Kojo talks with author Colson Whitehead about his new novel "The Underground Railroad" and its resonance at this particular moment in history.
A month after the tragic shootings in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has outlined a “comprehensive approach” to curbing gun violence. In a state known for tough gun-control laws, these would be among the strictest measures in the country, including an assault-weapons ban and new gun licensing requirements. Measures also include calls for improved mental health services and school safety. We look at our region’s responses to the tragedy at Newtown.
- Aaron Davis Washington Post Maryland Politics Reporter
- Anthony O'Donnell Minority Leader (R-Calvert / St. Mary's); Maryland House of Delegates
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, what a liberal arts education can mean in today's economic environment and a pub on campus.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, it's been a month since the tragic shootings in a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school and President Obama is preparing to announce a sweeping set of proposals as early as tomorrow. This is what we'll be discussing in our first segment.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments, you can start calling us at 800-433-8850. Do you think stricter gun laws help prevent gun violence? What do you think a comprehensive approach to addressing gun violence should include?
MR. KOJO NNAMDITwo of the nation's bluest states are moving forward with their own measures. New York has already got a major gun control bill with a host of new restrictions before its legislature. And Maryland's Governor Martin O'Malley yesterday called for a comprehensive approach to addressing gun violence, including improved mental health services and school safety as well as tough new gun control laws in a state that's already got some of the strictest in the nation.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to discuss this is Aaron Davis. He is the Washington Post Maryland political reporter. He joins us by phone from Annapolis, Md. Aaron Davis, thank you for joining us.
MR. AARON DAVISThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAaron, Governor O'Malley spoke at a two-day summit at Johns Hopkins along with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor O'Malley calling for a comprehensive approach to gun violence. What exactly is he proposing?
DAVISHe's taking a look at four issues essentially and to run through those quickly, an assault weapons ban, a new licensing requirement to obtain firearms, an expansion of the group of mentally ill that are prohibited from owning guns and some physical security improvements to schools.
DAVISAnd to break those down just very briefly, the assault weapons ban is kind of. Both Maryland and New York are going for these blanket assault weapon bans, kind of saying this is what we would like to do. This is probably what Washington will have a lot of trouble trying to do through a divided Congress.
DAVISSecondly, the mental health, it's really some tweaks to the current system and I can outline those later, if you'd like. And thirdly, the school security is kind of a rejection of the NRA stance that there should just be armed guards in schools. This would be more physical security, buzzer-type entrances, bullet proof or shatter-proof glass at least, those kinds of things.
DAVISAnd then fourth the new licensing requirement that O'Malley is talking about is really kind of at the heart of his proposal and by some argument, an ambitious plan and that would require a digital fingerprinting, an extensive class, weapon familiarization and a gun safety training course and also a more extensive background check.
DAVISAnd so you'd end up with a card, a license not unlike a driver's license from the Maryland State Police in this instance and that would, you know, you can't get in a car and drive without a driver's license and you wouldn't be able to go and stand in line to buy a gun without having this new license. And that would give the state a much greater say in who actually ultimately buys a weapon.
NNAMDIWell ,would that apply to people who already own guns now?
DAVISWell, there was a lot of discussion we understand internally and the governor was debating whether to extend that to all. There are some 700,000 regulated firearms in Maryland that this could have applied to, but they've not chosen to go that route.
DAVISOne aide described it to me as the art of the possible. So they're not going that route of current gun owners, but going for all prospective gun owners, those, you know, as soon as this legislation passed and became effective, it would apply to anyone going to purchase a gun from then on.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Aaron Davis, the Washington Post Maryland political reporter about gun control legislation in Maryland and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think Maryland's gun control laws, some of the strictest on the books, are already tough enough? 800-433-8850, as I said, Aaron, Maryland's gun control laws are perceived to be among the most restrictive in the nation. What's required right now?
DAVISWell, if you're going to go and buy a gun, you have to go and get a permit, of course, but that would include the seven-day waiting period before you actually can get the weapon. There were a lot of bureaucratic maneuvers over the last few years that Maryland has tried to tighten, such as a private gun sale, one individual to another, not through a licensed dealer.
DAVISThose, nonetheless, have to go through the same process and be facilitated through a dealer. You're limited to one gun purchase per 30-day period. Overall the state gets a grade of a B by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and is ranked pretty high against others.
DAVISBut, you know, you touched on it in your introduction that Maryland and New York, Connecticut, some of the states that already have among the strictest gun requirements, or gun control requirements are seeking to kind of lay down the line as far as they can go here, yes.
NNAMDIWell, I'm glad you mentioned New York because that state has moved even more quickly than Maryland and already has a long list of new restrictions before its legislature, including a state registry, mandatory background checks, smaller magazines, other provisions. How does that compare with what Maryland is proposing?
DAVISSure, well, Governor Cuomo put out a seven-point plan and it had more numbers, but essentially the headline is a lot the same. It's a more broad assault weapons ban. Governor Cuomo has said that he believed that the current one that the state had has so many holes in it that it was ineffective.
DAVISThey limited from ten rounds to seven rounds, the number of pieces of ammunition that could be in a magazine. They've also -- I think the headline that they're creating today is on the mental health component where it would -- if a mental health professional in New York believes that they're seeing a patient who may be a danger to themselves or others, they have the obligation then to tell a mental health official in their county and then that official could contact the local police and they could go and confiscate the gun.
DAVISThat's a little stronger than we believe O'Malley will be going for in Maryland. Of course, the governor hasn't yet released the legislation, the draft bills and so we don't know the specifics exactly, but it looks like it's honing in more on the intersection between the, you know, the mental health diagnoses and then also maybe like a commitment to a civil commitment to a state facility.
NNAMDICurrent Maryland state law requires Marylanders to show, quoting here, "A good and substantial reason to obtain a handgun permit." But that was ruled unconstitutional in March by a district court judge.
NNAMDIMaryland is appealing, but this process may not be as simple as passing laws, is it?
DAVISNo. Well, this is another area that will probably end up with at least some legislation proposed this year. Maryland has had one of the most restrictive concealed weapons processes and to the point where some law enforcement officials have testified in previous years that they couldn't get authority to carry a weapon and they were retired in Maryland.
DAVISAnd so this was shot down by a district court judge. The state is appealing and we will see where this one ends up. As of now, it is not part of O'Malley's package.
NNAMDIHere's Matt in Rockville, Md. Matt, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MATTHi, thank you, Kojo. I just had a question as to whether or not there has been any talk about increasing on even or requiring background checks for private retailers of guns, like the average Joe Blow who is going to sell his gun at a gun show, something like that. As far as I understand it, it's not required to do a background check.
DAVISIt's a little more specific question than I think is really addressed so far in the legislation. Again, the governor put out these in kind of bullet-point fashion yesterday and on Friday the actual text of his bills are due. There is a requirement now that if you're one person trying to sell a gun to another person, that you actually have to take the gun to a dealer in Maryland and that has to. They have to oversee the process. But we don't know how far it could go in the future.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Matt. Aaron, Maryland is not among the six states that currently ban assault weapons, though it does limit the sale of high-capacity magazines. Those restrictions would be tightened under these proposals. Is that right?
DAVISRight. I was just looking at the numbers today coming out of Albany as well where this is also an issue. It's not lost on a lot of people here politically that Governor O'Malley and Governor Cuomo, both potential presidential candidates, are seeking to be the Democratic nominee in 2016, are going full bore at this issue.
DAVISGovernor Cuomo limited from ten, which was their previous limit, down to seven bullets in a magazine. The plan in Maryland which says even though it does restrict it, it's pretty lenient. The current rule is 20 rounds in a magazine. It would go down to ten. So we'll see if there's some one-up-man-ship here, which will be deemed as the bigger headline.
NNAMDIAaron Davis is the Washington Post Maryland political reporter. Joining us now by phone from Annapolis is Delegate Anthony O'Donnell. He is the minority leader in the House of Delegates. He's a Republican representing Calvert and St. Mary's, Delegate O'Donnell, thank you for joining us.
DELEGATE ANTHONY O'DONNELLKojo, always good to take part in these very important discussions.
NNAMDIGood talking to you. What are your objections to the proposals being put forward by Governor O'Malley?
O'DONNELLWell, a couple things to keep in mind is, as Aaron said, all we have at this point is people's descriptions of what the governor will propose. Some bullet points have come out, some talking points, but we don't have -- and we operate, of course, in the very detailed, the legislation down here. We don't have that before us.
O'DONNELLWe understand there are four major components to the proposal. You know, most of this is coming as a result of the terrible, terrible tragedies in Newtown and our hearts go out to the victims there. We have to make sure, Kojo, and it's something that I learned very early on is, in problem analysis and problem-solving is don't fix a symptom of a problem. You have to fix the underlying root cause. If you don't, the problem will reoccur, manifest itself in another way or again and again.
O'DONNELLSo we need to make sure that these proposals would address what we're trying to solve or fix. I'm not sure that these issues, with the exception of school security -- and that may be where we have some common ground. But these other issues and certainly in the mental health arena there's some potential for some common ground there.
O'DONNELLBut, you know, the other traditional gun control stuff I'm not sure will actually solve the problem. And so that's kind of where we're at generally. Until we see the specifics of the proposals, it's hard to say what you're in favor of or what you're opposed to.
NNAMDIMr. O'Donnell is there any chance that these measures, if put before this Democratic majority legislature, will fail?
O'DONNELLUm, you know, I saw this once before in the '90s where it was presidentially driven, nationally driven, and this legislature passed under President Clinton, extensive gun control measures. And once it gets at that level, it's very difficult to stop, but, you know, we're also talking about constitutional rights here.
O'DONNELLWe have to slow down a little bit and make sure that we're. You know, you may not agree with the provisions of the constitution that protect our rights, but there's a method to change them. If you don't agree with them, you can't just ignore them. So we're treading on some very emotional ground here.
O'DONNELLI don't know if the legislature in Annapolis will stop it. Other states will, you know. But New York and Maryland are very far to the left and it seems to me that the left wanted gun control, has always wanted gun control and is now using a terrible tragedy to move those policy initiatives forward in very left-leaning states like Maryland.
NNAMDIWell, there seems to be some coming together of left and right on this issue, Delegate O'Donnell, because two recent national polls show that the majority of Americans support stronger gun control measures, including 58 percent who say they'd like to see the national assault weapons ban reinstated. Does that influence your thinking on this issue?
O'DONNELLWell, remember, Connecticut had a very strong assault weapons ban in place. it didn't stop this tragedy from occurring. So one of the biggest kind of problems I have is that legislative remedies that hold out false hope to the citizens, in my opinion, are the worst kind of disingenuous actions a government can take. If these problems don't offer real solutions or if these solutions don't offer real answers to these problems then we're fooling the citizens. And that's where I have the real problem.
O'DONNELLSo on an emotional level I understand it's -- you know, people want to do something. We just need to make sure that we're doing the right thing, Kojo. And look, I have a wife that works in the public schools. Nobody wants their children in danger. Nobody wants their loved ones, the teachers in danger. I said to my wife, Laurie, can you lock your door from the inside? And she said, Tony, remember when you came to my school? We didn't have doors. They were open archways into our classrooms. So no, we don't even have doors on our classrooms. That's where we can find common ground.
O'DONNELLWe need to look at the physical plan of our schools, make sure that any intruder doesn't have easy access to our kids and our teachers and our staff. And that's the kind of thing that we ought to be really looking at. We all can agree on how to do that. I'm sure of that, Kojo.
NNAMDIWell, let me turn left again. Aaron Davis, some senior Democratic lawmakers in Maryland, it's my understanding, would like to see this legislation go further with restrictions. What would they like to see?
DAVISWell yeah, there's a little story in today's paper that some would even like the governor to add more things. You know, a requirement that if you lose or your gun is stolen that it's reported to police within 24 hours. One delegate would like a 50 percent tax on every bullet sold in the state and send that money to mental health.
DAVISSenator Frosh, the head of the Judicial Proceedings Committee who holds some sway over how these bills take shape would like to see the governor also give the Maryland State police essentially the same authority as the Federal ATF to raid Maryland gun dealers, stressing that there's a handful that have had a record of having more firearms show up at crime scenes. I know there's a handful in the state if you look at the records.
DAVISSo I won't say that the difference we're going to see in Maryland versus New York and versus what will happen in Washington. Clearly Democrats reign in Annapolis and this will be a largely Democratic Party response. And New York had to be a little bit more massaged because they do have a coalition with Republicans controlling the state Senate. And Cuomo moved very quickly to try to get a compromised package through that Senate, which he did today. In Maryland, this will be a process that takes place over the next 90 days of the legislature...
NNAMDIDelegate O'Donnell, as we said, some Democrats would like to see stronger measures like that, 50 percent tax on bullets. What's your response to that?
O'DONNELLYeah, I spoke on a panel this morning with Speaker Bush and I said, you know I read the story where a certain delegate wants a 50 percent tax on ammunition. He laughed -- not laughed humorously but just shook his head kind of and said, yeah some people want to run for Attorney General. Some people want to run for governor. He said, I can't control all of that but he said -- I think what he was saying to me was, we've got to be very careful how we proceed with some of this stuff.
O'DONNELLSo we'll see. We'll see what moves -- I do think there's a political component to this for people who are seeking higher office, whether it's the Attorney General of Maryland or people who want to be the governor of Maryland or people who maybe fancy themselves running for President of the United States in 2016 trying to stake out. So...
NNAMDII wonder who that would be. What -- Delegate O'Donnell, what are Republican's proposing in the wake of Newtown to address this issue?
O'DONNELLYeah well, I signed onto a bill today that's going to be dropped. We believe that -- you know, Kojo, I'm here in Annapolis. I'm getting ready to go to a committee hearing. There's going to be an armed guard in that committee hearing room. When you come into the State House or any government building you're going to pass armed guards. In my county courthouse the other day when I stopped by there for a meeting, I had to go past armed guards.
O'DONNELLWe have school resource officers already in many of our schools. And we ought to think about how we improve that physical security in our school systems. So we'll be offering what we know will be real protection for our kids in the form of a real physical security in our schools so that, you know, if there is an intruder of any type, whether it's, you know, with a knife or a vial of whatever or, you know, some type of a weapon or some danger at all, that we can protect our kids.
O'DONNELLWe protect politicians. Speaker Bush and Governor O'Malley and President Miller run around with armed security guards that are everywhere and yet somehow we -- some people suggest it's a bad idea to protect our kids. I suggest it's a good idea to protect our kids, our teachers, our staff and our most valuable, valuable asset in this country which is our youth.
NNAMDIDelegate O'Donnell, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIDelegate Anthony O'Donnell is the minority leader in the House of Delegates in Maryland. He's a Republican representing Calvert and St. Mary's. Aaron Davis, looking around the region, Governor Bob McDonald in Virginia has criticized President Obama's call for stricter gun control. He's taking a different path focused on school safety. Can you talk a little bit about that divide as opposed to what's happening in Maryland?
DAVISWell, we had a story a couple weeks ago about how, you know, shortly after the Newtown shootings just the sheer volume of gun sales, the increase in Virginia. And there certainly has long been a cultural divide between gun control and Maryland and Virginia. It's pretty safe to say this will widen that. All that said however, there still is a real problem with law enforcement tracking guns that move around the whole Washington Metropolitan area. Certainly you can buy a gun in Virginia and go to Maryland and vice versa and commit a crime. And that's something that the lawmakers I think in Annapolis here are also sensitive to.
DAVISAt the end of the day I think whatever is passed in Maryland is a step -- I heard the other day that kind of struck me -- that all existing assault weapons in Maryland will still be legal. And there are 46,719 registered assault rifles and weapons in Maryland. And so whatever happens there will still be many guns out there.
NNAMDIAaron Davis is the Washington Post Maryland political reporter. Aaron, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, what a liberal arts education can mean in today's economic environment. We'll be talking with the president of St. Mary's College in Maryland. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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