Interview with Representative Diana DeGette

By Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow Show - January 9, 2013


Guests: Diana DeGette, Rosa Brooks

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thank you, my friend.


MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for this hour.

In politics, the concept of low-hanging fruit is something that ought to be politically attainable, even if nothing else can be done, right? Something that we probably all can agree on, even if we agree on nothing else about some particular policy. So, on what is supposedly the most intractable political issue of our time on the issue of guns in America, the lowest of the low-hanging fruit has probably been this.

It`s not even a law, it`s a thing -- buybacks, gun buybacks, sponsored by local law enforcement officials, maybe even just a local church group.

These gun buybacks are a simple idea. If you have a gun you don`t want, a buyback program gives you a chance to get rid of it in a way that is safe and orderly and legal and calm. That gun in your life that you have not known what to do with, that you have been worried about, your friendly local buy-back program gives you way to put your mind at ease.

Get that unwanted gun out of your house. You hand over the gun. Usually, in exchange you get a smallish amount of cash or a gift card.

But the larger attraction here really is that the gun gets taken off your hands and safely destroyed. In political terms, buybacks are attractive because they`re not a new law. They`re not a new regulation. There is no coercion involved. They`re not really even an attempt at persuasion. It`s just offering people a resource to rid themselves of guns they don`t want without risk in a safe, orderly way.

It`s a totally voluntary thing. Since the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, a month ago, buyback programs in cities like Camden, New Jersey, and Los Angeles have broken records. No questions asked, all of these guns are just taken off the streets.

Yesterday, in Tucson, Arizona, on the second anniversary of the anniversary of the mass shooting there that nearly killed Gabby Giffords and did kill six other people, the city police department in Tucson held a gun buyback. It was organized actually at the reason of a Republican Tucson city councilman.

Hundreds of people lined up in Tucson. People lined up with their guns to take part in this program using private funds from private donors, the buyback yesterday let people in Tucson turn in their unwanted guns. In return, they would get a $50 gift card for groceries.

So they got money for groceries. Law enforcement got those guns off of people`s hands. They plan to safely destroy them, taking them out of commission, taking them out of circulation.

This event, again, was organized by a Republican member of the local city council.

Now, no matter how contested the overall issue of guns and gun policy is in this country, this is the definition of low-hanging fruit, right? Totally voluntary thing. I mean, who could be opposed to this? The NRA is opposed to this.

The NRA is wildly opposed to this. In Tucson on the anniversary of the massacre there, the NRA has come out raging against the Tucson gun buyback program. They`re trying to stop it.

An NRA board member is threatening that the NRA will sue to stop Tucson from destroying the guns that people handed over. The NRA is insisting that those guns, regardless of what their owners wanted, done with them, those guns must be sold to the highest bidder and put back into circulation.

The NRA says the state must not destroy the weapons that people handed over specifically so the weapons could be destroyed. Instead, the NRA says the state has to sell them, keep them in circulation, and thereby become a gun dealer itself.

When your response to the political cliche of low-hanging fruit is something so cartoonishly insensitive, so cartoonishly villainous, you then bring upon us a second political cliche -- you have jumped the shark.

Blocking voluntary efforts by people to get rid of their own guns because they want to voluntarily -- that is an exercise in shark jumping. This is the sort of thing that might make sense internally to the NRA when they talk about this amongst themselves about this issue, but the rest of the country are not picking a fight, but instead just looking for problem-solving, non-confrontational ways to help each other out. Trying to block the voluntary Tucson gun buyback program does not make sense.

The whole reason gun policy is supposed to be seen as so intractable, so un-reformable, so politically untouchable and not in America is that the National Rifle Association has created a mystique about themselves, a mystique about their own power that is supposed to caution anyone who might want to reform gun laws that it just cannot be done. No matter who we are, no matter where we live, no matter how or why we might want to reform our gun laws, no matter what happens in our country to make us think about these things, we are supposed to be so intimidated by the raw power of the NRA, that we cannot even take a first step toward reform. We cannot even really seriously talk about reform, let alone ever expect anything to pass.

The NRA has created this mystique about themselves. They expect us to be enthralled by that mystique. The Beltway press is enthralled by that mystique.

But empirically speaking, that mystique is kind of hard to justify. You know how the Sunlight Foundation added up political spending in this past election to see who got the most bang for their buck in their political spending? It was really bad on the right, right?

The Republican Party`s House Campaign Committee spent almost $65 million, but only 32 percent of what they spent went to campaigns in which their candidate was successful. So two-to-one, their money was spent on losing.

It was worse for the Republican Party`s Senate campaign. For their investment of $32 million, only 24 percent paid off in terms of races that went the way they wanted to. Three to one, their money was spent losing.

FreedomWorks was about the same, only 24 percent of their 20 million bucks actually bought the result that it was spent on.

And the Chamber of Commerce, which is supposed to be such an impressive and unassailable campaign cash juggernaut, the Chamber of Commerce spent $32 million, but less than 7 percent of what they spent went to winning candidates they wanted to win, or against losing candidates that they wanted to lose, less than 7 percent. They were 93 percent ineffective in what they spent.

Even worse than that was Karl Rove`s American Crossroads, which was like the conservative politics marquee humiliation this year. Under Karl Rove`s visionary Svengali leadership, Crossroad`s spending was profoundly ineffective this year. They spent over $100 million in the last election, and zero of the candidates they wanted to win actually won -- zero.

Of all the candidates they spent money against, candidates who they wanted to defeat, only two of those candidates nationwide actually did lose, which means that Karl Rove`s group crossroads had a less than 2 percent success rate in their spending. More than 98 percent of the money that they spent did not work.

It`s not very intimidating, right? I mean, think about it. If past is prologue, then in planning for the next election, if you`re a political candidate, you`d be very well off hoping for a Karl Rove spending campaign against you. It would do wonders for your odds, because 98 percent of the money he spent in the last election went the way he didn`t want it to go, was wasted.

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