News Brief: Mass Shooting, Midwest Flooding, House Panel Probe
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
New Zealand is deciding what it will and won't do in response to a mass shooting.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We know one thing the Prime Minister will not do; Jacinda Ardern tells us - tells her country's parliament she doesn't want to give publicity to the man accused of killing 50 people inside two mosques.
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PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.
MARTIN: Next comes the question of what the government will do. Ardern has promised new gun laws, so what do gun owners think about that?
INSKEEP: That question resonates with the gun debate here in the United States. So let's go to NPR's Rob Schmitz. He's been hearing that debate, as it sounds, in Christchurch, New Zealand. Hi there, Rob.
ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: What are you hearing?
SCHMITZ: Well, I've heard mixed feelings from the people I've spoken to this week. This afternoon I visited Gun City. It's the biggest retailer in New Zealand, and it's where the attacker bought some of his guns. They've gotten a bit of media attention, so they did not want to talk to me.
But there was a group of guys who were at the counter when I was there. They were purchasing an AR-15, and that's the type of semiautomatic rifle that was used in Friday's attack. And since they were in a hurry to go hunt on a hunting trip, one of them gave me his number so that I could interview him over the phone. His name is Thomas Jones (ph). He owns a hunting business here. He owns 12 guns; four of them are semiautomatics that could very well be banned soon. He told me he wished New Zealand had an organization like the NRA that could stand up for gun owners like him, and here's what he said.
THOMAS JONES: It's really disappointing to have the government throw on us what one person did and punish 250,000 gun owners at least, if not more, just because of what one man does.
SCHMITZ: And that man he's referring to was not a New Zealander. He was from Australia.
SCHMITZ: And that really bothers Jones because he says New Zealanders grew up owning guns. Many people hunt, and they respect them.
INSKEEP: Rob, I'm curious. You said there was a group of guys that they or one of them was purchasing an AR-15 on the way to a hunting trip. Were they going to hunt with the AR-15?
SCHMITZ: Well, he hunts goats, which are invasive species to New Zealand. He sometimes gets hired by the government to do this. And he told me that, you know, these goats apparently are so rampant in New Zealand that they have to manage their numbers, and so that's why he wants to hold on to his AR-15.
INSKEEP: OK, so these guys are not rushing to turn in semiautomatic rifles, at least this little group of men. Is this a widespread sentiment among gun owners where you are?
SCHMITZ: No. In fact, most of the gun owners I spoke with here agreed that semiautomatic weapons should be restricted after this tragedy. One gun owner admitted to me that he was only - he only has an AR-15 because it's fun to shoot, he told me, and he'd be happy turning it in once the government asks him to. Another man I met today, Robert Miller (ph), is a gun owner who told me he used to own a semiautomatic handgun, but after a month, he got rid of it because he thought it was too dangerous to have in his house. Here's what he thinks should happen in the wake of last week's tragedy.
ROBERT MILLER: Well, to be honest, I think the military-style semiautomatics should be banned. There's no need for them. Probably the same with pistols, to be honest. Gun registration - I think we need it because there's just no way of tracking a gun here if it's sold. You know, someone could sell them to a guy without a license, and there's no record of it being sold.
INSKEEP: Well, that raises a question. What gun laws, if any, does New Zealand have now?
SCHMITZ: Well, it's relatively easy to purchase a gun here. Anyone over the age of 16 can apply for a license at a police station, and after a background check, you have to take a three-hour class, police check references, and then you've got a license. One problem I've been hearing over and over is that even though semiautomatic weapons are restricted to seven-bullet magazines and it's illegal to modify them with magazines that can hold more bullets, anyone here can buy a high-capacity magazine, which can hold up to 30 bullets. You don't need a gun license to buy that, and once you do, it's technically illegal to attach that magazine to your gun.
But there's no enforcement of this whatsoever, and this is how the Christchurch attacker was able to get around the law. But that is a loophole that every gun owner that I spoke to agreed should be closed.
INSKEEP: That is remarkable because somehow the law envisions that people would buy that high-capacity magazine for some purpose other than putting it onto a weapon. You're saying it is legal to just buy the magazine.
SCHMITZ: It is, and I think that is exactly what lawmakers in New Zealand are looking at this week before they come out with new gun reforms next week.
INSKEEP: Rob, thanks for your excellent work. Really appreciate it.
SCHMITZ: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Rob Schmitz.
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INSKEEP: What will Midwestern residents see when the water recedes from their towns?
MARTIN: All this flooding was triggered by a winter storm that happened last week. Melting snow is the problem. This melting snow turned to water, overflowed the rivers in Wisconsin and Missouri and Peru, Neb., where we found Tim Potter.
TIM POTTER: This is my hometown, and I've never seen it get this high - never. You know, them levies only hold so much, you know? That river's angry (laughter).
MARTIN: Vice President Mike Pence is going to visit Nebraska today.
INSKEEP: OK, so Nebraska, Wisconsin, Missouri, and then there is Iowa, which is where we find reporter Katie Peikes of Iowa Public Radio. Good morning.
KATIE PEIKES, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: What have you been seeing in the last couple of days moving around Iowa?
PEIKES: You know, over the weekend, I drove into Hornick, a city in western Iowa that had to evacuate for a few days after water overtopped a levee, and there were just so many oh-wow moments - you know, flooded fields, garages that looked like they were just kind of a little house floating on a lake, you know, mud in so many places.
INSKEEP: And they - the people who you said had to evacuate, where did they go? Where'd you find them?
PEIKES: They either went to nearby communities, a lot of them had family in the area, a lot of them went to hotels in the area, some even went to a shelter in the area but mostly stayed with family and friends.
INSKEEP: And when you look out across this town, you see not just fields and garages, but were their homes that appeared to be flooded out, potentially destroyed?
PEIKES: There were homes that had, you know, four feet of water in their basements.
INSKEEP: OK, so that is one town in Iowa that you had a good look at. Is there a lot of Iowa that is under water or has been at some point over the last few days?
PEIKES: Quite a bit. In Missouri Valley, Iowa, a town a little bit southwest, they even had to evacuate people by boat because the water was so bad around there.
INSKEEP: Wow. New Orleans-style situation there for a moment. Any idea how long the floods are going to last where you are?
PEIKES: We do have a little bit of light rain expected in some parts of Iowa today, which the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls said really won't have much of an impact to the rivers here. But there is some rain in the forecast this weekend, plus some snowmelt that, you know, could rise these river levels a little bit. And a meteorologist I spoke with on Sunday said the threat of flooding really could linger for another four to six weeks. And all of that snowpack in the region just needs to melt, and that will happen as temperatures warm.
INSKEEP: The threat of flooding, meaning that even if the water has gone down in your community - you don't know - might come back over the next few weeks.
PEIKES: It could.
INSKEEP: All right. Well, Katie, so - thanks so much. Really appreciate it.
PEIKES: Thank you.
INSKEEP: We've been talking with Katie Peikes of Iowa Public Radio.
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INSKEEP: Some other news - who will cooperate with a massive House investigation of people around the president?
MARTIN: Right. And cooperation is not exactly optional here. The House Judiciary Committee has subpoena power, though people can try to resist. The committee requested documents from more than 80 people and entities. The committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler, told MSNBC that at least one former presidential adviser said yes.
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JERROLD NADLER: We've gotten responses from surprising people, like for instance, Steve Bannon, who sent us a few thousand documents.
INSKEEP: What about people still in the White House? Well, NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is covering that part of the story. Hi there, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.
INSKEEP: Did the administration answer by Nadler's deadline, which I think was yesterday, right?
KEITH: That is correct, the deadline was yesterday, but the response has not yet been forthcoming. We are told to expect a response, and that we shouldn't expect it to be a, hey, thank you so much for asking. Here's everything you ever asked for. Instead, it is likely to be a combative response. The White House felt that Nadler and his committee were overreaching. They described it earlier, when the letters first went out, as a disgraceful abuse and a fishing expedition, and they've been responding to other congressional demands in similarly combative ways.
The Trump campaign - I checked in with them yesterday - and they said that they have responded to the committee, but they wouldn't say how they responded and simply referred me to a statement that they put out when the initial request was made. And in that statement, they called the investigation a dramatic overreach, an abuse of power and a witch hunt.
INSKEEP: Does all of this suggest a confrontational approach then once the White House gets around to actually answering?
KEITH: You know, what's really interesting here is that Nadler, the committee chairman, came out and said that the committee has already received tens of thousands of documents, a large number of the individuals and entities have responded, and that they are moving forward, and that they plan to negotiate with those who haven't been responsive yet and find ways to get what they need. That is very different than the message that is coming from the White House itself - though, you know, not publicly yet, except for that statement earlier - that the sort of the White House response is far more combative. And, of course, you had previously the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, out there beating up on the Mueller investigation, and that is sort of the direction that it seems to be going.
So you have Nadler saying things are moving forward. It's going to be fine. And White House allies making it seem like this is going to be a fight. And I think that that is really setting up the tone for the days and weeks ahead. Democrats want to make it look like this investigation is working, and the president and his allies want to make it look like this investigation is a witch hunt.
INSKEEP: I want to check a detail of this, Tamara. Of course, Nadler has requested an immense amount of documents from a very large number of people, but didn't Nadler also say, all you really have to do is send me the stuff you've already sent to the special counsel? So take that email, hit forward, send it to me. And on one level, is this an achievable request if people are willing to do it?
KEITH: Yes, and that is what Nadler is saying, and one of the people I talked to who did respond to him yesterday said exactly that. He was like, I already gave this stuff to the special counsel. Here you go.
INSKEEP: Tamara, thanks for the update. Really appreciate it.
KEITH: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.
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