CNN Badgers Hagel, Dempsey About Interjecting Pentagon Into Gun-Control Debate

A CNN correspondent badgered military leaders at a Pentagon press conference this morning about why they won't get the Defense Department involved in the gun debate.

"Mr. Secretary, the department's now lost people in three major gun violence incidents, Aurora, of course, Fort Hood, and this. My question to both of you is, you have to have reviews, but is that good enough at this point? Is that enough? Why not break the mold and get involved in the public -- the department, both of you gentlemen, the U.S. military, and get involved in the public debate in this country about gun violence? We've not heard either of you say you're taking -- you're going to -- you're supporting the president's position on what he supports, on gun violence and gun registration. Why not get involved? Why not talk about it?" Barbara Starr asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey at the first briefing since Monday's shooting at the Navy Yard.

Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist and contractor, killed 12 in a shooting rampage at the D.C. facility.

"Can we both hear -- hear both of your views about gun violence in this country and what you -- now that you've lost so many people, military families are at risk, what do you think needs to be done?" the reporter pressed the leaders.

"Well, to start with, gun violence is an issue. And it is tragic, and I think every American who has witnessed this over the years -- and as the general and I have expressed our sense about it this morning our thoughts and prayers and heart goes out to everyone who is a victim of this," Hagel said.

"Gun violence is a violation of the law. And so there's no question that it's not a matter of trying to defend it or excuse it," he continued. "As to our position here -- and General Dempsey can speak for himself -- but my role is secretary of defense. I'm not involved in domestic policy issues. That's not my role; that's not my responsibility."

Dempsey said he "couldn't agree more" with Hagel.

"It's pretty difficult to separate the views of Citizen Dempsey from Chairman Dempsey, so I try not to do that. And it is not my role as the chairman to become involved in domestic political issues," he added.

CNN's Starr persisted. "I guess you're both saying -- and no disrespect -- you've lost people, it's a risk to military families in this country, but you're going to -- genuinely, you're going to stay out of the public debate on this question and the debate over the president's policies and views on this?" she asked.

"Well, again, I would say, my role is not a role of the policymaker," Hagel replied. "When I am called to Congress, I answer questions about security in this country and the aspects of it and the responsibilities I have. I don't engage in the domestic policy debates; that's not my role."