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A former House Republican on why we need to reform gun laws

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now we turn back to guns in America. And we look at the politics.

    Joining me is former U.S. Representative Carlos Curbelo. He's a Republican who represented Florida for four years, until 2018.

    Congressman Curbelo, thank you very much for joining us.

    I want to ask you first why you are speaking out on this issue. You did serve in Congress. You were defeated last November by someone else who had a stronger record on gun control, if you will, a woman whose father had been killed in a gun accident — in a gun incident.

    So what has — what has compelled you to continue to speak out about it?

  • Carlos Curbelo:

    Judy, good evening.

    For me, this issue stopped being a partisan issue a long time ago. While I was in Congress, we had the pulse shooting in Orlando, Florida. And, after that, I joined with Seth Moulton, a Democrat from Massachusetts, to introduce a version of the no-fly, no-buy legislation, which could have prevented that tragedy, had it been in place before then.

    Then, of course, we had the horrible massacre in Las Vegas, and, again, came together with Democrats to try to get a bipartisan solution, universal background checks, 72-hour waiting periods, raising the minimum age to 21 for all gun purchases, red flag laws.

    These are commonsense solutions that will save lives in our country. And mental health is a major challenge, but mental health cannot be used as an excuse to refuse to act on gun reform.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in fact, we just heard Amna Nawaz, my colleague, interviewing a psychiatrist at Duke University who says all the research shows that most gun violence is not committed by people who are — who are mentally ill.

    But I want to drill down on what kind of legislation, what changes can be made practically in this current political environment. What can happen, do you think?

  • Carlos Curbelo:

    Well, in the wake of this horrible tragedy, we have seen some Republicans come out strongly in favor of red flag laws.

    Senator Lindsey Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, is prepared to move that legislation. We have also seen some House Republicans join the legislation that would require universal background checks. It would close all of the loopholes when it comes to universal background checks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, right now…

  • Carlos Curbelo:

    So, this is a good sign.

    The question, Judy, is whether Republican leadership, specifically in the Senate, will allow this legislation to move forward.

    When I was in the House, we worked hard. We tried to convince leadership to allow this legislation come to the floor. And they didn't.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, again, my colleague Lisa Desjardins reported just a few minutes ago that, right now, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is saying he is not going to put that background check legislation on the floor, ostensibly because, he says, President Trump would veto it, wouldn't support it.

    So what is it that's holding — holding back the president? What's holding back other Republicans?

  • Carlos Curbelo:

    Well, the president in his remarks did say that he was in favor of stronger background checks. So the White House will have to explain why he would veto universal background check legislation.

    I can tell you this, Judy. Last November, a lot of Republicans lost because of this issue, especially in suburban America. Voters are losing their patience. They want to see action on gun reform. They understand it's a constitutional right. They don't want to confiscate anyone's guns.

    They just want laws that keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. That's reasonable. It's common sense. And if Senator McConnell wants to keep his majority, he should really consider allowing some of this legislation to move forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    If that's the case, though, Congressman Curbelo, why are — do we not hear from more Republican members who say they're changing their minds, that they're prepared to vote on this?

  • Carlos Curbelo:

    Well, we have seen some statements recently, Judy.

    But the reason why a lot of members of Congress don't act or don't compromise or don't move towards the center is because they fear a primary challenge. And without question, this is a potent issue in Republican primaries. The NRA is a very powerful organization.

    But what I can tell a lot of my former Republican colleagues, who — many of who are my friends, is that there are other organizations out there, like Everytown USA, for example, that are willing to come out in support of Republicans that take a reasonable approach to gun reform, that support some of these obvious measures that do not diminish Second Amendment rights, but do keep innocent people safer.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is there something about the way the arguments are being made that you think could be shifted, could be changed that would bring more current opponents on board?

  • Carlos Curbelo:

    I think, unfortunately, it's going to take political pressure. And we have already seen some Republicans reacting, colleagues who when I was in Congress wouldn't even consider universal background check legislation or red flag legislation.

    Some of these members of Congress have made strong statements in the wake of this tragedy. And, hopefully, those statements will turn into votes, and we can heal on this issue, we can start taking steps to solve this issue.

    And, by the way, Judy, it's not just for the sake of gun reform. The American people want to see their Congress work and compromise and find common ground. If we get a compromise on gun reform, that will help start to restore a lot of the trust and confidence that Americans have lost in Congress and in government more broadly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Former Congressman Carlos Curbelo of Florida, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

  • Carlos Curbelo:

    Thank you, Judy.

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