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Backgrounder: the History of the NRA/ALEC Gun Agenda
"We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years," President Obama said in response to horrifying shooting massacre of 20 little children and six of their educators in Connecticut.
"Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children. And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics," he noted.
"Meaningful action" has been thwarted, largely because of the power and wealth of the National Rifle Association (NRA). One of the key avenues it has used to exert its influence is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). For decades, the NRA has helped bankroll ALEC operations and even co-chaired ALEC's "Public Safety and Elections Task Force," where it secretly voted on bills alongside elected representatives. At ALEC's annual meeting this summer, the NRA had the biggest booth at the convention in Salt Lake City and also underwrote a shooting event along with one of the largest sellers of assault weapons in the world.
Numerous bills to bar or impede laws that would help protect Americans from gun violence were drafted by the NRA and adopted by ALEC corporations and legislators as "models" for the rest of the country. And, dozens of these special interest bills have become law in states across the country. As a result of the NRA's efforts, a city in Connecticut recently repealed the only ban in the state on carrying a concealed firearm. Allowing "concealed carry" has been a long-standing part of the NRA-ALEC agenda, passing in Wisconsin a year ago at the urging of Governor Scott Walker, who was given an award by the NRA for making this item law along with a version of the controversial ALEC-NRA "Stand Your Ground"/"Castle Doctrine" bill. A concealed carry law also was just passed last week in Michigan, along with the so-called "Right to Work" union-busting bill on ALEC's corporate wish list.
Here is a review of the NRA-by-way-of-ALEC gun agenda:
- The retail sale of machine guns has been barred by federal law since the gangster era but, as uncovered by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), one year ago at ALEC's "policy summit" in Arizona, the NRA obtained unanimous support from the corporate and lawmaker members of ALEC's Task Force for "amending" ALEC's "Consistency in Firearms Regulation Act" to expressly bar cities from banning "machine guns." Other provisions of that bill prevent cities from banning armor-piercing bullets and from banning efforts to alter guns to make them more deadly if the state does not do so. It also bars cities from suing gun manufacturers for gun deaths based on the theory of liability used by governments to sue tobacco manufacturers for smoking deaths.
- In 2008, as noted by CMD, in the aftermath of the tragic massacre of students and professors by a heavily armed Virginia Tech student, ALEC adopted a model bill to remove state prohibitions of guns on college campuses and to allow students to bring guns to class.
- Also in 2008, as CMD has documented, ALEC also weighed in on litigation challenging a handgun ban in the city of Chicago. ALEC filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in that case, McDonald v. Chicago, on the same side as the NRA.
- In 2005, at an ALEC task force meeting co-chaired by Wal-Mart, corporate lobbyists and politicians voted to approve the NRA's request that a law it spearheaded in Florida with ALEC members become a "model" for other states. That ALEC bill was misleadingly named the "Castle Doctrine," but is also known as the "Stand Your Ground" or "Shoot First" or "Kill at Will" law. That Florida law, was initially invoked by law enforcement to prevent the arrest and prosecution earlier this year of high-school student Trayvon Martin's killer. The law creates legal immunity for shooters claiming self-defense, going well beyond the reach of the traditional rights of self defense to create what some call a "license to kill."
- CMD connected those dots and documented that the NRA's lobbyist Marion Hammer pushed this bill through the Florida legislature in early 2005. She then brought the law to the closed door ALEC task force meeting in Texas that summer to become a priority for ALEC legislators. According to the NRA at that time, her pitch was warmly received and "unanimously" adopted by the private and public sector members at that meeting. The list of special interest reps attending that meeting is not publicly available, but it is known that the nation's largest retailer of ammunition and long guns, Wal-Mart, was the corporate leader of that task force; earlier this year, Wal-Mart announced it was resigning from ALEC.
- Also around that time, ALEC pushed a variety of legislation to require reciprocity between states for "concealed carry" laws, laws that result in more people carrying concealed firearms in public places, as CMD has noted.
- In 2000, as CMD has reported, when Koch Industries was the chair of ALEC's corporate board, ALEC's crime task force adopted the "Defense of Free Market and Public Safety Resolution" as a national template for states across the country. That resolution was an effort to thwart law enforcement from using contracts -- to buy firearms for police officers -- to favor gun manufacturers that adhered to a code of conduct. As part of a lawsuit settlement, gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson (S&W) had agreed to penalize S&W retailers who sold guns that tended to end up used in crimes, barred S&W retailers from using the gun show loophole to avoid conducting criminal background checks on prospective buyers, and forbade dealers from releasing more than one handgun to a purchaser per day. It also required retailers to sell all of its handguns with mechanical trigger locks to help protect kids from accidentally killing themselves or others. ALEC's resolution sought to bar states from rewarding S&W with contracts for police weapons or creating an incentive for other gun manufacturers to adopt similar voluntary codes of conduct.
- In 1995, ALEC promoted as model legislation a bill that would create state-based criminal background checks for firearms purchases different from the federal Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which established the National Instant Check criminal background check system at the FBI. As analyzed by CMD, ALEC's bill expressly exempts firearms sales at gun shows from its background checks (creating a "gun show loophole"). It also exempts holders of "concealed carry" permits from a background check, even though the Brady Law attempts to protect the public through background checks regardless of whether a person had previously obtained a permit to carry a gun, such as from people who subsequently become fugitives or persons adjudicated to be mentally unstable.
- As CMD has shown, ALEC also strongly opposed the 1994 "Assault Weapons Ban," which sought to expand the long-standing federal bar on fully automatic machine guns by preventing the purchase of rapid-firing "semi-automatic" assault-style weapons. Certain military-style firearms -- such as the .223 Bushmaster rifle reportedly found at the scene of the Connecticut school massacre and similar to the one used in the sniper shootings that terrorized D.C. in 2003 -- include versions for sale in the U.S. that were modified by manufacturers for the civilian market along with versions that allow three-shot bursts of fire with each pull of the trigger for law enforcement rather than their faster-firing military-style kin like an M4 or AK-47, in light of the federal assault weapons ban. The ban was allowed to expire during the George W. Bush administration, which had very close ties to the NRA.
The NRA's gun agenda helps protect and expand the market for the firearms sold by the weapons companies that bankroll its multi-million dollar lobbying and influence operations. Although ALEC's crime task force no longer officially exists, ALEC is doing nothing to undo the damage done through its many years of advancing the wish list of the gun industry through laws like "Stand Your Ground"/"Shoot First," pushing for guns on college campuses, and even opposing government purchasers from rewarding codes of conduct by gun makers and sellers.
Three months after ALEC issued a PR statement that it was eliminating its Public Safety and Elections Task Force, the NRA announced that it would still be hosting its regular annual shooting event at ALEC's summer convention, held in July of this year. For the past several years, on the Saturday of ALEC's annual meeting, the NRA has regularly hosted an outing for ALEC legislators and lobbyists to go shooting together -- with complimentary guns and ammo. July's event was co-sponsored by Browning Arms Company, whose foreign parent company is one of the world's largest sellers of machine guns, as noted by CMD.
"Calling for 'meaningful action' is not enough," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder and co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. "We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership -- not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response."
Facts are still coming in about how the 20-year-old shooter -- who under Connecticut law is too young to possess the pistols he was found with -- came to use the assault weapon fired repeatedly and rapidly in the assault on the school children, or why his mother (who was apparently also shot to death by him) reportedly brought or allowed such an arsenal of weapons into the home she shared with her son, who has been called "mentally ill." But, some observers are pointing out the terrible coincidence of a knife attack that injured 22 students in China within a day of these 20 American school children being murdered in a matter of minutes by a gunman in Connecticut, which shows yet again that the ready availability of guns in the U.S. can be the difference between life and death. And easing access to deadly firearms has been a major part of the NRA/ALEC agenda, underwritten by ALEC corporations and advanced by ALEC politicians, for years and years.
The library of NRA/ALEC gun bills can be accessed here.
CMD's Brendan Fischer contributed to this report.
Lisa Graves is Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy (PRWatch.org and ALECexposed.org). She formerly served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice where she handled national gun policy and was the Managing Editor of the National Integrated Firearms Violence Reduction Strategy. She also served as the Chief Counsel for Nominations for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, as a Deputy Chief at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, and as an adjunct professor of law.