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2012-08-06

Virginia Tech Survivor Colin Goddard: To Prevent Next Tragedy, Gun Control Must Follow Mourning

Guests

Colin Goddard, survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. He works with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

John Nichols, political writer based in Wisconsin for The Nation. His piece on Sunday’s killing spree is called "Shootings at a Temple Test the Founding Faith of America." He is also author of the book, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street.

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Police in Wisconsin have identified the suspected gunman in the Sikh temple shooting as Army veteran Wade Michael Page. According to the Associated Press, Page enlisted in April 1992 and was given a less-than-honorable discharge in October 1998. The Wisconsin shooting came just more than two weeks after 12 people were killed and 58 wounded at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. We discuss the state of U.S. gun control with Colin Goddard, a survivor of the the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre and now a campaigner with Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and with John Nichols of The Nation magazine, who is based in Wisconsin. "We cannot continue to keep having the same conversation over and over again after these shootings, where we just express our sympathy, look around at each other like 'How could this happen?' and leave it at that," Goddard says. "It is beyond time to address this issue, and Americans are beginning to realize that." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: We continue our coverage of the massacre at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Police in Wisconsin have identified the suspected gunman as Army veteran Wade Michael Page. The shooting is being investigated as a domestic terrorist-type incident. According to the Associated Press, Page enlisted in April 1992, given a less-than-honorable discharge in October 1998. He served at Fort Bliss, Texas, in the psychological operations unit in 1994 and was last stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, attached to the psychological operations unit there. The details of his discharge were not immediately clear. Police believe Page used a nine-millimeter semi-automatic handgun that was recovered from the scene.

The Wisconsin shooting came just over two weeks after suspected—the suspect James Holmes shot dead 12 people and injured 58 at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. Despite the two recent mass killings, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she doesn’t expect Congress to pass any gun control laws.

To talk more about the state of gun control, we’re joined by two guests: Colin Goddard, survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre that left 32 dead, now working for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and John Nichols stays with us, reporter for The Nation magazine, joining us from Madison, Wisconsin.

Colin, we just had you on two weeks ago after the horror that took place in Aurora, Colorado. Now we see this next mass killing.

COLIN GODDARD: Amy, we cannot continue to keep having the same conversation over and over again after these shootings, where we just express our sympathy, look around at each other like "How could this happen?" and leave it at that. I mean, we’ve had 61 mass shootings since the shooting in Tucson, Arizona, where Congresswoman Giffords was shot. It is beyond time to address this issue, and Americans are beginning to realize that. They’ve been going to wearebetterthanthis.org and engaging in a conversation and demanding that our leaders, all the way up to our presidential candidates, offer real solutions to this problem, because it’s continuing, and it’s all our problems. It’s an American problem, and we need solutions.

AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols, talk specifically about the gun control laws in Wisconsin.

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, it’s interesting, Amy. Historically, Wisconsin had pretty strict gun control laws. Now, Wisconsin is a hunting state, always comfortable with long rifles, and many families grew up in hunting traditions. But there was a good set of restrictions on where those guns went and how they were transported. Now many of those laws have been wiped out. The current legislature passed a concealed carry law that allows people to have a—carry a gun with them pretty much wherever they want to go, except for some minor limitations, and also passed what is sometimes referred to as a "Stand Your Ground" law or a "Castle Doctrine" law, which really does allow folks to shoot at someone who not only comes on their turf but is sometimes interpreted as saying that you can shoot someone you encounter who you feel threatened by. And I think this is one of the most dangerous patterns of gun control and gun debates, the passage of laws that suggest that when you feel threatened, when you feel uncomfortable, you are somehow justified in taking out a gun and shooting at folks.

And I think that’s a—if I could just extend the answer briefly into one other notion, and that is that, you know, in this country, we talk a lot about religious freedom. Religious freedom involves a right to feel safe in your place of worship, and, frankly, to express your religious traditions in the streets as you move through a community. This is a very old, very deeply rooted American concept. And yet, when you have a situation where someone might imagine that they are threatened by someone different, lax gun laws and a signal coming from government that it’s somehow OK to respond violently to a sense of a threat, I think this is a dangerous pattern and one that, not just in Wisconsin, but across the country, people need to be thinking about a lot more.

AMY GOODMAN: Coin Goddard, the kinds of laws John’s talking about in Wisconsin, can you give us a map of this country and the trend around gun laws?

COLIN GODDARD: The trend has been not moving in the right direction, unfortunately. Unfortunately, now it’s easier to buy deadly weapons that were used in numerous killings, semi-automatic weapons, weapons that hold a hundred rounds, as you saw just last two weeks ago in Aurora. I mean, things are moving, as the previous commentator mentioned, in the wrong direction, more liberal, more prone to use violence to resolve disputes as opposed to solving them peacefully. And clearly this is somebody who should have never had a gun in the first place.

You know, the American people want this. I mean, continually, polls show that gun owners, NRA members, the average American person wants something to change. And it needs to happen, because we cannot keep watching this. We cannot keep having these discussions and debates over again and looking at each other for solutions. We know that we can do things, and we know that we need to improve things, because this is clearly a problem that we’re continuing to have in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Colin, Since we last talked, since the Aurora massacre that took the lives of 12 people and wounded scores others, at the United Nations, the arms trade treaty, the ATT, was torpedoed by the Obama administration. A regular presence during the negotiations was Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, which not only has enormous impact in the United States but at the global level now. We see their effect in trying to stop any regulation of weapons worldwide. Talk about who you’re up against when you walk the halls of Congress for the Brady Campaign to Stop Gun Violence, you yourself having survived the Virginia Tech massacre. And in the case in the Virginia Tech massacre, did the shooter have his guns legally?

COLIN GODDARD: The person who shot me should have never had the guns in his hand in the first place. He was somebody with a known history of mental illness who was allowed to pass a background check because we allow missing records to exist in that system. And it goes unchecked, and people go unchecked on a daily basis in this country. That’s danger to every single person. You know, what we’re up against is an industry, people who profit when other people use bullets and fire them at other people, anytime. So, we really have to engage the citizens’ voice here to drown out the gun lobby, the industry that profits from shootings like this continually in our country. And we will have 32 Americans murdered tomorrow with firearms. More money will be made off that. More money will be made as gun sales surge after these things, when fears are stroked by groups like the National Rifle Association. It is beyond time for a solution. It is beyond time that Americans come together and say, "We are better than this." It is beyond time that our elected officials show the American people that in fact we are better than this. Please go to wearebetterthanthis.org and engage in this conversation with us.

AMY GOODMAN: How many people did you say die of gun violence every day in the United States?

COLIN GODDARD: Thirty-two Americans are murdered every day. If you include suicides and other types of accidental shootings, you’re up to over 80 Americans in this country every single day.

AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols, would you like to comment on the arms trade treaty and how we are going in the same direction, the United States? It’s not only about setting policy for the United States, but it’s the largest producer, exporter and importer of weapons. The U.S., at the very last minute of this long-negotiated agreement, torpedoed it for the rest of the world, while 90 other countries supported it.

JOHN NICHOLS: It’s deeply unsettling, and, frankly, we have to be unsettled with President Obama and Democrats in Congress as well as Republicans. It’s been said recently by some commentators that the gun control issue has been taken off the table. It wasn’t taken off the table by Republicans; it was taken off by Democrats, particularly, who historically were more favorable to gun control, but in recent years had become hyper-cautious about this issue. And I think there is a political component here.

But I also want to go with something Colin said and emphasize that there is an industry. It is a for-profit industry, but there is also a political industry that has developed around this issue. We’ve spoken on this show, Amy, about the American Legislative Exchange Council. That group, ALEC, has worked very, very closely with the NRA and the gun industry, state by state, to make laws dramatically more lax. And I cannot emphasize that in addition to just the legal component of this, there is a signal that is sent when you are sweeping across the country, state after state, passing laws that don’t just allow but in many ways encourage gun ownership and the carrying of guns. I think you create a culture and a sensibility that is an unsettling one and, frankly, not a healthy one and so at odds with, you know, the community we’re speaking about today.

You know, after these shootings occurred, the Sikh community in Milwaukee at this temple reorganized itself during the day yesterday and began distributing food and water to the journalists, to the police officers, to the crowds that had gathered, because there is a Sikh tradition of welcoming and hospitality. And I just think it’s important to understand that we want that in America. We want to welcome. We want to be open to other folks. And the notion that someone might be concealing a gun as we welcome them is something that I think a lot of Americans should think about and be unsettled by.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Colin Goddard, what do you think is the single most important piece of legislation that should be passed to deal with gun violence in this country?

COLIN GODDARD: Amy, there is no one thing that’s going to solve all of our problems. These things are multifaceted. There are numerous things. Our gun laws are weak in so many areas, as you clearly see after all the various different types of shootings, different guns, different situations. But it all comes back to the same thing, that a gun was used. It would have been very different if that gentleman walked in there with a knife in his hand, with all due respect. You know, I don’t believe—I believe it does matter what you have in your hand, and it does matter when we sit back and watch.

AMY GOODMAN: Colin Goddard, we have to leave it there. I want to thank you for being with us, survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. And John Nichols, thanks for joining us from Madison, Wisconsin.

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