As a former Houstonian, I'm glad to see the National Rifle Association is holding its annual convention in Space City. I lived and worked not far from the George R. Brown Convention Center and I am confident that the thousands of NRA members who attend this year's meeting will find a friendly and welcoming city. I am certain you will have a fabulous time.
I have often considered joining the NRA myself, and if I had, maybe I would be there with all of you this weekend. Unfortunately, today there are many important issues that your leadership and I no longer agree upon.
But first, let's try to find some common ground. Here's something we can agree on: We should thank the majority of the NRA's 4 million members who are law-abiding citizens who use their guns responsibly. Now, I want to speak to the 74 percent of those people - more than 3 million - who supported expanded background checks. Some of those people probably joined the NRA before 1999 - you know, the year that Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre testified in favor of background checks.
Let me set the record straight: Gun rights and gun safety go hand in hand. Gabby and I respect the right of Americans to own guns; we own guns ourselves and we use them. NRA members know this about gun rights and gun safety. That's why so many of you support expanding background checks.
I grew up around guns. My mom and dad were cops and then I joined the military, where I saw combat in Iraq and Kuwait. Gabby owns a gun that we would often shoot. She has even used the range at the NRA's headquarters in Virginia. So have I. Gabby supported a lot of "pro gun" federal legislation, such as upholding Second Amendment rights for citizens who live in our nation's capital.
Like so many of you, we know that preventing dangerous people from getting guns doesn't affect our ability to buy or use our guns responsibly. And that's why the NRA leadership throws out a lot of doomsday scenarios, fear-mongering and yelling in order to distract people from a critical distinction: What most members of the NRA want from the organization and what the leadership is actually doing are not the same.
Kelly, a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, lived and raised a family in Houston while serving as the commander of the space shuttles Discovery and Endeavour. With his wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., Kelly is co-founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions, which seeks to reduce gun violence.
The NRA used to be a great organization, and you can still get practical value out of it as a member - everything from insurance to gun safety courses. But those services are small potatoes compared to where the NRA's leadership makes the really big money. The NRA leadership's top priority is to make sure the corporations that make guns and ammunition continue to turn huge profits. Their top priority isn't you, the NRA member.
The NRA's two best fundraising months of the past year came immediately following the shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn. Guns fly off the shelves after tragedies because LaPierre and the gun manufacturers he represents exploit people's fears. In return, gun manufacturers gave LaPierre and the NRA tens of millions of dollars last year alone - and he spent almost $1 million of it on his own salary. Everyone in the gun lobby gets rich when the gun manufacturers sell the most guns.
And that's why LaPierre and the rest of the leadership of the NRA and other gun organizations are spending so much of their time wild-eyed, preaching possible government confiscations. It's because they don't want the membership to notice they've turned their backs on the very safety measures, like background checks, that the organization used to stand for - in exchange for cold hard cash.
So, to the millions of responsible gun owners who are members of the NRA, I offer two thoughts: First, we, at Americans for Responsible Solutions, would be proud to stand with you. You can keep your NRA membership because we're a place for responsible gun owners who want to make sure our laws apply equally to everyone, and who don't want to let criminals run wild with firearms. We'd love to have you and we will protect your Second Amendment rights in a reasonable and responsible manner.
Second: Those who don't learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it, right? The current NRA leadership came to power when the membership felt the old leadership had lost touch with the organization's values and no longer was reflecting the wishes of the members.
When LaPierre and his crew of highly paid Beltway insider staff reversed their earlier support of common-sense measures like expanded background checks, they sent a strong message that instead of standing with the 3 million of your members who supported background checks, they were working on behalf of the manufacturers' profit margins instead.
It seems to me that the time is right for a new generation of leaders within the NRA. Maybe some of you are here this weekend in Houston. We can't wait to work with you to protect our Second Amendment rights and keep our kids safer.