruling that individuals can use firearms for traditionally lawful purposes including self-defense within the home. Are you winning?
I think what you've seen in the last 20 years is a historical restoration of Second Amendment freedom in the United States. As we go into Pittsburgh, the Second Amendment has never been in as good a shape: 40 states now with right-to-carry laws, hunter harassment laws in all 50 states, 46 states with preemption laws where only the state legislature can pass gun laws, we have a federal pass-through provision [and] we saved the American firearm industry from virtual extinction [from] these nuisance lawsuits.
In the week after President Barack Obama's election, the ammunition industry set historic sales records with people stocking up and hoarding in fear of what his administration would do to gun laws. What happened with that? It hasn't been one of his issues.
I don't think people should take too much comfort in that. I look at that administration, I see [it] embedded with people who have really spent a lifetime trying to destroy the Second Amendment. The fact that he has signed some legislation passed by huge bipartisan majorities in Congress doesn't give me a lot of comfort. While they give lip service to the Second Amendment, they put on the Supreme Court two nominees [Associate Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor] who will spend the rest of their lifetimes trying to gut Second Amendment freedom. ... Their Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms nominee [Andrew Traver] spent a lifetime basically opposing the Second Amendment. I think from a regulatory standpoint if they get a second term both hunting and gun ownership are going to be in danger. I think their strategy is to fog this issue through the 2012 election, and then it's Katy bar the door. ...
It would take a Constitutional Convention to actually change the Second Amendment.
But with the Supreme Court it would take one more nominee who is anti-Second Amendment, and that could break the back of the Second Amendment in this country. That's why I look to 2012.
There seem to be two NRAs -- one that organizes safety courses and shooting events, and the NRA that takes on these slippery-slope issues. Do you see it that way, that when you get bashed in the media they're going after the extending arc of those slippery-slope arguments?
I honestly believe they're on the fringe, we're not. We're the mainstream. The American public is getting tired of not dealing with the real causes of crime. They're tired of not dealing with the real issues regarding mental health. So when one of these incidents occur ... [the media's] predictable reaction is, OK, let's take another inch of the freedom of people who own guns. There's nothing you can pass on magazines that will have any impact on a criminal or a madman. And if you're a rancher down on the border right now, where you have drug cartels coming over your land every night, you may want a magazine with an extended number of rounds in it for protection.
Is there any new gun or ammunition restriction you would support?
We support all kinds of behavioral requirements, restrictions ... there are dozens of laws on the books that we support. The problem is they're not being enforced. They don't even prosecute people under the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which we support. If you go into a store right now and try to buy a gun and they run the check and you're a prohibited person, they don't give you the gun but they let you walk out of the store. They don't prosecute it. So what the heck's the point? You're not stopping anybody. To me, this is an issue of enforcing the laws on the books against dangerous people. They're simply not doing it.
Hunters' Rights Special Session, NRA convention: 2 p.m. April 30, David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Room 326 (river side), Downtown. Free to NRA members, 877-672-3888.
First Published April 24, 2011 12:00 am