Sen. Grassley's "Callous And Insulting" Treatment Of Gun Violence Survivors

November 15, 2011 5:25 pm ET — Matt Gertz

Dozens of survivors of gun violence from across the nation came to Capitol Hill today to watch a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the Fix Gun Checks Act, which would require a background check for every gun sale and facilitate getting into the federal background check system all mental health records that would prohibit gun ownership. They received a rude greeting from Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who seemed to want to talk about everything except the legislation.

Grassley began his opening statement by referring to the "Virginia Tech thing," then devoted several minutes to criticizing a prior bill, the NICS Improvement Act of 2007, which passed by unanimous consent following the massacre at Virginia Tech, as well as a separate bill to fix its "unintended consequences." Grassley then moved to attacking the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) failed Operation Fast and Furious, demanding that Justice Department officials be "held accountable."

Grassley also claimed that "at the root of Fast and Furious and a lot of rhetoric surrounding gun control legislation has been the gun trafficking statistics provided by ATF." He then extensively criticized those statistics, before reiterating falsehoods about a State Department gun trafficking cable. Grassley devoted virtually no attention to the bill itself.

Watch:

At no point during his opening statement did Grassley acknowledge the gun violence survivors who had traveled to Washington to hear discussion of a bill to require background checks and improve the background check system.

Indeed, according to gun violence prevention sources who attended the hearing, Grassley closed his eyes and played with his phone during passionate testimony (watch it below) from Patricia Maisch, a survivor of the mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona. Lori Haas, who works with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and whose daughter was shot during the Virginia Tech attack, called Grassley's actions "callous and insulting."

Watch Maisch's testimony:

Grassley's behavior did not significantly improve once he began asking questions. He devoted his first battery of queries to David Cuthbertson, assistant director of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division at the FBI. His topic of choice? Operation Fast and Furious. 

GRASSLEY: The investigation of Fast and Furious, Mr. Cuthbertson, I've written a letter to FBI, including you in your previous position as head of the El Paso field office for some documents. Have you done anything to search documents in response?

CUTHBERTSON: I have not done so personally, sir. That is being done by FBI headquarters in conjunction with the department.

GRASSLEY: Have you provide— do you know whether — we haven't gotten any documents. When did you first hear about ATF walking guns, and when did you hear it?

CUTHBERTSON: Sir, the only knowledge I have — personal knowledge — regarding ATF's investigation commonly known as Fast and Furious are from media accounts that we all read.

GRASSLEY: Ok. Did you ever receive any emails related to Operation Fast and Furious? 

CUTHBERTSON: Sir, I would respectfully ask that any particular questions regarding Fast and Furious be directed at the department, who is coordinating all responses.

GRASSLEY: Uh, well. At least you can— I'm gonna ask the questions anyway. Do you have any knowledge of any emails involving FBI employees that are related to ATF's Fast and Furious?

CUTHBERTSON: No sir, I do not have any direct knowledge, and any knowledge I would have would not be comprehensive, so I would defer the question to the Department of Justice.

GRASSLEY: Are you aware of any other investigations involving gunwalking by any federal agency in Texas?

CUTHBERTSON: No, I'm unaware of any of those.

Only after asking questions about Fast and Furious did Grassley finally get around to the topic of the hearing. Watch:

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