NBC's Lauer Grills NRA President: Has 'Monumental' Power of Gun Rights Group 'Eroded'?

In an interview with National Rifle Association president David Keene on Friday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer wondered: "Do you have the support in Congress to block any federal ban on assault weapons in the coming year?...How close do you think Congress can get on that?" He then speculated: "People talk about the power of the NRA. They look at it almost, you know, in monumental terms. Do you think in the wake of these shootings that power has been eroded at all, Mr. Keene?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Keene rejected the framing of Lauer's question and explained: "Americans who believe strongly in the Second Amendment, and their right to own privately and use firearms for legitimate purposes, is a huge number of people who really care about these issues....it's not the power of the NRA, Matt. What it is, is the strength of belief among millions of Americans in their right under the Constitution to privately own firearms."

Lauer began the exchange by fretting over the NRA's opposition to new gun control: "Is this a classic case of the unstoppable force meeting the immoveable object, when it comes to the NRA and the administration over this? Is there simply no area for compromise?"

When Keene brought up the issues of school security and mental health in preventing mass shootings, Lauer viewed such ideas as mere bargaining chips to achieve gun restrictions:

And so, why shouldn't the American people ask both sides to compromise? Yes, you want increased security in the schools, you want the proliferation of violence in the media and gaming industry to come down. And you want to deal with the mentally ill. But if we say yes to that, or if the President says yes to that, why doesn't he have a right to say to you, 'Okay, give a little on things like background checks'?

Keene replied: "We have a profound disagreement with this administration, first of all, on what would make a difference. We don't think that a ban on so-called assault weapons, which hasn't worked in the past, is going to work this time. We think many of those proposals are basically feel-good proposals..."


Here is a full transcript of the January 11 interview:

7:00AM ET TEASE:

MATT LAUER: Gun fight. The National Rifle Association promising it will do everything it can to block tighter gun regulations after meeting face to face with the Vice President at the White House. This morning the NRA's president speaks out to us in a live interview.

7:06AM ET SEGMENT:

LAUER: David Keene is the President of the National Rifle Association, he joins us now live. Mr. Keene, thanks for your time, I appreciate it.

DAVID KEENE: My pleasure.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Firing Back; NRA Responds to Historic Meeting at White House]

LAUER: Is this a classic case of the unstoppable force meeting the immoveable object, when it comes to the NRA and the administration over this? Is there simply no area for compromise? And if not, where does it leave the American people?

KEENE: Well, I think, Matt, that what we've got is a – are very different views about what needs to be done to prevent the kind of tragedy that took place in Newtown. We've focused on school security. We're very concerned about the mental health system in this country. We think those who have been adjudicated to be potentially violently mentally ill should be included on the databases that are checked when they try to buy firearms. The Vice President and his folks are focusing primarily on firearms ownership and what we consider Second Amendment rights of the American people. We don't think that-

LAUER: And so, why shouldn't the American people ask both sides to compromise? Yes, you want increased security in the schools, you want the proliferation of violence in the media and gaming industry to come down. And you want to deal with the mentally ill. But if we say yes to that, or if the President says yes to that, why doesn't he have a right to say to you, 'Okay, give a little on things like background checks'?

KEENE: You know, if you're – if you're looking at the problem, which is to prevent this sort of thing, what you want to do is do those things that will actually make a difference. We have a profound disagreement with this administration, first of all, on what would make a difference. We don't think that a ban on so-called assault weapons, which hasn't worked in the past, is going to work this time. We think many of those proposals are basically feel-good proposals, and what we really need to do is get to the question of why this is happening and what can be done about it. So I don't think there's any lack of concern about dealing with the problem. I think there's a very different view as to what the problem is and how to solve it.

LAUER: The President says he wants no single piece of legislation, he wants a broad approach. Are you willing to go out on a limb and predict that there will – do you have the support in Congress to block any federal ban on assault weapons in the coming year?

KEENE: I do not think that there is going to be a ban on so-called assault weapons passed by the congress.

LAUER: How close do you think Congress can get on that? I mean people talk about the power of the NRA. They look at it almost, you know, in monumental terms. Do you think in the wake of these shootings that power has been eroded at all, Mr. Keene?

KEENE: Well, I don't know that the NRA is that powerful. I do think that those Americans who believe strongly in the Second Amendment, and their right to own privately and use firearms for legitimate purposes, is a huge number of people who really care about these issues. We try to provide leadership to those folks. We try to represent them before the congress and elsewhere. But it's not the power of the NRA, Matt. What it is, is the strength of belief among millions of Americans in their right under the Constitution to privately own firearms.

LAUER: This is a debate that's gonna continue and be intense over the next couple of months and perhaps years. Mr. Keene, I know you'll be part of it and I thank you for your time this morning.

KEENE: Anytime, my pleasure.

LAUER: Thank you very much. 

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC