A gun rights advocate tricked by the parents of a teen killed in the Parkland school shooting into delivering a graduation speech for a fake Las Vegas high school class is speaking out. John Lott tells Fox News his words were "deceptively edited" to make it seem like he’s against background checks.
Lott, an author and former Department of Justice researcher under the Trump administration, and former National Rifle Association (NRA) President David Keene were both duped into delivering speeches at a Las Vegas stadium earlier this month during a graduation ceremony "dress rehearsal" for the since-discovered fake "James Madison Academy." Organizers of the ruse claim the thousands of empty chairs in the audience were meant to symbolize each of the 12th grade students killed this year before their graduation days.
Speaking with Fox News on Monday, Lott demanded organizers at the gun control group called "Change the Ref" release the entire about 15-minute video of his speech, arguing that his words were "deceptively edited" in the shorter snippets posted to YouTube. And unlike what the text slates in the videos claim, he does not oppose background checks for those purchasing firearms in the U.S.
"The whole point of my talk was how to fix the background check system," Lott said. "When they have me say ‘gun control groups fight tooth and nail,’ I wasn’t saying that they were fighting to get background checks and I was fighting against them – instead that they were fighting what I thought were reasonable fixes to the background check system."
According to Lott, when President Biden and Democrats argue that there are 3 million dangerous, prohibited people who have been stopped from buying guns due to background checks "that’s simply a lie." Lott argues there have been 3 million "initial denials," about 99% of which are mistakes that improperly stop law-abiding citizens from buying guns.
He said the system discriminates against Black and Hispanic males.
Due to felony records, 33% of Black males are prohibited from owning a gun, and their names can often be confused by the system with law-abiding Black males who want to buy guns to protect their families, Lott said.
"If my research convinces me of anything, it is that the people who benefit the most from owning guns are the ones who are most likely victims of violent crime – and that overwhelmingly tends to be poor Blacks who live in high crime urban areas," Lott said.
He argues the federal government must be required to meet the same standards as private companies on background checks.
"Why people fight against that is a mystery to me," Lott said. "You can see how incredibly distorted this whole thing was because they made me look like I’m the one fighting against reasonable background checks and yet the whole point of my talk that they made me have to do is to go and explain that they were the ones fighting against reasonable changes."
The group, "Change the Ref" — founded by Manuel and Patricia Oliver, whose son Joaquin "Guac" was killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — posted three videos with the titles "Lost Class" to YouTube last week showing highly edited versions of both Lott and Keene's speeches. Portions of the speeches are interrupted by audio from 911 calls of students describing bloody scenes.
"They thought they were speaking to James Madison Academy," a slate in one of the video reads. "But really, they were facing the consequence of years spent defending guns."
"For decades, Keene and Lott have used their power and influence to block background checks and common-sense gun reform, which could have saved thousands of these graduates’ lives," Change the Ref said. "Instead, they spoke to a field of 3,044 empty chairs about their ‘bright futures’."
As the speeches are delivered, the videos show 3,044 socially distanced empty chairs spaced out on the field – the number of high school seniors "Change the Ref" estimates from this year’s graduation class who died from gun violence.
"Picture for a minute the young James Madison for who this school was named – this year you focused on one of the most important of Madison’s amendments, the Second Amendment," Keene says in a cap and gown. "There are some who will continue to fight to gut the Second Amendment. But I would be willing to bet that many of you would be among those who stand up to prevent them from succeeding."
The videos argue that Keene and Lott have advocated against background checks.
"You have to understand we are talking about losing your son or daughter. I cannot find anything more painful in life than that," Manuel Oliver said in one of the videos. "This is about the empty chairs, my son, and all the kids who have to go through this bull ****, and no one pays attention to it."
Lott also explained to Fox News how organizers insisted he arrive in Las Vegas for the speech sooner than planned, forcing him to drive 17 hours through the night. And despite wanting to deliver an address with general life and career advice for the graduating class, rather than getting political, he said organizers told him students and faculty wanted him to focus on his gun activism.
"I was just going to go and give the type of advice I would give my kids about careers and how to get your first job," he said. "I can’t imagine making someone have to drive 17 hours like that through the night and lying to them constantly about why you’re having them do it."
Lott, noting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data on firearm homicides where victims were 18 or younger, told Fox News he questions how Change the Ref calculated 3,044 as the number for how many 12th grade students were killed by gun violence this year before graduating.
A webpage for the high school under the address jamesmadisonacademy.net has since been taken offline.
Lott previously told told KSNV he visited the website for the high school after being contacted in April for the speaking engagement..
"They insisted that I had to have half the talk, be on James Madison his views on Second Amendment, and, and, on background checks in particular," Lott told the station. "So I said well okay if that's really what you want I can do that but it seemed a little bit weird for a commencement address."
He said he received a call after the dress rehearsal that the graduation was canceled – and then stopped hearing from the organizers altogether.
Will Pregman, with progressive group Battle Born Progress, told KSNV that it was ironic that Keene and Lott "agreed to speak to a school without doing, ironically, a background check."