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Can U.S. Stop Gun Violence?

Aired September 17, 2013 - 18:28   ET


ANNOUNCER: Tonight, Aaron Alexis had a pattern of misconduct, an arrest record and a gun. Should the law that let him buy it be changed? On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, Newt Gingrich. Tonight's guests, Colin Goddard, an activist for gun control; and Larry Pratt, who heads Gun Owners of America. What can government do to prevent mass shootings? Can it do anything? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Newt Gingrich on the right.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: And I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left.

Today we are struggling to make sense of yet another mass shooting. A gunman killed a dozen people and wounded eight others. What happened just two miles from where we sit tonight serves as a horrid reminder of the gun violence happening every day in this country. Something that really summed it up for me was this plea from a doctor at one of the hospitals that treated some of the victims.


DR. JANIS ORLOWSKI, MEDSTAR WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER: There's something wrong here when we have these multiple shootings, these multiple injuries. There's something wrong. And the only thing that I can say is we have to work together to get rid of it.


CUTTER: Newt, I obviously agree with what the doctor said. We have to do something to get rid of these mass shootings.

But let me just point out a couple of things. I think this has been a real system failure. Here's a guy that shot out tires of his neighbor, shot his gun into the ceiling of his other neighbor. The Navy took steps to discharge him for misconduct, and yet the government gave him a security clearance. Now that's clearly a system failure. He shouldn't have gotten a security clearance. And he shouldn't have gotten a gun.

However, what happened yesterday was tragic, absolutely tragic, but gun violence is happening every day in this country. Mass shootings are one percent of all gun murders in this country. We have to do something to prevent, on a large scale, what's happening each and every day.

We have to do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those that want to pose danger to themselves and to others. So that's what I say to you. We have to come together to find a solution.

GINGRICH: Let me shock you. In large part I agree with you. This truly was a collapse of --

CUTTER: But --

GINGRICH: No, no, it's clearly a collapse of the system. And it clearly indicates, both on mental health grounds and just on how could you have a guy with this record, cleared by the government grounds, that is a problem?

And if you look at the mass killings, you have a consistent pattern of some kind of mental health problem. So I think we've got a lot to cover in the next half hour, but I think that it is a topic we ought to be able to unlock and get some significant things done that bring us together rather than drive us apart.

CUTTER: I agree.

GINGRICH: So, I think it's very important that we also recognize that there's an interesting story behind exactly how we got to here. And I think before we bring in our guests, let's go to CNN's Chris Lawrence, who is at the Virginia gun store where Aaron Alexis purchased the shotgun -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Newt, Stephanie. I mean, just a day and a half before Aaron Alexis went to the Navy Yard, he came here to this gun shop in suburban D.C., here in Virginia. The store owners now tell us that he came in, and he used one of the store's rifles and their ammunition to take target practice at the gun range right here on site.

Then when he was done, he bought a shotgun. It was a Remington .870, a 12-gauge shotgun. And basically, what happened was while he was there, they ran his background information through the national instant background check system. It's a federal system. It's done right there on site. And what happened was while he was there, no -- nothing popped up in that background check.

He had a valid driver's license from Texas. And in the state of Virginia, you cannot legally buy a handgun with an out-of-state license, but if the law allows it in your home state, you can buy a shotgun. In this case, Aaron Alexis, legal in Texas, legal in Virginia. Nothing popped up. No convictions on his record that would flag him so that they would deny him the gun. So he walked out of here with the Remington shotgun and with two boxes of ammunition, about 24 shells total -- Newt, Stephanie.

GINGRICH: Thanks, Chris.

With us tonight our CNN -- our gun control activist, Colin Goddard. He was shot four times during the Virginia Tech massacre and now works for Mayors Against Illegal Guns. He's here along with gun rights advocate Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America.

Let me start and ask you, Colin: What law do you think might have blocked or stopped yesterday?

COLIN GODDARD, MAYORS AGAINST ILLEGAL GUNS: I think we have to be careful and not try to have this discussion or set our national policy based on the last mass shooting that just happened. We need to talk -- I mean, we failed those people. Those people are already dead. We need to do things to prevent the next group of people from getting shot and killed, the people that will be killed today, and tomorrow, and next month. That's how we should have this conversation and look at what measures will stop the most number of dangerous people from easily obtaining firearms in the first place.

GINGRICH: But he, as you just heard, he passed the background check.

GODDARD: There's no one policy that's going to stop all gun crimes, but what I think makes the most sense, what the vast majority of the American people support, what law enforcement tells us would make the most significant impact, is requiring that same background check across all sales.

He didn't have to go to that gun -- that gun shop. If it had been a weekend, could be he could have gone to a gun show around -- around the state. He could have gone over to and purchased even more high-powered weaponry without even a background check at all, and it would have been legal.

CUTTER: Larry, let's go to you. What do you think would have prevented the shooting that occurred yesterday?

LARRY PRATT, GUN OWNERS OF AMERICA: Making it so that it would not have been illegal, which it was at the Navy Yard, for somebody to have a gun, for somebody to be able to shoot back.

So as is always the case in these mass murders, it is illegal for anybody to have a gun at the gun-free zone in the school or the mall. And only if somebody happens to have a gun, in spite of, say, the Clackamas Mall policy, was that guy in the white hat --

CUTTER: Right.

PRATT: -- able to stop a mass murder. But all these other mass murders --

CUTTER: So a couple -- right --

PRATT: -- for 20 years have been going on in gun-free zones.

CUTTER: Right. A couple of points on that. So your solution is more guns.

PRATT: Sure.

CUTTER: And if you look at the mass shootings over the last five years, only 13 of them have been in places where guns were illegal. The rest of them, most of them have been in private homes. So that is not really a solution. And what happened yesterday at the Navy Yard, it's a gun-free zone in that airports are gun-free zones where the people who have guns are security guards, armed professionals that can keep people safe. The instances of average citizens stepping in and preventing a shooting and saving people are rare.

PRATT: Actually, none. They don't get to be mass murders, because somebody is able to step in and stop them.

CUTTER: But it's rare. So if you follow that logic, giving people more guns is not going to prevent gun violence.

PRATT: No. Look at it this way, in the District of Columbia it was illegal for this guy to have a gun, to be carrying it outside of a dwelling. It was certainly illegal to have a gun at a military installation. That was an executive order from President Clinton.

If something like that had happened in Virginia, the chances are much greater that somebody would have had their own gun, some bystander, some intended victim, and been able to stop it. That's why we have a murder rate of 1 per 100,000 in Virginia, versus the 17 --


PRATT: -- in Washington.

CUTTER: And all those guns are coming into D.C. All those guns are coming right over the border, coming into D.C. That's actually what the statistics show.

PRATT: Why don't those guns do any harm out in Virginia? They had to traverse Virginia. They don't go off. Nothing happens to them.

GODDARD: They do. I mean, the ATF has called the East Coast of the United States the iron pipeline, to describe the guns that are being trafficked from the states in the south --

PRATT: Nothing happens in the pipeline. Only in your dear, beloved gun-free zones.

GODDARD: No, sir. That's just not true.

PRATT: Well, it is.

CUTTER: Anyplace in this country that should be a gun-free zone -- kindergartens, hospitals? Should guns be allowed everywhere? Is that really the solution?

PRATT: We've got to wrap our minds around the fact that these mass murders occur in these gun-free zones. And to tell a teacher or a principal or a janitor "You can't be armed. We want to protect our children" --

CUTTER: So you would allow guns into kindergartens?

PRATT: I would strongly encourage it. CUTTER: OK.

GINGRICH: Let me ask you a question, of fact. You all just said something that can't be mutually true. Is the murder rate with guns in Virginia dramatically lower per 100,000 than in D.C.?

GODDARD: No, not in D.C.

PRATT: It's 17 times higher in D.C. That's pretty dramatic.

GODDARD: That's not just based on -- like I said, it's not just gun policy in one state.

PRATT: Seventeen point five murders per 100,000.

GINGRICH: A factual question for a second. That in D.C., it's technically illegal to have the gun. Virginia, there are clear permissions, and I think something -- the surprising number of people in Virginia actually have permits to carry.

PRATT: It grows every year.

GINGRICH: So in the state we have concealed carry permits, you are 17 times less likely to be killed by a gun than in the place where it's technically illegal.

PRATT: Or in general. In general.

CUTTER: First of all, the murder -- you know, even one murder from a gun is too many. So let's stipulate that.

But the gun murder rate in D.C. is actually relatively low. But if you compare ten states with very strict gun laws and ten states with lax gun laws like Virginia, the murder rate is significantly different, with more protection in the states with tougher gun laws. That's also true. Compare Maryland with Virginia.

PRATT: No. The work that Dr. John Lott did was redone by some 40 different institutions and researchers.


PRATT: And the bumper-sticker title of his book stands up under intense scrutiny: "More Guns, Less Crime."

CUTTER: Well, except for the "American Journal of Public Health," which showed that more guns means more gun homicides.

PRATT: That's where their finger was on that particular study.

CUTTER: And some say that about John Lott.

PRATT: No. For instance, they will say that you've got to kill the attacker for it to be a successful self-defense use. Anytime you get a bad guy to run away because you showed him your gun, that's a self- defense use. And most of the time, like 90-some percent of the time, the gun's not even fired.

CUTTER: Well, why not keep the gun out of the bad guy's hands? Why not keep the gun out of the bad guy's hands?

PRATT: You're not going to. You're only going to keep it out of my hands.

CUTTER: No. That's actually not true.

PRATT: Yes, it is.

CUTTER: There are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who have been prevented from buying guns because they were deemed ineligible.

PRATT: They were prevented from buying guns in a store.

CUTTER: Now if you play out the statistics --

PRATT: At a store.

CUTTER: Well, I think that we should do background checks everywhere, not just in the store.

PRATT: They're still going to get the guns.

GINGRICH: Well, let's say -- let's say, for example, in the highest incident of death in this country with guns. In Chicago, what percent of those guns, in fact, were bought on the street and would not be susceptible to any kind of background check.

CUTTER: Well, I think that -- Colin, why don't you answer this?

GODDARD: When you say guns bought on the street, I mean, what are you actually talking about? There is no illegal gun manufacturing plant somewhere that produces guns into the street. All illegal guns began their life through a legal gun and through theft, through loss, and through unchecked gun sales they fall into the illegal market.

So requiring background checks on all gun sales will stop the flow of guns that come from the legal market to the illegal market. And that's -- we're talking about responsible gun ownership here.

PRATT: No, you're talking about disarming the good guy.

GODDARD: No, sir.

PRATT: You're talking about making a list of who has the guns. We know now from the NSA that the government will illegally make a registration list of that, and anybody who doesn't think that they've already done that with the background checks is just whistling past the graveyard.

GINGRICH: Let me ask you. Listen, you're the person -- you're the only person here who's been engaged in a tragic situation like this at a personal level. To what extent would people -- more people have survived if, in fact, there had been the ability to have weapons at Virginia Tech, which was a gun-free zone, except for the person who was killing people?

GODDARD: I can't answer that question. No one can say a number or yes or no.

I mean, what I can remember is what I was experiencing that morning, which was absolute chaos. I mean, I didn't understand what was happening until I got shot, you know. I can't say that yes, I would have saved the day. I've thought about it every single which way, from saving the day or not.


GODDARD: And I realized we have to do better than something that just happens at the last possible second. We can do better than stopping this person from putting a gun in their hands in the first place. And that's what we're talking about, background checks.

PRATT: In the Clackamas Mall in Oregon, it was a guy who had ignored a no-gun sign, so he was probably guilty of a misdemeanor. Had his self-defense concealed carry firearm.

The bad guy came in, tragically killed two people. But at the sound of those shots, the good guy came with his gun. And as is often the case when the good guy with a gun appears, boom, the bad guy took himself out.

GINGRICH: Let me just say, people are talking about guns. But when we come back, isn't it time to deal with government incompetence? And how long do we have to wait for a serious discussion about mental health?


GINGRICH: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Today we learn new details about the Navy Yard gunman's troubling past, and it raises a larger issue. How is it possible that our huge bureaucracy has let him slip through the cracks?

We're beginning to learn, for example, that he was apparently -- three months ago had three different unknown people talking to him, had a microwave oven blocking him from being able to talk, told the police this. The police actually told the Navy that these things were happening, because they knew he was going to go to a naval facility. That somehow didn't get in the system.

We know he had at least eight disciplinary problems in the Navy. The Navy decided it was too hard to give him a general discharge, so he got an honorable discharge, just because the bureaucracy couldn't function.

We now know that he shot out somebody's tires, which normally would be sign as a sign of a little bit of a hot temper. We also found he had a run-in with his neighbors upstairs who were noisy, so he fired a pistol through the ceiling, which most people would regard as inappropriate behavior. All this stuff is coming out.

The contractor who is now responsible, the government responsible -- the contractor, within three minutes could track all this stuff down, but somehow the people in charge of the government and the security clearance couldn't track it down.

I'll just give you one last example of government incompetence. We just learned this afternoon that the fax machine at the Pentagon that is supposed to be receiving Freedom of Information requests has been broken for two weeks, and they think they might be able to get it fixed in October or November.

Now a government which can't find a fax machine in six weeks, I would suggest, is a government incapable of being trusted with these kind of things.

And Colin, the question I would ask you is: Why would you trust the bureaucracy to solve your problems when it's clear the bureaucracy is failing?

GODDARD: Look, we know that the Brady background bill that came in place, that set up the background check system that we currently have, has stopped already 2 million transactions from happening where a gun would have gone to the hands of a depraved (ph) purchaser. Two million over the course of that 18-year period is phenomenal.

I mean, how many other incidents have been prevented because dangerous people left unarmed? Right. We have something that does work.

But there are missing holes in it, missing mental health records, missing substance abuse records. Those are the context issues we have to deal with.

But when we do that, when we deal with the missing records and get the system as robust as possible and functioning as efficient as possible, if we don't actually require people to go through it to begin with, then what's the point? Why are we doing it?

GINGRICH: Well, the -- here you had a guy who passed the system.


GINGRICH: And passed the system to be cleared to be on a naval base, passed the system to buy a shotgun, got the kind of instant background check you want. And it just strikes me that people are going to say, are we really sure more red tape and more bureaucracy applied to honest people is going to really solve the problems we're facing?

CUTTER: A background check, Newt, takes a matter of minutes or hours. It's almost instant. That's the nature of the background check. It's an instant background check.

And as Colin said, that hundreds of thousands of people just in this year alone have been prevented from buying guns, because they've been deemed violent or have a felony record or are -- have a record of mental illness. So if -- you know, we don't know how many murders we've prevented there. But if it prevented one, why would we not do it?

I don't understand, Larry, your opposition to background checks if the entire purpose is to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people who would do harm to themselves. We have to keep guns out of the people who want to harm others.

PRATT: I don't understand -- I don't understand your passive acceptance of the good nature of the government, and they're obviously willing to break the law and make a record of things they shouldn't be making.

Now if they'll nosey in to your call to your Aunt Sadie -- and we know they've done that -- then don't we think that it's reasonable to assume that they're breaking the law prohibiting them from keeping the names and addresses of gun owners?

CUTTER: No, I don't. I don't.

PRATT: Well, bless your heart. You are such an accepting --

CUTTER: Lives are at stake. Lives are at stake here. We're preventing people from getting killed.

PRATT: That will be their justification for breaking the law.

CUTTER: Do you have any evidence that they're breaking the law on the background checks?

PRATT: I think the NSA is likely --

CUTTER: Because right now it's illegal to be keeping those gun records.


CUTTER: The NRA keeps the gun records. You keep gun records.

PRATT: It's not illegal for us to do that. But it was illegal for the NSA to do any --


PRATT: -- and they're doing it with a straight face.

CUTTER: The only solution you have here for preventing gun violence is to give more people guns.

PRATT: Sure.

CUTTER: That just -- that breaks all logic.

PRATT: It worked in Clackamas, Oregon, in that mall. And it works in many places where we don't hear about a mass murder, because a good guy with a gun is there in time. GODDARD: If the idea that if only more guns were in more places of our country, that we would all become a safer place, if that idea was fundamentally true, then the United States of America, the country with 300 million guns already in circulation, we would already be the safest place on planet Earth.

PRATT: Well, consider --

GODDARD: We clearly are --

PRATT: The outside of about nine metropolitan areas that are really anti-gun. If you pull them out of our data, our crime data, we're a safer place than Europe. It's where your laws are in effect that people are dying. Thanks very much.

GODDARD: It's just not true. Look, and we're talking about laws. Let's change it to gun owner responsibility.

PRATT: Oh. What does responsible mean (ph)?

GODDARD: What is the responsible thing to do as a gun owner? It's to keep your gun locked in storage safely and away from your children.

PRATT: Baloney.

GODDARD: No? I think you're outside of the mainstream here.

PRATT: To have it accessible so that I can defend my home.

GODDARD: But not in access to your child if your child finds it and then shoots another child. Or gets access to shoot kids in the school.

PRATT: There are other ways of keeping guns that are not going to be found by kids.

GODDARD: Also keeping your gun clean. Not pointing it at people. Your gun laws.

PRATT: I've got four kids and 21 grandchildren and none of them have died by gunshot.


GODDARD: There are too many. There already have. And finally, what's a responsible gun owner to do? When they sell it to someone else, they don't know who it is, they make sure that they can legally own it. And the way you do that is with a 90-second background check.

GINGRICH: I have to -- just for a second because I'm fascinated. Look, I agree with you there are many, many responsible people.


GINGRICH: There are many, many honest people.


GINGRICH: The problem with the effort to control all this by law is that the people you're most trying to control are by definition criminals.

I mean, so, you have a criminal engaged in a criminal behavior. You have tragic situations, a suicide in Southern California recently, in which the young man got the gun that has no numbers on it, clearly bought it on the street, no background check, because he wasn't buying it from a responsible gun owner.

So isn't part of the problem that you are trying to find a legal solution to a group of illegal people when what we have to have is a people-oriented solution not a mechanical gun-oriented solution?

PRATT: The way to control criminals is not to control the good guys.

GODDARD: As someone who's set laws and policies, you don't set laws and policies based on what criminals do. I mean, that's the argument of, you know, people still murder. Why do we have laws against murder, then? I mean, that's a call for anarchy if you're saying that -- if you're saying that we should set policies based on what, you know, bad people might do or not do.

You know, like I'm saying, we don't even know who people are when 40 percent of gun sales go unchecked every year. So let's just do a background check. It takes 90 seconds to make sure the gun is not going to somebody with a record.

CUTTER: If you have nothing to hide, why not?

PRATT: The fact is that many states --

CUTTER: Do you believe -- do you believe that someone who has been convicted of domestic violence should be able to go to a gun store and buy a gun?

PRATT: Why don't we get rid of the Fourth Amendment? Police work would be so much more efficient.

CUTTER: Do you believe a felon should go to the gun store and buy a gun?

PRATT: I don't think you're going to stop him by keeping him from going to a gun store.

CUTTER: But do you think that he should be able to walk into a gun store and buy a gun?

PRATT: If he doesn't get it there, he's going to get it in the streets.

CUTTER: Do you think that we should allow them to buy guns?

PRATT: I don't think you should be limiting me and letting the government keep a list of my names and addresses. That's what I'm telling you.

CUTTER: So any -- felons, terrorists --

PRATT: If you don't mind the intrusion. You don't care about the Fourth Amendment --


CUTTER: -- people convicted of domestic violence, can all go into a gun store and buy a gun?

PRATT: They're going to get it anyway. You're just going to keep people like me from getting it.

CUTTER: OK. So that's like saying that, because they're going to get it anyway, we should just wipe our hands clean and do nothing.

PRATT: No. This would be the policy --

CUTTER: What if we did that on 9/11? On 9/11, clearly our secretary checks at the airport weren't working. We didn't do away with security checks. We strengthened them. Again it defies logic.

PRATT: And that has not exactly been the way you're going to run -- if you're going to make me go through something like that to buy a gun or go to the supermarket because I might buy the ingredients for a bomb, business is not going to stand for that. American people are not quite that sheep-like that they're going to stand for that. And that's the only way in your world of sticking the government's nose into everything, that that could happen.

CUTTER: I don't think it's about the government. I think it's about finding a way to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those that want to do harm.


PRATT: -- keep the names and addresses --

CUTTER: I haven't heard one solution. I haven't heard one solution except -- from you, except to give more people guns.

PRATT: Governments have only used lists of gun owners to confiscate guns, be it in New York or in other states in our country, let alone in other countries.

GINGRICH: Look, I think this is a very serious issue. And I think one of the things we don't talk about much, and we should, is the mental health aspect of this.

I mean, it seems to me, when you look at, for example, yesterday's killer, there is so much. You hear the same thing in Virginia Tech where apparently there was a court order that was restricting him, but the court order had not -- been sealed because of Virginia laws, which I think have now been changed.


GINGRICH: But I do think there are grounds -- and I don't know where Larry comes down -- I think there's serious grounds, if somebody who clearly has a pattern of being dangerous --

PRATT: OK, now a pattern of being dangerous means that you -- we ought to be able to take him to court, give him a lawyer, his experts, due process, convict him, and put him in jail!

GINGRICH: Well, can I just say thanks to Colin Goddard and Larry Pratt. Next, we'll take a few minutes to remember the victims of yesterday's tragedy.


CUTTER: Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE. From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

GINGRICH: From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich. Before we go, let's pay tribute to the victims of the Navy Yard shooting.



GRAPHIC: Michael Arnold, Age 59, Lorton, Virginia

Sylvia Frasier, Age 53, Waldorf, Maryland

Kathy Gaarde, Age 62, Woodbridge, Virginia

John Roger Johnson, Age 73, Derwood, Maryland

Frank Kohler, Age 50, Tall Timbers, Maryland

Kenneth Bernard Proctor, Age 46, Waldorf, Maryland

Vishu Shalchendia Pandit, Age 61, North Potomac, Maryland

Arthur Daniels, Age 51, Washington, D.C.

Mary Francis Knight, Age 51, Reston, Virginia

Gerald L. Read, Age 58, Alexandria, Virginia

Martin Bodrog, Age 54, Annandale, Virginia

Richard Michael Ridgell, Age 52, Westminster, Maryland