NRA’s Wayne LaPierre: Public Enemy #1

NRA Role in Connecticut ShootingThe Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has a 62-page list of mass shootings in America since 2005. It is Wayne LaPierre’s resume. For the past 21 years, LaPierre has been the National Rifle Association’s executive Vice President and chief political strategist.

It is tempting to say that these shootings — including the most recent one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday — reflect something basically wrong with American culture or the nation’s very soul. But the majority of Americans favor strict gun control laws. No, let’s not burden Americans with collective guilt. The problem is more narrow — and more fixable — than that.

The long list of killings is due in large measure to the political influence of the NRA — and the campaign finance system that allows the gun lobby to exercise so much power. But an outraged and mobilized public can beat the NRA’s influence and pressure Congress to put strong limits on gun sales.

The blood of the 26 victims of the Connecticut shooting, including 20 young children, is on LaPierre’s hands. Of course, LaPierre didn’t pull the trigger, but he’s the NRA’s hit man when it comes to intimidating elected officials to oppose any kind of gun control and the nation’s most vocal advocate of gun owner rights.

There should be special place in hell reserved for LaPierre. He likes to fulminate about gun owners’ rights. But so far he’s been silent on the nation’s most recent gun massacre.

Although LaPierre likes to portray the NRA as representing grassroots gun owners, the bulk of its money comes from gun manufacturers.  LaPierre is a corporate lobbyist and his clients are corporations whose profits grow when there are few restrictions on the sale and ownership of guns and ammunition.  He does not speak for America’s gun owners. In fact, a majority of gun owners support stricter gun laws.

The NRA not only lobbies on behalf of “stand your ground” laws, but also offers insurance to members to pay for the legal costs of shooting people in “self-defense.” The NRA also defends the right of Americans to carry concealed weapons, including handguns.

Adam Lanza — the 20-year old man who walked into the Connecticut school with two firearms (a Glock and a Sig Saurer) and had another gun (a .223 Bushmaster) in his car – is no doubt deranged. He’s not alone. There are lots of crazy people around. But if we make it easy for them to obtain guns, they are more likely to translate their psychological problems into dangerous and deadly anti-social behavior.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2011, there were 15,953 murders in the United States and 11,101 (30 a day) were caused by firearms. Suicides and unintentional shootings account for another 20,000 deaths by guns each year. Of course, many more people are injured — some seriously, and permanently — by gun violence.

Most gun-related deaths are committed by people who purchase their weapons legally. Others purchase or steal them illegally, but their ability to get access to guns is due to our lax laws on gun ownership.  LaPierre’s job is to make it easier for people to buy and use guns. And so far he’s been very successful.  Since the 1994 assault-weapon ban expired in 2004, Congress hasn’t enacted any major gun regulations.

It is no accident that the United States ranks first in the world — by a wide margin — in gun-related civilian deaths and injuries. Compared with every other democracy, we have the most guns and the weakest gun laws.

The shooting in the Connecticut school was not an isolated incident. We’ve almost become used to a regular diet of gun-toting rampages. The most visible of them — like Columbine, the Virginia Tech killings,  the murders in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, and the Arizona shooting that nearly claimed the life of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and left six others dead   — stick in our minds, but there are many others. Even more Americans are killed each year in one-on-one shootings.

The NRA has two knee-jerk responses to this. The first is that the Second Amendment gives all Americans the right to possess guns of all kinds — not just hunting rifles but machine guns and semi-automatics. Efforts to restrict gun sales and ownership is, according to the NRA, an assault on our constitutional freedoms. The second is the cliché that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

Both of these arguments are bogus, but the NRA has the money and membership (4 million) to translate these idiot ideas into political clout to thwart even reasonable gun-control laws. To the NRA, gun laws have nothing to do with the epidemic of gun-related killings.

Even in countries with strong gun-control laws, some people will get their hands on a weapon and destroy others’ lives. The tragic killing in Norway last year is testament to this reality. (Although let’s recall that Anders Breivik bought $550 worth of 30-round ammunition clips from an American gun supplier for the rifle he used to kill 69 Norwegian kids at a summer camp. Thanks to American laws, it was a legal online purchase.)

But the shooting in Norway was an infrequent occurrence; it is, in fact, one of the safest countries in the world. In contrast, the U.S. is off the charts in terms of murder rates. In other well-off democratic countries, gun violence is rare and shocking.

According to the recent comparative figures, the U.S. had five murders for every 100,000 inhabitants. Finland was next with only 2.3 murders per 100,000 residents, followed by Canada (1.8), Belgium (1.7), France (1.3), England and Australia (both 1.2), Netherlands (1.1), Sweden (1.0), Germany (0.8), Norway (0.6) and Japan and Austria (both 0.5). In other words, America’s murder rate is more than eight times greater than Norway’s.

The news media will spend an inordinate amount of effort trying to figure out what was in Lanza’s head before he put on his protective gear, carried two guns into the school, and began his shooting rampage. Although the psychology and motives of the murderer may be fascinating, it should not be the major focus. There are plenty of deranged people in the world, but in most well-off countries they can’t easily get their hands on a firearm.

The U.S. has more guns per capita than any other well-off democratic country. But the danger isn’t simply the number of guns; it is the type of guns we allow people to legally purchase. Other countries permit hunting rifles. But many Americans believe it is their right to own an assault weapon.

Here’s where the NRA comes in. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, since 1990, the gun rights lobby, led by the NRA, has contributed $29.2 million to candidates for Congress and the White House, 87 percent of it to Republicans. In the most recent election cycle, gun rights groups donated $3.1 million to political candidates and spent another $5.5 million in lobbying.

In contrast, since 1990 the gun control lobby has donated only $1.9 million to politicians, 94 percent to Democrats.  In the most recent election cycle, these groups contributed only $4,000 to candidates and spent only $420,00 on lobbying.

Of course, Democrats are not immune from the NRA’s influence. This summer, 17 House Democrats recently voted in favor of criminal contempt for Attorney General Eric Holder for his oversight of Operation Fast and Furious. Not surprisingly, each of them received campaign contributions from the NRA in the previous two election cycles.

At the top of the gun-rights food-chain is the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre. It is hard to know if he’s mentally unstable but he’s certainly crazy like a fox (and Fox News). Under LaPierre’s leadership, the NRA has aligned itself with the most reactionary forces in American politics, including the Tea Party, the Koch brothers, and the American Legislative Exchange Council. For example, LaPierre gave a speech earlier this year to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington in which he said that President Obama was part of a “conspiracy to ensure re-election by lulling gun owners to sleep.”

LaPierre added: “All that first term, lip service to gun owners is just part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment during his second term.” He also warned that everything that “gun owners across America have fought to achieve over the past three decades could be lost” if Obama won a second term.

Well, Obama did win a second term. In a statement soon after the Connecticut massacre, Obama called for “meaningful action” to curb gun violence.  “Meaningful action” does not mean educating young people about bullying and violence. It does not mean instructing gun owners to be more responsible.  It does not mean, as Mike Huckabee suggested on Friday, restoring God in our schools.  It means pushing for strong gun control laws.

If Obama does take this kind of leadership, he will have the support of an overwhelming proportion of Americans who support stricter guns laws.  For example, 82 percent of Americans support limiting the sales of military-style assault weapons.  Also, 87 percent of Americans support background checks on private sales of guns, including sales at gun shows.  And 79 percent support requiring a police permit before the purchase of a gun. Almost all (94 percent) police chiefs favor requiring criminal background checks for all handgun sales.

peter dreierEvery American grieves for the families and friends of the people killed and injured in the Connecticut shooting.  But until we tame the power of the NRA, we can expect more killings like this, as well as the deadly daily diet of murders throughout America committed by angry and in some cases crazy gun-toting people whose “freedom” to own weapons of mass destruction LaPierre defends.

Peter Dreier
Occidental College

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Now that you’ve read this, take action.  Sign this petition to demand tougher gun laws.

Peter Dreier is the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department, at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012). He is also the coauthor of The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City and Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century.  He writes frequently for The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, American Prospect, andHuffington Post.  From 1984-1992 he served  as senior policy advisor to Boston Mayor Ray Flynn.  He serves on the boards of several local and national organizations, including the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.


  1. Ryder S says

    So, 62-page list of mass shootings in America since 2005… which by any measure, is simply growing and getting worse, with each new advance of gun control laws.

    It takes a special kind of person to fail to see that as gun control expands, things get worse… that episodes like this don’t diminish, they advance.

    Some may not understand this advance, but only insanity prevents one from seeing it. The notion that doing the same thing over and over and truly expecting a different result “this time”, is insanity in full effect.

    We do need to change… decades of controls, always promising to be the end of insanity, merely brings more… we’ve seen it. We know it.

    A change in direction requires that we reverse our thinking. If we learn we have been going the wrong way, a rational mind demands that we turn around.

    If Obama is watched over by armed protectors, then why on earth would he or anyone feel our children deserve less? Answer that question.

    It’s high time that school administrators concealed carry while at school, and log time at the range every month. They have to stand as protectors while our children are in their care.

    Merely collecting them into a room and waiting for death is unacceptable.

    Smarter people have to take charge.

  2. S.G. says

    Yes the real weapons of mass destruction are here in the cold hands of millions of Americans, anyone of whom could come to a point in his life that it has no meaning other than to take out innocent people. This is why we cannot have these weapons…because each one of us could, through despair or anger, choose to prove something to the world. No one is immune from evil. It exists as a potential in the worst and the best of us. No one is smart enough to know when and why a person can come to such a point. This is why we cannot promote weapons of mass destruction as a solution to weapons of mass destruction and evil. Evil does not vanquish evil.

    • Ryder S says

      Far more each year die from cars. Where are the cries if “insanity!” ? Where are the calls for making cars illegal?

      500 people will be killed in Chicago alone this year… yet we hire leaders FROM there to lead the entire nation. Where is the sanity there?

      “No one is smart enough to know when and why a person can come to such a point”????

      I’m sorry, but I am, and countless other are… and if armed, know exactly what to do. Shooting sprees have been stopped by the individual equipped to make a difference.

      If you would like, I can point you to pictures of 10’s of thousands of children murdered *because* the public were disarmed. A repeat of that, while not in your mind presently, should be… because it is always coming, at some unknown time, due to unforeseen reasons. Maybe for our children, maybe for our great-great grand children… nothing invites death more than total vulnerability, which is why vulnerability is never an option.

  3. S.G. says

    Maybe Wayne is going a little senile like his predecessor.. and I don’t mean to give alzheimer’s a bad name. It’s just a convenient end to a miserable position on life and “liberty”

  4. harry wood says

    I really enjoy reading history, it repeats itself from time
    to time as it tries to get us to comprehend the lessons of the past. When our Constitution was written, the
    ratification of it was having problems. Various
    states noted things that were missing. To
    correct what was determined to be left out, the first ten amendments were
    added. After those ten amendments were
    added, the ratification progress was
    completed. Do enough reading to discover
    why our ancestors thought each of them were important.

    The history of the first amendment is rift with the
    religious history of the countries in Europe, most of
    which had a state church. The English
    church used to be the same church as in France
    and Italy. The English king needed a religion which
    would allow him to divorce his wife and select a new wife, so the church of
    England was created.

    Thus our first amendment, it does not allow our country to
    select a state religion and recognizes the right of all churches to exist
    without government influence or control.
    A funny thing happened in Massachusetts, the colony wanted to have one religion and to
    ban others from the colony. Ever wonder
    how Rhode island started?

    In April of 1975, British soldiers marched on Concord
    and Lexington to confiscate the
    weapons stored there, which belonged to the local population. The Tea Party in Boston
    harbor caused the English Crown make a decision to control who had weapons.

    Thus, our second amendment,
    it says we are allowed to have weapons because the defense of the country
    is in the hands of the militia, i.e. the local citizens, you and I.

    I will assume this does not limit me to muskets, the
    infantry weapon of 1975. I may need the
    infantry weapon of “today” in order to be effective. There may also be an implied right to defend
    myself from my own government if it begins to operate outside of the law.

    Then there was the new English law (the Intolerable Acts)
    allowing British troops to be housed in local homes without any cause. The families in those homes were housing and
    feeding soldiers without any government reimbursement. I think the term eating us out of house and
    home must have started then. Violent criminals were no longer tried in the
    colonies, but were then sent back to England
    (no jury of your peers there).

    Thus, our third and fourth amendments, it says soldiers can
    not be housed against our wishes in our homes.
    We are to be secure in our persons, homes, papers, and effects against
    unreasonable seizures and searches.

    If you read our history and consider our first ten
    amendments, you can find the source of each of them and understand why the
    states would not ratify the constitution without them. At one time, an English law, the Quebec Act,
    extended the borders of Canada
    far enough south to encompass the Ohio River valley,
    making the farmers there residents of Canada
    and loosing their representation in a local colony government.

    Can you image the people of Syria
    fighting for freedom from their dictator with the same type of weapons we used.
    1775? Laws need to grow a bit. I am not able to fight the war of 2012 with
    the weapon to 1812. Not saying I need an
    automatic AK47, but I may need a semi-automatic something. I may need three quick rounds to bring down
    that bear or deer. My bolt action long
    rifle can not shoot quick enough to take down a charging bear nor is it quick
    enough to shoot a second round at a deer. While my war trophy Tokarev may bring down a
    human, I am not sure about a bear.

    • Ryder S says

      Well said.

      There is a simple rule, for arms.

      The government gets it’s right to act FROM us. We can extend to it only the rights that WE possess… for if we grant government rights we don’t ourselves have, then where do they come from? Can I really hire someone to murder for me, since I don’t have that right to begin with… and be absolved of wrongdoing? Of course not. We can’t grant what we do not have to others, even if they do wear fancy hats.

      In any age, any right we extend to officials we must also have in at least equal measure. In practical terms, this means that anything that law enforcement has, they have only because we have allowed them to, because we FIRST have that right.

      In any age, the defense I have a right to must be equal to or exceed that of those we hire to defend us professionally.

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