Politics In The News: Gun-Violence Restraining Order
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The AR-15 rifle that a shooter used to kill 17 people at a Florida high school last week was purchased legally. And that has some people asking why he was allowed to buy a gun when there were red flags being raised about the shooter, warning signs that did not get appropriately acted on. It has again ignited a debate over gun control.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
EMMA GONZALEZ: If you actively do nothing, people continually end up dead, so it's time to start doing something.
GREENE: That was Emma Gonzalez, one of the survivors of the attack, speaking at an anti-gun rally in Fort Lauderdale. I want to bring in David French. He's a senior writer for the conservative magazine National Review, and he's been writing about an idea that could in theory keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. He says it's an idea that gun rights advocates might be open to. It involves something known as a gun violence restraining order. And basically, a person close to a troubled individual could call for a court order that lets law enforcement temporarily take away that person's gun rights. And David French joins us this morning. Welcome to the program.
DAVID FRENCH: Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.
GREENE: So why do you think this idea has a chance to work?
FRENCH: Well, it has a chance to work because it's individualized. It's based on a person's behavior. And it provides due process. And so we have this paradox in this country right now where gun violence has been decreasing and - as far, far below the numbers of 25 years ago, even though guns are more accessible than they've ever been. But at the same time that general gun violence is decreasing, these spree killings, these mass killings - as everyone has been able to see - have been increasing and increasing in particular since the Columbine massacre.
And what you see time and again with these spree killings, these things that are increasing, is there are - the killers kind of radiate warning signs time and time again. And this is also the case in suicides. People are often giving off warning signs well in advance. And the - there is very little - very few tools available to family members, to people close to those who are exhibiting these warning signs to do anything about it.
GREENE: To actually do something, to raise the - but you're basically saying that you think it would be more productive to rely on family members and friends over the authorities, that they could actually do a better job of seeking out these warning signs and bringing them to the attention of a judge.
FRENCH: Well, right, because there's a couple reasons for this. One, we have seen the authorities fail in other contexts. So there was, you know, the FBI admitted over the weekend that it had received warnings about this shooter in Florida and had failed to follow its protocols. And we've even seen the background check system fail, for example, in the Sutherland Springs shooting. So people had done what they were supposed to do to report to authorities. Authorities hadn't followed through. And so this actually empowers the folks who are closest to the issue. And it also does it in a way that people are accustomed to. Restraining orders are very normal in domestic situations. It's a process that people are familiar with and using judges in their communities that people are familiar with.
GREENE: And you think this - you think this is an idea that people who, you know, are very supportive of the Second Amendment and very vocal about gun rights might be open to.
FRENCH: I know they're open to it. In fact, since I wrote my article about this on Friday, I've received an enormous amount of feedback, and I would say it's overwhelmingly positive. Over the weekend, Marco Rubio, Senator Rubio, tweeted in favor of the idea. Jeb Bush tweeted in favor of the idea. I - there are some folks who are hesitant, but I would say the response to my article has been overwhelmingly positive on the right side.
GREENE: Do you know this - I mean, I think about the 2017 Las Vegas massacre. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern in U.S. history. And following it, people close to the gunman seemed surprised that he would do something like this. So in that case, is this really a solution that would work or do people who would say let's keep guns - you know, let's restrict guns so this doesn't happen, do they have an argument here?
FRENCH: Well, you know, the Las Vegas shooting is the great outlier. It's the one that has no known motives, no known warning signs. But the vast, vast bulk of these shootings - I mean, you can just go down the list from the Orlando shooting, the Sutherland Springs, Virginia Tech, that, you know, down the line, shooting after shooting, particularly these school shootings, there have been warning sign after warning sign. And so I don't pretend that it is the perfect solution, but I do say that in time - time and time again, something like this would be a solution. And also it would be, I think, very useful in dealing with the suicide risk.
GREENE: David French, let me just ask you, I mean, and play devil's advocate a little bit. I mean, could this be seen in some ways as a way to allow gun rights advocates to basically go out there and say, see? We did something without digging in. And I don't just mean gun rights advocates but people on both sides of this debate, digging into some of the real central questions, such as, OK, you know, if this is a country that has a constitutional right to some kind of guns, are there ways that the two sides could work together to restrict some of the powerful weapons that, you know, hunters would say we don't need these, and these are the weapons that have been used in some of these mass shootings?
FRENCH: Well, you know, one of the things about these very - you know, a weapon like an AR-15 is it's actually very, very, very rarely used in crime. I mean, the gun crime problem is the handgun problem much more than the rifle problem.
GREENE: But it was used - it was used in this crime. I mean, it killed 17 people.
FRENCH: Right. But this is also something that - this tool in place would have helped prevent this and many, many, many others. So I think this is something that's targeted and matched to actually what is happening on the ground in so many of these circumstances.
GREENE: All right. David French is a senior writer for the conservative magazine National Review. We appreciate your time this morning, David.
FRENCH: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.