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Watch: Matthews and gun advocate clash over background checks

Host Chris Matthews takes on Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, over gun control. Watch the heated exchange.
/ Source: hardball

Host Chris Matthews takes on Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, over gun control. Watch the heated exchange.

Background checks take center stage in the gun control debate, following the passage of a Connecticut law–one of the toughest in the nation–requiring universal background checks for all firearm purchases. Now opponents worry: will Congress follow suit?

“We’ve opposed background checks from the very beginning,” said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, on Hardball Thursday, citing a study that found background checks “hadn’t had any impact on reducing crime.”

(It’s unclear which study Pratt had in mind, but the Journal of the American Medical Association–JAMA–did publish a study in 2000 on the Brady Act, a 1994 law requiring a person to pass a background check if buying from a licensed firearm dealer. The study essentially found that the law’s background check requirement didn’t lead to less violence. But the same researchers who conducted the 2000 JAMA study found in an earlier survey that only 64.3% of gun owners purchased their firearms from licensed dealers. Therefore, nearly 40% of gun owners could have gotten around the Brady Act’s background check, and by extension, the study’s parameters. The study’s conclusion is incomplete–universal background checks may very well still correlate with less violence. Furthermore, other studies have found just the opposite—that states prohibiting “high-risk” groups from owning guns see fewer violent crimes.)

Hardball host Chris Matthews fired back against Pratt’s logic: “If a criminal, or a nut, or an addict, or a wife-beater shows up at a gun store, and wants to buy a gun, and the guy says no. How does that not prevent violence?”

“Would you sell a gun to one of these people?” asked Matthews.

“Of course not,” fired back Pratt, who went on to restate the JAMA study as well as the ACLU’s concern that gun control legislation could threaten privacy rights. President Obama has done his best to quell such concerns, insisting that he has no intention of creating a national gun registry. “We’re not proposing a gun registration system… We’re proposing background checks for criminals,” said the president Wednesday in Denver, Colo., where he met with law enforcement officials and families of Aurora shooting victims.

Pratt returned to the issue of effectiveness–criminals would still find ways to bypass gun control restrictions, he said. “They’re going to get access to firearms anyway. If they have a criminal intent, they’re going to do it.”

“I don’t know how to argue with you except this,” said Matthews. “Why don’t we just get rid of the speed limits? Because not everybody’s going to obey them… Your argument says because some people can get around this, therefore, don’t try to stop it.”

A released Thursday found overwhelming support for universal background checks, with 91% of voters’ saying they supported such measures. Yet gun proponents still believe the answer to reducing violence is more guns, less gun control.

On Tuesday, an NRA-backed task force unveiled a proposal for improving school safety with more armed officers and school staff, arguing the importance of “security” over gun laws. Pratt offered similar logic on Hardball Thursday. “As a matter of fact, what deters [violence] even more is when you have an armed person that’s the potential victim,” he said.

Watch the full interview here:

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