On Wednesday night, CNN hosted a town hall in which students and parents from the Marjory* Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida—the site of last week’s mass shooting—posed questions to several public figures. Most of the night involved tense and emotional but substantive and perhaps even productive exchanges of views, most notably between angry students and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. (Whether the notoriously slippery Rubio will abide by his avowed newfound support for a number of gun-control measures remains to be seen.) Striking a sour note, however, was National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch, who responded to a question from student Emma Gonzalez with a carefully vague answer that misleadingly implied the NRA has a deep and longstanding commitment to keeping powerful weapons out of the hands of dangerous individuals through background checks:
I don’t believe that this insane monster should have ever been able to obtain a firearm. Ever. I do not think that he should have gotten his hands on any kind of weapon. That’s number one. This individual was nuts. And I, nor the millions of people that I represent as a part of this organization that I’m here speaking for, none of us support people who are crazy, who are a danger to themselves, who are a danger to others getting their hands on a firearm. And we have been, for over 20 years—and I have been—screaming about this, which is why I’m here, because I have kids. And I’m not just fighting for my kids, I’m fighting for you. I’m fighting for you. I’m fighting for all of you. Because I don’t want anyone to ever be in this position again. I want everyone to think about this for one second, and this goes right into your question. … This madman passed a background check. How was he able to pass a background check? He was able to pass a background check because we have a system that’s flawed.
Loesch later continued to suggest that mass shootings occur because our background check system is inadequate:
This is the eighth tragedy where we have seen numerous tips that have been reported, and red flags … In Charleston they had to say—they had to come out and say that it was a paperwork error that this individual was a prohibited possessor. In South Carolina you have to be charged with a felony and he shouldn’t have been able to purchase the firearm. The worst school shooting with the murderer in Virginia, this individual was court-ordered to undergo mental health evaluations. And he slipped through the cracks. He would have never been able to purchase if this had been known. This is what I’m talking about in terms of prevention and making sure that people who are dangerous should not have access to firearms.
Loesch seems to have been trying to sell the NRA’s support for a limited “Fix NICS” bill that would reform the existing National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) as holistic support for “making sure that people who are dangerous should not have access to firearms.” (You can read about the Charleston and Virginia Tech failures Loesch is referring to here.) Neither Loesch’s questioners nor moderator Jake Tapper seemed to have enough information at hand to fully explain why this was a ludicrous claim, but it was; in reality, as you can read on the investigative site The Trace here and here, the NRA has long opposed and sought to limit the passage and administration of background check rules. In 1993, the New York Times described the passage of the bill that created the NICS waiting period/check system as a “stinging defeat” for the NRA in an article that quoted Wayne LaPierre, who is still a prominent NRA executive. As the writer Ana Marie Cox observes, the NRA’s opposition to expanding the pool of buyers subjected to background checks—and its official belief, contra Loesch, that no background check system can stop dangerous people from obtaining weapons—is stated plainly on its website:
NRA opposes expanding firearm background check systems, because background checks don’t stop criminals from getting firearms, because some proposals to do so would deprive individuals of due process of law, and because NRA opposes firearm registration.
Background checks don’t necessarily stop criminals from getting firearms. Federal studies have repeatedly found that persons imprisoned for firearm crimes get their firearms mostly through theft, the black market, or family members or friends. Less than one percent get guns at gun shows.
The most comprehensive background-check expansion bill proposed in Congress in recent memory was Manchin–Toomey, which failed by a 54–46 vote (it needed 60 votes) in the Senate in 2013. The NRA’s subsequent press release described this “overwhelming rejection” of the proposal as “a positive development.”
The NRA site moreover states in bold letters that “Federal gun control laws are already strong enough”—a declaration that reflects the group’s opposition to other potential measures, like more widespread gun-owner licensing and the prevention of sales to individuals convicted of stalking crimes, that could conceivably reduce homicide rates. Loesch and the NRA may well believe, in theory, that “people who are dangerous should not have access to firearms.” But in practice they oppose almost every proposal that would make that access more limited.
Correction, 5:15 p.m.: This post initially misspelled Marjory.