It sounded like a throwaway line. Toward the end of a four-hour Senate hearing on gun violence last week, Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Associationâs executive vice president of over two decades, took a break from extolling the virtues of assault rifles and waded briefly into new territory: criminal justice reform. "We've supported prison building," LaPierre said. Then he hammered California for releasing tens of thousands of nonviolent offenders per a Supreme Court orderâ”what he'd previously termed "the largest prison break in American history."
But California's overflowing prisons, which the Supreme Court had deemed "cruel and unusual punishment" in 2011 because of squalid conditions, were partly a product of the NRA's creation. Starting in 1992, as part of a now-defunct program called CrimeStrike, the NRA spent millions of dollars pushing a slate of supposedly anti-crime measures across the country that kept America's prisons fullâ”and built new ones to meet the demand. CrimeStrike's legacy is everywhere these days.
CrimeStrike arose out of necessity. The NRA had come into its own as a political power during the Reagan era, but by the early 1990s, it was strapped for cash. The organization ran up a $9 million deficit in 1991 and was on pace for a $30 million shortfall in 1992, even as it was preparing to go to the mattresses over assault weapons and background checks. The NRA needed a shot in the arm.
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