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NBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript - Guns


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MATTHEWS: Well, this afternoon the president praised the compromise. In a
statement he said, quote, "This is not my bill and there are aspects of the
agreement that I might prefer to be stronger. But the agreement does
represent welcome and significant bipartisan progress. It recognizes that
there are good people on both sides of this issue, and we don`t have to
agree on everything to know that we`ve got to do something to stem the tide
of gun violence."

Well, let me go to Senator Tester. Senator, you`ve had interesting races
out there in Montana. It`s a red state, and you`ve always prevailed, or so
far. People like you.

What is your concern? What concerns do you have about, for example, this
new compromise? Could it be something you would vote for?

SEN. JON TESTER (D), MONTANA: Well, I`ve got to look at it, Chris. And
I`m going to tell you, I want to thank Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey. I work
with both those guys, and common sense is the key to this. We need to
protect our 2nd Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens, and we need to
make sure guns don`t end up in the hands of violently mentally ill folks or
folks who have a long history of violence.

And I think that`s really the bottom line, making sure that this allows our
people who are -- who play by the rules, who are honest folks, to be able
to go out there and buy guns, but yet keep the guns out of the hands of
people who use them in inappropriate ways, that, like I said, have a
history of violence or are violently mentally ill.

And so I appreciate them coming forth with a bill. I hope we can debate it
on the floor. I think it`s critically important that we do. And if
there`s changes that need to be made to the bill, let`s make them and let`s
move forward.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about moving forward. It seems to me we`ve got
three hoops to get through. First of all, 60 votes tomorrow to proceed
with the debate. Will you be one of the 60?

TESTER: I will vote -- I will vote to debate this on the floor. It`s why
I came to Washington, D.C., Chris. The Senate is supposed to be the
biggest deliberative body in the world. We need to deliberate on this
issue. We need to have a good debate, have a good conversation, and figure
out what can work for this country, protect our 2nd Amendment rights while
keeping weapons out of the hands of those who don`t use them in a proper

MATTHEWS: Will you then vote among the 60 necessary to proceed to voting
on the measures, such as this Manchin vote, the Manchin-Toomey proposal?

TESTER: Absolutely, I will be voting in favor of moving to debate.

MATTHEWS: OK. And yet -- and just to get your vote clarified, will you be
among the 50 that`s necessary to pass some gun safety regulations?

TESTER: I`ve got -- I mean, look, like I said, you heard what I said about
law-abiding citizens plus folks who have a history of violence. I think
that if we can make some inroads into that, it`s a positive thing to do.
I`ve got to look at the bill, truthfully, Chris. I say this about every
issue that comes down the pike. But if I can look at the bill, we can
figure out how to make it work, meet the parameters that I have in mind,
yes, I`ll support it. If it doesn`t, of course, then I won`t be able to.

MATTHEWS: What are you concerns? Let`s break it up. Are you concerned
about any aspect of the criminal -- if a person has a felony record? I
mean, where would you draw the line on who gets to have a gun? Just spell
out what you think.

TESTER: It`s got to be court-adjudicated. But here`s one of my concerns.
We've got a lot of folks coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan that have
mental health issues through no fault of their own, through the action
they've seen in the theater. And we`ve got to make sure that, number one,
if they go in to get help, that it doesn`t put them on a list, that, in
fact, it actually encourages them to go get help for their -- because we
got to break the stigma and they`ve got to be able to get the treatment
they need to get cured.

On the other hand, let`s say a person ends up on a list. There`s got to be
a way to get off of that list. And I think that`s also critically
important. You know, mental health issues can be treated and they can be
cured. And we need to make sure that those problems are addressed in the
bill as we move forward.

Look, Patrick Toomey said you got to apply common sense, and that`s really
what it`s about. If we apply common sense measures to this background
check bill, I think it`s something that gun owners and folks who are
concerned about gun violence alike will be in support of. If we don`t and
we don`t thoroughly debate this bill, then we`ve got problems.
MATTHEWS: Well, today, Senator Toomey responded to critics on the right
who say background checks could be the first step toward gun confiscation,
the slippery slope argument. Here he is responding to it.


TOOMEY: The fact is, the national law that we have had and Pennsylvania`s
experience have done nothing to restrict the lawful ownership of guns by
law-abiding citizens. And neither will our amendment. The worries that we
hear sometimes about background checks leading to an erosion of our 2nd
Amendment rights -- it simply hasn`t happened.


MATTHEWS: Do you know, Senator Tester, whether the NRA is going to make
this record vote, one of the votes that matters to them, the Toomey

TESTER: Yes. I don`t know, Chris. I haven`t heard whether they`re going
to score it or not. The point is, is he is -- Patrick Toomey is spot on
when he talks about the background checks, if, in fact, in the past they
haven`t restricted law-abiding citizens from being able to have guns and in
the future they should be -- should be applied the same way. But I have
not heard whether the NRA is going to score it or not.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you so much. It`s great having you on, especially

TESTER: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Senator Tester of Montana.


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