Following Election, NRA Goes On 'Offense'; Here's What It Could Aim To Do

Nov 15, 2016
Originally published on November 18, 2016 10:18 am

"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."

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The National Rifle Association was one of Donald Trump's biggest supporters during his campaign. It spent millions of dollars on ads for the president-elect and rallied gun owners to get out and vote. Now, with Trump headed to the White House and Congress still under Republican control, the NRA is looking beyond just holding ground in the Second Amendment debate. As NPR's Nathan Rott reports, the group is hoping to expand gun rights.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: It was either going to be a call to action or a celebration. One thousand men and women from around the country all gathered in the Arizona desert north of Phoenix.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Shooters, please pick up and shoulder your rifles.

ROTT: To shoot 1,000 Henry Golden Boy Silver rifles at the same time.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Move the lever completely forward. Move the lever completely back.

ROTT: The timing of the NRA-sponsored event, a week after the election, was no accident.



ROTT: They wanted people to hear them shoot.




ROTT: NRA First Vice President Pete Brownell told the gathered crowd of gun owners and enthusiasts that this was their second shot heard around America and the world. The first shot came a week earlier.


PETE BROWNELL: We proved that when gun rights are challenged, Americans stand up to answer freedom's call by electing Donald J. Trump to our next president of the United States. That's right.


ROTT: By electing Trump, gun rights groups like the NRA are saying that the tide has shifted in terms of the national debate over guns and how or even whether to regulate them.


BROWNELL: I have to tell you, it feels great to be on offense again.

ROTT: What exactly that offense will look like is starting to take shape. NRA President Wayne LaPierre put out a video this week in which he lists a few things the NRA wants to see done. First and foremost is the appointing of a conservative, pro-gun Supreme Court justice.


WAYNE LAPIERRE: Make no mistake. That will be a generational victory for Second Amendment freedom.

ROTT: Next, the NRA and gun rights groups want to see an end to gun-free zones on military bases, the loosening of restrictions on suppressors or silencers, and the biggest prize, a national reciprocity for concealed carry permits. That would allow a concealed carry permit holder in a state like Texas to carry their gun in a state like New York, regardless of New York's laws, the idea being, as Trump himself has said, that concealed carry is a right, not a privilege.

ADAM WINKLER: This is the number one item on the NRA's agenda.

ROTT: This is 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." He says a broader version of reciprocity would allow someone to go out of state to get a concealed carry permit - say, from a restrictive state like California to a looser one like Utah. Then their home state - in this case California - would have to honor that permit. Winkler says the NRA likely wants that version of reciprocity, but he says there could be pushback not just from Democrats, but from Republicans who champion states' rights.

WINKLER: If you believe in any local autonomy, as Republicans claim to believe in, then the broad version of reciprocity undermines that significantly.

ROTT: That being said...

WINKLER: I think there's a very strong likelihood that national reciprocity will be pushed forward in the Trump administration, possibly very quickly.

ROTT: But that is no sure thing because there's uncertainty about what Trump will actually do, even among people who voted for him and attended the NRA's Phoenix shooting event.

MICHELLE CAMP: Mine was more a vote against than a vote for. And now I'm, like, cautiously optimistic.

ROGER PORTER: When we live in a country with 330 or 340 million people and we only got what we got running for president, we have a problem in America.

SHARON CALLAN: I don't trust him. I'll keep an eye on him, and I think everybody else is, too.

ROTT: That was Michelle Camp, Roger Porter and Sharon Callan. All voted for Trump because of guns. All want to see national reciprocity enacted and other gun laws loosened. And all are wary but hopeful. Nathan Rott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.