In back-to-back appearances on Meet the Press, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre went another round in their duel over proposed gun legislation.
Bloomberg is pushing for universal background checks on all firearm purchases. LaPierre opposes expanded background checks. Both are working hard to discredit the other.
During Bloomberg’s segment, he told host David Gregory that once upon a time, LaPierre was in favor of the background checks he’s now fighting.
"In fact, if you go back to 1999, Wayne LaPierre testified on behalf of the NRA that background checks were appropriate and should be done," Bloomberg said.
We’re fact-checking statements by both Bloomberg and LaPierre from Meet the Press. Here, we’ll examine the New York mayor’s characterization of what LaPierre said back in 1999.
‘We think it’s reasonable’
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:
"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.
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 this story but did not receive a response about Bloomberg’s claim.
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:
"The NRA opposes criminalizing private firearms transfers between law-abiding individuals, and therefore opposes an expansion of the background check system."
Bloomberg said that in 1999, "Wayne LaPierre testified on behalf of the NRA that background checks were appropriate and should be done."
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 rate Bloomberg’s statement True.