The Last Word
updated 1/31/2013 9:19:27 AM ET 2013-01-31T14:19:27

The gun advocate said banning “scary-looking" assault weapons puts women at a "great disadvantage" fending off violent male attackers. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell challenged her on that claim.

Updated 11:30 p.m. EST: The use of assault weapons among women emerged as standout topic at Wednesday’s Senate hearing on gun control legislation. Gayle Trotter, a lawyer and senior fellow at the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, said women need that type of firearm to level the playing field when confronted by physically stronger male attackers.

The guns rights advocate told lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee that “guns make women safer.” To her, AR-15s are the “weapon of choice” because “they have good handling, they’re light, they’re easy for women to hold.” And the appearance of such a “scary-looking gun” deters violent male criminals during home invasions.

But a recent study conducted by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center disputed those assertions. The study found that women living in states with more accessibility to guns are at a greater risk for violent death. This includes “unintentional gun deaths, suicides and homicide, particularly firearm suicides and firearm homicides.”

During an interview on The Last Word Wednesday night, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell challenged Trotter for not being able to provide one real life example of a case when an assault weapon specifically saved one woman’s life in that kind of a situation. “You don’t go to the Senate to imagine things!” O’Donnell said.

While speaking in front of the senators, Trotter described a hypothetical scene of a “young woman defending her babies in her home” when faced with “three, four, five violent attackers, intruders in her home with her children screaming in the background” as a reason to own an assault rifle.

“The peace of mind that she has, knowing that she has a scary-looking gun, gives her more courage when she’s fighting hardened, violent criminals,” said Trotter, who was the only woman on the five-person panel. “If we ban these types of assault weapons, you are putting these types of women at a great disadvantage–more so than men because they don’t have the same type of physical strength and opportunity to defend themselves in a hand-to-hand struggle.”

The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was injured after being shot in the head, and  her husband Mark Kelly also spoke at the hearing.

The proceedings on Wednesday marked the first round of congressional hearings on gun control since December’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Following the attack, which killed 20 young kids and six educators, President Obama and other lawmakers have been pushing for stricter gun control legislation to curb gun violence.

Video: O'Donnell to Trotter: 'You don't go to the Senate to imagine things!'

  1. Closed captioning of: O'Donnell to Trotter: 'You don't go to the Senate to imagine things!'

    >>> 47 days after the massacre at sandy hook elementary school in newtown , connecticut , the senate judiciary committee held a rare, full committee hearing televised hearing on gun and ammunition control. how rare is that? it was their first gun control hearing of the 21th century .

    >> americans are looking to us for solutions and for action.

    >> battle over gun control moves to capitol hill .

    >> the first hearing since the newtown massacre .

    >> speaking is difficult. but i need to say something important.

    >> gabrielle giffords , at the senate judiciary hearing.

    >> giffords made a plea for action.

    >> the bold, the courageous americans are counting on you.

    >> behind every victim lays a matrix of failure.

    >> mark kelly , husband of gabrielle giffords .

    >> rights demand responsibility. first, fix gun background checks .

    >> it is not a serious solution for reducing crime.

    >> the nra is clearly, dramatically out of step.

    >> lapierre dismissed background checks .

    >> background checks will never be universal.

    >> you will never get criminals to go through universal background checks .

    >> because criminals will never submit to them.

    >> they will not go to purchase the guns because there will be a background check .

    >> you missed the point completely. and i think it is basic.

    >> senator, i think you --

    >> let there be order.

    >> i think you're missing it.

    >> let there be more.

    >> if chairman patrick leahy pressed lapierre .

    >> if you're a dealer, that is already the law.

    >> please, mr. lapierre , i'm not trying to play games here, but if you could just answer the question.

    >> rights demand responsibility. law abiding gun owners will not accept blame.

    >> americans are looking to us for solutions and for action.

    >> this time must be different.

    >> the senate judiciary committee today held the first senate hearing on gun and ammunition control, in the aftermath of the massacre of 20 first graders and six women educators at sandy hook elementary school . baltimore county police jim johnson addressed one of the more absurd proposals that have been float understaed in the wake of the first graders. the idea that they should be protected by teachers with guns.

    >> you're a teacher in a classroom, an educator, you dedicated your entire life to that pursuit, but you have a side arm strapped to yourself, you better have it all the time. because if you put it in the desk drawer, the brief case , where will you leave it? let me tell you something, carrying this weapon on my side has been a pain all of these years. i'm glad i have it if i need it. but let me tell you, it is an awesome responsibility. what about the summertime? how do you stop the 16-year-olds who want to touch the weapon? certainly, the holsters, i am spending 200 apiece so you can't rip it from my side.

    >> the committee controlled by the democrats called try witnesses opposed to -- three witnesses opposed to all forms of gun and ammunition controls. and only two, proposed by president obama and senator diane feinstein . the husband of gabrielle giffords giffords, mark kelly , was there.

    >> the shooter in tucson showed up with two third round magazines, one in his nine mm. he unloaded the contents in 15 seconds, verypening very fast. the first bullet went into gabby's head, bullet 13 went into a nine-year-old girl named christina taylor green. if he had a ten round magazine , let me back up. when he tried to reload one 33 round magazine with another 33 round magazine he dropped it. and a woman grabbed it. it gave the people around him the time to tackle him. i contend if that same thing happened when he was trying to reload one ten-round magazine with another ten-round magazine , meaning he didn't have access to a high capacity magazine , and the same thing happened, christina taylor green would be alive today.

    >> the case against banning high-capacity magazines and assault weapons was made anecdotally by witnesses in favor of high-capacity magazine magazines. but all the anecdotes were about people defending themselves using more traditional firearms.

    >> i would like to begin with the compelling story of sarah mckinly. home alone with her baby, she called 911 when two violent intruders tried to break down her door. these men were breaking in to steal the prescriptions of the recently deceased husband. before the police arrived, while she was still on the phone with 911, these violent intruders broke down her door. one of the men had a foot-long hunting knife . as the intruders forced their way into their home, ms. mckinly fired her weapon, fatally wounding one of the violent attackers. the other fled.

    >> every republican on the committee insisted that there was absolutely nothing they could do to reduce in any way the number of people massacred in our schools, or our movie theaters or shopping malls . they all believe that is not a job for senators. that is a job for psychiatrists.

    >> we need to ask whether years of deinstitutionalization of the mental health population has left america more vulnerable. perhaps it is time to consider our background check laws to see if they need to be updated, screen out the people who are subjected to court-ordered out patient mental health treatment.

    >> no mental health professional was actually asked to speak at that hearing. and so we will now partially put together the panel of witnesses who appeared in the senate today, and this time include a mental health expert. joining me now are dr. richard freedman, a psychiatrist at the cornell medical college . gail trotter, a senior fellow at the women 's forum, baltimore county police jim johnson , the chair of the national law enforcement partnership to prevent gun violence . he also testified today. dr. freedman, i want us to listen to something that senator franken said today.

    >> i want to be careful that we don't stigmatize mental illness . the vast majority of people with mental illness are no more violent than the rest of the population, in fact, they're more likely to be the victims.

    >> doctor, you wrote a piece about this. you pointed out that the shooter in newtown , connecticut was not psychotic, did not exhibit symptoms that a medical health care professional could have reasonably used in an evaluation that would somehow have prevented him from ever getting his hands on his mother's weapons. what can we reasonably expect from the mental health system in this arena? and what can we not reasonably expect?

    >> well, lawrence i think to answer that question it is important for viewers to understand that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent. in fact, people with mental illness contribute to only about 4% of violence in the united states . so all the focus on mentally ill people as the source of danger and violence is really a diversion and a distraction from the much larger problem in this country. which is that we have really homicide by firearms as a huge epidemic. 30,000 people every year die by firearms in the united states . 17,000 by the suicide, and 13,000 by homicide. the vast majority of people who die by homicide are not mentally ill . the vast majority are not mentally ill people.

    >> gail trotter, i want to listen to the exchange that you had with senator whitehouse today.

    >> ms. trotter, quick question, sarah mkinly, in her home, used the assault weapon that would not have been banned.

    >> i don't know what type she used.

    >> well, trust me, it was, and that would not have been banned under the statute. so i think it proves the point with ordinary firearms, not 100- magazine peculiar types of artifacts, people are quite capable of defending themselves.

    >> gail trotter, the hearing is about legislation that would ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. and you used an -- anecdote of somebody defending themselves, in fact, in the hearing there was not a single anecdote of anybody defending themselves, anybody, you or any republicans, successfully defending themselves with an assault weapon and/or a high-capacity magazine . every weapon that was mentioned was a more traditional firearm that would not in any way be affected by legislation contemplated by anyone. could you not find a single example anywhere in the country of anyone successfully defending themselves with the kind of weapons used in our uniquely american massacres?

    >> i am very grateful to be able to come on this show tonight and share a view that i think is not being well represented in our national discussion right now. which is why i'm glad that the senators asked me to come and speak at the hearing today.

    >> gail , i have to interrupt you here and now, because i asked you a specific question, i need specific answers, we don't have as much time that you had in that over three-hour hearing today. so tell me if you can find even one, and just answer that, i believe you couldn't find one. because if you could find such case anywhere in the 50 states we would have heard about it today. you didn't have that case, did you?

    >> i would like to direct all of your viewers --

    >> you're not answering the question.

    >> i am.

    >> just say i can't answer the question, it will embarrass my case, if that is what you're going to do, take a minute to make a speech.

    >> you asked me a question, i will answer it if you give me the chance.

    >> take a minute and let's see if there is an answer in there somewhere, if there is not i will have to stop you.

    >> i suggest that all the viewers go to my testimony, posted on line, there is an appendix three pages long that details attacks against women by violent men. and i detailed in my testimony a case where a woman was attacked by five men. and the point of telling the story about sarah mckinly and three pages of testimony in my testimony about women facing attack by violent men is to show that women are at a severe disadvantage. it doesn't matter what type of gun sarah mckinly used to defend her baby. and it doesn't matter for women who are in that situation when their life is on the line, their children's lives are on the line and they need to be able to have the fire power to protect their family. so i think that in that situation, i could relate to that story. and i can relate to the three pages of -- in my testimony about women facing attack. over 90% of violent crime in our country, occurs without a firearm. and in those situations, women are always at a severe disadvantage.

    >> okay, gail , i read your testimony and saw your testimony and read your appendix. i want to make it clear to the audience you used exactly one real example. and used a fancy example, which we'll play the tape letter. i read every one of them. there are 14 of them. not one of them included an assault will being used defensively at all, or a high-capacity magazine . in fact, there were 14 such cases in your appendix. in nine of the cases, in nine of the cases, the assailants fled as soon as a shot was fired. in two of your cases, the possible criminals fled as soon as they saw a gun. as soon as they saw a woman with a gun, they fled. there were only five cases in which -- in which anything else happened involving a shot from them. i want to move on to the chief. and then i'll come back to you, gail . chief johnson, i want to ask you a question. you did not hear in that testimony today a single example of anyone in america , male or female, successfully defending themselves from some kind of attack or intrusion with an assault weapon or high capacity magazine . and the hearing was about that use of that kind of equipment specifically. and every single point we heard from gail , anybody else was about people using traditional firearms. and chief, using them successfully. they were all stories of people who proved they don't need these weapons.

    >> there was no evidence or no testimony presented today that involved an assault weapon used to defend one's self in an attack. ms. trotter, we made it very clear today that law enforcement and frankly no political leader is calling for a ban on all weapons. this is not what this is about. in a domestic violence case, we know that over 50% of women are killed by a gun, by domestic partner or household member. if there is a gun in the house, where there is a domestic violence situation we know there is a 500% greater chance they will be victims. and in states that have a background check , a thorough background check , the possibility of being a victim reduces by over 38%. so we're not trying to keep the guns out of the hands of women or anyone in this particular case. just guns that are frankly assault weapons and in this case, high-capacity weapons, more than ten, and a thorough background check .

    >> gail , on your appendix list, i just want to make another reference to it. of the 14 cases several of them included situations in which the attacker was not armed at all.

    >> that is exactly my point.

    >> you then, gail , in your testimony, i want to go to one more piece of your testimony.

    >> sure.

    >> i'm sorry, we're rushing because we don't have so much time here. where you talked about the assault weapon in the hands of a young weapon. you were making the case of how assault weapons empower young women . and you offered this purely, entirely fictional case that has never happened. let's listen to this.

    >> an assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon. and the peace of mind that a woman has as she is facing three, four, five violent attackers, intruders in her home with her children screaming in the background, the peace of mind that she has knowing that she has a scary looking gun, gives her more courage when she is fighting hardened, violent criminals.

    >> gail , there are you in testimony to the senate , imagining babies screaming in the background. imagining a woman with an assault weapon facing down five armed intruders. that has never happened, this is not one such case that you have ever found anywhere and so for your testimony to the senate , you had to imagine it, didn't you?

    >> i think we should not limit women 's second amendment right to choose to defend themselves. i don't think it is a laughing matter.

    >> it is to me, gail . imagined --

    >> you can't imagine being a mother in your home with children trying to defend them.

    >> you don't go to the senate to imagine things, you do not go to the senate to imagine things. you go to senate to report things. you go to the senate to help them with facts about how they should construct the legislation. and you went in there imagining something that never happened.

    >> i have to go on there and give a particular view point. speaking for millions of american women , for politics --

    >> you were not speaking for one, tell me the name of a woman who did that with an assault weapon . it has never happened.

    >> you are completely ignoring the point that i am trying to make.

    >> if you had that case you don't have it.

    >> women should not have undue burdens on their second amendment right to defend themselves, their families and the vulnerable members of their family.

    >> what is the name of your organization? the independent women 's forum.

    >> yes.

    >> are you an independent woman or a right-wing republican?

    >> i'm an independent woman.

    >> do you believe in a woman's right to choose abortion in certain cases?

    >> i believe in a woman's right to choose to defend.

    >> you don't believe in a woman's right to choose in cases of her own health .

    >> you just assumed that. i didn't answer that. you just assumed that, that is not what i was asked on this show.

    >> you were not -- when you don't answer that question, you represent these right wing views we know who you are. and the only women 's right to choose that you support -- you support the women 's right to choose massacre weapons, that is all you support.

    >> calling people names is not a way to win an argument.

    >> gail , you support a woman's right to choose any kind of massacre weapon she might want. but you do not support a woman's right to make her own choices in health .

    >> it is a defense weapon.

    >> it has never been used as a defense by a woman in america . can you find one woman in america who has actually used one for defense.

    >> a person who is not able to defend themselves. so putting women in that category.

    >> gail , we have to go, your woman's organization, which has no members, by the way, just a thousand person mailing list . your organization could not find one woman in america who defended herself with these massacre weapons that you want to continue to make available to the mass murderers of this country. and that is what your efforts are doing.

    >> you're advocating, putting undue burden 's on a woman's right to defense.

    >> you just got the last word, i wish we had more time for this. thank you all for joining me tonight.

    >> thank you.

    >> thanks.

    >>> coming up. wayne lapierre 's big flip-flop on background checking. he used to be in favor of them. and today he is opposed to them. and we'll have more in today's hearing. and in the rewrite tonight, the witnesses who were not there. no one in newtown , connecticut testified at today's hearing. but we'll hear from one of the parents of one of the victims from the newtown massacre in tonight's


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