Roundtable: High Court Rules on Guns, Death Penalty The Supreme Court strikes down a handgun ban and denies the death penalty for child rapists. Plus, North Korea blows up a nuclear reactor tower. Farai Chideya runs through the week's news with our panel of reporters.
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Roundtable: High Court Rules on Guns, Death Penalty

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Roundtable: High Court Rules on Guns, Death Penalty

Roundtable: High Court Rules on Guns, Death Penalty

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is News and Notes. I'm Farai Chideya. President Bush once called North Korea part of an axis of evil. Now, the rogue nation wants to prove it's committed to nuclear disarmament and has blown up a reactor tower at its main atomic plant. Plus the U.S. Supreme Court has had a busy week including striking down a handgun ban. Today, on our Reporters' Roundtable, we have Theola Labbe-DeBose, a staff writer for the Washington Post, and Eddie Lard, staff writer for the Birmingham News. Hi! How are you doing?

Ms. THEOLA LABBE-DEBOSE (Staff Writer, Washington Post): Hello!

Mr. EDDIE LARD (Staff Writer, Birmingham News): Hi! Greetings from Birmingham.

CHIDEYA: Thank you. Thank you. So, before we go on to other news, I want to talk a little bit about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The two are campaigning together today in something called Unity, a town called Unity in New Hampshire. We know there have been some private meetings between the two of them, but this will be their first public campaign appearance together since the primary season ended. Theola, why do you think they're making nice in public now?

Ms. LABBE-DEBOSE: Well, there is always this saying, no permanent friends, no permanent enemies. I think it's clear that the Democrats have to unite if they want to win in November and if they're going so far as to find a town named Unity in order to completely promote unity, I think it's showing that they're really trying to start off on the right foot because there are lots of challenges ahead, namely what role will the former president Clinton play as the campaign moves forward, what will happen with Hillary's campaign debt, and also, will her followers follow Obama? So I think that this is a way to, at least, knock out some of those early questions by just saying hey, all of us are on the same team.

CHIDEYA: Eddie, there's a lot of issues here on the table. Hillary Clinton introduced Obama to her top fund raisers asking them to support him. And in a reverse move, Obama pledged to help Clinton with her campaign debt. Now, you know, remember she's given over 10 million dollars of her own money to try to fund her campaign and she received 4,600 dollars from the Obamas, the senator and his wife Michelle. That's the maximum they can give under federal law. So that's small bit. But do you think that Obama's supporters are going to step up to try to contribute to a campaign which is technically suspended but effectively over?

Mr. LARD: Well, that is certainly the hope and an intention. You have to remember that a lot of Clinton supporters are a little bit distracted at this time by what they saw as unfair treatment by the media, and some people were saying that Democratic parties who may be trying to push her a little bit to get out of the race pretty early. But I think both Obama and Clinton have something or can offer something that the other desperately needs. Clinton has about 20 million dollars in debt from her campaign. The initial amount from Obama and Michelle is a gesture that they hope bring in other money to help retire some of this debt.

Certainly, it's going to take some large contributors in addition to the amount that Obama and Michelle has pledged but there definitely is a story in it. I think it's more important that it should go to healing some wounds. Obama desperately needs the Clinton voters. I think there was a poll that came out just this week that's showing that probably near half of Clinton voters are not sure they're going to vote for Obama in the fall election. Obama needs those votes and needs the rest of the Clinton supporters to come aboard as well.

CHIDEYA: All right. I want to move on to another topic, North Korea. Yesterday, President Bush announced plans to ease sanctions against North Korea. The country said it was going to dismantle its nuclear programs. North Korea destroyed a nuclear reactor tower at its main atomic plant to show its commitment. Theola, this explosion wasn't scheduled to happen as quickly. Why do you think they imploded this cooling tower so soon? What was their vested interest in making this show?

Ms. LABBE-DEBOSE: I think that even North Korea knows that everything is a made for TV moment these days. I would like to know how long it takes for this video to shoot at the top of YouTube. I think it's very clear that they wanted to send a signal to the world and also to surprise folks as well to say hey, we are very serious about this. We will dismantle in a very public way so that there is no doubt how we are committed. And I think it's also important to remember that this is just a first step and both North Korea and Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, has said that there are many more steps to follow in terms of this report that North Korea filed and how detailed is that in terms of the state of their plans of their program or weapons. So I think that also, again, similar to Clinton and Obama coming together, we have North Korea making a very big opening gesture.

CHIDEYA: Eddie, we have so much going on in terms of politics. You've got the presidential race. You've got the economic issues that tie in with politics like gas prices. You have the Iraq war. How much do you think most Americans are plugged into something like the issues with North Korea where the administration did make quite a point of saying North Korea is you know if not an enemy, a problem spot - a part of an axis of evil. You know that's big language. But now that we've seen a bit of a shift, are people really going to plug into that? Not people in Washington, but just people, people.

Mr. LARD: That's a difficult question to answer. Obviously, the administration would like to get some credit for bringing disagreement with North Korea, especially after six years ago when everything kind of blew apart there when the president listed North Korea among his axis of evil and North Korea started a nuclear enrichment program - well, continued a nuclear enrichment program and talks kind of fell apart, and the U.S. made a bold statement that it weren't going to talk individually with North Korea and that they must come in with this multi-nation approach to determine negotiation.

So I think the administration is really hoping that the Bush administration gets some credit, at least, for coming to some type of an agreement with this. And it also takes some of the heat off. There had been bad news obviously on the economy front, the gas prices, but also in Iraq. Actually, it's been a very violent week in Iraq with those local bombings and shootings. And this has kind of changed the subject a little bit, but it also addresses one of the concerns that the people have been critical with the administration and not dealing with the Korean problem before now.

CHIDEYA: Let's go back to something a little closer to home and that's handguns. The U.S. Supreme Court decided to strike down a ban on handguns. In a five-to-four ruling, the justice has said that the Second Amendment guarantees individuals the right to own guns, and it reversed a ban on handguns that's been in place in the District of Columbia for 32 years. Now, Theola, you are working for the Washington Post. There's a lot of disagreement between the city government and the Supreme Court in terms of how this decision has played out. Give us a little sense of what the District of Columbia government has been advocating for and how this ruling might affect that?

Ms. LABBE-DEBOSE: Farai, yesterday was just a really electric day in terms of residents. Us here at the Post just really waiting for this decision because this is something that has been very close to the heart of officials and also residents. I mean the people who are fighting for this policy to retain it, in terms of keeping the ban, thinking that guns in homes should be kept with trigger locks really feel like the city has seen so much violence and that this ban is necessary. And then here, you have the highest court in the land basically saying no, we basically think that the Second Amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms, and so we are going to overturn this ban. Obviously, what this does, not only for residents but then for city officials it just has have them scrambling now for the next steps. There is already a city council member Phil Mendelson, who has moved to hold a hearing next week at the city council. He chairs the committee on the judiciary. I mean, basically, rules have to be promulgated. There have to be laws written, and then possibly passed, and then debate about that. I mean, people just shouldn't think that now they can go out and sort of, buy a gun and then have it in their home. And so, you're going to have lots of lawyers and clerks and you know, government workers busy to try to make sense of this ruling for the citizens.

CHIDEYA: Eddie, what are the ripple effects outside of D.C. proper?

Mr. LARD: Well, I think the reaction has been astonishing. The mayor of D.C. obviously was pretty subdued, but if you go back to some reactions like Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago, he was really more adamant about his disagreement with the ruling. And I am also intrigue about the reaction of presidential candidate Barack Obama from Chicago, and Chicago has a law very similar to D.C. and the NRA, the National Rifle Association, has already indicated that they are going after other gun control legislation throughout the country. And the city in Chicago would be very high. I imagine on that list, in fact, they may have already been, I think I may heard this morning, they already have been some filings filed against the Chicago law. But Obama's reaction was, you know, he's basically kind of agreed with and said it provides some guidance to local authorities then crafting gun laws.

Interestingly, Reverend Jesse Jackson was in Birmingham yesterday for a church event, but he was here just moment after the decision was announced. And he was very disappointed in the ruling. He said that it takes away another tool that law enforcement uses to - can use to combat violence in the city. So, I think maybe Obama had been a constitutional lawyer might agree with the particulars of this ruling or he also could be looking at the politics of it, providing individual gun rights, guaranteeing individual gun rights, is a very popular issue in most of the country. I think rates were about 67 to 70 percent of Americans view the Second Amendment at providing guns right to an individual not just as a collective militia as in the wars leading up to the constitutional amendment.

CHIDEYA: Well, let me get Theola in just very quickly. Do you think that guns are going to be an issue in the 2008 presidential election?

Ms. LABBE- DEBOSE: I think they will given McCain's reaction to the ruling where he basically pointed to cities like Chicago, just like Eddie said saying that, Chicago's ban infringed upon citizens. I also want to pick up on something else that Eddie said about the police. In D.C., a very popular charge that the police level against criminals is illegal gun possessions. It's something that you see in a lot of cases. And so now that maybe something that the police may not be able to use so often in so many instances because of this pending change.

CHIDEYA: All right, well, I want to thank you both for your time. Take care.

Ms. LABBE-DEBOSE: Thank you.

Mr. LARD: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Theola Labbe-DeBose is a staff writer for the Washington Post, and she spoke with us from the studios at the Washington Post, and Eddie Lard is a staff writer for the Birmingham News in Alabama. And just ahead we are going to talk with Chelsea Dock, she 12 years old, but unlike most folks her age, or any age, she has performed on piano at Madison Square Garden and "The Ellen Show." This is NPR News.

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