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Why Mass Shootings Boost Support For More Relaxed Gun Control Laws


David Frum of The Atlantic wrote this week that mass shootings do in fact lead to new gun laws. They've been state laws, and they typically make it easier, not harder, to own or carry or use a gun. David Frum, thanks for joining us today.

DAVID FRUM: Thank you so much.

SIEGEL: Since the shootings at Sandy Hook in 2012, what kind of changes have there been in state gun laws?

FRUM: About two dozen states have moved to make their gun laws more permissive. They've either done this through making it easier to bring guns into more places. Churches, bars, daycare centers are often chosen - or by relaxing the requirements on individuals, by making it easier, for example, for former felons to reclaim gun rights.

Many states have copied Florida's Stand Your Ground law. Illinois in 2017, for example, adopted the Stand Your Ground law. Nevada, the site of the recent terrible killing, considered but did not pass in 2015 a measure that would have authorized the use of deadly force to stop the theft of any vehicle - not just an automobile but a motorcycle, perhaps even a bicycle.

SIEGEL: Yesterday I put your observation to Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, and he pointed out that his state, Maryland, enacted a tougher gun law in recent years. But he said the contrary examples, the kind of laws that you're talking about, reflect the lobbying and advertising power of the National Rifle Association. Would you agree with that?

FRUM: I think that's true as far as it goes. But people who advocate tougher gun laws - and I am one of them - need to face up to the fact that public opinion is with the NRA. When you ask questions like, do you believe that guns make you safer, you see that Americans do think so. And we have seen over the past two decades a rise in support for gun rights even as fewer and fewer Americans actually keep guns in their home.

SIEGEL: Supporters of tougher gun laws often cite polls showing a huge majority. Seventy percent of Americans say they support sensible gun laws. Do you believe numbers like that?

FRUM: Well, who doesn't support sensible gun laws? The question is, what is a sensible law? You can create the appearance of large majorities by framing the question a certain way. You have to ask the question in a way that will be presented in real-world politics.

Americans believe that having more guns in more places makes them safer. And because they think that, you have now a situation which in literally every one of the 50 states - Illinois was last - it is legal for people to strap a holster on their body and go about their business, ready to shoot or kill when they see something they believe to be a threat. In all but half a dozen of the states, it's legal for people to brandish arms openly.

That's why you had scenes not just at Charlottesville where you had effectively a paramilitary confront protestors. But a few weeks after the Charlottesville incident, there was a meeting of the San Antonio, Texas, town council to consider whether San Antonio should remove its Confederate monuments. The town hall was surrounded by armed and uniformed men openly displaying firearms, obviously threatening the town councilors - completely legal.

SIEGEL: If you're right about public opinion and guns, then it isn't very promising to campaign for new gun controls on the assumption that most Americans actually want those laws or would accept them if only the pro-gun propaganda could be countered or unmasked. If that's a bad strategy, what's a good strategy to advance new gun laws?

FRUM: In all but eight states, it is completely legal for a parent to put his or her child into a car seat, strap the child into the car seat, roll up all the windows and smoke a pack of cigarettes inside the car. That's legal in most places. Most people don't do it because parents love their children and understand that smoking in a confined space with your child is deadly for the child. We have to begin by making parents understand. This is the group that will unlock this. You're a bad parent if you have a gun in the house. You're not protecting your child. You're endangering your child.

The cases I find it most useful to confront people with are not these terrible mass shootings and instead to focus on the deadly toll every day of a case - there was a case just the other day from I think Tampa where a 4-year-old girl reached into her grandmother's purse to find some candy. The grandmother always kept candy in her purse. The grandmother also kept a gun in the purse. And so instead of getting the candy, the child got dead. Those are the stories people need to know.

Start by changing minds. And as people begin to accept that a gun in the house is dangerous - your child may kill herself, or your child may kill another toddler. There are cases like that all the time of toddlers killing toddlers. Don't have the gun. And once people have that mental change, they will understand. Well, if guns don't make my child safe, maybe they don't like other people's children safe.

SIEGEL: David Frum, senior editor for The Atlantic, thanks for talking with us today.

FRUM: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.