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Bipartisan Senate Proposal on Gun Control Includes Expanded Background Checks

April 10, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., outlined a bipartisan deal on gun background checks. Judy Woodruff talks to Paul Barrett, author of "Glock: The Rise of America's Gun," and Delbert McFadden of the Columbia Heights/Shaw Family Support Collaborative about the impact of gun violence on inner city communities.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn to the other big political story of this day, gun control legislation, and a new proposal for expanding background checks.

The president said in a statement late today the plan unveiled by a pair of senators didn’t go as far as he wanted, but he welcomed it as significant progress. Other gun control groups said they too hoped it could serve as a tipping point in the Senate.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN, D-W.Va.: Good morning.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The bipartisan deal was announced by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Manchin said the December school shootings in Newtown, Conn., demanded a response.

JOE MANCHIN: This amendment won’t ease the pain. It will not ease the pain of the families who lost their children on that horrible day. But nobody here, and I mean not one of us in this great, great Capitol of ours, with a good conscience could sit by and not try to prevent a day like that from happening again. And I think that’s what we’re doing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Under the proposal, federal background checks would be expanded to include gun show and online sales. All such sales would have to be channeled through licensed firearms dealers, who’d be charged with keeping records of the transactions.

But in a major difference from the president’s proposal, the senators’ plan wouldn’t require background checks for private sales between individuals.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY, R-Penn.: I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun control. I think it’s just common sense. If you pass a criminal background check, you get to buy a gun. It’s no problem. It’s the people who fail a criminal or a mental health background check that we don’t want having guns.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senators Toomey and Manchin also would create a national commission on mass violence.

JOE MANCHIN: This commission is going to be made up with people with expertise, people who have expertise in guns, people who have expertise in mental illness, people who have expertise in school safety, and people who have expertise in video violence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Manchin-Toomey proposal takes the form of an amendment to a larger Democratic bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans an initial vote tomorrow to bring that measure up for debate. Senate Republicans are divided on whether to try to block the action. And on the House side, Speaker John Boehner wasn’t tipping his hand today.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: Well, we will wait and see what the — what the Senate does. It’s one thing for two members to come to some agreement. It doesn’t substitute the will from the other 98 members. And so we will wait and see what the Senate does.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Others were quick to react. Mayors Against Illegal Guns founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said it strongly supports the amendment.

But the National Rifle Association condemned the proposal, saying, “Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools.”

The NRA said that it would support a proposal by Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy. It cracks down on gun trafficking and on so-called straw purchases, when someone buys firearms for those barred from owning them.

All of this as first lady Michelle Obama returned home to Chicago, addressing a conference on young people and gun violence.

FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA: We need to show them not just with words, but with action, that they are not alone in this struggle. We need to show them that we believe in them, and we need to give them everything they need to believe in themselves.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The first lady also visited Harper High School on Chicago’s South Side, where 29 current or former students have been shot in the last year. Eight died.

Last February, the first lady attended the funeral of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton. She was killed just days after performing with her school band at the presidential inauguration.

For a closer look at the persistence of inner-city gun violence, we turn to Paul Barrett. He is the author of “Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun,” as well as assistant managing editor and senior writer at “Bloomberg Businessweek” magazine. And Del McFadden, he’s outreach coordinator for the Columbia Heights-Shaw Collaborative. It’s a community support organization in Washington, D.C.

Welcome to you both.

And, Paul Barrett, to you first.

For all the publicity around these horrible mass shootings, we know most gun violence takes place as one-on-one shooting. Tell us, where do these take place? Who is doing the shooting, and who are the victims?

PAUL BARRETT, Bloomberg Businessweek: Well, there’s a very wide variety, but you’re absolutely right that, as a general matter, out of the 30,000 gun deaths we have a year, some 10,000 or 11,000 are gun homicides.

Many of those take place in unsafe poor neighborhoods, and often involve gunplay between one gang and another gang, drug traffickers. But they also — you have gun crime that take plays all across the country in other settings as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we — I should have said, of course, that so many of the gun violence in this country is suicide, people turning a gun on themselves.

Del McFadden, you work every day in an urban community in Washington. First, tell us what the Collaborative does.

DEL MCFADDEN, Columbia Heights-Shaw Family Support Collaborative: The Columbia Heights-Shaw Family Support Collaborative is a nonprofit organization located in Northwest D.C.

We started in 1996 supporting families, making sure that families were healthy and strong through capacity-building and advocacy. Now we have branched out to work force development for ex-offenders, returning citizens. And we also have a youth violence prevention and intervention program, which I am one of the outreach managers for.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what does gun violence look like to you?

DEL MCFADDEN: Well, let me kind of set the tone.

In the last five years of me being outreach manager for this position, we have buried 32 African-American and Latino youth. And a lot of the issues around gun violence, now that we have social media, now that we have school closures in the District where kids from feuding communities now have to coexist under one roof, we have different functions that may happen, entertainment functions that may happen where kids come in contact, and there’s conflict, and it’s peculiar to me in the sense of we work closely with different partners.

And for each one of those 32 youth, we can find the burial assistance funds within 48 hours to bury those kids. And so my thing is, why can’t we have the same resources to sustain life?

JUDY WOODRUFF: To keep these — this violence from happening.

What would you add to that, Paul Barrett? Help fill out that picture of what’s going on in our inner cities now.

PAUL BARRETT: Well, I think there — as with many social issues, there’s a downside and an upside.

And, obviously, we have got far too much gun violence in the inner cities. We have far too much gun violence in other segments of society. But it’s also important to put on the table and to think about, as we analyze how to move forward, the fact that in the aggregate, actually, gun violence is going down sharply and has been going down since the early 1990s.

Violent crime overall in this country is at about half the rate that it was in 1980. And big cities, though they still do have pockets of terrible violence and social dysfunction, overall are actually safer today than they were 20 years ago.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And is it known why that’s happening?

PAUL BARRETT: Well, it’s — there’s a great deal of debate over that. It is almost certainly not any one factor. Determining why crime levels shift is a very, very difficult challenge for social scientists.

But the ingredients probably include a higher rate of incarceration, which has been very pronounced over the last couple of decades, shifts in police practices, targeting certain neighborhoods where there’s a lot of violence, as opposed to just kind of randomly patrolling the streets, and also improvements in certain cities in social programs and improving public housing. In some cities, there has been very, very concentrated public housing that has been disbursed to some degree.

And I’m sure the circumstances vary a great deal from city to city.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I see you nodding, Del McFadden, to what he’s saying about the reasons why violence has decreased.

Having said that, it is still happening. You cited what you see here in the nation’s capital. What is causing it to still happen? What do you see are the dynamics in the community between these young people that cause them to kill somebody?

DEL MCFADDEN: Well, I think it’s environmental triggers, stressors, different situations that may happen in these communities.

Like I stated, it’s a different environmental factors the play, risk factors that play a part in that. And with the youth in the District of Columbia, where I work, I think it’s just those different issues, those needs that are not being met within those households, those needs that are not being met in the community and in the school system.

I think that’s a big part of it. And if you look at the incarceration rate, we have around 2.4 million Americans arrested. Almost half of that is African-American. So when you look at those households, those are individuals that’s no longer there. Those are fathers. Those are brothers, and that really plays a part in the erosion of those family units.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the extent guns, Paul Barrett, are part of this, how do they get injected into this picture? How available are they?

PAUL BARRETT: Well, we have 300 million firearms in private hands in the United States. So we are a society that is permeated by guns and gun ownership.

The vast majority of those firearms are owned legally, and are not causing any particular problem, but millions are owned illegally, are on the black market, and are readily available in neighborhoods where there’s a lot of crime. So we have a very high level of gun homicide, compared to similar industrialized societies.

And yet, at the same time, we have an improvement over time, so that the trends are actually quite complex. And I think one thing we need to focus on is, we need to ask, if the crime rates are coming down, particularly in big cities, as they are, why is that happening and how can that be replicated? If police departments are doing a somewhat better job, what are the keys to that success and how can it be repeated?

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s a huge subject, and we only have a little bit of time left.

But, Del McFadden, what are some of the questions the rest of us should be looking at right now, in addition to the availability of guns?

DEL MCFADDEN: Well, I think guns — I think there’s availability, and I think we need to look at the outlets that play a part in fueling the influx of those weapons into these communities.

I think we also have to look at the mental health piece. I think we have been failing tremendously at looking at the psychological trauma that these kids endure over long periods of time. And I have young men groups, and when you talk to these young men, you ask them how many individual that they knew or were close with, asking them how many have passed in the last five years. They can rattle off 35 names.

And that is something that definitely has to be looked at in a deeper sense.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And these are young men?

DEL MCFADDEN: Yes, these are young men.

I think, also, on the side of law enforcement, in Washington, D.C., I think the case closure rate is around 93 percent. It’s very high, which does play a part in violence reduction. But there’s no way that we’re going to arrest our way out of this situation. We’re dealing with — we’re mainly dealing with the byproducts of generational poverty, social economic disparities and deprivation.

But we have to get to the core of these issues and build on self-worth and positive self-image.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Del McFadden and Paul Barrett, we thank you both.

DEL MCFADDEN: Thank you.

PAUL BARRETT: Thank you.