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NRA Refuses to Meet with Obama on Background Check Plan They Support

After the baby step entrance into the gun control debate, the Obama Administration has planned a series of policy meetings aimed at putting together a new set of policy ideas. You’d think this would have happened before entering the debate, but I’m feeling charitable today, so good for them.

But while the talks, initiated by the Justice Department, plan to bring together a full range of groups, including law enforcement, gun control advocates and gun-rights groups, one influential player in this area won’t be on hand: the NRA, which declined the invitation.

But the National Rifle Association, for decades the most formidable force against proposals to limit gun sales or ownership, is refusing to join the discussion — possibly dooming it from the start, given the lobby’s clout with both parties in Congress. Administration officials had indicated they expected that the group would be represented at a meeting, perhaps on Friday.

“Why should I or the N.R.A. go sit down with a group of people that have spent a lifetime trying to destroy the Second Amendment in the United States?” said Wayne LaPierre, the longtime chief executive of the National Rifle Association.

He named Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has almost no role in gun-related policies, and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

LaPierre continued that the debate shouldn’t be about guns but about people. But as I read Obama’s initial thoughts on the subject, that’s what he has made the debate about. He wants to enforce laws on the books, coordinate between states with greater data-sharing on criminal background checks, and make sure data collection is updated regularly. I don’t see any of that affecting guns at all; most gun owners have no problem with a simple background check. In fact, LaPierre had to admit on Fox News that he supported these steps.

LaPIERRE: Look, NRA’s all for the Instant Check. We were there before anyone else was even talking about it. We need to fund it, we to make the sure the states turn over their records.

There’s very little difference between what Obama laid out and what the NRA is advocating. That’s because Obama has calibrated his advances entirely to what a conservative, pro-Second Amendment Congress would accept. He wants to avoid conflict on the issue at all costs. I’m all for background checks, but of course this legislation was already passed four years ago. It’s not working because the NRA has an interest in not making it work; some of its board members are independent dealers who make lots of money at gun shows and who don’t want to be burdened by background checks.

In addition, the NRA is an ideological organ, NOT an issue-based one. People have a hard time understanding that. Democratic silo advocacy groups want to move forward on their ideas; Republican silo advocacy groups want to move forward the Republican Party. And you see the results; Democrats start adopting Republican ideas to try and co-opt their silo groups, and it doesn’t work.

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David Dayen

David Dayen