By Paul Helmke
In yet another sign of how out of touch it is with how people interact in a civilized society, the National Rifle Association is apparently so wrapped up in its paranoid view of the world that it planted an undercover cameraman at our news conference at the National Press Club on Wednesday when the Brady Campaign released its annual Scorecard of State gun laws that can help reduce gun violence. Paul Helmke is president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Follow the Brady Campaign on Facebook and Twitter.
This is not the first outrageous NRA attempt to spy on us when they've been worried that our information might dampen support for its pro-gun agenda.
A few years ago, the corporate spy Mary McFate, also known as Mary Lou Sapone, tried to campaign and then talk her way onto the Brady Board. She failed to get nominated or elected to a board seat. McFate was later outed in 2008 by Mother Jones magazine as an NRA mole who spent a decade starting in the late 1990s infiltrating various national gun violence prevention groups.
On Wednesday, when the undercover NRA cameraman came to our news event, he lied and said he represented CBS. He claimed his name was Julio Luzquinos, but we cannot verify it. The phone number he listed is a non-working number and a D.C. assignment editor for CBS News said it doesn't have anyone by that name working for it.
A few hours after the news conference, a host on NRANews.com bragged on Twitter that NRANews had a cameraman at the Brady Campaign news event. Footage from the news conference was quickly posted onto the NRA website.
I don't know how much the undercover poser was paid to sneak into our news conference, but it certainly was too much. If the NRA had called us, we probably would have invited him in for free. I've done interviews before for NRA cameras and have no problem making my points to most anyone who asks.
We want the NRA bosses and their backers to hear how their reckless push to undo or prevent sensible gun safety laws puts communities at risk. We urge them to take the information from our news conferences and disseminate it widely to their supporters and friends. It is no secret to millions of Americans that - after years of NRA efforts pushing more guns into more places - gun violence threatens their lives. The facts, as presented at Wednesday's news conference on state laws, don't lie.
California topped the Brady Campaign State Scorecard, earning 80 of 100 points for its strong efforts to protect its citizens from gun violence. It also has one of the lowest gun-related death rates - 33rd in the nation - according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The next five highest ranked states on our Scorecard finished 45th, 46th, 47th, 48th and 50th for rate of gun deaths. Perhaps, this is the information that the NRA fears getting out.
Gun safety laws help prevent gun violence. Weak gun laws simply make it easier for dangerous people to get firearms and destroy lives. Because strong laws in one state can be undermined by weak laws in neighboring states, we need action at the federal level as well as the state level to protect the public.
We remain horrified that a young Arizona man who was clearly unstable was able to easily buy large-capacity ammunition and the gun he used to kill six people and wound 13 others, including Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson on January 8. Yet, it is chilling that there are no laws in Arizona that might prevent a similar tragedy from occurring again.
As the Brady Campaign State Scorecard shows, Arizona has the weakest gun safety laws in the nation, earning a "0" score along with Alaska and Utah. Everything that the Tucson mass shooter did up until he pulled the trigger at Giffords' constituency outreach event was legal.
Arizona does not ban, as most top-ranked states do, the purchase of ammunition clips capable of firing multiple rounds. The shooter fired 32 times in 15 seconds.
Loaded concealed weapons can be carried by anyone without a permit in Arizona, so the shooter was able to take a handgun into the midst of a public gathering without anyone seeing the threat coming.
Arizona's weak background checks and poor record-keeping requirements make it difficult to identify and block people who exhibit behavior that would raise questions on whether they should be permitted to own a firearm or buy ammunition that would allow them to quickly target multiple people.
The NRA bosses pretend such shootings are unrelated to easy access to guns and weak regulations. But there is a connection. Arizona has the worst gun laws in the country and one of the highest gun-related death rates - 9th.
This correlation is also seen in other states that adhere to the NRA agenda of putting more guns and ammunition within easy reach. Alaska, another "0" state on the Brady Scorecard, has the third-highest gun death rate in the country. The other top five states with high gun death rates - Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Nevada - also ranked in the bottom for gun regulations on the Brady Scorecard.
The NRA, for some reason, didn't choose to air those substantive parts of our news conference, instead just showing some of my opening statements and then putting its own spin on things. The information we presented does not work to the NRA's advantage. The numbers clearly shows that weak gun laws make citizens vulnerable to gun violence. Polls show Americans want more common sense gun laws, not the free-for-all the NRA promotes.
The NRA doesn't need to resort to its sneaky tactics of "gotcha TV" to get our information. Its news we want and need to get it out. We urge lawmakers to take notice, too, of the connection between weak gun regulations and gun deaths - then act to do what most Americans want done. We need a strong background check system, restrictions on assault clips and military-style weapons, more support for law enforcement and other laws that have been shown to make people less vulnerable to gun violence.
Paul Helmke is president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Follow the Brady Campaign on Facebook and Twitter.