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Guest Host: Cecilia Kang
Following a deadly mass shooting that killed 49 people at a Florida nightclub, debate over how to address gun violence has re-emerged. The Orlando shooter had been on an FBI terrorist watch list but was able to legally purchase an assault-style rifle a few years later. The Senate votes today on four different amendments, which seek to address gun violence in different ways. The Democratic measures ban suspected terrorists from buying a gun and impose mandatory background checks while Republican versions are less restrictive and focus on alerting law enforcement. Guest host Cecilia Kang and guests discuss new attempts in Congress to address gun violence.
- Adam Winkler Law professor at UCLA and author of "Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America"
- Daniel Webster Director, Center for Gun Policy and Research, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
- Karoun Demirjian Reporter, The Washington Post
MS. CECILIA KANGThanks for joining us. I'm Cecilia Kang of the New York Times sitting in for Diane Rehm. The Senate is expected to vote today on four measures aimed at addressing gun violence in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting. The Senate was moved to allow the votes after a 15-hour filibuster by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. While none of these bills is expected to pass, some say the new action in Congress reflects a shift in American sentiment on guns.
MS. CECILIA KANGJoining me in the studio to discuss what's in the amendments and where they might take the debate over gun violence in America, Daniel Webster of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Karoun Demirjian of The Washington Post. And joining us by phone from Los Angeles, California, is Adam Winkler of UCLA. Adam, first, we have some news this morning. The Supreme Court has refused to challenge an assault weapons ban passed in Connecticut and New York after the Newtown Elementary School massacre of 2012. Bring us up to speed on this news this morning.
MR. ADAM WINKLERWell, that's right. Right after Newtown, Connecticut and New York and a number of other states revised their gun laws, especially after Congress was unable to get anything significant passed in the wake of the horrific shooting at the elementary school in Connecticut. Connecticut banned certain kinds of military-style so-called assault rifles and assault weapons and also banned the sale of high capacity magazines, magazines that can hold more than ten rounds of ammunition.
MR. ADAM WINKLERThese laws were challenged, but they were upheld by the lower courts and the rulings that upheld those laws went to the Supreme Court for consideration. The justices decided not to review those cases. So the court has not set any precedent today, but it has signaled, once again, that it is not interested in reviewing the Constitutionality of assault weapons ban.
KANGAnd why is this significant in this broader discussion about gun violence and gun control?
WINKLERWell, it's significant for a couple of reasons. I mean, one reason is is that one of the top items on the gun control agenda is to ban these military-style rifles. It doesn’t make any sense to ban them if the courts are going to declare such bans unconstitutional. But the court has given some encouragement with today's lack of a decision, a lack of a decision to actually review those earlier assault weapons ban rulings by the lower courts has sort of buoyed gun control advocates in their effort to try to ban these laws, ban these kinds of guns.
KANGWe will be taking your comments and questions throughout the hour. Call us on 800-422-8850. Send us your email at email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Karoun Demirjian, there is much going on in Congress as well today. Can you bring us up to speed on what prompted the Senate to allow votes on gun measures and how significant are these developments?
MS. KAROUN DEMIRJIANSure. Well, I mean, this is all -- this latest round of this has all been prompted by the tragedy in Orlando, 49 people killed. You heard people start talking about reviving these gun control measures that have been proposed in some form along the way after the San Bernardino shooting as well. So interesting enough, they are not focusing on assault weapons bans today when they're going to be voting, but the four measures are basically Democratic and Republican alternatives to two major themes.
MS. KAROUN DEMIRJIANThe first one being how you keep guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists because the shooter in the Orlando shooting was on the government's radar screen, then off. But the idea is that this is a terrorist attack, domestic terrorism, so how do we keep those people who are bent on doing mass harm from getting a gun? The other topic is background checks. So Democrats want to basically pass a measure that would say the attorney general has the right to ban anybody who's a suspected terrorist on a watch list for other reasons, et cetera, from being able to acquire a firearm or explosive.
MS. KAROUN DEMIRJIANRepublicans want to put a delay, a time limit, basically, that says if you suspect someone of being a terrorist and want to deny them a gun, you've got to prove probably cause within three business days of the attempted sale.
KANG72 hours, right.
DEMIRJIANRight. So the onus on the government in that situation. Whereas the Democratic proposal, it can happen and then you can appeal it or, you know, try to sue the government later down the line if you think that you were wrongly accused because there are mistakes. Some people are on these lists that shouldn't necessarily be. The other side of it is looking at background checks. Democrats are pushing a proposal that is broader than just this measure, but the central feature is that it would expand background checks, requiring them at gun shows an online sales where there is this loophole, Democrats say.
DEMIRJIANRepublicans have a proposal that is also fairly broad, but, again, the central issue on the background checks is that they'd put more money towards the federal agency that runs them, but not really change the rules in that way. So it's probably going to split the parties pretty close down the line when they have these votes, which has been frustrating a lot of members because there were some efforts at trying to craft a compromise along the way last week, but most of them faltered and the one that's still alive has not really gained a lot of momentum at this point and won't be voted on today.
KANGOkay. So two big buckets. One, terrorist watch list.
DEMIRJIANTerrorist -- suspected terrorist.
KANGSuspected terrorist watch list.
DEMIRJIANIt depends -- yeah.
KANGThe other is background checks, thank you.
KANGAnd the vote will be around -- this afternoon around 5:30 p.m., I believe, right?
KANGNow, Adam, how likely are these bills to pass and how significant are the votes happening in the Senate today? This is not the first time we've seen votes. There have been 100 gun proposals in Congress since 2011, I believe.
WINKLERThat's right. Apparently, the reports are that these measures are likely not to pass today. I guess there is a possibility in there. I know there's been a lot of discussion behind closed doors about coming up with some kind of compromise bill that could actually pass. The bills that are being voted on today, for the most part, especially with the regard, at least, to the no-buy list and the Manchin-Toomey universal background checks have been voted on before and have failed.
WINKLERI think it's significant that Congress is considering these gun control bills, but likely, in part, because it shows that even in an election year, demand for gun control is really off the charts and really putting a lot of pressure on Congress to even consider these laws. However, probably Americans are going to -- who support gun control are going to continue to be frustrated if there's nothing that actually gets passed.
KANGAnd Karoun, you were just shaking your head. You don't think that there will be a compromised offered to be...
DEMIRJIANWell, I just think there are compromise discussions that are happening behind closed doors right now, but the -- what you have to look at is trajectory and timing really. Once these gun control measures are done today, Congress is in session for this week, maybe another two weeks in July and then pretty much out of town for the election season, except for a short bit of September. So there's not a lot of time left to craft a compromise, especially if they take these votes today.
DEMIRJIANThe other piece of it is that Diane Feinstein did reach out to John Cornyn. They are the two measures of the -- authors, excuse me, of the terrorism-related measures -- for conversations that didn't really go anywhere. Pat Toomey was talking to Mike Bloomberg's organization, the one he backs, at least, for gun control. That kind of faltered. Susan Collins has a process going with Republicans right now, but nobody's come out and said, yes, we can back this. So those behind-the-scenes discussions they've kind of frayed or kind of -- they don't seem like they're going to be able to gain enough before tonight.
KANGLet's take a step back. None of these proposals at hand, up for vote today, are panaceas. None of these are broad at all. Adam, do you think that these bills are zeroing in on the right problems? What is your thought on the focus of these bills and Congress?
WINKLERI do think these bills focus on the right problems, especially when it gets to something like universal background checks. We just have a system in our country where we have partial background checks where if you buy a gun from a federally licensed dealer, you have to go through a background check. That makes a lot of sense. However, the law doesn't require you to buy a gun from a federally licensed dealer, if you're going to buy one. You can buy one from someone you meet on the street or someone shooting a gun next to you at the gun range or someone who you just happen upon at a gun show who's not a licensed dealer.
WINKLERSo we need to close that loophole. The current proposal closes it a little bit, but might be thought of rather than closing the loophole as reshaping it. It bans these unbackgrounded -- unbackground checked-ded sales at gun shows and online, but doesn't stop you, say, from buying a gun from someone you meet at a gun range or elsewhere.
KANGAnd Daniel Webster, I want to get you in. Given what you know about mass shootings -- and you've been studying this for many, many years. What do you think the bills that are before the Senate today, what will they do?
MR. DANIEL WEBSTERWell, I agree with Adam that the background check component is incredibly important both with respect to addressing mass shooting as well as the much, much larger problem of gun violence that communities around the nation face. I do want to take exception to one thing that Adam said. There are two different background bill. The Manchin-Toomey form is limited to transaction -- private transactions that occur at gun shows or when people make a connection on the Internet. The bill being proposed by Chris Murphy in the Senate now actually is a true universal background check.
MR. DANIEL WEBSTERAnd therefore, I think, is far more meaningful and substantive to hold people accountable if they're transferring guns to people who shouldn't have them. I think, you know, the terror watch list, you know, this is not something, pardon me, that we have a lot of data on, but it addresses this key issue and acknowledges that our laws have relatively low standards for legal gun ownership and it causes a much needed reexamination of whether we have appropriate standards now 'cause I think a lot of people falsely assume that everybody who is, you know, committed crimes are prohibited and that's far, far from the truth.
KANGAnd, you know, in studying this for so many years, as you had at Johns Hopkins, what was actually your reaction, your first reaction to the Orlando attack? You've studied gun violence as a public health issue.
WEBSTERWell, my first reaction was probably like most people's, you know. I wanted to just curl up in ball and cry and say not again. I can't believe it. But professionally, you know, my sense was we'll have another discussion about this and it's very uncertain where this will go. But I do think we're reaching -- we've hit our limits of tolerance. And I think change is coming.
KANGComing up, more of our conversation on new attempts by Congress to address gun violence.
KANGWelcome back. I'm Cecilia Kang of the New York Times, sitting in for Diane Rehm. In studio we have Daniel Webster, a director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. We have Karoun Demirjian, a reporter for the Washington Post, and in Los Angeles, California, Adam Winkler, law professor at the University of California Los Angeles and author of "Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America."
KANGAdam, following the Orlando mass shooting, there have been calls to ban assault weapons again. Is this a good idea?
WINKLERWell, in my view it is not a good idea. I think that bans on assault weapons won't achieve much in terms of reduction of criminal violence with firearms. Rifles are used very infrequently in gun-related violence and in gun crime, and account -- all rifles account for about 300 or less of the 30,000 gun fatalities we have every year. I also think these laws are -- stimulate the most fervent opposition by gun owners. These rifles are extremely popular. There might be things about these rifles that is worth considering regulating, such as the size of the magazines, which really -- that is associated with lethality. But banning one particular kind of rifle and expecting to have a huge effect on gun violence is a little bit like trying to stop drunk driving by banning a particular form of alcohol when there are so many other, easy substitutes. Probably shouldn't have high hopes for such a ban.
KANGDaniel, would you agree with Adam on that?
WEBSTERI agree with Adam that the ammunition capacity is the most important functional aspect of a gun. And that is the most rational point of regulation. I think that -- I also agree that if you look at the totality of gun violence, gun deaths in the United States, there -- a very small percent involve assault rifles. What we're talking about today was prompted, the show and the discussion right now, is mass shootings. Assault weapons are prominent in mass shootings. They do have certain functional advantages if your goal is to kill or wound as many people as possible. So I think it's appropriate to consider the right balance here.
WEBSTERThe last thing I'll say is another point of agreement with Adam is that in political terms, it is one of the more -- most difficult things to achieve with, in terms of preventable death, perhaps the least benefit. So there are many other areas that we would get more political agreement and more effect. But it's very hard to also justify or rationalize for families of victims of mass shootings why these types of weapons should be legal.
KANGWe have an email from Justin, who writes, I am in full support of gun control. However, does the court's decision to not take up the case possibly have more to do with being short a judge than a nod to those who share my views? Another email from Bill says, we seem to be constantly arguing about the efficacy of additional gun control laws. Why don't we just put it to a test? Pass gun control with metrics embedded in the law. If the law achieved the desired reduction of -- in gun violence, as measured by the established metrics, then the law gets renewed. If not, the law is repealed. The key here is establishing the metrics up front so that we don't move the goalposts after the fact. Karoun?
DEMIRJIANWell, on the court question, I don't regularly cover the court, but how many judges does it take to -- justices does it take to approve a case? It's less than half of them. So I don't know. Maybe it's the missing link of not having Scalia there that he would've wanted to hear that case, and somebody else wouldn't have, but it's an interesting question, I'm not sure.
DEMIRJIANOn the other front of having the gun control laws be there up front basically and to -- I mean, the question is at what point are we measuring up front from, really, I think. These episodes keep happening every six months. Yes, there are changes and permutations to the proposals that lawmakers put out. Clearly this question of keeping guns from suspected terrorists is motivated by a lot of what's been happening now. But, you know, there -- it's difficult to say what the rules and the standards should be when we're not sure when to change them or at what point something happens that the lawmakers say okay, well now we're going to set up what the actual structure should be, that it should be more, you know, progressive or what have you.
WEBSTERSo as a researcher, the point is appealing to me. I think we should base our policies on as much evidence as possible. That -- the very rational idea there, however, will certainly become difficult because you can't run randomized, controlled experiments when you're talking about public policies. Estimating the impact of laws like gun laws turns out to be incredibly challenging. It's what I spend most of my life doing.
WEBSTERSo yes, I think we should evaluate them. How easy that will be to everyone's satisfaction, that you've proven or disproven whether something works, is questionable, I guess.
KANGAdam, do you want to -- what are your thoughts on the court being short, the judge count on the court and how that affects really the -- how excited one should get in either way of the SCOTUS decision today?
WINKLERI think that the way to understand today's decision is in light of decisions that the court made even when Scalia was on the bench. So just at the end of last year, the Supreme Court refused to take a case involving a challenge to a ban on assault weapons, even when Scalia was on the court. And Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas signed a dissenting opinion from that denial of a decision to actually hear the case.
WINKLERSo we know that Justice Scalia did think these assault weapons bans should be reviewed by the Supreme Court, and we know that even when he was alive, there weren't enough justices. It takes four justices to decide to take a case. There weren't enough justices to take a case even back then. I think that with the current lineup of only eight justices, the court wants to avoid these high-profile, controversial issues even more.
KANGGreat. Karoun, over the weekend, this -- the discussion on gun violence, as expected, became political. Donald Trump, presidential candidate for public and -- presidential candidate weighed in on the debate. What did he say, and how important will this issue be in the coming general election campaign?
DEMIRJIANWell, it got political from the second that it started, right after the -- right after the attack.
DEMIRJIANSo Trump has been saying that he, you know, he's going to talk to the NRA, and he's going to make sure that Republicans get on board with this idea about doing something to keep guns out of terrorists' hands. It's -- I think it's more remarkable that he's jumping into the fray so boldly right now. He actually did not say dissimilar things last fall, in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting, when he was interviewed on various cable television stations, I should say, I forget which one it was.
DEMIRJIANBut this has opened up a big question, right, because now you even have very NRA-loyal people saying, well, of course we want to keep terrorists from getting guns, of course we're opposed to this, but everyone seems to be saying the same line of rhetoric right now, making the same political argument, which is of course we want to do something, we have to stop this from happening.
DEMIRJIANWhat they actually back is the question. Do they back the very across-the-board, any suspected terrorists should not get a firearm or explosive, or do they back the proposal that puts a fairly large burden of proof on authorities to actually make that case before they can ban anyone. And Trump hasn't said what specifically he backs. So Republicans in Congress are a little confused because they're feeling political pressure, but towards what end that's not clear.
DEMIRJIANAnd, I mean, Trump has left himself enough wiggle room, even, to end up completely in line with the NRA at the end of the day, if that's where he decides to go.
KANGAnd just this morning, Trump backed away a little bit from what was a lot of discussion about whether he backed the idea of people within nightclubs, in places where people are drinking, should have guns. He said I was obviously talking about additional guards or employees, he tweeted this morning. Adam, what are your thoughts on the politics of this right now, and, you know, I will mention that Wayne LaPierre, the president of the NRA, said on Sundays, well, we need a full-court press on personal protection of America needs -- every American needs a security plan. Really the focus for him and many of the -- the NRA and many gun advocates are that this is a terrorism issue, and this is a security issue, continues.
KANGIt continues. Can you lay out what the current state is right now of the discussion in politics?
WINKLERWell, I think it's important to recognize that all sides on this issue are in favor of some kind of no-buy list for suspected terrorists. The question is, and the debates is really, over what kind of standards you have for creating such a list, and how do people get off this list if they're on it erroneously. And those are legitimate concerns. I mean, there is a constitutional right to have a firearm. We shouldn't be taking that right away from people without good reason to do so. And, you know, part of the problem is that we're basing the idea on a no-fly list, and the no-fly list itself has run into constitutional challenges in the federal courts and has had to be revised in light of those judicial rulings.
WINKLERSo I think that even if we were to have a no-buy list, there are certain to be challenges, but the real question politically comes in terms of what kind of standards we use to determine who's on the list and how do you get off it if you're erroneously put on it.
DEMIRJIANYeah, I'm glad Adam raised the issue of the no-fly list because there's a lot of confusion in Congress about this in general. Some of these proposals, some of these compromise proposals, stick to the no-fly list and the selectee list, and some of them talk about the entire terrorist watch list, and some of them give the attorney general powers to determine who's a suspected terrorist beyond that even.
DEMIRJIANSo I think part of the confusion is also -- or part of the disagreement is also, you know, where do you trust the government to get it right. What level investigation, scrutiny, keeping these lists as a hard-and-fast sort of thing. Do you put them to the courts first? Do you just kind of let the government determine who's supposed to be on what's a fairly secretive roster? And then there -- I mean, somebody that I was talking to, one of the senators I was talking to last week, said I bet that most people in this Congress don't even know, you know, one -- how to tell one list from the other when they're going to be voting on these proposals. So...
KANGYeah, can you unpack for us? Explain, explain the quantity, the difference between these lists that you -- that you understand.
DEMIRJIANWell, there are a lot of different lists, but I'll stick to the FBI system right now.
DEMIRJIANBecause those are the ones that are coming up the most in these discussions. There is the quote-unquote terrorist watch list, the consolidated watch list, the terrorist screening database, which at least count I believe it was either late 2013 or 2014, had about 800,000 names on it. That was in congressional testimony from a government official. And that is the terror watch list when you -- that people are usually referring to when you hear it referred to as such.
DEMIRJIANAs subsets of that list are the no-fly list, which says that if you're on that list, you can't get on a plane going to or from the United States or fly over U.S. airspace, and the selectee list, which is not quite as bad as the no-fly list, but you're still subject to extra screening. And the question is not just, you know, who's on that list right now that we have to be the most afraid of but who used to be on that list, too, because that's the other deal with the shooter in Orlando, right. He was on the FBI's radar screen, and then he was taken off in 2014, so a lot of people are saying you need a look-back provision...
DEMIRJIANAt least to alert the FBI. Maybe you can't prevent someone who was taken off from getting a gun, but at least let the government know that it's happening, so if you want to reopen that investigation, you have an opportunity to.
KANGI'm Cecilia Kang, you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. If you'd like to join us, call 1-800-433-8850. Or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Find us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Daniel, you -- you -- what should lawmakers be focusing on to reduce not just mass shootings but overall gun violence?
WEBSTERYeah, I'm glad you asked that question. Usually my goal when we have these discussions, it's only when there's a mass shooting, sadly, and we know we have 90 gun deaths a day in the United States. And there are measures that we can and should implement to reduce those. We're not going to reduce them to zero a day, but there are measures you can -- that can impact these.
WEBSTEROne of the policies we found the most effective in reducing gun violence, and interestingly it appears to be effective not only in reducing homicides but suicides, as well, is having a handgun purchaser licensing system. One important thing that does is a mechanism, and what I would argue perhaps the most practical and effective mechanism, to ensure background checks across the board.
WEBSTERSo in states that have these types of laws, you need such a license or a permit to purchase a gun, or most of the time it's specific to handguns, it varies a little bit from state to state, but the idea is that a private seller cannot legally transfer a gun to someone who does not have a current legal permit, and to get those permit, you have to have a background check, some states require safety training, and you have to go directly to law enforcement to apply.
WEBSTERWe found that in Connecticut, when it adopted such a policy in 1995, over a 10-year period of -- our estimates was a 40 percent lower homicide rate with guns and a 15 percent lower suicide rate with guns. Conversely when Missouri, who had this policy in effect since the 1920s, they repealed the same type of measure that Connecticut adopted in '95, the opposite thing happened. We saw an increase of between 14 percent and 25 percent increase in homicides with guns immediately after they repealed this law, and we also saw a 15 percent -- or excuse me, a 16 percent increase in suicides.
WEBSTERSo there are measures that are robust in reducing access to guns to people who are too dangerous to have them. There are policing strategies, or other strategies which we can talk about that go beyond the laws, but people should understand that gun violence, as we see it today in America, is something we shouldn't just accept as just a fact of something that we can't do something about. There are evidence-based strategies, some are laws, some are law enforcement-oriented, and some are actually community prevention.
KANGAdam, you have written and talked quite a bit about how a lot of the activity is on the state level. Tell us about the lawsuit in Connecticut and other state actions that you think are significant at the moment.
WINKLERWell, it's important to recognize that while we have seen a stalemate at the federal level, in Congress, since Newtown, we have seen significant reform at the state level. About half of Americans live in states that have reformed their gun laws since Newtown. We've seen reform in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado, California. I mean, I can go on and on. So we have seen some reforms. So I know people are frustrated because they don't see anything in Congress, but I think the situation is a little bit more complicate that that.
WINKLERWith regards to what's going on in Connecticut, well, we have this lawsuit brought by the -- the families of victims of the awful shooting in Newtown.
WINKLERAnd they're bringing a lawsuit against the gun manufacturers who made the firearms used in that tragedy, especially the makers of the assault weapon that he used, arguing that they were negligent in how they sold those -- marketed and sold those firearms. And the real question is whether this law, federal law, the Protection for Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, will prevent them from pursuing that case.
KANGAnd this is significant because lawsuits of this sort were typically dismissed, is that right?
WINKLERThe law that's in place really is designed to protect the gun makers from these kinds of suits, and so most of these cases have been thrown out, and what we have in Connecticut is an effort to try to find a new pathway through the law and its exceptions to hold the gun makers accountable.
KANGComing up, your calls and questions. Please stay tuned.
KANGWelcome back. I'm Cecilia Kang of the New York Times, sitting in for Diane Rehm. In the studio, we have Daniel Webster, Director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Karoun Demirjian, Reporter for The Washington Post and by phone, for the hour, from Los Angeles, California, Adam Winkler, a Law Professor at UCLA and author of "Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms." We have an email from Brian in New Hampshire.
KANGWho writes, is there a correlation between the end of the ban on assault weapons and the upswing in mass shootings? And related, we have a caller, Charlie, in Fort Bragg, who asks about specific weapons bans. Charlie, you're on the air.
CHARLIEHey guys. I'm glad to finally get into you. My -- I kind of have a question and a comment. My comment, first, basically, regarding your definition of assault weapons. I'm in the Army. I work with assault weapons all the time, and assault weapons are weapons that can fire more than one round with the pull of the trigger. It has that capability. Most civilian, assault style weapons don't have that capability. You pull one -- you pull the trigger once, and only one bullet leaves the barrel. On that note, my question is if we're banning assault weapons, assault style weapons today.
CHARLIESo because they're used in mass shootings, because they're the most common weapon out there, what's going to happen when the next most common weapon, it's going to be a shotgun or maybe a lever action rifle, are we slowly going to see a creeping ban on weapons as one particular type becomes less and less available?
KANGCharlie, thank you for your call. Daniel.
WEBSTERSo, excellent point about the definition of an assault weapon or an assault style weapon. So, some people, as the caller just made, want to make the distinction between one style of weapon, which is an automatic weapon, which are, for the most part, banned. There's a whole set of regulations as it relates to machine guns. Assault style weapons have various features, the most important of which was discussed earlier, which is the ability to accept large capacity ammunition magazines.
WEBSTERThere are other qualities as well, but I want to get to the other point of, sort of, oh well, if you ban one style of weapon, then just another one is going to be adopted. If you look at -- and I've looked at the data for mass shootings that involve fatalities, and you look at the casualty numbers, the number of people killed and injured in those shootings, there's more than a two-fold greater number of casualties when you have assault style weapons or other weapons that are -- have large capacity magazines.
WEBSTERSo, the number of bullets you have readily available in your gun is correlated with how many people get shot, and to some degree, that's common sense. The other question that you raised from I guess someone who sent an email -- what happened after the ban? So...
KANGAnd when was the ban? Can you remind us, the period?
WEBSTERSure. The ban was in effect from September of 1994 to September of 2004.
KANGOne decade. Yes.
WEBSTERYes. And so, if you look at the number of mass shootings during that decade compared to the not quite 12 years since then, there has been a three-fold increase mass shootings since then. Does that mean it's caused by the expiration of that ban? Honestly, I don't know. We see a very large increase in mass shootings involving these styles of weapons. We do also see increases in mass shootings with other types of weapons as well. We should all -- the last point on this is the ban.
WEBSTERThe federal ban that was in place for a decade as it relates to assault style weapons, had important limitations and loopholes that manufacturers quickly figured out how to get around. But I think, again, the most important aspect of that law was the limits on large capacity magazines.
KANGWe have an interesting email from Vince in Baltimore, Maryland, who says, rather than trying to ban the weapon, why don't we regulate the sale of ammunition? An email, a different point of view on the assault weapons style ban. I have an email from Leroy. I have two guns. A small caliber pistol and a shotgun. I am definitely for gun control, especially semi-automatic weapons. The civilian citizen has no business owning a weapon with this kind of fire power, especially with high capacity magazines.
KANGWe have another email also from Brandy in Texas, who writes, many shooters, including the Orlando shooter, had domestic violence in their past, and most victims of mass shootings are women and children shot in domestic violence incidents. Can we pass a federal law to prevent domestic violence offenders from getting or keeping guns? Seems like it would be -- do the most good quickly. In fact, I think, Adam, you've written about this and talked about the bans that are in place. Can you bring us up to speed on the sorts of bans that are in place for domestic abusers, et cetera?
WINKLERYes, we do have federal laws already on the books to stop domestic abusers from possessing firearms. You can, if you are subject to domestic violence restraining order, under federal law, then you are prohibited from possessing a firearm. You can also have your firearm taken away from you on a temporary basis after what's known as an ex parte hearing. That's a hearing in which the person who's effected does not get a say or does not have representation.
WINKLERAnd so, we do have laws in effect. I believe that in the current situation with regards to Orlando, and I could be wrong about the facts, but my understanding is is that he was never charged and convicted with any crime of domestic violence.
WINKLERAnd was not subject to any kind of domestic violence restraining order. So, it might not have caught him, but it is right to point out that when there are certain kinds of violence, that if we see evidence of, we should take the guns away from that person because they're likely to engage in more serious forms of violence with that firearm.
KANGWe have a caller. Catherine from Tampa, Florida. Hi Catherine. You're on the air. Actually she's not. Actually, I'm going to take Kathy from Champagne, Illinois. Okay, instead, I'm going to read an email from Larry. Is it accepted that the NRA is very powerful? What is the source of that power and how is it used to cow Congress? There is always a lot of talk about the influence of the NRA. I think, in the last year, they spent something like three million dollars on lobbying.
KANGCan you, Karoun, unpack for us, how much influence do they have in this discussion and we talk about them as the -- this strong, very powerful force in Washington. In this debate, tell us about their influence.
DEMIRJIANThey have a lot of influence. They are a very established, very dedicated, very powerful lobbying organization. But, I would say they probably, if you're trying to measure how much influence they have, it's to some extent, waning. You have some members -- it used to be that you had many members of Congress that were Democrats as well that would openly talk about needing to maintain their A rating from the NRA. And you've had a lot of those people say they don't care anymore, like Harry Reid.
DEMIRJIANLike Joe Manchin. Like, they're not bothered by it. You have someone like Pat Toomey, who, okay, he's from an east coast state, but he's going and shaking hands with Mike Bloomberg, who, you know, is very, very much pro-gun control. But for a lot of parts of the country, and for a lot of members of the Congress, the NRA still holds significant sway. And you'd even hear, you know, someone like Trump, saying he's going to talk to the NRA about it. That tells you how important it is if the guy who's at the top of the GOP ticket for the Presidency says I'm gonna talk to the NRA.
DEMIRJIANWhether he's trying to push them or not or in agreement or whatever, the point is that even naming them does kind of establish and recognize how much sway they have over this host of issues.
KANGKathy from Champagne, Illinois. Now let's try. You're on the air. Thanks for joining us.
KATHYWe always hear the discussion on our right to bear arms under the second Amendment. But we don't hear the part about the well-regulated militia. So I'm curious, historically, how those two parts of the second Amendment, sort of, were severed? And yeah, I just would like to hear some discussion from your experts on that.
KANGWell Adam, you're certainly an expert on the Second Amendment. What is your thought on Kathy's comments?
WINKLERWell, it's a question that is often asked. What the Supreme Court said in the 2008 decision in District of Columbia against Heller which was the landmark decision that held clearly, for the first time, that the Second Amendment protected an individual's right to have guns for personal protection. That the reference to the militia in the Second Amendment was not a limitation on the scope of the right to bear arms, but an explanation for why the right to bear arms was thought to be so important at the time.
WINKLERThat the framers were primarily concerned about state militias, but the state militias were bodies of armed citizens who had their own guns and who could be prepared to fight in an instant. Hence the so-called Minutemen of Revolutionary fame. Where you'd go home, grab your guns and be ready to fight. So, the court said that wasn't a limitation on the scope of the right, but an explanation that helps understand why framers protected individual rights. I think, my own view, is that none of our Constitutional Rights should be restricted to only -- their understanding at the time of the founding period.
WINKLERAnd the Second Amendment is no different. We have re-interpreted all our Constitutional Rights. The Second Amendment is really no different or should be no different from that.
KANGRandolph in Indiana asks a cultural question by email. We do not need gun control. We need violence control. Whether the mechanism is guns, arrows, knives, baseball bats, hammers, poisons, anthrax, poisons, anthrax, bombs or machetes. You get the idea. Background checks did not work in Orlando, Sandy Hook or other places. Gun violence has been decreasing for the last 30 years per FBI statistics. Adam.
WINKLERWell, you know, what we never know is which mass shootings were stopped by a universal background check. We don't know how many mass shooters actually went to a gun store and were turned away. And decided, oh, I now have to make some super hard effort to find a gun on the black market and ultimately gave up their efforts. Because you just never hear about those cases and you never will. We know that about two million people have been denied firearms purchases at gun stores since the 1993 background check law went into effect.
WINKLERPresumably, some of those people got their hands on guns and did violence anyway, but most likely, some of those people really didn't get their hands on guns and their avenue for getting guns was shut down. So, it is difficult to know exactly when gun control laws are effective and when they're not. One thing is certain, though. That we have very easy access to guns in this country. We've decided to maintain that system so what we probably have to do is do more to keep the bad guys from getting their hands on those guns.
KANGI'm Cecilia Kang. You're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Daniel, there is, there is a lot of access to guns, indeed, and there is sort of this good guy argument that if, that maybe to protect yourself, you should be arming yourself. What are your thoughts on that?
WEBSTERWell, there's different questions you could pose. One is a very individual question. Should an individual acquire a gun for self-protection? Should they attempt to get a permit to carry that gun, you know, in public places? But from a policy standpoint, I have problems with it, because this general idea that Wayne LaPierre and others have put forward, that well, our answer to our problem with mass shootings with high rates of gun violence is we don't have enough people around carrying guns.
WEBSTERI think it's hard to really align that with the facts of the matter. There's research on so-called right to carry laws. Some of the early research was greatly flawed that John Lott did that suggested that perhaps these have protective effects. The most recent research is far more rigorous and shows precisely the opposite, that you have more violence the more people are carrying guns. So I think that while certainly there are many law abiding gun owners out there, many who carry weapons legally. Our laws are such that there are far too many people with dangerous backgrounds who had problems with anger.
WEBSTERLike the shooter in Orlando, who, by the way, actually had a concealed carry permit, as have several other mass shooters. So, I'm not so comfortable with that idea with our current standards for getting a permit or being able to have the gun being so low. So it's a challenging public policy issue, because while many people make -- do everything responsibility -- responsible and safe, sadly, too many, you know, aren't law abiding. And with more guns around, we are not less -- we haven't made ourselves safer. It's been the opposite.
KANGBill from Portland, Maine is a caller with similar comments. Bill, thanks for calling. You're on the air.
BILLThank you. You know, I've studied this issue for the last 40 years and my take is we're not even asking the right question. Guns haven't changed appreciably in the last 100 years. There's been access to guns, plenty of guns in America, you know, since day one. And so, the question that we need to ask is why is this phenomenon happening now in just the last couple decades? And I would point out, to answer it, is that this phenomenon of mass shooting coincides with the mass distribution of anti-depressants throughout our culture. Americans are consuming something like 25 billion dollars worth of anti-depressants and anti-psychotics per year.
BILLAnd so, and you look at the, like, for example, also, the, you know, the pilot of Malaysian Airlines and the German Wings pilot that...
KANGOkay, thanks. Daniel, you've studied public health for some time. If not anti-depressants, when asking the right questions. You've already talked about this, the cultural questions around this and the public health questions. What should, if there's one takeaway today that you'd like for folks on the Hill as well as the State Legislatures to take away as far as what their focus should be? What should it be?
WEBSTERI think our focus should absolutely be on closing the loopholes in current laws that make it way too easy for dangerous people to get guns. There's just simply no excuse for it, the way they have written laws right now, it's very, very difficult to hold people accountable. This is something that 85 percent of gun owners want. Large, very large majority of both parties want this. So, I think that's the most important thing. There's -- the two issues, again, basically are, we need higher standards for legal gun owners -- gun ownership, and we need measures to hold people accountable, first and foremost being background checks across the board.
KANGAnd Karoun, what do you think the focus should be, and what do you think, assuming that new gun measures will not pass the Senate today, which is what most people expect, what happens next?
DEMIRJIANI think the focus is going to remain, it seems like the focus is going to be in this general host of issues, because certainly, they've been established now over two domestic tragedies, right? That this is what we're going to look at, how do we keep -- deal with the terrorism issue, how do we deal with the background check issue and can we find a middle ground. So, the middle ground really is the next place this needs to go except for this is an even numbered Presidential election year, and so the opportunities are slim.
DEMIRJIANThe one thing I would just note though is that as much as I also don't know that you can tie the anti-depressants issue specifically, one thing we did not mention today is mental health. And it kind of gets lost in the shuffle, often. Sometimes, mental health legislation is presented as an alternative to gun control, which politicizes it, but this is another current of discussion that's happening in the country, about what do you do to try to catch people who are troubled? Who might go that direction, not just in the gun control arena, but broader. And that's something that has sometimes gotten tied to this political back and forth, even though it's its own thing.
KANGSo much discussion on gun violence, and more to be said. Daniel Webster, the Director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins. Thank you for joining us. Karoun Demirjian, a reporter for The Washington Post. And Adam Winkler at UCLA and the author of "Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms." I'm Cecilia Kang of The New York Times, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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