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Can America fix its gun problem?

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An assortment of Colt and Glock semi-automatic handguns. Rhode Island State Minority Leader Brian Newberry (R) says gun manufacturing would bring well-paid jobs to Rhode Island's struggling economy. KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

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The massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, has prompted calls for more gun regulation in the United States. It’s also underscored how little has changed in the nearly 10 years since a similar tragedy occurred at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

But one person who remains hopeful in times like these is Dr. Garen Wintemute. He heads the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, and has been studying gun violence for decades.

“Violence is a health problem,” he said. “It kills more people than motor vehicle injuries. And, yes, I’m constitutionally hopeful. But my hope is born out of having done this for 40 years.”

On the show today, Wintemute walks us through some of the policies that could make a real difference, from “red flag” laws to universal background checks. He believes this time might be different and that California could serve as a model for states that are looking to get around the gun control gridlock in Washington.

In the News Fix, the nation’s highest court wants to find out who leaked the draft opinion on overturning Roe v. Wade, and it’s taking pretty drastic steps. Plus, if you’re tired of paying high gasoline prices, get used to it. We’ll explain why.

Then, listeners sound off on Uvalde, and we all get smart about bourbon!

Here’s everything we talked about today:

If you have a question about today’s show or anything else, you know the drill. Send us an email at makemesmart@marketplace.org or call us at (508) 827-6278 or (508) U-B-SMART.

Make Me Smart May 31, 2022 transcript

 

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

 

Kimberly Adams: Hey, everyone, I’m Kimberly Adams. Welcome to Make Me Smart, where none of us is as smart as all of us.

 

Kai Ryssdal: I’m Kai Ryssdal, it is Tuesday means it’s time for a weekly single topic Deep Dive. Today we’re going to talk about the Uvalde shooting, and more importantly, where do we go from here on the issue of guns in America, I guess.

 

Kimberly Adams: You know, like we talked about last week, it’s really easy to get caught up in just sort of the horror and almost the hopelessness of the moment. But we can also be focused on solutions. Because every time there’s one of these mass shootings, there’s talk in Washington about gun reform legislation, but then it just doesn’t seem to go anywhere. And yes, that’s partly because gun rights groups have spent five times as much on lobbying as the gun control groups.

 

Kai Ryssdal: So let’s do solutions today, as Kimberly said the other day when we brought this up, and when we decided to do this topic, which I think we did like on the air, so that all y’all can hear us thinking out loud about this. We’re gonna focus on solutions, and areas where there can be compromise. And joining us to talk about that is Dr. Garen Wintemute. He’s the director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis. Dr. Wintemute. Welcome to the program. Good to have you on.

 

Garen Wintemute: Thanks for having me.

 

Kai Ryssdal: It might be the obvious thing, but I want to focus on the research part of the program that you are in charge of. The Violence Prevention Research Program, it’s gonna sound like a ridiculous question, how much do we know about gun violence in America? And do you think we know enough?

 

Garen Wintemute: We know plenty, we know enough to take some evidence-based actions that would address the problem. And no, we will never know enough about violence, just the way we’ll never know enough about cancer or heart disease or any other health problem.

 

Kimberly Adams: I love that you said evidence-based solutions, we actually already know things that will work. What are those things?

 

Garen Wintemute: There’s actually quite the list. I’ll pick a couple because they’re supported by the majority of gun owners, not just the general public. One is to require a background check for all purchases of firearms, not just those where the seller is a licensed retailer, so that a person who’s prohibited can’t just walk up to a private party, pass some cash in exchange for a gun, and walk away with no one the wiser. Another is to expand criteria for denial of firearm purchase to people who are clearly at increased risk, and I would mention people who’ve been convicted of violent misdemeanor crimes as one example. In most of the country, it is simply a myth that a person who’s been convicted of a violent crime can’t legally buy a gun. In most of the country, that crime has to be a felony. But lesser forms of violence also matter. I’ll mention a third one because it’s much in the news. Evaluations are preliminary here because it’s a new policy, but extreme risk protection orders – the so-called Red Flag orders, are used in California and elsewhere in efforts to prevent mass shootings. We published a series of 21 cases here in California, in which those orders were used to prevent a mass shooting, and not one of those threatened mass shootings occurred.

 

Kai Ryssdal: So you can’t do the work that you do without being hopeful. And I’m not going to ask you that very mundane question of whether you are or not. What I want to know is, what specifically gives you hope that this cancer on our society – not to mix my metaphors here – can be ameliorated if not completely fixed?

 

Garen Wintemute: Yeah, the metaphor is quite apt. Violence is a health problem. It kills a lot of people. It kills more people than motor vehicle injuries, just to pick a comparison. And yes Kai, I’m constitutionally hopeful, but my hope is born out of having done this for 40 years. That’s going to seem paradoxical to listeners, which is why I said it. Here’s the bottom line, California got smart. We didn’t count on a single policy over time, we enacted a whole network of policies that work in different ways on the same problem. And the result of that, is that for the last 25 years until the pandemic started and really upset the applecart, but for about 25 years prior to that, California’s rates of firearm violence were trending steadily downward, while rates in the rest of the country were trending steadily upward. Such that before the pandemic hit, and it’s actually continued, California’s rates of fatal firearm violence were about 40% less than rates in the rest of the country on average. That’s a huge difference.

 

Kimberly Adams: So how do you then replicate that on the national level? Are there solutions that you think could actually overcome the political gridlock we have where I am here in Washington?

 

Garen Wintemute: So I’m going to parse it out. There is at the national level in DC, the federal government, or there is at the national level, one state at a time. So we’re all familiar with the phrase capital gridlock. The real irony often doesn’t get mentioned, is that most of what I just described as options is supported by a large majority of gun owners. The problem is that the political process in Washington, from my naive California perspective, is controlled by the extreme. Not by the massive opinion of gun owners, but the small minority, and by the interests of an industry. We have to remember, guns, like cars, like iPhones, are consumer products, there is an industry that profits from having, as many of them sold over and over and over again to repeat customers. And that industry makes its opinions known. So I suspect that not much will be accomplished in Washington, although we might see increased support for extreme risk protection orders. But states can act on their own. 19 states have those orders already. A fair number of states have broadened denial criteria. Others could certainly do that.

 

Kai Ryssdal: I wonder how much you look, Dr. Wintemute, at the successful campaigns against societal tragedies in the past. And you think here about tobacco, you think about car seatbelts, you think about Mothers Against Drunk Driving, they have had success. And I wonder if you go back and you study those?

 

Garen Wintemute: So I have not done research on those, because people who are subject matter experts in motor vehicle trauma or tobacco have conducted that research. But I can say, there is a program in development that is modeled pretty explicitly on what was called The Truth campaign, the campaign to keep kids from smoking, that is going to seek to change the way kids think about guns and the role that guns play in their lives. I agree with you that those past models are valuable. It’s part of what we call the public health approach to violence prevention, to look at other campaigns and take the good lessons and leave the bad ones behind.

 

Kimberly Adams: Since we’re talking about research, as I don’t have to tell you, the federal government isn’t great in terms of funding gun violence research. Is that changing?

 

Garen Wintemute: Yes, it’s getting better. So under the current administration, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health are funding research. The National Institute of Justice, so in DOJ – think NIH, but very, very much smaller – has been funding research on firearm violence pretty much right along, but it was a very small program. But yes, for 20 years from the mid 90s until about five years ago, there was essentially no federal health agency funding for this important health problem. And the point I make is somebody who kept the program alive during that time, partly through my own…

 

Kimberly Adams: With your own money.

 

Garen Wintemute: Yeah. So there was a deliberate effort to choke off the research that lasted for about 20 years and my rhetorical question to people is how many thousands of people are dead today, who would otherwise have been alive? Because that research never got done. The important questions were asked, but couldn’t be answered. It says if we said, hey, let’s just turn our back on motor vehicle injuries or HIV AIDS or opioid overdoses. Let’s not study the problem, let’s just let it happen. That is what we consciously and deliberately did with firearm violence. And we are paying the price today.

 

Kimberly Adams: Sticking with things that you think actually can get done this time, whether at the state or federal level, can you give a couple more examples? I’ve heard and read that waiting periods also help.

 

Garen Wintemute: Yes, waiting periods help if they’re long enough, a day or two, doesn’t matter. But a longer waiting period of 10 days or so provides a window for something like an extreme risk protection order. They’ve been used in that way to prevent mass shootings here in California. A guy threatens to commit a mass shooting buys a gun, but doesn’t have possession for 10 days. And during that time, the threat gets communicated to law enforcement, one of those orders is issued, the gun is not transferred to the owner. And I’m not making this up. There is such a case. In that case, when law enforcement went to that man’s house, he had 400 rounds of ammunition for that gun he was never able to acquire. So waiting periods, yes. Bigger problem that we can fix is this. The background checks that we’ve talked about, they are only as good as the data on which they are run. And we have a tremendous problem with failure to report prohibiting information, even by federal agencies where such reporting is required. There are mass shootings that occurred, because for example, the Air Force didn’t report a prohibiting criminal conviction. The background check cleared the purchaser, and he bought the guns he used in the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas as a result. Federal agencies are required to report but don’t do it. For everybody else, reporting of those prohibiting events is voluntary. They can’t even be made to do it. So nobody’s able to – nobody’s quantified this. But without doubt, many prohibited people every year pass background checks, because their prohibitions aren’t getting the data.

 

Kai Ryssdal: Do you think, Dr. Wintermute, that this time will be different? And if so, why?

 

Garen Wintemute: Yeah, sorry for the snort. I have been asked that question for a long time. To be honest, I think it might. I think we might see support for extreme risk protection orders. But Kai, let me extend the question a little bit. Usually what that question means is, is this the time when somebody is going to do something? And it usually means somebody else, an elected official, particularly in Congress. But what I what I tell people when I’m asked that question is, you know, that’s not the answer that interests me, is this the time when somebody else will do something? For your listeners, is this the time when you will do something, when you will make a personal commitment to – for example, if you see something or hear something, say something. We know that about 80% of mass shooters, declare their intentions in advance. Uvalde and Buffalo are tragic examples of precisely that. The Buffalo shooter had a live audience, for goodness sakes. But interventions like extreme risk protection orders, rely on tips from the public. We have to be willing to act on that kind of information. We have to if we feel strongly about this, we have to be willing to convey to elected officials our opinion that I will not vote for somebody who’s not working for firearm violence prevention.

 

Kai Ryssdal: Dr. Garen Wintemute is the Director of the Violence Prevention Research Program up at UC Davis. Dr. Wintermute. Thanks for your time and your expertise, sir. We appreciate it. Thank you.

 

Garen Wintemute: Thanks for having me.

 

Kimberly Adams: It feels good to know that there’s a list of things that can be done, that are doable, especially at the local level, because you know, it can be easier. Like I think people are often surprised that when they get engaged at the local level, how quickly change can happen. Because there’s like so much legislation that’s auto written by lobbyists at the state level, and then you get just a couple of constituents speaking up, and they change it. And so maybe, yeah, it’s probably long past time to stop relying on Congress and looking in our own communities.

 

Kai Ryssdal: Yeah. And you also take heart from a guy who’s been doing this, as he said for 40 years, you know, fighting the good fight? Because it’s a long, long haul.

 

Kimberly Adams: Yeah. And miles to go before – what is it, miles to go before sunset?

 

Kai Ryssdal: Miles to go before sleep.

 

Kimberly Adams: Yeah. All right. Well, let us know what you thought about that conversation, what surprise you, if you have other solutions that you think are doable now or in the near future, our number is 508-827-6278, also 508-U-B-SMART. Or you can send us a voice memo at makemesmart@marketplace.org. And we will be right back.

 

Kai Ryssdal: All right, we’re back. Time for the news. Your story is wild, man.

 

Kimberly Adams: So this is a CNN story, which has now been reported a bunch of other places. But it seems that the search for who leaked the Alito draft at the Supreme Court, the one that basically lays out the strong likelihood the courts about to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court is searching for that leaker, and getting super aggressive about it, to the point that they’re asking, according to CNN reporting, they’re asking law clerks to provide cell phone records and sign affidavits. And like some of these law clerks are getting their own lawyers trying to protect themselves, because even if they weren’t the leaker themselves, you know, then you’re turning over your private records to your boss. And it’s like, can you force them to do that when they haven’t been accused of a crime?

 

Kai Ryssdal: Yeah, yeah.

 

Kimberly Adams: But when your boss is the highest court in the land, that’s, you know, what happens if you become known in the legal community as that law clerk who refuse to exonerate themselves of the leak? Good luck. And these are some of the best lawyers in the country, who get to be supreme court law clerks. And this is the kind of thing like, if you have something incriminating on your phone, if it gets out, or somebody at the Supreme Court then knows what’s on your phone, good luck getting that Judge seat elsewhere, or the job at a big firm. This is big, but it also, you know, just reveals like how unusual and jarring this leak was. But if you think about how important it’s been for the country to start this conversation, which reasonably should have started earlier, but, you know, it kicked it off.

 

Kai Ryssdal: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a wild story. Wild, wild, wild. Mine is – just a little bit of heads up, it’s gonna stay ugly out there. So you might have read over the weekend that the European Union has agreed to ban Russian oil, all except for Hungary. They get an exemption for an indefinite period of time, and also it’s not pipelines, it’s just shipments in cargo ships. I bring it up because if you thought that we were going to see oil go down a little bit maybe as things calmed down, perhaps globally in this economy as we’re trying to take care of inflation and all that. That’s not happening. Brent Crude, the global benchmark, up above $120 a barrel this morning. It has since fallen but it’s gonna stay ugly out there oil wise, and we should all be ready for it. I mean, I think I paid $629 the other day to fill up the minivan.

 

Kimberly Adams: I filled up my motorcycle after visiting my uncle’s on the weekend, and it’s a very small tank, but you know, to fill it up. I mean even I noticed it, it was just like, oh, okay, here we are.

 

Kai Ryssdal: Get used to it. Get used to it. That’s the news. That’s the news from where we are. Let’s do the mailbag.

 

 

I kind Kimberly’s was Godfrey from San Francisco, from Charleston, South Carolina. And I have a follow up question.

 

Kimberly Adams: I feel like we might need a sad mailbag theme sometimes. But you know. To no one’s surprise, our first voice memo this week is about the school massacre in Uvalde.

 

Tom: Hi, this is Tom from Minnesota. On Wednesday’s episode you talked about one of the responses might be teachers going on strike because they’re also unsafe in schools. I mean, students have way more power than they realize, even imagine. Everybody hates, hates when students walk out. I really think that these students don’t understand all the power they have. That’s all I’ve got. Thank you.

 

Kai Ryssdal: On my way to school today, literally saw probably 200 high school-ish looking students walking down the street with their signs. So yeah.

 

Kimberly Adams: And I think some of them do. I mean, you brought that article last week about moments in history showing the photo of the violence changed the course of a debate or events, but, you know, thinking back to Vietnam, all of these school walkouts then really made a difference. Made a difference.

 

Kai Ryssdal: Alright, something a little lighter. Here we go.

 

Steve: Hey, Kai and Kimberly. This is Steve in Northern Virginia, and I have been a Marketplace listener since you know, 1998. And during this time, I’ve learned a lot, including the correct way to say the Chinese currency as well as the subtle difference between the UN and the women V. I also learned that the German pharmaceutical company is [BUY-er] and not [BAY-er]. So on a recent episode of Marketplace, when I was doing the numbers, he called the Korean conglomerate known for its cars in the US, Hyundai and not [HEN-DEI]. So how does Marketplace choose its pronouncers?

 

Kai Ryssdal: Yeah, that’s a really good question. And first of all, I’m gratified that somebody listens to the numbers, because it’s my personal theory that once they hear the first three bars of music, then they tune out for the next 60 seconds. Look, so here’s my take on that specific issue. It’s a fine line for me and I will speak only for myself, not for any other Marketplace hosts, because, generally speaking we follow the conventional pronunciation as anglicized, generally speaking. But it’s that balance between saying Paris and [PA-RI], right. And, and that’s why I went with Hyundai. And that’s what I got. That’s what I got.

 

Kimberly Adams: Yeah, and I mean, I think it’s inconsistent for all of us. Like, you can choose the local way of saying things. So for example, you know, are we going to say, Mexico, or [ME-HI-CO]? But then if you’re going to say, well, you should say it the way that the people in the country say it. All right, are we gonna start calling Egypt [Miṣr]? Because that’s how they say it?

 

Kai Ryssdal: Oh my God.

 

Kimberly Adams: You want to say it in Arabic? Germany, are we going to start calling it Deutschland? You know, like, what are we going to do? And so, I think it is a sort of picking and choosing. And then there are sometimes when it has a real political connotation, how you choose to say something. And I think we saw this with the ongoing war in Ukraine. It literally, we were getting letters about how we chose to pronounce the capital of Ukraine, because it has political connotations. So we have general style guidelines, but it also kind of falls to judgment what we know because sometimes we just don’t know that there’s a different pronunciation, so it can depend.

 

Kai Ryssdal: That’s a good question. That’s a good question.

 

Kimberly Adams: Yeah, for sure. And I find that people are often very happy to let us know when we mispronounce something. All right. Before we go, we’re gonna leave you with this week’s answer to the make me smart question, which is, what is something you thought you knew, but later found out you were wrong about?

 

Becca: Hi, this is Becca from Connecticut. Something I thought I knew but later found out I was wrong about is I thought that bourbon had to be from Kentucky to be bourbon. Turns out the mixture and the mash just has to be over 51% corn, so. I hope that made you smart too.

 

Kimberly Adams: I didn’t know that. I thought it was sort of like based on region, because I know like in Tennessee they say whiskey, and Kentucky they say bourbon. You know, there’s a difference between like scotch and then Irish whiskey, and I thought it was just like a regional designation, but this is good to know. That did make me smart. Thanks.

 

Kai Ryssdal: There you go. It’s a good one. It’s a good one. Keep sending us your answers via voice memo through our email at makemesmart@marketplace.org. Leave us a message if you’d like, 508-827-6278 also known as 508-U-B-SMART. We’ll get it on the pod.

 

Kimberly Adams: Make Me Smart is directed and produced by Marissa Cabrera. Ellen Rolfes writes our newsletter.

 

Kai Ryssdal: Today’s program was engineered by Jayk Cherry with mixing later on this afternoon by Charlton Thorp. Ben Tolliday and Daniel Ramirez composed our theme music. The Senior Producer is Bridget Bodnar. Donna Tam is Director of On Demand and Marketplace’s Vice President and General Manager is Neil Scarborough. My favorite random bourbons statistic is that, Moore county, where the Jack Daniel’s distillery is located? That’s a dry county.

 

Kimberly Adams: What?

 

Kai Ryssdal: It’s true, it’s true. It’s legal to distill there, it’s not legal to drink there – probably not legal to buy there is probably what I should say. Yeah, yeah. How about that, isn’t that great?

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