Press Release | FRONTLINE Investigates the Unrivaled Political Power of the NRA
Gunned Down: The Power of the NRA
Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, at 10 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings)
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In December of 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 26 children and adults with a Bushmaster rifle before taking his own life with a handgun.
The tragedy shocked the nation, sparking an outpouring of grief and widespread calls from the public for politicians to “do something” about guns. The moment, it seemed, was gun control advocates’ to seize. But like many times before, they ran into intense opposition from a powerful political force: the National Rifle Association (NRA).
On January 6, FRONTLINE presents Gunned Down: The Power of the NRA — an investigation into the NRA, its political evolution and influence, and how it has consistently succeeded in defeating new gun control legislation.
“We’ve investigated the history of how — even after Newtown, even after the shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords — gun control has become a ‘third rail’ in American politics, with the issue essentially off the table nationally,” says veteran FRONTLINE filmmaker Michael Kirk (Losing Iraq, United States of Secrets, League of Denial, Bush’s War). “It’s been a bruising, bare-knuckles battle fought over decades, and the NRA has won.”
Drawing on interviews with leading voices on both sides of the gun regulation debate, Gunned Down goes inside one of the country’s greatest divides to illuminate how the NRA reinvented itself from a group of gun enthusiasts and sportsmen with minimal political focus, to a powerful lobbying force opposing any perceived infringement of the constitutional right to bear arms.
“The base of the National Rifle Association believes so strongly it’s more a religion,” former NRA Executive Vice President Warren Cassidy tells FRONTLINE.
“It really has nothing to do with guns; it has to do with freedom,” former NRA spokesman John Aquilino tells FRONTLINE. “Do you give your freedom to the government or do you keep it within yourself, within your community, within your family? And that’s the broad appeal.”
FRONTLINE traces the emergence of one of the NRA’s top leaders, Wayne LaPierre, and explores how he has activated the group’s influential base in the wake of mass shootings. FRONTLINE sits down with Congressional leaders, present and former White House officials, Vice President Joe Biden, and gun-rights and gun-control advocates. The film also features firsthand accounts from family members of mass shooting victims, including Newtown.
“They had what I think any reasonable expectation would be … ‘We have just been through the worst gun event in history of the United States. And something surely is going to change,’” Matt Bennett, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton on gun issues, tells FRONTLINE.
Gunned Down traces what happened next, and why.
“In Washington, they say that the NRA came out of Newtown stronger than ever,” Kirk says. “This is a story for anyone who wonders how that could be.”
Gunned Down — the crucial history of how the NRA came to dominate the gun debate — airs Tuesday, January 6 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and will stream in full, for free, online at pbs.org/frontline.
Gunned Down is a FRONTLINE production with the Kirk Documentary Group. The producers are Michael Kirk, Jim Gilmore and Mike Wiser. The director is Michael Kirk. The writers are Michael Kirk and Mike Wiser. The reporter is Jim Gilmore. The deputy executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is David Fanning.
FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. FRONTLINE has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 69 Emmy Awards and 16 Peabody Awards. Visit pbs.org/frontline and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Google+ to learn more. FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Wyncote Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.