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Gun rights: Stronger & safer

| Saturday, April 30, 2011

Wayne LaPierre is the executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Rifle Association of America, a 4-million-member organization with a staff of more than 550 employees and an annual budget of more than $120 million.

He is responsible for implementing NRA policy, under the direction of a 76-member board of directors, he serves as president of the National Firearms Museum Fund and he is a trustee of the NRA Foundation.

We spoke Tuesday in Pittsburgh as the NRA was preparing to host its largest annual meeting ever.

Q: So, what's the state of gun rights today?

A: I think probably the Second Amendment is in better shape than it's been in for the last 25 years. I mean, what you've seen in this country the last 20 years is this historical restoration of this freedom.

People going back 20 years wondered where the Second Amendment would be. You've seen this brick-by-brick historical restoration ... . It really has changed history, what's happened. ... You don't have this crazy patchwork quilt of laws in every state that's impossible for honest people to navigate.

You have range-protection laws in virtually every state. You have hunter-harassment laws now in virtually every state. You have right-to-carry.

I remember we started out with only six states with any type of right-to-carry law. Now you have 40 states ... and 8 million law-abiding people are able to protect themselves. That's a phenomenal achievement.

You have castle laws in 20 some states where it's very clear if someone breaks into your house or something, you can do what's necessary to protect yourself and save your life.

We've armed pilots to make our skies safer. ... We saved the American firearms industry from virtual extinction by stopping nuisance lawsuits.

So what you had in this country is this brick-by-brick restoration and I really believe it's all been done with the wind to our back. It's all been done because the American public is on our side.

Q: What's the state of the NRA?

A: I measure NRA's health in the health of the Second Amendment, and the Second Amendment has never been stronger. ... Ultimately NRA strength depends on the hearts of the American public. And I think the hearts of the American public are on our side. I think we are the mainstream in this country. I think history has proven that to be true.

Q: The NRA is more than just a gun-rights group. You sponsor gun safety programs. Can you talk about that a little bit?

A: Yeah, you don't read about that, but only about 20 percent of the NRA budget is devoted to legislation and politics. The rest of it all goes into these phenomenal programs.

We have 65,000 safety and training instructors around the country. We run 10,000 shooting competitions every year, and we have 11,000 law-enforcement instructors who train police departments around the country in shooting every day.

We have this Eddie Eagle Child Safety Program. It's absolutely the best child safety program in the country. It was written by elementary school curriculum experts and child psychologists. We hired them as consultants and said, "Write us the best child safety program to keep kids from accidents involving firearms." And they ended up coming back to us and said, "Look, you don't have to put a phone book in their head to keep them safe. If you can just drive into their head a couple of things, which is what do you do if you see a gun. Stop, don't touch it, leave the area and go find and adult."

We have put 24 million kids through that Eddie Eagle Child Safety Program, and we have child accidents down to the lowest level ever in the history of the country. A child today has one-tenth the chance of being involved in a firearms accident than his or her parents did. We've cut (accidents) 90 percent, and I think that's a phenomenal achievement.

We have 80,000 law-enforcement officers who are members of the NRA. I mean, I look at us -- in terms of membership, we are one of the largest law-enforcement organizations in the United States in terms of our rank-and-file membership.

Q: Will gun rights be an issue for 2012?

A: Well, with everything I've said, we kind of are at a precipice. The Second Amendment hangs by one vote on the Supreme Court.

The NRA's promise is there will always be a Second Amendment because I believe that we are bound and determined it will always be an individual right, and we'll do whatever to make sure the constitutional provisions exist to make sure a Second Amendment is always the people's freedom in this country.

You've got the (United Nations) trying to get into this issue. They are holding another conference this summer, and they really believe that governments ought to own firearms, not individual citizens. ... The nuclear freeze movement after the Soviet Union collapse, basically all these (nongovernmental organizations) morphed themselves into gun-ban groups and they are trying to institutionalize the whole gun issue into the U.N. bureaucracy.

That's a big issue. I know people tend to go, "Ah, yeah right, the U.N." But it's a real issue that we watch and are concerned about.

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