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Parsing Gun Control After The Latest Mass Shootings

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The two shooting massacres in just as many weeks are substantially different. But they each revive arguments on all sides of the debate over guns in America. We spoke with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School three years ago. He expressed a controversial and original position. He said America could use more gun control, but that wouldn't reduce the millions of guns already on the street. So he suggested more legally-armed people might patrol public places, including schools. Boy, did we get emails. Jeffrey Goldberg is back with us. Jeffrey, thanks so much for being with us.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Do you think what we've seen over the past couple of weeks represents some kind of tipping point in the way people think about guns?

GOLDBERG: Probably not, unfortunately. I mean, after - Sandy Hook was about the worst thing that could ever possibly happen. And it didn't substantially change the tone of this debate. What is different is when you mix an ISIS story, which is what we have now, with a gun-control story. Maybe that's what's going to change things.

SIMON: The idea that people who may not have been able to get on an airplane were able to acquire guns.

GOLDBERG: Right, right, right. We have zero tolerance for Islamic - Islamic State terrorism. We seem to have a certain level of tolerance for a certain number of school shootings a year. So - I'm sorry to say it, but it's true. And so maybe that's what tips this debate. But I don't see any one incident tipping the debate in the way you're suggesting.

SIMON: How do you feel about what you said a few years ago?

GOLDBERG: I feel fine about it. And the position I took and still take is born out of a kind of fatalism, which is that we're not going to reduce the number of guns in this country. There are 320 - 330 million guns in circulation in this country. I'm for all manner of gun control laws that might work on the margins. But it's not something that's going to - these are not going to radically fix the issue. I'm also for opening the debate about the Second Amendment. Apparently, you're not supposed to say that because that plays into the NRA's hands. But I assume this is a generational discussion, that we're not going to fix this any time soon. Part of the reason people are so frustrated is because I think they know in the hearts that this is not going to get fixed any time soon. So what you need is some gun-control measures. And I do think you need to allow people who have concealed carry licenses to be able to defend themselves and other people. I'd rather - I'd rather see a shootout than a massacre, to be honest with you, to put it bluntly. But I also think we have to revisit our love of guns and why our culture has so much tolerance for this level of violence.

SIMON: Do you - do you see - I won't even refer to it as a law - but any plan of action that might reduce the level of violence, gun violence, that we see in the streets of Chicago...

GOLDBERG: Right.

SIMON: In the streets of Baltimore?

GOLDBERG: Right. We're all talking about the wrong thing anyway. Most gun deaths are caused by the guns that people aren't trying to ban right now. You know, we're focused again on assault rifles. They don't kill that many people. In the spectacular shootings, we see the use of so-called assault rifles. But it's - handguns are responsible for most of the gun-related suicides. And that's half the - half the gun deaths in this country. And in the low-level street violence that you see in many cities, it's mainly a handgun issue. So we're not even talking about the things that are causing most of the deaths. But in the media climate in which we exist, these spectacular events get all of the attention. And the shootings on the streets of Chicago - one dead, two dead at a time - they don't get any attention. But that's the - that's the - that's the real center of the gun problem in this country.

SIMON: Do you think the shootings we saw in San Bernardino do represent something different in - forgive me - the mass-shooting scenario...

GOLDBERG: Right.

SIMON: Something different than what we've seen, and for that matter - obviously it's speculated at this point - but people who might not have been directed by any kind of authority overseas but inspired by something like that?

GOLDBERG: Right. Well, we know about Internet-radicalized lone-wolf scenario. It's very interesting and unusual to have a woman involved and a couple involved.

SIMON: A mother, as...

GOLDBERG: A mother - yes. I mean, the whole thing is so crazy. But this does resemble a lot of things that have happened in the past. I think the argument that people on the gun-control side can use is, hey, look. You know, these are ISIS terrorists or ISIS-inspired terrorists who are using our gun laws to their advantage. And that's an argument that might work better than the arguments that we've previously heard have worked.

SIMON: Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, it's always good to talk to you. Thanks very much for coming in.

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