Many say the current presidential race is the most uncivilized in modern American history. Civility in public discourse, why it seems to have hit a new low and long-term implications for the democratic process.
Later this morning President Obama is scheduled to announce his proposals reduce gun violence in this country. He’s expected to highlight the need for better background checks, limits on the sale of high capacity magazines and a new ban on assault weapons. His push comes a month after the mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. New York is the first state to take action in the aftermath of that tragedy. A new law signed yesterday by Governor Andrew Cuomo imposes new restrictions on gun ownership and it strengthens rules to prevent mentally ill people from gaining access to guns. Please join us for an update on federal and state efforts to reduce gun violence
- Ladd Everitt director of communications, The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
- Richard Feldman president, Independent Firearm Owners Association
- Fawn Johnson correspondent, National Journal magazine.
- Congressman Jim Langevin 2nd Congressional District, Rhode Island (Democrat)
- Jon Cohen director, polling, Capital Insight, the independent polling group of the Washington Post
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is out with a cold. Later today, a little more than one month after the horrific killings in Newtown Conn., President Obama will lay out exactly what he thinks can be done to reduce gun violence. Yesterday, state lawmakers in New York passed their own gun control package.
MR. TOM GJELTENJoining me to talk about all the national and state efforts and what, if anything, these new rules could do to reduce gun violence: Fawn Johnson of the National Journal, Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and Jon Cohen of Capital Insight, which is an independent polling group, with us by phone from Las Vegas, Richard Feldman of the Independent Firearms Owners Association.
MR. TOM GJELTENAnd we want to make this a broad conversation. You can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850. You can write us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can send us your comments or questions via Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, everyone.
MS. FAWN JOHNSONGood morning.
MR. LADD EVERITTGood morning.
MR. JON COHENGood morning.
GJELTENAnd good morning to you, Richard, in Las Vegas.
MR. RICHARD FELDMANWell, good morning from Las Vegas.
GJELTENLet's start with -- Fawn, let's start with what we expect President Obama to lay out. The White House has already given some pretty clear indications of what will be in this proposal. It sounds like it's going to be a pretty specific package.
JOHNSONI think that's right, Tom. And the one extraordinary thing about what we're going to hear from the president later today is its scope. This is a vast shift from his first term when we heard virtually nothing about guns, even after the shooting of Rep. Giffords down in Tucson and the Aurora shooting. At that point, the president had said he wanted to see better enforcement of current gun laws, which there's a lot to do there. But this time around, I think that the Newtown shooting really shifted things for everyone.
JOHNSONI'm noticing a tone that I have not seen in Washington since the '90s when they were talking about the crime bill. They'll be talking about a few specific things that are no surprise to anyone, an assault weapons ban that would probably be tighter than the last one that expired in 2004, a tightening up of background checks for gun purchases, particularly at private gun shows. And also, they want to talk about high-capacity ammunition. These are the rounds that you can, you know, fire off 30 or 40 without reloading.
JOHNSONI think they want to limit that. Those are the key pillars of this, but they're also going to be talking about things like mental health, school safety and also firearm trafficking. So this would be the, you know, the kind of straw purchases that would happen from somebody who's a legal buyer and then would be selling it illegally. All of that's going to be discussed. It's hard to know how much of it will actually come to pass, but this is a very broad scope that the president is looking at.
GJELTENAnd you say some of it will be legislative proposals, but he'll also be talking about some things that he can apparently do on his own.
JOHNSONRight, right. And a couple of those things, I mean, mainly, is about administrative priorities. So one of the things that -- and I'm sure Ladd will talk about this more as we get into it, but gun control advocates have been noting that the Justice Department has not put a priority on prosecuting people who attempt to buy a gun but don't -- can't legally have one.
JOHNSONI think that that's a resources issue. There are some other issues about research that has not been funded appropriately. Again, it's an issue of priorities, not so much something that the president is deliberately ignoring. So they're going to be addressing all of those things.
GJELTENWell, Ladd Everitt, as Fawn said, the administration has moved pretty quickly on this after, you know, not doing anything in the first term. But, in fact, state governments have moved even more quickly, haven't they?
EVERITTYeah, yeah. I mean, you know, we mentioned New York at the top of the show, and I -- you saw Gov. Cuomo there waste no time in responding to the tragedy. And you know, one of the things that was, you know, I think, very pleasant about the New York response was it addressed some of the factors that occurred and facilitated the tragedy in Newtown directly, you know, things like, you know, the assault weapons issue. New York strengthened its assault weapons ban and went from what's called a two-feature test to a one-feature test to restrict more weapons.
EVERITTAnd they also really squarely address the issue of mental health, the intersection between mental health and gun violence and, you know, put additional restrictions in there so that if people who are mentally ill, who are indicating they are violent, you know, to doctors so that there's procedures in there to come and then remove guns from those homes. So, you know, it was encouraging to see that. You know, I think in many other states, you're going to see responses like that.
EVERITTThere was talk on NPR yesterday about the potential response in Maryland. But I think even in states that, you know, are known as red states, you will see action on this, and those efforts will probably coalesce around things where even gun owners in polling support measures like, you know, I'm sure Jon will talk about support for universal background checks. So I think there's a lot of room for state legislators, really, across the country to act on this.
GJELTENWell, we're going to Richard Feldman in a second to get a sense of his view of what gun owners are willing to support. But first, Jon Cohen, as a pollster, what can you tell us right now about sort of the political climate or, more broadly, the public feeling about gun ownership, about gun control efforts and how it's changed?
COHENWell, Fawn mentioned how the politics of this gun control issue have really changed dramatically after Newtown. We had 52 percent in the new Washington Post-ABC News poll saying that they're more apt to support stricter gun control regulation now in the wake of the mass shootings at the elementary school. Very few people say that they're now less inclined to support, you know, major gun control action. So people think things have changed. You know, they're certainly more willing to entertain the notion.
COHENBut the big challenge is for gun control advocates is still that people overwhelmingly say that the president and the Congress should be prioritizing the economy. And very few people, under a third of all Americans, say that gun control should be one of the highest priorities that the Congress addresses right now.
GJELTENAnd it's also -- you say a majority support gun control efforts, but it's not a big majority, is it? In fact, the country is still fairly split.
COHENWell, there's fairly even division. There's also a new poll out this week from the Pew Research Center where they have the same basic divide between what's the higher priority now with the, you know, protecting the rights of individuals to, you know, to own firearms in this country or to control the, you know, gun -- access to guns. And then access to guns is really an important thing. And that's the biggest difference between gun owners and non-gun owners, is just how big a role the availability of guns play in the problem with gun violence in the country.
GJELTENRichard Feldman in Las Vegas, you are the president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, and one of the things that has struck me about this debate is that we're now -- we're not talking about gun control as much. We're talking about gun violence. That's the term that everyone is using as their term of reference. What's your view and your organization's view on the causes of gun violence and the best way to oppose it and how gun control would fit in with that, if it would at all?
FELDMANWell, gun control is a very complicated and loose term that means different things to different people in this debate. And as I said last week in my meeting with the vice president and attorney general, if we focus on the question in whose hands are the guns, you get almost unanimity around certainly this table in keeping guns out of the hands of violent, predatory criminals and mentally deranged individuals, so so much of this debate is truly about semantics and asking the right question.
FELDMANI'm certainly going to be looking today in the president's proposal on what they say about funding the Niven program over at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. It's a program that works. We talked about it last week. And up to now, the administration has defunded it for the last several years.
GJELTENNow, if you're talking, Richard, about keeping guns out of the hands of insane people or criminals, you have to know something about gun buyers. And the way to do that, according to many people, is to toughen background checks, have universal background checks. What's your organization and your personal feeling about this call for universal background checks on gun purchases?
FELDMANWell, our organization strongly supports mandatory background checks at transfers at gun shows. When you're at a gun show, you put yourself in the identical position that a retail dealer is in. You're open to the public. You don't have a clue who you're selling the guns to. Comparing and contrasting, I've sold guns to friends, neighbors, co-workers.
FELDMANAnd there's a vast difference in that I know who I sold the gun to. Our background checks are only as good as the information in the system, and we all have to face the reality there are 500,000 guns stolen every year in this country. So anything we do on background checks isn't about to affect stolen guns.
GJELTENRichard, you're in Las Vegas now for a gun show. Tell us about the gun show you're at.
FELDMANOh, this is the world's largest firearm industry show called the SHOT Show. I've been attending for about 25 years, and I'd say the attendance is, by far and away, over the top. You can't even walk through the aisles. And, in fact, in the time I spent there yesterday going from booth to booth, the funny question was, I know you're taking orders, but do you have any guns for sale? And the answer is, no, not for eight months to a year-plus.
GJELTENAnd why is that? I've heard that before, that there's this real surge in gun purchases. Why do you think that is?
FELDMANWell, anytime that American gun owners think that they're going to be limited in the future in buying any type of firearms, there's going to be a huge pressure to go get those guns while they can. We saw that during the 1994 Act. We saw that again in the lead up to President Obama's first race and post Newtown. Some of the big wholesalers within 48 hours the following week had sold out a 3-1/2-year supply of high-capacity magazines.
GJELTENWell, Fawn Johnson, just in the few seconds we have before a break, given what Richard Feldman has just said, that there is this real surge among people that want to own guns to buy guns, what does that suggest about the likelihood of something passing Congress right now?
JOHNSONIt's going to be tough. I don't want to sugarcoat it too much. I was talking with a senior member of the House Republicans yesterday, indicating that the House Republicans don't have much interest in talking about this at all until something gets through the Senate, noting that, you know, just to put a political tone on this, that this is the president's agenda and the president is a Democrat and the House is run by Republicans.
JOHNSONThe other thing I'll just note is that Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association sent out a fundraising note a couple of days ago, and the title of it was they want to blame you for everything. So that just shows you what you're up against. He said it's about banning your guns, period.
GJELTENFawn Johnson is correspondent for National Journal magazine. Our panel this morning, we're talking about gun control efforts and the proposals that President Obama is going to be introducing in a couple of hours. Stay with us.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. And we're talking about proposals to reduce gun violence in this country just over a month after the terrible shootings in Newtown. Here in the studio with me are Fawn Johnson, correspondent from National Journal magazine, who's been covering this debate, this move, also Ladd Everitt, director of communications for The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Jon Cohen, who's director of polling at Capital Insight, which is the independent polling group of The Washington Post.
GJELTENJoining me from the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas is Richard Feldman. He's there for -- in Las Vegas for a gun show, and he is the president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association. But -- joining us by phone right now is Congressman Jim Langevin, who's representing the 2nd Congressional District in Rhode Island. He is a Democrat, and he is an advocate of new gun control measures. Good morning, Congressman. Thanks for joining us in "The Diane Rehm Show."
REP. JIM LANGEVINGood morning, Tom. Great to be with you.
GJELTENYeah. Now, you've already introduced some legislation of your own, acting independently. You want to target irresponsible gun dealers. Now tell us what you mean by that.
LANGEVINWell, the legislation I'm proposing would increase the ability of the ATF to inspect federal firearms licensees for compliance with recordkeeping requirements by basically increasing the allowed inspections for a 12-month period from one to three. It would also increase the penalties for knowingly misrepresenting any facts about a firearm sale, and it would also authorize the attorney general to suspend the dealer's license and assess civil penalties for firearms violations, including failure to have secure gun storage or safety devices.
LANGEVINPrimarily, the real interest in doing this comes from the fact that analysis from U.S. firearm sale have shown that only about only 1 percent of licensed dealers, that's just over 1,000 dealers, are responsible for selling nearly 60 percent of guns that are traced to crime. And I believe that statistic comes from the ATF. We also have other statistics from the Brady Campaign that according to, again, the ATF, that over an 18-month period, over 40,000 guns were trafficked directly by corrupt or negligent gun dealers.
LANGEVINAnd 25,000 -- over 25,000 guns were trafficked by straw purchasers buying guns at corrupt or negligent gun dealers. So one thing we can do in this effort to keep guns out of the hands of criminals is to make sure that they don't get to those people in the first place. And looking at gun dealers and making sure that they're selling guns only to responsible and eligible gun owners is, I think, a good first step. But it's just one of a few. Of course, we want to see more done with background checks. And I am a supporter of an assault weapons ban and also banning high-capacity gun magazines.
GJELTENWell, as far your crackdown on deadbeat gun dealers -- and that's the name of your act -- it sounds like you're talking more about enforcement, tougher enforcement of existing restrictions rather than a whole lot of new restrictions.
LANGEVINWell, this is just serving one element of it. I believe that we definitely should enforce the laws that are on the books. And from what I understand, there were a significant number of cases that were referred by the FBI, several thousand cases that were referred to the ATF for investigation and prosecution. And only about 77 of those cases or so were actually ever prosecuted. So I think we can look more closely at making sure that we are cracking down and enforcing the laws that are on the books. And I certainly support that.
LANGEVINBut I do have an interest in going further and making sure we're conducting thorough background checks so that anyone that's buying a weapon, it's not being sold to someone that would be in one of those categories that are -- people that are going to disqualified from owning weapon, such as a criminal or someone that has a mental health issue that would disqualify them from owning a weapon that would indicate they would be a harm to themselves or to others.
GJELTENWell, Congressman Langevin, we actually have on the line Richard Feldman, who is representing the Independent Firearm Owners Association. He's at a gun show right now. While you're on the line, Congressman, I want to ask you, Richard, what you think the reaction of gun dealers to these new, tougher measures proposed by Congressman Langevin would be.
FELDMANWell, to the degree that ATF is focusing their attention on suspicious activity, the legitimate industry encourages and welcomes ATF's involvement. The problem sometimes is the language we use. And, Congressman, when you talked about the traces of crime guns, that's one of those terms that's a term of art.
FELDMANBecause it is a crime gun, I think, reasonable people would've suspect that means it was used in a crime. That's not true. Any gun that gets traced is a crime gun. So if 800 guns are stolen from, say, GLOCK Firearms by the UPS driver and recovered that month, all 800 of those guns will be traced back to GLOCK. That doesn't mean they were used in a crime, and yet GLOCK will be the number one traced gun that month.
FELDMANThe same happens with retail dealers. If you're a big dealer, of course, you're going to get a lot of traces. Doesn't mean you had anything to do with the criminal, but you sold thousands of guns in the community over years, no doubt a lot more of those will get in the hands of criminals than someone who just opened business and has sold 20 guns.
GJELTENCongressman, do you want to respond to that?
LANGEVINYeah, and I would point out the fact that it just seems quite odd that such a significant number of guns would be traced back to only 1 percent of the gun dealers. Something is clearly amiss there, and I would argue that perhaps there are some gun dealers that are looking the other way as to who they're selling these guns to.
LANGEVINAnd that's why I think the inspections would help to ensure that there is not that anomaly there. If all the other gun dealers or 99 percent of the gun dealers in the country are not -- fall into that category of selling weapons to criminals, why is it that 1 percent seemed to be disproportionately involved in having those guns traced back to them?
GJELTENRichard Feldman, I see you disagreeing with what he said.
FELDMANCongressman, you're making an understandable mistake. If you look at the traces as a percentage of sales, I absolutely agree with you. But if you look at it as an absolute number, if the largest dealer in Rhode Island sells 40 percent of the guns in the state, there should be no surprise that 40 percent of the guns get traced back to that dealer. But a little dealer who sells maybe a quarter of 1 percent of the guns, hardly shows up, has 10 percent of the guns he sells are traced, that is indicative of something wrong going on. It's not the absolute number. It's the number as a percentage of the overall sales.
GJELTENCongressman, I can see that this is a -- this little exchange between you and Richard Feldman shows how complicated this issue is. May I just ask you more generally how confident are you that legislators such as yourselves can work out proposals that will actually get enacted into law?
LANGEVINWell, I think that there would be broad agreement on a lot of these gun proposals if, in fact, if we can get a vote on the floor. The problem is if the speaker is going to hold the philosophy of only bringing legislation to the floor that has a majority of his majority, meaning the majority of the Republican caucus, then these proposals won't get to the floor for a vote.
LANGEVINSo we need to continue, I believe, the pressure, the Republican leadership in the Congress to bring the bills to the floor, and let's see if they can pass it on bipartisan basis. And I believe that many of them would. Surely, the criminal background check is one that we should have broad bipartisan support.
LANGEVINI still don't understand, for the life of me, why anyone would have a problem with an instant background check when someone is going to buy a weapon to make sure that these weapons don't fall into the hands of -- into those who are disqualified, again, a criminal and/or a -- someone that has a mental health issue that would disqualify them from owning a weapon. There should be basic agreement on that. But, again, we can't get the speaker to bring the bill to the floor. We will never know whether that would have bipartisan support or not.
GJELTENOK. Well, we're going to find out, aren't we? Congressman Jim Langevin is the representative of the 2nd Congressional District in Rhode Island. He's a Democrat. Thank you for joining us this morning, Congressman Langevin.
LANGEVINThank you. Great to be with you.
GJELTENAnd, Fawn Johnson, what do you make of what the congressman just said about this issue, in particular, of getting anything through the House that does not have the support of the majority of the Republican members?
JOHNSONWell, I just would point out that that has been the case ever since -- well, since time in memorial, actually. It's been named the Hastert Rule after the former Speaker Dennis Hastert. But I would just point out that there have been two incidents since in the last couple of weeks in which that particular rule has been flouted by Speaker Boehner: one was right before the New Year at the resolution of the tax issue involving the fiscal cliff crisis, and then just last night when they voted for a Sandy disaster aid package that was majority Democrats. So it's possible.
GJELTENWell, let's talk about the one proposal, it seems, that does have the broadest support, and that is -- correct me if I'm wrong, Jon Cohen -- and that is the idea of universal background checks. What can you tell us about support for universal background checks on gun buyers?
COHENWell, I'll get to that in one second, but the congressman's point was, you know, if it came to the floor of the House, you know, it could pass the Congress.
COHENThere's no question that if this were left to the court of public opinion, that many of these proposals will pass. And now the president, you know, this afternoon will highlight many of them, the kind of ones that have the strongest support among the American public. The number one item -- and we tested seven different proposals in the new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
COHENThe number one was background checks at gun shows, exactly the proposal that Richard Feldman out in Las Vegas says that, you know, highlights his organization's support of something, you know, like that, the so-called -- closing the so-called gun show loophole. You know, also very popular is a new proposal from Richard Blumenthal, the senator from Connecticut, to kind of have background checks on the purchases of ammunition. That will be something new. That's overwhelmingly supported by the American public as well.
GJELTENYou know, Ladd Everitt, often when you get the lowest common denominator of something, it really is almost insignificant because it has to be so weakened in order to get broad support. But what would be the importance? From your point of view, representing an organization that wants to stop gun violence, how much of a contribution would universal background checks make?
EVERITTWell, it would be enormous. I mean, when you look right now at the national picture, you have 40 or more states that allow some type of private sales, and, you know, these private sales are gun sales that occur with no background check whatsoever, and there's also no record of sale kept. So if these guns are later traced to crime, it can be difficult or impossible for law enforcement to find out the chain of possession of these weapons.
EVERITTYou know, the NRA very frequently says that if we enact gun laws in this country, that criminals will get guns through the "black market." I think what's important to realize is that the NRA has legalized the black market in this country right now. Private sales are black market sales. They are free-for-alls that involve no regulation whatsoever. So, clearly, being able to regulate that, require accountability of those sellers, you would stop many people that cannot currently pass a background check from getting guns.
GJELTENThere's another issue that I would think would have broad support, and that is the idea of more funding for research into gun violence and firearm deaths. Fawn Johnson, this is something that the White House has also talked about. I know that advocates of more -- better research, better funding for research into this have not gotten -- made a lot of progress in recent years. What's the prospect for something there?
JOHNSONI think they're -- that's a place where there might be a prospect, depending on how much money we're talking about. The main problem that -- and this is just broadly in Washington -- there are budget constraints every time you put any piece of -- even an appropriation forward that has some type of cost attached to it, you have to offset it somewhere else. Generally, whoever -- wherever the offset is coming from, there's probably somebody attached to it who probably will say, don't take my money away. So that's one issue.
JOHNSONThere are a couple of other places that -- just technical things that need to be fixed before the research can happen. The gun trace data, there are some restrictions on the kinds of research that can be done with guns that are traced to crimes, and that requires some legislative tweaks and some administrative tweaks as well.
GJELTENFawn Johnson is correspondent for National Journal magazine. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Ladd, you wanted to make a quick point.
EVERITTYeah. You know, I just wanted to add that, you know, when you talk about restrictions on federal research, it's not that we want to put more money into there. It's that the NRA has attached riders to the CDC and the NIH budgets that prevent them...
GJELTENCenters for Disease Control.
EVERITTYeah, and the National Institutes of Health that literally prevent them from engaging in any type of research that would argue that gun laws are effective. So it's not about adding money. It's about removing that restriction, which is utterly ridiculous.
COHENAnd there's also a provision in the health care act, you know, from 2010...
COHEN...that's within -- along the same lines.
GJELTENRichard Feldman, you're not here to represent the NRA. I certainly understand that, but could you explain why there would be opposition to researching whether gun laws, restrictive gun control measures, might have some effect on reducing gun violence?
FELDMANWell, your viewers have to have a historical perspective on this. When we go back to the 1990s, when the CDC was conducting research in this area, there was a pretty well-stated political agenda, and gun owners took some great umbrage to having their tax dollars used to figure out how to make guns look like pathogens. And, in fact, if a gun is a virus or a germ, the way you stop the disease is to kill the germ.
FELDMANI don't think anyone objects to legitimate scientific research. But when it's being used, your tax money, as a methodology to put you out of business, of course people get upset and rightly so. I was involved in that fight at the time, representing the gun industry, and it was blatantly political research. And that was the problem.
GJELTENBut do you see that the proposals for better research in this area could be drawn up in such a way that they might be able to get the NRA's support?
FELDMANTough question. Not sure I have the answer.
GJELTENOK. You want to dodge that one, it sounds like. Jon Cohen, what do you find is, you know, sort of the public understanding of the causes of gun violence? I mean, how much clarity is there in the public about what leads to all these firearm injury, deaths, over 30,000 the last time we counted?
COHENRight. Well, people overwhelmingly think that inadequate, you know, prosecution of some of them on the background check side is a major cause of gun violence. There's broad disagreement about something that, you know, kind of comes up every time one of these shootings happens, and that's about the role of violent television and video games. And just 38 percent of all Americans say that that has a great deal to do with the prevalence of gun violence in this country. And it's -- but it's the one area that more Republicans than Democrats, you know, see it as a major cause.
GJELTENJon Cohen is director of polling at Capital Insight, which is the independent polling group of The Washington Post. My other panelists this morning are Fawn Johnson, who's been covering the gun control debate at National Journal magazine, Ladd Everitt, who's the director of communications at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association.
GJELTENLater this morning, President Obama is going to be laying out the White House idea of what kind of proposals could be enacted to reduce gun violence in this country. After a short break, we're going to be going to the phones and emails and hearing what listeners think about this issue. Please stay with us. We'll be right back after a short break.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in today for Diane Rehm, and we're talking about what can be done to reduce gun violence in this country, this issue that's been so hot in this month since the terrible shootings in Newtown, Conn. I'm joined here by Fawn Johnson, a correspondent for National Journal, Ladd Everitt from The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Jon Cohen, director of the polling group Capital Insight.
GJELTENAnd we're joined by phone from Las Vegas by Richard Feldman -- sorry, Richard -- president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association. First, some emails from listeners. Brad wants to know, how would it affect law enforcement if there was a registry of guns as there is of automobiles? "I think this is necessary to solve this problem. If we can do it for cars because cars cause deaths, we should do it for guns." That'll -- that issue, I'm sure, will come up in this program as well.
GJELTENAlso, Richard writes, "The effect of guns in America can reasonably construed as a public health issue like alcohol or tobacco. Why not tax guns and give the tax revenue to the states where they can use them as they see fit to deal with the public health aspects of this issue?" And I want to go now to Bobby who's on the line from Jacksonville, Fla. Good morning, Bobby. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
BOBBYGood morning, and thank you for taking my call.
BOBBYI just wanted to say I'm a concealed-carry person. I carry 24/7, and I have been involved in an incident that carrying-concealed actually stopped the crime from happening. However, I'm also not a member of the NRA, and the reason for that is that they fight everything that limits gun sales. And I believe that the NRA is primarily working for the gun manufacturers and not gun rights.
GJELTENOK. Bobby, let's -- you've raised some really interesting points. Let's take them one at a time. First of all, what is it you do that you carry a gun, a concealed gun 24/7, and what -- tell us about this incident that you had.
BOBBYWell, it started when I was in the military, and after I got out of the military, I just felt that it was something prudent to do. And I just own a small business. There's not a specific reason, I believe, in the Second Amendment, the right to defend myself, my family and my property. And some other individuals actually came to me, and I fully believe that if I was not carrying concealed that they would've harmed me and taken everything that I had with me at the time.
GJELTENDid you show your weapon?
BOBBYI did have to pull my weapon, yes. I did not fire at anybody, but I did have to pull my weapon in order to get them to back off. I did report it to the police.
GJELTENOK. Well, thank you very much, Bobby. Now, Ladd, Bobby makes this argument as a gun owner that he's not convinced the NRA is actually representing his interest but rather the interests of gun manufacturers, and you nodded your head when he made that point.
EVERITTYeah. Bobby, just to speak directly to you, I really appreciate your comments, you know, I might not agree with you about every aspect of gun policy, but I appreciate you saying that. You know, one thing that, you know, that he brought up and which people should be aware of is that, you know, the NRA is intimately tied to the gun industry. You know, if you look at their board of directors, you can see gun industry executives like Pete Brownell and Ronnie Barrett sitting directly on their board of directors.
EVERITTAnd you can look also at their Ring of Freedom program where they see -- receive millions of dollars in direct corporate contributions from the gun industry year after year after year. So, you know, Bobby made the point that, you know, the NRA is focused on one thing and one thing only, and that's increasing gun sales, and I would agree. I mean, in the NRA's eyes, I honestly don't believe they care whether those sales are made to "good guys" or bad guys, you know, those sales pad their wallets either way.
GJELTENJon Cohen, is there a point you wanted to make?
COHENYeah. Well, most Americans have favorable views of the National Rifle Association, but when it comes to its leadership, only 39 percent express favorable views. So there is this disconnect between the organization itself and this current leadership.
GJELTENRichard Feldman, as I said before, you're not here to represent the NRA, but I'm going to give you an opportunity to speak up in their defense if you want to say something.
FELDMANWell, when I worked at the NRA back in the 1980s, we very clearly did not represent the firearm industry. And even today, the moneys that NRA gets from the firearm makers, in large measure, are advertising for their magazines. You wouldn't expect Victoria's Secrets to be advertising in the American Rifleman.
FELDMANIt's no surprise that gun companies advertise there. And even in the -- beyond that contributors within the gun industry, that's pretty much all over in the foundation that goes into the shooting sports, competitive shooting. That money doesn't go into the NRA's lobbying or political action arms.
GJELTENOK. Let's go now to James, who's on the line from Providence, RI. Good morning, James. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
JAMESGood morning. I had a comment, something I've been think about a lot since this happened. We -- they're -- oh, I lost my train of thought. Why are we not talking about why Adam Lanza walked into that school in the first place? This whole conversation about gun control -- I don't carry a gun myself. I don't have a gun, but I don't really have a problem with guns. But it seems to me they just see a symptom of a problem.
GJELTENAnd the problem being a mental health...
JAMESThe problem being, why did Adam Lanza walk into that school in the first place? Why did James Holmes walk into that theater in Colorado and shoot those people?
GJELTENLadd Everitt, I don't think anyone here is questioning -- anyone in this debate is questioning that mental health issues are intimately related to this problem of gun violence.
EVERITTYeah, that's certainly true. But, you know, to answer James, you know, directly why are we talking about guns, I'd be happy to answer that question. We are talking about guns because two out of every three homicides in the United States of America is committed with a gun, and we are talking about guns because one out of every two suicides in America is committed with a gun.
EVERITTSo, I mean, I think it's pretty obvious why that's a focus. We live in a modern democracy that has absolutely archaic gun laws and which has allowed the gun industry to write its own regulations. And the result has been mass murderers, armed like Rambo, slaughtering innocents.
JOHNSONAnd, I mean, just to counter -- not to counter Ladd too much on this -- but I think that it's a lot easier to focus on guns than it is to focus on issues of mental illness. And clearly, Adam Lanza was not right in his head when he walked into that school and -- or as are any of the others who have committed these horrible acts. But it's very difficult to get legislatively and enforcement rights to get your brain around how to handle someone who is mentally incompetent.
JOHNSONI mean, one of the points that I feel -- I can't remember if that was Richard or Ladd who brought this up to me, but the FBI guidelines on who should be allowed to own a gun haven't been updated. They still use the term mentally deranged which is completely out of date, and it doesn't really reflect the complexity of the issue. And I think that's one of the reasons why you're hearing more about guns. It's just easier to regulate those than it is to try and figure out what to do with people who have serious mental illness.
GJELTENOf course, Adam Lanza did not own those guns, did he?
GJELTENAnd there is no background check that would've stopped that from happening...
GJELTEN...because those were his mother's guns.
JOHNSONYeah. Correct. And I think -- I mean, therein lies one of the real problems with this debate, and as it's gone forward, I've been encouraged actually to see that the debate hasn't been stopped because people realize that if you're talking about one particular type of restriction or gun control act that it may not have stopped this individual incident, but it could've stopped several others. That's usually an argument that kills the debate right there.
GJELTENYou know, Richard Feldman, one of the issues we haven't really talked about that much this morning is the question of whether individuals should be able to own military-style assault weapons, and, of course, it was a military-type weapon that Adam Lanza used in Connecticut. I know a lot of law enforcement figures and military figures say that these -- that there's no place for weapons like this in the hands of recreational gun users. What's your view on the issue of assault weapons, and who should be able to own them and use them?
FELDMANWell, as everybody on the show knows, a true assault weapon must be capable of fully automatic fire. So what we're talking about here are semi-automatic firearms that have accessories that make them look militaristic. The bottom line is what makes a firearm a firearm is its ability to fire a projectile at high speed downrange. All guns have that in common. In fact, a .223 caliber isn't even a high-powered rifle. And you can't even use a gun like that to go deer shooting in some states like Arizona. But that misses the point entirely.
FELDMANAny gun in the hands of any violent criminal or a deranged individual is capable of doing horrible acts of destruction. And when we focus on that aspect, we are all in agreement around this table and on Capitol Hill. How can we keep the guns out of the hands of someone like Adam Lanza? And, right there, his mother violated one of the basic tenants of gun safety which is to always keep your guns secured when not in use. Had they been in a gun safe, he couldn't have accessed them.
GJELTENRichard Feldman is president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association. He's on the line with us from Las Vegas at the gun show there. I want to go now to Lauren in Louisville, Ky. Good morning, Lauren. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
LAURENGood morning. I wanted just to clarify, earlier you mentioned the SHOT Show is a gun show. And right before you did that, you were talking about how men and women can just go into a gun show and purchase a gun without any background checks and blah, blah, blah. I just want to clarify that SHOT Show is an industry show just as, you know, New York Fashion Week is an industry show for high-end boutiques.
LAURENThis is an industry show for range and gun shop owners to come and purchase guns very legally, very paperwork sought out and everything. This isn't just some place that some guy can just come off the street and buy a gun.
GJELTENLauren, do you work in a gun industry in some way?
LAURENMy husband does. Yes.
GJELTENMm hmm. All right. Well, thank you very much. Richard Feldman, there is one other question I wanted to ask you about Las Vegas, I forgot to ask you before. And that is, you said that everybody is there. That it's so crowded, you could hardly get around. Are news organization or have news organizations been allowed to attend this gun show?
FELDMANI think there are several thousand media folks here at the show. But about November, long before Newtown happened, the NSSF cut off press badges to the show just 'cause they were already overwhelmed.
GJELTENThe Washington Post wrote today that its own reporter couldn't get into the gun show and suggested that there is some...
FELDMANYeah, that would be right. If you hadn't pre-registered for the show sometime, I think, before Thanksgiving, you haven't been issued passes.
GJELTENWell, I can tell you, I've been a reporter for many, many years, and I have never found it impossible to get into a show where the organizer of the show wanted media coverage. If they're going -- it seems to me that if the show organizers, they are holding fast on that kind of technicality, it would almost suggest they really don't want very widespread news coverage of this show.
FELDMANWell, I think after Newtown, you're exactly right. They're not too eager to have an overwhelming media coverage at this show. It is a private industry trade show, not an open to the public. You have to have a federal firearms license to get into this show.
GJELTENOK. Let's go now to Virginia who's on the line from Carlton, Texas. Good morning, Virginia. Thanks for calling.
VIRGINIAGood morning. I enjoy your show. I wanted to make a point about the issue of these young people that have committed these horrendous crimes. I've been around guns since a child. My father, my brothers all had guns. And I was taught as a very young person what a gun is and what it can do. And I was taught respect for that weapon. And I was taught it kills people, and killing a person is permanent.
VIRGINIAAll of our game shows and our TV shows -- if you just watched previews of the coming TV shows and the violence that's demonstrated, there is no respect for life. These children grow up thinking, oh, you shoot somebody, and it's over. They don't understand they're killing a human being. They don't understand the violence. If all this money for research should go to training programs in schools to help children understand what a weapon is and what it can do, there are numerous things we can do. We can't legislate guns. People are going to find them.
GJELTENThank you very much, Virginia. A good point. By the way, I'm Tom Gjelten. This is "The Diane Rehm Show." Ladd Everitt, what do you make of Virginia's argument that what really -- the big issue here may be training, just that people don't realize how dangerous weapons are. And if they were -- if there were more emphasis on training, that would contribute to the reduction of gun violence.
EVERITTYeah. I mean, look, in the wake of Sandy Hook, I don't think the answer here is to implement weapons training for our kids in our K-12 schools. I don't think that's what we need here. You know, one other points that I would make about, you know, the Newtown incident is to, you know, everyone should understand that Nancy Lanza had essentially amassed an arsenal under this kid, right? You know, she was out telling her neighbors, you know, from day to day my son is "unstable," right?
EVERITTSo she was broadcasting that she knew his mental health issues. And yet, at the same time, she had no legal accountability under the law in Connecticut or under federal law for responsibly storing her firearms. So, you know, I would agree with Virginia that, you know, personal responsibility is a good thing, and encouraging safe storage of firearms is a good thing. But I think we also need to understand that our gun laws are so weak that she had no legal responsibility whatsoever to behave in that fashion.
GJELTENRichard Feldman, you also faulted Adam Lanza's mother for not putting her guns in a gun safe. How would you feel about laws that would require her to keep or some way to enforce accountability and not just expect accountability of gun owners?
FELDMANWell, I think we can use our laws in this country to encourage activity. The problem was our criminal law is it's one size fits all, and what's appropriate to someone who lives alone would be inappropriate to someone with children in their home. And -- but I think we can -- and, Everitt, you know my background in this.
FELDMANI'm the guy who negotiated the child safety lock deal with Bill Clinton and announced it in the Rose Garden 15 years ago on behalf of the handgun industry. It made sense to do that. And if it makes sense, we ought to do it. That's part of the problem with these issues. Politicians say it's all common sense. But if it was so easy, we had done it years ago. We're butting up with rights versus responsibilities and where do we draw the lines.
GJELTENJon Cohen, there's one other issue we have to very briefly touch on before we stop here, and that's the idea of putting armed guards in school, something the NRA has supported. What are the public findings on this?
COHENIt's generally popular to put an armed guard in school. Arming teachers and their school officials is much less popular, but putting a trained armed guard at school has majority support.
GJELTENAnd, Ladd Everitt, what you think of that?
EVERITTWell, look, I mean, you know, putting armed guards in schools is something that has been done for a long time. You know, there's been a lot of commentary, for example, that, you know, at the Columbine shooting, there were two armed guars on the premises who are unable to intervene, you know, and make difference in that shooting. So, you know, I think schools need to make that decisions on a case-by-case basis. But I think we need to do more for our kids to prevent the firing from starting in the first place.
GJELTENLadd Everitt is director of communications at The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. I'm also been joined by Fawn Johnson from National Journal magazine, Jon Cohen, director of the polling group Capital Insight, and from Las Vegas by Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association. He's out there in Las Vegas at a gun show.
GJELTENEarlier, we were joined by Democratic Congressman Jim Langevin, representing the second congressional district from Rhode Island. We've been talking about gun measures, President Obama laying his own out in a few hours, a couple of hours. I'm Tom Gjelten. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman and Lisa Dunn. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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