tv Firing Line With Margaret Hoover PBS October 12, 2018 11:30pm-12:01am PDT
>> for many, the national rifle association is one of the most controversial organizations in america. their new president is a man with a controversial past. oliver north this week on "firing line." >> "firing line with margaret hoover" is made possible by... corporate funding is provided by... this is the first time i am welcoming a guest back to "firing line" who appeared on the original program with william f. buckley jr. oliver north, welcome back to "firing line." >> it's good to be back. thank you.
it's been a few years. >> it's been 47 years exactly, and you were a marine captain in 1971 when william f. buckley jr. introduced you this way. and you have had quite a career since then. colonel north has been a political commentator, a television host, military historian, author, and perhaps most famously, the national security staff member
during the reagan administration who testified about the good, the bad, and the ugly in the iran-contra affair. earlier this year, the national rifle association selected colonel north as its new president. colonel north leads the nra as it faces new challenges. new york governor andrew cuomo has pursued financial sanctions, the organization faces reports of declines in membership, and recent revelations have implicated the nra in the fight over russian influence in american politics. but the biggest challenge colonel north faces is responding to the seemingly never-ending cycle of gun violence in american schools. as an organization that claims 5.5 million members and vast political influence, the nra's response to these challenges is of paramount importance. colonel north, once again, welcome back to "firing line." >> great. thank you, margaret. >> you've been brought into this position as the head of the nra, which is the exact same position that charlton heston had. >> yeah. >> what is your mission? >> well, unlike moses, i'm a marine, so my mission is to,
first of all, support and defend the constitution of the united states, particularly the focus on the second amendment. number two, i have a goal of doubling the nra membership by 2020 for all the obvious reasons. and number three, we have a program that deals with on of the issues you named -- that's school safety. we're the only organization in the country that supports the idea of protecting kids in places where they learn. our most precious resource, america's children. no one else is doing this, but we go all over the country providing resources to the school and to the local law enforcement on issues of vulnerability in the school, how to train others to look for these things, and then, if they need them, grants in order to implement the repairs or fixes they need to make. so, those are my three charges right now. obviously, you mentioned some of the challenges we face. media folks who get things wrong very often in the aftermath of a shooting. almost any time somebody pulls a trigger, the nra gets blamed for it. >> it has become an intensely
and increasingly polarized political issue -- not just the second amendment but i think the nra. and as we go into a political cycle -- i mean, it's one month before congressional elections in 2018. i'd like to focus, first, on the politics, and then we'll get to the school shield program, 'cause i want to talk about both of them. there was a report that was issued rather recently that the nra, this political cycle, has spent only 10% of what it spent in the previous off-year election cycle -- 2014 to 2018. the difference is $1.6 million this political cycle and $16 million in 2014 off-year election cycle. the thing that strikes me most about the political climate this time around is, there seems to be an incredibly well-funded and well-organized opposition to the nra in this political cycle, and i wonder what the nra is doing about that. >> well, and everything you said is accurate except, early in the introduction, we've lost membership. we dropped a little bit before i was president, and i'm not
claiming the reason for this, but our membership has grown every month since i've been president. and it continues to do so. let's go to the issues. the nra is described by many others as something other than what it is. we are an advocacy organization. our job is to educate young people, particularly. we start with the eddie eagle program in elementary schools, and we go up through the school shield program. number two, we teach firearm safety and firearm instruction. we have 13,000 firearms instructors for america's law enforcement, okay? the political attack that's launched against us is completely off-base. first of all, they call themselves gun-control advocates. they are not. the truth of it is, that they are the disarmament movement in america. >> to be fair to them, they'll say that they're in favor of reasonable restrictions, and we'll talk about what that means. if you look at the nra's budget, in 2016, according to the nra's tax filings, the nra spent
$47 million in educational activities and $412 million on advocacy. that's nearly 10 times as much. >> yeah. >> but if we could just stick on the politics quickly, because... >> sure. >> ...the first question i asked is, why isn't the nra spending more money this election cycle? >> yeah, very simply, we don't have it. our fundraising is down, largely because of the lawsuits that have been launched against us. and if we had more money, we would spend it on getting good conservatives elected, people who are gonna support the second amendment. that's what we need. we're under attack like never before. it's unprecedented. the things that are being done by the governor of new york, by the deep pockets of michael bloomberg and george soros and tom steyer outspending us. it'd be lovely to have their numbers on what they're spending on this election. and we're trying to recover the losses. >> are you saying that the strategy of the opponents is working against the nra? >> well, the de-fund the nra by the, if you will, disarmament movement in america, has been
effective. >> what happens if you face a democratic house of representatives? what happens to the nra? >> i'm sure you'll be reading our mail coming out saying this is -- it's not just democrats. it's the crazy democrats that this, if you will -- and i call it what it is. >> but democrats used to support the nra. >> of course. >> i think about in 2006, when democrats took back the house of representatives, they did it by going and recruiting democrats who were pro-nra. >> right. name five. look what's happened. they perceive that there's going to be a blue tsunami, or whatever they want to call it. i perceive that -- we don't have the money, but we've got the votes. we the people still govern in america. >> do you think you have the votes to hold the house of representatives? >> we're praying we do. and i'm asking every nra member to go out and find another nra member who's gonna vote in their district to hold the house in the hands of -- >> what happens if democrats take back the house to the nra? >> my guess is, the first thing they do is impeach the president. and the second thing they do is introduce resolutions to repeal the second amendment. they want to wreck the nra.
any one of these major lawsuits against us could do that. >> do they want to wreck the nra, or do they want to change the meaning of the second amendment? >> they want to repeal the second amendment of the united states. we've got advocates out there saying that, that people like steyer and bloomberg and soros are supporting. right? if they get enough of them and replace the pro-second amendment majority that we have in the house, they will impeach the president -- they've already made that clear. their battle plan is out there. they will destroy the nra, legally, financially, politically. and, third, at the end of the day, they'll have repealed the second amendment. at that point, no american has the right to keep and bear arms. so you will see, state by state, proposals to seize the firearms that are held by those 100 million americans. >> has the nra faced anything like this before? >> no. well, if you will, in 1871, when the nra was chartered, one of the reasons why it all happened -- by the way, here in new york city, right? the union league club is where they sat and negotiated it, and it was chartered here in new york city because there was
a movement to disarm certain people in america, particularly in the south, who were now citizens and who had the right to keep and bear arms. and it was the nra that came in, said, "wait a second. just because somebody's a particular color, they can't have a firearm?" well, they couldn't before 1870, 1860, right? and so, what we did is, we came in to support the right of people who hadn't been citizens to now possess a firearm. >> but on the nra website, it says that the purpose of the nra was created to improve marksmanship... >> yes. >> ...of ex-civil war soldiers. >> it wasn't just ex, it was the next generation of shooters. because what those union generals who formed the nra found out is, one, the yankees couldn't shoot. okay? and when they did, they fired a lot more bullets than the southern boys and inflicted fewer casualties. >> but you're saying it started as a civil-rights organization to arm african-americans who were newly formed citizens. >> that was one of the objectives. the primary objective put down -- and you've read, obviously, the foundational
documents of the nra -- was to teach marksmanship. we still do. most american who have a firearm and who got one before the 1970s had it because an nra instructor taught the boy scout troop, the local range, their conservation -- nra instructors. >> the nra, like many organizations, tends to thrive in times of adversity. >> yeah. >> and when its members feel like its rights and the things that it believes in are most under threat, this can serve as a rallying cry to gin up membership. do you think there is an upside or a silver lining to the defensive posture you have, politically, in this moment, that this might create a climate where you can hit your fundraising goals and your membership-drive goals? >> well, let's make news. top-secret. every letter you get from the nra is a membership letter or a fundraising letter, okay? that's what we do. and it's advocacy. look, we're trying to educate people to the challenges that
they face if they're a firearms owner and the reason why they ought to be members and the reason why people ought to contribute to this civil-rights organization. that's what it is. >> so, i'd like to play you a clip from the original "firing line" which aired in 1980, and this was a program about gun rights. and i think you'll recognize some of these arguments.
>> right. >> one of my predecessors. >> this is one of your predecessors making the same argument. this is a country that has a second amendment. >> yeah. >> and if you got rid of guns, you'd certainly get rid of gun violence. but we have a second amendment. >> well, look -- even -- again, let's go back to -- you don't have to go back to harlon carter and bill buckley and the left. you can go to senator feinstein. you've got a united states senator advocating confiscation of what had been, up until the moment she would've gotten the law passed, that would be illegal. how the heck would you do it? how could you, in the context of modern america, make something "illegal"? >> the difference is, in that clip, it was a sheriff advocating for confiscation. >> understand. and i'll bet you that sheriff's no longer in office. what i'm suggesting is, we
need -- lookit, sheriffs run for office. one of the reasons why the nra has made great inroads in school shield and getting them into schools is because sheriffs are elected in their communities, in their counties. >> why aren't more law-enforcement officials on the side of the nra? >> you want the truth? >> yeah. >> okay. most big-city mayors are liberal democrats. most big-city mayors are the ones who name the chiefs of police of most police in america. we have enormous backing -- >> i think most mayors aren't deeply ideological. most of them are not -- don't run as republicans or democrats, right? it's the old adage "you got to fill the potholes and take out the trash." you got to secure the city. >> that's the sheriffs. but lookit. the mayor of new york city is not a conservative. >> not right now he's not, for sure. >> well, his predecessor, mr. bloomberg, was not a conservative. >> but his predecessor -- >> yeah, rudy giuliani was. >> can you help and articulate what threat president obama, hillary clinton, and the
democratic party pose to second amendment freedoms? >> well, i'd say that, since they left -- because we did get accommodation from some of them. but since they left, what's happened is that the nra is now being castigated every time -- you used the issue -- school shootings, okay? we get castigated as somehow responsible for that. that is outrageously unfair. because there's no other organization in the country, not a political organization, not a media conglomerate, not a political entity, that will back the idea of protecting our kids in school. we're doing it. the school shield program is a wonderful example of how we cooperate with communities all over america, and we give away money from our foundation. now, damn it, there ought to be a reason why other people won't allow us to say that on tv or why they won't go and cover this kind of a program. >> so, it is the national school shield emergency plan. >> right.
>> it was published after sandy hook. >> yes. >> so, five years since sandy hook... >> yeah. >> ...you have fortified more than 150 schools. >> yes. >> i looked at it and some of the recommendations, and i know you say it's a -- it's a customized approach. >> it is. >> you have to evaluate every school, and then, you use your resources in order to, for lack of a better word, harden the target. >> sure. and we train assessors so we don't have to keep going back to the same schools. we train those who are now aware of what the issues are and how to keep evaluating. but we also need, if you will, the activists on the other side to back off, because this is much more than simply giving guns to teachers. this is a program that says, "we're here to help protect your kids." >> it's a diverse program. it includes cutting shrubbery, it recommends against parking lots, it recommends certain kinds of windows, it recommends certain kinds of fences. >> yeah.
>> all these kinds of things that can protect it. the criticism, of course, is that it creates a prison-like environment for schools. but... >> been on an airplane lately? i was just up to the halls of congress here just a couple days ago. you've got metal detectors you got to walk through, you got to put your bag through an x-ray machine. go to any public sporting event in america. we're not here to deal in hypotheticals. we're dealing with reality, just like they did with hardening airports. so, when my kids are safe in their schools -- my grandkids are as safe at schools -- as i am walking through the corridors of congress, i'll be happy. but for whatever reason, they've taken this wonderful program, and they've spun it in directions. "all you want to do to harden schools is to arm teachers." not true. totally untrue. >> arming personnel is part of it, but it's not just arming teachers. it's guarded personnel, and it also depends on the school because you have a customized approach. >> people train to do it. >> here's a question. what does the nra do to reach out to that generation z, the parkland generation, the ones
who literally have grown up and their entire lens through which they view the second amendment is pro-nra/anti-nra, school shootings/safety in schools? >> sure. okay. so, how did -- here's a question. how did we end up cutting smoking in america? how did we end up with moms and dads wanting to put seat belts on? we told the kids. we told the kids, "smoking is bad," and the kids went home and told mom and dad, "smoking is bad," and moms and dads quit smoking. >> no, but they also outlawed smoking for kids. >> no, i understand. >> but what i'm saying is -- >> and they also had restrictions on smoking. >> the seat-belt program became mandatory in 50 states to wear a seat belt, but still a lot of them didn't, and a lot of them do today because kids went home and told mom and dad about it. so guess what, kids. the eddie eagle program is coming back big, okay? we're gonna start when you're in elementary school, reminding you, if you find a gun, find an adult. tell them about it. don't touch it, right? and we're gonna keep doing school shield until we make sure that we've got at least a majority of our school kids protected in those 130,000 schools in america. that's elementary, middle
school, and high school. if we can do that kind of thing, we can change the perception of the nra and still support the second amendment. first amendment's right there. second amendment's right after it -- needs to be on the wall, as well. >> you just said regulations are what helped with smoking and seat belts. and the gun-control advocates would say that it's precisely that -- it's that government has regulated guns. and what's wrong with the language of reasonable restrictions on guns? >> well, what i said was that kids going home and telling mom and dad. >> they will say that government needs to regulate guns. >> all right, but lookit. the government already regulates guns. government does all kinds of regulations. before we start talking about new regulations, let's have the government, at every level of this country, enforce the laws that are already on the books, the rules that are on the books. >> does that require resources? >> well, sure. >> why aren't they enforcing laws? >> well, i'll be -- call your congressman and ask him. >> but is it about allocating resources in the budget in order to enforce the rules that are on the books? >> we're in downtown manhattan right now. local law enforcement is the
primary place of enforcement of laws and the protection of citizens against lawbreakers. it requires resources from the city of new york and the state of new york. >> so -- but you remind me, since we're in manhattan, that one of the mayors, who is a republican now, and a national figure, in the national eye, somebody i used to work for, rudy giuliani... >> right. >> ...had the most success eliminating gun violence by also eliminating guns. >> he took guns from people who should not have them. remember th-- here's the problem, right? the broad-brush ideas of many in the so-called gun-control but i call disarmament movement is, the only way to deal with this is, let's take everybody's guns that shouldn't have them. >> which is not a reasonable starting place in a country that has a second amendment... >> right. >> ...in my view and in th view of many, many people. >> i would think most of us. >> but many people, i think, would say, by framing it as the "disarmament movement"... >> yeah. >> ...undermines maybe a center path or another way that is -- here's what it is.
you have an entire generation that's come up, they hear the nra negatively in the context of school shootings. the perception is, the nra doesn't want to do anything about it. and there is no path that makes sense to them that forges a way through it. >> margaret, i give you the words of senator feinstein. she is the one who held up an m16 rifle, called it something it wasn't -- an assault rifle -- and said, "if i could get every one of the 51 -- if i could get 51 votes, every one of these guns would be off the street," meaning, "we're gonna confiscate them." so, when you've got senators in the united states, when you've got former justices of the supreme court, talking in advocacy about repealing the second amendment, you're darn right i'm concerned. and that's not a polarizing position. that's the reality dealing with another reality. >> what can you tell us about the relationship between russia and russians and the nra over the last several years? >> uh -- [ clears throat ] here's what i know. and i made sure i knew this before i was -- became
president. i know this. i know the nra did not get $30 million from russia to transfer to the trump campaign. if anybody knows where that money is, send it to us, 'cause we need it. number two -- no, it never happened. number two, there were times when people who are at least being accused of being russian agents -- i have no idea if they are -- attended nra functions, just as they attended many other functions. we're talking about the american conservative union, all cpac in washington, d.c., they attended all of them. clearly, someone, whether it was in the kgb or the svr or the kremlin or dzerzhinsky square, someone wanted them to try to get close to what they thought was gonna be a winning presidential campaign -- at least, close to conservatives. and they attended a whole bunch of nra functions. >> well, over the course of many years, so it's not just even in the context of the trump administration. it's interesting to me, colonel north, because you were a marine in vietnam. >> sure. >> i mean, you came up in the
time when the existential challenge of this country was the soviet union. and the cold war framed your experience and much of my experience. and there's a split now, it seems to me, in the conservative movement about whether russia is a good or bad actor in international affairs and whether russia is our ally or enemy. what do you think it is? >> you talking about me, personally? >> yeah. >> i'm not speaking for the nra? i think that anybody who does not have a democracy, who does not have the opportunities of civil liberties like we do, who has obviously killed people in other countries -- i mean, the brits don't make those accusations without some degree of at least appreciation of the threat -- they are not allies of the united states, okay? that would include russia, that would include china, that would include certainly a good number of countries, at least, people in the middle east. so, lookit -- this is -- the united states of america has many, many threats. there's no doubt about it. >> but the perception or the concern that critics of the nra have, that the nra interests are aligned with russian
interests... >> hogwash. >> ...is bogus? >> no. our interests are aligned completely to that of 300 million american citizens and protecting their second amendment rights. that's our interest. >> so, governor cuomo of new york has initiated a campaign to discourage companies from doing business with the nra in new york. and he is absolutely running against the nra, to the extent that you have filed a lawsuit defending your first amendment rights... >> right. >> ...against the governor of the state of new york and find yourself on the same side of the issue as the american civil liberties union. does that make you comfortable? >> be the second time in my life. in my case, u.s. v. north, going all the way back to the iran-contra issues, i was on trial, special prosecutor, totally unfairly. the aclu joined us as amicus, as our case went all the way to the supreme court. i think this is a partnership that was necessary. ours is a first amendment case. we're using the first amendment to tell the truth about what americans need and what
americans -- how americans benefit from our nra. the counter to this suit is an advocacy on the part of the governor of new york starting it, now joined by the money from bloomberg and steyer and soros. and what they want to do is stifle the first amendment rights of the nra to express our support for the second amendment. and we want the first amendment backers to back us in it, and they have. >> what do you think he's trying to accomplish? >> i think he's part of what i call the disarmament movement. he wants us to go away. he wants to put us out of business. he said he's gonna bankrupt us, and, quite frankly, the cost of these lawsuits could, indeed, do serious damage. >> i'd like to ask you, you left a great gig at fox news. why'd you take the nra on? >> well, 'cause i like a challenge, and i like doing something i believe in, okay? i am a member of the nra. i know you've been a member of the nra, 'cause we keep records. we don't reveal them to the rest of the world, and i don't want to embarrass you. >> i was hoping you'd bring my
nra card from when i was 12 years old. i was hoping your records were that good. >> and think about how many of us got our first nra membership from a parent, from someone who loved us, and who taught us how to shoot. you did. >> how are you gonna recruit my kids back? >> i want to tell the truth about the nra. that's why i'm here. look, we've been battered. there's no doubt about it. my job is not just to be the president of the nra but go out, explain to people, as you've given me a chance to do, what we do that's good for america, and it's not just training people, it's the second amendment. >> colonel north, thank you for returning to "firing line." >> it's great to be back. thank you, margaret. ♪ >> "firing line with margaret hoover" is made possible by...
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