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By Tom Curry, National Affairs Writer, NBC News
National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre argued on NBC’s Meet the Press that “there weren’t enough good guys with guns" to confront the shooter responsible for last week's Washington Navy Yard rampage and he insisted that "when the good guys with guns got there, it stopped.”
In his first television interview since the mass shooting last Monday in which gunman Aaron Alexis killed 12 people, LaPierre, the executive vice president of the NRA, described the Navy Yard as a military facility that was “largely left unprotected.”
LaPierre said more personnel who work at military facilities, including retired military personnel, should be armed so they are able to stop attacks such as the one at the Navy Yard.
“We need to look at letting the men and women that know firearms and are trained in them, do what they do best, which is protect and survive,” he said.
LaPierre also vehemently criticized the flaws in the nation’s treatment of the mentally ill, especially of those mentally ill people who try to buy guns. “They need to be committed is what they need to be, and if they’re committed, they’re not at the Navy Yard,” he said.
“I’ve been into this whole (background) check business for 20-some years; I’ve said the system is broken for 20 years and nobody listens,” he said. “It’s broken in terms of our military bases…. On the gun check, the NRA supported the gun check because we thought the mental records would be in the (national instant check) system, we thought criminals would be in the system. And we thought they would be prosecuted.”
He said that the records of those adjudicated to be dangerous are not entered into the national instant check system for gun buyers. “So the Aurora shooter in Colorado gets checked and is cleared, the Tucson shooter gets checked and gets cleared, Aaron Alexis go through the federal and state check and gets cleared,” LaPierre said because the nation’s mental health system doesn’t detect a dangerous person such as Alexis.
LaPierre’s interview on Meet the Press mirrored his appearance on the program following the killings of 26 children and adults by Adam Lanza at a school in Newtown, Conn. last December, when LaPierre said, “If it’s crazy to call for putting police in and securing our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy.”
On Saturday night in a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's awards dinner, President Barack Obama urged gun control proponents to redouble their efforts.
He referred to the unsuccessful struggle of gun control advocates last April to persuade the Senate to pass broader background checks on gun buyers and new restrictions on sales of certain types of weapons.
“We fought a good fight earlier this year, but we came up short and that means we've got to get back up and go back at it because as long as there are those who fight to make it as easy as possible for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun, then we've got to work as hard as possible for the sake of our children,” Obama said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D- Nevada, said last week “we don’t have the votes” to pass expanded background check legislation.
While the policy debate after the Newtown shootings focused on proposals such as requiring background checks for private firearms transfers at gun shows and reinstating a ban on certain types of semiautomatic weapons, the focus after the Alexis shootings has primarily been on the procedures the Defense Department uses to do background checks on contractors such as Alexis with access to military bases and facilities.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last week that “something broke down” in the vetting procedures that allowed Alexis to enter the Navy Yard and kill 12 people, before being killed by police.
Hagel ordered Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter to lead an internal inquiry of the department’s procedures for granting security clearances.
Hagel also will create an independent panel to assess security clearance procedures and security at Defense Department facilities.
“Where there are gaps, we will close them. Where there are inadequacies, we will address them. And where there are failures, we will correct them,” Hagel told reporters last week.
The vetting process has been under scrutiny since the November 2009 massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, in which Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan killed 13 people.
Virginia authorities said last week that Alexis had passed the required state and local background checks before buying the shotgun he used to begin his killing spree. He also used a handgun he took from a guard after killing him.
Alexis’s erratic behavior had been noticed by several people but apparently he hadn’t been treated for mental illness.
In his appearance on Meet the Press last December LaPierre warned that, “We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed. We have no national database of these lunatics.”
And he said many states don’t put their records of those adjudicated to be mentally ill into the national instant check system that is designed to screen out criminals and the mentally ill from buying guns.
In April the Senate rejected an amendment by Sen. Joe Manchin, D- W.V. and Sen. Pat Toomey, R- Pa., which would have required background checks for some intrastate firearms transfers between persons who aren’t licensed gun dealers. The Manchin-Toomey measure fell six votes short of the 60 votes it needed.
An alternate measure offered by Sen. Charles Grassley, R- Iowa, fell eight votes short. Grassley’s measure would have sought to improve background checks and would have enacted a uniform legal definition to prevent those adjudicated mentally incompetent by a court or committed to a psychiatric hospital from buying a gun.