The Rachel Maddow Show | January 30, 2013
>> of the start of his second term, president obama announced that he would spend this term at least in part on an issue commonly believed to be among the heaviest lifts in all of american politics . he said he would do something about gun violence . now the president can create certain changes by himself with his executive authority. he can make changes, not laws. he cannot change laws, but he can change things that the administration is responsible for itself. for big changes, though, for real reform , the president needs congress to pass new laws, and that's where the real political heavy lifting comes in. to do that political heavy lifting, the white house announced a new political strategy, or at least a new political tactic to try to get this done. the 2012 obama/biden reelection campaign would morph itself into an advocacy group , a powerful democratic grassroots activism machine. the old campaign would transfer to this new group its vast database of information about obama supporter, about voters. and then the new group would mobilize supporters to mobilize the president's agenda now, the same way they supported him all the way into the white house last year. this new group , organizing for action, is a new phenomenon in politics. this has not been done before. and a group like this could be a fearsome and unique tool if it works in politics the way its organizers expect it to work. we reported the other night that when the folks at organizing for action put out their very first e-mail solicitation on a policy issue, they picked gun reform as the issue. they urged those millions of voters on their contact list to call their member of congress immediately, and to tell their member of congress to back the president's proposal on gun reform . and this call your congressman right now e-mail went out at 4:26 p.m . on a friday afternoon, on a friday afternoon specifically when neither the house nor the senate was in session. hello? hello? anybody there? if a voice mail falls in the empty capitol, maybe the light on the phone still blinks, at least? yeah. so that happened on friday. an inauspicious beginning for the president's mighty, mighty new political operation, for them launching their big grassroots push for gun reform , which is otherwise seen through traditional means as being something that is almost impossible to get. that was friday. today, look at this. if you go looking for the president's new organizing group , if you go looking for organizing for action online, so you get online and you type into your browser, say, "organizingforaction.net", if you type that into your browser what you find is you land on the nra home page . you get redirected to the national rifle association , to the opposite side of the gun reform argument. and that is because organizing for action failed to register their own natural domain names when they launched. the website tech president noticed this on monday. organizing for action failed to get organize nighing for action.net, organizing.org or organizing for action.com. so all of those sites have been swooped by republicans and nra supporters. seriously? yeah. come on now, wow. but in the department of clouds and silver linings, if these embarrassing early fails from supposedly the greatest political geniuses on earth, if these failures are kind of a cloud when it comes to the prospects for gun reform , around this cloud is also a silver lining , and her name is debbie held halverson. debbie halverson is a democrat from illinois. she used to serve as majority of the state senate and then spent two years in congress. but now that jesse jackson jr . has resigned, debbie halverson is one of many democrats who have thrown their hats into the ring to try to replace jesse jackson jr . she is not alone. it's five republicans already in the running for the seat, and debbie halverson started out as one of 17 democrats running. there is a lot of people in this field. the primary is going to be next month. but because debbie halvorson has previously served in congress, because she has national, or excuse me, district-wide name recognition because of her high profile role in the state legislature previously, debbie halvorson was instantly pretty widely thought to have a good shot at winning that very, very, very crowded primary for jesse jackson 's seat. but it should be noted that debbie halvorson is not your usual illinois democrat. she comes with an "a" rating and previous endorsements from the national rifle association , from the nra . a few days ago, she told politico that she knows that voters in this majority african-american, heavily democratic chicago district are not all that big on the nra , but she said, quote, i'm not willing to change my stance. so debbie halvorson not budging on gun reform , not giving in to public pressure . she is nra all the way. and then debbie halvorson met this public pressure .
>> in the race to replace jesse jackson , watch out for debbie halvorson . when she was in congress before, halvorson got an a from the nra . the nra , against comprehensive background checks , against banning deadly assault weapons , against banning high hawaii capacity ammunition clips. halvorson even sponsored a bill that would allow some criminals to carry loaded guns across state lines. debbie halvor son. when it comes to promoting gun violence , she gets an f.
>> that ad, that pressure ad comes from new york city mayor michael bloomberg 's pro-gun reform superpac. it's part of his campaign to build support in congress for meaningful national gun reform . and you know what? it appears to be working. once that ad started running in her district, debbie halvorson , who had said she would not be moved on this issue, debbie halvorson moved on this issue. ms. halvorson telling buzzfeed, quote, my win will not be a victory for the nra . how can it be a victory for the nra when i'm for universal background checks , beefing up the database, going after straw buyers and making sure we register our guns. those are not things the nra wants. that's true. those are not things the nra wants. and that is probably going to make it hard to hold on to that nra "a" rating. but maybe that's not the most important thing in the world anymore? in the debate over gun policy and gun laws , we are supposed to believe that the only real pressure on this issue comes from the nra , who of course always push against reform . but there is pressure on the other side, and it apparently works just as well, and it's not just michael bloomberg 's pac. we reported recently on new democratic senator heidi heitkamp . well, the coalition to start gun violence started running these ads in washington , d.c. and back home in north dakota , calling senator heitkamp out for having said that. senator heitkamp then issued a statement clarifying her feelings, saying, quote, all options must be on the table when it comes to addressing gun violence in america . heidi heitkamp responding to pressure, just the way debbie "not budging" halvorson responded to pressure when she discovered a sudden new-found willingness to advocate for background checks for guns, nra be damned. pressure worked. pressure works. pressure works not just for the nra , but for the other side too. well, today in washington , the senate judiciary committee convened a hearing, a very high profile hearing with a title that was ambitiously broad, what should we do about gun violence . five witnesses on both sides of the issue offered expert testimony . those witnesses included nra executive vice president wayne lapierre , naturally. wayne is always there. but also james johnson , the chief of police of baltimore county , and captain mark kelly , astronaut, navy veteran, and the husband of congresswoman gabby giffords . gabby giffords , of course, was shot in the head by a mentally ill gunman in an assassination attempt in january 2011 . today in an emotionally charged and at times contentious testimony, the most moving part of the day happen right at the very beginning with a surprise addition to the witness list. as gabby giffords herself made her way down the aisle into the hearing room to deliver a short statement to the senators and the assembled media and the audience. this was a surprise today. it was clear that this was not something that was easy for her to do.
>> okay. 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. thank you.
>> americans are counting on you. congresswoman gabby giffords speaking today before the senate judiciary committee . when gabby giffords ' husband spoke after she did, he talked about he and gabby both being gun owners themselves, talked about both being people who are pro- gun ownership , but he said that reform is necessary within the bounds of the second amendment that you can be both pro- gun ownership and pro- gun safety reform . specifically, captain mark kelly said our number one priority as a country should be to fix the background check system for buying guns. when people talk about the broken background check system, they're talking about the fact that if you buy a gun at a gun show , or through a private sale, just person to person, you're not required to go through a background check . if you buy from a licensed gun dealer , the law says you do need a background check . but 40% of the guns sold this country aren't sold that way. so our background check system is not really much of a system at all. and don't take it from me. you can take it from the baltimore county chief of police .
>> 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 . the organizations and the national law enforcement partnership to prevent gun violence urgently call on you to require background checks for all firearms purchased. 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.
>> even though fixing the background check loophole is presented as kind of a no-brainer by most people participating in the gun reform debate, you should know that the nra is vehemently opposed to fixing the loophole, often for reasons it has a hard time explaining, which became clear today in this weird moment between judiciary committee chairman pat leahy and wayne la pier. watch.
>> do you still as in 1999 still support mandatory background checks at gun shows? yes or no.
>> we supported the national check system on dealers. we were here when 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, no.
>> let's make it easier, though. i'm talking about gun shows. should we have mandatory background check at gun shows for sales of weapons?
>> if you're dealer, that's already the law.
>> that's not my question, please, mr. lapierre. i'm not trying to play games here. but if you could, just answer my question.
>> 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.
>> okay. so you do not support mandatory background checks in all instances at gun shows?
>> we do not.
>> don't make me say it, we do not. the reason why wayne lapierre is physically squirming there, the reason he is trying really hard not to answer that question in an excerptable sound bite -friendly way that's going to turn up in an ad to damn politicians who might associate themselves with his group is because if wayne lapierre is paying attention, and i bet he is, he knows the nra stands very much alone in this country in opposing universal background checks for buying a gun. the last cbs news/"new york times" poll showed that nine out of ten americans , 92% support universal background checks for buying a gun. among nra members, his own members, 86% believe that anybody buying a gun should have to undergo a background check . which is why wayne lapierre does not want to answer a straight question about it. 86% of my members want this, but i'm against it because i'm a -- hey, nice tie. let's move on. after the president unveiled the administration's list of proposed reforms related to gun violence , the conventional wisdom was, and still is to a great extent, ah, this is doomed. there is no way any of this can get done. but pressure, public pressure is working in certain corners of the gun policy debate . and one of those corners may end up being specifically universal background checks , the centerpiece of what the president has proposed there is consensus building in washington that outside of the fringiest fringe in the gun debate, the fringiest fringe, we're talking 14% of nra membership at best? outside of that fringe, everybody agrees that we need to fix the background check loophole. pretty much everyone agrees if you want a gun, you should undergo a background check regardless of where you are buying that gun. and now quietly a bipartisan group of u.s. senators are working on legislation to finally fix it. republicans tom coburn and mark kirk , along with democrats charles schumer and joe manchin are working together to do that. and yes, that's joe manchin , joe "a" rating from the nra , i'm so proud of the nra manchin, now working on a proposal to extend background checks . we spoke with both senator kirk's office and senator manchin's office tonight about who else might be part. both offices independently stressed that this truly is a bipartisan effort, that is realistic. republicans are thinking they might want this too. is public pressure on this one issue, is public opinion on this one issue so lopsided that this finally is a no-brainer policy, no matter how cynical the beltway feels about it? join us now is senator richard blumenthal of connecticut , who has introduced the ammunition background check of 2013 . senator bloomle that, it's really nice to have you here. thank you for being here.
>> thank you, rachel.
>> at today's hearing was there a moment when you felt like the politics were moving, that we're actually making progress on the issue?
>> certainly gabby giffords ' appearance was absolutely riveting, a high point, dramatic and powerful moment for the entire committee, republicans and democrats, the strength and courage that it took for her to do this first public appearance. be bold, be courageous, americans are counting on you. that moment i think will stay with many of us for a long time and inspire us. but i think also some of those weird moments, like the one you cited and an equally weird one, if i may say, when wayne lapierre tried to explain why he was against background checks , which is that the criminals won't comply with them. well, of course the criminals won't comply with them, because they won't go to the dealers or to private sales to buy weapons if they know they're going to be background checks . and if that law is combined with one that goes after straw purchases and gun trafficking, it can have an enormous effect, not only on firearms purchases, but also ammunition purchases. remember, it's against the law right now for felons, fugitives, as well as drug addicts , seriously mentally ill people, and domestic abusers to buy both firearms and ammunition. and background checks are a law enforcement tool, a simple common sense way to enforce the law. and again, wayne lapierre has a hard time explaining. he was really back on his heels in this hearing several times. why he does not favor better enforcement of existing laws when that's been their mantra for so long.
>> that is -- i'm glad you put it that way. that's exactly what the fight ended up being about today, and from today on what it's going to be. it's not about who is allowed or disallowed to have a gun. those laws stay the same. what changes is whether or not we agree to catch people who are already legally prohibited from having guns, but we have no way of catching them before they get them now. i feel like both stylistically and in terms of the nra 's ability to hold up their side of the argument,that's changed. do you think that's going to manifest adds republican senators coming to your side of this issue?
>> i think it will. i think that it will have a profoundly important effect, partly because the law enforcement community as you saw from chief johnson's testimony, and he was speaking on behalf of many, many law enforcement people through the association he represents, are saying we need background checks to better enforce the law, to protect ordinary people , and also to protect the police who are out there in the trenches on the front lines and who are often outgunned by criminals who can buy these firearms with imimpunity. and by the way, no one is contending there shouldn't be better enforcement of existing laws. i was a former federal prosecutor , u.s. attorney in connecticut , and i tried to enforce gun laws there need to be more resources for this effort. but this kind of law will actually save resources and save lives. and i think it will help to turn the tide. and in the last show last week, you made some very, very compelling statistics available about the people. 90% favor background checks . 80% favor background checks . 90% on firearms. 80% on ammunition purchases. so the american public is moving on this issue. i think it can be the centerpiece for other measures as well like the ban on assault weapons and high capacity clips.
>> senator richard blumenthal of connecticut , who, again, has introduced the background checks for ammunition bill. senator, please keep us posted as this continues to move forward. thanks for being here tonight, sir.
>> thank you, rachel.
>> all right. the united states senate , while we're talking about it, the united states senate set a record today. also, there is a huge development in one of the wars in our world. also, we have a very important chart that imitates life that may undue the agita you felt this morn. if you are against women against violence act, what does that mean you are for? we have a lot coming up this hour.