WASHINGTON -- The gun control debate comes to a head today on Capitol Hill as two of the biggest names from opposing sides of the battle will testify.
The two sides will face off in the fierce debate. Some of the most prominent figures from both camps will be testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the first of a series of hearings, being called for by Democrats who are eager to enact gun control legislation.
Hoping to head off new restrictions on guns, the chief executive officer and executive vice president the National Rifle Association will testify before Congress. Wayne LaPierre will argue—according to prepared statements—the federal government should not “dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families.”
LaPierre made waves with a provocative speech after the Newtown, Conn., massacre arguing that the answer to gun violence was more guns, not fewer. He said at the time, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
He’ll also come out against beefing up background checks for gun buyers—an idea that’s gaining bipartisan support. “Let’s be honest,” says LaPierre in his prepared remarks, “background checks will never be ‘universal’ because criminals will never submit to them.”
On the other side of the debate is astronaut Mark Kelly—whose wife—former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was badly injured in the Tucson shooting in 2011. A gun owner himself, Kelly will argue that assault weapons like the one that was used to wound his wife and kill six others don’t belong on the streets.
The politics of gun safety are complicated on Capitol Hill. Even some of the most liberal senators are supporters of gun rights, including Sen. Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, who will be chairing today’s hearing.
The Senate’s Democratic leader, Harry Reid, of Nevada, was non-committal when asked what he thought of an assault weapons ban introduced by his colleague from California, Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Reid said, “She believes in it fervently, and I admire her for that. I’ll take a look at that.”
And any move to restrict gun ownership will be met with fierce opposition from the right. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has said, “Gun violence is not a disease, and lawful gun ownership is not a disease. It is a constitutionally protected, individual right. “
Gun laws in the District of Columbia are pretty strict, but a pair of Republican senators on the committee are pushing for the committee to work with law enforcement so that at the next hearing they can bring in some semi-automatic weapons. The point they want to make, they said, is these weapons, in the hands of law-abiding citizens are perfectly safe.
Bill Bratton, who has run police departments in Los Angeles, New York City and Boston, said on “CBS This Morning,” if he were in a position to do something about guns in the U.S., he would expand the use of background checks and controlling criminal behavior. He said, “Currently 40 percent of the guns bought in the United States are bought without background screening beforehand. Secondly, I think there’s a lot more that can be done relative to controlling the behavior of criminals who use guns in the commission of a crime. I think we’re very sporadic around the country and our enforcement of gun laws and those who break the law while using a firearm. A lot of the crime reduction we experienced in Los Angeles and New York was because we controlled behavior, and we can control a lot more of the behavior, those who use guns to commit acts of violence by making sure they’re punished for their crimes.”
Asked if he thinks Congress can do anything on this issue, Bratton said he’s not “optimistic about this Congress in any way, shape, or form,” but on the issue of gun violence, he’s looking for incremental steps. “If we with could have kept the assault weapon out of the hands of that young man in the Newtown school shootings, those 26 lives would have been saved by just keeping it out of his hands. I’m great believer in incremental steps. I’m an optimist.”
Asked about LaPierre’s statements that Congress will not pass any new gun law measures, Bratton said he’s “wrong this time out.” He said, “I think that the increase in background checks will probably go through. I think there’s some potential for limiting the number of ammunition clips that hold excessive numbers of rounds. I think certainly some of the mental health issues and some of the school training issues that the president has been proposing in his comprehensive package will probably go forward. Again, none of this is a panacea. You are not going to eliminate gun violence, but every incident that you reduce, you save a life, and that’s worth doing.”