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NRA President David Keene Rejects White House Gun Control Approach

January 15, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Judy Woodruff talks to National Rifle Association president David Keene about his opposition to potential, additional gun control laws intended to curb gun violence nationwide. Keene has rejected White House recommendations on gun control and dismissed any ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: We come back now to the gun story.

And we’re joined by David Keene. He’s president of the National Rifle Association.

Welcome to the NewsHour.

DAVID KEENE, National Rifle Association: Thank you for having me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, earlier on the program, we heard from the governor of Delaware, Jack Markell, who said the critics who argue that what they’re trying to do by limiting gun violence and say that it’s an attack on the Second Amendment are not right. He said, what we’re simply doing are commonsense safety measures.

DAVID KEENE: That’s what Michael Bloomberg says.

No, it is an attack on the Second Amendment. It is an attack on those Americans who purchased and legally use firearms, who have never committed a criminal act, who have never done anything wrong. And they can say that it doesn’t infringe upon their rights, but, in fact, it does.

Now, every amendment — the First Amendment — you can’t, famously, yell fire in a crowded theater. The Second Amendment is also subject to reasonable limits. The Supreme Court has held that. But they’re strictly looked at.

And you have to demonstrate that they really impact things and that they’re really necessary. And the problem that we have is that none of the things that they have suggested are going to do any good. They’re asking the question, Judy, what do we do about guns? The question should be, what do we do to prevent the kinds of things that happened in Connecticut?

And we don’t think that they’re asking that question, but they’re pursuing their own agenda.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, they say that’s what they’re doing.

DAVID KEENE: I know they do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And let me just quickly read from something that Gabby Giffords, the former congresswoman who was gravely wounded. Mark Kelly, her husband.

They wrote an op-ed article just a few days ago. They say, people who are just — he said: “Special interests have cast — have cast simple protections for our communities as existential threats to individual liberties.”

And they say, as a result, more people are vulnerable to gun violence.

DAVID KEENE: You know, they’re talking about what they call assault weapons. Actually, an assault weapon, so-called, wasn’t involved in the Giffords shooting.

But the fact of the matter is that we have heard time and time again that these are military weapons designed for the battlefield. They’re not. They’re semiautomatic commercial rifles. The AR-15 is the bestselling long gun in the United States. There are over three million of them that have been purchased by people.

Most people that have them use them for sport shooting, for hunting and for the like. And to take those guns away from them for no reason is an infringement on their rights.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the mother of one of the victims in Aurora, Colo., was visiting Newtown just yesterday, and she specifically talked about the AR-15, these assault weapons.

And she said, they don’t belong in the hands of people in the community. What do you say to what — her name is…

JUDY WOODRUFF: … Phillips.

DAVID KEENE: It was interesting, Judy, because…

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you say to her?

DAVID KEENE: … because we’re talking — anybody who dies in a tragedy, whether it’s an auto accident or beaten to death or knifed or killed by a gun, it is tragic. And I can understand her reaction to that.

But, in this country, last year, more people were, in fact, beaten to death than killed by all long arms, including assault, so-called assault weapons. The semiautomatic rifle has been in this country and available to people since 1806.

In our museum, we have got one that fired 20 rounds from a magazine, a magazine that would be banned by some people, that Lewis and Clark took with them on their expedition.

It’s been that long. And we’re talking — we’re talking about something that has no impact. We have tried to do that as a society before. It hasn’t made any difference.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we can argue about the statistics. I mean, what is out there…

DAVID KEENE: Right. People do that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … 70 percent of the violent deaths last year were due — had a gun involved.

But, specifically, David Keene, what about what we’re hearing from the president, that there is going to be an attempt to ban the assault weapon, that there will be a proposal for comprehensive background checks? Is there — where — is there any common ground between the position of the NRA and the White House?

DAVID KEENE: Yes, there is some common ground.

It’s not on banning rifles that we don’t think would make any difference. And it’s not on setting up a national gun registry.

But we have for 20 years been asking that those people who have been adjudicated to be mentally potentially violent be put on the lists of people who are not allowed to buy firearms.

When you go into a store to buy a gun, or if you go to a gun show to buy a gun from a licensed dealer, they have to check your background. The FBI keep databases of people who are not allowed to buy guns, felons and the like. We have been urging that these people be put on these lists. And nothing has happened.

Twenty-three states don’t put any on the list. Now, one of the things we have to do is keep firearms out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. And we can do that partly in that way. The problem is, you can never predict in a society who is going to do what.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

DAVID KEENE: So, you also have to provide security. And that’s what we have been proposing in terms of the schools.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s why — and that’s — and you mentioned mental illness. And that is something the administration is going to talk about.

Maybe there’s some common ground there. When it comes to guards, putting armed guards, Gov. Markell said earlier on the program that — he said, how would you know where to put a guard, how many to put? He said it’s really an impractical thing to…

DAVID KEENE: Sure.

Well, I don’t think that it’s impractical. You know, just by coincidence, I was in Israel the day after the Newtown shooting. And I was touring a facility where they in fact train guards for their schools, because they had a spate of shootings in the 1970s.

Their crazy people are a little different from ours, but the results were the same. And they first used volunteers.

Now each school provides its own through private security guards. And I was a place where they train these people. It works there. It was a sensible thing for them to do.

After Columbine, President Clinton proposed what he called the COPS program. And about 28,000 schools in this country now either have police through that program or police that are paid for by the state or private security guards. Those schools have them.

Now, and it is — there’s an argument — the argument against it is just what you said. But the fact is, if you look at the people who do this, first of all, they’re mentally deranged. And, secondly, they’re cowards. And the fact that there’s somebody armed there will prevent them in most cases from doing anything.

Can you — do we live in a perfect world? No. But we can do what makes sense to protect our kids.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of what’s not perfect, what about trying some of the solutions that the folks who are saying they’re not trying to attack the Second Amendment are saying? They simply want to make — they want to reduce gun violence.

Why not try reducing high-capacity ammunition clips? Why not try a ban on assault weapons?

DAVID KEENE: Well, we tried a ban on assault weapons. The only thing that is different is — and, remember, Judy, that an assault weapon has to be listed because there’s no functional difference between a so-called assault weapon and any other semiautomatic rifle.

So, this time, they’re saying, well, if it has a pistol grip, it’s dangerous. If it doesn’t have a pistol grip, it isn’t dangerous. Now, that’s absurd from a functional standpoint, because it’s the same gun, the same rifle. And the only difference is cosmetic.

So, banning something for cosmetic reasons is not going to cause — is not going to cure the problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re not saying there’s — couldn’t reasonable people sit down at the table and come up with a solution that would satisfy you, your organization and would satisfy those who say, we have got to make it safer?

DAVID KEENE: That’s why we went to the meeting with Vice President Biden.

But, you know, before that meeting, the vice president himself and those speaking for him said, we’re open-minded. We’re going to discuss this. We got to the meeting.

And one of the first things he said was, the president and I have strong feelings about firearms, and nobody is going to change our mind on that. We’re going to pursue what we want to pursue.

Fine. They had the meeting, so they could say, oh, and we talked to the NRA.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, and I happened to talk to someone in the White House, because I had heard you say something similar to that in another interview. And they say that’s not what was said in the meeting.

DAVID KEENE: Well, it is.

And the other thing — let me say one other thing. In the last year, 77,000 people who were on the prohibited list tried to buy firearms. That, in itself, is a crime. You know how many have been prosecuted? Seventy.

When that was raised at the meeting, the attorney general said, well, we don’t have the resources and the time to be going after those people. Those people are the potential criminals whom we’re trying to keep guns out of the hands of, but the government doesn’t have time to do anything about them. They do have time to try and prohibit legitimate citizens from owning firearms.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, David Keene, the new polls show that are out that show even in gun-owning households people are saying by large percentages we need to do something about, again, high-capacity ammunition clips, assault weapons, background checks?

DAVID KEENE: Well, actually, interestingly, the Gallup poll showed no change at all on the so-called assault weapon question. I consider that evidence of the fact that people are smarter than politicians.

But, given the publicity and everything, I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more of an immediate reaction.

But when we get into this, when we begin to discuss it — and remember it’s sort of deja vu, because we have had this discussion before. Once the discussion takes place and people think about the substance of it, I’m confident that the judgment of the American people is going to be as it was before.

And that is that Second Amendment rights should be protected. Criminals should be prosecuted. And we should strengthen the ways we keep guns out of the hands of people who have no business buying them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Keene, president of the NRA, we thank you for being with us tonight.

DAVID KEENE: My pleasure, as always. Thank you.