Is America still a constitutional republic?

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," January 8, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: Tonight we are learning that the White House will be the site of a critical showdown over gun control later this week. Now, the face-off between Vice President Joe Biden, his gun control task force and representatives from the National Rifle Association, well, that's slated to take place on Thursday.

Now, NRA officials confirmed to Fox News that the organization accepted an invitation to attend the closed door session. It is expected that the group will discuss a variety of options on how to curb gun violence.

And although issues related to mental health and entertainment and video game industry are reportedly going to be put on the table, there is no question that limiting your Second Amendment rights is priority one for "Sheriff Joe" and his team.

Now, these breaking developments come to us just days following a Washington Post report indicating that President Obama is considering banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines. But that's not all, not even close. The paper also revealed that universal background checks will be for all gun buyers, a national gun data base, strict mental health checks and much more are all being floated by this task force.

As for the NRA, in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, the organization recommended placing armed security guards in our schools. And earlier today, the White House reiterated President Obama's skepticism of that idea. Watch this.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president said he doesn't want to pre-judge any recommendations that any stake holder might present, he did in his "Meet the Press" interview respond to a question about the specific recommendation that the NRA had made and by saying that he was skeptical that putting more guns in schools would solve this problem. But again, we look forward to hearing from a variety of organizations and civic groups and others who have insights into this problem.


HANNITY: Now, as we await the outcome of Thursday's meeting, liberals in America continue to attack the merits of the Second Amendment. Now, in case you're not familiar, the second amendment reads, "a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Now in recent days the left have fixated on the word "militia" and called in the question the intent of our founders and our framers, but they do so without taking into consideration what they've actually said.

For example, the co-author of the Second Amendment George Mason famously said, "I ask sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them." And Thomas Jefferson said, quote, "The constitutions of most of our states assert that all power is inherent in the people. It is their right and duty to at all times to be armed."

I can go on and on with quotes from our founders and framers, but here's the point. If they were alive today, they would not doubt, they'd be mocked, they'd be ridiculed, besmirched demonized by the left and left-wing media.

Now, the question that America faces is -- it's profound -- are we still a constitutional republic? Do we still believe in freedom? Do we believe in liberty? Our Constitution is our rule of law. Will liberals now allow that to be shredded?

Now, what's missing in this entire debate is balance and common sense. Do criminals obey laws? No. If 99.9 percent of gun owners never break the law, why should they be deprived of their rights because of the actions of a few? Are we going to ban booze to stop drunk driving? Are we going to ban cars and planes, people die when those are used. If a knife is used, God forbid in the future attack, we're going to follow Al Sharpton's advice, we're going to have knife control in America?

Where's the debate over a failed mental health system? Psycho tropic drug use, violent movies, violent video games. If America -- if it really wants to prevent future tragedies, there are many things that we can do. My advice? That if we protect, for example, our money, our politicians, our Hollywood stars -- they have armed security. Maybe it's time that our children get the same armed security. Maybe retired police officers. And then we're not going to have to take away the rights of law abiding citizens. That, my friends, is how we go about saving America.

And joining me now to debate this important topic, Republican Congressman Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. Gentlemen, welcome to "Hannity."

REP. TOM COTTON, R-ARK.: Thanks a lot.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL, D-CALIF.: Hi, Sean. Thanks for having me on for the first time.

HANNITY: Welcome aboard. Both of you, two young congressmen. And glad you're here. Congressman Swalwell, do you support gun control?

SWALWELL: You know, I support gun safety measures, and I'll tell you, I grew up in a family of gun owners and hunters and I went hunting with my dad as a kid, and you know, I have deep respect for the Second Amendment and the culture of our country. I don't think we can look at what's happened and say that we shouldn't do anything the at all. And the cost of doing nothing, is that nothing will change.

HANNITY: What do you want to do? Give us specifics, because a lot of Americans, gun owners, as you can see, they are racing to the store, they're buying more guns than ever before. Because they feel -- and I agree with them -- that we're about to see very restrictive measures that are about to be put on us. What do you support?

SWALWELL: I support an assault weapons ban, and I'll tell you why. We already have one in California, so I don't support doing anything above what we do in California. You made a great example of what are we going to do? Are we going to ban booze next? Well, when you started to look at drunk driving deaths in our country 30 years ago, we raised the age at which our teenagers could drink to 21.


HANNITY: We didn't take it away, did we? We didn't ban it, we didn't restrict it from different people.

SWALWELL: We didn't take it away, but put on sensible measures on, we lowered the blood alcohol content level, and what we saw over the last 30 years, drunk driving deaths came down. So, I think that sensible reasonable measures can be made in a bipartisan way.

HANNITY: Let me ask you if this is one sensible measure, because I -- for example, our president -- by the way, rightly so -- our Cabinet members, politicians, Hollywood stars, our money, your money in a bank is protected with an armed guard. When Wayne Lapierre brought up the idea of, say a retired police officer, looking for a job, and being in a school. Is that such a silly idea? Is that a bad idea?

SWALWELL: Sean, my father -- my father's a retired police officer, my little brother is a police officer, I don't get armed protection, but you know, I do support allowing our retired police officers to carry concealed weapons, I don't think that's not a bad idea.

HANNITY: In a school? I'm saying hiring them in a school to prevent that from happening. We have laws you can't bring guns into schools. We have laws that prevent criminals from using them. We have laws that say mentally ill people can't have them. So --

SWALWELL: The president has said all options are on the table. I support the president. We need to look at everything, and my concern about putting them in schools is, who is going to pay for that? Our children right now are already suffering from budget cuts.

HANNITY: Obviously not you guys, you're broke.

Congressman Cotton, welcome you to the program. But this is a really serious issue and obviously now the left feels energized. Is there any law that would have been passed beforehand that you could think of, Congressman Cotton, that you would have prevented the tragedy? For example, Columbine happened after the last assault weapon ban. Any law that you think would have prevented this?

COTTON: Sean, I don't think there are gun control measures that could have prevented the Newtown killings or most other mass murders. One key measure we could though adopt is to prevent the dangerously mentally ill from getting firearms in the first place, and that's where some of the key solutions will come, I believe. For instance, the national background check system is woefully inadequate when it comes to mental illness records. We need to reform health privacy laws, so adult children or doctors can ensure that authorities are aware of the dangerously mentally ill.

We also need to help states adopt system outpatient treatment programs. We're not going back to the regime of institutionalizing the mentally ill on mass levels that we had pre-1960s. But we need to make sure that they're getting the treatment they deserve.

You know, Connecticut for instance had an assault weapons ban. As Eric says, California has an assault weapons ban, it also bans large capacity magazines. But there's no evidence that those bans or the assault weapons ban at the federal level from 1994 to 2004 had any measurable effect on crime.

HANNITY: Yes. And you know --

SWALWELL: I would say, Sean, when was the last time that major media were in California for a mass shooting. So, you know, we are seeing--

HANNITY: I was there during the Stockton killing many years ago.

SWALWELL: That was before our assault weapons ban.

HANNITY: I understand -- I was out there. But listen, if-- by their very nature, Congressman, criminals do not obey laws, and what we're talking about here is impinging on the rights of law-abiding citizens, the 99.9 percent, and it's not going to solve the problem of those that are intent of killing people.

You're not taking away people's alcohol, you're not taking away their cars, you're not grounding aircraft, all of which are dangerous. Al Sharpton said, if the next incident happens with a knife, we're going to have knife control in America. How far do you go with this logic of yours?

SWALWELL: Well, what Congressman Cotton says -- he's a military hero who I have deep respect for. I don't disagree with anything that Congressman Cotton said as far as a comprehensive bill that looks at mental health treatment.

HANNITY: Everything's comprehensive.

SWALWELL: Yes. And that has to be on the table as well. I was a prosecutor, Sean, for seven years and I know -- you're right, we cannot end and get rid of all mass shootings, but we can take reasonable measures to bring it down.

HANNITY: If you say you shoot guns -- by the way, I was outed today as a gun owner because I have a license carry permit. Other people in New York, I would assume, as a congressman and believing the right of privacy, that you think that's wrong. Am I right about that?

SWALWELL: That you were outed as a licensed--

HANNITY: In other words, it was printed on a website that I have a license carry permit. I've had it more than half of my adult life. Did you think that's appropriate?

SWALWELL: If it violated privacy rights, sure, it's wrong.

HANNITY: But does that violate privacy rights? Do you think I should have the right, do you believe in my right to privacy and my family's right to privacy?

SWALWELL: Absolutely. I do. And if it went through the proper channels for disclosure, then it was right, if it didn't, it's wrong.

HANNITY: You didn't answer the question. Do you think that's wrong morally?

SWALWELL: That you were outed as a gun owner?


SWALWELL: I think having a national system that tracks who owns guns is fine. I don't think we need to be printing it on the Internet.

HANNITY: It's nobody's business, I'm a law abiding citizen. You know, liberals claim they believe in the right to privacy. But this debate is obviously going to be very, very intense in the days to come. Thank you both for being with us. I appreciate it.

SWALWELL: Thank you, Sean.

COTTON: Thank you, Sean.

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