What should America do about violence? That was the question posed in a three-hour-plus Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday. The answers were as varied as the viewpoints represented of witnesses ranging from the astronaut husband of Gabby Giffords to NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre to legislators on both sides of the aisle, but violent media was only a brief part of that conversation.
Giffords was in attendance as well, providing a moving, halting, opening statement teeing up the debate, in which she said: "Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children..."
The hearing focused on gun laws, particularly background checks and limits on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines. But there was some mention of video game violence.
In his opening statement, ranking member Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Neb.), who urged against rushing to regulate guns, said the problem of real-world violence was bigger than guns alone, and pointed to mental health and the media. "There are too many video games that celebrate the mass killing of innocent people," he said. "I share Vice President Biden's disbelief of manufacturer denials that these games have no effect on real-world violence," he said.
LaPierre, in suggesting the problem was larger than guns, also suggested one of those other factors was "incredibly violent video games."
Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) made no mention of media, instead focusing on closing the gun show loophole -- background checks are not required for gun show sales -- and improving the background check system, saying he could support those. Leahy, a gun owner, also said that the Second Amendment was secure and would remain so. Others pointed to the fact that private sales also do not require background checks.
Capt. Mark Kelly, Giffords' husband, told the committee that they both supported CDC research into gun violence, which the White House has indicated will include research into the impact of entertainment violence on societal violence.
"Remove the limitations on the CDC and other public health organizations on collecting data and conducting scientific research on gun violence," Kelly told the committee. "As a fighter pilot and astronaut, I saw the value of using data to achieve our military and scientific objectives. We wouldn't have gotten to the moon or built the International Space Station without robust use of data to make informed decisions. It is simply crazy that we limit gun violence data collection and analysis when we could use that knowledge to save lives."
There were also various references to the importance of the White House proposals that went beyond guns, which includes the violence research element, but no direct interrogation of the witnesses by any of the legislators on that issue.
One issue that did surface was online privacy, related to mental health records and potential privacy concerns about making them available to the background check system. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake brought up the issue of whether privacy concerns were behind the lack of access to those records, but witnesses were unclear about the reasons, suggesting it might be lack of resources or "lack of will" rather than privacy. Kelly said he was not sure, but would try to find out.
Leahy said he hoped to build consensus, but that they were already agreed that they needed to prevent future tragedies and prevent the violence "that breaks all our hearts. I want to find out how we can stop what it happening." He said he hoped the committee could produce legislation by next month. But he also said there would be other hearings.