Skip to main content

tv   Frontline  PBS  August 4, 2015 10:00pm-11:01pm PDT

10:00 pm
>> the front glass is all shot out! (indistinct phone chatter) >> please hurry! >> once again, innocent victims gunned down. >> we have been through this too many times. >> and then, legislation voted down. >> how could they vote that way? >> the government is not supposed to tell you what to do. >> all the while, the gun lobby grows stronger. >> from my cold, dead hands! >> tonight frontline takes you inside the politics and the power of the nra. >> it really has nothing to do with guns. it has to do with freedom. >> frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
10:01 pm
and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major support for frontline is provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. more information is available at additional support is provided by the park foundation dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. the ford foundation, working with visionaries on the front lines of social change worldwide. at the wyncote foundation. and by the frontline journalism fund, with major support from jon and jo ann hagler and additional support from millicent bell, through the millicent and eugene bell foundation.
10:02 pm
>> in tucson it was a beautiful, crisp, clear blue sky with a few puffy white clouds. it was a perfect january morning. >> narrator: 40-year old arizona congresswoman gabby giffords was about to meet constituents at an outdoor shopping center. >> i went to thank her for her being kind of a blue-dog democrat and really working for the people and not for the lobbyists. >> her first person she met with was a young man that was in the army reserve. she took some pictures with him. and that was the last picture taken of her before she was... before she was shot. he shot gabby from about three feet away, right in the middle of the left side of her forehead. he had a 9 millimeter glock in his hand and a 33-round magazine in it. >> there was a bang and then a slight pause and then a
10:03 pm
continuous bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. (succession of gunshots) >> emptied the magazine in 15 seconds. there were 33 wounds from 33 bullets, so it looks like every bullet hit a person. >> 9-1-1, what is your emergency? >> i could see him advancing quickly i'm thinking, "i wonder what it's going to feel like how bad it's going to hurt if he shoots me." >> narrator: the killer tried to reload, he dropped the high capacity magazine, was tackled and dropped the gun. >> i'm not able to get the gun because it's too far away, but i am able to get the magazine that he is pulling out of his pocket. >> customers have tackled the suspect. they are holding him down at the
10:04 pm
safeway. >> we need a lot more units here and i believe gabrielle giffords is here. >> narrator: there were 19 victims gunned down. 13 were rushed to area hospitals, six were dead. congresswoman giffords was in critical condition. >> when i got to the hospital, she was just recovering from surgery. at one point that evening i remember one tear coming down her eye. it was just one bloody red tear. i think that kind of said it all. >> the tragic shootings in arizona are bringing the national debate over gun control... >> saturday's attack is now putting gun laws under a magnifying glass. >> narrator: then, once again, a familiar response: a public call for the federal government to just do something-- something about guns. >> guns, those damn things. so what happened here-- how did this slip through the cracks? >> here you have one of the democrats' own in congress being struck down-- a shooting which
10:05 pm
showed the effect of weak gun laws. >> as we wait for the latest medical update, president obama is working on the speech that he will... >> at the white house, initially there was sort of a wait-and-see. and i think a lot of it rested on, to what extent was the president going to be willing to take this up? >> breaking news, we've just learned that president obama will be going to tucson on wednesday. >> this just in: president obama just said that he will... >> narrator: in the wake of the shooting, the president was facing a political crisis on an issue most politicians try to avoid... >> president obama will deliver what some have called one of the most important speeches of his presidency... >> president obama on a mission to comfort and rally the... >> please welcome the president of the united states, barack obama... (cheers and applause) >> if this tragedy prompts reflection and debate-- as it should-- let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost. >> narrator: people who wanted to do something about guns listened carefully. >> the president was enormously
10:06 pm
compassionate. he was enormously eloquent, but he did everything in his power to avoid using the word "gun" in the wake of that shooting. >> we may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but i know that how we treat one another, that's entirely up to us. >> the silence was deafening. his gun control ardent supporters were irate. the degree of fury over this really can't be captured in words, but he was never going to do it. >> narrator: washington insiders say his advisors told him the political cost was too great to take on the nation's most powerful lobby-- the national rifle association. >> it was an extraordinary moment and an extraordinary commentary on the advantage that the nra enjoys... and the tilt toward the side of the debate that says there is simply
10:07 pm
nothing more to be done about regulating the civilian ownership of guns. we just... the issue is off the table. >> narrator: without lifting a finger, the national rifle association had demonstrated its power. >> they are the best equipped, most feared special interest group on capitol hill. they are sort of the gold standard in how to do lobbying work in washington. >> two well-armed robbers outgunned cops. >> this time the madness struck in california. >> narrator: this is the story of the rise to power of the nra. >> firing a semi-automatic rifle at least 50 times. it was lunch time, but it looked like war time. >> narrator: how, over the years, in the face of violence and tragedy... >> the gunman fired between 50 and 100 rounds. >> narrator: ...public outrage came up against political reality. >> it was rage unleashed. >> a massacre on a commuter train. >> the kind of violence that many americans fear most... >> after firing off 30 bullets
10:08 pm
the nightmare ended... >> narrator: it's a story that took a dramatic turn in the aftermath of one particular shooting... >> we begin tonight with a deadly shooting at an american high school. >> narrator: a colorado high school. >> this time the boy was 15, it was in the school cafeteria that he went after his fellow students. >> 9-1-1, what is your emergency? >> there's a shooting going on at columbine high school. >> i've got shots going off like crazy. >> you've got multiple shots now in the cafeteria. >> narrator: the deadly assault on columbine high school in littleton. >> we're going to continue to follow this horrific situation taking place in littleton, colorado. >> fox has an alert on the horrific mass shooting... >> narrator: the school surveillance video showed police some of the story. terrorized students fled when they heard shooting in the hall-- 188 rounds. (rapid gunfire) then a bomb went off in the cafeteria as the two assailants, seen here, enter the room and hunt for student victims. they had killed 13 and wounded
10:09 pm
23 more. >> you see some of the victims being taken out. we want to advise you we have no confirmation... >> i was in touch with my wife. and she was getting upset because she hadn't heard from daniel. she had gone to one of the places where they were taking students who had escaped, and his name was not on the board. she didn't see him. he didn't call. >> narrator: tom mauser's son daniel was a sophomore, 15 years old, studious and quiet. by nightfall his parents went home to wait. >> we had to spend that night not knowing if he was dead or alive. you cry a lot. we tried to sleep. i couldn't. i went downstairs, two levels down from the bedroom. and i was crying out, and my wife heard me and came down.
10:10 pm
what can you do? you're just... you're just hopeless. >> narrator: fbi documents show the bodies they found in the school library. daniel mauser was one of them. hiding under a table, he had been shot point blank in the face. in the days that followed, the police gathered evidence including home videos of the attackers and their weapons. >> yo! what up dog? i heard you got some beef with me, niggah? >> narrator: they had assembled a small arsenal: sawed-off shotguns, a 9mm carbine rifle, and a tec-9 pistol with a 30- round magazine. the shooters got a friend to buy some of the weapons at a gun show-- without a background check. it would become known as the gun show loophole. >> columbine is really the
10:11 pm
ultimate nightmare. because columbine really brought to the surface the idea that a couple of disturbed teenagers, if they want to on any given weekend, can go to a gun show and assemble the weapons they need to go and take over the school and start shooting everybody. >> at the colorado state capitol the anguish over the columbine massacre turned to protests. >> narrator: in the wake of the shootings, thousands of protestors marched in denver demanding that something anything be done. >> 8,000 strong, they targeted the national rifle association. >> narrator: daniel mauser's father joined them. >> i had a sign made at a sign shop with daniel's picture on it, and words, "my son died at columbine. he would expect me to be here today." >> narrator: the protestors had a familiar target: the guns. >> something is wrong in this country when a child can grab a gun so easily and shoot a
10:12 pm
bullet... into the middle of a child's face as my son experienced. (applause) something is wrong. >> the national rifle association, target of much anger in colorado. >> narrator: as it happened, just blocks away, the nra was gathering for its long planned annual convention. >> gun enthusiasts insist there is no connection between the columbine tragedy and weapons. >> narrator: inside, top executives of the nra weighed how to respond. they issued a public statement of sympathy and then sent out their most famous member: charlton heston. (cheers and applause) >> thank you, thank you, thank you. >> to this day, when i would look at charlton heston, i didn't see the president of the nra. i saw moses.
10:13 pm
you couldn't have picked a better caricature of who you wanted speaking with that stentorian voice of his. >> america must stop this predictable pattern of reaction. when an isolated, terrible event occurs, our phones ring, demanding that the nra explain the inexplicable. why us? because their story needs a villain. >> narrator: despite the shooting, the nra stayed focused on its core beliefs. >> the base of the national rifle association believes so strongly it's more a religion, or what a religion used to be. there's a passion involved in it. >> the nra is the closest thing that a membership group can have to just pure patriotism. they love their country. >> as long as there is a second amendment, evil can never conquer us, tyranny in any form
10:14 pm
can never find footing within a society of law-abiding, armed, ethical people. >> narrator: heston tapped into a fundamental fear of nra members-- that the government would use columbine to restrict and then take away their guns. >> purchases at gun stores start to go up astronomically as people who are thinking about buying a particular gun over the course of the next year or so worry that they may outlaw it. "i better get it while i can." >> narrator: hundreds of thousands of new members signed up for the nra right after columbine. >> the gun is a symbol of freedom. the only thing that keeps bad government from taking over. it really has nothing to do with guns; it has to do with freedom. do you give your freedom to the government or do you keep it within yourself, within your community, within your family? and that's the broad appeal.
10:15 pm
>> narrator: but for the nra the gun wasn't always a political issue; it had once represented something for hunters and sportsmen. >> this is an organization that back in the '60s was a very tame, not particularly political organization. >> the national rifle association has made possible the training of thousands of instructors. >> the nra was a safety organization. they helped people teach their children and their friends and family how to use and store and keep firearms safely. >> narrator: then the assassinations of the '60s. >> there has been a shooting. i repeat, a shooting on the motorcade in the downtown area. >> narrator: john f. kennedy martin luther king... >> my thanks to all of you, and now it's on to chicago, and let's win this. >> narrator: and robert f. kennedy.
10:16 pm
many american cities erupted into armed conflict. in response, congress passed the first comprehensive gun control law in decades. >> effective crime control remains, in my judgment, effective gun control. >> narrator: those were fighting words for some in the nra. the 1968 gun control bill banned mail order sales and restricted some purchases. >> nra people said, "wait a minute, we've got other things to worry about than teaching guys how to shoot or how to hunt and so forth, or collect guns." and that's when, that was the transformative period. >> narrator: it formally happened in 1977 at the nra convention in cincinnati. as they got down to business there was a showdown: hunters and sportsmen versus gun rights activists. >> the national rifle
10:17 pm
association convention in cincinnati went into overtime last night, a stormy all-night session. when it was over, some dissident members had taken control of the 400,000-member organization. what it means is even stricter support for the right to bear arms and against gun control. >> the core of nra's political support comes from a very conservative republican group of people. they're the ones who give the money, they're the ones that pay the freight for all the political battles. and they're very conservative. >> narrator: just a few years later, another dramatic shooting. >> this is an nbc news special report. >> see the president coming out now. (gunshots) >> narrator: president reagan, shot in the lung... (people shouting) ...and his press secretary james brady, in the head. >> they said six shots in two
10:18 pm
seconds... >> narrator: in the aftermath, once again, a call to do something. >> these incidents seem to keep happening, and that is a tragic puzzle. >> narrator: although reagan stayed out of it during his presidency, over the years jim brady became a powerful symbol. a gun control group formed around him. and by the time bill clinton was elected, the movement had found a president willing to take up their cause. clinton cracked down on guns. the anti-crime initiative, banning the import of assault- style handguns, the assault weapons ban, and the brady bill, requiring background checks at gun stores. it seemed like victory for the anti-gun forces, but that's not how the nra saw it. >> i think nra benefited tremendously through the clinton years, because of the extreme
10:19 pm
radicalism of the anti-gun... call them left wingers, i call them "regressives," not progressives, but the anti-gun people. >> it's in combat that the nra thrives. it's with enemies that the nra is best able to communicate its point of view. and, above all, raise money. >> the president of the united states. (applause) >> narrator: so, near the end of his administration, in the wake of columbine, the president would once again take on the nra. >> you have a unique chance-- a chance to make sure that the children of columbine are never forgotten. >> well, columbine was one of those visceral events where people reacted as parents and as people, not as politicians. and that's how clinton reacted. i mean, all he could think about was, "that could have been
10:20 pm
my kid." >> narrator: behind closed doors clinton told top advisor bruce reed to push more gun restrictions. >> the attack in columbine was such a shock to the body politic that we felt the country needed to do something. >> narrator: a bill to close that gun show loophole was quickly rushed to a vote in the senate. >> mr. ashcroft, mr. baucus, mr. enzi... >> narrator: as the roll was called, the vote became closer and closer. >> mr. hatch, mr. helms... >> vice president gore called to the capitol to break a deadlock. >> law to govern gun sales were deeply... >> narrator: gore needed to break the tie. >> on this vote the yeas are 50, the nays are 50. the senate being equally divided, the vice president votes in the affirmative, and the amendment is agreed to. >> it was a setback today for the gun lobby and its allies in congress. >> narrator: one month after columbine the nra had lost... the first round.
10:21 pm
>> the president praised the senate today for what he called the "common sense" of their vote. >> narrator: the bill then headed to the republican- controlled house of representatives, and that was where the national rifle association would make its stand. 49-year-old wayne lapierre led the nra. >> wayne lapierre is the nra. he built the nra into what it is today. >> narrator: in the 1970s, he started as a lobbyist. >> if you're a political junkie like wayne or like myself, it was a wonderful job. you're working with all these people and having these fights. and you're cutting your teeth. >> narrator: but lapierre was no one's idea of a glad-handing lobbyist. >> he was a very quiet man. i was amazed he was a lobbyist because he did not have the hail-fellow-well-met attitude or personality that i associated with politicians or with lobbyists. >> narrator: and surprisingly for the nra, he was not a gun enthusiast, more comfortable on
10:22 pm
k street than in a duck blind. >> the safest place you could be with wayne and a gun back then was in a different state because he really did not know anything about guns. politics, yes; guns, no. >> narrator: and inside the fractious politics of the nra, lapierre was skillful navigating between the sportsmen and the gun rights activists. >> wayne could put a finger to the wind and see which way it was blowing, and he would position himself so that neither side would be offended and might even think that he were in fact on that side. >> in an organization that is so beset by factionalism, his being unmoored to any particular point of view is actually very helpful for him in terms of being able to ride the torrents that have occasionally swept through the nra and emerge always on top.
10:23 pm
>> narrator: during the early battles with the clinton administration, those political skills were put to the test. in an effort to energize the gun rights activists, he released this incendiary fundraising letter. >> "...the semi-auto ban gives jack-booted government thugs more power to take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property, and even injure or kill us." >> aren't you concerned when you say, "nazi bucket helmets, government thugs, kicking down doors, killing, maiming people." aren't you inciting people? aren't you willing now to apologize for the tone of this letter? >> those words are not far, in fact, they are a pretty close description of what's happening in the real world. >> and in response to that, many mainstream republicans, george h.w. bush being the leading example, said, "this is not the nra i'm a member of." >> narrator: president bush resigned his lifetime membership
10:24 pm
in the nra. >> president clinton lined up the leadership of the national rifle association in his crosshairs today. the nra fundraising letter calling federal atf agents quote, "jack-booted thugs." >> narrator: before long lapierre was forced to backtrack. >> wayne, right up front, why the apology? >> well, larry, if you say something and you offend people and you didn't mean to, what you do is you apologize. we never meant that letter to broad-brush all of federal law enforcement, all of batf, or all of law enforcement in general. >> narrator: but to the nra's hardliners, lapierre was showing weakness. >> bad move. there was a big uproar from the nra membership over that. the membership wanted a tough guy. the membership wanted somebody that drew a red line, who didn't compromise, who didn't cave. >> narrator: and so in the spring of 1999, as clinton's proposal to close that gun show loophole now moved from the
10:25 pm
senate to the house, lapierre made a fundamental decision-- he would stand tough. >> what we see is the president now dusting off every tired old gun control bill that has been around his administration for the last six years. >> the nra needed to go and show that it could stand up to the president, that it could stand up, and it could toe-to-toe meet him in the ring and bash his brains out. >> narrator: the nra counterattack began by sounding the alarm to its members. (phone ringing) >> wayne la pierre, executive vice president of the national rifle association... >> this year more than ever, your vote really can make a difference. >> narrator: within days members received this fax from nra headquarters. >> the clinton-gore administration isn't wasting any time attempting to further its aggressive anti-gun agenda. >> fear is a much greater motivator in american politics than anything else. the fear of losing rights that you perceive you have, when that
10:26 pm
fear level is high, that's when the groups that represent the issue do well. (phone dialing) >> nra calling with an urgent legislative alert. >> narrator: the nra turned loose their members, flooding congressional offices with telephone calls and letters. >> you don't need thousands of people, and you don't need millions of dollars. you need hundreds of people who will get on the phone. and really, a couple hundred people to show up at a town hall meeting. you do that a couple of times, and your member of congress gets the message. >> i'm charlton heston. we need your help to protect... >> the nra's membership, if it had one political trait-- they vote. it's that simple. you are a politician. you want to get elected. you want votes. nra has votes. >> those in favor of the amendment will say aye. >> aye! >> those opposed will say no. >> no! >> members will record their votes by electronic device.
10:27 pm
>> narrator: after the nra lobbying blitz, the white house came up 22 votes short. >> gun control legislation on capitol hill was left for dead today on the floor. >> a hands-down victory for the nra. >> when i saw that after this horrific tragedy despite everything that people say about, "we have to do something to prevent this from happening again," when they couldn't do something as basic as that... i was livid. >> the national rifle association opens its annual convention today. >> the nra convention here is rallying the gun rights... >> holding its annual convention in charlotte. >> narrator: one year after columbine, it was time for another nra national convention. >> ladies and gentlemen, and members of the national rifle association of america, your president, charlton heston! >> narrator: they had overwhelmed the clinton administration and successfully demonstrated their power in congress. it had been a very good year for the nra. >> the nra is back!
10:28 pm
(cheers and applause) >> narrator: and now, the nra would take the offensive. >> that leads me to that one mission that is left undone: winning in november. (cheers and applause) >> the race between george w. bush and al gore, that's the last year that the gun issue played a critical role in american politics. >> narrator: now it was time to settle a score with the man who had broken that tie vote in the senate-- al gore. >> i want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed, and especially for you mr. gore. (laughter) from my cold dead hands! (cheers and applause) >> narrator: they would spend $20 million on the 2000 election, the most aggressive
10:29 pm
political campaign they had ever undertaken. >> al gore wants government testing, licensing and registration for all firearms owners. he cast the vote that would have shut down every gun show. this year, vote freedom first because if al gore wins, you lose. >> to all of you in west virginia, it's halloween and al gore doesn't need a mask to scare gun owners and hunters. >> the nra wins because it's patient and because long after america's dismay about these gun massacres has faded, the nra and its membership are still thinking about guns. >> good evening, everybody, and welcome to our election coverage 2000. >> stay with us. we're about to take you on an exciting and bumpy ride. >> narrator: on the night of the election, it all came down to a handful of critical states. >> the winner in ohio is mr. bush. >> narrator: one of the first to go was ohio. >> we found in the exit poll is gun owners, 40% of the voters in ohio are gun owners, and they went almost 60% for george w.
10:30 pm
bush. >> george w. bush gets west virginia. >> narrator: west virginia. >> west virginia, which has been solidly in the democratic column for a long, long time. >> bill clinton's home state has gone bush. >> narrator: and arkansas. >> six electoral votes and they go for bush. >> narrator: and even al gore's home state of tennessee. >> tonight, embarrassing vice president gore by snatching his state's 11 electoral votes. >> al gore lost his home state lost west virginia. these are states that he should have won. >> had any of those states gone the other way, al gore would have been president. >> florida goes bush, the presidency is bush, that's it. >> narrator: in washington, they say the nra was a decisive factor in al gore's defeat. >> in no small measure, it was that fight over guns after columbine that had the firearm community more enlivened engaged, and a few votes difference in florida, and the whole thing would have gone the other way. >> i, george walker bush, do
10:31 pm
solemnly swear that i will faithfully execute the office of president of the united states. >> narrator: george w. bush's inauguration would mark the beginning of a decade where gun control was off the agenda in washington. the assault weapons ban would expire. the supreme court would rule that individuals had a constitutional right to own guns. congress would pass a law to protect gun makers from lawsuits. the gun control forces were left in disarray. >> the gun control movement is fragmented. you don't have what you need to mount a true movement, which is committed warriors-- people who don't need money, who don't need fancy galas-- come out because they care. that's what the gun people have. >> narrator: for the nra, it was total victory.
10:32 pm
(phone ringing) (heavy breathing) >> 9-1-1. what's the location of your emergency? >> sandy hook school. i think there's somebody shooting in here, in sandy hook school. down the hallway... >> narrator: 11 years later. >> they're still around me. there's still shooting. >> narrator: 154 rounds from a bushmaster semi-automatic rifle. (rapid gunfire) >> newtown 9-1-1. what's the location of your emergency? >> narrator: it was friday morning, december 14. >> sandy hook elementary school. i believe there's shooting at the front-- it's still happening! >> okay. do you see anything or hear anything more? >> narrator: it lasted less than six minutes. >> i keep hearing shooting-- i keep hearing popping.
10:33 pm
>> narrator: this time it was six- and seven-year-olds. >> please hurry. please hurry! we smell fire from the gunshots. you guys come into my room now. get in here. >> okay, well... >> there's still shooting going on. please. >> i need, i need assistance here immediately. >> ah, i still hear him shooting. >> narrator: 20 children and six adults were shot dead. >> okay, get everyone you can going down there-- all right. let me... >> narrator: outside it was chaos. >> my daughter's in that building, please! >> i have five children who ran from sandy hook school. >> there were just more emergency vehicles and personnel and helicopters than i had ever seen in my life. i couldn't-- i just-- it was a surreal scene. i just couldn't believe it. >> narrator: mark barden's son daniel was a first grader at sandy hook elementary. >> more and more of the kids were being collected by their families and... no daniel, and there was this growing group of parents that were growing in concern, "where's my child?" >> narrator: nichole hockley's son dylan was another first grader at sandy hook.
10:34 pm
>> i saw some first graders-- but i couldn't-- they were all sitting down, but i couldn't see dylan's class. and you're searching, searching the eyes, searching the faces for someone that you recognize and i just... i couldn't. >> they told us that, "if you haven't been reunited with your loved one yet you're not going to be." so, that was just... >> and the room just erupted. but even then i still didn't believe that dylan was dead. because none of it made any sense whatsoever. this is a school. these are first-grade kids. (voice breaking): this doesn't happen.
10:35 pm
>> and you see on his face the pain and the angst. the president said it was the saddest day of his presidency. >> newtown had the same impact on barack obama that columbine had had on bill clinton. what happened in newtown broke his heart. it was devastating for everybody. >> the majority of those who died today were children-- beautiful little kids between the ages of five and ten years old.
10:36 pm
they had their entire lives ahead of them-- birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. >> you could see when he spoke just how sickened he was by the whole thing. >> as a country, we have been through this too many times. may god bless the memory of the victims and in the words of scripture, "heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds." >> narrator: this time obama decided to try to do something. >> it was like, "if this isn't going to do it, then what is?" and so they knew they had to act quickly, because you have to capture that concern and that attention that the issue's getting.
10:37 pm
>> narrator: he handed the job to vice president joe biden and told the staff to make something happen. >> it was in a context of sorrow, extreme, i mean... anger and frustration about why can't we do something about this. it was like enough is enough is enough. "put together something for me joe." >> narrator: this time it was also a crisis for wayne lapierre. >> within the inner circles of the nra, the wives of senior nra officials shedding tears and saying to their husbands "something has to happen. you have to do something different, honey." >> narrator: his advisors wanted him to lie low, but lapierre had a very different idea. expecting trouble, he hired personal security guards and headed into washington. >> without telling anyone, lapierre himself staged a press conference in washington, d.c.
10:38 pm
>> narrator: the media gathered. many expected a chastened and conciliatory lapierre. >> i think there was an assumption that surely he's going to throw the gun safety advocates, and for that matter the newtown parents, some kind of bone. >> narrator: but lapierre had something else in mind. >> the only way, the only way, to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. >> and he almost immediately goes right back to what they usually say, which is that the answer to this is more guns. >> what if, when adam lanza started shooting his way into sandy hook elementary school last friday, he'd been confronted by qualified armed
10:39 pm
security? >> his comments are aimed directly at the gun owners of america to rile them up, to get them behind the nra's no-holds- barred, never-say-die, you know, no-compromise position. >> our children... we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless, and the monsters and the predators of the world know it and exploit it. >> narrator: in washington, they said the speech was a political disaster. >> nra, stop killing our children! >> narrator: in new york city, lapierre was called "the craziest man on earth" and a "gun nut." but those who know lapierre say the speech was no miscalculation. >> this was not off the cuff. he didn't lose it. this was very thought out. and they decided on a strategy
10:40 pm
and they executed the strategy. >> because the people that it resonated with gave more money and this is what you need to do in order to keep that... that tough persona. >> and we've got to send the signal that this is not the time to compromise, that obama is the enemy. "and they want to take your guns away. yes, it's too bad about the kids, but we are not going to back down." >> narrator: in newtown once again, out of grief, an impromptu political movement was forming. >> friends and neighbors were determined to do everything within their power to make a difference. we created a name for our group, "sandy hook promise." we then developed a promise, which is the essence of what we believe must be done. >> i just had no idea what to do. i didn't know anything about gun violence. i didn't know anything about
10:41 pm
politics. >> it's been one month since i lost my son dylan, and 25 other families lost their loved ones. >> we don't really know what we're going to do or we don't really have an agenda. we're not sure what it wants to be yet. >> narrator: they began by talking to experts. >> the very first thing i said to them in our very first meeting was, "you are about to wade into the roughest waters in american politics. nothing is nastier than the gun debate." and they had what i think any reasonable expectation would be is, "we have just been through the worst gun event in the history of the united states. and something surely is going to change." >> narrator: some of the families wanted to push to outlaw the types of weapons used in the sandy hook shooting-- high-capacity magazines and assault weapons-- but the seasoned veterans of the political gun wars delivered a dose of reality. >> what i knew, and was able to impart eventually to them, was
10:42 pm
that a new assault weapons ban was not going to happen, that there was basically no appetite for that in congress, that the high-capacity clip ban made sense, but probably also was politically impossible in part because there just were so many high-capacity clips in circulation. you can buy them on the internet for ten dollars. >> that was an unfortunate learning for me in that there is going to be resistance to this. >> narrator: they were told the very best they could hope for was expanding background checks, closing that gun show loophole and even that would be an uphill battle. >> in memory of those lost, and in tribute to their families, i ask that you please join me now in a brief moment of silence. (sirens wailing) >> narrator: reality was setting
10:43 pm
in at the white house, too. as christmas approached, joe biden's task force debated how to respond. some worried the president himself would be a liability. >> since the president's trust with republicans was already so damaged from health care, from the fiscal cliff fights, and from all the other fights he'd had with them... if he were to say, "i want you to do this and i want you to do that," it would have been dead immediately. because most republicans didn't want anything to do with something that he supported. >> narrator: what the white house needed was someone from congress who could try to find middle ground in the highly polarized world of gun politics. >> as your senator, i'll protect our second amendment rights. that's why the nra endorsed me. i'll take on washington and this administration to get the federal government off of our backs and out of our pockets. and i'll take dead aim at the cap and trade bill. >> narrator: joe manchin, an a-rated nra member and junior
10:44 pm
senator from west virginia, was shaken by the newtown shootings. >> it really got to me. these are babies, five- and six- year-old children. who would have ever... it's just beyond my imagination, most americans', to conceive that anything this horrific could happen in america. >> light bulbs went off at the capitol. harry reid and chuck schumer and their aides realize, "wait a second. we now have a democrat with an a rating from the nra saying he wants to do something." >> narrator: manchin's plan was to draft a simple bill that would require background checks at thousands of gun shows where a significant number of sales take place. he hoped that even the nra would be on board. >> manchin's argument to the nra is, "look, you'll never find a gun safety bit of legislation that is as gun-friendly as this. and all we're really doing is closing a loophole." >> i felt this would be something that they would embrace.
10:45 pm
it was truly a time that wayne lapierre and the nra, the leadership, could have rose to another level, complete other level. >> narrator: with polls showing wide public support for expanding background checks, manchin and the vice president figured they had a chance. >> i was optimistic. over 91% of the american people supported expanding background checks. 80% of the households that had an nra member supported it. >> narrator: at first there was hope lapierre might go along with the bill. the nra went to meetings with manchin. >> they made some suggestions on some wording and changes from that standpoint, so yes, they had input. and we valued that input. >> we're starting to see almost a glimmer of possibility in washington where the nra is at least talking to manchin. >> narrator: but many in the gun rights community were furious at the talk of compromise. >> the two small groups, the gun owners of america and the
10:46 pm
national association of gun rights, began to circulate letters saying, "we hear that the nra is compromising with manchin"-- they used that word, the dreaded "c" word-- that there's a compromise bill. >> narrator: larry pratt was the executive director of gun owners of america, representing 300,000 of the most fervent gun rights activists. >> the manchin bill was not aiming at loopholes, it was aiming at nailing down some remaining freedom that american people have. gun control simply kills people. and for senator manchin to wave the bloody shirts of those children from newtown is... despicable. >> narrator: pratt quickly issued an alert to his members warning them about the nra's talks with manchin. >> we put out an alert saying, "please, if you belong to the nra, call this guy at this number and ask him to urge the
10:47 pm
powers that be to oppose the bill." >> narrator: at nra headquarters, they got the message. >> the nra's main anxiety at that moment is not losing, is not seeing something enacted. it's not looking soft to their own membership and to the substantial number of americans who probably number in the millions, who think the nra is not tough enough. >> narrator: in the middle of april, the nra pulled out of the talks. >> suddenly the nra stopped cooperating with manchin stopped returning their e-mails, stopped calling. >> narrator: lapierre launched a full-scale assault on the legislation. >> remember this tv ad? >> narrator: and even went after senator manchin. >> as your senator, i'll protect our second amendment rights. >> that was joe manchin's commitment, but now manchin is working with president obama and new york mayor michael bloomberg. concerned? you should be. >> senator manchin was vilified by the nra. it was almost like a personal
10:48 pm
vendetta. so they chewed up one of their own. it was stupid, absolutely stupid. >> narrator: the nra activated its playbook, denouncing the legislation, alerting its members and threatening lawmakers. >> you can deal with any things you know up front you're dealing with. i knew they were not going to be supportive. i was fine with that. i didn't know that they would be in opposition as strong as they would and come out as strong as they did. >> narrator: but the democrats had a secret weapon, and one day she appeared on capitol hill... gabby giffords. giffords had been pro-gun, the proud owner of a glock 17 handgun. >> we must do something.
10:49 pm
it will be hard, but the time is now. you must act. be bold. be courageous. americans are counting on you. thank you. >> it's decision day for new gun control legislation in the senate. >> the first votes taken today on the gun safety legislation. >> members of the families in the gallery today... >> with parents of the victims looking on... >> sitting in the gallery watching the vote, i was so anxious. and i genuinely thought we were going to be okay. it would be close, but i thought it would go through. >> mr. baucus, mr. begich... >> narrator: the votes of five key senators would decide the matter.
10:50 pm
none of them would agree to talk to frontline about their position. as the roll was called, the crucial votes were slipping away. >> i remember sitting there kind of in a daze... >> mr. lautenberg, mr. leahy mr. lee... >> ...and that's about all. i just... i'm sorry that i have such a... >> mr. reed of rhode island, mr. reid of nevada... >> you know, i think my psyche was just kind of letting in little bits at a time, it was just all so... such a whirlwind of craziness for me. >> mr. schumer, mr. scott, mr. sessions, mrs. shaheen mr. shelby... >> narrator: also watching in the gallery, tucson survivor pat maisch. >> i went from being sad to being mad. they're all down there in their good ol' boy stance, shaking hands, chatting. >> mr. wyden... (gavel banging) >> on this vote the amendment is not agreed to. >> like people's lives aren't in the balance on this, and i just thought they needed to be
10:51 pm
shamed. they should be ashamed of themselves. i stood up and said, "shame on you." shame on you! >> there will be order in the senate. >> because they needed to be shamed. shame on them. shame on me if after what i've gotten to witness i choose to be quiet. >> i'm surprised that she was the only one, actually, that burst out... because it was so intense and so charged. >> the gallery will refrain from any demonstration or comment. >> they felt betrayed. that's the word, betrayed. "how could they vote that way? don't they understand what happened? how can they do that? how can this be?" i mean it was disbelief and a sense of betrayal. that was the mood. >> narrator: manchin's bill had fallen five votes short.
10:52 pm
the defeat effectively ended any talk of a national effort at gun control. >> it's over for now. and it may be over for a very, very long time. >> victory builds the next victory, defeat builds the next defeat. we can't ever afford to lose one, because then we've lost something tangible and essential to the definition of being an american. >> narrator: in washington, they say the nra came out of the shootings at sandy hook stronger than ever. >> the nra plays the game of democracy more effectively than any other influence group in washington. it is an organization that works the levers of democracy in a way that is not illegal or improper, it's just very, very effective. >> mark my words. the nra will not go quietly into the night.
10:53 pm
we will fight! >> narrator: neither wayne lapierre nor any current nra official would agree to be interviewed for this film. >> next time on frontline... if you have a 401k or an ira that you're depending on to retire, don't miss this report. >> a lot of 401k programs stink. >> you put up 100% of the capital, you take 100% of the risk, and you get 30% of the return. >> from wall street's perspective, 401ks are a fantastic business. >> this whole thing's a scam and people are really getting hurt. >> frontline investigates... >> i'll be working for the rest of my life. >> ..."the retirement gamble." >> go to for more of frontline's reporting on the gun debate and the nra. >> they are the most feared special interest group. >> then subscribe to our youtube channel. >> now you can get original short frontline documentaries...
10:54 pm
>> then connect to the frontline community on facebook, twitter and our new tumblr page. and if stories like this matter to you, sign up for our newsletter at >> frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major support for frontline is provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. more information is available at additional support is provided by the park foundation dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. the ford foundation, working with visionaries on the front lines of social change worldwide. at the wyncote foundation. and by the frontline journalism fund, with major support from jon and jo ann hagler
10:55 pm
and additional support from millicent bell, through the millicent and eugene bell foundation. captioned by media access group at wgbh >> for more on this and other frontline programs, visit our website at >> frontline's "gunned down" is available on dvd. to order, visit or call 1-800-play-pbs. frontline is also available for download on itunes.
10:56 pm
mother: "what are you doing?" possibilities, your day is filled with them. dance instructor: "reach up, energy in the finger tips. collapse." woman: "t.v., play downton abbey." and pbs helps everyone discover theirs. anytime, anywhere. father: "up in the sky, you might see it." pbs, we're with you, for life.
10:57 pm
10:58 pm
10:59 pm
11:00 pm
riley: there's no greater challenge for an actor than to tackle the same character week after week, charting a subtle evolution that allows the audience to feel as though they're getting to know a real person. cheadle: you still have to be true to who these people are and i think that's the challenge. riley: on this episode of "variety studio: actors on actors," you'll find out firsthand what it's like for hollywood's top talent to take on some of the biggest and most unexpected challenges of their careers. fonda: do you know, i had never done episodic television before. riley: our exclusive one-on-one conversations include fearless females viola davis and jane fonda rock-star risk-takers don cheadle and claire danes funny guys matt leblanc and jesse tyler ferguson provocative pioneers julianna margulies and clive owen and in-demand newcomers uzo aduba and gina rodriguez.