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In America, NRA ‘thrives’ on horrific moments, says filmmaker

January 7th, 2015
07:23 AM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

As Republicans took control of both houses of U.S. Congress on Tuesday, a key goal for President Obama has never looked further away – enacting gun control reform.

Almost exactly two years after the horrific killing of 20 children and six schoolteachers in Newtown, Connecticut, attempts by advocates to enact new gun control legislation have failed.

A new documentary by PBS Frontline, “Gunned Down: The Power of the NRA,” premiered Tuesday, and explores the history and power of the gun-rights organization.

“This is an organization that is started in America as a kind of gun safety group, a marksmanship group,” filmmaker Michael Kirk told CNN’s Fred Pleitgen, in for Christiane Amanpour, on Tuesday.

“In the 1960s, when President Kennedy was assassinated, when his brother, Bobby, was assassinated, and when Martin Luther King was killed, the government in America, the President, Lyndon Johnson, and the Congress basically enacted gun control legislation.”

“And it was at that moment that the NRA went from being a small, benign gun safety group to a tremendous political force in America.”

CNN reached out to the NRA for a response to the documentary; the organization declined to comment before the documentary aired.

Many in America, and around the world, express surprise at the power the NRA is able to wield in influencing American politics.

Despite more than 90% of Americans supporting universal background checks for gun owners, according to Pew, that provision failed to pass Congress.

Just before the December 2012 shootings in Newtown, 42% of Americans said that gun ownership was more important to protect that gun control; that number has now risen to 52%, also according to Pew.

“We were all watching [the Newtown shooting aftermath] in our newsroom and I remember saying, ‘Okay, this will rekindle the gun control fight; let's see what happens now, because this is the gun control advocates' best-case scenario, if you will.’”

“It sounds macabre to say it, but the idea that little children would be murdered in such an appalling way really might enliven the argument and put the NRA on its heels. But of course it did not.”

“The NRA, in lots of ways, thrives on these horrific moments in America, because every time it happens, gun sales go up; the membership in the NRA increases; and ammunition sales go up.”

The NRA, Kirk said, has learned that rather than cow in the face of an atrocity, “their members actually wanted them to come out strong and enforce their very strident belief in the Second Amendment.”

After the Newtown shootings, NRA President Wayne LaPierre held a press conference, in which he said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

“The movement that says we've got to do something about guns in America kind of comes and goes, but the NRA and its fervent membership – now, they say, as many as five million people – who adhere to this doctrine and this belief in the weapon … as someone in the film says, they go to bed every night thinking about … what they have to do to protect their gun.”

“This gun represents something that they just believe in with a kind of religious religiosity. It's bound up with patriotism and it's uniquely American, and they really believe in it.”

Filed under:  Gun Control • Latest Episode • U.S. Politics
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