On August 28, CNN’s Poppy Harlow had Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy on to discuss gun violence after the horrific murders of WDBJ7’s Alison Parker and Alex Ward, who were murdered on air by ex-employee Vester Lee Flanagan. Murphy is your typical liberal Democrat from New England–and a staunch supporter of gun control. During the interview, he said that Congress is complicit in these murders if nothing is done by the fall. At the same time, he admitted that gun control policy emanating from Washington is probably not going to stop future shootings.
Poppy Harlow: You said, Senator, in an interview with The Huffington Post this morning, “Congress' silence in the face of this rash of mass shootings has become complicity. We are essentially sending a message of quiet endorsements to these murders.” Who are you talking about in Congress?
Senator Murphy: I'm talking about the entirety of Congress, especially those that have stood in the way of common sense gun measures like expanded background checks or reforms to our mental health system. The fact is, is that when our leadership in Congress stands up and says we can't do anything, they are absolutely wrong. And I believe that we have become complicit in these murders because people listen to highest levels of government and when we say nothing about it – when we don't even attempt to change the laws to try to stop this mass slaughter – then people get some signal that it's okay so settle their grievances or to deal with their illness through gun violence. I just don't accept that we can do nothing and I'm speaking directly to the Republican leadership of the House and the Senate. They should be bringing anti-gun violence bills to the floor that can get consensus votes this fall or the Congress is complicit in these murders.
Harlow also discussed 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jim Gilmore’s remarks regarding this tragedy. The former Virginia governor said that gun control isn’t the answer, and that the real problem is fixing our mental health system.
Poppy Harlow: I went on to say what is the answer and he said community-based mental health services and more of that. What is the answer in your mind, Senator?
Senator Murphy: Well, let's be honest about what the data shows. We don't have any more mental illness in the United States than any other country in the world has, and yet we have five times the rate of gun violence, so it can't be that mental illness is the only answer. The reality is, is that the data shows us that in countries and communities that have more guns – especially have more guns in the hands of criminals, especially have more dangerous assault weapons out on the streets – there’s more gun violence. More guns equals more gun violence. Now, I don't want to stop law-abiding citizens from being able to own guns, but the fact is that the left wing of this country, as Mr. Gilmore says, I guess is 90% of the country because that's the number of Americans that support something like expanded background checks. So you just can't throw this whole problem on the backs of the mental health system, and you also have to recognize that you're feeding the stigma. The fact is that there's no inherent connection between mental illness and violence, and that kind of talk should stop.
Poppy Harlow: What about this shooting and the fact that this gunman, as far as we know right now, did not have any sort of documented history of mental illness. Obviously something was completely wrong with him. He idolized other mass shooters but what do you do about this situation, Senator?
Senator Murphy: Well, I don't think you can craft a legislative solution to every single incident of violence in this country, and so I don't think that we should expect that anything that we're going to enact in Washington is going to stop shootings, but there are plenty of instances – including the Connecticut shooting and the South Carolina shooting – in which better gun laws could have made a difference. In South Carolina, that guy got a gun because of the loophole in the background checks law that allowed the retailer to give him a gun despite the fact he hadn't passed the background check. And this whole culture of mass violence in which Congress does nothing, I think, sends a message to a lot of these individuals who are becoming unhinged in their mind that it's okay to go out and commit these murders because no one seems to be doing anything to stop it, and so why should [they] think any differently than everybody else that [they] see on the news carrying out this kind of violence? There's no one legislative solution, but there are changes that will make a difference, and Congress acting – just the action of Congress in any way, shape, or form – will have a chilling effect on this trend.
First, of course, violence increases when firearms are in the hands of criminals; that’s saying you are probably going to get hit by a car if you blow through a red light. It’s common sense. Second, more guns does not equal more gun violence (via Reason):
Vermont has some of the loosest gun laws in America. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gives it an "F." The state requires no background checks for private gun sales, permits the sale and possession of "assault weapons," and allows concealed guns to be carried in public—without a license.
After the fatal on-air shooting of a TV reporter and her cameraman in Roanoke, Va., on Wednesday, blame was heaped on America's permissive firearms policy. "There are too many guns, and too little national will to do anything about them," asserted an editorial in The New York Times. Democratic politicians and commentators said the murders proved the need for more restrictions on guns.
But did they? Vermont isn't much different from a lot of states in the regulation of these weapons. But it's very different in the volume of bloodshed. In 2013, it had the third-lowest homicide rate in the country—less than one-sixth that of Louisiana.
Utah, which also got an "F" on its laws from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, had the fourth-lowest homicide rate. These places refute the belief that loose gun rules and high ownership are bound to produce frenzies of carnage.
Also, regarding the talking point about limiting access to guns to reduce suicides, one just has to look at Japan and South Korea. National Review noted that the latter has the highest suicide rate in the developed world, despite all guns virtually being illegal. Hunting rifles must be stored at police stations. In Japan, the rate of gun ownership is incredibly low, and most firearms are illegal to possess. Still, the suicide rate is astronomical.
Lastly, mental illness is a serious factor in this discussion. The vast majority of perpetrators who have engaged in mass shootings exhibited symptoms of mental illness. The left-wing publication, Mother Jones, crunched the numbers. Their conclusion: maybe we need a better mental health system [emphasis mine]:
After another young man unleashed horror inside a Colorado movie theater this July, we set out to track mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years. We identified and analyzed 62 of them—25 in the last seven years alone.
Nearly 80 percent of the perpetrators in these 62 cases obtained their weapons legally. Acute paranoia, delusions, and depression were rampant among them, with at least 36 of the killers committing suicide on or near the scene. Seven others died in police shootouts they had little hope of surviving (a.k.a. "suicide by cop"). And according to additional research we completed recently, at least 38 of them displayed signs of possible mental health problems prior to the killings.
Again, the issue is keeping firearms out if the hands of the mentally ill. Both sides can come together on this, but it’s the left that wants to relegate this rather important piece of the conversation to the periphery–and focus on policies that either would do little to curb gun violence or lead to mass confiscation.
As for the so-called background check loophole Sen. Murphy discusses, it’s not a loophole when government fails to update the National Instance Background Check System (NICS) with a felony charge that would have prevented Dylann Roof from purchasing a firearm. That’s negligence on government’s part. Moreover, a three-day delayed release is part of a pro-gun control law–the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. Also, a gun dealer isn’t required by law to follow through with a purchase if their customer is subjected to the three-day delayed release. At any rate, a delayed release is a rare instance, so we’re not really speaking to anything substantial that will reduce overall gun violence. Lastly, Connecticut’s gun control laws did work; Adam Lanza refused to be subjected to a 14-day background check for a rifle days before he committed the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. Instead, he killed his mother, and took her firearms to commit his heinous act. Lanza did what most criminals do to obtain firearms; he essentially stole them while committing a homicide in the process.
The debate to keep firearms from the mentally unstable is going to be a tedious one. It’s a Gordian knot. It’s one that involves constitutional issues, doctor-patient confidentiality, the rights of the patient, or the privacy of the family that’s witnessed possible symptoms of mental illness with a loved one. There’s a way to navigate through this legal jungle gym, but we’re going to get nowhere if one side is only focused on making it harder for law-abiding citizens to own firearms, or worse, taking them away.
Friendly Reminder: Sen. Murphy said there has been a school shooting once a week since Sandy Hook. The Washington Post awarded that claim with four Pinocchios.