NRA: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

John Oliver discusses the way the NRA not only works to prevent gun control, they work to prevent an informed discussion about gun control.
NRA: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 3 Episode 16
Aired on June 19, 2016

[John] Welcome to Last Week Tonight. Thank you so much for joining us. I am John Oliver. Let’s begin with the story that has dominated the news all this week: the aftermath of the shootings in Orlando. Everyone has had their own ideas on the root of the problem. It will not surprise you to hear where the worst of those ideas came from.

[President Trump] I’ve been saying for a long time it’s going to happen. We are taking in thousands of people into our country. We have no idea where they come from. We have no idea who the hell they are.

[John] There is a great deal wrong with that, not least the fact that we know exactly where this shooter came from, because he was born in Queens. About 8 miles from where Donald Trump was born, presumably when a racist fairy brought a butternut squash to life. Democrats focused less on the shooter, and more on the weapons he used, even springing a surprise filibuster on the floor of the senate.

[ABC News] Democrats led by Chris Murphy held the floor for nearly 15 hours pushing for new regulations to stop people on the terror watchlist from buying guns and to expand background checks. After nearly 15 hours, Murphy said he had gotten signals that his 2 measures would get a vote.

[John] Is he absolutely sure he saw those signals ? Or was that a hallucination brought on by ammonia poisoning after holding his pee in for 15 hours ? Those proposals are actually coming up for a vote, but before you get your hopes up, there may be a bit of a problem.

[CNN] Let’s not kid ourselves. The Republicans control the house of representatives, there is never going to be any gun control that passes.

[John] That’s true. Closing the gun-show loophole in this congress is incredibly unlikely. Even regulating the gun show Paul Ryan puts on every day is pretty much a lost cause at this point. Which means here we are again, after another mass shooting, with weak legislation doomed to failure. And there is clearly a disconnect between public opinion, which favors, to varying degrees, a number of different gun control measures and any practical action in Washington. And it is pretty clear what is standing between those two things: the National Rifle Association. Like PETA, but for guns, and effective. And to be fair, to be fair to the NRA: it’s not surprising they take a hard line on gun legislation. They’re an advocacy group. It’s what they’re supposed to do. What is shocking is just how successful they’ve been at it. Look at the last big failed attempt at gun control, known as the Manchin-Toomey amendment. There were high hopes for that. Partly ’cause it didn’t do much, it called for background checks at gun shows and for online sales. But mainly because Joe Manchin, who cosponsored it, had some credibility regarding firearms.

[Joe Manchin, 2010] As your Senator, I’ll protect our 2nd amendment rights. That’s why the NRA endorsed me. And I’ll take dead aim at the cap-and-trade bill.

[John] Holy shit. That is a guy so comfortable with guns, he basically just used one as a hole punch. His office’s three-hole punch must be f*cking terrifying. And Manchin did everything he could to appease the NRA. He even inserted several of their direct requests into his bill including allowing firearms dealers, for the first time since 1968, to sell handguns across state lines. Which is a weird provision to put in a gun-control bill. It’s like letting Jose Cuervo convince you that the seventh step in Alcoholic’s Anonymous should be tequila shots. But despite all that, the NRA turned on Manchin and the bill, and then punished him by running ads like this in his home state.

[2013] Manchin is working with President Obama and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. Concerned ? You should be.

[John] Yes, the NRA stabbed Manchin in the back. It would’ve been more on-brand of them to shoot him in the back, and argue it never would’ve happened if his back had had a gun. And the thing is whenever any potential regulation comes up, the pushback is always the same.

[2015] There’s just no evidence that gun laws would prevent shootings.

[2013] There is at least an absence of certain proof, as to the efficacy of gun ownership laws in the past.

[2012] To think that somehow gun control is, or increased gun control, is the answer, in my view that would have to be proved.

[John] It’s the old “I’m not doing anything until you can prove it” argument, the same argument favored by climate-change deniers and fathers of the baby on Maury. Happy Father’s Day! The point is that brings us to perhaps the most ingenious and insidious NRA tactic. They don’t just manage to block legislation concerning guns. They’ve managed to block information concerning them, too. One of the major funders of academic research, the Centers for Disease Control, has been hamstrung in studying how best to prevent gun violence for the last twenty years.

In 1996, the NRA successfully lobbied congress to put this restriction into the CDC’s budget: “… none of the funds may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

[John] The CDC was already banned from advocating for gun control laws, or, indeed, any form of legislation. But the 1996 Dickey amendment named after both its sponsor, Jay Dickey, and after the fact it was an extremely dickey thing to do had a chilling effect on the CDC funding any gun research at all.

[2013] CDC funding into gun violence research has plummeted 96 percent since 1996, to just $100,000 of last year’s $5.6 billion dollar CDC budget.

[John] The only other things that’ve dropped 96 percent in the last two decades are Lycos searches and Tickle-me-Elmo-related stampedes. It’s not just CDC struggling to collect reliable gun-related information. For decades, the NRA has successfully lobbied to prevent the ATF from having a database that is electronically searchable by name when tracing the origins of firearms. This is what they have to do with documents from gun shops that’ve gone out of business.

[2013] Workers are left with an antiquated system to trace 350,000 guns a year, requiring them to review by hand tons of paper records and 500 million entries on microfilm. Many of the records are barely legible. These are records that we received as a result of Hurricane Katrina. We had to dry these out in the parking lot.

[John] That is clearly absurd. That does not look like a present day record of gun ownership. It looks like the manifesto from a Spanish galleon that sank in 1610. So how the f*ck has the NRA managed to accomplish all of this ? Because they’re not that large an organization they claim they have a membership of around 5 million. But that is 3 million fewer members than Planet Fitness. And the members of Planet Fitness have almost no power. Most of them don’t even have the power to actually go to Planet Fitness. And that is true. By mid-January, that place is nothing more than a storage facility for grape colored exercise bikes. And while the NRA does spend a lot of money lobbying, they are frequently outspent by even the NAR, or National Association of Realtors, a group of wily bastards who have somehow convinced all of us we need to live indoors like nerds. But the real power of the NRA is in its members, who are highly motivated, and can be mobilized quickly. Just look at the website of the NRA’s political action committee you will find alerts for every piece of legislation around the country. And not just “write your congressman” alerts, alerts like, “the following bills are scheduled to be heard on June 14”, “at 9 am, in room 126 of the State Capitol”. Because they know: their members often show up. One of the reasons they’re able to rally their base so effectively is they have an appealingly simple message.

[Michael Tobman, Political Consultant] It’s all about a single issue. There’s no four-point plan that they have to defend. I would point out, they only have to say ‘no.’ They’re not for anything. They’re against something. A single issue. One word: ‘no’.

[John] Exactly. It’s a lot easier to drum up support when you’re flatly against something. There is a reason that TLC insisted upon “No Scrubs”, and not the implementation of a national registry of potential scrubs, AKA “busters”, that would screen for scrub-like tendencies or affiliations with known scrubs. They knew, “No Scrubs” is a lot catchier. And the truth about politics is, it’s about showing up. Remember the Manchin-Toomey amendment? A national poll at that time found that 88 percent of people supported universal background checks, and yet Manchin’s office maintains that, of the calls it received, they ran 200-to-1 in opposition to the bill. And that is why it is important to actually call your congressman. You can’t just hit them up on Twitter or Facebook. Because you won’t get a personal response, or, even worse, you’ll get a very personal response indeed. Put it away Carlos, put it away. And remember the Dickey amendment, which has effectively kept the CDC from studying gun violence? It is now opposed by both the American Medical Association and Jay Dickey, the man who sponsored it in the first place. Whenever a member of Congress tries to kill it as Nita Lowey did last summer, this is how it goes.

[Nita Lowey] Let’s support research to prevent gun violence, protect our communities and save lives. Thank you.

The question is on the Lowey amendment. All in favor say aye.


All opposed say no.


The no seems to have it. The amendment is not agreed to.

[John] It’s like watching a committee of deer voting against investigating the effects of oncoming cars. “Let’s stand still. I like our chances. And those headlights are shiny.” And if you’re thinking, “I’m sure, after Orlando,” “if someone tries that they’ll succeed ’cause we’re all paying attention now”. Here’s the thing about that… Representative Tony Cardenas tried to overturn it again just this Wednesday, with an amendment to a mental health bill, and this was the result.

[Rep. Fred Upton] All those in favor will say aye.


[Rep. Fred Upton] All those opposed say no.


[Rep. Fred Upton] The no’s have it.

[John] Are you f*cking kidding me? That happened four days ago. I’m guessing that you’re hearing about it for the first time now. To be honest, we only found out about it yesterday. And we’ve been working on this story all week. The Dickey amendment is emblematic of a chokehold the NRA has over even basic gun data. And it should obviously be overturned. But the hard truth is, NRA members seem to care more consistently about preventing gun control than most of us do about passing it. While you might be focused on gun control now, they were focused on it two weeks before Orlando, and they’ll still be focused on it two weeks from now. Here I would say: “Tell your senator and representative to repeal the Dickey amendment”. And you should absolutely do that if you want to. But you are going to need to do more than that. You’re going to need to call them and “remind” them to repeal it. Then call them on their birthday: “Happy birthday and also get rid of the Dickey amendment.” Call them on Arbor Day and say: “Happy Arbor Day!” “What’s going on with that Dickey amendment?” Call them on days where there wasn’t a mass shooting, and say: “What the f*ck’s up with the Dickey amendment?” Repealing it is not asking much. It’s not gun control. It’s enabling us to have an informed conversation about what that could look like. If and when a proposal you like is on the table, you’re going to have to make all those calls again. Because remember, it doesn’t take much to outnumber the NRA. Planet Fitness members outnumber them. But it is time for us to learn what those members haven’t: if you want to see serious changes, you have to show up every f*cking day.


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