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Since Sandy Hook Shooting, Gun Restrictions Progress On State Level


The big political issue after the shooting in Las Vegas is of course about gun control. Over the years, efforts to address gun violence through federal legislation have stalled, but there has been some movement at the state level. We're turning to Dan Gross now to hear more about that. He's the founder of the Center to Prevent Youth Violence. And he's the former president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Dan Gross, thanks so much for speaking with us.

DAN GROSS: Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: So one reason we called you is that we were going through our files and we realized that we spoke to you almost exactly two years ago, in October, in 2015, after a mass shooting at a community college in Oregon, where nine people were killed. Now since then, we've obviously had many more events where at least four people were killed, which is how we define a mass shooting.

There are ones that have gotten a lot of attention like Las Vegas. And there are ones that haven't, like one that happened at a party in Plano, Texas, last month, where nine people were killed when a man murdered his former wife and friends she'd invited over to watch a football game. So I do have to ask you, what is your reaction when you hear of another mass shooting like the one that got - brought us together two years ago?

GROSS: You know, obviously, I'm heartbroken like every American is, you know, particularly because I have firsthand experience. My brother was shot in a mass shooting. So, you know, to the extent that one can, I can identify with the people whose lives have been suddenly torn apart by this tragedy. It's a sickening feeling. But the reality is we should be sickened by the state of this issue in our country every single day.

And at the same time, there's the opportunity to reflect back when we talk to, you know, from how far we've come from when we talked a couple of years ago. There's a momentum that exists on this issue where the American public is starting to hold our elected leaders accountable like never before on a state level and on a federal level.

MARTIN: Well, let's take these issues separately now, if we could. So first of all, has there been any change in federal gun control laws since 2015? And then, of course, I'm going to ask you about the state level.

GROSS: There have not been any outright changes that are significant in terms of our big goals like expanding background checks to all gun sales, which is probably the biggest opportunity that we have to prevent gun deaths. But that doesn't mean that there hasn't been progress. We've seen leaders that previously had been beholden to the corporate gun lobby switch their point of view. There are a lot of laws that I think that corporate gun lobby was planning on passing with the election of President Trump that haven't gone anywhere - laws like concealed carry, reciprocity.

It would give anyone who has a permit to carry a gun in one state the right to carry that gun in another state. So we'd all be subject to the laws of the states with the weakest gun laws that grant concealed carry permits to anyone who asks. It's incredibly dangerous. It's the big prize that the gun lobbies thought they were going to get. And to this point, it hasn't gone anywhere.

MARTIN: When we talked to you last, you said that the issue is, quote, "not as much a matter of keeping certain guns away from all people as it is a matter of keeping all guns away from certain people." Is that still the case?

GROSS: Without a doubt because that's the policy objective on the part of the American public is, how can we make all of us safer respectful of what the Second Amendment says, and how can we have the biggest impact in terms of doing it? And without a doubt, the biggest impact is keeping guns out of the hands of the people that we all agree shouldn't have them. That represents not only common ground that every American shares, but it also represents the biggest opportunity to make all of us safer.

MARTIN: When we talked two years ago, in 2015, prior to that, the marker was that terrible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. After Sandy Hook, six states expanded background checks to all gun sales. The expansion of background checks to all gun sales was on the ballot in Nevada. The proposal was sitting with the secretary of state in Maine. So do I have it right though that really, essentially, nothing has happened since then, that from your standpoint, the victory has been that states haven't moved in the other direction?

GROSS: I wouldn't characterize it exactly as nothing's happened. The citizens of Nevada voted to expand background checks to all gun sales. In California, where a series of laws that included expanding background checks to include ammunition passed. In Washington state, they created the opportunity to take guns away from domestic abusers. So there has continued to be state-by-state progress versus the progress that the corporate gun lobby has made to weaken the restrictions that do that. I'd say we've continued to shift the balance.

MARTIN: That was Dan Gross. He's the founder of the Center to Prevent Youth Violence. He's the former president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. He was kind enough to speak to us from Miami. Dan Gross, thanks so much for speaking with us.

GROSS: Always a pleasure, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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