Why the battle over guns is being fought at the state level

At the NRA’s annual convention, potential Republican presidential candidates took to the stage to try and woo one of the party’s biggest constituencies: the gun lobby. To discuss the politics of guns and how the debate is playing out on the state level, Judy Woodruff talks to Josh Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation.

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    It was widely reported today that Hillary Clinton will formally announce her run for the Democratic presidential nomination on Sunday. The former secretary of state, senator and first lady is expected to enter the ring via social media and then travel to early primary states.

    Meanwhile, a dozen potential Republican presidential contenders took to the stage at the National Rifle Association annual convention in Nashville to woo one of their biggest constituencies, the gun lobby.

    GOV. SCOTT WALKER, (R) Wisconsin: I'm proud to stand up and fight for law-abiding citizens and your right to possess firearms. I'm proud to stand up for the great American traditions that are true in my state and across this country of hunting and shooting, but, most importantly, I'm proud to stand up for freedom.


    I remember seeing people lying on the ground with bullet holes waiting to die.

    Then, as a surgeon, I spent many a night operating on people with gunshot wounds to their heads. And all of that is horrible. But I can tell you something. It is not nearly as horrible as having a population that is defenseless against a group of tyrants who have arms.

    FORMER GOV. JEB BUSH, (R) Florida: I earned an A-plus rating from the NRA. I was proud of that. Florida's pro-gun laws have been the model for other states. Today, there are well over 1.3 million law-abiding Floridians with a valid concealed weapons permit, 1.3 million.



    That's the most in the nation, nearly double that of the second state, which is Texas.

    Sorry, Governor Perry.



    Some of the potential Republican contenders speaking at the NRA meeting today.

    A broader look now at the politics of guns and how that debate is playing out at the state and local level.

    We are joined by Josh Horwitz. He's executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. And Alan Gottlieb, founder of The Second Amendment foundation, he is in Nashville for the NRA convention.

    We welcome you both.

    Alan Gottlieb, it used to be that the gun debate played out here in Washington. There were these — heavy lobbying, big debates over the Brady bill, over the ban on assault weapons. Today, the action seems to be moved to the states and the cities. Why is that?

  • ALAN GOTTLIEB, Second Amendment Foundation:

    Well, that's because the results of the midterm elections, when a lot of anti-gun politicians in Washington, D.C., got defeated for office.


    Meaning what? Meaning that the Congress is overwhelmingly pro-gun rights now?


    Oh, it most definitely is. The House was before. Now it's even stronger. And, of course, the leadership change in the Senate made a big difference, because now no anti-gun bills can even get out of committee in the United States Senate.


    So, Josh Horwitz, does that mean for your side, the side that supports gun control, you have given up on Washington?

    JOSH HORWITZ, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence: No, not at all.

    And we're going to work hard over the next two years to make sure that things like background checks that have some bipartisan support can get moving. I think it's important though to understand that Congress doesn't work very well, and trying to get anything through D.C. and through Capitol Hill is going to be hard. They can't do immigration. They can't do a host of other things.

    So, looking at this issue, it's difficult, like all issues are in Washington, which is one of the reasons we're focusing on the states.


    And what does that look like? Where are you focusing your efforts? What kinds of things are you trying to do?


    Well, I think it's important to go back and look what at happened the last couple of months.

    Washington State just passed a historic referendum on background checks. And now we will be looking for other states. So I think that you're looking at Oregon. There's a real push for background checks in Oregon. We will see another referendum in Nevada in 2016.

    There's also an effort to — we want to make sure we have background checks on all gun sales, but we also want to make sure that what's in the background check system makes sense, so that we want to make sure that people who are domestic violence abusers and violent misdemeanors with long records can't buy, access firearms.

    So we're doing two things, working on background checks and making sure that those checks stop the people who are dangerous from getting firearms.


    And, Alan Gottlieb, what is the gun rights movement doing to push back on these efforts?


    Well, Judy, in the last month alone, 16 states have passed pro-gun rights legislation in the areas of extending conceal-carry rights, where you can carry a firearm, reciprocity, and even Kansas now, which allows you to carry firearm for self-protection concealed without a permit.

    So we have scored 16 big victories in the last 30 days alone. And we plan to have more next month, as legislators roll up their legislation.


    And is it — are you targeting this? Are you picking places where you think you are going to have a better shot, one assumes? How do you make those decisions?


    Well, you pretty much make decisions on where you think you can get a bill passed.

    And the only places we tend to have problems are a couple of states like Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, states that already have very strict gun control laws that don't work.


    Is that pretty much, Josh Horwitz…


    I will push back a little bit on that.




    I think, if you look at a state like Virginia, where you have a Democratic governor, it's a purple state, a number — small number of bills did got through the legislature this year, but the governor vetoed them all.


    No, he didn't. He just signed two of them.


    I think that the battleground now is really these purple states, places like Minnesota, like Washington, like Oregon. These are the places — and they're not — they're well outside of Massachusetts, right?

    We saw Colorado pass an historic background check last year. So, we're really looking at the purple state. And the reason is, is because the people want these policies, and a lot of politicians are realizing it's finally good politics to do so.


    So, Alan Gottlieb, if it's playing out in the so-called purple states, where the Republican-Democrat balance is — where it's more evenly divided, what are these battles look like? What is it coming down to? Is it background checks?


    Well, most places have background checks. Sometimes, it is background checks.

    Like, in Colorado, as Josh just mentioned, a purple state, the state Senate just repealed some of the gun control that was passed last year. So we're making some gains in repealing some of the stuff that have just gotten through on the other side. I have no problem with background checks. The problem is how the bills are written, when they end up registering gun owners, and creating gun registries and making it impossible to loan a firearm to a friend or your secretary overnight to protect herself when she has a restraining order against an ex-boyfriend.

    Those are the kinds of laws that hurt gun owners. And we can't support them. You give us legitimate background check bills, we can support those. The problem is, is the ones being proposed have a lot of baggage in them. The devil is always in the details.


    And are you finding, Josh Horwitz, are you finding it possible to come together on this legislation, on this kind of legislation anywhere in the country?


    There actually are.

    I think this — the idea of keeping guns away from domestic abusers is gaining a lot of traction around the country. You're seeing Republicans and Democrats come together in places like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Louisiana, Virginia, working hard to make sure that those types of abusers, those types of people who are dangerous don't have access to firearms.

    So I think you have to pick in these specific issues. But I do think you're starting to see, look, we need to make sure that — even Alan is saying this — we need to make sure that people who are dangerous don't have firearms. We need to make sure that those people are in the database.

    And I think that's really where we're going to find some movement. And I think, over the next couple of years, you will see this play out in a very positive way.


    Alan Gottlieb, we started out listening to a few of the potential Republican candidates in their remarks today at the NRA.

    Did you hear something that stood out particularly for you? Or do these candidates all pretty much reach the same level of support for gun rights, in your view?


    Yes. I think everybody who spoke at the NRA convention who is a candidate for president pretty much supports gun rights. They may have some differences on what kind of bills they support or don't support, but they're all pretty much A-rated candidates, so to speak. There's no doubt about it.

    The problem we have, when Josh was saying trying to make progress, our problem, it's hard to make progress when people like President Obama polarize the issue so much, looking to ban certain bullets, ban magazines, ban certain firearms. It polarizes things and it makes everybody go into two sides and two camps. And, as a result, we don't get anything accomplished.


    How do you respond?


    Look, I'm glad to hear this.

    I think that there's — Alan is saying that there are some opportunities to go forward. I agree with that. I think one of the things that was unfortunate that the NRA convention today was this — so much — so many — all the Republican candidates were pledging fealty to the NRA and bashing Hillary Clinton.

    I think there is room in the middle. I think the American people want background checks. I think they want to make sure that violent people don't have access to firearms. I do think we're going to come together on those things.


    And we should say some of the Democratic candidates support gun rights as well.


    It goes — there is some bipartisan across there.


    All right.

    Well, gentlemen, we thank you. And we're going to leave it there.

    Josh Horwitz here in Washington, Alan Gottlieb joining us from Nashville, thank you.


    Thank you.

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