NRA chief: Gun controls won't pass Congress

NRA president
In this photo taken Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, National Rifle Association president David Keene addressed a crowd at The Conservative Case for Criminal Justice Reform forum at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation in St. Paul, Minn.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Associated Press

DENVER (AP) — The head of the National Rifle Association said Thursday he's confident that Congress won't approve an assault weapons ban or a limit on high-capacity ammunition magazines after mass shootings in Colorado and Connecticut.

David Keene predicted failure for all congressional measures related to guns, including expanded background checks for gun purchases.

"I tell you what these things are. These are all feel-good proposals, because at the end of the day, what do they do to prevent" a mass shooter? asked Keene, the NRA's president.

Keene was in Denver to talk to Colorado's Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, and state lawmakers. He met with The Associated Press for an interview before sitting down with state officials. He talked about prospects for federal gun control measures under discussion in Congress and predicted political peril for Democrats who support such bills.

"The Senate's where the action's going to be," Keene said. "The House is sort of sitting back, and you can almost hear the House Republican leadership saying under their breath, `You know, go ahead. We've got a few members that wouldn't mind sitting in the Senate. If you do this, maybe they will.' So the Senate leadership is much more cautious."

Colorado U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, said he disagreed with Keene's assertion that Congress would do nothing.

"In the wake of recent mass shootings, including one in Colorado, the status quo on gun violence is simply unacceptable," Udall said in a statement. "Coloradans expect and deserve better than continued inaction from Congress. I simply disagree that Congress cannot or should not try to reduce mass shootings and gun violence."

In recent weeks, Keene has become an increasingly public figure for the powerful gun rights group in the ongoing debate on gun control. He has offered a softer, if equally staunch voice for the gun lobby's ideas as compared with Wayne LaPierre, the fiery executive vice president who remains the NRA's most prominent voice on the public stage.

Keene has been active with the NRA for decades, starting as a board member before being elected the group's president in 2011.

Keene on Thursday called universal background checks a political "sweet spot" but said the plan won't work in practice. He said current background check systems are underfunded and that requiring background checks on private sales would be a logistical mess.

The NRA president indicated he wants to tour the nation and meet with more state officials about looming gun control proposals. However, he dismissed the idea of meeting with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who enacted the first gun control measure in the nation following the Sandy Hook school massacre.

"There really isn't any reasonable discussion you can have with him," Keene said of Cuomo.

Colorado's governor has called for universal background checks, even on neighbor-to-neighbor sales. His gun posture has shifted somewhat from July, in the days following the Aurora movie theater shooting that killed 12 and injured dozens. Hickenlooper said then that stricter laws would not have prevented the mass shooting.

"I think Gov. Hickenlooper had it right after the Aurora shooting," Keene said. "He said it's not the laws, it's these kinds of people."

Keene said James Holmes, the man charged with the attack, likely couldn't have been stopped, not even with expanded mental health flags in a gun database.

Holmes met with a psychiatrist before the theater shooting but reportedly was not deemed a danger. He spent months amassing an arsenal, both online and at retail gun stores, and passed background checks.

"What we have argued is that if someone has been adjudicated in one way or another to have been, to be potentially violent and mentally ill, they should be in the system," Keene said. "We're not talking about anybody who visits a psychiatrist."

Hickenlooper has proposed enhanced mental health services. But he told the Democratic Legislature in a January address, "It's not enough to prevent dangerous people from getting weapons."

Colorado Senate President John Morse also has suggested making weapons manufacturers liable for damage caused by the products they make, an idea that appears to conflict with federal law banning such liability.

"I'm still trying to figure out what the bill can do and how to do it," Morse said after meeting with Keene.

Colorado's Legislature already has rejected several GOP proposals to reduce gun violence, including a bill to allow school employees to carry concealed weapons. Democrats proposed bills Thursday that would ban high-capacity magazines and clarify that concealed weapons are not allowed in colleges and stadiums.

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