updated 9/14/2004 10:31:10 AM ET 2004-09-14T14:31:10

Guests: Richard Aborn, Chris W. Cox, Chief John Timoney, Sandy Abrams, Graydon Carter

ANNOUNCER:  DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.

DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST:  Gun duel.  Verbal shots ring out as the federal ban on assault weapons comes to an end.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It should be allowed to sunset.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Once again, our officers will be outgunned by criminals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  Tonight, victims horrified that the assault weapons market is wide open again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is the shame of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  And gun proponents determined to prevent another ban on assault weapons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Guns are not bad.  It‘s the people who are killing people.  That‘s the problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  Tonight we take aim at one of the nation‘s most explosive issues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  These guys are cutting cops off the streets of America and putting assault weapons back on them!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s a feel-good piece of legislation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This world is a jungle.  You‘re either going to be the prey or the predator.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  Plus, Graydon Carter.  As the editor of “Vanity Fair,” he decides what‘s hot and what‘s not in Hollywood.  Now he‘s turning his sights on President Bush and the war in Iraq.  Tonight, Graydon Carter unedited.

ANNOUNCER:  From studio 3K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.

NORVILLE:  And good evening, everybody.  For the first time in 10 years, it is OK to buy assault weapons in the United States.  The federal ban on 19 kinds of military-style semiautomatic weapons expired today, as did the ban on ammunition clips of 10 rounds or more.  President Clinton signed that ban into law back in 1994, with the support of former presidents from both parties—Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.  President George W. Bush said that he would sign a new ban, but critics say he made no effort to get Congress to renew it, so now the assault weapons ban is history.

Tonight we‘ll be talking about the expiration of the ban and what it means for Americans around the country.  I‘m joined first off by Richard Aborn.  He is the executive director of Stopthenra.com, an organization that‘s been working diligently to try to get the ban extended.  And you‘ve failed.  How disappointing was it when you realized in the last week or so this didn‘t have much of a chance of getting extended?

RICHARD ABORN, STOPTHENRA.COM:  Well, let me say this.  We have failed as of today.  Let me be crystal clear.  We are not going away.  We are going to keep this issue in front of the American people.  John Kerry‘s going to be talking about this issue.  And we will not rest until we get this ban renewed.

We‘ve been down before in this movement.  We‘ve been down many time in this movement, and we have come back to win these fights.  So I‘m bitterly disappointed today.  I am angry at the president.  He could do this in a single phone call.  He has turned his back on America‘s law enforcement.  He has turned his back on American‘s communities.  And without overstating this, American people will die as a result of this.

NORVILLE:  You know what‘s interesting?  When you look at the survey, somewhere around 75 percent, 78 percent of Americans favor the extension of this ban.

ABORN:  That‘s right.

NORVILLE:  And yet, when you look at how people vote when it come to choosing representatives, oftentimes—and you can go back 10 years to the 1994 election for starters—the person who supported the weapons ban is the guy who was then the former congressman, the fellow who didn‘t get reelected.  So politics is very much intertwined in all of this.

ABORN:  Of course.  This is not about policy.  If this were about policy, I could go out and do something else.  This is merely about politics.  That‘s all this is.  And the president‘s calculated that he is much better off rejecting the advice of law enforcement and accepting the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.  He thinks that‘s a better political position for him because his campaign strategy is to bring out his Republican base, and he thinks this is the way to do it.

I think he‘s wrong because I think this is not only an issue of public safety, I also think this is an issue of character.  Does the president really have the leadership to stand up and do the kinds of things necessary to get this ban passed?  And so far, it has not been done.  The Speaker of the United States said, If the president wants this ban, all he has to do...

NORVILLE:  The Speaker of the United States?  Who‘s that?

ABORN:  The speaker of the House, Dennis...

NORVILLE:  Speaker of the House.

ABORN:  Excuse me.  Excuse me.

NORVILLE:  OK.

ABORN:  Speaker of the House.  Excuse me.

NORVILLE:  Dennis Hastert.

ABORN:  Dennis Hastert said, If the president wants this ban, all he‘s got to do is ask congress to pass it.

NORVILLE:  Yes, but you know...

ABORN:  But the president doesn‘t do it.

NORVILLE:  You know how politics works in Washington.

ABORN:  Sure.  Yes.

NORVILLE:  People step up to the plate when they believe their political futures are at stake.

ABORN:  Absolutely.

NORVILLE:  So while you all may have been trying to exert as much political pressure as possible on the president and others who would push that ban forward, they weren‘t getting a sense from the persons who sent them to Washington in the first place that it was politically expedient, that their survival depended on them to do so.  So did you all go about the game the wrong way?  And “game” is just such a wrong word to use because it is really is...

ABORN:  I understand.

NORVILLE:  ... a life-and-death issue.

ABORN:  Right.

NORVILLE:  But did—was the approach wrong, in hindsight?

ABORN:  I think it‘s a multi-year approach.  And I think you have drilled right into the core of the issue.  The NRA has understood—my hat‘s off to them—that the way you win in Washington is, as you say, to be extremely well organized and to get your members to act on legislation, to vote on legislation, to do call-ins to shows.

We have not had the same depth of intensity on our side, and principally because crime is not the burning issue that it was 10 years ago.  Ironically, it‘s not the burning issue it was 10 years ago because we‘ve begun to understand how to drive down crime: more cops, tougher sentencing, prevention programs and gun control.  So we have the Brady law and the ban on assault weapons both being fabulously effective.  And the president of the United States is about to throw out one of those pieces.

NORVILLE:  Those another other side of the issue would say it was not only the assault weapons ban that was important in that because the reality was, assault weapons were not used in that many crimes prior to the ban.

And we want to now broaden our discussion out.  Joining us is someone who knows all too well what it‘s like to deal with crime on the street, chief of police from Miami, Florida, John Timoney, is with us.  We welcome you to our discussion, Chief.

CHIEF JOHN TIMONEY, MIAMI POLICE DEPARTMENT:  Good evening, Deborah.

NORVILLE:  Also with us tonight, the owner of the gun shop Valley Gun of Baltimore, Mr. Sandy Abrams.  He‘s also the vice president of the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association.  And with us, as well, is Chris W. Cox.  He is the executive director of the National Rifle Association‘s Institute for Legislative Action.  In other words, he‘s the NRA‘s chief lobbyist.

And Mr. Cox, I‘ll start with you because this was certainly a victory for the NRA.  You really put a lot of muscle and a lot of money behind getting this ban lifted.

CHRIS W. COX, NRA CHIEF LOBBYIST:  Well, Deborah, it‘s important your viewers know what it is we‘re talking about.  And despite what Richard and the gun control groups and John Kerry are saying, we‘re not talking about machine guns.  They‘ve been banned since 1934.  What we‘re talking about is a failed policy.  You know, they‘ve had 10 years to prove that this ban‘s produced a decrease in crime.  It hasn‘t worked.  Every government study that‘s come out, including studies from Bill Clinton‘s administration, has shown that this ban has been ineffective.

The reality is there are dozens of Democrats, as well as Republicans, in a bipartisan majority, who oppose this ban because it‘s failed policy.  That‘s why it‘s allowed to sunset.

NORVILLE:  We‘re going to take a short break.  Chris Cox is with us from the NRA.  We‘ve also got Richard Aborn with the Stopthenra organization, two groups diametrically opposed.  And also, I guess you could say, on opposite sides of the issue, as well, Chief Timoney with the Miami Police Department and Richard Abrams—sorry—Sandy Abrams, who owns a gun-retailing establishment in Maryland.

We‘ll take a short break.  We‘ll be back with more of our discussion after this time-out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER:  All it does is punish those people that are—that live by the law.  And it does nothing to keep assault weapons out of the hands of criminals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  That was House majority leader Tom DeLay last week on the assault weapons ban, which expired today.

I‘m back with Miami police chief John Timoney, the NRA‘s Chris W. Cox, Richard Aborn from the Stopthenra.com organization and Sandy Abrams, a gun show up owner, who prefers to be called a firearms retailer.

Mr. Abrams, since what we‘re talking about are guns that are now legal to be sold versus ones that weren‘t, what‘s the difference between an assault weapon that you could not have purchased legally yesterday, and one that you can buy today?  Can you demonstrate the difference for us, please?

SANDY ABRAMS, GUN SHOP OWNER:  Yes.  I can demonstrate it.  Basically speaking, these are two AR-15-style semiautomatic firearms, both firing the same caliber round.  The point being is that unless I told you the difference between them, you couldn‘t tell the difference between them because the only difference between these two guns is the flash suppressor and a bayonet lug.  Neither item has anything to do with the firepower or the cyclic rate, the accuracy or the caliber of the firearm.  While this is basically a post-ban gun, this is a pre-ban gun to my left, the point being, it‘s the same gun.  it‘s just the same firearm.  These have always been available for the last 10 years, just without a bayonet lug and a flash suppressor.  So the difference is so minimal as to be almost absurd.  There‘s no functional difference between these two firearms.

NORVILLE:  So Chief Timoney, having just heard Mr. Abrams talk about the difference between these two weapons, I know law enforcement organizations around the country are not very pleased about the expiration of this ban.  Can you explain to us why?

TIMONEY:  Well, very simply, our lives and the lives of the everyday citizen is on the line.  We just had a police officer down here in Miami-Dade, a young woman, the other night, where a guy opened up with an AK-47.  And the police car absolutely exploded in fire.  She was lucky.  She got away.

We face weapons like this day in and day out.  It‘s the choice of

weapons of drug dealers, of regular gang members, who shoot not just their

intended targets but also any that happens to be standing nearby.  And you

know, the notion that they‘re all the same, that the guns are all the same

·         there was some weaknesses and some loopholes in the past law that was there for the last 10 years.  That doesn‘t mean you throw it out.  The law should have been tougher.  And so you‘ve got to cut off the loopholes, not do away with the law.

NORVILLE:  What specific loopholes are you referring to, Chief?

TIMONEY:  Well, there‘s a—in other words, some of the guns were—the name of the guns that was prohibited.  It was manufactured by name.  So it was produced under a different name or different circumstance.  There were ways of getting—I don‘t think the law was tight enough.  But I can tell you from the street—what‘s—here‘s this argument.  When I was a young cop in the South Bronx in the ‘70s and then in Harlem into the ‘80s, the choice of gun was a “Saturday night special.”  It then went to a .38.  By the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, the NYPD began to confiscate...

NORVILLE:  Right.

TIMONEY:  ... more automatic weapons.  And coincidentally, the homicide rate back in 1990, as that change began to occur, was 2,300 people killed in one year, 82 percent by guns.  There‘s a direct correlation to the amount of firepower and the deaths.

NORVILLE:  But that‘s—there‘s a difference, Chief, I guess between a death—you know, you‘re still dead, but a death by an assault weapon and a death by a different kind of gun because this legislation only affected those kinds of weapons.  And you know, I‘m not a hunter.  I‘m not a gun owner.

TIMONEY:  Right.

NORVILLE:  So I am a novice, like probably most of the people watching this discussion.

TIMONEY:  Right.

NORVILLE:  It seems to me, what you really need to be looking at is the kind of ammunition that‘s going in there.

TIMONEY:  Well...

NORVILLE:  If you‘ve got a clip that will fire 30, 50, 100 rounds...

TIMONEY:  Right.  Right.

NORVILLE:  ... what is the purpose of that?

TIMONEY:  Well, that was going to be my question to you.  So maybe you should give that question to the NRA, which, by the way, is the same organization, about 10 years ago, that was in the forefront to keep cop-killer bullets on the market against the wishes of every single police officer in the United States.

NORVILLE:  Well, let‘s let Mr. Cox respond to that.  Help me understand, Mr. Cox, why it doesn‘t matter that you‘ve got 100-round ammunition available out there, rapid-fire clips that can be purchased, as well.

COX:  Well, first of all, a comment to the chief.  NRA‘s president, Cain Robinson (ph), is a retired chief of police.  NRA has over 300,000 current retired law enforcement officers in our NRA family.  Cops want criminals prosecuted.  Cops want criminals taken off the street.  They want “three strikes and you‘re out.”  They want more prisons.  They want less paperwork.  They don‘t want law-abiding Americans being—you know, being disarmed.

You know, the reality is, this law has been a failure.  You know, it‘s nothing more than a symbolic measure that‘s had no impact on crime.  And despite what the chief says, every legitimate law enforcement study has shown that this has had no impact whatsoever on reducing crime.

NORVILLE:  Well, let me...

(CROSSTALK)

TIMONEY:  Let me just jump in here.

NORVILLE:  Hold on a second.  OK, go right ahead.

TIMONEY:  Let me just jump in here because this guy doesn‘t know what he‘s talking about.  His other colleague was on TV the other night, saying he had 7,000 active members who agreed with him and that major-city chiefs like myself are out of touch.  Well, guess what?  There are over 800,000 police officers, so he represents less than 1 percent.  And they don‘t speak for the vast majority of law enforcement in this country.

NORVILLE:  But let me—let me...

COX:  With all due—with all due respect...

NORVILLE:  Wait.  Hold on one second...

COX:  ... to the chief, Deborah...

NORVILLE:  ... Mr. Cox.  Let me put a statistic up on the air that I think is illustrative of what we‘re talking about.  And this comes from the Justice Department.  The proportion of banned assault weapons that were traced to crimes dropped by 65.8 percent since 1995.  That would have been the year after the ban was enacted.  But the truth of the matter is...

COX:  Deborah, that—that is—Deborah, that did not...

NORVILLE:  ... that goes from 3.5 percent to 1.5 percent or 1.2 percent.  There weren‘t that many crimes being committed.  Let me let Richard Aborn respond to this.

ABORN:  Let me tell you the math.  It was my organization, when we ran this legislation a year ago, that asked the Justice Department to study this because we knew it would be effective.  When you extrapolate 65,000 percent reduction -- 65 percent reduction, you are talking about 43,000 Americans who have been spared the terror of being the victim of an assault weapon offense over the last 10 years because of this ban -- 43,000 Americans not the victims of assault weapon crimes.

NORVILLE:  You‘re doing the math...

COX:  Deborah, please!

NORVILLE:  ... but are those actual numbers?

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  I mean, you‘re doing it based on those percentage.

ABORN:  Those are actual numbers.  You do the retrogression analysis.  That is the number, 43,000 Americans have been spared being the victim of an assault weapon crime because of this ban.  That‘s effective legislation.

NORVILLE:  Please respond, Mr. Cox.

ABRAMS:  Deborah—Deborah, that‘s so ridiculous.  That is unbelievable.  He has absolutely nothing to back that up with.

COX:  Deborah, please.  This is Chris.  I‘d like to just respond.  First of all, Richard‘s group is the same group that tried to link the worst day in American history on 9/11 to push a political agenda on guns that had nothing to do with guns.  The reality is, the ATF has said that you cannot use trace data to come one crime statistics.  So that‘s a bogus statistic.  Richard knows it.  John Kerry knows it.  I don‘t know if the chief is aware of it or not.  But every legitimate study that‘s come out in the last 10 years has shown that this has had no impact on crime.  That‘s why a bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives opposes this measure.

NORVILLE:  Let‘s go on to the political side of this whole debate.  I mean, when you look at the way this has been argued in the weeks leading up to the expiration of this ban, it‘s clear that both sides had their sleeves rolled up and their bare knuckles exposed.  Let‘s look, first of all, at a couple of ads that came from Mr. Aborn‘s group, Stopthenra.com, where—can we show them up there Ray (ph)?  I mean, this one was front page in the newspaper.  “The terrorists of 9/11 can hardly wait for 9/13,” the inference being it‘s free day in America.  Come September 14, you can get your assault weapons.  And if you—you know, if you look like Osama bin Laden, no problem.  Four presidents helped pass the ban.  Their photographs are shown.  One president is blocking its renewal.

Now let‘s look at what the NRA had up there.  And this was an ad that was placed oftentimes in the newspaper during the political convention, right opposite where all the political news of the convention was.  “Playing politics with gun issues can be dangerous,” and it goes on to quote Bill Clinton as saying that the assistance of the NRA in key states helped make sure that Al Gore did not win the election and that George Bush was elected president.

It was a pretty effective argument, was it not, Mr. Cox?  Do you think it was fair?

COX:  Absolutely not.  You know, Deborah, that‘s as shameless and disgusting as it gets, to try to, you know, exploit an attack on our country by terrorists with airplanes to push a political agenda on gun control.  You know, in my 12 years in this business, I‘ve never seen something so cheap.

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  Hold on.  Weren‘t you doing the same thing, though, by saying that, If you don‘t support the NRA and come to our side of the fence, you‘re not going to get elected president?  The guy you‘re there supporting here in New York, he isn‘t going to be in the White House come four more years.

COX:  Deborah, what we did was quote the former president, Bill Clinton, as to the political reality of the issue.  And that‘s when, you know, groups and candidates like John Kerry go out and lie about an issue and misrepresent an issue.  There is a political price to pay.  Gun owners and NRA members in this country are not only very loyal, but they‘re very savvy, as well.  They don‘t like being lied to by politicians.  And when politicians lie, they pay a price on election day.

NORVILLE:  Let‘s to go sandy Abrams.  He runs a gun shop.  He knows the people who come in.  Mr. Abrams, if somebody come in and you‘ve got a suspicion that they may not be a hunter, they may not be a person who just wants to do some target practice, what right do you have to not sell one of these weapons to an individual about whom you might just have that sixth sense, This guy‘s not on the up and up?

ABRAMS:  Well, first of all, let me explain that there‘s not a firearm in this country sold from a licensed dealer that the person is not subjected to an FBI background check...

ABORN:  Wrong.

ABRAMS:  ... and has to provide—excuse me.  Can I finish my sentence?

NORVILLE:  Yes.  Go ahead, please, and finish.

ABRAMS:  They have to provide state-issued photo ID.  They have to undergo background check through the FBI to get any firearm in any state in this country.  And a terrorist is not going to do that.  First of all, terrorists don‘t want semiautomatic firearms, they want machine guns.  So all they do is throw them on a container-load full of, you know, cocaine that comes in this country by the ton.  It‘s not a problem for them to get their firearms.  Terrorists do not use semiautomatic firearms.  They‘re not interested in these guns.  They‘re not going to be buying them.  So the point being is that these guns have never been illegal for sale.  The Bushmasters, Colts, and so forth, have always been available during the last 10 years, just without little things like a flash suppressor or the bayonet lug.  So the firearms have been available.

ABRAMS:  Deborah?NORVILLE:  Is that Chief Timoney?

TIMONEY:  Yes, that‘s me.  Listen, for the fellow from Maryland, two

things.  One, the sniper who was down his way bought that weapon out West

at a gun store that didn‘t report it, didn‘t go through proper credentials

·         No. 1.  No. 2, there are a host of gun shows...

ABRAMS:  But that has nothing to do with the sale.

TIMONEY:  ... where straw purchasers can go up and buy these weapons, that can go around the law.  So don‘t tell me that people can‘t get these guns.

NORVILLE:  Isn‘t there...

ABORN:  Chief Timoney...

NORVILLE:  Go ahead.

ABORN:  Chief Timoney‘s absolutely right on the law.  And the gun dealer knows full well, if you go to any gun show in America, except in very few states, these guns are bought and sold without any background checks because of what‘s called the gun show loophole.  And we‘ve been desperately trying to close that loophole, as well, but the NRA has blocked that, as well.  And let me...

NORVILLE:  Well, the fact is, it‘s an annual story.  Almost every TV station in the country, every time it‘s ratings period, they‘ll go pop off to a gun show and show how many AK-47s they can buy.

ABORN:  Absolutely.  And let me also point out...

(CROSSTALK)

ABORN:  ... that ad you ran with the picture of Osama bin Laden contained a quote from an al Qaeda training manual, telling al Qaeda terrorists to buy assault weapons in countries where it‘s legal, like the United States.  Their quote, not mine.  And that al Qaeda training manual was seized by our special forces in Afghanistan.  So they know exactly what they‘re doing.

NORVILLE:  Let me just make a quick go-around the horn.  Chief Timoney, what do you predict, now that the assault ban has been lifted?

TIMONEY:  I‘m hoping that when the new Congress convenes or reconvenes come January, that somebody has got the guts to bring up some strong legislation to get this ban—an even stronger law passed.

NORVILLE:  Sandy Abrams, is business going to be better or worse for you, having this ban lifted?

ABRAMS:  Well, Deborah, people who wanted assault weapons for the last 10 years have already owned them.  I don‘t expect a rush at my door at 10:00 o‘clock tomorrow morning to buy, you know, post-ban, pre-ban, post-ban, whatever they‘re going to be called, firearms.  It just isn‘t happening.

NORVILLE:  All right.  And Chris Cox...

ABRAMS:  We‘ve sold firearms today, but all of them are handguns.

NORVILLE:  ...we‘ll give you the last word.

COX:  Well, Deborah, I‘m hoping that any serious discussion‘s going to start with criminals who misuse guns.  We applaud this administration for increasing prosecution by 68 percent of criminals who misuse firearms.

NORVILLE:  As I said, we‘re giving you the last word.  And we‘re going to go to break.  Thank you, gentleman.

When we come back, we‘ll look ahead to the assault weapons ban and how it relates to the battle for the White House.  John Kerry came out firing today.  President Bush stayed silent on the issue.  What might the political fallout be?  “HARDBALL‘s” Chris Matthews joins me to discuss that aspect of that issue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  When it became time to stand up and ask America to do what was right, George Bush‘s powerful friends in the gun lobby asked him to look the other way, and he couldn‘t resist.  And he said, sure.  Today, George Bush chose to make the job of terrorists easier and make the job of America‘s police officers harder.  And that‘s just plain wrong. 

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

NORVILLE:  That was Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry today criticizing President Bush for not pushing for an extension of the assault weapons ban, which expired today.

We‘ve heard from both sides of the debate.  Now a look at the political ramifications. 

Joining me is Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC‘s HARDBALL. 

Hi, Chris.  

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, “HARDBALL”:  Hi, Deborah.

NORVILLE:  How much of a political issue is this going to be in the presidential campaign? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it is huge.  And it is kind of an underground issue. 

Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, right down to Mississippi.  Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, I have looked at the voting records of the Congress people from those states.  They‘re pro-gun.  And that means that the people are pro-gun.  So if you want to win the middle of the country, protect the Second Amendment.  It is sad for some people.  But it is a strong passionate issue for others.

NORVILLE:  So has John Kerry just assured that he won‘t win in November by staking this ground so definitively? 

MATTHEWS:  It is very hard for me to find a battleground state where his position helps him.  Ohio, as I said, western Pennsylvania, especially, even close to Pennsylvania, close to Philadelphia, in fact.  Pennsylvania is an NRA state.  So is Ohio.  So is Michigan.  So is Kentucky. 

It is very hard to find a state in the middle of the country that is not pro-gun rights.  They are sports club.  They‘re people that hunt, skeet shoot.  They may not ever shoot an animal, but they like owning a gun.  They‘re people that pack their own shells.  My brother is an NRA member living out in Ohio.  It is a voting issue for those people.  They take it very seriously. 

And they tend to be men.  It is a gender issue, as well as a geography issue.  We‘re cowboys in this country.  And cowboys feel they have a right to be protected in the Second Amendment.  I don‘t see where he wins on this, Kerry.

NORVILLE:  What if—as John Kerry intimated during his remarks today, what if a guy goes into a gun shop, buys one of these weapons that is no longer banned and goes and creates mayhem and murders a slew of people between now and November?  Has he just got a political issue that works for him? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, possibly.  Certainly, if you‘re a police officer in a major city where you have a high crime rate and you have people going around knocking off convenience stores with semiautomatic weapons that they can change, in some cases, to automatic weapons—but even a semiautomatic can have a tremendous firepower advantage over a policeman with a Glock or a .38 special or .9-millimeter.

A policeman carrying a revolver up against a guy with one of these guns we‘re looking at doesn‘t have a chance.  And imagine a patrolman on duty facing a couple hoodlums with these kinds of guns.  It is overwhelming and it‘s sad.  It‘s sad that an officer doing his duty and risking his life has to face down people carrying this kind of hardware. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But, politically, those big cities are already going to vote Democratic.  Those big states like California and New York are already going to vote Democratic.  So where it hurts the most in the big bicoastal cities with a lot of diversity and a lot of crime in poor neighborhoods, especially, you‘re going to have mayhem in some cases.  But those are already Democratic areas. 

NORVILLE:  Those are not necessarily states that are really at play in this election.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right, sadly enough. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  When you look at when George W. Bush was campaigning for president, he was in a completely different position on this issue.  We went looking to see some statements.  And, on August 11, 1999, he was at a fund-raising event in Oklahoma City and he said—quote—“It makes no sense for assault weapons to be around our society.”

What changed his mind? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘ll tell what you got his mind going in those days. 

That was the fact that he was offering himself up as a compassionate conservative. 

And, certainly, after what happened in Oklahoma City, nobody is on the side of terrorism of any kind, certainly not domestic terrorism after what happened down there.  I think he‘s playing it cute.  I think he is saying he wants to see a continuation of the ban, but he is not making a phone call to Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, and saying, look, Tom, we have got to twist some arms to get this through.  He clearly knows that where the passion lies on this issue, largely, it‘s among the gun owners and the sportsmen, who want to keep the Second Amendment as pure as possible.  And so you know what?  I think he is playing it both ways. 

NORVILLE:  He is playing it both ways.  And it is interesting.  The president has said that he is in favor of the laws that are on the books.  And his spokesman today pointed out that gun crime is at a 30-year low or something like that, a tremendous improvement.  And yet one of the laws that‘s been on the books is this assault weapons ban that expired at midnight last night. 

MATTHEWS:  Not anymore, is it? 

NORVILLE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I guess he‘s for gun laws that are on the books as long as they‘re on the books.  And I think it is as cute as that. 

Clearly, he‘s looked at the votes.  He looks at the states he has to carry.  If this election does get close, and it might get close again, he is looking at Ohio.  He is looking at Pennsylvania, Missouri.  He is looking at all the states, West Virginia.  I can‘t think of one that‘s anti-gun.

NORVILLE:  What about Florida?  That‘s also another state.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Florida is, as you know, a polyglot of every—it has got a piece of every state in the Union down there in Florida, so it‘s hard to generalize.  But out on the Panhandle, the northern part of Florida, part of Dixie, I think guns are very important there as well. 

NORVILLE:  When you look at where this has impacted politically, a lot of people have said that, in 1994, just after this gun ban was passed, that that is the reason the Democrats were whitewashed at the polls in the elections that year.  Do you agree with that? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think Al Gore paid a price for this.  I think if you look at the reasons why he lost Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Ohio, you look at those states and you look at cultural factors.  I mentioned gender.  Men are more pro-gun, obviously, than women. 

Geography.  The blue states tend to be more anti-gun, although Michigan is certainly a pro-gun state and so is Pennsylvania.  And then you look at culture.  I think when a guy like John Kerry, who already has the look of a Northeastern liberal, a man from the East Coast, very much an establishment figure, even an elite figure.  Throw in the fact that he is anti-gun.  And then people out in the country, the regular people say, wait a minute.  This guy really is an elitist. 

We doesn‘t understand we want a boat and we want a gun, because we want to be men.  And he doesn‘t send the right signals.  If a guy like Bill Clinton was a little bit middle of the road or a moderate on guns, people would say, he‘s a Bubba like I am.  And I understand he comes from where I come from.  He gets my values. 

But I think a Northeastern liberal has a much tougher time being anti-gun, much tougher.  They‘re suspicious of them.

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  Do you think John Kerry would have an easier time with that Bubba factor if he weren‘t photographed doing things like snowboarding in Idaho and windsurfing in the Sound out in Massachusetts?  Those aren‘t exactly Bubba activities. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Is that a question, Deborah?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Of course not.  They‘re not exactly regular. 

I think it was my son—I got it wrong the other night.  It was my son who said that he only seems to play expensive sports. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And, also, there is a little bit of, I hate to say this, narcissism in some of these sports. 

NORVILLE:  He looks good doing it?

MATTHEWS:  They‘re all so photogenic.  And I just wonder whether the average guy who mows the lawns on weekends and maybe goes bowling sometimes and certainly wants to play golf can identify at all with this fellow who snowboards. 

By the way, I don‘t like snowboarders, so I have probably got a problem right there, because every time I go skiing and I hear that behind me, I think there‘s a crash coming. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a prejudice.  That‘s all.

NORVILLE:  If I‘m in front of them, the case is, Chris, it usually is. 

Chris Matthews, it‘s always fun.  Come back again. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  We‘ll see you on TV later.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Deborah.

NORVILLE:  Take care.

ANNOUNCER:  Up next, he‘s the editor of America‘s celebrity bible, a major player in the Hollywood schmooze fest.  But “Vanity Fair‘s” Graydon Carter isn‘t kissing up in his new book.  He is taking on the Bush administration and blaming them for what we‘ve lost—Graydon Carter when DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  “Vanity Fair”‘s editor in chief says he has never voted before.  But this year, he‘s not only doing that.  He‘s written a book critical of the president.  He‘s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  My next guest can transport an ingenue from anonymity to the A list simply by putting her picture in his magazine.  Major celebrities vie for the cover.  And on Academy Award night, his Oscar bash is the ticket for movie stars and hangers-on alike.  As the editor in chief of “Vanity Fair,” Graydon Carter is an arbiter of hot.  But now he has turned his attention from Hollywood and put his sights on Washington.  He‘s written a new book highly critical of President Bush and the war in Iraq.  It‘s titled “What We‘ve Lost.”

Joining me now is Graydon Carter.  It‘s nice to see you. 

GRAYDON CARTER, EDITOR IN CHIEF, “VANITY FAIR”:  Hey.  Ditto. 

NORVILLE:  What is it that irritates you about George Bush? 

CARTER:  Well, nothing irritates me about him personally. 

But I thought that what got my sort of blood up was this gradual drumbeat in the buildup to the war in Iraq, that it would seem like very much common sense it seemed like a war of—an optional war rather than a necessary war.  And as it turned out that, you know, all of the rationale for going into the war turned out to be empty and false. 

NORVILLE:  But why do you need to write a book about that?  Gosh knows there have been umpteen that have taken exactly that same point and said frankly the same thing. 

CARTER:  Well, what I did, I did something different. 

The war in Iraq compelled me to do this book.  But once I started researching, we found out that—went through each area of the Bush administration that it has influence over, from the environment to the education system of the country to health care to our reputation abroad to how they operate in secrecy and went in great detail in each of these areas to show what the Bush administration has been up to for the past four years. 

NORVILLE:  In the book, you say that our domestic rights have been systematically dismissed. 

CARTER:  During the Cold War, we fought an enemy that could have destroyed the world twice over.  We fought that war for 50 years.  But we didn‘t give up all our civil liberties as we went along. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  What bothers you most about—it‘s the Patriot Act I‘m sure you‘re talking about, right?

CARTER:  Well, the Patriot Act.  And I think that‘s probably the beginning.  I think a second administration, a second term for the Bush administration would bring in more of this. 

They‘ve renamed the Patriot Act 2.  And it is, you don‘t give up your liberties in the case of a war against—for liberty. 

NORVILLE:  It‘s interesting that someone who has never voted before, doesn‘t hold any shares of stock, thinks they‘re the right person to stand there and criticize. 

CARTER:  Well, I‘m not sure I think I‘m the right person.  But I‘ve been a journalist for 25 years.  And I went out of my way not to vote so I wouldn‘t feel aligned to any political party. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  Doesn‘t that divorce from you being a citizen, though?  If you consciously say I‘m not going to participate in the process, haven‘t you in some sense abrogated your own responsibility, not only privilege, but responsibility as a citizen? 

CARTER:  You could argue that.  But I didn‘t shares in—stock in companies because I thought at some point, we would probably wind up covering them.  So it is just my decision.  But this administration has made me rethink that decision. 

NORVILLE:  What gets you so steamed about the election right now?  Because, clearly, based on this book, you would like nothing more than to see John Kerry win November 2. 

CARTER:  Well, it‘s not actually a pro-Kerry stance.  But I think—I looked at areas like the environment.  And this administration has rolled back of 30 years of environmental protections.  And I think that will be with us for a long time. 

NORVILLE:  How so? 

CARTER:  Well, they‘ve broken or downgraded 200 environmental protection laws in the last four years. 

We‘ve broken most of our international treaties with regards to the environment.  And it‘s made us a very—you know, our reputation around the world is very much, you know, on the edge right now. 

NORVILLE:  I‘m not an apologist for the Bush administration, but what they would argue is that Kyoto, for instance, which the president opted not to participate in, they say, would be hugely expensive for not just large companies, but all businesses in America. 

CARTER:  Well, it is hugely expensive for the other countries participating in that as well.  But the fact is that the environment is probably the single most important asset the world has. 

And you have to protect it.  And you have to protect it in concert with other nations.  So why should the United States walk away and say these laws apply to other people, but we are not going to obey them?  We may be the biggest neighbor in the world, but we have to be a good neighbor as well.

NORVILLE:  You put out a magazine every month as editor in chief.  But when you put out a book, it is a little bit different.  You are really in the crosshairs.  And some of the reviews haven‘t probably been what you wanted. 

“The New York Times” said it was an “underwritten compendium of data.  Carter credits no fewer than 11 researchers, but his team has not saved him from some cringe-making errors.”

“The Guardian” says “a book that has been assembled more than written.”

And “The L.A. Times” says, “Carter gives us a gift of Googling monkeys, the kind of things that caffeinated undergrads churn out on all-nighters.”

There‘s a lot of facts and a lot of factoids in there.  Does that kind of criticism upset you? 

CARTER:  No.  I think everybody is entitled to their opinion. 

And for whatever reason, other writers come out.  The review in “The New York Times” was from somebody who had been very pro-war.  And he picked up on two things that were matters much opinion, rather than matters of fact.  So I had five researchers and four fact checkers.  So this is one of the few books out this year that has been thoroughly fact-checked.  It covers almost every area that the Bush administration has been involved in over the last four years. 

And I didn‘t write it as—it‘s not Gibbons‘ “Fall of Rome.”  I wrote it as a handbook for somebody walking into a voting booth. 

NORVILLE:  One of the things you say in the very beginning of the book is that when George Bush made the decision to go to war, he did not consult his father.  He did not consult his advisers.  He consulted God, his God, as you put it. 

Does it distress you that Bush is openly a man of faith? 

CARTER:  No.  It doesn‘t particularly.  But I just don‘t think it should be involved in the political decision-making process. 

I mean, I‘m a Christian as well.  And I think anybody is entitled to practice their religion.  But I just don‘t think you bring it into the workplace, so to speak. 

NORVILLE:  Well, speaking of the workplace, this book has come out while you also have the day job, which is called “Vanity Fair.” 

We‘ll take a short break.  When we come back, more with Graydon Carter in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  We‘re back with the editor in chief of “Vanity Fair,” Graydon Carter, who has written a new book highly critical of the Bush administration.  It‘s called “What We‘ve Lost.”

I wonder, Graydon, when you write a book like this and it‘s obviously a political point of view, does that put you in jeopardy with what you do at the magazine in any respect? 

CARTER:  Well, I have—in my own little editorials in the magazine, I have made my point very clear over the past 16 months.  You know, after the election, you know, I‘m going to go back to writing about other things.  I figure, I‘ve said everything I needed to say. 

But the magazine itself has been, you know, we have covered the Bush administration.  The Clintons, I don‘t think we ever wrote a story that the Clintons found favorable to them.  I think they objected to almost every single story we did during that eight-year period. 

NORVILLE:  And while this book may be critical of the Bush administration, with Annie Leibovitz behind the lens, you did an incredible photo montage of the key players, including the president and Condi Rice, all looking awfully dapper and gorgeous in front of the camera. 

CARTER:  Right. 

NORVILLE:  What does that say, that a politician wants to primp and pose for a glossy like “Vanity Fair.” 

CARTER:  Well, it was during a certain period.  It was when they were about—it was in February 2002.  So it was done in December.  And it was a time when the administration looked like they were very serious about fighting a war on terror and going to Afghanistan and making the country more secure. 

But then, all of a sudden, they took this right turn into Iraq.  And I think that changed the whole equation.  All the money we spent in Iraq, $150 billion, could have gone towards making America much more secure and going after a real battle against al Qaeda. 

NORVILLE:  So you think their posing for the magazine was to somehow mitigate the attention from resources being diverted from Iraq? 

CARTER:  No.  I think the cover of “Vanity Fair” is one of the iconic images in the culture today.  And I think that, at the time they did it, the magazine was very supportive of them. 

NORVILLE:  Does that give you a rush, that you edit the magazine that is so iconic in popular society? 

CARTER:  No, I don‘t ever notice it day to day. 

NORVILLE:  Oh, you‘ve got to. 

CARTER:  No, I swear I really don‘t.  You do your day job, and then you go home, see the kids.  And, no, it doesn‘t affect me one bit. 

NORVILLE:  Explain to me what celebrity is all about today.  It seems different now than it was 10, even five years ago. 

CARTER:  Well, I‘m certainly no expert on it, but it strikes me that just reading these weekly celebrity magazines, that the bar gets lower and lower and lower.  I mean, it used to have to be, like, you know, Fred Astaire to be celebrity. 

NORVILLE:  Or at least have accomplished something. 

CARTER:  Right.  Oh, I think these people will have—I think they will have a rough time of it, because since most of their fame is built on nothing, when they—when the fame disappears, I think there will be a crushing period for them afterwards.  That‘s just my guess. 

NORVILLE:  Don‘t you think, in some respect, too, the public‘s attention to these celebrity magazines, yours among them, is in some way a diversion from the very serious issues—you have your point of view on them in the book—that we all have to deal with?

CARTER:  Well, I don‘t consider “Vanity Fair” a celebrity magazine.  We put a movie star on the cover just because they‘re better looking than most of us.  It‘s a magazine of journalism.

But I think the celebrity magazines and the reality TV, I think that they are a diversion, as you say, from the serious issues of the day, in the same way that screwball comedies were during the Depression.  And they may not last for that long or they may go on forever. 

NORVILLE:  Yes.  Well, time will tell.  And “Vanity Fair” I‘m sure will be a part of it. 

The book is called “What We‘ve Lost.” 

Graydon Carter, thanks for coming to talk about it.

CARTER:  It‘s been a pleasure.

NORVILLE:  Nice to see you. 

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  We like to hear from you, so send us your ideas and comments to us as NORVILLE@MSNBC.com.  Some of your e-mails have been posted.  Our Web page address is NORVILLE.MSNBC.com, which is where you can you sign up for our daily newsletter. 

That‘s our program for tonight.  Thanks so much for watching.  I‘m Deborah Norville.

Coming up tomorrow night, President Bush addresses family members of American National Guardsmen who are serving an extended tour of duty fighting the war on terrorism.  These family members would like to know when their loved ones are coming home.  We‘ll get into that.  Also, as questions and controversy surround President Bush‘s National Guard service, we‘ll take a look at how members of the Guard are reacting to that issue.  All that and more coming up when you join us tomorrow night. 

That is our program this evening.  Thanks for watching. 

Coming up next, Joe Scarborough.  He has got the latest on the hurricanes that have ravaged Florida this year.  “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” is next.

Thanks for watching. 

END   

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