Week In News: Guns In U.S., Threats Abroad

The gun control debate continued to dominate the news this week with President Obama coming out strongly in support of reforming the current gun control laws alongside the Newtown families. Host Jacki Lyden speaks with James Fallows, national correspondent with The Atlantic, about that story along with the bird flu in China, North Korea and the Postal Service.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Coming up, number-crunching your golf game and music from Thao & The Get Down Stay Down. But first...

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FRANCINE WHEELER: We have to convince the Senate to come together and pass common-sense gun responsibility reforms that will make our communities safer.

LYDEN: That's Francine Wheeler, the mother of 6-year-old Ben, who was killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last December in Newtown, Conn. James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us, as he does most Saturdays. Welcome to the show, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Jacki. And welcome to the new studio.

LYDEN: We are really enjoying it. Looking forward to having you here.

Jim, we just heard from Francine Wheeler, who replaced President Obama this morning for his weekly radio address. And as you know, the Senate finally agreed to take up gun control legislation after a very concerted effort by the Newtown families and the president. They're really making a big push. What's your sense in how it's going?

FALLOWS: Compared to the terrain of gun safety discussions over the past decade - even after the Tucson shooting, even after the Aurora shooting, Virginia Tech, all the others we're familiar with - there certainly is much more possibility of the Congress passing legislation than has seemed feasible in quite a long time.

I think this is partly because of the nature of these shootings in Connecticut, which were so horrible from all perspectives, partly because the administration has made this a focus in a way that its predecessors have not, including flying Newtown families to Washington in Air Force One, and partly because of a sense that perhaps the NRA has overreached.

LYDEN: Let's turn now to another topic, Jim, and that is news out of China that bird flu is back. The first case now being reported in Beijing. Eleven people have died since the outbreak reported about a month ago. You were there about a month ago. Was this on your radar?

FALLOWS: It certainly was. And all the reaction inside China and about China from the rest of the world is conditioned by what happened 10 years ago during the SARS outbreak in southern China. And then the Chinese government was very slow to tell its own people what's going on, to be forthcoming about how widely the disease has spread and to deal with international authorities in a forthcoming way. This time, at least so far, the evidence seems to be that the government is doing what it can.

LYDEN: Jim, staying in that part of the world, let's talk about North Korea, which, of course, has been issuing a threat escalation du jour. A lot of response immediately that it wasn't so significant, and yet this week, new intelligence from the U.S. that the country's missile capability might be going nuclear, it's more confusing. Can you parse it?

FALLOWS: What was new this week was the differential analysis from different parts of the U.S. intelligence establishment, with one of them, the Defense Intelligence Agency having this quite alarmist interpretation that perhaps the North Koreans were able to weaponize their nuclear devices and put them on top of missiles, which, of course, would mean terrible potential for Japan and South Korea, even the United States.

It was significant that very quickly after that, the CIA and the director of National Intelligence said, wait a minute. They didn't share that assessment. This was interesting because 10 years earlier, there was a same divide where the Defense Intelligence Agency had been most aggressive in making the warnings about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So the North Korean situation's, of course, different from Iraq's. But I think the administration now in the U.S. is saying there are problems in North Korea, but we don't think they're actually weaponizing their devices.

LYDEN: Jim, one last thing before we go. So the United States Postal Service has announced that it will concede to pressure and it won't cancel Saturday deliveries. I didn't know you were a former postal worker. So what's your comment?

FALLOWS: As a one-time mailman, I am loyal to the USPS. And I'm glad to see it's still having its tendrils of connection to every deliverable address in the United States are being maintained six days a week. So I'm glad for that news.

LYDEN: Send me a letter.

FALLOWS: I will.

LYDEN: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, always a pleasure. Thank you.

FALLOWS: Thank you, Jacki.

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