WEEKLY MEDIA BRIEFING WITH DEPUTY
MR. HOLDER: Good morning.
Q Good morning.
MR. HOLDER: The tragic shootings this week in Mount Morris Township, Michigan, and in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, again reveal the devastating effects of gun violence in this country. As a father, I was especially affected by the shooting of a 6-year-old by her 6-year- old classmate.
Now I don't want to comment on the specifics of the case, which is still in active investigation, but it seems to me that at least one thing is very clear. The tragedy in Michigan is a very harsh reminder to all Americans about the safe and responsible storage of firearms. If you own a gun, you need to ask yourself, and you need to ask yourself today, "Do I know where my gun is?" Because it's very likely that your child does.
I have young kids. One of them is a 6-year-old. I know that they get into things at the house. I know that they notice things.
They know where things are. Those people who own guns must unload them and must lock them up in responsible ways. And as a parent, I think you should ask about guns before you let your kids go to another house to play, to make sure that those parents properly lock up guns that they might own.
If anybody doubts this, just look at the chart that we have passed out to everybody, that gives the rates of firearm-related deaths for children who are under the age of 15 years of age. And if you look at the United States, you will see that we far exceed that rate than for any other country. I mean, look at chart, the -- it's not even close.
This is a chart we have from the Centers for Disease Control. It seems to me that we owe it to our children and to ourselves and to our future to do all that we can to stop the carnage that is reflected on that chart.
We know that there is not one simple answer, and we know that there is nothing we can do that will prevent every single crime or act of violence. But we also know that there are some common-sense things that we can do and that we must do. And so I want to add my voice to those who are calling on Congress to finally -- to finally -- pass these very common-sense gun measures:
And finally, to close the gun show loophole by requiring a background check for all gun purchases at gun shows.
Every day that goes by, about 12, 13 more children in this country die from gun violence. We need these common-sense measures, and we need them now.
Q Mr. Holder, every -- these tragedies are happening fairly regularly, and every time they do, there is an impetus in this country to do something, to have some kind of common-sense gun control laws. But each time, as you know better than any of us, the power of the gun lobby on Capitol Hill frustrates whatever emphasis you have, and that impetus is lost on Capitol Hill. Have you ever thought about changing your tactics -- taking pictures of these kids who are killed every day, taking them up to Capitol Hill and showing a committee exactly what's involved here?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I mean, we employ a variety of tactics. And it's true that -- it seems to me that Congress has not been as responsive as it should have been. But in terms of pictures, one only has to look at the news -- the news photos that show up after these incidents occur.
You know, we are sometimes criticized for trying to raise this issue after every one of these incidents. Well, the question, I think, really is, how come after every one of these incidents, Congress does not react? And I think it is time, given all that we have seen, all the carnage that we have seen, and again, I refer you to the chart that I have exhibited -- to ask members of Congress why they can't pass these common-sense gun control measures.
The notion that somehow, some way, people -- law-abiding citizens will not have access to guns or will have their access to guns curtailed in an inappropriate way simply -- that argument simply does not hold water. The world has not fundamentally changed for the law- abiding citizen who wants to own a gun, despite all the things that we have passed since 1993. And the arguments, the fear that the gun lobby uses to try to block these measures I think should finally crumble in the face of the facts.
Q Mr. Holder, regardless of the wisdom of the pending legislation on its own merits, is there any indication that any of these specific measures, licensing, research, any of those things, would have made a difference in either of these two shootings this week?
MR. HOLDER: It's hard to say that with regard to any one specific incident that any one specific measure or any group of measures would have prevented it from happening, and yet, if we look at this problem comprehensively, I think we can all safely say that if we had these measures in place, the chances that an incident like we have seen Pennsylvania or that we have seen in Michigan, the chances of those kinds of incidents would be greatly reduced.
Q At 10:30 today there will be a meeting with the Diallo family members with some members of Congress. What do you expect will be accomplished by that meeting, and how tough is it to get federal civil rights charges filed, in cases in general?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I expect we'll have a very meaningful exchange.
There will be, I think, four or five members of Congress there, the Diallo family, representatives from the community.
We'll be listening to the concerns that they have. We will share with them information to the extent that we can.
These are difficult cases to prosecute. The standard that we have to meet on the federal side is a high one, but we will look at the case. We have been involved in the matter since shortly after the shooting. We had people or a person at the trial to monitor the trial as it was proceeding.
So we will now have our Civil Rights Division, in conjunction with our U.S. attorney, in Manhattan, one of our best U.S. attorneys, Mary Jo White, apply their skills to look at the evidence and see whether or not federal involvement is appropriate.
Q When do you expect a decision -- (inaudible)?
MR. HOLDER: That's hard to say. A lot of it depends on how much we conclude we have to do independently of that which has already been done, whether it will just be a review of the evidence that has been already developed, or whether it's simply a review of the trial transcript, or whether there is something independent of that that we need to do. And I think, at this point, I couldn't really safely say how long it will take.
Q What is in the package you have to look at in order to justify the federal prosecution here?
MR. HOLDER: Well, there are some specific things that are set out. We have to essentially try to determine whether or not the federal interest was vindicated. There was a presumption that, if there was a state prosecution, that the federal interest in fact has been vindicated, but there are certain exceptions. And if one of those exceptions applies, then there could be a basis for federal involvement.
Federal involvement is generally pretty rare. The statistics that we have looked at, or that have been quoted to me, seem to indicate that we only get involved in matters like this probably about twice a year or so.
Q When do exceptions --
Q Does this seem similar to the Rodney King case?
MR. HOLDER: I am sorry?
Q Does this seem similar to the Rodney King case at all, to you, or do you think they are distinguishable?
MR. HOLDER: Well -- I mean, every case, I think, you have to consider on its own. There are obviously things that will distinguish one case from another. And we will look at this case, as an individual matter, and apply the appropriate standards.
Q Isn't one of the challenges here that there is so little independent evidence?
MR. HOLDER: I am not --
Q That's what -- many legal scholars looking at this from the outside have said that -- for example, just the difference in the Rodney King case: There you had a videotape that you could log second by second, which is what the courts did; you had independent evidence; you had radio transmissions; you had conversations between the police and others, a great variety of independent evidence.
Isn't it a challenge that you don't have that here? Isn't that an additional challenge here?
MR. HOLDER: Well, as I said, there are -- you know, the cases are obviously different. I mean, there was clearly a basis, we thought, in the King matter for us to proceed, and even though there had been a state proceeding. We'll have to look at this one and decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence and whether or not the federal interest has been vindicated, applying, again, those standards to see whether or not action by us is appropriate.
Q You said there were exceptions for when -- you said there's a presumption that the federal interest was vindicated by the state trial. What are -- but there are some exceptions. What are those exceptions?
MR. HOLDER: I don't really have those at my fingertips. We can supply those to you at the end of the press availability.
There are about five or six factors that we take into consideration.
Q Are any of those present here?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I mean, we have to get more into the case. We have not been, obviously, as actively involved in the matter as we now will become. We have been monitoring the case. We have been accumulating information. We're now at the stage where we'll have to look at that information and apply the federal standards.
Q Will you have FBI agents investigating after this -- right now? Is this something that you feel is important to do, to reassure the public?
MR. HOLDER: Well, again, we have to make the determination. You know, our prosecutors will look at the case, I'm sure, in conjunction with the FBI agents who are working on it, to decide whether or not any independent investigation is appropriate.
Q Are there agents working on it already?
MR. HOLDER: There have been FBI agents involved in this, yeah, from the beginning.
Q From the beginning. But are they interviewing witnesses, or are they just reviewing the evidence collected by the Southern District?
MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure at this point that they have done any independent investigation, at least at this point.
Q Mr. Holder, when you said "high standards," is one of the standards that you're talking about the notion that you have to prove that the officers intended to violate the civil rights? Isn't that one of the major standards that you're referring to?
MR. HOLDER: Right. That is the standard of proof that we have to meet -- that there was an intentional denial or the intention to deny civil rights of the person who was -- in this case, Mr. Diallo.
Q May I go back to guns? One of the -- you've talked about the gun control legislation. Is there anything that stands out in these two cases that indicates why you need -- the reason that the administration has asked for additional resources for ATF as well?
MR. HOLDER: Well, certainly for gun tracing, to determine exactly how the gun came into the possession -- I understand the gun in Michigan was one that was stolen -- figure out where that gun came from, how it came to be in the possession of that six-year-old, what adult got access to that gun, how did an adult get access to that gun? So additional ATF agents would help us in that way.
The ATF has the primary responsibility for doing the tracing that the federal government does, which is a very, very useful tool in individual cases and beyond that. That's something that we can look at in a more comprehensive way to determine where illegal guns are coming from.
Q The weapon described by the police as having been used in the Michigan case is a so-called "Saturday Night Special," a cheaply produced gun that is not of high quality. Some police call them "junk" guns. There have been some efforts by the states to restrict the availability of those weapons. California is changing the standards for manufacturing. Maryland has a review system that wouldn't allow them to be sold there. Has the federal -- do you think there's any role for the federal government to look again at whether there should be minimum standards for the quality of firearms?
MR. HOLDER: That's not something, obviously, that we have focused on. We've bitten off quite a bit in an attempt to do the kinds of things that we have proposed to Congress. As I said, it's not something that we have looked at to date. I'm not sure that, given the efforts that are going on in the states that we would necessarily want to emphasize or use our resources to kind of push that right now.
Q Mr. Holder, separate and apart from the gun issue in the Michigan case, the boy's environment has come up as well.
What, from a law enforcement standpoint, could be done to deal with the fact that the boy was in a -- as the prosecutor described, a "chaotic" household?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I think that's one of the things we as a nation really have to come to grips with. It's not a coincidence that you see the greatest amounts of violence where you see the greatest amount of social dysfunction. I was a judge here in the D.C. Superior Court, and I sent far too many young black men to jail, and in almost every one of those cases I saw young men who had social problems and who, frankly, did not have men who were meaningfully involved in their lives in a positive way.
So we have to deal with these underlying social conditions if we ever really want to get a handle on the problem of violence that continues to bedevil us as a nation. We have to be smart and deal with prevention. We have to be smart and be tough on enforcement. But you can't do one without the other. It's not enough to simply build more jails and put more police officers on the street. That is obviously very important, but we also have to deal with the social conditions that tend to breed crime.
Q In this particular case, Mr. Holder, it is said that this child, this perpetrator, lived in a crack house, lived in a situation where there was drugs and drug purchases and such at all times. Now, isn't there a correlation between the level of drug activity in our country and the violence that stems therefrom?
MR. HOLDER: Well I don't think there's any question about that. Certainly a part of the violence that we saw in the early '90s, the late '80s, was fueled by the rise in the sale of crack cocaine and the violence that was connected to it. In Washington, D.C., where I was the U.S. attorney, we attributed about one-half of all the homicides to the drug trade, and I don't think that's atypical. I think it's probably a pretty consistent figure that you'd see around the country. So if we deal effectively with the drug problem and the sale of drugs, the use of drugs, we'll also have a positive impact on the violence problem.
Q And the sale and use of drugs in the United States, where is it? Is it holding even? Is it going up slightly? Has it been decreased? What's the status? I ask you to draw from yesterday's report.
MR. HOLDER: Well, I mean, I think that, you know, we've made some major inroads in the drug problem. But we don't have -- I mean, if you think back, there was a Time magazine article I remember, a cover story, on cocaine. This was some time back in the late '80s. And at that point, I remember reading the article, and the article seemed to indicate that, you know, it was a drug being used by the middle class and that there were not many consequences for that use. We obviously know that that is not true now. We really have to concentrate on the hard core drug users that continue to use drugs, continue to have negative impacts on the communities in which they live. And so we have to redouble our efforts, I think, in that regard.
Q Is consumption up or down?
MR. HOLDER: You know, I don't -- I think, as opposed to the late '80s -- it depends on the time frame. Certainly, I think as opposed to the late '80s and the early '90s, I think consumption is down. You know, but that's only one of the measures as to whether or not we're getting a handle on the drug problem.
Q As you look at the Diallo case and you consider the factors that would prompt a federal investigation, does the change of venue from the Bronx to Albany have anything to do with that at all?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I don't really want to get too much into the specifics of the case. But I think that, you know, we have to focus on a whole variety of things.
I mean, let's get away from the Diallo case and just kind of -- how we would handle these things more generally? We look at the way in which the trial was conducted. You look to make sure that the case was adequately tried in the lower court. I mean, there are a whole variety of factors that are taken into account.
Q I've been doing some quick math in my head. When you say 12 to 13 children are the victims of gun violence each day, are you saying children killed or children killed or wounded?
MR. HOLDER: Children killed.
Q Well, let's round it off at 10 a day. That means that 3,650 children are killed each year in the United States by gun violence?
MR. HOLDER: Mm-hmm. (Affirmative.) That's correct. Probably -- you know, I don't know what 13 times 365 is, but yes.
Q Well, 10 times 365 is 3,650 children --
MR. HOLDER: Right.
Q -- killed each year by gun violence. Just taking one of your proposals, child-proof trigger locks, is there any doubt in your mind that if Congress made these mandatory and there was some liability for a gun owner not using a child trigger lot, that a significant number of those 3,650 kids murdered each year would not be killed and would go on to live their lives?And how do you convey this to a Congress which obviously doesn't quite buy that argument?
MR. HOLDER: Well, let me just say, first, the number that we are talking about includes homicides, suicides, unintentional death, and deaths where we don't know, but they are all by firearms.
But you're absolutely right. I mean, I think the promise that we can make to the American people if these laws are passed, if one of these laws -- so let's focus on the fact that if we had safety locks required to be sold with guns, and if there were some consequence for not using safety locks that were sold with guns, yeah, more children would live. That number would be, I think, lower. More children would live to be productive American citizens and contribute to our great country. There would be far less grief around this country, far fewer parents who would have to wonder -- ask themselves the questions that the parents of that little girl in Michigan are, I'm sure, asking themselves today. Yeah, that is the promise, I think, that we can make to the American people, and beyond that, that is the question, I think, that members of Congress who are opposed to these kinds of regulations have to answer as well to the American people. And I think they will, in November.
Q Mr. Holder, but isn't the issue more complicated than that? You already have 200 million-plus guns in circulation.
MR. HOLDER: You have 200 -- more than 200 million, yeah.
Q So with that many already in circulation, how would these proposals impact those?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I mean, certainly if we sell guns, for instance, with safety locks, if we require that; if there is a big push to make sure that gun owners, people who presently own guns, reorient their thinking and come up with ways, better ways, in which they store these guns; if there is a consequence for recklessly letting your child have access to a gun, these are all the kinds of things that can change the way in which we handle guns now and make our nation a lot safer.
Q Mr. Holder, in the Pennsylvania case, witnesses reported hearing the gunman say, "I am going to kill all white people."
Is this being viewed at this point as -- possible hate crimes? And how involved are the feds, in this specific incident, in this investigation at this point?
MR. HOLDER: Well, the FBI was on the scene shortly after the incident, but the matter was largely handled by the local authorities. The FBI will continue to monitor the case. It is possible -- again, the facts have to be developed to see whether or not there is a basis -- but it is possible that this could be considered a hate crime.
The statutes are race-neutral; I mean, we tend to think of them where the victims are members of the minority community, but they are race-neutral statutes. And if there was a racial motivation for a person's actions and it is cognizable under the statute, it is possible that this could be considered a race crime, a hate crime.
Q There was another incident last night with an unarmed individual, in New York, in Bronx -- I think an apartment building three blocks away from where the Diallo case happened. Has your agency been notified about those? And is your agency considering investigating this as well, since it may be similar to the Diallo case?
MR. HOLDER: Yeah, I have only got briefed very briefly on that this morning. I am not totally conversant with the facts. I just don't really know an awful lot about that one.
Q Mr. Holder, what is the current status of the Justice Department's view of all the gun lawsuits filed by largely cities and states? Is the department still looking at whether to join in that lawsuit, or have you decided against it?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I don't think that we have decided that it would be -- I think we have decided probably it would not be appropriate for the Justice Department to become involved in those lawsuits. And that's, I think, where we stand on it.
Q Mr. Holder, there was some discussion earlier about changing tactics because, after every one of these shootings, there doesn't seem to be any move in Congress to reach any compromise here. How can you change those tactics? What have you considered doing differently? It hasn't worked.
MR. HOLDER: Well -- I mean, I think we have to, you know, keep pressing ahead. We have to understand that, although we have not been successful with regard to some of the measures that I have talked about, we have enacted a pretty significant amount of legislation since 1993: The Brady law is now a really effective piece of our law that was passed while President Clinton has been in office. There have been a variety of other things that we have accomplished -- the assault weapons ban.
We have gotten -- we have been, I think, fairly successful but not as successful as I would have liked.
And so, I think we continue to press the case. We have the president, as he was out today, using the bully pulpit to talk about need for more gun measures for his licensing proposal. People like myself, the attorney general, Secretary Cuomo -- you know, all out there talking about the need for these kinds of things.
And frankly, I think we're reaching the American people. I mean, I think all the polls tend to show that people agree with the positions that we have taken. Somehow, convincing a sufficient number of people in Congress to do what I consider the right thing we have not been as successful at, but we'll continue to try.
Q Mr. Holder, even though crime has been dropping, a number of polls continue to show that Americans are continuing to be afraid about crime. Do you think the randomness of these types of acts contribute to this?
MR. HOLDER: I think there are a variety of things, and I think that's something that we really have to work on, although people are factually a lot safer than they've been for a long time; maybe in the last 30 years or so. People's perception of their safety has not really caught up with the numbers. Part of that has to do with the randomness of the crime; part of it has to do with the fact that, you know, we tend to focus on those horrific incidents and they tend to sometimes get blown out of proportion, although, you know, they are very tragic.
For instance, you know, if one were to look at these things, you might think that our schools were extremely unsafe places, and in fact, they are very safe places. If you look at the number of children who are, unfortunately, killed in this country, less than 1 percent of those things happen in schools. And yet it's understandable. Human beings, seeing this and being horrified by what happened in Michigan, might draw other conclusions about how safe schools are, and I think, you know, that is also something that people see more generally, and I think that's part of the reasons why people don't feel as safe as they actually are.
Q Mr. Holder, one of the arguments used against measures like child safety locks is it's not really going to take a big bite out of the problem. Let's say child safety locks save 100 children each year. Is it worth it?
MR. HOLDER: Let's say a child safety lock saves the life of one child per year. Or I'll go beyond that. Let's say a child safety lock prevents the shooting of a child who doesn't die. I would say that the minimal intrusion that a gun owner would have, the minimal cost that a gun owner would have to pay, the minimum amount of effort that gun owners would have to use in order to put the lock on the gun and turn the key, that would be worth it.
And I know that we're talking about saving more than one life, saving more than one child from some kind of gun-related injury. So even at the minimum standards that I would set, I think that it would be worth the effort.
Q Has there been any kind of study done on how many -- if that were to happen, how many lives would be lost by someone not being able to defend themselves fast enough, say if a burglar comes into the house? I mean, is there a balance between lives lost -- lost reaction time versus children's lives saved, for example?
MR. HOLDER: Yeah, you know, actually there's something floating around in my mind about something that I read about that. I'm not exactly sure where I've read that or what study that I've seen. But I don't think -- I'm not sure that is actuallyfactually a legitimate concern. But I think that the numbers -- for whatever reason, I'm remembering, tend to show that the benefits of these gun control measures far outweigh the costs that might be paid that you've talked about.
Q Just one more on the Diallo case. Is there anything you can do beyond the civil rights review for the undercover law statute to assure the community in New York that the federal government is taking seriously their concerns about police misconduct in New York?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I mean, the -- it is public that the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorneys Offices in New York have been looking into the conduct of the New York City Police Department, both with regard to the use of force and the way in which the Street Crimes Unit has been conducting itself. Those matters are ongoing, they are under review. And so yeah, I think the citizens of New York, citizens of this nation should feel pretty good about the way in which the federal government is monitoring the way in which the police interact with the citizens they're supposed to serve.
And police officers have a very difficult job and, you know, we say that they put their lives on the line every day, you know, the fact that we say that all the time doesn't mean that it's any less true. They have a very, very difficult job, and we have been very supportive of the police. But we also think that there's no inconsistency, there should not be tension between good policing and good relations between the police and the communities that they're supposed to serve.
Q Mr. Holder, if I can ask one question on the LAPD scandal, given the findings by the LAPD itself this week in their report, do you think that the local authorities there can continue to investigate this without the feds in effect taking over the investigation?
MR. HOLDER: Yeah, I don't think there's any reason to believe that at this point there's a need for some kind of federal takeover. I mean, the federal government is involved. At the press conference I think that they had last week or so, there was an indication that the FBI will be working with the local authorities there. You know, Gil Garcetti, I think is a very competent DA. The police chief, from all that I've heard, seems to be genuinely interested in getting at the bottom of this matter.
I think that people need to patient though. Just because we have seen -- we've heard a lot of revelations and that there are cases being dismissed, these are not cases that are necessarily going to be made by a DA instantly; you need to work, you need to investigate the matters, you need to get them ready for trial. So I think people need to be just a little patient. But I don't think there's any basis to think that at this point the federal government needs to take over anything.
Q Thank you very much.
MR. HOLDER: Okay, thank you.
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