Nightly News   |  February 13, 2013

Balancing the fine line between gun control and citizens’ rights

As a former Vietnam vet and hunter, gun task force leader Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) is advocating for middle ground on the gun debate. NBC’s Tom Brokaw reports.

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>>> with the fight over guns red-hot in washington and coming off that emotional moment in the house chamber last night, a lot of lawmakers suddenly find themselves in a tough spot, caught in the middle between gun rights and gun control . an important voice in all of it is a veteran u.s. congressman from california , who is trying to find the solution. tonight, as part of our special nbc news series on guns in america, our report from tom brokaw .

>> i've been 100% on this gun issue.

>> reporter: that is a common refrain on capitol hill these days, and congressman mike thompson is no exception. as a vietnam veteran and a hunter, he knows guns.

>> i just want to let everybody know from the beginning that i'm a hunter. i'm a gun owner. and i believe that law-abiding citizens have a second amendment right to own firearms.

>> reporter: his home district is california 's famed wine country , napa valley .

>> congressman, nobody thinks about this part of california in terms of hunting and shooting. this is wine country . i mean, it's celebrated in films and even mocked a little bit. but when you were a boy, it was prime hunting country.

>> right here, used to hunt ducks on this river. there's farm ponds all over. we used to jump shoot ducks there.

>> reporter: and napa still is gun country. at a january town hall , emotions were white-hot.

>> the second amendment clearly states the right to bear arms. not for you to tell me what i can own or not.

>> reporter: but an hour away, in san francisco , a different view.

>> losing one human being to gun violence is losing one too many.

>> i think we have to look at not only what's possible, but what will do the most good. we have to prioritize those things. and magazine capacity is certainly one of them. and how anyone can argue against background checks is beyond me.

>> a friend of mine in montana says it's no longer about guns, it's about government now.

>> yeah. that line has been crossed.

>> reporter: thompson believes the middle ground is important, so he's appealing to hunters and sportsmen to help him out.

>> 80% of the people in the united states of america don't own guns. and every day, more and more of that 80% think that all of us who do own guns own assault weapons. i don't think that bodes well for the future of our sport.

>> reporter: back in washington, thompson and representative anna eschew know they have to be realistic, as well.

>> you have to be, to be in this business, you have to be an optimist about our country and the people and the steps we can take.

>> reporter: brian, congressman thompson and his house colleagues still hope they can deliver everything that president wants, but that is seeming more unlikely every day. i'm here in arizona tonight. of course, this is the state of the shooting of gabby giffords . but it is a state with a very strong gun lobby . in the state legislature now, there is a bill that would nullify any new federal gun control laws. so that's what's going on in the american west . brian?

>> tom brokaw with tonight's report in our series on guns. tom, thanks, as always.