How The NRA Views Recent Protests Over Gun Violence
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Fred Guttenberg, the father of a 14-year-old girl who died in the Parkland shooting, is one of hundreds of people who demonstrated over the weekend in Dallas near a convention center where members of the NRA were holding their annual meeting.
FRED GUTTENBERG: They have no concern for safety of people on the street. Their only concern is more guns on the street and chaos. And so I am here to tell them they're wrong. I am here to tell them that I will be the father that breaks the back of that lobby. That's why I'm here.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Vote them out. Vote them out.
KELLY: The protests outside the NRA annual meeting came just weeks after the March For Our Lives, which drew hundreds of thousands of people to Washington. Well, we wondered how this growing impatience with gun violence is landing with the National Rifle Association, so we approached Marion Hammer. She is one of the NRA's most powerful advocates. She's lobbied on behalf of the group for more than four decades. She's also a former president of the NRA. And she joins me now on the line from Tallahassee. Marion Hammer, welcome to the program.
MARION HAMMER: Yes, Ma'am.
KELLY: Those who want to rein in gun violence frequently see you and the NRA as an adversary. Should they?
HAMMER: Absolutely not. No one wants to stop gun violence or any kind of violence more than NRA or NRA members. It has become fashionable, it seems, to blame NRA for the acts of criminals. It bothers me that people can't stop and look at the root of the problem.
KELLY: And what do you see, Marion Hammer, as the root of the problem?
HAMMER: I think one of the biggest roots of the problem is the breakdown of families. Parents don't raise children the way they used to. There are too many children who grow up on their own without guidance.
KELLY: Marion Hammer, lots of people, as you know, hold sharply different views from you, look at the same world you do and are probably already yelling at their radio. They've got a very different view of how Americans should live with guns. And I'm - we're going to get to some of those differences. But I want to first just explore a little further this idea of common ground. It does seem everybody in the debate over gun control would like to prevent people with bad intentions from hurting innocent people with firearms. Would you agree with that?
HAMMER: The NRA wants to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental illness, out of the hands of criminals, out of the hands of those people who have a propensity towards violence and danger to themselves or others.
KELLY: Stay with this idea of keeping guns out of the hands of people who may prove a danger to themselves or others. As you know, since the Parkland shooting in particular, there's been a lot of discussion about red flag laws, laws that would allow police to remove firearms from such people. Could you, Marion Hammer, get behind that kind of law? Could you support it?
HAMMER: The devil's in the details. You have to see the language. You can't say that you support or oppose a particular piece of legislation until you see it.
KELLY: What should be the criteria for removing firearms from someone?
HAMMER: If there is evidence that the individual poses a danger to self or others, they should not have possession of firearms. And there are methods of making those determinations. You can't just arbitrarily decide, I think that person may be a danger and then take his or her firearms. You have to have some evidence before you take constitutional rights away from people.
KELLY: The gun control legislation that the Florida Legislature passed in the aftermath of Parkland - was that legislation you supported, or - where did you stand on it?
HAMMER: There were parts of that legislation that were good. There were parts of that legislation that provide funding to deal with mental health problems. Part of that legislation dealt with hardening our schools. And all of that would've been beneficial. But they threw in what I call political eyewash. Nothing in the way of gun control in that piece of legislation would've had any impact whatever on the Parkland shooting or the Pulse nightclub. The bill requires a three-day waiting period. The Parkland shooter went through a five-day waiting period.
KELLY: When you say, Marion Hammer, that it's not the gun; it's the people holding the gun, pulling the trigger on the gun - but when it comes to irresponsible people and firearms, people who are carrying out these shootings, what else can be done? What should be done to stop them?
HAMMER: The FBI dropped the ball. The Broward sheriff dropped the ball. The Florida Department of Children and Families dropped the ball. Marjory Stoneman Douglas school dropped the ball. When laws that are in place are not followed, passing gun laws won't do anything. If you're not going to enforce laws, quit passing them.
KELLY: You've just put your finger right on the challenge, which is that there were laws in place that should've stopped this from happening. But people are imperfect. Mistakes are made. There are a million people who wish they'd made different decisions in the run-up to what happened in Parkland. But it happened. So I guess that brings me back to my question. What can be done to prevent it going forward?
HAMMER: It was a conscious act more than a mistake. The PROMISE Program in Broward County, to avoid punishing or taking action against problem children - how on Earth could we allow young people who have problems to continue with very, very bad behavior so that they don't get into the system and reduce funding? What about lives?
KELLY: So when you heard about the Parkland shooting and it started to become clear what had happened there, what was your first thought?
HAMMER: My first thought, as with any tragedy, is that it breaks my heart because I know what it feels like to lose a child. I lost my youngest daughter. And no one should have to go through that. It was only later that we found that the system had failed. And before anybody knew any of the facts, they were immediately blaming the gun and NRA. That doesn't serve the purpose of the people of this nation.
KELLY: I'm very sorry to hear about your daughter. And I appreciate your time to answer these questions.
HAMMER: You're welcome.
KELLY: That is Marion Hammer, past president of the NRA. And she's advocated on behalf of the organization for more than four decades. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.