Fact-checking statements about guns and the NRA

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre speaks at the group's national convention in St. Louis April 14, 2012. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Christian Gooden)
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre speaks at the group's national convention in St. Louis April 14, 2012. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Christian Gooden)

Republican presidential contenders will speak to a welcoming crowd at the National Rifle Association’s annual leadership forum on Friday. The guest list features almost every GOP hopeful:

  • Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

  • Ben Carson, former head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital;

  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas;

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.;

  • Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee;

  • Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal;

  • Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry;

  • Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla;

  • Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.;

  • Real estate developer Donald Trump

  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

(Notably missing from the list is Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who announced his presidential campaign April 7.)

We’ll be watching their convention speeches for facts to check; email us your thoughts at truthometer@politifact.com. For now, here’s some claims we’ve checked about the NRA and from previous conventions.

At last year’s NRA convention, Rubio said, "No other country has a constitutional right" like the Second Amendment. It turns out that Mexico and Guatemala have the right to bear arms in their constitutions, but the Second Amendment is unique because it is the only one that doesn’t include restrictive conditions within the constitutional language. PolitiFact Florida rated this claim Mostly True.

President Barack Obama (not at the convention) said in 2013 that Second Amendment supporters also favored some restrictions on gun sales. A "wide majority of NRA households" supported legislation expanding background checks for gun purchases, Obama said in 2013. Two fully independent polls showed that NRA members or households support expanded background checks, but the polls couldn’t have asked about the particular legislation Obama referred to, because those measures had not been introduced yet. We rated the statement Mostly True.

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre at one time supported background checks. "If you go back to 1999, Wayne LaPierre testified on behalf of the NRA that background checks were appropriate and should be done," said former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  In congressional testimony following the Columbine High School shooting, LaPierre called it "reasonable" to conduct a background check "for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone." Subsequent statements by NRA officials acknowledge that the group’s position has since changed to opposition to more background checks. We rated Bloomberg’s statement True.

While many may associate the NRA with the Republican Party, "Democrats very much are in the pocket of the NRA," said Washington Post reporter Nia-Malika Henderson in 2014. In terms of campaign contributions, the NRA sends its money almost entirely to Republicans. Experts also said Democrats don’t have a cozy relationship with the NRA. On the other hand, the record shows that on key votes, some Democrats will avoid raising the the group’s ire. PolitiFact rated the claim Mostly False.

LaPierre said in 2013 that "as a result of NRA and other private-sector (safety-education) programs, fatal firearms accidents are at the lowest level in 100 years." Despite significant population growth, unintentional firearms deaths fell to a 106-year low in 2009. While LaPierre is probably right that NRA-sponsored safety programs played a role in this decline, improvements in trauma care likely played as big a role as well, if not a bigger role. We rated the claim Half True.

How about some NRA history? In a 2013 video, Harry Alford, president of the D.C.-based National Black Chamber of Commerce, said the NRA "was started, founded by religious leaders who wanted to protect freed slaves from the Ku Klux Klan." However, the NRA itself says the group was formed by Union Civil War veterans to improve soldiers’ marksmanship. That claim earned a Pants on Fire from PolitiFact Wisconsin.