WASHINGTON (WCIV) - South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Milwaukee's police chief got into a heated exchange during a Senate Judiciary hearing this week concerning a proposed assault weapons ban.
Graham has maintained his opposition to an assault weapons ban, and earlier this month said he would be proposing a bill that would drive up the number of prosecutions for people who did not pass a background check.
"When almost 80,000 people fail a background check and 44 people are prosecuted, what kind of deterrent is that?" Graham asked Police Chief Edward Flynn.
Graham used the same figure when he announced his still-unfiled bill and brought to national exposure the case of Alice Boland.
"If it's such an important issue, why are we not prosecuting people who fail background checks?" Graham asked.
Flynn fired back, saying the number of prosecutions did not matter.
"I want to stop 76,000 people from buying guns illegally - that's what a background check does," he told Graham.
The line drew applause from the gallery, an event for which Sen. Dianne Feinstein admonished them to refrain from expressing support for either side in the hearing. Feinstein proposed the bill that would ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Graham followed up with Flynn, asking how many cases his department had made against people who failed firearms background checks.
"We don't make those cases, Senator. I have priorities," Flynn said. "We make gun cases. We make 2,000 gun cases a year, Senator. That's our priority.
Graham said he wanted the existing laws to work properly before more laws were added. He used himself as an example, saying he owned an AR-15, the weapon officials in Newtown, Conn., said was used in an elementary school shooting there.
"The best way to prevent crazy people, mentally unstable people, from getting a weapon is to identify them somehow before they try to murder," he said.
"This bill does not take guns out of the hands of Americans. It does not strip Americans of their Second Amendment rights. In fact, if we want to be intellectually honest they issue raised here have more to do with commerce than they do with the Second Amendment," Flynn said. "A lot of people make a lot of money selling firearms and ammunition. Now this isn't inherently a bad thing but it can tempt us to search and grasp for false logic."
1994's assault weapons ban expired in 2004 when Congress failed to renew it. A string of deadly mass shootings across the country have renewed calls for another ban to be implemented after officials at those shootings classified the firearms used in those attacks as assault weapons.