The Potowmack Institute

President Clinton v. The NRA v. ABC News

Nothing illustrates the bankruptcy of the political culture more than the triumvirate of opposing absurdities on ABC's "This Week" on March 12th. The triumvirate rules by excluding what is really at stake. Cowardice is part of the job description of politicians. Political leadership has to be forced on them and there is no constituency now to force political leadership on the fundamentals of law and government. There is nothing in the discussion below that would build that constituency. The function of the news media is to keep public discourse very narrowly confined so that an enlightened citizenry capable of taking charge of its political destiny does not emerge. Although no one could replace the Washington Post as the extreme example of dereliction, ABC News is quite diligent. There is no mention in this discussion of US v. Emerson. There is no inquiry into what the NRA will do if the Fifth Circuit decides that there is no constitutional right for the NRA's "armed populace at large" fantasy. Nor is there mention of Handgun Control, the Violence Policy Center or the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the lead gun control organizations.

NPR's Diane Rehm is another consistent and persistent dereliction. See comments on program, April 12, 2000

The gun lobby has nothing to fear in this discussion for its only political objective: to keep gun ownership outside of accountability to public authority so it can maintain a balance of power between a privately armed populace and any and all government. Part of the strategy is the make sure gun laws are difficult or impossible to enforce so it can proclaim gun laws do not work. It achieved credibility for the assertion in this Sunday morning exchange. A recent Handgun report has documented the efforts to sabotage gun laws and their enforcement. See Handgun Control, Inc., Press Release, March 21, 2000, NRA Hypocrisy Exposed, "The Enforcement Fable."

Sam Donaldson insists he reads his mail. He might start with a disclaimer about his own competence. (.../news.html) George Will received a letter dated February 11, 1991, describing what is really at stake in gun ownership and gun violence. We can expect that he would deny receiving it or having read it, but six weeks later in this column, "America's Crisis of Gun Fire," March 21, 1991, some of the references showed up. He quoted out of context the ubiquitous words from Federalist Paper No. 46 and arrived at the simple-minded recommendation that the Second Amendment should be repealed. He made the same recommendation on David Brinkley's program, December 15, 1991. He was surrounded by Sam Donaldson, Hodding Carter, and Brinkley. All four demonstrated their complete ignorance of the Bill of Rights and how it works. This is the quality of public discourse. George Will has a PhD in political science (Princeton, 1968). Apparently the difference between citizenship under law and government and individual sovereignty, a law unto oneself, in the State of Nature, which is the state of anarchy, was not part of the course of study. Will's column was included in Appendix I of the Potowmack Institute's amicus curiae brief in US v. Emerson as an illustration of the quality of public discourse. Is there any wonder that blood runs in the streets? But then George Will is a creature of the NRA's most obedient servant, the Washington Post.

The gun lobby has invented a whole doctrine of political liberty largely out of that one paragraph in Federalist Paper No. 46. The words in context do not support the claim. They were brought to the attention of ABC News' Michel McQueen (not a part of this discussion) at a forum in March, 1997. (portion of transcript at .../news.html.) She remarked that the news media cannot be concerned with every person's (read, every eccentric crackpot's) "particular truth." This is what we have come to. The fraud is now in federal court seeking certification.

Just as the NRA refers to the Washington Post as the "rabidly antigun Washington Post," Wayne LaPierre builds the NRA's demagogic appeal on the "dishonesty that this man is capable of." The Washington Post and President Clinton are the best friends the NRA has. The NRA should show some gratitude that neither will bring up what James Madison was really describing in Federalist Paper No. 46 and make an issue of what is the real agenda of people who have to be blatantly dishonest to make their case. Federalist Paper No. 46 must be too much to handle. The NRA cannot win what it wants in court but not for the want of trying. It has to rely on demagoguery and fraud. We can hope the US Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, will provide some enlightenment.

All of the NRA's posturing has the sole objective of keeping gun ownership outside of accountability to public authority so it can have its armed populace fantasy. Stephen Halbrook, the premier insurrectionist theorist, argued for the "armed populace at large" fantasy before the Supreme Court in the NRA's amicus brief in Perpich. It was a nice try by the Supreme Court ignored the assertion. Accountability to public authority means registration of ownership. Registration is the only mechanism by which gun ownership can be effectively regulated. Registration does not mean that an authoritarian absolutist state confiscates all the guns and oppresses a disarmed populace. It means that the exercise of force is authorized or permitted by the state which means by law. Appendix H. It does not mean that we surrender our guns at the door when we enter political community and become citizens. It does mean we put our guns on the table, subject them to laws and the rule of law, and make them available to the political community to be called out to enforce the laws. See amicus brief. In the present political cynicism Charlton Heston is on national television equating accountability to public authority ("licensing") to confiscation. The rule of law becomes tyranny. Mothers Against Drunk Driving should have campaigned against automobile registration and licensing at the same time that they worked to enforce the laws against the drunks. All of us motorists missed the chance to be really free.

What is at stake in gun ownership and gun violence is the most fundamental issues of law, government and citizenship. It is the relationship between citizen and state. It is not about trigger locks, gun shows, public health statistics, and smart guns. But this is the substance of the false progun/antigun impasse of the "two sides" in the transcripts below. The Emerson case and the coming election season are opportunities to breaking out of the impasse and raise the subject on its proper terms. So far there has not been much progress in that direction.

The proper terms start with two points:
1) The Second Amendmend was not about the personal rights of private individuals. It was about military organization. This is crystal clear from the historical record, the militia laws and the early militia court cases. See .../emerarg.html, amicus brief,
.../emerappa.html, Appendix A,
.../emerappc.html, Appendix C, Militia Act,
.../houst1.html, Houston v. Moore (1820).
.../martmott.html, Martin v. Mott (1827). If the gun lobby wants to have its armed populace fantasy, it can fabricate it and campaign for it but the fantasy is a very contemporary invention that has nothing to do with the Second Amendment.
2) The Constitution of the United States is a frame of government with "just powers" that derive from the "consent of the governed" not a treaty among sovereign individuals who give no more than word of honor and promise of good faith. To bring this out, a few simple questions can be put to holders and seekers of public office: Are gun owners citizens under law and government or are they individual sovereigns, laws unto themselves, in the State of Nature? See amicus brief. While they are at it, they might explain what their oath of office obligates them to with regard to maintaining the internal sovereignty of the United States against the NRA's "armed citizen guerrillas" who would "outflank" it or maintain the fantasy of outflanking it. See amicus.

ABC News: THIS WEEK, March 12, 2000

A Call for Tough Gun Laws

This Week

Sunday, March 12, 2000 (This is an unedited, uncorrected transcript. [downloaded from ABC's website])
Prepared by Burrelle’s Information Services, which takes sole responsibility for accuracy of transcription

COKIE ROBERTS Good morning and welcome to the program. For the first time, Al Gore has pulled into a statistical dead heat with George W. Bush in an ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll. Gore had been trailing Bush for months, but in this survey, the vice president is the preferred choice of 48 percent of those polled, Governor Bush gets 45 percent. Among the issues where Gore’s preferred over Bush: gun control. Democrats are hoping that issue will work for them in November and they’re turning up the heat on Capitol Hill. Here’s ABC’s John Martin.

JOHN MARTIN, ABCNEWS (VO) Six-year-old Kayla Rolland, another victim, another funeral. This week in Washington the political battle line on guns was drawn as tightly as ever. One key issue is a seven-month impasse here on Capitol Hill over legislation restricting sales at gun shows to buyers who pass a background check that could take as long as 72 hours. (VO) The president met with House and Senate leaders to seek compromise. Democrats insist there must be a bill with tougher gun show restrictions. Republicans insist there can be no bill with tougher gun show restrictions.

REPRESENTATIVE HENRY HYDE, REPUBLICAN, ILLINOIS The problem revolves around gun shows.

After Henry Hyde has harrangued us on the rule of law in the impeachment hearings, ABC News might ask him to explain what the rule of law is and if it is consistent with the NRA's armed populace fantasy?

JOHN MARTIN (VO) That same day, Kayla’s mother visited the White House to talk privately with the president. Republicans saw the invitation as evidence the president wanted to exploit the case for political gain. (Clip shown from National Rifle Association commercial)

As long as President Clinton cannot provide the conceptual foundations for a national firearms polcy he is appealing to emotional sentimentality. There can be no controversy or compromise between the rule of law and anarchy.

JOHN MARTIN (VO) Suddenly, the National Rifle Association unleashed a new barrage of TV ads, denouncing the president’s depiction of the NRA as unwilling to help solve the problem. (Clip shown from National Rifle Association commercial)

JOHN MARTIN (VO) Both sides

ABC News has to keep the discussion confined to the false "both sides" polarization.
are fighting for votes in the fall, so there is little chance of a compromise this year unless there is some new outrage on the order of this Los Angeles shoot-out, or this Columbine High attack. Only then might there be the political will to act. John Martin, ABCNEWS, Washington.

SAM DONALDSON Well, against this backdrop of young Kayla Rolland’s death, passionate argument over gun control and seeming intransigence on both sides, we went to the White House on Friday to talk to the president about it all, sitting down with him in the Oval Office. And as you’ll see, this is a subject that produces a lot of heat. Mr. President, thanks very much for letting us come over and talk to you today.

The passions here are the culture war passions defined by Charlton Heston, the NRA, and rightwing politicians. The passions do not involve the contours of citizenship.


SAM DONALDSON You know, among your top legislative priorities, everyone understands, is gun control. You want trigger safety locks. You want a three-day waiting period for the sale at gun shows. You want photo IDs— among other things. Going to be tough to get.

One would never know that what is at stake here is the fundamental relationship between citizen and state.
BILL CLINTON It’s tough to get. We— we were able to get the Brady Bill passed in ’93 and the assault weapons ban in ’94. And unfortunately, several of the members who voted for those were defeated because they did. But it’s a safer country because of that. We’ve had half a million people who couldn’t buy handguns because they were felons, fugitives or stalkers and we’ve got the gun death rate down to a 30-year low. So I think nearly everybody who’s looked at it thinks we ought to close the gun show loophole, require child safety locks on the guns and ban the importation of these large ammunition clips. And I hope we can do that.
The role of the Federal Government is to maintain the internal sovereignty of the United States against the NRA's "armed citizen guerrillas" who would "outflank" it. It is not to microregulate gun ownership.

SAM DONALDSON The NRA says that the gun manufacturers have trigger locks now. They say all of the guns being manufactured— the handguns— have the trigger locks, so what’s the big deal?

BILL CLINTON They don’t all, actually. Most of them do now. We’ve had a good— we’ve worked with a lot of the gun manufacturers and they deserve a lot of credit. As— for the first time they— they— they really showed some genuine independence from the NRA line that nothing ever needs to be done, ever. And they— they came up with the gun— the— the child trigger locks. What our legislation would do would be to require the remaining manufacturers to do it. I— I’d also like to see them make those available to retrofit guns because a lot of people who have guns now in their homes would like to buy them— you know, like to protect them in that way. But I— I think that it would be important. But closing the gun show loophole is really important because a lot of people who now know they’ll be checked in gun stores can go to the urban flea markets or the gun shows and buy a gun and have no background check whatever. And I think that’s a big mistake.

There might be some marginal benefit to trigger locks. However, if a responsible adult worries about children getting at his/her guns he/she has no business keeping guns around the house to begin with.

SAM DONALDSON Well, of course, the NRA says, ‘We’re for that. We’re for an instant check at gun shows.’ And they say the Congress appropriated money for you to put in this system so that the instant check, just like our credit cards, could go through. And they say, ‘Why hasn’t he done it?’

BILL CLINTON Well, not all the records are subject to instant check. For example, we offered, by the way— the— the— most of their allies in Congress want a 24-hour notice/72-hour waiting period at gun shows. And there’s something to be said for that, if it’s a weekend show and the people are moving on to somewhere else and all that. So what we offered them was, ‘OK, 24-hours for everyone you can check within 24 hours, but— over 90 percent of them you can check in 24 hours. But for those you can’t check, because there’s some problem with it, we ought to be able to hold them up for three days. Because the ones that don’t check out within 24 hours are 20 times more likely to be rejected because of a problem in the background. So I— I think we can work this out.

It doesn't rate mention here that licensed gun owners don't have to go through the background check. The background check only applies to the NRA's "armed populace at large." Instituting the instant check system endorses the armed populace fantasy.

SAM DONALDSON I can’t help remember that little dust-up you had with my colleague, Charlie Gibson, who said, ‘Well, how about registration? I mean, why aren’t you for that?’ Have you changed your mind about that since Kayla Rolland and these other terrible tragedies?

BILL CLINTON Well, one of the things that I think is the— the argument for registration, of course, is that it would make it easier to trace these guns through their various incarnations. And I think you can make a strong argument for it. What I have said is that— look, I can’t even pass a bill closing the gun show loophole through this Congress. If the people want more done, I think that should be heavily debated in this presidential election. Vice president and Governor Bush are dramatically different (sic) positions on the whole issue of guns and I think it ought to be a big issue in the presidential election so— because it’s one of the things that will determine the shape of 21st-century America, how we handle safety, whether we keep bringing crime down.

The one thing the armed populace fantasy cannot accommodate is accountability to public authority. Registration is the one thing the NRA works hardest to prevent. Halbrook devotes several pages to registration in his petition for the appellant in Printz and Mack. He characterizes the opposition to registration as the historical expression of the will of Congress without mentioning that it is the will of Congress as a result of the lobbying efforts, going back to the 1930s, of people like Halbrook. Meanwhile the Militia Act of 1792 required the states to "enroll"--that is, register--gun owners for militia duty.

SAM DONALDSON But of course, the gun that killed Kayla Rolland— I think it was a .32— apparently had been in the home for some time with the little boy who used it. None of this would have stopped that.

BILL CLINTON Well, one thing that might do something— it was another provision that I asked the Congress to pass— that I asked them again to pass— which is to impose upon adults some responsibility for gun crimes committed by young children if the adults knowingly or recklessly permitted the child to get ahold of a gun. I think that should be a part of the law.

What has to be part of the law is powers of enforcement. The NRA works very hard to make sure that gun laws are unenforceable so it can claim gun laws do not work. A recent report by Handgun Control documents the efforts going back decades:
Handgun Control, Inc., Press Release, March 21, 2000, NRA Hypocrisy Exposed,"The Enforcement Fable". The NRA, nevertheless, won valuable credibility in this Sunday morning exchange with its assault on the Clinton Administration's failure at enforcement.

SAM DONALDSON The last time you and I talked about this was after Jonesboro, and one of those shooters there was, I think, 11 years of age. Now we have a child six years of age. What should we do about that child, that little kid?

BILL CLINTON Well, first, I think that what happens to this child in terms of custody— who has custody over this child, where’s this child going to go— ought to be very carefully debated. Apparently he was in miserable circumstances. I think that in addition to that, he’s clearly below the age of criminal responsibility.

Once the gun is connected with its owner as a matter of law, standards can be enforced for responsible ownership.

SAM DONALDSON And we can’t punish that...

BILL CLINTON No, but he...

SAM DONALDSON ...six-year-old, can we?

BILL CLINTON No, but he— human nature being what it is, he’ll probably wind up punishing himself as time goes on and he comes to realize what he’s done.

SAM DONALDSON And do you think people, as he grows up, will point at him and say, ‘That was the boy who shot that little six-year-old’...

BILL CLINTON If they know.

SAM DONALDSON ...‘many years ago?’

BILL CLINTON If they know. But even if they don’t know, he’ll know. And one of two things will happen, unless he’s very fortunate. Either he will grow up with no conscience because he won’t be able to live with it and then he’ll repeat bad acts, or he’ll grow up consumed with guilt for something that was beyond his ability to understand when he was six. So that child is going to need a lot of help...

SAM DONALDSON Mr. President...

BILL CLINTON ...and needs to be in a more constructive upbringing. But, you know, look, all of our sympathies are with the child that was killed and that— and with her family and trying to prevent that. But the idea that six-year-olds can get ahold of guns is outrageous. And I— I— I think the adults should be held responsible in some way.

SAM DONALDSON When we come back, the president takes on the National Rifle Association and tells us how he feels about the NRA calling him a liar.

In 1998, 10,994 murders in the U.S. were committed with firearms.
Source: FBI Estimate

ANNOUNCER From ABCNEWS, This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts, brought to you by...(Commercial Break)

SAM DONALDSON Debate over public issues can be an intense and tough thing. Everyone knows that. But the debate over gun control has suddenly turned very mean and very personal. We resume our interview with President Clinton. By the way, do you own a gun today? You used to, I know.

BILL CLINTON Yes. But I don’t have them here in the White House. I have owned— when I was a boy I had a .22— when I was 12— and then I had a shotgun and I’ve owned a handgun or two that had been given to me. But I have never kept them in a residence where my daughter slept.

SAM DONALDSON Do you still shoot them today?

BILL CLINTON No, when I— I’ve gone hunting a few times since I’ve been president, but I’ve always just gone with friends and borrowed a shotgun when I got there.


BILL CLINTON Oh, I— when was the last time I went duck hunting? Couple of years ago, I guess.

President Clinton went duckhunting at Christmas, 1993. The news reports started, "Eventhough President Clinton supports gun control he nevertheless went duckhunting." These people make seven digit incomes and want to be taken seriously.

SAM DONALDSON OK. Well, we started by...

BILL CLINTON But let me say that, you know, I grew up in this culture. I’ve never called for banning guns, banning hunting. I’ve never been against sport shooting. I— I believe that people ought to have the right to do these things. The thing that— you know, I even had a good relationship with the NRA at one time when I was governor. They did a lot of good things in my state. They helped train people and gun safety courses, young hunters, for example. They helped to resolve property disputes in rural areas of my state where we were worried about people hunting in various areas. They— you know, I just think that their knee-jerk reaction to any gun safety measure is wrong.

The NRA knows what it wants. It knows what it wants has no validity in constitutional doctrine or historical practice. It has to respond hysterically to anything that might threaten its ideological house of cards. Its success is a measure of the dysfunction in its opposition.

SAM DONALDSON Well, sir, you— you may have once had a good relationship with the NRA, but you don’t have it today. I’m sure you’re aware of the new television ads...


SAM DONALDSON ...that they are running. Charlton Heston, himself, very effective, looks in the camera— and let me just read a portion of one of them. He says, "Bill Clinton says the NRA stands in the way of sensible gun safety. But it was the NRA who pioneered the criminal background check on gun buyers, not Bill Clinton." He goes on, but he concludes this way, sir. "Mr. Clinton, when what you say is wrong, that’s a mistake. When you know it’s wrong, that’s a lie." And that’s tough.

The NRA came up with the instant check system as a acceptable substitute to anything that might lead to accountability to public authority. The waiting period provisions of the Brady Law required that all sales records maintained for background checks be destroyed in 20 days. To the NRA sales records are the equivalent of registration. See Halbrook's petition in Printz and Mack. The instant check data base costs $100s of millions to set up. It contains potentially damaging and/or embarrassing personal data from many sources with no guarantee that access is protected. This is one of the prices we pay to maintain the armed populace fantasy.


SAM DONALDSON That’s tough, sir.

BILL CLINTON Here’s a— well, let me— true or false? The NRA was opposed to the Brady Bill? True. True or false? The NRA was apposed to the assault weapons ban? True. True or false? The NRA happily ended the Congressional careers of brave members of Congress of my party who stood up to them and voted for the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban? True. Now, they can say they pioneered background checks. You know, that’s a little slight-of-hand, artful wording designed to cover up the fact that they were opposed to the Brady Bill, they’re opposed to measures that are necessary to in fact close the gun show loophole. They’re saying, ‘If you can do an instant check, it’s OK to do those. So we don’t— we don’t mind you checking as long as we’re not put to any inconvenience whatever. But the public safety is not nearly as important as our convenience.’ Well, you know, we all go through these airport metal detectors all the time. And a lot of us have to go through two, three, four times if we have a money clip or something. And it’s a minor inconvenience but we like it because we all get to stay alive that way. My view is, I have not asked the hunters and sportspeople of this country or the— the sellers at these gun shows to undertake inordinate inconvenience, but some little inconvenience to preserve the public safety and to do more to keep guns out of the wrong hands. And you know, all this— this sort of wounded rhetoric by the NRA, given how ruthlessly brutal they were to members who were brave enough to vote for the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban, is a— you know, these crocodile tears— I don’t think it’ll wash with the voters.

SAM DONALDSON Mr. President, I...

BILL CLINTON Even with Moses reading the script.

SAM DONALDSON Well, I— I’ve been around a long time. I’m old enough to remember people calling Harry Truman, when he sat there in this office, a Communist and a lot of things. But I don’t recall a series of well-produced television ads which call the president of the United States a liar. How do you feel about that?

BILL CLINTON Well, that’s the way they’ve treated me for more than a decade. I remember in 1991, the NRA lobbyists in Arkansas came up to me and wanted me to sign a bill that would have prohibited any city in Arkansas from having gun control legislation stronger than the state had. Little Rock at the time was being deluged by these gang members coming back with such serious weapons and cop-killer bullets. They didn’t want cop-killer bullets banned. You remember, this is the same NRA— true or false? They didn’t want cop-killer bullets banned. I heard the— true. They didn’t want to ban them. So I— I vetoed the bill and this young NRA lobbyist in the lobby of the state capitol in Arkansas said, ‘Governor, you’re going to run for president in 1992 and if you veto this bill we want, we will wipe you out in Texas.’ And there were 50 people watching and they were just aghast that this lobbyist would talk to a governor this way. And I knew I was growing up when I didn’t hit him. I smiled and I said, ‘Young fellow, if that’s the way you feel, you saddle up, you get your gun, I’ll get mine, I’ll see you in Texas.’ And the rest is history. You know, they basically win through intimidation. People are scared of them. And...

SAM DONALDSON They have almost three and a half million members.

Actually there are more ex-members of the NRA than members.
BILL CLINTON Yeah, but there’s more people than that in America. And look, I think the reason they intensely dislike me is because I have hunted in my life, because I’m not anti-gun. I’m not anti-sportsperson. I’m not against the— the legitimate use of guns. I— and I actually give them credit for the good things they’ve done in my experience. But they got all these charts on the wall. They’re domino-theory people. You know, if you do one little thing that requires any accommodation for the public safety, that requires any effort on the part of gun owners, they think it’s the end of the world. And I just think that’s wrong. You know, maybe technology will give us instant checks for everything, but there are some of these mental health records you can’t get instantly. There are some of the criminal records that are not accessible instantly. I offered them— let— let’s go back to the facts here, get out of the name-calling politics. More people will stay alive if we can close the gun show loophole, just like more people are alive because we passed the Brady background checks. When a half million people can’t get hand guns because they’re felons, fugitives or stalkers, there’s more people out there alive today. That’s all that I care about. I don’t want to get in a name-calling with the NRA.

SAM DONALDSON Well, let’s forget the name-calling. The NRA spokesman said to me, ‘We’d like to debate President Clinton.’ Would you consider debating Charlton Heston on this issue? No name-calling, debate the issues.

The Potowmack Institute has invited the NRA's Tanya Metaksa and Paul Blackman to join the discussion. They are no shows. We have questions to ask Charlton Heston which he will not get from ABC News or President Clinton.

BILL CLINTON Well, I tell you what I want to do. I want to see the issues debated in the Congress.

Right on. Let's get the Congress to start debating whether or not gun owners are citizens under law and government or individual sovereigns in the State of Nature; Whether or not the Constitution is a frame of government or a treaty among sovereign individuals.
We’ve had the debate. They came after me in ’92, they came after me in ’96, we had the debate. They came after the Congress in ’94 and they won that one. They elected the Gingrich Congress with the contract on America. They had a big roll on it because they scared all these hunters into believing I was going to take their guns away. I don’t want to turn this into a circus. I want to turn it into saving lives. I don’t want to take the extreme positions and the hot rhetoric. Henry Hyde, who basically represents a lot of their point of view, offered a way to try to close the gun show loophole. We thought there were serious problems with that, but it was a good faith offer. So John Conyers made a counter-offer. Now, here’s where the rhetoric is, way out here. Here’s where the facts are, way here. And I was disappointed that Senator Hatch wouldn’t agree to let them all get together and try to debate these two issues and try to resolve it. There’s got to be a fix here that will save people’s lives. That’s the only thing that counts. Nothing else matters. The rest of this stuff’s all politics. It’s inside baseball.

SAM DONALDSON Mr. President, thanks very much for letting us sit down with you.


SAM DONALDSON When we come back, the other side. Cokie Roberts and George Will question the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, about all this, in a moment.

75% of Americans say parent should be charged with a crime if their child uses a gun to shoot someone.
Source Poll +- 3% Error of Margin 3/7/00

The Gun Debate Heats Up

This Week

Sunday, March 12, 2000
(This is an unedited, uncorrected transcript.)
Prepared by Burrelle’s Information Services, which takes sole responsibility for accuracy of transcription

COKIE ROBERTS We’re back with George Will. Now that we’ve heard President Clinton’s thoughts on gun control, it’s time to hear the other side, and joining us is Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association.
Thanks very much for being with us, Mr. LaPierre.


COKIE ROBERTS Those commercials that we’ve seen some of and that Sam referred to in his interview with President Clinton, pretty tough commercials.


COKIE ROBERTS Think they’re justified?

WAYNE LAPIERRE I do. I mean, Cokie, let me define the level of hon— dishonesty that this man is capable of. And I’ve been in this town for 20 years through the political storms. He could have had a bill last summer that included mandatory safety locks with the sale of every gun, included checks at all gun shows on all gun sales with a 24-hour delay, included juvenile Brady, where violent juveniles would be forever prohibited from owning guns, would even have included Dianne Feinstein’s import ban on high-capacity magazines, and he killed it all over the issue of a 72-hour wait. I mean, I’ve come to believe he needs a certain level of violence in this country. He’s willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda. And the vice president, too. I mean, how else you can— can you explain this dishonesty we get out of the administration?

The NRA's biggest and most effective present demagogic appeal is to individual self-defense. It is the NRA that needs a level of violence so it can prey on fear to maintain its armed populace fantasy. The self-defense the NRA wants is not the self-defense of citizens under law and government but the self-defense of individual sovereigns in the State of Nature which is the state of anarchy. See amicus.

COKIE ROBERTS That’s a rather extraordinary thing to say, ‘the president needs a certain level of violence in this country.’


COKIE ROBERTS What are you implying here?

WAYNE LAPIERRE Well, I’m implying that when you look at what works, which is enforcing the gun laws on the books, this president has presided over a complete lack of enforcement. Let’s talk about project Exile in Richmond, Virginia: cut murder with guns by 65 percent. NRA, most vocal advocate of it. He has refused to take it nationwide. They’ve held meetings in DOJ, how to deflect support for the program if it starts to rise on Capitol Hill. He’s been nowhere to be found when we came up with the money for Philadelphia, which I went to Senator Specter and came up with for the program. They’ve now written the intake rules on cases where, unless you have three or more felony convictions, they don’t pick you up for prosecution, so they’ve ruined the program. The money was approved for Camden a year and a half ago. They still haven’t launched in Camden. And when Janet Reno, representing Bill Clinton, was sitting before the Senate Judiciary Committee, she looked at the— he looked— the Senate Judiciary Committee looked at the horrible, shameful rate of prosecutions and said, ‘Can we expect any improvement in this?’ and she shook her head and said, ‘No.’ I mean, you can’t care about stopping crimes with guns and give the country a complete lack of enforcement of the gun laws on the books, which is what this president’s done.

There is a very interesting conflict here. The NRA works hardest to keep private gun ownership outside of accountability to any government but especially to the Federal Government. Nevertheless, it wants the Federal Government usurping the functions of local law enforcement.

COKIE ROBERTS Well, you— you— you heard the president go through a list of true/false and the list of things that he delineated. He was right. They— they were— you— the NRA did oppose cop-killer bullets, did oppose the Brady law, did oppose the assault weapons ban.

WAYNE LAPIERRE Cokie, we actually wrote the bill that became law that banned armor-piercing— what they call cop-killer bullets. We opposed the...

COKIE ROBERTS But in that— in— I— I...

WAYNE LAPIERRE ...opposed the initial definition but...

COKIE ROBERTS You’re talking about being here for 20 years, I remember when that was being debated.

WAYNE LAPIERRE But keep in mind, the Brady Bill was a— it was a wait— a volunteer— a wait with a voluntary check. What the NRA supported was the instant check that’s on the books today. What we take issue with the president is of these 500,000 cases he’s talking about, he doesn’t do anything to them except let them walk out the door. I mean, he’s had a check on 60 percent of sales at gun shows for the last seven years— let them walk out the door. It’s like Clyde is going home to Bonnie after being— and saying, ‘Bonnie, no gun for us. The president says no.’ You’ve got to prosecute these cases and every cop on the street knows it.

We can start worrying about enforcing gun laws when we get gun laws that make sense. The biggest obstacle to gun laws that make sense is the NRA's "armed populace at large" fantasy.

COKIE ROBERTS But let me show you something. In the poll that we talked about earlier today, the question, ‘On whom do you trust to handle gun control?’ Gore, 47 percent, Bush 36 percent. Clearly the American people don’t agree with you here.

How many of these people has ABC News informed about the very existence of US v. Warin and US v. Emerson?

WAYNE LAPIERRE Well, I think they need to understand what’s happening. And when they do understand— and we’re going to take the issue face-to-face with the president, the vice president, all through this campaign. They want better enforcement of what’s on the books, according to the brand new John Zogby poll that came out last week. Better enforcement, more laws. They say better enforcement every time.

GEORGE WILL, ABCNEWS As John McCain might say, the— the NRA wants everybody. They want Democrats, Republicans, Independents, vegetarians, libertarians— maybe not vegetarians, but the NRA wants everybody. But is it safe to say that you would prefer, given the differences in the two parties, to have a Republican president and a Republican Congress?

WAYNE LAPIERRE We have a lot of supporters in both parties. I mean, the truth is the Republican Party as a whole has been much more supportive of the freedom of people to own guns. And also tougher on prosecuting criminal misuse. You know, the president and the vice president have a strategy here: the pollsters and the consultants are telling them, ‘Scare suburban women on this issue.’ And that’s their strategy. But where those suburban women live, it’s as safe as all those foreign countries the president talks about. The violence in this country is a issue of pockets of poverty. And the people that are committing those violence (sic) are drug dealers with guns, gangs with guns and violent felons with guns. Everything they’re doing with a gun is already prohibited. And the president needs— the only way you’re going to get to the bottom of that problem is to start prosecuting and take those people off the street and put them in jail. Suburban women don’t have to fear a police officer with a gun or their next door neighbor with a gun.

The NRA does not want the Federal Government to have any gun owner's number. Much of the rightwing arguments in Lopez and in Printz and Mack were against the expansion of federal authority under the Commerce Clause. Is it implied here that the NRA wants to see an expansion of federal authority in areas of economic and community development; or, does it just want more draconian federal law enforcement?


WAYNE LAPIERRE They have to fear those drug dealers and felons.

GEORGE WILL But the ans...

WAYNE LAPIERRE And we’ll get them off the street.

GEORGE WILL But the answer to my question is, yes, that basically you’d prefer to have Republicans controlling Congress and the White House. Given that that’s the case, is there any concession you can make, cosmetic if you will, that will help Republicans on this issue because as Cokie just indicated, they’re losing on this issue.

WAYNE LAPIERRE I— I think the fact is the Republicans offered what the American public— Republicans offered last year, they said, ‘Mr. President, here’s a bill, mandatory safety locks with the sale of every gun. Here’s checks on every sale at every gun show. Here’s juvenile Brady. Here’s...’ And— and the president, he’s the one who was unbending and he killed it. It— I mean, people have to realize the level of rhetoric coming out of this White House is at the outer limits of excess. I mean, I heard the president the other day speculating about the nurturing, loving relationship that crack dealers have for their children. I mean, in my lifetime there’s not been another president capable of this nonsense. If the president would enforce the laws against drug dealers with guns, he’d stop things like that crack house in Michigan.

GEORGE WILL Leaving aside questions of federalism, would the NRA support a law codifying the responsibility, the criminal responsibility of adults who allow guns to fall into the hands of children with harm to follow?

WAYNE LAPIERRE George, we define safety. We have been the number-one safety organization for years. We’ve spent $20 million in the last five years, president hasn’t spent a nickel. We— if you leave— owning a gun...

We might see some progress on gun laws when the Congress and other legislatures bypass the NRA's lobbyists and bring in the NRA's gun safety course instructors. These are responsible professionals who would be subject to criminal and civil liability if they taught in their courses what the NRA preaches in public.

GEORGE WILL Would you support such a law?

WAYNE LAPIERRE We have. Owning a gun is a responsibility. If you have young children in the house, you leave a loaded gun on a bed, you’re grossly negligent and you ought to be prosecuted.

COKIE ROBERTS But you’re opposing that law in Ohio right now.

WAYNE LAPIERRE You know, it all depends on the wording, Cokie, but we want people that are gross negligent with firearms to be prosecuted. My gosh, we always have. We’re the safety organization. But— but here’s how you keep people safe. President brags about 5,000 prosecutions. There’s 100 US attorneys. If they were only bringing 10 cases a month against the worst people, he’d have 12,000 prosecutions. If you’re bringing 20 you’d have 24,000. There’s no way this president can look in a camera and justify those numbers on prosecutions.

COKIE ROBERTS We’re out of time Mr. LaPierre, but I just want to ask you, the president talked about and Sam talked to the president about a debate with the NRA. Would you like to have that debate?

WAYNE LAPIERRE I’d love to, Cokie, and I hope you’ll put the resources of ABC to check out what I said here today on the prosecution numbers and report back whether I’m telling the truth, Wayne LaPierre’s telling the truth, or whether Bill Clinton is. You’ll find I’m telling the truth on these numbers.

COKIE ROBERTS Thank you very much.


COKIE ROBERTS Thanks for being with us. The— coming next, the campaign 2000 as John McCain returns to Capitol Hill. Will his reform plans get the reception he hopes? We’ll find out after this.

Handguns comprise one-third of all guns in America but are used in 80% of US gun-related crimes.

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