STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Weeks before the Florida high school shooting, a teenager opened fire at a school in Kentucky. Police say the teenage gunman there killed two and wounded more than 12 others. Now Kentucky is one of many states debating school security and gun control. And Kentucky's Republican governor, Matt Bevin, is on the line. He's in Washington, D.C., for a meeting of the National Governors Association.
Governor, welcome to the program.
MATT BEVIN: Thank you, Steve. Great to be with you.
INSKEEP: We're at a moment when some Republicans are signaling some openness to gun measures. President Trump has said he would be willing to raise the age limit for buying a rifle. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said the other day he's willing to consider, at least, restricting the size of magazines, the number of bullets you can stick in a gun at one time.
Would you support measures like that, Governor?
BEVIN: I think it's fair to say that at a time like this or, frankly, at times when it's less emotionally raw, we would be wise to look at any and all possibilities of securing our schools and our society as a whole, our children most specifically. But as to any specific recommendation, I think it's premature, certainly for me and I think for us societally, to assume that any one thing is the solution. I have submitted that it's broader than any one thing and any single piece of legislation.
INSKEEP: Governor, a couple of things to follow up on there. First, when you're saying you want to wait until a time that's less emotionally raw - there's been a series of very high-profile mass shootings at schools and other places for years and years and years. When would be the time to act?
BEVIN: Correct. No, this is my point - is that clearly something needs to be done. But what I have said from the beginning - and it's true enough. And nobody can refute the fact that certain elements in our society have not changed. And over the course of the last decade in particular as we have seen these mass shootings, the number of guns that exist has not really changed. The access to them has not changed and, in fact, has gotten more restrictive. So if those are facts - and they are facts - what has changed? Something has changed. Something is triggering this.
INSKEEP: If I can...
BEVIN: And I think that culture is changing underneath our feet.
INSKEEP: If I can - we can talk about the culture. But let's just check one thing having to do with the number of guns, Governor. The Congressional Research Service found that since about 1968, the per capita firearms ownership in the United States has roughly doubled. We're now up to 89 guns for every 100 people. That is a lot of guns.
BEVIN: There are fewer guns in homes, though. There were far more guns per home and more homes that had a gun 50 and a hundred and 200 years ago. There may be more absolute number of guns. But the access to them by children is not necessarily higher. And - in fact, that's a statistic that goes back now 50 years. I'm talking about what's been happening in the last 10 years. And there has not been that shift or change significantly in the past decade where we've started to see these school shootings.
INSKEEP: You're talking about the fact that family sizes have changed, and so that may lead to different statistics. But 89 guns for every hundred people is still an awful lot of guns.
BEVIN: It is. But I'll tell you this. There have always been a lot of guns per person. And the access to them by children - with no restrictions, no rules, no laws - has long existed. And yet children did not go to school and kill other children. And so we've got to ask ourselves, if we want to be truly honest about how to address this - and we should be - as the father of nine children, all of whom are at home, this is something that matters to someone like me. I don't think I'm alone. This is an issue that we have to be very, very serious about and open-minded about. What is the root cause of this evil?
INSKEEP: OK. So what do you propose to do?
BEVIN: Again, there is no immediate solution. It isn't - when you are dealing with evil, it's important to understand, how can you stop it? That's the real question everybody has. Are we going to frisk every kid coming into a school? Are we going to surround them in barbed wire? Are we going to put metal detectors at the entrance of every school? It'll be just a matter of time before somebody will breach whatever security measure is put in place because if somebody truly wants to perpetrate evil, it has always been able to be done. And it's a tragic and sad reality. So that...
INSKEEP: Well, that's an interesting - if I can, that's an interesting point, Governor, because there were security measures at the school that was shot up in Florida the other day. There was a security officer - a resource officer, as he's called - who ended up doing nothing and ended up resigning as a result. You make a good point that school security measures can be breached. Would there be any room to make it harder to obtain a weapon that can kill large numbers of people on those occasions when security is breached?
BEVIN: Let me give you a - in response to your question, there was a shooting, as you noted, in Kentucky.
BEVIN: Sixteen students were shot. Two children were killed. This was an instance where a student brought a gun to school, killed other students with it. This student was 15. He was too young, by law, to even own a gun. He was not allowed by law to bring a gun to school. He was not allowed by law to kill people. And yet he violated every one of those laws. The question I ask - and I mean it sincerely - what other law would a child who's willing to break those three laws have obeyed that would have precluded something like this from happening?
INSKEEP: What if a gun dealer had made it harder for someone to get a weapon? Might that help in some situations?
BEVIN: That's been happening in many respects, as though - some would disagree. But it is much more difficult now than it was 50 and a hundred years ago or even 20 years ago and, in some cities, incredibly harder to obtain a gun. And that's not inappropriate necessarily. It just isn't. I'm not disagreeing that we should have certain checks and balances. I'm not. What I'm saying is to assume that that is the solution, which people seem singularly to want to focus on, I think, is a very naive and premature assumption.
INSKEEP: One other thing, Governor - I think it's fair to say, you're indicating it's difficult to find a solution here. It's fair to say that we're all guessing at solutions. We don't really know what is going to work for sure because there's so little research on gun violence, how it happens, how to prevent it. And one reason for that, as you probably know, is that there's been a ban on federal money - an effective ban on federal money - being used for gun research since the 1990s. Even the congressman who sponsored that, Jay Dickey, now says it was a mistake. Would you support removing that ban so that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can research gun violence and how to stop it?
BEVIN: I'm a big supporter of statistics that are valid, that are able to be backed up. And so research is imperative. On that front, on any number of other fronts, we would be foolish not to be aware of the impact of guns specifically in this instance. But at the same time, we also need to look at the realities of student depression, the impact - and we've seen study after study on their psyche as it relates to social media and the use of personal devices. There's a very compelling and interesting article recently in The Atlantic - studies...
INSKEEP: Governor, I'm sorry. I've just got about 20 seconds. And I'm hoping to get a yes or no here. Would you be willing then to call up Mitch McConnell, who's from your state, the Senate majority leader, and say, please get that ban removed? Let's have some gun research.
BEVIN: I think it's important to look at everything. And by everything, I mean not those things that those seem imperatively, in their minds, to focus on but to look at what we are doing to our young people - the use of drugs, the depression, the lack of engagement by parents, the lack of morality in our society. We need to look at everything.
INSKEEP: Governor, thanks very much.
BEVIN: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Matt Bevin is the Republican governor of Kentucky.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOUSE ON THE KEYS' "HILBERT DUB")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. 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.