Civility Succumbs on NPR: Connecticut Gov Slams Gun Makers and NRA 'Monster,' Imagines Mass Shooting in Iowa

April 20th, 2013 4:52 PM

National Public Radio’s brand is soothing and civil news and interviews. That certainly didn’t fit when Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy was interviewed Thursday on All Things Considered after the gun-control measures were rejected in the Senate.

Anchor Melissa Block read back to Malloy his comments that gun makers don’t care if mentally deranged people buy their guns. He not only doubled down on that, calling the NRA a “monster,” but when asked what it will take to pass gun control, he suggested Sen. Chuck Grassley might need a mass-shooting in Iowa, or one in Alabama or Mississippi. Civility went out the window on the evening commute.

Block began with a tee-ball question: “And first, I'd like to get your reaction to the measure's defeat yesterday in the U.S. Senate.” Malloy found it “appalling.” But she did properly present Malloy with the opponent’s argument:

BLOCK: You said that the measures would make Americans safer. I want to ask you about the argument that was made by Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, in voting no on a measure to expand background checks. He said: Criminals do not submit to background checks now. They will not submit to expanded background checks. What do you make of that?

MALLOY: Well, they don't submit to them because they don't have to. They buy them on the black market from people who have gone to shows or purchased otherwise online guns. Many of those folks are, in fact, criminals but they don't have to prove that they're not a criminal because we have loopholes that you can drive a truck through.

BLOCK: Governor Malloy, the new law in your state requires that people who own the assault weapons that are now banned in Connecticut and magazines that are banned, that hold more than 10 rounds, have to register them by next year. And I wonder if provisions like that might feed the fear that the federal government wants to register all guns and that that's where these background checks are leading.

MALLOY: Well, it is a registry. But since 1993, you've had to register a handgun. You've had to get training and a permit before you could purchase a handgun and no one's come after people's guns. I mean, it's a false argument cooked up by people who want to make sure that it's easy as possible to buy guns in the United States. I mean, that's what's behind this.

Then Block turned to Malloy’s rough language about gun manufacturers:

BLOCK: Governor Malloy, the gun industry has a long history of Connecticut. There are gun makers, including Colt and Sturm-Ruger, Mossberg, Stag Arms. And they're really upset by Congress comment that you made earlier this month on CNN, when you said: "The gun industry wants to sell as many guns to as many people as possible, even if they're deranged, mentally ill or have a criminal background - they don't care." One gun maker has called that slanderous. And they say they've always supported aggressive enforcement of the laws.

MALLOY: Let's stop right there.

BLOCK: Okay.

MALLOY: These organizations support the NRA. They write out gigantic checks to support the NRA. The NRA just stopped a common sense bill that would have limited who could buy guns, to make sure that criminals and insane people didn't buy guns. There's an old saying, the proof is in the pudding. When these companies come out and say that we want universal background checks, then perhaps I'll owe them an apology. But they're not going to do that. In fact, they created the NRA. They support the NRA. And the NRA is now the monster that prevents us from doing what 92 percent of the American people want us to do, and that is to make their children safer.

BLOCK: Well, if Congress didn't pass these measures now, so soon after the Newtown shooting and with many visits to Capitol Hill by these grieving families from Newtown, what would it take?

MALLOY: I think, you know, if there's a mass shooting in Iowa, you'll have asked Senator Grassley if he's changed position. If there's a mass shooting in Mississippi, or Alabama, you're going to have to ask those folks. Right now, Washington - the senators in Washington, many of them, are more fearful of the NRA than they are of 92 percent of the public. It's a pretty sad statement.

Anti-gun politicians are pulling the usual “Clean Air Act” arrogance – that almost everyone will say they’re for “clean air,” or “background checks,” but legislators have a much larger bill to consider than just a slogan or sales language.

NPR failed to achieve civility, but did achieve a tough interview. Not only that, they even balanced it out with an interview with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). He has his own proposal for a new background-check regime.

NPR anchor Robert Siegel announced “we reached out to every senator who opposed the amendment yesterday to expand background checks on gun purchases, and invited them to appear on this program. And we got nos or no answer from all but one, Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.”

Coburn was much calmer than Malloy, and Siegel didn’t really challenge him until they turned to whether Obama was right that the gun-rights folks were liars about the Manchin-Toomey bill:

SIEGEL: You've set of your amendment that it reaffirms the federal policy that there will not be a federal firearms registry, and places strict penalties for violation of that policy. Do you concede that the Manchin-Toomey amendment did that too? This is where President Obama said yesterday: The gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill; they claimed that it would create some sort of Big Brother registry even though the bill did the opposite.

COBURN: I did not hear anybody say that.

SIEGEL, surprised: You didn't hear anybody say that it would do that?

COBURN: No, I didn't hear that. I'm a, you know, a supporter of the second - I didn't hear that argument. It wasn't made on the floor during the debate.

SIEGEL: It wasn't made by any NRA spokesman that you heard talking about this?

COBURN: No, not that I heard.

SIEGEL: The slippery slope argument...

COBURN: Not aware of that.

SIEGEL: ...that we were on the way to a national registry?

COBURN: Well, that's - but you - let's talk about that in context.


COBURN: What's going on in our country right now is a loss of confidence in the federal government. And there is a difference in the gun culture in Connecticut versus Oklahoma. You know, the vast majority of Oklahomans have guns, use guns, hunt with guns, do shooting, trade guns. What has happened is as we've lost confidence in our federal government, you get all sorts of worries if you don't have confidence in balancing the budget or doing the right things on health care or doing the right things on these other things, what happens is you create all sorts of perceived paranoia that give people cause.

Siegel then wanted to carve out that blue states do have the freedom to ban “assault weapons” and those kinds of gun control:

SIEGEL: Well, Senator Coburn, as you've raised the differences between the states, you've said that your plan on background checks respects the 10th Amendment by giving states the ability to take primacy of enforcement. Would that permit Connecticut to have a more rigid standard and to ban somebody owning a weapon there that Oklahoma might approve of?

COBURN: Absolutely. As long as that they're in the guidelines of the Supreme Court precedents that have been passed.

Coburn was also able to explain that the proposal to make concealed-carry laws good in all states that have them: “What the amendment that was offered yesterday says if you are a concealed carrier, you can have concealed carry if Connecticut has concealed carry, but you have to follow their laws. So whatever they are. So the point is, is we have reciprocity in everything except that. And so it's not about changing Connecticut's laws or somebody else. It's about complying with their laws.”

All in all, kudos to NPR on these two interviews, even if Gov. Malloy was as angry as a liberal talk-radio host (like Mike Malloy?) or a Bill Maher type.