We chat with journalist and author Masha Gessen, whose newest book explores the complicated family history behind bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
On a busy news day we open the lines to get your thoughts on the headlines. Questions and rumors swirl around a possible suspect in the Boston Marathon case. A Mississippi man has been arrested in connection to letters laced with ricin sent to the president and a U.S. senator. The Senate votes down gun control efforts. And an explosion at a fertilizer plant rocks central Texas. It’s your turn to weigh in on these news stories and others.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Your Turn. Later in the broadcast, the story of an African-American man who made his way to Russia at the beginning of the 20th century and became a member of the rich elite in czarist Russia. But first, Your Turn. You can start calling now, 800-433-8850, if you'd like to continue the discussion we started last hour about the fact that the legislation calling for background checks in the U.S. Senate failed to pass even though it is supported, according to polls, by some 90 percent of the American people.
MR. KOJO NNAMDINevertheless, it couldn't get the 60 votes necessary in the U.S. Senate to vote, eventually being 54 to 46. Or you might want to talk about the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the investigation after those bombings. The mistake made by CNN yesterday identifying someone as having been arrested. And then apparently compounding that error by identifying the person as a dark-skinned male causing some people to say that then half the population of the area immediately became under suspicion. Of course, none of that turned out to be correct.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIOr you may want to talk about the explosion at the fertilizer plant in the small town of West in Texas, a town near Waco in which more than 100 people have been injured and at least 15 people or so have been killed so far. It's Your Turn. You can talk about any or all of those issues. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. You can also send email to email@example.com. And in a bizarre comparison to what happened after 9/11 in 2001 with the anthrax attacks, there have been two incidents of ricin being mailed to the president and to the office of Senator Roger Wicker who is a Republican from Mississippi.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt never arrived at any of those two places. It was intercepted at the postal facility on V Street Northeast here in Washington D.C. And an individual has been arrested. Paul Kevin Curtis has been arrested in Mississippi but you may want to share your thoughts on that, 800-433-8850. We will start with Mahammot (sp?) in Arlington, Va. Mahammot, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MAHAMMOTHello, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call.
MAHAMMOTI'm not a gun advocate. I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat but I do have a comment.
MAHAMMOTBut since the tragedy in Connecticut, the administration has been using that -- children -- their grieving families on the road to their political agenda. To any objective mind it is obvious but someone needs to screen. The emperor has no clothes. Obama's response to that person was, are you serious? In the press conference that was packed with emotions, his response was quite laughable. And I also wish that the president was as upset as he was yesterday for the bill not passing or being blocked at the Senate for the hundreds of innocent children who died as a result of the drone strikes that he's been doing. And I take my (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIWell, no. The whole point of Your Turn is so that we can engage in some dialogue here.
NNAMDIWhy place it on the President of the United States? Why not place it on the 90 percent of the American people who say they favor background checks?
MAHAMMOTWell, you're talking about a specific issue, but I'm talking here about the administration exploiting the children that have been killed in Connecticut, as well as their families, still to this day being used as a prop and the media, like yourself, being quiet about it. Just because you're head of the state, doesn't mean you should be immune to criticization (sic). Don't you think so, Kojo?
NNAMDII agree. The head of state gets criticized a whole lot. Have you turned into any of the conservative radio broadcasts lately? Have you listened to any of the Republicans in the House or the Senate lately? He gets a great deal of criticism.
MAHAMMOTI honestly couldn't say that I did. But what I'm saying is, as an objective person -- I'm not even an American -- as an objective person that grew up outside the United States in another democracy, that I can see that the president or the administration, this is not personal. Again, administration has been using the children that were killed in Connecticut and their grieving families to this day, including yesterday. They are exploiting them (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIWell, allow me to say this, Mahammot. I don't see the parents of those children being dragged, kicking and screaming to these press conferences. And I don't see former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords being dragged, kicking and screaming. Indeed, she had op-ed piece in today's New York Times that -- in which she used language that was a lot harsher than the president's language. So why would you say they are being exploited, if this is something that they are going to...
MAHAMMOTThey are being put there starting with the funerals that the president has been using them in order to pursue his agenda to pass the gun control bill altogether. Would you not agree that it's being used or are they just there by coincidence? Are you saying that they're just there by coincidence?
NNAMDII am not -- I'm saying that I am not aware that gun control was very high on this president's agenda before Newtown, Conn. There are...
MAHAMMOTWell, now it is. I -- would you disagree that now it is?
NNAMDIWell, why do you think it is now?
MAHAMMOTWell, there's a reason for it, but they're focusing on the wrong part of it. What part of -- what con...
NNAMDIWell, what do you think is the reason for it, is what I'm asking?
MAHAMMOTWould have prevented Newtown, Conn.
NNAMDICould you repeat your question?
MAHAMMOTWhat kind of legislation or law would have prevented Connecticut shooting?
NNAMDII have no idea.
MAHAMMOTWell, these guns were purchased by a legitimate person. And as she -- apparently she didn't get to take good care of it and what not. And this got out of hand, right?
MAHAMMOTThis would not have -- any legislation would not have prevented this woman -- this person's mother to purchase those guns in Connecticut. Is that not right?
NNAMDIIt may however have presented him from being in a position to put his hands on those weapons, but we do have to move on, Mahammot. Thank you very much for your call. Mahammot feels that the President of the United States simply has an agenda and he's using innocent people to pursue that agenda. Let's hear what Charlie in Reston, Va. has to say. Charlie, your turn.
CHARLIEHi, Kojo. I know you said you're moving on, but I'm afraid (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDINo, we're not moving on in terms of topic. Just in terms of caller.
CHARLIEYeah. You know, I'm calling because you had a guy on your show earlier -- this is a common theme I notice when gun policies are discussed in the media -- talking about how it centers. You have to go back to rurally influenced states or rural districts or, you know, it's always the rural code word used. But, you know, I live in Arlington. I'm calling from Reston right now because I'm at work -- and I am not in favor of any more restrictions on my gun rights. And I have a number of friends who also live in built-up areas who feel the same way.
CHARLIEAnd this sort of implication that it's, you know, only people who live at the end of a dirt road who don't keep up with the news and so on and so forth who are doing this, I kind of resent it. Because, you know, it's not the gun manufacturers. It's kind of normal everyday people who recognize that all the solutions that are being talked about are just recycled legislation from five years ago that are only being brought up now because it's politically expedient because of recent unfortunate events.
NNAMDIWell, Charlie, I think a lot of times people -- and in this case that would include you -- hear what they want to hear. I think what Quentin Kidd was saying in our earlier broadcast, the question we asked him is whether or not there tends to be a divide along rural and urban lines. Because it would seem that the way people are brought up, if you're brought up in an environment in which you're allowed to go hunting and you do shooting for sport, you have more of a tendency to cherish your guns than other people do.
NNAMDIBut we are simply not saying that there are no people in urban areas who are against background checks or who are against gun control. It's not that extreme. And there is certainly no implication at all about the intelligence of the people who are for or against gun control. If that's what you heard, that's not what we said.
CHARLIEOkay. You know, I think you brought up an interesting point there that people who are exposed, you know, to firearms more as children and as young adults and so on and so forth tend to value their rights more. I think it's an excellent one. I personally didn't have much exposure during my youth to firearms but I am a gun owner now.
CHARLIEAnd I find both for myself and people I know that the more exposure you have, the more you -- as opposed to it being just something you hear about in the news or, you know, maybe hear a soundbite here and there, actually experience and, you know, read up on in your own life, it tends to correlate with more or less attitudes on the laws. Because you realize they might not achieve what they're being proud to achieve.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, Charlie. It is now Sean's turn. Sean is in Chantilly, Va. Sean, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SEANHi, Kojo. Thank you very much for having me on your show. I love listening to you. So I just wanted to say that I thought that the bill would've gotten passed if they actually put some real meaningful legislation towards gun control. So going after things like people with updating the mental health records, like their availability to who can buy a firearm and who can't. I just think that if they would've included things like that it would've actually been meaningful -- you know, it would've...
NNAMDII don't know because I think what eventually came out in the legislation was the result of a compromise. If they had...
NNAMDI...had they included any stricter measures in it I think the chances of passage may have been even less.
NNAMDIRight. That's not what I'm talking about, Kojo.
SEANI mean, that like a lot of these records that they have of people who might be suicidal or might have been hospitalized at one point in their lives. That's not on the current background checks...
SEAN...database, or it's not updated very regularly.
SEANSo some of these people who have -- might have done domestic abuse, you know, things or things that you're not -- you shouldn't be able to buy a gun, those records aren't updated. So, I mean -- and the reason why that is is because it's currently not very -- it's not funded very well. So, I mean, if they were to improve, you know, funding for what they have in place right now, I think it would've, you know, bolstered support.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. You do make a good point. Here is Phil in Frederick, Md. Phil, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PHILYeah, hi. I guess two points but first, as far as that first caller I think, if they had had previous ban on assault weapons extended and also the magazine clips, that might've prevented the Connecticut situation being the extent that it was. On point number one, these Senators that are voting against the legislation are afraid of their Senate seats or their congressional seats. So this might be a time for term limits to be put in there where they don't have to worry about running for the next election.
PHILMax Baucus is going to be running the tax reform deal and he voted against this legislation. I don't trust Max Baucus and this is even more reason for me not to trust him because he wasn't willing to stand up and vote for this legislation. The second point is (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIYou may remember that in 1994 the contract with America included term limits but after a while when people get in office, term limits do not seem as attractive to them as they did before they came to office. They tend to want to stick around a little longer. But, Phil, you were about to make another point.
PHILRight. Thank you. The NRA -- you can help me on this -- the NRA apparently in the past, and its effect on congressional races around the country, has not been that effective. So my question is -- if you can help on that -- why then are these Senators and congress persons so afraid of the NRA? It's like Grover Norquist. Everybody was afraid of him and his tax pledge but he's sort of gone into the never-never land at the moment. So...
NNAMDIWell, you've got to follow what goes on in local races around the country because what goes on in local races, especially in off-year elections, is that the most passionate people turn out. And if the most passionate people are those people who are against all and any forms of gun control in what are considered red districts -- if you happen to be a Democratic Senator in a red district and there's a very slim margin of victory, then the passion of people who oppose your votes on gun control can very well swing that election. And I suspect that's what the fear of those people is. But, Phil, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIEarlier today an interfaith service was held in Boston to honor the three people killed and 170 injured in this week's attacks on the Boston Marathon. One of the themes that ran across the service was the idea of the resilience of Boston and the entire country in the face of adversity. Here's an excerpt of comments by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.
GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICKAnd just as we are taught at times like this not to lose touch with our spiritual faith, let us also not lose touch with our civic faith. Massachusetts invented America. And America is not organized the way countries are usually organized. We're not organized around a common language or religion or even culture. We're organized around a handful of civic ideals and we have defined those ideals over time and through struggle as equality, opportunity, freedom and fair play.
GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICKAn attack on our civic ritual like the Marathon, especially on Patriot's Day is an attack on those values. And just as we cannot permit darkness and hate to triumph over our spiritual faith, so we must not permit darkness and hate to triumph over our civic faith. That cannot happen. And it will not.
NNAMDIMassachusetts Governor Deval Patrick at the service that was taking place in Boston earlier today. It was an interfaith service honoring the three people killed and 170 people injured. President Obama also struck a similar tone in his remarks.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMAOur faith in each other, our love for each other, our love for country, our common creed that cuts across whatever superficial differences there may be, that is our power. That's our strength. That's why a bomb can't beat us. That's why we don't honker down. That why we don't cower in fear. We carry on. We race. We strive. We build and we work and we love and we raise our kids to do the same
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMAAnd we come together to celebrate life and to walk our cities and to cheer for our teams. When the Sox and Celtics and Patriots or Bruins are champions again to the chagrin of New York and Chicago fans, the crowds will gather and watch a parade go down Boylston Street. And this time next year on the third Monday in April the world will return to this great American city to run harder than ever and to cheer even louder for that 118th Boston Marathon.
NNAMDIPresident Obama at that interfaith service held earlier today. It is Your Turn and since we were talking about Boston, Nick in Alexandria wants to talk about pressure cookers, which were apparently the weapon of choice for the bombers there. Here is Nick in Alexandria, Va. Nick, your turn.
NICKHello, Kojo. How you doing today?
NICKWell, this is a -- what I've been thinking about and we tend to (unintelligible) you know, doing all the time, but it's actually the problem is not the guns, I mean, you have the pressure cookers. I mean, you realize that you can prohibit guns all you want, but, for example, you going to also put, like, background checks buy pressure cookers and then you're going to limit the amount of pressure cookers, how much they can hold because of the ways of the dangers. We're trying to solve a complex problem with, you know, superficial fixes. That's not the way to go.
NNAMDIWhat would you advocate to solve this complex problem, Nick?
NICKWell, we have to change the way we think, to start. For example, it's a little hypocrisy going on. A lot of our politicians, they call for justice, they call for letter of law. But in the same way, we don't follow them. I mean, we only call them whenever it's convenient for us. But in times, for example, when we have to step really for rights for a couple of people at one time. Not long ago, I heard your -- not you, but the NPR, I heard the news about people going on hunger strikes. And we were -- we, you know, Americans were actually force feeding them, which is considered torturing now according to the Red Cross and stuff like that.
NICKSo we cannot advocate for one thing and then the other one how we see (unintelligible) This creates hatred. This same hatred is the one that gets so many people to do so many bad things, for example, for instance like abortion. You know, like they claim to say pro-life, but, you know, like (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIWell, Nick, I think you have underscored your own point about the complexity of the issues we're discussing. Because how you have managed to bring both the issue of Guantanamo, hunger and the issue of abortion into the issue of gun control is one indication of just how complex our politics have become. And I'm afraid we don't have the time to deal with all of those issues here. But thank you very much for sharing your opinion with us.
NNAMDIFor those people who have been listening to the discussion we've been having about gun control, we received this email from Clark. He asked about the polling that we reference in regard to support for gun control legislation that is at 90 percent of the population. He said he thinks that I'm grossly overstating the support. I didn't say there was 90 percent support for gun control. I said there was 90 percent support for background checks.
NNAMDIAnd a Quinnipiac poll in February found 92 percent of Americans supporting background checks for all guns while 7 percent opposed them. But an Associated Press GFK poll this month showed that 49 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws, 58 percent expressed support in January, a month after the December killings of 20 children and six aids at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school. Just over half the public, 52 percent expressed disapproval in the new survey of how President Obama has handled gun laws.
NNAMDIWeeks after the Newtown slayings Obama made a call for nearly universal background checks, the heart of his gun control plan, which may answer our earlier caller's question about when did Obama come to this. And we'll go finally to Brian in Upperville, Va. Brian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRIANThank you, Kojo. As a longtime listener and first time caller I just wanted to give a little background about myself. I grew up in the D.C. area for the last 40 years. And as the unique situation of being a rural resident and a D.C., I would say, worker I'm seeing the contrast between the two though processes play themselves out over the last 40 years. And I have to say, there is no easy answer. But as someone who owns guns and has kids, there has to be a legislation that actually works. And I think a lot of people have gotten into the politics of what happened yesterday.
BRIANBut if you look at what the legislation would've accomplished, I think everyone who looks at it has to say that it really wouldn't have accomplished anything. Because as a pragmatic person, you have to look at the situation and say, is this going to accomplish what we all, as citizens, would like to see, which is control of firearms. And, you know, I don't think that legislation would have done anything to accomplish the goal of controlling firearms.
NNAMDIOkay. Brian, I'm going to let you have the last word on this issue. Thanks to you for calling and thanks to all of you who participated in this edition of Your Turn. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, the story of an African American who went into czarist Russia after leaving this country and became a member of the rich elite and what happened to him. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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