Richard Painter said Friday during an appearance on MSNBC that the National Rifle Association is a "protection racket" preventing Republican lawmakers from addressing gun violence.
Painter is a former ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration now running for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat in Minnesota. He published an op-ed in the New York Times in 2012 decrying the NRA’s political influence, and Friday he accused Republicans of targeting immigrants to distract from gun violence.
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"We do not have safety in our streets and in our schools because we do not have reasonable gun laws. That's the risk, not this diatribe we heard from the president about immigrants, blaming immigrants for our gun violence in this country," he said. "Our problem is homegrown and the NRA is responsible."
He argued Republicans are expected to "toe the line 100 percent on the NRA agenda" and said the NRA would fund primary challengers to anyone who doesn't.
"They will face a primary challenger who will attack them from the right with enormous amounts of NRA money and other money from extreme right-wing organizations, and they'll be taken out," he said. "It's very clear. That's the way protection racket works."
MSNBC’s Ali Velshi asked about how the NRA prevents politicians from having any "nuance" on gun issues or from engaging in a constructive conversation on "reasonable gun laws."
"You can't [have a reasonable conversation]. And I have many friends who are gun owners, responsible gun owners," he said. "I am the responsible owner of two automobiles that are registered in the state of Minnesota, and I have a license to drive those cars, and they can't just be turned over to anybody who doesn't have a license. We regulate automobiles, but we're not willing to regulate guns."
Painter's argument glossed over the range of firearms legislation that exists at the state and federal levels. Not only are various classes of guns illegal, such as automatic rifles, but states also have a variety of regulations on the purchase and use of guns.
Nevertheless, Painter described a regulatory regime that provides no rules, and he argued that if roads were completely unregulated as guns–in is view–are, then Americans would be dying en masse.
"If the American Automobile Association operated like the NRA and had this influence, this protection racket influence, driving in the crosstown expressway here in Minneapolis would be complete chaos," Painter said. "You'd have to have somebody pick up the dead bodies and beer cans every morning."