Transcript

NRA Under Fire

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Feb. 14, 2018

NIKOLAS CRUZ:

Hello. Today is the day. The day of my massacre shall begin.

NARRATOR:

He was a 19-year-old dropout—

NIKOLAS CRUZ:

All the kids in school will run in fear and hide. I hate everyone and everything. With the power of my AR you will all know who I am. [Laughs] You’re all going to die! [Mimics gunshots] Ah, yeah. Can’t wait.

Parkland, FL

Hours later

SARAH LERNER, Parkland teacher:

It was Valentine’s Day, and we had joked, days prior, that I was going to ruin Valentine’s Day with this quiz. And the fire alarm went off.

FEMALE STUDENT:

What the f---?

SARAH LERNER:

I heard what sounded like faint pops. Students started to evacuate, thinking it was a fire drill. And that’s when he came up the stairs and ravaged that floor.

NARRATOR:

In less than six minutes he fired 140 rounds from an AR-15.

RYAN DEITSCH, Parkland student:

It just became very real, very fast.

MALE PARKLAND STUDENT:

Oh, holy s---! [Screaming] Oh my God! Oh my God!

FEMALE PARKLAND STUDENT:

[Crying] My God—

MALE PARKLAND STUDENT 2:

Oh, f--- yo!

MALE PARKLAND STUDENT 3:

No, no, no, shut the door!

FEMALE PARKLAND STUDENT 2:

[Whispering] Shut the lights off!

RYAN DEITSCH:

People were texting and Snapchatting.

DAVID HOGG:

[Whispering] I heard gun—I heard one gunshot. We thought it was a drill initially, but it’s not.

RYAN DEITSCH:

We stood in a closet, 19 of us and the teacher. I just had to take out my phone and film a lot of what was going on.

MALE POLICE OFFICER 1:

Hands up, guys. Keep those hands up.

MALE POLICE OFFICER 2:

Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!

NARRATOR:

Ryan Deitsch kept filming as he and his classmates fled.

RYAN DEITSCH:

We couldn’t tell what was going on at what point. It’s a tragedy.

NARRATOR:

Fourteen students and three adults were dead.

MALE NEWSREADER:

This is breaking news, a deadly shooting at a Florida high school—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Parkland, Florida, this is where there has been a school shooting, and now—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—it sends students rushing out into the streets—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—there are "numerous fatalities"—

NARRATOR:

As the students evacuated, so did the shooter. He was later arrested.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—number of parents who are crying right now. They’re worried about their children in that school.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—parents going running to that area to find their loved one—

MALE NEWSREADER:

You’re looking at live pictures there where there is an active shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—Parkland, Florida, that’s in Broward County. We’re just getting this information in. It’s breaking at this hour—

NARRATOR:

Once again, students had been gunned down in a school.

MALE PARKLAND STUDENT:

Yeah, hey, do you guys need a live interview?

NARRATOR:

But this time, after the 105th school shooting, these students were determined they wouldn’t be just another statistic.

RYAN DEITSCH:

We didn’t just want it to end here. We didn’t just want it to end once the cameras went away. We wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just forgotten about. We wanted to make sure that the story was still being told.

NARRATOR:

Ryan and his classmates went on the offensive.

MALE RALLY ANNOUNCER:

I now want to introduce Emma Gonzalez.

EMMA GONZALEZ:

If all our government and president can do is send “thoughts and prayers,” then it's time for victims to be the change that we need to see.

NARRATOR:

Eighteen-year-old Emma Gonzalez led the charge.

EMMA GONZALEZ:

The people in the government telling us nothing could have ever been done to prevent this. We call BS!

CROWD:

BS!

EMMA GONZALEZ:

They say that no laws could have been able to prevent the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS!

CROWD:

BS!

NARRATOR:

They had a target.

EMMA GONZALEZ:

To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you.

NARRATOR:

The National Rifle Association—the nation’s powerful gun lobby.

RYAN DEITSCH:

We had learned, in our own government class, that the NRA is one of the largest and most powerful lobbying forces. And we decided that they couldn’t just keep going the way they were going.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Emma Gonzalez’s speech is trending on Twitter this morning—

MALE NEWSREADER:

A teenager is getting a lot of attention on social media—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Anguished voices calling for change.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Students turned activists trained their own political sights on the NRA.

SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, The New York Times:

I think that that speech resonated with so many Americans, going up against this kind of entrenched Washington behemoth. They were everything the NRA is not.

 

CHARLTON HESTON:

—from my cold dead hands!

NARRATOR:

Once one of the most feared forces in Washington—

 

NARRATOR:

—for decades dominating one issue: guns.

WAYNE LaPIERRE:

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

 

NARRATOR:

An unrivaled power that would ultimately become a target.

BETO O’ROURKE:

Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We’re not going to allow it to be used against fellow Americans anymore.

NRA PROMOTIONAL VIDEO:

The National Rifle Association has made possible the training of thousands of instructors.

NARRATOR:

Long before it was at the center of a political firestorm, the NRA was something very different.

MATT BENNETT, Gun control advocate:

The NRA was a safety organization. They helped people teach their children and their friends and family how to use and store and keep firearms safely.

PAUL M. BARRETT, Author, "Glock: The Rise of America's Gun":

This is an organization that, back in the '60s, was a very tame, not particularly political organization.

MALE NEWS ANNOUNCER:

Here is a bulletin from CBS News.

NARRATOR:

But that would begin to change with the assassinations of the 1960s.

WALTER CRONKITE:

There has been an attempt as perhaps you know now on the life of President Kennedy.

MALE REPORTER:

—the first lady sitting in the back seat as we—

MALE REPORTER:

There has been a shooting, I repeat, a shooting in the motorcade—

NARRATOR:

He was shot by a $12 .38-caliber mail-order rifle.

Martin Luther King—a 760 Gamemaster.

And Robert F. Kennedy—a Saturday night special.

Armed conflict broke out on America’s streets.

In Washington, the response: gun control.

PRESIDENT LYNDON B. JOHNSON:

Effective crime control remains, in my judgment, effective gun control.

NARRATOR:

Those words would be a call to arms for some in the National Rifle Association.

WARREN CASSIDY, Former NRA executive vice president:

The NRA people said, “Wait a minute. We’ve got other things to worry about than teaching guys how to shoot or how to hunt, and so forth, or collect guns.” And that’s when—that was the transformative period.

NARRATOR:

The transformation happened here in 1977.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The National Rifle Association convention in Cincinnati went into overtime last night, a stormy all-night session—

NARRATOR:

Two sides faced off: hunters versus gun rights activists.

CBS News

May 21, 1977

MALE NEWSREADER:

When it was over, some dissident members had taken control of the 400,000-member organization. What it means is even stricter support for the right to bear arms and against gun control.

MATT BENNETT:

They believed that it was incumbent upon the NRA to become a Second Amendment organization. And they cleared the board of people that disagreed with them. And the NRA has essentially been that ever since.

MALE NEWS ANNOUNCER:

This is an NBC News Special Report.

NARRATOR:

But just a few years later, another dramatic shooting would challenge the NRA.

March 30, 1981

MALE REPORTER:

You can see the president coming out now—

NARRATOR:

President Reagan shot in the lung—

MALE SPEAKER:

You motherf-----!

NARRATOR:

—and his press secretary, James Brady, in the head.

MALE NEWSREADER:

They said six shots in two seconds.

MALE BYSTANDER:

Let the ambulance in here, come on!

NARRATOR:

In the aftermath, once again a call for gun control.

MALE NEWSREADER:

These incidents seem to keep happening, and that is a real puzzle and a tragic puzzle.

NARRATOR:

Over the years, Jim Brady became a powerful symbol. A gun control group formed around him in opposition to the NRA, which had launched a full-scale lobbying effort in the Capitol.

And by the time Bill Clinton was elected, the anti-gun movement had found a president willing to take up their cause.

MALE NEWSREADER:

President Clinton blasted the National Rifle Association—

NARRATOR:

Clinton cracked down on guns—

MALE NEWSREADER:

President Clinton signed the crime bill into law today—

NARRATOR:

—banning the import of military-style handguns.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—one bans the importation of foreign-made assault pistols.

NARRATOR:

The assault weapons ban—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—a ban on 19 types of assault weapons—

NARRATOR:

—and background checks at gun stores.

MALE NEWSREADER:

A stunning victory for the president—

NARRATOR:

It seemed like a victory for the gun control forces. But that’s not the way the NRA saw it.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Has the NRA really lost its clout in Congress?

WARREN CASSIDY:

I think NRA benefited tremendously through the Clinton years because of the extreme radicalism of the anti-gun—call them left-wingers; I call them regressives, not progressives—but the anti-gun people.

PAUL M. BARRETT, The Wall Street Journal, 1987-2005:

It’s in combat that the NRA thrives. It’s with enemies that the NRA is best able to communicate its point of view and, above all, raise money.

NARRATOR:

Near the end of his presidency, Clinton would take on the NRA one last time.

FEMALE 911 OPERATOR:

911, what’s your emergency?

FEMALE CALLER:

There’s a shooting going on at Columbine High School—

MALE CALLER 1:

I’ve got shots going off like crazy—

MALE CALLER 2:

You’ve got multiple shots now in the cafeteria.

NARRATOR:

It was set in motion by a shooting at a Colorado high school.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The pictures we are watching here in Colorado are being broadcast nationally—

MALE NEWSREADER:

It’s very chaotic out there right now—

MALE NEWSREADER:

SWAT teams went in to rescue possible hostages.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

We are going to continue to follow this horrific situation taking place in Littleton, Colorado, this afternoon.

NARRATOR:

Americans would see, for the first time, students being gunned down. One hundred eighty-eight rounds fired off, and a bomb detonated in the cafeteria.

As the two assailants, seen here, enter the room and hunt for student victims, they had killed 13 and wounded 23 more.

MALE NEWSREADER:

You see some of the victims being taken out. We want to advise you we have no confirmation of any—

MALE NEWSREADER:

They are continuing to find victims throughout the building, throughout the school, as SWAT team members slowly go through the building because it is not secure as of now.

NARRATOR:

In the days that followed, the police gathered evidence, including home videos of the attackers and their weapons.

DYLAN KLEBOLD:

Yo! What up, dog? I heard you got some beef with me, n----?

NARRATOR:

They had assembled a small arsenal—sawed-off shotguns, a 9 mm carbine rifle and a TEC-9 pistol with a 30-round magazine.

The shooters got a friend to buy some of the weapons at a gun show, which didn’t require a background check. It would become known as the "gun show loophole."

PAUL M. BARRETT:

Columbine was a direct threat to the American gun culture because Columbine really brought to the surface the idea that a couple of disturbed teenagers, if they want to, on any given weekend can go to a gun show and assemble the weapons they need to go and take over the school and start shooting everybody.

MALE NEWSREADER:

At the Colorado state Capitol, the anguish over the Columbine massacre turned to protests.

NARRATOR:

In the wake of the shootings, thousands protested in Denver—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Some here are channeling their grief into protest.

NARRATOR:

—demanding that something—anything—be done.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—8,000 strong, they targeted—

NARRATOR:

One of them was the father of a 15-year-old victim.

TOM MAUSER:

I had a sign made at a sign shop with Daniel’s picture on it, and words, “My son died at Columbine. He would expect me to be here today.”

NARRATOR:

The protesters had a specific target: guns and the NRA.

TOM MAUSER:

Something is wrong in this country when a child can grab a gun—grab a gun so easily and shoot a bullet into the middle of a child’s face, as my son experienced. Something is wrong.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The National Rifle Association, target of much anger in Colorado—

NARRATOR:

As it happened, just blocks away, the NRA was gathering for its long-planned annual convention.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Gun enthusiasts insist there’s no connection between the Columbine tragedy and weapons.

NARRATOR:

Inside, top executives of the NRA weighed how to respond. They issued a public statement of sympathy and then sent out their most famous member, movie star Charlton Heston.

CHARLTON HESTON:

Thank you. Thank you, thank you.

RICHARD FELDMAN, Former NRA lobbyist:

You couldn’t have picked a better caricature of who you wanted speaking, with that stentorian voice of his.

CHARLTON HESTON:

America must stop this predictable pattern of reaction. When an isolated, terrible event occurs, our phones ring, demanding that the NRA explain the inexplicable. Why us? Because their story needs a villain.

NARRATOR:

Despite the shooting, the NRA stayed focused on its core belief: the right to own guns.

WARREN CASSIDY:

The base of the National Rifle Association believes so strongly, it’s more a religion, or what a religion used to be. There’s a passion involved in it.

JOHN AQUILINO, Former NRA spokesman:

The NRA is the closest thing that a membership group can have to just pure patriotism. They love their country.

CHARLTON HESTON:

As long as there’s a Second Amendment, evil can never conquer us. Tyranny in any form can never find footing within a society of law-abiding, armed, ethical people.

NARRATOR:

Heston tapped into a fundamental fear of NRA members: that the government would use Columbine to restrict and then take away their guns.

RICHARD FELDMAN:

Purchases at gun stores start to go up astronomically as people who are thinking about buying a particular gun over the course of the next year or so worry that they may outlaw it. “I'd better get it while I can.”

NARRATOR:

Hundreds of thousands of new members signed up for the NRA right after Columbine.

JOHN AQUILINO:

The gun is a symbol of freedom, the only thing that keeps bad government from taking over. It really has nothing to do with guns; it has to do with freedom. But things started getting more political.

MALE RALLY ANNOUNCER:

The president of the United States.

NARRATOR:

Within weeks, while speaking to the Columbine community, President Clinton would push back on the NRA and rally the gun control forces.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON:

You have a unique chance—a chance—to make sure that the children of Columbine are never forgotten.

BRUCE REED, Former Clinton adviser:

The attack in Columbine was such a shock to the body politic that we felt the country needed to do something.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON:

Thank you and God bless you.

NARRATOR:

Clinton proposed a bill to close that gun show loophole.

MALE SENATE CLERK:

Mr. Ashcroft. Mr. Baucus. Mr. Enzi.

NARRATOR:

It was quickly rushed to a vote. As the roll was called, the Senate was split.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Vice President Gore called to the Capitol to break a deadlock.

MALE NEWSREADER:

New laws to govern gun sales were deeply dividing—

NARRATOR:

Vice President Gore needed to break the tie.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE:

On this vote, the yeas are 50, the nays are 50. The Senate being equally divided, the vice president votes in the affirmative, and the amendment is agreed to.

MALE NEWSREADER:

It was a setback today for the gun lobby and its allies in Congress.

NARRATOR:

One month after Columbine, the NRA had lost the first round.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The Democrats admit the grip of the National Rifle Association had finally been broken.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The gun control battle now moves to the House, where the tide also seems to be turning—

NARRATOR:

The bill then headed to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, and that was where the National Rifle Association would make its stand under the leadership of Wayne LaPierre.

SHERYL GAY STOLBERG:

The Wayne that we saw in Columbine was really large and in charge of this huge, dynamic organization.

NARRATOR:

In the 1970s, he started as a lobbyist.

RICHARD FELDMAN:

If you’re a political junkie, like Wayne or like myself, it was a wonderful job.

NARRATOR:

But LaPierre was no one’s idea of a glad-handing lobbyist.

WARREN CASSIDY:

He was a very quiet man. I was amazed he was a lobbyist because he did not have the “hail fellow well met” attitude or personality that I associated with politicians or with lobbyists.

NARRATOR:

And surprisingly for the NRA, he was not a gun enthusiast, more comfortable on K Street than in a duck blind.

JOHN AQUILINO:

The safest place you could be with Wayne and a gun back then was in a different state because he really did not know anything about guns. Politics, yes. Guns, no.

NARRATOR:

But inside the divided politics of the NRA, LaPierre was skillful, navigating between the sportsmen and the gun rights activists.

WARREN CASSIDY:

Wayne could put a finger to the wind and see which way it was blowing, and he would position himself so that neither side would be offended and might even think that he were, in fact, on that side.

TIM DICKINSON, Rolling Stone:

In an organization that is so beset by factionalism, his being unmoored to any particular point of view is actually very helpful for him in terms of being able to ride the torrents that have occasionally swept through the NRA and emerge always on top.

NARRATOR:

Now LaPierre made a crucial decision: to counterattack, fight against Clinton’s attempt to close the gun show loophole.

WAYNE LaPIERRE:

What we see is the president now dusting off every tired old gun control bill that’s been around his administration for the last six years.

JOHN AQUILINO:

The NRA needed to go and show that it could stand up to the president; that it could stand up and it could, toe-to-toe, meet him in the ring and bash his brains out.

NARRATOR:

It was all part of what would become LaPierre and the NRA’s playbook.

NRA ROBOCALL:

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association.

WAYNE LaPIERRE:

This year, more than ever, your vote really can make a difference.

NARRATOR:

Within days, faxes and phone calls—

MALE VOICE [reading NRA press release]:

—the Clinton-Gore administration isn’t wasting any time attempting to further its aggressive anti-gun agenda.

NARRATOR:

—stoking fear that their guns could be taken away.

RICHARD FELDMAN:

Fear is a much greater motivator in American politics than anything else—the fear of losing rights that you perceive you have. When that fear level is high, that’s when the groups that represent the issue do well.

NRA ROBOCALL:

NRA calling with an urgent legislative alert—

NARRATOR:

The NRA activated its members.

PAUL M. BARRETT:

You don’t need thousands of people and you don’t need millions of dollars. You need hundreds of people who will get on the phone, and really, a couple hundred people to show up at a town hall meeting. You do that a couple of times, and your member of Congress gets the message.

NRA ROBOCALL:

I’m Charlton Heston. We need your help to protect our freedoms—

JOHN AQUILINO:

The NRA’s membership, if it had one political trait, they vote. It’s that simple.

You are a politician. You want to get elected. You want votes. NRA has votes.

NARRATOR:

It also grades members of both parties, punishing them if they break with the NRA on guns.

SHERYL GAY STOLBERG:

And so if you've got an "F" rating from the NRA and you are trying to get elected—good luck with that.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-Ill.), Speaker of the House (1999-2007):

Those in favor of the amendment will say "aye."

U.S. REPRESENTATIVES:

Aye!

DENNIS HASTERT:

Those opposed will say "no."

U.S. REPRESENTATIVES:

No!

NARRATOR:

After the NRA lobbying blitz, the White House came up 22 votes short.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Gun control legislation on Capitol Hill was left for dead today on the floor—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—a hands-down victory for the NRA.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

In the end, only gun buyers can claim victory—

TOM MAUSER, Parent of Columbine victim:

When I saw that after this horrific tragedy, despite everything that people say about “We have to do something to prevent this from happening again,” when they couldn’t do something as basic as that, I was livid.

Charlotte, NC

May 20, 2000

MALE NEWSREADER:

The National Rifle Association opens its annual convention today—

MALE NEWSREADER:

The NRA convention here is rallying the gun rights faithful—

NARRATOR:

One year after Columbine, it was time for another NRA national convention.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—convention center opened at 10:00 this morning—

MALE CONVENTION ANNOUNCER:

Ladies and gentleman and members of the National Rifle Association of America, your president, Charlton Heston!

NARRATOR:

They had overwhelmed the Clinton administration and successfully demonstrated their power in Congress. It had been a very good year for the NRA.

CHARLTON HESTON:

The NRA is back!

NARRATOR:

And now the NRA would take the offensive.

CHARLTON HESTON:

That leads me to that one mission that is left undone: winning in November.

RICHARD FELDMAN:

The race between George W. Bush and Al Gore—that’s the last year that the gun issue played a critical role in American politics.

NARRATOR:

It was time to settle a score with the man who had broken that tie vote in the Senate, Al Gore.

CHARLTON HESTON:

I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed, and especially for you, Mr. Gore—from my cold, dead hands!

NARRATOR:

The NRA would spend $20 million on the 2000 election, the most aggressive political campaign they had ever undertaken.

CHARLTON HESTON:

Al Gore wants government testing, licensing and registration for all firearms owners. He cast the vote that would have shut down every gun show. This year, vote freedom first, because if Al Gore wins, you lose.

WAYNE LaPIERRE:

To all of you in West Virginia, it’s Halloween, and Al Gore doesn’t need a mask to scare gun owners and hunters!

TIM DICKINSON:

The NRA wins because it’s patient and because long after America’s dismay about these gun massacres has faded, the NRA and its membership are still thinking about guns.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Good evening, everybody, and welcome to our election coverage 2000.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Stay with us. We’re about to take you on an exciting and bumpy ride.

NARRATOR:

And on Election Day, the NRA was rewarded.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Al Gore has lost in Tennessee tonight—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—embarrassing Vice President Gore by snatching his state’s 11 electoral votes.

RICHARD FELDMAN, Author, "Ricochet":

In no small measure, it was that fight over guns after Columbine that had the firearm community more enlivened, engaged. And a few votes difference, and the whole thing would have gone the other way.

NARRATOR:

Gore was an example to Democrats of the risk of going up against the NRA.

SHERYL GAY STOLBERG:

Democrats came to believe that gun control was a toxic issue for them. Democrats were running scared of the NRA.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.

NARRATOR:

George W. Bush’s inauguration would mark the beginning of a decade where the NRA would get what it wanted.

The assault weapons ban would expire. The Supreme Court would rule that individuals had a constitutional right to own guns. Congress would pass a law to protect gun-makers from lawsuits.

The gun control forces were left in disarray.

PAUL M. BARRETT:

Gun control movement is fragmented. You don’t have what you need to mount a true movement, which is committed warriors; people who don’t need money, who don’t need fancy galas, who come out because they care. That’s what the gun people have.

NARRATOR:

But eventually the NRA would be threatened by two events.

CROWD:

[Chanting] Obama! Obama! Obama!

NARRATOR:

A new president, Barack Obama—

CROWD:

[Chanting] Obama! Obama!

NARRATOR:

—and an epidemic of mass shootings—one that would test the NRA’s will.

MALE 911 OPERATOR:

911, what’s the location of your emergency?

FEMALE CALLER:

Sandy Hook School. I think there’s somebody shooting in here, in Sandy Hook School, down the hallway.

MALE 911 OPERATOR:

OK—

FEMALE CALLER:

They’re still around me, there’s still shooting!

NARRATOR:

One hundred fifty-four rounds from a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle.

MALE 911 OPERATOR 2:

911, what’s the location of your emergency?

MALE CALLER:

Sandy Hook Elementary School. I believe there’s shooting at the front. It’s still happening!

NARRATOR:

It lasted less than five minutes.

MALE 911 OPERATOR 2:

Do you see anything or hear anything more?

MALE CALLER:

I keep hearing shooting.

MALE 911 OPERATOR 2:

MALE CALLER:

I keep hearing popping.

NARRATOR:

This time, it was 6- and 7-year-olds.

FEMALE CALLER 2:

Please hurry. Please hurry! We smell fire from the gunshots.

FEMALE CALLER 3:

You guys come to my room, now! Get in here.

FEMALE 911 OPERATOR:

OK, well—

MALE CALLER:

There’s still shooting going on. Please!

FEMALE CALLER 4:

I need—I need assistance here immediately.

NARRATOR:

Twenty children and six adults were shot dead.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

All right, shots are still being fired there.

MALE POLICE OFFICER 2:

Get everybody you can going down there.

MALE POLICE OFFICER 3:

All right, let me—

NARRATOR:

Outside, it was chaos.

MALE CALLER 2:

My daughter’s in that building! Please!

FEMALE CALLER 5:

I have five children who ran from Sandy Hook School.

MARK BARDEN, Parent of Sandy Hook victim:

There were just more emergency vehicles and personnel, helicopters than I had ever seen in my life. I couldn’t—I just—it was a surreal scene. I just couldn’t believe it.

NARRATOR:

Mark Barden’s son, Daniel, was a first grader at Sandy Hook Elementary.

MARK BARDEN:

More and more of the kids were being collected by their families, and no Daniel. And there was this growing group of parents that were growing in concern. “Where—where is my child?”

NARRATOR:

Nicole Hockley’s son, Dylan, was another first grader at Sandy Hook.

NICOLE HOCKLEY:

You know, and you’re searching, searching the eyes, searching the faces for someone that you recognize, and I just—I couldn’t.

MARK BARDEN:

They told us that if you haven’t been reunited with your loved one yet, you’re not going to be.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. As a country, we have been through this too many times. May God bless the memory of the victims, and in the words of Scripture, heal the broken-hearted and bind up their wounds.

NARRATOR:

Like Clinton before him, President Obama took up the cause of gun control. He handed the job to Vice President Joe Biden.

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:

It was in a context of sorrow, extreme anger and frustration about, "Why can’t we do something about this?" It was like, “Enough is enough is enough. Put together something for me, Joe.”

NARRATOR:

At the NRA, they knew another political fight was coming.

WARREN CASSIDY:

My feeling was, “Uh-oh, here we go again. Oh, they’re going to come out and blame NRA. We’re really in trouble now.” I just feared what might happen.

LARRY PRATT, Gun Owners of America:

When Newtown occurred it was like Columbine all over again, and we immediately knew there would be a big push among politicians to seize the opportunity, because they're kind of like vultures on the gun issue. They have to wait until there's a pile of dead bodies, and then they come swooping in with their catcalls and everything else. It’s very disgusting.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—the Democrats debate, one-on-one—

NARRATOR:

The NRA had reason to worry: Obama had long supported gun restrictions.

BARACK OBAMA:

We can make sure that criminals don’t have guns in their hands; we can make certain that those who are mentally deranged are not getting hold of handguns. We can trace guns that have been used in crimes.

NARRATOR:

For the NRA, it was time to activate the playbook.

WAYNE LaPIERRE:

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

ED O’KEEFE, The Washington Post, 2005-18:

And he almost immediately goes right back to what they usually say, which is that the answer to this is more guns.

WAYNE LaPIERRE:

What if he’d been confronted by qualified armed security?

TOM DICKINSON:

The NRA wins by picking fights. Its power swells in a certain regard every time it has—its members feel under attack, that their rights are under attack.

WAYNE LaPIERRE:

Our children—we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless, and the monsters and the predators of the world know it and exploit it.

PAUL M. BARRETT:

This was not off the cuff; he didn’t lose it. This was very thought out. And they decided on a strategy, and they executed the strategy.

JOHN AQUILINO:

Because the people that it resonated with gave more money, and this is what you need to do in order to keep that tough persona.

PAUL M. BARRETT, Bloomberg Businessweek, 2005-17:

And we’ve got to send the signal that this is not the time to compromise, that Obama is the enemy and they want to take your guns away. Yes, it’s too bad about the kids, but we are not going to back down.

NARRATOR:

At the White House, they wanted an ally who could reach out to NRA members, and they knew just the man.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.V.):

As your senator, I’ll protect our Second Amendment rights. That’s why the NRA endorsed me. I’ll take on Washington and this administration.

NARRATOR:

Joe Manchin, who had an "A" rating from the NRA, was shaken by the Newtown shootings.

JOE MANCHIN:

It really got to me. These are babies, 5- and 6-year-old children. Who would have ever—it’s just beyond my imagination—most Americans—to conceive anything this horrific could happen in America.

ED O’KEEFE:

Lightbulbs went off at the Capitol. Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer and their aides realize, “Wait a second. We now have a Democrat with an 'A' rating from the NRA saying he wants to do something.”

NARRATOR:

Manchin returned to the same idea as Clinton: requiring background checks at gun shows. He hoped he could convince the NRA to go along.

ROBERT DRAPER, The New York Times Magazine:

So Manchin’s argument to the NRA is, “Look, you’ll never find a gun safety bit of legislation that is as gun-friendly as this. And all we’re really doing is closing a loophole.”

JOE MANCHIN:

I felt this would be something that they would embrace. It was truly a time that Wayne LaPierre and the NRA, the leadership, could have rose to another level, complete other level.

NARRATOR:

With polls showing wide public support for expanding background checks, Manchin and the vice president figured they had a chance.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, PBS NewsHour:

Everyone felt like the world was going to change. Everyone felt like this is going to be the mass shooting that makes America really look at its gun laws and change something.

JOE BIDEN:

I was optimistic. Over 91% of the American people supported expanding background checks; 80% of the households that had an NRA member supported it.

NARRATOR:

Under pressure, there was hope that LaPierre might even get on board, depart from the playbook.

PAUL M. BARRETT:

Within the inner circles of the NRA, the wives of senior NRA officials shedding tears and saying to their husbands, “Something has to happen. You have to do something different, honey.”

ED O’KEEFE:

And so when they’re hearing it form their own members, and when they’re hearing it from their own wives, and when they’re hearing it probably from others on staff, in that moment they realized, "Yes, we have to see about doing something here."

NARRATOR:

NRA staff met with Manchin.

JOE MANCHIN:

They made some suggestions on some wording and changes from that standpoint, so yes, they had input, and we valued that input.

NARRATOR:

It didn’t take long for news of the meeting to leak.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—that idea. Now Joe Manchin says he might be working with the NRA—

MALE NEWSREADER:

The fact that the NRA was even talking with Manchin suggested at least some room for negotiation for the group.

ROBERT DRAPER:

Two small groups, the Gun Owners of America and the National Association of Gun Rights, began to circulate letters saying, “We hear that the NRA is compromising with Manchin.” There—and they used that word, the dreaded “C” word—that there’s a compromise bill.

NARRATOR:

Larry Pratt represented one of those groups, whose 300,000 members were some of the most fervent gun rights activists.

LARRY PRATT:

The Manchin bill was not aiming at loopholes. It was aiming at nailing down some remaining freedom that American people have. Gun control simply kills people. And for Sen. Manchin to wave the bloody shirts of those children from Newtown is despicable.

NARRATOR:

Pratt quickly issued an alert to his members, warning them about the NRA’s talks with Manchin.

LARRY PRATT:

We put out an alert saying, “Please, if you belong to the NRA, call this guy at this number and ask him to urge the powers that be to oppose the bill.”

NARRATOR:

LaPierre got the message: This bill wasn’t going to fly with hardcore gun owners.

PAUL M. BARRETT:

The NRA’s main anxiety at that moment is not losing, is not seeing something enacted; it’s not looking soft to their own membership and to the substantial number of Americans, who probably number in the millions, who think the NRA is not tough enough.

NARRATOR:

LaPierre pulled the NRA out of the talks.

ROBERT DRAPER:

Suddenly, the NRA stopped cooperating with Manchin, stopped returning their emails, stopped calling.

WAYNE LaPIERRE:

We are not going to let our great American—

NARRATOR:

LaPierre returned to the playbook. He launched a full-scale assault on the legislation.

NRA TELEVISION COMMERCIAL:

Remember this TV ad?

NARRATOR:

Just as he had done to Al Gore, he singled out Sen. Manchin.

JOE MANCHIN:

As your senator, I’ll protect our Second Amendment rights.

NRA TELEVISION COMMERCIAL:

That was Joe Manchin’s commitment. But now Manchin is working with President Obama and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. Concerned? You should be.

JOHN AQUILINO:

Sen. Manchin was vilified by the NRA. It was almost like a personal vendetta. So they, you know, they chewed up one of their own.

NARRATOR:

As LaPierre waited for the votes, Republicans and some conservative Democrats backed away from the bill.

FEMALE SENATE CLERK:

Mr. Isakson. Mr. Lautenberg, Mr. Leahy. Mr. Lee. Mr. Wyden.

JOE BIDEN:

The amendment is not agreed to.

NARRATOR:

The bill fell five votes short. The NRA had won.

JOE BIDEN:

How could they vote that way? Don’t they understand what happened? How can they do that? How can this be? I mean, it was disbelief and a sense of betrayal. That was the mood.

NARRATOR:

Obama invited the Newtown families to the White House after the vote.

MARK BARDEN:

Daniel was a first grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I know that he felt a sense of responsibility to us and to the nation and to that 90% of the country that wanted this. I think he felt a strong sense of responsibility toward that. And his disgust was palpable.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

It came down to politics—the worry that that vocal minority of gun owners would come after them in future elections. So all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington. Thank you very much, everybody.

NARRATOR:

Any effort at gun control in Washington was over.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

In a stinging loss for President Obama and, I might add, the country—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—proposal was rejected, saddening families of the Sandy Hook victims.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Not a single new federal gun law has passed. And that had NRA members celebrating.

CROWD:

[Chanting] Hey, hey! Ho, ho! The NRA has got to go!

MALE NEWSREADER:

The nation’s capital is the epicenter of the gun control debate today with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators descending on Washington—

NARRATOR:

But by 2018, in the wake of the Parkland shooting, a formidable new threat to the NRA was emerging.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—March For Our Lives right here in Washington is the NRA and its lobbying power—

NARRATOR:

Those Parkland students had come to lead a march on Washington.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Half a million people, at least, expected today in Washington—

NARRATOR:

They vented their anger and frustration at the NRA.

CROWD:

[Chanting] Hey, hey! Ho, ho! The NRA has got to go!

MALE NEWSREADER:

A march against the NRA. A march against Republican lawmakers. A march against—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Washington is preparing for today’s historic March For Our Lives rally—

SARAH LERNER, Parkland teacher:

I was in Washington for the march.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—Congress to address gun violence and school safety.

SARAH LERNER:

And, I mean, the energy was huge.

NARRATOR:

Ryan Deitsch was there.

RYAN DEITSCH, Co-founder, March For Our Lives:

I’ve been amazed by what I’ve seen. I’m amazed that I cannot see the end of this crowd here in D.C. today.

Seeing that crowd on that day be unified over this one issue. This might be our reality now, but it doesn’t have to be, and we can change it together.

Thank you!

MATT BENNETT, Co-founder, Third Way:

The NRA has never had to deal with this kind of generational problem before. They'd never gone up against a bunch of incredibly smart, talented and organized young people.

NARRATOR:

Emma Gonzalez rallied the crowds.

CROWD:

[Chanting] Emma! Emma! Emma! Emma!

EMMA GONZALEZ:

In a little over six minutes, 17 of our friends were taken from us. Everyone who has been touched by the cold grip of gun violence understands.

CROWD:

[Chanting] Hey, hey! Ho, ho! The NRA has got to go! Hey, hey! Ho, ho!

ROB PINCUS, Gun rights advocate:

The fact that it was actually the children who were in the school was a very powerful, emotional message to the American public. It was just something unprecedented and something that the pro-gun side really didn’t have a counter to.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Today, the gun debate takes center stage at the White House—

NARRATOR:

President Donald Trump invited the Parkland survivors to the White House.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Now the president will host a listening session today at the White House—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—plans to hear firsthand from survivors—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—for a face-to-face meeting with the president.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The question remains is what will actually come out of this.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

It’s not going to be talk, like it has been in the past. It’s been going on too long, too many instances. We’re going to get it done. We’re going to be very strong on background checks. We’ll be doing very strong background checks. Very strong emphasis on the mental health of somebody.

SHERYL GAY STOLBERG:

And he said, "I want to do legislation. Let's do something now. I’ll sign it.”

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We’re going to come up with a solution. God bless you all. Thank you.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

President Trump vowing to take action—

MALE NEWSREADER:

The president, who has indicated his openness to gun control, met students—

NARRATOR:

To the NRA and Wayne LaPierre, it looked like the president was walking away from them.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Gun rights supporters were dumbfounded; they were stunned—

NARRATOR:

And day after day it continued.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

You guys, half of you are so afraid of the NRA. There's nothing to be afraid of. And you know what? If they're not with you, we have to fight them every once and a while. That's OK. I appreciate it very much. I'll see you in a little while. Thank you, thank you.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

President Trump making some waves in the gun control debate.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—"we’re going to have to fight them"—language that the NRA clearly does not want to hear, but—

NARRATOR:

Then Trump went even further: He decided to revive Obama’s Newtown bill.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Democrats and Republicans are going to be seated around one table.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Mr. Trump at a freewheeling, hour-long meeting—

NARRATOR:

He invited Sen. Manchin and others to put together a deal.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We could have one terrific bill that everybody—started by the people around this table. We could have an amazing result. Now this is not a popular thing to say in terms of the NRA, but I'm saying it anyway, I'm going to just have to say it. People want to see something happen, some good stuff. We want to pass something great.

Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you very much.

MALE REPORTER:

Mr. President, could you see yourself supporting an assault rifle ban?

NARRATOR:

To sweeten the deal, Manchin would offer to rename the bill: the “Trump Common Sense Gun Bill.”

MALE NEWSREADER:

—a heated debate that put him at odds with the powerful NRA.

NARRATOR:

The NRA sprung into action. Wayne LaPierre headed to the White House for a face-to-face with the president.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The NRA quickly reacting to that exchange, strongly disagreeing—

NARRATOR:

He made it clear where the NRA stood.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—fighting back against something the president said about assault-style rifles.

SHERYL GAY STOLBERG:

Wayne LaPierre got with President Trump and knocked him upside the head a little bit, and before you knew it, there was no gun safety legislation, and Parkland had produced nothing in Washington.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Despite denials from the White House, it’s the president who appears to bending to the NRA.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Trump appears to be bowing to the demands of the NRA.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The NRA, meanwhile, claims it has the president on its side.

ED O’KEEFE:

They are the best-equipped, most-feared special interest group on Capitol Hill. They are sort of the gold standard in how to do lobbying work in Washington.

MALE NEWSREADER:

I think, truth be told, the White House needs the NRA; the NRA needs this White House—

NARRATOR:

LaPierre and the NRA were early investors in the Trump presidency.

MALE NRA RALLY ANNOUNCER:

Ladies and gentlemen, the next president of the United States, Donald Trump!

May 20, 2016

NARRATOR:

They had spent more than $30 million supporting the Trump campaign.

ROB PINCUS:

The NRA, earlier than ever before, officially endorsed him and supported his campaign. In the political environment they had to become pro-Trump, and very assertively pro-Trump.

NARRATOR:

Soon after that visit to the White House, President Trump and the NRA were back on the same team.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

(Great) meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA!

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Respect Second Amendment!

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

I want to thank all of our friends and patriots at the NRA. We will never fail, and we will always protect your Second Amendment!

CROWD:

This is what democracy looks like!

NARRATOR:

But the Parkland students were keeping the pressure on.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—developing story on the South Side. Survivors from the Parkland, Florida, school shooting—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—survived the Parkland school shooting have announced a nationwide bus tour to change gun laws.

NARRATOR:

They traveled the country pushing their gun control campaign.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The summer bus tour is making more than 50 stops in over 20 states, pushing for gun reform.

RYAN DEITSCH:

Through our unified message, we were able to combat them in ways that they had never been challenged before.

EMMA GONZALEZ:

We must put an end to the senseless violence that rages in our communities, and we need to put each other first.

SHERYL GAY STOLBERG:

For about two decades, Democrats were running scared of the NRA. And I think Parkland changed that.

EMMA GONZALEZ:

Trying to get so many people registered to vote—

SHERYL GAY STOLBERG:

When the kids of Parkland started this incredible grassroots movement—

RYAN DEITSCH:

This does not just lie in the city of Parkland—

SHERYL GAY STOLBERG:

—it captivated constituents. Democratic lawmakers started hearing from people back home-–"Hey, why aren't you doing anything?"

NARRATOR:

The Parkland students had helped put gun control on the agenda of the 2018 midterms. The NRA was under fire.

STEVE SISOLAK:

I’ll take on the NRA, ban assault rifles, ban bump stocks—

FEMALE VOICE:

One out of five guns are obtained without a background check—

PAT DAVIS:

F--- the NRA.

NARRATOR:

For the first time, hundreds of Democrats were taking on the NRA.

DAN HELMER:

I'll fight the gun lobby—

PAT RYAN:

—because the NRA is an embarrassment, and weapons I used in Iraq have no business on our streets.

RYAN DEITSCH:

We had had a moment. We had had a chance to turn the tides, and we fundamentally did.

MALE CNN ANNOUNCER:

This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER:

This is a very significant defeat for Mr. Trump, a historic accomplishment for the Democrats.

NARRATOR:

And on election night, a big victory for those Democrats who challenged the NRA.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Democrats picked up more than two dozen House seats to take control for the first time in eight years.

MATT BENNETT:

Many of them are from red districts, some of whom represent districts that haven't been in Democratic hands since the early 1960s. Those people are not NRA supporters.

FEMALE RALLY ANNOUNCER:

Let me hear you scream!

NARRATOR:

One candidate who won was Letitia James—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

New York now has a new state attorney general.

NARRATOR:

—the New York attorney general.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—state's top legal official, and Tish James made history today—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—Democrat Letitia "Tish" James and—

LETITIA JAMES:

—and our nation is at a pivotal moment in history, and we are careening towards chaos—

NARRATOR:

She immediately turned her sights on the NRA.

LETITIA JAMES:

We need an attorney general who will go after gun manufacturers and the NRA.

NARRATOR:

As attorney general, James would go after the NRA from a new angle, to try and weaken it from the inside.

MATT BENNETT:

The New York attorney general has a lot of power. She can subpoena their records and she can look into precisely how they are raising and spending money.

SHERYL GAY STOLBERG:

She was going to dig in and see what exactly were they doing, how were they spending their money.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The National Rifle Association is under investigation by New York state’s attorney general—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The NRA in crisis, with the New York attorney general launching an investigation—

MALE NEWSREADER:

This morning New York’s attorney general’s office has opened an investigation—

MATT BENNETT:

And so that became a really significant threat to the NRA.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—$200,000 in NRA—

NARRATOR:

Then a big break that would feed the investigation.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Wayne LaPierre looting the coffers—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—a complaint about the NRA’s tax-exempt status.

NARRATOR:

Leaks from inside the NRA.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—extracted hundreds of millions of dollars—

NARRATOR:

Allegations of lavish spending and financial misconduct by LaPierre.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The NRA spent more than $200,000 of its members’ donations.

NARRATOR:

There were bills for nearly $300,000 from a Beverly Hills clothing store, private jets to the Bahamas and plans for a $6 million mansion on a Dallas golf course.

AARON DAVIS, Former NRA fundraiser:

There were a lot of people around the NRA looking to be rich. Can't imagine any other nonprofit in the entire country that has a similar mission where people are making so much money.

NARRATOR:

Aaron Davis spent a decade as an NRA fundraiser. This is the first time he has spoken on camera.

AARON DAVIS:

The hypocrisy of it all is that the membership who gives $25 doesn’t—they don’t know where their money is going.

NARRATOR:

To date, Attorney General James has issued subpoenas to nearly 100 former and current NRA officials.

LaPierre has denied any wrongdoing, but the investigation has thrown the NRA and its leadership into crisis.

SHERYL GAY STOLBERG:

Now you see a Wayne LaPierre who's under siege and backed into a corner, and the NRA is vulnerable to these investigations into its finances that are ongoing. So it's just mired in internal problems and dysfunction.

NARRATOR:

And now, in the midst of the presidential campaign, LaPierre, the NRA and their chosen candidate find themselves in the crosshairs of Democratic challengers.

JOE BIDEN:

And I want to tell you, if I’m elected, NRA, I’m coming for you. And gun manufacturers, I’m gonna take you on and I’m going to beat you. I’m the only one who’s done it.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-Vt.):

We need to expand background checks, end the gun show loophole and do what the American people want, not what the NRA wants.

NARRATOR:

But Wayne LaPierre, as always, says the NRA is ready for the fight.

WAYNE LaPIERRE:

The threat that is staring us in the face right now with this election is greater than any threat we’ve faced in our lives. I’m here to tell you that it will not happen on my watch, I promise you.

54m
Demonstrators clash with police during a protest in Oakland
Policing the Police 2020
FRONTLINE returns to a troubled police department after four years to examine whether reform can work.
September 15, 2020