Gun Control Dominates Conversation After Aurora

After the Aurora tragedy, guests debate whether new gun control laws are the answer, or if we should be focusing on expanding our understanding of mental health problems. 

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Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper appeared on CNN's State of the Union to talk about visiting victims in the hospital, his thoughts on gun control laws, and what he thinks of the shooter. Hickenlooper said he spent the last two days visiting families in the hospitals, "going from hospital to hospital and talking to families and, in some cases, talking to the wounded. It was amazing how buoyant the spirits were in many of these rooms, even with people who had suffered grievous wounds." When Candy Crowley asked about what he thinks should be done with gun control laws, Hickenlooper was hesitant to commit to backing reform. "Certainly we can – I’m sure we will try – to create some checks and balances on these things. But I mean this is a case of evil – somebody who was an aberration of nature. If it wasn’t one weapon it would have been another. I mean, he was diabolical," he said. He also branded James Holmes as a terrorist, though not in the same way we've come to use the term. "I think the political will come. But at this point, you know, in a funny way, this guy is a terrorist," he said. "He wasn’t a terrorist in the sense of politics but for whatever twisted reasons that we can barely even imagine, he wanted to create terror. He wanted to put fear in people’s lives."

George Will argued on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopolous that the debate in the wake of Aurora shouldn't be centered around gun control laws, but around the suspect's mental health. "That’s what the problem is – an individual’s twisted mind," Will said. "There is a human itch in the modern age to commit sociology as soon as this happens and to piggy-back various political agendas on a tragedy. And I just think we ought to resist that... There are deranged people in the world." It's too bad almost every other Sunday show guest didn't agree with him.

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Ron Johnson took two very different sides of the gun control debate on Fox News Sunday. "Weapons of war don't belong on the street," Feinstein said. "This is a man who planned it, who went in and his purpose was to kill as many people as he could in a sold out theater" she argued. "We've got to sit down and really come to grips with what is sold to the average citizen in America. I have no problem with people being licensed, buying a firearm, but these are weapons that you're only going to be using to kill people in close combat, that's the purpose of that weapon." Feinstein argued the ban on assault weapons from 1994 to 2004 be reinstated. "The gun organizations go out to defeat people in states where they can, and they pour a lot of money in and some people lost office after they voted for the legislation before," Feinstein said. "I believe people use these weapons because they can get them, she said. "I believe that a revolver, a rifle, a shotgun isn't going to do the damage. It's the big clips. It's 100 rounds, You can not get to him to dislodge the gun because he can fire so rapidly and has so many bullets.  Why do you need this?"

Johnson, on the other hand, argued that it wasn't about guns at all. "This is a horrible tragedy and our thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims and the community of Aurora. The fact of the matter is though, that he's a sick and demented, you know, evil individual," Johnson said. "Unfortunately, I don't think society can keep sick, demented individuals from obtaining any type of weapon to kill people. Somebody who purposely wants to harm another individual is going to find a method of doing it." Johnson pointed to Holmes' use of explosives as evidence to support his point. "This isn't an issue about guns," he said. "This is just really an issue about sick, demented individuals and it's a tragedy, and I don't think there's a solution here in Washington to solve this problem."

And then they clashed, finally, when Johnson tried to argue some of the damage could have been prevented if someone in the theater was carrying a gun. "I think that is the truth, that if somebody –  a responsible individual – had been carrying a weapon, maybe maybe they could have prevented some of those deaths, some of those injuries, and that's just the truth," Johnson said. Feinstein interrupted before he could say anything else. "And maybe you could have had a fire fight and killed many more people," Feinstein said. "These are people in a theater." Point to Feinstein.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called out Mitt Romney and President Obama for not taking a harder stance on gun laws. In a pre-taped interview with Bob Schieffer for CBS's Face the Nation, Bloomberg argued the restrictions in place for gun control need to be more strictly enforced. Schieffer asked if Bloomberg thought fear of the NRA and the gun lobby was preventing Romney and Obama from speaking out more. "The NRA is an organization that is adamant about no controls on weapons, in spite of the fact that we have federal laws that say you cannot sell guns to minors, to people with psychiatric problems or drug problems, or convicted felons," Bloomberg responded. "And yet they pressure Congress and the White House, and they've been doing it for decades, to not fund enforcement of those laws. We don't need more laws, we need a couple of fixes." Bloomberg asked Romney and Obama to clarify where they stand on the issue, and to stand up for what they believe in. "The Supreme Court said, 'Yes we have a second amendment, you have a right to bear guns. But reasonable restrictions are constitutional.' And I think the Congress passed reasonable restrictions. But to not enforce them is just ridiculous. And you've got to ask the candidates why they are unwilling to do so," Bloomberg said.

John McCain wants more proof gun control is the answer before he'll support any new sort of regulations. Appearing on State of the Union, McCain said he welcomes a discussion on gun control in the wake of the Aurora shooting, but "to think that somehow increased gun control is the answer, in my view, that would have to be proved." McCain pointed to the Norway shootings as evidence that strict gun control laws don't necessarily mean tragedies can be prevented. "I don't know, to tell you the truth, what we can do, and this immediately leads to the issue of gun control," McCain said. "I think [on] the strongest Second Amendment rights, people would be glad to have a conversation, but to somehow leap to the conclusion this was somehow caused by the fact we don’t have more gun control legislation, I don’t think has been proved."

Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter also argued for the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban in an appearance on Face the Nation. Perlmutter said he disagrees with Bloomberg that the conversation on gun control should come from the Presidential candidates. Instead, Perlmutter thinks it should come from Congress. "Mayor [Michael Bloomberg] saying this is all on the president's back or the presidential candidates' back, Romney and President Obama — I think this is really a congressional issue that has to be dealt with. You know, should we reinstate the assault weapons ban? I think we should, and I think that's where it starts," Perlmutter said. "We ought to be taking a look at how this guy was able to accumulate so much ammunition. He had enough ammunition for, like, a small army. There's something wrong about that. To that point, the mayor is correct. But I think he's putting his finger on the wrong spot. This is a congressional issue."

Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff appeared on NBC's Meet the Press to argue against more gun control, and instead we should focus more on identifying suspect behaviour in potential threats. "If you look at what we've heard about the apartment and the sophistication of the devices that were disarmed or disabled there, and you realize that even the kind of ingredients that you can find in your own kitchen can be used to make bombs," Chertoff said. "So the problem here is with the people and not with the tools." Chertoff said there are behavioural signs we should work harder to identify before something happens. "We need to understand more about the signs that show somebody is either becoming deranged or becoming a terrorist, because there's a commonality we see again and again, which is a sudden change in behavior, usually some element of becoming more isolated and changing the way you relate to people," he said. Chertoff pointed to the 2009 Fort Hood shooting as a similar case where a person's behavior changed drastically before a tragedy occurred.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on Fox News Sunday and said he believes Bashar al-Assad's days ruling Syria are numbered. "I think the regime will go...I don't know if it's days or weeks or months, but I don't think it's sustainable. But I think it will go," Netanyahu said. "I'm less concerned with what replaces it, but more concerned with the seam line of what could happen to those stocks of chemical weapons and those deadly rockets and missiles when there's no government in Syria. That's my principle concern."

Steve Schmidt, one of John McCain's top strategists in 2008, said some stuff about Mitt's tax returns not playing a part in their decision to choose Palin over Romney as their VP pick on Meet the Press. Schmidt admitted he never saw Romney's tax returns, but assured that Romney is "a person of decency with the highest ethical character and background." Schmidt said there was nothing in the returns that disqualified him, but they chose Palin instead as "a political decision that we made in a very bad political circumstance."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.