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Sen. Dianne Feinstein To Introduce Gun Control Legislation

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December 18, 2012 1:20 p.m.


Charlie Blek is president of the Orange County chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. His son was shot to death 20 years ago.

Adam Winkler Professor of Law UCLA School of Law who specializes in constitutional law with expertise in the right to bear arms he has written about the history of guns in the United States and is author of the book, "Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America"

Related Story: Sen. Dianne Feinstein To Introduce Gun Control Legislation


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Early this morning send it to Bob Filner held a meeting with school officials about safety in our schools following last week's shooting and we have KPBS Metro reporter Katie Orr with us. What did you learn about the meeting about how safe and well prepared San Diego schools are for an event like this?

KATIE ORR: Well, what law enforcement officials say San Diego unified has a plan in place if there were a school shooting scenario as well as other emergencies. The chief of the city local police force the schools actually have their own police forces the plan here is actually similar to one that was in place at Sandy Hook elementary in Connecticut which has been credited with preventing even more depth then there are the work. The teachers knew what to do in that case. They lock the doors, they protected the kids. Locally the school police force says you know, no plan is going to be foolproof. So it is just important that teachers and staff practice and train to make sure they respond correctly if something like a school shooting does ever happen here and additionally this indigo please force says it soon will have live streaming video between schools and police so that they can better monitor what is going on.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: What is the main message to the general public?

KATIE ORR: Aside from reassuring everyone that schools are doing everything they can to keep people safe officials just wanted to emphasize that the mental health aspect. The psychologist at the meeting said that the mass shooters have a common trait in many times people know that there is something wrong. They have mental health issues. Perhaps people are escalating things are escalating but the proper authorities were notified in time. So in San Diego people say close to mental health issues to them have actually written recent 52% since 2008. The bottom line is this if you know someone who has increasing mental-health problems are you are worried about someone they have a number you can call which is 888-724-7240. 888-724-7240. The number is staffed 24 hours a day and people who answered are trained to deal with mental health issues and the point is the committee needs to treat people before it gets to the level of the mass shooting or other catastrophic event.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: We will probably have the number on the website somewhere to chief Lansdowne say anything about his position on gun control?

KATIE ORR: He says is part of the national police organization that supports the ban on assault weapons certainly the police did not want people running around with these kinds of guns but there was a lot of talk on the guns again the emphasis was on more on what to do if you need help dealing with someone who has a mental health illness and reassuring people that the schools are prepared to deal with an incident if God forbid they ever need to do that here in St. Diego.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Thank you very much, Katie.

KATIE ORR: Thank you.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: That is Katie Orr, our Metro reporter, today we are regrouping, and for mistreating San Diego, 20 small children and six adults killed the carnage at this: the debate over gun control in the country appears to have song in recent years away from gun control and in favor of gun rights. For example the Center for responsive politics reports that the NRA spent 10 times as much as can control interest groups and law and lobbying last year in New York Times analysis shows that the use of gun control a new stories is on the decline well the words gun rights are on the increase but this is what Pres. Obama said today of the shooting.

PRESIDENT OBAMA RECORDING: We're going to have to come together to take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this regardless of the politics.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: So we're going to pick up the debate and get back to speed up the gun laws in the country and in the state and what we can do and our guests here in Studio we have Charlie Blek was the president of the Orange County chapter of the Brady campaign to prevent gun violence who also lost his own son to gun violence. And Charlie thank you so much for coming in.

CHARLIE BLEK: Thank you for having thee topic available.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: We are also going to be speaking with Adam Winkler was professor of law at the UCLA school of Law and author of the book Gun Fight, the right to bear arms in America which is a historical overview of the battle of the rights and could control. So professor Winkler thanks for being with us.

ADAM WINKLER: Thank you for having me

ALLISON ST. JOHN: I think I would should make the point we did invite representatives from the NRA, the gun rights organizations, from national state or local levels and they all declined to or they haven't gotten back to us the National Rifle Association sent us a statement that until the facts are clear, the NRA will not have any comment. We also contacted local congressional representatives on the issue they were not available today either. So let's start off with the people we do have a studio and I just wanted to start off with the latest news Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York say they will reintroduce a bill for a ban on assault weapons and on Meet the Press yesterday to find sense that it's possible to redefine the gun laws to take, as she calls them, weapons of war off the streets.

DIANE FEINSTEIN RECORDING: I will tell you what happened in 1992 when I told Joe Biden chairs the Judiciary commitment to these that I was going to move this NMS and the Democrat bill he laughed at me said you are new here, wait till you learn. And we got it through the Senate. We got to the house. The White House came alive. And the Clinton administration helped. The bill was passed and the president signed it. It can be done.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: So that is the federal ban that expired back in 2004 because Congress allowed the ban to lapse. But, president Obama said he will support reintroducing it so let's get up to speed on the state of the gun laws in the state and the country. And Charlie, can you bring us up to speed as to where the California gun laws are in relation to the federal gun laws?

CHARLIE BLEK: First of all I'm pleased that the phrase gun control is waning because what we like to talk about our responsible gun policies. In California we have been able over the last couple of decades to introduce extremely important and useful gun policies. For example I like to see on the federal level that we have here in California is that every gun purchase or transfer whether it is a private sale, gun show or through a licensed dealer must have a background check and a waiting period. 4/10 guns nationally are transferred through gun shows and through private sales without any background check at all. Felons, mentally adjudicated individuals, abusers, they can all purchase without any questions asked. And that is wrong.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: How does California differ from the federal government?

CHARLIE BLEK: We require the background check and we have a 10 day waiting period. So felons and mentally adjudicated individuals, domestic abusers could not purchase goods or have guns in California. Everything we do in California which it takes a commentary to the massacres his we limited the magazine size to no more than 10 bullets and I don't understand the word magazine. I hear magazine and I think of the word sunset or Sports Illustrated or something like that, the man who walked into the Aurora Colorado theater when we tolerate 30 or 50 or 100 round magazines the only thing we are saying is we are sanctioning the hunting of other human beings and that is wrong and part of Sen. Feinstein's bill back in 1994 was to limit the size, the high-capacity magazines and we can do that. There are things that we can do to limit the legal mess and to reduce the overall consequences.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: So you have some very personal experience with this which is why you got into the debate in the first place.

CHARLIE BLEK: Unfortunately approximately 2 decades ago my son was the victim of an attempted robbery and he was shot to death with a two €15 which it attempts to the Saturday night special origin gun and after working with and legislatures for five years they were able to pass safety standards in California which effectively limited the Saturday night special from California.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: So now here we are some decades later but you feel like you've made some progress and what is like the cutting edge, is in the background checks, or what is the cutting edge of the

CHARLIE BLEK: It is a multifaceted dilemma unfortunately and I'm very fortunate, my wife has a public health background and we've taken that approach. It's like the cure for malaria. We have a lot of different things that go into that but at some point we had to focus on the mosquito. While at some point we can talk about gun violence and gun violence prevention without focusing on the gun. So our position is we need to have responsible policy so that we can keep these dangerous weapons out of dangerous hands.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: I'd like to bring in Prof. Winkler, you have written this book about the history of this debate and you call gun rights the lightning rod of American culture. Can you expand on what you mean by that?

ADAM WINKLER: That's right. It's been such a divided issue in America whether we have got rights or gun control what I tried to try to argue in my book is that we can have the right to bear man's arms and reasonable and effective gun control laws people should have the ability to protect themselves and their home from criminals but at the same time we can do things like require everyone who purchases a gun to go through a background check. We can go through, you know we can a dental mental health day reporting into the background check system and we can ban people from having weapons that we deem to be too dangerous to have on the streets. But unfortunately the gun debate has really been dominated by the extremists in particular the extremists on the got rights aside although there are extremists on both sides of the island the gun rights people tell us that we can support these reasonable gun control laws because any lovely suburban take is on the slippery slope toward total civilian disarmament. I think that's nonsense the Supreme Court said we have a right to bear arms and that right is not going anywhere nor the guns there are over 300 million guns in America. They are here to stay. We can affect good and effective path policy to restrict the access

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Is this trend to go from got rights and away from responsible gun policies I will try to use that phrase instead of gun control and away from that, has it to do with the fact of the campaign contributions from the gun lobby or is it more to do with the state of the public debate?

ADAM WINKLER: Well I think it has to do with both. Obviously the NRA is a political powerhouse. I don't think the NRA's political power comes primarily because of campaign contributions. I think the political power comes primarily from the fact that historically they've been able to deliver votes in close elections that can swing those elections. After, and 1994 President Clinton supported the assault weapons ban to the Brady background check bill, Republicans won a majority of Congress for that first time in half a century and Clinton himself said the reason why that happened was because of gun control. But I think the political environment in Washington is changing. I think this past November and the NRA had suffered to a string of defeats. It it's endorsed candidates did not fare well on election day and I think people are starting to realize that maybe the NRA's power is not all that it's cracked up to be.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: So you argue that we need to find a middle ground. Where do you think we can start to find the middle ground?

ADAM WINKLER: Well I think as he thought he talked about the middle ground is everyone I go out and talk to when I go around the country talking about guns every gun owner tells me did like to see us do more to keep criminals and the mentally ill from getting their hands on guns yet we don't have laws in place I really prevent criminals or the mentally ill from getting their hands on guns. As we said earlier for a 10 guns are sold without a background check. It is a huge gaping loophole. How can the background check system or to maximum effectiveness if it does not cover every single firearm? We should have everyone who buys a gun has to go through background check what we do in California we do not do nationwide.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: So this is Charlie Blek with the Brady campaign to prevent gun violence. Is there something in the California legislation has anybody been trying to push something about background checks so that the mentally ill get identified?

CHARLIE BLEK: We have that. That is what Prof. Winkler is also reinforcing. We have it on the books. I would suggest that our federal representatives who want to take a blind eye to what we've done here in California simply look at the various penal codes that we have enacted. They would then understand, and these have been challenged and Prof. Winkler also alluded to the federal, the US Supreme Court decisions and Heller and McDonald. We have no now slippery slope. We cannot use that argument anymore. We have to face the reality that we have to deal with how to reduce playfulness of these situations and every single day we lose 32 Americans to gun violence and that is just plain avoidable and wrong.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: So you think the debate over the Second Amendment send what it means well-regulated the right of people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, do you think that debate is over and that is, to think it's clear enough to go ahead?

CHARLIE BLEK: I've had the privilege of practicing law in covering your over here in 40 years and I know that even if you disagree with 4 of 5 justices nevertheless it's the law of the land and as Prof. Winkler said earlier they decided they have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms and that is protected. In addition we have a number of exceptions for responsible gun policies and we understand we have something called freedom of speech but that does not allow us to stand up in a crowded theater and yell fire. And once again past the idea of promoting anti-gun any time for any reason we have a particular method we've exploded that, now we can get down to brass tacks and talk about (inaudible) some of our legislation in California and enact it across the United States because it will only save lives.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Charlie do think it's possible to do anything in California before the federal government takes a stab?

CHARLIE BLEK: Obviously Prof. Winkler has pointed out the two items which is the gun show loophole and large capacity magazines which I think has to happen on a federal level. In California we have to go about cleaning up some of our own legislation like the bullet but bill that Sen. You just announced today he's going to reintroduce and sign into the legislature. It deals with making the assault weapon ban more comprehensive as we have here in California unfortunately there's an awful lot of money to be made with the gun industry, the gun manufacturers and the money that pours into the NRA, which please understand, they've got less than a 1% return on their investment this last election which I was very pleased to see. But with that money flowing and we have to do things to basically create a situation where what our public once in the way of public safety we have to keep closing and catching up with the loophole so that we can protect our loved ones.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: And Prof. Winkler you write about a flourishing program scholarship, so obviously that side of the argument have been investing, what about people who were responsible that los have they not been investing in the gun laws enough?

ADAM WINKLER: Not enough obviously there's some very good gun control organizations like the Brady campaign like mayors against illegal guns however the problem has been historically that support for gun control is broad but not very deep. By that I mean that gun-control supporters are not intense in their support of gun control. They do not become single issue voters in favor of gun control. By contrast the gun rights proponents generally can be very intense and often a lot of single issue voters who will make this the only issue they vote on, election day. I think one of the reasons the NRA has been so strong is that delivering issues on election day if the gun-control supporters out there really want to have some meaningful action on gun control as president Obama says, the need to contribute money to gun-control organizations and they need to commit themselves to making gun-control a key issue for them on election day. Until they do so I feel the NRA is going to continue to have the political influence of the does.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Would you say the average citizen who might be feeling like something has to be done and rather than feeling helpless what would you say is something that can be done?

ADAM WINKLER: I mean like in any the major political issue the best thing to do is contribute money to organizations that are fighting for the cause. You need to send letters, maybe 100 e-mails to your local officials and your federal officials, pushing them to enact meaningful reform. I think people need to hear that gun control voices heard. Generally in America the voices have been quieted or silenced by the NRA. If they want to have an influence they need to have their voices heard now.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: And Charlie?

CHARLIE BLEK: I think that is a very important point. The Brady campaign we have we are better than If you go online that the petition is available and we've had a tremendous response to that. So, we are better than

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Thank you so much thank you for at least getting us up to speed it feels like perhaps this debate has not been on the surface is much as it needs to be and we need to get up to speed on what the laws are, where they can be changed, how can we can or make responsible gun laws I like the fact, Charlie that we need to change our terminology and perhaps change the nature of the debate.

CHARLIE BLEK: As Prof. Winkler has pointed that we have 300 million firearms in the United States, the firearm itself is not going away, the attitude toward us is important. We have to remember, once upon a time we had dueling that was acceptable in the US and we have changed that norm. We can change this norm.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Okay. I would like to thank my guests very much Charlie Blek with the Orange County chapter of the Brady campaign to prevent gun violence, thank you today.

CHARLIE BLEK: Thank you.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: And Adam Winkler Prof. Of Law at UCLA school of Law and author of the book Gun fight the battle over the right to bear arms in America. Thank you so much for being with us.

ADAM WINKLER: Thank you.