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Former Rep. Gabby Giffords was injured in a mass shooting in Arizona three years ago. But gun control efforts have stalled at the federal level. Where the debate stands today.
- Richard Feldman president, Independent Firearm Owners Association and author, "Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist."
- Ladd Everitt director of communications, The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
- Ravi Somaiya reporter, The New York Times.
- Mark Kelly founder, Americans for Responsible Solutions. He is the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and a retired astronaut and U.S. Navy Captain.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Three years ago, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was badly injured in a mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz. But despite vocal campaigns in D.C. and around the country, including from her own organization, gun control efforts have stalled at the federal level.
MS. DIANE REHMHere with me to look at where the debate stands today: Ladd Everitt of the Coalition To Stop Gun Violence, and, joining us by phone from Rindge, N.H., Richard Feldman of the Independent Firearm Owners Association. But first, joining us by phone is Mark Kelly. He's the husband of former U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. He's co-founder of Americans For Responsible Solutions. It's a 501 (c)(4) advocacy organization and political action committee. Mark Kelly, thanks for joining us.
MR. MARK KELLYOh, you're welcome, Diane. Great to be on your show.
REHMThank you so much. I was just delighted to see your wife commemorating the three-year anniversary of her shooting by sky-diving yesterday. Talk about how her therapy is going.
KELLYWell, you know, first of all, I think for everybody, you know, an anniversary like this is, you know, a different experience, and, you know, it's certainly, you know, on a lot of levels a, you know, sad day for us to think about the six people that were lost and also so many others that are lost around this country, you know, every single day from gun violence.
KELLYYou know, but for Gabby, you know, moving ahead is really important. And for her to getting back to something that, you know, she had done in the past that might've seemed like a big challenge, now for her, you know, was important for her to do. And to answer your question, her therapy is going well. It's something, you know, she works on every single week, and she takes it very seriously. And she continues to improve.
REHMShe wrote in The New York Times that she found new purpose after the Newtown, Conn. school shooting last year. Can you describe how she felt that that gave her a new sense of urgency?
KELLYWell, I think it gave a lot of people in our country, a lot of Americans a new sense of urgency. I mean, it is completely -- you know, gun violence is one thing, but having 20 first-graders murdered in their classrooms, you know, in a matter of, you know, just, you know, a few minutes is horrendous. And, you know, we shouldn't have to live in a country where something like that is capable.
KELLYAnd at least, fortunately, there are thing we can do about it. I mean, there are steps we can take to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill. As you mentioned earlier, you know, Congress hasn't acted on that yet on a federal level, but we're seeing change come from different states. And I think, over time, you know, this is a problem that we are going to be able to address, and we're going to be able to make, you know, our classrooms and our churches and our supermarkets safer for all Americans.
REHMCan you talk about your views on the effectiveness of President Obama's new executive orders announced in Jan. 3?
KELLYWell, you know, anything that's going to improve the national instant criminal background check system is a positive thing. In April, Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, you know, tried to get a bill through the Senate that was going to extend background checks to gun shows and the Internet and private sales, and that failed by, you know, several votes.
KELLYBut, you know, the president's able to, you know, strengthen the system a little bit, you know, with an executive order, and, you know, that's a positive step. It makes it easier for states, and, you know, it gives them a little bit more confidence in sharing people's mental health status, you know, with the federal government. So that's a positive step, and it's, you know, it will save lives.
KELLYBut what we really need, you know, is Congress to step up in a more comprehensive fashion to close those loopholes, you know, where gun sales are easily -- you can easily obtain a gun, you know, from the Internet or at gun shows without a background check. And that's, you know, where criminals and people that can't get, you know, a gun in a gun store are going to go.
REHMSo what's your assessment of the potential for Congressional action moving forward this year?
KELLYWell, first of all, you know, our organization, Americans For Responsible Solutions, is trying to get our nation to have a conversation, you know, about this issue. You know, Gabby and I, you know, I think, come at this from a little bit different place. We're both gun owners, strong supporters of the Second Amendment.
KELLYGabby's from Arizona. I served in the military. You know, we feel strongly that people have, you know, the right to have a gun for protection, you know, for hunting or for, you know, for whatever reason. But there's limits with that, and that, you know, those rights should not extend, you know, to criminals, domestic abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill.
KELLYSo, you know, I think we're starting to have this conversation. Unfortunately, you know, for decades, it's really only been, you know, the gun lobby that has, you know, done a very good job with members of Congress to -- you know, they have built a lot of support in Washington, D.C., so it makes it very hard, at least now, to get these common sense solutions passed.
REHMDo you think that your political action committee is yet a real challenge to the NRA?
KELLYWell, you know, we are becoming a significant force in this debate. As of July -- I'm not talking now. But between January of last year and July, you know, we raised $11 million.
KELLYAnd we've raised, you know, significant more money since then. We haven't announced what that is. By the elections, you know, this year, this November in 2014, you know, we're going to have the resources to be competitive. And we're going to look at House and Senate races.
KELLYAnd we're going to try to make sure that people that take what they might think is a tough choice on a piece of legislation or a tough vote, you know, that we help them stay in office. And we will be, you know, in this election cycle, I believe, an effective counterbalance to what's been going on in Washington for the last few decades.
KELLYAnd when we demonstrate that, I think you're going to see members of Congress thinking differently about the politics of this issue. And when that happens, I think you're going to see them doing what they think is right to pass responsible legislation that in some cases, over 90 percent of Americans support, like expanded background checks.
REHMAre there specific members of Congress up for reelection that you are going to be focusing on?
KELLYYeah, absolutely. I mean, we're looking at a number of House and Senate races that...
KELLYWell, you know, there's a bunch of them. But some of these decisions are not going to be made -- I mean, you know how this works, Diane. A lot of this, you know, it's going to be September, October of this year, you know, before, you know, these races really get, you know, underway and where a lot of the advertising starts, you know, to support or oppose candidates.
KELLYSo we're looking at a bunch of people. I mean, you know, you could see from, you know, how the vote went in the Senate in a -- you know, I'm sure your listeners, a lot of them know, you know, the way those, you know, who took some tough votes and who probably should've and could've still got elected. So we're going to, you know, we're going to continue to evaluate that, and we'll, you know, as we start, you know, spending our resources in the fall, it'll be pretty obvious who, you know, who we want to keep in Congress and who we think, you know, should probably be replaced.
REHMOf course, the gun lobby has publicly targeted some members of Congress who have not voted their way, and they've made those names public. And I just wonder about your organization and how soon you might be able to do that. I think the public would like to know.
KELLYWell, sure. I think some people would like to know, you know, based on, you know, what state it is, but, you know, we're not going to follow, you know, the lead of the gun lobby. And we're not going to do everything the same way, you know, that the NRA and other organizations -- we're not going to take exactly the same approach, you know. So in time, it'll be, you know, apparent where we're going to, you know, spend our resources.
KELLYWe just focused on the governor and lieutenant governor and attorney general's race in Virginia, and that was, you know, what, I think, was a pretty good success for us and this issue. You know, Terry McAuliffe actually, to some extent, ran on this issue, ran on, you know, the fact that he supports, while being somebody who supports the Second Amendment, that he felt like, at least in Virginia, that they needed to continue to focus on this issue to pass some real, you know, reforms that could positively affect gun violence.
KELLYI mean, we've got horrendous statistics on this issue -- 15 to 20 times the death rate, you know, from guns than any other industrialized country. You know, Diane, we can do a lot better than that.
REHMMark Kelly, he is the husband of former U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, co-founder of Americans For Responsible Solutions, 501 (c)(4) advocacy organization and political action committee. Mark, take good care of yourself and Gabby, and we'll talk to you again soon.
KELLYOh, thanks for having me on, Diane. And have a great day.
REHMThank you. And short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd now that you've heard the voice of Mark Kelly, let's turn now to Richard Feldman. He's president of the Independent Firearm Owner's Association and author of "Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist." Richard Feldman, where do you believe we stand on gun control reform more than a year after the Newtown shooting?
MR. RICHARD FELDMANWell, this issue gets talked about in many different terms. It's always easy to get general agreement from everyone on this issue. No one wants violent predatory criminals obtaining guns. No one wants dangerously deranged individuals obtaining guns. Where the issue meets the road is always in the details of how we're going to accomplish it. And that's where the food fights begin. When you talk about keeping guns out of the wrong hands, we don't even always ask the right question. We make assumptions about, will criminals go to gun shops or go to gun shows to buy guns?
MR. RICHARD FELDMANMost criminals obtain guns like they obtain a lot of things. They steal them. There are 500,000 stolen firearms in this country every year. That's the bulk supply for criminals. And in the cost of an entire year's debate, not once has anyone ever brought up the real supply of guns. Now, that's not an excuse not to fix the things we can, but to have an intelligent discussion requires asking intelligent, thoughtful, incisive questions regarding the problem.
REHMAnd, Ladd Everitt, what do you believe those thoughtful, incisive, intelligent questions should be?
MR. LADD EVERITTWell, look, you know, I think there's a lot of data out there -- I would contradict to some degree what Richard just said. I think there is a lot of data out there to suggest that criminals do get firearms from private transfers of firearms that don't require background checks and are entirely unregulated. We have survey data from inmates that suggest that two-thirds of the firearms they obtain in using crime come from those types of private transfers, from family members, from friends, from fences on the street, you know, from gun shows, fleet markets, you name it.
MR. LADD EVERITTSo we know that's a problem, and we also know that 90 percent of the American people support reforming that. You know, I would credit Richard though because I think he's been part of trying to find a solution. He wrote an editorial recently with Arkadi Gerney of the Center for American Progress that was excellent, where the two of them sat down and tried to find middle ground on this issue and propose some solutions that were attractive to both sides.
REHMWhat is a middle ground from your point of view?
EVERITTWell, some of the things that they proposed -- and I certainly think are great ideas -- are, you know, expanding background checks was one of them, but then also, you know, alternative ways of regulating gun dealers. Right now, when the ATF wants to look into a dealer who's violating federal law, they really have only one option. And that's to revoke the license of those dealers.
EVERITTAnd Arkadi and Richard proposed, you know, maybe look at some middle-ground solutions here, like allowing them to fine dealers, some middle-ground penalties there. So I think there's these types of things where the two sides could get together and offer some common sense reforms that again would appeal to both sides.
REHMBut, Richard Feldman, do you see the two sides moving closer? Do you see the active gun lobby moving toward the kind of middle ground you're suggesting?
FELDMANWell, no, actually, to give you a straight answer to that question. I think people have sort of dug in more firmly over the last year in a sense of I want everything or I won't give an inch. That's part of the broader problem of our politics in this country is we've forgotten the art of compromise. Compromise ought not to be a dirty word.
FELDMANEverything in life is a compromise. All of us got out of bed this morning to come do this radio show. That was a compromise. The question we always must ask legislatively, politically is: Are we getting more than we gave? Was it a good compromise? Did we move the agenda forward in a way that's acceptable?
REHMLadd Everitt, do you want to comment?
EVERITTI would disagree with that. I would say that the gun violence prevention side of this argument has been perfectly willing to compromise. Let's be very clear here. The Toomey-Manchin Amendment that failed in the Senate was absolutely a compromise. It had things in that amendment that appealed to both sides.
EVERITTWell, just as one example of something that appealed to the pro-gun side, it loosened anti-trafficking regulations that had been placed for decades that would have allowed the sale of handguns across state lines. So there were carrots in that bill for both sides. You know, in Gabby's editorial the other day, I think she wrote something that I agree with absolutely and I think is the mandate of our side of this argument where she said -- and I quote -- "We will seize on consensus where it exists on solutions big or small."
EVERITTLet's be very clear. To the gun violence prevention side of this argument, compromise is not a dirty word. Compromise is how we get our greatest achievements done in this country. That contrasts very greatly with the NRA who has made it clear -- and Wayne LaPierre said in a recent speech that absolutism is a virtue. That's been the problem.
REHMSo, Richard Feldman, how do you make progress with absolutism as a vital stance for the NRA?
FELDMANWell, different groups define success differently. And that success is not always about public policy. It's often about the success of their own institution, their fundraising, their membership on both sides and almost every issue, so it becomes more complicated. It's not so unidirectional. And our problem again is aligning the politics and the policy.
FELDMANWhen you talk about the Manchin-Toomey bill, there were several major versions. I would've completely opposed the first version. But our organization was enthusiastically in support of the final version. Precious few gun owners have ever known about the second version which did give a lot of positive things to gun owners they don't have in exchange for having background checks at gun shows and being more articulate about Internet sales. In fact, almost all Internet sales must go through a federal firearms licensee.
FELDMANIf you're going to ship a gun to anyone in this country from the sale online, it must go to a federally-licensed dealer. The little sticky wicket is, if you sell it online but you have a face-to-face transaction to transfer the gun, well, then it need not be in those states which allows it, very, very small -- and I think it -- when people don't know each other, it should go through a background check. And when they do, it doesn't have to.
REHMHere's an email from Brian in Michigan who says, "As a former inmate, I find it hard to understand why the focus of gun control after mass shootings is put on us. Ex-cons are not the ones shooting up schools. Narcissistic children, young men without criminal histories are. We are a population that needs help rebuilding our lives, not scapegoated as the problem. Ex-cons are not doing these crimes." Ladd Everitt.
EVERITTYou know, I think he makes a very strong point there. You know, the NRA, for a long time, has tried to promote this myth that, you know, virtually every gun death in this country occurs, you know, via the actions of someone who is a career or hardened criminal. That's not the case. You know, for starters, gun homicide is only one part of the picture of gun death. There are also, you know, approximately 17,000 gun suicides every year and about 1,000, you know, negligent or accidental deaths with firearms.
EVERITTBut, more importantly, a lot of the firearm deaths that occur, even homicides, are occurring between family members, between people who know each other. The FBI uniform crime report data shows us that 40 percent of homicides in this country occur as the result of mundane arguments over things like property or money or relationships.
EVERITTSo this idea that every, you know, gun-related crime in this country is, you know, at the hands of someone, you know, with a ski mask who's been committing crimes for decades, it is just not true. And in the case of mass shootings, you know, how many mass shooters have we now seen who legally bought their firearms? These are -- in the NRA's, you know, verbiage, these would be "good guys with guns."
EVERITTYou know, people who are dangerously mentally ill and had violent histories, people like Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard shooter, Jared Loughner, where you could take one look at him and know something was very wrong, James Holmes -- I could go on and on -- Seung-Hui Cho, these were all people who legally bought guns and passed background checks because our laws are so weak. So I think your caller makes a good point.
REHMSo, Richard Feldman, what are your thoughts on the new executive orders by President Obama?
FELDMANI don't know any gun owners that want to allow or have dangerously disturbed individuals obtaining guns. I think the civil liberties concern on some of this is going to focus on, again, the details, not the generalities. Who's going to decide, how are they going to decide, and what is going to be the standard for applying the old baker test of, is this person a danger to themself or others? And this is where it gets tricky.
FELDMANThe general terms we can all agree do fail easily. It's the specifics that get annoying, like any civil liberty. When you're taking away people's rights, we have to be very careful that we're doing it in a manner very limited, and we're not making mistakes over basic civil liberties. And I have to disagree.
FELDMANYou know, you can look at people after the fact and go, boy, look at those eyes. He's crazy. If that becomes the standard -- and that is the problem sometimes. The police, when they've had the authority to deny someone their license, well, history is replete with examples. Gee, this person's black. I deny them subtly, but that's what happens.
FELDMANThere should be a standard and not a, they look crazy. I don't want to give them a gun. Looks aren't a good enough reason for denying anyone a basic civil right.
REHMAll right. Let's just be specific about what these executive orders would do, Ladd Everitt.
EVERITTYeah, well, real quick on the issue of looks. There was a lot more in Jared Loughner's background than looks. He had multiple drug-related arrests. He had been discharged from the military after trying to enlist because basically he failed a drug test. He might've also spent some time in their psych ward. He had been kicked out of his community college for very violent outbursts that he was making in class. So, you know, it was not a case of his eyes. It was a case of things that were very much in his background and known to law enforcement and other authorities.
EVERITTIn the case of the executive actions, these are game changers. These are very critical new reforms from the White House. The first one makes it clear that someone who has been committed to a psychiatric institution but then referred to outpatient treatment should be prohibited under federal law from purchasing firearms. This is very critical. If you go back to the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, this is the loophole that Seung-Hui Cho walked through to buy his guns.
EVERITTHe had been committed as a suicide risk and then referred to outpatient treatment. There was confusion in the Virginia courts at that time as to whether that record should be sent to the FBI's NICS database. It was not. That was the reason he was able to legally buy guns. Now, Virginia fixed that at the state level after that massacre but it was never fixed at the federal level. It now has been. This will save lives. This is huge.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And the second executive order.
EVERITTThe second one deals with HIPAA regulations. And in the past, many states have cited HIPAA regulations as a reason that they are not forwarding disqualifying mental health records to the NICS database. This regulation again finally makes it clear that that is no barrier to forwarding these records. And, again, this will give us a more complete database. It will give us better background checks moving forward, and it will save lives.
REHMSo what is the potential there for bringing that into reality? He said he was doing that on Jan. 3. Has that moved forward?
EVERITTYes. I mean, these are executive actions. These are things that have been codified and done. There will be, you know, a public comment period on these things. But these are things that are going to move forward and get done. You know, we can put these things in the bank. You know, the question now becomes, you know, as we all know, there are only so many things the president can do on his own. And, you know, we have to keep this push going in Congress for a new vote on background checks and other critical issues.
REHMAll right. We're going to open the phones first to Carrboro, N.C.
REHMGoodness. I'm afraid that doesn't work very well for us. As a matter of fact, I think we have on the line with us Ravi Somaiya. Are you there? Ravi, are you there?
MR. RAVI SOMAIYAI am. Good morning.
REHMGood morning to you. Tell us about the article you published in the New York Times last weekend. It's titled "Banished for Questioning the Gospel of Guns."
SOMAIYAYes. It's about a columnist for Guns and Ammo magazine. His name was Dick Metcalf, and he had been a gun journalist for 37 years. And he wrote a column which he had preapproved with his editors just saying that, well, there's a difference between the regulation of the Second Amendment and an infringement on the Second Amendment. He was a former history teacher at Cornell and Yale.
SOMAIYAAnd he had testified before Congress, so he had some experience in sort of passing the Second Amendment. And immediately the column landed, there was an enormous backlash. And a few days later, his career was effectively over, and he was told he could no longer write for Guns and Ammo. And, to some extent, he was banished from the industry.
REHMSo, from your perspective, what does his experience tell us about the influence of the gun lobby over a magazine like Guns and Ammo?
SOMAIYAWell, I think one of the things it says is that the gun lobby is not sort of universal bloc. There are many people who own and enjoy guns that do -- would perhaps be against more regulation who are more moderate voices to be willing to have a debate and who are not (word?). But, as in many fields of American life, those who feel most strongly and most absolutely about it have the loudest voice, and they have -- Mr. Metcalf feels they have a disproportionate impact.
REHMSo I gather, after spending time with Dick Metcalf, you say you feel there's no middle ground.
SOMAIYAWell, that's how it seems certainly. I mean, I think there is a middle ground. I think there are gun owners who are more moderate and there are people who seek more gun regulations who are more moderate. But there just seems to be a very large lack of understanding between those two groups. Each group thinks the other is evil.
REHMRavi Somaiya of the New York Times, thanks for joining us.
REHMShort break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd as we discuss new efforts, new awareness, new thinking regarding gun control, we'll go right back to the phones to Galax, Va. Hi there, Bill. You're on the air.
BILLGood morning, Diane. I listen to you all the time, and I appreciate you having me on.
BILLI just want to make a couple of quick comments.
BILLI was disappointed in the little bit you gave as Mark Kelly was signing off. You didn't mention -- although a lot of people know this, but a lot perhaps don't -- he's retired military and a recent active astronaut.
BILLA good brave man.
BILLI think you should have added that. But let me tell you one more thing, very quick about…
BILL…Wayne LaPierre, which I didn't know, and I'll bet a lot of people didn't know. He was at the height of his eligibility for the draft in the mid- to late '60s. He spent his whole eligibility with deferment from college. He never served in the military. And here he is the icon of gun rights and all this stuff.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for your call. Ladd?
EVERITTWell, that's true. Wayne didn't serve. It's a little bit cloudy as to why. You know there were certain rumors out there as to why. I've never seen any hard evidence. The example that I think is more salient here is NRA board member Ted Nugent, who's made quite a career in the last few decades of praising the military and acting as if he's their biggest, you know, backer.
EVERITTTed is a guy who avoided the Vietnam draft by literally using illegal narcotics and smearing feces on his body before he went in for his physical with the military. And then he bragged about that in an interview with High Times during the 1970s. Now he's a guy acting as if he's the biggest backer of our men and women in uniform. So, yeah, there's some stuff there to be upset about.
REHMDo you want to comment on that Richard Feldman?
FELDMANOh, there's enough hypocrisy on both sides of this issue to fill anyone's space.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Stan in Cleveland. He says, "Please ask Mr. Feldman to define the first line of the Second Amendment regarding 'a well-regulated militia.' Who, in Mr. Feldman's view, qualifies?"
FELDMANWell, my view is completely irrelevant since the court in the Howard decision has determined what a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, means. My view is really kind of irrelevant at this point.
FELDMANWe're all free to have them, but it means that you have a handgun -- you have the right to own a handgun in your home for self-protection at a minimum.
EVERITTWell, I think it's pretty clear what a well-regulated militia is. I mean, you can look back to when the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791. You know these were state militia forces. They were under the conduct of state governments, and they were extremely well regulated. They had officer structures. This was essentially a civic duty.
EVERITTYou were required to keep a firearm in good working order and to come out and drill and train and muster. If you did not perform your duties as part of the militia, there were punishments that were in place: fines, court martial, corporal punishment. So this was not just, hey, let's go out to a gun show, buy an AR-15, and, by the way, the government's never going to know what I'm doing.
EVERITTIt was actually precisely the opposite. It was a civic duty. It was a responsibility that you performed in order to ensure the internal and external security of your country. The NRA has completely perverted that ideal that James Madison was getting at with the original Second Amendment.
REHMLadd, have you or any member of your family ever been the victim of gun violence? That's the second part of Stan's email.
EVERITTUnfortunately, yes. I do have a grandfather that took his own life with a firearm. He did so a few years after his wife took her life with a firearm. I was young at the time, but it absolutely broke my father's heart. He had to go down there and essentially literally, physically clean up what had happened. And he never got to say good-bye to his father.
EVERITTYou know, one of the things is that suicide attempts with firearms are successful about 90 percent of the time, unlike, let's say, drug overdoses or cutting one's wrists, which is about 5 percent of the time. Very often there is not a second chance in those cases. Would my father liked to have had a second chance to have gone back and get those guns out of my grandfather's house? You bet he would have.
REHMRichard Feldman, what about you?
FELDMANWell, I actually have had two instances of being in an intended victim and having had a gun with me that -- certainly one of them, and I suspect the other -- prevented myself from being a victim. You know, that's part of this debate that, you know, it's not all the negative misuses that you have to look at. It's always a balance. Well, if I didn't have a gun, I certainly couldn't have committed suicide with something I didn't have, nor would I have been able to protect myself and the other person I was with.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Mike in Gulf Breeze, Fla. You're on the air.
MIKEThanks, Diane, for taking my call.
MIKEAnd thanks for your contribution to our thoughtful national debate.
MIKEBriefly, on gun safety and security today in the United States, I think control is counterproductive to use. It's a very polemical word. The founding fathers produced a wonderful constitution. It's a Democratic beacon to the world. We should be proud of that. But they made several serious mistakes because they were truly captive of their 18th century understanding and morality. For example, they accepted slavery, and it took a terrible and bloody Civil War to correct that. In fact, the speaker's just now mentioned well-regulated militias. They, in fact, were the ones that took up arms against the Union.
MIKEAnd they denied the right to vote to women, which, of course, took over a century to correct. And now I think the Second Amendment is a third flaw. It may have been relevant in the 18th and 19th centuries, but it's not relevant today. And you could just mention the right to life and much less liberty and happiness is denied to thousands of innocent victims every year as a result of our gun problems. So thanks for taking my call, Diane.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Ladd Everitt.
EVERITTWell, I think he's right. I mean, you know, look, there are certain parts of our constitution that had great relevance in 1791 that really don't today. I mean, another example would be the Third Amendment, quartering troops in people's homes. That was a significant issue at the time that is just not today. With the Second Amendment, there were concerns about federal tyranny at that point. There were fears of a standing army and the potential power of the national government's standing army based on our experience with the British.
EVERITTWell, a couple of things have changed 180 degrees today. No one fears a standing army in the United States today. In fact, the United States military today is the most trusted institution in this country in national poll after national poll. We celebrate our men and women in the Armed Forces.
EVERITTAnd then the second thing that's changed is Madison was trying to balance control over the state militia between the federal government and the states with the Second Amendment by allowing people serving in the state militias to do so with privately-held firearms, the notion being that that way the federal government wouldn't be able to disarm the state militias.
EVERITTWell, who arms our well-regulated militia today, the National Guard? The federal government. You're not going out, again, to your local gun show and buying the weapon that you take to Iraq to serve our country with. Those are all federally-supplied weapons, and, again, it reflects the fact that no one fears a standing army any longer.
FELDMANWell, you know, you may be right when you talk about the army and the military, but we also didn't have police forces 200 years ago in our cities. And we have something of a national police force in this country today. And it doesn't take much questioning to see the militarization of America's law enforcement in a way that is violating the rights of millions, if not hundreds of thousands, of citizens on a daily basis with stop and frisk.
FELDMANAnd there are grave civil liberties concerns that the American people ought to have about the way we're conducting our affairs in law enforcement in this country. And once you give up one of your civil rights, it's gone forever.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from John in Louisville, Ky. He says, "A recent study showed in the aftermath of Newtown anti-gun groups outspent the gun lobby by a ratio of 14:1. Add to that media coverage that was sympathetic to the gun control supporters.
REHM"This all being, the case polls still showed an increase in support for gun rights in the months that followed. Stop promoting the myth that the gun lobby cannot be beat financially and simply forces its will through financial power. The truth is Americans simply appreciate their Second Amendment rights and don't believe the crimes of a few should negate the rights of many." Ladd Everitt?
EVERITTWell, you know, look, the money picture on this issue has certainly changed. But, you know, it's changed very recently. Let's be clear here. The first election that Mayor Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC stood up and worked on this issue was in November 2012. Right? And then Gabby's PAC really hasn't truly come on line yet, although they've started in the recent Virginia off-year election. So this is a very recent phenomenon where the money picture has started to balance.
REHMHow influential has former Mayor Bloomberg been?
EVERITTI think incredibly influential. I mean, no one with the resources to do so really stood up to the NRA before he did. I think he's incredibly influential. One thing he did recently that got very little press, but which is hugely significant for our side, was Mayors Against Illegal Guns, his organization, merged with Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America. Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America is a new organization.
EVERITTIt stood up after Newtown, entirely volunteer, 50 state chapter structure now. They now are combined with Mayor Bloomberg's resources, and we will have a sustainable grassroots presence in all 50 states moving forward indefinitely. We have never had that on the gun violence prevention side. That's a game changer, too.
REHMRichard Feldman, how influential do you think former Mayor Bloomberg has been? Can he, in your mind, bring a new dimension here to the anti-gun rights group?
FELDMANWell, I think that's the question, really, not influence, but effect. How effective can he be? And I think it goes both ways simultaneously. His involvement in the Colorado special elections probably helped the pro-gun side. People aren't happy with someone from New York coming in and telling Coloradoans what they should do and how they should vote. Nevertheless, having money and being able, to the ability that they have, to do things, referendum fights in particular, in some states I suspect he'll be a player. But at the end of the day, whichever side has the money -- I've always said this.
FELDMANI have 30 years consistency here. Money doesn't vote. People vote. And people that care about the gun issue are overwhelmingly gun owners. And that's why most of the time this issue is decided from a pro-gun perspective because they care about the issue. The key is to align the policy and the politics to make it work for everyone.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Ladd, do you think that gun owners are more passionate than those who are in your position, trying to change the rules here?
EVERITTWell, I think what Richard is hinting at is what the media often calls the passion-gap between the two sides. And I think there is something to be said there. You know it is certainly true that the NRA has had enormous success in the last four decades in creating this base of highly motivated pro-gun activists that very often are single-issue voters on the gun issue. And it's been a challenge for us to create people who are single-issue voters on public safety, let's say.
EVERITTSince Newtown, however, we have made enormous strides in closing that gap. I mentioned Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense before, but there are many other groups standing up now engaged in grassroots action on a daily basis on our side. You can think of Organizing For Action, Obama's post-campaign organization, which is engaged in daily activity, Credo and others. We're really closing that gap. And I'm very confident that we'll make huge gains in that area.
REHMSo do you think states may be more likely to move forward, specifically on some of the areas that you're interested in, toward a middle ground in a way that the U.S. Congress will not?
EVERITTWell, to be clear, they already have. I mean, since Newtown, there's been enormous gains at the state level, you know, Colorado, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, California.
REHMWhat have they done?
EVERITTEnacted, really, very good gun laws, new good gun laws that help prevent guns from getting in the hands of dangerous individuals, whether they're mentally unbalanced or have violent histories or whatever. So, I mean, there's just been enormous gains in that area. But I remain confident also at the federal level that we're going to make change. It is going to happen. It's not a matter of if, but when.
REHMAnd, Richard Feldman, I gather you would see it somewhat differently. What about the states and their moves in this area?
FELDMANWell, it is almost like we have two countries within the same nation. A majority of states that passed gun legislation this year was clearly pro-gun legislation. The states that we were just talking about, yeah, there were gun control bills. But the question is really, does gun control have anything to do with crime control or mental health control?
FELDMANAnd limiting the size of a magazine from 10 to 7 isn't going to prevent somebody from killing themselves with the first bullet if they're determined to take their life. So, you know, we conflate frequently in this country a law with having the effect that it's articulated as having. And it's often either not related, but sounds close, or sometimes just completely irrelevant to the problem we're discussing.
REHMAll right. Last quick word, Ladd Everitt.
EVERITTLook, it's one day after the anniversary of the Tucson massacre where Jared Loughner was stopped there. He had a 33-round magazine with 31 bullets in it. He was stopped when he went to reload. The notion that regulating magazine size, you know, isn't going to help, I think it's just incredible to say that on this anniversary.
REHMLadd Everitt, director of Communications For The Coalition To Stop Gun Violence. Richard Feldman, he's president of Independent Firearms Owner Association and author of "Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist." And earlier you heard from Mark Kelly, former member of the military and indeed an astronaut. Thank you all so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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