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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" Transcript: Gun Control


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CROWLEY: Joining me now is Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Is that true? Because you know that's what some gun hunters -- gun owners fear, and that is that a background check is nothing more than a way to get registration.

LEAHY: No, it's not going to be registration. And, of course, the speaker knows that, but he's paid very well to stir up his membership and help increase dues-paying members.

But I think we ought to lower (ph) the rhetoric and talk reality. I'm a gun owner. A lot of people in my state of Vermont are gun owners. But I know last time I went in to purchase a firearm, I had to go through a background check. I didn't have any problem with doing that.

CROWLEY: And what do they do with that information? When you go in and you say, this is my name, this is my address, this is my phone number. No, I don't have any mental health problems. I pass all of this. They put it in a background check and what happens to that?

LEAHY: They check to see if you told the truth and then it's cleared out.

CROWLEY: It gets deleted, is what you're saying.

LEAHY: Yes. But what happens, I don't mind having a background check for me, but I don't somebody who has two felonies, maybe for armed robbery, to be able to come in and have (ph) a background check. And unless you have a universal background check, it doesn't apply to somebody who may have had felonies.

The fact is most gun owners I talk to in Vermont say, OK, the rules are -- as long as it applies to everybody. Don't make exceptions. And unfortunately, the speaker was talking about making exceptions.

I don't think there should be exemptions at a gun show, or for straw purchasers. We want to say to everybody, so that if you have a violent crime in your background, if you're under a restraining order, if you have some of these problems, you're not going to be able to legally purchase a firearm.

CROWLEY: At gun shows, is what we're talking about here.

LEAHY: At gun shows or --

CROWLEY: Expanding background checks to gun shows and private sales.

LEAHY: And gun stores. You know what I mean, your local gun store has to pay taxes to the community, to the state, fill out all these rules and all. Why should they have stiffer rules on them than somebody who comes in, sets up in the fairground for a week.

CROWLEY: And we just want to clarify, when you say the speaker in your previous remarks, you're talking about Wayne LaPierre, not Speaker Boehner.

LEAHY: No, no, no, not Speaker Boehner.

CROWLEY: OK. And what you're saying is that all of that information, if you were a law-abiding citizen with no felonies on your record, no mental health problems, whatever information you have given to that gun store or whoever, that is then fed into for a background check, goes away. They press delete. So no one knows you own that.

LEAHY: It's not a registration. It's not a registration. You don't find out -- but if you've -- but if you've lied about it, then that is going to be retained.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you, I want to move you, because there are so many issues that are coming to your committee, and I wanted to ask you about immigration. You made an opening statement during one of your hearings that just said, you know, that you basically oppose the idea of tying border security to allowing undocumented workers to begin a pathway towards legalization. And yet what we're led to believe is that bipartisan committee wants to do exactly that.

LEAHY: No. What I'm saying is don't make the perfect the enemy of the good. If you say there must be total security before we can go forward, that's never going to happen. We spend billions and billions of dollars --

CROWLEY: But you wouldn't mind measurements along the way.

LEAHY: But I don't mind measurements. I think this administration, the Obama administration, has spent more money on border security than any administration in history. There are still going to be some people getting through. I just don't want it to be a case where you say, well, until we know that not one person can get through, will we have immigration reform. That's never going to happen.

We're (inaudible) -- improve border security, of course. But at the same time, find some way to have immigration reform. The time is now. It's unrealistic to expect that suddenly you're going to have 11 million people, well, we'll just throw you out of the country, you couldn't do it. And we're not going to do it. Let's find out how they come in, in the same way my maternal grandparents came in, or my wife's parents came in. Let's have some way to make sure they can become citizens.

CROWLEY: I want to ask you about your recent trip to Cuba, but just a wrap-up question on both these issues, guns and immigration. At the end of the year, will you be able to say that this first year of this Congress passed both immigration reform and gun control reform in some manner?

LEAHY: I think we will. If people want to come together. I don't want it to be a partisan bill. I'm working with both Republicans and Democrats. Unless we work with both Republicans and Democrats, we'll pass nothing.

CROWLEY: You were recently in Cuba. You met with Alan Gross, who is an American prisoner in Cuba, he is a contract worker. He's been detained since 2009. You also met with Raul Castro, the new president. Did you speak to him about the fate of Mr. Gross, and what did you find out about, A, Mr. Gross' health, and, B, whether there's any room in there to get him out?

LEAHY: Well, I have spoken twice to President Raul Castro about Mr. Gross. Both my wife and I have met with him twice.

I met with Mr. Gross twice. I did this past week.

I said I would have loved to have just put him on my airplane and brought him back out with me. That's not going to happen. He's not going to be -- he is not going to be released by the Cubans because of pressure from the United States. That does not work. It hasn't worked in the past.

I think there are ways that he can be released, but it's going to require some give and take on both sides and some quiet negotiation.

I think the worst thing that can happen is if we stay either in our country or in their country in this 1960s, 1970s Cold War mentality. We're a different century now. We should be looking at what's the future for their future and ours, what's the future for their children and our children, and I think if we do that, I think we can find things not only to settle the Alan Gross issue, but a whole lot of other issues.

CROWLEY: So you're suggesting perhaps that you could say, listen, what about if we ease the embargo further or got rid of the embargo, in -- if you'll let him go, I will work it, that kind of thing?

LEAHY: I'm not going to go into specific things, but we have a number of issues that we should be looking at. We have them on a terrorist list. It makes no sense. They've been working to help the Colombians on the issue of the FARC. They've been very effective. They've worked with us on drug interdiction. That's something that can be removed. There are a lot of things that we can do. The embargo is an obvious one.

The idea that you and I have to get permission to go to Cuba from our own government, you know, it makes no sense.

CROWLEY: That's sort of a relic of the past.

LEAHY: Yeah.

CROWLEY: Yeah. Listen, you have a lot on your plate, Senator. I wish you good luck in the coming months.

LEAHY: It is going to be an interesting year.

CROWLEY: It will.

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