Interview with Senator Mark Warner

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - December 18, 2012

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JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn to the aftermath of the shooting in Connecticut, as the community continues to mourn its losses in Connecticut, resume some routine, and consider its own role in a national conversation on what steps should now be taken.

Ray Suarez begins our coverage with this report.

RAY SUAREZ: A hearse arrived this morning at Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown carrying the body of 6-year-old James Mattioli, one of the slain first graders from Sandy HookElementary School.

Hours later, a church bell tolled as mourners greeted another small white casket at the funeral for Jessica Rekos, also 6.

Meanwhile, students from other local schools returned to class, in buses adorned with ribbons bearing Sandy Hook's colors. Police were on hand, as were counselors.

JOHN SOLLAZZO, Connecticut Police Officer: Making the kids safe and happy, that's all we're here for, is to make sure that they are safe and happy.

RAY SUAREZ: Sandy Hook itself remains closed. Plans call for its students to be sent to a now vacant school in nearby Monroe, but it was unclear when.

Back in Washington, a string of Democratic members of Congress took to the House floor, calling for new gun legislation.

REP. JANICE HAHN, D-Calif.: We need to pass bold, necessary, overdue gun control legislation. If we do not, this will happen again.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY, D-Va.: Twenty innocents and their six teachers. More tears. More burials. But will we heed its meaning? Will we break the gun lobby's spell?

RAY SUAREZ: Outside the Capitol, the head of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said Sandy Hook has altered the political equation on guns.

DAN GROSS, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: They say Friday's horrific mass shooting at Sandy HookElementary School changed everything. And it has. It is a tipping point.

RAY SUAREZ: And White House spokesman Jay Carney announced President Obama will back a push for new legislation.

JAY CARNEY, White House: He is actively supportive of, for example, Senator Feinstein's stated intent to revive a piece of legislation that would reinstate the assault weapons ban. He supports and would support legislation that addresses the problem of the so-called gun show loophole.

RAY SUAREZ: Late today, the National Rifle Association offered its first statement on the killings, saying it was shocked, saddened and heartbroken. The group called a Friday news conference and promised meaningful contributions to prevent any future massacres.

GWEN IFILL: We interviewed Sen. Dianne Feinstein last night about her push to renew the assault weapons ban. Now we hear another perspective.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner is a Democrat who received an A-rating from the National Rifle Association.

Sen. Warner, welcome.

We heard that yesterday after the shootings in Newtown, you said that this was a game-changer. What do you mean by that?

SEN. MARK WARNER D-Va.: Well, Gwen, I'm a strong Second Amendment rights supporter. I own firearms. On my farm, I have actually got shooting range.

But Friday afternoon, my daughters, who had all come home from college, said, dad, you know, how did this happen? And what are you going to do about it?

And just as a father, the horror of what happened in Connecticut coming on the heels of tragedies at Virginia Tech years before, the tragedy in Colorado, and it seems like about every six or nine months, one of these incidents happening in America, makes me say, you know, enough is enough. There's got to be a rational way to sort through this.

I'm not saying I have got a perfect piece of legislation. I don't think there is a single perfect piece of legislation. But in a country where we have got 30,000 gun deaths a year, there's got to be a way that we can do a bit more. And I hope that responsible gun owners around America will join in this conversation as well.

I think we have got to recognize that it is about rational, appropriate gun rules, but also about mental health issues. And my hope is our country takes a deep breath and doesn't just simply get exercised by this for a few moments and then push this horrible tragedy back into the background and forget about it.

GWEN IFILL: Assuming that there is not one single solution here, let's talk about what you mean when you say rational gun control. Sen. Feinstein says an assault weapons ban would be rational. Would you agree with that?

MARK WARNER: I think that, from the evidence I have seen, that a lot of the challenge comes around the speed by which you can shoot, in effect, these multiple magazines in terms of how rapidly they can be discharged.

Now, there's a whole series of different negotiations about what qualifies as an assault weapon and what doesn't. I think there will be time for that kind of conversation.

We have got to find a way to sort through to where there is an ability for law-abiding citizens still to possess firearms -- nobody is going to take away your shotgun -- but to make sure that these kinds of weapons that in many cases were developed for our military and have become extraordinarily, lethally effective killing machines for our military are now in the hands of people that are just not appropriate.

GWEN IFILL: The governor of your home state of Virginia has said that he thinks that maybe you should consider arming teachers in classrooms. The governor of Michigan, who is another Republican, said today -- decided to veto a conceal carry law in Michigan.

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