CBS Hosts Plead With DHS Secretary: ‘What Will it Take to Move the Needle’ on Gun Control?

In an interview with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Tuesday, the hosts of CBS This Morning devoted most of the segment to calling for gun control in the wake of the Orlando terrorist attack and demanding the cabinet secretary use his position to promote the cause.

Co-host Gayle King began: “But it does raise the question again about gun control. I keep wondering what it's going to take....What will it take to move the needle when it comes to gun control? People thought it would be Sandy Hook.”

After Johnson feigned an unwillingness “to plunge into yet another difficult, contentious issue,” he quickly dove in anyway and stared pushing the liberal agenda item: “I do believe, however, that meaningful, responsible gun control is now part and parcel of Homeland Security. It's critical to public safety....And it's something that I think the American public and the Congress has to face and has to address.”        

Moments later, clearly pleased with Johnson’s response, King clarified: “Is this a new change? Is this a change? Is this the first time you're saying this? Is this a change?” He replied: “I have not talked about gun control publicly at this point, but I think that we have to face the fact that gun control is part and parcel of Homeland Security given how things are evolving.”

Fellow co-host Norah O’Donnell bemoaned: “But simply put, you can be on the terrorist watch list....You can buy a semiautomatic weapon if you're on that list. If you’re on the no-fly list, you cannot get on an airplane in this country, but you can buy a semiautomatic weapon.” Rose chimed in: “And specifically the AR-15, which is the weapon being used in most of these...cases.”

Johnson noted: “Yes, and you can see the devastation and the death that one assault rifle with a number of magazines can bring about....We need to do something to minimize the opportunities for terrorists to get a gun in this country and this is now something that is critical to Homeland Security as well as public safety.”

O’Donnell then assured: “Without infringing on the rights of lawful gun owners.” Johnson agreed: “Without infringing on the Second Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, and without infringing on the rights and the ability of responsible gun owners to own a gun.”

Rose implored:

I think there's a feeling in the country, and you are aware of it and I know you feel strongly, that not to do anything is not the answer right now. You know, that not to feel the sense of urgency and to call on all forces of government to come together and try to deal with these problems, and especially the homegrown issue and the gun issue.

Johnson lamented: “I thought, frankly, after Sandy Hook, where you have school children murdered in a classroom that maybe finally this was going to be the tipping point, and we were not able to move the needle in Congress unfortunately.”

He reiterated: “I know the President is frustrated, I know the President is determined. And this has become a matter of Homeland Security. We have to address it.” Rose observed: “That’s an important point you’re making.” King urged: “There’s a way that the two sides can work together on this.”

Johnson also appeared on NBC’s Today and ABC’s Good Morning America. Those broadcasts placed less focus on gun control but did ask about the the issue.

Here’s an excerpt from the Today exchange:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Should there be a different policy that once on the watch list you should continue to be watched? At least alerting the FBI that he may be buying weapons?  

JEH JOHNSON: We continually evaluate our security posture and whether more is necessary. There is something to be said for not letting somebody linger on a list long after an investigation of a matter is closed, and that generally is our policy. Though we continually re-evaluate our posture in these kinds of situations.

MATT LAUER: Maybe you take those people off the list, but should there be – and I’m not being trivial here – should there be some kind of an asterisk that goes along with that person's name so when that person goes to buy a weapon something is triggered that at least some further investigation is done?

JOHNSON: That is a question that I'm quite sure a lot of us in law enforcement and Homeland Security and in Congress, hopefully, will carefully consider. These are difficult questions. They’re not always as simple as, “It’s closed, it’s gone.” Sometimes there might be such an asterisk, depending upon the context. But we continually evaluate our security posture. Our umber one priority is keeping American public safe and we’re going to keep doing that as best we can.      

Here’s an excerpt from GMA:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And you’re talking about this new threat environment. How do we deal with this? San Bernardino, to some extent, Boston, as well now Orlando, individuals who seem to be inspired by ISIS ideology in some fashion. The special twist here, though, is that this person was clearly on the radar screen, two different FBI investigations, three different interviews, being watched for more than 11 months, yet still able to buy a gun. How do you explain that?

JEH JOHNSON: Good question. We're taking the fight to ISIL militarily in places where they recruit, where they train, where they direct. We've made good progress in taking out some of the leaders, in taking out those focused on external attacks. There’s obviously the law enforcement role, but we're in an environment now of self-radicalization, it is almost always the case that when someone self-radicalizes someone close to them sees the sign, which is why we continue to encourage public awareness, public vigilance. This shooter was under investigation in 2013, as Jim Comey said yesterday, he was interviewed several times. At that point, the FBI had nothing further to continue its investigation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet he was on a watch list. Should that information have gone to various gun shops when someone goes in to buy a gun?

JOHNSON: When someone’s on a watch list, when someone’s under investigation, there are a number of us in the federal government, in law enforcement, in the intelligence community, in Homeland Security, who know about that, who are aware. Investigations eventually do close when there's nothing further to investigate because the matter’s been thoroughly investigated. We continually evaluate our security posture and whether we should be doing something differently and we'll continue to do that.

Here is a full transcript of the June 14 interview on This Morning:

8:04 AM ET

NORAH O’DONNELL: Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is here. He was supposed to travel to Beijing for cybersecurity meetings, but canceled his plans after the attack. Secretary Johnson, good morning. Great to have you here.

JEH JOHNSON: Norah, thanks for having me back.

O’DONNELL: Let's ask this first, is there any evidence right now that this shooter had accomplices or was working with anyone else that may be a threat to our security today?

JOHNSON: At this stage in the investigation, we know of no accomplices. We do not believe at this stage that this was a terrorist-directed attack, as we say. All the signs are this was an incident of terrorist-inspired acts, an individual who self-radicalized and committed obviously a mass atrocity here in our homeland.

CHARLIE ROSE: What's the most disturbing thing we have found out about him?

JOHNSON: Well, let me begin with this. The President's number one priority is protection of the
homeland, protection of the American people. All of us in this administration, this is our top priority. We are doing so militarily, through air strikes. We're taking out a number of members of the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, the AQ affiliated elements of Al Shabaab. We're going to continue to do that. We're focused on those who are focused on external operations in particular. Our law enforcement community is focused on this. In Homeland Security, we're focused on it as well.

In this environment, where we have to be concerned about not just terrorist-directed attacks, but terrorist-inspired attacks, those who self-radicalize, it requires a whole of government approach, which includes building bridges to communities, American-Muslim communities, encouraging them to, if they see something, say something. It is almost always the case when someone self-radicalizes that there is somebody close to them who sees the signs. And so we've been at this since I've been secretary. We're going to continue to build bridges to American-Muslim communities, not vilify them, drive them into the corner, into the shadows.

O’DONNELL: I think that's the question many people have, is, how many other Mateens out there are there today that may have been looked at by the FBI, that are in the process of self-radicalization?

ROSE: And the second question that follows that is, how do you find them?

JOHNSON: The FBI does an excellent job in its counterterrorism efforts of investigating, interviewing individuals that we suspect of potential terrorist plotting. Jim Comey has said that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of open investigations at any one time. The FBI is very good at what they do. They're very aggressive in what they do. I have a lot of confidence in the FBI because routinely they are investigating, interdicting, and taking down terrorist plots to our homeland. This is something that we have to continue.

GAYLE KING: So you don't think anybody dropped the ball here? James Comey was saying it's like looking for a needle in a very large hay stack, a nationwide hay stack, he called it.

ROSE: But he said they'd look at it again, too.

KING: And they would look at it again.

JOHNSON: The Orlando shooter was interviewed three times. He was thoroughly investigated. Based upon what we knew at the time, there was nothing further to pursue. Based on what we know at the time.  

KING: But it does raise the question again about gun control. I keep wondering what it's going to take. I was on the plane from Orlando and it was so interesting, Secretary Johnson. On one hand, you had a family coming from Disney World, all excited with their Mickey Mouse ears. In another seat, there was a man who had just been at the club. He told me he left at 1:36, right before the shooting started. He was still basically in shock. And it just raised the question about here you're in the happiest place on Earth, Orlando, and then within a 24-hour period, you have two terrible shootings. What will it take to move the needle when it comes to gun control? People thought it would be Sandy Hook.

JOHNSON: Well, you're asking me about gun control. I am not anxious to plunge into yet another difficult, contentious issue like the ones I already have. I do believe, however, that meaningful, responsible gun control is now part and parcel of Homeland Security. It's critical to public safety, but we have to face the fact that meaningful, responsible gun control has to be part of Homeland Security as well, given the prospect of homegrown, home-born violent extremism in this country. We've seen this now with Orlando, tragically, with San Bernardino. And it's something that I think the American public and the Congress has to face and has to address.

ROSE: And if they're on a watch list, should they be able to buy an assault weapon?

JOHNSON: Well, a number of people have made the point that there are individuals who are on our no-fly list, who are on various other lists, who are able to purchase a weapon in this country. I believe that's something that has to be addressed. I think that those of us in the executive branch and in the legislative branch have to face this.

ROSE: With great respect, Mr. Secretary, you are head of Homeland Security. What do you think?

JOHNSON: I believe that meaningful, responsible gun control is part of Homeland Security and it's something we have to address.

KING: Is this a new change? Is this a change? Is this the first time you're saying this? Is this a change?

JOHNSON: I have not talked about gun control publicly at this point, but I think that we have to face the fact that gun control is part and parcel of Homeland Security given how things are evolving.

O’DONNELL: But simply put, you can be on the terrorist watch list – which I've just looked up this morning, there are 700,000 people on the terrorist watch list. You can buy a semiautomatic weapon if you're on that list. If you’re on the no-fly list, you cannot get on an airplane in this country, but you can buy a semiautomatic weapon.

JOHNSON: The President and others have noted that, that is correct, yes.

ROSE: And specifically the AR-15, which is the weapon being used in most of these – the  AR-15, the weapon used in most of these cases.

JOHNSON: Yes, and you can see the devastation and the death that one assault rifle with a number of magazines can bring about.

KING: That he bought within the past week.

JOHNSON: Look, this is something I want to be clear about.

KING: Yes.

JOHNSON: I believe that there are ways to get at meaningful, responsible gun control. We need to do something to minimize the opportunities for terrorists to get a gun in this country and this is now something that is critical to Homeland Security as well as public safety.

O’DONNELL: Without infringing on the rights of lawful gun owners.

JOHNSON: Without infringing on the Second Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, and without infringing on the rights and the ability of responsible gun owners to own a gun.

ROSE: I think there's a feeling in the country, and you are aware of it and I know you feel strongly, that not to do anything is not the answer right now. You know, that not to feel the sense of urgency and to call on all forces of government to come together and try to deal with these problems, and especially the homegrown issue and the gun issue.

JOHNSON: I thought, frankly, after Sandy Hook, where you have school children murdered in a classroom that maybe finally this was going to be the tipping point, and we were not able to move the needle in Congress unfortunately. I'd like to see us continue to go at this. I know the President is frustrated, I know the President is determined. And this has become a matter of Homeland Security. We have to address it.

KING: There’s a way that the two sides can exist –

ROSE: That’s an important point you’re making.

KING: Yes, very much so. There’s a way that the two sides can work together on this.

O’DONNELL: Secretary Johnson, thank you so much.

JOHNSON: Thank you.


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