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Gun Control Debate Remains Stunted In Congress


The president's plan to curb gun violence could face an uphill battle in Congress. This past week, we spoke with Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa. He's the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is holding a series of hearings on this issue. Senator Grassley says he does not support many of the Obama administration's proposals for stricter gun control. But he does believe there are some proposals in Congress that could help reduce gun violence.

SENATOR CHARLES GRASSLEY: For instance, gun trafficking. There isn't prosecution for straw people buying guns. And, you know, they buy guns so they can transfer them to somebody that can't legally get a gun under our present laws. I also see that we need to look at what we have to do to make sure that felons that aren't reported to the FBI database are reported. And then the biggest problem that we have to deal with, and quite frankly I don't think any of us have an answer to the mental health issue. How do you get more people that have mental health problems that shouldn't have guns, and under present law can't get guns, but you got to get their name into the database as well. And you got to do that without violating the privacy that exists between a doctor and a patient, as an example. And that's going to be a very difficult thing to deal with.

MARTIN: There are different proposals that are being bandied about. One in particular getting a lot of attention is the idea of universal background checks. And under current law, a background check is not required for private gun sales. The White House says a check should be run for every gun transaction. Could you support a measure like that?

GRASSLEY: Not at this point, and I think it's very difficult for me to say that I would support it. Because if you got a father selling a gun to a son, is that covered? And I think it would be covered under these. And I think the one-on-one private sales is a difficult one.

MARTIN: You don't think in that situation - a father selling to a son - that a background check should be mandated.

GRASSLEY: I think it would be very wrong to go that far.

MARTIN: Pew Research Center recently conducted a poll that shows the American public overwhelmingly supports universal background checks - 85 percent. Why not err on the side of caution?

GRASSLEY: Well, I think that the issue deals with how you feel about the Second Amendment. You know, the Second Amendment, just like all the other Bill of Rights, is sacred to anyone as the First Amendment. We get into the same problem of dealing with Hollywood and these movies that have violence in them. We'd like to pass a law in that area like England has done. But it'd probably violate our First Amendment. So, you're going to have to look at some sort of self-discipline within Hollywood itself, if we all agree. And I think we do agree that that has some impact upon the thinking of young people.

MARTIN: The two other big ideas under consideration are a ban on high-capacity magazines and a ban on military-style weapons. Do you foresee any of your Republican colleagues supporting either measure?

GRASSLEY: Well, I can only speaking for one Republican, and that's this one. And I think that that's best answered by a newspaper report, which didn't surprise me, that probably when there's a Democrat bill put forward by the leader of the Democrats, Senator Reid, that it would not have a provision in it banning assault weapons. Because from '94 till the year 2004, there was such a ban and that's when the Columbine shooting in Colorado took place. So, it kind of tells you that passing more laws banning guns isn't going to solve the problem of a mass killing. We got to look at a bigger picture as well. And then you get back to this mental health issue, as well as a fact that if people that can't legally buy guns are going to steal guns - like in the case of Newtown - people are going to get guns.

MARTIN: I don't think anyone who is advocating for tighter gun control would suggest that that in isolation will fix the problem. Mark Kelly, the husband of Gabrielle Giffords, has argued that we also do have to look at mental health, but that tighter gun control is just part of the solution. Do you accept that some change should happen?

GRASSLEY: I think any chance that doesn't violate the Second Amendment, any more than any change that doesn't violate the First Amendment, we have to tackle.

MARTIN: Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa. Thank you so much for your time, senator.

GRASSLEY: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.