April 3rd, 2013
05:39 PM ET
7 years ago

NRA 'plucks the bird' to weaken gun proposals

Washington (CNN) - It's called "plucking the bird," a strategy based on the analogy of pulling one feather at a time so the bird doesn't notice until it realizes it can't fly.

That appears to be how the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress are trying to overcome what would seem to be overwhelming public support for stronger gun legislation in the aftermath of the Newtown school massacre.

A sophisticated campaign led by the influential gun lobby shifts the focus of the battle among various provisions, raises new arguments to old issues and proposes solutions that would expand weapons use and training instead of increasing regulation.

"The NRA's modus operandi has always been to try and weaken and take down as many of these laws as possible," noted Lanae Erickson Hatalsky of Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank that proposes policy compromises on major issues.

To NRA officials, its efforts are all in defense of constitutional rights intended to preserve personal freedom against any kind of government encroachment, especially laws they say will hinder and harass gun owners.

"If you aren't free to protect yourself - when government puts its thumb on that freedom - then you aren't free at all," the group's CEO and executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, said last month.

The NRA exerts its political clout through a rating system that identifies friends and foes of its positions in Congress, as well as substantial contributions to political campaigns it favors or opponents of candidates it dislikes.

On the other side, President Barack Obama has been waging a public pressure campaign for tougher gun laws, an effort he continued Wednesday in Colorado, the site of two of the nation's most notorious mass shootings.

Legislators in the state, where guns and hunting are popular, recently passed stricter firearms laws similar to what Obama seeks at the federal level.

"There doesn't have to be a conflict between protecting our citizens and protecting our Second Amendment rights," Obama said, calling Colorado a model for that kind of solution.

Obama didn't refer to the NRA by name, but he noted that opponents of tougher gun laws were "well-organized" and "well-connected." He called for an honest debate, saying "we've got to get past some of the rhetoric that gets perpetuated that breaks down trust."

The president will make a similar appearance on Monday in Connecticut, less than four months after the Newtown attack by a lone gunman firing a semi-automatic rifle that would be prohibited under legislation under consideration in the U.S. Senate.

Polls show the American public backs the president's position. A new survey Wednesday by MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and Marist College found that 60% of respondents want stricter laws governing the sale of firearms.

In particular, it showed 87% of respondents support expanded background checks, with strong backing from Democrats, independents and Republicans.

Obama complained in his speech that Senate opponents who are certain to filibuster any legislation will do "everything they can to avoid even allowing a vote on a proposal the overwhelming majority of the American people support."

"They're saying your opinion doesn't matter," Obama said.

It remained unclear whether a package of new gun laws recently passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee can overcome a certain filibuster by Senate Republicans that would block it from debate and a floor vote.

The package includes expanding background checks to all firearms sales, tougher laws against gun trafficking and straw purchases, and studying ways to improve school safety.

A fourth proposal that would reinstate a ban on semi-automatic firearms modeled after military assault rifles already has been dropped due to opposition by the NRA, all Republicans and some Democrats, though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promises a floor vote on it as an amendment.

Background checks opposed

Now the push for expanded background checks also could fall under assault from the NRA, which once backed the change. The proposal would add most private firearms sales to the current system in which licensed gun sellers check if a potential buyer has a criminal record or other prohibiting factor.

The NRA contends record-keeping as part of an expanded background check system would serve as the first step toward a national gun registry that it considers a violation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

It also says the change would fail to prevent criminals from obtaining firearms while imposing new burdens on law-abiding gun owners by including private weapons sales at gun shows and between friends in the background check system, from which they are currently exempt.

"This idea of private individuals transferring their weapons and having to go through a background check makes no sense," conservative Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. Instead, Graham and the NRA advocate adding more information on people who are mentally ill to the existing system to prevent them from obtaining firearms.

Supporters of tougher gun laws deny that expanded background checks would lead to a national gun registry, and they argue that the current law's exemption of private sales amounts to a loophole for straw purchasers obtaining guns for others ineligible to buy them on their own, including the mentally ill.

"We're not proposing gun registration; we're proposing background checks for criminals," Obama declared Wednesday.

While Reid said he wanted a vote on the gun law package next week when the Senate returns from its spring break, two Democratic sources said that was unlikely because of the hangup over background checks.

Erickson Hatalsky of Third Way said negotiations under way between Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York would determine if a compromise on the background check provision was possible.

If so, the backing of Coburn, who gets an "A" rating from the NRA for his record on gun rights, would cause enough other Senate Republicans to join him in voting with Democrats to overcome a filibuster, she said. A compromise backed by Senate Republicans also would have more traction in the GOP-led House.

Straw purchases provision challenged

The NRA and Republicans also are challenging another provision of the Senate legislation intended to crack down on straw purchases, arguing the current language is too broad and could penalize the original seller of a weapon that passes through several hands.

Proposed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vermont, the measure was the one in the bill that had been given the best chance of winning eventual congressional approval.

The NRA's influence was on display Tuesday when former GOP Rep. Asa Hutchinson indicated to CNN that he differed with the NRA, then later clarified that he joined the organization in opposing the kind of expansion proposed by the Senate legislation.

"I'm open to expanding background checks," Hutchinson said initially in an interview about a panel he headed that was set up by the NRA to examine school safety following the Newtown attack.

Such expanded checks must be done "in a way that does not infringe upon an individual and make it hard for an individual to transfer to a friend or a neighbor or somebody," he added.

After the remarks, an NRA spokesman told CNN that Hutchinson was "not speaking" for the group.

Hutchinson later affirmed that he was not speaking for the NRA, and put his remarks in line with the group's position of including only more information on people with mental illness in the existing National Instant Check System.

"I have been focused on school safety and the interview surprised me by almost exclusively asking about the ongoing gun control debate," Hutchinson said in an e-mail to CNN. "On background checks, my recollection is that I noted there is insufficient data in the NICS and that needs to be fixed and expanded. I am certainly 'open' to legislation that addresses expansion of data in the NICS."

Hutchinson's task force called Tuesday for training and arming adults in schools to reduce the response time in the event of an attack like the one in Newtown.

"Our mandate was to deal with the issue of inside the four walls of the classroom, the school property, for safety, because you can have your background checks, you can have all kinds of side issues or gun control," Hutchinson said. But those "will not make a difference for the safety in the classroom because you've always got vulnerability there."

Those touched by violence listened to Obama's words

Lasamoa Cross, 20, was among those who met with Obama before his speech at the Denver Police Academy. She was sitting next to her boyfriend, AJ Boik, when he was shot last year in in the Aurora movie theater. Since she first met with the president, two days after the shooting in 2012, she said her “comfort level (with Obama) has dramatically changed.”

The conversation in the room at the police academy was open, she said. Cross described him as "supportive," but also said he acknowledged the uphill battle he faces with Congress, over background checks and particularly over an assault weapons ban.

Although the perpetrator of the Auora massacre is in jail and now may face the death penalty, Cross said "whatever punishment he (James Holmes) gets won't be enough," but added that "violence prevention is more justice served" for victims of gun violence.

Actions are necessary at the state and federal levels so "not one person misses a birthday, Christmas, so there is not one empty seat at the dinner table," she said.

Tom Mauser, who was part of the group to talked with the president, lost his son, Daniel, in the Columbine shooting of 1999. While wearing the shoes in which his son was shot, he said those in attendance, including gun rights advocates, law enforcement officials, hunters and victims "provided some perspective on what worked in Colorado."

"We've got to do something (nationally)," Nauser said. "I don't want to live in a country that doesn't respond at all to a tragedy like Newtown."

- CNN's Jessica Yellin, Gabriella Schwarz, Gregory Wallace, Jim Acosta, Paul Steinhauser and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.


Filed under: Gun control • Gun rights • NRA
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Sniffit

    "NRA 'plucks the bird' to weaken gun proposals"

    CNN's just helping them anyway. How about reporting on the study just released that used objective statistical data regarding 10 different categories: overall firearm deaths in 2010; overall firearm deaths from 2001 through 2010; firearm homicides in 2010; firearm suicides in 2010; firearm homicides among women from 2001 through 2010; firearm deaths among children ages 0 to 17, from 2001 through 2010; law-enforcement agents feloniously killed with a firearm from 2002 through 2011; aggravated assaults with a firearm in 2011; crime-gun export rates in 2009; and percentage of crime guns with a short “time to crime” in 2009.

    They found that the 10 states with the weakest gun laws experience 104% higher gun violence and gun crime rate than the 10 states with the strictest gun laws. THE NUMBERS DON'T LIE. And since they don't, the MSM buries them...

    April 3, 2013 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  2. Larry L

    I wonder if the fearful, angry white radicals that are the N.R.A. realize the lack of effective background checks and the proliferation of high-capacity magazines, recoil cocking devices, ratcheted triggers, and other "tactical" toys doesn't just impact their right-wing members? The street gangs, the pro-communists, the anarchists, the white supremacists, the black supremacists, and all of the other crazies will all have ridiculously easy access to very capable weapons.

    April 3, 2013 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  3. Gurgyl

    This country needs GUN-BAN LAWS. Period.

    April 3, 2013 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  4. Jean2

    Is it the NRA that is trying to stop progress on the gun bills or it the PEOPLE WRITTING THESE ARTICLES??

    April 3, 2013 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  5. rs

    Sure, because allowing crazy people, criminals and terrorists access to military-grade firearms is ever so much more practical than dealing with America's gun problem with common-sense regulations and laws- like full background checks (just as the NRA used to petition for).

    April 3, 2013 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  6. CanadaONE

    American guns kill Americans !
    Americans kill more Americans than any other country in the world !!
    America's "Number One Enemÿ" is American guns!!!
    The more guns you have the more Americans will die!!!!

    Wake up America BEFORE it is TOO LATE!!!!!

    April 3, 2013 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  7. jkane sfl the gop national disgrace party will be swept out like the trash they are in2014 ?

    The nra is just another crooked lobby that bribes our congress bafoons and gets stupid fools to donate money to help them do it,suckers !!!!!

    April 3, 2013 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  8. Separate Checks

    Another example of the masses being held hostage by a small group of people. A very small group in proportion to the rest of the population, but a group somewhat pron to violent behavior and threats.

    April 3, 2013 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  9. Name Uche Agonsi

    A healthy association, just like in any relationship, is known by its positive contributions to the well being of its community, not how desolate you leave them because of selfish desires. Also, its not only the leadership of such Association that shoud take blame for the association's rash actions & irresponsibilities but its entire membership. That why the NRA membership should call their leadership to order. This also goes to the Repubs, whose reckless & most times irrational opposition to Obama good designs are more of embarrassments & weakness to the US political system before the world. Otherwise, why do these Repubs too often prefer decisions that always go contrary to the views of their citizenry....like the gun control issue & taxing the rich. America needs to redesign its political system to checked situations public interest is sacrificed for selfish interest in the name of democracy.

    April 3, 2013 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  10. Pete

    What the NRA has is a stall routine thinking time heals all wounds and time for action for gun control is of importance getting it done while these deaths from these kids and others are still warm in everyone's heart..People are aggravated and can't wait years from now or after midterms as some seem to think so get it done as quickly as possible and put this mess behind us please!!Be adults and responsibility is the NRAs key if they want to survive!!

    April 3, 2013 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  11. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    The NRA should be sued by the victims of gun violence. Any crafty lawyers paying attention?

    April 4, 2013 12:49 am at 12:49 am |
  12. Marie MD

    Imagine that. The nra and their puppets in congress backtracking what they want to do against every single poll taken since Newtown.
    They should start with getting rid of that slobbering la pierre. He is as gross as he is crazy. Maybe he need to learn from the anchor Cuban boy from Florida that he needs to take a drink when talking dumb.

    April 4, 2013 06:45 am at 6:45 am |
  13. Ken

    Gun control will happen just like gay rights will, too. That nasty wind-bag, La Pierre, is wasting his time and effort.

    April 4, 2013 06:49 am at 6:49 am |