How Can Gun Violence Be Solved? NPR's Michel Martin discusses solutions to gun violence with a panel of experts who work on the issue.
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How Can Gun Violence Be Solved?

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How Can Gun Violence Be Solved?

How Can Gun Violence Be Solved?

How Can Gun Violence Be Solved?

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NPR's Michel Martin discusses solutions to gun violence with a panel of experts who work on the issue.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now we're going to bring in other voices to talk about their solutions to gun violence in America. Joining us now are Thomas Abt. He's a researcher who studies gun violence. His most recent book is "Bleeding Out: The Devastating Consequences Of Urban Violence -- And A Bold New Plan For Peace In The Streets."

Thomas Abt, thank you so much for joining us once again.

THOMAS ABT: Pleasure to be with you.

MARTIN: Kris Brown is the president of Brady - that's an organization that aims to reduce gun violence in America.

Kris Brown, thank you so much for joining us as well.

KRIS BROWN: Thank you.

MARTIN: We're also joined by Reverend Rob Schenck. He's an evangelical pastor. He's based here in Washington, D.C. He published a book last year titled "Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister's Rediscovery Of Faith, Hope, And Love." And in it, he argues that Christians - especially those who identify as pro-life - should also embrace gun control as a faith issue - or gun safety measures, I should say.

Reverend Schenck, welcome back to you as well.

ROB SCHENCK: Thank you.

MARTIN: Earlier, we were joined by Mark Bryant, the director of the Gun Violence Archive. We asked him to come for additional perspective on the scope of the gun violence issue in this country. He had to leave, so joining us now is James Burnett, editorial director of The Trace. That's a nonprofit and nonpartisan news organization that reports on guns in America.

James, thank you so much for joining us.

JAMES BURNETT: Thank you.

MARTIN: So I'm going to start with Thomas Abt because you've been thinking about this issue for a long time. And the reason we called you is that the focus this weekend is mass shootings because they're so horrific and they're so attention-getting. But you focused a very great deal on what you call community violence or urban violence. Why is that important?

ABT: I think it's important because mass shootings, while horribly tragic - and I don't want to diminish the importance of what's happened over just the past week and all of the lives tragically lost - but we have a daily slaughter in the United States. Mass shootings account for approximately 1% of all homicides due to gun violence in the United States as compared to urban violence, which accounts for the vast majority (unintelligible). And...

MARTIN: OK. OK, I understand your point here. But you have some specific policy solutions that you have been advancing for some time now, which you gathered in the book. And one of the things, if I can sort of encapsulate - you talk about focusing on hot people and hot places, which is really sort of pouring focus into places that have demonstrated a propensity to have violence or people who've demonstrated a previous propensity to violence. But noting your point that, you know, that that is your particular focus, would those measures also address some of the things that happened this weekend?

ABT: No, they wouldn't. And it's very important that the public understand that we're not facing one gun violence challenge the United States. We're facing at least four. There is urban violence, which accounts for the vast majority of homicides in the United States. There are domestic gun homicides, mass shootings. And then suicides account for two thirds of all gun deaths. While there are some relationships between these four gun violence crises, they're different, and they will require different policies.

MARTIN: OK. I hope we'll come back to you in a minute. Let's go to Kris here. Your organization has been thinking about this for, what - 30 years now?

BROWN: Yes.

MARTIN: But give us your top lines. What do you think is the most important thing this country should be thinking about right now?

BROWN: Well, I think that the - Thomas said it very well. We have an epidemic of gun violence. We have 40,000 people on average a year dying from gun violence - a hundred people a day. And while the mass shootings do make the headlines and are absolutely horrific, they account for about 2% of all gun deaths in America. We have to treat this issue as an epidemic and holistically.

So I have policy solutions that I think would really help reduce mass violence. Look at El Paso. Look at Dayton. We have assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. Start there. Renew the assault weapons ban. But then we have far too many crime guns flooding America's cities. We've focused for so long on the trigger-pullers without focusing on the actual supply of guns into so many of these communities.

And that's about enforcement. We hear people from the other side talking about enforcement all the time. Yes, we agree. We need to enforce the laws and stop the about 5% of gun dealers who are flooding our communities with guns. And the other thing we have to focus on are the 300 million-plus guns in people's homes all across this country. We have a phenomena that is uniquely American called family fire. Eight kids a day are killed or injured with guns in their own home. So we need this holistic approach. It takes policy, it takes enforcement and it takes action within our own homes to address these issues.

MARTIN: James, what about you? Your organization reports on this. And, as a journalist, I don't want to put you in the position of sort of adopting specific policies. But can you just tell us more broadly, are people more willing to discuss these kinds of measures or not?

BURNETT: I do think you see an increasing willingness to address gun violence as a problem in the political sphere. That's certainly true in the Democratic primary right now, where we did a survey of the candidates. And there's broad consensus about - or broad support for some core policy tenets - universal background checks, assault weapons bans, things like that.

One area - a particular area of compromise at the state level in some places has been on extreme risk protection orders - sometimes also called a red flag law. That's the idea that there are a lot of people who purchase a gun legally, own it lawfully, own it safely, but then because of circumstances in their life become high-risk.

These laws give police - and in some cases family members and other members of the community - a mechanism for going to a court and saying, this gun - this person right now is in crisis. It's not safe for them to have a gun. The gun can be removed for a fixed period of time, and the danger can be averted in some cases. And there are instances of, you know, tragedies being averted by those laws. And again, those are laws that have been passed at the state level, signed by Republican governors in some cases. There's even some glimmer in the Senate where Lindsey Graham convened a hearing and talked about...

MARTIN: OK.

BURNETT: ...Red flag laws as one possible. There has been no action beyond that in the Senate, but that's at least one place where you've seen...

MARTIN: Reverend Schenck...

BURNETT: ...An opening.

MARTIN: Thanks for that, James. Reverend Schenck, I just want to ask you just about the tenor of this because it's almost as if we've gotten to a place where we can't even talk about this, let alone move forward on this. You know, I understand that, Kris, that there was a lot of legislative activity last year and in 2018 and also this year during that legislative sessions and so forth. But I was curious about - because you're kind of in the faith and hope business, and I was interested in you as a person who - for whom this was not the original focus of your interest as a faith leader and as a...

SCHENCK: Indeed.

MARTIN: ...Public figure. And you came to a place of believing that it is fundamental to your mission. And I wanted to ask you, you know, what would it take in your view for people to believe that it is important for this country to address this, that the suffering is too great and that as people of goodwill can in fact address this, like they've addressed other health crises?

SCHENCK: If Republicans believe - as they have assured my community, the evangelical community - that they believe that every human life is sacred - we've heard the president say that recently a few times. If they really believe that, then there is a moral mandate here. Whether the technical pieces of the puzzle are in place or not, there is a mandate to do what is right, and what is right is to protect human life.

My community defines itself as pro-life. It is pro-life to protect our fellow human beings - Americans in particular, in this case - in one way by prohibiting bad actors from getting the firepower that will help them realize their immoral, wicked, murderous imaginations, their intentions. We have to frustrate that. One way to do that is to make it very difficult to get the kind of firepower it takes to carry out the kind of acts we've just seen. So to me, we've crossed a moral line. It's now time for Republicans - in particular, the president - to put up or shut up. Either stop talking about the sanctity of human life, stop talking about every human life being sacred, or take the necessary actions to protect human life.

MARTIN: Do you see any evidence that others who share your faith perspective and commitment agree with you?

SCHENCK: Yes, especially young evangelicals, emerging evangelical leaders, the young pastors of megachurches in this country are nearly unanimous on calling for sensible gun regulation. Not rolling back the Second Amendment - that's not necessary. There's plenty of room to restrict access to the kind of firepower that we've seen used. And we begin by talking about common-sense regulations surrounding semi-automatic weapons. If you've shot a semiautomatic rifle as I have, an AR-15, you know that your finger on that feather trigger can turn it into a machine gun. There is no need for an average person to have a machine gun.

MARTIN: Is there - I'm going to ask - I guess, Kris, I'm going to give you the final word here. And I apologize to all and thank you all so much for joining us on this very disturbing weekend. Kris, give us some hope. I mean, I know Rob Schenck - that's his specific job, is he's in the kind of hope business...

SCHENCK: And I am hopeful.

MARTIN: He is the hope business. But what about you? Is there anything giving you hope? I mean, you've been working on this for so long.

BROWN: I have. We have at Brady. And - but a number of things give me hope. One, reverend Schenck is absolutely right. The young people are leading the way here. If you look at any poll, 18- to 34-year-olds rate this as a top priority issue. We won in 2018 in Congress, and we'll continue to move in that direction.

MARTIN: That's Kris Brown. She's the president of Brady. Also with us - Thomas Abt, a senior research fellow at Harvard University and the author of "Bleeding Out: The Devastating Consequences Of Urban Violence -- And A Bold New Plan For Peace In The Streets." James Bennett's the editorial director of The Trace, a nonpartisan news site that focuses on gun violence. And Rob Schenck, as you heard, is a minister in the evangelical tradition.

Thank you all so much for joining us.

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