What's the Disconnect? Guns, Congress, and the American People
How can Congress act against 90 percent of the American public and get away with it? Why does the gun lobby win? We’ll explore this uncomfortable divide in an interview with the president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
What's the Disconnect? Guns, Congress, and the American People
Aspen Ideas Festival transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for the Aspen Institute, and the accuracy may vary. This text may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Aspen Institute programming is the video or audio.
THE ASPEN INSTITUTE
ASPEN IDEAS FESTIVAL 2013
1000 N, Third Street
Thursday, June 28, 2013
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
President, Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence
National Correspondent, The Atlantic
* * * * *
WHAT'S THE DISCONNECT?
GUNS, CONGRESS, AND THE AMERICAN PEOPLE
MR. GOLDBERG: Hi, everybody. Come in and take your
seats if you can. Great. So welcome to this discussion. What are we
talking about today? Do you remember?
MR. GROSS: It has something to do with guns.
MR. GOLDBERG: Something to do with guns.
MR. GROSS: Yeah.MR. GOLDBERG: My name is Jeff Goldberg. I'm from the
Atlantic. And I have with me Dan Gross, the head of the Brady
Campaign. You all know their work. I don't have to do an extension --
oh, a little bias, ugh? I don't have to do an extensive introduction. One
thing I did want to say was it was funny when Dan and I were talking
yesterday about this, plotting different things to talk about. He mentioned
that we've had some terrific fights over the phone on these issues. Fights?
MR. GROSS: Spirited conversations.
MR. GOLDBERG: Spirited, full and frank exchange of views.
MR. GROSS: There you go.
MR. GOLDBERG: And it might be -- might have been
worthwhile just to record those fights and play them for you and we can
go out and get lunch and then you could ask questions. But I didn't
record them, so here we are.
MR. GROSS: Here we are.
MR. GOLDBERG: And so, you know, I want to cover the
waterfront on this issue, not just the legislative piece. But let's start there.
And before I do that, we are going to talk for a while and then we are
going to go to questions from the audience. And I'm hoping that there are
people in this audience who are gun enthusiasts or gun rights advocates
or NRA members and I would hope that you would participate and raise
your hands. If you could signal me telepathically that you are a NRA
member, I'll try to call on you first. Or just stand up and scream "I'm an
NRA member," and then you could have the floor for a minute or two.
And one of the issues in this -- one of the problems in this issues,
and we've talked about this in this past, is that -- the opposition to where
he stands. The NRA and some like-minded groups, they don't like to
debate this issue. And I want to talk about that in a minute because it's a
very interesting and troubling aspect of this argument in America.But let's start on the legislative front and go to the obvious
question, which I think you as the head of the premier organization are
advocating for gun legislation for different aspects of gun control. Why
has your side failed time and time again when polls show -- in particular
on the subject of background checks, universalizing background checks
that -- I mean, it's an amazing number, above 90 percent, more than 90
percent of Americans say background checks are fine. What's going
wrong from the organizational perspective or from the movement
MR. GROSS: Yeah, I mean I think a lot of it comes down I
guess you can say to two words, intensity and mythology. You know,
there is an intensity gap between those who support sensible gun laws, the
90 percent of Americans who support background checks, and the very,
very small minority of Americans who don't. And that intensity gap has led
to the mythology that the gun lobby -- and I just want to be clear what we
are talking about when we are talking about the NRA here. We are
talking about the leadership of the NRA as the corporate gun lobby,
because if you look at the polls among NRA members, 74 percent of NRA
members supported the background check, a law that was defeated.
So I share your invitation and hopefully, you know, we can
have that conversation with folks in the audience who are NRA members
as well. But there is this mythology that has been allowed to -- you know,
that's perpetuated itself in D.C., that, you know, you are going to be held
accountable if you do what in essence is the right thing on behalf of your --
MR. GOLDBERG: Is it mythology or if you are a Senator from
North Dakota or South Dakota or even Vermont, a place like that, you
can really suffer at the hands of the voters.
MR. GROSS: Yeah, interestingly, all of the evidence including,
you know, stuff that's come out recently after the 2012 elections show that
that strikingly is not the case. Less than 1 percent of the money that the gun
lobby spent on candidates that they support actually -- or against
candidates that they wanted to defeat was spent effectively for the results
that they wanted.MR. GOLDBERG: Okay, so you are basically arguing the
NRA is in truth ineffective and represents virtually no one. So what's going
MR. GROSS: No. Well, so --
MR. GOLDBERG: I'm missing the --
MR. GROSS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So there are a lot of NRA
members. They do misrepresent what the overwhelming majority of their
members support from a policy perspective. Now there are a lot of great
things that people take away from the NRA. You know, we have nothing
against safety training. In fact, I think there should be more safety training.
But from a policy perspective -- it's not that they don't represent no one, but
they certainly don't represent the 4 million people that they claim to
MR. GOLDBERG: Let me step back. I'm going to press you on
this again, because it is one of the mysteries and it might be -- it might have
more to do with the legislative process and the architecture of our national
legislature than anything else. But I want to press you on that. But let's
step back for a minute and talk about your organization and you
personally where you stand on Second Amendment issues. Just give me --
lay it out for the audience. I know a little bit about where you are, but lay
out for your audience where you stand on the right to bear arms?
MR. GROSS: We completely support it. We completely
support the constitution. I actually looked at the -- a lot of people inside
our "movement" looked at the recent Supreme Court ruling, the Heller
versus D.C. decision as a huge defeat. I actually looked at it as liberating.
Because it acknowledges that there is a limited right to bear arms, but at
the same time, acknowledges, including in the majority ruling by Scalia,
that there are things that we can do to regulate that right in the interest of
all of our safety. And that's the conversation that we need to be having.
MR. GOLDBERG: Well, this is what I don't -- and I'm asking
you now as almost an anthropologist of the NRA as opposed to an
opponent of the NRA. If Justice Scalia believes that the Second Amendment allows for regulation of guns -- in other words, there are
classes of people who the constitution would not allow to have guns.
MR. GROSS: Right.
MR. GOLDBERG: The dangerously mentally ill, convicted
criminals and so on. If Justice Scalia is there, why is the NRA where it is? I
mean, we don't generally associate Justice Scalia with extravagant
MR. GROSS: Right.
MR. GOLDBERG: Yeah.
MR. GROSS: Right. I mean the -- right.
MR. GOLDBERG: So what's the anthropology? What's the
MR. GROSS: I mean, it's -- Justice Scalia is, you know,
speaking on behalf of public safety and on behalf of the, you know, will of
the American public; that the NRA -- it's in their DNA -- in the leadership of
the NRA to oppose. And they do it in the name of the Second
Amendment. But when you really examine something like universal
background checks that they'll oppose in the name of the Second
Amendment, it actually has nothing to do with the Second Amendment.
In fact, we argue that background checks strengthen the
Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens to define those that we
all agree shouldn't have them. And that's why 90 percent of the American
public supports that measure. The gun lobby doesn't support it because
they are a corporate lobby for the gun industry and they have been able
to get away to this point with misrepresenting the will, best will and -- that's
MR. GOLDBERG: Is it simply -- you are arguing that it's simply about selling more guns?
MR. GROSS: Absolutely.
MR. GOLDBERG: There is no ideology to this?
MR. GROSS: I mean, they use ideology to perpetuate their --
you know, and to express their point of view. And then, you know, as
soon as you scratch beneath the surface, they misuse that ideology. You
know, we talk for a second about the Second Amendment. You know,
you tell me how the Second Amendment ties with background checks that
they adamantly oppose?
MR. GOLDBERG: Right. Well, let me play the role of Wayne
LaPierre for a second, which I've been practicing --
MR. GROSS: Have fun.
MR. GOLDBERG: -- in front of my mirror all morning. And I
wish he were here and I wish all these guys were here. I really do. But in
their absence let me try to rehearse this. And not even playing Wayne
LaPierre so much as -- I mean, we've talked about this before. You know
that I spend a lot of time with gun owners and gun rights -- really stringent
gun rights advocates in places where guns are the norm, not the
But I've also spent a lot of time with people on your side,
people who are less moderate on Second Amendment issues. And so the
NRA people I know would say, "You know why I oppose gun
background checks? Because it's just the first step. It's the foot in the door,
and I know that they are going to come for my guns. I know that they are
going to try to register my guns. And that is anathema to me because I
have my gun to protect myself from tyranny. I don't want the government
to know I have a gun."
And the truth of the matter is -- and you might argue with me on
this. But the truth of the matter is there are many people on your side who
see Newtown, see Aurora as -- to borrow from Rahm Emanuel, don't let a crisis go to waste -- who see those issues as opening the door for more
and more stringent gun legislation, not just universalizing background
checks. Do these NRA people and these pro gun rights people are they
just paranoid, are they reacting to something real in your movement, which
is a desire to eradicate gun ownership?
MR. GROSS: Well, I mean there is no reasonable evidence
whatsoever that anything that you just said is true. They --
MR. GOLDBERG: That was an attack on Wayne LaPierre.
MR. GROSS: Yeah, that was you as Wayne LaPierre.
MR. GOLDBERG: Yeah, all right. I just want to clarify. That's
just Jeffery Goldberg starring as Wayne LaPierre.
MR. GROSS: That's how effective your impression just was. It's
the rhetoric that they use to rile up that, you know, very, very small number
of extremists out there to perpetuate that mythology that there are all those
people out there that are as intense about the issue as that small group of
MR. GOLDBERG: Do you believe in the national gun registry?
MR. GROSS: Of course not. And it was written into -- directly
into this legislation and said, you know, explicitly, that this is not going to
lead to a national gun registry, that Congress is against the national gun
registry. And then, you know, when Senator Cruz was pressed on it in the
debate leading up to the vote that tragic day -- and that was a tragic day
for our country -- he said, "It is my" -- they asked him what reasonable
evidence he has. And he said, "It is my impression" -- let me see if I can do
my Senator Cruz impression -- "that it leads -- it puts us on the path to a
push to a national gun registry." I mean this is a --
MR. GOLDBERG: A path to a push?MR. GROSS: A path to a push. And it --
MR. GOLDBERG: As opposed to a push to a path.
MR. GROSS: And it says it -- I mean the second I saw that, I
was like, "This is going to be on the Daily Show tonight, you know, sure
MR. GOLDBERG: Yeah.
MR. GROSS: You know, it's -- but this is the rhetoric out there
that's allowed to kind of go on because of that mythology and how
effective -- and the one thing that the gun lobby is very good at is, you
know, leveraging that rhetoric and leveraging those visceral insights. They
are for something. Our movement needs to do a much better job and it's,
you know, part of the change that I'm implementing at the Brady
Campaign in terms of being for something, being for our collective desire
to make this a safer nation, to demonstrate that as a nation we are better
But the gun lobby right now has owned the high ground in that
regard, and that's been -- you know, that's why the intensity and, as a
result, the mythology has been able to go on.
MR. GOLDBERG: You are not going to achieve -- I want to
come back to the anthropology of gun ownership in a second because
we've both done fairly deep dives on this subject. But I want to come
back to that argument. You are not going to win very much at all unless
you can convince large numbers of conservative white males in red states
that you are not opposed to their gun ownership, that you are just talking
about sensible legislation. Why -- what --
MR. GROSS: Do I have to take that at face value?
MR. GOLDBERG: You don't take anything at face value.
MR. GROSS: All right. Because I --MR. GOLDBERG: Okay, that one you have to take at face
MR. GROSS: All right. Because I don't necessarily -- just for
the record, I don't necessarily --
MR. GOLDBERG: You made a proposition that you are going
to need red states to push this through.
MR. GROSS: You are going to need red states, but it's, you
know, I mean how you slice and dice the demographics. I mean we can
have a long conversation about it.
MR. GOLDBERG: Then go to the anthropology of this again. I
want to understand. And you know -- and this is the thing about -- and
one of the reasons I admire your work is that you don't demonize the other
side, the gun owner. You know, whatever stereotype you have in your
mind of the gun owner, you are not doing the demonization.
But why are they scared? They are frightened of the
government. They are frightened that the government is going to take
away their guns and the gun stands for independence. What is the -- I'm
trying to get at the deepest dynamics of what's going on here. Because
you're right, once they get motivated, once they get energized, the intensity
of their belief is enormous and your side simply has not matched that
MR. GROSS: Right. You know, we are going to win when
the American public looks at this issue not from the perspective of being a
gun owner or non-gun owner or a Democrat or a Republican or a blue
stater or a red stater, but as decent human beings who are concerned
with our collective health and safety as a nation. When we, you know --
or say enough is enough to sending our children to school scared to too
many people going to bed at night hearing gun shots when they go to
sleep out the window.
And that's the onus that I've accepted when I became president
of this organization, to demonstrate to the American public that this is fundamentally an American issue. And that's when we are going to win.
The reality is there aren't a lot of people out there who buy into that and
the paranoia. There is just misunderstanding. There's misunderstanding
that I feel that if we can communicate adequately we can clear up. And
by the way, it's already starting to be cleared up.
You know, a lot of people looked obviously what happened
with this recent Senate vote as a huge defeat. Especially a lot of the
people that have been out there saying what kind of tragedy is it going to
take to finally call the attention of the American public to this issue and get
the American public to wake up, get our Congress people to wake up.
You know, I contend that that tragedy actually took place the
day of the vote. That, you know, on the day of the vote the American
public saw in, you know, broad daylight the extent to which our collective
will and safety is being undermined by their opposition to something that
we all support. So it's not as much about changing hearts and minds as it
is changing the intensity of those that already agree with us.
MR. GOLDBERG: Let me go -- and this is -- I've heard from
responsible gun owners over and over again, that one of the problems of
the legislation is that it's a non sequitur. The legislation that came out out
of the Newtown massacre is about universalizing background checks.
That's the main item. Assault weapons we'll put to the side for a second.
But that legislation would not have stopped the massacre in that
elementary school. Adam Lanza's mother owned these weapons legally.
She stored them in her house. Her son killed her, took the weapons, shoot
MR. GROSS: Yeah.
MR. GOLDBERG: So one of the problems in convincing
people that this legislation should be passed is convincing them that it
would be useful or that it's a reaction, it's trying to fix the problem that we
saw in Connecticut.
MR. GROSS: Yeah, that's the -- that's been a challenge that's
existed on this issue for decades, is everybody -- you know, nobody has kind of a short-term memory to, you know, remember how that kind of arc
plays out. We all feel like, you know, this tragedy is it and, you know, it's
so utterly heartbreaking that we have to do something about it. But that
inevitably fades with the headlines. Sympathy runs incredibly deep, but it's
narrow, you know. And, you know, in order to succeed we have to
demonstrate that this issue is much more than about the sympathy that we
have and that we genuinely feel toward victims of --
MR. GOLDBERG: But go to this question --
MR. GROSS: And I say that personally, by the way, I should
point out for those who don't know as a victim of gun violence. And that's
been -- you know, my brother was shoot in a shooting that happened on
top of the Empire State Building in 1997. It was a tragedy that made
front page headlines. And from the very beginning I remember feeling
uncomfortable about the inequity of compassion that existed around what
happened to my family versus the 30,000 gun deaths that occur every
year in our country. And we do. We have to reframe this issue. Yes,
Newtown was a catalyst, but it can't be -- as it relates to kind of a desire
to create change and the activity around it. It's a sugar hive. You know,
it's not -- we need to build this movement around a much more basic desire
to make this a safer country.
MR. GOLDBERG: But you're not answering my question, and
my question is why is the legislation that you got behind a non sequitur of
MR. GROSS: Right, because those things should not --
MR. GOLDBERG: I mean why don't you attack the problem
that we saw in Connecticut?
MR. GROSS: Because that isn't the basic problem that we
face in America. It goes back to -- I mean I guess I kind of answered your
question indirectly. Newtown does not exemplify the most significant -- you
know, if our goal here is to make this the safest nation it can possibly be,
to prevent the most possible gun deaths, we don't -- you know, those
tragedies get attention because they are anomalies. So we've taken a very careful look at this issue and we look at it purely from the perspective
of how we can save the most lives.
Otherwise it's part of that sugar high. You know, if the numbers
aren't there to bear it out, if the genuine opportunity isn't there to bear it
out, how can you expect to keep the American public engaged?
MR. GOLDBERG: What I'm -- and maybe I'm not making
myself clear because you are used to having me come at you from the
right. But what I'm doing right now is coming at you from the left and
saying, you know, one of the problems is that this guy had access to an
armory that his mother had built, right? And most Americans would
probably say I don't if a lady in Connecticut needs to have however many
semi-automatic rifles in her house with large clips. And so what I'm getting
at is why don't you in reaction to Newtown push for something stronger?
MR. GROSS: Yeah, I'm -- I feel like I'm answering your
question. You just don't want to accept it.
MR. GROSS: I feel like --
MR. GOLDBERG: That I don't want to accept it, or you don't
want to accept that I'm not accepting it.
MR. GROSS: No, that you don't -- right. See, these are the
spirited conversations that we have on the phone.
MR. GOLDBERG: This ain't nothing yet. This ain't nothing.
Wait till he calls me an ignorant slut.
MR. GROSS: I might be able to vouch for half of that.
MR. GOLDBERG: It's true. I am a terrible slut.MR. GROSS: You know, that's not -- background checks is
big. That's been an incredible irony to the conversation that came out of
Newtown, that the idea of background checks, the idea of making it
impossible or less likely that 40 percent of all gun sales in our country go
without the simple questions to verify background. We could demonstrate
the huge impact from a policy perspective that that would have on
preventing gun violence and saving lives.
MR. GOLDBERG: But let me --
MR. GROSS: And what you are talking about with Mrs.
Lanza, I also think there is a big opportunity to address that. But we
actually think that the -- there is another -- and this is where there is a huge
opportunity. I don't necessarily think it's a policy conversation though,
regarding the 300 million guns that are out there. And I have kind of
been avoiding to go there because I know you want to go there in this
conversation, but that's how I suggest we deal with that part of it.
From a policy perspective, I contend unequivocally that the
most constructive thing that we can do is keep guns out of the hands of the
people that we all agree shouldn't have them, including law abiding gun
owners believing that criminals, convicted felons, domestic abusers, and
we can quantifiably show how that will prevent gun violence.
MR. GOLDBERG: Look -- and let's go to the 300 million
because that's where I think we have a difference. I mean you -- I have
written it -- you know that I agree with you on the background,
universalizing background check as a start. And unlike you, I'm for having
an open debate about the Second Amendment. I know you aren't and
we should hear from you why you think -- I mean, we got an answer on
the Heller thing I think a few minutes ago. But I want -- I would like to see
a broader conversation about the nature of our society and the nature and
the role guns play in society. I know for reasons of tactics you don't want
to go there.
MR. GROSS: Well, we do from the public health and safety,
you know, public information campaign perspective. Absolutely we
should go there and the whole idea there is to inspire an honest conversation that acknowledges the potential benefits of people who own
MR. GOLDBERG: Right.
MR. GROSS: You know, I catch a lot of flak from our own
supporters when I say this. You are not a bad person if you are a father
who wants to bring a gun into your home to protect your family. You may
be a misinformed person if you leave that gun accessible to somebody
who can do damage.
MR. GOLDBERG: Oh, yeah.
MR. GROSS: And that's the conversation that we need to
have as a nation, because that's something that is almost the only thing
that could have conceivably prevented Newtown in my opinion. That,
you know, "Hey, Mrs. Lanza, it might not be the best idea to have an
armory in your house if you have a child that you have identified as having
some potential issues."
MR. GOLDBERG: Let's go to the 300 million guns. Threehundred million plus, because we know that in these long moments when
we are talking about gun control, gun sales spike. I mean Smith &
Wesson's stock is up 50 percent this year because of Newtown. I mean
that's just the nature of the market. So let's go to this. While I don't
disagree with you that gun background checks at gun shows and private
sales would be a useful tool, I -- my argument has always been that it's too
late, that when you have a country in which there is 300 million plus
personal arms that we are closing the barn door way after the horse has
MR. GROSS: Yeah.
MR. GOLDBERG: And so that's why I'm arguing for the
ineffectivity of it.
MR. GROSS: Yes, so -- and you ended your article on the
Atlantic about -- quoting me and saying that it's kind of last words. So now I kind of get another one on that.
MR. GOLDBERG: Then I'm going to get the last word and you
get the last word.
SPEAKER: Yeah, we will see. Yeah, I mean it's just -- it's two
different things. Why if there are things that we can do every day, 40
percent of all gun sales go without a background check. Every day more
and more guns are not only coming on to the market, but coming on to the
market in the hands of people who we all agree shouldn't have them.
Why? Just because we do need to do something to address the 300
million guns out there.
Is it too late to do something from a policy perspective? There
is a lot of good. There is no black market for guns. It's not like drugs,
where drugs are smuggled into this country and automatically start out
illegal. Every gun that's purchased in our country starts out at a federally
licensed firearm dealer. We know the very clear paths that those guns
take to get into the hands of criminals and domestic abusers, so why not
have a conversation on what we can do?
MR. GOLDBERG: But you and I both know that the average
handgun produced by a very -- by competent handgun manufacturer can
last 100 or 150 years, even if it's not taken care of well.
MR. GROSS: Right. But you are -- I mean, I might suggest we
have the conversation about the 300 million if we want to find middle
ground here without writing off the conversation about background
MR. GOLDBERG: No, no, no.
MR. GROSS: Because that's something.
MR. GOLDBERG: But what I'm saying is the background
MR. GROSS: Because that's what is too late for us.MR. GOLDBERG: Given the reality of the 300 million guns,
given the reality that a gun even improperly maintained can last for 100 or
150 years --
MR. GROSS: Yeah.
MR. GOLDBERG: -- that this conversation is actually --
MR. GROSS: And given --
MR. GOLDBERG: -- a completely inadequate conversation if
you want to talk about effective gun control.
MR. GROSS: You need to -- but that's different than it's too
late. It's that we have to have a bigger conversation. So that's kind of a
little rebuttal to that --
MR. GOLDBERG: I'm trying to push you towards that bigger
MR. GROSS: Yeah. No, let's have it, but let's not have it in
the spirit of --
MR. GOLDBERG: When should we have it?
MR. GROSS: Now.
MR. GOLDBERG: Now?
MR. GROSS: But not in the spirit of it's too late to talk about --
to do anything in terms of background checks.
MR. GOLDBERG: Look, I understand from a legislative
perspective, you want to move the ball incrementally. It's fine. But I'm not
sure how -- I mean --
MR. GROSS: We are definitely going to need agree to disagree on that, on the legislative part.
MR. GOLDBERG: Well, give us the numbers, give us the
MR. GROSS: All right.
MR. GOLDBERG: The number of people refused when they go
through a background check, because those numbers are real.
MR. GROSS: Right.
MR. GOLDBERG: And I want to give you the opportunity to
make your argument.
MR. GROSS: And I'll give you -- you know, we just through a
FOIA request, just as an example, found out in Virginia where they only do
background checks at gun shows. They don't do background checks on
the Internet -- on Internet sales. That 40 -- that I think it was 1,200 in the
last like seven or eight years, 1,200 fugitives -- I mean, these are the
world's dumbest fugitives, because they could have just gone on the
Internet and bought a gun without any problem.
MR. GOLDBERG: Right.
MR. GROSS: Have been --
MR. GOLDBERG: Thank god for dumb fugitives.
MR. GROSS: Right, exactly. Have been apprehended
because of background checks. I mean, that's an example. And part of it
you do have to speculate. You have to say if there are 40 percent of gun
sales that happen in our country every day in which criminals can buy
guns without background checks -- you know, criminals are like water.
They are going to find the path of least resistance. It's also why passing
these things on a state level only do so much good.
They do do good and they are linked to, you know, like this case in Virginia, apprehending fugitives and a lot of decline. The Brady
Law, since the Brady Law went into effect in 1994, which is the original
background check law that only applies to federally licensed firearm
dealers, 2 million prohibited purchasers have been prevented from buying
guns through federally licensed firearm dealers.
MR. GOLDBERG: Why do criminals not have a hard time
MR. GROSS: Because they can go to a gun show or go on
the Internet and buy guns without any questions asked.
MR. GOLDBERG: But is that how they really do it? Or are
they buying it --
MR. GROSS: That's how a lot of them do. And then this is the
other argument that I don't accept. Just because there are other ways they
can steal them, that handgun that lasts and somebody (inaudible) -- you
know, the estimate is 200,000 to 500,000 guns every year are stolen.
There are community guns, is a big problem that's emerging in terms of
gang violence and inter-city violence where a straw purchaser will buy a
gun and keep it in the house or a hiding place in a community and that
gun will be used in crimes.
MR. GOLDBERG: Right.
MR. GROSS: But again, I want to go to this point. There is no
like kind of black market that just starts out. These guns are originally
purchased legally from a federally licensed firearm dealer, very often either
by the person who is intent on doing the damage or a person who goes
there with the intent of then selling it, reselling it to the person who does it
then. These are very direct clear links that exist and that we can do a lot
about through criminal background checks.
MR. GOLDBERG: Let's go to a slightly different subject. On
Monday -- I think it's Monday -- I'm going to be moderating a debate
between Asa Hutchinson, who is the sort of only person in that universe
who does come out and talk about this thing. Asa Hutchinson is the former head of the DA, former Congressman, who is in-charge of the -- I
suppose it's the NRA school safety program, the thing that they announced
And he is going to be talking or debating Randi Weingarten,
the head of the American Federation of Teachers. And I'm going to be
moderating this on Monday and I'm looking forward to it the way I look
forward to a colonoscopy. But it will be -- you know, we will get through
MR. GOLDBERG: But this is where -- this is an issue where we
actually really do disagree I think to some degree, and that's on
concealed carry, and the role that civilians who are licensed and trained
to carry firearms can play in public safety given that our country is already
saturated with arms and bad people have arms.
And you know -- and I told you about this when we first started
talking about this, that I had -- the Long Island Railroad massacre, which is
a long time. That's like 20 massacres ago I guess already, right. But in
the mid '90s there was a guy who came on the Long Island railroad train
that I used to ride all the time -- that's why it struck me -- and shot, I think,
seven people to death, wounded a bunch of others. And they were sitting
ducks. And I remember very vividly -- and this is where my --
MR. GROSS: Carolyn McCarthy's husband.
MR. GOLDBERG: Carolyn McCarthy's husband was one of
the people who was killed. Her son was grievously --
MR. GROSS: Were injured, yeah.
MR. GOLDBERG: -- injured, yeah. And she ran for congress
and won the seat actually in that District. And I remember having what
for, I guess, a liberal Aspen audience is a heterodoxical thought, which is,
if I had been on that train, I would rather have been armed than unarmed
because those people were sitting ducks. And we see the sitting duck syndrome again and again. In Virginia Tech people are blocking doors
or Aurora they have no recourse whatsoever. And so I asked you -- and
we could rehearse this again -- I asked you if you were in that situation, a
situation in which God forbid somebody walks into a room and just starts
shooting people to death, would you rather have a gun or not have a
gun? And take it from there.
MR. GROSS: Yeah, I mean, you know, I don't -- I honestly
don't think I know the answer to that because it is -- you know, so much of
what I have seen demonstrates, and you know, a preponderance of the
evidence as well that the more guns you introduce into a situation, the
more likely it becomes that innocent civilians -- more lives will be taken.
A great example of that is the more recent shooting at the
Empire State Building, where a man -- I have gotten to know his family very
well recently. We share a bizarre bond -- was killed. And then the
assailant was trying to escape and wound up having a shootout with
trained law enforcement officers. Nine people were shot in that shootout,
only one of them was the assailant.
MR. GOLDBERG: But he wasn't trying to escape. He was
approaching those police officers with the intent to shoot them. They had
no recourse but to fire back.
MR. GROSS: Okay, whatever it is.
MR. GOLDBERG: Well, no, there is a big difference in running
MR. GROSS: No, he was in the process of running -- he was
in the process of running away. I mean there was a --
MR. GOLDBERG: I mean I saw the video. He was running at
MR. GROSS: Well, he was running away from the scene and
they were chasing him.MR. GOLDBERG: And you are arguing that it is worse that the
police officers shot him or worse that --
MR. GROSS: No, what I'm arguing -- what I'm demonstrating
is that these are the most highly trained people, you know, that you can
find as it relates to the use of firearms. They go through active training.
And, you know, I don't know if you have seen any of the studies. I know
you shoot yourself, as I have. You know, what --
MR. GOLDBERG: I don't shoot myself.
MR. GROSS: No, you shoot around --
MR. GOLDBERG: I shoot myself.
MR. GROSS: Right, right. There you go. Maybe there is a
coma in there or something like that.
MR. GOLDBERG: He shoots and leaves.
MR. GROSS: Right, right, right. You yourself shoot.
MR. GOLDBERG: Yes.
MR. GROSS: I myself have --
MR. GOLDBERG: You're trying to shoot yourself repeatedly
MR. GROSS: Right, right, yeah.
MR. GOLDBERG: No, no, I am -- go on, go on.
MR. GROSS: I myself have shot and you know -- you know,
they have done all these studies that show, you know, they will have people sitting in a classroom, and you know, sometimes it's even gun
safety scenario and an assailant will walk in and you will then see that
people, their blood pressure, all their physiological things go nuts. You
know, there is just a lot of evidence that shows that -- at the very least there
is a good conversation to have around how much more dangerous it
makes a situation to introduce more guns.
Now, that said, I don't --
MR. GOLDBERG: So why are you ambivalent of that
MR. GROSS: I will say that I'm -- because I don't -- I'm not
necessarily opposed to the idea of a highly trained law abiding person
carrying a gun. What I'm opposed to -- I mean, this is a question I guess
that I would put back to you. You know, do you think George
Zimmerman, in the news right now, a man with an arrest record and a
history of violence, should have been able to legally carry a loaded
hidden gun on the street the night that he shot Traven Martin.
MR. GOLDBERG: I don't think the guy should be allowed to
carry a Mars bar. But you can -- but here is the thing. No, what you are
doing is --
MR. GROSS: So I think a more --
MR. GOLDBERG: Wait, wait --
MR. GROSS: I think the more constructive conversation -- let
me just finish the point. I think the more constructive conversation is
regarding -- you know, is where we all agree in terms of what the
reasonable standard should be in terms of who should be able to carry a
MR. GOLDBERG: Okay. But what you are doing here is --
you know as well as I do that there are more than 10 million Americans
now with concealed carry permits. Not law enforcement officers, but
civilians Americans with concealed carry permits. And you know the number. They commit crimes at a lower rate than the general population.
And so, yes, you can hold out George Zimmerman obviously and
obviously you don't want George Zimmerman to have guns. And
obviously also Florida's concealed carry laws are kind of a joke. I mean,
we know that. But if you -- how do you -- you can't dismiss the 10 million
plus people who carry responsibly, who don't go around shooting people
in their neighborhoods for no reason and who do commit -- and they
MR. GROSS: They don't -- you don't hear me --
MR. GOLDBERG: They commit crimes at a lower rate than
police officers commit crimes.
MR. GROSS: Yeah. You know, there really aren't good
studies on that and there are other studies that show that, you know, use of
guns in self-defense are significant. And then there are other studies that
show that they are far outweighed, especially when it comes to homicide --
MR. GOLDBERG: I think we both agree that the CBC should
be allowed to --
MR. GROSS: -- by murder. You know, I actually think we are
both saying that somewhere in there we could see a reasonable
conversation and where that line should occur. I don't want to
demonstrate every step of the way that -- you know, we respect the fact
that people can lawfully, legally, and responsibly own guns. We are not
trying to take anybody's guns away from them. What we are trying to do
is come together where we all agree in terms of protecting public safety.
So I think a much more constructive conversation is around
places like Florida where this -- what is it -- South Florida Sun Sentinel did
a study that showed 1,500 convicted felons were walking around with
concealed carry permits because of their lax laws. And laws, by the way,
that the NRA leadership looked at as their model for what that combined
with standard ground that they want to, you know, spread to every state.
So I think, you know -- I mean, we can have a philosophical conversation,
and I honestly don't know how I feel about whether I would personally feel safer in a situation, which, by the way, is not the normal situation very
few people are in.
One person who was in that situation was my brother. And a
lot of people that I know that were up on top of the Empire State Building
that day the way they described the chaos. I have since worked with a lot
of victims from the movie theatre shooting in Aurora to Virginia Tech.
Almost to a person, they say with certainty -- it's all anecdotal, but I think it's
anecdotal evidence we should take with a lot of gravity, that introducing
more guns into that situation would have made it more dangerous. There
was a gun owner who was on the spot from what I understand in Tucson
where Gabby Giffords was shot.
MR. GOLDBERG: He chose not to shoot.
MR. GROSS: That choose -- and thanks their lucky stars they
didn't because they said they were about to shoot the wrong person.
MR. GOLDBERG: Third person stories, the Utah mall stories --
they are counter evidence but you know --
MR. GROSS: Of course -- of course. But that -- we can have
that conversation, not to me --
MR. GOLDBERG: When are we going to do that one?
MR. GROSS: Not now.
MR. GOLDBERG: All right.
MR. GROSS: That one to me -- because that to me is --
MR. GOLDBERG: We will be going on until 7:00 p.m.
tonight, by the way --
MR. GROSS: That to me is a philosophical conversation. But I
don't want to have that philosophical conversation at the expense of
talking about the things that we can actually do to prevent gun violence, and keeping guns out of the hands of people like George Zimmerman
who are too easily able to get them.
MR. GOLDBERG: Let me make an observation that I have a
feeling the audience -- many people in the audience would make,
especially those who know the NRA. And I guess this is a -- I'm praising
you and insulting you at the same time. Which is -- whatever?
MR. GROSS: That's 50 percent better than what usually
Male Speaker: Yeah, usually, right? No, no, no. When I
listen to you -- and I have written this, you know this. When I listen to you,
you are very moderate and rational and you cede really an incredible
amount of territory to the opposition. We both know the NRA. The NRA
doesn't cede anything to you. And we also know something else. We
know how -- you are in Washington a lot. I live there. We know how
Washington works. You know, the compromise in today's hyper-partisan
atmosphere and no holds barred legislating process, compromise is not
rewarded by people saying, "You know what? Dan, you are so
reasonable. I think I'm going to meet you half way." I'm wondering --
MR. GROSS: Common sense isn't sexy.
MR. GOLDBERG: No, but I am wondering and I think I am
speaking on behalf of people who would like to see your group work
harder in more dramatic ways. I am wondering if you guys one day are
going to wake up and say, "You know what? We can't beat the NRA
absolutism with Brady moderation."
MR. GROSS: Yeah. See, you know -- and if that, you know,
continues to be what people take away from this organization and this
movement, we will have failed. I don't look at anything that we are doing
as moderate. I don't look at it as aggressive. I don't look at it as
conservative. I don't look at it as progressive. We are a one issue
organization and we are about preventing people from getting shot and
we look at everything through that lens. And I can say -- again, I can tell
you very, very firmly how -- and we have had this conversation already even now, how criminal background checks can lead to the prevention of
gun violence. That in all honesty is a harder conversation to have around
assault weapons ban. I do believe that that's a very important
conversation to have for, you know, what kind of nation do we want to
live in. You know, a lot of our members believe that that's actually the
most important conversation.
MR. GOLDBERG: The assault weapons ban?
MR. GROSS: Yeah, the assault weapons ban. I think if we
were out there saying that you would probably, you know, in your model
of moderate versus whatever the opposite of moderate -- aggressive --
would say that's then Brady being more aggressive. I don't care about
any of that. I just care about what we can do to make this a safer country.
And that's why I don't look at background checks as being soft. I look at
that as being very aggressive.
And also we are very aggressively going after the other half of
the equation, which is engaging the 300 -- the people who own the 300
million guns out there and the people who live in the communities with
them in a new national conversation in terms of what we can do to
encourage more responsible behavior, social norms, like friends don't let
friends drive drunk --
MR. GOLDBERG: Oh, wait. I want to clarify something here.
Are you saying that you did not push the assault weapons ban?
MR. GROSS: No, we did.
MR. GOLDBERG: No, no, no, but you didn't. I mean you
didn't push it nearly as hard.
MR. GROSS: No, no, we did, we did, we did. And you
know, that's a big part of Brady's heritage and equity and we got -- we
helped to get the original assault weapons ban bill passed. But what we
also acknowledged every step of the way is that that's a different
conversation as it relates to preventing the most possible gun deaths.And that, by the way, is the arc that always happens after one
of these high profile tragedies. The nation gets, you know, for very
obvious and appropriate reasons engaged in this issue momentarily
because it typically involves an assault weapon. You know, you have the
conversations centers around that. And I think that's part of the reason
why it dissipates, because inevitably, that alone is not a big enough
conversation. And, you know, you can much more easily demonstrate
how something like criminal background checks -- not only is that where
middle ground happens to be, which it does happen to be a middle
ground, but that's not ceding anything. That's -- we can demonstrate how
that is the opportunity to save lives and prevent gun violence.
And by the way, there is another important part to the assault
weapons conversation that we think is very important, which is the high
capacity magazines. But again, these are conversations that we believe
very strongly we have to have that. We were pushing for, but it's part of
the President and the White House's bigger agenda, which -- and that
was the genius of what happened right after Newtown from the
perspective of the White House, is that they immediately started to engage
the American public in a bigger conversation so that this wasn't just about
Again, Newtown will always -- for whatever we wind up
passing and we will wind up succeeding, Newtown will always be
looked back as a catalyst. But change will not happen until the American
public gets engaged on a far deeper level than around any one tragedy,
around our own concerns, around the safety of our own children, around
the safety of our own communities.
MR. GOLDBERG: Let me open it up to questions now. Is there
a mic moving around? So why don't we start in the back there, where
you're standing. Yeah, right all the way to the back. And by the way,
please keep these in the form of a question. Because we want to get as
many as possible.
SPEAKER: Yeah, I'll go quickly. I'm a gun owner and a hunter
and in that sense I'm around a lot of very deeply red people both in
California and New York. I would say to a person they are for background checks, for gun registry, even in private sales between friends,
and for requalification on a carry permit, very surprisingly. But everybody
is for that. So I feel that the NRA represents our interest really in the way
the Westboro Baptist represents the interests of free speech. So how do
you make the organization like the NRA as toxic as Westboro Baptist so
people want to listen to the people as opposed to this fund raising
MR. GROSS: Yeah. And that's entirely what we're focused
on. Making the NRA toxic is a byproduct of what we're focused on,
which is engaging the voice of the American public, which is our sole
mission from a policy perspective, which includes the overwhelming
majority of gun owners that do support the measures that we're talking
And then, you know, breaking the mythology that exists. And
this recent Senate vote has really changed the landscape. You know, you
looked at the polling numbers for Ayotte in New Hampshire, who was
opposed to -- who voted no on this legislation, and Toomey in
Pennsylvania who supported this legislation. Ayotte took a precipitous
drop in her -- unprecedented in terms of her polling numbers. And
Toomey, who represents Pennsylvania, which back to Rick Santorum and
others -- you know, you've always had senators who have run and had an
A rating from the NRA, including Toomey, running on this issue. Toomey's
polling numbers went up.
We helped to put 30,000 calls into the offices of Congress
among -- from an outraged American public that included people who
own guns and people who don't. You know, that's the kind of stuff that
we need to do. We need to ratchet up the intensity of the overwhelming
majority of Americans who support this and make it more intense than the
very small minority of extremists who were never going to be able to
change their minds.
MR. GOLDBERG: Before -- yeah. But before I do that, I want
to again want to make a plea. And I do wish -- we did invite the NRA
obviously to be here, and they are not. But if there is someone in this
audience who is a Second Amendment advocate or someone who supports that position, please raise your hand. I will cede the floor. We'll
be happy to hear from you. I'll even buy you a Pepsi afterwards.
MR. GROSS: Can I ask the gentlemen who just actually asked
the question, do you consider yourself supportive of the Second
SPEAKER: Yeah, within limits the way I think free speech is
supported, but you can't yell fire in a crowded movie theatre.
MR. GROSS: Right. So that's the point I just want to make to
you, Jeff, that I mean we can kind of search for somebody who -- you
know, the context of their Second Amendment advocacy means that they
disagree with everything. But I just also want to demonstrate that the
overwhelming majority of people who believe in the Second Amendment
who own guns, who are members of the NRA don't disagree. So I just -- I
don't want to, you know -- yeah, yeah, yeah.
MR. GOLDBERG: No, no, I understand. I'm not a second --
I'm a First Amendment absolutist. I am not a Second Amendment
absolutist. But why don't we go over here. And again, like I said, if
anybody wants to get up, please. Your opinion will be honored.
SPEAKER: I'm a long-term supporter of the Brady Center but
also a trustee of the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.
Someone I trust said -- told me recently the Brady Center is as bad as the
NRA and they were referring to the conflation of background checks with
people with mental illness. Of course we know that the data are that
mentally ill people are not violent and so this is a concern to me. What is
the Brady Center's stance on mental illness with regard to background
MR. GROSS: Yeah, we definitely think -- and I have spoken a
lot about this, that that is not the most important component. It's not the
driver and should not be the driver in terms of the public discourse in terms
of background checks. To be completely honest, the definition of
"dangerously mentally ill," you know, the American public just kind of takes
that at face value and we could do a lot to kind of trade on that currency, but we don't. Because, first of all, that definition is a little archaic as it
stands now as people who are institutionalized have been
institutionalized. However, there is a couple of other very kind of stringent
definitions that don't apply to today's landscape as it relates to mental
illness with lot of outpatient therapy.
There is also the issue of stigmatization that there is only a very,
very small number of mental illnesses that are linked to violence. There
was a lot of conversation after Newtown around Asperger's, for example.
MR. GOLDBERG: It's true. Right.
MR. GROSS: And if anything, it actually demonstrates a
predisposition towards gentleness. So we are very careful about those
dynamics as we have the conversation. And we actually think the mental
illness component is much more appropriately dealt with. I think it needs
to be part of the conversation around background checks, and if we can
figure out a way to really identify the warning signs.
But I think we can do a lot more good having that conversation
around education, letting parents with kids at home -- you know, any -- if
anybody here is a parent of an adolescent knows, you know, there are
these moments that we all think that they're all mentally -- have something
going on. But educating people about the dangers associated with
access to guns, whether it's mentally ill, the predisposition toward suicide,
the risk of suicide. And that's a conversation that we think should go on
from the perspective of public health and safety campaigns rather than --
more appropriately than it being the driver of the policy conversation.
MR. GOLDBERG: Let's try to get in as many other questions as
we can. This gentleman here, and then you can pass it down actually.
SPEAKER: I would like to ask you a question with the exact
stand of the NRA on assault weapons and on these multi-bullet clips, you
know, their exact position on those things. People being able to go out
and buy assault weapons, carry them legally and have clips that will fire
10, 15, 20, 30 bullets.MR. GROSS: They are blanketly opposed to any regulation
MR. GOLDBERG: And by the way, because you know this
well, but I am not sure the audience knows. The NRA used to be for gun
control. I mean, this is the --
MR. GROSS: There is a whole story there. It's interesting,
people should read about it.
MR. GOLDBERG: There is a fascinating story about this, but
the NRA used to support reasonable gun legislation.
MR. GROSS: There was a coup at one of their conferences,
MR. GOLDBERG: And there was -- and the history of it is
fascinating. But you know, within the DNA of the NRA is moderation. So
I mean -- it's probably the best sign.
MR. GROSS: And a little shout -- I don't want to plug another
journalist, but Jill Lepore did that great thing in the New York --
MR. GOLDBERG: In the magazine that's about --
MR. GROSS: Yeah, yeah, yeah, about that, giving that whole
-- giving that whole history.
MR. GOLDBERG: Yeah. And Adam Winkler. If you want to
look at good researchers -- a guy at -- UCLA named Adam Winkler.
Anyway, let's come over here, and I'll come down here.
SPEAKER: Yeah. I worked as a director of Moms Demand
Action for Gun Sense in the state of Georgia, and I am also a citizen
lobbyist in the Georgia legislature. And I have to say our state is abysmal
on all of these issues. My question is, my group and with a whole
coalition of others in the state of Georgia working on these issues, we all
are very concerned about the passive attitude and trying to engage people more in the importance of this. And we struggle with that.
You know, it's almost like all of our friends feel the same way,
but they kind of go, you know, "Good work, glad you are doing it." And
then there is also in a state like Georgia also a feeling of "We can't get it
done. It's just impossible." So how do you overcome that, which is what I
want to take back to my group when I go back?
MR. GROSS: Yeah. That's why we are so focused on
reframing this issue as not being about any one tragedy, but being about
all of us. And I will point out and simultaneously thank Moms Demand
Action for everything that they are doing. You know, the Million Mom
March is part of Brady, but -- you know, I think one of the exciting things
happening now is that this issue is transcending being about any one
And you know -- and so just being out there as moms, you
know, I would, you know, suggest you put the pressure on yourself every
step of the way to demonstrate how this issue is relevant to you from the
perspective of what you care about most, which is your kids. That's the
power of moms getting involved in this issue. And if we can't do that, we
won't succeed. But if we can, if we can find these insights, whether it's,
you know, I am a person of faith, so I care about this for the following
reason. I am a mom, so I care about this for the following reason. I live in
an impacted community, so I care about it for the following reason.
You know, that's the conversation we need to have. At the end
of the day this notion of, you know, sympathy, like I was talking about
before, it's so important. But it's almost inherently passive. Like when you
ask somebody to feel bad about something, "Okay, where do I take it?"
We need to demonstrate that people's voice can make a difference. That
30,000 calls into Congress, you know, when we got it, you know, we
actually had the reporter from the New York Times in Ayotte's office when
we were streaming her office with these phone calls. You know, that
makes a difference.
So you also need to show to your membership the extent to
which their voices can make a difference. You know, we have this thing that we are saying now with this Voices Against Violence initiative that we
have. You know, my voice matters. We need to show people every step
of the way why their voice should matter and that their voice does matter.
And I think, you know, when we do that, you are going to see a
difference in terms of how people get involved in this issue.
SPEAKER: And just to add one thing to that. I can't stress the
importance because when we meet with legislators, which we do all the
time, they always say they hear 6 to 1 from the other side.
MR. GROSS: Yeah. And we have to change that, and part of
that is tactical and part of that's, you know, how we get the message out
there. And then just the one other thing I will say is the personal stories are
very important, but they can't just be personal stories in a vacuum and we
definitely have to stop giving statistics in a vacuum, especially like these big
statistics about how terrible the issue is.
At the end of the day, those can almost be disempowering
because you can say what can I as an individual do about it. But if you
can take a story of somebody which happens every day, somebody who
was shot by somebody who a background check would have prevented
from getting a gun and present that to your state legislature, as we do on
a national level. You know, it's the marriage of, you know, these stories
with a demonstration of the impact that this law has had or lack of it has
had from a negative perspective and can have from a positive perspective.
And I would be very happy to continue the conversation with you and
your folks in Georgia.
SPEAKER: My question is this, just what Jeff said. I am a First
Amendment absolutionist -- absolutist quashes the Second Amendment. I
don't understand why your organization and the others don't go on the
offense and say, "Hey, my First Amendment rights are being abridged by
all these crazies who go on and kill people." I agree with Jeff, you are not
going to win with moderation and you have got a great argument there.
It seems to me you ought to go for it.
MR. GROSS: Yeah. And I would just point out. I mean it's --
and it's kind of the irony of this. I hear more stuff like that than I do kind of the extremist opposition in person. And I just -- and Jeff and I have had this
conversation in some of our spirited phone conversations. I don't think if
you look at this from the perspective of how we can save the most possible
lives, I don't think a conversation around changing the Second
Amendment is the most constructive conversation to have. I don't think it is
from a pragmatic perspective. I don't think it is in terms of --
SPEAKER: It didn't work. You had a devastating loss.
MR. GROSS: No. You know, what's so -- this is the thing with
that loss too is this loss is different. You know, I watched that Senate vote,
the tragedy that took place that day with Sarah Brady, you know, in the
gallery there. And right after that vote -- it was kind of my first big policy
push as president of Brady. I was upset. You know, she actually felt kind
of motherly and wanting to kind of almost console me. And she turned to
me, and said, "You know, sometimes it takes a good defeat."
The original Brady law took seven votes over six years over
three Congresses to pass. The difference with this loss compared with the
others that were tied more to assault -- just to assault weapons ban and not
to background checks is that it really has changed the winds politically.
You have the polling that I was talking about. You have the calls that
have flooded into the Congress. The American public has become woken
up in terms of the extent to which our elected officials are undermining our
will and our wellbeing.
So it was a loss. It was devastating. But you know, there is a
lot to take inspiration. The majority of Congress -- of the Senate voted in
favor of it, six A rated NRA senators. We have made significant progress
and that goes back to the point that I was making before in terms of
demonstrating to the American public the extent to which their voice
already has made a difference. So I don't look at that loss, a) as
completely devastating, but b) as any reason to change the approach that
is gaining traction.
MR. GOLDBERG: We are going to do two quick more
questions. Because of the lights, I can't see back there. So just hand the
mic to whoever is raising their hand.SPEAKER: Hi. My name is Carlene Chow (phonetic) and I live
in Spain. And some friends of ours recently -- their 11-year-old son sent an
e-mail trying to get a rifle. His grandfather is a hunter, so that's why he
wanted it. So basically, the Guardia Civil, which is the national police in
Spain showed up at the parents' house because the retailer sent the e-mail
to the police and the police investigated.
Now, that makes perfect sense to me. And why is it so hard for
something like that to happen in the U.S.? Is it just the NRA? I mean, I
have trouble believing that in Spain, which has a history, a very recent
history of fascism and has a complete -- the national police have relatively
very little power there compared to the U.S. and they don't like the
government as well. Why are they so much more effective in handling this
than we are here in the U.S.?
MR. GROSS: Yeah, I mean it's -- the NRA is an agent in this,
but it is the extent to which our elected officials are misrepresenting our will
and our wellbeing. And just to point out that anecdote, it's only because
of some degree of responsible parenting. Is the parent the one that found
SPEAKER: No, the retailer. The retailer got the e-mail.
MR. GROSS: All right. So this kid went -- got it -- went to a
federally licensed firearms dealer. This kid could have gone on to
armslist.com, where right now 73,000 guns including a whole bunch of
AR15s and assault weapons and everything are available for sale without
any background check whatsoever, and very likely could have actually
executed that sale without anybody knowing. You know, it's -- I mean, it's
the equivalent of two different lines at an airport with -- you know, one with
a metal detector and one without it. And you know, if you are somebody
who isn't able to get through the one with the metal detector, you will
chose the one without it. So --
MR. GOLDBERG: Can I just interject something here? I mean,
we are having this -- another debate in America about the government
reading our e-mails and seeing what we -- I mean, I'm wondering -- MR. GROSS: And you want to have that conversation now?
MR. GOLDBERG: No, no, no. But I mean, it's a little bit
disturbing the idea that an innocent 11-year-old kid wants a hunting rifle is
going to get visited by the police.
MR. GROSS: It was the federally licensed firearm dealers, it
sounds like, who read the e-mail. The retailer, yeah. So it's the retailer
who went to the police.
MR. GOLDBERG: Okay. And then turned over to the police.
MR. GROSS: It's what it sounds like, right, the retailer went to
SPEAKER: And he was like, "I want a gun and I don't want
anyone of my family to know about it."
MR. GROSS: In Spain -- in Spain. Okay.
MR. GROSS: Got it. So if that happened here, the same thing
would have happened if they went to a retailer, hopefully. I mean, the
worst case the retailer would have just ignored it. The best case is, you
know, they may have talked to the authorities as it might have been --
MR. GOLDBERG: I would say knowing some gun absolutists
that that story would scare the hell out of them, because what they are
looking -- no, no, let's be fair. I mean, I am not agreeing with it obviously.
I am not worried about --
MR. GROSS: He is a prohibited purchaser. Yeah, there are,
but they are extremists. I mean, there is no other way to say it. Anybody
who is opposed to the idea of somebody running a background check to
make sure you are not an 11-year-old kid is an extremist.MR. GOLDBERG: I don't think, by the way -- I don't think that
the Snowden issue, the idea that's spreading for good reason that the
government is watching us is helping your side necessarily. Because the
First Amendment absolutists, Second Amendment absolutists, libertarians
who are already against you are using this against your movement and
talking about --
MR. GROSS: Yeah, I will accept the responsibility to show
that it's, you know, a different conversation.
MR. GOLDBERG: There was one final question over here I
think, if we can. I see a hand, but I don't see a person. Now I see a
SPEAKER: Thank you. I have to admit I am a little concerned
about the fact that you have used the word having conversations 53 times
in this meeting and I am wondering if that is the best strategic approach to
achieving what you want. I have the feeling that the NRA is not sitting
there talking about having conversations when they meet in their leader
room -- in their meeting room.
MR. GROSS: Yeah.
SPEAKER: And I am wondering if there is an opportunity to be
more hard edged in going after the NRA, specifically going after their
source of funding. The source of funding comes from the gun lobby. Is
there a way of putting pressure on the gun manufacturers to get at the
funding that's the lifeblood of the NRA through going after their boards of
directors, which I have seen done very effectively in other situations like
this? You go after the lifeblood of the organization.
MR. GROSS: Yeah. I think there is a lot of merit to that and
that's -- you know, that's something that we are always working on. But
again, I don't want to discount this notion of -- I will say it a 54th time -- of
changing the national conversation that we are having around guns.
Because the reason the gun lobby isn't talking about changing the
conversation is because they don't need to. They own it. And we need to
make this a conversation that's coming from the American public.And I will stand by very strongly and be happy to demonstrate
the extent to which if we can engage the American public in this issue in a
deep and meaningful way, that not only is our best chance of creating
fundamental change and holding our elected officials accountable. It's
our only chance. So I don't accept the, I guess, criticism of talking about
this in terms of a conversation. But I do appreciate the importance of --
you know, at the end of the day if you can find a way to take these guys
to task, make it hurt financially, then that's an important part of the strategy.
Another big part of that is with the insurance industry. You
know, we should be talking about and there should be and insurance
companies should be acting around access to a gun in the home the way
we talk about other public health and safety risks like tobacco, like
smoking. You know, you have to pay more on your life insurance if you
are a smoker. You could ask that question. There is a tangible liability
that you introduce into your home when you bring a gun into your home.
Every gun owner will acknowledge that. Every gun owner is willing to
acknowledge it and there is no reason everybody in our society should
bear that burden of that choice/right of gun owners. So I do think the
financial conversation and pursuing that actively is very important as well.
MR. GOLDBERG: One of the things I enjoy most about my job
is talking to Dan and I'm glad that we could share you today and thank
you very much.
MR. GROSS: Thanks as always, Jeff.
MR. GOLDBERG: And thank you very much for coming.
MR. GROSS: Thank you, everybody.
* * * * *
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