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Va. Tech Shooting Survivor: Obama’s Gun Plan a 1st Step, But “We Need a Movement” to Overcome NRA

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A month after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., President Obama is calling for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. The National Rifle Association says Congress will not get either. Obama’s proposal comes as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed what is being called toughest gun control law in the nation, also drawing an NRA rebuke. We’re joined by Colin Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre who now works with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Having just returned from meeting with survivors and their parents in Newtown, Goddard and the Brady Campaign were the first group to meet with Vice President Joe Biden’s task force on guns. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryAug 06, 2012Virginia Tech Survivor Colin Goddard: To Prevent Next Tragedy, Gun Control Must Follow Mourning
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: President Obama is set to propose sweeping new gun restrictions today in an effort to curb gun violence one month after the Newtown school massacre. Obama will reportedly call for a ban on assault weapons, a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines, and expanded background checks for gun buyers. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney spoke on Tuesday.

PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: The president and vice president will hold an event here at the White House to unveil a package of concrete proposals to reduce gun violence and prevent future tragedies like the one in Newtown, Connecticut. They will be joined by children from around the country who wrote the president letters in the wake of that tragedy expressing their concerns about gun violence and school safety, along with their parents.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Obama’s proposals are said to include 19 separate steps he could take through executive action, but other aspects of the deal would have to go through Congress.

Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed what is being called the nation’s toughest gun control law. The law expands the state’s ban on assault weapons and limits ammunition clips to seven rounds. It also includes mental health screening for weapons purchases.

This is Republican State Senator Tom Libous of Binghamton.

STATE SEN. TOM LIBOUS: Listen, there have been a lot of issues that have been discussed over the last 30 days on this bill. We have been fighting for things that we believed in, and they were tougher penalties for people who commit a crime with a gun. We were looking for tougher penalties for the mentally ill.

AMY GOODMAN: In Newtown, Connecticut, parents of the Sandy Hook victims and surviving students have unveiled a new organization called Sandy Hook Promise to tackle gun violence and mental illness in the United States. Grieving parents Nicole Hockley and Jeremy Richman, as well as the group’s co-founder, Tim Makris, described the group as an effort to spark a national conversation on how to prevent future tragedies.

NICOLE HOCKLEY: I do not want to be someone sharing my experience and consoling another parent next time. I do not want there to be a next time. The Sandy Hook Promise is the start of our change.

JEREMY RICHMAN: We need to face and take action on hard issues. There is not going to be one simple solution. But we feel it is essential to get a deeper understanding of mental health in terms of research, education and policy.

TIM MAKRIS: When you look at what’s been done in the past, it hasn’t gotten us very far. We have to do something different. And we believe a national discussion, putting aside preconceived notions, will have us move forward as a nation.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Colin Goddard. On April 16, 2007, he was shot four times when a gunman armed with a .22 caliber semi-automatic handgun, a nine-millimeter semi-automatic Glock handgun, went on a rampage at Virginia Tech. Thirty-two people were killed. Colin and 16 others were injured. Colin Goddard now works with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. He just returned from meeting with survivors and their parents in Newtown. The Brady Campaign was the first group to meet with Vice President Joe Biden’s task force on guns, and Colin is headed to the White House after this broadcast to attend President Obama’s announcement on gun control. He’s joining us from Washington, D.C.

Colin, welcome back to Democracy Now! Though the announcement has not been made as of this broadcast, President Obama says that he is calling for a ban on assault weapons, on high-capacity magazines. Your response?

COLIN GODDARD: I think that makes sense, you know? I think the president has taken a really comprehensive look at gun violence and our—and gun policy in America and realized that there are multiple ways to move forward that, you know, make it more difficult for dangerous people to get their hands on increasingly lethal weapons and do damage to American people. So, you know, we really applaud the leadership from the administration, you know, the comprehensive look that they’re taking. And I think it’s going to go a long way to maintaining the public engagement on this issue that’s going to be needed to see these policies become laws in this country.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Colin Goddard, in your meetings with Vice President Biden, what kinds of recommendations did you and your organization, the Brady Campaign, make?

COLIN GODDARD: We really highlighted the need for background checks on all gun sales. I mean, I told the vice president personally my experience going to gun shows and purchasing AK-47s and TEC-9s and nine-millimeters without any check whatsoever, you know, and how easy it was for me to just go to a randomly public event, walk up to a random stranger and pay money and walk out with a gun. You know, so I tried to make the issues real for the vice president, to understand the real-life implications of what they’re doing and what they’re trying to tackle and realize that, you know, it’s not going to be taking everyone’s guns away, it’s not going to be destroying the Second Amendment, as some people like the NRA try to extrapolate us to, but it’s actually quite a reasonable set of proposals that the vast majority of Americans already support, you know? So, it’s really encouraging, like I said, to see leadership from the White House finally on this issue. And I think it’s going to go a long way to getting everybody in line with this, and ultimately this becoming law.

AMY GOODMAN: Colin, on Sunday, the head of the National Rifle Association predicted efforts to pass a ban on assault weapons and restrictions on the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines—was discussed on CNN, Candy Crowley interviewing NRA President David Keene on CNN.

CANDY CROWLEY: So that’s no assault weapons ban, no ban on these multi-clips. So, let me—I don’t think—you know, I don’t think the White House is going to budge on their push for it, you’re not going to budge on your push back. So let’s talk about the politics of this. Do you think you have enough support on Capitol Hill to keep an assault weapons ban from passing?

DAVID KEENE: I think right now we do. You know—

CANDY CROWLEY: As opposed to?

DAVID KEENE: And you’ve been watching Capitol Hill for a long time, and when a president takes all the power of his office, if he’s willing to expend political capital, you don’t want to make predictions. You don’t want to bet your house on the outcome. But I would say that the likelihood is that they are—they are not going to be able to get an assault weapons ban through this Congress.

CANDY CROWLEY: How about a clip?


CANDY CROWLEY: Some kind of restriction on clips?

DAVID KEENE: I don’t—I don’t think ultimately they’re going to get that, either, because I don’t think you can make a case, A, that you can really regulate it, because these things cost virtually nothing. You know, you and David Gregory could find one. But the fact is that we live in a society where, first of all, we have constitutional rights, and secondly, there are millions upon millions of Americans who value the rights that they have under the Second Amendment and who are involved in the shooting sports or use firearms for self-defense, and we think that they’re going to be heard.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s NRA President David Keene. Meanwhile, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows support for gun control measures is on the rise. It found 54 percent of Americans are in favor stricter gun control laws in general, the highest in five years. Nearly 60 percent support a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips. And a recent Washington Post study showed that when the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was in place for 10 years, far fewer high-capacity guns were found at crime scenes, just 9 percent. After the ban expired, that jumped from 20 percent. Colin Goddard, can you talk about the impact you think the assault weapons ban could have if President Obama succeeds in his push to reinstate it? But first, the power—if you could talk about the power of the National Rifle Association and what they’re saying. They’re boasting that in this month since the Newtown massacre, there’s been more than 100,000—they’ve gotten more than 100,000 new members.

COLIN GODDARD: Right. Well, we’ve also received an inundation of phone calls from people who have never spoken about this issue before, saying, “I want to get involved in your work.” I mean, we just met in a meeting here last night in D.C. with every major progressive group that works on policy, and they’re all coming together now around this issue, you know, so we’re really encouraged to see how many new people are coming to us. I don’t know of a total number, but I’m sure it’s comparable to the 100,000 the NRA got. I think we just announced that we’ve received over $5 million in donations from people who want to see new policies become law.

So, you know, we have to think about, though, when the NRA is speaking, that they really represent gun manufacturers and the big gun business. You know, they don’t represent the average NRA member, that actually supports things like background checks on all gun sales and limiting the types of weapons and their accessories that we sell to the general public, you know? So, you know, the NRA’s biggest seller is the assault weapon, so they’re going to fight on everything they can to keep that on the market, to keep selling those guns, so they can keep getting profits and keep paying their big CEOs their big salary, you know. But think—when you bring this issue to the average American person and speak in specifics, not in random, vague terms like “gun control” or, you know, destroying the Second Amendment—I don’t even know what that means—when you talk about the specifics, that’s where you get, you know, the overwhelming majority of support, you know? So I encourage everyone in the media and all the lawmakers to talk about the specifics of what we’re talking about, not in vague generalities, you know?

The American support is here. So, I mean, our job now is to bridge that gap between the American public and the disconnect of their—of the desire of the elected officials. They need to know that the American public supports this, so they can step up and stand up and lead on this. And we’re beginning to see that. And like I said, let’s keep this up. I think we’ve ultimately changed the paradigm to whether—if we can do something about guns in America to, ultimately, when. I mean, David Keene said currently there might not be enough votes, but he needs to know that we already have over two-thirds support in the House of Representatives for a ban on high-capacity magazines. That was the end of the 112th Congress, you know, so we’re really in a realm of possibility. But if it takes us, you know, two years more from now to see this through, we’re still going to be here fighting for this every day, because we understand the real-life implications of this and how many lives that we can really save.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Colin Goddard, can you talk about the significance of the 19 executive actions that the president is also set to announce later today? Texas Republican Representative John—sorry, Steve Stockman has threatened impeachment in the event that the president uses these executive actions to limit gun control. He said, quote, “The President’s actions are not just an attack on the Constitution and a violation of his sworn oath of office—they are a direct attack on Americans that place all of us in danger.”

COLIN GODDARD: You know, I’m still reviewing actually all those 19 steps, but it was positive to see that the administration is really looking at every option they can, what they can do through legislation, what they can do without legislation, to help reduce, you know, the impact and the toll of gun violence in this country. You know, I think the president has been serious about this. And so, how many—you know, this large number of proposals will really, you know, go a long way. I think he realizes that there are many ways to tackle this problem; there’s not just one thing that we can do that’s going to save everybody’s life. He understands that, you know, there are many steps we can take. You know, so I think it really speaks to the seriousness of the president on this issue, and I think it’s really encouraging. Like I said, it will help get a lot more people involved when we have leadership from the highest level in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Ed Meese apparently has also come out about the possibility of impeachment. Explain, Colin, what the different strategies are, from going to Congress to getting, for example, an assault weapons ban, an assault weapons ban which, by the way, Paul Barrett, one of the editors of Bloomberg Businessweek, called the last one one of the worst pieces—one of the worst written pieces of legislation he had ever seen.

COLIN GODDARD: Well, you know, people need to understand—

AMY GOODMAN: And the difference between those and executive orders, what Obama can do in his own realm.

COLIN GODDARD: Right. Well, every president exercises executive orders. And there’s no executive order that’s going to, you know, get rid of the Second Amendment entirely. You know, I mean, that—I mean, people need to understand—you know, who don’t understand that need a government 101 class. So, you know, like I said, we’re still reviewing all the steps that we can take. Hopefully, we hear more specifics about them today, later on.

But, you know, the Assault Weapons Ban in the past, you know, had some problems. It allowed manufacturers to change a few cosmetic things and then put those same functionally lethal weapons back on the market. And so, you know, the author of that bill, Dianne Feinstein, Senator Feinstein, realizes, I think more than anybody, the problems with her bill and is now addressing them and will ultimately put forth a bill that is more comprehensive, that is—you know, that legitimately gets at this problem, that doesn’t stop people from hunting or getting a gun to protect themselves or their homes, but would also—but takes things like AR-15s with 100-round drums off the streets of this country, which I think most gun owners realize that they don’t need. It has no real place in our community.

So, you know, like I said, these are all steps that we could take, but none of these will move anywhere unless the American public is in support. You know, we need a movement of people. So, everyone who’s listening, I mean, now is the time that the work begins. You know, now is the time that you need to let your elected officials know how you feel about these issues. I mean, this is when they need to see support for this, so they can step up and not worry about the big bad gun lobby that’s going to come after them in the next election. I think that that myth is crumbling on Capitol Hill, after we realized how many millions of dollars the NRA spent this past November and got practically nobody elected. So if we keep doing this, if we keep this up, we will see a change in this country that is long overdue.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Colin Goddard, before we conclude, I’d like to ask you about your meetings in Newtown, Connecticut. You were just there on Monday. Can you say a little about the Sandy Hook Promise, the organization, and what they’re calling for, and what your meetings with parents and survivors were about?

COLIN GODDARD: We were invited up to Newtown on Monday to attend the press conference and meet some of the family members who wanted to speak with others who have been through a similar experience. You know, I mean, I went there not to talk about guns, but to talk about the human experience of going through such a horrible event like this, you know, and of—you know, as a group of us kind of being a few months or a few years down the road, you know, kind of explaining some of the things that we felt was beneficial, some of the things that helped us get through the next day, you know? And, you know, it was a tough day. It was a heavy day. But, you know, I think it—I think it did help the people who came out and spoke to us and shared their story and heard our story and made a connection and knew that they’re not there alone, that there’s a large support from people across the country, you know, who want them to know that we have their back, that they can rely on us.

You know, so it was good to see that the Sandy Hook Promise is comprehensive, as well. I think these families know that there’s no one thing that’s going to happen that’s going to stop these experiences from happening to other people, and so they’re really taking a serious look at everything they can do with guns and mental health and school policies, which all make sense, you know? So, it’s really inspiring to see families who have gone through so much, even just one month later, now try to find something to do, try to work so that other families don’t have to experience what they did. I mean, at the end of the day, that’s—I mean, that’s the reason why I share my story. That’s the reason why I do this work, is that so what I experienced, what Blacksburg experienced, what Tucson experienced, what Aurora experienced, what Newtown has experienced, becomes a little less likely to happen to another American town and another American family.

AMY GOODMAN: As you speak to us today, Colin, you still have three bullets in you from the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. As you talked about before the importance of speaking in specifics—this isn’t philosophical, it isn’t abstract—can you briefly describe for our viewers and listeners what happened to you at Virginia Tech in Virginia?

COLIN GODDARD: You know, what happened to me was, unfortunately, the result of a student with a diagnosed history of dangerous mental illness that went untreated and the combination of that person putting two guns in their hands. And what resulted was the worst mass shooting in terms of number of people killed in this country it’s ever seen. And I was one of the very lucky ones to survive. I mean, there were 17 people in my class that morning, and I’m one of seven people who are still alive. I still carry three bullets around with me for the rest of my life. I have a titanium rod in my left femur that will be with me forever, you know, as a reminder of why I do this work. You know, it was not necessarily what happened to me that ultimately brought me here and in front of you today, but what I kept seeing happen to other people, and nothing being done, and people saying, “Oh, it’s too soon to talk about it,” and once we start talking about it, “Oh, it’s too fast that you’re talking about this,” as if there’s never a way to ever address this issue, which is just frankly ridiculous.

I think so many Americans saw what happened in Connecticut and realized that it was a personal tipping point for them, that we have to do better than this as a country, you know? And as a result, we have seen an overwhelming support from people who—like I said, who have never spoken to this, never talked about this, but realize now that, you know, the fact that they have been silent on this has contributed to the lack of action, and that they realize that the missing piece in making a safer country is the public engagement and the public involvement. And to still see, one month after this horrible shooting, you know, our phones are still ringing off the hook, it’s really encouraging. And now to attend a meeting at the White House where we talk about gun violence finally is even more encouraging. So let’s—

AMY GOODMAN: And finally—

COLIN GODDARD: Let’s keep this up and do this.

AMY GOODMAN: Colin, very quickly, Carolyn McCarthy has already introduced an assault weapons ban. Senator Feinstein has not yet done it. In terms of strategy, is there a reason why this wasn’t introduced together? Does this suggest any kind of disarray or people not agreeing in Congress, even in the gun control, the gun safety community?

COLIN GODDARD: No, I don’t think so. I think it’s, you know, so many people want to do something and contribute in some way and are trying to do whatever they can, however they can do it. You know? And like I said, we’ve—you know, we’ve been focused on engaging the American public, making the voice of the American people heard. You know, like I said, that is the missing piece. The best-laid policy won’t go anywhere unless we have the public behind it. So, please, now is the time to contact your representatives, contact your elected officials. Make your voice heard on this issue. It’s going to take all of us coming together, speaking with a unified voice, in a focused way, that’s going to see the change that we so badly need in this country that will help protect our kids, our parents, our cops, every single person in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Colin, thanks so much for being with us. I know you have to head off to the White House. Colin Goddard, a survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, has been working with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, just returned from meeting with survivors and their parents in Newtown, Connecticut, and is headed over to the White House. He will be there in the room with President Obama for his announcement of a comprehensive plan to address gun violence. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a debate on putting armed guards in schools. Stay with us.

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