Andrea Mitchell Reports, 1/8/13, 7:00 PM ET

Congresswoman recounts experience with gun violence

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who was shot on a jungle airstrip in Jonestown, Guyana 34 years ago by a hit squad while investigating cult leader Jim Jones, explains how her experience has defined her stance on gun control laws.

Dem. Congresswoman and shooting victim to serve on Congressional Gun Violence Task Force

Updated

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-Calif., was 28-years-old when she was gunned down on an airstrip in Jonestown, Guyana, in a mass shooting that took the life of her boss, Congressman Leo Ryan and four others. Speier recalled the shooting in an interview with KALW News in 2011:

We get to the airstrip and we have two planes, and I’m starting to load the planes. One of the new defectors was a young man by the name of Larry Layton, who just hours before was one of the most fervent apostles of the People’s Temple and convincing us what a remarkable place it was. He had this poncho on him and I was just suspicious of him and asked that someone frisk him. He was frisked but they missed the fact that he had a gun on him. He was put on the smaller aircraft, and I was loading those on the larger aircraft. All of a sudden unbeknownst to us there had been a tractor-trailer following from behind and they started shooting.

All of sudden Congressman Ryan was hit and blood gushing from his neck. I raced under the plane and tried to hide behind a wheel and then they came and shot us at point blank range… I was shot five times. I was 28 years old, and I thought, “Oh my God, this is it.” When I was still alive my grandmother’s face kinda flashed in front of me and she was one of my “sheroes,” and I thought to myself, “I’m not gonna have her live through my funeral if I can avoid it.” So I sorta dragged my body to the plane’s cargo section and someone pushed me in. And I mean the plane wasn’t going anywhere because it had bullet holes through the engine and tires. It was a long 22 hours.


Andrea Mitchell, who was sent to Guyana to cover the aftermath of the massacre after NBC correspondent Don Harris and cameraman Bob Brown were murdered there, spoke with Speier Wednesday on “Andrea Mitchell Reports.” Speier still carries two bullets in her body from that shooting and was recently appointed to the Congressional Gun Violence Task Force as a vice chair.

“I think any of us who have been victims of gun violence–Gabby, Ron Barber, any of us who have survived–feel an obligation to speak out and to do something because the lives that were lost should not have been lost in vain,” Speier told Mitchell. “And much like the families that are grieving in Newtown and will rise up on this issue, they want to make sure that the lives of those little children are not lost in vain.”

Speier explained that the task force is composed of Congressmen and Congresswomen on all sides of the gun control issue, including members of the NRA and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, as well as victims of gun violence and those concerned about mental health issues in relation to gun ownership.

“My hope is the recommendations that will come from the task force will be ones that can be embraced by everyone,” Speier told Mitchell. “Now, there are those of us who want to go beyond what the recommendations will certainly be from the task force.” Speier called for a national gun registry, and giving the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobaco, Firearms and Explosives the authority to track criminal data and retain information about gun purchasers for more than 24 hours.

“Right now in this country what they call a straw purchaser, someone who has a clean record, can go into any gun dealer, buy as many guns as they want, then take those guns and sell them to criminals or persons who wouldn’t pass the background check, and there’s no way of tracking it. So we’ve got to do some very common-sense things to tamp down the access to guns by persons that shouldn’t have them.  We all believe in protecting the Second Amendment, that sportsmen should be able to have their guns, people who want to protect themselves in their homes should have their guns.  We don’t need assault weapons and we don’t need high-capacity magazines,” Speier said.

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Dem. Congresswoman and shooting victim to serve on Congressional Gun Violence Task Force

Updated