McCain Calls for Hearings on Gun Control


Maneuvering through the sensitive political aftermath of the Granada Hills day camp shootings, Republican presidential candidate John McCain called Monday for congressional hearings on the polarizing subject of gun control but distanced himself from any specific solutions to firearm violence.

Answering questions after a speech to the Anti-Defamation League in Los Angeles, and also before reporters and editors at the Los Angeles Times, the Arizona senator alternately welcomed a new look at gun control and grew indignant about the prospect of it.

“Look, my dear friends, don’t think that just gun control is the answer,” McCain told the reporters and editors, whom he met as he kicked off a two-week campaign effort in California. “If you do, you are not talking to the same people I’m talking to. The use of the gun is the manifestation of some very serious illnesses and problems in American society, and we’ve got to address it in its broad contexts.”


He criticized the questioners for asking more about gun measures than media violence and Internet Web sites that promote hatred. And he belittled a question about whether Americans should be required to register their weapons as they register their cars.

“A gun and a car are not the same,” he said. “How about treating a gun like an elephant? They are not the same.”

Speaking to reporters after the ADL speech, McCain flatly said “no” when asked if he would sign on to a bill banning specific assault weapons, like the one pressed into law in 1994 by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Later in the day at The Times, however, he said he was open to voting for an assault weapon ban, depending on the details.

“I will be willing to consider any reasonable proposal,” he said.

He said his objections to the Feinstein bill centered on the lack of “proper scrutiny, proper hearings and proper legislative process” given the assault weapon bill, which passed only after years of debate on Capitol Hill.

His proposed hearings, McCain said, would consider all manner of proposals, including a raft of suggestions for limiting guns that were recently suggested by Atty. Gen. Janet Reno.

Even in its infancy, McCain’s long-planned California campaign swing was thrown off track by the shootings at the North Valley Jewish Community Center--and the slaying of a postman--all allegedly at the hand of white supremacist Buford O. Furrow.

He had planned to make an overtly political speech to the ADL as part of the group’s series of candidate meetings. Instead, he offered a low-key self-flagellation of politicians, where he laid part of the blame for hate crimes on himself and his peers in the electoral arena.

The subject of gun control, which put McCain somewhat on the defensive, also obscured a slight bit of momentum for him--the shrinking of the Republican campaign field.

Former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, resigned to the inevitable after his poor showing at Saturday’s Iowa straw poll, left the race Monday. Former Vice President Dan Quayle, who fared worse than Alexander, was staying in the contest, but some of his aides in South Carolina defected on Monday to McCain.

Before several hundred guests at the Stephen S. Wise Temple, which overlooks the valley in which last week’s shootings took place, McCain forwarded his view that politicians are partly responsible for the coarsening of American culture, and thus to blame for the carnage that results.

“Our first responsibility is to set the example and too often we have failed,” he declared.

“When we stand on a soapbox and denounce Jerry Springer and then go to the floor of Congress and behave like guests on his show, it’s little wonder that the American public has long since stopped looking to us for guidance and leadership.”

Apart from a glancing mention about keeping weapons out of the hands of “hardened criminals” and children, McCain did not mention that gunfire killed the postman and injured the day campers, an adult receptionist and a teen counselor. Indeed, he seemed to dismiss the notion of legislation having an impact.

“There’s no legislation to pass that will stop a madman or show a deeply troubled person that there’s a path to happiness that doesn’t involve destruction, rage or violence,” he said.

But the question came up directly during the audience question-and-answer session, when retired lawyer Martin Bernstein of Los Angeles rose to ask McCain why adults should be able to own assault weapons. In response, McCain said he would press to keep weapons out of the hands of children.

When Bernstein persisted, noting that he had specifically asked about access by adults, McCain answered brusquely.

“Let me also point out to you, my friend, if you want to take every gun in California and dump it into the Pacific Ocean, I’ll still take you to a Web site where it teaches children how to build pipe bombs,” he said.

“I understand the importance of this issue of weapons but to somehow define that as being the major cause, there’s a whole lot of causes.”

Bernstein said later that he was not impressed by McCain’s answers.

“He didn’t address the question,” he said. “He ran all around it.”

Later, at The Times discussion, McCain said that he favored strong support for existing gun control laws and a “look” at whether specific categories of guns should be restricted. He also enthusiastically endorsed technological advances that would limit use of a gun to its owner.


Hear Sen. John McCain discuss his views on gun control legislation and other issues in excerpts from an interview with Times’ editors and reporters on The Times’ Web site: