John Walsh talks about “the window.” It’s an opening that allows a sliver of light, he says, to stricter gun-control laws in the United States.
“I really believe there is a window, in the psyche of America, we have this little chance to respond to these horrible, horrible events over the past year,” said Walsh, who since 1988 has served as host of the crime-fighting series “America’s Most Wanted” and was in town Wednesday for the annual Canon USA gala dinner and auction benefiting the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “I think Americans have said, ‘Enough.’ ”
Walsh has been one of the country’s leading anti-crime activists since the 1981 kidnapping of his 6-year-old son Adam in Hollywood, Fla. He helped enact the Adam Walsh Act, which created the national sex offender registry used across the country. Under the authority of that act, registered sex offenders are categorized in three tiers and required to update their whereabouts to federal officials every three months.
Walsh’s show, which now airs on Lifetime after 24 seasons on Fox, has helped track down and prosecute nearly 1,200 fugitives in the United States. He has long been an advocate for more stringent regulations on gun ownership.
“This actually has been a big problem for me and a big issue for years, and we have hunted down the worst of the worst and many of them the most violent people in America who have committed murders on every level,” he said after walking the red carpet at the Bellagio Grand Ballroom. “I am a gun owner, and I am for responsible gun ownership. I hunt. I own shotguns. I own pistols. But no one needs assault weapons. They are weapons of killing. I hunt quail, but I don’t need an automatic weapon to shoot a quail.”
Walsh has been in contact with Vice President Joe Biden, and the two have agreed to meet, possibly as soon as next week, to discuss the proposals to help curb gun violence. Biden was co-author of the Adam Walsh Act and has known Walsh for decades.
The issue became a heated topic, again, after the murders of 20 children ages 6 to 7 and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December. Walsh says the process of background checks for gun ownership in the U.S. is “woefully inadequate.”
“We are a first-world country. We are a country that just put a $44 billion module on Mars, but we have the highest numbers of mass murders of any first-world country,” he said. “If you’re a responsible gun owner in Canada, England, Germany, Japan, you have to prove you are psychologically sound to own a gun. They are allowed to talk to people at your workplace, they are allowed to talk to your family. ... You have to prove you can be a responsible gun owner. I have no problem with that. ... I’ve profiled zillions of guys on ‘Americas Most Wanted’ who were mentally ill, sociopaths, and they can still buy a gun at a gun show.”
Walsh says he is attempting to cut into the influence the nation’s largest gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, holds over elected officials.
“The NRA has completely held the U.S. Congress hostage for years by saying, ‘If you are for any type of reasonable, responsible gun control and getting these weapons off the street, I will come into your district, little congressman or congresswoman, and will defeat you,’ ” he said. “People on Capitol Hill are held hostage by the gun lobby.”
Walsh says he supports gun-buyback programs such as the event in Los Angeles in late December during which gun owners turned over 75 assault weapons, 698 rifles, 363 shotguns, 901 handguns and (astonishingly) a pair of rocket launchers. Walsh is forceful and pointed in his arguments, but he stresses that he supports a sensible and responsible approach to curbing the availability of firearms, focusing on assault weapons.
“Nobody wants to overturn the Second Amendment. Nobody wants to take over guns from responsible gun owners,” he said. “But I’ve been all over this world and seen a lot of terrible things. If this were Somalia or Mogadishu, I might understand it. But here we are, in Las Vegas, in the biggest, richest and most powerful country in the world, and we can’t continue to put up with this overwhelming level of violence. It has got to stop.”