Immigration What? Senate Steers Back to Gun Control

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), on the other hand, was eager to tangle with LaPierre.

LaPierre encouraged a focus on getting criminals off the streets and enforcing gun laws already on the books. "My problem with background checks is, you're never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks," he said. "I mean they're -- all the law abiding people, you'll create an enormous federal bureaucracy, unfunded, hitting all of the little people in the country will have to go through it, pay the fees, pay the taxes. We don't even prosecute anybody right now who goes through the system we have."

"So, we're going to make all those law abiding people go through the system, and then we aren't going to prosecute any of the bad guys if they do catch one. And none of it makes any sense in the real world. We have 80,000 police families in the NRA. We care about safety. We'll support what works."

"Mr. LaPierre, that's the point. The criminals won't go to purchase the guns because there will be a background check. We'll stop them from the original purchase. You miss that point completely," snapped Durbin, sparking a smattering of applause in the hearing room, gavel-banging from Leahy, and an argument with LaPierre.

"The biggest problem in Chicago… we are awash in guns," Durbin argued. "The confiscation of guns per capita in Chicago is six times the number of New York City. We have guns everywhere. And some believe the solution to this is more guns. I disagree."

Durbin asked LaPierre if he felt Americans needed guns to protect themselves from the government.

"Senator, I think without any doubt, if you look at why our founding fathers put it there, they had lived under the tyranny of King George and they wanted to make sure that these free people in this new country would never be subjugated again and have to live under tyranny," LaPierre said.

"I also think, though, that what people all over the country fear today is being abandoned by their government," he continued. "If a tornado hits, if a hurricane hits, if a riot occurs that they're gonna be out there alone. And the only way they're gonna protect themselves in the cold and the dark, when they're vulnerable, is with a firearm. And I think that indicates how relevant and essential the Second Amendment is in today's society to fundamental human survival."

Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson, who chairs the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, called that view "scary, creepy."

"And it's simply just not based on logic," he added. "Certainly, law enforcement across this nation is well-prepared to deal with any natural or man-made disaster that will occur."

"I can't either. I can't relate to the need of that man in Aurora, Colorado, to have a 100-round drum, 100 cartridges," Durbin said.

Kopel told Durbin his line of questioning was off-base since senators are talking about banning much smaller magazines.

"It's about saving lives with ordinary magazines. Hundred magazines are novelties that are not used by police officers or hunters or most other people," Kopel said. "But what you're talking about banning, senator, is normal magazines."

"I think if we follow Senator Schumer's approach and say we're gonna follow what the District of Columbia v. Heller Supreme Court decision says, what that tells you is the core of the Second Amendment is the firearms and accessories that are commonly owned by law abiding people for legitimate purposes," he said.

When Graham asked if it is constitutional to cap a magazine at 10 rounds versus 15, Kopel responded, "Ten is plainly unconstitutional, because, as I was trying to explain to Senator Durbin, magazines of up to 19 are common on semiautomatic handguns."

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) panned Republican responses that the solution to reducing mass killings was broader than gun control and included everything from mental health to violent video games.

"Not including guns when discussing mass killings is like not including cigarettes when discussing lung cancer," Schumer said. "…It is now settled law that the government is never going to take away America's guns. Progressives need not to accept this decision, but to endorse it. We've got to follow it, not just de jour, but de facto. You can't argue for an expansive reading of amendments like the First, Fourth and Fifth, but see the Second Amendment through the pinhole of saying it only affects militias."

"At the same time, those on the pro-gun side must recognize no amendment is absolute …Now, at the moment, right now, as we meet here today, I am having productive conversations with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, including a good number with high NRA ratings. And I'm hopeful that we are close to having legislation we can introduce."

It remains to be seen if any of those Republicans involved in such a deal would be those sitting on the Judiciary Committee.

"It would be my preference if we could find a way to put an end to events like this without doing violence to the Constitution and also without leaving law-abiding citizens more vulnerable to crime," said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).

"Anything that falls short of serious examination and discussion is just window dressing, just symbolism over substance," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). "I have a hard time telling my constituents in Texas that Congress is looking at passing a whole raft of new laws, when the laws that we currently have on the books are so woefully unenforced."

"Above all, we should not rush to pass legislation that will not reduce mass killings. Banning guns based on their appearance does not make sense. The 1994 assault weapon ban did not stop Columbine. The Justice Department found the ban ineffective. Scholars have indicated that refining or expanding such legislation will not cut gun violence," said Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

"We hear that no one needs to carry larger magazines than those that hunters used to shoot deer, but an attacking criminal, unlike a deer, shoots back."