What's on Congress' agenda in the final weeks before the August recess? Our panel takes a look at what needs to happen, and what can realistically get done.
Reaction to Friday’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn., has been loud and swift. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called on President Barack Obama to make gun control his No. 1 agenda. The dean of Washington’s National Cathedral said, “enough is enough … the massacre of these 28 people in Connecticut is … the last straw.” A sense of helplessness and frustration is palpable across the nation. While many are calling for more controls on guns and ammunition, others say we must focus on creating a more accessible mental health system. They worry we aren’t doing enough to de-stigmatize treatment. Diane and her guests discuss the effects of mass shootings on the American psyche.
- Daniel Webster co-director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
- Dr. Jana Martin clinical psychologist with 30 years of practice with children and families. Dr. Martin also leads public education efforts with the American Psychological Association.
- Dr. Alan Lipman director of the Center for the Study of Violence and professor at the George Washington University Medical Center.
- Ladd Everitt director of communications at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama offered solace at a vigil in Newtown, Conn., last night.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMAWe gather here in memory of 20 beautiful children and six remarkable adults. They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America.
REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the mass shootings and their effects on the American psyche: Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Daniel Webster of the Center for Gun Policy and Research, Dr. Alan Lipman of the Center for the Study of Violence. And Dr. Jana Martin of the American Psychological Association joins me by phone from Los Angeles.
REHMThis has been such a terrible tragedy for Newtown, Conn., but it truly affects all of us. I hope you'll join in the conversation this morning. Call us with your comments, your questions, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Feel free to follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you, and thank you for being with us.
MR. LADD EVERITTGood morning, Diane.
MR. DANIEL WEBSTERGood morning.
DR. ALAN LIPMANGood morning.
DR. JANA MARTINGood morning.
REHMDr. Martin, I'd like to start with you. The president says that we cannot accept events like this as routine. What is the reaction that you are having, and how do you project that onto others throughout the country?
MARTINWell, certainly, Diane. I think that I certainly agree with what the president said. We cannot accept this as routine, and there are things we can do to make sure it does not continue to be routine. Shifting our focus from mental illness to mental health and not stereotyping those with mental illness and further stigmatizing them, which means then that they don't seek out psychologists and other mental health professionals.
MARTINWe need to increase accessibility to treatment and make it OK early on to talk about feelings and help intervene with behavior so we can help prevent some of these horrible tragedies.
REHMI wonder, do you think children react in the same way that adults do?
LIPMANNo. I think they don't. I think that they tend to find these results shocking and incomprehensible. And the research on this shows that to the degree that people, adults or children, are shocked by these events, they're more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder. It's the shock. It's the surprise that dictates the severity of the trauma. But more important, I'd like to get back to something that Jana said which is that we need to destigmatize mental illness, clearly one of the effects on this nation.
LIPMANAnd I've seen every one of these events since Pearl in 1998, is that each time we ask the question again and again in this repetitive cycle, why does it occur? And yet we know, for example, from a research study that was done by the United States Secret Service of 20 years of these events that in virtually all of these episodes, there was a undiagnosed or insufficiently treated mental illness. So what this means is that we can spot these symptoms. We can identify the symptoms that underlie and precede these events.
LIPMANAnd we can teach people to intervene. And yet, somehow, there's been a gap in the nation between knowing the information that we've learned through science about what precedes these events and teaching the public how to spot these signs as parents, as educators, as children, and how to intervene to prevent these because small interventions can prevent large disasters.
REHMHowever, Dr. Lipman, you know, for example, this young man, Adam Lanza, was...
REHM...identified as or called autistic...
REHM...or with Asperger's syndrome. You cannot shift everything to mental illness. There are so many people who may have Asperger's, who may be autistic, who would never carry out...
LIPMANI am in complete agreement with you.
REHM...something like this. So how do we move this from...
REHM...simply saying mental illness and we've got to identify all these people who might be at risk for doing this? I have a hard time with that.
LIPMANThe fact is, Diane, that there's two things that we know can be done about that. Number one is that we know that there is a subset of these individuals, typically in their late teens or early 20s. That is the age at which people tend to break into either paranoid psychosis or a kind of hopeless homicidal and suicidal depression. These are the vast majority of people in the Secret Service study who have committed these events, so we could focus it down to that area.
LIPMANBut second and equally, if not more important, the ready accessibility of weapons of mass killing. In the presence of individuals who we know are developing signs of mental illness, who have been reported -- as in the case of Cho at Virginia Tech, as in the case of Holmes at Aurora and perhaps in the case that we see now with Lanza -- if we can remove these weapons from such easy accessibility, the symptomatology passes, we intervene, and we can prevent these episodes.
LIPMANIt is the two-prong combination: severe mental illness of the kind that I've described and the easy accessibility of automatic mass-killing weapons which repeatedly is a tremendous tragedy in this nation.
MARTINYes. I would like to take us back to the human condition. You know, we spend an awful lot of time in our schools and in our offices doing fire drills, disaster preparedness skills. Well, we can do the same thing with mental health.
MARTINWe need to teach survival to our children by better problem solving, more appropriate expressions of emotional upset and identification of signs of distress and disturbance. If we can create an environment of acceptance and learning of psychological skill sets, there likely will be less refusal to get help...
MARTIN...and a decrease in people struggling helplessly with their feelings and needing to act them out.
REHMI want our audience to hear an email I received this morning. I'm going to change one of the words because I don't want to use it on the air. It's from someone named Sean, who says, "America, love it or leave it. Second Amendment rules, don't tread on me. There's a black man in the White House. Circle the wagons. We want our guns and our god. Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition." Daniel Webster, what's your reaction to that? Is that person mentally ill, or is that person someone who wants his guns and the freedom to use them?
WEBSTERI can't really say whether that individual is mentally ill or not.
WEBSTERBut he certainly has a particular mindset that...
REHMAnd it's those words, mindset, that makes me wonder whether we are simply talking about a mentally ill community or one with a mindset.
WEBSTERCorrect. So that's a excellent point, Diane. I think, and, again -- and Dr. Lipman alluded to this -- it's the combination when you have a severe mental illness that, in some cases, is dangerous, not always, of course, but in the combination of an environment that not only we make it way too easy to get these firearms, but we also have an environment that's reflective of the email that you just read, Diane, in which it's not simply we like guns because we like to hunt or in case we might need to use them in some defensive manner.
WEBSTERI think more and more, there is an idea put forward that basically says we're angry. We don't like the course the nation is taking particularly under President Obama. And literally, we are going to arm ourselves and be threatening, and there truly is a circling of the wagons, as the email imply, which I find incredibly frightening and, you know, really could challenge not only our safety but even our democracy.
REHMLadd Everitt, do you want to comment?
EVERITTYes, Diane. Yeah. We would describe, you know, the modern-pro-gun-movement has become very radical, you know, we often tell people, this is not your grandfather's NRA. And, you know, the modern-pro-gun-movement today is marked by what we would call insurrectionist ideology, which is this belief that the NRA and others have put forward that there is an individual right, an individual right under the Second Amendment to essentially shoot and kill government officials when you personally disagree with democratically-enacted laws.
EVERITTThat is a danger not only to, you know, American families and communities but to our democracy. And President Obama addressed this directly last night in what I thought was one of the most powerful lines of his speech when he said, "Are mass shooting events like Newtown really the price that we pay for freedom in this country?" And he challenged that idea directly. And I think that's the beginning of a very important conversation.
REHMLadd Everitt, he's director of communication at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Small break here. When we come back, I'm going to take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We are, of course, talking about the mass shootings that took place -- 20 children, six teachers, principal in Newtown, Mass. -- such an horrific incident. It's difficult to talk about it. The briefing by police in Newtown this morning indicated there is nothing new to report. There are three funerals of those small children taking place today. Ladd Everitt is here. He's with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
REHMDaniel Webster is at the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Alan Lipman, he's at the Center for the Study of Violence at George Washington University Medical Center. And joining us from Los Angeles, Dr. Jana Martin, she's a psychologist with 30 years of practice with children and families. She also leads public education efforts with the American Psychological Association.
REHMI know that many of you have your own thoughts and questions and comments. I'm going to open the phones to hear from you very shortly. Here's an email from Elaine, who says, "No one has mentioned the effect of violence in computer games, video games, movies and television as an important variable in gun violence. Shouldn't these influences be considered in any discussion on preventing the violent use of guns?" Ladd Everitt.
EVERITTYeah. I mean, I think that is something we need to address. I mean, I think there is no question that the popular culture in this country glorifies violence. We see that in our movies. We see it in music. You know, we see it in sports even. You know, this is something that, I think, you know, Bob Costas in his recent remarks cut right to, the fact that there is a gun culture that permeates all levels of society and that glorifies, you know, this notion of "justified violence."
EVERITTAnd I, you know, I think the faith leaders last night at Newtown, after that event, I think commented directly at this and said that they hoped that this would be a change in the society to a more peaceful way of resolving our differences.
REHMAll right. I'm going to open the phones and take a caller in Florida. Good morning, Alicia. You're on the air.
ALICIAHi, Diane. I'm going to try to be as calm and not all over the place, but this is so upsetting to me because my husband and I have recently set -- we split up because I have a 10-year-old who also has Asperger's and other things as well. It usually goes hand in hand with other disorders. He has been saying that he's going to cut mine and my daughter's heads off, cut our hearts out. He, you know, he loves us, but he wants us to die. So there is definitely some psychosis there.
ALICIABut those parents are not on the same page when doctors leave with us to put him in hospitals. I'm all for it. I care for the safety of myself and my husband and my kids. But my husband is not on the same page. And just for the safety of the kids, we've split up, and my husband has decided that he's going to, you know, take this responsibility on himself and hope that my son doesn't hurt him or...
REHMAre -- excuse me, Alicia, are you saying that your son has gone to live with your husband?
ALICIAYes. He lives with my husband, and my girls and I live only three hours away.
REHMI see. Dr. Martin, what would you say to Alicia?
MARTINWell, the first thing I would say is thank you so much for sharing your story. And I can empathize and feel for you in your distress. I think that it is very frightening when you don't feel like you're in control. I'm hopeful that you have been able to access resources and gain some strength in figuring out how to protect your girls emotionally as well as physically.
REHMAlicia, I think if you are to get some help, you need to be in touch with public health officials.
ALICIAWe've done -- yeah, we have done so much. My son's been seeing doctors -- numerous doctors since he was 4 years old, and there's not much support. We had taken him out of public school, so he's in a private school. But there's not much -- like, we have no friends.
LIPMANAlicia, may I ask you -- first of all, my heart goes out to you. I've seen other people in this situation before where the child is with the husband. The husband often is against the idea of treatment, feels that it's a kind of weakness. I don't know if that's the case with your husband, and it prevents exactly the kind of intervention that you need for your child.
LIPMANI want to ask you, have you attempted to speak to anyone, a mental health professional, a clinical psychologist, a psychiatrist, preferably a clinical psychologist who can advice you on the steps that you can take, number one, to take care of yourself, number two, to protect your family from your child, but, number three, to intervene with your husband? You need an adviser for action.
ALICIAYes. They -- it's hard. People don't want to step on toes, and they don't want to see families break up. So while the doctors say they support me, nobody's willing to say that they're -- sorry. Nobody's willing to say that they're going to intervene and...
LIPMANAs also a lawyer, one thing you may want to consider is consulting a lawyer who specializes at mental health issues. They may be able to add on to ways that you can take meaningful action to intervene. Consider that, Alicia. I wish you the best of luck.
REHMI do as well, Alicia. Please stay safe. And to St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Kaye. You're on the air.
KAYEOh, hello. I don't want to reiterate what Alicia said, but I do -- it does follow up on what she said. I have a 19-year-old who's bipolar. And we -- someone has mentioned about educating the public. There is a need for that. My husband and I at one point had seen a marriage counselor, and much of it was regarding our son. And the marriage counselor pointed out if your son has leukemia or he has some terrible -- other terrible disease, people would be bringing you dinner and would be helping you...
KAYE..and instead of shunning you and looking the other way.
REHMBut there are free...
KAYEBut I think they're also -- I think they are afraid. I think there also needs to education with it. There is a support network, at least in St. Louis. I have called NAMI. I have called crisis intervention lines.
KAYEThe -- but they say, oh, you need to call the police. The criminal justice system seems to be the only outlet for kids in crisis. And the law enforcement, they say they're trained. They have crisis intervention teams. They are not trained. They're not adequately trained. Educators -- the only thing that educators know how to do is punish.
KAYEAnd I think there needs to be, in addition to public health sentiment -- and I'm not by any means justifying what this person -- young man did, but there needs to be much better health professional support. I mean, people say, oh, it's out there. It's not. When push comes to shove and you make that phone call and you're in a crisis, there's no option for you. It's...
REHMAnd, Dr. Martin, monies are being cut back for health care, including mental health resources.
MARTINYes. Unfortunately, Diane, they are. And people like our callers and so many others are suffering. Their children are suffering. Formerly, I ran a state in-patient psychiatric unit for adolescents. And I can't tell you how many times we were considered a juvenile delinquency facility. I was always glad to receive those adolescents instead of their being locked up in juvie hall. But I was appalled by how people view this behavior as criminal behavior and how they think that just locking up people is going to solve the problem. It's not.
MARTINThere are many, many ways to help people in comprehensive services and to give the support and the public education so that we can make things happen. We -- the American Psychological Association has done a great a job with its public education program. But there's always so much more that can be done to help people we can all help. We can all help.
REHMAll right. Kaye, thank you so much for your call. I hope that there in St. Louis, you can find some help for your son. And here's an email from Caroline, who says, "If teachers were allowed to carry guns, this could have been prevented." Now, yesterday, one spokesperson on the air said exactly the same thing. What's your reaction to that, Daniel?
WEBSTERI think that's a terrible idea. I think that there's a little bit of fantasy thinking here that teachers are always going to be able to respond with that perfect decision-making, with the perfect shot that hits the bad guy and everything is solved. I think that -- again, I think that's fantasy thinking. I also think, right now, we're talking about a mass shooting that grips us.
WEBSTERBut every single day, we have more than 30 gun homicides in the United States, and a lot of those homicides occur when things get out of hand simply because there's a ready gun available. You bring firearms into schools with children, adolescents, sometimes very chaotic environments, you're asking for trouble. There will be other incidents that will -- far more that would occur if we simply bring more guns into schools.
EVERITTWell, you know, I know someone who bought into this philosophy that guns make us safer. Her name is Nancy Lanza, and she's not with us anymore. You know, Nancy Lanza completely bought into that philosophy, didn't she? She stockpiled firearms in her home. And I would bet my house that this emailer, the day before Friday's tragedy occurred, would have told us that Nancy Lanza was the safest person in America because she literally had an arsenal of firearms in her home.
EVERITTI think that poisonous philosophy, which the NRA has promoted to our country for the sole goal of padding their wallets, is now being seriously challenged. And I hope law -- I hope in the not too distant future, we no longer hear that kind of radical and disturbing rhetoric, particularly after incidents like this.
REHMAll right. To College Park, Md. Good morning, Sharon.
SHARONGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
SHARONThere are people with mental illnesses all over the world, but not all of them have access to guns. And there -- currently, there are about 310 million guns in this country, and in 2008 alone, 31,000 people died from guns, and 40,000 people were injured by guns. And this is not the kind of society we want to live in. There are other countries who do have gun laws. And they don't have this problem. And I don't understand how we can elect officials that are being paid or being supported by NRA lobbyists.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Ladd.
EVERITTI think what we need to understand -- I agree with the caller, and I thank you for pointing out some of that data. I think what we all need to understand is that the modern pro-gun movement is perverting the idea and purpose of our Constitution. If you read the very first line of our Constitution, our founders lay out the purpose of the document and why they gathered to draft it to preserve our union.
EVERITTAnd they say that one of the primary purposes of the document is to ensure domestic tranquility. Diane, I would ask your listeners right now if they think that we are ensuring domestic tranquility with the gun laws that we have on the books today.
REHMDr. Lipman, is there some indication that school shootings in this country are actually on the decline?
LIPMANLet's say three things about that. First of all, I think Nancy is absolutely correct. Today, we're talking about a mass shooting, and these mass shootings have been clearly linked to the combination of a clearly diagnosed mental illness in combination with the ready kind of gun availability that Ladd described so eloquently and which I entirely agree with. Secondly, we have the easy availability of weapons across this nation and which is not tied to mental illness.
LIPMANNow, look, parents should be aware, with all youth violence, only 2 percent of youth violence occurs in schools. So remember that most of our schools are extremely safe places, number one. Moreover, over the last six years, the incidence of these mass kinds of shootings has actually gone slightly down. While it doesn't reach statistical significance, there's no question that there's a downward trend, and it only makes up a tiny percentage of the violence that happens across this nation.
WEBSTERWell, Dr. Lipman is absolutely right with respect to pointing out that the mass shootings account for a very small portion, and, of course, our schools really are some of the safest places, thankfully. Overall, mass shootings, however, when you bring it outside just the school context, are definitely on the rise without a doubt.
WEBSTERSo I just want to point that out.
REHMOne point brought up by Nick in an email is he says, "I've been a school teacher in D.C. for five years. Sadly, I know of very few students and teachers who have not been touched by gun violence. Three years ago, my principal was one such victim. I wonder about the long-term mental health implication of losing loved ones, colleagues and students to violence." Quick response, Dr. Martin, before we go to a break.
MARTINYes. We know that people who have experienced a trauma are more vulnerable to future traumas. They become more protective. They may engage in some self-defeating coping skills, such as excess use of alcohol or drugs or poor eating or lack of exercise. It increases the stress level.
MARTINThe APA Stress in America survey showed us that people are suffering from stress, and they're using inappropriate ways of coping. Diane, it goes back to the fact that if we do not teach people how to cope with small frustrations, large frustrations, we are not going to be able to make a dent, and psychologists are ready to do this.
REHMDr. Jana Martin, she's a psychologist with 30 years of practice with children and families. More of your calls and comments when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're going to take a call now from Sandy Hook, Conn. Chris, you're on the air.
CHRISYes. Hi, Diane. Thank you so much for talking with me. I really enjoy your show.
CHRISI seem to think that, at least, my wife and I are looking for is action. I think we really need open discussion and hard work on how we can resolve these kinds of crazy acts. You know, it's the things -- the control of guns -- but not just eliminating them. We have to have an open discussion about it. We have to get the mental counseling for those people that are showing these types of tendencies. And we really just got to stop glorifying these people that do these horrible acts.
REHMI fully agree with you, Chris. And just so you know, tomorrow, we intend to begin the discussion on gun control starting with assault weapons and whether there is now political will to indeed engage our elected officials in this discussion. So I hope you'll be with us then. I gather that your youngest daughter was in that school on Friday.
CHRISYes. She was in the school. She was part of that line of students in that first picture that came out. That was her class being evacuated right next to it.
REHMAnd tell me how she is this morning.
CHRISShe seems to be doing very well. Thank goodness there's a lot of volunteers, and they have great programs here. In fact, she's at the Newtown Youth Academy right now playing games, and all the high school sports teams are volunteering to help out. And that kind of connection to the community have been wonderful here.
REHMI'm glad. Thank you for calling us this morning. I hope your family stays well.
REHMThank you. And here's an email from Mike, who says, "Sadly, our nation as a whole will move on from this event within the month, gone and forgotten until the next mass shooting occurs." Daniel Webster.
WEBSTERWell, I understand where Mike is coming from because, obviously, we've experienced enormous number of mass shootings in this country, and rarely, if ever, do we see meaningful action taken by our elected officials. It's a very sad commentary. I hope that this is a different situation. I think this has touched people in a very, very deep way.
WEBSTERI also think that it comes in a span of -- a very short span of time where there'd just been enormous amount of mass shootings that it's hard to -- becoming more and more difficult to dismiss this as just some random event by some individual person with a set of problems.
WEBSTERYes, they do involve disturbed individuals. But there's a pattern here, and I believe that we can wake up to that fact. And I believe that while some measures will be difficult to achieve, I actually think that there's enormous amount of agreement that we need to fix our background check system to make it so that it's not so easy for dangerous individuals to obtain firearms.
REHMAll right. To Tiffany in Alexandria, La. Good morning. You're on the air.
TIFFANYGood morning, Diane. I love your show. Thank you for bringing this topic to light.
TIFFANYI just returned home from Afghanistan where we used weapons of that caliber to kill the enemy. Those weapons are meant to kill people. They're not meant to hunt. They're not meant to go out and play games with. They're meant to kill people and to do so in a way that maximizes damage. I just don't understand how people can say that we don't need an assault weapons ban.
EVERITTWell, you know, I agree with everything that you're saying there. And, you know, I want to go back to what Mike said because I want to be clear about something that's in my heart today, and I do believe that we are going to win this struggle to enact better gun laws, and we are going to save lives, and we are going to prevent tragedies like the one we saw in Newtown. After last night, we now have the leader of the Free World standing with us in this fight.
EVERITTWe have other Americans that have shown great moral courage standing with us in this fight. We can think of Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly, his remarkable recent statement, the stand that Bob Costas took when he had absolutely no reason to have to do that. I do believe we can make change. I also think we are seeing clear evidence that the political power of the National Rifle Association is dramatically overstated.
EVERITTThey got shellacked in election 2012. They wasted millions of dollars trying to defeat President Obama and went "all in." They lost seven out of eight high-profile Senate races they put more than $100,000 into. And of the 30 House incumbents who lost, they endorsed 17. The NRA is a paper tiger. We're going to come directly at their poisonous rhetoric and their poisonous agenda. We're going to stand with our president, and we are going to enact laws to save lives.
LIPMANI want to...
REHMDaniel -- excuse me -- Daniel Webster, is Newtown a tipping point in public opinion on gun violence?
WEBSTERI think that it is. I think, again, this is a type of tragedy that just hit really, really deeply with so many people. And I do think this is a tipping point after so many mass shootings.
REHMDr. Lipman, Chris Cillizza wrote in The Washington Post this morning that the deaths of 20 children could affect public consciousness in new ways. Do you agree with that?
LIPMANWell, I agree with that and perhaps even more strongly with the statements of Ladd and Daniel. I think that we are at a unique point where we have a president who is ready and prepared to act. We have the scientific and personal understanding and a nation that is truly involved in preventing these crimes that involve these weapons and these illnesses.
MARTINAnd we are so also able to use psychological experience to understand how better to help people, how better to deal with violence, how better to allow us to teach people how to deal with their difficulties. This nation is poised and positioned to deal with this not just in a political way but also to be at the ready with the necessary psychological, evidence-based strategies and practice and the skill sets that psychologists and other mental health professionals have.
REHMLadd, how committed do you believe President Obama is to some form of legislation?
EVERITTI now believe he's totally committed. I've worked in this movement now for 12 years. And after hearing what he had to say last night, 12 years of emotion poured out of me. You know, for those of us who work in this movement and those of us, you know -- and many of us, even in my organization, are people who are victims and survivors of gun violence whose loved ones have died from this.
EVERITTYou know, it's so easy to become frustrated, jaded, disappointed after one incident and after another, but last night I saw leadership. Last night, I saw determination and a man who was telling us that he was ready to put the full power of his office to prevent this from happening again.
REHMAnd Ladd called the NRA a paper tiger. Daniel, do you think Congress is willing to phase down the gun envoy?
WEBSTERI agree that -- with Ladd's statements that the power of the NRA is greatly overstated. I think that you can stand up to the NRA and win elections. It was demonstrated in 2012 as Ladd just explained. I think that the biggest concern that I have is just how far to the right the Republican Party has gone and how much the NRA is sort of part of their base that even if you had more moderate Republicans willing to take a stand, I think they're going to face strong party pushbacks. So I think that's the biggest struggle that we have.
REHMAll right. To Baltimore, Md. Good morning, Allen.
ALLENGood morning, Diane. I've been working in kindergarten and preschool for over 30 years. And I've just been so torn processing this. There is one part of me that's processing by, you know, sharing resources for colleagues working with children and family this morning. And then there's another part of me that's connecting this at a global level. And I don't mean to politicize this. I really mean to humanize this.
ALLENBut, you know, when we have random accidents and accidental strikes of drones and missiles and children get killed and schools get hit then, you know, it succumbs this kind of more nameless violence. We don't know who the killers are. We don't know who the children are. We don't hear their names. I think Philip Slater spoke about this in the '60s and the '70s where there's killing that we don't see and we don't hear about at this type of personal level. So this is -- I'm torn, you know? I'm connecting this to just the larger ways that we respond, you know, to any type of killing of children.
REHMLet me ask you, Allen, whether you were affected as I was affected when President Obama read each of the names of those 20 children last night.
ALLENI mean, I think that's where I was probably cheering up where everybody was cheering up there. I mean, it, you know, it puts -- even just putting a name to it and not a face to it. But the minute we start to do that with any type of death, whether it happens locally in our country or outside the borders now, the minute you start to attach names and faces to it, we start the feel of that much more strongly.
REHMDo you agree with that, Dr. Lipman?
LIPMANWell, I not only agree with that, but I think that if we can realize that by detecting the signs that precede these incidents, we can keep those faces alive. If we make those weapons that can be so easily obtained by those who were so greatly disturbed more difficult to obtain, that we can keep those lives, their futures and lives before us. We can create a national dialogue that will change this nation, and I believe that President Obama with his will now has become to start.
REHMBut, you know, Ladd, you heard the email I read. I mean, there are an awful lot of people out there who own guns who would like to use them not necessarily because they have demonstrated any kind of mental illness previously but simply because they want to use them. We're focusing a great deal on mental illness. Should we?
EVERITTWell, I think, you know, for starters, I do think there are many Americans that own firearms for entirely legitimate purposes, and, you know, there's a lot of rhetoric...
EVERITT...that comes from the NRA about confiscation and total bans, but no one is advocating that. On the issue of mental health though, I think that's very critical. One thing that people need to understand is that we have not revised the prohibitions for mental health in terms of purchasing firearms since 1968. So when you go to buy a gun, there are two only reasons that would disqualify you based on mental health.
EVERITTOne is if you've been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution, basically forced to go in. The other one is if a court has adjudicated you as a "mental defective," which is an offensive term that shows us that we haven't talked about this in 40-plus years. So we are ignoring 40-plus years of research on mental health who -- that would tell us who is more likely to be violent and commit crime.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Middletown, Pa. Devin, you're on the air.
DEVINYes. Hello. Good afternoon -- good morning.
DEVINI would just like to ask a question to your gentlemen. Exactly how do you expect to keep the criminals from being able to get weapons? I mean, bans and everything, that's only followed by legal citizens. Criminals would still get them off the street.
REHMGo ahead, Daniel.
WEBSTERYeah. That's a common question and sort of a great deal of skepticism about that. We've done research and found that in states that have the most comprehensive measures to regulate the selling of firearms, you have far fewer guns being diverted to criminals. Does that mean that there are no criminals who ever get guns in those places?
WEBSTEROf course not, but it does make that more difficult. Just to give you an example, New York City has had a dramatic reduction in its rate of homicides. It now -- it's one of the most safe -- safest cities in the United States. New York has some of the most comprehensive gun regulations. And if you look at the...
REHMMore comprehensive in terms of mental health issues?
WEBSTERNo, no. We're broadening this now, and I appreciate that you did that with your last question, Diane, because mental health is important. But most of the gun violence that occurs does -- is not directly connected to mental health issues and does get at sort of the heart of what this recent caller, Devin, was referring to, which is access of guns to dangerous people.
WEBSTERAnd when you have comprehensive measures in place, we find that the street price of guns, for example, can be five, six times higher in those areas compared to states with a very lax laws. When you have that kind of discrepancy in price, you have far less consumption in use of guns, and you have far less death. So no single gun law is completely foolproof, but we do know that the data indicate that you can reduce availability of guns to criminals without banning guns.
MARTINYes. And let's also increase the availability of psychological health care. It's very important for us not to forget that individuals who are not in charge of their emotions, who don't have good coping skills, will find some way to harm others. It doesn't matter what the instrument is. We cannot forget to take care of people and teach them how to have psychological well-being.
EVERITTYea. I just want to reflect back on this notion that criminals don't obey laws, so why, you know, why have laws? You know, this is an argument that we hear very often from the modern pro-gun movement. And, you know, it's -- I think it's an argument that's meant to react with people on the gut level. But if you think about it for a minute, it's really an argument in favor of anarchy.
EVERITTIt's an argument in favor -- basically saying that the rule of law does not work. And, you know, I think this gets back to the notion of how the NRA has perverted the meaning of our Constitution because that's not how our founders wanted to do things.
REHMLadd Everitt, he's with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Daniel Webster of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Dr. Alan Lipman of George Washington University Medical Center and Dr. Jana Martin, a psychologist who practices with children and families, let's hope this is the beginning of real and realistic discussion of what is happening in our society. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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