Sen. Lankford: Congress has to address issue of bump stocks

The political debate over gun control in the U.S. has been reignited by the tragedy in Las Vegas. Judy Woodruff speaks with Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., about the use of bump stocks in the attack and how Washington might respond, the role the gun lobby plays in this debate, plus the progress made by the Senate on the Russia investigation.

Read the Full Transcript


    We return to the debate over guns in the United States, a conversation taking place across the country this week, sparked by the tragedy in Las Vegas.

    Last night, we spoke with Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut.

    And, tonight, I'm joined by Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. He serves on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, among others.

    Senator, welcome back to the program.

    I know you're hearing the conversation about what the shooter used to increase the capacity of these weapons that he used to kill so many people, the so-called bump-stocks. Some Republican leaders in the Senate are saying they want to take a look at that. What is your view?


    Yes, we're trying to look at the whole situation, obviously.

    It's incredibly tragic. It's what we always say in this situation. There's so many violations of so many laws for this individual that they did, from bringing guns into a casino, to shooting people, obviously breaking — so he violated so many laws.

    Just trying to examine, is there another law in place that would have fixed all of this? As I say that, we also have to address the issue of bump-stocks. These were approved in 2010 under President Obama's time in the ATF. We want to go through the paperwork, which I have already pulled, to be able to take a look at how the approval was done.

    So, those are reasonable questions to be able to ask, why it was approved, why has it been allowed since then, what it actually accomplishes, and how that fits into our total life of where we are as a nation that honors the Second Amendment as well.


    So, based on what you know right now, do you think it's possible you could support banning these so-called bump-stocks?


    You know what? I don't know enough on it, to tell you the truth, to be able to answer that question or to be able to know how it would have affected this environment.

    What I can say right now is decades ago, the United States resolved that we don't allow the private possession of automatic weapons, except for a very small number of people. And while the individuals that sell the bump-stocks would say this doesn't turn a weapon into an automatic weapon, it certainly turns them into a weapon that features and acts like an automatic weapon in its own firing mechanism.

    So, those are questions that have to be resolved.


    What would be the use of a bump-stock? What would be the rational reason to need that for a gun, for a semiautomatic?


    It's not necessarily a need that for a gun. It is a — a lot in our own culture and in Oklahoma and in multiple other states, people just enjoy shooting sports.

    They enjoy going to the range and being able to fire different types of weapons of different calibers. It's a sport as much as it is anything. So there is always the question of, why do you need that for hunting? Not everything is actually done for hunting.

    Just like everyone who has golf clubs doesn't necessarily play golf all the time, sometimes, they just putt around in the yard. And that's what they enjoy doing.

    In Oklahoma, we have almost four million people. I can assure you, we have more than eight million guns in the state. So, individuals like to be able to do shooting sports and some hunting as well.

    So, that is a reasonable question to be able to ask, what is limiting a Second Amendment right, or what is something that is a resolved issue for us about automatic weapons that we have already resolved as a country?


    Is there anything else, Senator, about this shooting in Las Vegas that makes you rethink your support for gun laws as they exist today?


    Well, one of the things that Senator Cornyn and I examined years ago that we actually proposed the bill on was dealing with individuals that are on the terror watch list.

    How do we allow those individuals not to be able to purchase weapons and still have due process? So there are unresolved issues still that I think should be addressed.

    We have to be able to know the rest of the facts in this situation to be able to determine what could have actually been an impact to be able to get us to actually address that would have made a difference.

    Again, for someone who is intent on breaking the law in so many ways that this murderer broke the law in the process, we have to figure out, was there one more that would make a difference? And, if so, what is that, and let's try to address it.


    Senator, as you know, there is a lot of conversation about how powerful the National Rifle Association and other organizations that support gun rights are in this country and in the city of Washington.

    How much power do they have? Because it's been said that, not just Republicans, even Democrats are afraid to go up against the gun lobby, for fear that they will run somebody against them, will oppose them, that it is just a — that the power they have is way beyond what it should be.


    So, I would only say that people lose track of the fact that the NRA is not some random group that sits out there with a great power, that there are millions upon millions of Americans that agree with the perspective of the NRA. They're members of the NRA. They love shooting sports.

    They love recreationally shooting. And they know the NRA represents their opinion. So, the power is not in an organization. It's in millions of Oklahomans and from people all over the country, that that's where they are.

    Now, it's still the same question. They're going to speak out to the NRA if their perspective for anything. The NRA will then respond to their own members. I'm not accountable to the NRA. I'm accountable to almost four million Oklahomans.

    That's my accountability. And that's going to continue to be where I'm going to listen first.


    Senator, another subject I want to ask you about tonight, in the little bit of time we have left, you're also on the Senate Intelligence Committee. There was a news conference today by the co-chairs, the chair and the vice-chair, of the committee about the progress that you have made in the Russia investigation, looking at the impact they had on the American elections last year.

    How close would you say your committee is to getting to the bottom of this?


    Well, we're very close in some areas, and we're undone in some others.

    It's what the chairman and vice chairman tried to articulate today. There are some areas that are nearly closed for us. Closed doesn't mean settled. Closed means we have gone through all the interviews, found all the facts that we think we're going to be able to find. Open means there are still some additional interviews we're going to do.

    We have done 100 interviews. We have gone up to 100,000 pages of total research. We have got 4,000 pages of transcripts. There's a lot of work that has already been done. But we still have some open areas that, when you interview one person, they will mention two or three other names in that interview.

    That means we're going to interview those two or three other people to be able to get the rest of the story. So, that part, we still continue.

    We're — but, as I mentioned, it's hard to be able to tell whether we're halfway, all the way. I think we're well past halfway, personally, but you never know until you finish all the interviews and chase all the leads down.


    How disturbed are you, finally, Senator, by what you have learned so far?


    I'm disturbed to be able to know that the Russians, who have tried to interfere in so many European elections, in so many elections around Russia, have now used those same tactics on the United States, and they still continue to be able to press.

    They find areas where there's dispute and try to destabilize democracies by trying to raise the volume of conflict. We as Americans argue about a lot of things. That's the nature of being an American, and entirely appropriate for us to be able to work out our differences.

    When a foreign power tries to reach in and amp up the volume of our conflict, that's a very different story. And when they try to influence an election, that's a very, very different story.

    So, that's disheartening and that's frustrating. It's that's also a wakeup call to every state election board that the Russian government is coming after them, and they're very attentive to try to find some way to be able to alter their election rolls or to be able to find some way to be able to alter the way that elections are done there.

    So, they should pay very close attention. They were not successful in doing that last year, but they were certainly probing to try to find a way to be able to do it. It's a wakeup call for them to make sure they pay attention to next year.


    Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, we thank you.


    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment