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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 02/27/13

Guests: John Lewis, James Johnson

ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: And that is "THE ED SHOW." I`m Ed Schultz. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now from Washington. Big day today, Rachel. RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: A big day today. I was at the Supreme Court today, Ed, and it was the sort of thing you can`t prepare yourself for. We talk about this stuff all the time, but being there, it is amazing. SCHULTZ: It is. MADDOW: Anyway, thanks, man. Appreciate it. SCHULTZ: You bet. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us for this hour from Washington, D.C. As I said to Ed there, the reason that we have been doing the show from Washington these couple of days is because I went to the Supreme Court today in person to hear the arguments over the Voting Rights Act, the cornerstone of American civil rights law. It was kind of an amazing experience. Here is a little of what it looked like outside the court before the arguments started. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ADVOCATE: Last year, the voter ID laws and the long lines and the ending early voting and the stopping Sunday to the polls showed that Jim Crow`s son, James Crow Jr., Esquire is still trying to do what his daddy did, and that`s rob us from the right to vote. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: James Crow Jr., Esquire. MSNBC`s Reverend Al Sharpton speaking at the protest on the courthouse steps this morning. People advocating that the Supreme Court leave the Voting Rights Act alone, arguing that there is still need in this country for protection it offers. When I got to the Supreme Court this morning to go inside and listen to the case, the first sign that I saw at the protest on the steps when I arrived was this one. I think we`ve got one shot of it. Yes. It says "martyrs". And the names there are Schwerner, Chaney, Goodman. Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman. We remember them forever as the three civil rights workers were murdered or maybe murdered in Philadelphia and Mississippi in 1964. What we remember about them particularly today is that what they were doing in Philadelphia and Mississippi, what they were risking their lives for, and what they ultimately gave their lives for specifically was voting rights in Mississippi. They were registering people to vote, registering African- Americans to vote as part of an effort called the Mississippi Freedom Summer. And they died for it. The man who coordinated Mississippi Freedom Summer for the SNCC, for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was John Lewis. In March 1965, the year after Freedom Summer, it was John Lewis and Josiah Williams who led a group of 600 protesters on a march that started in Selma, Alabama. We also as Americans remember forever Selma. But what we remember particularly today about Selma is what they were marching for specifically, again, was voting rights. What they were trying to do was march nonviolently this distance, from the city of Selma to the state capitol of Alabama, to the state capitol, which is Montgomery, about 50 miles away. They were stopped that first day when they were trying to march that distance before they ever got out of Selma. Here, trying to cross the Alabama River to get out of town, to get out of Selma, the 600 peaceful protesters were met by hundreds of Alabama state police and local police. The policemen attacked the protesters. They used tear gas on them. They beat them with billy clubs. The protesters were whipped and stomped on by police horses. The leader of the march, John Lewis, took a billy club to the head. He very easily could have died on that bridge that day. Seventeen of the marchers were sent to the hospital. That happened on Sunday, bloody Sunday, March 7th. Now I said that they did not get out of Selma that day when they were beaten on that bridge. But the nation was horrified. And the movement was galvanized. And two days after bloody Sunday, two days later on Tuesday, March 9th, they went back. Only this time it was not 600 people marching that route nonviolently, this time it was not 600, it was 2,500 people marching that same route. And they marched to that bridge again. And then a week later, they took on that march again, only this time, they were protected by thousands of U.S. Army soldiers and national guardsmen acting under federal command. And by the time that speech, that march, excuse me, ended up at the Montgomery state capitol, it was not 600 people, it was not 2,500 people, it was 25,000 people. And that was when Martin Luther King gave his "How Long, Not Long" speech at the state capitol. The night before that last march started, the president of the United States convened a joint session of Congress to address the crisis and to demand a very specific response. This is the night, of course, when President Lyndon Baines Johnson in his Texas drawl said live on national TV, "We shall overcome." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDNET: Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, members of the Congress: I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy. At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man`s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it`s not just Negroes, but really it`s all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. Every device of which human ingenuity is capable has been used to deny this right. The Negro citizen may go to register only to be told that the day is wrong, or the hour is late, or the official in charge is absent. And if he persists, and if he manages to present himself to the registrar, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle name or because he abbreviated a word on the application. And if he manages to fill out an application, he is given a test. The registrar is the sole judge of whether he passes this test. He may be asked to recite the entire Constitution, or explain the most complex provisions of State law. And even a college degree cannot be used to prove that he can read and write. For the fact is that the only way to pass these barriers is to show a white skin. In such a case our duty must be clear to all of us. The Constitution says that no person shall be kept from voting because of his race or his color. We have all sworn an oath before God to support and to defend that Constitution. We must now act in obedience to that oath. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: And so, that was a joint address to congress a week after John Lewis was nearly beaten to death marching for voting rights in Selma. And so, a year after the freedom summer and its martyrs, too, there was LBJ proposing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and it passed, and he signed it into law. And the Voting Rights Act did not make it illegal to keep people from voting based on their race. That was already illegal, as LBJ explained in his speech. What the Voting Rights Act did is make that right not just legal, but true. It created a framework that could be used to force the parts of the country that weren`t upholding that law to uphold it, a framework that could be used to force states and localities to do what the law already said they should do, but that they were not doing. The Voting Rights Act was created in full cognizance of and in direct reaction to the resistance in parts of this country, to people trying to exercise this right to vote that they had in law but in fact. And so, the Voting Rights Act banned any sort of test or hurdle that you had to surmount in order to be allowed to vote. The Voting Rights Act in most parts of the country essentially gave you grounds on which to sue in federal court if your voting rights were infringed. That was true for most of the country. But in parts of the country with a more horrible than usual history of denying people the right to vote based on race, in some parts of the country, special attention would be paid. Those places would no longer be allowed to keep moving the polling places or closing the polling places or moving people in and out of voting districts, or changing the registration procedures, or changing voter ID requirements, or changing election dates or anything else they could think of to undermine or thwart minority voting while just hoping that they wouldn`t get sued some day over it, but if they did, oh, well, damage is already done. No, in states and in some counties and cities that had really earned it, those states would have to clear any of the changes they wanted to make around their elections rules with the feds. The same way those marchers ultimately got protection from soldiers and national guardsmen operating under federal command. There were some parts of the country that would have to clear the changes they wanted to make to their election laws with the Justice Department ahead of time. And if the Justice Department said OK, this will not adversely affect minority voting rights, then fine, they could go ahead. But they had to ask first. They needed preclearance from either a panel of judges or the Justice Department to make any changes. And that`s because they earned it. Over time, some places were added to the original list of places that got special scrutiny like this. Other places have been able to get out of the special scrutiny requirement over time after essentially showing a long stretch of good behavior. But the principle that some parts of the country need special scrutiny to protect voting rights in those places, that is at the heart of the Voting Rights Act. Of course, it was challenged in court right away, and the Supreme Court in 1966 upheld it as an appropriate response for Congress to take given the problems that we had on this issue as a country. Initially, the special preclearance requirement was set to expire in five years. Well, when the five years were up, Congress decided to renew it for another five years. And when those five years were up, Congress renewed it for another seven years. And when those seven years were up, Congress renewed it for 25 years -- 25 years, because by then it was clear that it was an effective way to deal with this problem in our country, and we should therefore keep doing it. When that 25-year extension was up, Congress again renewed it for another 25 years. That was 2006 when George W. Bush was president. Congress held 21 hearings over 10 months of debate. They took in 15,000 pages of evidence on whether this was still needed. And after all of that, they voted nearly unanimously to keep doing it this way for another 25 years. In the Senate, it actually was unanimous. It was a 98-0 vote in the Senate. Well, today, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia asserted in court that those 98 senators did not actually want to vote for the voting rights act. He says they didn`t actually mean to vote that way, and that we should not see their votes for the Voting Rights Act as votes for the voting rights act. He said that the 98-0 vote in the Senate was actually just a sign that people see voting as some kind of racial entitlement now. That was the phrase that he used, racial entitlement. And yes, people in the courtroom gasped when he said it. And it seemed like he likes it when that happens. Justice Scalia said that his concern was, quote, "that this is not the kind of question you can leave to Congress, because Congress might vote for it unanimously after ten months of debate when clearly, they couldn`t possibly mean to vote for it unanimously. He then said immediately after that, quote, "There are certain districts in the House that are black districts by law just about now" -- which I don`t think he meant to sound like oh my god, black people are taking over, but that is roughly what it sounded like to me. And sitting right next to him, the Chief Justice John Roberts was as clearly hostile today, just without the gratuitously inflammatory racial language. I don`t know if he likes the gasping as much. The lawyer arguing for Shelby County, Alabama, that the Voting Rights Act should be dismantled said today in court I think the problem to which the Voting Rights Act was addressed is solved. He said everyone agrees it`s been very effective. Section 5 has done its work. What happened today is that the conservative majority of the Supreme Court signaled that they are going to dismantle the Voting Rights Act. Not on the basis of evidence that it isn`t needed anymore. Congress assembled 15,000 pages of that evidence that it is still needed back in 2006. And after looking at 15,000 pages of evidence and taking 21 hearings and 10 months of the debate, they decided to vote unanimously in favor of keeping it. The court seems like it has decided to kill this pillar of the Voting Rights Act today. Not because of some new evidence that it isn`t needed anymore. That evidence went to Congress, and congress acted accordingly. No, the court signaled today, the conservative majority of the court signaled today that they may get rid of this pillar of civil rights, the most important federal civil rights law that we`ve got, arguably, they signaled they may get rid of it not because of evidence that it is not needed, but just because they don`t like the whole idea of it. What good is it any way? Civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis himself joins us next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NARRATOR: Selma sprang overnight from an obscure Southern town to the front pages of world newspapers. This church was headquarters in the Negro drive for the right to vote, and it was here that Martin Luther King came to lend his support to the campaign. He pointed out that from Selma`s 14,000 Negroes, only a few more than 300 had been registered at the polls. When one group set out to march to the capitol at Montgomery, the procession was broken up violently by state troopers and sheriff`s deputies. REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: On bloody Sunday, nearly 50 years ago, Hosea Williams from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. organization led 600 peaceful nonviolent protesters attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery to dramatize the need for voting rights protection in the state of Alabama throughout the South and our nation. As we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, we were met by state troopers who shot us with tear gas, beat us with nightsticks and trampled us with horses. I was hit on the head and suffered a concussion on the bridge. Seventeen of us went to the hospital on that day, the Good Samaritan Hospital in downtown Selma. Just eight days later, President Lyndon Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act, and later, on August 6th, 1965, he signed that act into law. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: That was Congressman John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, who led the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma that day in March 1965. He was speaking about that experience today on the steps of the Supreme Court. As the conservative majority on the court seemed to indicate a willingness to at least consider dismantling the pillars of the Voting Rights Act first passed in 1965 in the aftermath of that violent day in Selma. Congressman John Lewis, it`s such an honor to have you here. LEWIS: Well, thank you so much for having me here. I`m honored to be here. MADDOW: That is crazy, because it is intimidating to talk about this history knowing that you are here, able to tell it yourself. And when we are thinking about the Voting Rights Act being at risk, it brings into very sharp relief how very hard-fought it was. I hope you don`t mind me asking you about some of the history. When a week after you were beaten so badly on that bridge in 1965, the president of the United States holds a joint session of Congress and gives that speech and introduces the Voting Rights Act, where were you? Did you watch the speech? How did you react to that? LEWIS: On the night of March 16th, 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson delivered that speech, I was in the home of a local family with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. watching and listening to the president. And at one point when President Lyndon Johnson said, "And we shall overcome", I looked at Dr. King. Tears came down his face. He started crying. I cried a little. And Dr. King said, we will make it from Selma to Montgomery. And the Voting Rights Act will be passed. When I look back on that speech, I think it was one of the most meaningful speeches any American president have given on the whole question of voting rights or civil rights. MADDOW: What do you make of the arguments today that however hard- fought it was in 1965 to get there, that the remedies that were designed to deal with those problems should no longer apply today, that in effect, as Justice Roberts said, the South is no longer the South. These problems are solved. We don`t need these remedies anymore. LEWIS: I grew up in the South. I lived in the South. I tasted the bitter fruits of racism. I saw discrimination with my own eyes. I felt it. We made progress, but we`re not there yet. There are still methods and means, devices that have been used to make it hard, to make it difficult for people to participate in a democratic process. And it`s not just African-American, but it`s seniors, students, Asian-Americans, Latinos, and the movement was saying in effect, open up the system and let all of the people come in. Let everyone participate. My fear if we get rid of Section 5, we will go farther and farther back. We made progress, but I say over and over again, we`re not there yet. So you can argue oh we have an African-American president. We elected some African-American, Latino officials, some Asian-American officials. But I tell you, in some of these towns and communities in the South still represent the old South. On the issue of Section 5 specifically, which gives the federal government special power to prevent states and localities from doing things that are deemed to be discriminatory, it doesn`t let them do them and then make them subject to lawsuits on behalf, it stops them from doing them. So it is sort of an extraordinary federal power. That`s what Congress was considering the extension of in 2006 when it was up for its -- after 25 years after having been renewed. Ten months of hearings, 21 -- 10 months of debate, 21 hearings, 15,000 pages of evidence, and the vote ultimately in the House was nearly unanimous. In the Senate, it was 98-0. That would seem to be a thorough examination of whether or not Section 5 was still needed. Justice Scalia today said we shouldn`t trust that vote as a real vote. Instead that was a demonstration that there is some sort of racial entitlement around this issue, and the vote effectively isn`t honest. LEWIS: I was shocked. I couldn`t believe that a member of the United States Supreme Court, (INAUDIBLE) it was just nonsense, saying it was almost the verge of some racist feeling of another period. And it pained me to hear a member of the Supreme Court saying something like this. To protect the right to vote, to participate in a democratic process, you`re going to suggest that it`s some racial entitlement? We all have a right to vote. Well all have a right to participate in a democratic process. One person, one vote. The Congress vote -- we represent the American people, the House and the Senate. We work hard in a bipartisan coalition to extend the Voting Rights Act in 2006. MADDOW: Ninety-eight-to-nothing is a heck of a coalition. That happens on almost nothing. But the Supreme Court is thinking that wasn`t enough. It`s remarkable to be there today. And it is remarkable to have you here, sir. Congressman John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia. It`s truly an honor. Thank you, sir. LEWIS: Thank you very much for having me. MADDOW: Thank you. LEWIS: Thank you. MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In Rome today, on the eve of his retirement, Pope Benedict XVI gave his final remarks as head of the Catholic Church, 150,000 people packed St. Peter`s Square to say arrivederci so Pope Benedict, because soon enough, somebody else will have the keys to the pope-mobile. Also in Rome today, the new U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting with the Italian foreign minister and 22 other secretaries of state and foreign ministers. This is part of John Kerry`s first trip overseas as secretary of state. His particular Roman conclave today was to talk about ways in which Western allies might better support the rebels who are trying to overthrow the government of Syria. So, expect some news on that in coming days. Meanwhile, at about the same time back in Washington, some of John Kerry`s work left over from the Senate was finally coming to fruition. It was 2005 when John Kerry sponsored a bill to honor the civil rights activist Rosa Parks with a statue in the U.S. Capitol. It took eight years from the bill being introduced, but today President Obama finally unveiled that statue, making Rosa Parks the first African-American woman to receive this kind of permanent honor in statuary hall in the Capitol. In the House, the effort to recognize Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat on a bus for inspiring the Montgomery bus boycott, for helping to ignite the civil rights movement, in the House, the Rosa Parks bill that came to fruition today was sponsored by Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois. And Mr. Jackson, like Mr. Kerry, was not around to see the unveiling of the Rosa Parks statue, and that`s because Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned his seat in Congress amid first health worries and financial worries and ultimately last week, he plead guilty to misappropriating campaign funds for personal use. Because Jesse Jackson resigned his seat, in a matter of weeks somebody new is going to be there to replace him. And late last night, we found out who that person is likely to be. Last night, Democrats in the second congressional district in Illinois nominated Robin Kelly as their candidate for that seat. They picked her by a big margin, too. She got 52 percent of the vote compared with 24 percent for her nearest challenger, former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson. Again, because the second district is such a deep, deep blue district, whoever wins the Democratic primary is pretty well expected to win the general in a couple of weeks and to become the nation`s newest member of Congress. Former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson started the race as the odds on favorite, but this was the first federal election since not just the presidential race, but also the Newtown school shootings. And Debbie Halvorson`s A rating from the NRA made her the target of a nonstop series of TV ads, in fact, the only ads that aired in this race. And then, today, it was Robin Kelly who celebrated her win after acknowledging how much this was a vote on the issue of guns and the issue of the NRA, as much as it was a vet on particular candidates. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROBIN KELLY (D-IL), CONGRESSIONAL NOMINEE: Today you did more than cast a vote. You did more than choose a Democratic candidate for Congress. You did more than I ever could have imagined. You sent a message that was heard around our state and across the nation. (APPLAUSE) A message that tells the NRA that their days of holding our country hostage are coming to an end (APPLAUSE) And their days of scaring congress into submission on gun control are coming to a close. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Their days of scaring Congress into submission on gun control are coming to a close. Robin Kelly, the new nominee for that seat, the Democratic nominee in a heavily Democratic district. She is going to be our guest on this show tomorrow night. This was a Chicago election, but it was, of course, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg`s PAC that produced those TV ads against Debbie Halvorson, the one that supported Robin Kelly on her way to this overwhelming and unexpected victory. Mike Bloomberg would not take full credit today for Robin Kelly`s win in Chicago, but he did say he could continue to keep funding rates, presumably on this model since this one worked so well. Something remarkable happened in this race last night in Illinois, because the change we went through in this country honestly over Newtown, and because of the hardball political organizing to convert that change of heart into actual change in the country. We are 76 days from Newtown. And that national energy derided by gun rights advocates as the Connecticut effect that they`re waiting to wear off turns out it`s not wearing off. It`s not going away. Did you see what happened today in the Senate on this? Somebody probably already sent you some of this tape from today in the Senate. It was so incredible. You may have already seen it, if somebody sent it to you. If you have not seen it, if you are not that lucky, you`re going to want to see it. We have it coming up in just a second. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Last night on the show, we talked to Carlee and Jillian and Carlos Matthew Soto. Their sister Vicki Soto was a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. She was killed in the mass shooting there in December while trying to protect the first graders in her class. When I asked Vicki Soto`s three siblings last night what one thing they would like to see done in our country after Sandy Hook, what one thing they would like to see Congress do to try to prevent something like this from happening again, they all had the same suggestion. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: If you could at least be the most persuasive you could possibly be to members of Congress so they would change something, what would you have them change? CARLOS MATTHEW SOTO, VICKI SOTO`S BROTHER: I would probably be the assault weapon ban, just because no one needs those guns. There`s no reason to have them unless you`re military. MADDOW: What do you guys think about that? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Same. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I agree. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The assault weapons ban is considered to be the least likely to pass of all the gun reforms currently being considered in Washington. All of the certainty against such a ban exists, despite the fact that it`s been done before in the `90s when they also said it couldn`t be done. The old assault weapons ban expired about 10 years ago. The new proposed assault weapons ban would have no expiration clause. Today, despite what everybody says about the long odds against it, today there were hearings on that bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Legal experts testified, mayors testified, law enforcement testified. But what we want to show you tonight is what one father had to say. His name is Neil Heslin. Neil Heslin. And his son Jesse Heslin was killed in the massacre at Sandy Hook. This is Neil Heslin. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEIL HESLIN, SON KILLED AT NEWTOWN MASSACRE: I`m Jesse Lewis` dad. Jesse was brutally murdered at Sandy Hook School, December 14th, 20 minutes after I dropped him off. This picture is a picture that was taken when Jesse was six months old. It was our first Christmas together. The morning of December 14th, Jesse stopped -- we stopped at Misty Veil (ph) deli, got his favorite sandwich, a sausage, egg and cheese and hard roll. And he ordered me one. He would always do that. I`d get a coffee and Jesse would get what he called a coffee, but was a hot chocolate. We proceed to the school. It was 9:04 when I dropped Jesse off. The school clock, Jesse gave me a hug and a kiss at that time, said goodbye, I love you. He stopped and he said "I love mom too." That was the last I saw of Jesse as he ducked around the corner. It`s hard for me to be here today to talk about my deceased son. I have to. I`m his voice. I`m not here for the sympathy and a pat on the back, as many people stated in the town of Newtown. I`m here to speak up for my son. I defend the Second Amendment, and I want to see that upheld and regulated. And it hasn`t been. When that was written 300 -- almost 300 years ago, we didn`t have these weapons we have today and the technology. They had muskets and cannons. I think it was 1934 when the ban was put on machine guns in regulation. We haven`t had a mass killing with a machine gun since. I feel these assault -- so-called assault weapons that have certain characteristics should fall in that category and be banned. Jesse was shot two times in the head. Jesse, one bullet gazed his temple the side of his head. That wasn`t the fatal shot. The fatal shot was in his forehead. It went in right at his hairline, exited directly behind that. Jesse looked that coward Adam Lanza in the eyes and saw his face at the end of that barrel. Jesse didn`t run. Jesse didn`t turn his back. That was the fatal shot that killed Jesse. SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: I just want to thank you for your courage to be here in spite of how painful it is. And we`re just trying here to do what we can do to save lives. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today on assault weapons ban that was introduced last month, a bill that Beltway common wisdom says cannot pass, don`t even bother. But after Sandy Hook Elementary School, are things different now? Are they different from the way politics and the national will were after Columbine and after Virginia Tech and after Tucson and after Aurora? They looked and sounded a little different in the Senate Judiciary hearing today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: And the simple blunt fact is that this issue was thought to be politically untouchable two months ago. We would not be here today without the horrific Newtown tragedy. So I want to begin by asking my fellow citizens of Connecticut, most particularly the members of the Newtown community, Sandy Hook Promise, the Newtown Action Alliance, as well as the families who had victims, to please stand so that we can thank you publicly for your courage and your strength in this extraordinary historic moment. Thank you. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let`s give them a round of applause. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: And the applause just kept going on. Those people standing there that got the round of applause in the Senate Judiciary Committee today, that is one of the most formidable groups of people you will ever see in politics, ever. They have the attention of their Congress and their country, and soon we will see to what end. Joining us now is Jim Johnson. He is Baltimore County police chief. He is chair of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence. Chief Johnson, thank you so much for joining us tonight. CHIEF JAMES JOHNSON, NATIONAL LAW ENFORCEMENT PARTNERSHIP TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: It`s a pleasure being here. MADDOW: It is hard to watch that testimony. It is -- it gets close to how we feel about this tragedy as a country. How do you think that we are changed as a country? And what do you think that we might do differently that we wouldn`t do without this emotion? JOHNSON: Well, certainly, I think this nation is galvanized. We`re all just sick over the circumstances in Newtown and other cities and, frankly, these incidents that occurred across America each and every day. We`re focused on making a change here. And the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, along with legions of others are fighting to bring meaningful change that will stop this crisis. I`d say to that dad of that young boy that was taken -- dad, the good guys are coming. And we`re going to continue this fight we believe America is ready for change to stop this carnage on our streets and in our neighborhoods. MADDOW: What do you think that the law enforcement community specifically can contribute to the debate and the argument over guns? What do you think the country needs to hear from chiefs of police and sheriffs and first responders? JOHNSON: What we`re saying is let`s do a background check on all people who buy guns. And we`re telling the nation and we`re telling our elected officials why that`s necessary. Real-life examples of why it`s going to make a difference. We`re telling our elected official let`s put a ten-round cap on these magazines. And we`re telling them why, because we`ve spent decades and years dealing with this problem. We`re telling them the assault weapons ban must be put in place. And we`re showing them examples of why it`s necessary to do this. We`re telling them collectively, based upon our experience and what we have seen, this will make a difference. MADDOW: What about the argument that with 300 million guns already in the country, so many assault weapons already in the country, with so many extended magazines already in the country, banning them now, stopping the new supply of them now won`t make a difference? JOHNSON: It will make a difference. Certainly we know across America that since 1994, for example, 2009, nearly 2 million people tried to purchase weapons that were prohibited. We know that people will try to get these weapons as we go in the future, people that should not have these types of weapons. And we know that banning these assault weapons, putting a limit on the high capacity magazines. And let`s do a national background check. My goodness, 74 percent of NRA members are OK with this; 90 percent, virtually every study you see, over 90 percent of Americans want a national background check. Let`s do something. MADDOW: If there were a national background check system, do you have confidence as somebody who would be work with that system from the law enforcement side of things, do you have confidence that we have the wherewithal to do that in a way that isn`t going to be unduly burdensome to people who are legally buying and selling weapons? Can we do it in a way that can be efficient and proper? JOHNSON: We already have an effective system in place. And, in fact, over 90 percent of these background checks that take place occur in minutes. Rachel, I can`t write a traffic ticket in the time it takes to do a background check. MADDOW: Wow. JOHNSON: This is not inconvenience to our citizens. A private seller in the future under this new law if it passes, just goes to a gun shop, a licensed dealer and brings about the sale. This is not inconvenient to our citizens. And the payoff will be huge. MADDOW: You expect that change is going to happen? JOHNSON: Absolutely. I`m confident it will. And we`re ready for change. The dads and moms of Newtown, for our Americans all across this great nation, we`re ready for change. And law enforcement, I want everybody to know this. Law enforcement stands behind these families that have suffered and certainly we know how to reduce this violent rage that is taking place in America. MADDOW: Chief Jim Johnson, Baltimore County police chief, chair of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence -- thank you so much for being here tonight. I really appreciate it. JOHNSON: Thank you. MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: There is a new oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to report today. Also, today was the third day of the trial to determine BP`s liability for the Deepwater Horizon disaster from 2010, the biggest offshore oil spill ever. And those are not the biggest headlines from the oil industry today, from February 27th. In a business that mainly has some awesome days full of mainly making gigantic piles of money, unprecedented in human history -- today was a different kind of day for big oil. Stay tuned. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: I have a photo for you, this was the scene earlier this morning just off the coast of Port Sulphur. So this is the Gulf of Mexico just off the Louisiana coast. And -- that`s not good. Right there in the middle of your screen that is a drilling wellhead that is now just spewing oil all over the place. That wellhead is owned by a company called Swift Energy. It had been inactive for about five years, just sort of lying dormant, until late last night when it got hit by a 42-foot boat just smacked into it. A boat that happened to be passing by, and kablooie, emphasis on the ew. This photo was taken by the U.S. Coast Guard, which is now on-scene responding to the incident. The owner of that well said today, quote, it flows for a while, then stops flowing, until it builds up pressure and then flows again. Not to worry, though, as you can see from this picture, there`s boom on the scene. Orange containment boom next to the well -- so, everything is fine. Back on shore in Louisiana, though, the top story is not the brand new spewing oil well that they`ve got in the Gulf of Mexico. The top story is actually the old one of those from the Gulf of Mexico. Today marks day three of the federal trial against BP, the trial to determine how many billions of dollars BP owes the federal government and the citizens of the Gulf Coast for its role in the single worth offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Even though it has reached settlements in a bunch of other cases related to that spill, BP chose to take this one to trial, which is why we are now getting daily headlines like this, "BP withheld crucial information from government, Gulf spill trial told." A witness for the government told the court today that internal BP documents showed that BP engaged in a, quote, "consistent pattern of misreporting." Before the blow out, BP gave the government, quote, "a very false impression" of what was happening on the drilling project. So, this giant oil company is on the hook for billions of dollars in fines. We`re on the third day of that trial now. New revelations every day. And a runaway wellhead has caused brand new oil spillage in the Gulf. And those two stories were not even the worst two stories in the news today for the most profitable industry ever known to mankind. No, today got even worse than those two stories for the oil industry. You will recall our old pal, our old decrepit pal, the Shell drilling rig that`s called the Kulluk. Remember the Kulluk? This is the drill that lost power, went adrift and eventually crashed into an island off the coast the southern Alaska last month. But Kulluk is one of two Shell rigs which the U.S government gave permission to start drilling in the Arctic last year. Whether oil companies should be allowed to drill in the Arctic has been a contention for decades. But Shell was given the OK by the federal government. Go for it. So, Shell sent two rigs. They`re the pioneers. Well, this is what happened to one of their rigs, beached on an island. Here`s what happened to other one. It is now under federal investigation by the Justice Department over more than a dozen safety violations discovered by the U.S. Coast Guard while it was docked in Alaska. Tada! So, Shell was the only oil company deemed ready enough to start drilling in the Arctic, to start drilling in this pristine environment where we have not allowed drilling in the past. Shell was the only company given the "go ahead" by the U.S. government. Shell sent two rigs to go try to drill in the Arctic and both rights went kersplat. And ten today, Shell said, you know what? Forget it, we`re out. We can`t do it. Shell announced today that they are halting their drilling operations in the Arctic indefinitely. They are not returning at all for the rest of 2013. And whether they return beyond 2013 will, quote, "depend on a number of factors, including the readiness of our rigs, and the confidence that lessons from 2012 will be fully incorporated." Full incorporation or not, of course, it also depends on one more thing -- it depends on whether or not the government is going to decide to allow them back at all. Remember, they were the only ones who have ever been allowed. They were first, and given Shell`s mess up there, they sent two rigs, the first ones fail, the second one fail, maybe a criminal fail. One of their rigs crashed into an island and had to be towed away. Given that record, the Interior Department is doing an emergency review on whether Arctic drilling can be done safely at all. The one company they thought maybe could do it were Shell, and that one company they thought could do it safely just said -- actually, you know what? We think maybe we can`t do it, so, we`re going to stop trying. Wow, what happened today was unexpected. And what happened next in the industry is anybody`s guess. Thanks for being with us tonight. Now, it is time for "THE LAST WORD." Have a great night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END