TOPICS > Politics

Targeting Guns

March 2, 2000 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: The future of gun control on Capitol Hill. We are joined by two members of the House Judiciary Committee: Asa Hutchinson, Republican from Arkansas, and Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York.

Congressman Hutchinson, when you hear the story of a 6-year-old shooting another 6-year-old, among other things, among the kind of mind-numbing nature of it, it also predictably starts the debate again on Capitol Hill. Henry Hyde, the chairman of your Judiciary Committee, said today there might be some room for some sort of gun control legislation this year, do you agree with that?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, I think so, I think the parties ought to be able to come together to address the major issue, which is keeping guns out of the hands of children, and the safety lock is designed to do that, and then secondly, keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. And so those are the two major issues that I think we can reach agreement on, and we ought to do so. This type of tragedy certainly draws the nation’s attention and the lawmakers to things that we can agree upon, hopefully requires us to avoid the extremes, which prevented us from coming to agreement last year.

But you’ve got to look at the broad range, too, of issues, not just the guns. Here you’re talking about a culture of violence in a home, a home of neglect, and you’ve got to look at a broad range of things from the problem of drugs to the problem of homes that are in disarray and child neglect. The prosecutor here really indicated that. So it’s not just a matter of guns, although that is something we need to address.

GWEN IFILL: Congressman Nadler, is it a matter of us failing to address the culture of violence that underlies these kinds of episodes, or is it that Congress just simply can’t agree to agree if there’s a role for them in this?

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Well, certainly we ought to address whatever we can about the culture of violence, but frankly that’s being used by people subservient to the NRA — such as most of the Republicans in Congress — as an excuse. The home circumstances of that 6-year-old was certainly not good circumstances, but what was really the problem was that he was able to find a gun lying around on a bed under a blanket. That gun shouldn’t have been there. That gun should have had a trigger lock so that he couldn’t use it, and frankly, we ought to have registration and licensing of handguns so we can trace them. We ought to have a waiting period — we ought to close the gun show loophole so that we don’t sell guns to criminals or maniacs.

These aren’t extreme measures, such as Congressman Hutchinson said, these are measures that we should do. And, unfortunately, the NRA is one of the largest financial supports of the Republican Party and it’s got a lot of vote pressure as well. And that’s why there’s only been one meeting of the conference committee to discuss the differing versions of the gun legislation put forth by the House and Senate last year in seven months, because the Republican leadership doesn’t want to pass any gun control legislation.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Hutchinson, if there had been a trigger lock, if Congress had passed just that one single provision, putting trigger locks on guns to stop their access by children, would this episode not have occurred?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: I supported the trigger lock provision, and that would have mandated the sale of a trigger lock with a handgun. That gives parents the tool that is needed, but it doesn’t mandate that parents use the trigger lock. And, secondly, obviously if have you a criminal or someone who doesn’t care or someone who has the gun under the pillow for protection, they’re not going to have the trigger lock there.

In this instance, it appears that this was a crack house. The gun was there. It was taken, and obviously it was there for some type of protection, something to do with drugs. Trigger locks would not have prevented this particular circumstance. We should make that available. But I think that — and Mr. Nadler pointed out the disagreement in the last Congress — 95 percent of the Democrats voted against a common-sense gun provision that would have reduced the availability of guns at gun shows, would have provided some trigger lock provisions. And, yet, they wanted to go further.

And so I think that we can come together — and I hope — I know that Mr. Hyde is meeting with the president next week, and that they will be able hopefully to reinvigorate this Congress not to punish innocent citizens and prevent them from enjoying the constitutional rights they have, but to keep it out of the hands of criminals and out of the hands of children.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Nadler.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: That’s not a true statement — what was just made. Ninety-five percent of Democrats voted against a phony Republican gun control bill that had some restrictions in it, but that loosened existing law in ways that would have made more guns available to more people, and that the NRA supported that phony. If the NRA supported it, you know it’s phony gun control.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Nadler and Mr. Hutchinson, I feel like we’re on a merry-go round. Weren’t we having this same conversation after Columbine last year?

REP. JERROLD NADLER: We were having the same conversation, and frankly the only way we’re going to make progress is either if the Republican Party or large parts of it stop being subservient to the NRA, instead of to their, to their constituents, or if we have a Democratic Congress.

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, I really don’t think we need to address this in partisan tones. There were a large number of Democrats — John Dingell supported a major provision that Mr. Nadler is objecting about — a leading Democrat. And so certainly there’s a difference of viewpoints expressed here; it’s not always in partisan tones. I think that we can come together on this. We have the same objective of tightening up the availability of guns at gun shows, and secondly, keep them away from children. We can sit down at the same table together, but we have to stop playing politics with it and really look at the substantive issue, how we can agree and not just let this thing die.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Let me say there is a very clear partisan distinction here. Out of the 205 or so Democrats in the House, better than 170 voted for real gun control, and about 30 are opposed to it. Of the Republican’s 220-odd members, it’s just about the opposite exactly, maybe 25 or 30 Republicans support gun control, and the balance are oppose to it and support only phony nonsense that the NRA will go along with. And frankly, it’s not being divisive; it’s saying the simple truth that people don’t want to hear, that you’re going to get meaningful gun control only if either the Republican Party stops becoming subservient to the NRA, or there’s a change in partisan control of Congress, one or the other.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s assume for a moment that the president in inviting members of Congress to come to the White House next week, wants to find a way around this impasse. Would you go to this meeting, if invited, Mr. Hutchinson?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: I would go in a moment.

GWEN IFILL: What would you expect to come of it?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, I think that we need to talk about — we’re in agreement on the child safety locks, and I think that we can pass that very quickly. I think that in regard to the gun shows there’s a real question here, and really the debate is between a 24-hour time in order to do the background checks or a longer 72-hour period. This is something that we might need to put some more money into, to make sure the technology is there, to make the background checks in a quick enough fashion but this is something that people in good faith can agree upon. I think the president can be helpful in that process to get — it might not be all that Mr. Nadler wants out this year, but let’s get something out that can solve the major problems and we can continue the debate.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Well, you’re not going to solve the major problems unless you get some more far-reaching provisions, such as solving the gun show loophole with at least a 72-hour waiting period, because otherwise you can’t guarantee that those guns don’t get into the hands of criminals and maniacs, such as banning the importation of large-clip magazines, which are only useful for shooting people, such as some sort of registered — licensing for handguns. You know, we license cars because we know that irresponsible people who don’t know how to drive shouldn’t be driving cars, and people who don’t know how to use a gun frankly shouldn’t be sold guns.

GWEN IFILL: What about gun registration, Mr. Hutchinson?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: I’m not supportive of that. I think that we do need to improve technology that we can provide more protection that way.

GWEN IFILL: But that takes money, too, presumbably.

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: Sure. I think we’re going to have to do more in terms of research. But let me come back again. I think this debate on guns is very important, but let’s don’t lose sight, though, also here. We have to — no matter how many laws you pass, it’s still going to come down to hearts, and neglectful parents — you’re going to come down to crime, you’re going to have the problem of drugs, and we have to address all of these.

And certainly I’ve learned something from this — that we’ve got to do more for the home; we’ve got to do more for our welfare agencies that are struggling with this particular problem. And so I hope that we can broaden the debate. I mean, crack cocaine was an issue here. We’re dealing with a Colombian issue, and so as to the cocaine coming in — we have got to address this from a national standpoint and a broad perspective I hope we can broaden the debate.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: But the fact is that we have to deal with all those issues, but as far as gun control is concerned, that’s the red herring. You look at other countries that have social problems, similar social problems, Great Britain, Germany. Great Britain had 30 people murdered with handguns in 1996, Germany 200, the United States 9,400. And that’s really not because we have much worse social problems than Britain does or Germany does, but because we have easy availability of handguns to everybody who wants one, and they have more intelligent –

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Nadler, do we expect to see action this year?

REP. JERROLD NADLER: I think we’ll see action this year. I’m afraid the action will be only be on minor things because I don’t think the Republicans, as long as they’re subservient to the NRA, are not going to really be willing to do anything major.

GWEN IFILL: I get the feeling you think the Republicans are subservient to the NRA. I think you said that about five times. Do you think they’ll be activists here, Mr. Hutchinson?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: I think so, but it’s going to take some cooperation from both sides. We can go into this conference committee and meet, and we can put these proposals on the table, but if you lock in a position on the side it’s got to be 72 hours or it’s got to be some other provision and there’s not any budget — it’s very, very difficult, it has to take both sides to do this, and I think the president’s approach is good. Let’s bring the parties to the table and let’s encourage this.

GWEN IFILL: We certainly can’t solve this tonight. We’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you very much, Jerrold Nadler and Asa Hutchinson.