'I Think the Real Target Is the Second Amendment': The NRA's Top Strategist on the Right to Bear Arms, the Battle over Guns and a Solution to the Crisis of Violence

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Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, serves as the group's top strategist and as one of the gun lobby's leading hard-liners. In a conversation with NEWSWEEK's Jon Meacham, Howard Fineman and Matt Bai last week--three days after the Los Angeles shootings--LaPierre stoutly defended the NRA's positions and laid out its vision of how to deal with violence. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Are people right to be saying "Why do we have guns? Why can't we do something about this violence?"

LAPIERRE: Absolutely. I think we all share that same emotion of stopping violence and stopping these horrible tragic situations. They're unimaginable. I think what we differ about is what will stop them. I've watched this debate for 20 years, and the reality of politics in Washington has become completely detached from the reality of crime and violence with guns on the streets. We know what would make an immediate, dramatic impact on stopping violence with guns... Confront these criminals with guns directly. Confront the gun dealers directly. Confront the felons trying to buy guns directly and get them off the streets.

So you think the problem is not with the laws, but with enforcing them.

There's a deliberate effort by this administration and by the Department of Justice not to enforce the laws on the books and not to prosecute any of these cases. They ridicule programs like Project Exile [the Richmond, Va., effort to prosecute felony gun cases and lock up offenders, supported by the NRA]. And they're getting people killed every day on the streets of this country by not doing it. Instead they're going to concentrate on cutting off guns at the source. Well, I mean, give me a break. They can try that for the next 50 years, and criminals that want guns are still going to get them.

I really don't believe that there's a criminal in the United States that cares about a one-gun-a-month law. What they would care about is if tomorrow morning [Attorney General] Janet Reno would hold a press conference side by side with the NRA and say, "We just approved $100 million for additional prosecutors and additional enforcement people. And I can guarantee you tomorrow night, if you're out on the street with a gun and a felony record, if you're a violent juvenile with a record with a gun, if you're carrying guns and selling drugs, if you're walking into a school with a gun--I can guarantee you 100 percent of the time you're going to be prosecuted and spend time in the federal penitentiary." That would have an impact. Why are you so opposed to licensing gun owners?

People believe they have a constitutional right and a freedom to own guns in this country. And they don't want their names on government lists. They know what the next step is. It's a knock on the door confiscating their guns. And, you know, they're not going to stand in line and submit to that. What purpose is there for the government to compile a list of who has guns in their homes in this country? …