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The mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., last December sparked a debate over gun laws. President Barack Obama called on Congress to act, and gun control advocates saw the moment as their best chance in years to take on the powerful fire arms lobby. But bipartisan legislation to expand background checks failed. Six months later, families of Newtown victims are back in Washington with hopes of re-starting the conversation. And they’re not the only group fighting to keep momentum alive. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is using his political leverage to target democrats opposed to gun control measures, a strategy some warn could backfire. Diane and her guests discuss efforts to reignite the gun control debate.
- Ladd Everitt director of communications at The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
- Richard Feldman president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association.
- Mark Glaze executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns
- Ed O'Keefe congressional reporter for The Washington Post.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Parents of children killed in the Newtown shootings are on Capitol Hill this week. They're lobbying lawmakers for tougher gun control legislation. This is their first trip to Congress since a bipartisan gun bill failed to pass the Senate, and it marks tomorrow's sixth-month anniversary of the massacre. Joining me to talk about where the gun control debate stands, Ladd Everitt of The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us by phone from Rindge, N.H., Richard Feldman of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, and by phone from Capitol Hill, Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post. I do invite you to join us throughout the program. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MR. LADD EVERITTGood morning, Diane.
MR. ED O'KEEFEGood morning.
REHMGood to have you with us. Ed O'Keefe, these Newtown families have been on Capitol Hill this week, marking the sixth-month anniversary of Newtown. Tell us about their meetings. Who are they meeting with? What kinds of impacts are they making?
O'KEEFEWell, they are once again meeting with one of their biggest supporters, Sen. Joe Manchin, the Democrat of West Virginia who co-authored that bipartisan bill that died in the Senate back in April. They met yesterday. It's sort of to give each other a status report on where things stand. Manchin has grown quite fond of meeting with these folks when they come to town. They kind of inspire him to keep working on it.
O'KEEFEAnd they, of course, want to meet with him because he is believed to be the most, as one gun control advocate put it to me this week, charming advocate for this among senators who might perhaps be willing to change their minds on this issue. They also met behind closed doors yesterday with House Speaker John Boehner. And they'll be holding similar meetings with other folks.
O'KEEFEThe Boehner meeting, I think, had been long-sought and scheduling finally permitted it to happen. But when asked about this Wednesday, and whether we should read anything more into it, Boehner said simply, you know, our hearts and souls go out to these folks. And he said that there are no immediate plans to hold a vote in the House on a gun bill.
REHMThat must have been disappointing for them to hear, wouldn't you think?
O'KEEFEYou would think that, yes, because certainly they want to see this brought up again and get a significant vote. Manchin made a good point for those of us who follow Congress and for anyone, really, who tracks this stuff. He said, you know, we are not going to be -- we hope to not be bringing this bill up every so often, knowing that it's going to be defeated, merely so that we can say that we tried and our opponents once again blocked it. It looks as if, especially in the Senate at least, that the plan is to not bring this up again until they get to a point where they believe they have the 60 votes necessary.
O'KEEFESo Manchin is still talking to senators, Vice President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Expect him to speak in the coming days about this as well. But no imminent plans either in the Senate, not because they've given up on it, but because they're trying to get to a point where they'll have enough political support to actually get something passed.
REHMSo, Ladd Everitt, how do you feel about what's happened this week and with the failure of the earlier measure?
EVERITTWell, you know, obviously, the April 17 vote was disappointing to those of us who work in this movement. But I'm encouraged by the fact that in the wake of that vote, no one gave up. Everybody has kept working, you know, that we're talking about the Newtown families now. But really, there's been action in all 50 states going on from gun violence prevention activists on the ground.
EVERITTI think a lot of people, on the wake of that vote, actually doubled down on this and are working now harder than they have ever before. And there's just so many new faces in the movement. You have entirely new gun violence prevention groups like Moms Demand Action. You have progressive groups that had never been involved before like Organizing for Action, CREDO and others who are now heavily vested in this issue.
EVERITTAnd I'm very optimistic. You know, I don't think anything is going to be given to us. I don't think we were ever under any illusions that this was going to be easy or that the NRA would cede control of Congress to anyone. We're going to have to work hard, and we're going to have to make our own window. And, you know, like Ed was talking about a minute ago, we're going to have to go out there and secure the votes we need. And I'm confident we can do that.
REHMAnd to you, Richard Feldman, what do you think? Do some of these well-funded gun control groups represent a real challenge to the NRA?
MR. RICHARD FELDMANThe problem of gun violence certainly hasn't gone away six months after the tragedy in Newtown. If anything, we're just more aware of it. Frequently in this country, we respond not so much to the issues that are around us, but to the issues we're aware of that are around us, sometimes to the detriment of our problems.
MR. RICHARD FELDMANNewtown's situation was one that really involved a mentally disturbed individual, which has always been the most difficult of all the cluster of issues within firearm misuse to get at. The vast bulk of gun misusage is the criminal -- intentional criminal misuse of a gun, which is something that -- I've yet to meet anyone in this country that thinks it's a good idea for violent, predatory criminals to be able to lawfully obtain guns.
REHMBut you did support -- your group supported the Manchin-Toomey bill, correct?
REHMBut now you seem to be shifting your emphasis on to mental health as opposed to expanding background checks.
FELDMANNo. We've always thought that background checks at gun shows make our entirely responsible position. When someone's selling a gun just like a retail dealer, they should be held under the same requirements that we hold retail dealers to. And most gun owners feel this way as well. Indeed, I think the Manchin-Toomey bill would have succeeded had it been the original and only gun legislation being proposed.
FELDMANIt got confusing to a lot of people because it came up late in the program. A lot of gun owners were all jarred up against the Feinstein bill. And in many people's minds, it was all just gun control legislation. It weren't able to separate the good legislation from what they perceived, and I would agree with them on that, the bad legislation.
REHMLadd Everitt, do you agree with that, that there was some confusion and reaction to too much up on the Hill?
EVERITTWell, I don't know. I mean, you know, I think this really comes down to the fact that if we're going to achieve real reform in Congress, we have to break the political power of the National Rifle Association. I don't think the, you know, the vote against Toomey-Manchin had anything to do with the actual merits of the bill.
EVERITTAnd in fact, if you look at the arguments the NRA used against it, they were conspiracy theories, essentially, you know, that it would require registration of firearms when, in fact, you know, federal law already prohibits that and Toomey-Manchin double and triple prohibited it, you know, and other things along those lines, you know, confiscation of all guns and whatnot. So I don't really think it had anything to do with the merits of the bill.
EVERITTI think you had, you know, certain senators like Ted Cruz coming up there and saying certain things like this. But at the end of the day, it had to do with the political calculation by senators that it was safer to play ball with the NRA than to cross gun violence prevention activists. We need to change that equation.
REHMAnd what about Richard Feldman's point that more attention needs to be paid to mental health?
EVERITTWell, I think that's a good point. And in fact, the executive director of our organization, Josh Horwitz, has been leading an effort with mental health professionals to develop a better standard in terms of prohibiting gun purchases by people for reasons of mental health. And, you know, the standard we have right now is very arbitrary and pretty unfair, too. It was developed in 1968. The language of it refers to things like mental defectives, you know, offensive language you would never use today...
REHMBut does that undermine the whole issue of background checks? Does it move the goal post elsewhere?
EVERITTWell, I think it's, you know, important to expand background checks to all gun sales. But, certainly, another thing that we need to take a look at is, you know, who we are prohibiting from buying guns based on reasons of mental health and whether we're taking a descriptive look at mental health background and focusing on dangerousness.
EVERITTYou know, certainly it's a problem that people who were clearly dangerously mentally ill, like Jared Loughner, you know, from Tucson, James Holmes from Aurora have legally bought guns and passed background checks when seemingly everyone around them knew there were serious red flags there. And we need to correct that problem.
REHMEd O'Keefe, do you see members of Congress perhaps focusing more in that direction?
O'KEEFEWell, you know, ever since this failed and in the lead up to its failure, there was talk about the fact that perhaps if you tried to focus on the roots of what motivates many of the people who commit these mass shootings, mental health concerns, that perhaps then it would be a more effective bill. The problem is that, you know, legislating how to deal with people who have these kinds of problems is a very difficult thing. Do you throw more money at it?
O'KEEFEWell, if you throw more money at it, you're going to upset certain lawmakers who don't want to be spending any more money. Do you try to establish new policy? Well, then you're going to run into those that are opposed to the government, telling doctors and medical professionals what to do and patients what they have to do in order to seek treatment. So, you know, yes, people can talk about wanting to do something about mental health, and people run around this place all the time saying, we need to do more about mental health.
O'KEEFEBut then you start to ask them, well, what would you like to do about that? And nobody really seems to have very solid answers despite -- besides sort of saying, well, we need to work on screening, or we need to provide more funding to schools so that they can perhaps, you know, help screen out students that might have concerns. But, you know, nothing really solid ever emerges on this because it's such a difficult issue to track and still a very difficult issue for some people to talk about.
REHMEd O'Keefe, he's congressional reporter for The Washington Post. Here in the studio: Ladd Everitt, he's at The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Richard Feldman is president of the Independent Firearms Owners Association. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd we're talking about the sixth-month anniversary of the shootings at Newtown, the efforts to put forward gun control legislation in light of that event. Here in the studio: Ladd Everitt, he's at The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Richard Feldman is on the line with us from New Hampshire. He's president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association.
REHMAnd Ed O'Keefe is joining us from Capitol Hill where he is congressional reporter for The Washington Post. Here's our first email from Susan, who says, "I do not understand why the media keeps on saying the gun violence bill failed. A majority voted for it. It's only because of the filibuster-breaking requirement that it did not pass." Ladd Everitt, talk about that.
EVERITTYeah. I have somewhat mixed feelings on that. I think one thing that's important to remember is that the Toomey-Manchin vote was just one of many gun-related votes that occurred that day, and many of the things that were voted on were things that were very harmful. They were amendments drafted by the National Rifle Association that would've significantly weakened laws. There were amendments that would've made it easier for severely mentally ill Americans to buy guns.
EVERITTThat would've forced states to accept concealed handgun permits from other states with far weaker screening regiments. So -- and many of those amendments got somewhere in the nature of 55 votes. So I have mixed feeling about that. You know, for advocates of filibuster reform, I think it's always important to think, what would that look like when you don't have control of the chamber?
REHMExactly. Have you seen any votes shift or change since that vote?
EVERITTWell, you know, we have seen people leaving the door open. We've had comments from people like Max Baucus in Montana saying, you know...
REHMWho's leaving the Senate.
EVERITTWho will be leaving, you know, who's told us essentially, you know, he's watching very closely how his constituents are communicating with them on this. And, you know, he's indicated he's going to have an open mind if it comes up again and kind of see what they're saying. We've heard similar things from Heidi Heitkamp, who recently told some activists that, you know, if it comes up again, she's going to pay very close attention to what she is hearing at her town halls.
EVERITTAnd then we've seen other people like, you know, Jeff Flake in Arizona and Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, who -- whose poll numbers have just plummeted in the wake of this vote and who are getting a lot of heat. You know, Kelly Ayotte, for example, is someone who's been -- having to talk about this issue almost on a daily basis.
REHMIndeed. And turning to you, Ed O'Keefe, Mayor Bloomberg has been targeting Democrats who voted against Manchin-Toomey. Talk about his strategy, what he hopes to achieve. Obviously with Kelly Ayotte, he's made some progress.
O'KEEFEWell, not necessarily progress because she hasn't shifted her position. I think, if anything, he sort of rattled her a little bit a few weeks ago during a recess when his group was able to successfully get some folks up to New Hampshire and to question her directly at town halls. But part of the reason that happened is because the Granite State's political tradition is so good that constituents expect to see their lawmakers in such settings. And so it was kind of a ripe opportunity for gun control advocates to do what they did.
O'KEEFEBut more recently, what the mayor is doing is now asking about 1,100 of New York City's top political donors to withhold money from four Senate Democrats who voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill: Max Baucus who, as you pointed out, is retiring and perhaps doesn't need to raise as much money, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Heidi Heitkamp, who we mentioned, from North Dakota.
O'KEEFEThe letter that he sent yesterday basically says if any of these people come asking you for money, you should ask them why they voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill when it came up in April and they are essentially siding with the gun lobby. He's inferring to the NRA, who Bloomberg says is now, you know, working against the will of the American public.
O'KEEFESo it was a very, you know, sharp tactic for him to adopt and essentially makes use of one of the strongest things that any New York area politician has in their back pocket, and that is access to big Wall Street and, you know, other New York area donors. It's a big, open secret that lawmakers like to spend as much time in New York as possible not to go to a play, not to visit Central Park, but to hit up, you know, well-heeled donors for political donations. It happens all the time.
REHMAnd, Richard Feldman, what's your reaction to Mayor Bloomberg's strategies?
FELDMANI've always said -- when it was the pro-gun community spending the money and we were being attacked, I always said, at the end of the day, money doesn't vote. Educated, informed gun owners vote. I'll stick with that today. The more money Mayor Bloomberg throws into this fight against incumbents, the more useful those incumbents will find running against the mayor of the city of New York.
REHMAll right. And joining us now is Mark Glaze. No, he's not with us yet. All right. He'll be with us shortly. He is director -- executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and he joins us very shortly. Ladd, what do think about this money going from Mayor Bloomberg's group targeting these Democrats? How effective could it be?
EVERITTI think it's going to be incredibly effective. I mean, one of the sea changes we've seen in this issue in the past year is really, for the first time in history, the gun violence prevention side has a level of money to compete with the gun lobby, with the National Rifle Association. That was never the case before. Now you have two large PACs: Mayor Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC and, of course, Gabby Giffords' new PAC with her group Americans for Responsible Solutions.
EVERITTAnd, you know, the political picture has been forever changed. And, you know, whereas in the past, you know, a politician like Jeff Flake or Kelly Ayotte could basically do the NRA's biddings and feel very secure that she'd never see any, you know, ads running her District against her or, you know, any paid organizing in her District or state. Those days are over. You now have to think about challenges from the other side as well, and I think that's tremendous news -- great news for all Americans who are sickened by the gun violence we're seeing.
REHMSo, on the other side, you've got the NRA running ads against their former ally, Joe Manchin. Richard Feldman.
FELDMANWell, when you read the Joe Manchin-Toomey bill, it's very hard to see how anyone who is supportive on the pro-gun side can get upset about that bill. The only really controversial issue from a pro-gun perspective is the gun show issue, which to me is almost such a non-issue. It's just silly. But again, it's not the policy that's become the discussion. It's really the politics, not the policy.
REHMDo you agree with that, Ed?
O'KEEFEWell, you know, it's -- this is a complex thing. And talking to Manchin about it over the course of the last few weeks, you know, he has said, I really just wish that every senator would sit down and read this proposal because if they did, they would find, as Richard just said, that, you know, there is nothing in here that a responsible legal gun owner is going to have an issue with.
O'KEEFEAnd he also urged the NRA to frankly just publish a copy of his bill in their magazine or just send it out to members. He said if they do that, these members are going to come back and say, OK, what's the big deal here? There's nothing about this that we're not going to like. It doesn't infringe on Second Amendment rights in a very significant way.
O'KEEFENow, various senators have pointed out that there are very minute examples of where perhaps there could be some restrictions put on people that weren't there before. But overall, this appears to be a pretty friendly bill if you're a lawful gun owner who wouldn't normally be selling a weapon to a criminal or to a severely mentally ill deranged person, so that's where a lot of Manchin's frustration lies.
O'KEEFEAnd that's why a guy from such a, you know, purple state or red state, who is a Democrat, is so willing to continue trying to sell it because he understands that there's nothing in there that any, you know, common-sense gun owner -- and that's a loaded phrase these days to use the words common sense -- but that any lawful gun owner, you know, would be opposed to.
EVERITTWell, you know, I -- and I think what Joe Manchin is doing is commendable. I mean, you know, I think he's one of the guys that in the wake of the Newtown, you know, tragedy, his heart has really changed. I mean, I think he has a genuine change of mind about this issue and has come around to the opinion that we need to do something. And, you know, nothing is more effective than having an A-rated NRA guy from West Virginia make the kind of stand he's making. And when you have the NRA opposing something so modest, that's how we're going to change a lot of minds.
REHMAll right. And joining us now is Mark Glaze. He's executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. That's the organization formed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Good morning, Mark.
MR. MARK GLAZEGood morning, Diane. Thanks for having me.
REHMSure. Tell us about the letter from Mayor Bloomberg to Democratic donors. Some Democratic lawmakers sure aren't happy about it.
GLAZEWell, what the mayor is saying is nothing new. Plenty of others have said it on other issues, and that is that the president's priorities on guns are clear. He believes that every gun buyer, with reasonable exception, should get a background check before they are able to buy the gun to make sure they're not a felon, not seriously mentally ill, not a domestic abuser, et cetera, and that, you know, Democratic donors who are regularly asked to give money to senators from other states, when they live in places like New York and California and Florida, ought to ask those candidates where they are on the president's priorities.
GLAZEAnd if they can't be, you know, with us on the issue of keeping communities safe, then those donors should give serious thought to whether they can support those candidates.
REHMAll right. So how much progress do you believe you can make in this second effort by the Newtown families on Capitol Hill? Here they are, six months out. Nothing has happened except a down vote. So what do you think Mayor Bloomberg and your group can now accomplish?
GLAZEWell, we're working on two tracks, at least, Diane. The first is working directly in the states to make some progress there. You know, the NRA has really had the field to itself for the past generation, not just in Washington, but also in state legislatures across the country. And since Newtown, we've passed some of the strongest gun laws in the country, in places like Colorado where my dad was a gun dealer, which now requires background checks for all gun sales and has limited the size of ammunition magazines of the kind that are almost always present in mass shootings.
GLAZEThe Nevada legislature, both chambers, passed a universal background check bill. The governor may veto it today. We'll see. And we've passed good bills in a number of other states. So, first of all, we're going to go to the states where people understand that these bills weren't going to do no damage to the Second Amendment. But we also believe that we will get there in Congress.
GLAZEYou know, the reasons that senator cited for voting against the bill just reflected that they either didn't understand it well or had concerns that we can assuage, quite frankly, because there is nothing about a background check -- which most people already take before they buy a gun at the licensed dealer -- that gets in the way of their Second Amendment rights.
GLAZEWe are going to keep making the case in every way we can. The Newtown families are some of the folks at the lead of that, and they're effective advocates. We think we'll get a second vote, and we think we'll win. It's just a matter of time.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Talk about that Nevada vote, Mark. I think that may have surprised some people.
GLAZEI think it did, as much as or more than the vote in Colorado surprised some people. But, you know, the truth is both of those states have seen really egregious shootings in recent years that might have been prevented if they had tougher laws. In Colorado, we had the Columbine shooting, we've had the Aurora shooting and others, and in Nevada, a prohibited gun purchaser in 2010 was nevertheless able to get his hands on a gun from a private seller with no background check and killed some people at a federal courthouse.
GLAZESo -- and something else is different about state legislatures. Whether it's Nevada, Colorado, New York, Delaware, Maryland, anywhere in the country that's passed these stronger laws, they're really closer to these shootings. They meet the victims. They meet the families. And as a result, they understand that this is not about special interests. This is not about the NRA. This is about people's lives, and so they tend to be more responsive to what is, in our view, common sense about guns.
REHMTell me what the vote was in the state legislature in Nevada and how likely it is that the governor is going to veto it.
GLAZEWell, it was a party-line vote in both chambers. It was not close in the House and rather close in the Senate. And I don't want to give you the exact numbers because I will screw it up, but I think it is fairly -- the governor has said he is likely to veto it, I think. He has waited much longer than we had expected to veto it.
GLAZEAnd we know that survivors of gun violence -- the 86 percent of Nevadans who think that this is a reasonable and constitutional thing to do to protect people in Nevada -- are continuing to call and write and try to get through to the governor. So he's, I fear, likely to veto it, but, I hope, taking a second look.
REHMHow much pressure is there on the governor?
GLAZEWell, I think it's enormous. You know, you have everybody from Majority Leader Reid talking to him personally about this and, you know, commenting to the press about the fact that 40 percent of gun transfers in the U.S. take place with no background check whatsoever, and there's not a lot of rationale for not extending that system to keep felons, the mentally ill, domestic abusers from getting guns.
GLAZEYou've had thousands of phone calls made to the governor's office. You've had radio and TV advertisements all sort of reflecting that this is one of those kind of 90/10 issues in Nevada and everywhere else that you don't really get very often, and there is really no reason to veto it other than fear of the gun lobbying.
REHMAnd, Mark, finally, does the organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, have the money power and the person power that the NRA does?
GLAZEWell, we've never thought we need to match what the NRA does because, frankly, the public is with us, and that's a pretty significant advantage. Look, what the NRA has had in the past is a couple of advantages that we think are quickly being mitigated. First, they have what has kind of been known to political scientists as the intensity of preference advantage, which is to say they feel very, very strongly about their guns, and that has made a real difference.
GLAZEIt has changed public policy over the past generation, moved it in the direction of much looser gun laws than we ought to have if we want communities to be safe. But after a rapid-fire series of increasingly horrible mass shootings -- Tucson, Aurora and most recently Newtown -- the public has reached the tipping point. And, you know, when 90 percent of folks think that enough is enough and we ought to at least give everybody a background check, I think the intensity of preference issue has been mitigated a little bit.
GLAZEAnd the second advantage, as you point out, is money. You know, the NRA isn't as effective as people think electorally. In November of last year during the election, they spent more than $100,000, again, in support of only eight senators. Seven of their candidates lost, and only one, Jeff Flake, won. So, you know, we don't think they're as effective as they're cracked up to be. And we think that both Mayor Bloomberg and Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords getting involved on the electoral side, plus people who support common sense across the country...
GLAZE...people who put their money where their views are...
REHMMark Glaze, he is executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Stay with us.
REHMAnd six months after the shootings at Newtown, we're talking about new efforts to revive the issue of gun control. Members of Newtown families are on Capitol Hill, trying to speak with various members of Congress about their votes on the Manchin-Toomey bill and gun control going forward. Let's go first to Paul in Westport, Mass. Good morning to you.
PAULGood morning. I just wanted to bring up that the whole mental health issue is a distraction because we have the same mental health problems that all the other industrialized countries have. We have the same violent video games being played by our kids as all the industrialized countries, the same domestic abuse rates, the same bullying rates, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The only thing that we have more of is guns. And so when you say that it's mental health -- it's a mental health issue, perhaps. But if it is, then why isn't it the same in all other industrialized countries?
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for your call. Ladd Everitt.
EVERITTWell, I think the caller brings up a good point. You know, I would say that, you know, I think there's probably significant room in this country for improvement of the mental health treatment system. But, you know, at the same time, it's important to realize as well that, you know, most mentally ill people are never violent. They never become violent.
EVERITTAnd the focus on mental health really should be on this outdated 1968 standard, where the only two categories of mentally ill Americans we prohibit from buying guns are people who have been involuntarily committed, forced into an institution or formally adjudicated by a court as dangerous to themselves or others. And the problem is, in the overall universe of dangerously mentally ill Americans, very few fall into one of those two narrow categories.
REHMHow do you respond, Richard Feldman?
FELDMANWell, we, you know, it's troubling, I think, to all Americans that we have so much difficulty in this country, focusing on problems and then doing something about the problem instead of getting constantly caught up in the politics surrounding the problem leading to gridlock about the policy. You know, it's not just guns. It's immigration. And it's going to be very interesting to see what the new revelations with NSA spying have to do and how that's going to play into the gun issue.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Kathleen in Stanton, Mich. Good morning. You're on the air.
KATHLEENGood morning, Diane...
KATHLEEN...and thank you so much for the programming that you do. I have a question. Is there a website that follows the money in terms of campaign funding for our senators and our House representatives at the national level as well as at various state levels?
EVERITTYeah. I would recommend a couple of really good websites. The first would be OpenSecrets, which has very detailed reporting on, you know, which politicians are receiving campaign contributions, great reporting on the gun issue. And then also the Sunlight Foundation has done some wonderful reporting on this.
REHMGood. Thank you, Kathleen. And to Phoenix, Ariz., good morning, Renee.
RENEEGood morning, Diane...
RENEE...and as always, great discussion. Thank you.
RENEEWith the recent news about how the government is, like, obtaining information on pretty much every American and questions about how they're deploying drones, like, what does your panel think about how Americans really feel about our government's ability to properly handle and interpreting our Second Amendment rights?
O'KEEFEAha. Well, it's funny because as part of this debate -- maybe not funny, just coincidental or ironic -- that -- and as part of these bills every time they come up, they may add language as it already exist in federal law, that federal authorities could never establish a database of gun owners across the country, which has been one of the biggest fears of gun rights groups, that somehow the government would someday be able to figure out who owns guns.
O'KEEFEThe bill that was defeated in April had language, again, reiterating that the federal government cannot do that. And they put that in even though, again, it's already on the books. So, you know, there's also been criticism throughout this process that, you know, despite the fact that there are laws on the books, the federal government is doing a very bad job of tracking illegal gun owners and prosecuting them.
O'KEEFESo, you know, I don't see a direct correlation between the NSA situation and this one, except that, you know, people generally have concerns about how efficiently the government operates and how well it enforces laws on the books. But certainly, it was a part of the debate and continues to be as it plays out here in Capitol Hill.
EVERITTWell, you know, I think it will be a factor. You know, I don't think, you know, I would agree with Ed. I don't think the NSA situation reflects on how well the government can handle background checks. But, you know, I think there will be, you know, politicians on Capitol Hill who will try to use this to feed into fears about government overreach and, you know, general paranoia.
EVERITTYou know, I think we saw a little bit of that yesterday during the first confirmation hearing for B. Todd Jones. Let's remember the ATF hasn't had a permanent director in seven years now. And you had Chuck Grassley up there spending most of his remarks talking about Fast and Furious, an operation that B. Todd Jones wasn't even there for. So, yeah, this is going to be part of the discussion, and we'll have to deal with it.
FELDMANWell, Ed and Ladd, I think you're touching right on the subject that of critical importance. The gun issue, to millions of gun owners, is not directly about guns but about trust. Does the government trust me with the guns I've owned and never misused? And now with all these new revelations, that's far a lot more ammunition to say, the government not only doesn't trust me, they don't even trust the Congress. Why should I trust them?
FELDMANAnd that's the nexus where these issues start to come together.
REHMDo you agree, Ladd?
EVERITTI do agree with that. I think the gun issue really fundamentally reflects how we see government, how we see this compact that we made so long ago after the Revolutionary War. And, you know, I think you probably see that reflected in the most extreme sense in the insurrectionist ideology that's embraced by the modern pro-gun movement, this idea that people have an individual right to essentially shoot and kill elected officials, police and our military service members when they personally sense tyranny.
EVERITTAnd, you know, I would personally argue that the, you know, drafting and ratification of our Constitution reflected the exact opposite idea that we needed to have government in our lives in order to secure our liberty.
REHMAll right. To Jason in Greenville, N.H. Good morning to you.
JASONGood morning, Diane.
JASONActually, I have two questions.
JASONI'd like to ask, is 3-D metal printing specifically related to guns even a part of the discussion?
EVERITTWell, yeah, you know, the 3-D printing of guns has been kind of this sensational, somewhat sexy issue that the media has really latched on to. You know, 3-D printers are not obviously common household items yet, but, you know, we could reach a day at one point when they are. And, you know, some rather primitive plastic guns are now being printed out through, you know, very ardent pro-gun activist, I guess, to make a point that they can make guns without detection.
EVERITTBut, you know, something very interesting has come out of the investigation in Santa Monica. There are early hints that the shooter there, John Zawahri, might have purchased the parts for his AR-15 rifle through the Internet and then assembled it essentially at home before using it. So, you know, I think when we have -- when we look at loopholes in our gun laws, and they are everywhere, it's not just 3-D printing and what potential dangers that might present.
EVERITTYou know, there are many of these types of dangers where people can buy parts for guns, accessories for guns with little or no accountability, and at one -- you know, there's going to come a day when we need to address those things.
REHMAnd your second question, Jason?
JASONWell, like your guest is alluding to, if everybody is going to eventually, because the technology will exist, have access to these guns, then how toothless are all these laws really going to be?
O'KEEFEYou know, it's funny that you ask this point because I remember talking to Sen. Dianne Feinstein a few months ago about her assault weapons ban proposal, which she was a big proponent of back when it first passed in 1994, and she pointed out that after 1994, gun manufacturers looked at the law and said, OK. Well, you won't let me do X, let's go do Y, and that keeps me outside the provisions of this bill.
O'KEEFEAnd she acknowledged that in writing the new version of it, after Newtown, that even if she did write something that laid out specifically 100 of these specific weapons and parts that were prohibited under the proposed ban, that manufacturers would go and find another way to make them in a slightly different fashion. So in other words, and these happens on all sorts of things, legislating lags behind technology by months if not years or decades sometimes.
O'KEEFEI mean, look at the factors we've been talking about, the definitions of mental health are decades out of date, and the same thing happens up here when it comes to technology. Congress is a lagging indicator of American society and jumps in only when something really seems to become a crisis. And I think you're right, that as technology changes, the laws in this country would likely lag and have to be adopted to adjust to those new technology. And it's something that gun control advocates are frustrated by and realized that it could very well happen.
EVERITTYeah. I would just add one thing on that. One of the very interesting side stories on this 3-D printing thing is, you know, I don't think it's quite as lawless as they want to make it seem. The self-described crypto-anarchist, who kind of is leading that project, Cody Wilson, a law student from Texas, actually did obtain a federal license to manufacture firearms. So he's doing a lot of bragging about how he's evading the law, meanwhile, supposedly in his workshop, he has that license framed on his wall. So it's not quite as lawless as they would have you believe.
REHMAll right. To Richmond, Va. Good morning, George.
GEORGEYes, good morning. A point that I don't feel is being made -- and for full disclosure, I'm very pro-gun and work a pro-gun legislation at the state level in Virginia. Our present situation as I can see it that approximately 50 percent of our population is very pro-gun and 50 percent is very anti-gun. And I feel that any change in this balance at this time is going to create a very violent reaction on either side. Further, our Constitution doesn't mention the bill of needs. We do address the Bill of Rights.
GEORGEAnd there are many reasons to support gun ownership. One, I have owned guns all of my life, and I'm over 60 years old. A large part of my life centers around in my reload, got target shoot. I do carry a concealed weapon quite lawfully. And I've never been in any trouble nor had any trouble from a gun. Our country is unique in the world and trying to equate it to any other country is really futile.
REHMAll right. Sir, thanks for your call. Ed O'Keefe, on his point about people being split in this country, pro and anti-gun or pro-guns and pro-gun control, would you say they are evenly split?
O'KEEFERoughly. If you look at polling that's been done in the last few months in The Washington Post and ABC News as we do did quiz this question in the wake of Newtown, and generally, yeah, there's a split about...
O'KEEFE...do you need stricter laws or do you need weaker laws. But on the issue of background checks was at the centerpiece of that Manchin-Toomey bill, our polling showed at least twice that about nine in 10 Americans supported expanding the program in order to weed out criminals and those that are mentally ill. And that is really at the crux of the frustration of those seeking stricter laws if that, you know, significant, reliable, reputable polling by The Post and by others found such wide support for that change.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." But, George, I gather you do not accept any restrictions on the ownership of your guns.
GEORGEYes, ma'am, that would be correct. There are quite a number of laws that make it illegal to kill someone or to threaten someone or to rob someone. So regardless of the mechanism that I use for this, I could very easily -- as the FBI showed in the -- in their most recent data, use a hammer or a rock, which is much more likely to be a murder weapon than a gun.
REHMAll right. And, Ladd.
EVERITTYeah. You know, with George, you know, George, I think you have every right to advocate for your views and lobby for your views...
EVERITT...as a citizen of this country. But where I take exception with your remarks is the suggestion that if we continue to address the gun issue and possibly pass gun reforms, you know, this not so subtle threat that there is going to "a violent reaction," that's not how we handle things in this country. And our Constitution was drafted and ratified to obviate the need for political violence.
EVERITTWe have a very elaborate system that checks and balances, you know, a system that allows for democratic representation. And, you know, we have many methods to address to grievances and to come together and make policies that we think are in our best interest.
REHMHow widespread do you believe George's feeling is in regard to somehow a violent reaction?
EVERITTWell, in terms of, you know, gun owners who are promoting such a thing, I think it's a very small segment of gun owners in this country. I think the overwhelming majority would find that to be extreme and dangerous to democracy and not something that is necessary. So I don't think it is a large segment. I think the problem is for the people who are leading pro-gun organizations in this country, leading the pro-gun movement, that insurrectionist idea is widely held. And I think that is the real danger.
FELDMANWe talk about polls all the time. That's the nature of the job as political operatives to all of us and in the media. But the only poll that really matters to elected officials is the one that's occurs on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. And it really doesn't matter whether 90 percent of the people feel one way and 10 percent the other. What matters is how they vote. And to get back to a couple points Mark Glaze made with Mayor Bloomberg, people can answer a poll lots of different ways.
FELDMANI'd be amazed to see some of the financial folks on Wall Street that have multibillion dollar investments and are going to take the mayor's advice and oppose people who support their billion dollar investments because of the gun issue. Similarly, it's a relatively small number of folks even that are gun owners that care intensively enough to get out and do what citizens in a democracy can do -- organize, register, communicate and get your supporters to the polls on Election Day.
REHMAll right. I have one last email from Barbara in Medford, Mass. She says, "Even as I watch the horrifying scenes from Newtown, I blithely said to myself, nothing will ever change in this country. Congress will not let anything change." Ed O'Keefe, one or two-word answer?
O'KEEFEYou know, she's on to something.
O'KEEFEAnd -- but that applies to all issues, not necessarily just guns. It is a very difficult time to be -- trying to make change in this country because of the political gridlock in Congress.
REHMEd O'Keefe of The Washington Post, Richard Feldman of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, Ladd Everitt of The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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