Week In Politics: Conn. School Shooting, Susan Rice

Audie Cornish speaks with our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. They discuss the Connecticut school shooting, and Susan Rice.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We turn now to our weekly political observers E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome to you both.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to be here.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you. Good to be here.

CORNISH: Unfortunately, for the second time this year, we begin our conversation with horrible news, that of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Here's President Obama addressing the nation today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As a country, we have been through this too many times, whether it's an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this regardless of the politics.

CORNISH: Regardless of the politics. Is that even possible?

DIONNE: I hope so. I mean, I think that what the president said today is very important. I had been hearing before the election, before this awful event, that the president was really interested in breaking with inactivity on this and really trying to do something about gun violence. So, I take what he said very seriously.

American politics has been overwhelmed by timidity and cowardice about taking action or even debating serious steps to curb gun violence. And, look, no developed country in the world has the number of mass shootings we have. No comparable country makes it as easy to gain access to guns.

When terrible things like this happen, the natural American response is to do just what the president said, is to figure out what meaningful action might prevent tragedies like this. And I hope that this awful event shocks us out of our usual political paralysis on gun violence.

CORNISH: David?

BROOKS: Well, first, let me say we don't know much about the shooter. We don't really know much about the weapons he used. So I don't want to be speculating about this particular case. I hate it when pundits like us do that. I will say in general about rampage killings, the proper policy response, I don't think it's a question of cowardice or not, I think it's a question of what would actually work.

I personally do not think that gun control measures would work particularly. If you look at the global perspective, a lot of the worst rampage killings have been in regimes with tight gun control regimes: Norway, Germany, Korea, a lot here obviously. The people who do these tend to be pretty meticulous. They tend to plan.

In a country with 300 million people - 300 million guns, I think they are likely to be able to get a hold of a gun. I would focus our efforts first on earlier psychological treatment, more alert psychological treatment. Second, I don't think we in the media should be reporting their names. I think they should go down in history anonymously. And third, I do think, and this is tough, but I do think we should have some measures to try to keep guns out of the hands of people who have some sort of violent mental disease.

DIONNE: And if I could just say politically...

CORNISH: Well, let me just jump in here because at the time of the Aurora shooting, David, you talked about this, as well. And, at the same time, there has been zero discussion about any of these kinds of policies. And it was an election year.

BROOKS: Well, I think we're cautious to talk about mental illness issues, but I do think people just have to be alert within the profession. It's obviously very difficult to prevent these things. And the difficult one, and the one I mentioned, well the two I mentioned last are: Could the media really impose a clampdown to make these people anonymous, which I think is - would be a deterrent?

Second, if you're going to try to deny guns to people with some history of mental illness, there are obviously huge privacy issues involved. So I'm not saying it's an easy thing to do. But I would like to see a discussion go in that direction.

DIONNE: First of all, we can't even have a meaningful discussion in the country or haven't been able to have them about very, very powerful background checks, to go to David's point. But I think David's is kind of a counsel of despair. He's assuming that the availability of guns has nothing - easy availability of guns has nothing to do with this.

Yes, there are other cases of mass killings in other countries, but the number that we have had in this country I think speaks to the fact that easy access to weapons is something we must look at as a country if we're going to try to avoid tragedies like this in the future.

CORNISH: At the same time, people have looked into this and, you know, overall ownership of firearms in this country is at all-time lows. And drawing the correlation is not necessarily causation here.

DIONNE: Right. But at the moment it has been impossible to discuss any sorts of measures related to guns. Guns are a subject that politicians in both parties, and yes including President Obama, he's been incredibly cautious on this issue. And that's why I think his statement today is going to prove to mean something, because I think he would like us as a country to look seriously at measures we can take to make events like this less likely.

CORNISH: And over the few years, we should mention, Gallup's done a lot of polling since 1990 about whether Americans think gun control laws should be stricter. And over time that number has gone down. In 2010, 44 percent were in favor of stricter laws compared to 78 percent in 1990. I'm sure we'll be talking about this more in the future.

E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, thank you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times, thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

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