- Kira Lernerpolitical reporter at ThinkProgress.
- Lois Beckettsenior reporter at The Guardian covering gun policy, criminal justice and the far right in the United States.
As details emerge about the massacre in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Republican leaders called for a moment for national mourning and prayer, even as lawmakers advanced a pair of bills that would liberalize gun laws. One measure that could pass the House as early as this week would remove long-standing restrictions on silencers. Another bill expected to move through Congress this fall would allow people to lawfully carry concealed weapons across state lines into jurisdictions that don’t allow them. We speak with two journalists following the story: Kira Lerner is a political reporter at ThinkProgress, and Lois Beckett is a senior reporter at The Guardian covering gun policy, criminal justice and the far right in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, as details emerge about the massacre in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Republican leaders called for a moment for national mourning and prayer, even as lawmakers advanced a pair of bills that would liberalize gun laws. One measure that could pass the House as early as this week would remove long-standing restrictions on silencers. The bill to [deregulate] the sale of gun silencers comes despite the fact that concertgoers at Sunday night’s music festival were alerted to the massacre by the sound of gunfire emerging from the high-rise hotel above them. It is known as the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, or SHARE Act.
AMY GOODMAN: Another bill expected to move through Congress this fall would allow people to lawfully carry concealed weapons across state lines into jurisdictions that don’t allow them. Speaking from the Senate floor, Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy condemned Congress’s failure to tackle gun control after the Sandy Hook school massacre in 2012, in which a shooter with an assault rifle killed 20 young schoolchildren and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: The hurt is deep, the scars are wide in Newtown, but they are made wider by the fact that this body, in four-and-a-half years, has done absolutely nothing to reduce the likelihood of another mass shooting. And indeed, because we have done nothing, the mass shootings continue.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined in Washington, D.C., by Kira Lerner, political reporter at ThinkProgress, where her new piece is headlined “House GOP set to approve bill that could make mass shootings deadlier.” Here in New York, Lois Beckett is with us, a senior reporter at The Guardian covering gun policy, criminal justice and the far right in the United States, lead author of a Guardian report published last year headlined “America’s gun problem is so much bigger than mass shootings.”
Kira and Lois, welcome to Democracy Now! Kira, let’s begin with you. Talk about the legislation in Washington right now.
KIRA LERNER: Yeah, well, thank you for having me.
The legislation that’s been moving forward in Washington this year, as you mentioned, is called the SHARE Act. Congressman Jeff Duncan from South Carolina has been pushing this provision called the Hearing Protection Act, that he tucked into the SHARE Act this summer to put it into a more innocuous-sounding bill. And what the Hearing Protection Act would do is deregulate the sale of gun silencers.
Right now, gun silencers are regulated under the National Firearms Act of 1934, which means that in order to purchase a gun silencer, a buyer has to submit a background check, go through fingerprinting, register their purchase with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. So there are pretty high standards to purchase a firearm now. You also have to pay a $200 tax. And sometimes, because of bureaucratic backlog, this can take months.
And what the Hearing Protection Act, tucked away in the SHARE Act, would do is deregulate silencers so that you would just have to submit an instant background check—or, in some states that allow for a background check loophole, maybe not even that. So the purchase of gun silencers would be far easier. The gun lobby and gun silencer manufacturers have been pushing for this as a way to increase their sales, in a year when gun sales have been slumping because of the Trump presidency.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Kira, Donald Trump Jr. has made this one of his pet projects? He’s a hunter himself. Why is he supporting the need for silencers?
KIRA LERNER: He has. Donald Trump Jr. has teamed up with the largest gun silencer manufacturer in the country, which is called SilencerCo. This summer—or, during the campaign, rather, he recorded a long interview with them, promising them that if this legislation were to move through Congress, his father would sign it into law as president. He has aligned himself with the gun lobby, just as President Trump has. And he has made this his pet project as a hunter. And he and the gun lobby are doing everything in their power to make sure that this passes while Republicans are still in control of Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: Actually appeared in a promotional video for [SilencerCo] in September of 2016, Don Trump Jr. did. I want to ask Lois Beckett about the weapons used in this biggest mass killing by a single individual in U.S. history, 42 weapons found in his home and this hotel suite where he was staying.
LOIS BECKETT: I think one of the hard things for people who don’t own guns to realize is that 42 guns, while it seems like a huge amount to us, is not necessarily that much for Americans who are gun enthusiasts. A study last year found that 3 percent of American adults own half the country’s guns, more than 100 million. And they owned an average of 17 guns each. People who like guns say it’s like buying another pair of shoes. You want ones for different occasions. So when you hear 42 guns or thousands of rounds of ammunition, people who are not part of America’s gun culture say, “Oh, my goodness.” And people who are say, “Well, maybe 42 is a lot, but a couple of hundred rounds of ammunition, you go through that pretty quickly at the range.”
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about these automatic, semi-automatic weapons that he had.
LOIS BECKETT: So, all day, in listening to the sound of fire from the attack in Las Vegas, people were asking, “Was this a fully automatic weapon”—which are extremely expensive, as Kira said, very much taxed and tracked—”or did he buy a perfectly ordinary semi-automatic rifle, very easy to obtain, and use what’s essentially a gimmick, that was popular with YouTube gun enthusiasts, to turn that into something close to a fully automatic weapon?” These are called bump stocks. The Associated Press reported that the gunman had at least two of them.
And they were things that basically were used as toys before this. I spoke last night to a gun owner who said he lives in Delaware, he can’t have a fully automatic weapon. He bought one of these things for about $100. And he said it’s really hard to use, it’s tremendously inaccurate. And this guy, who had bought this thing for fun, admitted there’s no self-defense purpose here, that these were gimmicks. And now they’ve been used in the deadliest mass shooting in recent American history.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Lois, could you talk about how our country reacts to these mass shootings compared to what happened in Australia—I think it was in 1996—in Tasmania, when 35 people were killed in a mass shooting, how Australian society reacted to that one incident of a major mass shooting?
LOIS BECKETT: So what Australia did was seek to ban and confiscate huge numbers, huge proportions of the guns owned by the people in their country. And it seemed to be successful. Murder dropped. They hadn’t seen—
AMY GOODMAN: But wait, wait, wait. This is very important. You’re talking about a country of Crocodile Dundees. You’re talking about one of the most seriously gun-loving countries in the world, Australia. And this happened almost overnight, this change of heart?
LOIS BECKETT: They had political leadership that was willing to do it. But I think it’s really important for us to remember that every time one of these mass shootings happens, politicians say, “Why can’t we be like Australia?” And the answer is, because Americans are not going to agree to have their guns confiscated and destroyed by the government. And so, you can’t say, “Australia did it, so can we,” and then pass an assault weapon ban that allowed everyone to grandfather in the guns they already had; made narrow, technical definitions of assault weapon that allowed people to make copycat guns that worked virtually the same way; that after every one of these shootings, people say, “We know what we can do. We can just pass these laws, and we can have a big difference.” And that’s not true. It’s magical thinking, that we’re not willing to pass the kinds of laws that would make a big difference, and instead we work to advance laws that are much more marginal, much less likely to make a big difference, and try to sell them as something that’s the answer, and it’s not.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the NRA’s relationship with the country music industry? I mean, what happened, the opening fire on this open-air country music festival, 20,000 people below, just sitting ducks, the horror of this, as he gunned them down from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino resort. What is that relationship that the NRA has cultivated with the country music industry?
LOIS BECKETT: Well, the NRA is not just a gun rights organization. That’s at their heart, but they’re also a sort of conservative cultural organization that supports rural Americans, Americans with more traditional values, against what they see as global and media elites who don’t understand the values of everyday Americans. So, it’s not surprising that country music, which celebrates those small-town values, celebrates trucks and guns and loyalty, would be part of the NRA’s overall culture. It’s really interesting, and you might not expect, that going to the NRA’s annual meeting is actually a very placid place, with a lot of older white couples coming for a fun weekend—they go to seminars about guns, they go to seminars about World War II history, they listen to some country music—that it’s a place of great family values. And that’s not always the way it’s portrayed or that we might understand it, sitting here in New York.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, what kind of gun control measures do you think would help the situation in America and also be feasible, given, as you mentioned, the climate where a significant portion of the population will resist any attempt to control gun ownership?
LOIS BECKETT: I think it’s important to sort of recalibrate what we think about what Americans want, because it’s both true that lots of Americans will say they support things, like expanded background checks, and also that most Americans say that they think that most people should be able to own most guns, most of the time, in most places. And there’s a tension here, that Americans want to be safer, but they don’t want to make big sacrifices.
Some of the most interesting new laws are ones that are not focused really broadly on bans, like the assault weapon ban, but focused on how do we make sure that people at the most extreme moments of risk don’t have access to weapons, that might not be a mass shooting, that might be gun suicide, which claims 20,000 American lives each year—something like an extreme risk protection order, which allows family members to flag: “There’s a moment of crisis, and this person shouldn’t have a gun at this moment.”
AMY GOODMAN: Kira Lerner, your response to Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying this isn’t the time to talk about gun control?
KIRA LERNER: Yeah, I mean, if you look at Republicans in Congress, they are not wasting time when it comes to pushing forward pro-gun, lobby-supported legislation. If you look at the timing of this gun silencer bill, they are pushing for a hearing as soon as this week—although, after this massacre, it might be delayed. But with these assaults coming on from the gun lobby in Congress, it’s important that right now is as good a time as any to bring up the need for gun safety legislation.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about just the irony of last week, Steve Scalise finally making an appearance on the House floor, after he was shot in that horrific shooting in Arlington, Virginia, on a baseball field, what his stance is, as he returns to Congress?
KIRA LERNER: Yeah, well, it’s interesting. This is not the first time that this silencer legislation that I mentioned has run into quite tragic and horrific timing in Congress. The hearing on this bill was scheduled for the same day in June when Steve Scalise was shot on that congressional baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia. And because of the shooting, the hearing had to be delayed until September. This is still a bill that Scalise supports, despite the fact that he just returned to the floor after spending months in the hospital. Then, once again, we see that the timing of this legislation is caught up in another mass shooting, which, unfortunately, is not all that rare in a country where we see mass shootings more days than we don’t.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Lois Beckett, your response on Steve Scalise returning?
LOIS BECKETT: I think after every one of these mass shootings, many on the left accuse Republicans of being bought by the NRA, saying that they should vote for gun control laws, but it’s just the money or the political threat that stop them. But when you see Republican lawmakers being themselves the target of a mass shooting, watching their friends get shot, being shot themselves, and still not changing their position on guns, I think we have to question what’s really at the root of this standoff. And to say it’s just money, it’s just political influence, that there aren’t deep values and deep principles of voters here, I think, is really mistaken.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I wanted to ask Kira also about this other legislation that will come up in Congress later this year, the concealed carry reciprocity bill. Could you talk about that and what exactly its impact would be, especially on those states that have more restrictive ownership laws?
KIRA LERNER: Sure. So, as the representative from Moms Demand Action in Nevada mentioned earlier, this concealed carry reciprocity would allow someone who has a concealed carry permit in one state to then use that in a separate state, to use it across the state borders. So, for some states, like Nevada, that do have somewhat stricter gun regulations than a state like Arizona, it would allow people to pass over those laws and to use their permits from one state in another. So, states with stricter gun control laws worry that this is something that could really affect them. The states with stricter background check laws and other gun control measures do see lower rates of gun violence, and they worry that with concealed carry reciprocity, that could change.
AMY GOODMAN: Luke Combs was one of the people who performed at the concert on Sunday. Luke Combs was arrested—detained by the Transportation Security Administration in March after he brought a handgun to Nashville International Airport in a bag. Combs said in 2015, “I am so proud to be named an NRA Country artist.” He said, “I love what they stand for especially supporting our troops. I will always be there to do anything I can to help the men and women who serve this great nation. I am Luke Combs and I am NRA Country.” It’s interesting, in light of that, to hear what Caleb Keeter, the country star, said after this concert that he was in, saying, “Enough is enough,” changing his position on guns.
Kira Lerner, we want to thank you for being with us, of ThinkProgress, and Lois Beckett, gun policy for The Guardian. Thank you so much.