WASHINGTON -- Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association, said Wednesday that he is opposed to closing the so-called gun-show loophole, which allows private sellers to sell firearms without background checks.
His latest comments in congressional testimony directly contradict testimony that LaPierre gave before the Senate in 1999, when he said, "We think it's reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone."
LaPierre's exchanges with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee grew testy at times, especially when LaPierre argued that universal instant background checks would place an undue burden on "the little guy" in the "real world," while criminals would get the guns illegally.
"None of it makes any sense in the real world!" LaPierre said about the background checks. "We care about safety, and we support what works."
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) interjected that background checks would mean "criminals won't go to purchase the guns, because there will be a background check! We'll stop them from the original purchase." Addressing LaPierre, Durbin said, "You missed that point completely!"
As the audience began to cheer, LaPierre interrupted Durbin, "Senator, I think you missed the point!" As tensions grew higher, committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was forced to bang his gavel and call for order.
Earlier in the hearing, LaPierre's answers also annoyed Leahy, who asked LaPierre if he supported universal background checks. "If you're a dealer, that's already the law," LaPierre answered.
But licensed gun dealers are not the ones who slip through the gun-show loophole. "That's not my question, please, Mr. LaPierre. I'm not trying to play games here," said a slightly short Leahy.
LaPierre stammered some and then argued that weak enforcement of current background checks means it's a waste of time to expand them. "I do not believe the way the law is working now, unfortunately, that it does do any good to extend the [background check law] to private sales between hobbyists and collectors," LaPierre finally admitted.
The comments in the question-and-answer session followed prepared remarks that LaPierre delivered to the committee, which is looking at ways to curb gun violence in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Also testifying on Wednesday were Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who suffered a near-fatal gunshot wound in Tucson in 2011, as well as violence prevention experts. Giffords gave an emotional statement at the opening of the hearing.
LaPierre's focus on enforcement problems in the back-and-forth differed from his prepared remarks, in which he opposed universal background checks because "background checks will never be 'universal' -- because criminals will never submit to them."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said incorrectly that then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in 2009. She was shot in 2011.