What Gun Law Changes Would GOP Lawmakers Consider?
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A mass shooting at a Florida high school ended 17 lives but created a corps of activists. Students from Parkland say they're pressing for gun control. One of their state's congressmen, Republican Carlos Curbelo, told CNN he is asking House Speaker Paul Ryan for help.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NEW DAY")
CARLOS CURBELO: The speaker is interested in responding to these incidents. He knows that we have a lot of work to do, not just on the gun side of this discussion, but also on mental health.
INSKEEP: OK, so what changes would Ryan's party, the party in power, really embrace? Alex Conant is a Republican strategist, a former communications director for Marco Rubio's presidential campaign and a past guest on this program.
Alex, welcome back.
ALEX CONANT: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: So are Republicans ready for meaningful gun legislation?
CONANT: I think they're very open to it. They're more open to it now than we have been in a long time. I think where the real question is is, how do you define meaningful gun legislation? Over the weekend, you saw the White House say that they were open to legislation that's sponsored by Senator Cornyn, a senator from Texas, a Republican, that would strengthen background checks. I think a lot - whether or not that's enough for Democrats, I think, is an open question.
INSKEEP: And if we got to another issue like, say, banning AR-15 rifles or assault rifles that are designed to kill large numbers of people, you think Republicans will go there?
CONANT: The short answer is no. I haven't seen any Republicans say that they want to ban certain types of weapons. And frankly, I haven't seen a lot of red-state Democrats call for that either. I went through the Twitter feeds last night of all of the Senate Democrats who represent states that Trump won that are up for re-election - senators like Claire McCaskill in Missouri, senators from North Dakota, West Virginia. None of them are calling for banning of certain types of weapons. I think that's indicative of the politics surrounding that proposal.
INSKEEP: For your party, this is a Second Amendment issue, fundamentally. Is that right?
CONANT: Absolutely. Republicans believe that Americans - law-abiding, healthy Americans - have a right to own weapons. That's a constitutional right that we feel very strongly about.
INSKEEP: So then comes the dilemma of what to do about mass shootings. And there've been plenty of studies. There are plenty of numbers. I'll just cite one. We could name others. There was a study recently that compared 10 other prosperous countries to the United States, countries ranging from, like, China to Australia to England to the United States. And there were more mass shootings in the United States than all the others combined. Give us a Republican perspective on this. What do Republicans feel is different in the United States that would allow so very many more mass shootings than any other comparable place?
CONANT: Well, look, clearly, those statistics are tragic and unacceptable, and we should absolutely be pursuing policies that would eliminate - would certainly reduce the number of mass shootings we're having in the United States. But I think it's a multi...
INSKEEP: But, I mean, define the problem. What is causing it to be so much worse in the United States, do you think?
CONANT: Well, clearly, we have a lot of weapons in the United States, and you don't have any guns in some of those other countries - or a very, very limited number of guns in those other countries. And clearly, I think that there's some cultural issues in the United States that are also fueling this. Look, it's a very - it's a multifaceted problem. And I think the challenge for policymakers is, what policy could we pass today that would immediately eliminate mass shootings? And the truth is that there isn't such a policy. Simply banning the ownership of guns - banning assault weapons, as we did in the '90s - will not eliminate mass shootings.
INSKEEP: And nobody thinks that banning guns in the United States is likely to happen anyway for the constitutional reasons that you cited. But you were correct in saying there're a lot of guns in the United States - by one study, 89 guns for every 100 people, more than any other country on earth per capita. If that is the fundamental problem, what is a Republican approach to dealing with it that would pass constitutional muster?
CONANT: Well, again, you know, I think the fact that we have a lot of guns in this country is - distinguishes us from other nations. However, I don't think the problem with - I don't think the reason we have so many mass shootings is because law-abiding, healthy Americans own guns. The problem is that guns are getting into the hands of people that simply should not have them. And therefore, I think Republicans should look to proposals like the one the White House said that the president was open to this weekend - strengthening background checks, keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and people with criminal records.
INSKEEP: Although, I mean, there're mentally ill people...
CONANT: I think that is the sort of proposal Republicans would be up to.
INSKEEP: There are mentally ill people everywhere. I mean, do you think it's going to be possible to identify in advance who shouldn't have a gun?
CONANT: Well, we should certainly try. And I think that's what the White House and Republicans are going to look at as opposed to banning the ownership of guns or certain types of guns for law-abiding, healthy people.
INSKEEP: Alex Conant, thanks very much for joining us, really appreciate it.
CONANT: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: He is a former adviser to Marco Rubio, now a partner at Firehouse Strategies in Washington, D.C.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.