Interview with Senator Dick Durbin

By Hardball, Hardball - December 18, 2012

HARDBALLDecember 18, 2012

Guests: Richard Durbin, Dana Milbank, Chris Kofinis, Michael Nutter, Mark Glaze, Glenn Thrush, Jonathan Martin

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Ensure the domestic tranquility.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in New York.

"Let Me Start" tonight by talking about America. The preamble to our Constitution addresses two areas of security. One is to provide for the common defense against foreign enemies. The second is to ensure domestic tranquility against violence from within.

It is impossible to imagine the Congress of the United States ignoring the first of these imperatives, an act of omission that would leave us deliberately open to foreign attack, even invasion.

Tragically, we can`t say the same about attacks on the country`s domestic tranquility. What has the Congress done to protect this country from last week`s all-out attack on an American school? Nothing.

And here`s the question. When will we refuse, as citizens, to settle for, accept, live with a Congress that fails to act in the face of such a demonstrated vulnerability? If not now, after this, when? Next week? Next month? Next year? Next what? And if not us, who in this world is going to demand action to protect Americans?

Joining me now is U.S. senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. I want to read something from you, which is very impressive, and it`s in the op-ed pages of "The Chicago Tribune." Quote, "What holds us back are political organizations that are well-funded, well-organized and determined to resist even reasonable limitations. There`s a close political parallel between the gridlock in Washington on dealing with our economy and national debt and the eerie silence in Congress as the list of horrific gun crimes grows by the day."

Senator Durbin, thank you. I know you`ve got a good heart on this, as well as a good head about fiscal matters. What`s wrong with the Congress when it comes to protecting, ensuring the domestic tranquility?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Well, there`s a legitimate concern about our 2nd Amendment, Chris. You understand that part.

But there`s also a very strong political force that is trying to push forward, primarily for the dealers and manufacturers, an agenda that`ll sell more firearms and more sophisticated firearms, more expensive firearms, and that has really dominated the scene.

If you asked who is the head of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms division of the Department of Justice, you`d have to learn, unfortunately, that for literally years, there`s not been a head. The NRA and gun lobbyists successfully even stopped the basic organization in charge of enforcement of our gun laws in America.

MATTHEWS: You know, when the late Charlton Heston would run that ad for the NRA, he`d wave some old musket near and say "from my cold dead hands," which I thought was pretty, well, awful to begin with, the "cold dead hands," the absolute nature of that demand that they hold onto the gun.

But he never waved an AK-47 or an AK-15 in the air. He never showed a 30-round clip in the air with a big banana on it. He never did that because people don`t think of that as really American revolution era. They think about that as state-of-the-art mass killing.

DURBIN: Of course it is. And those are military weapons, military assault weapons. And you know, thank goodness, law enforcement turned up in Newtown when it did or the list of children who had been killed...


DURBIN: ... and teachers would have been much, much longer. Think about what happened out in Aurora, Colorado. That man stood in front of a crowded theater, spraying that audience with one of these assault weapons, and the only thing that stopped him emptying the 100 cartridges that he had to shoot was it jammed. If it hadn`t jammed, the death toll would have been even higher.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, it`s not hopeless, though. You talked about the 2nd Amendment. But look, back in 1934, when we had "Machine Gun" Kelly and all the guys out in Chicago, we had the whole Prohibition era encouraging a certain kind of crime, rum running, et cetera -- here`s the question. Back then, the Congress had the guts to outlaw automatic weapons, machine guns. Basically, they did. They were heavily regulated, heavily regulated, almost to the point of you don`t find them around.

Here`s the question. Why can`t Congress do the same thing with semiautomatics? I know we`ve got millions of them, whatever -- can`t we start to regulate? We don`t have to regulate a shotgun or a regular pistol with a revolver or anything, but if you go into the semiautomatic level, why don`t we say that`s like the automatic level? Just go with that?

DURBIN: I can tell you this, Chris...

MATTHEWS: The courts would have to approve it because they approved the earlier one, didn`t they? Isn`t there a precedent?

DURBIN: They did. They did. And even after the Heller decision, the Supreme Court told us there were reasonable limits that Congress could impose when it came to firearms.

There are two groups that I think are essential to the success of this effort.


DURBIN: First, sportsmen and hunters. And let me tell you, Chris, I know plenty of them in my family and all around downstate Illinois. They`re good people. They`re good citizens. They hate what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, as much as we do. We need them as part of this conversation.

And the second group that has to step up is law enforcement.


DURBIN: There was a time when they spoke out against these terrible weapons of death. We need them again to be part of this conversation.

MATTHEWS: Well, I would ask why would anybody out there want the criminal to be heavier armed than the policeman. He`s got a little 9-millimeter job or a .38 police special, and somebody comes in with this assault rifle.

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