Gabrielle Giffords is a tough act to follow. But National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre tried his hardest at a Senate hearing on gun violence on Wednesday, with a little help from Republicans.
After the former Arizona representative and shooting victim delivered a powerful statement in which she urged the Judiciary panel to be “bold” and “courageous,” the five witnesses took their seats. On one end: Giffords's husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly. On the other end: LaPierre, the brunt of many of the Democratic panelists’ criticism and the clear villain for several audience members.
“Please, Mr. LaPierre, we’re not playing games here,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate's Judiciary Committee, scolding him for not answering a question on background checks at gun shows.
“You missed that point completely,” Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, exclaimed after LaPierre explained the logic behind the Second Amendment. The audience applauded and LaPierre looked visibly upset.
Baltimore Police Chief James Johnson, one of the witnesses, reacting to LaPierre’s view that some Americans need guns to protect themselves for times when the government cannot protect them, said LaPierre’s viewpoints were “scary, creepy, simply just not based on logic.”
And although Kelly and LaPierre sat on opposite ends of the table, and certainly held opposing views on the future of gun control in the United States, neither man addressed the other during the hearing. Each refuted the other's points, but never directly.
While several members of the committee used their criticism of the NRA and LaPierre’s testimony as a way to sell their points, Republican members at times came to LaPierre’s rescue.
LaPierre argued that banning certain types of weapons or limiting the sizes of ammunition magazines would not solve the nation’s gun violence problem. Instead, he said, the problem lies with a lack of enforcement of current gun laws. Republicans clung to that point for much of the hearing.
Citing his own experience as a prosecutor in Alabama, GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions agreed with LaPierre that enforcement is one of the biggest issues related to gun violence. After challenging Johnson over this point, he turned the floor over to LaPierre to drive the argument home.
“They’re simply not being enforced,” LaPierre said. “It’s shocking.”
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, similarly questioned the need for additional background checks and more laws that restrict certain weapons. LaPierre responded in kind.
“The problem with gun laws is criminals don’t cooperate with them, the mentally ill don’t cooperate with them,” he said, later adding, “You’re never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks.”
LaPierre, as he did after several Republican panelists questioned him, said he empathized with the victims of previous crimes and made what is likely to be the conservative argument moving forward: No new laws can help prevent another tragedy.
But at the end of the four-hour hearing, Kelly and LaPierre shook hands.