Today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing marked the first legislative hearing on gun control since President Obama announced sweeping proposals earlier this year. In attendance, among others, were:
- Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association
- David Kopel, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Denver
- James Johnson, Baltimore County Chief of Police and Chair of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence
- Gayle Trotter, attorney and Senior Fellow of the Independent Women’s Forum
- Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
- Committee Chairman Senator Partick Leahy (D-VT)
Also invited to speak was former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and her husband Mark Kelly. Giffords was a victim of an assassination attempt two years ago in Tuscon, Arizona which left six people dead. She spoke briefly at the hearing calling for congress to take “bold” action on gun control.
Mark Kelly also spoke at length regarding the country’s background check system and gave a detailed list of laws in the process, as well as the many methods used to circumvent checks altogether.
“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,” Kelly said. “Second, remove the limitations on collecting data and conducting scientific research on gun violence. 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 firearms we permit to be legally bought and sold in this country.”
Supporting him was James Johnson, who voiced concern over the types of weapons that could fall into the wrong hands.
“The best way to stop a bad guy from getting a gun in the first place is a good background check,” Johnson said.
The Baltimore County police chief voiced that the ban on “assault weapons” and “high capacity” magazines should be reinstated, a subject brought up earlier in the month by Senator Feinstein. When questioned about a citizen’s right to protect themselves and their families in the event of a natural disaster or riot, when such weapons might be used for home defense, Johnson replied that the police were well prepared for such occurrences.
The National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre did not share the same view.
“If a tornado hits, if a hurricane hits, if a riot occurs that they’re gonna be out there alone,” said LaPierre. “And the only way they’re gonna protect themselves in the cold and the dark, when they’re vulnerable is with a firearm. And I think that indicates how relevant and essential the Second Amendment is in today’s society to fundamental human survival.”
The NRA’s executive vice president further elaborated that law-abiding citizens should not be blamed for the actions of criminals. LaPierre cited studies that show the last assault weapons ban had no effect on lowering crime as well as the fact that criminals and the mentally ill often do not submit to background checks.
“We believe the answer is to be honest about what works and honest about what doesn’t work,” LaPierre stated.
Additional speakers supported the legitimate use of “assault weapons” for self-defense.
“They are often the best choice for the lawful defense of self and others,” said professor and constitutional law expert David Kopel. Kopel reasoned that gun control in countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada either led to an increase in crime or a “serious peril to gun ownership.” Professor Kopel stated that these kind of laws will not save lives, but dedicated self-defense will. He endorsed LaPierre’s idea of armed security in schools whether by guards or concealed carry teachers.
Female gun owners also had a voice in today’s hearing.
“An assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon,” says attorney Gayle Trotter, senior fellow of the Independent Women’s Forum. She implored the committee to consider the safety of women, who are less likely to be attacked in areas with fewer restrictions on concealed carry.
The four-hour hearing ended with Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy asking for all parties to consider areas of agreement where a middle ground can be reached. Plans are in motion for the committee to create legislation next month for congress to consider.