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Holder on gun control legislation: ‘If not now, when?’

Published: Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 9:42 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — ATLANTA — Recalling his walk through the bloody halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday the nation is ready for comprehensive gun control legislation.

“I think the American people have a feeling, and I hear it as I go across the country, that enough is enough,” Holder told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an exclusive interview. Holder was in town Thursday to give an address at Clark Atlanta University.

Holder said his visit to the Newtown, Conn., elementary school, where 20 students and six staff members were shot and killed Dec. 14, marked his worst day as attorney general. He retraced his steps through the school, talking to the first responders, seeing caked pools of blood in classrooms and viewing crime-scene photos of “these little angels, these babies.”

Holder cited the Sandy Hook shootings and the recent shooting of a 14-year-old student at Price Middle School in southeast Atlanta as incidents that should spur support for President Barack Obama’s gun control legislation.

“If not now, when?” he asked. “If the conscience of this nation is not moved by what we all saw and know about in Newtown (and) what has repeatedly happened in other places and other venues such as the recent shooting here in Atlanta, if not now, when?”

Holder said he was “pretty optimistic” Congress will enact comprehensive legislation. He cited strong support by law enforcement for a ban on armor-piercing bullets and universal background checks, such as checks of sales at gun shows. He also acknowledged that a renewal of the assault-weapons ban would be a harder sell.

Holder said there should be widespread support for limitations on the number of bullets allowed in gun magazines, citing the 2011 shootings in Arizona that killed six people and injured 13 others, including former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

“When a person has to reload, that gives the bystanders the possibility … of stopping that person from shooting,” Holder told the Journal-Constitution. “If the shooter there had a clip with only 10 bullets, as opposed to 30, the carnage there in Arizona on that day would have been substantially less.”

In recent weeks, dozens of sheriffs nationwide, including some in Georgia, have publicly opposed Obama’s gun legislation and vowed not to go door to door to round up weapons. In an open letter, Cherokee County Sheriff Roger Garrison said the president and other federal officials have “no authority to order the county sheriff to do anything.” Holder agreed, saying Obama isn’t going to force local authorities to take guns away from anyone.

“The notion that these proposals necessarily mean that somehow, some way guns are going to be taken from people is simply incorrect,” he said. “That is a tactic that I think some people use. They want to use fear to overcome reason. The proposals that the president has made and the administration has made are based on logic and are respectful of people’s constitutional rights.”

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, president of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, told the Journal-Constitution he was pleased to hear Holder’s response that federal authorities would not be leaning on sheriffs to take weapons from law-abiding citizens. “A sheriff has no authority, responsibility or duty to enforce any federal law and has never had that authority,” he said.

Still, Sills called the Obama administration’s arguments for gun control legislation “a lot of hyperbole” that does not address the real problem: recidivist criminals who commit more crimes with weapons. A far more effective way to reduce gun violence would be for state prosecutors to more aggressively punish felons found in possession of a gun, anyone found with an unlicensed firearm, and those who commit felonies with a handgun, the sheriff said.

However, Holder cited broad support for Obama’s gun control proposals by major city police chiefs and rural law enforcement officers. If the American people get mobilized behind the proposals, he said, “and can convince their representatives to stand up and take what may be a tough vote (and) stand up for the safety and future of our children, I think this effort will be a success.”

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