David Keene (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Susan Page, USA TODAY
The powerful National Rifle Association will urge lawmakers to vote against mandating universal background checks for gun buyers, NRA President David Keene told USA TODAY on Wednesday. That raises questions about the enactment of many gun-control measures in the wake of last month's shootings in Newtown, Conn.
The gun-show loophole allows some sales at gun shows to go forward without checking the buyer's name against a federal database of convicted felons and the mentally ill. Closing it has emerged as one of the most widely supported proposals among Democrats and some Republicans. In a Pew Research Center poll, 85% of Americans backed the idea.
But Keene, in an interview, and NRA Executive Director Wayne LaPierre, appearing earlier before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the background checks would do little to stop criminals from getting guns and would burden law-aiding citizens.
Asked if the NRA would encourage members of Congress to vote against universal background checks, Keene said, "If it came up today, yes." He assessed the odds the proposal would pass Congress at less than 50-50.
"But it has a better chance (than an assault-weapons ban) because it sounds reasonable," Keene said. He called the odds for a new assault-weapons ban "very, very small." Keene was interviewed for USA TODAY's Capital Download video series.
"I would suggest at the end of the day it's not going to pass, but let me give you one caveat," Keene said.
"In the 1990s, when Bill Clinton wanted an assault-weapons ban ... when we went into that battle we were clear winners," he said. "But then the president did what presidents can do - a few dams, an ambassadorship here, you know, a library there - and that changes things. When you get in a battle with the president of the United States, if he's willing to spend political capital, you'd be foolish to ... bet against him."
An assault-weapons ban was enacted in 1994 and expired in 2004.
Keene said he doubted that President Obama, who is also pursuing other priorities such as an immigration overhaul, was going to make a similar effort. "I don't think he's going to," Keene said. "I don't think he's in a position to do that."