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In Wake of Orlando, Florida Rep. Alan Grayson Revives Efforts to Implement Assault Weapons Ban

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On Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers are continuing a historic sit-in on the floor of the House to demand the Republican leadership take action on gun control after the Orlando massacre left 49 people dead. We are joined now by Democratic Congressmember Alan Grayson of Florida, whose district includes Orlando. He is drafting an assault weapons ban bill in the wake of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers continuing their historic sit-in on the floor of the House to demand the Republican leadership take action on gun control after the Orlando massacre left 49 people dead—yet another massacre. We’re joined now by Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida, whose district includes Orlando. He’s drafting an assault weapons ban bill in the wake of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Congressmember Grayson. What exactly are you demanding?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: I’m demanding, in a one-sentence bill called the Freedom from Fear Act, that we reinstate the successful assault weapons ban that we had throughout the entire country for 10 years, from 2000—up to 2004. During that time, mass murders committed by assault weapons dropped by two-thirds. The assault weapons ban was effective. Unfortunately, put a sunset clause in it that ended it after 10 years. If not, it would still be in effect, still protecting us, and the Pulse tragedy would have never happened.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, we see overwhelmingly in this country where upwards of 90 percent of people—vast majority of members of the NRA, in fact—are for forms of gun control. Assault weapons ban is not quite as high as 90, but it’s still more than half the population. Why has not that been the demand of the Democrats either in the Senate, after the filibuster we saw with Senator Murphy, or even what’s being talked about now, which is much more focused on “no buy, no fly”—you know, “no fly, no buy,” the idea of if you’re on a terror watchlist, you can’t get a gun?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: I think if you asked Democrats which three bills they’d like to see passed, then almost every one of us would say we want to see universal background checks, we want to see “no fly, no buy,” and we want to see an assault weapons ban reinstated. Those are the three bills that are on top of everybody’s minds. And the third one is necessary because it’s just too easy to kill too many people too quickly in this country. There’s a chilling video from the Pulse, from one of the victims, in which you can count 17 gunshots in five seconds. And the shooter actually stopped in the middle.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, let me ask you, on this “no fly, no buy”—we’re also joined by Vince Warren, who’s executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights—the idea that this wouldn’t have stopped Aurora, the Aurora movie house massacre; this wouldn’t have stopped Sandy Hook, the killing of 20 children and staff and teachers; this—the idea that these people who engaged in these massacres would not have been on a terror watchlist, and that these watchlists are flawed and violate people’s civil liberties?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: Well, first of all, there’s no, if you will—and I hate to use this term—magic bullet to provide everyone with safety from guns. The only way to do that would be to simply repeal the Second Amendment and take away everybody’s guns. That’s not going to happen anytime soon. The question is: Do we make the world a better place or not? Do we provide a material difference in the level of safety for ordinary human beings? “No fly, no buy” would do that, and it also appeals to people’s common sense. If we’re not going to get—allow people to fly because they’re too dangerous, why do we allow them to buy a weapon?

With regard to the civil liberties concerns, you know, you have to think of this in terms of false negatives and false positives. OK? A false positive would mean that somebody is prevented from buying a gun when he shouldn’t be prevented from buying a gun. All right, so that person can’t go off and kill a deer. A false negative would be somebody is allowed to buy a gun when they shouldn’t buy a gun, and that person goes off and kills 50 people. If you weigh the two consequences of those actions, it’s clear that we have to err on the side of safety.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me put that to Vince Warren. That certainly will resonate with most people in this country, Vince.

VINCENT WARREN: Oh, I think it definitely resonates. But I think, you know, the congressmember and we might agree that the best way to deal with this problem is to not to deal with false negatives and false positives, but deal with the instrumentalities that we know that are dangerous. And clearly, a ban on assault weapons would resolve most of those issues, make people a lot more safer. It wouldn’t stop what’s in people’s hearts and minds, but it would stop what’s in people’s hands. That’s the clearest way to do something.

The big problem with this, with this bringing these pieces together, is that the congressperson, you, Amy, or I have no idea how one gets on these watchlists. And all of the people that are in Congress that are proposing this have literally no idea how one gets on. And if we had said, “Hey, you know what? We’re going to create a bill that says if you are on the suspected list or on the no-fly list, you don’t have the right to vote,” there would be outrage. No Democrat that is sitting on that floor right this minute would ever vote for that, because they realize both that the right to vote is so important and that the watchlists are so specious and unknowable. So we shouldn’t be using that as a proxy for this battle over guns, when the answer is much more simple than that, is that you have to move the Republicans through other means than giving away our civil liberties. The CLEAR project in New York City worked with the Center for Constitutional Rights on a case where we represented three or four men. Those men were threatened with being put on the watchlist not because they were dangerous, but because the FBI wanted them to spy on their own Muslim communities. This is the kind of things that happens under these watchlists. These people were not dangerous. First of all, they didn’t even want guns. But if they ended up being on the watchlist because they refused to spy on their own communities, does that make them more or less likely to be a threat?

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Grayson?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: Well, look, there is a standard. It’s called reasonable suspicion. I think that your guest knows that as well as I do. And, in fact, it’s a standard that’s been articulated endlessly, in one court decision after another. Look, the system is not perfect. People get indicted, sometimes wrongly. People get convicted, sometimes wrongly. How many times have we seen people on death row who then are exonerated through DNA evidence or otherwise? It’s not a perfect system. But we can’t say we’re simply going to not enforce any kind of standard at all and let anybody do anything that they want, even if they’re crazy and want to kill other people, simply because we can’t always perfectly tell right from wrong. It is true that you can’t—

AMY GOODMAN: OK, Vince Warren, your response to that?

VINCENT WARREN: Yes, and I agree that it’s not a perfect system, but let’s get the terms clear. “Reasonable suspicion” is a due process term for figuring out what’s happening with somebody. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is when you actually go to trial. Neither of those two standards apply to these watchlists. This is about secret evidence. This is about what someone may or may not have done, not what they did or they’re about to do. It doesn’t make sense to build something so deeply into our justice system.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Grayson?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: Well, that’s just not true. I mean, I’ve spoken to the FBI endlessly. I’ve had several different briefings this week. They apply the reasonable suspicion standard before they put anybody on the watchlist. That’s what they do. That’s how the world actually works. But beyond that, you know, you just don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, when people’s lives are at stake. This is a system where there are actually ways to get off the watchlist. But the fact is that if the worst thing that happens, if we have the watchlist, is that every once in a while people can’t shoot Bambi, that’s not a bad system. You know, bear in mind that for the first 200 years of this country, there was no personal right to bear arms. It was only the Heller case, fairly recently, that the Supreme Court said that some people have the right to have a handgun in their homes—not everybody, but some people. And that’s where we are right now. So, to say that those—that that extremely marginal decision, which represents a break with 200 years of jurisprudence, somehow turns our right to protect ourselves upside down through passing wise laws is completely wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Grayson, we had a Democracy Now! producer whose kid, who was under 10, was on the terrorist watchlist. Every time they traveled, he was pulled aside, they would miss their flights. He was a child whose name they said was similar to someone’s, but it would—every single time. He could not come off it. Even the people who took him to question the child would say, “We don’t know how to tell you to get off that list.” You have Laura Poitras, who was harassed—how many times? The Oscar-winning filmmaker, she came into an airport, she was told she was on a no-fly list. If you hang gun control on this, won’t it reify this list? People will feel their lives depend on this list.

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: What about the hundreds and hundreds of people who are on the list who are able to buy guns and make mayhem? Why don’t we think about them? It’s always going to be a trade-off, no matter what you do. I got—went through secondary screening at the airports after 9/11 14 times in a row, and I’m a member of Congress. So, there’s always going to be mistakes that are made, but they’re mistakes that do not lead to death, the way that mistakes in the other direction lead constantly and to our internal grief.

AMY GOODMAN: Vince Warren, last comment?

VINCENT WARREN: Yeah, there very well may be hundreds of people that are on that list that should not have guns. I don’t disagree with that. What we have to be clear is about none of us sitting here know who those people are. The people that are on the list likely don’t know who they are. And if we want to keep those hundred people from killing folks, why don’t we just tighten our gun control laws without doubling down on hysterical 9/11 policies? We can get to those people that shouldn’t have guns, but we shouldn’t do it through these policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Grayson, wouldn’t an assault weapons ban deal with all of these issues?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: Yes. The fundamental, underlying truth, the thing that keeps people up late at night in fear is the fact that it’s just too easy to kill too many people too quickly. Obviously, I think it would be a very constructive thing to do. That’s why I’ve introduced my Freedom from Fear bill, my one-sentence bill to accomplish exactly that. I think that if we had had simply one handgun in operation at the Pulse, the outcome would have been entirely different. One person—

AMY GOODMAN: And how much support are you getting from the Democrats on an assault weapons ban? It was not raised in the Senate during the filibuster.

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: Well, we’ll see. I mean, we’re circulating the bill right now, and we’ll see how many original co-sponsors that we get. But the point is that the public should not have to live in fear the way that the public does at this point, and understandably so. When one person, one ordinary person, not a sharpshooter, not anybody with special training, not somebody with sharp reflexes, one person, using one weapon, can kill almost 50 people in a matter of minutes, the problem is not simply the person who’s doing the shooting, it’s the weapon. And the only way to deal with that problem, as I see it, is to ban assault weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Alan Grayson, thanks so much for being with us, represents Orlando, Florida, and other areas around that. Thanks for joining us from Capitol Hill, where the protest is ongoing, this historic sit-in that is taking place, Democrats on the floor of the House. C-SPAN has been showing this, but not because they’re allowed to turn on their cameras. They are not. Instead, they have signs up—they are running the video feeds, the Facebook and Periscope feeds, of the different congressmembers, and they have a sign, alert, at the bottom of the screen that says, “Cameras in chamber controlled by House,” and “House cameras are not permitted to show sit-in.”

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