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Senate Hearing on Gun Control; Winter Storms Turn Deadly; Countdown to the Super Bowl

Aired January 30, 2013 - 11:00   ET



WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: The NRA has over 80,000 certified instructors who teach our military personnel, law enforcement officers and hundreds of thousands of other American men and women how to safely use firearms.

We do more and spend more than anyone else on teaching safe and responsible gun ownership.

We join the nation in sorrow over the tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut. There is nothing more precious than our children, and we have no more sacred duty than to protect our children and to keep them safe.

That's why we ask former congressman and undersecretary of homeland security, Asa Hutchinson to bring in every available expert to develop a model school-shield program, one that can be individually tailored to make our schools as safe as possible.

It's time to throw an immediate blanket of security around our children. About a third of our schools right now have armed security already because it works and that number is growing every day.

Right now, state officials, local authorities and school districts in 50 states are considering their own plans to protect children in schools.

In addition, we need to enforce the thousands of gun laws already on the books. Prosecuting criminals who misuse firearms works. 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 who possess firearms are not being prosecuted and that is completely and totally unacceptable.

And out of more than 76,000 firearms purchases supposedly denied by the federal instant check system, only 62 were referred for prosecution and only 44 were actually prosecuted.

Proposing more gun laws while failing to enforce the thousands we already have, it's not a serious solution for reducing crime. I think we can also agree that our mental health system is broken. We need to look at the full range of mental health issues from early detection to treatment to civil commitment laws to privacy laws that needlessly prevent mental health workers from being included in the national instant check system.

While we're ready to participate in a meaningful effort to solve these pressing problems, we must respectively, but honestly and firmly disagree with some members of the committee and many in the media and all of the gun control groups on what will keep our kids and keep our streets safe.

Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals, nor do we believe that government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families.

As I said earlier, we need to be honest about what works and what does not work. Proposals that would only serve to burden the law-abiding have failed in the past and they'll fail again in the future.

Semi-automatic firearm technology has been around for a hundred years. They're the most popular guns for hunting, target shooting, self- defense. Despite this fact, Congress banned the manufacture and sale of hundreds of semi-automatic firearms and magazines from '94 to 2004 and independent studies including one from the Clinton Justice Department, proved that it had no impact on lowering crime.

And when it comes to background checks, let's be honest. Background checks will never be universal because criminals will never submit to them.

There are a lot of things that can be done and we ask you to join with us. The NRA is made up of millions of Americans who support what works. The immediate protection for all not just some of our schoolchildren is what's needed and swift, certain punishment of criminals who misuse guns and fixing our mental health system.

We love our families. We love our country. We believe in freedom. We're the millions from all walks of life that take responsibility for our safety and protection as a God-given, fundamental American right.

Thank you.



Now, Chief Johnson, let me begin with you, sir, if I could. What I have found in my experience that many criminals are able to get guns illegally because they use straw purchases.

In other words, a person who has no criminal record can easily pass background check, goes in and buys a gun and then turns around and gives them to criminals, but there's no federal law that makes it illegal to act as a straw purchaser of firearms. So, last week, I introduced a bill that will strengthen federal law to combat firearms trafficking. It would specifically target straw purchasers.

Do you think there should be such a law?

CHIEF JAMES JOHNSON, BALTIMORE COUNTY POLICE: The background procedures in this nation are seriously in need of modification. Again, 40 percent of those acquiring firearms try to do it outside that background procedure.

Senator, you were absolutely correct. Many will use a straw purchaser to go in and acquire these firearms. Happens each and every day across America. It's a serious problem.

The National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence supports your initiative to address that issue.

LEAHY: Thank you, Chief.

We also heard testimony about the safety of women and gun violence. Now, I'm seeking immediate consideration of the Leahy/Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.

I was told yesterday that sometime in the next couple weeks we'll have it on the floor of the Senate for a vote. I do this because of concern for domestic violence victims.

We have statistics to show that women in this country killed at alarming rates by domestic abusers with guns. Unfortunately, if a woman has a protective order against her abuser, if he is able to get a gun through a straw purchaser -- of course, he still gets it, but he is not going to be able to get a -- purchase a gun if a background check is conducted.

And we have at least one study that says that in states that require background check for every handgun sale, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by their partners.

Now, do you agree that we want to keep firearms away from domestic abusers who are not supposed to have them any way? We have to improve the background check system and require a background check for every firearm purchaser.

JOHNSON: Absolutely. I'd like to stand in front of this group today and say I've spent my years chasing down violent armed robbers each and every day. The fact of the matter is, as a young patrol officer, most of my day was one domestic to another. It was the post that I had.

Statistics show that when females are killed, it's more likely, over 50 percent of the time, to be by a spouse or household member. A gun in a home where there is a history of domestic violence, statistics show there's a 500 percent increase or chance that that person will be victimized by gun violence. The state of Maryland in the last several years enacted legislation to address this domestic violence issue, to allow us to go out and seize guns of domestic violence abusers where the spouses went and obtained a protective order.

This has been very effective and, in my jurisdiction, which averages generally about 35 homicide a year, unfortunately most being domestic violence-related, it's had a significant impact in reducing the amount of those domestics.

Two of the last three years, the statistic was below the 41-year homicide rate and I credit, in this case, the lieutenant governor of the state of Maryland, Lieutenant Governor Brown, for this initiative and it's helped us tremendously.

LEAHY: Thank you. And Captain Kelly, Mr. LaPierre testified that universal background checks ...


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: You're watching CNN's live coverage of the Senate judiciary hearing on gun violence.

So far, it has been a day with very divergent viewpoints. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head just over two years ago in an Arizona parking lot ,briefly testified as did her husband, astronaut, former space shuttle commander, Mark Kelly, talking about how there needs to be some gun restrictions.

Kelly talking about how he did -- he is a gun owner. He and Gabrielle Giffords are both gun owners and believe in the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms, but there needs to be a conversation about gun violence.

He also talked about the need for better background checks in this country and eliminating restrictions on data.

I want to bring in our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, who is in the hearing room.

Dana, one of the things we heard about a few minutes ago was about going after straw purchasers. Could you explain to our viewers what exactly are straw purchasers and this is an area of legislation where there might actually be some accomplishment?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There might. You know, if you listen to the line of questioning that the chairman, Patrick Leahy, is going through, you sort of see kind of the wheels churning and the outlines of potential legislation that he might be thinking it.

It's all focused on background checks and making sure that guns are not in the hands of the wrong people.

When he talks about straw purchasers, he's effectively talking about the fact that, if you own a gun and you sell it to me, it doesn't necessarily have to be registered. There doesn't have to be a background checks on that and it's not a prosecutable offense.

So, that is the kind of thing that when even Democrats and Republicans are talking about strengthening background checks, they're talking about strengthening that kind of enforcement, if you will.

So, you can see that kind of discussion starting here with the guy who really will be very involved in writing legislation. I mean, he is somebody, we talked about, the fact that is a gun owner, but he also told me and a few others in the hallway yesterday that he also understands there is a desire after Newtown to see if any legislation can be accomplished.

So, that's -- you can see that is where he is headed with those particular issues.

And, as I said earlier, Jake, assault weapons ban, not going to happen. Probably even restricting high-capacity magazines, probably not going to happen. The most likely is doing something about background checks.

TAPPER: And, earlier when Congresswoman -- former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords testified, an emotional moment in that hearing room. Of course, she's struggling when it comes to walking, still struggling when it comes to talking. I believe she cannot see out of one eye.

I want to play for you her very brief testimony so you get an idea of what members of the Senate and others in the hearing room heard when former Congresswoman Giffords just over two years after she was shot came before the Senate judiciary committee to talk about the need for greater restrictions on guns.


GABRIELLE GIFFORDS, FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: 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.


TAPPER: An emotional moment with former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords testifying before the Senate judiciary hearing just over two years since she was shot.

I'm joined here at the CNN desk with crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns. Joe, even after Congresswoman Giffords was shot, there was still no appetite for any gun control in Congress, not just among Republicans, but among many key Democrats.

What do you see actually happening, if anything, after this Newtown shooting just 47 days ago?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Background checks is something that a lot of people are saying they can certainly beef up, especially as it relates to people who have mental health problems.

They've been talking about that for more than a decade. Clearly, more needs to be done and, so many times when you see one of these mass shootings, there's a mental health element involved.

There's another thing. The NRA says you just need to enforce the rules that are already in place, but there's one place where there is a gap and that is in the issue of gun trafficking. There's not a federal gun-trafficking statute.

So, a lot of people are saying, perhaps we can work on things along those lines.

Again, as Dana says, a lot of other people have said an assault weapons ban, another one, very hard to do the way this Congress is configured.

TAPPER: And, of course, for private gun sellers, there are no background checks, but for stores, gun stores, they have -- they do engage in background checks. This would be for purchases, for instance, if I were to sell you a gun, I don't have to do a background check.

JOHNS: Absolutely. Just between and among private individuals, you don't have to do a background check there.

At a lot of gun shows, there's a big question as to how many times this sort of -- this loophole creates a situation where guns fall in the middle of it, but certainly at some gun shows, you don't have to go through a background check and so guns can pass that way and the government really doesn't see it.

There are some areas that people have been talking about for years that they can get a fresh look out of it and if anything comes as a result of these tragedies, that is where the conversation begins.

TAPPER: All right, Joe Johns, thank you so much. We're going to take a break now. When we return, you will be in the able hands of Ashleigh Banfield.

We will continue to monitor the Senate judiciary committee's hearing on gun violence.

I'm Jake Tapper. We'll take a quick break right now.


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. You've been watching our live coverage out of Washington, D.C. , on the gun violence hearings, Senate judiciary committee.

We want to bring you other big news that's happening. All week, we've been fighting bad weather right across the country from the cold, wet, messy to the downright dangerous and now that weather has turned deadly.

One person has been reported killed after a tree fell in Tennessee where dozens of counties were under tornado warnings for most of the morning.

Pictures were rolling in over night and the damage was obvious. The high winds had really done a number on homes, took down power lines and trees in the Nashville area and the National Weather Service says that a tornado with 150-mile-an-hour winds touched down in Mt. Juliet.

There are similar scenes from central Indiana, straight-line winds as high as 80-miles-an-hour causing what one local fire chief called moderate to major damage.

All of this, part of a dangerous weather system that's stretching over 1,000 miles from New Orleans to Philadelphia bringing wild temperature swings, 60- and 70-mile-an-hour winds, flood warnings and even snow.

Our Chad Myers has been trying to sort of keep tabs on how all this has been changing.

We've been reading headlines all morning. Weather whiplash, tornado threats, 10 states, thousands without power and it's kind of hard to see where it's going given where we've been.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Adairsville, Georgia, right now, if you can hear me, you need to take cover immediately. There is a tornado to your southwest and it is headed right into your town at this point in time. Damage has already been reported.

So, we are tracking these cells, one after another moving into a populated part of Georgia at this time. Here's Atlanta, Adairsville, Rome, Georgia, right there. There is the circulation of this storm about to move over I-75, but not quite yet.

Let me show you why I am so concerned with this storm, Ashleigh. There is the town of Adairsville kind of in a "B" like that, the north-south road's right there. This is a signature of a tornado on the ground. This is wind coming and wind going and that circulation right through here is headed right into Adairsville, Georgia.

And this is going to be the case for the next few hours. We have watches all the way from Pittsburgh because we had wind damage there, all the way south, tornado warnings possible all the way down to Mobile, Alabama.

A widespread system, make sure you have your NOAA weather radio on. Buy an app for your iPad. It's like nine bucks. You can even tell it where you are and it will warn you only if the warning is where you are exactly right now.

So, this is a very dangerous day today. We'll keep you advised.

BANFIELD: This is really surprising. Did you say Dairsville? That's where they have to take cover immediately?

MYERS: Adairsville, Georgia, right now.

BANFIELD: Adairsville, Georgia, OK.

And other places that could end up in the same predicament within the next few hours?

MYERS: There's a big squall line to the west, and we call it a squall line because it's kind all lined up in a row.

And you typically don't get tornado warnings along a line of storms, but when you get a couple storms that are out all by themselves and they are -- let's -- we call them "super cells" or they're out -- they're called "discrete." They're not part of another line behind it. Those are cells that can rotate.

Here's the deal today. You can get a tornado warning and only get a few minutes warning on this storm. Typically, the Weather Service can put it out 20 minutes in advance.

Today, these storms are spinning so quickly and then dying very quickly, but in that three-to-five-mile window, that three-to-five- minute window, that's when the tornado can be on the ground. You have to pay attention and not just kind of go, I'll get to it when I get to it. I have to do something else.


MYERS: When you hear the siren or you hear the alarm for you, it's time to take cover now because you may only have just a few minutes today. That's how quickly these storms are coming and going.

BANFIELD: You know, and for other people across the country, I mean, here up in the New York area, we've had a 40-degree weather swing. I think it was 22 when I woke up yesterday and it's going up to 60 today. Just bizarre.

Chad, keep an eye on it for us for this hour. Check in with us if there's a change in those warnings and thank you for that. We do appreciate it.

Also, stay with CNN for the latest on all of the storms right across the country throughout the day.

Back in a moment.


BANFIELD: It is Super Bowl week and the big stories are emerging as the Ravens and 49ers gear up for Sunday's big game. Take, for instance, Ray Lewis, star linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens. This will be the last game of his very, very long career.

But that story is not the story that's making headlines. Instead, a controversy has surfaced, allegations that he used a bizarre performance-enhancing substance this season and get this, a substance extracted from the antlers of deer and banned by the NFL.

The charge is being made in an article in "Sports Illustrated." CNN has not independently confirmed this report.

Lewis is certainly reacting to it in New Orleans. Have a listen to how he responds to a reporter who even dared ask him about the story.


RAY LEWIS, RAVENS LINEBACKER: Any test I took in the NFL, there's never a question if I ever even thought about using anything, so to even entertain stupidity like that, tell them to get a story on somebody else.


BANFIELD: This is not the first controversy that Ray Lewis has faced at a Super Bowl. In fact, 13 years ago these were images we were watching. He was charged with first-degree murder after a violent knife fight outside a nightclub in Atlanta where two men were killed.

Lewis ended up pleading guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice after agreeing to testify against two former co-defendants and he was also asked about that yesterday.


LEWIS: I live with that every day. You may can take a break from it. I don't. I live with it every day of my life and I'd rather not speak about that today.


BANFIELD: Joining us now is the author of the "Sports Illustrated" article on Lewis' alleged drug use, senior writer David Epstein.

David, thanks for being with us. I want to get your reaction to Ray Lewis' reaction to the allegations that you make in the article.

DAVID EPSTEIN, SENIOR WRITER, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": It's pretty much what I expected. Athletes, we know, from Lance Armstrong to Marion Jones tend to say that they passed tests and use that as proof that they haven't used anything.

But I think we all know now that that's not proof, not to mention that the NFL doesn't have an effective test for the substance in question.

But it didn't surprise me because I interviewed Ray Lewis, one-on-one, in the Ravens locker room weeks earlier after a game and, you know, he confirmed certain things.

But when, sort of, the questioning got to touchier areas, he ended the conversation and walked away, so I expected it wasn't going to be something he was happy about.

BANFIELD: You know, forgive me for finding this very strange. I'm not a sports reporter. I'd never heard of deer antler extract.

Is that just me or is this a very strange substance?

EPSTEIN: That's not just you. It's a strange substance.

And in many ways, the main point of the story is sort of about the bizarre pseudo-science that athletes interact with because they sort of have a desire to move faster than legitimate science.

But it's totally bizarre and unusual and I think that's sort of some of what makes it interesting.

BANFIELD: So, what's his coach saying? I mean, there's such a big story about two brothers coaching these two teams and John Harbaugh is Ray Lewis' coach with the Ravens. Is he weighing in on these allegations?

EPSTEIN: Well, the team is basically supporting him and saying, look, he's never failed and test and he met with the Ravens spokesman, I think, yesterday morning and they issued a statement saying they stand behind everything that he says.

So, that's -- they're backing up basically whatever Ray Lewis says.

BANFIELD: And then, of course, I just want to touch on that other issue, as well. The -- you know, this is a story that has dogged him for years, the murder from 2000, the double murder that he was embroiled in.

He was asked about that yesterday. He was quite emphatic about his response. Some people call him "Reverend Ray." They say he is the quintessential story of redemption. Carol Costello did a terrific story about that in her earlier hours here on CNN.

Is he ever going to be able to leave what happened in Atlanta at Super Bowl 2000 or does he say he lives with this every day and will continue to live with it every day until he dies?

EPSTEIN: In a sense, I think he's left it behind already. I mean, he moved on. He had one of the greatest careers of any linebacker in NFL history.

You know, I understand that my report and the allegations, the murder allegations, are getting a lot of interest this week, but 99 percent of the time for people that follow the sporting press, it idolizes Ray Lewis, so most of the time, it is left behind.

I don't think it will ever be something that isn't sort of a footnote on his Wikipedia page. It will always be something that's attached to him, but for people that follow him and follow the sports world, most of the coverage is hero worship.

BANFIELD: David, it's great reading in "Sports Illustrated."

I have to reiterate again that CNN hasn't done independent confirmation yet. We haven't been able to confirm the allegations that you make in the magazine, but it is very interesting reading and he is a very interesting character, regardless.

And I know you'll be watching this Sunday.

EPSTEIN: Thanks for having me.

BANFIELD: All right, David, thanks.