Senate GOP leaders press ahead on a health care reform bill: What's in it, what's not, and will voters like it any better? Then, lessons learned from the Republican victory in a Georgia special election on Tuesday.
Last Thursday, a 26-year-old shot and killed nine community college students in Roseburg, Oregon. The mass shooting — which felt all too familiar to many — prompted calls for gun control that often follow this kind of tragedy. President Barack Obama asked the American people to think about how they can get the government to change gun laws. The father of the shooter said the country needed to do something. But on Capitol Hill, leading lawmakers on the issue were realistic about any legislation’s slim chances. Diane and her guests talk about what can be done to end gun violence in the U.S.
- Ladd Everitt Director of communications, The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
- Dr. Liza Gold Clinical professor of psychiatry, Georgetown University Medical Center; vice president, American Academy of Psychiatry & The Law
- Gardiner Harris White House correspondent, The New York Times; author, "Hazard"
- Richard Feldman President, Independent Firearm Owners Association and author, "Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist."
- John Sepulvado Weekend Edition host and reporter, Oregon Public Broadcasting.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. There are approximately 33,000 gun deaths every year in the U.S. and gun crime is more prevalent in America than any other wealthy country. Here to talk about realistic possibilities for stemming gun violence, Ladd Everitt of the coalition to stop gun violence, Dr. Liza Gold of the Georgetown University Medical Center, Gardiner Harris of The New York Times and joining us by phone from Atlanta, Richard Feldman of the Independent Firearm Owners Association.
MS. DIANE REHMBut before we begin the conversation with our guests, we're joined by John Sepulvado of Oregon Public Broadcasting. John, thank you for joining us.
MR. JOHN SEPULVADOGood morning, Diane.
REHMJohn, tell us a little about Roseburg and the Umpqua Community College.
SEPULVADOWell, Roseburg is a town of about 21,000 people who a lot of them had been displaced when the timber industry began to decline. I heard a stat that 8 in 10 jobs were related to the timber industry just 30 years ago. Now, 1 in 10 are and there haven't been jobs to replace that so there's been a very big upswing in the type of problems we see in rural areas when major manufacturing leaves.
SEPULVADOYou know, and not necessarily in Roseburg, but in the surrounding areas, we've seen meth addiction, heroin addiction, that kind of stuff.
REHMI see. Yeah. I gather the area is pretty much a pro-gun area. How has shaped the response?
SEPULVADOIt shaped -- they don't want to talk about this. Just flat out -- when I say that, I mean, most of the people I spoke to do not want to at all talk about this. And I'm talking about people who would maybe describe themselves as liberal. I spoke to one gentleman from Hawaii who said this isn't the time for a gun debate and that's something that we're hearing over and over again.
SEPULVADOAnd I actually talked to one of the owners of the gun shop that may have -- and I need to be clear about that -- may have sold the last firearm to the shooter, Christopher Harper Mercer, and that there was just concern about guns being taken away from them, not any concern about the fact that it was sold. In fact, the owner of it, Candy Kinney (sp?) , said that, you know, this is routine, that she sells guns to criminals sometimes and it comes back and it's not her fault.
REHMNow, we've also heard from the shooter's father over the weekend. What have you learned regarding his mental health?
SEPULVADOWell, it's clear from family reports that have begun to trickle out that the shooter had some issues. I'm not a doctor so I can't diagnose them and as far as I know, there was not a diagnosis, but he -- I spoke with neighbors specifically and they told me that he had very strange behaviors. He was described as skittish and somebody who often seemed very afraid of other people. And also, there was a very kind of interesting detail that every afternoon, the shooter would go into a park near his apartment building and play with two children, the same two children, ages of about 5 and 3.
SEPULVADONobody knows who the kids are or what it is, but he had that routine. We also know that he enrolled in the college and that he has been described by some teachers in a very short time as being problematic in the short time he was there.
REHMAnd we are learning more about the kinds of guns the shooter had. You mentioned the last gun he acquired, but he had an entire arsenal with him.
SEPULVADOYeah. He had six guns with him on the campus. You know, I don't know -- there's a lot we don't know about this and that's been one of the most interesting things is because, you know, Senator Ron Wyden came, was speaking with Governor Kate Brown and the Representative Peter DeFazio and Senator Jeff Merkley, I should say. And I should say real quick as an aside, one of the victims is related to Senator Jeff Merkley.
SEPULVADOSo they came and they said that, you know, this isn't the time for a talk about gun control, but we need to talk about it at some point and there's going to have to be some compromise. And as you just brought up, the guns, one of the things that I really noticed is that it's going to be difficult to compromise unless the press -- and I'm saying this specifically for people like myself. We need to understand guns better and gun laws better because what happens is in a situation like this, a bunch of folks came in.
SEPULVADOWe weren't maybe technically savvy enough to talk about guns. We definitely were not up-to-date on the local, state and federal gun laws all the time. And then, so then it becomes like a right and wrong debate. And if there is going to be some of compromise achieved, it seems that people are going to need to be informed, which means the press is going to have to, including myself, I'll call myself out, has to do a better job of understanding it.
SEPULVADOSo when you asked me -- to go back to your question -- when you asked me about the guns, I really can't tell you the difference in them because I'm just learning about them myself. People told me the names and I didn't quite understand it.
REHMJohn Sepulvado of Oregon Public Broadcasting, thank you so much for joining us.
SEPULVADOThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd starting with you, Gardiner Harris, President Obama spoke immediately after the shooting and said this is something we should politicize. What does he mean by that?
MR. GARDINER HARRISYou can see what's happened with President Obama over the years. Obviously, he is our chief mourner and so when these sort of disasters happen or any kind of disasters, oftentimes he's asked to respond to it. And over the course of his presidency, you know, his initial response for many of these had been to hold off politics, simply talk about his grief and the grief of others. I think as his presidency has gone on and he has believed that there are commonsense measures that can be taken to prevent many of these disasters, that cycle time between the expression of grief and talking about what should be done has narrowed to the point where now it is immediate.
MR. GARDINER HARRISAnd he has promised that he will politicize these disasters and we will have more, as he said, again and again and again. And he will put -- the reason why people in Roseburg who are pro-gun don't want to talk about these issues is that it's a very uncomfortable situation for the pro-gun lobby to talk about what should be done in the face of disaster.
REHMTurning to you, Ladd Everitt, following a tragedy like this, what is your hope?
MR. LADD EVERITTWell, you know, I think we need to get, you know, I think thoughts and prayers are important. I think it's important to extend our hearts and our feelings to, you know, families like the ones in Roseburg that have been destroyed by this type of crisis, this type of tragedy. But, you know, at some point, I think, as Hillary Clinton and others are now saying, we need to get to action, right? You know, we need to get beyond a point where we're simply, you know, going through the next tragedy, one after another to a point where we're ready to act.
MR. LADD EVERITTAnd, you know, one of the things that's excited me about what Hillary Clinton had to say is she's gone kind of beyond where President Obama of simply laying out certain reforms that are needed to saying we need to build a movement. That's the type of language that she is using, saying if I am president, you know, if I'm elected, I will build a movement to oppose the power of the NRA and that's really what we need. There's a lot of good ideas out there about how to address this problem.
MR. LADD EVERITTWe know what we need to do, but what has to happen before we can achieve those reforms is breaking the political power of the NRA and calling out the type of degenerate gun culture that facilitates tragedies like this.
REHMFascinating to me that what she apparently is going to say today is that the president could use executive action rather than wait for the Congress to do something.
EVERITTYou know, obviously, the president disagrees. He said last week that he has asked his advisors what he can do within the limit of the law and his advisors -- and he is not shy about using his executive authority when he thinks that he can make a difference and his advisors have essentially told him that that's not possible, that there, you know, for instance, this legislation that Hillary wants to overturn, which indemnifies gun manufacturers against all lawsuits, it's pretty hard to see a way around that sort of blanket immunity that Congress has given them.
EVERITTCan you close the gun show loophole that the president -- I don't think he can do it. I think it would be -- I'm going to be very interested to see sort of what Hillary thinks he can do without legislation.
REHMRichard Feldman, what are your thoughts? What do you believe could have been done to prevent this latest shooting?
MR. RICHARD FELDMANWell, thank you for having me on. And as we spoke about several years ago, the problem is the distinction between the politics of this issue and the policy of this issue. And if politicians just want to focus on the politics, what history has taught us on this issue for 30 years is that there will be a political battle, but there will be no changes in the policy. When you talk about the lawsuits against the industry, of course, that's only if the industry abides by the law.
MR. RICHARD FELDMANSo this firearms deal or the transfer of the gun to Chris Mercer, the only lawsuit that you can't file against the gun shop is that he violated the law, which he didn't. He put Chris Mercer through the background check. The information at the time was that it's clean and you won't go ahead with the transfer. The problem with proscriptive remedies is that it has to fit the problem and this goes back time and time again, like Adam Lanza, to mental health.
REHMRichard Feldman, he's president of the Independent Firearms Association and author of "Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist." When we come back, we'll talk about mental health, how it figures in here and what can be done. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. We're talking about gun control, gun licensing, gun shootings, gun deaths and the latest at Umpqua in Oregon, just a terrible tragedy with not only nine students, but a professor at the college as well. Here in the studio with us, Gardiner Harris, White House correspondent at The New York Times, Dr. Liza Gold, clinical professor of psychiatry at the Georgetown University Medical Center, and Ladd Everitt, director of communications at The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Richard Feldman joins us by phone from Atlanta. He's president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association and author of the book, "Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist."
REHMTo you, Dr. Liza Gold, we hear so much, when these incidents of mass shootings occur, about the mental health of the shooter. Is there an awful lot of attention being focused on mental health rather than gun ownership?
DR. LIZA GOLDWell, absolutely, the conversation about mental health begins almost as soon as a news of the shooting comes out. And the fact of the matter is that most people with serious mental illness are not dangerous and most dangerous people don't have serious mental illness. Individuals with serious mental illness are much more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of gun violence or any kind of violence. And, in fact, a recent study has demonstrated that, of people who were involuntarily committed and owned guns, only 1 percent of those individuals committed gun violence against strangers. So it's a very tiny, tiny percentage of people.
DR. LIZA GOLDIt diverts attention -- the only exception to that, by the way, is the number of people who commit suicide, which is never what we're talking about when we have these discussions. Of the 33,000 people every year who die from gun violence, two-thirds of them commit firearm suicide. And the only thing that's been -- there are only two things that have been demonstrated to effectively decrease suicide rates. And one of them is means restriction, which means keeping guns away from people.
DR. LIZA GOLDThere's no other means of committing suicide that is as lethal as a firearm. And firearms -- just owning them -- confer risk of increased harm or violence to the owner of the firearm, other people in the home with firearm, children who have access to the firearms in the home. So it's really important to understand that if we could snap our fingers and cure mental illness magically, the statistics regarding gun homicide would not change even in the slightest. Less than -- although they're all tragic -- less than 1 percent of all gun violence -- all gun homicides in the United States yearly occur in mass shootings.
HARRISNot only that, Diane, but the amount of mental illness in the United States is enormous. There are some 30 million people in the United States with antidepressant prescriptions right now. It's roughly the population of Canada. How are you suddenly going to put those people off to one side? And are you going to start stigmatizing them? Which is exactly what the mental health area has been trying to stop for a long time because, if you start stigmatizing them, then people won't seek help.
HARRISYou know, this conversation -- let's say the Brits had come up with a cure for breast cancer. You know, breast cancer kills about the same number of people as gun violence, right? And let's say they had had come up with a cure. Would we accept the cure? Breast cancer is enormous. I was watching a football game last night. The players all had yellow gloves for breast cancer awareness. Why don't we turn the same sort of thinking toward gun violence that we have toward breast cancer? Because the Brits have come up with a cure for gun violence.
REHMSo has Australia and we'll talk about that.
HARRISSo has Australia and much of the rest of the world.
EVERITTYeah. Regarding the issue of mental health, I mean, you know, I would agree with the doctor's comments. I mean, the focus needs to be on dangerousness, not necessarily mental health. But what we should be looking for is history of violent behavior or certain other behaviors that demonstrate that you have a likeliness to commit a violent behavior in the future.
REHMBut did this young man show any?
EVERITTIt's possible. It's possible. There's still a lot we don't know. It's possible. You know, there were behavioral issues there in the past. And it is possible that there were warning signs where, if you had allowed for a certain kind of intervention, you might have been able to get guns out that situation.
REHMHow are you going to intervene when a young man goes out in the afternoon, plays with two young kids. When he goes to the college classroom, the only negative thing that was said -- and even this is not negative -- is that he talked a great deal. Do we know that he had consulted a psychiatrist, a therapist?
EVERITTThe family would have known. And what's important here is, for example, California has what is called a gun-violence restraining order policy that allows family members and law enforcement to go before a court and petition to have firearms temporarily removed from someone in crisis.
REHMHis mother knew that there were firearms in the house.
REHMDid she not, Dr. Gold?
GOLDWell, you know, the idea that we can stop all of these mass shootings -- there's never going to be one kind of policy or intervention. Not all gun violence is the same. Gun suicide is different from mass shootings, which is different from gun violence and crime. What we have to do is take a look at the broad range of interventions. Yes, there will still -- like motor vehicle accidents, you know, the incidence of motor vehicle accidents has been greatly reduced in this country, not just because of seatbelts or campaigns against drunk driving, but by multiple kinds of interventions on individual and institutional levels. The same has to happen for gun violence, everything from policy down to individual awareness.
REHMRichard Feldman, do you want to jump in on the mental health issue?
FELDMANWell, actually, I'd love to. And every time we have this conversation after a tragedy, we always bring up these issues and then we change our focus. And we are unprepared in this country to spend the resources on the American people to help the American people. We seem to always want to spend billions around the world with military aid, but we run out of money when it comes to the health of our own people.
REHMAll right. And I want to turn back to you, Gardiner Harris. E.J. Dionne, in his column in The Washington Post this morning wrote about what happened after a psychologically disturbed man killed 35 people in Tasmania. What did the Australian Prime Minister John Howard do?
HARRISWell, again, he was representing a wildly rural constituency. He was essentially the Republican of Australia. And he decided to limit the access to guns throughout Australia. They had a huge gun buyback program. They got something like 700,000 guns out of the Australian hands, which would be the equivalent of about 40 million guns in the United States. And they made severe restrictions on the ability to access firearms in Australia. And, of course, the result...
REHMSo only the military and the police.
HARRISAnd the police, right. And the result is, of course, that gun deaths have plunged in Australia. Again, imagine if Australia had cured breast cancer. And it's a fairly -- I mean, they have the plan. They did the plan. The plan worked. There are far fewer gun deaths. This is not rocket science. And for him to talk about mental health, which is a huge issue -- it's sort of like in smoking. You know, it used to be that smoking was this personal freedom and responsibility, until we all figured out that smokers next to you aren't just killing themselves, they're killing everybody around you.
REHMWhat do you make of that...
HARRISSo, and it's the same thing with guns. Gun owners don't just kill themselves. They, you know, 100,000 people in this country are seriously wounded by guns every year. It is the equivalent of smoking. And I don't understand why we have this whole personal freedom thing here. You know, we register cars. Cars is a much greater vehicle for personal freedom for me. Like, it allows me to go to my job, to see my family members. Why do we have this fetish around personal freedom around guns?
REHMAll right. Richard Feldman.
FELDMANWell, you know, and neither Australia or Great Britain had this thing in their constitution called the Second Amendment. And therein is the rub. When you have a document that says you have a right to own a gun for self protection, that's a tough nut to overcome. We're not talking here about banning tobacco. There was never a constitutional right to own cigarettes in this country...
FELDMAN...but there is on guns.
REHMIsn't Richard Feldman right, Ladd Everitt?
EVERITTWell, you know, Justice Scalia and the conservative wing of the Supreme Court have embraced that position. If you actually go back and read the original House debate on the Second Amendment, there's no discussion of individual self defense against criminals. The entire surviving debate over the Second Amendment is about the role of the militia and whether they should be controlled by the federal or state governments.
EVERITTBut the idea that we need to knock down here, in order to move forward and have gun reform, is this kind of perverted idea that's being advanced by modern gun culture in America that there's some type of individual right to stockpile firearms and then essentially to begin shooting elected officials, cops and military service members when an individual personally feels that government is behaving tyrannical. There are now reports coming out that there's -- the Umpqua shooter's mother bought into these types of conspiracy theories. She told neighbors that she was stockpiling guns because she feared a mass confiscation. She bragged about owning assault rifles and handguns and carrying them on the street.
EVERITTThese -- this is the type of modern gun culture ideology we need to knock down, this perverted idea that citizens -- individual citizens have a right to stockpile guns to kill government officials when they sense tyranny.
HARRISWell, not only that, Diane, but, I mean, we've got two different discussions, right? What is the right thing to do, regardless of the politics or the constitutional? And then how do we get there, right? So I think -- on right thinking, what is the right thing to do? There are certainly people who believe, for instance, that more guns make you more safe. And a lot of the Republican Party believes that, which -- they now control Congress, for instance. And if they actually believe that, why don't they get rid of the metal detectors going into Congress?
HARRISIf they are going to expose children in schools to people carrying guns -- which is I think the answer for a lot of people, they felt like the community college in Roseburg discouraged guns and it should have encouraged them -- then we should encourage people to walk into the Congress with guns. I go into the White House almost every day. I get scanned. Why didn't the Bush administration take the scanners out and allow people to walk into the White House with guns, if they think that people are safer with more guns rather than less?
FELDMANYou know, it's all relative to the time and place. Certainly, I don't know anyone in the firearm community that thinks it's a great idea that our courtrooms should be open to bring guns in. It's time and place restrictions. Some state capitols allow you to bring the guns in, others do not. Mine in New Hampshire does. You know, that -- we're missing the issue. It's not, what, in a perfect world, starting all over again, should we have done? Here we are, it's 2015. There are 100 million firearm owners in this country. There are 300 million civilian-owned firearms. What is it that we could do today, with the laws we have, the politics we live with, that can have an impact on this horrible situation?
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Dr. Gold.
GOLDYes. And, again, I understand that there are people who feel that they have -- who -- the constitution has a right, it says there's a right, it's been interpreted as a right to own guns. The issue is, how do we move forward? And I think that the way to move forward is to look at the evidence, look at what the science has shown us. We don't have a lot of research because research has been blocked for many years. But we do have emerging research and recent research. Let's base the reforms on evidence that's been provided by the scientific community.
REHMAnd what kind of evidence would that be?
GOLDSo, for example, one success story has been the national gun background check system. There's a prohibitor for people who have been placed under a permanent domestic violence restraining order. That permanent -- that was based evidence that there's a huge amount of gun homicide committed in the context of domestic abuse. When that prohibitor went into effect, okay, the incidence of homicide, domestic-violence homicide, decreased precipitously. That was a prohibition based on the evidence and intervention and then it decreased.
GOLDThe gun violence restraining order that Mr. Everitt was talking about has been modeled on that because the evidence shows that individuals who go on to commit gun violence, often commit acts, behaviors, et cetera, that can be identified either by family or by law enforcement. People who commit misdemeanor gun violence crimes -- or violent crimes are not prohibited against purchasing firearms, only if there's a felony conviction.
GOLDWell, the evidence indicates that the best behavior of future violence is past violence -- best predictor. So if we find people who have violent behavior, with or without mental illness, take the -- mental illness is not a high-risk factor but violent behavior is, alcohol abuse is, drug abuse is -- let's start looking at the evidence and then tailoring the interventions on the evidence.
EVERITTAlso, more broadly, about having an accurate, fact-based conversation, all the evidence out there shows us that gun ownership is a risk factor. That it, in fact, places you in more danger as opposed to making you safer. It makes you -- it puts you at a higher risk for homicide, suicide and accidental death. So when E.J. Dionne in his column this morning is saying, call out the gun nuts, he's talking about guys, for example, like Tennessee -- the Tennessee lieutenant governor who responded to Umpqua by saying, Christians arm yourselves. These are the people we need to focus on that, when they give this advice, we need to be all over them as a society saying, no, no, no. You are giving people bad advice that's going to put them at additional risk.
HARRISAnd remember, Diane, the...
EVERITTNo more guns make you safe. No more.
HARRISWe can't collect certain amounts of gun statistics because Congress has passed legislation banning the -- banning CDC from collecting gun statistics. It was those data that showed that gun ownership was a risk to gun owners themselves that led Congress to stop the unit at the CDC.
REHMHow far back?
REHMHow far back?
HARRISI think it was 1995, '96.
HARRISSo all of the data, a lot of the data here are fairly old. And there hasn't been good research because basically -- imagine if the Congress passed legislation that banned the government from collecting data on climate change? Even though climate change obviously is a fairly political thing, at least they haven't banned NOAA and NASA from collecting data on it. But that's what's happened with gun violence.
REHMGardiner Harris, Dr. Liza Gold, Ladd Everitt, Richard Feldman. Short break, right back.
REHMWelcome back. Time to open the phones. First to New Braunfels, Texas. Jason, you're on the air. Go right ahead, please.
JASONHi, Diane. Thank you so much. You do a wonderful job facilitating these conversations, but your guests are so poorly informed about this issue, it's embarrassing. First of all, the second amendment about the militia. The militia is a composite of individuals that make up the militia. The simple fact is the only thing that would have stopped that shooting last week would have been somebody with a handgun. And the example I always use is imagine we were all sitting on a bus together, in the back of a bus.
JASONA person walks in, shoots the driver, locks the door, and then starts methodically shooting people. I'm sitting in the back with you with a licensed, concealed handgun that I am perfectly and well-trained to use as a military veteran. I am the only person that stands between you, that shooter and certain death.
EVERITTAgain, getting back to facts. There were armed, concealed handgun permit holders on Umpqua Community College that day. The day after the shooting, MSNBC interviewed one of them, a gentleman named John Parker, Jr., who was armed on campus with other veterans in his classroom. Not the classroom where the shooting occurred, but close. They interviewed him and asked him, you know, why did you guys not go to the scene of the shooting and try to intervene?
EVERITTAnd Mr. Parker's response was well, we knew SWAT was responding. We discussed it quickly, but decided against it because we were worried that SWAT would mistake us for the bad guys and shoot us. Okay? And one other critical point. What could have stopped this shooting? First and foremost, common sense. Chris Harper's mother was stockpiling an arsenal while simultaneously testifying to her friends, neighbors and family members that she had a son with serious behavioral problems.
EVERITTOkay, so getting back to the notion of degenerate gun culture. What could have stopped this was anyone in her life saying, Laurel, hold on a second. Why in the world are you surrounding this young man with guns, given what you are telling me about him? That, first and foremost, could have stopped it. Other than that, a gun violence restraining order and other policies.
HARRISAnd also, let's talk about police officers, right? They are the most well-trained in the civilian space in the use of guns. And what have we seen over the last year in terms of police officers use of guns? Again and again and again, we have seen their inappropriate use. Killing people, probably when they shouldn't. I mean, the idea that you could arm the entire civil society and count on the good guys to sort of do the right thing when the bad guys are there.
HARRISWhen police officers themselves, who have hugely more training, spend their careers training with this, can't seem to get it done on multiple, multiple occasions, I think is a very hard idea to swallow.
REHMI want to let you in here, Richard Feldman, hear your comments.
FELDMANYou know, it's very interesting, because sometimes we talk about some different subjects here amongst us, but in many ways, we're really talking about the same thing. How do you stop a shooter like Chris Mercer? I agree with Ladd that clearly his parents were in the best position to have known there's a problem, just like Adam Lanza's parents in Newtown. They knew he had a problem. How do you involve someone that you know to have a problem with firearms? We don't hold parents accountable to this issue.
REHMDr. Gold, you want to jump in.
GOLDYeah. And I would like to say, I mean, it's, to some extent, you know, you look at these young men and you say, and it's easy to sort of blame the parents. These are people who are struggling, and they may be limited themselves. And they are struggling with individuals within their family. And they really don't know how to access help. Sometimes they can't access help. Many times, they've tried to access help and because the mental health system is in such a poor disarray state, we can't get it.
GOLDBut, what I would like to say, in terms of common sense, is let's all be educated citizens. If you have someone in your family or a friend or a neighbor who you know is in crisis, whether it's mental health, alcohol, drugs, legal crisis, job crisis, ask if they have firearms, and ask if it's okay to take the firearms out of the house.
GOLDBe proactive. That's the mental health piece. Dangerous with or without mental illness.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Joan in St. Louis, Missouri. You're on the air.
JOANThank you, Diane, for taking my call.
JOANI think that we do need to politicize gun control. I think that if Newtown didn't do the job of restricting gun ownership and gun sales and all of that, nothing ever can. So, I think that we need to do what the pro-lifers are doing with Planned Parenthood and really launch an attack on the visceral level. Make people feel really connected to the need to have better gun control. And do that by perhaps showing the victims of the gun violence. The children at Sandy Hook, these people now in Oregon. I know it sounds horrific.
JOANBut honestly, if Newtown didn't do it, I don't know what else will.
REHMAnd that's what's so interesting, Dr. Gold. Because you mentioned, during the break, that after Newtown, the President issued an executive order, saying that statistics could be compiled. Then what happened?
GOLDWell, the President issued a number of executive actions after Newtown and one of them was lifting the ban on federal funding of gun research. Unfortunately, that research still has to be funded and Congress has refused to fund the federal institutions that conduct research.
REHMNow, Mr. Feldman, wouldn't that be of assistance for all of us to know exactly what the numbers are?
FELDMANWell, I'm certainly always in favor of research. And having the best evidence of what's going on possible. I'm looking at the executive orders from January 16, 2013. There were 23 of them. Take the 23rd. Launch a national dialogue, led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health. Did we do that? Not in this country. Did it require the assistance of Congress? Not under our laws. Commit to finalizing mental health parody regulations. Did we do that? No. And I can go on and on with these executive orders that the President failed to carry through on.
REHMAll right. Dr. Gold.
GOLDYeah, there's been a tremendous amount of movement towards parody under Obamacare. And it's actually something that has increased the amount of mental health care available to many, many people in the United States. So, that particular piece of information is not fair.
REHMGo ahead, Ladd.
EVERITTI think we're getting a little off track, though, because I think Dr. Gold had a really good point before. This is about social norming, right? When -- I'm not that old. I'm in my mid-40s, but when I was a kid, it was perfectly acceptable for a pregnant woman to smoke. My parents might be in the car with me, a little kid in the backseat. Windows rolled up, they're both smoking. No one batted an eyelash, right?
GOLDAnd not wearing a seatbelt, probably.
EVERITTRight. And not wearing a seatbelt, right? Think of how safety culture has changed for cars and smoking over the years. That's what we need for guns, right? It's a situation where, you know, and think about what the Pope said the other week when he was here. He talked about the arms dealers supplying deadly weapons to those who intend to do harm and his words were, confront them. Confront them.
HARRISAgain, this is not rocket science, Diane. I mean, there are plenty of countries that have solved this problem.
REHMAnd let's go to Curtis in Byron, Illinois. I know you've just come back from Sweden, Curtis.
CURTISYes, and I'm going to touch on that. But quickly, I'd like to say Chicago, because that's always brought up that they have strict gun laws. The problem is you get outside of Chicago proper and all of the suburbs that go over to Gary Indiana, you can buy all the guns you want. So, those islands of gun control don't work. When Chicago had their law against handguns and it went to the Supreme Court. The gun lobby told us all, when we get rid of this law and everybody can have handguns, then everybody will be so much safer.
CURTISI don't think anybody's gonna argue that Chicago is any safer today. Now, to Sweden. I just was in Sweden, visited relatives over there, and some friends. One relative is a retired Army guy who just came back from moose hunting. So they can hunt over there, but in Sweden, it's practically impossible for a civilian to own a handgun. If they want to buy a rifle, it might take a month to get cleared to buy the thing. If they're not hunting, it has to be dissembled. The firing mechanism has to be secured in one place.
CURTISThe gun has to be secured in another place. You can't have a loaded gun laying around your house or your vehicle. I asked, well, if somebody broke into your house, can you shoot them? And they said, only if that person attacks you personally.
REHMInteresting. Richard Feldman, what's your reaction?
FELDMANWell, this isn't Sweden. This is the United States of America and we have our own history and our own culture. Some of it good, some of it not so good. But we have to deal with who we are and where we are. And so far, we're not addressing the fact that there are 100 million firearm owners in this country that are not about to give up their guns under any set of circumstances. So, how do we do a better job living with the guns we own and keeping those people, who, we're pretty much all in agreement with, in this country, away from guns.
REHMNow, Ladd Everitt, tell me about background checks. Doesn't Oregon have a new law about background checks?
EVERITTThey do indeed. Their legislature passed a universal background check bill. It was signed by the Governor. And that's in place. But let's keep in mind, in this case, of course, Chris Harper underwent a background check. And, you know, many of these other guns that were found subsequently in the home, were bought by family members and they passed background checks. So, you know, there's another issue at play here, which is, you know, the screening system right now is so weak under these background checks that very often, people with a history of violence.
EVERITTAnd we see this in mass shooting after another, are able to, nonetheless, legally buy guns. So, there's two potential things to do here. Number one, you have more short term interventions like gun violence restraining orders, where you allow family members and law enforcement to temporarily petition to have firearms removed. Or, we go back to the 1968 Gun Control Act, which originally designed these prohibited categories of gun purchasers. And we redefine those categories.
EVERITTFor example, Dr. Gold mentioned that people with violent misdemeanor convictions are more likely to be violent in the future. Why are we allowing those people to stockpile all the guns they want? People that abuse alcohol, far more likely to be violent in the future. Why are we allowing them to stockpile guns? There's a lot we can be doing.
HARRISBut just to be clear...
REHMHold on. Richard Feldman, how do you react to that?
FELDMANWell, you know, as Ladd probably knows, I've said for a long time we have such a silly system here that prohibits convicted felons from owning guns, but people arrested for multiple violent felonies and plea bargain them down to misdemeanors, we say no problem. But the corollary is true. There are people convicted of non-violent felonies. Michael Milliken comes to mind. He's never been thought of as a threat. Why shouldn't someone like he be denied his Second Amendment rights? So, there's some give and take on both sides here.
REHMCan we talk about the Second Amendment for a moment?
HARRISYeah. Well, I'm not an attorney, but I do want to make a small point, which is that these incremental reforms, the background checks, all the rest, you know, they don't solve everything, but there is pretty good evidence that the places that have slightly greater difficulty in getting weapons have fewer gun deaths than those that don't. So, even as imperfect as these various options are, they actually have been fairly effective and save hundreds if not thousands of lives.
GOLDYeah, and you know, I don't have to believe in gravity for me to fall down when I trip. And evidence is the evidence is the evidence. And we don't as much as we would like, but the evidence that we do have clearly indicates that every time you take one of these incremental steps, lives are saved.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Ladd Everitt.
EVERITTWell, I want to talk about the Second Amendment. I want to go back to something Richard just said a minute ago. He said, you know, there's already approximately 100 million firearm owners out there, and they're not gonna give up their guns, no matter what. Well, let's be clear about this. That's not how democracy works in this country. If we, the people, for example, decide to legislate and renew the assault weapons ban, and there is a gun owner out there that will not comply with the law, news flash. You are a criminal.
EVERITTSecond news flash. You have no rights, under the Second Amendment, if a law is passed that you disagree with and it's deemed constitutional by our courts, to then use your gun to threaten and/or shoot a law enforcement officer trying to enforce that law. Let's be clear about that. There's two things we need to be clear about in this country following the Umpqua shooting. Number one, guns do not make you safer. There is no evidence whatsoever to show that.
EVERITTNumber two, owning guns does not make you above the law under the Second Amendment. If you own guns, and a gun law is passed, that you disagree with, and that our courts say is constitutional, if you break that law, you are a criminal, and the Second Amendment gives you no right to shoot a cop or an elected official or someone else over it.
FELDMANWe're not disagreeing with that. My point is that close to half the voting population in this country, probably comes to a lot more than that when you include family members, live in households, or have, with guns in them. So, when you talk about politicizing this issue, in the context of a national, political debate, what you're really doing is a very strange thing for those who are promoting it. I'm -- I fail to understand how politicizing this issue is going to solve the issue. In fact, it probably has the opposite result.
FELDMANEvery time we've done this, those who are on the pro-gun side of the debate end up picking up far more support. Those who are against guns and restricting guns, those people don't vote on the gun issue. And they lose.
GOLDWell, I'd like to say, and I'm not a professional politician and I'm not a lawyer, but it's evident to me that guns already have become politicized. They've been politicized for a very long time, and I think part of the problem, this is just me as a citizen, it's not my professional expertise, but the problem is that people don't realize how politicized they've become because what the NRA does in terms of the blocking of any kind of movement is so well orchestrated and so profound that your average citizen on the street does not understand.
HARRISWell, Dr. Feldman was right. And this is exactly what President Obama was talking about last week. In other words, he basically said that until that political dynamic, that Dr. Feldman was talking about, which is that every time this goes to the voters, the people who are the most impassioned, the people who care the most, right now, are the ones on the gun ownership side. And what President Obama said was basically that dynamic has to change. It's the people who are not on that...
REHMHow do you change that dynamic?
HARRIS...with what Hillary Clinton said. That's why Hillary's remarks are so exciting. Because she's not just saying, if I'm elected President, I'm going to offer a reform or discuss a policy, she's saying, and I quote, I'm going to build a movement to take down the NRA. But Richard is right, there is -- there has, historically been a passion gap on this issue. So, for your listeners, who are listening today and thinking, how do we change this? You know, I hear all these magic elixir solutions.
HARRISWe're all gonna join the NRA and at a board meeting, change their policies. Or all you gun violence prevention groups, merge into one group and be a super group. The answer is constant pressure on elected officials. Constant.
REHMAll right. Ladd Everitt, Dr. Liza Gold, Gardiner Harris, Richard Feldman. Quite an important discussion. Thank you all so much. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Recent Gun Violence, Calls For Unity, And What State Election Results Can Tell Us About National Trends
Perspective on recent gun violence and calls for unity, then, what election results in state races may tell us about national trends
What we know so far about Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential campaign, then, new pressure on social media and other tech companies to become more pro-active in policing content.
David Axelrod, former senior advisor to President Obama, on what the Democratic party needs to do to regain its momentum, and actor Alan Alda on the importance of being a good communicator