Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed the 21st Century Cures Act in a rare bi-partisan effort. The bill is meant to speed the development of lifesaving treatments, but critics warn it may also allow ineffective or even harmful drugs onto the market.
In the wake of the Colorado shootings, national debate over gun control is in the spotlight, but most politicians are remaining silent. Diane and her guests discuss the absence of political debate over gun control in an election year.
- Juliette Leftwich legal director, Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence
- Robert Spitzer Chair of the political science department at the State University of New York in Cortland, and author of "The Politics of Gun Control."
- Ladd Everitt Director of Communications at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
- John Velleco director of federal affairs at Gun Owners of America.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Friday's shooting in Colorado brought a few days of soothing words from the presidential campaigns, but there is little to suggest the tragedy will bring about a renewed political debate on what can be done to prevent such events. Joining me in the studio to talk about the politics of gun control in an election year: Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, John Velleco with Gun Owners of America, and, joining us from a studio in Ithaca, N.Y., Robert Spitzer of the State University of New York in Cortland.
MS. DIANE REHMI hope you'll join us with your comments as well, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, gentlemen. Thanks for joining us.
MR. LADD EVERITTGood morning.
MR. JOHN VELLECOGood morning, Diane. Thank you.
MR. ROBERT SPITZERGood morning, Diane.
REHMGood to have you all with us. John Velleco, how did James Holmes get his guns and ammunition?
VELLECOWell, he got his guns the same way that millions of other Americans get their guns. He bought them lawfully. He had no criminal record. No background check would have prevented him. So he just purchases guns the same way millions of other Americans purchase their guns.
REHMAnd he bought an awful lot on the Internet, I gather.
VELLECOHe bought some ammunition over the Internet. Some people think it's a lot. Some people think it's not quite as much as others. As someone who shoots not as regularly as I would like, but to go through several hundred rounds in an outing is not uncommon, and 6,000 rounds is, for several different firearms, is not by any means an unusual amount of ammunition for an average gun owner to have.
REHMAnd what kind of guns did he have?
VELLECOWell, he had a rifle, a handgun and a shotgun, and these are all, again, very common firearms that tens of millions of Americans own and incidentally did not commit any crimes with since then. So we have here a, you know, a criminal lunatic who misused a firearm that is used lawfully by, perhaps, 100 million people in this country.
REHMAnd to you, Ladd Everitt, it would seem that the kind of firepower used in this particular shooting, that's changed since the 1970s, hasn't it?
EVERITTOh, yeah, absolutely. I mean the firearms available on the contemporary civilian market in the United States are far more lethal than the things that were around when I was a child, for example. This kid walked into that movie theater armed for war. I think we need to be clear about that. I mean, this is a kid that had a full suit of body armor, ballistic helmet, tactical vest. You know, he had two Glock handguns -- you know, Glock handguns like the one Jared Loughner used in Tucson -- a 12-gauge shotgun, and the rifle he used was an assault rifle. It was an AR-15-style rifle.
EVERITTThe AR-15 is essential the military's M16 battlefield rifle. The only difference is that the rifle he used fires only on semi-automatic. It does not have a full automatic fire position. But beyond that, it's, you know, it fires as fast as you can pull the trigger. And he had a 100-round drum magazine in that gun.
EVERITTWe have a very hard time seeing what purpose that type of armament has beyond two things, either if you are looking to commit mass murder, or if you buy into some of the more radical ideology of the modern pro-gun (unintelligible) in, you know, in terms of Second Amendment remedies, basically believing you have an individual right to shoot and kill our elected officials when you personally sense tyranny. Beyond that, we can't figure out the legitimate civilian purpose.
REHMAnd I do want to point out that we did contact the National Rifle Association. We invited them on the program. They sent us an email saying, "Thank you for contacting the NRA. The NRA believes that now is the time for families to grieve and for the community to heal. There will be an appropriate time down the road to engage in political and policy discussions." Turning to you, Robert Spitzer, having written a book, "The Politics of Gun Control," what do you expect, if anything, to come out of this latest tragedy politically?
SPITZERWell, Diane -- and thanks for having me. It's a great pleasure to be on your show.
SPITZERExcuse me. On the politics of it, nobody much expects that there'll be any political movement in the months ahead, even though we're in the midst of a presidential campaign. And we can talk more about that as well. I'd like to, if you don't mind, just to hit quickly on a couple of points made by Ladd and John already.
SPITZERJohn made the point about background checks, that no background check prevented this from happening. But had James Holmes lived in New York State instead of in Colorado, a background check almost certainly would have prevented the sales. And the reason why is New York State -- my home state -- and a few other states conduct a very extensive background check that includes the -- when you apply for a handgun permit in New York State, at least, that a background check is done.
SPITZERYou have to list references, and the state police or county sheriffs actually conduct in-person interviews not only of your references, but of connections to your references. And anybody who spoke to anybody who knew James Holmes in the weeks leading up to this would have observed, as some people did, including the owner of a shooting range where Holmes wanted to become a member and the owner of that shooting range wisely judged that there was something wrong with this guy, that information would've certainly come out in a police investigation...
SPITZER...because the man had had some problems.
REHMI want to stop you right there. You say that New York State would have conducted an investigation. What if he had just purchased -- what if he lived in New York State and had purchased the guns and the ammunition online?
SPITZERWell, online sale's a different matter, except for the handgun issue. If you purchased a handgun online, as happened in the Virginia shooting case, if you purchased a handgun online, it isn't mailed directly to your home. It's sent to a licensed firearms dealer, and then you go to pick it up, and the -- you need the proper paperwork with respect to wanting a handgun in New York state.
REHMI see. I see.
SPITZERSo with respect to handguns, that still would've been effective.
REHMWhat about ammunition?
SPITZERAmmunition, in terms of regulation in New York State, that, I am not sure about. I don't know if those sales are recorded. But we do know that Internet sales in general are, with respect to guns, are far less regulated. And it's one area where people who are calling for reform is saying that more could be done.
REHMNow, Robert Spitzer, talk about the political reaction, how it's different or similar to when Gabby Giffords was shot and whether you expect any action whatsoever during the time of this political campaign.
SPITZEROne would think that in the heat of a political campaign, an issue like this, a terrible event of this nature would, by its nature, be drawn into the political debate between two candidates who are vying for the presidency and, of course, congressional and other elections all around the country. But for somewhat different reasons, it is not likely that the presidential candidates will want to be drawn into this particular issue.
SPITZEROn the Democratic side, President Obama, historically in his career, has expressed support for stronger gun laws including renewing the assault weapons ban which lapsed in 2004 as you noted. But when he became president, and even beginning in the summer of 2008 when he was running for election and the Supreme Court handed down a very important case interpreting the Second Amendment called the Heller case, he stated his support for gun rights, Second Amendment rights, but essentially backed away from the issue.
SPITZERAnd that reflects a judgment that Democrats at the national level made really going back to 2000, the 2000 election, because the Democrats felt that the gun issue hurt Al Gore who lost to George W. Bush that year. And I think you could debate the point, but there's no debating that the Democrats felt the gun issue hurt them. And also -- and so they wanted to back away from it, and also that they wanted to expand their tent, so to speak, to bring in more moderate and conservative Democrats, as indeed they did, and gun rights Democrats.
SPITZERAnd that strategy was important for them winning control of Congress in 2006 and then the election in 2008. So Obama was following that pattern.
REHMLadd Everitt, would you agree with that assessment?
EVERITTI do, yeah. I think the Democrats have bought into this conventional wisdom that across the NRA is political suicide. And I think the tragedy...
REHMIs that true?
EVERITTNo, I don't believe it is. I think the tragedy of it is that the biggest promoter of that theory, of course, is the National Riffle Association. There is an excellent four-part series of articles that recently came out written by Paul Waldman of The American Prospect. The series is called "The Myth of NRA Dominance."
EVERITTAnd Paul Waldman went in and actually studied the elections that we're talking about, the Gore election and the last couple of congressional elections, to see if NRA money and NRA endorsements really had an effect. He found that the effect was negligible if it was there at all. The only type of candidate he saw get any type of bump from an NRA endorsement was a Republican challenger in a congressional race.
REHMBut what if the NRA goes against a candidate? How often does the money that the NRA can bring to bear defeat that candidate?
EVERITTAccording to Waldman's research, it has not been a factor, particularly in a post-Citizens United era where the money out there is so big that the sums that the NRA spends are really relatively small when you look at the total amount of money that's in the picture.
REHMJohn Velleco, would you agree with that?
VELLECOWell, the problem for President Obama and the Second Amendment is not the gun lobby. It's that a majority of Americas disagree with his position on guns. And the reason he was able to win election in 2008 in many traditionally red states was that he told voters that he would not impose more gun restrictions.
REHMJohn Velleco, director of federal affairs with Gun Owners of America. Short break and right back.
REHMAnd as we talk about the recent massacre in Colorado, the aftermath of the horrendous shooting which killed 12 people, which involved assault weapons. Joining me now by phone from California is Juliette Lestwich. She is legal director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Thanks for joining us at such an early hour, Juliette.
MS. JULIETTE LESTWICHHello. Good morning, it's my pleasure.
REHMPlease tell us about the regulations in place now for selling weapons and ammunition online.
LESTWICHWell, unfortunately, ammunition sales are almost completely unregulated. The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibited mail order sale. It also required gun sellers to be licensed and to maintain sales records, but those laws were repealed by Congress in 1986 at the urging of the NRA in a law called the McClure-Volkmer Act. And now, only a few states, I believe, Massachusetts, and possibly one other require ammunition to be sold in face-to-face transactions.
REHMSo are you telling me, Juliette, that you can buy ammunition as easily as you can buy a CD?
LESTWICHAbsolutely. And it's just insane that somebody like the Colorado shooter James Holmes would be able to buy 6,000 rounds of ammunition completely anonymously.
REHMNow, is there any regulation at work on the federal level?
LESTWICHI'm unaware of any legislation currently to remedy this shocking situation.
REHMAnd, Juliette, what would your recommendations be, moving forward?
LESTWICHOur recommendation would be that we go back to the regulations in the 1968 act. Of course, at the time, Congress had no way of envisioning the Internet...
LESTWICH...but it did envision mail order sales. And we would recommend that Congress once again require ammunition sellers to be licensed and to maintain sales log and to prohibit them from selling ammunitions through the mail.
LESTWICHSo the way that would work would be that if somebody in one state wanted to purchase ammunition from someone in another state, it would need to be shipped to a firearms dealer in the buyer state so that that dealer could maintain the record and, you know, so the sale would not be invisible the way it is now.
REHMWhat do you think about that, John Velleco?
VELLECOWell, Diane, it's natural that we want to be safe. We want to feel safe. And when I go to the movies with my five children, I want to be safe. But, unfortunately, "the solutions" that we're talking about now, may make some people feel safe, but will they actually make us safer? And I think the answer to that is no because criminals always can get around the gun laws.
VELLECOAnd one thing that has been shown to protect people is the presence of an armed criminal at the scene of the crime because, you know, I can't take Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City's bodyguards with me when I go out with my family. They rely on me for their protection. And the police, you know, as great a job as they do, they show up at the crime scene after the fact, and they try to figure out who did it and chased down the bad guys.
VELLECOBut they're not there to protect before the crime happens. That's up to the individual, and it's really a compounded tragedy that no one in the Colorado theater was able to shoot back because that was a so-called gun-free zone.
REHMNow, I've heard that comment previously, Ladd Everitt, that if someone else had been allowed to enter the theater with a concealed weapon, had an opportunity to shoot the gunman, that he wouldn't have been able to kill 12 people and wound dozens of others. Do you buy that argument?
EVERITTNo, no. I think that argument is as insane as James Holmes himself. Let's make a few points here. The first is that we don't know if there was no one else with a gun in that theater. We don't know that for sure yet. Maybe that will come out. Secondly, in Colorado, in order to obtain a concealed handgun permit, you do have to have a training certificate to do that, OK, but there is no minimum number of hours required of that training. Essentially, if you could find a certified trainer and pay him to simply give you the certificate, that qualifies.
EVERITTYou do not have to do any live fire training to get a concealed handgun permit in Colorado. You do not have to do any new training when you renew that permit. The notion that people with that level of training in a theater that was dark, packed to the gills with people who were panicking and running over each other with chemical gas dispersed, the notion that people with that level of training were going to stand up with handguns, open fire and somehow target the correct shooter, James Holmes, take him down without doing collateral damage, I think, is utter madness.
REHMRobert Spitzer, how do you see it?
SPITZERWell, Diane, I'd make a comparison with the Gabrielle Giffords shooting from a year-and-a-half ago. There was a man at the scene of the Arizona shooting of Rep. Giffords -- when that shooting began -- who ran to his car and obtained, retrieved his handgun and ran back. It was a short distance, and it was during daylight. And it was an open area, and there were a few dozen people around.
SPITZERBut as he approached the place where the shooting was actually taking place, he decided against pulling out his own handgun and displaying it. And he said later in an interview that, first, he was afraid that he would be mistaken for the shooter himself in the confusion and, secondly, that he might accidentally shoot an innocent person. And it -- what it underscores, I think, is the real-life nature of such a confrontation.
SPITZERThere's confusion. There's anxiety. There is -- it's easy to misunderstand what's happening at the moment. And the sort of movie vision of how a civilian, you know, sort of a Bruce Willis character might deal with such a situation typically is at odds with, you know, a real-life situation, and so it becomes much more complex in the real world.
VELLECOWell, one week before the Colorado shooting, in an Internet cafe in Florida, a 71-year-old man was able to use his concealed firearm to ward off two armed attackers in this crowded venue, and no one was injured. No one was hurt. We don't how many people could've been injured or killed if this man hadn't been there and hadn't acted quickly.
VELLECOAs far as the training, there are millions upon millions of concealed carry permit holders, and they use firearms successfully in self-defense hundreds of thousands of times a year. And to say that we have to have these government-mandated training regimens to exercise a constitutional right is something that would be contrary to the very idea that we have an individual right to keep and bear arms.
REHMJuliette Lestwich, how do you weigh in on this?
LESTWICHWell, first of all, with respect to the Second Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that the right to bear arms only protects an individual's right to have a handgun in the home for self-defense. The court has not held that anybody has a right to go armed in public. So that's the first point. The second point is we do know that gun laws can make a difference. The U.S. has the weakest gun laws of all of the industrialized nations in the world, and they have an incredibly low gun death rate.
LESTWICHSo we only need to look at other industrialized nations to see that gun laws make sense. And I would just hope that this will be a wake up call to our nation's leaders, that they'll finally do something.
REHMLadd Everitt, a sort of a wake up call. Does commenting on Juliette's point, Washington, D.C. does have gun laws, gun restrictions, and yet, what's the death rate here in Washington, D.C. by handguns, by any kind of weapon?
EVERITTYeah, well, I think we need to be realistic about what D.C. can and can't do. Ninety-eight percent of the guns recovered on D.C.'s crime scenes are bought in outside states. D.C. does not even have voting representation in Congress, much less the ability to write the laws of other states or to affect and vote on the floor of the House, and certainly there's no Senate representation laws that would affect federal gun laws.
EVERITTThe federal threshold has to be a little stronger. You know, we've reached a point here where people who are clearly deranged -- I mean, Jared Loughner is the best example, right? If anyone had taken a single minute to call anyone who knew that young man, the police would have arrested him for drug offenses, his college, which kicked him out for being deranged and threatening. A single phone call would've instantly revealed that that he should not have had a gun.
REHMBut do comment on John Velleco's point about the shooting in Florida where the 76-year-old man pulled out his own handgun and certainly prevented robbery and may have prevented the shooting of other people.
EVERITTYeah. I watched that video, and I think that man is probably the luckiest man in America today. He -- that was a situation where that cafe was pretty full of people, who, when those robbers came in, were basically scattering and trying to find cover. He walked through there basically firing his handgun. He is extremely lucky that no one bumped into him, that there was no errant shot.
EVERITTAnd then, as the robbers fled, as the robbers turned their backs to him and ran out the door, he approached them and was firing rounds through the door, outside onto the street, with no clear line of sight of where those bullets were going to go. I think that gentleman is one of the luckiest men in America today.
REHMSo you're saying that, in addition to stopping the robbery, he could well have perhaps put other lives in danger?
EVERITTI think he's unbelievably fortunate that he didn't hit someone else with those rounds, particularly the rounds that he fired out of the door of the cafe after these guys had turned their backs to him and fled.
REHMWhat about that, John Velleco?
VELLECOI think the people who were protected in that Internet cafe were thankful that someone was there to thwart those attackers. And if someone were able to do so in Colorado, I think we would take our chances with a "untrained concealed carry permit holder," although almost all gun owners I know spend a lot of time at the range. But we would take our chances with that person rather than only being able to duck and run and being made -- compelled to be mandatory victims by the policies of that company or, in some places, of the government.
REHMOf course, Robert Spitzer, James Holmes had no training. Isn't that correct?
SPITZERAs far as I know, he didn't...
REHMAs far as we know.
SPITZERYeah. I would add -- make two quick points. One is that when you talk to gun owners, most gun owners understand the need for training and the importance of training and, I think, would agree that training standards should be higher. They vary from state to state. And there would be only, I think, a positive, only a benefit to having people who own guns -- especially who have concealed carry permits -- to have a more stringent training minimum requirement.
SPITZERRegarding the jurisdiction question in the District of Columbia, which, of course, is -- even though it's a legal entity unto itself, it's only a city. It's really not the size of a typical state. Here in New York State, nine out of 10 guns that are used in crimes, that are captured by the police and traced, are traced to other states.
SPITZERThey come -- crime guns in New York state, by and large, are trafficked from states that have fairly lax gun purchase requirements and brought to New York state, which is one indication, I think, that stricter gun laws, even within a state like New York, can't be efficacious 'cause you've got to go outside the state to get guns, and that's what criminals typically do.
REHMRobert Spitzer, he's chair of the political science department at the State University of New York in Cortland. He's the author of the book titled "The Politics of Gun Control." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850, first to Farmington Hills, Mich. Good morning, Steve.
STEVEGood morning, Diane, and I appreciate you got to tap in my phone call.
STEVEYou know, I wanted to comment on the FAWB and what kind of legislation your panel perhaps would like to propose to this. The FAWB...
REHMAnd just to clarify, that is the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. Go right ahead.
STEVEOK. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban had provisions to ban large-capacity magazines and assault weapons. Now, two groups of people took advantage of this ban at that time. I think it was Sept. 14, 1994 when it was originally instated. The actual manufacturers were aware of this ban before it happened, and they ramped up production. Now, the ban did not ban weapons pre -- or manufacturers pre to the 1994 ban.
STEVESo an effort -- Glock is also an example of it. Glock's manufactured numerous (unintelligible) weapons before that ban itself and sold tons and tons of weapons with large-capacity magazines and weapons in general that would have been banned after that point.
STEVEAnd also, when you make the point with D.C. or Washington, D.C., that 98 percent of the gun crimes that -- guns that were found on scene with some other states, you can look at the same kind of legislation down in Arizona and Texas where they've been preceded with the Federal Assault Weapons Ban after it was banned or after it was dissolved, I guess, is the best way to put it, in California that had, that Mexico also has a higher crime rate even though weapons are banned there as well.
STEVEI guess my comment is, even though we've been talking about the FAWB or any other kind of legislation, what kind of legislation can be put forth and what kind of smart legislation be put forth to legislate against this kind of crime, even though it's unpredictable and you really can't legislate against crazies.
REHMAll right. Ladd?
EVERITTTwo things. The first thing is we have to have better screening at the point of purchase. One thing that people really need to realize about background checks in this country, even when you undergo one -- and, let's be clear, you could buy a gun through a private sale in Colorado without one -- but if you go to a federally licensed dealer and undergo the background check, the only two things they're looking for in terms of mental health background are whether you have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or formally adjudicated by a court as a mental defective.
EVERITTThe problem with that is that very few people who are dealing with serious mental health issues in this country fall into one of those two narrow categories. And if you don't, the gun dealer knows absolutely nothing about your state of mental health when you buy that gun. That's a serious issue that needs repair. The second thing is the type of military-style armament that we have on the civilian market.
EVERITTThe Assault Weapons Ban does need to be renewed. The '94 to 2004 ban did have loopholes, and, as your caller made clear, the gun manufacturers very cleverly exploited them. We need a tougher ban, and we -- and it needs to include, obviously, high-capacity ammunition magazine restrictions. Things like this 100-round drum magazine that James Holmes has, we've gone too far.
REHMWhat about that 100 drum round magazine?
VELLECOWell, there are always attempts to, when there's an incident like this, to focus on the instrument rather than focus on the individual. And there are bills -- there have been bills in Congress and there are some now to ban so-called large-capacity magazines in excess of 10 rounds. And who is the government to say how many rounds would be necessary for a -- in a self-defense situation?
REHMBut what use are these types of guns except to, perhaps, hurt other people?
VELLECORight. And if someone comes into my house in the middle of the night to rape my wife or kill my children, that's what I want, something that can hurt and kill another person. That's the purpose of having a self-defense firearm.
REHMBut do you need an assault rifle to do that?
VELLECOWell, need -- you know, does anyone need a seatbelt? You don't need a seatbelt unless you get in an accident. You need a weapon for self-protection when you're under attack.
REHMJohn Velleco, he is with the Gun Owners of America. We will take a short break here. And when we come back, more of your questions, comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd we have an email from Pamela in Baltimore, who poses what she says seems like an important question for this debate to you, Robert Spitzer. "Have the frequency of mass shootings increased over time and over the past decades? What does research tell us?"
SPITZERThere is some research on mass shootings. They are rare events. But, of course, they receive enormous attention. And I think, statistically, there has been the slight uptake in the number of mass shootings, but, again, a rare event, and it tends to overwhelm the prevalent crime statistics. And it's important to point out that in the last 20 years or so, crime nationwide has generally been dropping in nearly every category, and that includes the crime of murder and serious other attacks.
VELLECOSo, you know, from a statistical point of view, which is, you know, a little comfort obviously to those who are victimized by real crimes, but, statistically speaking, America is a pretty safe place, and it's become a safer place in the last 20 years or so.
REHMAll right. To Mary in St. Louis. Good morning. You're on the air.
MARYGood morning, all. I'm -- I initially wanted to ask if polling could be more nuanced in -- when this type of topic is brought up so that the question isn't simply are you for or against gun control. I believe that a lot of reasonable people would say that you maybe should have requirements on the ownership of AK-47s or, you know, basically -- what -- to me, it sounds like military-style rifles or whatever. I'm not a gun expert admittedly.
MARYSo I believe polling needs to be more nuanced on this because, again, I think the average person believes 6,000n rounds of ammunition via the Internet is a little extreme.
MARYI'm also kind of curious about the man who just said that he needs to protect his wife with 100 rounds in what probably is a matter of seconds. Your goal is to obliterate one person, or you expect an army to attack you and your wife? This is amazing to me. It blows me away.
VELLECOWell, the legislation in Congress that is being debated is to ban magazines in excess of 10 rounds. And if you're under attack by multiple attackers, that might be a reason you would need more than 10 rounds. We wouldn't limit the police. And they use guns to protect themselves, and we also shouldn't limit the ability of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves.
REHMOf course, police are trained to use such weapons. We don't necessarily know whether people who buy those weapons are trained.
VELLECOYeah. But interestingly -- and to go back to something that Robert said -- is that over the last 20 years, crime has been declining, and it has. But also, gun ownership has risen dramatically, and gun sales have risen dramatically, particularly since 2008. And yet the misuse of firearms is -- among concealed carry permit holders is statistically insignificant. It's almost nothing. And firearms accidents have been declining in real numbers over the last four decades even while gun ownership has risen dramatically over that same time period.
EVERITTYeah, I would contest that. Actually, if you look at general social survey data over the past three decades, you know, back in the mid-'70s, it was a point where more than half of American households owned a gun. By 2010, that had declined to one out of every three American households owned a gun. So the long-term curve is actually showing gun ownership declining. The phenomenon we're seeing is stockpiling of firearms, that those who do own guns are stockpiling firearms.
EVERITTAnd I think in order to understand why that is occurring, I think you have to understand a little bit of some of the radical ideology behind the modern pro-gun movement, this notion, again, that you have an individual right to shoot and kill elected officials when you personally sense tyranny.
REHMHere is an email from Kaye, who says, "I'm a 27-year-old female student with two small children. I recently bought 1,200 bullets in a carrying case on a mall visit. I'm not crazy. I just want my family protected and fed in the case of a natural or man-made disaster. I have a small stockpile of ammunition of various calibers with a total of over 10,000 for my range use. I don't think 6,000 is that much. A million would be a lot, but not 6,000." Ladd.
EVERITTYeah. You know, I -- you know, since the shooting has happened, I keep going back to a quote by the author of the Second Amendment, James Madison. Writing in the "Federalist Papers," in "Federalist No. 63," he said that, "Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as by the abuses of power." And Madison said that the former rather than the latter is apparently most to be apprehended by the United States.
EVERITTI think, looking at our gun laws today where we've reached a point where homicidal maniacs are legally arming up to this degree, that Madison and the other founders would describe this as what they wrote about as licentiousness. I think we've reached a point where the balance between public safety and individual liberty is so out of whack that the greatest threat to our individual liberties is not our government, any notion of an overbearing government. The greatest threat to our individual liberties is totally unfettered access to firearms and the types of people that now can essentially go to war with us.
REHMHere's an email from Jim in Fort Mill, S.C., who says, "I'm a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment. I'm a gun owner, a concealed weapon permit holder. Having said that," he says, "I do find something very wrong with the fact that it's easier to buy huge amounts of ammo and multiple semi-automatic weapons than it is to buy cold medicine. I can go into Wal-Mart in South Carolina, buy nine millimeter bullets with no I.D. but cannot buy a cold medicine without producing I.D." John Velleco?
VELLECOWell, I'm not sure where he is buying ammo without showing I.D., but if that's the case...
REHMFort Mill, S.C.
VELLECOWell, good for South Carolina because what is the purpose of prohibiting people from buying ammunition other than to stop them from using their firearms that are individually owned, constitutionally protected firearms?
VELLECOAnd, you know, to ban magazines or to ban ammunition or to regulate it to the point where it's too expensive to own is just another attempt at gun control and to regulate firearms where the Congress can't and the president can't get particular gun bans passed through the Congress. And so we have these attempts to just disarm the guns and make them nothing more than fancy paperweights.
REHMTo Virginia Beach and Tom. Good morning. You're on the air.
TOMGood morning, ma'am. Thank you for taking my call.
TOMSeveral comments actually, and I guess your producers can document this later for you. One, with the state of New York and with Washington D.C. with their gun laws, they're irrelevant. They'd come down here to Virginia -- and you can ask Mayor Bloomberg any day you want. They'd come down here, they buy all the guns they want, and they take them all back up North with no problem.
TOMAt our gun shows here in Virginia, as long as you have a little for sale sign on the back of your shirt or on the weapon you're selling, you can exchange weapons right there on the floor of the gun show. You know, there's no background check of automatic weapons, handguns, whatever you want. You're not required to ask for any identification.
REHMRobert Spitzer, what do you make of that?
SPITZERWell, couple points that Tom is making. His example of people coming from New York going south to buy guns, I think, illustrates the fact that New York gun laws are not irrelevant. The fact that you have to leave the state to get guns, especially for nefarious purposes, illustrates that New York gun laws matter. But it also shows that in this modern age, you can cross state boundaries, and, because different states have very different laws, you can take advantage of that.
SPITZERAnd the second point Tom was making about gun show sales in Virginia, this is what's referred to as the so-called gun show loophole where gun sales can occur at a gun show. But if the buyer -- if the seller is not a licensed dealer, then no background check occurs. Some states have closed that so-called loophole, some states have not. And there, again, the concept to federalism, that is different states functioning differently and no uniform federal standard, means that you have very different practices across the 50 states.
REHMSo, Robert, circling back around to the original question, having seen what we have seen this week, having had these families experience what they have, do you expect any of our politicians or even those running for presidential office to focus on this between now and November?
SPITZERThe short answer is no. I think neither political party nor candidates sees it as in their interest to advance a debate about gun policy partly because gun violence has been segregated from gun policy discussions in our political discourse, something that did not exist in prior decades.
REHMWhat would it take to change that?
SPITZERIt's a good question. In the long term, there's certainly reason to believe that things could change. Part of the reason is because we are in an issue-filled environment. There are a lot of issues that voters care a great deal about, the precarious state of the economy, health care reform recently enacted, a whole series of things that crowds the policy agenda. Secondly, you have the very close divide between the two major parties. And they -- this encourages them to be more cautious in their approach to policy and to politics.
SPITZERAnd the gun issue is a controversial issue. It's an unstable issue politically speaking. And the NRA, for example, National Rifle Association is very powerful, is very influential. Although I would agree with one of the earlier speakers that it's bark, it's probably worse than its bite. But one thing the NRA does do is they can make life miserable for -- or uncomfortable for a politician running for office, let's say, who decides to take a stand in favor of gun control.
SPITZERAnd it's one more complication that people running for office for the most part would rather do without. But discussions on these issues are always good like this one and in many venues around the country. And in the long term, this issue will surely come back to a policy discussion.
REHMAll right. To Westfield, Pa. Good morning, Luke.
LUKEHello. I have a question going back to a previous scenario that was proposed in which the likelihood of a person armed with a weapon in the Aurora shootings was able to shoot back in defense without causing more harm than good. Could you consider the option of perhaps requiring proper training to own a gun so that more good can be done? And I'll take the answer off the air. Thank you very much.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling, Luke. What do you think about that, John?
VELLECOWell, I think that a gun owner in that situation, you know, could have successfully...
REHMNo, that's not the question. The question is, would you favor more training?
VELLECOWe -- yes, we favor training.
VELLECOMore training, as much training as people are willing to and able to get for themselves. What we would oppose is government-mandated training. Now, if you had something like universal training where everyone in the country, in public schools, say, were given a gun and showed one end from the other and taught how to properly disarm a firearm...
REHMAt what age? At what age?
VELLECOAt an age -- an appropriate age.
REHMI mean, what's appropriate?
VELLECOWell, we can quibble about, you know, 10 or 11 or 12 or 15.
VELLECOBut just to know that if you -- to know what a firearm is.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Ladd Everitt, you want to comment?
EVERITTYeah. Again, I think this gets back to the issue of licentiousness. I don't think the answer to Aurora is putting guns in the hands of kids. We need to get serious in this country about preventing people who are clearly deranged, who are an obvious threat to public safety, from arming themselves for war.
REHMBut how do we know who is there potentially in a murderous rage?
EVERITTWe take the time to look. Again, I think people really need to realize the background checks we have today are instant computer background checks. When James Holmes went in and did these two checks at these two gun stores, they were probably over literally in a matter of minutes. What did the gun dealers who sold those guns know about him when they handed him these weapons? Nothing. You know, they're looking at a computer screen that says approved or denied. But like...
REHMAnd because he has no arrest background or...
EVERITTThere is no criminal record there. And as I noted before in terms of the mental health screening, there's basically nothing there. They're looking to see if he's in one of two very high and narrow categories. And if he's not, they know nothing about his mental health history.
REHMRobert, I know you want to get in on that.
SPITZERQuick point. There was a study of on-duty firing of service revolvers, service guns by New York City police officers over a 10-year period which found that in actual shooting situations, police officers in New York City hit their targets about a third of the time. And police officers are the most highly trained category of person who carry weapons in American society, aside from the military, and it underscores the real life difficulty of actually being affected with a gun in a real-life situation.
REHMYou want to comment, John?
VELLECOWell, the facts just don't bear out that law abiding citizens would be more dangerous than police with firearms because the accidental shooting of innocents by law abiding is actually lower than the police. So, you know, the fact that the police have difficulty in high pressure situations doesn't mean that we should disarm anyone else from whoever might face a high pressure situation or a violent attack, thereby leaving them just really sitting ducks for the criminal.
REHMYou sort of turned that whole argument on its head, John Velleco. When you think about the presumed training that a police officer has compared to what a normal everyday ordinary citizen like yourself has, how can you expect that you are going to hit your target and only your target more frequently than a trained New York City policeman?
VELLECOBecause that's what happens. Citizens use firearms successfully in self-defense, and it's almost always in very close situations, in a home invasion or something like that.
REHMLadd, I'm going to give you the last word.
EVERITTYeah. You know, we talked before about what it's going to take to change, right? I think what it's going to take to change is people of conscience need to stand up for their rights, you know, what happened to -- what happens to our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness when we've reached the point where homicidal maniacs can arm up to this degree and attack us in movie theaters.
REHMLadd Everitt, he is with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. John Velleco with Gun Owners of America and Robert Spitzer of State University of New York and author of "The Politics of Gun Control," thank you all so much. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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