Following Election, NRA Goes On 'Offense'; Here's What It Could Aim To Do
"Our time is now." That's the message from Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, to his group's members and gun owners across America, following last week's election.
With a Republican-held Congress and Donald Trump headed to the White House — helped, in no small part, by the support of the NRA — big changes could be coming to the nation's gun laws.
At an NRA-sponsored event Monday, in the desert north of Phoenix, more than 1,000 gun owners and enthusiasts gathered for a so-called 1000 Man Shoot. Men and women from 16 states lined up shoulder to shoulder to fire 1,000 Henry Golden Boy Silver rifles simultaneously. They fired two rounds at a long row of targets. In the cheers after the second, a shooting safety officer in a lime green shirt and red hat said: "Can you hear us now, Hillary?"
"We made history last week," Pete Brownell, the first vice president of the NRA, told the crowd. "And I have to tell you it feels great to be on offense again."
Brownell and other gun rights advocates say that they've had to be on defense for the past eight years under the Obama administration.
"We've always had to be looking out for how our rights are going to be taken away from us as individuals; how our constitutional rights are going to be impinged upon," Brownell says. "Now, the ball's going to be in our court."
There are a number of laws that the NRA and gun enthusiasts would like to see change under the Trump administration. We've listed some of those laws below and asked Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at the UCLA School of Law and author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America, what the chances are for each proposal.
We should note that this is not a comprehensive list. And if you're wondering why it's not longer, Winkler says, "It's because the NRA has been so successful over the last 40 years in American politics that it's already accomplished almost everything on the list of its agenda items."
1. National reciprocity for concealed-carry permits
This is the biggest-ticket item for the NRA and it's the most likely to happen. Trump, a concealed-carry-permit holder, has said that concealed carry "is a right, not a privilege," and that a permit should be valid in all 50 states, similar to a driver's license.
That's what national reciprocity would do — it would give a concealed-carry-permit holder in a state such as Texas the right to carry a gun in a state such as New York, regardless of New York's concealed-carry laws. There are two versions of this law that have already been proposed in Congress, the broader of which would allow a person to get a concealed-carry permit outside his state of residence.
"That's the more controversial version of national reciprocity," Winkler says. "I'm not sure that's the one we'll get, but the NRA is most likely going to push for the broadest version of national reciprocity."
Winkler believes that some version is likely to pass, but he says that Democrats could filibuster. He also notes that some Republicans could withhold support from national reciprocity because of states' rights.
"If you believe in any local autonomy, as Republicans claim to, then the broad version of reciprocity undermines that significantly," Winkler says. "Because a state or city like Los Angeles would no longer be able to control who carries guns in public."
2. An end to gun-free military zones
At a rally in January, Trump said, "My first day, there's no more gun-free zones." He was talking about schools and military bases. He later clarified his position on schools, saying that school resource officers or teachers should be allowed to carry them. He has not publicly changed his opinion on military bases.
Currently, most gun owners on military bases must register their firearm and store it in an armory while on base. The only people who can carry guns while on a military base are on-duty military, state or local police.
There have been pushes by the NRA and Republican lawmakers to allow more military personnel to carry firearms on base, following mass shootings at Fort Hood in 2009 and the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard in 2013, but the Department of Defense has not changed its position. Under Trump, it might.
"This is very easy," Winkler says. "Allowing carrying of firearms on military bases is something that the president will probably be able to do through executive order. I believe that [Trump] will."
3. Removing suppressors from the National Firearms Act
Gun owners can already use suppressors — or silencers — in most states, but gun rights groups say that the process to get one is onerous. Suppressors are regulated under the National Firearms Act, which was originally enacted in 1934 following the St. Valentine's Day Massacre to tax the making and transfer of certain firearms. The underlying purpose of the act, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, was to "curtail, if not prohibit, transactions in NFA firearms."
Gun rights advocates and shooters have long argued that suppressors should not be regulated by the NFA and have made a public health argument for their use: Guns are loud. "Everybody that you know that's an old shooter is deaf," says Michelle Camp, the leader of the Utah chapter of The Well-Armed Woman. "To have the ability to get [suppressors] easier would be really helpful."
Winkler says it would take legislative action to get suppressors off the NFA list and that a piece of legislation already exists: the Hearing Protection Act of 2015, proposed in the House of Representatives. Winkler says he doesn't expect it to be a priority for Congress, but "if the NRA decides to get behind silencer legislation, I think it will pass," he says. Hours after Trump won last week's election, the NRA dropped this tweet:
4. Revamping federal background check process
Nobody is entirely happy with the federal government's current background check process or its database, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Gun control groups argue that there are too many loopholes in it, and many gun rights groups concur — a rare show of agreement — though not in the details.
The system is supposed to prevent a felon or someone who is mentally ill from purchasing a gun, but it has obstacles like underfunding and inaccurate, out-of-date data. Gun control groups would like to see things in the current system fixed, including the straw purchasing loophole. Gun rights groups say they'd like to find ways to get the system better data to work with.
During his campaign, Trump said that he was against expanding background checks and that the current system needs to be fixed.
"Unfortunately, I feel the efforts to 'fix' the background check system will be really efforts to gut the background check system," Winkler says. "To make it less effective, less streamlined, and make it harder for prosecutors to find gun criminals. That's been the NRA's practice with regard to background checks in the past."