Looking At The Realities Of Passing New Gun Control Legislation

Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin speaks with Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont who supports the White House proposals, about gun control. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee he will have a key role in writing and passing any new gun laws.

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The fate of new gun control legislation for now lies in the U.S. Senate. And we turn to Senator Patrick Leahy. He's a Democrat from Vermont and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: This is the first Judiciary Committee hearing of the 113th Congress.

MARTIN: His committee has been holding hearings to try to come up with possible ways to address gun violence.

LEAHY: I hope we can forego sloganeering and demagoguery and partisan recrimination. It's too important for that. We should all be here as Americans.

MARTIN: Senator Leahy will play a key role in writing and passing any new gun laws and he supports the White House proposals. He says there is a small window of time for Congress to act. And when we spoke this past week, I asked him how long he expected it to last.

LEAHY: I've been asking myself that same question. I don't know the answer. I don't think it'll last long. It's spurred partly by some of the tragedies we've seen. But I would hope that we could have good policy without thinking that always has to be tragedy-driven because we will have more tragedies. It's just in the nature of things. We all hope and pray we won't, but what I'm hoping that people could at least agree on a couple things.

MARTIN: How do you get to a piece of legislation that can actually work its way through the House and the Senate?

LEAHY: Well, I can only speak to the Senate. And I think the House will wait and see what we can do first. They feel if we're able to do something there might be a chance. If we're unable, frankly, they're not going to try anything at all. I think that's a political reality.

You're going to have on the one hand, people who don't want anything, that laws work fine now. To the other hand, where you're going to have a laundry list of weapons that should be banned. What we have to find is, what is there in between that will actually work.

MARTIN: The president, in his State of the Union, called for an up or down vote on gun control proposals. How far is the Senate from that?

LEAHY: Well, we are a ways. We haven't started a markup. Of course, we've had a lot of people talk about the legislation they're going to introduce. Nobody has introduced any significant ones yet. But I am setting a time in the next few weeks to start marking up a bill.

What the president has said is something I've said to him several times, call on people to vote yes or vote no - but vote. Because no matter what those issues are you're going to antagonize one group whichever way you vote. But you're elected to do that and have the courage to do it.

MARTIN: You are of a member of an elite group of people among a small group of senators who have served a very long time. What are your conversations like when you talk about these issues? Is it easy for you to find common ground? Or do you each go back to the corners that you've inhabited on these issues for decades?

LEAHY: Most things we can find some areas of common ground. Sometimes when somebody is brand new they're more interested in symbols than they are in substance. I think you've been here a long time you tend to lean a lot more towards the substance. Doesn't mean we'll agree on everything. We have different states that we are elected to represent our states. But I have yet to find a major issue where there isn't some common ground.

MARTIN: That's Senator Patrick Leahy. He's a Democrat from Vermont. He joined U.S. from the U.S. Capitol.

Senator Leahy, thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

So good to be with you, thank you.


MARTIN: You're listening to NPR News.

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