For this month's Readers' Review: "Drown" -- the debut collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz. Twenty years ago, Diaz published ten heart-breaking tales about a fragmented family from the Dominican Republic finding their way in 1980s America.
Five years ago a gunman killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus in America’s worst mass shooting. Two years ago a gunman critically wounded former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people. Two months ago teenager Travon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida. Each time a tragedy involving firearms becomes national news, advocacy groups and politicians call for stricter gun control. But little action has resulted. Pro-gun groups argue violent crime in the U.S. is a major reason to expand gun rights, so more Americans can protect themselves. Diane and her guests will explore the politics of gun control.
- John Velleco director of federal affairs, Gun Owners of America.
- Daniel Webster co-director, Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
- E.J. Dionne Jr. senior fellow, The Brookings Institution, columnist, Washington Post and author of the forthcoming book, "Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. has the highest rate of private gun ownership in the world. Calls for tougher regulations on the purchase and use of firearms have largely failed. Since the mid-1980s, many states have expanded gun rights. Gun control advocates blame the powerful gun lobby and weak political will. But gun right supporters point to the failures as proof Americans do not want stricter regulations.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about guns and politics: E.J. Dionne Jr. of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, Daniel Webster of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, and John Velleco of Gun Owners of America. I do invite your calls, comments, questions, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. DANIEL WEBSTERGood morning.
MR. E.J. DIONNE JR.Good morning, Diane.
REHME.J., if I could start with you, why is it that gun control advocates have made so little progress in the last decades?
DIONNE JR.Well, I think some of it is timidity on the part of Democrats and liberals. And I think that that's happened because they looked at the election results in both 1994 and 2000 -- 1994, when they lost the House, 2000, when Al Gore --well, depending on how you look at it -- lost the presidency in the Supreme Court, we'll say -- or I would say. And they blame that on a decline in Democratic support in rural areas.
DIONNE JR.And I think that's a misreading of those elections but that's a piece of it. A second piece of it is our whole political system is tilted toward rural areas because of the makeup of the United States Senate. Rural states are vastly overrepresented compared to urban states, the ratio between the smallest to biggest states is something like 68:1, and so that gives the gun lobby a lot of strength.
DIONNE JR.And I think that the success of the gun lobby is such that they have to keep thinking up new ways of keeping their people mobilized. So they come up with all kinds of ideas like, let's let weapons be used on college campuses and these Stand Your Ground laws -- which I hope we talk about -- which I think we've seen in Florida have, as Mayor Mike Bloomberg said, some extraordinary and, I think, very bad, unintended consequences.
REHMDaniel Webster, to what extent do you think gun rights have expanded in the last decades?
WEBSTERWell, quite considerably, principally with the respect to right-to-carry privileges, it used to be the case that most states, there was a significant process for getting a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and law enforcement could use their discretion in issuing permits. Even if someone had passed the legal requirements to possess a gun, they didn't necessarily have the right to carry a gun in public. And the biggest change that's occurred in recent decades is having very little restrictions on people carrying weapons in public, concealed weapons.
REHMAnd, John Velleco, to what extent do you believe the expansion of these gun rights laws are important and, from your view, necessary?
MR. JOHN VELLECOThank you, Diane. It's important because there are millions upon millions -- tens of millions of gun owners in this country who believe that they have an individual fundamental liberty to keep and bear arms and that that right for decades and decades, and particularly since the 1960s, has been under attack. And through the 1970s, there was talk about a national handgun ban and then waiting periods to buy guns.
MR. JOHN VELLECOAnd the rights to keep and bear arms was under severe attack for many decades. And it wasn't until gun owners were mobilized and took their concerns to the election booth and unelected politicians who were restricting that right, and we began to elect people who respected the Second Amendment and who would restore some of the liberty that had been lost over the years.
REHMNow, you're talking about liberty that had been lost. What do you mean?
VELLECOOh, going back to the 1968 Gun Control Act and setting up the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which can regulate gun dealers. Guns, for all the talk about how easy it is for a person to get a firearm, this is one of the few products in America where you actually have to get the federal government's permission. Before you can purchase a firearm, you have to undergo an FBI background check.
VELLECOWe've had things like gun bans that have been passed and fortunately repealed. There have been a lot of efforts to restrict -- and I'm sure we'll talk about this this morning -- the right to carry concealed firearm for self-protection, the right to protect yourself in your home and the right to stand your ground when you're under attack.
DIONNE JR.Diane, could I say something? Go ahead.
REHMBefore you do, I want to ask you about an organization that I was not particularly familiar with. I think people around the country associate guns with the National Rifle Association. But we're reading, E.J., more and more about the American Legislative Exchange Council. Will you tell us about that council, how it's funded and what it has accomplished?
DIONNE JR.Yes. I want to say, by the way, at the outset, that Mr. Velleco and I, I suspect, will disagree rather passionately all through this show. So I just want to say I learned before the show that his family is a Republican family in New Haven, Conn. That took a lot of courage. And so I honor that, but I'm going to passionately disagree with him, including in what he said at the outset. But ALEC is an organization founded by conservative...
REHMAnd that's the acronym.
DIONNE JR.Yes, the acronym. I'm sorry. It has received a lot of corporate money. It is famously funded by those Koch brothers as well. And they push conservative legislation in legislatures all over the nation. They have gotten a lot of attention lately for pushing two kinds of bills. And they kind of write model bills, and legislatures pick them up. And so it's a kind of one-size-fits-all for the country, which gives you -- I think it's a strange notion of states rights.
DIONNE JR.But putting that aside, the two pieces of legislation they have gotten famous for, one, are all of these efforts to, as I would see it, restrict access to the ballot box on Election Day, these voter ID laws, limits on voter registration drives. They've written model bills on this. In states where Republicans have had complete control of the legislatures and governorship, they pass these bills. We're going to have a lot of controversy over those in the fall.
DIONNE JR.There's fear that up to 5 million Americans, mostly lower income Americans, both very young and very old Americans, may have their voting rights blocked by these bills. The other is Stand Your Ground. And the organization worked closely -- American Legislative Exchange Council worked closely with the gun lobby. And now, depending on how you count these bills, they're effective in at least in 25 states, and they just spread like wildfire.
DIONNE JR.And I think the striking thing is that these weren't bills where there was enormous popular demand for Stand Your Ground laws. I mean, Mr. Velleco may disagree with that, but I don't think there's a lot of evidence that these laws were in demand. But, again, I think the gun lobby has won so many victories that it just keeps having to push the envelope. Just one quick thing, and we'll come back to it.
DIONNE JR.This notion that people who are in favor of a more, as I would see it, more rational gun laws somehow want to disarm legitimate gun owners is just not true. What kinds of legislation are we talking about? We're talking about an assault weapons ban, which we have allowed -- we as a country have allowed to expire. I don't think the average gun owner needs or wants an assault weapon. And we could go down the list. We're not looking to disarm people. We are looking for more rational laws, and I'm afraid the gun lobby just keeps blocking those efforts.
REHME.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and The Brookings Institution. I wonder, John Velleco, what your response would be to that question about the American Legislative Exchange Council. E.J. has outlined what they've been able to accomplish. Who are they? How are they funded? Where do they operate?
VELLECOWell, ALEC, as it's known, is governed by elected officials -- state legislative elected officials, and they form committees to look at different pieces of legislation they call model legislation. And the boards of ALEC can approve or disapprove of legislation, and it becomes part of, essentially, their filing cabinet of legislative options that they can pick from.
VELLECOAnd legislators from across the country can go to this -- essentially a clearing house and pick and choose ala carte legislation that they think is important to their constituents. And Stand Your Ground is one of those pieces of legislation, as well as Castle Doctrine, laws that protect people's rights to defend their lives and those of their families.
REHMAnd how would you respond to E.J.'s point about assault weapons?
VELLECOWell, look, assault weapons is one of the most misunderstood issues that we deal with.
REHMIt's tricky because it's how you define that assault weapon.
VELLECORight. And a -- sure, and a technical definition of an assault weapon is a fully automatic machine gun, which we're not talking about. The "assault weapons" that Congress banned in 1994 were semi-automatic rifles that fired one round per one pull of the trigger. And they were also commonly used for hunting and commonly used for self-defense.
VELLECONow, they might look -- resemble in appearance of military-type firearm, but they were still semi-automatic firearms. And we could say, well, as E.J. pointed out, why would someone need such a firearm? Well, why would someone need a Corvette that can drive 150 miles an hour when the speed limit is only 65 on the Beltway?
DIONNE JR.A Corvette isn't aimed at killing things. An assault weapon is.
REHMJohn Velleco, he's director of federal affairs for Gun Owners of America. E.J. Dionne is with The Brookings Institution and a columnist for The Washington Post.
REHMAnd welcome back. We are talking about politics and gun control. Here in the studio, Daniel Webster, he's co-director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Also here, John Velleco, director of federal affairs for Gun Owners of America, and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and The Brookings Institution.
REHMHe's author of the forthcoming book "Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent." I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Daniel Webster, from your research, just how influential is the gun lobby?
WEBSTERWell, they're clearly very influential, one of the most powerful if not the most powerful lobby groups in Washington, but, of course, also in state capitals around the country. They are -- they're powerful. People talk about the money component, and, yes, they give a lot of money in politics. But far -- probably far more important is they have a grassroots group mobilized single-issue where they're going to put all their energies on that one issue.
REHMSo what does that mean? Does that mean going to state legislatures? Does it mean talking directly to politicians, telling them how important the gun issue is? What does it mean? How do they operate?
WEBSTERYeah, I think it's all of the above. They certainly have the ear of politicians. They communicate with them regularly. They will help to write legislation in some instances. They're involved on the legal front since the two Supreme Court cases that knocked down handgun bans in Washington, D.C. and Chicago. There's been a flood of litigation to try to knock down other gun laws, and the NRA has worked to support those -- that litigation.
REHME.J., how does it hurt or help a politician if he or she goes against the NRA and the gun lobby?
DIONNE JR.Well, some of this, obviously, depends upon the district you are from. And I think that there's just a political fact that one of the reasons the gun lobby has been powerful is there are a lot of swing seats in more rural parts of the country where the gun lobby is strong. I think you've actually had some instances -- Gerry Connolly's race out here in Virginia may be one -- where in suburban areas supporting gun control is actually popular, supporting some restrictions on guns.
DIONNE JR.And there was a controversy in that campaign, where Connolly, I think, believes that by being on the pro-gun control side, he actually may have won a re-election in a very narrow race. And I think that the -- my side of the argument can begin to make progress if we posed some pretty direct questions to our fellow citizens on the other side. For example, I'd like to ask Mr. Velleco about a bill Chuck Schumer has called the Fix Gun Checks Act.
DIONNE JR.And let me just talk about two provisions. One provision would clarify that people who are ordered by a court to get outpatient treatment for mental illness are prohibited from having guns. What is wrong with that? Bill would also require that every gun buyer, no matter where they get the gun, have passed a background check. Now, what's wrong with that?
DIONNE JR.Our friends on the other side say, yes, we don't think that people who are insane or have serious problems or are terrorists ought to have weapons. What's wrong with a bill like that? Why does a gun lobby oppose even very narrow regulations of that sort?
REHM(word?) John Velleco.
VELLECONow, first of all, let me start by saying that Chuck Schumer also believes that all guns should be banned, except for the military and police. But to the point here that -- in terms of gun shows, there's a great misconception, just as there are with assault weapons, that the rules to buy a gun inside a gun show are somehow different than the rules outside of a gun show. And that's just not true.
VELLECOAnytime a person buys a firearm from a licensed firearm dealer, they have to go through the FBI background check before they could make the purchase. And the FBI runs their criminal background check. And the states do something similar, so the...
DIONNE JR.So why should gun shows be excluded from that, is my question.
VELLECOGun shows are not excluded, and the gun dealers who sell guns and gun -- at gun shows have to do the exact same background check as they do at a gun store.
REHMOK. Stop right there. I don't understand why there's a difference of opinion. Daniel Webster.
WEBSTERYes. Here's the issue, really. For a long time, this has been talked about as a gun show loophole. And Mr. Velleco is absolutely correct in that the rules are not different for gun shows, by and large. There are a couple of states where that's the exception than in other places. What's really the issue is the private sale loophole, and people talk about it with respect to gun shows because it is so open and observable in that venue.
WEBSTERAnd you can go to gun shows and you can see one table where a licensed gun dealer is selling guns, and you have to go the background check. Right next to that dealer, you might see another table of guns that don't look any different from the ones that the licensed dealer is selling, and the individual at that table will have a sign that say, no background check needed.
REHMOh, I see.
WEBSTERSo therein is really the loophole that is relevant to the Fix the Gun Checks Act and, really, in my opinion, sort of at the heart of where our problem is in addressing gun violence in any kind of rational way.
DIONNE JR.And so why should we close that loophole? Thank you for that very helpful description. What's -- why should that exist? That means that the law is meaningless. If you walk over to another guy with a sign saying, no check needed, why would you want to preserve that?
VELLECOWell, first of all, there are rules against selling over a certain amount of weapons by the BATF. But what you're -- what Chuck Schumer is talking about and what I think E.J. is talking about is something that would give the federal government unprecedented new powers to regulate the private sale between two private individuals who have no such relationship with the federal government that a gun dealer has. They're licensed by the government. Private citizens are not licensed by the government. And what this proposal...
REHMBut why are they allowed to show at gun shows if, in fact, they are not licensed gun dealers and do not require that background check? Why are they allowed in?
VELLECOBecause it's a lawfully-owned product and it's owned by the individual, and the individual has a right to sell a product, just as the individual has a right to sell other products.
REHMBut then you cannot say that guns shown and sold at gun shows require background checks.
VELLECOEvery gun sold by a gun dealer at a gun show...
REHMOK. But that's where...
VELLECOBut the rules...
REHM...you need to be careful about what you're saying and how you say it because what you're implying is that all gun dealers at gun shows are licensed dealers, and, clearly, they're not.
VELLECOWell, let me make clear then, again, that the rules inside of a gun show are exactly the same as outside of a gun show, so that private seller who can sell a firearm in the gun show can also sell a firearm outside of the gun show, from his home, out in the parking lot at the gun show. So this idea that there's a loophole in the gun show would, by definition, create a loophole everywhere else. And what Chuck Schumer would like to do is regulate every -- and there's legislation in Congress to do this -- to...
DIONNE JR.He just wants background checks, so the guns don't fall into the hands of people with criminal records or records of mental insanity. What is wrong with that? You're talking in this very abstract way about federal power. The federal government regulates a lot of things. Why wouldn't we want to keep guns out of the hands of people who are provably dangerous to other people?
REHMDaniel Webster, can you talk about research in that area?
WEBSTERWell, I haven't really researched the politics side of this, but, actually, some of my research does focus on the regulation of firearm sellers, both licensed dealers and private sellers. And we actually have found that states that do regulate private transactions, there is less diversions of guns to criminals than in places where there is no such regulation or oversight of those transactions. And it sort of makes sense, of course.
WEBSTERThere's a fairly consistent relationship between the level of oversight of sellers -- again, we found it both with respect to the licensed dealers, as well as the unlicensed, that while maybe most play by the rules, it's easy to avoid those rules.
REHMAll right. Let me turn to another area, and that is politics today, indeed presidential politics. Mitt Romney, the presumed nominee for the Republican nomination for the presidency, spoke at the NRA the other day. And I wonder how you see the significance of that, John Velleco.
VELLECOWell, Mitt Romney has a lot of explaining to do to the Second Amendment community, and I think he's begun to do that. But part of the explanation has to be why did he sign into law a so-called assault weapons ban when he was governor of Massachusetts and one that didn't have a sunset provision like the federal ban did, but one that is permanent? And why did he voice support for a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases?
VELLECOMitt Romney has a long record of supporting gun control, and we need to know if those positions have changed. Does he no longer support a semi-auto ban? Does he no longer support a Brady-type waiting period for handgun purchases? And those are things that we would like for Gov. Romney to commit to in writing so that the Second Amendment community can have some type of -- something to point to that says that he has changed his opinion on these important issues to gun owners.
REHMLet's just be clear about this. While running for the Senate in 1994, he supported mandatory waiting periods for gun sales and federal legislation that would ban the sale of around 20 assault weapons, such as AK-47s and the Uzi, while quadrupling gun licensing fees. He -- in his speech to the NRA, he made no mention of these factors. E.J.
DIONNE JR.Well, at least on one issue Mr. Velleco and I partly agree, which is it's not clear who Mitt Romney is on this issue or which Mitt Romney is on the ballot this fall. I mean, I think it's part of a pattern where Mitt Romney said one thing when he was running for office in Massachusetts and seems to be saying another thing now, although what was striking was the evasion in that speech. He really didn't revisit his record at all.
DIONNE JR.Now, to be sort of an equal opportunity basher on this issue, President -- the gun lobby tries to set President Obama up as this big enemy of gun rights. And those of us who support what we -- again, what we would see as rational gun restrictions, like closing some of these loopholes, the president really hasn't pushed very hard on this notion that he is a threat to gun rights. I think, in light of his record, it's laughable. I wish he were tougher on guns than he is.
REHME.J. Dionne, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Time to open the phones, 800-433-8850, first to Susan in Forth Worth, Texas. Good morning to you.
SUSANGood morning. Please give me a minute. ALEC is not new. I'm going to bring that up.
REHMNo, of course not.
DIONNE JR.That's absolutely right.
REHMWe said it's been around for decades.
SUSANIt's been around since 1973.
SUSANThey've been imposing their will on -- for instance, back in the '70s, CEOs made about 40 percent of their employees pay. And it's gone up to nearly 400 percent, and that's due to some legislation that's been passed. And the gun laws, voting rights, I mean, it just goes offshore banking for these corporations. And Grover Norquist is put out there as a threat if they don't go along with Washington.
REHMOK. Now, I don't want to get off on the tax issue. But I was interested, John Velleco, that you said you want to see the Republican presumptive nominee Mitt Romney sign a pledge that he will support gun rights. Do you really expect him to sign that and do so publicly?
VELLECOI think it would be important for him to clarify his positions on issues like the so-called assault weapons ban, where he stands today in 2012. And I think gun owners need to know -- and voters want to know -- where he stands. We know where President Obama stands. He would support a ban on handguns, as he said in a survey when he was in the state Senate in Illinois.
REHMSo, going back to what our caller said, like Grover Norquist on taxes, you want to see Mitt Romney sign something on guns.
VELLECOWell, we have a candidate survey that most of the presidential candidate -- or former presidential candidates filled out. And it's a common practice for most organizations to have a survey that asks questions about issues important to that constituency, and most candidates do fill them out.
REHMBut you said you want to see him sign something, a pledge, I presume.
VELLECOOr to fill out a simple questionnaire saying that -- what he would support, what he would not. And the candidates do sign them. All of -- almost all of the Republican former nominees for president did exactly that, and most congressional candidates do the same thing.
REHMAnd if they don't sign it, what does your organization then do?
VELLECOWell, our members begin to wonder if you're not going to let us know what your views are. Maybe you're hiding something. Maybe your views haven't changed. This would go a long way toward Romney really explaining any differences that he might have had over the years in changing his opinion.
REHMOK. But suppose -- let's just say he decides not to sign that. Then what happens?
VELLECOWell, gun owners are going to have to make up their own minds. You know, this idea that the gun lobby has people in lockstep with them, it's kind of a miscalculation because the "gun lobby" is so powerful because we have so many millions of people who care about the Second Amendment, who -- you know, when Gun Owners of America produces our rating, our congressional rating, we get a million people come to the website and look at it, not to mention how many people -- how many other people look at it, so...
REHMSo how much money would a gun lobby -- the NRA, your own group, or ALEC -- put behind making sure that gun people, gun supporters know about Mitt Romney and put behind questioning whether he's truly a gun supporter?
VELLECOI don't know exactly. I can't put a dollar figure on it, but we put a lot of effort...
REHMA lot of effort.
VELLECO...into letting people know where Mitt Romney stands, and also where President Obama stands. 'Cause I would disagree with E.J. that Obama has been weak on guns when you look at people like Supreme Court Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, who don't believe there's an individual right to keep and bear arms, and they're going to shape the direction of the court for a generation to come, and Eric Holder with the Fast and Furious scandal and on and on.
REHMJohn Velleco, director of federal affairs for Gun Owners of America. Short break and we'll be right back.
REHMAnd as we talk about the politics of gun control, how it works, how lobbies for and against gun control are operating, here's an email from Barbara, who says, "I want to know why ALEC..." -- that is the American Legislative Exchange Council -- "...is interested in guns. How does this issue affect big business? Is it the gun manufacturers and sellers who are pushing for these anti-gun control and Castle Doctrine legislation?" And, Daniel Webster, I know you've done a fair amount of work on the Stand Your Ground law, which is part of what ALEC has pushed for.
WEBSTERYeah, again, I want to be clear that most of my research does not sort of examine the political dynamics here. So -- but -- so I wanted to admit this is just my own take on this. What I strongly suspect is that ALEC maybe cares less very specifically about the gun issue and probably cares far more generally about sort of weakening government and doing whatever it can to enact laws and support politicians that generally will weaken government and sort of, you know, lessen regulation sort of across the board.
REHMIt's interesting because a number of big corporations have stopped funding ALEC as a result of the Trayvon Martin shooting, the Stand Your Ground laws, E.J.
DIONNE JR.Right. And also some of the controversy around these voter restrictions, these -- or what I would see as voter-suppression laws that have passed around the country. And it just shows that -- I think it was Louis Brandeis who said publicity is the best disinfectant, and I think that opponents of ALEC have finally become more aggressive and said to corporations, look at the agenda they support. A lot of the buyers of your products are of very, very diverse political views. Why are you doing this?
DIONNE JR.Just to go back to your earlier question, you know, there is some evidence that gun sales have flattened, and you wonder what is going on with some of these laws. One of the reasons, I think, Stand Your Ground laws are so insidious is because they tip the balance of power in any street encounter in favor of the person who has a gun. That's what we saw -- whatever else you think about the Trayvon Martin case, he was unarmed, and Mr. Zimmerman was armed.
DIONNE JR.And what these laws do is they create enormous incentives to push people, who don't want to carry guns around on the street to put -- carry guns around on the street. They're basically saying that if somebody has a reasonable suspicion, however you define that, that they are threatened, they have much more authority to use that gun against someone and perhaps kill someone than they used to. And it's one reason why, in Florida, justifiable homicides have nearly tripled.
DIONNE JR.So those of us who are for rational gun laws don't want to take guns away from others. I think the way the gun lobby is working, they really want to transform the culture on the other side of the country where people who don't carry guns are going to have to start thinking about carrying (word?).
VELLECOIt's interesting E.J. points out the argument of the balance of power, and, E.J., you know, if you're walking home late at night from the Kennedy Center with your family and you're attacked, you want the balance of power to be on your side because if you call the police...
DIONNE JR.I don't want a nation…
VELLECO...they're several minutes away. And, for many people, that -- the balance of power is that they have the right to defend themself with a firearm, and that can be used effectively. So where a young woman might be attacked by three much stronger men, she can equalize that situation by having a concealed firearm. And, you know, again, when you need the police, they're minutes away. A firearm is right there at the point of attack.
DIONNE JR.Could I ask you then? OK. Let's take your argument whole. And this is an argument frequently made in Congress. As you know, if you walk into the Capitol, you have -- you get checked for guns. Let me quote Sen. Thune on a gun debate. He said, "Law-abiding individuals have the right to self defense." And he said, "Research shows that when unrestricted conceal-and-carry laws are passed, not only does it benefit those who are armed but also benefits others around them, such as children."
DIONNE JR.So let's -- why wouldn't you guys be for taking down the barriers and letting anybody who's armed walk into the United States Capitol? If you really believe the argument you're making, then you want senators and others walking around the floor of the Senate with guns because then Sen. Thune could protect Sen. Schumer if there were an attack. So are you for or against talking down the barriers that prohibit guns in the capital of the United States?
VELLECOWell, here's the issue, is we don't know when and where a criminal is going to attack. They could attack at a church where a lot of people on your side don't want guns to be. They can attack at universities where a lot of people on your side don't want guns to be present. And we know that guns, in those situations, can keep a…
DIONNE JR.So do -- on the Senate?
VELLECO...criminal attack from escalating.
DIONNE JR.Well -- so answer my question. So do you think the capital of the United States would be safer if they took down those barriers and let anybody with a gun walk into the Capitol? Are you for or against that?
VELLECOWell, we have those barriers, and we've had attacks recently in the Capitol.
DIONNE JR.You didn't answer my question. Answer my question.
VELLECOAnd I think it would be fine for law-abiding citizens to be able to carry guns in D.C. and, if the Congress so deemed, to carry guns in the Capitol.
REHMAll right. He's answered the question. Here's an email from Marianne, (sp?) who says, "Because you..." -- John Velleco, you talked about the rights of citizens. She says, "In Missouri, about eight years ago, we had a statewide referendum and voted down concealed-carry permits. Two years later, the Republican state legislature overturned the will of the people and passed a Concealed Carry permit law. What's happened to the will of the people there?"
VELLECOWell, the will of the people is reflected in the legislators that they elect. And can I...
REHMBut she clearly states that the referendum voted down such a law.
VELLECOYeah, I know. And that was prop B. That was a number of years ago. There were a lot of factors involved with why that failed. And I'll be honest. I can't remember them all right now.
REHMAnd is money one of those factors?
VELLECOIs money -- of course, money was one of the factors in getting that proposition defeated in Missouri. And it's one of the reasons why we don't want to go to put our fundamental constitutional liberties up for referendum. That's not how this country operates. We are a constitutional republic, and our will is represented in the people who we elect. And if we don't agree with the way our legislatures vote, we vote them out. That's our power as voters.
REHMSo if more people are allowed to carry concealed weapons, what do you think would happen to the homicide rate?
VELLECOWell, I think the homicide rate would go down. And that actually has happened in Florida where the homicide rate -- even since the passage of the Castle Doctrine and the Stand Your Ground laws went into effect, the homicide rate in Florida has actually gone down faster than the homicide rate, which has also been going down across the country.
VELLECOBut it went down quicker in Florida. And I think that the easier we make it, the more we remove obstacles for law-abiding citizens to carry firearms concealed, that will make the criminals wonder. As E.J. quoted Sen. Thune, it protects non-gun owners as well because a criminal doesn't know who's carrying and who's not carrying.
WEBSTERWell, there's been quite a lot of research on the effects of right-to-carry laws on violent crime, and it's been rather controversial. John Lott first famously came out with some research that suggested that these right-to-carry laws reduce violent crime. That research has been critically reviewed and found to be fatally flawed. I think the best research on this shows, interestingly, not a dramatic effect on violent crime in either direction. Probably the only area in which it affects violent crime is a very slight increase in aggravated assaults.
REHMAll right. To Big Rock, Ill., good morning, Mike.
MIKEHi, Diane. My question is, what about the rights, liberties and freedom of non-gun owners? Those are constantly diminished by gun owners and the NRA daily in this nation.
REHMHow so, John -- Mike? Sorry.
MIKEWell, what about the taxes that we have to pay for extra police on the streets to police guns, the administrative cost of guns, gunshot victims who are shot at 20, and we have to keep on Medicaid till they're 65 in a wheelchair? What about the intimidation of the NIH? I can go on and on and on. It's time we begin to think about taxing, titling, conceal and carrying insurance on your gun.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. What do you think, John Velleco?
VELLECOWell, that kind of goes along with what Daniel was saying here on the panel about crime statistics and the cost of crime. And one of things I'll point out -- and I agree that studies about the effect of gun laws and crime are always controversial, and they always will be. But there are some things that we just know. We know that in places where it's the hardest to get and keep a firearm -- in our inner cities, we have the higher crime rates.
VELLECOWe know that places that have the least restrictive gun laws also have the lowest violent crime rates, the lowest homicide rates. These are things that we just know. They're not controversial. You are much safer going to a gun show in Oklahoma that has 20,000 people in it than you are walking four blocks from this studio late a night without a gun.
WEBSTERWell, there's truth in the fact that there's more violent crime in our largest cities than there is in more rural areas. And, generally, as E.J. was pointing out earlier, where there are more rural voters in any jurisdiction, you're going to have less gun control. And when you -- there are more urban voters, you're going to have more gun control.
WEBSTERSo the fact that you see some relationships does not mean cause and effect here, and so I don't sort of go along with sort of the underlying premise there that the reason that our urban areas have more violent crime is because gun control is restricted.
DIONNE JR.I want to go back to the caller's question.
REHMHold on. What about Stand Your Ground laws? What about the number of killings with states that have Stand Your Ground laws?
WEBSTERNo one has formally examine the effect of these laws more broadly on violent crime, as if -- whether they do or do not have a deterrent type of effect. I went to what we know about right to carry because we have a big body of research there -- and I think the issues are fairly similar -- and again, not a large effect, small increase in aggravated assaults. We do know, however, because the data are so striking, that in states that have passed these laws for justifiable homicides, there have been more than a 70 percent increase in those kind of homicides.
REHMThat's the figure I was interested in, yeah.
DIONNE JR.Right. If I could -- I brought some figures. NPR reported that Florida's -- and this was in other media as well. Florida's justified homicides nearly tripled after the state enacted the law in 2005. The Wall Street Journal reported, looking at a decade in which these laws came into effect, so-called justified -- justifiable homicides nearly doubled from 2000 to 2010. I want to go back…
DIONNE JR....to what the caller said because I think it's very, very important when he talks about the rights of those of us, the majority of Americans who do not want to have to walk around the streets carrying a gun. And what the gun lobby is doing is they are telling -- they claim to be these big supporters of state's rights, but they are pushing for laws that would eviscerate local gun laws.
DIONNE JR.If you have a concealed carry permit in your state and you walk into D.C. or New York or any other place, you can just carry that gun in that jurisdiction and ignore the local laws. Why should the federal government step in and overturn -- effectively overturn the laws in that jurisdiction? I think the caller is exactly right, that the -- our friends in the gun lobby don't want to stop with winning victories in the states. They want to nationalize their view and impose it on those of us in places who don't want their kind of gun laws.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." John Velleco.
VELLECOWell, the reason is, E.J., is that, as a society and in the court system, we have determined that civil rights cannot end at the state line. And Second Amendment rights are a civil right. We would not allow a state to have laws banning African-Americans at the lunch counter, and we should not have laws banning gun owners from carrying a firearm for their own self-protection and that of their family.
DIONNE JR.Even the Supreme Court in that decision that your side won asserted the right of government to have regulations on firearms. We don't want a country in which there are no regulations on firearms. So this is not about a civil right to carry a weapon. It's about jurisdictions having the right to pass legislation that they think -- and with some reason -- would lower the crime rates in their jurisdictions. And they don't want the federal government coming in and overturning their right to pass those laws.
REHMWhat about a waiting period? Where are we with the idea of a waiting period for all gun purchasers?
DIONNE JR.Again, I think it's a very, very good idea because we really -- if -- we ought to be able to agree, and yet our friends at the gun lobby don't want us to agree that, wherever else we stand on the Second Amendment or the right to bear arms, we don't want guns in the hands of criminals. We don't want them in the hands of terrorists.
DIONNE JR.I don't understand why the gun lobby is against a proposal by senators Lautenberg and Peter King, a Democrat and Republican, that would -- and would provide for due process where a terrorist suspect would be barred with, you know, with judicial review, would be barred from buying a gun. And a waiting period gives you time to check. And so I don't see anything wrong with the waiting period, but I'm sure Mr. Velleco will argue that it violates Second Amendment rights.
VELLECOA waiting period is a fine idea if you're a criminal and you want people to wait before they get guns because criminals are not going to follow those laws. Criminals don't wait in line at the police station to register their guns. They don't get concealed carry permits. Criminals are going to get their guns anyway. And all of these laws do is raise the bar higher and higher and higher for the law-abiding citizen, and you create this inability for people to protect themselves.
DIONNE JR.These laws are designed to keep the guns out of the hands of criminals, and that's the whole purpose.
VELLECOBut they don't work.
WEBSTERYeah, that's a very common refrain from the gun lobby about -- well, all these regulations, they don't really apply to criminals 'cause criminals don't follow laws, by definition. But I have a hard time with that logic because if you want to follow that logic, why have any law about anything because -- why have a law about drunk driving? Why have a law about speeding? Why have -- you know, any kind of law, you're going to find someone who's willing to break it. And, therefore, what's the use? I don't agree with the logic.
REHMLast, quick comment, John Velleco.
VELLECOBecause, arguably, those types of laws against things like drunk driving save lives. Laws that prohibit people from owning guns actually cost lives because there's a benefit side to gun ownership that you don't see with other products like cigarettes and alcohol and automobiles. Guns save more lives annually than they take. They're used more often by law-abiding citizens to stop crimes than by criminals to successfully commit crimes.
WEBSTERThe data do not support that.
REHMJohn Velleco, Daniel Webster, E.J. Dionne. Clearly, the politics of gun control are very much involved in how guns are sold, whether there's a waiting period, whether there's Stand Your Ground or conceal and carry laws. It's very political. Thank you all so much. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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