“We Can’t Wait for McConnell”: Advocates Call for Bold Action to Curb Gun Violence Epidemic

August 8th 2019

 
Mitch McConnell ( Gage Skidmore )

Mitch McConnell (Gage Skidmore)

Democracy Now!

The death toll in Saturday’s anti-immigrant shooting rampage at a Walmart in El Paso has risen to 22, after two more injured victims died Monday. Just before the shooting, the gunman published a manifesto claiming his actions were being done in response to what he described as a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Most of the dead in El Paso were Latino, including eight Mexican nationals. Thirteen hours after the massacre in El Paso, a gunman in Dayton, Ohio, killed nine people, including his own sister, after opening fire outside a bar. We speak with Kris Brown, president of Brady, formerly the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and Igor Volsky, the executive director of Guns Down America.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The death toll in Saturday’s anti-immigrant shooting rampage at a Walmart in El Paso has risen to 22, after two more victims died Monday. It is one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history. Just before the shooting, the gunman published a manifesto claiming his actions were being done in response to what he described as a, quote, “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Parts of the manifesto echoed President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. Most of the dead in El Paso were Latino, including eight Mexican nationals. Thirteen hours after the massacre in El Paso, a gunman in Dayton, Ohio, killed nine people, including his own sister, after opening fire outside a bar.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, President Trump addressed the nation about the twin shootings. Trump condemned white supremacy but did not acknowledge his own anti-immigrant rhetoric.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Trump also laid out a plan to confront mass shootings, but said little about enacting any new form of gun control.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: First, we must do a better job of identifying and acting on early warning signs. Second, we must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grizzly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. Third, we must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence, and make sure those people not only get treatment, but, when necessary, involuntary confinement. Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by Igor Volsky, the executive director of Guns Down America, the author of Guns Down: How to Defeat the NRA and Build a Safer Future with Fewer Guns.

First, your reaction to this double massacre this weekend.

IGOR VOLSKY: Of course, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And what you think needs to be done.

IGOR VOLSKY: Well, you know, of course, it’s absolutely tragic, but it’s not surprising. When you combine hate, when you combine racism with easy access to firearms, you get tragedy. And so, when we think about what we have to do, I think the number one thing is we have to ensure that firearms are harder to get in this country, particularly firearms that were designed for the military, that the gun manufacturers in this country are pumping into our communities. They’re making these guns more dangerous every single year. They’re using advertisements that pull in military themes. And so, when you see a mass shooter walk into a situation and use an assault weapon, wearing military fatigues, they’re actually using those firearms as advertised.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, it’s not just the mass shootings. They always get the biggest attention in the media, but — what is it? A hundred people a day, on average, are being killed by guns in the United States?

IGOR VOLSKY: Yeah, it’s a hundred people a day. It’s about 40,000 people every single year. Most of that, as you point out, is everyday gun violence, using handguns. The problem with the —

AMY GOODMAN: And the majority of it, people taking their own lives by suicide?

IGOR VOLSKY: Yeah, two-thirds of it is suicides. You know, until 1989, the most popular handgun in America was a revolver. Now it’s a semiautomatic pistol that has a high-capacity magazine that uses larger rounds. Those rounds are coming at you faster. That’s not an accident. That’s because the gun industry made a decision that they’re going to start making these weapons more dangerous, because they wanted to sell more weapons to folks who already had them. The federal government can stop this.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about how the federal government can stop this. First of all, in both Dayton and in El Paso, do you believe, though we don’t know everything about how they got these guns, but they got these guns legally?

IGOR VOLSKY: It’s because the standard of gun ownership in America is somewhere in the basement. It’s so incredibly low. We have to raise the standard, not only for gun ownership, but also for gun production. So, why don’t we have a gun licensing system in the United States where if you want to own a gun, you have to go to your police station, you have to get fingerprinted, you have to pass a written test, you have to pass a field test, you have to go through a much more comprehensive background check, there is a waiting period, and then you can get your firearm? Those —

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Cory Booker has demanded licensing, like you’d license a car.

IGOR VOLSKY: Exactly, Senator Booker. Mayor Pete has that. Former Governor Hickenlooper has it, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to Senator Cory Booker.

SEN. CORY BOOKER: It is one thing we don’t all agree with when it comes to guns, and I think it’s commonsense, and over 70% of Americans agree with me. If you need a license to drive a car, you should need a license to buy and own a firearm. And not everybody in this field agrees with that, but in states like Connecticut that did that, they saw 40% drops in gun violence and 15% drops in suicides. We need to start having bold agendas on guns.

AMY GOODMAN: “Bold agendas.” Does it sound like what the — even the Democrats are now proposing the Senate, if Mitch McConnell will call a special session — Mitch McConnell, who’s at least fractured his shoulder, apparently, at his house in Kentucky — if he would call a special session, what they’re proposing for the Senate to pass?

IGOR VOLSKY: Well, they’re proposing that the Senate house pass the House-passed background check bill. The House passed that measure in February of 27 — February 27th. It would extend background checks to almost all gun purchases. It’s a step in the right direction, doesn’t go far enough.

And, you know, while I appreciate the calls for Mitch McConnell to call a special session, I think all of us together could set ourselves ablaze on Mitch McConnell’s front lawn, and he wouldn’t do anything. He’s established an entire political career around carrying the NRA’s water. And so, what I don’t understand is why champions of gun reform in the Senate, the people who marched with us in Parkland, the people who promised they would fight for us, why they’re not back in Washington, D.C., showing the nation that they are ready to pass legislation to disarm domestic terrorists, while the other folks are on vacation. People want to see a fight on this issue. They’re so tired of a mass shooting, we talk about it for three days maybe, and then nothing happens. Lawmakers have to fight for this. We can’t wait for McConnell.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you: In the absence of any government action, substantive government action, what else can be done? You’ve raised the issue of private corporations, specifically Walmart, the role of Walmart in the selling of guns in the United States.

IGOR VOLSKY: Yeah, this is significant. Walmart is the largest seller of guns in the United States, just given its size. And if Walmart decided to take a stand on this issue, it could have a big difference. So, my demand of Walmart is, number one, stop selling guns, period, until we can raise the standard of gun ownership in this country. Stop giving political contributions to lawmakers who take money from the NRA. And also, invest in the communities that you serve. Fund gun buyback programs all around those communities. They have a role to play here. You know, as you pointed out, legislative change, particularly on the federal level, takes a really long time. So it’s up to us to organize all voices of society to help build that future with fewer guns.

AMY GOODMAN: You have this call for Walmart to stop selling guns. They were selling them in the El Paso Walmarts. They were selling them in Mississippi, where two employees were just killed last week. Companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods just stopped selling weapons. Is that right?

IGOR VOLSKY: That’s right. And they’ve stopped, I think, with assault weapons. They’ve raised the age. They’ve moved in the right direction, but they need — clearly, as this act shows, they need to go further.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by Kris Brown, president of Brady, formerly the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, named for James Brady, who was shot in the head during the attempted assassination of President Reagan.

Kris Brown, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you lay out what you’re demanding? And do you feel that what the Democrats want the Senate to vote on right now is enough?

KRIS BROWN: What we’re demanding right now is that Mitch McConnell call the Senate back into session and consider the two measures that have been passed by the House, to expand Brady background checks and ensure that a background check is done before every gun sale — that’s H.R. 8, S. 42 in the Senate, they could just pull it up and vote on it — and a bill to close what’s the Charleston loophole. That’s the loophole that allows a gun sale to proceed, even if a background check hasn’t come back, in 72 hours. It’s called the Charleston loophole because that’s how the shooter at the AME Baptist church in Charleston got his gun. Yes, we want those two measures to be brought up. We want McConnell to call the Senate back into session.

Is that enough? No. Because gun violence is an epidemic in this country, it’s not one solution that we need. If you’re looking at an epidemic that claims 40,000 lives a year, you need a multipronged solution. We also need to ban assault weapons. We need to restrict high-capacity magazines. And we do need funding for states to enact what we call extreme risk laws. Those are the laws that have been talked about a lot lately, that allow law enforcement and family members to seek a court order to remove guns from an individual who is at risk of doing harm to himself or herself or others.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Kris Brown, your reaction to the president’s statements since these two weekend shootings, his emphasis on that hate and — that hate is behind and mental health issues are more to blame than guns themselves?

KRIS BROWN: Yeah, I think that what he pointed to yesterday in his speech were video games and mental health issues. The reality is, we have a global market for video games in this country. And the United States doesn’t experience any greater degree of mental illness than any other industrialized country. What we have more of than any other industrialized country is gun violence.

So I was very disappointed that he seemed to use the NRA talking points — and it’s no surprise; the NRA is the greatest single contributor to Donald Trump — and that he stuck to his script that’s about every other issue except the core issue, which is guns and the appropriate regulation of guns in this country, an issue in which the vast majority of Americans, Democrat or Republican, red or blue state, agree what the right solutions are. And they’re the ones I’ve just laid out.

AMY GOODMAN: In a statement Monday, the NRA praised Trump’s speech, writing, quote, “The NRA welcomes the President’s call to address the root causes of the horrific acts of violence that have occurred in our country. It has been the NRA’s long-standing position that those who have been adjudicated as a danger to themselves or others should not have access to firearms and should be admitted for treatment,” the NRA said.

Kris Brown, the NRA is imploding right now. This is a critical moment. If you can address what that means, that the NRA does not wield the same kind of power? You have these horrific massacres this weekend, following so many others. These are what? The 250 and 251st mass shooting just this year?

KRIS BROWN: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: What this means that the NRA is just embroiled in corruption, and New York is investigating the NRA, as well?

KRIS BROWN: New York, the District of Columbia, we’re about to file a petition with the IRS to ask the IRS to also investigate them. They are suing their marketing firm. They’re being countersued by that marketing firm. And the headline for the NRAshould really be “Lies, Corruption and Deceit,” because that is how they have run this business. And make no mistake: This is not a nonprofit. It’s not operated as a nonprofit. It is a mouthpiece for the gun industry. Average everyday gun owners don’t support the actions that are being taken by the NRA. And in part, it is the lies.

Let me just correct the record on what the NRA said with respect to mental health. If they really believed that, why would they have pushed President Trump to overrule a rule that had been put in place by President Obama to have the Social Security Administration put names into the Brady background check system of individuals who had been adjudicated mentally ill by the Social Security Administration? In the first 60 days of Trump’s presidency, the NRA had Trump reverse that rule, because they didn’t want those names in the background check system. So, that is just a complete lie. They have never wanted to have the solution be any restriction on any kind of gun, and that is because they want to sell guns to anyone, anywhere, anytime, and they don’t care about who gets killed as a result.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Igor Volsky, I wanted to ask you — your organization has also been promoting the campaign, disarm your bank.

IGOR VOLSKY:Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the relationship of banks to gun violence?

IGOR VOLSKY: Yeah, Is Your Bank Loaded? IsYourBankLoaded.org. Look, the reality is, we need to change the way the gun industry operates. And so, if the lawmakers in D.C. aren’t going to do it, we have to rely on other levers of power. Banks are a natural fit in this. And so, our message is, when you bank, your hard-earned dollars should not go to fund the gun industry. And so, if folks go to IsYourBankLoaded.org, they can see a report card of how much business their banks have done with the gun industry, and then, on that site, push their bank to live up to their own corporate values and stop doing business with that industry, until it stops manufacturing military-style weapons for the civilian market.

And by the way, right now, you have a merger going through between BB&T and SunTrust to create the nation’s sixth-largest bank. BB&T said, in open hearings in Congress, that it will continue to do business with the gun industry in this merged form. This is after they found out — we found out, that they arranged millions of dollars in loans to Smith & Wesson about a year and a half before a Smith & Wesson assault weapon was used to kill 17 people in Parkland. People need to take action on this.

AMY GOODMAN: Kris Brown, is Brady supporting an assault weapons ban? I mean, you have the assault weapons ban that sunset in 2004. Two-thirds of the American people supported it. But it was not renewed. Of the 40 deadliest mass shootings, only two occurred during the time that ban was in effect. Afterwards, 26 of them occurred. Why not demand at this point, with the entire country, in many cases across the political spectrum, just in horror at what has taken place, call for an assault weapons ban?

KRIS BROWN: We have called for it over and over and over again, anytime I make any media appearance, any press release we put out — I just said it a few minutes ago. Absolutely, we have to have a renewal of the assault weapons ban. Brady crafted that assault weapons ban. The only thing that we really objected to is the last-minute, NRA-led compromise that put a sunset provision into that law. That’s why it expired after a decade. Congress did not have the political will to renew it.

Brady has long had a legal arm as part of what we do. We’re proud to have had a legal function at Brady for 30 years. And we have represented almost every locality and state that has adopted an assault weapons ban, and you can be sure the NRAhas attempted to attack those in state after state after state, and we have successfully defended those laws and ensured that they have been held entirely constitutional and consistent with the Second Amendment by every court that has ever looked at the issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Democrats are going far enough?

KRIS BROWN: Look, we have a gun violence prevention majority that we helped elect to the House of Representatives in 2018. They have passed two measures. I’m proud that they did that. They funded the CDC for the first time in 20 years. They’ve put $50 million toward gun violence prevention.

I would like to see them take up the other measures that are pending. There is an assault weapon ban bill pending in Congress. They should take that up. There are extreme risk laws that have been crafted to provide a federal cause of action to seek an extreme risk order, as well as to provide critical grants to the states to implement these laws. The House should also pass these measures. So, I would like to see them do more.

And even if what we are doing is basically continuing to put pressure on the Senate, that is what we must do. I think too many members of Congress still — and Mitch McConnell is a classic example of this — they get elected, and they forget that they’re elected officers. Basically, they are representing people. They’re not representing corporations. They’re not representing industries. They are representing people. And all of us have to remind our elected officials that that is just the fact.

AMY GOODMAN: Igor Volsky, we have 15 seconds.

IGOR VOLSKY: Well, look, I want to see Democrats go down to the floor of the Senate, filibuster, place holds on nominees, on bills. Do whatever it takes. Really, really fight for all of these reforms.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us. Igor Volsky, executive director of Guns Down America, author of Guns Down: How to Defeat the NRA and Build a Safer Future with Fewer Guns. And thanks so much to Kris Brown, president of Brady, formerly the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, named for Jim Brady, the press secretary of Ronald Reagan, who was shot in the head during the attempted assassination of President Reagan.


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