What did Attorney General Eric Holder mean when he said in a 1995 speech he wanted to “brainwash” perpetrators of gun violence into giving up their weapons?
The question was posed in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last Wednesday by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who was addressing the administration’s push for stricter gun laws.
Cornyn cited a quote from a speech Holder gave to the Women’s National Democratic Club Jan. 30, 1995, and asked him to confirm its accuracy.
The quote was: “It’s not enough to simply have a catchy ad on Monday, and then only do it every Monday. We need to do this every day of the week and just really brainwash people … into thinking about guns in a vastly different way.”
“It that a correct quote?” Cornyn asked.
Holder said it was. But then he elaborated he was talking only about “young black men.”
“That part is, but it’s taken out of context,” Holder said. “What I was talking about was young black men who have all kinds of images thrown at them.
“At that time, Washington, D.C., was the murder capital of the country, and I was talking about young black guys who see movies, television, stuff that glorifies the use of the guns, the possession of guns; and what I said is that we need to counter those images, and I used the term brainwash to get these young black guys to think differently about the possession and use of guns.”
Cornyn then asked Holder about the lack of prosecution of people who are denied permission, through standard background checks, to buy guns. Would more criminals be deterred from trying to purchase guns if the government followed through on prosecuting the cases?
The Texas senator noted that of the 76,000 people who failed background checks while trying to buy guns, the federal government reached a guilty verdict in only 13 cases.
Holder said his department is primarily interested in preventing people “from acquiring guns, using them in inappropriate ways.”
“As a superior court judge here in Washington, D.C., during that time, I saw an ocean of young black men who should have been the future of this community go to jail because they had guns, they used them inappropriately. They kill people,” Holder said.
“I thought that in that speech and what I tried to do as U.S. attorney and as a judge, when I was here in local courts, was to come up with ways in which we talk to these young guys and try to convince them that, you know, acquiring guns and using them to sell drugs … was just wrong.”
See Holder’s responses to Cornyn:
Here are Holder's comments in the 1995 speech:
In the 1995 speech, Holder explained he wanted to change attitudes about guns much as attitudes about cigarettes have changed.
He wanted to enlist the talents of those who write ads that "make me buy things that I don't really need," including figures in entertainment and sports.
Washington, D.C., has among the strictest gun laws in the nation but remains high in almost all rankings regarding gun violence.