MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up: Our panel of college students react to new news about HIV and AIDS. And we have a visit with the diva of divas, Ms. Patti LaBelle. She has a new Christmas album she wants to tell you about.
But first, we want to talk about guns. For three decades, Washington, D.C. has had one of the toughest gun control laws in the country. It forbids most D.C. residents from buying, selling or owning a handgun.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will hear a challenge to that law, only the second time in nearly 70 years that the court will examine the meaning of the constitutional amendment governing the right to keep and bear arms. The court's ruling could decide whether gun control laws around the country will stand.
Now arguments about constitutional issues can seem very abstract. But here in D.C., the issue of guns is anything but.
So joining me now are two Washington residents who've seen the effects of gun violence up close, but who have very different perspectives on the gun ban.
Shelly Parker is one of the plaintiffs in the case that's being heard by the Supreme Court. She's on the phone from her home in Washington, D.C. And here with me in the studio is Ron Moten. He has a brother who was killed by gun violence, and he himself used to hustle drugs in the streets of D.C. But he's turned his life around and co-founded Peaceaholics. It's an organization that tried to intervene in the kinds of disputes that result in gun violence.
Welcome to both of you. Thanks for speaking with us.
Mr. RON MOTEN (Co-founder of Peaceaholics): Thanks for having me.
Ms. SHELLY PARKER (Resident, Washington, D.C.): Nice to be here.
MARTIN: Shelly Parker, if I could begin with you, why did you become a party to this case? Do you want to own a gun, and why?
Ms. PARKER: Yes, I am an advocate for owning a gun. And the reason I got into the case was because of the fact that I was on a street just outside of Capitol Hill that there was an individual that was pretty much terrorizing the street, dealing drugs and no one could pretty much walk in and out of the house. So I got a lot of my neighbors to kind of become a little more proactive. And then one evening, he tried to break in my home, and that goes along with the rock that was thrown through the back of my window of my car, the rock that was thrown through the front of my house.
MARTIN: Well, Ron, what about you? What about Shelly's point? Shouldn't people be allowed to own a gun to defend themselves, as they can in pretty much the rest of the country?
Mr. MOTEN: Well, I can relate to her. I just had bricks thrown to my office window because we're dealing with the issue of snitching, but I'm not going to go get a gun to deal with the people who threw the brick through my window. I'm going to go out to the community and try to help change the social ills that caused people to do and think the way they think. So I understand her view, but I totally disagree with her view.
MARTIN: Well, but tell me why?
Mr. MOTEN: Well, there's several reasons. In America, since 9/11, 110,000 people have been murdered, and this happened in the states where we have handguns. So you can make the argument about having handguns and not having handguns, but we have to deal with the social ills that cause people to have the mentality to do these crimes. Then you have to look at - in our community in Washington, D.C., people don't want this law to change, so we have to deal with due process, the will of the people.
Now, I'm not sure that the people who are plaintiffs in this case understand the impacts of handguns. I understand, because I see, every day, young people who don't have the right mentality out here with guns, doing the things they're doing. And also, nobody's advocating for the people who are selling these guns to our children to get more time, and I have a problem with that.
MARTIN: Shelly, this law has been intact for, what? Thirty years or so. And it seems to have the broad support of D.C. residents, as well as the elected political leadership of the district. So shouldn't the will of the people be respected if that's what they want?
Ms. PARKER: Now, certain point, I'm not really in agreement with the fact that this is the will of the people. Maybe certain sections of the city are in agreement with the - want this gun ban to stand. But I have - really, in the three years that I've been involved in this case, I think I've only run into maybe two or three people who are, you know, still agree that this gun ban should stand in force.
Furthermore, in response to the gentleman from Peaceaholics, I would also like to state that this is actually not necessarily about the social issues. I understand there are a lot of social issues going on in this city that are going to promote certain attitudes and problems that are going on in this city, but this is actually more about my Second Amendment right that says that I do have this right to bear arms, to own a gun in my home.
And once again, we're not trying to get a gun so I can strap it to my hip and walk around outside. This is just strictly for in my home.
MARTIN: Shelly, I'm going to - I think I would disagree with you about the consensus of most of the people on this city on this issue. But I want to bring in another voice now, and this is Valencia Mohammed. She's a former school board official, and she's lost two of her children to gun violence in this city, but she also supports repealing the gun ban.
Ms. VALENCIA MOHAMMED: Yes, I do.
MARTIN: And Valencia, you've told me in the past that you think the gun ban is racist. Why?
Ms. MOHAMMED: Well, in the beginning, it's my understanding that when we received home rule, that's one of the things that came with it. And, also, this gun ban - they had this super hype among a lot of African-Americans at that time where they were - you know, they were saying, oh, my God. We have all this, you know, this killing going on. We don't know how to act, or we're not going to know how to, you know, defend ourselves or use these guns properly.
So they had a big vote, and everybody voted. But, I mean, that was back in the '60s, '70s, '80s. But we're talking about today. There's a whole new cadre of people that are coming into this city. They're coming in from states and cities where they had the opportunity to exercise their Second Amendment rights. And they're bringing in their laptops, their couches, their new, you know, marble countertops, and they also have a gun. And they don't want to feel guilty about hiding that gun, so what they're saying is, no. I want the same inalienable rights as people have all over the United States.
MARTIN: But at the end of the day, your argument is that this is a legacy of an unwillingness to allow African-Americans to own guns.
Ms. MOHAMMED: Yes.
MARTIN: And on that basis, it needs to be changed. But Valencia, let me ask you this: Can you really argue that what this city needs is more guns? I mean, there've already been 170 murders in this city so far this year.
Ms. MOHAMMED: We've had 5,000 deaths, according to the medical examiner's report, but the majority of them are not by guns. The majority of them are by poor health among African-Americans. So if we're going to focus on deaths in the African-American community, then let's focus more on health.
MARTIN: Well, Ron, the ban was put in effect in 1976, and there have been years in which there have been 4 or 500 murders in this city. As I mentioned, there've already been 170 murders in this city so far this year. Can you really argue that the gun ban is doing any good, since this city is surrounded by two jurisdictions with more liberal laws? So is it really making any difference?
Mr. MOTEN: Well, let's look at our surrounding states. Let's go to Baltimore and Philly. They're having - you can have a gun there, right? And the gun - the murder rate has skyrocketed. So it doesn't mean anything about having a handgun is going to stop violence or murder. Let's look at what Gandhi did in India through the science of nonviolence. That's how we're going to deal with the stuff that's going on in our community. Let's look at Sean Taylor and his experience with guns. He was locked up for handguns…
MARTIN: Former Redskins player.
Mr. MOTEN: Former Redskins…
MARTIN: Oh, well, sorry - he is a current Redskins player…
Mr. MOTEN: Right.
MARTIN: …who was tragically murdered earlier this week. Nobody really knows what the details are. He was murdered…
Mr. MOTEN: He was murdered by handgun.
MARTIN: …in Miami.
Mr. MOTEN: And he was locked up for having a handgun. I don't see nothing positive in having weapons. Look at us in Iraq, with all of the weapons in the world. We have insurgency over there that's beating our butts. And the same thing will happen in our community. You give people guns, they break in your house, take guns - and we're not dealing with the issue, issues that cause people to…
Ms. PARKER: But if someone…
Ms. PARKER: …breaks into my home and takes my gun, that's more about me not being a responsible gun owner and doing something…
Mr. MOTEN: Happens all the time.
Ms. PARKER: …so someone can't get a hold of it.
MARTIN: But there are other laws, Shelly, that regulate the possibility that people might not be responsible dog owners. For example, we have rules regulating how, you know, how you have to treat your dog, because there are negative consequences.
Ms. PARKER: Exactly.
MARTIN: So the question I have, same question I have for you is as what I had for Valencia: If the ban is lifted, won't there be more gun-related deaths not only from street violence, but from suicides, some accidents, from domestic disputes?
Ms. MOHAMMED: I mean, why - if they want to commit suicide…
MARTIN: Wait, Valencia. Let Shelly…
Ms. MOHAMMED: …so that they could take poison or stab themselves.
MARTIN: If Shelly could answer that question.
Ms. PARKER: My response to that is, you know, if you're worried about suicide rates, we need to address the mental health problems in the city. If we'll worried about, you know, children getting a hold of guns, we need to talk about parents that are irresponsible in letting their children get a hold of these guns.
The same arguments you made about, you know, irresponsible dog owners, there are irresponsible drivers. There are more people killed by automobiles in this area than there are people killed with guns.
In response to the gentleman before, he was saying that - he actually said the very I would say. He said that, you know, having - you know, the gun laws make no difference. In Maryland, you can have a gun, but look at the gun deaths in Baltimore. Yes, but look at D.C. We don't technically have one gun in this city by one citizens. So how is it we…
Mr. MOTEN: Not true.
Ms. PARKER: …have 170-some odd deaths in the city via guns?
MARTIN: I think - well, Ron, that's - I think her point is…
Mr. MOTEN: That's not true. It's that…
MARTIN: …that the gun law is not doing any good.
Mr. MOTEN: There are a lot of guns in our community.
MARTIN: But that's her point.
Mr. MOTEN: And people are…
MARTIN: The point is that despite the gun ban, there are guns here anyway.
Mr. MOTEN: Right, and…
MARTIN: So the only people not getting them are law-abiding citizens like her.
Mr. MOTEN: And it could be the worse because…
Ms. PARKER: Not me.
Mr. MOTEN: …people are bringing guns and sell them to our children every day. People from the military, people from these - who have drug problems and go to Virginia. I was a drug dealer. I used to go to West Virginia, with a drug addict and buy every MAC-11's - everything I wanted, I pointed to them in the store…
Ms. PARKER: Shouldn't we be addressing this issue…
Mr. MOTEN: …and brought them here. So once we get their guns…
Ms. PARKER: …in West Virginia?
Mr. MOTEN: Once you sell the guns here in D.C., it's going to be the same thing. And unfortunately, your community - people are not selling guns to children in your community. They don't have the same problems as my children had. And I see them with guns and making bad decisions every day. And then it's not a big issue till Sean Taylor's killed, or to this newspaper guy is killed, and then everything - they change the whole fire department behind him getting killed.
But my people are getting kill every day, and nobody's addressing these problems. I don't see people, like (unintelligible) in my community saying, what can I do to help? I guarantee you, you're not going outside on your block and asking them young guys - you're saying how are you going to get rid of them. You're not saying how you're going to go out there and help the young men. How can I help you get off my corner?
Mr. MOTEN: What can I do to help you? (unintelligible)
MARTIN: But, Valencia, I mean, let's have Valencia have a thought here, because - Shelly, let Valencia in here…
Ms. PARKER: (unintelligible)
MARTIN: …because, Valencia, you have had two children killed through gun violence.
Ms. MOHAMMED: Yeah.
MARTIN: And yet you still believe that the laws should be repealed. So talk to me again about…
Ms. MOHAMMED: You know, my whole thing is I am trying to exercise all of my rights as a free black woman who has had ancestors enslaved in this country. I want all of them, not here or there or a couple, and you take the majority of the way. I want every single thing that's coming to me that my ancestors did not get. And that's all I'm saying.
You know, in the meantime, yes, the African-American community and their leaders and the community activists need to be more responsible in terms of dealing with the youth. We've been - Peaceoholics is doing a fantastic job, but they can't do the whole city. So there needs to be other operations like his that are working and focusing, that are being compensated by the federal and the local government to do what they got to do.
And there's always been this segment in our community where they want to focus on the individuals, on these youth as if they don't have parents. Well, there may be a missing daddy, but you got a present mama. Let's start working with that mama and her mindset, and if she owns that gun - an illegal gun is in her house, stop looking the other way, take it and turn it in.
MARTIN: Okay. We're going to have to leave it there. Thank you all for a spirited and important discussion. And perhaps you'll come back and talk to us as the court takes up this case, as it will later this spring.
In our studio here, Valencia Mohammed. She lost two of her children to gun violence. She's the founder of a group called Mothers of Unsolved Murders in D.C., but she supports repealing the D.C. gun ban.
We were also joined by Shelly Parker. She's one of the plaintiffs in the case being heard by the Supreme Court. She joined us on the phone from her home in Washington.
Also with us, Ron Moten. He has a brother who was killed by gun violence in D.C. He is co-founder of Peaceoholics, an organization that tries to intervene in disputes on the street.
Thank you so much for speaking with us, all of you.
Mr. MOTEN: Thank you.
Ms. PARKER: Thank you.
Ms. MOHAMMED: Thank you.