Police Chief Shouts at Graham: Gun Background Checks Just 'a Paper Thing'
U.S. Attorney for Colorado John Walsh said the case for the bill is bolstered by evidence that in the Aurora theater shooting 10 of the 12 deceased were hit by an assault weapon, one by shotgun rounds, and one by both.
"I think that the point of today's hearing and really the thrust and concern of the department's position on this subject is that an AR-15 is a very dangerous weapon," Walsh said.
Graham said it was important to discuss gun control "in light of the world as it is, rather than the world we'd like it to be."
The senator noted 2.5 percent of U.S. homicides in 2011 were committed by a rifle of any type. Twice as many people were killed with bare hands.
"How many prosecutions have you taken upon yourself, or how many prosecutions have you taken up for failing a background check since you've been U.S. attorney?" Graham asked Walsh.
"Senator, off the top of my head, I'm not aware of any that we've done in the District of Colorado," Walsh replied.
"What I want to do is put into the record the federal background check form," Graham continued. "It says up top you're subject to prosecution if you provide false information. How many cases have you referred to state prosecutions?"
"Senator, I don't have a specific number on that. But if I may, I do think it's important to recognize where our focus is. Our focus is on prosecuting criminals…"
"Clearly your focus is not on prosecuting people who fail background checks. Would you agree with that?" Graham asked.
"I don't disagree with it, Senator," Walsh conceded.
"When almost 80,000 people fail a background check, and 44 people are prosecuted, what kind of deterrent is that?" said Graham. "I mean, the law obviously has not seen that as important."
Flynn flatly said those prosecutions -- or lack of -- don't matter.
"It's a paper thing. I want to stop 76,000 people from buying guns illegally. That's what a background check does. If you think we're going to do paperwork prosecutions, you're wrong," the police chief said, his voicing rising to the point of shouting.
Feinstein cautioned Graham to "keep it civil" as he pressed the witnesses on background checks.
"But being civil and being firm in your convictions are not inconsistent, are they?" Graham said before getting Flynn to admit they don't bring those cases.
"We have priorities. We make gun cases. We make 2,000 gun cases a year, Senator. That's our priority. We're not in a paper chase," Flynn said. "We're trying to prevent the wrong people buying guns. That's why we do background checks. If you think I'm going to do a paper chase, then you think I'm going to misuse my resources."
"How many cases have you had turned over from the U.S. attorney to prosecute at the state level that you know of?" Graham pressed.
"We all know the answer to these questions, Senators," Flynn said, visibly irritated. "They're self-answering. We don't chase paper. We chase armed criminals."
"Well, I guess the point is, if we don't want the wrong people to own guns, which we all agree, then the one way to do that is to take the system that's supposed to distinguish between the person who should and shouldn't, and enforce it," Graham said.
The senator said it's "really about who has the gun sometimes more than the gun itself" and stressed that he, like owners of four million other AR-15s in this country, passed the background check.
"And you may not understand why I want to own an AR-15. And I may not understand what movies you want to watch. But we're talking about trying to solve a problem that has, as its central core, that the people who are committing these crimes should never have any gun, or one bullet. That's what we all agree on," Graham said. "And the best way to prevent crazy people, mentally unstable people from getting a weapon, is to identify them somehow before they murder somebody, they steal it, or they try to buy one."
Feinstein followed up the hearing with an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan.
"Weapons that are designed to kill large numbers of people in close combat don't belong on the streets of our cities," she said. "...A crime scene with these weapons isn't like it's on TV. There's blood and matter just spread all over the place. It's terrible and people, just their bodies, get hacked apart."