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Conn. Governor Defends Likening The NRA To 'A Terrorist Organization'

Mar 10, 2018
Originally published on March 10, 2018 4:47 pm

Guns and gun safety continue to dominate this week, as the Florida legislature passed several gun-related measures. The provisions fall short of what newly-energized student activists wanted, but still represent a degree of victory for gun control advocates in a state that has seen few such "victories."

Perhaps because of the momentum created by the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., political leaders elsewhere are becoming bolder in their demands and public statements. Case in point: Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy's recent assertion that the NRA had "in essence become a terrorist organization."

As one might imagine, the Democratic governor's words did not go over well with the National Rifle Association.

NPR's Michel Martin asked Gov. Malloy to elaborate on his remarks.


Interview Highlights

On preying on people's fears

I said that the NRA acts like a terrorist organization. Webster's defines a terrorist organization as one that uses fear to effect its goals. What organization in America has used fear better than the NRA?

This really is an organization that is devoid of courage when it comes to making our nation safer. Ninety-seven percent of Americans believe in universal background checks.

The only reason we don't have them is the NRA, and the politicians they have purchased in Washington – including President Trump.

On tactics used by the NRA

The NRA is taking advantage of people's deaths to make the case that we need more guns.

I'm not accusing them of pulling the trigger, but in some cases I think there is blood on their hands. Because they have fought against gun safety for so many years.

They have threatened boycotts against individuals who want to sell safe gun technology. You can say that that's a fair thing to do. But when it blocks technology from being introduced in the United States that would prevent a 2-year-old from finding a gun in her mother's purse and killing her, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

On "kindergarten cops"

In 1999, the NRA's position was that guns didn't belong in schools, certainly not in the possession of teachers. They've since changed their position. I believe they changed that position because they don't want to have the real discussion about what would make Americans safer. Not selling guns of mass destruction would make Americans safer.

On Florida allowing certain school personnel to carry guns, and raising the minimum age for gun purchases

The idea that we're going to ask kindergarten teachers to also be the police in a school doesn't make a whole lot of sense. On the other hand, there are lots of things in the Florida bill – for example, raising the minimum age for purchasing any type of firearm from age 18 to age 21 – that do make sense.

Editor's Note: On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) signed the $400 million gun control and school safety bill. In addition to the provisions mentioned above, the legislation imposes a three-day waiting period on gun purchases and bans bump stocks (devices that allow guns to fire faster). It also funds school police officers and mental health counselors, and makes it easier for law enforcement to commit someone who's been deemed a threat.

NPR's Elizabeth Wynne Johnson produced this story for the Web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Guns and gun safety are very much in the news again this week. This morning, the Justice Department moved forward with a process to ban bump stocks. That's the accessory that enables guns to fire like automatic weapons. Yesterday, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law several gun measures that fell short of what student activists wanted in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Fla., but still represented a victory for gun control advocates in a state that has seen few of them. And perhaps because of the momentum created by this latest mass shooting, political leaders elsewhere have gotten bolder in their demands and public statements.

Case in point, the mayor of Hartford, Conn., Luke Bronin, called for state lawmakers to remove mentions of the NRA from the state's laws, for example, as designated providers of required safety training. The governor of Connecticut, Dannel Malloy, then weighed in to agree and said the NRA had, quote, "in essence become a terrorist organization," unquote, which as you might imagine did not go down well with the NRA. We thought we'd call the governor to ask him about this, and he's with us now. Governor, thank you so much for being with us.

DANNEL MALLOY: Sure. Great to be with you.

MARTIN: And I should mention that you have also, sadly, lived through a mass shooting at a school when you were in public office in 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. So you are very well aware of this issue. But a terrorist organization? Tell us more of what you meant by that.

MALLOY: Well, I said that they act like a terrorist organization. And if you look in Webster's, you'll see that a terrorist organization uses fear to affect its goals. And what organization in America has used fear better than the NRA? I mean, I have put out a list of statements that their highest leadership have made publicly over the years. I mean, this really is an organization that is devoid of courage when it comes to making our nation safer.

Ninety-seven percent of Americans believe in universal background checks. In fact, a large percentage of Americans think we have universal background checks. But the only reason we don't have them, quite frankly, is the NRA and the politicians that they have purchased in Washington, including our own president, President Trump, towards whose benefit they spent $30 million.

MARTIN: But a terrorist organization uses fear through violence. And you have said in the past you said, look, you want to make - you're giving an example of the kind of tactics that they employ, for example, boycotts. Well, you know, the Montgomery bus boycott was a boycott. Progressives boycott people all the time. That's not the same as killing them.

MALLOY: But if you're taking advantage of those deaths, if you use that in your marketing or your argument that people need more guns in the nation. I'm not accusing them of having pulled the trigger, although, quite frankly, in some of these cases, I think there is blood on their hands because they have fought for guns - they have fought against gun safety for so many years. They've even changed their position, you know. And I know that the NRA once advocated a universal background checks. They've changed that position. In 1999, their leader said that teachers shouldn't have guns in schools. But now they market that as a way to do a have a bait-and-switch argument about what would make America safer. You just can't stand by and listen to the arguments they make and not understand that they are in fact preying on people's deepest fear.

MARTIN: OK. well, let's set aside the irony of the NRA decrying name calling. At a conference in Washington, D.C., a couple of weeks ago, their spokespersons claimed that, say, the news media love mass shootings because they're good for ratings and said a number of other things that many people, and not just journalists, found deeply offensive. So let's set aside...

MALLOY: I just want to...

MARTIN: Go ahead...

MALLOY: Let me stop you for a minute. So the reality is the NRA is winning. The reality is the tone they take, the arguments they make, have in fact prevented there being universal background checks. The tone and the arguments they make have actually led to legislation that President Trump signed that makes it more difficult to discover who has mental illness and therefore should be on a no-purchase list.

MARTIN: The question I was going to ask you is when one - that's a debatable point. Also one might argue that it's political contributions. That's the argument that you made earlier. The question I had for you is, if you decry that level of discourse, why engage in it yourself?

MALLOY: What I'm saying is they are extremely successful at what they do, and quite frankly, pointing out that at times they do act like terrorists. Let's go back to one of the examples. They have threatened individuals who want to sell safe gun technology with boycotts. Now you can say that that's a fair thing to do. But when in fact it prevents a technology from being introduced in the United States, that would prevent a 2-year-old child from finding a gun in their mother's pocketbook in Walmart and killing her, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. We really have to have a reasonable discussion about these issues. But this is not an organization that has any desire to have a reasonable discussion about those.

MARTIN: That's Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut. He's a Democrat. He was kind enough to join us today from his offices in Hartford. Governor, thank you for speaking with us.

MALLOY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.