WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) – Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president and CEO of the National Rifle Association, told a Senate committee on Wednesday that new proposals to ban assault weapons and increase background checks on gun buyers were not likely to solve the problem of gun violence.
LaPierre, who has served as the NRA’s face in Washington for years, spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. He spoke after an emotional appearance by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a shooting two years before, and after testimony by Giffords’ husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly.
“Let’s be honest,” he said. “Background checks will never be ‘universal,’ because criminals will never submit to them.”
LaPierre is part of a panel of high-profile witnesses Wednesday morning that included Mark Kelly, Giffords’ husband.
LaPierre suggested other solutions that did not involve changing the nation’s gun laws. He called for more prosecutions under existing gun laws, including a new crackdown on those who lie on background-check forms.
In addition, LaPierre returned to an idea that the NRA first advanced in the aftermath of the shootings that killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., last December. “It’s time to throw an immediate blanket of security around our children,” he said, by placing more armed guards outside school buildings.
Kelly, in his testimony, called for a “careful and civil conversation” about limitations on firearms. He noted that he and Giffords own guns, but are “anti-gun violence.”
He said a “matrix” of failures contributes to the country’s gun violence problem, including mental illness and poverty but also gun laws. He said the complexity is “not an excuse for inaction.” Kelly said weapons designed to inflict maximum damage have turned corners of America “into places of carnage and gross human loss.”
Kelly and Giffords have formed a political action committee called Americans for Responsible Solutions to back lawmakers who support tighter gun restrictions and counter the influence of the NRA.
LaPierre, though, argues that prosecution for federal weapons violations in 2011 was essentially down 35 percent, compared to previous administrations, which he says means violent felons, gang members and the mentally ill who possess firearms are not being prosecuted.
“That’s unacceptable,” says LaPierre, who suggested fixing the country’s “broken” mental-health system become part of the solution to gun violence – including making patient records part of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
The hearing, titled “What Should America Do about Gun Violence,” takes place nearly seven weeks after a lone gunman with psychological problems used an assault weapon to kill 20 first-graders and six adults inside a Connecticut elementary school, prompting renewed calls for more gun control.
“Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals,” LaPierre said in his statement. “Nor do we believe the government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families.”
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