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Week In Politics: Gun Policy In America


This weekend marks one week since 31 people lost their lives in two mass shootings in Ohio and Texas. And in the days since, Americans have pressed their leaders to do something about mass gun violence in America.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Do something. Do something. Do something. Do something.


There may be some movement. Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a Kentucky radio station that the Senate will consider gun-control legislation when it returns in September.


MITCH MCCONNELL: The president called me this morning about this. He's anxious to get an outcome. And so am I. And I believe the Democrats will have to just admit that it's better to get a result than just engage in this sort of analyst point-scoring that has a tendency to occur after one of these awful, awful incidents.

CORNISH: McConnell controls what legislation gets to the Senate floor. And this morning, as President Trump left for two fundraisers in New York, he expressed his support for background checks.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I can tell you there's tremendous goodwill for meaningful - I'm talking about meaningful - add that word - meaningful background checks so that sick and demented people don't carry around guns.

CORNISH: At the same time, he reiterated his support for the National Rifle Association.


TRUMP: I have a great relationship with the NRA. They supported me very early. And that's been a great decision they made. We have Justice Kavanaugh. We have Justice Gorsuch. And they feel very strongly about the Second Amendment.

SHAPIRO: The debate over what to do about guns in America is where we'll begin our discussion of the week in politics. And today I'm joined by nationally syndicated columnist Connie Schultz. Welcome to the program.


SHAPIRO: And David Brooks of The New York Times. Good to have you back with us.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

SHAPIRO: Connie, let me start with you. And before we begin the discussion, I want to disclose that your husband is Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown. This discussion about gun regulation feels a bit like Groundhog Day, where there is a discussion about new legislation after nearly every mass shooting, and a bill rarely passes. Do you believe this time is different?

SCHULTZ: Well, we're seeing signs of it being different here in Ohio. You ran that little clip of the crowd at the vigil in Dayton yelling, do something. This was not a hyperpartisan crowd. These were hundreds of people who showed up in the wake of this massacre in Dayton. And they started shouting, do something while Governor Mike DeWine was on stage. He has responded. He has said, you're right. We should do something. And he's got a list of things he wants to do, including expand background checks. We also have the Republican Congressman Mike Turner, who used to be mayor of Dayton, who has said he wants to ban assault-style weapons. We've never seen this come from him before. Yes, his daughter was nearby when the shootings occurred. But my attitude is this - whatever gets them there, welcome.

SHAPIRO: So there appears to be a changing landscape in Ohio. In Washington, David, McConnell has pledged a debate over guns. Do you think there are 60 votes in the Senate to actually pass anything?

BROOKS: Maybe. I think we have a right to be skeptical based on what's happened since Newtown and every other time we've seen it. Even John Barrasso, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate from Wyoming, expressing skepticism. He says it violates the Second Amendment. You see - if things have not happened after all the shootings we've had before, why do we think it will happen now? And to me, what's new is that this is - maybe shouldn't be framed as a gun debate. It should be framed as a domestic terrorism debate, especially in the El Paso case and other cases. We see people issuing manifestos - related to the Christchurch killers. They are killing on behalf of an ideology, an ideology that looks and feels like ISIS, like jihadism. And if we have a terrorism debate, maybe we can shake up the politics and get things passed that we couldn't get passed otherwise.

SCHULTZ: Well, in fairness...

SHAPIRO: Just to clarify, the Christchurch killer, referencing the shooting in New Zealand that took place in a mosque. Sorry, Connie, go ahead.

SCHULTZ: That ideology is also coming from the White House. And I don't see any point in forgetting or ignoring that. Donald Trump has made no secret about his animosity, his hatred for immigrants. And I don't want to blame him for El Paso because I think right now that's unhelpful if we're trying to look - move forward. But I think he needs to acknowledge his hateful rhetoric. And I also caution - I agree with David - you know, we will always be skeptical over. We're journalists - right? - first and foremost. And we must always be skeptical. But I caution against cynicism, which I'm not accusing you, David, of having. But I'm seeing too much of it from many Democrats, from many liberals out there, particularly on social media. I have really come to understand that cynicism is more than just a blight on our souls. It is betraying the people who need us to fight for them and the people whom we claim to love. And we can't afford this persistent cynicism if we are to see any change.

SHAPIRO: I understand the sentiment. We can't afford cynicism. But, David, when we see so many mass shootings, including ones that target young children, I mean, can? you blame people for being cynical.

BROOKS: I'm not sure it's cynical. We were asked to make a prediction. So we're predicting what might happen. But it should be pointed out background checks are just insanely popular. It's like more than 95 percent of Democrats, more than 84 percent of Republicans. So these are - this a phenomenally popular measure. Red-flag laws - even more popular. And the reason it hasn't passed is because the NRA and its friends have taken a zero-tolerance policy. We can't allow even a single little thing. And they have turned the gun issue into not about guns but about culture. And that if you're trying to take away my guns, it's 'cause you hate my rural culture. And somehow, we have to detoxify that debate. And maybe these things are shocking enough to make it happen.

One thing on whether Trump is culpable here - I think partly. The invasion rhetoric that is a steady drumbeat out of the White House definitely feeds into this. But if you read the manifestos of the killers, they do go a lot further. They think we're being replaced. They think immigration is white genocide. They call it - the very idea of mixing different kinds of people is, to them, a disease. And so this is a much more ferocious kind of ideology that they're spreading.

SHAPIRO: Can I ask you both about...

SCHULTZ: I worry...

SHAPIRO: Sorry. Go ahead, Connie.

SCHULTZ: I am sorry, Ari. But I do worry that we're - what we're accepting as the standard for presidential behavior. If we're going to say, well, this is even worse than what Trump is saying, I want us to pause here for a moment as a country and think about, what have we become accustomed to when it comes to rhetoric out of this White House?

SHAPIRO: Well, let me ask you about one particular part of that rhetoric. When President Trump talks about gun violence, he often talks about mental illness. Connie, this week, you tweeted, the attempt to demonize mentally ill people is shameful and dangerous. You want to expand on that?

SCHULTZ: Yes. We know - experts have told us for many, many years - we know this. And most people who are either mentally ill or who know or love someone who is mentally ill - that a person who struggles with this is more likely to harm him or herself than someone else. This has - I spoke about this publicly earlier in the week on Chris Matthews' show. I wasn't expecting to, but I did in response to a question. My only brother, my 56-year-old brother, ended his own life early in July.

SHAPIRO: I'm so sorry.

SCHULTZ: And he - thank you. And this was after decades of struggle with mental illness and alcoholism. Listen. We thought we had done everything, everything to prevent that moment. And who did he harm? He harmed himself. Anybody who loves someone like this knows this struggle. And for anybody in leadership to attempt to demonize people with mental illness is adding an additional layer of trauma all across this country.

SHAPIRO: David, do you think the conversation about mental illness is doing more harm than good in connection with gun violence?

BROOKS: Well, one thing to learn about suicide is that we sometimes think we shouldn't talk about 'cause it'll make people inclined to do it. And that's not true...


BROOKS: ...That talking about it is the exact right thing. And it's true that most mentally ill people are not violent. The vast majority, just like any other human being, is not violent. That's one of the things - I like the red-flag law. It doesn't target people who are mentally ill or include that in the conversation. It's about people who are on these hateful ideologies who are threatening to do violence.

SHAPIRO: David Brooks and Connie Schultz, thank you both for joining us. I hope you enjoy the weekend.

BROOKS: Thank you.

SCHULTZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.