In the midst of a national debate regarding gun-control policies, National Rifle Association President David A. Keene called on the government to better enforce existing laws regarding firearms before making legislative changes during an event in the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at the Institute of Politics on Wednesday night.
“Before you start expanding this system, you need to make it work,” said Keene of existing legislation.
Keene spent half of the hour-long discussion deflecting largely critical questions from audience members from across the University. One Harvard undergraduate asked Keene to reflect on the controversial NRA commercial that labeled the president an “elitist hypocrite” for sending his daughters to a school with armed guards. A Harvard Kennedy School student asked if he thought America’s founders would consider the Second Amendment “necessary and constitutional” in modern times.
Keene was defensive in his responses, reiterating points that have been made by members of the NRA in the past.
Popular semi-automatic firearms should remain legal, Keene said, “because they’re legitimate under the constitution, [people] enjoy them, millions of people use them, very rarely are they used for criminal purposes.”
Many lawmakers have recently sought to renew the ban on assault rifles which expired in 2004. Assault rifles have been the weapon of choice for many of the perpetrators of recent mass shootings.
Such weapons were addressed in gun legislation passed by the New York State Assembly and Senate following the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School—policies that Keene said were “rammed through” in the wake of tragedy.
“It’s a mistake, for policy reasons, to be making legislation at the height of an emotional moment,” Keene said.
Although the mass shooting at Sandy Hook was not central to the discussion, the Progressive Caucus, a student group at the Kennedy School, handed out green ribbon pins to audience members prior to the event. The ribbon, worn by President Barack Obama during his State of the Union Address, commemorates the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.
Many across the United States have advocated for universal background checks for those who want to purchase guns. When event moderator, CNN Chief National Correspondent, and IOP Fellow John King brought up the idea, Keene criticized this, calling it burdensome and restricting to law-abiding citizens.
While Keene said that the NRA did not want to shut down any conversation, he said that NRA “will not support something which we think burdens the innocent to try to find the very few who are guilty.”
Debates over gun regulations taking place nationwide have found their way to Harvard’s campus, where the Undergraduate Council recently released a report examining the University’s gun policies. Harvard’s official rules ban “[p]ossession and/or use on University property of firearms or other dangerous weapons.”
During an interview with The Crimson, Keene said that although the University is a private institution that has the right to make its own rules, “from a policy standpoint, the students probably would be safer” if Harvard lifted its ban on guns.
“A very strong argument can be made that you’re better off from a security standpoint to allow responsible people to carry arms,” Keene said.
—Staff writer Steven R. Watros can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @stevewatros.