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Four gun control measures are on their way to the full Senate in April. They were approved along party lines by the Senate Judiciary Committee in the past two weeks. One bill includes an assault weapons ban and a limit on ammunition magazines. Other proposals would expand background checks and enact tougher laws against firearms trafficking and straw purchases. At the same time, addendums to spending bills could undermine both existing and proposed gun control efforts. Three months after the shooting deaths of 20 first graders in Newtown, Conn., a panel joins Diane to discuss the gun debate in Congress.
- Paul Barrett Assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek, and author of "Glock: The Rise of America's Gun."
- Ed O'Keefe Congressional reporter for The Washington Post.
- Jennifer Fiore Vice president of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
- Richard Feldman President of Independent Firearm Owners Association.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Three months after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, four gun control measures are heading to the floor of the Senate. But their fate is far from certain, and riders to spending bills could undermine gun control efforts. Here with me in the studio to talk about the current gun debate in Congress: Jennifer Fiore -- she's vice president of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America -- and Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us from the NPR studio in New York: Paul Barrett of Bloomberg Businessweek and Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association. I invite you to join us. Give us a call with your thoughts, 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MR. ED O'KEEFEGood morning.
MS. JENNIFER FIOREGood morning.
MR. PAUL BARRETTGood morning.
MR. RICHARD FELDMANGood morning, Diane.
REHMAnd good to have you all with us. Ed O'Keefe, if you would, give us a recap of the bills reported out by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
O'KEEFESure. By last Thursday, they reported out four bills. They're basically all designed to somehow limit gun violence in a mix of Democratic and then-bipartisan proposed measures. The first is one that would essentially make gun trafficking or the practice of buying a weapon for someone who is not legally allowed to own one a crime for the first time.
REHMA straw purchase.
O'KEEFEPrecisely. That would be, again, would make it a federal crime for the first time, and it has bipartisan support. The other measure with bipartisan support is one that would expand a Justice Department program to $40 million, and it would basically give out grants to school districts across the country to revamp their school security plans. And districts could do whatever they please with that money essentially to bolster security at school campuses.
O'KEEFEThe other two are slightly more controversial and only backed by Democrats at this point. The first is a universal background check program, which would require all commercial and private gun sales to undergo a criminal background check. There is a possibility that that one will get revamped and pick up some bipartisan support by allowing for some limited exceptions in the cases of transferring weapons between family members. We'll see if that happens.
O'KEEFEAnd then finally, the most controversial, at least the one that provokes the most emotion, is the assault weapons ban. It would ban almost 160 specific military-style, semi-automatic rifles and handguns and assorted parts. It would exempt more than 2,200 weapons currently on the market. That one, though it passed the committee, is almost certain to die in the Senate as it exists today.
REHMAll right. And turning to you, Richard Feldman, your organization, I gather, pledged to the president, the vice president and the nation that it will present a strategy to diminish violence in society within six months. Give me an idea of what that might entail.
FELDMANWell, some of those things were noted in the president's executive order, talking about a national firearm safety and responsibility program. Some of this issue is -- just gets lost in the ether. When we focus our attention on the problem -- and the problem is clear, violent, predatory criminals with guns and mentally deranged, dangerous individuals with guns -- when we focus on the problem, we get lots of support from gun owners and non-gun owners alike.
FELDMANWhen we focus on the gun as though there's some mystique to a particular gun and its attraction to particular individuals, we have a food fight, and we don't move the agenda for this country forward at all.
REHMPaul Barrett, what do you see as the strategy behind tackling this issue piecemeal instead of as one big gun control measure?
BARRETTWell, I think you're implying a very important point that we do tend to address this issue in the wake of very sensational, aberrational events like the Newtown massacre in a fairly symbolic and piecemeal way. That's a fair criticism of the Democratic process in general. We tend not to do these things with a lot of central control and central organization.
BARRETTSo you have people, politicians and others, who are generally skeptical about the breadth of gun ownership in this country and are skeptical about the need for individuals to own firearms and to own certain kinds of firearms, so then we get legislative proposals to restrict those things.
BARRETTThe most important answer I would offer is that there perhaps is an alternative to approaching all of this as gun control, which is how we normally label the issue, which immediately invokes the Second Amendment debate and sets us off into a very radioactive zone of politics where you get a substantial portion of the population reacting very reflexively saying, no, we will not cooperate with anything on this front because it implicates our Second Amendment rights and so forth.
BARRETTAnd I wonder whether, as an alternative, one of these go-rounds will stop and will say, let's approach this as crime control, which might include some measures that have to do with the enforcement of existing laws, perhaps the shoring up of existing laws such as the background check system to make them more efficient but as part of a crime control agenda that would not necessarily incite the standard set of arguments that we tend to have each time after one of these kind of crisis experiences.
REHMAll right. And to you, Jennifer Fiore, you're vice president of an organization called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Tell me what that organization is doing. I know that many of your members came to Washington last week. What are they doing for gun sense in America?
FIOREThank you, Diane. We are a grassroots organization of mothers and fathers and grandparents and teachers from across the country in 38 states. We have -- we were established about three months ago, the day after the Newtown massacre, in the elementary school. And a stay-at-home mom of five kids in the suburbs of Indianapolis sat down at her kitchen table with her laptop, as so many of us did that day, and she looked for some organization that could answer like a Mothers Against Drunk Driving would for gun violence prevention.
FIOREAnd she couldn't find it, so she started it herself. She started a Facebook page, and she sent it to 20 of her friends. And those folks sent it to 20 if their friends and so on and so on. And within a few days, there were thousands of people who had joined the Facebook page. And three months later, we have 75,000 fans on that Facebook page.
FIOREAnd we have 80 chapters across the country in 38 states. We have had over 20 marches and rallies around the country. We have been meeting in districts with our members of Congress and their staffs to reflect our organization. And our organization is grassroots. This is not something that popped up out of a policy discussion.
REHMThere are critics who say that your organization is, as you've suggested, trying to pattern itself after Mothers Against Drunk Driving. But there are critics who say the two issues are so entirely different, that it doesn't really make sense.
FIOREWell, I would say that the reason we patterned ourself on that successful organization is because in the '80s when drunk driving was becoming an epidemic and killing our children, we -- mothers -- at that time, I was a teenager. And mothers in my community stood up, and they organized in a grassroots fashion. And they did so incredibly effectively. And one of the things that they did was, in the process, they changed the culture, and they changed the laws.
FIOREAnd the reality is that today gun ownership is less well-regulated than Sudafed. And I think that mothers across the country wonder if we can't buy Sudafed for those nights when we're being kept up by our children who are stuffy nosed and somebody can go out and buy a gun much more easily. That's a concern for us.
REHMAnd what do you hope to accomplish? What are your goals?
FIOREOur goals are to change laws. We are an advocacy organization. We help women around the country who are looking for an outlet for their rage and pain from Newtown and from the other mass tragedies, and we plug them into a system that we're establishing as we go to help them make their voices heard in Congress. And we had 240 of those women come to Washington last week.
FIOREWe had, in one day, 91 meetings with members of Congress and their staff, and we sat down at tables with these folks, with people who live in a bubble in Washington and we told them our stories and our stories of the folks in our communities who are gun owners and NRA members and veterans. And many of the people who are here with us last week were -- fall into that category. We tell them our stories of how we wish that there were a mother's right to expect that your kid came home safely on a school bus every day.
FIOREAnd we talked a lot about how we feel Washington is a frustrating process, that we feel it's time for legislators to step out of the bubble and to listen to their constituents. We heard a lot of rhetoric from some of the more conservative members of Congress and their staffs last week, and it concerned us greatly that instead of listening to constituents, they're listening to a gun lobby.
REHMJennifer Fiore, she's vice president of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Ed O'Keefe is congressional reporter with The Washington Post. Paul Barrett is assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. He wrote the cover story in the current issue titled "Why Gun Makers Fear the NRA." And Richard Feldman, he's president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd we're back, talking about the current and the indeed ongoing debate over gun control. There are four measures that have come out from the judiciary -- Senate Judiciary Committee. There was a great deal of debate last week. Richard and Ed, I gather you both witnessed the exchange between Senators Feinstein and Cruz. Ed, what does that tell us about the state of the debate over guns?
O'KEEFEWell, it was the classic argument made by those that defend gun rights. It was, you know, if you want to chip away at the Second Amendment, are you also willing to chip away at the First Amendment or the Fourth Amendment or any of the other in the Bill of Rights? Sen. Feinstein took umbrage with the way that Sen. Cruz presented the argument.
O'KEEFEHe's frankly ruffled a lot of feathers on Capitol Hill since he arrived in January as a freshman because he went through sort of the basic tenets of the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, and she shot back and said, look, I'm not a sixth grader. I've been on this committee for 20 years. Not only that, but I have personal experience with gun violence.
O'KEEFERemember, she rose to the ranks of San Francisco and California politics because Harvey Milk and another colleague were assassinated, and she was appointed head of the city and then later ran for the Senate. Of course, California is home so many of the nation's most brazen mass shootings. So she said, look, don't talk to me about this. I have personal experience with the Constitution because I've seen what the lack of limits on the Second Amendment has done. And that's the classic argument.
O'KEEFEAnd frankly, those of us who have been monitoring these hearings were waiting for this moment because it was inevitable that there would be some kind of emotional back and forth between at least two lawmakers, and there was. You know, Democrats rightly pointed out that, you know, there have been limits placed on the First Amendment and the types of speech and content that are permissible and open to the public. And what they're trying to do is consistent with recent court rulings that say you can also put limits on aspects of the Second Amendment.
REHMRichard Feldman, how did you hear it?
FELDMANI thought it was the kind of exchange one normally expects in emotional debates. It didn't even strike me at the time as something so out of the ordinary. And I've been through these legislative fights on firearms for almost 30 years now. And, Jennifer, I can tell you that the members of the Congress, they are listening to their constituents.
FELDMANWhat they sometimes hear may be different from what you wish them to hear. But they listen very carefully, and they weigh closely how that's going to play out in the poll that's most important to them. And that's the poll on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November 2014.
FIOREAnd, Richard, I think that you'll see that when we get there that mothers who have not traditionally been active in mid-term elections are going to be at those polls. And by the way, we have some pretty accepted, widely regarded polls on universal background checks in the country, which have, generally speaking, about 90 percent approval across the country. So I would disagree with you, Richard.
FELDMANWell -- yes. Go ahead.
REHMGo ahead, Richard.
FELDMANWell, our organization is enthusiastically in support of mandatory background checks at gun shows because people selling firearms at gun shows don't know who they're selling the guns to. But up until the tragedy in Newtown, there was precious little talk about these universal background checks. I've never heard anyone suggest that there's a huge market in the criminal community by folks like myself selling firearms to my friends or relatives. But at a gun show, you don't who you're selling those firearms to, and it seems to me to make a lot sense.
FELDMANWhat we don't do in this debate is focus on problem of how criminals obtain guns.
FELDMANThey steal half a million.
REHMOK. Paul Barrett, let me ask you about that 90-plus percent of Americans supporting not just identification and background checks at gun shows, but universal support for background checks. It doesn't seem to be a partisan issue among Americans themselves.
BARRETTYes. Well, the gun issue is a fascinating one for many reasons. And one of the reasons it's fascinating is the way public opinion works on this issue. You'll find that when polls ask broad cross sections of the population whether they favor one particular form of restriction or another particular restriction, you'll frequently get a very substantial majority saying, yeah, sure. I'm in favor of things that'll make the world safer, and I'm in favor of provisions that are intended to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
BARRETTAnd you'll therefore get what looks like very substantial support for what might broadly be termed more gun control. If you then ask the same cross section of the country what they think of, for example, the National Rifle Association, do they have a favorable view of the National Rifle Association or an unfavorable view? You'll find that a majority of people have a favorable view of National Rifle Association.
BARRETTIn fact, if you ask Republicans what their view of the NRA is, you'll get 80 percent or 90 percent saying they have a favorable view of the NRA. So we actually have very -- we have very much cross-cutting ideas. Our ideas about guns and who advocates on behalf of gun rights are not as clear cut as any one poll response will tend to tell you.
BARRETTAnd the fact that we have a situation where a lot of people are in favor of a proposal that is described as sort of commonsense gun control is set in tension against the fact that a lot of Americans also basically trust the NRA and trust gun right advocates at the same time. And the NRA may oppose the very provision the person just said they are in favor of.
BARRETTSo this presents a very, very complex landscape and a landscape where if you go politician by politician, as Mr. Feldman was just saying, you will frequently find that politicians will err on the side of caution. If they have a substantial portion of their electorate in their district that is very motivated on the gun issue, they will err toward deferring toward that subsection even if there is broad, general...
BARRETT...if not necessarily deeply felt, support for gun control as a general proposition.
O'KEEFEI would just say quickly that, you know, yes, 91 percent of Americans back the idea of universal gun -- background checks. In a poll The Washington Post and ABC News released last week, you know, teddy bears get 91 percent approval ratings in polls. Very few things find that high level of support in this country. I will admit, however, I would rather see public opinion polls on these issues taken in states like Arkansas, Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, Louisiana, North Carolina and Minnesota.
O'KEEFEWhy? Because it's -- senators from those states, Democrats, primarily, who were running for re-election next year and tracking support for these different reforms in those states arguably is more critical than checking it across the country because we know that in larger states and more urban states, there is broader support for this.
O'KEEFEIt's a question of how will roughly 20 Democrats in the Senate and then later how will, you know, members of the House and suburban districts and swing districts of both parties respond. And that's where I think you'll start to see groups like Jennifer's, really try to step and apply some pressure.
REHMAnd, Jennifer, tell me how you were received on Capitol Hill?
FIOREA lot of people were surprised to see us, Diane. We are a new organization, and we serve to give voice to women who haven't been politically active in this issue before. So it was a variety of responses. People who -- Senate staffs and members of Congress who value gun violence prevention measures and who are working toward establishing those were very, very, very happy to see us because we are finally showing up. We haven't shown up.
FIOREThe majority of Americans agree with us, but we haven't been showing up. And Newtown changed that for so many people. So when we show up, they're so happy to hear from us because they still hear primarily from the very, very vocal minority of gun right supporters.
REHMTell me about the paper doll campaign.
FIOREWe brought with us -- as I said, there were 240 of us who came in from 30 states or so, and one of our efforts was to have folks who couldn't make the trip make paper dolls. And the paper dolls represented -- there are eight of them in a chain representing the eight children who were killed every day by gun violence.
FIOREEvery single day.
REHMDo you have that figure as well, Ed.
O'KEEFEIt works out to that roughly when you consider that there's a lot of urban gun violence.
O'KEEFEI mean, it happens here in Washington...
O'KEEFE...in a pretty much weekly basis, whether it's here or in the suburbs of Washington, Chicago certainly, California and other states as well. Yeah.
REHMSo how will you use that paper doll campaign?
FIOREWell, it's a visual impact of statistic, and statistics don't tell stories. So we came with our paper dolls to tell the stories, this visual impact of eight -- a chain of eight children. And they represent actual children, and that's important to remember.
REHMSo, Paul Barrett, considering the realities of what you've written about, what do you think the chances are to get either an assault weapon ban or ammunition limits approved by both Houses of Congress?
BARRETTSpeaking purely from the perspective of political analysis, not talking about what I would personally advocate, I think the chances of a ban on any type of military style semi-automatic weapons, so-called assault weapons, is nil, zero. I think the chances of any kind of significant restriction on ammunition magazines is very close to nil -- not in the Senate. I think it's very possible in the Senate, but I think it's next to impossible in the House of Representatives.
BARRETTAnd I think the people who are concerned about seeing legislative action on those two particular fronts will inevitably have to focus on the states where, in fact, you're already seeing laws passed. We've had a new set of laws passed here in New York. They're poised to pass similar laws in Colorado. I think you're going to see laws passed in Connecticut, Maryland, possibly Massachusetts, California and so forth.
BARRETTAnd I think what this shows is that at the national level, in the Congress, the politicians who support gun rights are in a position to block these types of provisions. But in states where there are Democratic majorities or strong moderate Republican Parties, you will -- you'll see change. I mean, and this is in a sense the way the system tends to work.
BARRETTI mean, it's a very big country. Attitudes toward these things actually vary very drastically from community to community, from state to state. And in those, you know, so-called blue states where there's skepticism about widespread gun ownership in large parts of the population, I think you're -- we're going to see some changes.
O'KEEFEI want to take us back just a few minutes. You heard Richard and Jennifer almost agree there on an aspect of the universal background check discussion, the idea that background checks should be conducted at gun shows because people don't know who they're selling to necessarily. If you look at the current negotiations between senators, Chuck Schumer, Tom Coburn and Joe Manchin and Mark Kirk, what they're trying to do is get to that exact agreement. And if they can do that, I suspect chances of pass not only in the Senate but in the House would improve significantly.
REHMEd O'Keefe, congressional reporter for The Washington Post, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have a number of callers waiting. We'll open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Norman.
NORMANHi. Thanks for having me on, and I really appreciate your show.
NORMANIn my opinion, the magazine limits, if that were submitted as a separate proposition where every vote would be accountable, I think the Republican Party would have to bring pressure on all of its members to pass that because I think at the national level, that's an extremely popular measure and a very practical one.
O'KEEFEThat's been discussed. There's a possibility that that piece of the assault weapons ban might get taken out on the theory that enough Republicans would actually support it. I would defer to Jennifer because we were discussing this before the show began. The -- I mean, where would a group like yours, for example, potentially be on that? You had an interesting answer.
FIOREWell, we, of course, support the full assault weapons ban with the high-capacity magazine ban. And Sen. Feinstein has been an amazingly courageous voice in the Senate. And I think that if this didn't pass the full Senate, we would be pretty unhappy about that. But, you know, Sen. Lautenberg of New Jersey has proposed a high-capacity magazine ban, and it's waiting in the wings. And if nothing else, we'd absolutely like to see that.
REHMHow about you, Richard Feldman, where are you on that?
FELDMANThere are today in this country somewhere in excess of 100 million high-capacity magazines owned lawfully by the American people. To say at some point this year, we're going to stop the production of future magazines that hold 20 or 30 rounds, and this is going to have any, not some, any impact on the criminal misuse of firearms, is to do a terrible disservice to this very serious issue that has some -- that there are proposals, that there are discussions that we should be having. This is a diversionary discussion, high-capacity magazines.
FIOREYou know, Richard, I have to say, your organization and the gun lobby in general has been in charge of policymaking largely for the last 20 odd years. And we are in a position...
FELDMANI must correct on that. It's the Congress.
FIOREWe are in a position now where your recommendations to the Congress have gotten us to a place where we have mass shootings on a routine basis. There were 16 mass shootings in 2012 alone. And so the policies that you propose are not working, and they're not acceptable any longer. To widespread American women, we won't stand for it any longer.
O'KEEFEAnd there you see the difference, and there you see the challenge. And I think what will inevitably occur here is the so-called soccer moms or security moms, that politicians and consultants talk about every presidential cycle, will either show up for this debate and put pressure or they won't.
O'KEEFEAnd if they do, as the caller said, I think many Republicans and Democrats will be hard pressed to vote against this because as Jennifer and other groups have heard, the fact that these people are now indeed showing up for the debate suggest that lawmakers may have to approach this differently. That's not to say they don't disagree or disrespect the Second Amendment rights of their constituents, but if these groups do start showing up, the debate changes.
REHMBut on the other hand, Jennifer, what do you do about the 100 million assault weapons that are already within the society? What would you do?
FIOREI'm not sure that that means that we shouldn't stop making them though, Diane. I don't know why because they exist already that they should continue to be manufactured, that the high-capacity magazine should continue to be manufactured. I don't think that that's a reasonable argument for legislation.
REHMAnd, of course, that's where Paul Barrett's cover story comes in, why gun makers fear the NRA. Jennifer Fiore, Ed O'Keefe, Paul Barrett, Richard Feldman, they'll all be here to answer you questions.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here's a tweet for you, Richard Feldman, which says, "The GOP keeps pushing the mental health issue without a background check. How would you check someone's mental health?" Richard?
FELDMANWell, that's why we are in favor of background checks when you're selling firearms to people you don't know. That's why we supported it. The industry supported it when I represented the industry, the Brady background checks back in the early 1990s. That's why I assume Wayne LaPierre supported it back in 1999, background checks at gun shows, because when you're selling at a show, you're just like a retail dealer but open to the public.
REHMBut why are you limiting it to just gun shows? Why shouldn't...
FELDMANWell, they only...
REHM...everyone's background check be a legitimate and worthy effort to make sure that gun sellers in gun shops don't sell to individuals with mental health problems?
FELDMANWell, that already occurs in the NICS check. Part of the problem is that the data in the system is only as good as the material that is inputted into this system. And that has been an ongoing problem particularly with the mental history issue and how you get on the list and the current standard for being adjudicated against your will. You must be a threat to yourself or others. That's the problem. We now know Adam Lanza was a threat to himself and others. It's a little late.
REHMAnd how do you respond to that, Jennifer?
FIOREWell, you know, I wonder about straw purchasing, and I worry a great deal about the folks who have domestic -- I worry a great deal about domestic abusers and about the women who live with them. And the statistics on homicide by gun violence for women who are in abusive relationships skyrocket when you put a gun in the household.
FIOREThey go up five times that that woman is likely to be killed. And so there are some legislative proposals on the table for restricting the rights of people who have been identified as domestic abusers within the law and restricting their ability to purchase ammunition as well as weapons.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Enrique in Fort Worth, Texas. Good morning.
ENRIQUEGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
ENRIQUEQuick question is, you know, we're changing the terminology. There was a request made to change the terminology from gun control to crime prevention. My question, I guess, would be to the panel, why did the two cities, Chicago and Washington, which have the strictest gun control, have the highest crime rate?
O'KEEFEWell, there's a host of reasons. For one, you know, they are, you know, densely populated areas with a history of gang violence and drug violence and drug-related crimes. For another, they sit on the borders of states with less, you know...
O'KEEFE...with lax gun laws when compared to the city itself, and it's just that easy to basically cross the border from Indiana into Illinois or from Virginia into D.C., carrying one of these weapons to sell them, potentially. The other, frankly, is enforcement. This is an issue that gets raised by gun rights advocates all the time. You know. There are laws in the books, and the Justice Department and the local police forces aren't necessarily enforcing them to the fullest extent. If they were to, perhaps the violence would go down.
FIOREAnd I would add to that...
FIORE...that, you know, I sat in a meeting with senior staff for a senator from Indiana and a constituent who had had enough during that day, sat down and said, I call you culpable for -- the state of Indiana is culpable for so many of those deaths in Chicago because our lax guns laws are responsible. They're coming through Indiana into Chicago. And she was -- she called that as plainly as she possibly could.
REHMRichard, do you want to make a point?
FELDMANI think it was Paul.
REHMOh, I'm sorry.
BARRETTI just want -- not at all -- to inject a couple of just additional factual things that might help clarify our discussion. You know, while it certainly is true that crime rates in many big cities are higher than they are in certain suburban or rural areas, a fact that's been missing from our discussion this morning is the crime rates overall, of course, have been going down for the last quarter century and, in particular, have gone down drastically in our large cities. I mean, in New York City where I'm sitting today, we had 419 homicides last year. Twenty years ago, we had about 2,000.
BARRETTWashington, D.C., and Chicago are both far too violent and that is a terrible aspect of life for the poorer residents of those cities, but those cities are much safer today than they were in 1990. And when I talk about shifting the debate from talking incessantly about guns, guns, guns over to talking about crime control more broadly, what I would shift the attention to is what has changed in those communities, and all across the country for that matter, to bring crime rates down so drastically over the last quarter century. How can we replicate those improvements?
BARRETTAnd when guns are implicated, by all means, let's talk about guns. But guns is not the whole issue. And, for example, here in New York City, we have very stringent gun control laws but those gun control laws are unchanged over that period. So in other words, the cities become safer. Gun control has absolutely nothing to do with it. So what did happen, I think, is the crucial question.
REHMInteresting. All right, Paul, let me follow up with a question to you about your article. Talk about the relationship between the gun industry and the NRA.
BARRETTSure. This is a very widely misunderstood relationship, and it's completely understandable that it's misunderstood. In most industry-lobby relationships, it's the industry that calls the shots. It's the industry that provides the vast majority of the funding, and it's the CEOs of the companies and their government affairs people who tell the lobbyists in Washington what to do. And the lobbyists in Washington click their heels and say, yes, sir. And they go up to Capitol Hill and do it.
BARRETTIn the gun industry, things work differently. While gun companies do contribute millions of dollars to the NRA, it is the NRA, the lobby that represents the interest of gun owners, and that represents the cause of protecting the widespread dissemination and ownership of firearms in this country that calls the shot, so to speak. The NRA, because of its ability to threaten -- not necessarily to actually execute but to threaten consumer boycotts of gun companies has those gun companies in its thrall.
BARRETTSecond, even though the gun companies, in many cases, would take a much less pugnacious, a much less extreme view on some of these legislative proposals we're talking about -- for example, on the issue of background checks on which the gun industry itself is basically agnostic, they really have no particular dog in that fight.
BARRETTBut you're not going to hear them pipe up about it because they're so concerned about crossing the NRA. And part of the reason for that is they do benefit from the NRA's hype. They benefit from the fact that the NRA goes to such extremes because every time the NRA warns, even if it's a completely hyperbolic warning that the federal government is coming to get your guns, many gun owners run out and buy another firearm…
BARRETT...or two or three, and that benefits the gun companies. So you have a very complex, poorly understood relationship.
REHMBut didn't you almost have the bankruptcy of Smith & Wesson back in the Clinton era?
BARRETTAbsolutely. And that's what I'm referring to. That's the threat that gun activists, led by the NRA, have in their arsenal. In 2000, during a period when the Clinton administration had helped organize mass litigation against the gun industry, en masse, Smith & Wesson had stepped forward and tried to resolve that litigation by compromising, by agreeing to what would have been truly historic examples of self regulation in how they manufactured and marketed their firearms.
BARRETTSmith & Wesson's reward for trying to find middle ground was a fierce consumer boycott that sprang up both spontaneously among gun owners and was incited by the NRA and its affiliates across the country. And it almost ruined the company. They had to shut down production lines. Factories were halted. And if it were not for a change in ownership of the company and the fact that the company completely reneged on this settlement, Smith & Wesson might be no more.
BARRETTThe company basically repented and was allowed back into the fold. And the gun industry has that very much on its mind today when it makes the choice of do we try to set up an independent voice for ourselves, or do we just tow the NRA line.
REHMAnd, Jennifer, it sounds as though your organization is going to need to speak directly with the NRA. Are you not?
FIOREWell, I don't know about that. I don't really have very much to say to the NRA.
FELDMANWell, isn't that the problem?
FIOREI don't see...
FELDMANIt's the problem that we don't speak to one another. Jennifer, I don't believe I've ever met you, but I'll state here that I suspect on many points there is complete agreement between your members and our members. None of us want violent, predatory criminals obtaining guns lawfully or unlawfully, period. Don't we?
REHMHow do you respond, Jennifer?
FIOREI would go much further than that, and I think that the gun lobby is the reason that we haven't -- that we have so many victims and families of victims in this country. I've looked in the eyes of Hadiya Pendleton's mother and I've met her and hugged her, and I see pain that I cannot fathom. And I don't know that when we talk about sitting down with a lobby organization that it really gets us anywhere.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Panama City, Fla. Good morning, Barbara.
BARBARAGood morning. How are you?
BARBARAThank you for taking my call.
BARBARAI find if interesting that as a mother of three and a member of the NRA and also a 16-year survivor of a 16-year domestic abuse relationship that Jennifer has nothing to say to me as a member of the NRA. It's interesting also that my domestic abuse ended when I became a member of the NRA and learned to become a responsible gun owner. My ex-husband suddenly changed his demeanor and realized that I have a brain, I have a backbone, and that if he touched me and put me in the hospital one more time or touched any one of my three children, he would end up six feet under.
REHMBarbara, I'm so sorry for the experiences you've had. Jennifer, what do you say to Barbara?
FIOREI would agree with you, Diane. I'm really sorry to hear that story, Barbara. And I would not say that I don't have anything to say to you because a number of our members are NRA members as well. Our domestic abuse -- domestic violence survivors are veterans, are women who feel that they need to protect themselves. And we don't disagree with anyone's right to own a gun. We just would like to find a balanced set of limits in which people can do that to protect themselves and protect their families.
REHMJennifer Fiore, she's vice president of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Winston-Salem, S.C. -- or is it North Carolina, forgive me. Mark, you're on the air.
MARKYes. Thank you. It is North Carolina.
MARKThanks for your show and for keeping this issue on the front burner.
MARKI'm not like Dianne Feinstein. I kind of want somebody to lecture me on the Second Amendment because I seem to misunderstand. It seems to me that the way the whole issue has been framed and we'd come to it is kind of a half truth. And I wonder about the first clause of the amendment, about the well-regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state. It seems to me that we never hear that part and that rather than defending the Second Amendment, the way it's been framed in recent years is more in defiance of that half of the amendment.
MARKAnd in fact, I read a quote recently that got my attention from former Chief Justice Warren Burger that said this whole issue has been a subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud -- I repeat, fraud -- on the American public by special interest groups that I've ever seen in my lifetime. So I wonder, is anybody saying what happened to the whole picture of the Second Amendment? And why can't we have a regulation when it calls for regulation?
FELDMANWell, I can tell you that when Chief Justice Warren said that, he was no longer the chief justice. And if you want to understand what the Supreme Court views and thinks of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, all you need to do is read the Heller decision where they go into a rather in-depth explanation as the case was before the court where they said that you have a right to own a handgun in your home for self-protection.
FELDMANThat didn't say there were no exceptions, that the state can't limit the issue. But, you know, when we talk about this issue, we're really talking frequently, not about hunting, not about gun collecting, we're talking about the right of self-defense. And I've never heard anyone say, you don't have the right to use deadly force when confronted with immediate deadly force.
FELDMANOf what value is the right if the government denies you the means to enforce that right? It becomes a paper right. And viewed in those terms, the Second Amendment has a different meaning than to looking at or talking about malicious, being well-organized. But do read the Heller decision 'cause it goes into quite a bit of depth as to the origins.
FIOREAnd I'm not a lawyer, but I do like to look at the Heller decision every now and again. And one of my favorite quotes out of that is from Justice Scalia, who wrote that the individual's right to bear arms under the Second Amendment must be understood to have limits.
REHMI wonder, Ed O'Keefe, what do you think the president's strategy is going to be on this?
O'KEEFEWell, he has pretty much stayed out of it. I mean, they issued a series of recommendations, essentially a White House wish list of what they would like to see accomplished in the coming months by Congress. I think the big question will be does he apply any pressure from the bully pulpit, if you will, to Senator Reid and later to Speaker Boehner to make sure that this legislation is considered? You saw what he said in the State of the Union. But remember how he said it.
O'KEEFEThese proposals deserve a vote. He didn't say vote yes or no. He said, just vote on them. And I think that sort of leaves the door open as to what he would do, what he would encourage other people to do. But he knows that if he steps out too far, it could potentially poison this process if he doesn't let Congress sort it out on its own.
REHMEd O'Keefe of The Washington Post, Jennifer Fiore, vice president of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, from NPR's New York bureau, Paul Barrett. He's assistant managing editor at Bloomberg Businessweek. Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association and author of "Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist." Thank you all so much.
FIOREThank you, Diane.
O'KEEFEThank you, Diane.
FELDMANThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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