Brooks and Capehart on gun violence and abortion access

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post associate editor Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the mass shooting in a Chicago suburb and gun violence in the United States and President Biden's executive order on abortion access and the potential for legislative action after the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Guns and abortion rights were once again very much in the news across the country this week.

    To explore that and more, let's turn to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, associate editor for The Washington Post.

    Hello to both of you on this Friday night.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you for being here. I wish the news were more uplifting, as we were just talking about.

    David, with the assassination today of the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a country where there's so few, I mean, almost vanishingly few instances of gun violence, and then the contrast to our country, where I looked it up again, over 300 mass shootings already this year in the United States, and then punctuated by the July 4 massacre of seven people and many more wounded in the Chicago suburb, we're — it reminds us where we are as a country, doesn't it?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    I have spent the week researching the question, why is it that we seem to have an endless supply of young men who think it's heroic to shoot innocent people? And I learned several things. One is, a lot of us think it's mental health problems, but that's kind of misleading, because the vast majority of the young men who do this do not have mental health problems. It's their circumstances, not any illness.

    They share frequently some abuse in their past. They often share the idea that they were invisible at school, no one knew them, they felt like they had no friends, extreme social isolation, extreme inwardness.

    And then they go through a suicidal — and I'm struck by how the experts say this mass killing is in weird way akin to suicide. They want to end their lives, but they want to do it in a way that will get them recognized, known.

    And then guns play a role in their psychology. I think the act of being photographed with guns, suddenly, they feel powerful, and they feel they have set a plan in motion. They tell themselves a heroic story about themselves. They're defending something.

    But the most poignant thing I learned this week was from a very fine article by Tom Junod, the magazine writer, in "Esquire" from 2014.He interviewed a guy who was set out to kill on a mass scale and was caught. And, at the end — years later, he told Tom Junod: Even as I was doing it, I didn't want to do it. If somebody had just pulled me aside and said, you're accepted, you're accepted, I would have broken down and given it up.

    And so, with these young shooters, they often put out a cry for help. But it's just the psychosis in our society that seems to produce a lot of these guys who commit these evil acts.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What does all this say about us?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, in some ways, Judy, I think it says we're broken.

    It also says that we have way too many guns, more than 400 million guns. That's a gun or more per American. If we didn't have the access to guns that we have, would we be seeing these mass shootings? Would these disaffected young men be taking these drastic actions?

    I sometimes worry whether we will grow numb to the fact that seemingly every week we will see a mass shooting, mass shooting defined as three killed in an incident?

    I grow — I worry that, as we grow numb to these mass shootings, we grow even more numb to the daily gun violence that happens in other places. In Chicago proper that same weekend, more people were killed during July 4 than in Highland Park alone.

    And so — and one thing you said, David, I'm so glad — I was so glad to hear you say this, that you can't just pin it on mental illness, because I think that's become a crutch. Not everyone who slaughters people is suffering from a mental illness. Some are doing it for the reasons that David said, but we just have to come to terms with the fact that actually there are evil people out there who are bent on destruction.

    And we can't excuse everything, as the Senate minority leader did after Highland Park, saying, it's mental illness.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I mean, we have had — now had several people, David, on this program asked about this, saying there are other countries with young people who have emotional or mental problems, but they don't have as many guns as we have.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. Well, the guns are clear part of it. If they didn't have guns, they wouldn't be doing it. That's for sure.

    But I do think it's also true that other countries do not have as many people caught in the circumstances that these young men find themselves. We have had a fraying social fabric, fraying social capital; 54 percent of Americans say no one knows them well. The number of people who say they have no close friends has quadrupled over the last several decades.

    There's something going on in the society, which is a relational breakdown. And the guns — I don't want to minimize the importance of having 400 million guns in this country. But I also don't want to minimize the fact that, at some deep level, we have a society that is extremely cruel on young people.

    The National Institutes of Mental Health had a study that came out maybe two months ago. They said to high school students, do feel persistently hopeless and depressed? It was 26 percent like 20 years ago. It was 36 before COVID. It's 45 now.

    Now, depressed people don't go out and shoot people, by and large.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    But it's a sign of some sort of relational breakdown that I confess I don't understand.

    I don't think — social media plays a role. Social media is not the main thing going on. Something else is going on that makes us produce a lot of not even disaffected young men, people who feel the world is attacking them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I feel we are having these conversations, Jonathan, over and over again, trying to get at whatever it is.

    Congress passed — I mean, the president signed a bill. Congress finally passed a bill or did pass a bill related to guns, but just a couple of weeks ago, it was signed.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You look at it, wouldn't have had any bearing, apparently, on what happened in Illinois.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

    That's because Congress just — they picked the low-hanging fruit. The hard stuff, they won't do, because there aren't votes. The president's doing an event, I believe, on Monday, a more formal ceremony, acknowledging his signature of that gun law.

    But we — more serious action needs to be taken. But it won't be taken until Congress is in a position where there are more people who want to do something. I'm specifically thinking of an assault weapons ban and some other stronger things that could be done. But the current configuration of Congress, that's not going to happen.

    And I think, when it comes to guns, given the Supreme Court decision with New York that completely annihilated New York's gun — gun licensing law, all — the action now is in the states. It is now with governors, who now the onus is on them to do something to protect their citizens, whether it's with guns or whether it's abortion rights, abortion access because of what the court did.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You agree the likelihood of there being any more federal action on guns is very unlikely?

  • David Brooks:

    Seems remote.

    I have never understood why an Australian-style gun buyback is an affront to anybody. It's an open choice. You can sell your gun or not. But if we're going to reduce 400 million guns, it would take something like that, not even just banning future purchases. I mean, we have got 400 million here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mentioned abortion access. President Biden did sign this executive order today. We had Laura Barron-Lopez reporting on that a minute ago, Jonathan.

    Is this the kind of thing that's going to make a difference, frankly?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    No.

    And I say that not denigrating what the president — excuse me — what the president and the administration did today. In order to blunt the impact of what the Supreme Court did, you need a federal law. And that's why I think the president was so emphatic today, was so emphatic the day that the court decision came down, was so emphatic when he was at the G7 on foreign soil talking about what — how extreme the Supreme Court decision is, why voting is so imperative.

    If you want to codify Roe, the only way that's going to happen is if Democrats maintain control in the House and Democrats maintain control in the Senate with two more seats in order for something to get passed and to get on his desk.

    And a lot of the ideas that the activists are saying that are wildly impractical, if you codify Roe, you solve that problem. But the immediate thing is, this is not easy. Anyone who tells you that there's a simple solution to this, protecting reproductive rights, is not being honest with the American people and is not certainly being honest with themselves.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because the Supreme Court has spoken.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, from the standpoint of this is now something that the states — it's now in the hands of the states, does that mean Washington pretty much doesn't have a — doesn't have a significant role that it can play?

  • David Brooks:

    It could.

    The court said — wanted it settled in a legislature. Whether it's a state legislature or it's a federal legislature, the court said, settle it legislatively.

    I have had an interesting circumstance over the last couple of weeks, where I have asked a lot of people on the pro-choice side and on the pro-life side, and the question is, would you take Europe? Would you allow European-style abortion laws just to exist here? And they tend to be between — they make abortion legal between 12 and 18 weeks.

    But then they surround the moms and the families with all sorts of social supports. And I have been struck by how many people on right and left, not everybody, but said, yes, let's just end this and let's settle on that.

    And that strikes me the way France does it, the way Germany does it, a little more conservative, the Sweden does it, a little looser. They — it would just — it's like a consensus of where the American people would be. But we can't actually get there because no politician could be in the middle on this issue, because their activists on either side would really go after them.

    And so it's just yet another issue where there's a potential middle ground, but, because of the way our politics is structured, we can't get to it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Impossible to deal with this? Waiting for the state — waiting for the election in November, I mean?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, thankfully, the election is in November. It's this year. It's just a few months away. And that's why I wrote the column that I wrote: Vote, dang it. This is your one superpower. Your one superpower here in our democracy is the vote.

    If you want to codify Roe, if you want to do something about gun safety, if you want to do something about voting rights, then you must go into the voting booth and make your voice heard.

    And given the way midterm elections work, Democratic voters stay home more often than Republican voters. But if Democratic voters come out at presidential level, presidential voting levels, they will win. Just Democratic voters need to show up.

  • David Brooks:

    I'm a little dubious.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    Look, I think this is going to be an economics election, unless suddenly inflation goes down, and the jobs stay. But then we can go to the social issues, but I'm a little skeptical.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then, meanwhile, we all watch to see about voter access, which is another issue in all this.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart, thank you both.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you.

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