From The Archives: A 2008 Conversation With Barbara Walters
A conversation from the archives with Barbara Walters about her 2008 memoir "Audition," a story of family challenges, celebrity gossip and blazing a trail in TV news.
Later today President Obama will announce a series of steps to curb gun violence. The plans include expanded background checks on some gun sales and new efforts to enforce existing gun laws. His actions come amid long standing inaction among many members of Congress who maintain that tighter gun laws limit the rights of private citizens without reducing overall gun violence. President Obama’s plans will likely face legal challenges, but his supporters say they are important small steps in the overall effort to reduce gun related violence. Join us to discuss the President’s push on gun laws and shifts in the national debate over gun control.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama begins the new year with a focus on strengthening the nation's gun laws. Later today, he'll announce executive action on gun laws that sidestep congressional approval. But critics contend tighter laws would not reduce gun violence. Here with me to talk about gun laws and gun violence, Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times, Ladd Everitt of the Coalition To Stop Gun Violence.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us from a studio at New Hampshire Public Radio, Richard Feldman of the Independent Firearm Owners Association. Also, and first, joining us by phone is Juliet Eilperin. She's White House correspondent with The Washington Post. Juliet, it's always good to have you with us.
MS. JULIET EILPERINIt's a pleasure to talk to you, Diane.
REHMJuliet, what do we know about the executive actions the president is likely to announce today?
EILPERINThe president has put together a package of about ten actions, all that he is undertaking with executive authority. The one that's garnered the most attention is one that would require occasional gun sellers, especially some of those who do business on the internet as well as potentially at gun shows to be licensed and under that provision, they would have to conduct background checks on potential buyers.
EILPERINSo that's kind of the most high profile provision, but there are others, including the FBI, at his direction, will begin hiring more than 230 additional examiners and other staff so that they can process new background checks 24 hours a day and other initiatives aimed at improving communication between federal and local law enforcement so that potentially illegal buyers cannot get access to guns.
REHMI want to go back to your word occasional. How are they going to determine the broad width of occasional gun sellers?
EILPERINThat is complicated and essentially, they've come up with a suite of different tests. And rather than saying that there's one definitive test, for example, how much you profit each year from selling guns or how many firearms you sell, the idea is they're trying to capture those who really are doing this as regular gun sellers, but, you know, are different from collectors or hobbyists. It includes things like do they sell their guns in original packaging, do they rent tables at gun shows, do they have business cards.
EILPERINSo it's trying to further define something that's been murky for several years and as you can imagine, it invites a great deal of debate and controversy because there's not a single litmus test.
REHMLadd Everitt, how do you feel about that word "occasional"?
MR. LADD EVERITTWell, the administration gave us a little bit of guidance in terms of what that might mean in the fact sheet that they put out about the executive orders. They did note that and then they say this, courts have upheld convictions for dealing without a license when as few as two firearms were sold or when only one or two transactions took place when other factors were also present. So, you know, there is some precedent here in terms of who they can go after, but, you know, to me, whether or not this will be successful is going to depend on whether U.S. attorneys are going to take this guidance and actually go out and prosecute some of these guys that are selling guns on a regular basis.
REHMJuliet, how long do you think this idea of executive actions on guns has been in the works?
EILPERINThis specific proposal that we're talking about has been in the works for almost two -- for, actually basically two years, just a little over two years. And this was an idea that the administration was contemplating after it had taken a series of actions in the wake of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, and there -- basically, it had gone through legal scrutiny. There were several people, senior in the administration, who thought that it would stand the test.
EILPERINAt this point, they were looking at a numerical test for how many guns were sold each year, but there was some hesitation that it could be overturned in court and as a result, they pulled back and it was really only after the shooting in October in Roseburg, Oregon, that the president felt like he needed to return to this issue and instructed his staff to take it up again.
REHMAnd Richard Feldman, I would assume that there will be legal challenges to these orders?
MR. RICHARD FELDMANI'm almost certain that that would be correct. But let's remember, as we talk about some of these very high profile shootings over the last several years, in almost every case, if not every one of them, the gun was purchased with a NICS background check from a federally licensed firearms dealer. What this whole discussion kind of avoids is part of the bigger problem, which is where do criminals obtain their guns. And it's pretty clear that they get them by stealing them. They don't go to gun stores. They don't go to gun shows.
MR. RICHARD FELDMANNow, certainly, some small percentage do and I think that makes a lot of sense, that when people are selling guns to others who they don't know, like in a commercial transaction at a gun show, on the internet, it should go through a NICS background check. But I've sold guns here in New Hampshire. I sold one to my police chief. I sold one to the head of emergency services. I sold one to one of my assistant DAs, but I knew who I was selling the gun to in every instance. My concern is would this new proposal mean had I sold several guns in a year, I would need a federal firearms license to sell a gun to my police chief? I don't know.
MR. RICHARD FELDMANI'm looking at the same material you are and it's unclear what the specifics will be.
REHMNow, to you, Juliet, these executive orders the president is going to discuss later this week at a town hall meeting, what do you think he can achieve by that as opposed to simply announcing these executive orders?
EILPERINWell, I think what he's really trying to do it push this issue front and center as a public debate. In many ways, he is laying the groundwork for something that will be a topic in this year's presidential campaign and ultimately is going to be determined by his successor. And so what he's trying to do is, you know, in contrast to, for example, just coming out after there's one tragedy after another, he's given plenty of comments from the briefing room in the White House.
EILPERINHe's gone and met with victims. But his idea is that by laying out these proposals, you know, doing a series of events around them, that it's essentially forcing an issue that many Democrats have shied away from talking about in recent years and for better or worse, Americans will be judging the next person who occupies the Oval Office in part on this issue.
REHMAnd that's where I want to go. How do the American people feel now? What are they saying in polls, Eric Lichtblau?
MR. ERIC LICHTBLAUWell, I think most of the polls show that there is broad support across the country for background checks and the president is relying on that popular support in taking this directly to voters. It's already become, obviously, a big issue in the presidential election and we've seen in state by state now when background checks are put to voters, they usually approve them. Nevada will be the big test this year, then probably Maine after that. When background checks are put to legislatures, oftentimes they fail. But when they're put directly to the voters, oftentimes they pass.
REHMSo have those polls changed over time?
LICHTBLAUI think they've certainly become even greater level of support over time for background checks, that that's become -- even among gun rights supporters, there is a fair level of support for background checks and the NICS system for running these background checks through the FBI have become, you know, well established over the last 20 years. There've been over 2 million gun purchases that were blocked through the NICS system. I mean, I think that's become entrenched as part of the system.
REHMWhat do you think about that, Richard Feldman?
FELDMANWell, I think when we appropriately stop someone who shouldn't have a firearm, that's always a good thing, but if we pat ourselves on the head and believe that a criminal who attempts to buy a gun from a legitimate source and is stopped by a NICS check, when our government doesn't go after them, all we're doing is forcing them to get the gun from behind the alley. We're not really stopping them from getting guns. We're stopping them from getting them from otherwise legitimate sources, which is, of course, a good idea.
REHMWhat do you think about that, Ladd? Ladd Everitt.
EVERITTWell, that sale that Richard is describing in the alley is a private transfer and right now, those are, you know, basically totally unregulated. I mean, the ATF has made it clear, particularly in a great report they put out in 2000 called "Following The Gun," that private transfers are a major channel through which traffickers bring guns to criminals. So doing this makes a lot of sense. But Richard is right in one sense, which is that prosecutors have to go after these guys.
EVERITTThe key here is the president has issued this guidance to U.S. attorneys. They have to get intelligence from the ATF as to which guys are repeatedly selling firearms and then the attorneys will have to go after them and prosecute them, otherwise there's not much that's going to happen here. It has to be enforced.
REHMLadd Everitt of the Coalition To Stop Gun Violence, Eric Lichtblau, he's with the New York Times, Richard Feldman of the Independent Firearm Owners Association and Juliet Eilperin, White House correspondent for The Washington Post. And we'll be taking a short break here. Your calls, your comments, stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. The president is expected to make public his new executive orders on gun violence and he'll speak later this morning. In the meantime, we have with us on the phone Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post correspondent at the White House. And Juliet, the gun issue is likely to be very prominent in this presidential election year. How have candidates responded? Have you seen a clear division or is something else going on?
EILPERINWe've seen a fairly clear division as you mentioned. For example, almost every Republican candidate has already blasted this proposal and talked about it as executive over reach and vowed to reverse it if elected president. This includes basically almost all of the frontrunners, except I have not seen anything from Donald Trump in the last few days since we've started reporting about what's in the package.
EILPERINBut whether it's Marco Rubio of Florida, Jeb Bush also of Florida, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Ted Cruz, senator from Texas, Rand Paul from Kentucky, really any, you know, they've all come out and sharply criticized it. Interestingly, Hillary Clinton really forced this issue and this particular background check proposal. She, after the Roseburg shooting, she was the first person to say that she would do this and, in fact, in some ways forced Obama's hand. So she's come out and endorsed it.
EILPERINMartin O'Malley is a big proponent of gun control and the only one we haven't heard much from recently is Bernie Sanders of Vermont who has a mixed record on this issue.
REHMJuliet Eilperin, Washington Post correspondent for the White House, thanks so much for joining us, Juliet.
REHMAnd to you, Eric, back in 1996, there was a lot of talk about the question of research into gun violence. The CDC, the Centers For Disease Control, wanted to focus on gun violence as a public health issue. What happened?
LICHTBLAUWell, this is a fascinating episode, really, in the whole history of the gun debate. What happened was that Congressman Dickey from Arkansas got a measure inserted that had the effect, if not quite the intention, of essentially shutting down medical research at the CDC for the last 20 years. It wasn't quite that black and white in the language. It tied funding to perceived political bias, if you were -- if the CDC were showed to have a pro-gun control agenda then they could lose their funding.
LICHTBLAUBut the impact was that this was a huge deterrent and it effectively shut down research the last 20 years into guns as a public health dilemma. And remember, most of the gun deaths are from suicides so we talk about the mass shootings, but the day to day shooting are far bigger in number, both through homicides and, unfortunately through suicides. So the CDC has had sort of questions for the last 20 years that have gone unanswered and what's fascinating in just the last couple of months is that Congressman Dickey himself has now said that he regrets the impact that this has had.
LICHTBLAUHe didn't quite mean for this to shut down research and looking back, he wishes he had done differently.
REHMNow, will these executive orders that the president issues sort of allow the CDC and other groups to do research into gun violence, Ladd?
EVERITTWell, the short answer is no. These executive orders do not address that. In previous executive orders that the president release, he did direct the CDC to resume research...
REHMBut they never did.
EVERITT...in this area, but they did not. And I think equally important, we're kind of in this era where people are finding their courage and beginning to speak truth to the power of the NRA and I think something that would be equally helpful is just for the CDC director to say gun violence is a problem in this country. I mean, he has been so scared to touch this. It's been like a third rail for him. It would be wonderful for him simply to find some courage and say, this is a problem.
REHMRichard Feldman, how would you feel about research into the causes of gun violence?
FELDMANWell, you know, it's kind of a -- it is a very interesting issue in American politics. There's nothing wrong, certainly, with research. In fact, there's everything right with research and understanding. What's wrong is when you have a political agenda and you use the terminology of medicine to come to a preconceived conclusion. That was the problem 15 years ago that lead to the law. The president can order an executive agency to do something, but the laws of the Congress and the United States prevent them from doing those things.
FELDMANSo someone who's running an agency has to consider that the president will not be president about a year and a couple weeks from now and that they may be breaking federal law. I'm actually holding a copy of the president's executive orders from January 16, 2013. You know, some of the things the president asked for then that were in his authority. Number seven, launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign. What a good idea, Mr. President. What happened?
FELDMANWhy didn't we do it? He's coming up with some very good ideas in some of these things. $500 million for mental health. Did it really take the president seven years in office to figure out that we have a problem that could be helped by more resources being brought to bear on the problem. Really? That's kind of surprising.
EVERITTYeah, I would push back on that a little bit. I'm not aware of any evidence, you know, from that debate in 1996 about the research being put out, you know, from the CDC having some type of agenda. I mean, you know, this was peer reviewed research and it was quite modest. I mean, much of it was comparative research, looking at gun death rates in this country compared to rates in other industrialized countries.
EVERITTBut I think what's important to understand for your listeners is that there's really not much of a debate among criminologists and other gun violence researchers about weak gun laws, you know, promoting more gun violence. That's really not a controversial thing among researchers. In fact, it's no more controversial than the issue of climate change now is. Yes, you have some climate deniers out there, but overall, the overwhelming universe of research knows that that's a problem and the overwhelming universe of research understands that weak laws play a role in moving guns to dangerous individuals.
REHMEric, you mentioned Congressman Dickey and his regret now about that move back then in 1996. He was persuaded because supporters of research into gun violence equated that research into the deaths by automobiles and the realization that if you put tougher gun -- tougher rails along bridges and created better lighting and that sort of thing, that that would drop automobile crashes. So can that analogy still apply?
LICHTBLAUWell, right. That was a parallel that the gun control folks drew, that research in the '60s into automobile deaths that lead to positive and constructive reforms that had a clear connection to bringing down auto deaths, I think part of what we see in Obama's plan is his emphasis on gun safety through things like smart technology. They've drawn the comparison to fingerprints on your iPhone. If you can control your iPhone with a touch of your finger, why can't we do that with smart guns?
LICHTBLAUSo there's research that's being done or that's being directed under the president's orders into things like that. You know, accidental deaths through guns are a huge problem. Again, like suicides, that gets not -- does not get nearly the attention of mass shootings, but in terms of numbers, you know, it's far bigger.
EVERITTThat's one of the orders here that we really shouldn't overlook, this order that President Obama issued which is going to require the Department of Defense, Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to prepare a plan within 90 days as to how they can research and develop smart gun technology that can be deployed in real world situations. The National Rifle Association to date in this debate about smart gun technology has had a great deal of success beating up kind of these upstart entrepreneurs who have -- are basically developing smart guns on their own.
EVERITTMany of these people are just individuals who are inventors or, you know, want to take a crack at this. Putting DoD on this case with their research and development arm is a whole new monster for the NRA to fight. The NRA is not going to be able to beat up a DoD that says, hey, we have working smart guns now ready for the civilian market.
REHMLadd, at the same time this debate over the president's executive orders is expected, there's a group of individuals armed with guns in Oregon occupying a wildlife refuge. What's your reaction to that?
EVERITTWell, to me, I mean, it just highlights how stark the divide is in terms of how we view the Second Amendment in this country. You know, the individuals that are out in southeast Oregon now occupying this federal wildlife reserve essentially believe that the Second Amendment gives them an individual right to confront our government with force of arms, basically with violence, when they personally feel that, let's say, a court ruling is tyrannical or a law is tyrannical. What's fascinating about the situation is they're protesting the conviction of ranchers who don't even support what they're doing.
REHMExactly. And some have indeed asked them to leave.
EVERITTOh, well, yeah, in the past, right. I mean, in certain past actions, yes, individuals like this have been asked to vacate the property. But I mean, you know, the situation here is this. They believe that their guns overrule the decisions of juries. Our founders dealt with individuals like this during Shays' Rebellion, during the Whiskey Rebellion and had a very strong response to them, which is this is not how constitutional democracy works and they put down those rebellions.
EVERITTAnd, you know, at some point, you have to demonstrate that there's equal justice under the law. You can't treat these guys with kid gloves and roll out tanks in Ferguson and Baltimore.
REHMAll right. I want to open the phones now. First, let's go to James in Detroit, Michigan. You're on the air.
JAMESHi, Diane. Thank you very much for taking my call.
JAMESI love the show. I just wanted to comment on this issue, generally. I feel very strongly about it. I am an avid hunter and gun owner and I -- at the same time, I'm constantly frustrated by the lack of reasonable, safe gun controls and, you know, political organizations and the NRA, you know, I think make a lot of people feel as if they speak for all gun owners.
REHMBut James, how far would you want to go in terms of gun control? What would be your ideal?
JAMESI am -- just whatever would be adequate to allow hunters and lawful gun owners to appreciate and enjoy the outdoors, while keeping everyone safe. I am entirely for a ban on assault weapon sales, though unfortunately that gets messy with a lot of them already out there.
REHMAll right. Thank you very much for your call and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I wonder from your point of view, Richard Feldman, how many people feel as James in Detroit does.
FELDMANWell, I really don't know. I do know, however, that the Supreme Court of the United States doesn't share James' view on the lawful ownership of guns. It went much further. It says that the Second Amendment gives an individual a right to own a handgun in their home for self defense. You know, we constantly go back and forth on this, what I consider at a silly debate about assault weapons, which they're not. They're semiautomatic firearms, which are commonly owned. Probably half the guns in America are semiautomatic.
FELDMANAnd it's just been a debate that takes us nowhere useful. Instead of focusing on the problem -- and there is a problem in this country, the problem of the misuse of guns by three different groups, unsupervised juveniles, intentional predatory criminals and dangerously deranged individuals. When we focus on the problem that way, we really can go somewhere in this country. When we sort of just debate gun control as though that's an end in itself, we miss the question. It's never about the gun, Diane.
FELDMANIt's always about in whose hands are the guns.
EVERITTJust real quick. I think one of the interesting wrinkles right now is that the Supreme Court recently had the opportunity to hear a case regarding a state assault weapons ban and refused to. What's interesting to me about that is Richard is right. In D.C. versus Heller, Supreme Court said you can have a handgun in the home. What's interesting right now is they don't have five votes to say that you can't ban assault weapons. So expect to see that come back.
EVERITTAnd Richard's right. There's many semiautomatic platforms out there, but when we're talking about an assault weapons ban, we're talking about restricting weapons that were designed for battlefield use. Yes, they don't fire on full automatic, which is inaccurate and wasteful of ammunition anyway, but they'll fire as fast as you can pull the trigger and are decimating in a civilian situation.
REHMEric, yesterday, you wrote that while President Obama may be trying to act on the federal level, the real action is at the state level. What do you mean?
LICHTBLAUAbsolutely. I think that's an important point that's gotten lost in all this. The president is really limited in what he can do, that for all the talk the last few days, these are fairly modest steps. I mean, he's clarifying existing laws when it comes to federal gun dealers. He's adding some staffing. This is not a major overhaul of federal gun law, although Donald Trump says this is the first step to taking away our guns. It's really nothing close to that.
LICHTBLAUThe real battleground is on the state level, where you have state and local officials and voters themselves that are considering and often putting in place much more severe gun control measures, such as background checks, such as gun-free school zones, et cetera. And the gun control movement, thanks to an infusion of cash from people like Michael Blumberg who's donating $50 million of his own money to a gun control group called Every Town, has really kind of leveled the playing field.
EVERITTThe NRA used to dominate this discussion and that's no longer true at the local level. They've giving the NRA a run for their money in many places.
REHMSo do you think that that kind of money can actually change the discussion? Hold your thoughts. We'll get back to it after a short break. We'll take more of your calls, your comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here's an email from Marybeth, who suggests that all anti-gun groups fold into one group. The Gifford, the Brady, et cetera, groups would, if combined, be far more effective to fight the NRA. What do you think, Ladd Everitt?
EVERITTI don't know if I buy into that theory. I think, you know, if you look at the gun violence prevention movement, you have a lot of very good groups that have, you know, different strategies, different ideas on how to combat the problem. And I think successful movements look like that. Successful movements have different voices on different ends of the spectrum. And I think there's also this notion that the pro-gun movement is monolithic, that it's just the NRA.
EVERITTYou know, obviously we have Richard on the program with us today. You know, he disproves that. There's also other groups, including Guns Owners of America and Second Amendment Foundation and on and on. It's not monolithic. There's many different groups on the pro-gun side that have driven action in the grass roots, in the courts and elsewhere. So I don't buy into that. I think people are frustrated. I think they want a simple, magic elixir solution, and I don't think that's one. It's going to take hard work, and at the end of the day, we're just going to have to be louder and more persistent with elected officials than the other side.
REHMWant to go back to you, Eric, on this state question because Texas has just put into effect an open carry law. Just what does that mean?
LICHTBLAURight, these concealed carry laws have been a real flashpoint in the debate for both sides. Texas has loosened its law allowing concealed carry. Other states have gone just the opposite direction, showing really how this state level, as we were talking about, has become the real battleground. Virginia, the attorney general two weeks ago just went the opposite direction by saying he would no longer allows concealed carries from 25 other states, as Virginia has been doing for years. So this question of who will be allowed to get a permit, where and when you'll be allowed to carry a concealed weapon is -- doesn't get quite as much attention as background checks but is just as politically divisive.
REHMAnd on the question of money, which we left before the break, how does the $500 million from Bloomberg help or hurt the situation?
LICHTBLAUSure. I mean, you know, money drives politics in the United States, and the NRA and the gun rights folks for years have been the ones with tens of millions of dollars to bring to the fight, and that has now been eclipsed for some groups, especially with Michael Bloomberg and his $50 million, the Brady Campaign and Gabby Giffords group. Other groups are also bringing significant budgets to this. I mean, that doesn't win the fight, but it certainly helps with petition drives, it helps with PR campaigns, advertising campaigns, and as you were saying, I think it's leveling the playing field so that it's no longer -- it used to be the axiom that politics that gun control was sort of a losing political issue. That's no longer a certainty.
FELDMANWell, you know, it points out in this discussion really just how much the gun issues is as much a symbolic as it is an issue about guns. And when we deal with symbols, we get people emotionally charged. What I have always seen in 35 years working this issue is that it really doesn't matter how much money an opponent has on this issue because at the end of the day, money doesn't vote. People vote. Yes, it takes a certain modicum of money to get your message out, but I encourage Michael Bloomberg to spend $10 billion, not $50 million, and the results will be exactly the same.
FELDMANGun owners, when they feel threatened about their rights, they will vote on this issue. Other folks who care about -- on the other side have a lot of issues to deal with, and they're very rarely, and very few of them will end up voting for or against a candidate based on their position on guns.
REHMWell, we shall see. Let's go to Julio in Miami, Florida. You're on the air.
JULIOHi Diane, and how are you doing everybody. I would like to -- well first of all, I'm in favor of the proud gun ownership and -- but I'd like to ask why isn't gun ownership like driving a car? You know, drivers are required to have driver's licenses, accompanied by training and testing. And depending on the vehicle, you have different types of licenses, like cars, trucks and semis. Handguns are different from single-bullet rifles and definitely different from, you know, machine guns, like an M-16 or an AR-15. So I mean, there should be a requirement to have some sort of a license for each type of weaponry.
REHMAll right, and of course cars kill, and guns kill.
EVERITTRight, we were talking earlier about, you know, is the analogy apt of car regulation to gun regulation. I think it is. I mean, you know, by starting in the '60s to strictly regulate cars, drivers and roads, we reduced the automobile death rate in this country by 90 percent. Can we do that with guns? Absolutely. You know, Julio was talking about licensing and registration. We do that for fully automatic machine guns in this country, we have been since the 1930s, and it's been incredibly successful. Those guns are almost never used in crime.
EVERITTSo licensing and registration absolutely works. It's not a threat to anyone. It's not going to lead to gun owners being in chains and enslaved or in FEMA camps. And I'd like to hope that eventually we move to a point where we do have some type of national licensing and registration.
REHMEric, what's going on in Nevada?
LICHTBLAUWell, that's the next state where we have a background check initiative, a statewide background check initiative, on the ballot. The gun control movement had a record number of petitions that they gathered there. There are a lot of Las Vegas celebrities, Steve Wynn 's wife, ex-wife, is one of the champions of that, who are pushing for that, and I think there's a strong chance that that will pass Nevada. That would be the -- I believe it's the 18th state that would have a background check and the sixth since Connecticut, since Sandy Hook, when that movement really quickened in terms of the pace.
LICHTBLAUYou know, the people that I've talked to on the gun control side, they likened this to marriage equality. That's an analogy that they like to draw in terms of building support that accelerates in the absence of federal action.
REHMSo what do you think about that, Richard Feldman? You said people are going to have to vote for what they want, and here you've got a number of statewide initiatives going on.
FELDMANWell, you're exactly right, Diane, and gun owners do support background checks between folks who don't know each other. Now when you have the choice of all or nothing, sometimes gun owners will support all, although they're really fervent about those background checks between -- in commercial-like transactions, not between family members, children and their parents, not between friends and neighbors. That's not where the problem arises.
FELDMANBut when we deal in the political realm, as we do, on these issues, it's just smart politics to frame the issue in such a way that it's going to work for you. Both sides of the debate do it. We do it. Oh, you do it? And when you can have those levers, you're going to have an advantage, no question about it, politically.
REHMAll right, let's take another caller in Richmond, Virginia. Hi there, Rick, you're on the air.
RICKI just want to say that I'm a former police officer and an avid gun owner. I own several what would be considered assault-type weapons. But I can get into any gun show, and especially in the South, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, and you can have any sort of weapon that you want without any background check within 10 minutes without even entering the gun show, buying from a private individual that has a tag on his gun for sale. There is no reason in the United States that we should not have, say, a background check for each private individual transaction to ensure that the person that you're selling to is able to own a gun because right now, even if I wanted to do a background check on someone that wanted to purchase one of my firearms, I have no way to do it.
RICKAnd there's no reason that we shouldn't have that, and there's no logical reason that someone can explain to me why we shouldn't do it to ensure that everyone that gets a gun should have a gun.
EVERITTAmen, and thank you, Rick.
REHMWhat do you think, Richard Feldman?
FELDMANWell, you know, Rick there in Richmond, if you want to sell a gun to someone, you can bring it to a federally licensed dealer and have that dealer run the background check. I think that's a smart idea if you don't know who you're selling the gun to. If you're transferring the gun, and of course these are two different terms. Selling the gun and transferring the possession of the gun are two separate issues. Whenever I've sold guns, and I have, on the Internet, I have sold the gun to someone, but I don't transfer that gun to that individual. I must transport that gun to a federally licensed dealer, and that person I sold it to has to pick it up at that gun shop and go through a NICS background check.
FELDMANSo while I sold the gun without a check, they don't get to possess the gun without that NICS check.
REHMAll right, let's go to Andrew in Cleveland, Ohio. Go right ahead, sir.
ANDREWYes, good morning. My question is this, and I'm wondering, as we move forward with the executive order, if there's any plan for rollout because it seems to me whenever we have these issues of gun control, it creates a massive spike in gun sales, which is almost counterproductive. As soon as Sandy Hook happened, there was a lot of talk about gun regulation, which I'm very much for, in favor of, and it seemed that it just drove people who were going to do this into a ignorant panic to run to the stores and grab up these guns as fast as they could, and it makes me feel like unless we do some sort of swift and decisive action, like Australia did, where they just basically said, look, this is happening, and it's happening now, we're -- you know, which we don't really do well in this country, we're going to see another massive spike in gun shows and gun sales, and it's just going to be an -- ultimately we're just going to make more money for the gun manufacturers and create a paradise for the hobbyists.
REHMAren't we already seeing a rush to buy?
LICHTBLAUWell, the caller is right that the publicity does drive gun sales in sort of a paradoxical way. A couple month ago, we had the single biggest day for gun sales ever recorded by the FBI as part of the background check system. So you frequently see that surge the more talk there is of gun control. You know, as far as Australia, where there was a national buyback program, which the caller is suggesting, I think politically there is, you know, less than zero chance of that happening, both for legal reasons because of the Supreme Court decision and for political reasons.
LICHTBLAUThe things that are now being considered by the president, and even at the state level, are really acting around the margins compared to, like, a national confiscation of guns, which is what the caller is saying.
REHMWell, that's what I was going to ask. From each of your perspectives, how effective do you believe these executive orders could be in terms of the issue of gun violence, Eric?
LICHTBLAUWell, I think that these are fairly modest, incremental steps that the president is taking. I may be in the minority on that. I mean, I think the groups on the left who are describing this, you know, as an overhaul or a revamping of the system are really overstating it and that this is really trying to make the existing system work through better training, through better staffing, through clarifying the regulations. It could have the effect of bringing unlicensed dealers into the system, but even the White House admits we have no idea how many people that is and what the impact will be.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. How about you, Ladd Everitt? How effective?
EVERITTI think if these provisions are enforced, they'll be very effective, but I think it's going to depend on that. It's going to depend on the ATF following through and really getting the intelligence on individuals who are continuously selling guns without a license. And then, you know, prosecutors are going to have to follow through and go after some of these folks. But there are a lot of good ideas here. Again, I think the sleeper here is this smart gun technology provision.
EVERITTI think that won't get a lot of press, but I think it's tremendously important and could really change the way the firearms market looks in a few years for the better. So I think there's a lot of good ideas in here, but yes, the agencies involved will have to follow through and enforce.
REHMAnd how much more money are those agencies going to get to do that job?
EVERITTWell that's the question, right, yeah. I think, I think, you know, there aren't many provisions here where the president is depending on appropriations, but obviously getting money on additional ATF agents or things along those lines is going to be tough before next January.
REHMAnd what is the Congress likely to do, Eric?
LICHTBLAUOh, I think on the handful of measures in this order where he was relying on appropriations, you know, I certainly wouldn't bank on it. I think that as Ladd says that the chances of a Republican-led Congress putting more money into some of these measures is very slim.
REHMSo what is the Congress going to do between now and the election with these executive orders? What are they likely to do?
LICHTBLAUWell, Paul Ryan, the new House speaker, has already said that, you know, he considers this executive fiat from President Obama, and he is vowing to challenge it. I think they'll make it as difficult as possible. They'll hold hearings, presumably, on both the way that Obama has done this and the substance of it. You know, there could very well be legal challenges. And, you know, the president I think learned a tough lesson after the immigration battle, when he also took executive action to try and bring five million people into legal immigration status, and the courts, the courts reversed that.
LICHTBLAUSo I think that that really was a painful lesson that has limited what Obama did this time around because he doesn't want to see a legal setback like that.
REHMHow quickly could he roll things out, and how quickly could the Congress put a stop to it?
LICHTBLAUWell, I think we'll know in the next few months. There are various directives for the executive agencies to do studies, as Ladd talked about like with the smart gun at the DOD. But a lot of these things in terms of the enforcement and training and prosecution will probably outlast Obama's presidency before we know what's happening.
EVERITTWell look, I think we know that the Republican presidential candidates in particular will probably try to make some political hay of this, but I don't see that going very far. Like Eric said, you know, ultimately these provisions are pretty modest. They have the potential to do a lot of good, but they're pretty modest. There's nothing -- there's nothing here that should trigger a large, overarching review of this process in my mind.
REHMEven though Paul Ryan says he's going to put a stop to it?
EVERITTYeah, we'll see how that works. I think the problem for them this week is they'd love to be focusing on the executive orders, but every reporter in America is going to put a mic in their face and say, do you support the occupation of a federal building in Oregon.
REHMLadd Everitt of The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Richard Feldman of the Firearm Owners Association and Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times, we await President Obama's statement, and then we shall see. Thank you all so much
REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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