Sen. Leahy voices support for key proposals in Obama's gun-control plan

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) voiced support for many of the key proposals in President Obama's plan on curbing gun violence in an interview on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program, including closing the so-called gun show loophole and having criminal background checks for all guns sales.

ADVERTISEMENT
"You can't say, well the rules apply to you and not to you," Leahy said on the program, which is set to air on Sunday. "So I think the first thing you might want to do is close the gun show loophole."

Leahy, whose committee has jurisdiction over changes to gun laws, also called for legislation that would require a "real background check" when people attempt to purchase firearms.

"There's not a way to compare records, felony records," he said. "Let's close that so you can say to everybody, the rules, whatever rules we have, will apply the same to everyone."

The Senate Judiciary chairman said the committee is holding hearings this month on the issue of gun control and he has invited National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre to appear before the committee. Leahy emphasized that he's the first committee chair in either chamber of Congress to schedule a hearing that examines gun-control rules. 

"I want to have real hearings. We're going to hear from people on all sides of the issue and then see if we come out with something," Leahy said. "You have to balance your Second Amendment rights with people's safety, and as a gun owner, I understand that."

"It's kind of lonely out there," he added. "I'm the only one having hearings."

During these hearings, Leahy said he hopes to get a "definitive answer" on whether the previous assault weapons ban worked. While he voted for the ban, he noted: "I'm not looking for something symbolic, I'm looking for something that makes people safer."

Leahy also voiced support for Obama's proposal to limit the size of ammunition magazines sold.

"The idea of having a weapon, say with a 30-round magazine, for civilian use, I mean that's a weapon you'd use in war," he said.  "I don't see a need for it in civilian use."

Leahy refrained from sharing too many specifics about his legislative strategy on gun control, but said he wanted to collect ideas from other members and find areas of agreement.

"Let's see how much we can agree to put in one bill...and then if people agree or disagree to different parts, we'll vote it up or vote it down," he said.

The president has also called for Congress to appropriate $10 million to the Centers for Disease Control to study gun violence, including possible links to video games and media images. Leahy, who is viewed as having close ties to the entertainment industry, said Congress likely will not pass legislation aimed at reducing violence in video games, movies and TV shows.

"There's nothing glamorous about somebody being killed. I worry that people glamorize this in movies or games, but they do have their First Amendment rights," Leahy said. "The issue has been raised. We'll ask about it."

"I don't see a law that's going to ban these things… but there has to be more awareness that parents have a responsibility to say, 'By the way, just what are you watching there?'" he said.

Leahy's committee will also be busy with another hot-button topic this year: immigration reform. The White House has signaled that passing comprehensive immigration reform is one of its top priorities this year. The Senate Judiciary Committee is gearing up for what's expected to be a long battle on the divisive issue.

Leahy stressed that he wants to get a comprehensive immigration bill done this year.

"We've got to do something. You've got to face the reality of 12 million undocumented people in this country," he said.

Without these immigrants, Leahy added that "a whole lot of our businesses would shut down."

"A lot of things would grind to a halt, but worse than that, a lot of families would be destroyed," he said.

In the interview, Leahy noted that his grandparents and great-grandparents came to the U.S. from Italy and Ireland. He questioned whether they would be able to immigrate to the U.S. under the country's current rules.

"There's a small segment of this country that's become very xenophobic and they tend to forget that they're probably only one or two or three generations from somebody coming to this country," he said.

Still, Leahy acknowledged that his committee will face challenges when crafting a bill. He said it would be "helpful" if the president sent the committee legislative language to work from.

"A path to citizenship is easy to say. The devil is in the details, but let's agree that there should be a path to citizenship, and then work out the way to do it," he said.

When asked about Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) recent comments on the Senate's failure to pass a budget in nearly four years, Leahy said he and Boehner have been "long-time friends, but maybe you might want to get your own house in order before you tell us how to run ours."