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CNN "Newsroom" Transcript: Gun Control and the NRA

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BLITZER: Fireworks on Capitol Hill over gun violence and it started with a very powerful appearance from the former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was severely injured in a 2011 Tucson shooting. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing brought together two longtime gun control rivals, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who's just proposed sweeping legislation, banning military- style assault weapons, and the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre.

Watch this polite little exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: 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 --

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NRA: We have.

FEINSTEIN: We tangled -- when was it? Eighteen years ago? You look pretty good, actually.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Both indeed have been making their respective cases in this gun debate for many, many years. As you can see, by the way, in this vintage CNN video, this from a long time ago.

Senator Feinstein is joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

FEINSTEIN: You're welcome, Wolf.

BLITZER: In all seriousness, you've been through this debate for 18 years. What's different now?

FEINSTEIN: Well, what is different now is that the weapons have increased in firepower, in velocity, in kill power. The technology has changed so that there are mechanisms that you could put into a semiautomatic rifle, like a Bushmaster or AK-47 that makes it essentially act like an automatic weapon and in a minute you can fire, you know, 400, 500 bullets.

It's a real problem out there. And these weapons tear people's bodies apart and that's what happened to the children. And every one of these, school after school, mall after mall, when is it going to end? We look like such a barbaric country. We can't even protect our own people. So my view is that weapons that are designed for war don't belong on the streets.

And so we have tried to prepare a bill which essentially exempts over 2,000, 200 weapons, outlaws 185. Sets up a one physical characteristic test for an assault weapon, requires a background test when that assault weapon is transferred or sold.

I hope we can get it through.

BLITZER: All right.

FEINSTEIN: It's very hard.

BLITZER: I want to get to the politics in a moment and --

FEINSTEIN: Yes.

BLITZER: A likely vote in the Senate and the House. But you were on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley on Sunday and you said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FEINSTEIN: The NRA is venal. They come after you. They put together large amounts of money to defeat you. They did this in '93 and they intend to continue it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I just want you to elaborate and what you mean by venal.

FEINSTEIN: Well, what I mean by venal is just that. They raise money if you vote against them to defeat you. And particularly with members of the House. They have been successful. Jack Brooks, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Tom Foley, at the time the speaker, both were defeated.

Now the NRA has been raising a lot of money from gun companies now. Gun companies are supporting this. The NRA is encouraging programs that give these weapons to youngsters as young as 8 and 9 years old.

I've got to wonder what's happening to this country. So every single poll shows that a dominant majority of Americans want to ban military-style assault weapons. Every single poll shows that. The question is, will America stand up and will America take this case to the Midwest, to the south where it is very difficult to obtain a vote?

BLITZER: Listen to Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, at the hearing this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAPIERRE: 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 gang members and drug dealers with guns and the mentally ill possess firearms are not being prosecuted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Does he have a point there?

FEINSTEIN: Well, he may. I don't really know about that. But we will look at it. I do know this. That a violent felon can buy a gun at a gun show, no questions asked, even if it is a 50-caliber sniper rifle, an AK-47, a sophisticated Bushmaster. He can buy it.

I do know that you can buy any amount of ammunition on the Internet. I do know that clips, high-capacity magazines, are cheap and easily available. So anybody can put together any kind of an arsenal they want. Criminal, terrorists, he's right about that.

Now, the question comes, what kind of gun laws will the National Rifle Association support? In the time I was at the hearing, this question was more or less asked of Mr. LaPierre and he did not answer it. Essentially, they believe that you don't need to do anything, just enforce laws. The Brady gun checks, for example -- database, a product of the Tiahrt legislation, the next day you have to dissolve it. So the NRA has been very artful in moving forward to really --

BLITZER: Senator --

FEINSTEIN: -- put opposition to enforcement at the same time they're complaining about it.

BLITZER: It's not just the NRA. But you've got some problems with some prominent Senate Democrats as well. I know that Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has a different perspective than you do and maybe even the Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

Do you have these senators, these Democratic senators, on board?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I can tell you that Patrick Leahy voted for the bill in 1994. I can't comment on Senator Reid. Look, everybody says, do you have every vote? The answer is no. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

Look, what happened in Connecticut at Sandy Hook, the ripping apart of bodies of 5 and 6-year-olds. A mother who gave her son a gun when that son shouldn't have been anywhere near a gun, shows the falsity of the situation that we live in now. We've got to change that and we've got to protect our schools. You can't just protect them with guards. I have no problem with guards.

There was a deputy sheriff armed at Columbine. He couldn't hit the sniper or the shooter that was in that school. So we have to keep these weapons, which are military weapons, out of the hands of gang bangers, of mental incompetents, of people who would use them for bad purposes.

BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, I know that you feel very passionately on this issue.

FEINSTEIN: I do.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens in the weeks to come. Appreciate your joining us.

FEINSTEIN: Thanks, Wolf.


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