NRA once supported universal background checks

The former NRA chief tried to explain why the group flip-flopped from its 1999 position

Published February 1, 2013 2:40PM (EST)

After the Columbine shootings in 1999, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre expressed support for closing the gun show loophole. At this week's hearings before the Senate, it was a different story. 

“We think it is reasonable to provide mandatory, instant criminal background checks,” LaPierre said in testimony before Congress in 1999.

From the Huffington Post, in June of that same year, the NRA also took out an ad supporting background checks at gun shows:

The message of the NRA's 1999 campaign was "Be Reasonable," and the organization bought ads in top newspapers, including USA Today, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, to make its case.

"We believe it's reasonable to provide for instant background checks at gun shows, just like gun stores and pawn shops," the USA Today ad reads.

"We've always supported instant background checks," LaPierre sat at a Friends of NRA event in May 1999, HuffPo reports.

But, in this week's hearings, one of the more contentious topics was whether or not the NRA supports universal background checks and closing the gun show loophole. "My problem with background checks is you are never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks. And all the law-abiding people, you’ll create an enormous federal bureaucracy, unfunded, hitting all the little people in the country, will have to go through it, pay the fees, pay the taxes,” LaPierre told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Former NRA president Sandy Froman explained the flip to Anderson Cooper on Thursday: “Yes, the NRA has changed its position. And the reason it’s changed its position is because the system doesn’t work. The [FBI’s National Instant Checks System] is not working now. We have to get that working before we can add any more checks to that system,” she said.

LaPierre offered a similar explanation when questioned about the flip by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., during the hearing. "We do not [support universal background checks], because the fact is the law right now is a failure, the way it’s working,” LaPierre said.

“With all due respect, that was not the question I asked, nor did you answer it,” Leahy replied.

Watch the exchange:

By Jillian Rayfield

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at

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Columbine Nra Universal Background Checks Wayne Lapierre