That means I do not want applause for or against any position I might take or anybody else takes. The Capitol Police have been notified to remove any audience member who interferes with the orderly conduct of this important hearing.
This incidentally, is a warning I give at many hearings.
We’re going to hear a lot of different perspectives on gun violence.
And both Senator Grassley and I will give opening statements . But we have a former member of Congress here, Gabby Giffords, who’s going to give a brief message and -- and leave.
And Captain Kelly, thank you for your help in bringing your wife here.
GIFFORDS: OK . Thank you for inviting me here today. This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats and Republicans.
Speaking is difficult. But I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something.
It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous, Americans are counting on you.
LEAHY: Captain Kelly, do you want to help Ms. Giffords out? And we’ll give you a few moments and then...
LEAHY: We return to the hearing.
LEAHY: And I -- I thank former Congressman (sic) Giffords and -- and her husband. We will be calling up the witnesses shortly. And Senator Grassley and I will give our opening statements.
You know, on December 14th, America’s heart was broken when 20 young children and six dedicated educators were murdered. This is the first Judiciary Committee hearing of the 113th Congress. And I want everybody here to join the discussion as part of a collective effort to find solutions, to help ensure that no family, no school, no community ever has to endure such a grievous tragedy again.
We have to come together today as Americans seeking common cause. I hope we can forego sloganeering and demagoguery and partisan recrimination. It’s too important for that. We should all be here as Americans. Every American abhors the recent tragedies. In just the last two years, an elementary school in Connecticut; a movie theater in Colorado; in a sacred place of worship in Wisconsin; in front of a shopping mall in Arizona. And Americans are looking to us for solutions and for action. This committee is a focal point for that process.
I’ve introduced a measure to provide law enforcement agencies with stronger tools against illegal gun trafficking. Others have proposed restrictions on military-style weapons and the size of ammunition clips. Others have proposed modifications to the background check system to keep guns out of the wrong hands while not unnecessarily burdening law-abiding citizens.
I’m a lifelong Vermonter. I know gun store owners in Vermont. They follow the law. They conduct background checks to block the conveyance of guns to those who should not have them. And they wonder why others who sell guns do not have to follow these same protective rules. And I agree with these responsible business owners.
If we could all agree that criminals and those adjudicated as mentally ill should not buy firearms, why should we not try to plug the loopholes in the law that allows them to buy guns without background checks? It’s a simple matter of common sense. And if we agree that the background check system is worthwhile, shouldn’t we try to improve its content and use it so it could be more effective? What responsible gun owner objects to improving the background check system? When I buy firearms in Vermont, I go through the background check. I would expect everybody else to.
Now, at the outset of this hearing, I note that the Second Amendment is secure and will remain secure and protected. In two recent cases, the Supreme Court has confirmed that the Second Amendment, like the other aspects of our Bill of Rights, secures a fundamental individual right. Americans have the right to self- defense; as the court has said, to have guns in their homes to protect their families. No one can take away those rights or their guns.
Second Amendment rights are the foundation on which our discussion rests. They’re not at risk. What is at risk are lives. Lives are at risk when responsible people fail to stand up for laws that will keep guns out of the hands of those who use them to commit murder, especially mass murders. I ask that we focus our discussion on additional statutory measures to better protect our children and all Americans. I say this as a parent and as a grandparent.
Ours is a free society, an open society. We come together today to consider how to become a safer and more secure society. No one begrudges the government assistance provided to victims of mass tragedies made possible by the law we passed after the bombing in Oklahoma City. The bill introduced last week against gun trafficking will similarly prove helpful, and I believe will become an accepted part of our crime control framework.
LEAHY: It, too, is common-sense reform. It fills a hole in our law enforcement arsenal so that straw purchasers who acquire weapons for criminals can be prosecuted more effectively. Last Thursday, the president nominated the U.S. attorney for Minnesota -- and we have two from his state here on this committee -- nominated the U.S. attorney to direct the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. And I trust that all the senators will cooperate in a prompt hearing in action on that nomination. We will join (ph) good faith to strengthen our law enforcement efforts against gun violence and to protect public safety.
As a responsible governor and someone who cherishes all of our constitutional rights, as a senator who has sworn an oath to uphold those rights, as a father and a grandfather, and as a former prosecutor who has seen the results of gun violence firsthand in graphic detail, I undertake these efforts with the hope that this hearing can build consensus around common sense solutions.
Previous measures to close the gun show loophole or to improve the background check system have been bipartisan. And I hope in this new Congress, further improvements will also become bipartisan. We could act together as Americans. I have said what kind of measures I can support. Now I ask other senators to come forward and do, as well. I will ask our witnesses what legislative proposals they support to make America safer, and I thank everybody here for joining in today’s discussion.
GRASSLEY: Mr. Chairman, and thank you, as well, for this hearing. And thanks to everybody who is here, and, particularly, our witnesses.
What happened at Newtown shocks our nation. We will never forget where we were or how we reacted when we learned that 20 very young children and six adults were killed that day, or if we forgot about that specific incident, you don’t forget about all the tragedies that have happened recently.
As a grandfather and great- grandfather, I cannot imagine how anyone would commit an evil act like that. And I cannot ever begin to know what it would be like to be a relative of one of those slain children. We pray for the families who continue to mourn the loss of loved ones. We pay for -- pray for all victims of violence and guns, by guns and otherwise. Clearly, violent crimes and those who commit them are a plague on our society, one that has been with us for far too long. We have looked at these issues before, but I welcome this renewed discussion. I think the need for the judiciary committee to hold hearings after Newtown is very clear. All over America, people were appalled by what happened to those vulnerable and precious victims. And we all want to exam (ph) sensible actions that could reduce the likelihood of future crimes.
And we’ve extended a special welcome to former Congresswoman Giffords. She was doing what a conscientious representative should do, but I hope all of us do, taking the pulse of constituents to represent them in Congress. She was representing the people of her congressional district when a gunman opened fire. The shooting was a horrible tragedy, but her determination to overcome her injuries, progress through rehabilitation, and continued contribution to society are an inspiration, or at least should be an inspiration to all of us. I thank her for being here today and with her husband, Captain Kelly.
Although Newtown and Tucson are terrible tragedies, the deaths in Newtown should not be used to put forward every gun control measure that’s been floating around for years. Because the problem is greater than just guns alone, and I think the chairman’s speech indicates that, as well. Any serious discussion of the causes of gun violence must include a complex re-examination of mental health as it relates to mass shootings. Society, as a whole, has changed as well, and that statement’s made. It’s difficult for remeasure, (ph) but I think you see a lack of civility in American society has grown considerably in the last couple decades.
GRASSLEY: You see it here on the -- in the Congress, as well, when we are partisan and don’t treat each other with the respect that we ought to. There are too many video games that celebrate the mass killing of innocent people, games that, despite attempts at industry’s self-regulation, find their way into the hands of children.
An example: One video game released November 2009, which has sold over 22 million copies in the U.S. and U.K., was for foreign distribution because the opening level depicted shooting innocent civilians in an airport security line.
This game was specifically cited in a manifesto of the Norway mass shooter as, quote, “part of my training simulation,” end of quote, for carrying out his attacks.
Where is the artistic value of shooting innocent victims? I share of vice president Joe Biden’s disbelief of manufacturer denial that these games have no affect on real-world violence.
Above all, we should not rush to pass legislation that will not reduce mass killings. Banning guns based on their appearance does not make sense. The 1994 assault weapon ban did not stop Columbine. The Justice Department found the ban ineffective. Scholars have indicated that refining or expanding such legislation will not cut gun violence.
I also question the limitation on magazine capacities. Those can be circumvented by carrying multiple guns, as many killers have done.
We hear that no one needs to carry larger magazines than those that hunters used to shoot deers (sic), but an attacking criminal, unlike a deer, shoots back.
I do not think that we may be able -- I do think that we may be able to work together to prevent straw purchasers from trafficking in guns.
The oversight work I conducted on illegal Operation Fast and Furious shows that there are some gaps in this area of law that should be closed.
Besides legislative proposals, the presently -- president recently took 23 executive actions on guns. And without knowing exactly how they’re worded, we don’t -- can’t find fault with them. And probably should not find fault with a lot of his actions.
Despite this administration’s claim to be the most transparent in history, the text of these actions is still not posted on the White House website, only very brief statements about what they do.
But all of those executive actions could have been issued years ago or after the Tucson shooting or after Aurora. Why only now?
One order directs the Center for Disease Control to research causes of gun violence. Contrary to what you may have heard, Congress has never prohibited CDC from researching gun violence rather.
Rather, Congress prevented federal research to, quote, “advocate or promote gun control,” which some government researchers had been doing under the guise of taxpayer-supported science.
Had Congress actually prohibited gun violence research, the president could not legally have directed CDC to conduct that research.
I was taken aback when the president cited the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as sources of government power to restrict gun ownership rights.
The Constitution, in fact, creates a limited federal government. It separates powers among branches of the federal government and preserves state power against federal power.
The framers believed that these structures would adequately control the government so as to protect individual liberty. But the American people disagreed. They feared that the Constitution gave the federal government so much power that it could be tyrannical and violate individual rights. So the Bill of Rights was added.
Each of those rights, including the Second Amendment, was adopted to further limit government power and protect individual rights.
President Obama’s remarks turned the Constitution on its head. He said, quote, “The right to worship freely and safely, that right was denied to Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.”
Quote, “the right to assemble peacefully, that right was denied shoppers in Clackmas, Oregon, and moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. That most fundamental set of rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are fundamental rights that were denied to college students at Virginia Tech and high school students at Columbine and elementary school students in Newtown,” end of quote.
But this is not so. Except for its prohibition on slavery, the Constitution limits only actions of government, not individuals.
So, for instance, the right to peacefully assemble protects individual rights to organize, to protest, and seek to change to government action. That right is trivialized and mischaracterized as protecting shopping and watching movies.
GRASSLEY: And those constitutional rights are not the source of governmental power to enact legislation, as the president suggested. In fact, just the opposite: They were included in the Bill of Rights because throughout history, governments have wanted to shut up those who would criticize government, to suppress unpopular religions, or to disarm people.
The president’s citing of constitutional protections of individual rights is the basis for expanding federal power over the lives of private individuals. This is the same president who exceeded his power under the Constitution to appoint recess appointments. So, no wonder millions of Americans fear that the president might take executive action and Congress may enact legislation that could lead to tyrannical federal government.
So, I cannot accept the president’s claim that, quote, “There will be politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of tyrannical all-out assault on liberty, not because that’s true, but because they want to gin up fear,” end of quote. This necessarily and understandably leads many citizens to fear that their individual rights will be violated. And that extends well beyond the Second Amendment. It should be a matter of deep concern to all of us. The Constitution for 225 years has established a government that is the servant of the people, not the master.
So, Mr. Chairman, as we consider and debate legislation arising from these tragedies, I hope that we will proceed with proper understanding of the relationship that the Constitution establishes between government power and individual liberty, and I hope we will pass those bills that would actually be effective in reducing gun violence.
I welcome the witnesses and look forward to this hearing. Thank you very much.
LEAHY: Thank you.
I’d ask that Captain Mark Kelly, Professor David Kopel, Chief James Johnson, Ms. Gayle Trotter and Mr. Wayne LaPierre step forward. Just stand behind your chairs for the moment and I can swear in the panel at one time.
Please raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you’re giving us is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
Let the record show that all witnesses have been sworn in.
Please take your -- take your seat. What I’m going to suggest we do, I’m going to call on each witness. We’re going to try to keep to fairly strict time and call on each one to give their testimony. Then, we’ll open it to questions in the usual way, alternating on both sides.
Our first witness is Mark Kelly. He’s -- our first witness is Mark Kelly. He’s a retired astronaut and U.S. Navy captain. Captain Kelly recently co-founded Americans for Responsible Solutions. This is an advocacy group that promotes solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership. He is with his wife, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
So Captain Kelly, please go ahead, sir.
KELLY: Thank you, Chairman Leahy and Ranking Member Grassley for inviting me here today. I look forward to a constructive dialogue with your committee.
I also want to take the opportunity to congratulate Gabby’s friend and much-respected former colleague, Jeff Flake, on his new role as Arizona’s junior senator.
As you know, our family has been immeasurably affected by gun violence. Gabby’s gift for speech is a distant memory. She struggles to walk and she is partially blind. And a year ago, she left a job she loves, serving the people of Arizona.
But in the past two years, we have watched Gabby’s determination, spirit and intellect conquer her disabilities. We aren’t here as victims. We’re speaking to you today as Americans. We’re a lot like many of our fellow citizens following this debate about gun violence. We’re moderates. Gabby was a Republican long before she was a Democrat.
We’re both gun owners and we take that right and the responsibilities that come with it very seriously. And we watch with horror when the news breaks to yet another tragic shooting. After 20 kids and six of their teachers were gunned down in their classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary, we said: “This time must be different; something needs to be done.” We are simply two reasonable Americans who have said “enough.”
On January 8th of 2011, a young men walked up to Gabby at her constituent event in Tucson, leveled his gun and shot her through the head. He then turned down the line and continued firing. In 15 seconds, he emptied his magazine. It contained 33 bullets and there were 33 wounds.
KELLY: As the shooter attempted to reload, he fumbled. A woman grabbed the next magazine and others restrained him.
Gabby was the first victim. Christina Taylor Green, nine years old, born on 9/11 of 2001, was shot with the 13th bullet or after. And others followed.
The killer in the Tucson shooting suffered from severe mental illness, but even after being -- even after being deemed unqualified for service in the Army and expulsion from Pima (ph) Community College, he was never reported to mental health authorities.
On November 30, 2010, he walked into a sporting goods store, passed the background check, and walked out with a semiautomatic handgun. He had never been legally adjudicated as mentally ill, and even if he had, Arizona, at the time, had over 121,000 records of disqualifying mental illness that it had not submitted into the system.
Looking back, we can’t say with certainly -- with certainty, “Only if we had done this, this would never have happened.” There is not just one thing that would have prevented the Tucson shooting from being written into the history books. Gabby is one of roughly 100,000 victims of gun violence in America each and every year. Behind every victim lays a matrix of failure and inadequacy in our families, in our communities, in our values, in our society’s approach to poverty, violence, and mental illness and yes, also in our politics and in our gun laws.
One of our messages is simple, the breadth and complexity of gun violence is great, but it is not an excuse for inaction. There’s another side to our story, Gabby is a gun owner and I am a gun owner. We have our firearms for the same reasons that millions of Americans just like us have guns, to defend ourselves, to defend our families, for hunting, and for target shooting.
We believe wholly and completely in the second amendment and that it confers upon all Americans the right to own a firearm for protection, collection, and recreation. We take that right very seriously and we would never, ever give it up, just like Gabby with never relinquish her gun and I would never relinquish mine. But rights demand responsibility and this right does not extend to terrorists, it does not extend to criminals, and it does not extend to the mentally ill.
When dangerous people get guns, we are all vulnerable at the movies, at church, conducting our everyday business, meeting with a government official. And time after time after time, at school, on our campuses, and in our children’s classrooms. When dangerous people get dangerous guns, we are all the more vulnerable. Dangerous people with weapons specifically designed to inflict maximum lethality upon others have turned every single corner of our society into places of carnage and gross human loss. Our rights are paramount, but our responsibilities are serious. And as a nation, we’re not take responsibility for the gun rights that our founding fathers have conferred upon us.
Now we have some ideas on how we can take responsibility. First, fixed on background checks. The holes and our laws make a mockery of the background check system. Congress should close the private sales loophole, and the dangers people entered into that system. Second, remove the limitations on collecting data and conducting scientific research on gun violence. Enact -- enact a tough federal gun trafficking statute, this is really important . And finally, let’s have a careful and civil conversation about the lethality of fire arms we permit to be legally bought and sold in this country.
Gabby and I are pro-gun ownership. We are also anti-gun violence, and we believe that in this debate, Congress should look not toward special interests and ideology, which push us apart, but towards compromise which brings us together. We believe whether you call yourself protest gun, or anti-gun violence, or both, that you can work together to pass laws that save lives.
KELLY: Thank you.
LEAHY: Thank you.
Next witness, David Kopel is the research director for the Independence Institute as well an associate policy analyst with the Cato Institute, an adjunct professor of advance constitutional law at Denver University’s Sturm College of Law. Did I get that all correct?
LEAHY: Thank you. Go ahead, please.
KOPEL: Thank you, Chairman Leahy and then Senator Grassley.
I think, to -- to continue the themes that the Captain Kelly so eloquently spoken about, gun rights and gun control don’t have to be culture-war enemies. Properly conceived, they can work together and reinforce each other. It’s important to recognize that the Second Amendment is not absolute any more than the First Amendment is. It certainly has an absolute core that can’t be violated under any circumstances, but that doesn’t prohibit all firearms controls.
LEAHY: Excuse me, and this won’t come out of your time.
LEAHY: All of the statements will be put in the record in full so we can keep close to the time.
KOPEL: Thank you, I will keep very close to the time.
And, likewise, gun controls don’t violate the Second Amendment if they are constructed so they don’t violate the rights of law-abiding citizens, and they actually do something constructive, significant, and effective to protect law-abiding citizens.
Captain Kelly talked about the matrix of failure. 20 years ago, I testified before this committee -- some of the senators are still here -- about one thing that turned out to be part of that matrix of failure. And that was the ban on so-called assault weapons. I warned during that testimony then that it was based, not on the function of guns, or how fast they fired, or how powerful they were, but on superficial, cosmetic characteristics and accessories. As part of the compromise that eventually led to that bill being mistakenly passed by Congress, the bill had a 10-year sunset in it and a requirement that the Department of Justice supervise a study of the effectiveness of that law. That study was -- the people to carry out that study were chosen by Attorney General Reno at the Department of Justice. They did several interim studies, and then a final study. And they concluded that the law had done nothing. It had not save lives. It had did not reduced the number of bullets that were fired in crimes. It had been a failure. It had -- to some minor degree, switched the types of guns that were used in crimes, so you had a gun with one name instead of another name, but it didn’t -- it didn’t reduce crime overall.
And indeed, it was a dangerous bill in the sense that so much political attention was distracted by the focus on this that it took public attention away from debate on measures that might have been more constructive and life-saving.
Today, police and law-abiding citizens choose semi-automatic handguns and rifles such as the AR-15 for the same reason. They are often the best choice for the lawful defense of self and others. To assert that such firearms, and their standard capacity factory magazines, are only meant for mass murder, is truly to libel law- abiding citizens and the many law-enforcement officers who choose these guns, not for hunting, not for collecting, but for the purpose for which police officers always carry firearms, for the lawful defense of self and others.
Great Britain shows the perils of mass gun -- gun confiscation that some people have proposed. It has a hire violent crime rate than the United States, and especially high rate of home invasion burglaries. Congress has repeatedly outlawed gun registration because of the accurate recognition that another country’s, and in the United States -- in New York city, gun registration has been used as a tool for confiscation. These 1941, 1986, and 1993 congressional statutes are one way that gun rights can be protected against future abuses.
Unfortunately, the bill’s that -- about universal background checks that have been proposed in recent Congresses, with the support of mayor -- New York City Michael Bloomberg, have often been -- had provisions in them for gun registration and for many other violations of the civil liberties of law-abiding persons, such as allowing gun bans for people accused but acquitted of drug crimes.
KOPEL: Universal background checks should be available. It was a wise move by President Obama in his January 16th press conference to begin changes in federal regulations and their interpretation to allow private sellers to access the background check system via federally licensed firearms dealer. Many people will choose to take advantage of that, and I commend them. But mandating universal checks can only be enforceable if there is universal gun registration, and we know that universal gun registration, in every country in the world where it’s existed, has been a serious peril to gun ownership.
Universal gun registration was imposed by Canada in 1995 and was later repealed in 2012 by the Canadian Parliament because it was such a fiasco.
If we want to save lives right now, not with constructive reforms that might do some good in the future, there is only one thing that will stop the next copycat killer and that is lawful armed self- defense in the schools not only by armed guards, but also by teachers.
Utah provides the successful model. There, a teacher who has a permit to carry after a background check and a safety training class everywhere else in the state is not prohibited from carrying at the schools.
Gun prohibition lobbies come up with all kinds of fantastic scenarios about what -- the harms that these would cause -- and teachers will shoot each other or threaten students, or the students will steal the guns.
But we’ve had this policy in practice in Utah for many years, and we’ve never had been a single problem. And, quite notably, we’ve never had an attack on a Utah school.
If we want to save lives, armed defense in schools is the immediate and best choice, while other constructive solutions may take longer to have an effect.
LEAHY: Thank you very much. As I said, the full statement will be placed in the record.
Chief James Johnson is the police chief of the Baltimore County Police Department. He started his career as a police cadet at the age of 18. He has more than 30 years of experience with the department. He’s also the chair of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence and represents nine national law enforcement organizations.
Chief, thank you for taking the time to be here. Please go ahead, sir.
J. JOHNSON: Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify. I am here on behalf of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence .
Yes, sir, it is.
I’m here on behalf of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence. It aligns to the nation’s law enforcement leadership organizations concerned about the unacceptable level of gun violence in the United States.
We mourn the loss of gun violence victims including the 20 children and six adults in Newtown whose lives were cut short by an individual armed with firepower originally designed for combat.
More than 30 homicides occur in America each day, 2,000 children and six adults, certainly, in Newtown are amongst those individuals. Folks 18 and under die from fire-related (ph) violence and deaths every year.
In 2011, for the first time in 14 years, firearms was the leading cause of death for police officers killed in the line of duty. In a one-week period in 2011, the Police Executive Research Forum found that gun crime in six cities had cost more than $38 million. And in the year 2010, the cost in the entire country was more than $57 billion.
We urgently need Congress to address the rising epidemic of gun violence in this nation.
Law enforcement leaders support the president’s comprehensive approach which includes enhancing safety in educational institutions and addressing mental health issues.
On behalf of my colleagues across the nation, I’m here today to tell you that we are long overdue in strengthening our nation’s gun laws. Doing so must be a priority for Congress.
The organizations in the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence urgently call on you to require background checks for all firearms purchases, ensure that prohibited purchasers’ records in a National Instant Criminal Background Check System, NICS, are complete, and limit high-capacity-ammunition-feeding devices to 10 rounds.
Seven of our nine groups, including the largest among us, also support Senator Feinstein’s assault weapons ban legislation.
Federal law prohibits dangerous individuals, such as convicted felons and those with mental health disqualifiers from possessing firearms. While background checks are required for purchases through licensed gun dealers, no check is required for private sales, such as those through online or print ads or gun shows. It’s a major problem.
J. JOHNSON: From November 2011 to November 2012, an estimated 6.6 million gun transactions occurred without a background check. Up to 40 percent of firearm transactions occur through private individuals rather than licensed gun dealers. Allowing 40 percent of those acquiring to bypass checks is like allowing 40 percent of passengers to board a plane without going through security. Would we do this? Last October in Brookfield, Wisconsin, seven women were shot by a prohibited purchaser who as under a domestic violence restraining order.
The shooter answered an online ad, was able to buy a gun without a check very quickly. He had -- had the sale been -- or sale required to have a check, this tragedy could have been prevented. Background checks work. They stopped nearly 2 million prohibited purchasers between 1994, and 2009. We already have a national background check system in place. Therefore, extending a background check to all firearms purchases can easily be implemented, and it should be without delay.
States can’t do it alone. Interstate firearms trafficking is a -- a rampant problem, and it must be addressed federally. According to ATF, in 2009, 30 percent of guns recovered at crime scenes crossed state lines. Maryland recovered nearly 2,000 last year from outside the state. Submissions to NICS must be approved, especially mental health and drug abuse records. The 2009 -- a 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech is a great example of a prohibited purchaser slipping through the cracks due to incomplete NICS background check.
The ban on assault weapons, and high-capacity ammunition must be reinstated. Like assault weapons, high-capacity magazines are not used for hunting, and they do not belong in our homes. And they reek havoc on our communities. Banning these magazines will limit the number of rounds a shooter can discharge before he has to reload. Reloading can provide a window to escape, to seek cover, or concealment, or attack the adversary to take down the shooter, as we have heard in Tuscon.
In 1998, four years after the assault weapons and high-capacity magazine ban was enacted, the percentage of firearms with large capacity magazines recovered by Virginia police decreased, and continued to drop until it hit a low of 9 percent of the weapons recovered in 2004. The year the ban expired, it hit a high of 20 percent in 2010. I’ve been in law enforcement for nearly 35 years, and I’ve seen an explosion of fire power since the assault weapons ban expired. It is common to find many shell casings at crime scenes when you go out, and you investigate these days. Victims are being riddled with multiple gunshots. The common-sense measures we call for will not infringe on the Second Amendment rights, but will keep guns out of the dangerous hands of -- of people who are out there to commit danger in our society, and excessive firepower out of our communities.
Generations of Americans, including our youngest ones are depending on you to ensure that they will grow up, and fill their roles in the great human experience. None of us can fail them and I urge you to follow the will of the American people on this issue, and stand with law enforcement on these common-sense public safety measures. Thank you.
LEAHY: Thank you, Chief. Our next witnesses is Gayle Trotter. She was in the co-founder, Shaffer and Trotter, PLC. It’s a law firm here in Washington. She’s also a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum. Attorney Trotter,, good to have you here. Go ahead, please?
TROTTER: Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Grassley, and members of this committee, thank you for inviting me to appear before you today.
We all want a safer society. We differ on how to make our society safer, and we differ whether some proposals will actually increase public safety. I urge you to reject any actions that will fail to make American’s safer, and in particular, harm women the most. I would like to begin with the compelling story of Sara McKinley.
Home alone with her baby, she called 911 when two violent intruders began to break down her front door. These men were forcing their way into her home to steal the prescription medication of her recently deceased husband. Before police could arrive, while Ms. McKinley was still on the phone with 911, these violent intruders broke down her door. One of the men had a foot-long hunting knife.
TROTTER: As the intruders forced their way into their home, Ms. McKinley fired her weapon, fatally wounding one of the violent attackers. The other fled. Later Ms McKinley explained; “It was either going to be him, or my son. And it wasn’t going to be my son.” Guns make women safer. Over 90 percent of violent crimes occur without a firearm which makes guns the great equalizer for women. The vast majority of violent criminals use their size and their physical strength to prey on women who are at a severe disadvantage. In a violent confrontation guns reverse the balance of power. An armed woman does not need superior strength or the proximity of a hand-to- hand struggle.
Concealed carry laws reverse that balance of power even before a violent confrontation occurs. For a would-be criminal concealed carry laws dramatically increase the risk of committing a crime. This indirectly benefits even those who do not carry. Research shows that in jurisdictions with concealed carry laws, women are less likely to be raped or murdered than they are in states with more restrictions on gun ownership. Armed security works.
Brave men and women stand guard over Capitol Hill, including this building where we are now. Armed guards protect high-profile individuals including prominent gun-control advocates, some of whom also rely on personal gun permits.
While armed security works, gun bans do not. Anti-gun legislation keep guns away from the sane and the law-abiding but not criminals. No sober minded person would advocate a gun ban instead of armed security to protect banks, airports, or government buildings. We need sensible enforcement of laws that are already on the books.
Currently, we have thousands, thousands of under-enforced or selectively enforce gun laws, and we fail to prosecute serious gun violations and impose meaningful, consistent penalties for violent felonies involving firearms.
Instead of self-defeating gestures, we should address the gun violence based on what works. Guns make women safer. The Supreme Court has recognized that lawful self-defense is a central component of the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms. For women, the ability to arm ourselves for our protection is even more consequential than for men. Because guns are the great equalizer in a violent confrontation. As a result, we protect women by safeguarding our Second Amendment rights. Every woman deserves a fighting chance.
LEAHY (?): Excuse me, thank you very much, Ms. Trotter.
Our last witness, then we’ll go to questions.
Wayne La Pierre the executive vice president CEO of the National Rifle Association. I believe, Mr. La Pierre you have been there since 1970?
Is that correct?
LAPIERRE: That is correct.
LEAHY (?): Please go ahead.
LAPIERRE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. It’s an honor to here today on behalf of the more than 4.5 million moms and dads and sons and daughters...
(UNKNOWN): Press that white button.
LAPIERRE: Thank you.
It is an honor to be here today on behalf of the more than 4.5 million moms and dads, sons and daughters in every state across our nation who make up the National Rifle Association of America. There are 4.5 million active members of the NRA, and they’re joined by tens of millions of supporters throughout the country. It’s on behalf of those millions of decent, hard- working, law-abiding citizens that I am here today to give voice to their concerns.
The title of today’s hearing is “What Should America Do About Gun Violence?” We believe the answer is to be honest about what works and honest about what doesn’t work.
Teaching safe and responsible gun ownership works, and the NRA has a long and proud history of doing exactly that. Our Eddy Eagle Child Safety Program has taught 25 million young people that if they see a gun, they should do four things: stop, don’t touch it, leave the area, and call an adult. As a result of this and other private- sector programs, fatal fire arms accidents are at the lowest level in 100 years.
LAPIERRE: The NRA has over 80,000 certified instructors to teach our military personnel, law enforcement officers, and hundreds of thousands of other American men and women how to safely use firearms.
We do more and spend more than anyone else on teaching safe and responsible gun ownership. We join the nation in sorrow over the tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut. There is nothing more precious than our children and we have no more sacred duty than to protect our children and to keep them safe.
That’s why we asked former congressman and under secretary of homeland security, Asa Hutchinson, to bring in every available expert to develop a model school shield program, one that can be individually tailored to make our schools as safe as possible.
It’s time to throw an immediate blanket of security around our children. About a third of our schools right now have armed security already because it works, and that number if growing every day. Right now, state officials, local authorities and school districts in 50 states are considering their own plans to protect children in schools.
In addition, we need to enforce the thousands of gun laws already on the books. Prosecuting criminals who misuse firearms works. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a dramatic collapse in federal gun prosecutions in recent years. Overall in 2011, federal firearms prosecutions per capita were down 35 percent from their peak in the previous administration. That means violent felons, violent gangmembers and drug dealers with guns, and the mentally ill who possess firearms are not being prosecuted. And that is completely and totally unacceptable.
And out of more than 76,000 firearms purchases supposedly denied by the federal instant check system, only 62 were referred for prosecution and only 44 were actually prosecuted. Proposing more gun laws while failing to enforce the thousands we already have, it’s not a serious solution for reducing crime.
I think we can also agree that our mental health system is broken. We need to look at the full range of mental health issues from early detection to treatment to civil commitment laws to privacy laws that needlessly prevent mental health records from being included in the national instant check system.
While we’re ready to participate in a meaningful effort to solve these pressing problems, we must respectively (sic), but honestly and firmly disagree with some members of the committee and many in the media, and all the gun control groups, on what will keep our kids and keep our streets safe. Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals, nor do we believe that government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families.
As I said earlier, we need to be honest about what works and what does not work. Proposals that would only serve to burden the law- abiding have failed in the past and they’ll fail again in the future. Semi-automatic firearms technology has been around for 100 years. They’re the most popular guns for hunting, target-shooting, self- defense.
Despite this fact, Congress banned the manufacture and sale of hundreds of semi-automatic firearms and magazines from ‘94 to 2004. And independent studies, including one from the Clinton Justice Department, proved that it had no impact on lowering crime. And when it comes to background checks, let’s be honest. Background checks will never be universal because criminals will never submit to them.
There are a lot of things that can be done and we ask you to join with us. The NRA is made up of millions of Americans who support what works. The immediate protection for all, not just some of our school children is what’s needed, and swift, certain punishment of criminals who misuse guns, and fixing our mental health system.
We love our families. We love our country. We believe in freedom. And we’re the millions from all walks of life who take responsibility for our safety and protection as a God-given fundamental American right.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you.
Now, Chief Johnson, let me begin with you, sir, if I could. I’ve found in my experience that many criminals are able to get guns illegally because they use straw purchasers. In other words, the person who has no criminal record can easily pass background check, goes in and buys the guns, and turns around and gives them to criminals.
LEAHY: There’s no federal law that makes it illegal to act as a straw purchaser of firearms. So last week I -- I introduced a bill that will strengthen federal law to combat firearms trafficking. It would specifically target straw purchasers.
Do you think there should be such a law?
J. JOHNSON: The background procedures in this nation are seriously in need of -- of modification. Again, 40 percent of those acquiring firearms tried to do it outside that background procedure.
Senator, you are absolutely correct, many will use a straw purchaser to go in and acquire these firearms. It happens each and every day across America. It is a serious problem. And the National Law Enforcement Partnership To Prevent Gun Violence supports your initiative to address that issue.
LEAHY: Thank you, chief. We also heard testimony about the safety of women and gun violence. Now I’m seeking immediate consideration of the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. I was told yesterday that sometime in the next couple weeks we’ll have it on the floor of the Senate for a vote.
I do this out of concern for domestic violence victims. We -- we have statistics that show women in this country are killed at alarming rates by domestic abusers with guns. Fortunately if a woman has a protective order against her abuser, if he is able to get a gun with a straw purchaser, of course, he still gets it, but he is not going to be able to purchase a gun and a background check is conducted. And we have at least one side that says in states that require a background check for every handgun sale, 38 percent fewer women are shot by their partners (inaudible).
Do you agree that if we want to keep firearms away from domestic abusers, who are not supposed to have them anyway, we have to have to improve the background check system and require a background check for every firearm purchasers?
J. JOHNSON: Absolutely.
I’d like to stand before this group today and say, I’ve spent my years of chasing down violent armed robbers each and every day. The fact of the matter is, as a young patrol officer, most of my day was one domestic to another it was the post that I had. Statistics show that when females are killed, it’s more likely -- over 50 percent of the time to be by a spouse or household member. A gun and a home where there is a history of domestic violence, statistics show that there is a 500 percent increase of chance that, that person will be victimized by gun violence.
The state of Maryland in the last several years enacted legislation to address this domestic violence issue to allow us to go out and seize the guns of domestic violence abusers where the spouse has won and obtained a protective order. This has been very effective. And in my jurisdiction, which averages generally about 35 homicides a year, unfortunately most being domestic violence related, this has had a significant impact in reducing the amount of those domestics.
Two of the last three years, the statistic was below the 41 year homicide rate. And I credit, in this case, lieutenant governor state of Maryland, Lieutenant Governor Brown for this initiative, and it’s helped us tremendously.
Captain Kelly Mr. La Pierre has testified that universal background checks won’t work because criminals would never submit to them. And I understand that, but under current law, criminals don’t have to go through background checks because there are so many loopholes, gun show loophole, no real punishment for straw purchasers.
Do you agree that there is nothing that we can do to strengthen our background checks?
KELLY: Chairman Leahy, I disagree. There is a lot we can do.
The situation that I know best is what happened in Tucson, January 8th, 2011. Jared Loughner (ph), the shooter in this case, when he purchased a gun, he did purchased it through a background check. But there was a lot of evidence that could possibly been in the national instant criminal background check system about him that would have prevented him from buying a gun through a background check. So that’s part of the solution.
KELLY: Now, the other problem is, let’s say, he was denied, denied the purchase of the gun which he purchased in November of 2010. It would have been very easy for him to go to a gun show and purchase a gun without a background check.
So, you know, there are several things that need to be done. And in my opinion, and in Gabby’s opinion, this is one of the most important things that we must do to prevent criminals, terrorists and the mentally ill from having easy access to guns, I mean, closing the gun-show loopholes and requiring private sellers to require a background check before they transfer a gun is -- I mean -- I mean, for us, I mean, I can’t think of something that would make our country safer than doing just that .
LEAHY: Thank you.
And, Mr. LaPierre, in 1999, you testified before the House Judiciary Committee. And you testified, quote, “Nobody is more committed than we are to keeping guns out of criminals’ hands. That’s obviously in our best interest,” close quote.
I assume you are still just as committed to keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. Is that correct?
LAPIERRE: Yes, sir.
LEAHY: And would you agree that we should prosecute and punish those who help criminals get guns?
LAPIERRE: If you’re talking about strawman sales, we’ve said strawman sales should be prosecuted for years. There are about six to eight statutes on the books right now...
LEAHY: So you agree that we should prosecute and punish those who help criminals get guns?
LAPIERRE: Absolutely. If someone is doing a strawman sale, they should be prosecuted. Absolutely.
LEAHY: And in your testimony in ‘99, you supported mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale and every gun show. You said, quote, “No loopholes anywhere, for anyone.”
Now, today, of course, you say criminals would never submit to background checks. Statistics show that plenty of them do. Nearly 2 million convicted criminals and other dangerous people have tried to buy firearms and (inaudible), as Chief Johnson said, were prevented.
So let me ask you this: Do you still, as you did in 1999, still support mandatory background checks at gun shows? Yes or no?
LAPIERRE: We supported the National Instant Check System on dealers. I -- we were here when Senator Birch Bayh, one of your colleagues, held the hearings in terms of who would be a dealer and who would be required to have a license. If you did it for livelihood and profit, yes. If you were a hobbyist, then no.
LEAHY: Let’s make -- let’s make it easier, though. I’m talking about gun shows. Should we have mandatory background checks at gun shows for sales of weapons?
LAPIERRE: If you’re a dealer, that’s already the law. If you’re talking...
LEAHY: That’s not my question. Please, Mr. LaPierre, I’m not trying to play games here. But, if you could, (inaudible) just answer my question.
LAPIERRE: Senator, 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.
LEAHY: OK, so you do not support...
LEAHY: ... mandatory background checks in all instances at gun shows?
LAPIERRE: 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...
LEAHY: And do you -- then, I understand, back in 1999, you said no loopholes anywhere for anyone. But now you do not support background checks for all buyers of firearms?
LAPIERRE: I think the National Instant Check System, the way it’s working now, is a failure. Because this administration is not prosecuting the people that they catch.
They’re not -- 23 states are not even putting the mental records of those adjudicated mentally incompetent into the system. Now, assume that if you don’t prosecute and they try to buy a gun, even if you catch ‘em, and you let ‘em walk away, to assume they’re not going to get a gun -- they’re criminals, they’re homicidal maniacs, and they’re mentally ill.
I mean, we all know that homicidal maniacs, criminals and the insane don’t -- don’t -- don’t -- don’t... LEAHY: Mr. LaPierre...
LAPIERRE: ... don’t abide by the law.
LEAHY: Mr. LaPierre, my time is up. With all due respect, that was not the question I asked. Nor did you answer it.
LAPIERRE: But I think it is the answer. I honestly do. I -- the fact...
LEAHY: All right. It’s your testimony.
Before I ask questions, Senator Hatch asked if I would explain to everybody here why he left. He’s ranking member Finance Committee, and Senator Baucus has scheduled a hearing for 10:45 and he has to be there for that.
Professor -- Professor Kopel, was the 1994 assault weapons ban a sensible and effective means of reducing gun violence?
And, secondly, is there any reason to re-enact a more extensive assault weapons ban?
GRASSLEY: Turn it up. Turn...
Based on the Department of Justice study, the answer was no, that it was something that was tried with great sincerity. A lot of people thought it would be a good idea, but it didn’t seem to save any lives -- that the researchers could -- could find.
The revised law is just more of the same, but it suffers from the same fundamental problem. You can have a 1994 law that lists some guns by name and a 2013 law that lists more guns by name. But the very fact that you’re banning guns by name, what’s -- that’s just an example of how the law doesn’t address the guns firepower or their rate of fire. It simply -- if there’s something that makes these guns more dangerous then legislation ought to be able to describe it in neutral terms. So all these -- these names, I think, are a sign of exactly what’s wrong with the bill.
Now, the -- the present bill, like its 1994 predecessor, also has outlaws that is based on various features. But, again, these are -- there aren’t things that have to do with internal mechanics of the gun, how fast it fires or how powerful the bullets are. There’re things like whether a rifle has a forward grip. Well, a forward grip on a rifle helps the user stabilize it and make the gun more accurate. So that if you’re deer hunting the second shot is almost as accurate as the first, or if you’re target shooting, or more importantly -- most importantly, if you’re engaged in lawful self- defense.
And that’s why you see guns like the AR-15 with their standard, factory-issued 30-round magazines in police cars all over the country, is because they make the gun more accurate for the core purpose of the Second Amendment, which is lawful self-defense.
Chief Johnson and Professor Kopel, listen while I read, and I’ll ask each of you a question. Recently, Iowa law enforcement officials were quoted in an article -- that I ask consent to include in the record -- entitled, “Law Officers Tell Congressmen Mental Health Issues More Important than Gun Ban,” end of quote.
In it, a bipartisan group of elected sheriffs and police chiefs offered candid assessments of current legislative proposals. One chief of police stated, quote, “I think banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines is strictly a feel-good measure. It’s not going to accomplish anything,” end of quote.
Instead, they asked for options for getting mentally ill individuals treatment. Chief Jim Clark, Ottumwa, Iowa, added, quote, “We identify some that are mentally ill. They need treatment. But we can’t access the system.”
So Chief Johnson, what options do your officers have, from your experience -- because I quoted in Iowa -- (inaudible) currently have in dealing with individuals they believe to have untreated mental illness?
J. JOHNSON: It is a major problem in America today, in my jurisdiction. I’m here today to talk about guns and ways to stop gun violence. We know a comprehensive background check that picks up these mental health issue disqualifiers will make our nation a safer place.
We know that banning high-capacity magazines will make our police officers safer. We’ve lost dozens of police officers in America due to assault weapons. And we’ve seen tragedies all across this great nation (inaudible) Newtown, in Webster, New York -- an off-duty police officer -- we’re never off duty, he’s a police officer -- shot down by an assault weapon. It’s a serious problem, and it must be addressed.
GRASSLEY: Professor Kopel, you authored an article, Wall Street Journal, last month entitled, “Guns, Mental Illness, Newtown.” And I would also like to have that included in the record.
Is there evidence that mental illness and changes to civil commitment laws that play a part in mass shootings? And what can we do to keep guns away from mentally ill consistent with our Second Amendment?
KOPEL: Well, certainly, they play quite a major role in -- in homicides in general, probably about -- according to the Department of Justice research, about one-sixth of the people in state prisons for homicide are mentally ill. If you look at the -- these mass murders where suicidal people try to end their lives in the most infamous way possible -- in -- in Tucson, Virginia Tech, Newtown, Aurora, you have a very strong threat of mental illness running through that.
And certainly, improving the background -- the data about mental health adjudications, not just a psychiatrist recommendation or something like that, but what due process and the Constitution require, which is an adjudication, a fair decision by a neutral decision-maker. Getting those into the background check system is something that Congress started working on after Virginia Tech, and there’s -- there’s more progress to be made.
But that’s -- it’s not just a matter of checks. It’s -- even if you have the most ideal check system in the world, at the least -- and imagine these criminals, violently insane criminals could never get a gun anywhere else. You know, Adam Lanza at Newtown didn’t have background checks. He stole the guns after murdering his mother.
So, the long-term solution is not just about background checks. It’s about why are these people on the streets in the first place. All of these killers I’ve just mentioned could have been civilly committed under the civil commitment laws we had several decades ago. Those laws were changed. Sometimes -- because they were sometimes abused, but I think we can move back to a more sensible position that strongly protects the due process rights of people against involuntary commitment, but also gets dangerous people off the streets. And that will cost money at the state level, but it’s money that will be greatly saved in the long term through reduced incarceration costs for crimes.
Ms. Trotter, your testimony discussed the need for women to be able to use firearms to defend themselves and their families. The law currently permits the lawful possession of semi-automatic rifles such as AR-15s. Can you tell us why you believe a semi-automatic rifle such as AR-15 has value as a weapon of self-defense? And does banning weapons -- banning guns which feature designed to improve accuracy disproportionately burden women?
TROTTER: I believe it does. Young women are speaking out as to why AR-15 weapons are their weapon of choice. The guns are accurate. They have good handling. They’re light. They’re easy for women to whole. And most importantly, their appearance. An assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon. And the peace of mind that a woman has as she’s facing three, four, five violent attackers, intruders in her home with her children screaming in the background -- the peace of mind that she has knowing that she has a scary-looking gun gives her more courage when she’s fighting hardened violent criminals.
And if we ban these types of assault weapons, you are putting women at a great disadvantage, more so than men, because they do not have the same type of physical strength and opportunity to defend themselves in a hand-to-hand struggle. And they’re -- they’re not criminals. They’re moms. They’re young women. And they’re not used to violent confrontations.
So, I absolutely urge -- I -- I speak on behalf of millions of American women across the country who urge you to defend our Second Amendment right to choose to defend ourself.
GRASSLEY: Thank you.
LEAHY: Thank you.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing. And I want to thank everybody for being here, particularly our witnesses. Even you, Mr. LaPierre -- it’s good to see you again.
I guess we tangled...
LAPIERRE: We have.
FEINSTEIN: ... we tangled, what was it? Eighteen years ago. You look pretty good, actually.
LEAHY: I will give a little prerogative to the laughter.
FEINSTEIN: I’d like to add something to the record, Mr. Chairman -- page 44 of the Department of Justice report, “Assault Weapons As A Percentage of Gun -- of Gun Traces,” which shows a 70 percent decline from ‘92-’93 to 2001-2002.
LEAHY: Without objection, so ordered.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Chief Johnson, I’d like to talk with you. First of all, I am very grateful for the support of your organization, of the major chiefs, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, as well as trauma surgeons who see what these guns do in tearing apart bodies.
FEINSTEIN: I have become very concerned as I looked at the bill before, in ‘93, at the technological improvement in these weapons over this -- these years. And one of the things that we’ve tried to do in this new bill is prevent that from happening in the future. In looking at the AR-15 magazine on a device, which is legal, called a slide fire, I note that with practice, a shooter may control his rate of fire from 400 to 800 rounds per minute, or shoot two, three, or four rounds at a time, and just as easily fire single shots. So this is a weapon, and I think Ms. Trotter’s right, it apparently is versatile. It apparently is rather easy to use, but it has tremendous philosophy -- velocity, and tremendous killing power,and I suspect tears young bodies apart.
Additionally, it’s my understanding that Mrs. Lanza actually gave this gun to her son. Is that correct?
J. JOHNSON: These guns used in Newtown were not stolen, Professor. They were in the home, accessible to the shooter.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you.
J. JOHNSON: It’s a major problem, safety and security of weapons. In my jurisdiction, two school shootings, safety and security of weapons would have made a difference in that case. And Senator, you bill, I salute, and applaud you for including a safety and security measure.
FEINSTEIN: Well, thank you very much, Chief. This is such a hard debate because people have such fixed positions. Police, I think see killings as they are. Many people do not. So in a sense, the streets speak about this issue. The more you add highly technologically efficient weapons, which are originally designed to kill people in close combat, and they fall in the hands of the wrong people.
It’s my understanding that Mrs. Lanza’s son, the shooter in this case, had no mental health record. Is that correct?
J. JOHNSON: It is my understanding that no record exists. It is my understanding that there was ample evidence though, amongst those close to him, that there was a serious problem.
FEINSTEIN: Which is really something that I think we need to tackle today. Mental health laws are usually the preserve of the state, and the local governments. They provide the facilities. Do you have any suggestions there with respect to anything that we might be able to do, to improve mental health laws nationally, which might catch people who are a danger to themselves, or others in this area?
J. JOHNSON: It’s a -- a major problem for law enforcement. Citizens, police officers, doctors, parents, can petition for an emergency evaluation when they see behavior that presents an individual as being a danger to themselves, or others. It’s really important that we all do this. It’s a tough decision, but sometimes you have to make it against your own son. Very, very hard. It could affect their entire life, but it has to be done.
The improvement that needs to be made is, we need to have this information entered instantly into a data system in the event that the -- the individual tries to go out within 24 hours to get a gun. The fellow in Wisconsin who went into the salon to shoot his wife, he wanted a gun fast. He wanted it fast. He as hot, he was emotional, he was out of control. And he wanted to get a gun fast.
And the way you do that, is you reach outside the established background check system and acquire it. If that record would have been entered into the system’s domestic violence order, it would have been entered instantly, like we can do today all right? In many areas. That gun could have been -- a gun could have been prevented from getting in the hands of a person who is going to carry it out when they’re in a high emotional stage. This is really, really important.
FEINSTEIN: We have millions and millions of big clips. The Aurora shooter used a 100 round drum. Fortunately it jammed. Otherwise he would have killed more people. I think most people believe that, sure we can have guards at schools. I’m well aware that at Columbine there was a deputy sheriff who was armed, who actually took a shot, but couldn’t hit the shooter there.
FEINSTEIN: The question comes, what do you do about the malls then? What do you do about our movie theaters? What do you do about businesses? We can’t have a totally armed society. And that’s my feeling in terms of the need to say that there are certain categories of guns. We actually exempt over 2,000 specific weapons by make and model name to create and then ban about 158 assault weapons, and then go to a one-characteristic test.
You have looked at this bill. Do you believe it will be effective?
J. JOHNSON: Yes, ma’am, I do. I believe that holistically addressing all of the issues in the president’s plan, as well as a comprehensive, universal background check procedure, banning high- capacity magazines, and banning the sale of assault weapons, frankly, collectively all these together will create a system. The best way to stop a bad guy from getting a gun in the first place is a good background check.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you, very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank -- thank you.
As Senator Grassley noted, Senator Hatch has to be at other thing. Recognize him when he comes back. I’m gonna go back and forth, go in seniority. We’ll go to Senator Sessions. But I’ll talk -- announce that all members can put statements in the record by the close of business today as -- as (inaudible) read (ph).
SESSIONS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I’ve spent the better part of our career, I guess, prosecuting cases, 12 years as a United States attorney, and during that time I gave a high emphasis to prosecutions of gun violations. We were one of the top prosecuting districts in the country. I note, in the latest University of Syracuse report, they list my district, the southern district of Alabama as number one in the nation still today in prosecutions of gun violations.
This is what the University of Syracuse study said, however, in its lead comment, “Weapons prosecution’s declined to the lowest level in a decade,” quote, “The latest available data from the Justice Department shows that during January of 2011, the government reported 484 new weapons prosecutions. This is the lowest level to which prosecutions federally have fallen since January of 2001, when 445 at the time that President Bush assumed office,” close quote.
They go on to note some of the declines in various categories. And so first and foremost, I would say to you, as someone who has personally tried a lot of these cases before a jury, written appellate briefs on these cases, that these -- the bread and butter criminal cases are felons in possession of a firearm, and carrying a firearm during a crime, both of which are serious offenses. Carrying a firearm during a crime, drug crime, or crime of violence, or other serious crimes is a mandatory five-year sentence without parole.
Those prosecutions have declined, unfortunately, substantially, under President Obama’s presidency. Chief, does it concern you that in -- comparing total prosecutions per month for guns in federal court with those for a month in , with those for the same period in 2010, the number of filings went down 7.9 percent and were down 28.8 percent from 2006 in federal court.
Does that concern you?
J. JOHNSON: Senator, I can tell you that in the Baltimore County Police Department...
SESSIONS: I’m asking if those are the numbers, did that concern you?
J. JOHNSON: No, because you don’t -- sir, you’re...
SESSIONS: It doesn’t concern you?
J. JOHNSON: ... not including local prosecutions. I can’t stand before you today and tell you of a single case in Baltimore County of an illegal possessed gun that was not prosecuted...
SESSIONS: Are we trying to pass a state or federal law today?
J. JOHNSON: Certainly, background checks...
SESSIONS: That’s what you guys call a federal law. We’d like to see the federal laws that are on the books enforced. I suggest and with with regard to the crimes of -- of carrying a firearm during the furtherance of a violence or drug trafficking offense, those prosecutions declined 28.5 percent between 2007 and 2011.
SESSIONS: So I would say that, first of all, we need to make sure we are doing our job there. I would also note that although crime is a very, very important matter, we should never lose our emphasis on bringing down crime -- the murder rate in America today is half what it was in 1993. We have made progress on that. And -- and we can continue to drive those numbers down. It’s not as if we have an unusual surge in violent crime in America.
Now, with regard to the background checks and straw purchases, let’s -- let’s be frank: Straw purchases are a problem and should be prosecuted. I have prosecuted those cases before on a number of occasions. I’ve prosecuted gun dealers who fail to keep records as required by the law.
But the number of defendants charged under 18 USC 922(a)(6), making material misrepresentations under the federal firearms law regarding the lawfulness of a transfer, have declined from 459 in 2004 to 218 in 2010. That’s -- that’s about half, 52 percent decline under this administration’s leadership.
And I -- I would just say to you, mathematically speaking, violence in America is impacted mostly when you’re enforcing these bread-and-butter violations that are effective, they’re proven and they work. They have support of Mr. LaPierre, I think -- I know that group (inaudible) support ‘em. I think everybody supports these strong laws. And that’s where the rubber meets the road. That’s where you really begin to impact crime.
If you can intimidate -- and I believe the word is getting out -- it did in our district -- that if you carry a gun in a crime, a drug dealing offense, you could be prosecuted in federal court, given five years in jail without parole. And I believe we saw a decline in the violent rate -- violence rate and the number of drug dealers and criminals carrying guns. But you have to prosecute those cases.
Mr. LaPierre, it does appear that the straw purchase prohibition that’s out there, that prohibition seems to me to be legitimate. And I support -- and you said you support the prosecutions of it. But if we expand the number of people covered (inaudible) we don’t have any prosecutions -- I believe you used the number 44, was all. There’re 90 United States attorneys in America. Only 44, only one out of every two, apparently, is prosecuting a single case in a single year. That’s the weakness in the system.
LAPIERRE: Senator, there needs to be a change in the culture of prosecution at the entire federal level. It’s a national disgrace. The fact is, we could dramatically cut crime in this country with guns and save lives all over this country if we would start enforcing the 9,000 federal laws we have on the books.
I’m talking about drug dealers with guns, gangs with guns and felons with guns. There’re simply not being enforced. The numbers are shocking. I mean, in Chicago, one of the worst areas in the country in gun violence by criminals, it is 89 of 90 in terms of federal prosecutions in the entire United States; 62 people prosecuted under all of the federal gun laws.
I mean (inaudible) Dave Schiller and Project Exile cleaned up Richmond years ago, they did 350 cases in Richmond. I mean, if you want to stop crime, interdict violent criminals, incarcerate ‘em and get ‘em off the street before they get to the next crime...
SESSIONS: Well, I -- I agree. My time is up.
LAPIERRE: ... or worse.
SESSIONS. And I -- Richmond was a great model. And I would just say, I would call on President Obama to call in Attorney General Eric Holder and ask him why the prosecutions have dropped dramatically across all categories of federal gun laws. And he should call in his U.S. attorneys and tell them, you need to look at your numbers and get them up and emphasize these prosecutions.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Senator Schumer?
SCHUMER: Well, thank you.
First, let me apologize to the witnesses. At the end -- we have a Finance Committee meeting on reconciliation, which probably affects our police chief anyway. And so I had to be there.
And I want to thank you, Chairman Leahy, for organizing this important hearing.
Thank all the witnesses for being here, particularly Congresswoman Giffords and Captain Kelly for your testimony. We’ve been moved by your strength, your courage that your family has demonstrated in this face of unspeakable tragedy.
By being here instead of cursing the darkness you’re lighting a candle. Thank you.
Now, I do believe today we have a chance to do something reasonable in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy. But when we discuss ways to stop violence, guns must be included in that discussion.
SCHUMER: I heard Ranking Member Grassley say that we must go beyond guns. That’s true. But we must include guns as well. Not including guns when discussing mass killings is like not including cigarettes when discussing lung cancer.
But at the same time, I agree. We can’t simply replay the usual sum zero political game on guns, or the moment’ll pass us by.
The Supreme Court ruling in Heller, which struck down the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns laid out a good framework. It said an individual right to bear arms does exist, but it comes with limitations, like very amendment.
In other words, it is now settled law that the government is never going to take away America’s guns -- Americans’ guns.
Progressives need not to accept this decision, but to endorse it. We’ve got to follow it, not just de jure, but de facto. And it makes sense. You can’t argue for an expansive reading of amendments like the First, Fourth and Fifth, but see the Second Amendment through the pinhole of saying it only affects militias.
At the same time, those on the pro-gun side must recognize no amendment is absolute. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech. It’s hallowed. But you still can’t falsely shouts fire in a crowded theater or traffic in child pornography. Those are reasonable limits on the First Amendment.
The Second Amendment has sensible limits, too. My colleagues have offered a range of impressive and thoughtful proposals on the topic of gun violence.
For example, Chairman Leahy has introduced a bill on trafficking. Senator Feinstein has introduced one of assault weapons. Senator Blumenthal on ammunition.
But for the last several years, my particular focus in the area of gun safety has been on responsible gun ownership and background checks. Universal background checks is a proven, effective step we can take to reduce gun violence. And I believe it has a good chance of passing.
Federally licensed firearm dealers have been required to conduct background checks on prospective gun purchasers since we passed the Brady bill. And we’ve that they work. Since 1999, the federal background check system has blocked 1.7 million prohibited purchasers from buying firearms at federally licensed dealers.
Yes, we should prosecute them. But the number one goal is to prevent a felon from getting a gun in the first place. That’s what this did 1.7 million times.
The current system works well. But there are some glaring holes.
First of all, not all gun sales are covered by a background check. The problem, sometimes referred to as the gun-show loophole, means that a private seller could set up a tent at a gun show or somewhere else and not have to conduct background check on his purchasers.
Current estimates show because of these loopholes 48 percent of gun sales are made without a background check. If you’re a felon, if you’re a gun trafficker, if you’re a -- a mentally ill person, you know that you can go to a gun show and not have any check. So, of course, that’s what they do.
This isn’t fair, also, to dealers who follow the rules and conduct checks. The registered dealers at their gun stores have to obey the rules. Why should someone going to a gun show have a different rule? There’s no logic to it. None.
I was there. I was the author of the Brady bill, and that was something that we were forced to put in the bill, those of us who weren’t for it, as a way to get the bill passed. But the last 15 years has proven it doesn’t make sense.
The second problem with the current system is that not all records are fed into the system. This is especially true with mental health records. Nineteen states have submitted fewer than 100 mental health records to NICS.
I think we can get bipartisan agreement on a bill that solves these problems by doing two things. One, it’ll prevent felons and mentally ill from getting guns by requiring a background check before all purchases. And, two, it will get relevant records into the system.
Now, at the moment, right now, as we meet here today, I am having productive conversations with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, including a good number with high NRA ratings. And I’m hopeful that we are close to having legislation we can introduce.
And I would urge the NRA, Mr. LaPierre, and other gun advocacy groups to work with us on this proposal. The NRA supported our 2007 legislation that improved the NICS background check system. And I hope they’ll reconsider and try to do that again.
It’s a simple, straightforward solution. It’s one the American people support. A recent survey by the New England Journal of Medicine found 90 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of NRA members support requiring background checks for all gun sales.
SCHUMER: I understand, because we haven’t introduced it, I can’t ask the witnesses about it, but I want to tell you what it won’t do.
It won’t create any gun registry. That is already illegal and it will be repeated as illegal in our law. That’s particularly for Mr. Kopel. And it will not limit your ability to borrow your Uncle Willy’s hunting rifle or share a gun with your friend at a shooting range.
It will include reasonable exceptions to make sure we’re only requiring background checks for bona fide sales and transfers. So specious claims about background checks are a tactic made by those who can’t argue with the facts.
Now, I’d like to ask Chief Johnson a question or two about those checks. Do you agree with the logic that even -- you know, that we should prosecute people who illegally try to buy guns, but even without that, the law has done a whole lot of good because people who are felons or adjudicated mentally ill, millions have been stopped from buying guns and getting guns?
J. JOHNSON: Yes, since 1994 to 2009, the record is very clear. It is a fact that nearly 2 million prohibited purchases were stopped. God only knows what they would have done with those weapons had it not been for that particular law.
SCHUMER: And from a law enforcement point of view, wouldn’t we rather -- we want to do both, but wouldn’t we rather stop them from having a gun than after they shoot somebody or buy a gun illegally, then arrest them and put them in jail for that crime?
J. JOHNSON: Yes, sir. You have to address the pathology -- how you get the gun in the first place. And that is what we’re trying to achieve here by a universal background check. And I’m very proud to stand before you this morning and let you know that the entire national law enforcement partnership to prevent gun violence, every member of our organization supports background checks.
SCHUMER: Right. And does it make any sense to exclude the same people who sell them in a gun shop or others, to go to a gun show, and now have any background check at all?
J. JOHNSON: It’s absolutely insane. Again, it’s like letting 40 percent of people just pass a TSA checkpoint at an airport. It’s not an inconvenience. The record shows that nearly 92 percent of the individuals that go in to try to do a background check at a gun shop, in minute-and-a-half, they’re done. I can’t write a ticket, a citation in a minute-and-a-half. Even with e-tick technology, I can’t do it that fast.
It’s not inconvenient. And it’s fair to the gun owner and the shop owner, too. Why impose on a shop owner, a gun dealer, a federally licensed dealer, more restrictions than you do on anyone else? And if you think for a minute you can sell your gun to your neighbor that you’ve known for 10 years, you don’t know your neighbor. You do not know your neighbor. And the only way to make sure that you’re safe in what you’re doing is a comprehensive background check.
SCHUMER: One final quick question. Many police officers are avid sportsmen. They, you know, enjoy shooting, not in their official professional duties. The surveys show the overwhelming majority of gun owners are for background checks. Does your personal experience corroborate that?
J. JOHNSON: It’s my understanding that 74 percent of NRA members support a background check. I am a hunter. I love to hunt. I own several guns. I love going to the range with my son who is a police officer today. It’s enjoyable. I’ve met many great people.
SCHUMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you.
I understand (inaudible) quite the order we’d said before, but Senator Graham has graciously said for Senator Cornyn to go. So please, Senator Cornyn?
CORNYN: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thanks to all of the witnesses for being here today and sharing your observations and testimony. I’m particularly gratified to see Congresswoman Giffords here doing so well and speaking so forcefully.
I hope this hearing serves as a starting point for us to consider a range of ideas on this topic. Anything that falls short of serious examination and discussion is just window dressing, just symbolism over substance. I have a hard time telling my constituents in Texas that Congress is looking at passing a whole raft of new laws, when the laws that we currently have on the books are so woefully unenforced.
I think we can and we should come together to address shortcomings in mental health care, both in the general response to mental illness and also in the background checks mechanisms we use to screen out prohibited gun buyers.
CORNYN: We need to ask whether years of de-institutionalization of the mental health population have left America more vulnerable. Perhaps it’s time to consider our background checks laws to see if they need to be updated to screen out the growing number of people who are subjected to court-ordered outpatient mental health treatment.
It’s unclear whether the tens of thousands of committed outpatients in this country are falling through the cracks, and surely, we can agree that more needs to be done to enforce existing gun laws as I said a moment ago.
Gun crime prosecutions are down across the board, including enforcement of laws against lying on background checks. And Mr. Chairman, I hope -- I hope you -- we will have a follow-on hearing where we’ll ask administration witnesses to come before the panel and to testify why the Department of Justice and other law enforcement agencies of the federal government are not enforcing laws that Congress has already passed.
It’s worth noting that five years ago, Congress was asking the same questions we are asking right now. In 2008, there was an attempt made to strengthen the background check laws following the murders at Virginia Tech. Looking back, we have to ask ourself, did those laws work. Well, the department -- the Government Accountability Office just last July gave it mixed reviews.
The GAO reports that only a handful of states have taken seriously the responsibility to share mental health records. And I’m pleased that Texas is highlighted by the GAO as outperforming other states in this area, but we have a lot -- we have a long way to go.
So I think there are areas where Congress can come together right now, examine the nexus between gun crime, violence, and mental health care. and I’m willing to listen to serious ideas, not just window dressing, to try to come up with solutions.
Captain Kelly, I noticed in your testimony you alluded to the -- part of what I talked about, which is the fact that at the time in Arizona there were 121,000 records of disqualifying mental illness for people in Arizona that had not been subjected to background checks, because the state hadn’t send that information to the federal government.
Could you expand on the significance of that?
KELLY: Yes sir. So, in the case of Jared Loughner, the person who shot my wife and murdered six of her constituents, he was clearly mentally ill. He was expelled from Pima -- Pima Community College because of that. There was nowhere for -- or his parents and the school did not send him anywhere to be adjudicated or evaluated with regards to his mental illness.
Now Mr. LaPierre earlier tried to make the point that criminals do not submit to the background checks. Well, Mr. -- Jared Loughner, the guy -- the Tucson shooter, was -- was an admitted drug user. He was rejected from the U.S. Army because of his drug use. He was clearly mentally ill. And when he purchased the gun in November, his plan was to assassinate my wife and commit mass murder at that Safeway in Tucson. He was a criminal. Because of his drug use and because of what he was planning on doing.
But he -- because of these gaps in the mental health system -- now, in this case, those 121,000 records, I admit, did not include a record on him. But it could have. And if it did, he would have failed that background check.
Now, obviously, in this case, he would have likely have gone to a gun show or a private seller and avoided a background check. But if we close the gun show loophole, if we require private sellers to complete a background check, and we get those 121,000 records and others into the systems, we will prevent gun crimes. That is an absolute truth. It would have happened in Tucson . My wife would not be sitting in this seat. She would not have been sitting here today if we had a strong background checks.
CORNYN: Mr. LaPierre, you talk about a laws already on the books and the fact that the federal government has a poor record of enforcing current laws. And I fail to see out that the Department of Justice will not in force will is gonna make America any safer.
But let me just ask you to react briefly to these statistics. From 2007-2011, the Department of Justice charged 13 percent fewer total firearms cases. In each of the years during that span, the current administration’s brought fewer firearms prosecution’s than the year before.
CORNYN: In January, 2011, only 484 new firearm prosecutions were initiated by the Department of Justice, the fewest number of prosecutions in 10 years. As far as background check prosecutions 2006-2010, the number of investigations for unlawful possession decreased 26 percent. During the same period, 77 percent fewer NICS denials were referred by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for prosecution. Federal prosecutors declined 82 percent more cases over the same period. In 2010, out of the 76,125 denied background checks, the FBI referred to the ATF, a verdict or plea was reached in just 13 cases.
Would you give us your reaction to that -- that record?
LAPIERRE: I think -- I think it’s tragic, Senator.
I mean, the fact is, in the shadow of this Capitol, right under everyone’s noses, in this building, right now there are drug dealers out in the street with guns, violating federal law, illegal. There’s all kinds of drugs and cocaine being sold. By God, gangs are trafficking 13-year-old girls. And it goes on day, after day, after day.
What we’ve got to do is interdict these people. Get them off the street before they get to the next crime scene. I mean -- and get in the real world in terms of checks. I mean the fact is, the NRA has been trying for 20-some years -- Senator Schumer and I went back and forth on “Face the Nation” where I asked him if he’d help get those adjudicated mentally incompetent into the system 20 years ago. He said yes, and they’re still not in the system. And my point is, even if you turn up someone on an instant check that’s a mentally ill person, or a felon, as long as you let them go, you’re not keeping them from getting a gun.
And you’re not preventing them from getting to the next crime scene. I mean we’ve got to get in the real world of this discussion. The problem with gun laws is, criminals don’t cooperate with them. The -- the mentally ill don’t cooperate with them. So you’ve got to interdict, incarcerate, interdict, get in treatment, and do things that matter. And then you’ve got to put police officers in schools, armed security in schools. But let’s do the things that work. Let’s get serious about this.
I mean this discussion -- I mean I sit here and listen to it and my reaction is, how little it has to do with making the country and our kids safe. And how much it has to do with this decade long, or two decade long gun ban agenda that -- that we don’t enforce the laws even when they’re on the books. The attorney general of the United States -- Attorney General Eric Holder during the Richmond Program, called it a cookie-cutter approach to solving crime that, you know he really didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm about.
I remember Senator Sessions held a hearing and they -- the Department of Justice testified, well a drug dealer with a gun is a guppy, and we can’t really concentrate on guppies. Those guppies are what is ruining neighborhoods, destroying lives, and killing people. And we’ve got to confront their behavior, take them off the street because they don’t obey by all the laws we have right now. We’ve got to get in the real world on what works, and what doesn’t work.
My problem with back -- background checks is, you’re never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks. I mean they’re -- all the law abiding people, you’ll create an enormous federal bureaucracy, unfunded, hitting -- all of the little people in the country will have to go through it, pay the fees, pay the taxes. We don’t even prosecute anybody right now who goes through the system we have.
So, we’re going to make all those law abiding people go through the system, and then we aren’t going to prosecute any of the bad guys if they do catch one. And it -- none of it makes any sense in the real world. We have 80,000 police families in the NRA. We care about safety. We’ll support what works.
LEAHY: I’m trying to be fair to everybody here, and certainly you’re going to have a lot more chance to speak. Senator Durbin?
DURBIN: Mr. LaPierre, that’s the point. The criminals won’t go to purchase the guns because there will be a background check. We’ll stop them from the original purchase. You miss that point completely.
DURBIN: I think it’s -- it’s basic.
LAPIERRE: Senator, I think you missed...
LEAHY: Let there be order.
LAPIERRE: I think you’re missing...
LEAHY: Let there be order.
LAPIERRE: If you don’t prosecute them, you’re not stopping them.
LEAHY: Please wait -- everybody for a moment. (CROSSTALK)
LEAHY: I said earlier, there will be order in the committee room. Senator Durbin, and then...
DURBIN: I -- I’m going to give you a chance, but let me just say at the outset, Captain Kelly thank you. Thank you for bringing that wonderful, brave wife of yours today to remind us what victims suffer from gun violence. What a heroic figure she is, and what a great pillar of strength you are, to stand by her during this entire ordeal, and her rehabilitation. We’re so proud of her, and of you.
KELLY: Thank you.
DURBIN: And I say with some regret, there should have been a hearing just like this right after your wife, one of our own, a member of Congress, was shot point-blank in the face at a town meeting in Tuscon, Arizona.
I’m sorry it’s taken two years for us to convene this hearing, but it took Newtown, Connecticut to finally bring us to our senses and to open this national conversation. But I hope that you will extend to her our best wishes, our love and our support for what she is doing today and what she has meant to all of us for this long period of time.
I also want to say a word about an incident. There was a young lady from Chicago, Illinois, 15 years old. She attended the University Prep School in Chicago. She was an honor student and a majorette. And she marched in the inaugural parade last week here in Chicago. It was the highlight of her young 15-year-old life.
Yesterday, in a rainstorm after school she raced to a shelter. A gunman came in and shot her dead. Just a matter of days after the happiest day of her life she’s gone.
A lot has been said about the city of Chicago, and I want to say a few words too. The biggest problem in Chicago, according to Superintendent McCarthy, who came to Chicago from New York, we are awash in guns.
The confiscation of guns per capita in Chicago is six times the number of New York City. We have guns everywhere. And some believe the solution to this is more guns. I disagree.
When you take a look at where these guns come from, 25 percent plus are sold in the surrounding towns around the city of Chicago, not in the city.
And you look over the last 10 or 12 years, of the 50,000 guns confiscated in crimes, almost one out of 10 crime guns in Chicago came to that city from Mississippi -- Mississippi. Why? Because the background checks there, the gun dealers there are a lot easier than they are in other places. And they end up selling these guns in volume and they come up the interstate and kill wantonly on the way.
Here’s the basics. I think we all agree -- I hope we all agree that the Supreme Court decision in Heller said we can have reasonable limitations on a Second Amendment right in terms of the type of weapon and the people who own them and the background checks on those people.
It’s something we desperately need to do.
But we know now that 40 percent of the sales are not going through the background checks. That’s a huge problem. It’s created this abundance of weapons that are available.
And the straw purchasers -- I salute the chairman for addressing this issue on straw purchasers. It’s one of the worst situations in our state and in the city of Chicago.
I can point to one gun store -- one gun store in Riverdale, Illinois, that accounts for more than 20 percent of the crime guns in Chicago. Straw purchasers buy the guns there and they end up in the hands of criminals in the city of Chicago. We got to put an end to this.
Chairman, thank you for your bill.
And let me ask -- I’m gonna ask a question here of some of the panelists.
Mr. LaPierre, I run into some of your members in Illinois and here’s what they tell me, “Senator, you don’t get the Second Amendment.” Your NRA members say, “You just don’t get it. It’s not just about hunting. It’s not just about sports. It’s not just about shooting targets. It’s not just about defending ourselves from criminals,” as Ms. Trotter testified. “We need the firepower and the ability to protect ourselves from our government” -- from our government, from the police -- “if they knock on our doors and we need to fight back.”
Do you agree with that point of view?
LAPIERRE: Senator, I think without any doubt, if you look at why our founding fathers put it there, they had lived under the tyranny of King George and they wanted to make sure that these free people in this new country would never be subjugated again and have to live under tyranny.
I also think, though, that what people all over the country fear today is being abandoned by their government. If a tornado hits, if a hurricane hits, if a riot occurs that they’re gonna be out there alone. And the only way they’re gonna protect themself (ph) in the cold and the dark, when they’re vulnerable is with a fire arm. And I think that indicates how relevant and essential the Second Amendment is in today’s society to fundamental human survival.
DURBIN: Well, Chief Johnson, you’ve heard it.
The belief of NRA is the Second Amendment has to give American citizens the firepower to fight back against you, against our government.
LAPIERRE: That’s not (OFF-MIKE)
DURBIN: So how do you conduct your business in enforcing the law and not knowing what is behind that door?
J. JOHNSON: I find it to be scary, creepy. And it’s simply just not based on logic. Certainly, law enforcement across this nation is well-prepared to deal with any natural or man-made disaster that will occur. And, frankly, I just -- I can’t relate to that kind of thinking.
DURBIN: I can’t either. I can’t relate to the need of that man in Aurora. Colorado, to have a 100-round drum, 100 cartridges.
Professor Kopel, do you think that’s necessary for hunting, sports, target practice, even self defense?
KOPEL: I -- it would be not legal for hunting in most states, where there are limits on how many rounds you can have in a magazine.
But, as I think you’ve recognized, the Second Amendment is not primarily about hunting. What I’ve been talking about is what the Supreme Court said in District of Columbia v. Heller, which is what is core of the Second Amendment, which is the firearms and their accessories which are commonly owned by law-abiding people for legitimate purposes.
DURBIN: But, let me tell you -- let me ask...
KOPEL: And -- and -- and those are not, I’m not talking about 100-round magazines. I’m talking about what police officers carry, what citizens carry, semi-automatic handguns, typically with magazines of below 19 rounds...
DURBIN: But those are police officers.
KOPEL: ... and rifles.
DURBIN: But those are police officers. Those are members of our military.
KOPEL: No, they’re not -- they’re not military men. They’re not coming to attack people, They’re coming to protect people. And they want to protect -- and citizens protect themselves the same way that police officers do.
DURBIN: What I’m trying to get to is this, if you can rationalize a 100-round drum that someone can strap onto an automatic -- semi-automatic weapon, as did in Aurora, Colorado, and turn it loose, killing dozens of people there, and saving lives only because it jammed, then you certainly ought to object to the laws that have been on the books for 80 years about machine guns. Why aren’t they allowed under the Second Amendment?
KOPEL: Because, as the -- because, according to Heller, because they are not commonly used by law-abiding citizens for legitimate purposes.
DURBIN: But 100-round magazines are?
KOPEL: You’re the one who wants to talk about 100-round magazines.
DURBIN: I sure do.
KOPEL: And thank goodness -- thank goodness he had a piece of junk like that that jammed, instead of something better made, where he could have killed more people with it.
DURBIN: Well, we -- that’s what it’s all about, then?
KOPEL: It’s about saving...
DURBIN: We’re playing God here?
KOPEL: It’s about saving lives -- it’s about saving lives with ordinary magazines. Hundred magazines are novelties that are not used by police officers or hunters or most other people.
KOPEL: But what you’re talking about banning, Senator, is normal magazines.
DURBIN: Tell us about -- tell us about the lives that were saved in Tucson and what it had to do with magazines.
KELLY: The shooter in Tucson showed up with two 33-round magazines, one of which was in his 9 millimeter. He unloaded the contents of that magazine in 15 seconds. Very quickly. It all happened very, very fast.
The first bullet went into Gabby’s head. Bullet number 13 went into a nine-year old girl named Christina Taylor Green, who was very interested in democracy and our government, and really deserved a full life committed to advancing those ideas.
If he had a 10-round magazine -- well, let me back up. When he tried to reload one 33-round magazine with another 33-round magazine, he dropped it. And a woman named Patricia Maisch grabbed it, and it gave bystanders a time to tackle him. I contend if that same thing happened when he was trying to reload one 10-round magazine with another 10-round magazine, meaning he did not have access to a high-capacity magazine, and the same thing happened, Christina Taylor Green would be alive today.
I certainly am willing to give up my right to own a high-capacity magazine to bring that young woman back, that young girl.
Now, let me -- let me -- let me continue with what happened that day. In that 15 seconds -- or, actually, with the first shot, a man ran out of Walgreen’s, a good guy with a gun, with the intent to do the right thing, An armed citizen.
He came within -- he admits that he came within about a half a second of shooting the man who tackled during Jared Loughner and nearly killing him.
I mean, we almost had this horrific mass murder followed up with a horrific accident. The horrific mass murder because of the high- capacity magazine and the horrific accident because of the -- the armed person there who, with good intention, wanted to end the something that was -- that was going really bad.
DURBIN: Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Senator Graham?
GRAHAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I think I’m speaking for a lot of people when they say we’re heartbroken when a family member is taken through an act of gun violence, whether it be a child or anyone else, but particularly children. That’s just a heartbreaking episode in society. And I think most people would -- would appreciate the fact that there are thousands, it not millions of Americans who saved their families from home invasions or violent assault because they had a gun to protect themselves. And most of us are glad it ended well for you.
So, those are the two bookends. And you mentioned, Captain Kelly, and I very much appreciate your being here and your service to the country, about you and your wife are reasonable Americans. I don’t doubt that one bit. I’m sure you are. The question is, am I a reasonable American if I oppose this bill? Am I a reasonable American believing that the Constitution says guns commonly used by the population (inaudible) for legitimate purposes?
(inaudible) the Second Amendment, I don’t want to own a gun to attack my government. That’s just not what I think a legitimate purpose is.
Let’s talk about a real-world incident that happened in Loganville, Georgia on January 4th, 2013. My basic premise is that one bullet in the hand of a mentally unstable person or a convicted felon is one too many. Six bullets in the hands of a mother protecting her twin 9-year-olds may not be enough. So, I’ve got a chart here. At the very top is a .38 revolver and on the right is a 9-millimeter pistol that holds 15 rounds.
Does everybody on the panel agree that a convicted felon should not have either one of those guns? Does everybody agree that a mentally unstable person shouldn’t have either one of those pistols? OK, common ground there.
Put yourself in the shoes of the mother. The guy broke into the home. She ran upstairs. She hid in a closet. She got on the phone to the police. And she was talking to her husband in real time. The intruder broke into the home, had a crowbar, and he found them in the closet. And they were confronted -- confronted face to face. According to media report, her husband said, “shoot, shoot.” She emptied the gun, a six-shot revolver. The guy was hit five of the six times. He was able still to get up and drive away. My question is: Put your family member in that situation. Would I be a reasonable American to want my family to have the 15-round magazine in a semi-automatic weapon to make sure that if there’s two intruders, she doesn’t run out of bullets? Am I an unreasonable person for saying that in that situation, the 15-round magazine makes sense?
Well, I’ll say I don’t believe I am. So I can give you an example of where a 15-round magazine could make the difference between protecting a family if there’s more than one attacker.
Now, back to your point, Captain Kelly. In the situation you described, I don’t want that person to have one bullet or one gun. And the point of regulating magazines is to interrupt the shooter. That’s the point of all this.
And I guess what I’m saying is that we live in a world where there are 4 million high-capacity magazines out there or more. I think the best way to interrupt the shooter if they come to a schoolhouse is not to try to deny the woman in Atlanta the ability to have more than 10 rounds, but to have somebody like you, Chief Johnson, meet them when they come into the door. I think that’s the best way to do it.
Now, my good friend Joe Biden, who we have very spirited conversations about a lot of things, was online recently talking to someone in California who mentioned the fact, what is there’s an earthquake out here -- out here and there’s a lawless situation? In 1992, you had the riots in Los Angeles. I think it was the King event. But you could find yourself in this country in a lawless environment through a natural disaster or a riot, and the story was about a place called Koreatown. There were marauding gangs going throughout the area burning stores, looting and robbing and raping. And the vice president said in response to “that’s why I want my AR- 15,” he said, “No, you would be better off with a 12-gauge shotgun.”
GRAHAM: Well, that’s his opinion and I respect it. I have an AR-15 at home and I haven’t hurt anybody and I don’t intend to do it. But I think I would be better off protecting my business or my family if there was law-and-order breakdown in my community, people roaming around my neighborhood to have the AR-15, and I don’t think that makes me and on reasonable person.
Now, Ms. Trotter when you mention that you’re speaking on behalf of millions of women out there who believe an AR-15 makes them safer, there were a lot of giggles and the room, and I think that explains the dilemma we have.
The people who were giggling were saying to you, that is crazy. Nobody I know thinks that way. Which reminds me of the Harvard professor who said, “I cannot believe Mcgovern lost. Everyone I know voted for him.” And I bet there are people on our side that can’t believe Obama won, because everyone they know voted against him.
The point is that we have different perspectives on this. And the reason I’m going to oppose the legislation, Chief Johnston, is because I respect what your do as a law enforcement officer.
Has your budget been cut?
J. JOHNSON: Yes.
GRAHAM: Will it be cut in the future?
J. JOHNSON: I am optimistic that it is not.
GRAHAM: Well I hope you’re right, but I can tell people, throughout this land, because of the fiscal state of affairs we have, there will be less police officers, not more, over the next decade. Response time are gonna be less, not more.
So, Captain Kelly I really do want to get guns out of the hands of the wrong people. I honest to God believe that if we arbitrarily say nobody in this country can own a 10-round magazine in the future, the people who own them are the people we’re trying to combat to begin with, and they (sic) could be a situation where a mother runs out of bullets because of something we do here.
I can’t prevent every bad outcome, but I do know and I do believe in the bottom of my heart I am not an unreasonable person for saying that in some circumstances the 15-round magazine makes perfect sense and in some circumstances the AR-15 makes perfect sense. And I think our efforts to solve a problem that exists in the real world out there from Washington by having more gun laws that really do not hit the mark so to speak, politically, or situationally, that we’re all face, but this is why we have these hearings. And I really do appreciate the fact that we have these hearings.
Professor Kopel -- Kopel, Kopel?
KOPEL: Either one.
Some people on our side say -- and I’ll wrap this up, Mr. Chairman -- that it is unconstitutional to put a limit on magazine size.
Do you agree with that?
KOPEL: I think if we follow Senator Schumer’s approach and say we’re gonna follow what the District of Columbia v. Heller Supreme Court decision says, what that tells you is the core of the Second Amendment is the firearms and accessories that are commonly owned by law abiding people for legitimate purposes.
GRAHAM: Is it constitutional to say 10 rounds versus 15?
KOPEL: Ten is plainly unconstitutional, because, as I was trying to explain to Senator Durbin, magazines of up to 19 are common on semiautomatic handguns.
GRAHAM: (inaudible) I do not know if 10 versus 19 is common or uncommon. I do know that 10 versus 19 in the hands of the wrong person is a complete disaster. I do know that six bullets in that hands of a woman trying to defend her children may not be enough. So I don’t look at it from some academic debate.
Let’s agree on one thing. One bullet in the hands of the wrong person we should all try to prevent. But when you start telling me that I am unreasonable for wanting that woman to have more than six bullets, or to have an AR-15 if people roaming around my neighborhood, I reject the concept.
LEAHY: Thank you, Senator.
Senator Whitehouse? And then after Senator Whitehouse, Senator Lee.
WHITEHOUSE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, I’ve heard testimony in this hearing that the federal gun crime prosecutions number 62 per year, and that, “We don’t prosecute any.” And I was surprised to hear that testimony because I was a United States attorney. And in my time that I was United States attorney it became an absolute priority of the Department of Justice to prosecute firearms.
WHITEHOUSE: So I went to every police department in my state to talk up what we could do with gun criminals. We set up a special procedure where the attorney general’s office, which has criminal jurisdiction in Rhode Island, and our office viewed gun crimes together to make sure they were sent to the place where they could get the most effective treatment. And I believe that, that continues, although I’m no longer a U.S. attorney. So I hold up some quick statistics, and according to the executive office at United States attorneys, in 2012 more than 11,700 defendants were charged with federal gun crimes, which is a lot more than not doing it, and a lot more than 62.
And the numbers are up at the Department of Justice since 2000 and 2001 by more than 3,000 prosecutions. So, we may have a debate about whether more should be done, and who at the witness table actually wants more to be done in the way of gun prosecutions, but I think to pretend that the number is in double digits, or the number is zero, is flagrantly wrong, and I think inconsistent with the type of testimony that Senators should rely on in a situation like this.
I’d also add that there’s been repeated testimony, also mentioned by Senator Durbin that criminals won’t subject themselves to a background check. And my response to that is, that’s exactly the point. Criminals won’t subject themselves to a background check, so they won’t go into the gun shops. And if they do, they get prevented from buying a gun. So instead, they go to illegal means. They go primarily to the way we distribute guns without a gun check -- a background check, which is to the gun shows.
And so I think to the extent we can expand the background check, the very fact that the criminals won’t subject themselves to a background check provides the kind of prevention that Senator Graham was talking about, to keep the guns out of the hands of criminals in the very first case. Chief Johnson, tell me a little bit about the men and women with whom you serve in law enforcement, and the type of training, and screening that is important both in gun use, in gun safety, in situational awareness, before they are put in a position where they are expected to defend the public with firearms?
Is that just something you just give somebody a gun and say, get in there, and go defend the -- the community? Or how -- how rigorous, and how cautious are you about the training required?
J. JOHNSON: The process starts well before we even offer you a badge. And it is a very robust, in depth, psychological review of whether or not we’re even going to allow you to enter the force itself. All departments are universal in this issue. It includes psychological, polygraph, and other means to determine whether or not you have the fiber to have that awesome responsibility to carry a gun. The training is exhaustive. Weeks and weeks of training on how to use the weapon, and tactically how to deal with it, how to care for it, and how to safeguard that weapon.
But it doesn’t stop there. Once you’re out in the field, a very robust psychological services section, yearly training and other safety equipment that must be carried. This talk about teachers having guns...
WHITEHOUSE: That’s actually where I was going to go. But before we get to teachers, to your knowledge, does the military have the -- similar types of concerns and programs with respect to arming men and women who serve in our armed forces?
J. JOHNSON: It is my understanding talking with my associates in the military, that public policing mirrors much of what the military does.
WHITEHOUSE: So against that background, tell me how much sense you think it makes to have our line of defense be armed teachers?
J. JOHNSON: Certainly when we have this discussion, you have to -- does a teacher have the -- the -- the inner fiber to carry that weapon? The awesome responsibility? You’re a teacher in a classroom. You’re an educator. You dedicated your entire life to that pursuit, but you’ve got a sidearm strapped to yourself? You’d better have it all the time. Because if you put it in your desk drawer, your purse, or your briefcase -- and where you gonna leave it?
J. JOHNSON: Let me tell you something, carrying this weapon on my side has been a pain all these years. I’m glad I have it if I need it, but let me tell you, it’s an awesome responsibility. And what do you do in the summertime when you dress down? How are you going to safeguard that weapon from a classroom full of 16-year-old boys that want to touch it? How are you gonna do that?
And certainly -- the holsters. I’m spending $200 a piece just for the holsters. You can’t rip it from my side.
So these are all the factors that in a robust, psychological service section we all face catastrophic changes in our lives as we go through divorce and other things that bring us down. But you need people to step in, like we have in policing, that notice those things and deal with them. This is a major issue.
WHITEHOUSE: We’ve had cases, including a case in Rhode Island, in which trained police officers who were off duty responded to a situation, because they hadn’t been adequately trained in how to respond off duty and because they were out of uniform, it lead to tragic blue-on-blue events.
Presumably, that would have some bearing on armed police officers responding to an event in which a lot of armed and untrained teachers are trying to defend students in a school.
J. JOHNSON: Well, it’s a very important point. Two years ago in Baltimore City an on-duty officer in plain clothes was shot by uniformed on-duty personnel, and they work the same shift. It’s just in the darkness of the night they couldn’t tell.
And as Captain Kelly has pointed out, that’s a major issue in the Tucson shooting.
WHITEHOUSE: And Ms. Trotter, a quick question. Sarah McKinley, in defending her home, used a Remington 870 Express 12-gauge shotgun that would not be banned under this statute, correct -- under the proposed statute?
TROTTER: I don’t -- I don’t remember what type of weapon she used.
WHITEHOUSE: Well, trust me, that’s what it was. And it would not be banned under the statute.
So it doesn’t -- I think it proves the point that with ordinary firearms not 100-magazine, peculiar types of artifacts people are quite capable of defending themselves. In fact, that was your example.
TROTTER: I respectfully disagree. I understand that you are also a graduate from the University of Virginia School of Law, and you were close to Monticello where Thomas Jefferson penned our Declaration of Independence and close to Montpelier where James Madison was instrumental in drafting the Bill of Rights. And I think you can understand that as a woman I think it’s very important not to place undue burdens on our Second Amendment right to choose to defend ourselves.
WHITEHOUSE: Oh, I have...
TROTTER: I don’t know what -- I don’t know what weapon she used...
WHITEHOUSE: ... the point. My point is that the example you used is one that would not bear (ph) an argument against the proposal that is before us, because that Remington 870 Express is a weapon that would be perfectly allowed.
TROTTER: So would it have been unreasonable for her to use a different gun to protect her child?
WHITEHOUSE: I think that if she was using a 100 weapon -- let me put it another way. She would clearly have an adequate ability to protect her family without the need for a 100-round piece.
TROTTER: How can you say that?
You -- you are a large man, and you are not a teenage...
TROTTER: a tall -- tall man. You are not a young mother who has a young child with her. And I am passionate about this position. Because you cannot understand. You are not a woman stuck in her house having to defend her children, not able to leave her child, not able to seek safety, on the phone with 911. And she cannot get the police there fast enough to protect her child...
TROTTER: ... and she’s not used to being in a firefight.
WHITEHOUSE: And my point simply is that she did it adequately and safely with lawful firearms and without the kind of firepower that was brought to bear so that the 12th, 13th, 14th shots could be fired by the man who shot...
LEAHY: I’m gonna have to acknowledge and (inaudible) another round.
There are a number of things that I could say as a gun owner, but I won’t. Pass up on the opportunity, and go to Senator Lee.
LEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And I -- I’d like to thank each of the distinguished members of our panel today for enduring now over two hours of this hearing.
As -- as a more junior member of the committee who sometimes gets to ask questions last or second to last, I’m especially appreciative of your willingness to stay this long.
LEE: I think every one of us, both here in this room and everyone watching on television, has been horrified by the incidents that occurred in Newtown, in -- in Tucson and elsewhere. And I don’t think there is one of us that wouldn’t like us to find a way as a society to put an end to events like this.
It would be my preference, if we could find a way to put an end to events like this, without doing violence to the Constitution and also without leaving law-abiding citizens more vulnerable to crime.
There are a number of statistics on this, but one statistic I’ve read has indicated that about 2.5 million times a year in America, a gun is used to protect its owner, its possessor, from a crime. That’s -- that’s quite significant and that’s a fact that we need to take into account.
There’s been a lot of reference today to the fact that the protections of the Constitution -- the protections of the Second Amendment right to bear arms -- are not unlimited. And I agree that they are not unlimited. There are limits. I think it’s important for us from time to time to focus on what those limits are.
The Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller held that the guns that are within the zone of protection of the Second Amendment are those that are typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.
Why don’t we start with you, Professor Kopel. Can you tell me, is a gun -- a semi-automatic weapon, whether a rifle or a hand gun, that holds more than 10 rounds in its ammunition magazine, one that could fairly be characterized as one that’s typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes?
KOPEL: In hand guns, semi-automatics are 81 percent of new hand guns sold. A very large percentage of those have as standard, not as high-capacity, but as standard factory magazines -- magazines between 11 and 19 rounds. Another thing that is very common, to get back to Senator Whitehouse’s issue about the Remington 870 shotgun, is Senator Feinstein’s bill would outlaw that shotgun if it has a seven-round magazine on it. It comes with a five-round magazine. You can extend it buy two rounds. And the Feinstein bill would outlaw that very standard home defense shotgun if it simply has a seven-round magazine.
So, it’s all fine to talk about novelty items on the fringe, like a 100-round drum, but in practice what is at threat of being outlawed, that people are actually using, is their standard capacity hand gun magazines and standard capacity magazines for rifles and shotguns.
LEE: And what are the law -- what are the law-abiding citizens doing with these? In other words, what are the lawful purposes to which law-abiding citizens are putting these guns, who own them?
KOPEL: Self-defense, target shooting -- all the purposes which is lawful to possess a firearm. And I would -- regarding what the chief was talking about about all this extra training that police officers have. Well, since I represented the two leading police training organizations in the U.S. Supreme Court, I would certainly agree that the police have more training for all kinds of reasons, including they have the power to effectuate arrests, which ordinary citizens don’t.
But the training -- in the view of the police training organizations, the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association, the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors, they believe that the training that is required in most states to obtain a permit to carry a hand gun for lawful protection of self -- only nine states currently violate that by not letting trained citizens carry -- that that is appropriate, sufficient for people to be able to protect themselves, not necessarily to go out and do arrests, but to defend themselves. And that includes defending themselves in their place of employment, including if that place of employment happens to be a school.
LEE: Well, one of the arguments that I’ve frequently heard for making this type of weapon illegal or making any weapon illegal if you’re using an ammunition magazine containing more than 10 rounds is that weapons like these are available on a widespread basis; that -- that it’s relatively easy to buy them in the sense that, you know, most people may lawfully buy them and own them. And that’s used as an argument in favor of restricting access to these weapons.
In your opinion, does that make it more or less constitutionally permissible to restrict their sale?
KOPEL: Well, I think you’ve hit exactly what District of Columbia v. Heller was all about, which, you know, you talk about how often are 100-round magazines used in crimes. Pretty rarely. How often are they used in self-defense? Pretty rarely, too.
Hand guns are used -- they’re 70 percent of gun homicides are perpetrated with hand guns. And the Supreme Court said the fact that these are very frequently used in crimes does not mean that under the Constitution, you can prohibit them.
KOPEL: So the point -- the fact that you can point to any particular crime where a gun was misused and say, “Oh, that proves we have to ban this gun or this accessory,” is the opposite of what the Supreme Court is saying. The Supreme Court is saying, “You don’t look only at the misuse of an arm or an accessory, you look at its lawful use. Does it have common, lawful use?”
Yes, handguns have common, lawful use. Yes, handgun magazines in the standard size of 11 to 19 rounds have common, lawful use. And yes, the AR-15 rifle, the most popular, best-selling rifle in this country for years, has pervasive lawful use.
LEE: So, if we restrict access to these guns, we’re -- we’re limiting the ability of individual Americans, law-abiding Americans, to use them for lawful purposes?
KOPEL: Yes, and the -- and the teaching of Heller is the fact that Criminals may misuse something, but that does not constitute sufficient reason to prohibit law-abiding citizens from using a commonly used firearm.
LEE: Ms. Trotter, do most of the gun-owning women that you know have an inclination to abide by the law in connection with a gun ownership?
TROTTER: Yes, definitely.
LEE: If we were to ban all weapons that contained an ammunition magazine capable of accommodating more than 10 rounds, would most female gun owners abide by that law?
TROTTER: Of course.
LEE: What about criminals, those who use weapons like these in connection with crimes? Do you think they are as likely to abide by that law?
TROTTER: By definition, criminal are not abiding by the law.
LEE: Where does that then put women like those that you described -- women like those that you represent, what kind of position does this put them in relative to their -- their current position, as their ability to defend themselves?
TROTTER: It disarms the women, it puts them at a severe disadvantage and it not only affects them, but it affects anybody they are responsible for, their children, elderly relatives, incapacitated family members.
LEE: Mr. Chairman, I see my time’s expired. I have one question for Mr. Johnson, if I could have -- Mr. Johnson, according to FBI statistics, about 72 percent of the gun homicides that are committed each year in America are committed with handguns, 4 percent with rifles, 4 percent with shotguns, 1 percent with other types of -- of firearms, and then 18 percent that fit into the category of unknown, but 72 percent classified as -- as handguns.
If 72 percent of gun homicides are being committed with handguns, would that suggest that you prefer banning handguns as well?
J. JOHNSON: Our partnership -- and frankly I’ve been party to no discussion of banning handguns or restricting handguns from women or any other group.
I don’t want to give up my hand guns. We are here today to talk about a universal background check that would help make our nation safer and limit high-capacity magazines. They are used in crimes and violence across America.
LEE: Even though far more people die each year from handgun- inflicted injury is an assault weapon-inflicted injuries.
J. JOHNSON: We believe the limit on high-capacity magazines, even in handguns is necessary. No more than 10.
LEE: Thank you.
LEAHY: Senator Klobuchar.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, I first wanted to just acknowledge all of the family out here who have lost loved ones in shootings. And I especially wanted to acknowledge Maya Ramin (ph) who’s here from Minnesota, who lost their dad, (inaudible), in a horrible shooting at the company that he built and loved, a small business in which he was killed along with four other employees and a UPS guy who just happened to be there by a coworker who was mentally unstable. And this just happened this fall.
So thank you.
I also was listening to all the statistics here, which are very important. I am a former prosecutor, I believe in evidence. But the statistic that I will never forget is the one from Newtown, Connecticut, shared with me by a relative of one of the young victims in that tragedy.
And that is that little Charlotte Bacon loved her Girl Scout troop. And her Girl Scout troop once had 10 girls, and now there are only five left.
We have to remember what this is all about as we look at solutions.
KLOBUCHAR: For me, as a former prosecutor, I’ve always believed in enforcing the laws on the books. And, Mr. LaPierre, I made it a major, major focus of our office to prosecute the (inaudible) and possession of guns. I think that is clearly part of the solution. You cannot lessen the importance of that as we go forward.
But there are other things as well, including the recommendations that have been made by Vice President Biden and that task force. And I think it’s very important that we explore those in addition to enforcing the laws on the books.
I have heard from my sheriffs -- Republican sheriffs from all over my state, that there are major issues with background checks.
And so, I think I would turn to that first, Chief Johnson. We have had -- we had a guy in Minnesota that just came our paper, the Minneapolis paper, who had killed his parents as a juvenile. Got out. Somehow got a permit, and was able to obtain guns.
In fact, when they found him, he had 13 guns in his house. And he had a note that he had written to the gunman in Newtown. And he also said in the note, “I am so homicide, I think about killing all the time.”
He was able to get a permit and get those guns. This just came out in our local paper.
And I wondered what you see as some of the biggest loopholes. We’ve talked about gun shows, Internet, private sales, and -- and how you think that could help?
And then I want to get to the thing you talked about, about how you can get those background checks done quickly, because I come from a hunting state. The last thing I want to do is hurt my Uncle Dick in his deer stand. And I want to make sure that what we do works.
And so, if you could address that.
J. JOHNSON: There’s been great improvement in the nation. Some statistics show nearly 800 percent increase in data entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. That’s good, but it’s not good enough. And we’re really failing miserably, nationally, entering that data.
Statistics I’ve read indicate that nearly 18 states across the nation submit less than 100 records to the NICS system on a -- on a regular basis. We’ve to improve that. Maryland has to improve that, in fact. We’re not doing enough in Maryland.
KLOBUCHAR: And is it true that about 40 percent of gun sales take place at the gun shows?
J. JOHNSON: Statistics reveal that 40 percent of gun sales take place at gun shows and other non-licensed dealer sales arrangements. Nearly 6.6 million guns through that process a year.
KLOBUCHAR: And are more and more people now using the Internet to buy guns, as we see in other areas?
J. JOHNSON: I sat with my detectives in the gun squad for weeks before I had a chance to come -- the honor to come here today. And they regularly used Internet, PennySaver classified ads. They’ll go outside the state in many cases. A variety of methods, including straw purchasers.
KLOBUCHAR: And you talked a little bit earlier about how quickly these background checks can get done. You compared it to issuing a ticket. If you could answer that.
J. JOHNSON: The analysis that we’ve conducted, the information I have, I believe it’s 92 percent of NICS background checks come back in less than a minute and half when you go to a licensed federal dealer.
And, certainly, that’s much quicker than I can write a citation. And I think that should be universal. That’s what we’re calling for. That’s what’s gonna make our nation safer.
KLOBUCHAR: Mr. LaPierre, do you want to respond about the -- the timing on the checks?
LAPIERRE: Sure, I’ll respond to -- yes, Senator, a couple points. One, the chief’s talking about using the Internet to do interstate sales. That is a federal crime and should be prosecuted. The only way you can do a sale, it would have to go through a dealer and it would have to be cleared through a check.
The senator from Rhode Island talked about the prosecution data. I get all that from the Syracuse University track data, which is who tracks the initial -- the prosecution of the federal gun laws where that’s the initial charge.
And why Project Exile worked in Richmond, Virginia, is what they started to is they caught a drug dealer with a gun. They put signs up all over the city saying if you have an illegal gun in Richmond under federal law, you’re going to be prosecuted 100 percent of the time. Drug dealers, gangs and felons stopped carrying guns.
So those -- the ‘62 (ph), Senator, statistic, was for Chicago alone, not for the entire country.
KLOBUCHAR: Mr. LaPierre, if you could...
LAPIERRE: Yeah. KLOBUCHAR: ... and I know you want to discuss this with Senator Whitehouse, but I have question about the timing. Could -- do you agree with the chief here that we could do this quickly? And all we’re trying to do here is close some of these loophole so we expand some of the background checks, but that it still could be done in a way that won’t interfere with law-abiding gun owners.
LAPIERRE: Well, gun shows, right now are -- according to all the surveys, are not a source of crime guns, anyway. It’s 1.7 percent. Where criminals are guns, they’re -- the black market. They’re stealing them, They’re not getting them through gun shows.
But if you’re talking about expanding a system that is already overloaded, where they’re not doing any prosecutions, basically. Even if they catch somebody, they’re saying -- it’s like Bonnie and Clyde. They catch Clyde, and he goes home and says, “Bonnie, they didn’t do anything to me, so let’s go commit our crime and get a gun.”
LAPIERRE: I mean, if -- if you’re talking about expanding that system to every hunter, to every family member, every relative all over the United States, when the system already can’t handle what it has, you’re creating an enormous federal bureaucracy. It’s only going to hit the law-abiding people, not criminals.
Honest people are going to be entrapped into committing crimes they had no intention to commit and it’s going to -- it’s an unworkable universal federal nightmare bureaucracy being imposed under the federal government.
I just don’t think that law-abiding people want every gun sale in the country to be under the thumb of the federal government.
KLOBUCHAR: But it’s my understanding that when people buy guns, they do undergo a background check. We know that and we’re just simply trying to close some of these loopholes.
Chief? Do you want to respond to this?
J. JOHNSON: Well, certainly when a weapon is purchased through a licensed federal dealer, they undergo a background check. But, as we’ve said many times here today 40 percent of these guns are being sold outside that process. This is not unreasonable. And certainly I don’t consider it a restriction. If I buy a gun next year, you know through a private seller, I’ll go to a licensed dealer to do it. This is not unreasonable.
KLOBUCHAR: And Captain Kelly, I think you really said it best at the very beginning of this lengthy hearing when you talked about your belief in the Second Amendment, and in those rights. But with those rights comes responsibility. And you talked about the responsibility to make sure that these guns do not get into the hands of criminals and terrorists, and those with mental illness. And do you see this, the background check, as a way to get at this problem?
KELLY: Gabby and I are both responsible gun owners. I bought a hunting rifle from Walmart a few months ago, and I went through a background check. It didn’t take very long. And they -- you know they were able to very clearly determine that, you know I was a responsible person. You know in -- in Tuscon, and in many of these cases there are people that either would have failed a background check if the right data was in the system, like in the case of Jared Loughner, and certainly in that case he would have the option to go to a gun show, or a private seller, and I imagine he would have gotten a weapon. You know he was a pretty marginalized person. I would imagine, and -- and quite mentally ill and didn’t have much of a community around him. I imagine in that case, if he would have not been able to get -- not pass a background check, and -- if there was a universal background check, I actually don’t see him going on the black market to get a gun. And maybe if he did, maybe it would have taken him a long time to do that. To find the right place to go.
And maybe in that period of time, just maybe his parents would have gotten him some treatment, got him on medication. And if they did, from what his attorney and the prosecutors have told me, on medication he would have never done what he did on that day. I mean, so you might not be able to prevent every single criminal from getting a weapon, but a universal background check is a common-sense thing to do.
I mean if we do them for federal licensed dealers, why can’t we just do it at the gun show, and for a private sale?
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you very much. And I was thinking as I listened to you, about all the people in this room that have thought those maybes too. Maybe if this had been in place, maybe if that had been in place. And I think your acknowledgment that it’s not one solution for every person, for every case. That we have to enforce the laws, but we have to do better with background checks and the number of the proposals that recommended out there by Vice President Biden’s commission that we can do better. Thank you.
LEAHY: Thank you.
I want to welcome one of our three new members to the committee, Senator Cruz of Texas. And Senator Cruz, you have the floor. I apologize that the allergies cause my voice to be so bad.
CRUZ: I thank you Mr. Chairman and it is a pleasure to serve with you, and all the members of this committee. I want to begin by thanking each of the distinguished witnesses who have come here today. Thank you for taking your time. In particular, I want to thank you Captain Kelly for your service to this country, and for your wife’s extraordinary journey, for her coming here.
CRUZ: Congresswoman Giffords has been lifted up in prayer by millions of Americans, and her heroic recovery is inspirational. And please know that you, and your family will continue in our prayers in the years to come.
My wife and I have two little girls. They are 4 and 2. I think no parent, and in particular no parent of young children could -- could watch what happened in Newtown without being utterly horrified -- utterly horrified at the depravity of a deranged criminal who -- who -- who would senselessly murder 20 young children at an elementary school.
Unfortunately in Washington, emotion often leads to bad policies. When a tragedy occurs, often this body rushes to act. And at times it seems the considerations of this body operate in a fact-free zone. I will suggest a philosophy that I think should guide this body in assessing gun violence, and then I would like to highlight and ask a few questions on a couple of points that I think are particularly salient to addressing this issue.
The philosophy I would suggest makes sense is that we should be vigorous and unrelenting in working to prevent, to deter and to punish violent criminals. I have spent a substantial portion of my professional life working in law enforcement. And the tragedies that are inflicted on innocent Americans every day by criminals are heartbreaking, and we need to do more to prevent them.
At the same time, I think we should remain vigilant in protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. And I think far too often, the approaches that have been suggested by this Congress to the issue of gun violence restricts the liberties of law-abiding citizens rather than targeting the violent criminals that we should be targeting.
And I would point out that I hope some of the passion we have seen from members of this committee with respect to the need to prevent violent crime will be reflected equally should we find ourselves in a judicial confirmation hearing with a judicial nominee who has a record of abusing the exclusionary rule to exclude evidence that results in a violent criminal walking free and being able to commit yet another crime. I hope we see exactly the same passion devoted to assessing whether judicial nominees will enforce our criminal laws and not frustrate the administration of justice.
Three points I think are particularly salient. The first is, in my judgment, the proposed assault weapons ban is a singularly ineffective piece of legislation.
I was having a conversation recently with a loved one in my family who asked a very reasonable question. She said, why do regular people need machine guns? And, you know, one of the things that happens in this debate is the phrase “assault weapons ban” gets a lot of people really concerned, and they assume, much like the phrase “military-style weapons” that we’re talking about ordinary citizens walking around with M-16s and Uzis that are fully automatic.
Fully automatic machine guns are already functionally illegal. Ordinary citizens cannot own them, absent very, very heavy regulation. This entire discussion does not concern machine guns, and yet I would venture to say, a large percentage of Americans do not understand that.
I want to begin by talking about the assault weapons ban as it was enforced before. And I would ask for slide number 1.
The assault weapons ban that used to be in effect, according to the Department of Justice, quote, “failed to reduce the average number of victims per gun murder incident or multiple gunshot wound victims.” Now, that is the assessment of the United States Department of Justice, and that is in 1994. That was the Janet Reno Department of Justice under President Clinton that said the assault weapons ban was singularly ineffective.
If we can move to the second slide.
The Department of Justice, likewise, concluded that the assault weapons ban, quote, “under it there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence.”
So the reaction to this tragedy in Newtown is for a lot of elected officials in Washington to rush to re-enact a law that according to the Department of Justice did absolutely nothing to reduce gun violence.
Now, why is that? That’s not accidental. Because the assault weapons ban, if it doesn’t ban machine guns, what does it ban? And what it bans, I would suggest to you, are scary-looking guns.
If we can move to slide 3.
This is a photograph of a Remington 750. It is one of the most popular hunting rifles in America. This rifle would be entirely legal under this so-called assault weapons ban.
CRUZ: Now, I have a question for you, Mr. LaPierre. Functionally, in terms of the operation of this firearm -- this is a semi-automatic firearm. You pull the trigger once, one bullet comes out. Is the operational firing mechanism in this firearm materially different from the so-called assault weapons ban that this -- this bill is targeted at?
LAPIERRE: No, it’s not.
CRUZ: Now, what the assault weapons ban instead targets are cosmetic features. So, for example, I am holding in my hand a pistol grip. Under this proposed legislation, if this piece of plastic, this pistol grip were attached to this rifle, it would suddenly become a banned assault weapon.
Now, I would ask you, Mr. LaPierre, are you aware of any evidence to suggest that attaching a piece of plastic to this rifle would make it in any way whatsoever even slightly more dangerous?
LAPIERRE: No, that -- that -- the problem with the whole bill that Senator Feinstein introduced is it’s based on falsehoods to people that do not understand firearms, to convince them that the performance characteristics of guns that they are trying to ban through that bill are different than the performance characteristics that they’re not trying to ban.
They make bigger holes. They’re rapid-fire. They spray bullets. They’re more powerful. They’re heavy armor. All of that is simply not true. I mean, the -- the AR-15 that people -- uses a .223s, and then I hear in the media all the time and people say, “Well, no deer hunter would use something that powerful.” I mean, .243s, .270s, 25.06, 30.06, .308s -- dozens of other calibers used in hunting are more powerful.
CRUZ: So let me make sure I understand that right. This deer rifle which is entirely legal and is used by millions of Americans, is the -- is sold in the identical caliber as the so-called assault weapons ban, although those look scarier because they have a piece of plastic attached to them.
LAPIERRE: And the Ruger Mini-14, which Senator Feinstein exempts in her bill, uses .223. The AR-15, which has the handle on the bottom, which she prohibits, also uses the exact same. CRUZ: I’m -- I’m out of time. I want to make one final point if I may, which is there has been much attention drawn to gun shows. And indeed, the statistic of 40 percent has been bandied about. Now, that statistic is unfortunately based on a study that occurred before the background check went into effect. And so it is a highly dubious figure.
But I do want to point to what the Department of Justice has said, which is in slide five. The Department of Justice has said that firearms used in crimes, 1.9 percent of those firearms come from gun shows. So again, in response to this crime, this body does not act to enact anti-crime legislation to prevent violent crimes. Instead, it targets 1.9 percent of the guns, and a substantial portion of those guns were sold by licensed firearms dealers who already conducted a background check. So even that 1.9 percent, a substantial portion area already subject to a background check.
I would ask, Mr. Chairman, if we have a second round, I would like to additionally get into the effectiveness or lack thereof of gun controls.
LEAHY: I’m -- I’m going to leave the record open for questions. I think, because of the Senate’s schedule this afternoon we probably will not have a second round. So, we will leave the record open so the senator -- and I have further questions. I won’t have time either, so I can submit my questions.
FRANKEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you to all the witnesses, especially you, Captain Kelly, and thanks to your beautiful wife -- and beautiful in every, every way.
My wife Frannie and I were heartbroken for the families in Sandy Hook. We’re heartbroken for the families in Tucson. For those of you who are listening or watching this hearing in Newtown, I want you to know that Minnesotans have you in our -- our thoughts and our prayers, and that we shared in your grief. We shared it when we lost lives at a sign factory -- Maya (ph) is here, lost her father. This was in Minneapolis in September.
FRANKEN: We share it every time we hear gun shots and ambulance sirens interrupting an otherwise quiet school night. We share it every time we bury one of our sons or daughters. I know that a group of students from Redlake Reservation in Minnesota, students who lost their classmates to gun violence, made 1,500-mile trip -- drive to Newtown just a few days before Christmas just to let the people in Newtown know that they are not alone, we’re all in this together.
Over the past month or so, I’ve been talking to my constituents about their ideas on how to make our communities safer. I traveled safely with hunters and school officials, with law enforcement officers , with mental health experts. I have convened round table discussions and I have had many, many conversations. And what I’ve learned is that there is a balance to be struck here. We can honor the Second Amendment, and we can honor the Minnesota’s culture of responsible gun ownership while taking basic measures that will make our kids and our communities safer.
So I have co-sponsored a bill to limit the number of rounds in a magazine. I have co-sponsored a bill to require background checks at gun shows. I have co-sponsored Senator Feinstein’s bill to ban assault weapons. I am reviewing legislation to address gun trafficking. I have supported funding for law enforcement programs and I work every day to carry out the work Paul Wellstone -- his unfinished work to improve our nation’s mental health system.
Tomorrow I will introduce the Mental Health In School Act which will improve access to mental health care for kids, because catching these issues at an early age is really important. And I want to be careful here that we don’t stigmatize mental illness.
The vast majority of people with mental illness are no more violent than the rest of the population. In fact, they are more likely to be the victims of violence. But these recent events have caused us as a nation to scrutinize our failed mental health and system, and I’m glad we’re talking about this and a serious way.
Police Chief Johnson, I -- I met with some mothers from the Mountain’s View school district in Minnesota whose children’s lives and their own lives were changed for the better, because their kids got access to mental health care that they needed at an early age. They got treatment. Their lives are improving, and their moms lives were improved.
As a community leader and law enforcement official, do you think it will benefit our communities if we are able to use schools to improve access to mental health care?
J. JOHNSON: I applaud your -- your initiatives and your work Senator. And the answer is, absolutely. As a father with a child that has mental health issues I think this is absolutely essential. And if my child has access to medical care that she needs, but the record shows and reflect that nearly half the children and adults in this nation who are diagnosed with mental health issues do not have access to the care they need, and it gets even worse after the aged 18.
And we’re seeing this in crimes of violence, and we’re seeing this in crimes across our nation and in my jurisdiction. It’s a major problem and I do recognize that most people with mental health issues do not go on to commit violent crimes. However, we have seen over and over again, it seems to be a common thread or theme or issue that we must deal with.
FRANKEN: Again, Police Chief Johnson, I’ve heard from some gun owners who are worried that Congress is gonna outlaw features that they really like in guns, things like pistol grips and barrel shrouds and threaded barrels. Some say that these features are merely cosmetic, but it seems to me that a lot of these features are not just cosmetic, they are functional.
Can you explain why a pistol grip in the right place makes a functional difference, why it isn’t just a piece of plastic? Why collapsible stocks present a danger; bullet buttons and some of the other features are dangerous?
I think this is a crucial point.
J. JOHNSON: I -- I agree completely. It’s not just about the capacity of the weapon to handle numerous rounds, which obviously is absolutely critical in this discussion. And, again, we believe no more than 10.
We use that weapon in (ph) police because of its technical capability, it’s ability to cool down and handle round after round after round; it’s ability -- it’s rugged, it’s ruggedized, it’s meant for a combat or environment that one would be placed in facing adversaries, human beings, people. That weapon can be retrofitted with other devices to enhance your offensive capability.
The weapon itself has features to adjust it; optics sights, for example, that can cost hundreds of dollars -- and I’ve shot this weapon many times -- that would enhance our capability in various tactical maneuvers, whether it’s from the shoulder or the hip or whether you choose to spray fire that weapon or individually shoot from the shoulder. The optic sights are amazing, the technology advances that weapon has.
That weapon is the weapon of our time. It’s the place that we find ourselves in today. And, certainly, I believe it’s meant for the battlefield and in a public safety environment only.
FRANKEN: Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, before I yield my time, I just would like to submit testimony of Miya Rahamim (ph) who is here today. She lost her father in a shooting in September in Minneapolis. And I’d just like unanimous consent to submit her testimony for the record.
LEAHY: It will be. As Senator Grassley and I indicated earlier, each -- there will be other statements for the record, as there will be. The record kept open for questions.
As I indicated also earlier, Senator Hatch, a very senior member of this committee, had to be at two different committees. And I yield now to his time, and then we’ll go to the next Republican. After we go back (inaudible) Senator Flake.
HATCH: Well, thank you so much, Mr. Chairman.
And I thank all of you for being here today.
Captain Kelly, I appreciate you and your wife and your testimony and your feelings very much. And I appreciated much of your testimony. And I’m grateful that you would take the time to be with us, and that was wonderful to see your wife again.
Let me go to you, Mr. LaPierre. President Obama’s issued 23 executive actions on gun violence. Can you please discuss the commonalities between your organization, the NRA, and the Obama administration when it comes to finding ways to reduce gun violence?
LAPIERRE: Well, I mean, what we think works -- and we support what works, is what NRA’s done historically. I’ve talked about our Ready Eagle child safety program, which we put more money into than anybody in the country; that’s cut accident to the lowest level ever.
We support enforcing the federal gun laws on the books 100 percent of the time against drug dealers with the guns, gangs with guns, felons with guns. That -- that works.
We’ve supported prison building. You’ve got states like California where they (inaudible) more than any other state in the country they send more inmates back to the street and have to put more back in jail for new crimes committed against their citizens than any other country in the nation. New York state is too. I mean, the collapse of the fiscal situation in those states has also collapsed the criminal justice system in those states.
It -- I mean, NRA has always supported what works. We have 11,000 police instructors. And we represent honest people all over this country.
There are 25,000 violent crimes a week in this country. The innocent are being preyed upon. The statistics are numbing. Those 911 calls are horrible.
LAPIERRE: But at the scene of the crime, it’s the criminal and the victim. And victims all over the country want to be able to protect themselves.
I mean, you know, this whole debate almost puts it into two different categories. If you’re in the elite, you get bodyguards, you get right here and you get high-cap mags with semi-automatics protecting this whole Capitol. The -- the titans of industry get the bodyguards whenever they want. Criminals don’t obey the law at any -- anyway, they get what they want. And in the middle is the hardworking, law abiding, taxpaying American that we’re going to make the least capable of defending themselves.
We’re going to say, you can have a bolt action rifle, but boy you can’t have an AR-15. Or you can -- you can have a six shot revolver, but you can’t have a semi-automatic handgun. You can have a four, or five, or six rounds in your magazine, but if three intruders are breaking down your door, you can’t have 15 rounds because somebody thinks that’s reasonable in their opinion. I mean...
LAPIERRE: People want to be able to protect themselves, that’s why people support the Second Amendment, and that’s why these bills are so troubling. They hit the -- they don’t hit the elites. They don’t hit the criminal, they hit the average, hardworking, taxpaying American that gets stuck with all the laws and regulations.
HATCH: I understand that one of the bills will ban well over 2,000 guns? I mean talking about individual guns?
LAPIERRE: Senator Feinstein’s bill ban -- bans all kinds of guns, but the -- that are used for target shooting, hunting, personal protection. And yet on the other hand, she exempts guns that have the exact same performance characteristics as the guns she doesn’t ban. I mean -- and -- and gun owners know the truth, I mean that’s why gun owners in this country, the 100 million gun owners get upset about this stuff.
They may be the victim of these lies. About taking the term, assault, and applying it to the civilian firearms, that military term, assault. But they know the truth inherently. They look at their hands, and they shake their head, and they go, none of this makes any sense.
HATCH: Well, I appreciate that. Ms. Trotter, let me just ask you this, in your testimony you state that all women in jurisdictions that have conceal-carry laws reap the benefits of increased safety, even if they choose not to carry a weapon themselves. Can you -- can you please explain why?
TROTTER: Yes. Mr. LaPierre mentioned that gun owners are very concerned about all these burdens that could be possibly put on law abiding citizens. And I will tell you that non-gun owners are concerned about this too. Because you don’t have to choose to carry to be the beneficiary of laws that allow people to carry. And for women, you reap the benefit of fewer murders, fewer rapes, fewer possibilities of being a victim of violence if your -- if the state that you live in does not ban anybody, particularly women from carrying weapons.
So it’s a matter of choice. We’re not saying that all women should, or need to carry weapons. But we need to protect the Second Amendment right to choose to defend yourself.
HATCH: Well, thank you, Mr. Kopel? Professor, you wrote an article that appears in the Wall Street Journal in December -- appeared in the Wall Street Journal on December 18, 2012. In the article, you point out that -- that firearms are the most heavily regulated consumer product in the United States. Gun control laws are more prevalent now than in the mid 1960’s, when you could walk into any store and buy a semi-automatic weapon with no questions asked.
Now in your opinion, the lack of firearms regulations is not a contributing factor to the recent rise in the random mass shootings? So what factors have contributed to the rise in these random shootings? You may have answered this already but I -- I would like to hear it again if you haven’t?
KOPEL: For one thing there’s a copycat effect.
HATCH: Could you put your mike on?
KOPEL: Certainly. There’s a copycat effect, and lots of studies of the scholars of these -- of all kinds of criminals, but especially of these people seeking notoriety, show strong copycat effect. And that is something that makes me think we need immediate protection for schools because of the -- the copycat danger right now. In addition, there’s been a -- there was a mass de-institutionalization of the mentally ill starting in the 1960s and going through the 1980s.
KOPEL: Some of that was because of budgetary issues, and a lot of the times the promise was, well we’ll put these people in halfway houses so they can be partially in the community, which is a great idea. But then there was never the funding for the halfway houses, and people walk away. Nothing -- nothing is done to follow up. The Jared Loughner, Adam Lanza, so many -- James Holmes -- so many of these perpetrators absolutely would have been civilly committed under the system we had 50 years ago.
We need a -- we need to move back toward greater possibility for civil commitment for the dangerously violently mentally ill. It’s certainly right, as Ms. -- I think both senators from Minnesota were saying that mentally ill people, per se, are not any more dangerous or violent than -- than anyone else. In fact, sometimes less so.
But there is a subset of them that are dangerously violently mentally ill. and we -- we need to have them off the streets before so that -- before they -- so that they can’t endanger themselves or others.
HATCH: Well, thank you so much.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to have a statement put into the record at the -- following yours and Senator...
LEAHY: Without objection.
HATCH: Thank you so much.
I want to thank all of you for being here. I think it’s been an enlightened hearing.
And this isn’t a simple thing. And I’ve got to say there are some freedoms among the mentally ill that have to be considered, too. And this is -- this is complex. It’s not -- not easy.
But I can say this that -- that I think this has been a particularly good panel, and I just appreciate all of you for testifying.
LEAHY: I thank -- I thank you for that, Senator Hatch.
And I yield now to Senator Coons.
COONS: Thank you, Chairman Leahy. And thank you for convening this important hearing. To the panel, thank you for your testimony.
And to Captain Kelly and to your wonderful wife, Congresswoman Giffords, thank you for everything you’re doing to bring I think an important message.
We, as a committee, are wrestling here today and we as a country are wrestling with how to respond appropriately and effectively to a whole string of horrific shootings, whether in Newtown or in Tucson, whether in a Sikh temple or at a state university like Virginia Tech, there are just too many of these incidents piled year upon year.
And I’m grateful for all my colleagues who’ve engaged in this thorough discussion today about how do we balance things.
One of the most important things, I think, is for us to get our facts right. A number of my colleagues have made a great deal of the number of cases of federal gun prosecutions going down.
But my staff’s pulled the most recent report from the Executive Office of the United States Attorneys, and it turns out that the number of defendants charged with federal gun violations is actually steady.
In fact, in 2011, it was 46 percent higher than in 2000.
So I just encourage all who are paying attention to scoring at home the numbers, what matters is the number of defendants actually prosecuted with federal gun violations.
I’ve got lots of things I’d like to touch on. And I did want to say at the outset, I’m grateful that our vice-president, Joe Biden, has led, I think, a very broad and searching conversation, where he’s listened. as I have, to folks across the country and, in my masse, across my state of Delaware.
And I’ve heard from parents whose children suffer from mental illness and who are really struggling to provide the care that they deserve and need. Law-enforcement officials, educators, community leaders, gun owners, sportsmen, people who are really concerned about how we strike the right balance and how we make our country safer.
If I could, to Captain Kelly, first, thank you for leading Americans for Responsible Solution.
One of the main ideas you and your wife have advanced is expanded background checks. Could you just explain for me, again, how it is today that convicted felons are able to get their hands on weapons despite our current background check laws and how we might fix that?
KELLY: Well, currently, certainly Senator Cruz mentioned earlier the statistic of, I think he said 1.9 percent of criminals that committed a crime with a gun...
KELLY: Of prisoners. Well, I want to just look at that for a second.
There’s also a statistic that says 80 percent -- on a survey done of criminals, 80 percent of criminals got their guns from a private sale or a transfer.
So by closing that part of the existing loophole, which is the fact that with a private sale or transfer, there is no requirement to get a background check, you could effectively reduce the number of guns in the hands of criminals.
And we know from what happened in Tucson that if there was an effective background check, which includes having the mental health data and the person’s drug use, in the case of the Tucson shooter, into the system, and if, in fact, there was no gun show loophole, I would contend that he would have had a very difficult time getting a gun.
KELLY: So the first thing that needs to be done is we certainly need to have a universal background check. If background checks are good enough for somebody who’s a federal firearms licensed dealer, like Wal-Mart, for instance, where I just purchased a gun a couple months ago, a hunting rifle, and I had to go through a background check, why isn’t that good for other sales, sales from a private individual, or sales from somebody who is really kind of in business at a gun show?
COONS: Captain Kelly, as a gun owner yourself, how do you feel that a thorough universe a background checks of the types that you describe either for purchase of weapons or large capacity magazines, how would that affect or infringe your Second Amendment rights?
KELLY: I don’t think it would infringe my Second Amendment rights at all. You know, I am -- I think I’m as -- a strong a supporter of the Second Amendment as anybody on this panel. You know, I’ve flown 38 combat missions over Iraq and Kuwait defending what I believe is our -- defending our Constitution.
You know, I’ve flown in combat -- I’ve been shot at dozens of times. You know, I find it interesting that often, we talk about putting a security guard to school. That’s been brought up a lot. And, I -- I actually think, you know, that’s better than no security guard in the school, but from my experience of being shot at and what that actually feels like and how chaotic it is, and with the exception of -- of Chief Johnson, I would suspect that not many members of this panel, or even in this room, for that matter, have been in any kind of a fire fight.
It is -- it is chaos. I think there are really some very effective things we can do. And one is, Senator, the background check. Let’s make it difficult for the criminals, the terrorists, and the mentally ill to get a gun.
COONS: I agree with you, and I have agreed to co-sponsor legislation to this affect.
But let me ask Mr. LaPierre. I, just at the outset, want to say I’, grateful for the work the NRA in providing training and safe gun ownership to millions of Americans. And I hope you’ll take into account the data I have offered gone prosecutions.
But I -- I disagree with a point you made your testimony. You said -- and I think I quote, that, “Background checks will never be universal, because criminals will never submit to them. “ And while that may be true, I think the point that Captain Kelly makes is telling. And if we in combination put in place tougher restrictions on straw purchases and tougher enforcement on those who buy guns legally, but then sell them to those who shouldn’t have them, and we put in place universal background checks and impose some responsibility on responsible gun owners to report lost or stolen weapons in combination, wouldn’t all of these things effectively move us towards a country where the number of those who should not have weapons cannot get access?
LAPIERRE: I think you will end up with a huge bureaucracy with a honestly a huge waste of police resources and money that could go into doing things in the police criminal justice area that would actually save lives.
You know, that study that you were talking about actually says where criminals get their guns, 39.5 percent from friends and family, 37 percent from street or black market, 11 percent from licensed dealers, 10 percent by theft, 1.7 percent at gun shows. I just think that you’re gonna -- if you try to do this universal background check which sounds -- sounds -- whatever, it ends up being a universal federal nightmare imposed upon law-abiding people all over this country.
Criminals will ignore it. We -- the federal government won’t -- we already won’t prosecute. The senator -- the -- the vice president told at the meeting with our people said they didn’t have time to prosecute those types of cases. So what’s the point of the whole thing?
COONS: Mr. -- Mr. LaPierre, I’m almost out of time, forgive me for the brief cycle.
Just to take at face value, the -- the data you just suggested is not just closing the gun show loophole. It is also thoroughly enforcing those who transfer weapons bought legally to those who shouldn’t have them. And -- and awful lot of the folks you cited are getting their hands on weapons inappropriately through your so called straw purchases, or through illegal transfers.
I just want to ask a question of Chief Johnson, if I might, because I see Mr. Chairman, my time is almost up.
I think it’s valuable to have the input of law enforcement professionals. In your view, with this sort of a universal background check combined with aggressive enforcement of the transfers to those who shouldn’t have them, would that be a waste of police resources, or might it make a difference on the street for those of you who put your lives on the line for us every day?
J. JOHNSON: I have to respectfully disagree with Wayne on this issue. Public safety, police we -- we are ready. We are unified on this issue that a universal background check will make our society a safer place, will make my police officer is safer. It’s absolutely essential.
COONS: Well, thank you, Chief. Thank you to the panel. I’ll submit some more questions for the record. I see I’m out of time.
LEAHY: Thank you.
And again, another new member of this committee, Senator Flake of Arizona. I appreciate you being here, and your patience in waiting. If it’s any consolation, I had that seat years ago.
FLAKE: It’s good to know.
Thank you, Chairman, for convening this. And thank you to the panel for being here offering such excellent testimony and for staying so long. I’ll try not to take my full seven minutes. But I especially want to thank Mark for being here. I know that Gabby is watching the proceedings in a room in the back. I just visited here a while ago. And I -- I just want you to know, Mark, and I want Gabby to know how much we miss her here.
I was on a call this morning with a few dozen ranchers -- border ranchers in Arizona, and was reminded that this is a practice that she began years ago, to talk about immigration issues and to keep them up to speed and to seek their input. And I’ve continued that -- that practice. And I can tell you, she offered wonderful representation to the people of southern Arizona and she is missed. And I am so grateful to you and to her for the public service that you’ve offered in the last year under difficult circumstances, and for taking up this new cause.
So, thank you.
With regard to the Tucson shooting, you mentioned that Jared Loughner had had drug use in the past that might have triggered some kind of entry into a system that -- that he may have been checked, but also the mental health aspect. And that seems to be the -- the difficult problem to solve here, listening to the testimony, is the nexus between mental illness and some kind of entry into a background system.
In Maryland, I believe it is, there have only been like 56 mental health records provided to the NICS system. Arizona has 120,000 entries, but not interfaced with the system here. What are the major problems there? And I’ll take anybody who can comment on this. Perhaps Chief Johnson, you know? Or Mark, if you have any ideas? Is it solely privacy issues? Many of those have a federal nexus, and that’s something that we can deal with here. So I’m interested in -- in why it is that it’s so difficult to have some of the mental health records entered into the system?
Chief, first? Do you want to take this?
J. JOHNSON: Well, Governor O’Malley in the state of Maryland last week introduced his plans to increase significantly data into the national instant criminal background check system. Senator, you are right. Maryland could do much better in this area, no question about it.
FLAKE: Is -- is this an issue with Maryland or any other state? And I’m not trying to pick on Maryland at all. I -- I assume it’s similar with every state out there. I just had the figures for Maryland. But is that an issue of just resources? Or are there privacy concerns that prevent them from offering this information?
J. JOHNSON: I think there’s confusion. Data that I’ve seen indicates some 18 states submit less than 100 records to -- to the system. I think there’s confusion amongst -- amongst the medical community and even fear. Well, how does HIPPA affect the release of this information and this data system? And I do believe, as the president’s plan has called for, incentive -- incentivize states to participate would drastically help this -- this problem.
FLAKE: Mark, do you want to comment on that?
KELLY: Yes, Senator. Thank you for your kind words. Gabby misses being here as well.
Of those 121,800 records that Arizona has not submitted to the background check system, I -- I don’t know why. I imagine it could be something. It might be a matter of resources. You know, maybe the funding isn’t there to have the manpower to do that. Possibly -- maybe there isn’t the will. Maybe for some reason in the state of Arizona, maybe they don’t have a desire to share that information.
I don’t know, but I can guarantee you after this hearing I’m going to try to find out.
FLAKE: All right.
KELLY: I’ll get back to you.
FLAKE: And so will I. I think that that’s an area from the testimony today and what we know of this situation where we can have I think a real impact here. And so I thank you all for your testimony, especially Mark and Gabby for being here.
KELLY: Thank you.
LEAHY: Thank you, Senator Flake.
And Senator Blumenthal, I’ll recognize you next. And I would just note, as everybody probably assumes, you and I have had a number of discussions since the tragedy in Connecticut, including one phone call I recall when you were just about to meet with some of the families.
And I have relied a great deal on your -- both your expertise, your law enforcement background but also the fact that you are from Connecticut.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to express my appreciation to you for your sensitivity and your condolences, and so many of my colleagues for theirs as well and the expressions that we’ve had this morning and also, obviously, for convening this hearing, which is a beginning -- hardly an end -- just a first step in what I hope will be a call to action that Newtown has begun and action that is really bipartisan.
Whatever the impressions that may be left by this morning’s proceedings, I think there is a real potential for bipartisan common ground on this issue, because we certainly have more in common than we have in conflict on this issue.
And I speak as a former prosecutor, having served as attorney general in the state of Connecticut for 20 years, but also as a United States attorney, a federal prosecutor for four and a half years.
And I want to thank all of the members of the panel for your patience and your staying power today. It has been a very informative and worthwhile hearing.
But I want to say a particular thanks, as others have, to Captain Kelly and to Gabby Giffords for your courage and strength in being here today; and to all of the victims and their families -- Steve Barton, who is here from Connecticut, who was a victim in Aurora; many of the Sandy Hook families who are not here today, I know who are here in spirit.
Mark and Jackie Barden, who lost their wonderful son Daniel at Sandy Hook, wrote a profoundly moving and inspiring piece in today’s Washington Post.
And Mr. Chairman, if there’s no objection, I’d like to submit it for the record. It’s entitled, “Make the Debate Over Guns Worthy of Our Son.”
LEAHY: Without objection.
BLUMENTHAL: To Chief Johnson, you are here not only in a personal capacity but, in my view, as representing and reflecting the courage and heroism of the tens of thousands of law enforcement community, police and firefighters and first responders across the country who every day brave the threat of gunfire and are often outmanned or outgunned by criminals.
And I want to thank you for your service to our nation, as I do Captain Kelly for his in our military.
And just to say, you know, I was in Sandy Hook within hours of the shooting at the fire house where parents went to find out whether their children were alive. And I will never forget the sights and sounds of that day when the grief and pain was expressed in the voices and faces of those parents.
As much evil as there was on that day in Newtown, there was also a tremendous heroism and goodness: The heroism and goodness of the educators who perished literally trying to save those children by putting themselves between the bullets and their children. And the heroism of those first responders and police who ran into that building to stop the shooter not knowing that he was dead when they did. And their being there in fact stopped the tragedy.
So I want to thank also the community of Sandy Hook. I’ve spent countless hours there, the better part of three weeks after the shooting and most recently this past weekend, the dedication of a memorial and then time with one of the families.
And their strength and courage, I think, has been an inspiration to the country and very, very important to advancing an agenda of making our nation safer.
And one way they’ve done it -- one way, not the exclusive or only way, has been through a pledge called the Sandy Hook Promise. This promise I would like to read. Have it on a chart here.
BLUMENTHAL: It is, “I promise to honor the 26 lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I promise to do everything I can to encourage and support common-sense solutions that make my community and our country safer from similar acts of violence.
I promise this time there will be change. I’m proud to say Steve Barton, Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly have made the Sandy Hook promise. Tens of thousands of Americans in Connecticut and across the country have made that promise, as have I.
So I want to ask Mr. LaPierre, will you make the Sandy Hook promise?
LAPIERRE: Senator, our Sandy Hook promise is -- is always to make this country safer, which is why we’ve advocated immediately putting police, armed security in schools, fixing the mental health system, computerizing the records of those mentally adjudicated. I would hope we could convince some of these companies that are just -- I’m not talking about First Amendment, I know they have a right to do it, to stop putting out such incredibly violent video games that desensitize.
And -- and finally we need to enforce the reasonable gun laws on the books and NRA support that -- that we do not do.
BLUMENTHAL: I’ll take that as a yes?
LAPIERRE: That will make the country safer.
BLUMENTHAL: Can I take that as a yes?
LAPIERRE: Yes. That’s a yes.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
LAPIERRE: We’re -- we have 11,000 police...
BLUMENTHAL: And can I -- can I invite and urge you to advocate that your members, responsible gun owners, and I thank them for being responsible gun owners, also join in the Sandy Hook promise? LAPIERRE: Senator there is not a -- a law-abiding firearms owner across this United States that wasn’t torn to pieces by what happened in Sandy Hook. They just don’t believe that their constitutional right to own a firearm, and the fact that they can protect their family with a firearm is -- is -- resulted in the problem.
BLUMENTHAL: Let me ask you this, Mr. LaPierre. You and I agree there ought to be more prosecutions of illegal gun possession, and illegal gun ownership.
LAPIERRE: You know the problem, Senator is I’ve been up here on this Hill for 20-some years agreeing to that, and nobody does it. And that’s the problem. Every time we say we’re going to do it -- I -- I make you this bet right now, when President Obama leaves office four years from now, his prosecutions will not be much different than they are now. If each U.S. attorney did ten a month, they’d have 12,000. If they did 20 a month, they’d have 24,000. Let’s see if we get there.
BLUMENTHAL: Chief Johnson, you’ve -- you’ve testified very persuasively on the need for better background checks. Do you believe those background checks ought to be applied to ammunition purchases, as well as firearms purchases?
J. JOHNSON: Our organization supports background checks on ammunition sales.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you. And Captain Kelly, I am just about out of time, but I -- I would like to ask you if you may, you supported better background checks, as a -- an advocate of the Second Amendment, and I join you in believing that Americans have a strong and robust right to possess firearms, it’s the law of the land. Do you also believe that better background checks on firearms purchases would help make both Arizona, and our nation safer?
KELLY: Absolutely, Senator. While we were having this hearing, and we certainly don’t know the details, but in Phoenix, Arizona there is another, what seems to be possibly a -- a shooting with multiple victims. And it doesn’t seem like anybody has been killed, but the initial reports are three people injured in Phoenix, Arizona with multiple shots fired. There’s 50 or so police cars on the scene. And I certainly agree with you, Sir that, you know a universal background check that’s effective, that has the mental health records in it, that has the criminal records in it, will go a long way to saving and -- saving people’s lives.
BLUMENTHAL: And improving the quality of information in the...
BLUMENTHAL: ... checks would make a difference. Let me just again thank the panel. My hope is that Newtown will be remembered, not just as a place, but as a promise. And that we use this tragedy as a means of transforming the debate, the discussion, the action that we need to make America safer. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you.
Just so everybody understands, we are coming to a close. I’ll make an exception to the normal rules. Senator Cruz said he had one more question, let him do that then we will -- then I’ll yield to Senator Hirono, the newest member of this committee, and she will have the final word. Senator Cruz?
CRUZ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I very much appreciate your -- your allowing me to ask an additional question.
I wanted to ask a question of Chief Johnson. Your -- your testimony today was in -- in some tension with what I have heard from -- from police officer serving on the ground in the state of Texas, namely that your testimony, as I understand it, was, that in your judgment, stricter gun control laws would -- would prove effective in -- in limiting crime. And the data I have seen suggests that -- that the evidence doesn’t support it.
If one looks in the District of Columbia which had district is gun-control laws in this country and banned firearms, we saw that when the ban was implemented in 1976, there were fewer than 200 and homicides that rose to over 350 in 1988, and two over 450 in 1993. That pattern is reflected across major urban centers. Those urban centers that have the strictest gun bans, for example, the city of Chicago unfortunately, suffers from according to the latest statistics 15.9 murders per hundred thousand citizens.
Your city, the city of Baltimore, has 31.3 murders per 100,000 citizens. That contrasts with other major urban areas such as my home town of Houston which does not have strict gun-control laws like the -- the jurisdictions I was talking about, that has a murder rate of 9.2 percent per 100,000, 1/3 of Baltimore’s. And in fact, the city of Austin, our capital, has a murder rate of 3.5 per 100,000, 1/10 that of Baltimore.
So, my question to you is, in light of the evidence, what -- what empirical data supports your contention that -- that restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms would -- would decrease crime rather than making people more vulnerable to violent criminals, which is what I would suggest the data indicates has happened when it’s been done?
J. JOHNSON: We know that nearly 2 million prohibited purchases were stopped from obtaining their firearms since 1994-2009. Senator, I would tell that your homicide statistics would be much greater and often missed from this conversation is the medical intervention and takes place to day at the EMT in the field to the shock trauma facilities that are very robust in our nation today, these -- this data would be much higher.
I’m here today representing nine major police executive leadership organizations. For the sake of time, I’m not gonna read all of those. I think they’re a matter of record.
The problem in areas like Baltimore, and New York, and Chicago with some of the toughest gun regulations and laws in the nation is outside weapons coming in. It’s about the background check problem. It is about acquisition of these firearms outside of the normal firearms licensed dealer process. And that’s what we have to fix.
In addition, high-capacity magazines or a problem, and certainly we are seeing assault weapons used each and every day in crimes and police are seizing these weapons each and every day. And the -- holistically with the plan that the president’s laid out and, frankly (ph), some of the bills that have been put forth, we can make our nation and much safer place.
LEAHY: Thank you.
We’ve been fortunate to have three new members of this committee, Senator Cruz, Senator Flake and Senator Hirono. And you, Senator, have the last word.
HIRONO: Are you saving the best for last, is that it?
LEAHY: Well, I was just saying you get the last word.
You’re gonna have to prove whether it’s the best, but I -- I would note that both you and Senator Flake -- I occupied the bad seed so you are very patient in waiting. So I thank Senator Blumenthal for bringing the -- representing so well the feelings of the people in Connecticut.
HIRONO: Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to thank the panel for this very lively discussion on what is a highly emotional subject.
HIRONO: And, Captain Kelly, I would like to thank you for being here because Gabby and I were elected to the House of Representatives in the same year and her courage continues to inspire us. And I certainly take to heart her testimony today asking us to do something now to reduce gun violence in our country.
And, Chief Johnson, you are, literally, in the trenches. You’re on the firing line and I -- and I certainly give much credence to your testimony.
We have a lot of hunters in Hawaii, so I certainly understand their perspective. And this -- to me, this issue is not about abrogating Second Amendment rights. It is about reasonable limits on those rights.
And one of those areas that has already been deemed reasonable is the requirement for background checks.
And so, what many of us are saying is what has already been deemed reasonable should be a reasonable requirement when guns are sold regardless of how or where they are sold.
So I -- I hope that we can reach bipartisan agreement on the reasonable limit of requiring background checks when guns are sold.
And, Captain Kelly, I do appreciate your starting your testimony today by saying that there is no perfect solution. I know there are all kinds of antecedent environmental issues and -- and community issues that lead to gun violence, but I believe we should do that which is reasonable. so nothing is perfect.
I believe that one of the areas of focus for your organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions, is the mental health part of what we ought to be addressing that leads to gun violence.
Do you have some key suggestions that Congress can take to help address the mental illness problem?
KELLY: Well, thank you, Senator.
Well, you know, first of all, compelling states to share with the federal government the records, the appropriate records, of adjudicated mental illness and criminal records as well, also within the federal government.
I had a conversation with the vice president, who talked specifically about, you know, intergovernment agencies and why -- that there has also been, you know, some issues in certain federal government agencies at times getting the records into the background check system.
So if we could improve the system, close the gun-show loophole, require background checks for private sellers, I think we will go a long way to preventing many of these murders and mass shootings in this country.
We’re not going to stop all of them, but there is certainly a reason that we have 20 times the murder rate -- 20 times the murder rate -- of other developed countries. And I think that’s unacceptable.
But like -- you know, like you said, we -- you know, as an organization, I certainly think Congress can come together on this issue. We realize there’s a problem, and it certainly can be solved.
HIRONO: Captain Kelly, it’s one thing when someone has already been deemed to show signs of mental illness, and certainly if there’s been any kind of an adjudication, that -- that identification is much easier and therefore that information should get into our system.
It becomes a lot harder when you’re trying to determine whether someone is suffering from mental illness and needs help. And often these kinds of signs manifest themselves certainly in the home, but in the schools. And we don’t have a lot of psychologists, therapists in our schools.
Would you also support more of those kinds of personnel in our schools so we can help these individuals?
KELLY: You know, absolutely. In the case of Jared Loughner in Tucson, Pima Community College was well aware of -- you know, that he had some form of mental illness. They expelled him over it. Multiple cases of very erratic and disruptive behavior in the classroom and outside the classroom.
But, for some reason, he was not referred, as far as I know, to an appropriate mental health authority for an evaluation. And I know often those need to be voluntary, but his parents, as well.
KELLY: I mean, there seems, in this case, that there was a lack of education within the community to get him some effective treatment. And it’s really -- it’s actually really sad. Because in his case, as I know in many other cases, often you’ll see a man who is paranoid schizophrenic that commits some of these horrific crimes.
But with treatment, they would never have done these things. So, absolutely. I mean, we are going to work -- at Americans For Responsible Solutions, we’re going to work to help fix the mental health aspect of this, too.
It is a big part of it. I agree with Mr. LaPierre on that matter. I mean, that is a major issue, but so is a comprehensive, universal, a good background check without a loophole, without holes in it, and getting the data into the system. Those are critical things that can make our communities much safer.
HIRONO: Thank you.
I -- I do have one question for Chief Johnson. This is an area that has not been raised today so far. It has to do with an environment that allows bullying to occur in our schools. And sometimes bullying can lead to violent situations. I’m sure it’s happened in Baltimore and just recently in Hawaii, we had a situation in our -- in our schools where bullying led to fights and the school had to be closed.
So, I think that one of the ways that we prevent escalation of violent behavior is to put in place programs that will address the issue of bullying, which takes place in just about -- in every state. Would you -- do you have any thoughts on -- on that?
J. JOHNSON: Yes. The president’s plan calls for not only funding and an announcement for additional police officers. And I believe Congress should support these plans. They also call for funding to support additional counselors and psychological service providers as well in the schools.
Certainly, in my particular case and in many jurisdictions across America, we have police officers in all the high schools, and frankly, the middle schools, costing my jurisdiction nearly $8 million a year. And they have a place, but certainly we believe that more needs to be done in this area. In my two school shootings, in both shootings, bullying was alleged to be a factor.
HIRONO: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you very much.
I want to thank all the witnesses who came here. This was a lengthy hearing. It’s the first of others we will have. I think what we’re trying to do, and I hope people realize, on this committee we’re trying to write laws to protect the public. And I cherish and exercise my Second Amendment rights as I do all my rights under the Constitution.
But I don’t think individual rights include weapons of war like landmines or tanks or machine guns or rocket-propelled grenades. And where do we go as we step back from those levels? I came here to have a discussion, hope to build consensus. Obviously, there’s more work that needs to be done.
I think there is one consensus. We all want to do what we can to prevent future tragedies and put an end to the violence that breaks all our hearts. You know, I live an hour’s drive from another country, Canada. I don’t see the same kind of problem there. I want to find out how we can stop what is happening. I believe there should be some areas of agreement, and I hope the committee can get together to mark up legislation next month -- this month is virtually over -- and then take it to the floor.
We will respect the diversity of viewpoints represented today. We will have hearings that have other viewpoints. We have to listen to one another. If we start with a basic thing that we abhor the kind of violence we see and the violence I saw years ago as a prosecutor, then let’s find which steps (inaudible) for it.
So thank you all -- all five of you -- very, very much.
We stand in recess.