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Sandy Hook Was A Turning Point For Pa. Politician

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has renewed an effort to enact gun control measures. And some lawmakers who previously opposed additional gun laws have reversed position due to the shooting in Connecticut. Host Rachel Martin speaks with Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, who recently announced that he would support new gun control after long opposing such measures.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

The Newtown, Connecticut shooting has America talking and debating gun control. Here are just some of the voices we heard this past week.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy.

GOVERNOR DANNEL MALLOY: As a state and as a community, we will continue to do whatever we can for the families of Newtown. But we must also ask ourselves: what is our responsibility to those we've lost, to one another, to the children and to future generations

MARTIN: Mark Kelly, alongside his wife former congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

MARK KELLY: Gabby and I are both gun owners. We are strong supporters of the Second Amendment, but we've got to do something to keep the guns from getting into the wrong hands.

MARTIN: And Roxanna Green.

ROXANNA GREEN: My 9-year-old daughter was murdered in the Tucson shooting. I have one question for our political leaders: when will you find the courage to stand up to the gun lobby? Whose child has to die next?

MARTIN: Vice President Joe Biden is leading a White House commission developing proposals to reduce gun violence. Last week, Biden met with a wide range of stakeholders in the debate over gun policy: victims, advocates, gun retailers, even members of the entertainment industry.

My colleague, Melissa Block, of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, spoke with the president of the NRA, David Keene. His group also met with the vice president and they are rejecting calls to ban assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and other new gun laws.

Here is some of what he had to say.

DAVID KEENE: The fact of the matter is that unless you're talking about the confiscation and elimination of firearms, none of these things are going to make much difference. They haven't made much of a difference elsewhere, and they aren't going to make much difference here.

So when you combine the fact that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of people who are not breaking any laws to own and enjoy firearms in this country - for self-protection, to collect them, to use them in sport shooting, for hunting and the like - when you combine all those things, there is no effective reason for doing what these folks suggest.

Most of these are what I called feel-good laws. I mean, if you're a member of Congress, you could go back and say, you know, I banned assault weapons. I banned magazines. I made them register this or register that. But in the final analysis, the question then is, and is that going to prevent the kind of violence we're trying to prevent? And the answer to that, demonstrably, historically and empirically is no, it doesn't.

MARTIN: Vice-President Biden is expected to hand his recommendations to President Obama on Tuesday. But any new gun control proposals face an uncertain future in Congress.

I spoke recently with Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey. He's a Democrat. And in the past, he has explicitly opposed any new gun control laws. Casey has changed his mind. And he says he'll now support two new measures that may come before the Senate.

SENATOR BOB CASEY: First, a ban on these military-style weapons. And then secondly, a separate voter, or a related vote, on the high-capacity magazines. So I think those are two measures that will come before the Senate.

And I have a different view, I think mostly because of what happened in Connecticut. Two things hit me as hard as you can be hit. And this, as you know, doesn't happen too often in the life of a public official, where you're moved in such a human or emotional way.

First, I was horrified by, and haunted really by, the reality of what those children went through, where you have hundreds and hundreds of children who could've been killed - that's the horror of what might have happened. And then, of course, horrified by the reality of what happened that day; children being shot at point-blank range with a very high-powered weapon - very powerful ammunition - over and over and over again.

I, as a father and as a citizen, and then as a public official coming to that realization that it's time to take action and not just fall into our usual lanes in Washington.

MARTIN: There've obviously been other mass shootings around the country in recent years; Virginia Tech, Aurora, Colorado, others. But this did resonate with you differently. This has spurred a change for you.

CASEY: It has. And I said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, when I consider the other families and how they suffered in Aurora or all the other places that we associate with kind of gun violence, those families and those communities could be justifiably angry or critical of someone like me who says, well, I've made a change of view. People would say, well, you're late to this realization. And I don't have a very good answer for that, other than to say that I was profoundly impacted by this tragedy.

MARTIN: It can often seem like the United States is deeply polarized on this issue. Remembering back to the 2008 campaign, when then-candidate Obama talking about rural Pennsylvanian voters clinging to their, quote, "guns and religion."

CASEY: I remember.

MARTIN: Do you have confidence that Republicans and Democrats - American citizens on both sides of this issue - will be able to find common ground? And where is that? Where does that lie?

CASEY: Well, you think there is a broad consensus in the middle. Look, on the one hand, people who say that there should be no restrictions of any kind on guns, I don't think there's broad support for that. In the 1930s, we outlawed the use of machine guns because that was a military weapon that we thought didn't makes sense.

But then the other extreme, where people say that no guns should be available and that we should start confiscating lots of guns, that doesn't make sense either. Because most people that own guns are law-abiding and use them for either hunting or protection, or both. But I think in the middle is a broad kind of the common sense consensus. And I think if we maintain that and foster that, we can get some changes made not only to gun laws that are appropriate, but also to the others - whether it's law enforcement or mental health.

MARTIN: Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey. He's a Democrat. He recently decided to change his position and support gun control legislation. He was on the line with us from WVIA in Pittston, Pennsylvania.

Senator Casey, thanks very much for taking the time. We appreciate it.

CASEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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