William Barr comes across as being somewhat receptive to gun control regarding mental health issues. During his confirmation hearing this past week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he had this exchange with Senator Diane Feinstein:
Senator Feinstein: “In 1994, you said that gun control is a dead end. It won’t reduce the level of violent crime in our society. The year you made this comment, I introduced a federal assault weapons ban. The President signed it into law. A 2016 study shows that compared with the ten-year period before the ban was enacted, the number of gun massacres ’94 and ’04 fell by 37% and the number of people dying from gun massacres fell by 43%. In addition, between 2004 and 2014, there has been a 183% increase in massacres and a 239% increase in massacre deaths. Do you still believe that prudent controls on weapons won’t reduce violent crime? If so, what is your basis for this conclusion?”
Barr: “I think that the problem of our time is to get an effective system in place to keep dangerous firearms out of the hands of mentally ill people. That should be priority number one. It’s going to take hard work. We need to get on top of the problem. We need to come up with, agree to standards that are prohibiters of people that are mentally ill. We have to put the resources in to get the system built up the way we did many years ago on the felon records and so forth. We have to get the system working. As I say, it’s sort of piecemeal a little bit right now. We need to get some energy behind it and get it done. I also think we need to push along the ERPOS, so we have red flag laws to supplement the use of the background check to find out if someone has some mental disturbance. This is the single most important thing I think we can do in the gun control area to stop these massacres from happening in the first place.”
Feinstein: “Thank you. I would like to work with you in that regard.”
Feinstein’s claims about assault weapons are based on a non-refereed book by Louis Klarevas and completely misleading (a discussion is available here).
Senator Cornyn (R-TX) asked Barr about his previous statements on gun control in 1991 shown below, and it appears as if Barr has backed away from them (video is available here).
Here is the video from Barr’s 1991 confirmation hearing.
Here is a segment from William Barr’s confirmation hearing in 1991.
Senator Kennedy: Let me go into some other areas that have not been touched. One of them has been mentioned, but I’d like to, if I could, direct your attention to the Brady waiting period for handguns. The Brady handgun waiting period is an important proposal your predecessors supported on the condition that it be included as part of a comprehensive crime package, including habeas corpus, death penalty, and other reforms. Well, the proliferation of assault weapons, though, continues to be a problem for law enforcement and every law–abiding citizen, and the success of waiting periods and background checks at the state level is compelling. They provide a cooling-off period and the only opportunity to determine whether a prospective firearm purchaser is not entitled to make that purchase because of a criminal record or a history of mental illness or other disqualifying factor.
Now the Brady waiting period the administration is willing to accept as part of the crime package applies only to handguns. The assault weapons, obviously, are at least as lethal. Why shouldn’t we expand the scope of the Brady Bill to encompass assault weapons as well?
Barr: On the assault weapon front, the proposal before us is the DeConcini amendment. And I think — I don‘t know if this is a new statement or not, but I would support both the Brady Bill waiting period and the DeConcini amendment, provided they were parts of a broader and more comprehensive crime bill that included tough enforcement provisions, including very tough provisions on the use of firearms in crimes and illegal purchase and trading in firearms, which are part of the package that passed the Senate.
Now, to be candid on the waiting period, I would prefer an approach that was directed toward point-of-sale, and I know that we’re not at that point yet technologically. It’s going to require more investment, and I’ve been involved in fusing those resources here to upgrade the records. But the important thing, I think, ultimately will be a system that’s based on state records, a state system. And so I think the House approach is preferable frankly to the Senate approach.
On the DeConcini amendment, I would prefer a limitation on the clip size. But ultimately, I would recommend the President sign a bill that hadthe Brady waiting period and the DeConcini assault weapons provisions in it as long as we had other tough crime measures in it that dealt with the other problems. And I have not considered before whether the waiting period should apply to assault weapons, but — and I want to think about that, but off the top of my head, I don‘t think there should be an objection to that.
Kennedy: Well I think that’s — as you know, the DeConcini on the assault weapons does not provide for the waiting period for the assault weapons. And, although it includes a number, I believe it’s eleven sets of assault weapons that are clearly — there are clearly others that have been — that result in the same kind of destruction and havoc and threat to law enforcement personnel.
I think the fact that you are forthcoming in terms of the waiting period for assault weapons is very constructive.
Senator Biden: And unusual for an Attorney General nominee.
Others have also pointed out that William Barr was the Attorney General during Ruby Ridge (August 1992) and, after he left that job, Barr spent time defending the FBI sniper who shot an Idaho mother while she was holding her baby. From the American Conservative:
Barr received a routine questionnaire from the Judiciary Committee asking him to disclose his past work including pro bono activities “serving the disadvantaged.” The “disadvantaged” that Barr spent the most time helping was an FBI agent who slayed an Idaho mother holding her baby in 1992. Barr spent two weeks organizing former Attorneys General and others to support “an FBI sniper in defending against criminal charges in connection with the Ruby Ridge incident.” Barr also “assisted in framing legal arguments advanced… in the district court and the subsequent appeal to the Ninth Circuit,” he told the committee. . . .