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.
Three months have passed since the killing of 20 schoolchildren and six adults in Newtown, Conn. And already the sense of urgency for new gun control legislation is waning. President Barack Obama’s top agenda item, a ban on assault-style weapons, isn’t likely to survive in the Senate. A proposal to expand background checks also appears doubtful. And news that the Newtown shooter massacred two dozen people in five minutes may not be enough to save an amendment banning high-capacity magazines. But while it seems not much has changed, there may be long-term hope for gun control advocates: since December, real money is beginning to flow to counter the gun lobby. Diane and her guests discuss the latest on gun control laws.
- Fawn Johnson correspondent, National Journal.
- John Feinblatt chief policy adviser to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
- Richard Feldman president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association and author of "Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist."
- Adam Winkler law professor at UCLA and author of "Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America."
- Ladd Everitt director of communications at The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. As members of Congress face voters over the spring recess, President Obama made the case once again for stricter gun control laws. Here with me to talk about the status of gun control legislation three months after the Newtown tragedy: Ladd Everitt of the The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and Fawn Johnson with National Journal magazine, joining us by phone from Los Angeles, law professor and author Adam Winkler, and, from a studio in Jupiter, Fla., Richard Feldman of the Independent Firearm Owners Association.
MS. DIANE REHMI know you want to be part of the program this morning. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And good morning to all of you.
MR. LADD EVERITTGood morning, Diane.
MS. FAWN JOHNSONGood morning.
MR. RICHARD FELDMANGood morning, Diane.
REHMAnd to you, Adam Winkler.
PROF. ADAM WINKLERGood morning. Thanks for having me.
REHMIndeed. Fawn Johnson, talk about the status of gun control legislation now.
JOHNSONWell, Diane, the -- it's about to hit the major stage in the Senate next week when they get back from their regular recess. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that that would be the next topic up on the floor. The big news that he made right before the recess was that they did not include an assault weapons ban as part of the base bill.
JOHNSONNow that doesn't mean that there won't be a vote on the assault weapons ban, but what it does mean is that, as he said, he wasn't sure that he would be able to actually have the votes to pass an assault weapons ban. Keep in mind that's one of the top priorities for President Obama after Newtown. So in some ways, Reid was already conceding defeat, and some of the more high-level proponents of gun control that I have talked to weren't particularly happy with how he sold that.
JOHNSONThe other things that are going to be on the agenda, there's a background check bill that has been pushed through and has vast public support that would be a way of expanding the background checks to private sales of guns, something that people like Ladd and other gun control advocates have been advocating for for years. And then there's a couple of other bill -- bills that are -- have more bipartisan support. There's a expanding the penalties for trafficking of guns.
JOHNSONThis would be what they call straw purchases involving, you know, me buying a gun for somebody who couldn't get one in their own right. And then there's also a smaller bill that adds a little extra money to schools for capital improvement on safety. There -- the status of these in the Senate is a little dubious. It's not clear what's going to happen to all of them. I have not seen the support for the background check bill in the Senate that you would see in the populous. So it's going to be very interesting.
REHMInteresting indeed. Ladd Everitt, I'm sure your hopes were high. Do you believe that your expectations were too high? Have we simply lost that impetus?
EVERITTNo. I don't think we've lost any impetus. I think the expectations of the gun violence prevention movement are a little bit different than the expectations of the media. Folks in the movement were never under any illusions that we were going to be able to, you know, undo 35 years of damage that the NRA has been doing to American gun laws in one, two or three months. That's just not going to happen.
EVERITTThat said, you know, if you went back one year at this point and told us that we would be moving to the Senate floor with these types of major pieces of legislation, we would have told you at that point we'd be absolutely delighted to be in this position right now. And we are. You know, this stems from a horrific tragedy that's torn many of us apart. But we are in a position right now that we couldn't have dreamed of even just shortly ago, where we have an opportunity to make fundamental major reforms on gun laws.
EVERITTAnd for some of these proposals, as Fawn mentioned, if you look at the anti-trafficking legislation where Chuck Grassley supported that in committee and is one of the sponsors, if you look at people like Sen. Kirk who have sided with anti-trafficking or background check legislation, you know, we're in a better position than we could have dreamed, and we're going to push hard on this.
REHMA better position. But what do you actually expect you will get?
EVERITTWell, I mean, it's hard to say. I mean, you know, you do your vote-counting on this. But you know, certainly, I think that, you know, getting something on background checks and the anti-trafficking piece is very possible. And listen, hey, on the assault weapons piece, we're going to push real hard on that.
EVERITTYou know, a couple of things to keep this in perspective, in 1994, with the original assault weapons ban, that was an amendment to the crime bill. It was not a standalone bill. And everyone told Dianne Feinstein back then, no way you're going to do this. And we did it. So, hey, we're going to push hard, and people are revved up about this.
REHMAll right. Turning to you, Richard Feldman, of course, this weekend, we heard news that Adam Lanza was able to shoot down students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in just five minutes. Isn't that the best argument against high-capacity magazine clips?
FELDMANWell, given the facts of the situation, I don't see an important distinction whether it took him five minutes or five and a half minutes. The fact is that he had the gun. That's what we should be focusing on. How do we prevent people like Adam Lanza, the mentally deranged, and those with criminal intent from getting guns? You know, Diane, when you started the show a few moments ago and talked about countering the gun lobby, I think there's really a misconception in this country. If you ask the question correctly, I believe that all Americans are on the same side.
FELDMANNone of us want criminals or mentally troubled people obtaining and misusing guns. And if we focus on the problem, we stand a real chance of doing things that will impact positively on our society. If we talk around the edges about assault weapons which aren't assault weapons, finding a magical number of cartridges in a magazine, we miss the opportunity to move the agenda forward in ways that all of us on this show and almost all Americans are in complete agreement with.
REHMAdam Winkler, turning to you, what about President Obama's role in all this? Has he done enough?
WINKLERI think the president has been very active and out front on this issue as I think the politics call for. You know, obviously, it's a very difficult situation. The president comes at this issue after years of avoiding really focusing on gun control. And indeed even in his first term, he earned an F rating from the Brady Center for his lack of support for gun control. But he's clearly made it a centerpiece of the agenda. Are there things that we can second guess in terms of the politics? Yeah, probably.
WINKLERI, for one, agree with Richard Feldman that focusing on an assault weapons ban is a mistake and probably does a little something to make it more difficult to pass any kind of gun control measure. But nonetheless one thing you have to compliment the president on if you're a gun control supporter is how quickly this has moved.
WINKLERYou know, after Newtown, everyone realized that if they don't get something to the floor of Congress pretty soon, then the political will is going to dissipate pretty quickly. And to get something -- significant series of reforms proposed and maybe voted on within the next two weeks would be a pretty impressive move in terms of getting things to the floor of Congress quickly.
REHMLadd Everitt, why no success in pushing for banning assault-style weapons?
EVERITTWell, look, I wouldn't argue that there's been a lack of success in that area. Again, we should very soon have a vote on that issue. So, you know, I don't see where the lack of success is. I would disagree just on the substance of the issue with Richard a little bit. You know, we constantly hear from the gun lobby, let's say, that there's no difference between a semi-automatic AR-15 with a 30-round magazine and perhaps a bolt-action rifle or a single-shot 22-caliber weapon.
EVERITTAnd yet in every -- in literally almost every single mass shooting, the one common element is always high-capacity magazines. And then typically, what we're seeing is a semi-automatic weapon, either a handgun or a platform that was originally designed for battlefield use. And this is just happening again and again and again.
EVERITTSo obviously mass murderers haven't gotten the memo that these are no different than other guns or that these are "cosmetic features," and, from our standpoint, we're seeing a ton of heat on the assault weapons issue. When people got the mistaken message from the media that there would be no vote on assault weapons, our people went ballistic. They were incredibly upset, and we like seeing that heat.
REHMFawn, back in January, you wrote a piece outlining four problems the president would face in gun control. Problems seem to be playing out exactly as you predicted.
JOHNSONRight. And I think -- let's be clear, to start from this, that it's always really difficult to pass complex policy legislation like this. I like to say I've been covering Congress for a long time and rarely have I covered something that actually passed. So you knew that there was going to be problems from the beginning. You also knew that he was going up against a powerful lobby.
JOHNSONI think that the way that I like to talk about this when I'm talking to people about the grand scheme of things is that if the goal in the end was to have stricter gun regulations by the end of April when President Obama outlined his strategy, that's obviously the wrong goal if you expect to succeed.
JOHNSONBut if the goal is to have the kind of conversation where at the end of the day what you have is a pretty sophisticated scorecard of where all the members sit on different types of gun control issues and some of them are voting on them in ways that might make them not particularly comfortable, you have set a wonderful scheme for the next year or so to be talking about this issue and for the 2014 elections.
REHMFawn Johnson, she is correspondent with National Journal magazine. Ladd Everitt is director of communications at The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Adam Winkler is professor of law at UCLA. He's author of "Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America. And Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association. Short break. Right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about gun control, where it stands, where advocate stands, where opponents stand. One email from Nancy in Texas. She says, "I love the show, but I'm tired of this topic. That horse is out of the barn, and nothing will help. It's just too late." Richard, I'd be interested, from your perspective, why is it that gun rights advocates have such a problem with background checks?
FELDMANWell, I'm not sure that I agree with you. It's situational. When I represented the firearm industry in the 1990s, we were strongly in support of mandatory background checks at retail gun shops because people don't know each other when you're open for business for the same reason we at the Independent Firearm Owners support mandatory background checks at gun shows, another place where buyers and sellers typically don't know each other.
FELDMANWhere we differ is in transfers legitimately between people who do know each other: friends, relatives, coworkers and neighbors. But when, you know, we talk about the gun lobby, it's as though we're talking about a couple, a dozen lobbyists in Washington. We're talking about virtually half of the adults in this country, 110 million firearm owners, plus additional millions of people who live in those households who own guns.
FELDMANWe're talking about close to or, perhaps, a majority of the American people. This isn't some small cabal in Washington getting together thwarting legislation. This is the American people. Now, you can be on any side you wish, but let's accept the fact in democracy: people who claim and speak to their representatives often get heard. We do a good job on this issue in this community of letting our legislators know just how concerned we are and what the consequences will be politically.
REHMAll right. Ladd Everitt, what is the huge background objection to identification and background checks?
EVERITTWell, I think it's largely based on conspiracy theory. I mean, I would differ with Richard on this. I think it is a small cabal of gun lobbyists who were preventing forward movement on this issue. You know, if you look at national polling, even 74 percent of NRA members support universal background checks and all gun sales, including private sales. And if you ask gun owners in general, that moves up to above 80 percent. You know, the NRA has really dug pretty deep for, you know, its reasons as to why this shouldn't be done.
EVERITTThey claim that Schumer's bill would require registration of firearms. That's just a flat-out lie. It does not. It's modeled exactly after the existing system in which basically licensed gun dealers keep paper records of these sales. And, you know, they've talked about other things like, you know, supposedly Chinese hackers are going to tap into these registration lists and do God knows what with them. I mean, they're pretty much in Glenn Beck territory at this point, and it's a little bit embarrassing.
JOHNSONI would say that the arguments that are coming against the background check bill right now or the things that could possibly kill it in the Senate because -- and it's hard to say just how far afield the concern is. But the fact of the matter is that whenever there is a background check that takes place on a gun sale, there's a record of that sale with the identity of that person who has bought it. And that record goes somewhere.
JOHNSONEventually, that record will go to a central location. Right now, it's all on paper. But it really is only a matter of time before you can imagine that turning into a computerized record. Now, I know that that's very far in the future and that there's a lot of firewalls that would stop that from happening now. But it is a concern that members of the Senate Republicans are very worried about, and I think they're going to kill it.
REHMAdam Winkler, how long does it take to get a background check on somebody who wishes to purchase a gun?
WINKLERWell, it's very quick. There's a computerized system that the federal government has set up in the 1990s. And you plug in some information into the computerized system, and it returns an answer in the vast majority of cases, within a minute or two. So it actually doesn't take too long to do. And part of the problem is our background checks really only apply to -- don't apply to all purchases.
WINKLERAnd we've talked about gun shows. There's not really a gun show loophole in the law. The law at gun show applies the exact same way as it applies everywhere else. Gun shows are handy places for people who don't want to do a background check to go find sellers, private sellers who don't have to the background check. There's really no reason. We know that criminals get their guns from friends and family.
WINKLERThere's no reason to exempt those people from a universal background check. That's one of the major loopholes that allows criminals to get their hands on guns. We should be doing everything we can to close those loopholes. Everyone agrees that criminals and the mentally ill shouldn't be getting their hands on guns. Why we'd have a system in place that does not prevent them or do everything we can to prevent them from getting their guns, I think, remains a big, open question.
REHMHere is an email from Nick: "When is the last mass shooting that would've been stopped by a universal background check?" Fawn or Ladd?
JOHNSONActually, I think Ladd knows. I will say that the gun that Adam Lanza used in the Newtown incident was purchased with a background check. It was owned by his mother.
JOHNSONSo that would not have stopped it. But, Ladd, I think you probably have a better sense to this.
EVERITTThere was a horrific mass shooting last year at a spa in Wisconsin in which a man named Radcliffe Haughton bought a gun through a private sale that was arranged through armslist.com, basically a website where private sales of all natures of firearms are advertised. He was under an active restraining order for basically abusing his, I believe, either estranged or ex-wife. She worked at that spa.
EVERITTHe arranged for a sale, the handgun through a private sale. No background check. He couldn't have passed a background check, got it through that private sale, went to the spa and killed several women at that spa. And these -- and one of a -- a gentleman recently spoke at a press conference arranged by a state gun violence prevention group in Wisconsin, and he said point-blank, one of -- his wife died in that shooting. He said point-blank, had we had universal background checks, my wife very well might be alive today.
REHMAll right. Now, just before we open the phones, Fawn Johnson, what role do midterm elections play in all this gun control talk?
JOHNSONWell, the midterm elections are actually going to be very important because for the first time that I can remember, we actually have a counterweight to the NRA in Michael Bloomberg's group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and also the group that was started by former Rep. Gabby Giffords who was shot tragically a couple of years ago and her husband.
JOHNSONAnd so this is why these votes in the Senate are so important next week because what you're going to see is a whole series of checkmarks that people can put next to the name of people who are running for office. And then they can start to run ads. And they can decide to primary them if they want to. This is -- will important to just judge the weight of the NRA versus the weight of the advocates like Ladd and some of the others.
REHMAnd, Adam Winkler, you say that gun control advocates actually have reason to hope.
WINKLERWell, I do think they have reason to hope. And, you know, a lot of the reason is not necessarily associated with what gets passed through Congress today. You know, it's going to be very hard to get anything passed through Congress on gun control or, let's face it, on any other major issue facing America these days. It's really quite a dysfunctional institution. But we're having a better dialogue about the various kinds of reforms that we can maybe undertake to lower the daily death toll from guns.
WINKLERAnd we're also seeing, I think, the most important development, which is the rise of money being spent on -- significant money being spent on pro-gun control campaigning. We've seen the advent of Michael Bloomberg's Mayor Against Illegal Guns starting a big ad buy, 13 states, $12 million to target vulnerable elected officials who are wavering on this issue. We've seen Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly form this pact that's going to be active in financing pro-gun control elected officials and candidates.
WINKLEROne of the things that's been so powerful for the NRA is that they really occupy the field here. There's been some good gun control policy organizations, like Ladd Everitt's organization and the Brady Center and others, but there hasn't been a lot of real political capital going in to spend on elections and to bring out single issue pro-gun control voters.
WINKLERIn America, we have a lot of single issue pro-gun voters. We haven't had as many pro-gun control voters. We haven't had as many pro-gun-control voters. If we can get a politically active gun control movement that's financing elections, spending on campaigns, we're going to have a significantly different debate about guns in America in the future.
REHMAll right. We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850, first to Allegan, Mich. Good morning, Dennis.
DENNISGood morning. The reason gun control laws don't work is because it's written by people who don't understand guns. If -- in the years that I've sold guns, the -- I've seen one person arrested for trying to illegally buy a gun. But it's never enforced. Somebody lies on the 4473 form, and nothing ever happens to them.
EVERITTWell, I -- look, I think that's a little bit of a ridiculous argument. You know, do you -- you know, for men who regulate abortion, OK, I don't know of a man who's ever had an abortion. Does a man have to have an abortion to pass laws regulating abortion? I would argue that the conservative movement would say no to that question. Do you have to smoke three packs of cigarettes a day in order to regulate tobacco for public health and safety in this country? I would say no.
EVERITTAs to this issue of, you know, the fact that we're not going after people who might have lied on background checks, well, you know, I think that's a legitimate argument, but let's be clear. The act of stopping a sale to someone who's a convicted felon or under a restraining order or mentally ill in and of itself is a public good, and not in all of these cases would someone have lied on the form.
EVERITTSomeone might have just filled out the form accurately and just hoped that they would clear 'cause a record wasn't in the sale or the gun dealer didn't properly check the form. Furthermore on that, it's not just the federal government's responsibility. Many states -- including Virginia, right near here, in the D.C. area -- are actively going after people who lie on those forms and taking that very seriously.
REHMAll right. To Big Rock, Ill. Good morning, Mike.
MIKEYeah, Diane. I'd like to reframe this argument to honor -- to look at the rights and honor the -- and respect the rights of non-gun owners in this nation. We are tired of having our rights violated, and our financial rights also. We've got to pick up the tab on this gun mess nationwide. We don't participate in the ownership of this product, the only product that seeks protection behind an amendment on the Constitution. The -- we need a federal firearms financial responsibility act.
MIKENow, when you go to Adam Lanza, you have to say, I'm more afraid of people like Nancy Lanza who enable someone like this. She was the person who had the greatest insight to his psychological incapacity, and yet she as a legal gun owner, a legal purchaser, allowed these -- this transfer to occur. I think her assets ought to be appropriated by the state, any retirement funds, a portion of the husband's, 'cause he knew this son was in the presence of guns.
REHMAll right. Mike, thanks for your call. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Richard Feldman, what do you have to say to him?
FELDMANI'm afraid we had a little technical difficulty. I couldn't hear the question.
REHMYou couldn't hear him at all?
REHMOh. Well, he said that it's about time that the rights of those non-gun owners are given as much weight as those of gun owners. He talked about the fact that the gun is the only item protected by the Constitution. He talked about taking away the assets of Adam Lanza's mother because she enabled him to purchase the guns.
FELDMANYou know, we -- again, we're all, on this show and in this country, in favor of violence control. When we talk about gun control, it always depends. I'm certainly in favor of gun control that's reasonably related to keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them. Most of our gun control discussion is all about laws about guns, but not about keeping them out of the hands of people misusing them.
FELDMANThere are lots of things we talk about in our Constitution. We talk about your right of free speech, your right of assembly, your right to protect yourself. But when we talk about rights, we also need to talk about responsibilities, something we don't always do very well in this country. Along with rights go responsibilities.
REHMAdam Winkler, do you want to talk about that idea not only within the Constitution that the gun is the only item that is under protection, but also the question of assets and whether you expect to see anything like that occur?
WINKLERWell, it's very possible we could see something like that occur. We haven't seen a lot of focus on that. We're -- there have been rumors in California of requiring mandatory insurance for gun owners the way you have mandatory insurance if you want to have your car out on the roads. So something like that might pass.
WINKLERIt hasn't moved forward in the states, and we don't see any significant federal consideration of that by Congress. One thing, I think, that's important to recognize, I think the Constitution does provide, the Second Amendment provides people with the right to bear arms, and in that sense, it does protect a product somewhat uniquely in the Constitution.
WINKLERBut we shouldn't forget that gun control is as much a part of the story of guns in America as the Second Amendment and the six-shooter and that the Founding Fathers who wrote the Second Amendment did not view it as a libertarian license for anyone to have any gun anytime they wanted, and indeed they balanced public welfare and public safety with the right to bear arms. And I think we can do the same.
WINKLERWe shouldn't cede the grounds of the Second Amendment solely to the gun rights advocates. There's plenty of room for gun control under the Second Amendment as well. And I don't think any of the major reforms being considered in Washington today would be likely to be struck down by the Supreme Court on Second Amendment grounds despite all the rhetoric to the contrary.
REHMInteresting. The National Rifle Association is set to unveil its plans for safer schools on Tuesday, including more detailed recommendations for armed guards. The NRA's announcement comes just one week before the Senate may vote on a package of new gun control laws. How do you expect that whole defense of schools issue to move, Fawn?
JOHNSONThat will be a very interesting although I think sidepiece to the debate, which I think is a shame, actually. The -- we expect the NRA -- they mentioned this a little bit several months ago right after Newtown. Their proposal is wanting to come up with private -- I believe it's private funding -- to have volunteer policemen in the schools. There's questions about that. You know, how does that work? How doesn't it? We need to talk more about it.
REHMFawn Johnson, she's correspondent with National Journal magazine. When we come back, we'll hear from the Bloomberg group.
REHMAnd welcome back. Joining us now by phone from his office in New York is John Feinblatt. He's chief policy advisor to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Thanks for joining us, sir.
MR. JOHN FEINBLATTThank you so much.
REHMTalk about your group's relationship with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
FEINBLATTWell, as you know, Tom Menino and Mike Bloomberg seven years ago started Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Mayors are really on the front line of this issue because every day, they're the ones that get the calls at 2 a.m. in the morning to go to a hospital to break the news that's going to break somebody's heart, whether it's telling a parent that their child was killed in a drive-by accident or to comfort the widow or widower of a police officer.
REHMNow, I understand that Mayors Against Illegal Guns which Mayor Bloomberg founded -- co-founded in 2006 has now launched a 12 million ad buy this week in 13 states where it says it can influence the upcoming Senate vote on gun control efforts. Let's hear a bit of one of those ads.
MS. JILLIAN SOTOWe need to remember the 26 victims who lost their lives.
MR. GILLES ROUSSEAUShe just wanted to teach little kids, and that was her goal, and she died doing it. Wonderful.
MR. NEIL HESLINThat was the last day I ever saw Jesse alive.
MR. CHRIS MCDONNELLI want to prevent any other family from having to go through what we're going through.
HESLINAll I feel it's something I owe to my son, Jesse, to speak out for changes to be made.
SOTOIt's not taking guns away from people. It's making it a safer place for everybody.
MS. TERRI ROUSSEAUDon't let the memory of Newtown fade without doing something real.
UNIDENTIFIED MANDemand action now.
REHMAnd, John Feinblatt, real voices from real people. And those last words, "Don't let the memory of Newtown fade." Do you believe that the campaign that you and Mayor Bloomberg are involved in can truly make a difference?
FEINBLATTLook, 90 percent of Americans want background checks for every gun sale, and that's true no matter what state you poll in, whether you're polling in an urban Northeastern state or whether you're polling in a state like Arkansas or Arizona or Georgia, states with stronger hunting traditions. And what we're trying to do with this ad campaign is make sure that American voices are heard, you know?
FEINBLATTWe've got nearly 1,000 mayors saying that we've got to do something to keep Americans safe. We've got 1.5 million grassroots supporters. We've got law enforcement organizations all over the country saying, look, we respect the Second Amendment but with rights come responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is a background check.
REHMNow, here's what Wayne LaPierre said in response to the Bloomberg ads. He said, "Bloomberg can't spend enough of his 27 billion to try to impose his will on the American public. They don't want him telling them what food to eat. They sure don't want him telling what self-defense firearms to own. And he cannot buy America." He is so reckless in terms of his comments on this whole issue. How do you respond, John Feinblatt?
FEINBLATTYou know, this isn't about Mike Bloomberg. This is about the overwhelming majority of Americans who want to see gun safety reforms become reality. He's helping make sure those voices are heard, but you've got 90 percent of Americans wanting background checks for every gun sale.
FEINBLATTWe're trying to make sure that those voices are heard. You know, the only place that people don't realize that it's -- that the Second Amendment can be honored while at the same time having background checks is in Washington. We're trying to make sure that the American public's voice is heard and that people in Washington hear it loud and clear.
REHMRichard Feldman, how do you respond?
FELDMANWell, you know, I know John, and John's known me for a number of years, and we're in agreement. We need to keep America safe. I hope that the Mayors Against Illegal Guns would join with us in an effort to promote firearm safety. There are many things we can do to make America safer right now today without legislation, without regulation because it's the right thing to do.
FELDMANAnd I asked John a few years ago about this, but they kind of passed on it. This is another moment. John, what do you say about a joint effort between your folks and the firearm community simply on gun safety and promoting the safe and responsible use and protection of firearms?
FEINBLATTLook, I think that there have been extraordinary voluntary efforts done around this country, whether it's gun show promoters requiring background checks with their gun sales, whether it be Wal-Mart that put in a 10-point plan of action. But we -- and those should be applauded and those should be supported, but we also have to realize that this is really a national problem.
FEINBLATTYou know, 85 percent of the crime guns recovered at crime scenes in New York City come from out of state, and that's why this is a national issue. Unfortunately, we got to make sure that guns don't get into the hands of people who have been prohibited to have guns by Congress, the mentally ill, people who have felony records. And what we're just trying to make sure that that legislation passes, that's what the American public wants. It's time for the Congress to listen.
EVERITTYeah. You know, on the issue of firearm safety, you know, I would remind Richard that law enforcement authorities in the Lanza home found training certificates, NRA training certificates, for both Adam and Nancy Lanza. They also found an NRA book, a guide to basic pistol safety and handling. So, you know, firearm safety was promoted with the Lanza family.
EVERITTBut what wasn't in place because of the lobbying of the gun lobby was mandated requirements for safely storing firearms in the home. And also, even though she was busy telling her neighbors her son was mentally unstable, Nancy Lanza had no criminal or legal accountability when her son gained unauthorized access to her firearms. Those are the types of the things that we do need to legislate and which the NRA has fought us every step of the way on.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Irmanah, (sp?) who says, "How many times have we heard people comment: They had no clue their neighbor or coworker was capable of being a mass murderer? They always say things like, he was always polite and considerate. I had no idea he could commit such heinous acts. So why do we think that people know each other well enough to sell these weapons without background checks on everyone?" Adam Winkler, do you want to comment?
WINKLERAbsolutely. I think it's a real issue. You know, we hear a lot in among gun -- the most vigorous gun rights supporters that you don't need these background checks because why shouldn't a father be able to leave his gun to his son and whatnot. But, you know, what we understand too about family dynamics is that sometimes within a family, that's the most difficult place to say no, that if you have a spouse who's got a felony conviction -- sometimes it varied -- and he is insisting that his wife will go out and buy him a gun, you know, it's very hard for that spouse to say no.
WINKLERIt's very hard within the family context. What we should have is background checks that are truly universal, which means every time a gun is transferred then we have a background check so that we don't have this easy access to firearms by the mentally ill and criminals.
REHMJohn Feinblatt, is Mayor Bloomberg sort of giving up on the assault weapons ban?
FEINBLATTLook the mayor has said that he believes we need an assault weapons ban, we need a limitation on high-capacity magazines and we need background checks. There is no question assault weapons ban is a tougher road in Washington and these other measures. But what the mayor believes is that you can respect the Second Amendment but also stress that gun owners have a responsibility to make Americans safe. You know, the problem is in this country, 40 percent of gun sales happen without a background check.
FEINBLATTIt's likely if you went to the airport and there were two lines, one where you had to go a security and one where you could just waltz through, and the problem is that people who didn't want to be detected would waltz through. That's what's going on in this country. People can too easily go to the Internet, go to a gun show, go to the classifieds and buy a gun with no questions asked. And who do you think does that? People who don't want to be detected, people that Congress has already said should not have gun.
JOHNSONDiane, I just wanted to point out that right after Newtown when I was writing about this, I called Ladd from The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and I called Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and both of them told me first up within the first 30 seconds of talking to them that the most important thing to do would be to pass a background check bill.
JOHNSONThey did not talk about assault weapons. They didn't talk about magazine clips. And I tend to agree with the gun advocates that, well, if you want to talk about affecting the most change across all firearms, this is the one that would make the most difference. And this is the one that I think that the gun control movement has been most committed to over the last 10 years.
REHMAll right. To Indianapolis. Good morning, Tyson. You're on the air.
TYSONYeah. Good morning, Diane. Hey, I just wanted to mention that something that's missing in this debate is the fact that the Second Amendment was ratified to maintain slave patrol militias. That's why it says state and not country.
TYSONAnd I believe it was Virginia and Alexandria, Hamilton in particular, that was concerned about if the federal government went to war with another country that perhaps they would offer slaves their freedom in exchange to fight, and that with that freedom, then they could gain access to weapons. Anyway, I just think that that's always missed in this debate, Diane.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Adam Winkler.
WINKLERWell, you know, it's one of the ugly truths about gun control over the history of America. Just like our marriage laws and property laws were used for racially discriminatory purposes, over the course of American history, gun control has often been used to keep racial minorities to be second-class citizens. When I was doing research for my book "Gunfight," I discovered that one of the leading -- the top agenda for the KKK when it formed after the Civil War was to disarm African-Americans.
WINKLERThat's not to say that all our gun control laws today are racist, but just that it is part of the ugly truth of guns in America and gun controls that it's often been used to keep racial minorities in a second-class citizenship state. But I don't think -- just like that's not a reason for why we shouldn't have marriage laws today or property laws today just because they were once used for racially discriminatory purposes doesn't mean we shouldn't have gun control laws today just because they might in the past have had racially discriminatory purposes.
EVERITTYeah. Well, I think the caller has hit upon a fundamental truth about the Second Amendment, which is that it really had nothing to do with individual self-defense against criminals. In fact, if you go back to the surviving House debate on the amendment and discussions in The Federalist Papers and elsewhere, there is no discussion about individual self-defense.
EVERITTAnd what James Madison, the author of the amendment, was really trying to do was to properly balanced control of the state's militia between the states and the federal government. And like the caller pointed out, one concern of Southern states was controlling riots by slaves.
REHMLadd Everitt of The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." John Feinblatt, do you believe that the ads that are running now from your group are getting through to members of Congress and to people in their states?
FEINBLATTWell, you know, within 24 hours of running the ads, Sen. Joe Donnelly said that he supported background checks for all gun sales. And, in fact, we took his name off the ads. After that, Kay Hagan of North Carolina also said she supported background checks. I think people are listening to the American public, and that's what our purpose of running those ads are to make sure that the American public's voice is heard. And, you know, those ads stress the need for background checks for every gun sale.
FEINBLATTAnd 14 states in this country have actually on their own legislature, closing the private sale loophole. And here are the results of that: Gun trafficking is 48 percent lower in those states. The gun suicide rate is 49 percent lower in those states. The rate at which at which women are killed with a gun by an intimate partner is 38 percent lower in those states. That's why the American public thinks that with rights come responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is a background check when you buy a gun. It takes a minute. Who wouldn't take a minute to save somebody's life?
REHMRichard Feldman, how do you respond?
FELDMANYou know, one of the things, Diane, I love about your show is our ability to bring in so many divergent views and talk about the complexity of this issue. Let's throw another variable out there. We know there are -- in excess of 500,000 firearms stolen every year in this country. Now, none of us expect thieves to put themselves through background checks. So we always have to keep in mind the issue of how is it that criminals obtain guns?
FELDMANI'm all in favor of stopping the one or 2 percent of transfers at gun shows that shouldn't occur. But if we think that preventing a transfer of a particular gun to a person who shouldn't have it is going to solve the problem, we're only kidding ourselves and fooling the American people. We're not dealing the issues.
EVERITTYeah. You know, stolen guns -- I think Richard is right. Stolen guns certainly are a major channel for firearms traffickers. But, you know, look, the ATF did a major study of illegal gun trafficking investigations in 2000, a report called follow the gun, and they found that the primary source of illegal traffic firearms in this country are corrupt firearms dealers where straw buyers and traffickers get their guns from. They also found that private sales of weapons were a major channel for illegally traffic firearms.
REHMSo how is a firearm ID, a background check going to help there?
EVERITTWell, I mean, it's going to help by making sure that any prohibited purchase that are trying to go through that channel will have to have a background check. And then, look, to Richard's point about stolen guns, we can do things to help there by mandating safe storage of firearms in the home by mandating that federally licensed firearms dealers have certain procedures they take to safely store weapons in their stores.
REHMJohn Feinblatt, I'm going to give you the last brief word.
FEINBLATTLook, you know, we -- no law is going to stop every crime from occurring, but background checks have actually stopped two million prohibited purchasers from buying guns. That translates into saved lives. It translates into people being safer in this country. And I think that just as you play the ad of the Newtown families, this country needs to remember those families and remember that meaningful reform is what people across this country want, and we're not going to rest until we get it.
REHMJohn Feinblatt, chief policy advisor to New York City Mayor Bloomberg and chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Ladd Everitt, director of communications at The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Fawn Johnson of National Journal, Adam Winkler, professor of law at UCLA, Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association. Thank you all. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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