Attorney General Eric Holder said today that if the public had seen the graphic crime scene photos from inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the subsequent push to pass meaningful gun control legislation might have been successful.
Calling it the “the worst day that I had as Attorney General,” Holder told senators during an oversight hearing that if “the American people, legislators, members of Congress had the ability to be with me on that day — to walk through those classrooms and see the caked blood … if they had seen those crime pictures of those little angels — I suspect that the outcome of the effort we mounted last year would have been different.”
In the December 2012 tragedy, shooter Adam Lanza fatally gunned down 26 people, including 20 young children, before killing himself.
Holder’s statement today echoed an opinion piece in March by progressive filmmaker Michael Moore in The Huffington Post, in which he also called for release of the photos to build support for gun control. “[W]hen the American people see what bullets from an assault rifle fired at close range do to a little child’s body, that’s the day the jig will be up for the NRA,” Moore wrote.
But Newtown parents lobbied hard to keep the crime scene photos private. They started a petition signed by more than 103,000 people saying they did not want the images exploited for political gain. “Michael Moore and the hoaxers want to publish this gruesome information,” the petition complained.
Last June, the Connecticut General Assembly took the unusual step of voting to keep the Newtown crime scene photos private, sparking protests from news organizations. The new law carved out an exemption to the state’s Freedom of Information act intended to protect the privacy rights of homicide victims. Before Newtown, crime scene photos of murder victims were released.
In December, the Connecticut State Police released some crime scene photos – but not the most graphic ones – after publishing an 11,000-page report about the Newtown mass shooting.
Since the Newtown shootings, Holder has become one of the White House’s most vocal advocates in its coordinated effort to reduce gun violence. Last March, he touted a new $20 million plan to strengthen background checks for weapons purchasers.
“This grant funding is intended to enhance reporting of prohibiting mental health information, felony convictions, misdemeanor convictions of domestic violence, and active felony and misdemeanor warrants,” Holder said at the time.
He also mentioned guidance issued to federal agencies last month that will require federal law enforcement to trace all guns recovered in investigations.
Ultimately, however, Congress failed to act on legislation that would have, among other things, require background checks on nearly all gun purchases.
In December, police released crime scene photos as part of a 11,000-plus page report on the shooting. The photos do show blood on the carpet and bullet holes in the hallway, but Connecticut law prevents the release of crime scene photos that show the bodies of the victims.
During today’s hearing, Holder told Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) that the administration’s resolve “remains the same” to continue to pursue gun control legislation. He also hinted that the president may take executive action if Congress fails to readdress the issue.
“It is his intention to try to work with Congress but in the absence of meaningful action to explore all the possibilities to, frankly, just protect the American people,” Holder said, trailing off.
Meanwhile, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin (D) also raised concerns about rising gun violence and gangs in Chicago.
Holder said he would be speaking to former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, now the mayor of the Windy City, on Thursday about federal assistance but he also noted that newly-confirmed U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon was also working closely with city officials.
“I think we want to do as much as we can, but I don’t think that should obscure the fact that the city administration working with the new U.S. Attorney I think has made pretty significant progress,” Holder said.