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.
The White House and Democratic lawmakers have vowed to introduce gun control legislation. A month after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a panel joins Diane to discuss prospective new actions and whether the momentum for change is slipping.
- Dan Kois a senior editor at Slate and contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.
- Thomas Menino mayor of Boston and co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
- Carolyn McCarthy Democratic Congresswoman from New York.
- Jackie Kucinich reporter for USA Today.
- Robert Spitzer distinguished service professor and chairman of the political science department at the State University of New York, Cortland, and author of four books on gun policy, including "The Politics of Gun Control."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Nearly one month after the Sandy Hill (sic) Elementary School massacre, the Obama administration is weighing comprehensive legislation to curb gun violence. Several bills dealing with firearms have already been introduced in Congress. Gun control advocates say it's important to act before outrage subsides. But Republican leaders say gun control must take a backseat to fiscal issues. Joining me in the studio to talk about the political strategy on guns, Jackie Kucinich from USA Today.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us from a studio at WAER in Syracuse, Robert Spitzer. He's the author of four books on gun policy, including "The Politics of Gun Control." I hope you'll be part of this discussion. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to both of you.
MS. JACKIE KUCINICHGood morning, Diane.
MR. ROBERT SPITZERGood morning.
REHMGood to have you both with us. Now, joining us by phone is Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, Democrat of New York. Good morning to you.
REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHYGood morning. It's good to be with you again.
REHMThank you so much. Tell us, considering what Republican leaders have said, how much of a priority do you think new gun control legislation is going to be in the 113th Congress.
MCCARTHYWell, I happen to think that if there was ever an opportunity to try to pass a good gun safety issues, it's going to be in this particular Congress. You have to remember over the last several years with the horrific mass shootings that we've had. But I also always look at the shootings that we have every day in this country of ours. But now you have the president backing us up, the response around the country from average citizens, also NRA members speaking out.
MCCARTHYI think that people are looking at a different attitude, that enough is enough. I would say that the shooting, unfortunately, that happened in December in Connecticut was almost the tipping point of the violence that we have in this country where people are saying, we must do more. And that's certainly up to us as the legislators to come up with those solutions which, I believe, we can do.
REHMWhat about your own bill and some of the others introduced in the House and expected to be introduced in the Senate when it returns later this month? I gather there are some 10 bills dealing with gun control.
MCCARTHYWell, I mean, listen. I've always worked on the gun safety issues. We have -- I'm working with many colleagues that are working on other issues, the mental health part, 'cause I have to look at this holistically. There are many pieces of the puzzle that have to be put together and certainly with the vice president and his commission. And we also have a commission that Nancy Pelosi appointed to us to work together, and that's what we've been doing.
MCCARTHYOn Jan. 3, I reintroduced the -- to put the ban on high-capacity magazines. That is something that has been common in every one of these major shootings. You know, when you think of a hunter, they're sportsmen. But yet, they only get three bullets to be part of -- when they go out hunting. And yet, with these high-capacity assault magazines, we're seeing, you know, anywhere from 15 to over 100 rounds.
MCCARTHYI happen to think that with the Internet, which does some good stuff, but also -- I have a bill to get rid of the online purchases of ammunition without, you know, anybody going through any background checks. To fix the Gun Show Act, that is something that Mayor Bloomberg and the mayors across the country had been requiring and, you know, are backing me on, where we're going to have background checks on every sale, every sale to put more names into the national instant background check system database. Sen. Schumer is sponsoring that with me.
MCCARTHYAnd then, of course, everybody here has heard about the Gun Show Loophole. That is something that -- across this country, people are being able to buy guns without going through a background check whatsoever. And later on this month, Dianne Feinstein of California and I will be introducing the new updated assault weapons ban.
REHMI'd be interested in your reactions to the bills introduced by two Republican members of Congress talking about gun-free schools zones.
MCCARTHYWell, to be very honest with you, I know they'll -- we always knew how they would come back and attack. This one kind of threw many of us off as far as having guns into our schools. Number one is the local issue. The federal government really can't say what can be done in a local level. The schools are going to have to make that decision, from what I understand. And what I'm hearing from, the majority of my schools are totally against this. They don't want -- and many -- and I could understand that.
MCCARTHYMany of the teachers do not want to be involved on the responsibility of having a gun. Many of them could not afford to even be able to have somebody in their school, whether it's a retired police officer or a veteran. When all of the budgets have been cut, one of the first things that was cut also was the safety issues in the schools. So I think that we have to look at that holistically in a whole manner. I will say the school in Connecticut did everything right as far as the lockdown.
MCCARTHYMy sister is a nurse in one of the schools here in Nassau County. She said they went through a lockdown. Everything was right. So the schools are prepared for this. But when you have someone that is intent on coming in and doing these mass murders, lets remember, again, it was the large magazines that were able to take down so many people in a short period of time.
REHMI also would like to know what you thought of Sen. McConnell's statement on "Face the Nation" yesterday that anything having to do with guns was going to have to wait until after all the fiscal issues were dealt with. What's your reaction to that?
MCCARTHYWell, you know, I have to say that's a typical response for someone that wants to hide from an issue. We in Congress are very capable of doing five and six things at the same time. Different committees take over different jurisdictions. So we are capable of moving forward on that. That is just some excuse to delay, delay, delay. They are hoping that people will forget about this. They are hoping that as time goes on, it's not going to be as popular as what we're seeing right now. But I have to say this time has been different.
MCCARTHYYes, unfortunately, this does stay on people's minds, but there are going to be other events coming up. We have the anniversary of Gabby Giffords. We're going to have the anniversary coming up of Aurora. So these things will remind people of the violence that we have in the school. It's going to be up to us -- us as politicians, yourself as a social media outreach -- to remind people this isn't going away because, unfortunately around the corner, there probably will be another mass shooting.
REHMCongresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, Democrat of New York. Thank you so much for joining us.
MCCARTHYAnd thank you for the work that you're doing by getting the message out.
REHMThank you. And turning to you, Bob Spitzer, what about the work of Vice President Biden? What about that group and what are the ideas coming there?
SPITZERWell, there's been an early revelation about what may be coming from Vice President Biden's group. There was an article in the newspaper, in The Washington Post over the weekend that talked a little about that. And there were two interesting things about what that revealed. One is that they seem to be working very hard to put together a diverse political coalition before the fact to stand behind new legislative efforts that are going to be going to Congress.
SPITZERThey have approached gun owners, which is very important. The NRA is a group -- the National Rifle Association has about four million members, give or take, but there are over 80 million gun owners in America. Most gun owners are not a member of the NRA. And frankly, most gun owners are pretty sensible about taking reasonable care with guns and, frankly, supporting sensible restrictions and regulations.
SPITZERSo it seems to me to be a good step to bring in representatives from the gun-owning community. They're also lining up law enforcement, business -- various businesses such as Wal-Mart, religious leaders and also mental health professionals. So they're bringing these people together apparently, and this, I think, is an important political step.
SPITZERAs to the substance of the Vice President Biden group, they have talked about -- or the news account say that they're talking about formalizing, systematizing and universalizing background checks for gun purchases, establishing a single national database to track gun sales because the information is extremely sketchy and incomplete for reasons that perhaps we will talk about and for improving the mental health check process.
SPITZERAnd that, indeed, is a gaping hole in terms of how gun sales are monitored and what gun sales should and should not go ahead. So, for example, a majority of those individuals who have perpetrated mass shootings in recent years were people who had clearly identifiable and significant mental problems well known to friends and family and who were never caught in the system and were able to obtain guns legally, by and large, and then engaged in these mass shootings.
SPITZERAnd there's, I think, much agreement about that.
REHMRobert Spitzer, he is the author of four books on gun policy, including "The Politics of Gun Control." I do want to tell you that we did invite the NRA to be part of this program. None of their representatives was available. And short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking in this hour about issues related to gun control whether, in fact, in the 113th Congress we will be seeing efforts to put forward some measures to control availability of guns and put limits on what can be purchased in the way of both guns and ammunition. Here in the studio: Jackie Kucinich, a reporter for USA Today.
REHMJoining us from WAER in Syracuse is Robert Spitzer. He is professor and chairman of the political science department at the State University of New York at Cortland. He's also author of four books on gun policy. Jackie Kucinich, I want to ask you why the timing on this issue is so important for the president and for those who are in favor of gun control.
KUCINICHWell, sustaining the momentum that has occurred in the wake of the massacre in -- at Sandy Hook Elementary, I think, is important for this White House if they want to get anything done. Right now, you have a willingness of some Democrats and Republicans who might not ordinarily want to talk about gun control, and there is a willingness and maybe, perhaps, a willingness to act on this, not just talk.
KUCINICHI mean, initially when you saw Aurora happen, you couldn't get a lot of these members to even speak about gun control. It was really difficult. And you had even Democrats coming out and saying, this isn't the time. Well, now you hear -- there seems to be more -- even if it's subtle, there is more of a movement to get -- to start a discussion about this. And with the White House behind it, there is more momentum at this point.
REHMAnd that's my question. How much political capital do you believe the president is willing to spend on the issue of gun control?
KUCINICHI mean, he's said in public that he is willing to put the -- all of his power behind this and what he can do as president. So because he said that, you'd think that he'd be putting a lot of political capital behind this. But that remains to be seen. This is going to be very tough for every -- Joe Manchin from West Virginia, who is a gun rights supporter, who is amendable to talking about this issue, there is a -- there is another member who is not.
KUCINICHAnd so there's another Democrat who's not. And it really -- it's going to be this coalition building that we've been seeing that, you know, might get something over the finish line. What it's going to be, we don't know.
REHMBut isn't Speaker Boehner in charge of timing? And hasn't he signaled -- or has he signaled a willingness to act quickly?
KUCINICHI don't think there has been any -- there's been no commitment to timing on anyone's -- on either side. I mean -- so again, we're very much -- there is very much -- there are some big questions out there yet that maybe we'll get some answers to once we see something that White House is going to push. We haven't seen a bill yet. We haven't seen a set of -- we've seen, you know, an outline of priorities. But we haven't seen -- nothing is in solid form yet.
REHMExcept that, Bob Spitzer, the president did say this was not going to be a long-drawn-out process. He wanted something back within a month. Do you expect that to be a reality?
SPITZERYes, I do. I think that -- I took that to be a political flag of some significance because I think he understands that any action, if they're going to have any prospect of success, needs to occur relatively rapidly. At the start of the new Congress, the president's going to be giving a State of the Union address. He's going to be giving his inaugural address, sworn in for a second term.
SPITZERAnd if you look at instances in the past when Congress has acted on gun control legislation, two key things have occurred. One is that there have been mass shootings or political assassinations that have spurred public interest in a way that does not normally exist when those events are not occurring, and that is a tendency that goes back many, many decades.
SPITZERAnd secondly, this is coming before Congress at a time where there's a political opportunity and action occurs relatively rapidly because the political goal of the -- those who oppose any new gun laws will be to run down the clock, to try and push this as far down the line as possible, hope that the public's attention turns to other things that other issues crowd out Congress' and the president's agenda and it gets bumped to the bottom and eventually dies. And that's how -- as Rep. McCarthy was alluding to earlier, that's how you kill this if that's your objective.
REHMAnd joining us now is Dan Kois. He is a senior editor at Slate and a contributing writer to The New York Times magazine. Good morning, Dan.
MR. DAN KOISGood morning, Diane.
REHMTell me why you found out about the ability to find real-time data on gun death in America.
KOISIt's very difficult to find that data, we found out. In the days following the Newtown shootings, we realized we wanted to be able to track who was getting killed by guns in America over the following months. We knew that President Obama would be proposing some kind of legislation. We knew there would be arguments about it in Congress.
KOISAnd we wanted to, day by day, see what toll guns were taking on Americans, but that data isn't available anywhere right now. The CDC and the FBI collects data on gun deaths in America on a yearly basis. So you can get data from 2010 or 2009 from them, but there is no easy way to find out who got killed yesterday or who got killed the day before.
REHMSo tell us about the tally that you're making available on Slate.
KOISWe launched an interactive feature called gun deaths in America since Newtown in partnership with a Tweeter user whose tag is Gun Deaths. Since this summer, Gun Deaths has been attempting to tweet every gun death in America regardless of cause, and we partnered with him a week after Newtown to create this interactive, which shows very simply with a single body for each death, a single black icon for each death, how many people we can find that have been killed by guns in America since Newtown. Right now, as of this morning, our interactive tally is at 489 people.
REHMAnd that's just for this year?
KOISThat's just in the 21 days since Newtown.
REHMTell me what kinds of effects you're hoping that that tally is going to have.
KOISWell, there's two ways to look at a project like this. One is that it's simply data, right? We want this data to be available to everyone on either side of the debate as this debate ramps up. You can look at these deaths as a reason why we need gun control legislation. You can look at these deaths as a reason why we need greater protection with guns.
KOISBut you have to have the data to have a reasonable argument or debate about this. And the data wasn't available before. But there's also a way that you can look at these 489 black icons stacking up on the page of our interactive and say that is a lot. That is a big toll to take. And it's hard to imagine what could be worth that necessarily.
REHMYou know, it's interesting because in Times Square, you had this running tally of the current population. Is that what you would hope eventually would happen, that kind of public tally would show the number of gun deaths in this country occurring on a daily basis?
KOISWell, we think that we're serving that kind public tally. The Internet is the Times Square of the world at this point, you know, and we're trying our best to accumulate this information and publicize it to everyone who wants to see it. And I should caution that our numbers are inaccurate. We know they're inaccurate.
KOISThey're extremely dependent on shootings being reported by newspapers, on us finding those newspaper reports. They leave out some deaths by other circumstances, like suicides, which are almost never reported by newspapers. But even knowing that these numbers are incomplete, I think, just seeing them is valuable and powerful for anyone who's interested in this debate.
REHMDan Kois, he is senior writer at Slate, contributing writer to The New York Times magazine. Thank you so much for joining us.
KOISThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd turning to you again, Bob Spitzer, tell me what you know about guns and suicide.
SPITZERWell, most of the focus on the gun issue is guns and homicide, guns and murder, for obvious reasons. But we know that each and every year, gun suicides exceed gun homicides and -- by a pretty significant number. So, for example, in 2010, the last year -- as Dan was just saying, the last year for which fairly complete data is available from the government, there were over 19,000 gun suicides compared to about 11,000 gun homicides.
SPITZERNow, people often misunderstand the significance of that number because there's an attitude that says, well, if a person is going to commit suicide, they're going to do it no matter if they have a gun available or a piece of rope or a knife or some poison. But while people may turn to different methods, the point about a gun is that it is uniquely efficient as a way, and easy as a way, to kill yourself.
SPITZERAnd we know that there are numerous studies, dozens of studies, which demonstrate that the physical presence of guns among -- in the population and people's homes makes suicide much more likely because if you go to a gun as a method of suicide, it is the most effective way. The likelihood of you succeeding and killing yourself with a gun is about 90 percent.
SPITZERThat's a far higher "success rate" -- that's the term the medical profession uses -- than any other method. Moreover, we know that if you can intercede with somebody who is suicidal or even who attempts suicide but unsuccessfully, the odds are very great that you can help those people, get them past the suicidal impulse, and they won't try suicide again, by and large. So it is a uniquely dangerous implement with respect to the suicide trends in the United States every year, and it's a public health issue, among other things.
REHMAnd what do we know about countries where the good guys are armed? Are the death rates lower? Is there a great benefit to arming the good guys and keeping the bad guys away from guns?
SPITZERWell, let me preface this by saying that I wrote an article on Huffington Post a year or two ago called "The Good-Guy-Bad-Guy Myth," and actually it was more recent than that. And it makes the point that in, you know, Hollywood lore, on television programs, we are the omniscient observer, and we get to see who the good guys and the bad guys are.
SPITZERIt's one of the things that's interesting about, you know, watching cop programs and the like. But in real life, it's extremely difficult to divide up society in that way, and certainly there are many good people and well-intentioned people, whether in the United States or in other nations, who have arms, who have guns, who are attempting to be helpful in various ways but who often wind up doing harm.
SPITZERIf you examine developing societies in South America, for example, where there's a significant armed presence -- there was an article about this in the newspaper yesterday -- the presence of armed soldiers and security guards exist in nations like Colombia and other Central South American nations because their governments are unable to maintain sort of basic order in their society.
SPITZERAnd these are also nations that have very, very high injury and death rates and especially rates from guns. So that is symptomatic of a nation where the government is unable to provide for sort of the basic protections for citizens in their daily lives. And the United States is not in that category. We're a pretty safe nation, all things considered.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jackie Kucinich, what about polls? I know USA Today and Gallup took some polls right after the Newtown tragedy. What did they tell us then? Who do they tell us now?
KUCINICHWell, it's a really interesting poll. We had data from October 2011, and the poll that was released on Dec. 26 showed that 58 percent favor stricter gun laws, and that's up from 43 percent in October 2011. In October 2011, 60 percent favored enforcing current law as opposed to 35 percent who favored new laws. Now, that also has changed. As of December 2012, 47 percent favored new laws. Forty-six percent favored enforcing current laws.
KUCINICHNow, the interesting part of this is the thoughts on the assault weapon ban's specific legislation hasn't really changed very much at all. Forty-four percent favor -- favored the assault weapons ban. Last time we took this poll, 51 was against. And the numbers are pretty stagnant. It's like 43 percent versus 51 percent in 2012. So it really -- it hasn't moved, and people aren't as willing for a specific legislation as they are for the idea of stricter laws, whatever they may be.
REHMAnd then you have record gun sales in December.
KUCINICHExactly, and not in places -- it's interesting -- not as much in places like Connecticut and Colorado where this has happened. There were, of course, an increase. But in Georgia and some other -- in the West and in the South, you saw an -- a increase in -- huge increase in gun sales because people think that they are not going to be able to buy these. So that's one of the reasons that you see this. But, yeah, it has been very interesting because they foresee some restrictions coming.
REHMOf course, and what's the latest on the controversy over publishing the names and addresses of handgun permit holders by the Journal News Media Group?
KUCINICHWell, the Putnam County officials came out on Thursday and said that they're going to defy the New York open records law, and the News Journal said that they'll take legal action if they need to. So they are right now at a bit of an impasse.
REHMSo, right now, are they withdrawing all those names?
KUCINICHI'm sorry. I don't know that information.
REHMYeah. Now the other question I have for you, Bob Spitzer, is whether -- referring back to what Dan Kois and I were talking about, do you think that carrying a running total publicly of every single person killed in this country by guns of one sort or another would help to raise the public awareness of what's happening?
SPITZERWell, I certainly think it would. Americans read about local crime in their newspapers and the ways they obtain media information from the local communities, but it's hard to have a sense of kind of the overall national picture. One of the things it does underscore, though, is the war over information on this issue, and this is one subject that has received very little attention, and it's also a subject where it's very difficult to kind of make political hay out of, yes, we need more information.
SPITZERThere have been a series of actions taken by the government, promoted by the gun rights community, which have deeply restricted the ability of government agencies to obtain information, to report information, to analyze information, much less to make it available to news outlets or researchers. And there are quite a series of things, if you've got a minute. In 1996, the Centers for Disease Control based in Atlanta was barred by law from funding gun research, in 2004, 2003, really beginning.
SPITZERAnd every year since then, Congress has passed something called the Tiahrt Amendment, which has required the destruction of background check data within 24 hours. That's data that used to be kept for 90 days. And also access to that was restricted. 2010, just been really recently that the Affordable Care Act has a provision in it -- even the Obama administration didn't know -- saying that doctors could not gather data about patients' gun use.
REHMVery interesting. Short break here. When we come back, your calls.
REHMAnd as we talk about efforts at gun control, which may or may not come up in the 113th Congress, joining us now is Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston. He's co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Gun Violence with Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City. Good morning to you, Mr. Mayor. Thanks for joining us.
MAYOR THOMAS MENINOGood morning, Diane. Thank you for having me this morning.
REHMWhat can you tell us about your conversation with Vice President Biden last week?
MENINOWell, incumbent vice president called me and we had a discussion about this committee he's put together on, you know, the guns in America. And I said to him right outright, you know, this has to be the time we do it, you know? The country is outraged about what happened on Sandy Hook, and we got to make sure that we get serious about this.
MENINOWe're the only industrialized country in the world that doesn't have some national legislation. And so Mr. Vice President, he assured me that he get down to business. Remember, he also was involved in another major issue with guns, and he was able to deliver on that one. And this one, he's going to do it once again. I believe that Vice President Biden is committed to making sure we have a safer America.
REHMWell, of course, he may be committed, but what guarantee is there that President Obama is going to somehow get sweeping firearms reforms by the end of the month?
MENINOWell, I tell you, Diane, that, you know, if these congressmen and senators will listen to their constituents, they're acting the right way. I mean, the problem is they're hiding. Why should they hide? They're using the budget thing as their issue while when kids and three police officers got shot in New York this weekend. I mean, give me a break. I mean, let's get serious about this issue. And, you know, don't say they did not raise -- they'll be beholden to them, beholden to the people that sent you to Congress and make sure we have a safer America. That's what I'm advocating.
MENINOI think most 800 mayors who belong to Mayors Against Illegal Guns are advocating also. So let's get down to business in the next month or so. Let's put this committee together, and make sure that we have a report that could pass to Congress and have the president sign it. The president has no reason not to sign it. He's not been worrying about anti-gun votes anymore because he's the guy who'd be in the ballot again.
REHMHow many mayors have you got joining forces with you?
MENINOWe have 800 mayors right now who signed on.
REHMAnd tell me about the letter that your coalition sent to the president. What were you urging him to do?
MENINOOh, we're urging the president really to have the gun show loophole as one of the major pieces of it that's important to us. The other one is buying military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, trend of federal gun trafficking statute with real penalties for those who traffic illegal guns into our cities and across the border to Mexico.
MENINOYou know, it's a common sense approach proposal by reducing gang crime as supported by a wide range of Americans, including majority of the gun owners. And, you know, there was a survey taken a couple of years ago and it showed that it broke even that people want some kind of controls in America today. And, you know, this idea of a small group making all the noise is not what America is all about.
REHMTell me, what action do you think the president could take right now without passing any new congressional laws?
MENINOWell, I think he could get the -- each one of the gun manufacturers to put more controls, put identifying labels on their guns as they sell them. I mean, there is more warnings on a cup of coffee about being hot than if you buy a gun. I mean, there's no warning on a gun that a gun is dangerous, but a cup of coffee -- they'll say on a cup of coffee, it's hot. Let's -- you know, we're trying to -- we're all ducking the issue.
MENINOLet's stop ducking the issue and try to get some legislation done that makes some sense, and I think that's the important one. Let me just tell you, in 2012, we did a poll that there was a disconnect between what the rank and file members of the NRA support and what their lobbyist say they support. So there's a real disconnect between the membership in the lobbyist of the NRA.
REHMAnd tell me, finally, what you think of the idea of somehow publicly posting the number of people killed by guns day by day by day.
MENINOWell, we do that in Boston. We have a billboard that shows how many people have been shot by guns almost on a daily basis. You know, in the city of Boston, we have probably the -- some of the strongest gun laws in the country. We've taken about 500 guns off the street just in 2012.
REHMBut suppose we did that nationally, Mayor Penino, (sic) do you think that might waken some people to exactly what's happening in this country?
MENINOI think they're awakened, but I think what the issue is, Diane, is that they fear the NRA. While the NRA is a special interest group -- and just think about their press conference after the kids were shot at that school. I mean, well, I wish we have guns in every school. That solve the problem? Sure. And how doesn't it solve the problem? And, you know, that's an idiotic statement by them, and I just say that, once again, they showed they're out of touch with America.
REHMMayor Thomas Menino of Boston, co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Gun Violence with Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City. Thank you so much for joining us.
MENINOThanks, Diane. Take care. Thank you.
REHMOK. And let's turn now to our callers, 800-433-8850. First to Cleveland, Ohio. Good morning, Tom. Thanks for waiting.
TOMGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
TOMYou know, while I hope we get some new gun safety laws quickly put on the books, I really think that it's going to be a long-term effort. We need a grassroot effort, something equivalent to MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to counter-balance the NRA, to let the politicians know that there is people who think of this as an issue that's important to them.
TOMAnd, you know, just like it took years and years for all the drunk driving laws to change state by state by state, I think the equivalent needs to happen to the gun laws. And my hope is -- and I'm curious what your panel there thinks, is that we could follow Australia's lead and not only ban the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity clips, but do what they did and buy back all the ones in existence and get them off the street.
REHMThanks for calling, Tom. What do you think of that, Bob Spitzer?
SPITZERWell, you could certainly have a more systematic buyback program. There was a federal gun buyback program in the 1990s that was shut down in 2001 by President Bush. In terms of mass mobilization of people, that is very important and that's what's, you know, kind of happening right now. I would make a comparison with the year 2000 when the Million Mile March descended on Washington, D.C., and it was one of the nation's largest rallies on any cause.
SPITZERThey've had over six, 700,000 people who attended, yet the momentum for that pretty rapidly dissipated and we saw kind of a return to the politics of usual. So that's the difficulty that faces those who support stronger gun controls when it comes to trying to mobilize and sustain mass opinion on the issue.
REHMThat's very interesting that after that massive show of concern, show of force, that it just dissipated. Do you think the same thing is likely to happen this time?
KUCINICHYou know, it also varies -- just to add, it also varies state by states. In the state of Ohio, which is where our last caller was from, Gov. Kasich recently signed a bill into law that slightly weakened gun restrictions. It allows guns to be now carried in the Statehouse garage among other things. So I mean, it really -- this is an issue that is very different depending what state. Whether you're in Massachusetts or whether you're in Ohio, you're going to see a very drastic -- and that's why you're going to see representatives from those states have very drastically different views in some cases on this issue.
REHMWhich is why you need a federal law if you're going to accomplish anything, Bob?
SPITZERYeah. We have a system of federalism, and we know state laws very widely. Some states have very loose restrictions. Some state -- four states have eliminated the -- even the need to obtain a permit before you carry a pistol concealed about in society. That is, there's no restriction whatsoever. Some -- most states have fairly lax permit laws.
SPITZERAbout eight or 10 states, including New York State, have pretty strict laws. So you -- or it's not easy to get that permit. You have to go through an extensive background check, the kind of check that could have halted at least some of these mass shooters have they been subject to it.
REHMAll right. To Tampa, Fla. Hi, Anthony.
ANTHONYHello, Diane. How are you?
ANTHONYThat's good. I just wanted to make a point that, you know, in other countries like England and other places where they ban, you know, high-capacity clips, in fact, guns in general, in England, it's different there. They don't have the amount of manufacturers as we do. In this country if you -- I mean, we have millions of guns just floating around the United States that probably aren't even registered.
ANTHONYSo banning high-capacity clips, there's still going to be thousands of them just floating around. So, I mean, it's not like drugs. It's not like something that could be consumed. If you take care of a gun or, you know, part to a gun, it'll outlast you. So I don't know like -- the only people that this is really going to affect are those who, you know, actually legally purchased firearms.
SPITZERHe makes a key point. America is different from other democratic nations because we have so many guns in society to begin with, roughly 300 million. There are millions and millions of large-capacity ammunition clips out in society. But the thing is, if your basement is filling up with water because you've broken the pipe, probably the first thing you should do is shut off the water.
SPITZERI think you can make a fair argument that you can't, you know, radically remake gun habits and that you don't want to because we do have a legitimate gun tradition. But you can kind of put a lid on things. You can get a better handle on information. What's going on, what are trafficking patterns, get better information. You can sort of -- could put a cap on more exotic and more destructive weapons. And I think that provides really sort of a middle ground on this issue and a way that we could proceed if the will is there to do it.
REHMAnd to Grand Rapids, Mich. Hi there, Chad.
CHADHello. I wanted to make a couple points. It doesn't matter how many polls you take, how many articles you write or how many mayors get behind it. There is still something called the Second Amendment, which basically guarantees our right to protect ourselves and protect our homes and protect ourselves against the government if, God forbid, they ever want to kick down your door and take you off to the stockyards. And when that would happen, I would imagine that you wouldn't want a three-round hunting rifle.
CHADYou'd want a high-capacity magazine or something of the like. And my second point is, any rules you make in regards to no guns in the schoolyard, stuff like that, no massacre person is going to ever want to care or abide by these rules. And I want to mention the massacres that have failed because all legal gun owners that's have -- were able to stop them in time.
SPITZERYeah. Let me make a couple of points. Since 2008, the Supreme Court has said that citizens do have a Second Amendment right for personal self-protection to have a gun, no question about that. But there is nothing in the Second Amendment, either in its history or its wording or interpretation, that says it gives citizens a right to use guns against their own government. That is absolutely false. Had it been true, Timothy McVeigh and lots of other killers would have been exonerated on Second Amendment grounds.
SPITZERAnd it is certainly true that people who have broken the law, these mass shooters, have broken the law. But we don't repeal laws because people break the law. Every law gets broken at some point at some time. We have laws precisely because it's how society says to itself, these are actions that we think are bad. And if you try them, we're going to go after you and we are hopeful that the laws will deter. And laws do make that kind of difference.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Eric.
ERICHi, Diane. Thanks for having me on show.
ERICYeah, I just had one question. I heard you all talking about a means for doing maybe a psychological background check on gun owners or people interested in getting guns. I was curious, as in the Sandy Hook shooting incident where the shooter borrowed his mother's guns, what your thoughts that be on taking the mental health background check one step further to include screening the mental health of potentially dangerous family members as well.
KUCINICHYou know, actually, I've talked to Robert about this, so I'm going to give it to him because he and I discussed this, that this would be part of a -- it was part of the Violence Against Women Act, am I right, Robert?
SPITZERYes. And -- yes, quite correct. 1994 and '95 Violence Against Women Act says that if there are guns in the home, where somebody is subject to domestic restraining order for domestic violence, guns can be taken out of the home. I mean, that was they key feature of this gentleman in Connecticut in terms of the mass shooting because the guns belong to his mother but they were in this home.
SPITZERAnd there is existing precedent for the notion that if guns were in the home and a person within a home has, you know, mental problems or some other identifiable trait that tells you they shouldn't have guns why there's a basis for the government taking action preemptively. And so there's already kind of a precedent that would allow intercession by government officials if they have information that there's a person with a problem.
REHMAnd yet here's an email from Peter, who says, "I find it odd that the NRA is saying mental health issues are the cause of the recent mass shooting and should be addressed, yet they managed to have a law put in place in some bill that makes it illegal for doctors to ask patients about their gun ownership?" Bob.
SPITZERYeah. It's symptomatic of this notion of throwing up as many barriers as possible to obtaining better information. And it's really kind of a hidden political war behind much of what's going on, which is to essentially keep us as ignorant as possible about what is going on with respect to gun ownership, gun trafficking and related matters, which are...
REHMBut, you know, listening to all this, ordinary citizens might just throw up their hands and say, I guess, there is nothing we can do against all these guns being in the hands of people all over the country. What can we do, Bob?
SPITZERWell, guns and violence are two intersecting circles. We have violence, we have guns and the two intersect. And we're not going to eliminate gun violence. I don't think anybody is making that argument. But there are clearly things we can do that are really not very major changes that involve much better recordkeeping and information.
SPITZERAnd much, much more can be done to effectively keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them based on mental problems because we know that as of today, nearly 30 states are reporting effectively no information to the federal government about those who have mental problems diagnosed and identified and who are not on gun stop lists.
REHMRobert Spitzer, he is chair of the political science department at State University of New York at Cortland, author of four books on gun policy, including "The Politics of Gun Control" Jackie Kucinich is a reporter for USA Today. Thank you both so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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