WASHINGTON – The National Rifle Association says the Obama administration’s proposals to curb gun violence in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre don’t address the heart of the problem, advocating instead for better mental health care and vigorous prosecution of criminals who use guns.
After meeting with Vice President Joe Biden to discuss gun control proposals from the Obama administration – which include a ban on sales of assault weapons, limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines and universal background checks for gun buyers – NRA President David Keene tells WTOP the administration is heading in the wrong direction.
“Everyone’s concerned about how you prevent the kinds of tragedies that took place at Newtown,” says Keene. “In our view, we have a school security problem which we talked about and which a lot of Americans agree with us on. More than that, we have problems with our mental health care system and we need to make sure that those who’ve been adjudicated as potentially violently mentally ill are included in the system that prohibits them from buying firearms.”
Keene says the NRA feels strongly that gun violence needs to be prosecuted vigorously.
“That is not happening under this administration,” he says.
Keene says Biden and President Barack Obama are instead placing the blame solely on firearms and creating “cosmetic, feel-good legislation” that will not prevent another tragedy like the one in Newtown.
“We think you have to focus on the underlying problems and on the real question that parents are asking and that is, ‘How do we keep our kids safe?'” he says. “That’s going to require real work. It’s going to require getting to the bottom of what motivates these people and it’s going to require investments in our mental health care system, as well as security for our schools.”
Keene says it would be very difficult to require background checks for each and every gun sold in the U.S.
“Very few guns that are sold at gun shows are sold without background checks,” Keene says. “Most of them are sold by federal firearms licensed dealers and that requires them to do a background check.”
Private sales, such as a grandfather selling his gun to his grandson, are much more difficult to regulate, according to Keene.
“They can talk about that, but I don’t know as a practical matter how they are going to be able to do that,” he says. “I’d like to see their proposal because I just don’t think it’s possible and I don’t think it would serve much of a purpose.”
Keene says most criminals access guns by buying them on the black market, stealing them or obtaining them through other illegal means. Most guns that end up in the hands of criminals don’t come from gun shows, according to Keene.
“I just don’t think that with all the bureaucracy that it would entail, with all the costs, with all the dangers to the Second Amendment, I just don’t think it will accomplish much,” he says. “I think they should be focusing on things that will, in fact, protect the children.”
Keene says in a given year, an estimated 2 million rapes, burglaries, robberies and the like are prevented by private citizens in every state who own a firearm. If criminals think they may be confronted, he says the likelihood that they will attack is lessened.
The key is to prevent crimes by keeping guns out of the hands of the dangerous and mentally ill and prosecuting criminals who use them, according to Keene.
“How do you do that effectively?” Keene says. “How do you do that without infringing on the rights of gun owners?”
The NRA is currently polling their members to find the answers to these questions, he says.
“We represent them and I can tell you they want us to stand up for their Second Amendment rights today the way we have done in the past,” Keene says.