Obama's gun control agenda

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," January 19, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," as the president unveils his gun control agenda, we'll look at the good, the bad and the probably unconstitutional.

Plus, from immigration to deficit reduction, what else is on his second-term to-do list. And is compromise or confrontation the real goal?

Plus, the suicide of an Internet activist has his family crying foul. Was Aaron Swartz a victim of government intimidation and a run-away federal prosecutor?


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: While there's no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there's even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there's even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try it.


GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

That was President Obama rolling out the administration's plan to curb gun violence. The president outlined 23 executive actions, including steps to make more federal data available from background checks and increased access to mental health services. And he called on Congress to reinstate the federal assault weapons ban and prohibit high-capacity gun magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds.

So, what's likely to get passed and what difference will it make? Let's ask Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; Political Diary editor, Jason Riley; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

So, Dan, just as a hypothetical, let's assume that everything the president is proposing becomes law. What difference would it make?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, it's not quite a hypothetical, Paul. The president just said, if we can save just one life, if we have to do this. From 1994, to 2004, we had the law banning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. The National Research Council and the Centers for Disease Control took a deep look at the effect of that law and their conclusion was it was impossible to determine whether it had reduced any crime in the United States. In 2005, the National Research Council looked again. Their conclusion was that the government's collection of data about guns is so poor, that it's impossible to understand whether any good is coming of these laws.

You'd hate to reduce it to something as bureaucratic as the federal government's inability to track these guns, but that is about what it comes down to. There is just no evidence that those laws make any difference.

GIGOT: Jason?

JASON RILEY, POLITICAL DIARY EDITOR: In fact, Paul, gun violence has fallen since the assault weapons ban expired.

GIGOT: In 2004 was it, I think?

RILEY: In 2004. So, the relevant question is that these are proposals being put forward in response to Sandy Hook and gun violence overall in the country. So, will they address that problem? The universal background check would have been passed by the person who bought the gun used in Connecticut.

GIGOT: Well, let me argue that some the things he's proposed on mental health, for example, easing the law called HIPAA, which is a federal privacy law, if you ease that and allow people, like administrators in schools or doctors and medical officers, to be able to share information when they see some kid who seems to be troubled, and identify him and maybe push him into assisted treatment, that kind of thing would help, seems to me.

HENNINGER: It would definitely help. That side of it is the piece we haven't had much of a conversation about.

GIGOT: It's almost like an afterthought. The president offered it, but may be the most effective.

HENNINGER: But the Newtown events, the Virginia Techs, the sort of killing in the theaters in Colorado by these violently mentally ill people really is not related to gun control. It's about what you're describing, which is monitoring and ensuring that those people are taking their medication, and that's what's been a weak part of the system until perhaps now.

RILEY: Let's also keep in mindless that than 3 percent of gun crimes in this country involve the assault weapons that the president wants to ban.

GIGOT: Most of them are handguns actually.

RILEY: Of course.

GIGOT: So why isn't he proposing then to ban handguns?


Well, why not?


If most people, who are victims of gun violence, are killed by handguns, why not ban handguns.

HENNINGER: Because the banned guns, they are illegal on the streets of Chicago and New York --

GIGOT: It's also --

HENNINGER: -- in gang crimes.

GIGOT: It's also unconstitutional.


RILEY: There is a Second Amendment there, right.

GIGOT: And that was found in 2008, the Heller case --

RILEY: The Heller case.

GIGOT: -- which expressly involved handguns and guns in common use.


RILEY: And individual rights. Right.

GIGOT: Now, assault weapons are also in many places in common use. These so-called -- I mean, there are two million of them in circulation, Kim, so, this may not actually stand up to court scrutiny, if it passed.

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: Right. everything, actually, about this particular gun debate, which is the first one we're having in a decade, has to be seen in the light that Heller is now the law of the land in the Supreme Court. What the gun control community calls assault weapons are viewed by most people are semi-automatics. The particular ones that they ban happen to look more scary than other semi-automatics. But as you said, there are millions in circulation. And the burden upon the gun control crowd would be to explain why some of them should be OK to be out there and others not. That's a hard case to make in light of Heller.

GIGOT: Kim, let's move on to the politics. You've been skeptical anything like the assault weapons ban will pass. Why?

STRASSEL: You've got to look at Senate Democrats in particular.


GIGOT: Democrats. Senate Democrats.

STRASSEL: Senate Democrats. No, this is about Democrats, OK? In red states, in swing states, their communities are very pro-Second Amendment, and this is playing with fire in their reelection prospects if they want to go out and touch on gun control again. This is why even Harry Reid has not said he's going to embrace any of the measures that the president put forward. And when you add to that the fact you have a Republican House and there's no appetite to deal with this, this would be a very difficult slog to get through Congress.

RILEY: Well, there's also, I believe, a racial element to this debate that --

GIGOT: How so?

RILEY: -- that the president and the left is not very eager to discuss, and that is the fact the large proportion of gun violence is taking place in our inner cities and it's black-on-black violence, is what we're seeing. And if you are black, your chances of being involved in gun violence, either as a perpetrator or a victim, are several times higher than they are if you are white. And that's a discussion that this president is uniquely qualified to have but doesn't want to have --


RILEY: -- and neither does the left who likes to complain that we want to have discussions about racism.

GIGOT: There's one element to the politics here, Dan, that's new. And one point, Michael Bloomberg, independently wealthy, is planning, willing, and has shown it in the past election, but maybe more so this next time, to put literally tens of millions of dollars on behalf of gun control against candidates. Couldn't this challenge the National Rifle Association, its influence?

HENNINGER: It's ironic that Bloomberg is doing that. When you compare New York City to Chicago, which is headed for a record number of homicides, New York City recorded the lowest homicides since 1960. That's about effective policing by the New York police Department. And if Michael Bloomberg would put more into police departments in cities like, Chicago and San Francisco and St. Louis, it would be better spent money.

GIGOT: OK. But I will say it. I think this is a real challenge, his money is a real challenge for the NRA's political clout. We'll see who wins.

Still ahead, as President Obama prepares to be sworn in for his second term, what is he hoping to accomplish? We know that guns are on the agenda. But, from immigration to debt reduction, is compromise the name of his game or is taking back the House in 2014 his real priority.



OBAMA: They have a particular vision about what government should and should not do. So they're suspicious about government's commitments, for example, to make sure that seniors have decent health care as they get older. They have suspicions about Social Security. They have suspicions about whether government should make sure that kids in poverty are getting enough to eat.


GIGOT: That was President Obama Monday talking about congressional Republicans in the final press conference of his first term. If that performance is any indication for strategy for term number two, what's likely to get done in the next four years?

So, do you recognize yourself, Jason, in that description?


RILEY: The public says that the -- their expectations for the next four years are much lower than they were the first time. Which I guess is understandable, given the second-term presidents, that usually happens. What are your expectations for a second term?

RILEY: Socialized medicine is expensive, Paul, so I expect Obama to aggressively try and fund his first-term agenda in the second term, and that means, raising more revenue, more tax hikes. I think we'll find out that people who make around $100,000 are really rich.


He's got to go where the money is. And I'm looking for him to hit the middle class with more tax hikes in the second term. I think that's a top priority.

GIGOT: He's got to find the money somewhere --

RILEY: He's got to find the money, yes.

GIGOT: -- to get to do this?

Dan, what about the theory or the theme you're hearing from liberals, which is -- and they're cheering it -- no more Mr. Nice Guy? The president is going to take on Republicans. He was way too compromising in the first term, not that I recognize that president --


-- but that's the line that they're taking. And so, look, he's going to put them in their place and demonize them and stigmatize them. Is that what we're going to see and what does that --

HENNINGER: We are going to see it. The left has been looking for years for an answer to right wing talk radio, and they've got one, the president of the United States. He's like a left wing talk show host.


But the idea is that we're in the midst of a social revolution and it's a take-no-prisoners revolution. When he talks about the elderly, he's talking about ObamaCare and Medicare, and when he talks about not caring about whether the poor get enough to eat, that's food stamps. As Jason suggested, he's looking for a way to transfer the wealth, not from just from the wealthy, but the middle class, the upper middle class and the wealthy, down below and create a permanent support system.

GIGOT: But I have to tell you, Dan, he's popular. His approval rating is, what, 52 percent.


GIGOT: And his personal approval rating is upwards close to 60.

HENNINGER: The fly in the ointment, Paul, is the unemployment rate and the growth rate. He's got four years. If unemployment stays above seven percent or gets worse again because of his policies -- because there's no growth incentives in the Obama agenda -- it's going to start eroding his popularity. It's going to start leaning on him as he tries to achieve the social revolution.

GIGOT: Kim, the writer, Ron Brownstein, from The National Journal, a good political analyst, wrote this week that the president is likely to be more aggressive and he predicted it, because there's assumption in the White House that they now have essentially a real liberal majority in the country, that his coalition that showed up on election day is such that they don't need to worry anymore the way that Bill Clinton did about losing conservative voters, particularly white swing voters anymore, because they have a new coalition. And that's driving the president to say, look, we can satisfy these long-term pent-up liberal demands. Do you see that as true?

STRASSEL: I would argue that that analysis is probably the best way of looking at this president and understanding what he's doing. Democratic presidents in the past -- you've looked at Bill Clinton -- they understood and they believed there was a real benefit to being somewhat in the middle, a centrist, working with Republicans and getting things done and getting that vast bipartisan approval quotient. But this president hasn't done that. You have to assume it's because he believes that he does have what it takes to continue -- have the Democrats continue in office with just a liberal majority. And I do think that brings up this huge question of how sincere he is over the next two years about some of the item agenda --

GIGOT: Right.

STRASSEL: -- agenda items he's put forward like immigration, whether or not he really wants to get that done, or whether or not this is about taking issues that show Republicans as disunited, make it look like they're unable to govern, and so you can route them out of the House in 2014 and have all of Washington unified under control in the last two years.

GIGOT: And then it's party time in the last two years.

RILEY: Well, one check on Obama's aggressive lurch to the left might be that there are Democrats and some Republican-leaning seats in the Senate, states that need to win their Senate seats in order for the Democrats to continue holding majority in the Senate. So we're talking about Arkansas, Alaska, North Carolina and so forth. And if Obama wants to pursue an aggressive agenda in the second term, he can't afford to lose the Senate and not have either the Senate or the House.

GIGOT: You know, Dan, I agree with you about the one essential here, and that is economic growth. The president can't come close to financing his ambitions --


GIGOT: -- with two percent growth. And he can't come close to raising middle class incomes, which have been falling --


GIGOT: -- since the economic recovery started, without getting growth to 3, 4 percent. That will seem -- that seems to me to be what will determine whether or not his second term is ultimately a success.

HENNINGER: Well, tax receipts have been historically low in his first term. If he doesn't get it up, it's not going to happen, Paul.

GIGOT: I agree with you, Dan.

When we come back, a 26-year-old computer hacker commits suicide after a federal indictment that could have put him behind bars for decades. Supporters say that Aaron Swartz was the victim of an overzealous prosecutor. Was he? There's a debate ahead.


GIGOT: The tech world was rocked last week by news of the suicide of 26-year-old Internet activist, Aaron Swartz. The computer programmer and free information advocate was facing up to 35 years in prison if convicted on federal charges of computer hacking and wire fraud over the illicit downloading of millions of academic articles from a subscription data base at MIT, charges his family and supporters say amount to prosecutorial overreach and contributed to Swartz's decision to take his own life. But the U.S. attorney in the case is pushing back against the claims, saying her office acted fairly and responsibly, and had offered Swartz a six-month prison sentence in exchange for his guilty plea to 13 felony counts, a deal Swartz rejected.

Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Joe Rago, has been following the story and joins us now.

Joe, who was Aaron Swartz and why was this such a big deal?

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: He's an important figure in the digital world in the sense that he's an open-source activist. He advocates an ideology that says that information wants to be free. So the data base that he went after, called JSTOR, charges universities and libraries a subscription fee as high as $50,000 a year. What he did was he downloaded all of these articles and was going to release them kind of into the Internet wilds, and it was about digital democracy and open access to information.

GIGOT: Versus the copy right and intellectual property, which are protected under law. How big a crime, though, really is this?

RAGO: Right, well, he was stopped in the act so he never actually released the articles. And while a lot of people find his -- his ideas deplorable in the sense that intellectual property is for its owners how to decide how to use for it, how much to charge --

GIGOT: And he essentially disavowed intellectual property laws, at least, in the Internet age.

RAGO: Right. As a concept, he opposed to it. On the other hand, he wasn't charged with violating copy right, with violating intellectual protection. He was charged under 1986 law, a very vague law about essentially wire fraud. Very overbroad statute. And which, you have to ask, was 35 years, decades of incarceration, in any way commensurate with what he did, which was essentially political civil disobedience.

GIGOT: And your view would be this was not commensurate. This was a clear case of overreach.

RAGO: Absolutely.

GIGOT: Kim, how about that? What do you think about that? I mean, raising the charges from four felony counts to 13? Is that -- did that really fit the crime here?

STRASSEL: Look, it wasn't just wire fraud. It was computer fraud. It was unauthorized access. It was all sorts of things. You have to look at the intent here, and this gets glossed over. This kid bought a computer to do this. MIT blocked the I.P. addresses he got, so he got new ones. They blocked that. Then they blocked his computer. He got a new one. When it wouldn't work on the wireless, he broke into a closet on the campus so he could plug into the network. He knew what he was doing. And if you want to have a debate or an argument about whether or not these crimes and the penalties that they contain are overbroad, that's fine, except for that the crimes that he committed, he did them, and this is what he was setting himself up for in deciding to take the actions that he did for an ideological reason.

GIGOT: Don't prosecutors do this all the time, Joe, in the sense that they, you know what, we're going to make an example for somebody who is loud and aggressive on this, so everybody else gets the message not to do it?

RAGO: Right. Absolutely. I mean, look -- actually, they don't do it all the time. If you look at something like Google books in the mid 2000's where Google tried to start digitizing all these books, what happened was publishers sued, the Authors Guild sued. They came to a resolution. That seems like a better than going after this kid, throwing the entire book at him.

And prosecutorial overreach, prosecutorial abuse I think is a big problem in this country that doesn't get enough attention. If you look at the late Ted Stevens case --

GIGOT: Former Alaskan senator.

RAGO: Right -- prosecutorial abuse denied the people of Alaska free and fair election and literally shifted the balance of power of the U.S. government. This is a problem that needs more scrutiny.

GIGOT: Kim, fair point?

STRASSEL: Google wasn't breaking into data bases. Again, you have to look at intent here. This young man knew exactly what he was doing. He was attempting to go destroy a business model, OK? And he was doing it with great purpose.

And we can't forget there were other victims of this. People keep talking about him. What about the families of people who worked at JSTOR, who would have been hurt if all of this had been damaged and he had been successful? So, got to look at that, too.

GIGOT: All right, Kim.

And our condolences to the Swartz family, whatever side of the issue you're on.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.


GIGOT: Time now for "Hits and Misses" of the week -- Dan?

HENNINGER: I'm giving a hit to Kathryn Bigelow, the director of "Zero Dark Thirty," the movie about the killing of bin Laden. She's spoken out because she's been under criticism for depicting torture. She said, look, we have to remember there were lives lost at 9/11. There were people in the military, in the intelligence community who also lost their lives trying to protect the country. Yes, some of them may have crossed moral lines doing it, but what they did was trying to protect the United States, and she was not going to apologize for that. I'd call that a hit.



RAGO: Paul, we're having one of the worst flu seasons in decades. If you know anything about the Food and Drug Administration's methods, it probably means they're blocking some new therapy.


Actually, this is a hit. They approved a new vaccine, called Flu Block, this week, that's more effective than traditional methods. And it's manufactured using genetic advances. It only took five years to get this onto the market, but one point for medical progress.

GIGOT: All right.


STRASSEL: A giant miss to Lance Armstrong. You know, it's bad enough that he's now admitted to the whole range of doping for all seven of his tours. But, this is also about the number of people who he ruthlessly destroyed who made claims against him, the degree to which he used his cancer survivalism to shield himself from this, and then, the fact that he didn't even apologize to people face-to-face but had to go on to the church of Oprah to do it. This is a study in shamefulness.

GIGOT: OK, Kim. A lot of people agree with you on that one.

And remember, if you have your own "Hit or Miss," please send it to us at jer@FOXnews.com. And follow us on Twitter at JERonFNC.

That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel and especially to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.

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