National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre may believe enforcing universal background checks for all firearm purchases is basically pointless, but the nation’s leading gun lobby once took a very different position on the issue.
In fact, in 1999, the NRA took out an advertisement in which the group specifically said, “We think it’s reasonable to provide for instant checks at gun shows just like at gun stores and pawn shops.”
The advertisement, posted online by ThinkProgress, is based off testimony before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee that was delivered by LaPierre himself. In the same testimony, delivered in the aftermath of the Columbine High School shooting, he boasted that the NRA was an early supporter of what ultimately became the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Although federal law requires prospective gun owners to undergo mandatory criminal background checks, the requirement is far from universal. Gun control advocates have been targeting the so-called gun show loophole, which allows individuals to purchase firearms without undergoing a check, a policy critics say has allowed firearms to get in the hands of felons, substance abusers and individuals with mental disorders.
The NRA broke its commitment to universal background checks soon after taking out that ad. In fact, in that same year, the group lobbied for a watered-down provision that narrowed the range of gun shows required to submit to federal background check requirements.
But while the NRA opposes the background check mandate, polling indicates many of its members actually support the idea. In a recent survey from Johns Hopkins University, 89 percent of all respondents, as well as 75 percent of those who identified themselves a NRA members, supported universal background checks for gun sales.
The results echoed similar surveys from both Gallup and the Pew Research Center, both of which concluded background checks are the most widely supported gun control proposal in the wake of the elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn.
Clearly, not every member of the Senate has a short memory. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on Wednesday pressed LaPierre on why the NRA has changed its stance on background checks since 1999, appearing dumbfounded as to why the group suddenly decided a certain subset of gun owners should not be subject to the regulation.
“The system the way it is working now is a failure. This administration is not prosecuting the people they catch,” LaPierre explained. “Twenty-two states are not even putting the mental records of those adjudicated incompetent into the system. If they try to buy a gun, even if you catch them, and they try to walk away, you let them. They are criminals, homicidal maniacs -- and mentally ill. We all know that, maniacs and the mentally insane do not abide by the law.”
Watch LaPierre and Leahy spar below: