Gun control debate: pro and anti campaigners dig in

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Advocates on both sides of the US gun control debate gave no indication of giving ground in interviews on Sunday, even on the least contentious question of background checks.

Wayne LaPierre, the chief executive of the National Rifle Association, told Fox News on Sunday that universal background checks did not work because criminals do not comply with them.

"It's a fraud to call it universal," LaPierre said. He did not trust the Obama administration and he believed the president's proposals on background checks would turn into a "universal registry on law-abiding people" that would create a "bureaucratic nightmare", he said. "ObamaCare wasn't a tax until they needed it to be a tax. I don't think you can trust these people."

Earlier in the show, Mark Kelly, the retired navy captain, whose wife, the former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in the head by a gunman, argued for background checks. He repeated to Fox News what he told a fractious Senate debate into the issue last week: that Giffords and others hurt in the shooting in Tucson in 2010 might have avoided their fate if the state had entered the name of the shooter into a database.

Kelly, who appeared along with LaPierre at the Senate hearing on Wednesday, said of the NRA chief: "He's going to say that background checks don't work. But that is not true."

He urged LaPierre to "listen to his members", as 74% of NRA members support background checks. Kelly said: "Since 1999, 1.7 million people were prevented from getting a firearm because they had a criminal record or a history of mental illness. We stopped those people from getting a gun. Now we have to make sure they don't have a second option to get the gun – that is, getting it from a private seller or the gun-show loophole without getting a background check."

His comments came seven weeks after the mass killing of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school in Newtown, an event that has reignited public debate on the issue.

Kelly also said he was in favour of the ban on high-capacity magazines proposed by President Obama and fellow Democrats in the Senate.

The NRA's position on background checks is more conservative than it was 14 years ago, when LaPierre told a congressional panel: "We think it's reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone."

The interview with LaPierre grew particularly heated when Wallace asked whether he regretted the NRA's controversial advert featuring President Obama's two daughters. It wasn't about them, LaPierre said. "The president's kids are safe, and we're all thankful for it."

Wallace said that all schoolchildren don't face the same threats as the president's children. "Tell that to the people in Newtown," said LaPierre, whose response to the Newtown shooting was a call for armed guards in schools. "Unfortunately, I think there are parents all over the country that think their kids are entitled to the same amount of protection when they go to school."

"You really think that the president's children are the same kind of target as every school child in America?" Wallace said. "That's ridiculous and you know it, sir."

When Chris Wallace cited supreme court justice Antonin Scalia's opinion, in the Heller decision that struck down some parts of strict gun control laws in the District of Columbia in 2008, that the Second Amendment is not unlimited, LaPierre said that the most basic right was to "protect yourself and the American public wants to be able".

He said: "If you limit the American public's access to semi-automatic technology, you limit their ability to survive. If someone's invading your house, I mean you shouldn't say you only have five or six shots. You ought to have what you need to protect yourself, not what some politician thinks is reasonable."

Powered by article was written by Karen McVeigh, for on Sunday 3rd February 2013 22.04 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010