When President Obama announced Wednesday a slew of executive actions and proposed legislation related to gun control, he didn’t criticize the National Rifle Association by name.
He did, however, make his feelings obvious.
“Ask your member of Congress if they support universal background checks to keep guns out of the wrong hands,” Obama said in his remarks. “Ask them if they support renewing a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. And if they say no, ask them why not.”
“Ask them,” he continued, “what’s more important — doing whatever it takes to get a A grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns, or giving parents some peace of mind when they drop their child off for first grade.”
But that “gun lobby,” the NRA, has no plans to allow President Obama to control the debate.
Obama included an executive action that pushed for 1,000 school resource officers (armed security) at schools. But in an interview, NRA president David Keene was dismissive of the plan, characterizing it as a more of a gesture than a real effort to make America’s schools more secure.
“It’s not enough,” Keene says of the 1,000 security guards. “What [Obama] talks about doing in terms of the violently mentally ill, they’re going to have a study, they’re not going to reform the mental-health-care system in this country. They’re not going to deal with school security. They’re going to throw a bone and a word in that direction, so they can pursue their real agenda, which is [undercutting] the Second Amendment.”
Keene also is skeptical of Obama’s decision to issue 23 executive actions. “A lot of them are an abuse of office. The president has tried to the extent that he can . . . to go around Congress, to do it through the back door by executive order or regulatory means whenever he’s been able to do so, and that’s what he’s doing here.” Can they be stopped? “Many of these so-called executive orders are going to require money for implementation, so ultimately there’s liable to be a vote on whether or not Congress is going to allow some of this to happen.”
On the legislative front, Keene is cautiously optimistic about the odds that any of the president’s proposed legislative measures would not pass. “If we voted today, probably not, but you know you can’t make a bet when a president throws everything he’s got behind a piece of legislation,” he says.
“All bets are off when they open the treasury,” he adds darkly, referring to bargains that can be made with senators and House members anxious to secure funding for pet projects, “but we’re fairly confident that reason’s going to prevail.”
The NRA is frustrated, too, by the White House’s rhetoric. Obama, Keene says, has “demonized” both “gun owners in general and the National Rifle Association in particular.”
“[Obama] said that those who are hunters, sportsman, or gun collectors or who own firearms for self-defense have nothing to worry about,” Keene comments. “Four million Americans own AR-15s. Those are hunters, sportsman, gun collectors, and people who are interested in self-defense.”
According to Keene, Vice President Joe Biden has been trying to have it both ways, acting like he’s open to the NRA and then being dismissive in a meeting that included the group.
“Once we got into the meeting,” Keene says of a meeting that NRA director of public affairs Jim Baker attended earlier this month, “the vice president said, ‘Well, I don’t think it will surprise anybody that the president and I have very strong views on guns and we intend to pursue the measures that we think are necessary.’”
“The meeting was for the simple purpose of saying, ‘Oh yeah, and we talked to the NRA too,’” Keene concludes, saying that the group had heard before the meeting that Biden remained open on questions of how to handle legislation on guns.
That wasn’t the only frustration the NRA had at the meeting.
Baker, Keene says, told Biden that in 2009, “77,000 people tried to get through the NICS system to illegally buy a firearm. That is a crime, and only 70 of them have been prosecuted.”
But there wasn’t interest in changing the prosecution rates.
“And the attorney general [Eric Holder] interrupted and said, ‘We don’t have the time or the resources to be going after these people,’” Keene recounts. But there are apparently resources, Keene remarks, “to go after innocent gun owners.”
Ultimately no harsh words from Obama or attempts to tarnish the NRA’s reputation are going to change the group’s stance.
“That is not the way in a civil society that you approach serious policymaking,” Keene says. “That’s the way you get into a political war, and if that’s what we’re in, that’s what we’re willing to fight.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.