This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from witnesses on both sides of the gun divide who were there to answer the question: “What Should America Do About Gun Violence?”
Former Rep. Gabriel Giffords (R-AZ), who was shot in the head by a deranged gunman at a political gathering near Tucson in 2011, opened the hearing with an impassioned plea for gun control.
“Speaking is difficult but I need to say something important,” Giffords said. “Too many children are dying. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be courageous, Americans are counting on you.”
Also in attendance was Giffords’ husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, who gave his own testimony on the matter.
Kelly spoke about high-capacity magazines and how the gunman who shot Giffords emptied his 30-plus round magazines in 15 seconds, “causing 33 wounds” (EDIT TO ADD: hitting 19 people) including a fatal wound to a nine-year-old girl.
He then touted the importance of universal background checks, saying “I can’t think of something that would make our country safer than doing just that.”
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, who was one of the pro-gun voices at the hearing, shot down the notion that an assault weapons ban or universal background checks would curb gun-related violence.
LaPierre argued that the measures in President Obama’s proposal, many of which have been drafted into bills that are now before Congress, “only serve to burden the law-abiding [and] have failed in the past and will fail in the future.”
At one point during the hearing, the chairman of the committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked LaPierre point blank about universal background checks: Should we have mandatory background checks for private sales? Yes or No?
The NRA chief talked around the point blaming the federal government for not enforcing current laws, until he was forced to give a yes or no answer. LaPierre said, “I do not believe the way the law is working now, unfortunately, that it does any good to extend the law to private sales between hobbyists and collectors.”
“Ok. So you do not support mandatory background checks in all instances at gun shows?” Leahy asked.
LaPierre replied, “We do not because the fact is the law right now is a failure the way it’s working. The fact is you have 76,000 some people that have been denied under the present law, only 44 were prosecuted — you’re letting them go, they’re walking the streets.”
Backing this position was law professor David Kopel, Research Director of the Independence Institute (Guns.com interviewed Prof. Kopel in the past) who stated that, “universal background checks can only be enforceable if there is universal gun registration.”
“Registration,” Prof. Kopel added, “paves the way for gun confiscation.”
Kopel also stressed the importance of having armed personnel in schools, arguing the best way to save lives was to have “lawful armed self-defense in the schools, not only by armed guard but also by teachers.”
Overall, universal background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines seemed to be the primary focus of the hearing. There was only tepid support for Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Assault Weapons Ban.
Given the waning interest in her bill among the speakers at the Wednesday hearing, Sen. Feinstein wants to assemble her own panel and hold her own hearing on ‘military-style assault’ weapons.
“I’m concerned and registered my concern with Sen. Leahy yesterday, that the witnesses are skewed to the anti-gun [control], anti-assault weapons [ban] position,” Feinstein told POLITICO. “He agreed that I would be able to do my own hearing on the assault weapons legislation which I will proceed to do.”
Despite what appears to be overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Feinstein believes her AWB has a chance of passing through the Senate.
“I believe we have the votes on the Democratic side to pass out the bill,” Feinstein said.