Curtis Clayton holds a sign protesting racism in the wake of the shooting at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church  in Charleston, South Carolina.

Curtis Clayton holds a sign protesting racism in the wake of the shooting at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Investigators continue to sift through evidence about the man who gunned down nine parishioners Wednesday inside an historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. What is already clear is that this horrific event lays bare longstanding and lethal contradictions in this country: Mentally deranged individuals have no trouble getting guns, and more than 150 years after the Union defeated the confederacy and freed its slaves, racism lives on. Can this tragedy galvanize the personal and political will needed to face these issues directly and make change across the country?

Guests

  • Paul Butler professor, Georgetown Law School
  • E.J. Dionne Jr. senior fellow, Brookings Institution; columnist, The Washington Post; author of "Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent."
  • Daniel Webster director, Center for Gun Policy and Research, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Transcript

  • 10:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Five days ago, nine church parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, who were black were murdered by a white gunman who had been welcomed into their midst. The murders highlight sadly familiar facts about the persistence of racism in this country and an inexplicable acceptance of gun violence.

  • 10:07:20

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about these issues and what, if anything, we can change, Paul Butler of Georgetown University School of Law, E.J. Dionne of The Brookings Institution and "The Washington Post" and Daniel Webster of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. I'm sure many of you will want to weigh in. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email with your own ideas to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And thank you all for being here.

  • 10:08:02

    MR. EJ DIONNE JR.Great to be with you, Diane. Good morning.

  • 10:08:03

    MR. DANIEL WEBSTERThanks for having us.

  • 10:08:03

    MR. PAUL BUTLERNice to be here, thanks.

  • 10:08:05

    REHME.J., in this morning's "Washington Post," you write about what you call our culture of evasion. You said, in the aftermath of this tragedy, we'll deal with everything except the need to change.

  • 10:08:25

    DIONNE JR.Right. And I think you saw it almost from the beginning. There were a lot of folks out there trying to sort of push aside the race issue and say this man was clearly mad, which in some sense he almost certainly was. Most people, even of extreme views, don't do what he did and slaughter nine people. And yet, it was very obvious at the beginning and it became very clear as the weekend unfolded that this gentleman was motivated by a deep racism that's not just a personal racism. It's rooted in a series of organizations. It's racist ideas that we see expressed all the time in the internet.

  • 10:09:04

    DIONNE JR.I see it on my Twitter feed at times in responses back to me. And, you know, then sort of denial about the Confederate flag. There's now a proper movement to take that flag down, which is, I think, the least we can do after this tragedy, and an insistence that, no, this is about heritage. Well, heritage in the case of the Confederate flag has to do with white supremacy, about slavery, and then it went up, in part, it appears at the time in 1962 to push back civil rights movements.

  • 10:09:34

    DIONNE JR.And on guns, as the president expressed his frustration at the beginning, we have to do something. There is not country in the world in the developed world that has gun laws like ours. And as I argue in the column, the notion that if we just have more people armed, we will be better off, I think is an absurd notion when we have somewhere between 270 million and 310 million guns in the country. Will we be safer with 100 more guns? I don't think so.

  • 10:10:06

    REHMPaul Butler, this hideous outrage took place in a church with enormous historical significance and that adds yet one more dimension.

  • 10:10:23

    BUTLERHistoric in that one of the founders was Denmark Vesey who lead a rebellion against slavery and was executed as a result. Historic also in the sense that churches had been a sight of domestic terrorism in the United States. The first domestic terrorism law was about Ku Klux violence, racially motivated violence by white terrorists against African Americans. And so now this is a moment where I'm feeling both angry and unforgiving.

  • 10:11:00

    BUTLERAnd angry because the narrative has somehow shifted to Charleston being this town with one family that's where there are harmonious relationships between blacks and whites. That's just not true. Because of gentrification, black people are being pushed out of Charleston. In 1980, the city was half black. Today, it's two-thirds white. And just last -- Diane, the reason I'm feeling unforgiving is because we have this racist terrorist who shot up a church with nine people in it, including an 87-year-old woman.

  • 10:11:37

    BUTLERThe magistrate at the bond hearing on Friday expressed as much sympathy for the family of the terrorist as he did for the family of the victims. This is the same man who used the N-word in court four years ago. Why is this man still a judge? That's part of the problem. I wonder if he's, in part, a judge because black people forgave him. I don't think forgiveness is very productive politically in the United States of America.

  • 10:12:04

    REHMYou know, in his monologue, which I heard just yesterday, Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" pointed out the absurd difference in terms that we use to respond when horrific events occur because al-Qaida or ISIS or one of the foreign groups attacks some other group or attacks us. How do you account for the kind of disparity that he has just pointed to when you hear a judge using sympathetic words toward an assassin?

  • 10:12:53

    BUTLERWell, United States has a number of important social ills, racism being -- ranking maybe at the top. It's interesting, though, when we think about mass shootings. We typically think about -- and President Obama noted how we stand out among developed countries with our murder rate. It's interesting, though, if you look at non-lethal forms of violence, we're actually pretty normal. We're sort of average with respect to high income nations.

  • 10:13:30

    BUTLERThe main way that we stand out is our violence is far more lethal. Our homicide rate roughly seven times the average for high income nations. But with gun homicides, it's almost 20 times higher than the average for high income nations.

  • 10:13:47

    REHMSo Daniel Webster, this has become an issue of public health.

  • 10:13:55

    WEBSTERIt most definitely has. It's an enormous public health problem. It's one of the leading causes of death for young men in many areas, particularly in urban areas. It has enormous effect on our mental health. I started to use the term post traumatic stress, but there's no post here for many people living in areas with very high rates of gun violence.

  • 10:14:20

    REHMDaniel Webster is director of the Center For Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Paul Butler of Georgetown University Law School, there's been a debate as to whether these murders should be called hate crimes or an act of terrorism. Explain for us the difference, how they are treated and why there is such parsing of language here.

  • 10:15:02

    BUTLERIt's really all symbolic. So in terms of what's going to happen to this racist terrorist, he's looking at the death penalty or life without parole, whether he's charged with premeditated murder, a hate crime or domestic terrorism. Domestic terrorism in this case is symbolic. It matches what this man did, which was not only to extinguish nine lives, but to send this political message about African American lives being worth less.

  • 10:15:38

    BUTLERAnd so when we look at other terrorist charges, the Boston Marathon Bomber was charged with terrorism. The definition of domestic terrorism is committing a crime with the intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population. That's what this man did. And you know what? It worked. When you go to church -- when I went to a church yesterday, an African American church, you're looking around. You know, normally, churches are so welcome. I went to an AME church when I was in law school. They're so welcoming of visitors.

  • 10:16:10

    BUTLERAnd that man has destroyed part of that forever. That's what he tried to do. That's terrorism.

  • 10:16:16

    DIONNE JR.And let's understand the tragedy here, just to underscore what Paul said. The folks at Emmanuel AME Church, when this man came in to join their Bible study, members of the church were asked, well, wasn't that odd and they said, no. White people come in here all the time. We welcome them. We're happy to have them. They know the historic role of this church. And so the notion that this man -- you talk about changing the behavior of people, if you are in an African American church now and a white person walks in who wants to join your congregation, wants to join you in prayer, there's going to be a kind of suspicion.

  • 10:16:54

    DIONNE JR.And the other thing is, let's remember back to the Oklahoma City bombing 20 years ago this year. When that happened, immediately there was speculation in the press that this is foreign terrorism, this is Arab terrorism and then, suddenly, we realize, no, this is domestic terrorism. And this is, in this case, a right-wing extremist who opposed the federal government who did this. And, you know, we had to accept the terrorism label there because the damage, the death was so vast.

  • 10:17:26

    DIONNE JR.But I do think that just as a legal matter, this does qualify as terrorism under the statute. But whatever we call it, I do think we cannot evade the racial component of this or the racial message that he was trying to send.

  • 10:17:43

    REHME.J. Dionne, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, columnist for "The Washington Post," and author of "Our Divided Political Heart." Short break here. We'll be right back.

  • 10:20:01

    REHMAnd welcome back. Here in the studio today, Daniel Webster of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Paul Butler, professor at Georgetown University School of Law, E.J. Dionne of both the Brookings Institution and The Washington Post. Daniel Webster, what do we know about how this man got a gun?

  • 10:20:32

    WEBSTERWell, there is some conflicting information about that. From what -- my understanding is that he was given money from his father, I believe, and used that money to purchase the handgun himself. Originally, they were saying that the father purchased the gun. But my understanding is that the young man himself was able to purchase the gun.

  • 10:20:57

    REHMBut with the kind of record he had in the legal system...

  • 10:21:03

    WEBSTERRight.

  • 10:21:03

    REHM...how was he able to purchase it?

  • 10:21:07

    WEBSTERExcellent question. Honestly, I'm a gun-policy expert, we're still wrestling with this a little bit because he was -- had been recently arrested for a drug charge. There's conflicting evidence -- conflicting information about whether that was a felony or a misdemeanor charge. If it was a felony charge, under federal law, he would have been prohibited. But our system is such that in many places, South Carolina being one, we -- the default is a quick -- let's not inconvenience anyone in a gun transaction. And in some states, there's a much more rigorous process involved. There's a licensing process for purchasers and a great deal of time and effort goes into looking at their background.

  • 10:21:59

    REHMBut in South Carolina, what do we see?

  • 10:22:02

    WEBSTEROh, no. In South Carolina, it's a pretty easy transaction. You can either go into a licensed gun shop and be in and out, you know, within minutes after an instant background check of the criminal histories. And quite often, those kind of arrests where there hasn't been an adjudication involved won't be in the databases that they can -- that they can check very readily.

  • 10:22:25

    REHMAll right. Here's an email from Travis in Brooklyn, who says, "I am saddened when I hear the conversation turn to what can be done and no solid answers are given, especially by the women and men seeking the presidential nomination. We can do more than just shrug our shoulders." E.J.

  • 10:22:55

    DIONNE JR.Well, first of all, Hillary Clinton actually gave her very powerful speech over the weekend, both on race and on guns. So I don't think she was ducking this issue.

  • 10:23:04

    REHMWhat did she say?

  • 10:23:04

    DIONNE JR.And on guns, she very explicitly said: Surely we can pass common sense laws to try to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them, people with records, people with mental illness. I was really struck by something Daniel said, where he said the prevalence -- the assumption in our laws is, let's not inconvenience someone in a gun transaction. I'm not criticizing him for that. He is exactly describing the bias in law. You know, let's not inconvenience someone about getting a driver's license, whether they know how to drive or not.

  • 10:23:37

    DIONNE JR.In terms of the Republicans, this is a real test for them in terms of the Confederate flag on the grounds. Mitt Romney was very gutsy and I think it prepared the ground for the Republicans. And he said explicitly: This is a racist symbol. Let's get rid of it. Where Jeb Bush was almost there. He was about as close to saying that. But this notion that, "Well, this is a state matter and we should leave it to the people of South Carolina." Well, ultimately, it is their decision. But it is a matter of who we are as a people -- Americans. And it's something that all presidential candidates ought to speak out on. And I think it's amazingly political if there's a reluctance to say, after an event like this -- the least we can do is take that flag down off state property.

  • 10:24:21

    REHMPaul Butler.

  • 10:24:22

    BUTLERIn a state that has an Indian-American governor and an African-American senator, and neither one of those two people of color can bring themselves to say that that flag needs to come down. What does that say about us as a nation. You know, at the bond hearing on Friday for the terrorist, the chant outside at the crowd, by people who were sympathetic to justice, was that "all lives matter." And to me, Diane, that also signals that they don't get it. That was a corruption of "black lives matter." And when you change it to "all lives matter, that means you don't want to talk about race. That's willful blindness. That's part of the problem.

  • 10:25:08

    REHMSo from your perspective, racism as much as gun control was at the heart of these killings.

  • 10:25:21

    BUTLERWhite supremacy. And we know that because the terrorist left behind a record of swastikas, of the flags of Rhodesia and South Africa during the Apartheid era and, of course, the Confederate flag. He wanted to send a message to white people that basically endorses genocide. Again, there's a sick, tragic resonance of that message in this country. It still lingers, we saw, even with the 21-year-old man. So, you know, I don't want to be cynical, but unless we confront this problem head on and talk about white supremacy and the cache that it still has in our culture and our politics, we're not moving forward.

  • 10:26:13

    BUTLERAnd we're, you know, we've gotten too quick to go to the Kumbaya moment, to look at people outside the church joining hands and thinking, "Well, you know, this is a sickness that -- but it's all going to be good because we're Americans." That's not sufficient for this moment.

  • 10:26:28

    DIONNE JR.Could I say, I don't think this is an either/or. One of the reasons I wrote my column the way I did this morning is I think it is very much about both race and guns and that we're evasive on both questions and we oughtn't to be evasive. And, you know, the power of African-American Christianity in our nation was shown by the sense of the people in that church that, in the face of all of this, they were still willing to forgive. But forgiveness, as Martin Luther King taught us, is not indifference. It's not about passivity. You try to convert your adversary through aggressive political action, but aggressive, nonviolent political action.

  • 10:27:10

    DIONNE JR.And the white-power structure, if I may use a term from the '60s, has always tried to contain the black church because it was one area of freedom that African-Americans had. It was much like the Catholic Church in Poland under Communism. And with all our talk of religious liberty these days, it's worth reminding ourselves that after the slave rebellion, the Denmark Vesey Slave Rebellion, they shut down all of the black churches in South Carolina, essentially restricted them. So if you cared about religious freedom, suddenly it didn't apply to African-Americans. That's something we ought to think about in the history of the black church.

  • 10:27:46

    REHMAnd in yesterday's New York Times, your colleague at Georgetown University, Michael Eric Dyson, wrote about the long history of terrorist acts against churches. And he started with 1958 but it goes back much further.

  • 10:28:08

    BUTLERYeah. So, you know, most people remember or know about the four little girls in Birmingham who were executed by another terrorist. So certainly, the church has been a source of hope and inspiration for African-Americans and really for the whole country. But unfortunately, it's also been a site of violence and of terrorism.

  • 10:28:33

    DIONNE JR.The day after this happened, I sort of put on my iPod a song that Paul Simon sang during the Civil Rights years, "A Church is Burning." And there is a refrain in that song, "The future is now. It's time to take a stand." That song was written in 1965. That song was 50 years ago. Surely it's time to take a stand 50 years later on this. There is a very long history of violence against African-American churches.

  • 10:29:01

    REHMAnd the fact of the matter is that when we had the Newtown shootings, I mean, there was all this talk about how things were going to change at that moment. Are we at another moment that's simply going to pass?

  • 10:29:25

    BUTLERYes. I mean, nothing's going to happen until...

  • 10:29:28

    REHMNothing?

  • 10:29:28

    BUTLERNo. I mean, no. Well, you know, we'll be back here, you know, in less than a year talking about another mass shooting. The president acknowledged that when he talked about this incident.

  • 10:29:40

    REHMBut then, after he expressed his sadness and almost his helplessness, he came back and said, "Done misunderstand me. I am determined that something will happen."

  • 10:29:58

    DIONNE JR.We, as a nation -- those of us who believe in some sane gun laws, if I may put it that way -- have a lot of work to do. Because the politics is stacked against it. Look at the makeup of the United States Senate. The United States Senate vastly over-represents rural states, where there is much more resentment against any control on guns. And the NRA has spun this great narrative that those of us who want things like background checks are urban, big-city elitists who are trying to impinge on a way of life. We're not trying to impinge on a way of life. We just want some effort to keep guns out of the hands of people who will misuse them. So you have a Senate stacked against action.

  • 10:30:37

    DIONNE JR.And then you have the NRA, having been far better organized, and voters on the gun issue -- it's a small minority of voters who are absolutely passionate against all gun measures. But they vote on the issue in a way that supporters of gun control -- of reasonable, limited even, gun control don't. And so there has to be some creative rethinking of the politics of this or we're going to repeat the same cycle over and over again.

  • 10:31:05

    REHMAnd yet, Daniel, some people have said that if this man had not had a gun, he would have found some other way to carry out this horrific event. Of the murders in this country, how many are carried out with guns?

  • 10:31:25

    WEBSTEROh, over two-thirds of murders in this country involve a firearm. And this argument that somebody would have gotten another weapon and done something, yes, sometimes that's -- that may be the case. It may have been the case in this horrific event in Charleston. But that -- if you look at the broader problem of gun violence -- and, as I said, really the problem is lethal violence -- it's unquestionable that when you have adequate restrictions and regulations on guns, you have less gun deaths. I published two recent studies showing that fairly modest measures of simply having a licensing process for handgun purchasers really affects gun deaths in a pretty dramatic way.

  • 10:32:21

    DIONNE JR.Many years ago, a friend of mine was working in a store in Arizona and he was arguing with his boss about gun control. And the boss said, "Well, look, you don't just kill people with guns. You kill them with cars." And my friend immediately looked at the boss and said, "Right. Give me all the money in your cash register or I'll drive my car through your front window." I mean, there's a difference between guns and everything else.

  • 10:32:43

    BUTLERAnd it's all -- it's important to point out that these aren't two separate conversations. So we're talking about race and we're talking about the failure to control gun violence. Those are intimately related, in part because people who die from homicide are disproportionately young, African-American men. I do want to point out, though, that if we brought in the issue of gun violence and look at suicide, more white men die of suicide from guns than African-American men die of homicide from guns. So it really just isn't a problem about African-American men. It's a public health problem in both instances.

  • 10:33:21

    REHMPaul Butler, professor of law at the Georgetown University. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I want to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. Let's go to Sherman, Texas. Lander, you're on the air.

  • 10:33:44

    LANDERGood morning. As I understand it, the Confederate flag was not flown widely in the South until 1954. And there was only one issue in 1954 and that was Brown versus Board of Education. There may be people who speak of it as heritage but it was a reestablished practice for pretty particular reasons.

  • 10:34:14

    DIONNE JR.That's absolutely right. I mean, it didn't go into the state flag in Georgia. I'll check this or somebody can check me on it but I think it was 1956 that Georgia put the stars and bars in their state flag. It was 1962 when the flag went up at the state capitol in South Carolina. Now, that was in the midst of the 100th anniversary of the Civil War. So they were saying, "Well, this is partly about that. But of course, the Civil War started in 1860. The flag went up in 1962. So I think the caller's absolutely right that the Confederate flag in the Civil Rights years became a symbol of resistance to racial equality.

  • 10:34:51

    REHMAll right, to Louis in Maine and to Chris. You're on the air.

  • 10:34:57

    LOUISThanks -- thanks, Diane. I'm a long-time listener, first-time caller.

  • 10:35:02

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:35:02

    LOUISI teach history at a number of local institutions, colleges. And I think there's a -- although I think the issue of racism and gun violence are important -- concerning the display of the Confederate flag, I think there's another dimension of this debate that's often overlooked or evaded. And that is, is that the Confederate flag really symbolizes the deadliest assault upon the very existence of the United States. If the Confederacy had been successful, it would have destroyed the Union and would have called into question the viability of a Democratic Republic. And so, in a sense, it's a symbol of sedition as well. And I'm dismayed that Republicans today have not denounced the flag's display.

  • 10:35:52

    REHMHow is this consistency of opinion on the Confederate flag going to work its way into political debates as we come up to the election, Paul?

  • 10:36:13

    BUTLERWell, you know, again, most of the Republican candidates still can't bring themselves to say that that flag needs to come down. And the caller's right. In addition to being racist, it's un-American. You know who understood that? The terrorist. In the same pictures where he's proudly flying the Confederate flag, he's burning the American flag. Why don't the Republicans understand that when they support or are indifferent about this symbol of white supremacy, that that's not American.

  • 10:36:50

    REHMWhat about Democrats here -- Southern Democrats, E.J., not just presidential candidates but Southern Democrats as well.

  • 10:37:00

    DIONNE JR.Well, in South Carolina, Democrats have been part of a coalition to bring down the flag. Now, look, historically the Democratic Party was the party of slavery, racism and segregation. But that changed. And what you've had is a kind of total inversion in American politics, where the Democrats became the party of Civil Rights. The states that Obama carried that were in the Union in 1860 were Lincoln's states. That tells us how things have changed.

  • 10:37:26

    REHMAnd that's when LBJ said, "And with this decision, we've lost the South." And short break here. We'll be right back.

  • 10:40:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. Here is an email from Michael, talking about the flag. He says the south as led by Democrats during and after the Civil War. The Confederate Flag is a symbol of southern Democrats and can, in no way, be used to smear Republicans. E.J.

  • 10:40:28

    DIONNE JR.Well, then, why don't they take it down? I mean, they, you know, the writer is absolutely right. As I said earlier, the Democrats were the part of slavery and segregation. There were hideous things that Democrats said against Abraham Lincoln. There were hideous things that they said all through the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s. That began to change with the New Deal, when African Americans started voting for Franklin Roosevelt. The historian, Ira Katznelson is actually a political scientist.

  • 10:40:59

    DIONNE JR.But he wrote this great book of history called "Fear Itself." And once African Americans started voting democratic, the Democratic Party started to change. And by the 1960s, they became the party of civil rights. And Barry Goldwater, in 1964, the Republican candidate, was a candidate who had opposed the Civil Rights Bill. So, the parties have inverted politically. There's no question about the past, but if the Confederate Flag is a Democratic symbol, I'm perfectly willing to accept that of the Democratic Party of 1870 or 1860. But let's take it down.

  • 10:41:30

    REHMAll right. And here's an email from Alan in Lauderhill, Florida, who says, calling it terrorism is a cop out. Then we don’t have to look at ourselves for responsibility.

  • 10:41:48

    BUTLERI think calling it terrorism acknowledges that it's political. You know, right after the shooting, there were some people who wanted to say it was about mental illness. We didn't say that about the September 11th hijackers. We didn't say that about the Boston marathon bomber. We understood that that act was terrorist, in the sense that it was designed not just to harm the individuals who lost their lives, but to harm our nation, our community and in this case, African Americans. If we don't understand that what this man did was terrorist, then he wins.

  • 10:42:31

    REHMAll right, to Douglas in McLean, Virginia. Hi there.

  • 10:42:36

    DOUGLASHi. I have kind of a solid answer for what to do about this, and I'd be particularly interested in Professor Webster's feedback. I think that the black community shouldn't have to be leading this assault on racism. The black community needs to be healing itself. I think that the white community needs to be dealing with these white racists and confronting them. The white racists aren't interested or gonna listen to what blacks have to say. But white people need to say to the white racists, no, this is not acceptable.

  • 10:43:09

    DOUGLASYour flag is not acceptable. Your opinions are abhorrent. In the same way blacks need to say to black racists the same thing. You need to talk to your own races, because those are the people who will be listening to you.

  • 10:43:23

    REHMDaniel Webster.

  • 10:43:24

    WEBSTERWell, I agree that everybody should be speaking out about this. This is totally unacceptable, un-American, whites should be as outraged about this as blacks and should try to lead for change, without a doubt.

  • 10:43:42

    REHMAll right. To Fredrick in Dallas, Texas. You're on the air. Fredrick, are you there?

  • 10:43:52

    FREDRICKYes, ma'am. Can you hear me?

  • 10:43:53

    REHMYes.

  • 10:43:54

    FREDRICKI'm reminded by the quote Robert Kennedy, the day after the assassination of Dr. King, "the inability of a man, because of a man because his spirit has been broken to stand as a father and as a man among other men." And this symbol, this flag, it's undoubted that there's a dual meaning that people have for it. Some have described it as representative of pride and southern heritage. And yet, there are others, who are also southern, the descendents of slaves who have a meaning for it, as well.

  • 10:44:30

    FREDRICKAnd it's almost as if their meaning has been pushed to the side in favor of a meaning that really became politically efficient and proficient in the 50s and 60s. And I'd like to know why you think that that meaning is so often pushed to the side when it causes so much hurt and harm through all the people who have used it, really as an American swastika. Thank you for your time this morning.

  • 10:44:51

    REHME.J.

  • 10:44:52

    DIONNE JR.There was -- first of all, thank you for the call, and thank you for remembering that extraordinary speech Robert Kennedy gave the night that Martin Luther King was shot. And he went to an African American neighborhood and he looked at the African American crowd and said, my brother was killed by a white man. And he made a connection because he, you know, African Americans knew he was on their side on racial justice. We have had -- we've battled race in our country and racism from the inception of our country.

  • 10:45:23

    DIONNE JR.And we like to push it aside. We like to pretend that because we pass civil rights laws, all these things are gone because we are somewhat more polite than we used to be, although not always. We have pushed these things aside. And the whole argument about the confederate flag being about heritage, it really goes all the way back to the end of the Civil War. At the beginning of the Civil War, the leaders of the Confederacy said, Alexander Stevens, Vice-President, that slavery is the cornerstone of the Confederacy.

  • 10:45:55

    DIONNE JR.At the end of the war when they'd lost, they realized we have to clean this thing up. And that's only then that they started talking about, well, this was really about states' rights. This was a war between the states. So that we have been -- there's been prevarication on the meaning of this conflict from the very beginning.

  • 10:46:11

    BUTLERYou know, the Confederate flag is a symbol of white supremacy, but white supremacy is also embedded in law and in social practices in South Carolina. So, I'm sure a lot of people who want the flag to come down, and also people who go to segregated churches, who benefit from an economic structure in which black in South Carolina, again, are being pushed out of the city, pushed out of their neighborhoods. And who are some of the poorest African Americans in the country. And again, that's not race neutral, that helps a lot of white people.

  • 10:46:49

    REHMHere is an email from Richard, who says, I am a white southerner. I am offended by your discussion this morning. This is the same old attack on the southern flag and my family's heritage. If my six Confederate veteran ancestors could speak from the grave, I believe all they would say would be they were defending their families and homes, not slavery.

  • 10:47:27

    WEBSTERI respect anyone who honors their own family, but the fact of the matter is that the cause of the Confederacy was inseparable from the matter of slavery and the matter of race. It may well be true that there were people in the Confederate Army who were fighting for the reasons that he said, but there was no ambiguity about the cause. And I'm afraid there are plenty of ways of honoring people in your family and valor in battle, other than flying a symbol, which is so drenched with white supremacy.

  • 10:48:00

    WEBSTERFirst of all, in the eyes of African Americans, that ought to be enough. But second, historically, and so, with great respect to the writer of the letter, I just disagree. And I think that we have to face up to the deeper meaning of that flag and the historical meaning of that flag.

  • 10:48:16

    REHMAll right, and here's another email from George, who says, blacks continue to murder blacks at an astounding rate in Chicago. A city with extremely rigid gun control laws. Please have the courage to discuss this on air. Go ahead, Daniel.

  • 10:48:39

    WEBSTERYes, I'd be happy to. Yes, a lot of -- there's a lot of black on black violence in Chicago. Chicago itself does have fairly restrictive gun laws. They'll dispute that. But guns very easily go across that city line. And Illinois does not have particularly strong gun laws and we don't have particularly strong federal laws. So, if you look at the data very carefully, and look at associations and how the gun violence changes when there are adequate regulations in place, I've just published two studies showing pretty strong effects in on gun homicide rates.

  • 10:49:24

    REHMPaul.

  • 10:49:25

    BUTLERAnd we especially see that effect here in the District of Columbia where this summer, we're having an uptick in gun violence. We have tough gun control laws here in Virginia, which you can take the Metro to and be there in 15 minutes. Lots of jurisdictions, you can walk around proudly displaying your gun. And again, just to push back on this idea that the caller had about black on black violence, most violence in this country is white on white, black on black or Hispanic on Hispanic.

  • 10:49:54

    BUTLERIt's interracial. So, I don't know how much purchase it gives us to think about specific black on black violence. That's another way of making African Americans different.

  • 10:50:06

    REHMAll right.

  • 10:50:06

    DIONNE JR.And just on that point, if you are concerned, yes, there is a problem with violence in the African American community, but not only in the African American communities.

  • 10:50:15

    REHMCertainly not.

  • 10:50:15

    DIONNE JR.And if you're worried about violence in the African American community, surely you want a more effective regime on guns, cause the city of Chicago cannot set up roadblocks to let -- to search every car going into Chicago for guns bought elsewhere. Same for the District of Columbia.

  • 10:50:32

    REHMTo Polly in Wilmington, North Carolina. You're on the air.

  • 10:50:38

    POLLYHi Diane. I'm from North Carolina, so there is a difference between the two Carolinas. But I'm a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. I'm also a big old liberal Democrat. And I'm a big gun control advocate and I have six guns. But I don't have ones that could kill nine people at one shot. And whenever they talk about alternate weapons, I don't know if you all remember when the Newton, Newtown massacre happened, in the China, there had been an attack by a madman with a knife.

  • 10:51:09

    POLLYAnd he stabbed 20 children at a school. And it drove me crazy, because I would call up radio stations and say, how could you compare where 20 children died with an incident where all 20 children survived? And then, if I could for a minute, Dionne mentioned that the Confederate flag, it's the battle flag that they're talking about that's in South Carolina, that's become co-opted and does represent racial hatred, as far as I'm concerned. And in North Carolina, we've made an effort to focus on the national flag of the Confederacy, which hardly anybody recognizes.

  • 10:51:40

    POLLYAnd that's the true stars and bars. The battle flag that you're seeing everywhere, that's not the stars and bars, just to correct your history a little. And then, when he says it's the least we can do is take down that flag, yeah, exactly, that is the least we can do. I think we need to focus on gun control and not be sidetracked by this. But I'm not somebody who thinks the battle flag should stay there, but I certainly honor my ancestors.

  • 10:52:06

    REHMAll right.

  • 10:52:06

    DIONNE JR.First of all, I appreciate the correction. I do know the difference between the battle flag and the flag of the Confederacy. And I use stars and bars loosely, so thank you for that. And thank you for that call altogether. I think your answer to the earlier caller's exactly right. You respect your ancestors, you can discover through letters exactly what they thought they were fighting for. And yet, you are willing to say that the battle flag should come down because it is drenched in racism as a symbol.

  • 10:52:37

    DIONNE JR.And I hope you organize within the United Daughters of the Confederacy, because you could make a difference.

  • 10:52:42

    BUTLERI have no respect for your ancestors. As far as your ancestors are concerned, I shouldn't be a law professor at Georgetown. I should be a slave. That's why they fought that war. I don't understand what it means to be proud of a legacy of terrorism and violence. Last week at this time, I was in Israel. The idea that a German would say, you know, that thing we did called the Holocaust, that was wrong, but I respect the courage of my Nazi ancestors. That wouldn't happen. The reason people can say what you said in the United States, is because, again, black life just doesn't matter to a lot of people.

  • 10:53:25

    WEBSTERCould I just say something on that? Obviously, I know exactly where you're coming from. I very much sympathize with your attitude toward the Confederacy. I suspect that just as there were Germans in the German army who joined without being Nazis, they were forced to or they had to, there's a lot of coercion in the South during the Civil War, as you know. There was a lot of opposition to the secession within the South, among white southerners, particularly poor white southerners, who didn't want to go fight for the plantation owners.

  • 10:53:53

    WEBSTERSo, yes, you're absolutely right about the Confederate cause, but the motivations of people at that time, I, who really can't stand the cause of the Confederacy, have agreed with you all the way though here. I get how somebody looks back on their ancestors differently, maybe even both of us mind. I don't think she's embracing the cause of slavery. I think that...

  • 10:54:15

    BUTLERLook back at it, though, with resignation or regret. Don't look back at it with pride.

  • 10:54:20

    REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. So, how do we go forward? How do we begin to make a difference? E.J.?

  • 10:54:35

    DIONNE JR.Well, I think we need to face up to history and we need to be candid about history. We were talking before the show, this is the southern cause is cast as a cause of states' rights. In fact, southerners wanted to override states' rights before the Civil War on the matter of the Fugitive Slave Act. Northern states did not want to turn slaves back to their owners and the South demanded, that was one of the reasons they seceded -- that, to override the will of the North to oppose slavery.

  • 10:55:00

    DIONNE JR.So, let's be honest about the history all the way through. And let's be honest about the history of racial...

  • 10:55:05

    REHMSo, teaching history.

  • 10:55:08

    DIONNE JR....well, and not allowing mythology to cloud our view of history. And secondly, on the gun question, we need to go back and figure out, how can we begin to change attitudes toward guns? I think particularly in rural states to say that ownership of guns, the right to own a gun is very different than an unlimited right to own -- for anyone in our country to own a gun.

  • 10:55:31

    REHMHow do we begin, Paul?

  • 10:55:33

    BUTLERWe understand the relationship between what happened in Charleston, nine African Americans gunned down by a white terrorist. What happened in north Charleston, which is an African American man gunned down by a white police officer, happens hundreds of times in this country. The connections between those and this other fact, Diane, that in the United States of America, the average net worth of a white man is 41,000 dollars. The average net worth of an African American woman is 1 dollar. All of this is about structural racism.

  • 10:56:06

    REHMAnd to you, Daniel. Where do we begin?

  • 10:56:10

    WEBSTERWell, I think when it comes to the broader problem of gun violence in America, I think it's important that gun owners actually step forward and voice their own views, rather than let the gun lobby speak for them. Poll after poll after poll shows that they support the common sense measures to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

  • 10:56:30

    REHMBut Congress refuses to do anything about it.

  • 10:56:33

    WEBSTERRight. We have basically played into the hands of the gun lobby and made this a cultural issue, rather than an issue of public safety. The politicians have been able to say, I'm gonna vote with the NRA because I support my constituents who are gun owners, which is just basically false.

  • 10:56:56

    REHMDaniel Webster of the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Paul Butler, Professor of Law at Georgetown University. E.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution and a columnist for the Washington Post. I hope we begin. Thank you all, and thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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