After the Senate failed to advance an amendment that would expand federal requirements for background checks on gun purchasers, President Barack Obama took to the White House’s Rose Garden to denounce the vote, calling it "a pretty shameful day for Washington."
Flanked by relatives of some of the slain children from Newtown, Conn., and assassination survivor Gabby Giffords, Obama emphasized how broadly Americans support expanded background checks for gun purchases.
At one point, Obama invoked his gun-policy adversary, the National Rifle Association. "Even the NRA used to support expanded background checks," he said. "The current leader of the NRA" -- referring to Wayne LaPierre -- "used to support these background checks."
This echoed a similar claim we checked earlier this year. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on NBC’s Meet the Press that "if you go back to 1999, Wayne LaPierre testified on behalf of the NRA that background checks were appropriate and should be done."
We’ll recap what we found when checking the comment Bloomberg made.
On May 27, 1999, LaPierre testified before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime. The Columbine High School shooting, in which 12 high school students and one teacher were murdered, had happened a month earlier.
To rebut what he saw as a demonization of the NRA and its members, LaPierre listed a number of actions and laws he said were good policy.
First on that list was this:
"We think it's reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone," he said. "That means closing the Hinckley loophole so the records of those adjudicated mentally ill are in the system. This isn't new, or a change of position, or a concession. I've been on record on this point consistently, from our national meeting in Denver, to paid national ads and position papers, to news interviews and press appearances."
He also spoke in favor of preventing juvenile felons from ever owning guns, setting up instant background checks at gun shows, and keeping schools gun-free.
There’s additional evidence, too.
New York magazine, in a January 2013 story, dug up the advertising campaign LaPierre mentioned in his testimony. Titled "Be reasonable," the NRA ads that ran in national newspapers said, "We think it's reasonable to provide for instant checks at gun shows just like at gun stores and pawn shops. But what's unreasonable is how the proposed Lautenberg legislation ignores the 250,000 prohibited people, like felons, who've walked away from gun stores — instead of being prosecuted for a federal felony for trying to buy a gun."
We contacted the NRA for our previous story but did not receive a response. In January, NRA board member Sandy Froman told CNN, "The NRA has changed its position, and the reason it's changed its position is because the system doesn't work."
LaPierre himself acknowledged this change in a January 2013 Senate hearing in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting.
"I do not believe the way the law is working now, unfortunately, that it does any good to extend the law to private sales between hobbyists and collectors. … The fact is, the law right now is a failure the way it's working," he said.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., then said, "I understand, back in 1999, you said no loopholes anywhere for anyone. But now you do not support background checks for all buyers of firearms?"
LaPierre responded: "I think the National Instant Check System, the way it's working now, is a failure. Because this administration is not prosecuting the people that they catch. Twenty-three states are not even putting the mental records of those adjudicated mentally incompetent into the system. Now, assume that if you don't prosecute, and they try to buy a gun, even if you catch them, and you let them walk away, to assume they're not going to get a gun -- they're criminals, they're homicidal maniacs, and they're mentally ill. I mean, we all know that homicidal maniacs, criminals and the insane ... don't abide by the law."
The NRA’s website on March 12, 2013, posted its firm stance against expanding background checks.
In his Rose Garden comments, Obama said "the NRA used to support expanded background checks." He’s correct: 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. So we rate Obama’s statement True.
White House,statement by the president in the Rose Garden, April 17, 2013
PolitiFact, "Michael Bloomberg: NRA used to support more background checks," March 26, 2013
NBC News, Meet the Press, March 24, 2013, transcript via CQ.com
House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime,Testimony of Wayne R. LaPierre, May 27, 1999
New York, "NRA Used to Support Background Checks, Now Favors More Illogical, Unpopular Position," Jan. 31, 2013
Atlantic, "The NRA of 2013 Is Trying to Stop the NRA of 1999 from Destroying the Second Amendment," Jan. 31, 2013
CNN Politicalticker, "NRA position on background checks has changed, board member affirms," Jan. 31, 2013
Senate Judiciary Committee, Hearing on Gun Violence, Jan. 30, 2013, transcript via CQ.com
USA Today, "NRA head says background checks will fix nothing," March 15, 2013
Email interview with John McCarthy, Bloomberg spokesman, March 25, 2013
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