By Kasie Hunt, NBC News
The National Rifle Association will appear Wednesday at the first congressional hearings on gun violence in the wake of Newtown – at the invitation of Democrats.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy invited the group to testify alongside Mark Kelly, whose wife, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was shot at a Tucson supermarket in 20 while she was greeting constituents.
The NRA strategy, at least according to prepared testimony, remains the same as it has since 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.: push for armed guards in schools and insist that measures like an assault weapons ban and universal background checks won’t help matters.
“When it comes to the issue of background checks, let’s be honest – background checks will never be ‘universal’ – because criminals will never submit to them,” chief NRA lobbyist Wayne LaPierre plans to say, according to prepared testimony released in advance of the hearing.
Universal background checks – closing the loophole that allows private gun sales to people who haven’t had a criminal records check – is one of the gun safety measures most likely to pass the Senate. Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican, told Tulsa TV station KRMG that he is working with Democrats to craft a bill that would mandate the background checks.
NRA officials, though, insist that won’t keep guns away from criminals; they also point to studies showing the assault weapons ban in effect from 1994 until 2004 didn’t reduce crime. Gun safety advocates say that 10 years wasn’t enough time to measure the ban’s effectiveness, among other arguments.
LaPierre will instead tout the NRA’s gun education programs and argue for measures that will help states put armed guards in schools.
“It’s time to throw an immediate blanket of security around our children. About a third of our schools have armed security already – because it works,” he will say.
And he will repeat calls to strengthen measures aimed at keeping powerful weapons away from the mentally ill.
“We need to look at the full range of mental health issues, from early detection and treatment, to civil commitment laws, to privacy laws that needlessly prevent mental health records from being included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System,” LaPierre plans to say.
The NRA is also claiming increasing membership: The group claimed 4.2 million members just three weeks ago, but the Wednesday testimony says it has 4.5 million members now.
Democrats asked LaPierre, Kelly and Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson to appear at Wednesday’s hearing. Republicans on the committee called Colorado academic David Kopel and attorney Gayle Trotter as witnesses.