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As Las Vegas Massacre Toll Rises, Calls Grow for Background Checks on Nevada Gun Sales

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As the the toll from Sunday night’s mass shooting in Las Vegas rose to 59 dead and 527 wounded, we go to Nevada to speak about the state’s lax gun laws with Elizabeth Becker, the former head of the Nevada chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “The people of Nevada want every gun sale … to have to undergo a background check,” Becker says.

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StoryOct 03, 2017After Las Vegas Massacre, Republicans in Congress Push Bills That Could Make Mass Shootings Deadlier
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show in Las Vegas, where the toll in Sunday night’s mass shooting rose to 59 dead and 527 wounded, as police search for clues about what drove 64-year-old Nevada resident Stephen Paddock to carry out the worst mass murder in modern U.S. history. Police say they found Paddock dead of a self-inflicted gunshot shortly before midnight Sunday, after they used an explosive to break into his suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, where he was holed up with an arsenal of guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Paddock previously worked as an accountant, a property manager, and worked for three years at a weapons company that was later acquired by Lockheed Martin. Neighbors described him as a recluse who spent long hours playing video poker. Stephen Paddock’s brother, Eric Paddock, told reporters Monday that the massacre was a complete surprise to the family.

ERIC PADDOCK: We’re trying understand what’s wrong, what happened. We have no more idea what happened now than I had an hour ago. We’re still just completely befuddled, dumbstruck. … The last time I communicated with my brother was about—well, when did we get power back? Five days after the storm. OK? He texted me and said, “How is Mom?” I texted him back. … It had nothing to do with any political organization, religious organization, no white supremacists, nothing, as far as I know. And I’ve only known him for 57 years.

REPORTER 1: Your father was a bank robber?

ERIC PADDOCK: That’s correct. I mean, here, we’re all proud. My father was on the top 10 list for a while. His name is Benjamin Hotchkiss [sic] Paddock—I believe is his name. I didn’t—I didn’t know him. We didn’t know him. There’s no—he was in jail and broken out of jail.

REPORTER 2: Does he have a—like a history at all of any mental health—

ERIC PADDOCK: He doesn’t even have parking tickets. He has no criminal record. He has no record of any affiliations. He has nothing, that I know of.

REPORTER 3: What about mental illness? Did he have a history of mental illness?

ERIC PADDOCK: Absolutely not, as far as I know, once again. Nothing like that. … He was a wealthy guy, and he liked to play video poker. He went on cruises. He sent his mother cookies from—I mean, big, huge, crazy boxes of cookies and stuff.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Stephen Paddock’s brother, Eric Paddock. As he noted, their father, Patrick Benjamin Paddock—he went by different names, also Benjamin Hoskins Paddock—was a bank robber and an escaped federal prisoner who made the FBI’s Most Wanted list in the '60s. An FBI poster from 1969 notes the elder Paddock had been, quote, “diagnosed as psychopathic, has carried firearms in commission of bank robberies” and “reportedly has suicidal tendencies and should be considered armed and very dangerous.” That's the father.

Las Vegas police say Stephen Paddock used a hammer Sunday night to smash a pair of windows, and set up two high-powered rifles with scopes on tripods overlooking the [Route] 91 Harvest country music festival below, where more than 20,000 people were attending. Paddock had at least 23 firearms in his hotel suite, and a further 19 guns were found at his home in Mesquite, Nevada, a retirement community, along with explosives and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Paddock had no criminal record, was able to purchase his arsenal legally since Nevada is a Class 3 state, meaning an individual can legally own a machine gun. Nevada has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country and doesn’t require firearms owners to have licenses or register their weapons, and does not limit the number of firearms one can possess. Gun experts say Paddock may have used a trigger device—available for purchase online for as little as $40—that can turn a semi-automatic assault rifle into a fully automatic machine gun.

At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday it was not the time to talk about gun control.

PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: There’s a time and place for a political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country. There is currently an open and ongoing law enforcement investigation. A motive is yet to be determined, and it would be premature for us to discuss policy when we don’t fully know all the facts or what took place last night.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Sarah Huckabee Sanders. On Twitter, author Naomi Klein wrote, “Don’t talk about guns after a massacre. Or climate change after storms. Or austerity after firetrap buildings burn. Talk when no one listens.”

Meanwhile, a tweet by country guitarist Caleb Keeter, member of the Josh Abbott Band, went viral Monday, after he tweeted his change of heart over gun control. Keeter’s band performed at the Route 91 Harvest Festival Sunday afternoon, hours before the mass shooting around 10 p.m.

AMY GOODMAN: Afterward, Keeter posted a lengthy response to the attack, writing, “I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was. We actually have members of our crew with [concealed handgun licenses], and legal firearms on the bus. They were useless. We couldn’t touch them for fear police might think we were part of the massacre and shoot us. A small group (or one man) laid waste to a city with dedicated, fearless police officers desperately trying to help, because of access to an insane amount of fire power.” Those were the words of Caleb Keeter as he expressed his change of heart.

For more, we go to Las Vegas, where we’re joined by Elizabeth Becker, former head of the Nevada chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Elizabeth, welcome to Democracy Now! Our condolences for what has happened in your city, the horror that has taken place there in Las Vegas on the Strip. Can you talk about your response and what you have been demanding, what the gun laws are in Nevada?

ELIZABETH BECKER: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

Here in Nevada, we spent all of 2016 getting a background check law on every gun sale passed. The people voted for it. It had previously passed in our Legislature and been vetoed by Governor Sandoval. And it passed with the majority of votes in November 2016. And a background check on every gun sale, while I don’t know in his particular case if that would have stopped this man from committing this horrible act, we do know that that would save lives. That is what the data says from all the other states that have passed background checks. And that’s what we want to see in Nevada to keep our people safe.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk about what it means to have the least—some of the least restrictive laws on guns in your state?

ELIZABETH BECKER: Yes. As you know, we would be considered the wild, wild West here in Nevada. We do have open carry. People are allowed to openly carry AR-15-style rifles. At some of our own events, where we would have vigils for Sandy Hook, for instance, we have had over a hundred people show up openly carrying weapons.

We do have a licensing process for concealed carry. Other states around us, like Arizona, do permitless carry. That is why we are also fighting against concealed carry reciprocity laws that are currently being put in Congress. I believe it’s HR 387. And we are vehemently against these things. As a permitless carry state, Arizona is right next to our state. That would allow someone who is allowed to carry in Arizona a concealed handgun, without having any training whatsoever, they would be able to legally bring that to the Strip. And we think that that makes people less safe.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to understand what you were saying, Nevada passing the law you were previously talking about. In 2016, it passed a ballot initiative that would have added background checks for private gun purchases. Can you talk about the Nevada attorney general, Adam Laxalt, blocking the enforcement of that law? What exactly is in place, all these laws, in Nevada?

ELIZABETH BECKER: So, we do require a background check on gun sales at a gun dealer. So a licensed gun dealer does have to do a background check on every gun sale. In Nevada, you can buy guns online from a private citizen, someone you’ve never met, and meet them in a parking lot, and they can legally transfer a weapon to you with cash. And so, the background check law would have said, if you wanted to purchase a gun online, you would need to meet at a store, and then you would have to do the background check there.

Many other states have this law. I believe it’s 25 other states. Their attorney generals and their governors have figured out a way to make this work. You would have to ask Laxalt and Sandoval why they don’t want to do this. The NRA leadership has given both of them money, and Laxalt spoke at the NRA national conference a few months ago. He was against the background check law before it was passed. And as the attorney general, it should not matter what his personal opinion is on a law. It was passed by the people.

And, you know, the people of Nevada want every gun sale—beside transfers from family members, which in the law was written as an exemption—to have to undergo a background check. States with background checks on every gun sale see a decrease in the number of police officers killed by civilians. They see a decrease in domestic homicide rates. And Nevada has the third-highest rate of women killed by a domestic partner. And we have had several high-profile cases in the past couple years where women have been murdered by a partner who would have been prohibited from purchasing a weapon, but they purchased it online.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You mentioned the issue of your state having one of the highest domestic violence homicide rates in the country. What kinds of restrictions exist in Nevada for people who have histories of domestic violence, in terms of being able to purchase guns?

ELIZABETH BECKER: People who are convicted domestic abusers are legally prohibited from purchasing weapons. Also, there is some talk of trying to get laws passed that say if you have been accused, then in that timeframe before the case is adjudicated, the weapons could be temporarily taken from you. But we do not currently have that law.

This is why the gun show loophole, as we call it, is so dangerous, because if someone is a prohibited purchaser in Nevada, they are very aware that they can go get weapons without a background check just by going through a private sale. And like I said, there are cases in Nevada that have been in the news where this has happened, and the people who have sold the weapons to those prohibited purchasers have expressed regret because they did not know that they were selling to a prohibited purchaser. But if the background check law were in place, they would know that the person they were selling to was a prohibited purchaser, because the background check would show that.

AMY GOODMAN: Elizabeth Becker, why did you get involved with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America?

ELIZABETH BECKER: I have a 5-year-old. And Sandy Hook happened when she was nine months old. I’m actually pretty ashamed to say I didn’t get involved at that time. Moms was founded the day after Sandy Hook. And I went to a house party in 2014 with a friend of mine that is active in a lot of different causes, and she brought me into this cause. And ever since 2015, I have been pretty active and volunteering with hundreds of other people in the state.

The more time you spend on this issue, the more you realize that it’s really the people versus NRA leadership money. Most NRA members support background checks on every gun sale. I believe the number is 75 percent of NRA members support a background check.

And the more I learned, the more data that I saw, the more I was convinced that, as a country, we are doing something wrong. We have the 25th highest homicide—sorry, a 25 times higher homicide rate than other industrialized nations. Other industrialized nations do not deal with these mass shootings, and we don’t have to use the term “again” in other countries when they have a mass shooting, because it just doesn’t occur like it does here.

AMY GOODMAN: This issue of an automatic weapon, that you can purchase an automatic weapon in Nevada, can you explain?

ELIZABETH BECKER: I am not a policy expert on that. I do know that if you wanted to purchase an automatic weapon, you have to go through more than just a simple background check. I believe you have to be fingerprinted. From what I understand, this man did not purchase those weapons as automatic weapons. What has come out so far seems to suggest that he purchased them as regular assault rifles, like an AR-15-type rifle, and then bought something—

AMY GOODMAN: Semi-automatic weapon.

ELIZABETH BECKER: —on the internet, which is legal, to turn them into an automatic weapon.

AMY GOODMAN: Elizabeth Becker, I want to thank you for being with us. We just have 10 seconds. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said this isn’t time to talk about gun control. Republican congressmembers are calling for prayer. Your response to that?

ELIZABETH BECKER: Prayers are not enough. While I appreciate the sentiment, the time to act is now. I would actually say the time to act is in the past. We have waited too long. I don’t believe this is a political issue. This is a safety issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Elizabeth Becker, former head of the Nevada chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She’s speaking to us from Las Vegas, that has just experienced the worst mass killing by a single gunman in U.S. history. At the moment, the latest number is 59 dead and 527 wounded. This is Democracy Now! We’re going to keep talking gun control after break.


AMY GOODMAN: “Alright for Now” by Tom Petty. Tom died last night of a heart attack at the age of 66.

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After Las Vegas Massacre, Republicans in Congress Push Bills That Could Make Mass Shootings Deadlier

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