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Why The Gun Debate Goes On And Nothing Changes


The tragedy in Las Vegas has quickly led to a familiar routine here in Washington, with politicians on each side calling out their entrenched positions. Here's House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, followed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat.


PAUL RYAN: We cannot let the actions of a single person define us as a country. It's not who we are. Instead, what truly defines us are the acts of heroism we witness after the tragedy.

CHUCK SCHUMER: If we truly want to honor our first responders and protect our fellow Americans, as we say we do, President Trump should stand up and tell the NRA they're not always right.

MARTIN: Democrats proposed several bills restricting gun access yesterday, and President Trump didn't commit either way, saying, quote, "we will be talking about gun laws as time goes by." We've got Chris Buskirk on the line now. He's the editor and publisher of the conservative publication American Greatness. He's also a member of the NRA.

Chris, thanks so much for being back on the show.

CHRIS BUSKIRK: It's my pleasure.

MARTIN: You host a talk show out of Phoenix, Ariz., a conservative call-in show. What were your callers saying about the issue of gun control in the wake of this?

BUSKIRK: You know, it's interesting. I - this is why I love taking calls on the show is because I find that I do so much more listening than I do talking, which I think is probably appropriate. They don't - they don't think about gun control per se in this context, and I think that's - I think that's good. I think that's appropriate. What they're thinking about is, what happened? The calls that we took were not talking about political issues. They were talking about what it meant, you know, how to grapple with this more at a human level. What do we do in the face of grief, in the face of tragedy? We just - I'll be honest with you, Rachel. We just did not get a lot of people who wanted to talk politics about this. They wanted to say how do we think through this as a problem? How do we look at something as evil as this and how do we grapple with that as part of the human condition? And that's - that to me was so much more interesting than the political aspect.

MARTIN: So then as you know, this is - this is what becomes the routine because the people on the left will hear that and say if not now when, that when a shooting like this happens, the left will point to the right and say, all you're doing is saying bad things happen, that you're giving up. And they in turn will push gun control. It's like it's not even the same conversation when the left is saying the moment is now to pass gun control and the right is saying - especially from what you're saying your callers have put out there - that it's about human nature, that there's not a federal government solution.

BUSKIRK: That's exactly right. I mean, that was - boy. I mean, that really is my takeaway is when people - you know, I think that probably is a great explanation of the divide when we look at this issue. You know, I even - I just hate to even call this a political divide, but it is. It's how you look at - it's how you look at the world. On the one hand, we see, you know, on the right, broadly speaking, people look at this as a human nature problem. They look at this as - look at it the way people talk about it. On the one side, you call - we call this mass murder. On the other, we call it gun violence. One focus is on the person. One focus is on the means, on the item, the inanimate object that's used to - that's used to perpetuate - or perpetrate that evil.

And that I think exposes the way - the difference and why this is such a difficult issue to talk about because it goes to the very root of these little ideological divisions, which is a worldview which views these things differently. On the right, we look at this and say this isn't necessarily a political issue. This is - this is a human nature issue, and it should not be politicized.

MARTIN: Whereas you would look at something like terrorism or Islamic radical - radicalization and when you see a person who happens to be a Muslim carry out a mass shooting, then from a conservative point of view or from the view of your callers, that would seem to be a problem that does have a federal government solution.

BUSKIRK: Yeah, that's right. I mean, we actually talked about this a bit yesterday on our show, which is to say, you know, in one way, it's easier for the human mind to get - to understand Islamic radicalism when you have - when you have an incident like that because at least you can say, aha. OK, I can understand this. I can disagree with it. I can think it's wrong, but I can understand that there was an actual motivation that a more or less normal person could at least understand. When you see what happened in Las Vegas, this was - there was no discernible ideology or political or cultural motive. This was somebody who was just acting badly.

MARTIN: Which is why the left would point to the guns and say if you can't control the evil of the person, can you not control their access to the weapon?

BUSKIRK: I think as a practical matter the answer is you can't and the bad that you do as a result of trying to restrict access to somebody like the man in Las Vegas is outweighed by the people who, you know, the weak can't defend themselves against the strong if they don't have access to a weapon that will protect them or that they can use to protect themselves. And so you wind up in this situation where, you know, is the - this proposed solution actually worse than the problem?

MARTIN: But as you know, in this case, it wouldn't have done a whole lot of good if all those people at that concert had been armed with weapons.

BUSKIRK: Yeah, no, that's - oh, no, Rachel, you're absolutely right. In this case, I think that's right. I mean, that's what makes this particular incident so cruel in so many ways. You know, we were talking about public policy for the whole country. In this instance, I mean, everybody has thought about this for the past couple days and said, how could this have been prevented? I just I don't know that there is a way to prevent something like this that doesn't carry a cost with it that's actually worse as a - at a societal level.

MARTIN: Just getting to the specifics - the shooter apparently had converted a dozen of his weapons so they could simulate an automatic weapon, using something called a bump fire stock. There are calls for those to be outlied (ph) now - outlawed. Do you think that's a good idea? Is that a good starting point?

BUSKIRK: You know, I actually - the reporting - I heard your reporting on that, which I thought was very - was very well done. Look, that is - that's something - that's such a mechanical issue, to be honest with you. It's outside of my expertise on that. That is a place that I think we've come together as a society and said, look, automatic fire weapons are different classification and need to be looked at differently. If people have found a way to game the system, talk about it. I think that - I think that's a tweak as opposed to getting at the the main issue of...

MARTIN: But any...

BUSKIRK: ...How do we think about guns and violence and human nature?

MARTIN: And any wholesale change you think is just not worse - is - would be too severe a cost to freedom in this country.

BUSKIRK: That's right. I mean, to - look, for those of us on the right, we look at - we look at guns and we say, look, this is a way that the weak can protect themselves against the strong and therefore it's something that we need to protect and recognize that bad people can do bad things.

MARTIN: Chris Buskirk, publisher and editor of the conservative American Greatness. Thanks, Chris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.