30 Issues: Democrats and Republicans on Gun Violence
Brian Lehrer: Brian Lehrer on WNYC. Now we continue our midterm election series, 30 Issues in 30 Days. Today and tomorrow will be issues related to crime and criminal justice, so let's get right to issue 14, is there a Democratic and Republican way to prevent gun violence? Public opinion on gun laws is very different by party on some issues, but there is much more common ground that you might think on others.
We'll get into some of that and take your calls with our second guest in this segment. Probably the biggest difference is on whether public policy should focus on the proliferation of guns as an underlying reason why we have so much more gun violence in other countries, or whether it should mostly be about locking up the bad guys, as they say, after they commit violent crimes.
That conflict got put on steroids by the US Supreme Court this year in a landmark case called New York State Rifle & Pistol Association versus Bruen. As CNN described the impact of the decision just this week, it says, "Since the June ruling, federal judges in at least a half dozen different cases have already cited the Bruen decision to rule against gun restrictions that have included local assault weapons bans, prohibitions on the manufacturer of homemade firearms, and bans on older teenagers publicly carrying handguns. Several other laws now face new legal challenges under the precedent," says CNN.
"Among them, zoning restrictions, barring shooting ranges, licensing and training laws, and the federal ban on certain misdemeanor offenders from possessing firearms. On Thursday, a federal judge in Syracuse leaned on Bruen, the Bruen decision, to pause several New York restrictions, including limits on carrying firearms to sensitive places like summer camps, domestic violence shelters, and zoos." So all of that from CNN.
Hey, kids, you can now bring daddy's gun to summer camp. I don't know. Maybe age restrictions for littler kids would still apply, but let's have some fun, guns in summer camp. The Syracuse ruling that story refers to is about attempts in New York State specifically, but now also in New Jersey too to list sensitive places where guns cannot be carried in public as exceptions to the general public carry principle that the Supreme Court ruling established.
Our first guest in this segment now is the New Jersey assembly speaker, Craig Coughlin, who has some news to break on this. He is a Democrat whose own district is District 19, covering Woodbridge, Perth Amboy, Carteret and other places around there just a little south and west of New York City. Speaker Coughlin, we really appreciate you joining us today. Welcome to WNYC.
Craig Coughlin: Thank you, Brian. Thank you for having me. The other two are Sayreville and South Amboy. I grew up in South Amboy, I can't let them go unmentioned.
Brian Lehrer: There you go. I see you're introducing a package of bills today relevant to carrying guns in public, is that right?
Craig Coughlin: Yes, a bill, Brian. it's a single bill relative to the concealed carry in response to the Bruen decision, in response to the thousands of applications that are being made to New Jersey courts for permits to be able to carry concealed weapons. The Bruen decision flip doors. You're needed to establish the basis for being approved for a concealed carry weapon over the last 100 years in New Jersey, and now things have been reversed, so we're addressing that issue.
Brian Lehrer: Your press office told us this bill will go even further than what New York is trying to do and will be the toughest response to the Supreme Court Bruen decision in the nation. Can you describe that in comparative terms--? [crosstalk]
Craig Coughlin: Yes. We do. I think we will be the strongest. Our bill includes a list of, I believe, 26 separate sensitive areas where concealed carry weapons would be prohibited. We require training, we require insurance for people who obtain the permit, we require the background checks. Some of the things are similar of course to New York, but I think what makes it different is the insurance aspect of that and the training.
Brian Lehrer: Go into more detail on the insurance aspect of that.
Craig Coughlin: It requires a person who obtains the license to obtain a insurance policy, either a rider to one's homeowner's insurance or to obtain some policy consistent with the way we handle people who have driving licenses, right? You have to get a license to operate the vehicle, you're then permitted to operate it. If your conduct is negligent and you cause injury to somebody else, then you're going to be required to have insurance to protect the person that you injured, so too here with the guns. For concealed carry weapons, not for all guns.
Brian Lehrer: If you have a license-
Craig Coughlin: Uner this bill, yes.
Brian Lehrer: -to carry a weapon in public, that's when you would be required to carry insurance?
Craig Coughlin: Correct, yes. This is not an attack on responsible gun owners who have had weapons who don't have insurance before. This has to do with the concealed carry permit.
Brian Lehrer: Is that groundbreaking? I don't know personally of any place where gun owners under any circumstances are required by the state to carry insurance.
Craig Coughlin: I think other states may have done that. I'm not really sure. We pride ourselves in New Jersey on having the toughest gun laws in the country, and we continue to want to maintain that position, and we're going to work to do it. Whatever measures we think are fair and reasonable and respect the Supreme Court decision, although I think they got it wrong, we're going to put them in place because our fundamental job, Brian, is to protect the nine-plus million people who live and work or the nine million people who live in New Jersey and people who come here.
As the New York decision which struck down the stadiums, notion you're going to be able to go to Jet or Giant game where we have tens of thousands of football fans, all zealous, eager fans, many of whom were tailgating beforehand and have people there with concealed carry weapons, it doesn't seem to me to be a safe recipe.
Brian Lehrer: Do you think the Supreme Court Bruen decision actually would stop them at MetLife Stadium from screening for guns? I know when I go to sporting events, you got to go through metal detectors. Do you think that would-- [crosstalk]
Craig Coughlin: I don't think the venue would want to although I think it was silent. I was talking about the New York decision which struck out the stadiums as being a place that could be a sensitive area. I think what we're doing is not going to be in contradiction to the Supreme Court decision. I think ours will pass the muster because I believe it's in the best interest of the health, safety, and welfare of those millions of New Jerseyans and people who come here who have an expectation that they're going to go to a place that's safe.
Concealed carries threaten that and I think that taking measures to make sure that places-- Some of it just frankly is common sense, right? Do we really think that people need concealed carry weapons when they're taking their kids to daycare? When I'm on the beach in New Jersey and you have miles of beautiful beaches that millions of people go to each year, I think I have the right to go there--
Brian Lehrer: You know what a lot of Republicans would say, they would say the answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. If you're in a daycare center or a school or on the beach at the Jersey Shore or wherever, if there's somebody who's, for whatever reason, wanting to go on a rampage, if you have law-abiding armed people there, that it might be to the interest of public safety. What's your response to that?
Craig Coughlin: I agree with you that that's what they might say. I don't know that in the overarching sense if that has ever been demonstrated to be true and raises the specter of the possibility of things really going off the rail. Police wouldn't know who the good guys are and the bad guys are. One of the reasons we include training is so people know how to use a gun, so hopefully, we would mitigate the risk of people who have no idea what they're doing would be able to use their weapons.
Look, I think that's a talking point that I think on its face sounds like it may make some sense, but the truth of the matter is I don't know that we've seen any demonstration of that in any great measure. I'm sure there were certain circumstances where that has happened, people have been able to defend themselves.
Brian Lehrer: We've also seen many mass shootings where the shooter had a legal firearm so that argues in the other direction. Go ahead, you want to make a point about that?
Craig Coughlin: No, I was going to make a point. I suspect there were many isolated instances where people have been able to defend themselves by using a gun and that is a good thing. The truth of the matter is when we're talking about larger shootings and incidences, than people being there, we've seen most recently where there were police on duty in mass shootings that have been able to get into the building. We've seen where there have been things going on and people have not been able to get their weapons out. By the way, the notion of conflict makes it more challenging that everybody has a weapon though we don't really need people being able to have a weapon.
Brian Lehrer: An undeniable statistic that we've talked about on this show many times is that there are just so many more guns per person in the United States than there are in any other country or at least any other industrialized country. We have the highest rate of shootings by far compared to any other industrialized country, so it'd be hard to argue that that's a coincidence. Let me ask you a legal question, though. If you're hoping that your bill is going to pass muster with the Supreme Court if it gets challenged all the way up there,
Justice Thomas said in his majority opinion that the only regulations--
I'm quoting here from a CNN description. Justice Thomas said, "The only regulations that can be deemed constitutional are ones that don't encroach on conduct plainly covered by the Second Amendment's text-" and that are, "-consistent with this nation's historical tradition," from Justice Thomas. Meaning, says CNN, that they have a parallel and the type of regulations in place at the time of the constitution's framing. Speaker Coughlin, if there was no sensitive spaces exemption under the law in 1791 and no summer camps, I presume, how is your packaging bills going to stand up?
Craig Coughlin: I think we need to recognize that the world has changed, that it's a different society than it was then. There's much less room, The founding fathers couldn't possibly have considered what would happen at MetLife Stadium on a Sunday where the football games are going on because they didn't have one and there weren't 80,000-plus people coming to a game.
I think that you need to recognize that the world has changed, that the weapons have changed, that there's more people, that we're more densely populated, and all those things. I think it's wrong to say that there isn't an evolutionary process as there is in so many other places. I think that a compelling argument can be made to say that the world is different than it once was and that we need to look at how we provide for the wellbeing and the safety of the residents in today's world.
Brian Lehrer: One more question before I let you go, a political question. Do you expect bipartisan support? I think you don't need it with the Democratic majority in both houses of the New Jersey legislature, but do you expect bipartisan support, do you think, in this instance?
Craig Coughlin: We haven't started. I'm sorry, finish.
Brian Lehrer: I was just going to say maybe a New Jersey Republican is not the same as a Texas Republican, let's say, on this issue but I don't know.
Craig Coughlin: I'll leave that for Republicans to define whether they're different from state to state. I think the answer is we're hopeful, we think we have a bill that is going to be an effective way of protecting the people of New Jersey. We think it's a bill that's fair and reasonable, that addresses valid concerns, and does it in a way that is permissive. While I haven't begun the work of knowing yet whether my colleagues in the minority party will join us, I'm hopeful.
Brian Lehrer: There you have it, folks, a bill being introduced in the New Jersey assembly today to require insurance be carried by people who have concealed carry permits in the state of New Jersey. Making a list of sensitive space exemptions to a right to public carry that they hope will pass muster with the Supreme Court despite the Bruen decision earlier this year and other provisions. We thank the New Jersey assembly speaker, Craig Coughlin, for laying it out for us on day one. Assembly Speaker, thank you so much.
Craig Coughlin: Thank you, Brian.
Brian Lehrer: We'll get a take now on how Democrats and Republicans actually agree more than you might think on what some of the nation's gun laws should be though not on others. With me for this is Kaleigh Rogers, politics and technology reporter for FiveThirtyEight, the data news site. Kaleigh, thanks for coming on. Welcome to WNYC.
Kaleigh Rogers: Thanks for having me, Brian.
Brian Lehrer: As you might have heard, we're inviting listeners to call up and take the interactive quiz on this the way you laid it out in your article. Your article is called Just How Far Apart Are The Two Parties On Gun Control? You relied on a variety of public opinion polls so before we jump in and look at these eight different questions that you ask, what polling data did you base that article on?
Kaleigh Rogers: We used a variety of different polls. We tried to get the most recent ones, but some of them go back as far as 2019 from different polling sites, so Morning Consult, ABC News, Pew Research Center really ran the gamut. We're just looking for these specific areas where we could break down by a party and how they responded on specific policy ideas and also just general thoughts and feelings around gun control in America.
Brian Lehrer: As I said, you lay it out in a fun, interactive way. One more time, listeners, if you see Kaleigh's article on FiveThirtyEight, you get the chance to guess how many Democrats and Republicans or what percentage of Democrats and Republicans think a lot about specific gun law issues. Spoiler alert, we're about to give you the answers, but if you want to call up and guess, there are eight different ones, we're going to try to go down the whole list. 212-433-WNYC, 212-433-9692. If you want to try your hand at this as Natal in New Brunswick I think is ready to do. Natal, are you there?
Natal: Hey, Brian, I'm here.
Brian Lehrer: Kaleigh, I'm going to read him your question number one, which is what percentage of Republican and Democratic respondents do you think said they strongly or somewhat support requiring background checks for all gun purchases? Guess the Democratic percentage and the Republican percentage.
Natal: I guess the Democratic percentage would probably be somewhere in 80s like 85% probably if not higher.
Brian Lehrer: Republicans?
Natal: Republicans are probably maybe 10%, I would guess.
Brian Lehrer: Ah, Kaleigh,-
Kaleigh Rogers: Not quite. [chuckles]
Brian Lehrer: -tell him the answer.
Kaleigh Rogers: You were pretty close with the Democrats, 91% of Democrat respondents say that they strongly or somewhat support universal background checks, but this is one of the areas where we do see that consensus, 77% of Republicans also supported background checks. This is a pretty universally appealing policy point.
Brian Lehrer: All right. Yet we don't have a bill requiring universal background checks, so give us your politics take on that.
Kaleigh Rogers: It's state by state. There's limits to how much Congress can do and a lot of this comes down to the states. As we were just hearing on the last segment, even in Democratic-led states where there are stronger gun laws, now they're having to contend with the Supreme Court and what is actually considered constitutional. We're still working out what the barriers are on what gun control can look like even at the state level even when there is support from voters and from legislators.
Brian Lehrer: Do you have your article there in front of you? Do you want to read question two to the next call?
Kaleigh Rogers: Sure. Yes, absolutely.
Brian Lehrer: All rihjt. Alexander in Morganville. Hi, Alexander, you're on WNYC.
Brian Lehrer: Go ahead, Kaleigh.
Kaleigh Rogers: For this one, so we were looking at the Republican and Democratic views on preventing people with mental illnesses from purchasing guns. What percent of Democrats and Republicans do you think strongly or somewhat favor preventing people with mental illness from buying a gun?
Alexander: 100% should be on both sides.
Brian Lehrer: That's your opinion. What do you think the Democrats said and what do you think Republicans said in a poll?
Alexander: Democrats 100% not to allow guns and probably 80% for Republicans.
Brian Lehrer: Probably 80% for Republicans. Actually, Alexander is on the right track on this one, right?
Kaleigh Rogers: Yes. It was 90% of Democrats, 85% of Republicans who support this ban. It's interesting because mental health is something that often comes up. Especially after we have a mass shooting, many republicans point to that as being the thing that they want to focus on more so than any gun control bans or things like that. As we can see, it's really popular on both sides of the aisle, so it's probably why we saw so much mental health funding in that big federal bill that we had passed this summer. Funding for finding people who are at risk and helping young people who are struggling. This is something that's really popular and appeals to both sides of the aisle.
Brian Lehrer: It's interesting. I'm sure advocates for people with mental illness would be distressed by the high yes response from members of both parties to the very general way that question was worded.
Kaleigh Rogers: Absolutely.
Brian Lehrer: Do you favor preventing people with mental illness? That could be any kind of mental illness. So many people with mental illness are not any kind of a threat, and yet that's the way the question was asked, and the response was practically 90% on both sides.
Kaleigh Rogers: Right, and many people with mental illness actually are more likely to be victims of gun violence. I know that when that gun bill was passed or the gun law was passed by Congress this summer, mental health advocates were like, "Okay, it's great to have more funding. We're in favor of that." It's crummy that it got rolled into this stereotype that if people are committing some kind of gun violence, they must be mentally ill, or that mentally ill people are inherently dangerous in some way, and that's not necessarily true.
Brian Lehrer: Jeremy in Queens, are you ready for a question on public opinion on guns by party?
Jeremy: Absolutely, Brian and Kaleigh, lay it on me.
Brian Lehrer: Kaleigh, go.
Kaleigh Rogers: For this one, we're going to be talking about red flag laws. These are laws where a family member or a law enforcement officer could get a court order to temporarily take away guns from a gun owner if they felt that they might harm themselves or others. What percent of Republicans and Democrats do you think respectively supported red flag laws?
Jeremy: I've read your article, and I remember you saying that-- No, I'm joking. I haven't read it. Let's see, what do I think? Gosh, you know what? There's been this whole theme of just like, "What do you think?" Then there were these curveballs. I'm going to think that it's going to be equal for both Democrats and Republicans. What I would say is I'm not sure, but I'm going to say it's very similar between Democrats and Republicans.
Brian Lehrer: Once again, Jeremy, thank you. You are on the right track. It's not exactly the same, but we've got three in a row here from the top of your list, Kaleigh, on which a lot of Democrats and Republicans agree on potential gun restrictions.
Kaleigh Rogers: Right. We did have majority from both Republicans and Democrats on this question. 70% of Republicans and 85% of Democrats said that they strongly or somewhat supported red flag laws. There's a 15-point difference there. That's not nothing, but again, we've got majority support from both sides. Again, this is another chunk of that Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that was passed this summer was for funding for red flag laws. It provides funding for states to either pass or to expand red flag laws if that's what they want to do. It's a way to try to incentivize that. Again, another one that has a lot of support from people of all different political opinions.
Brian Lehrer: Marshal in Edison, ready for the next question?
Marshall: Yes, sure.
Brian Lehrer: Go ahead, Kaleigh.
Kaleigh Rogers: This one's about banning assault-style weapons. What percent of Republicans versus Democrats do you think strongly or somewhat favor banning assault weapons?
Marshall: [clears throat] Excuse me. The Democrats I believe will be higher on that. Definitely over 50%. I would say 75% for Democrats and 45% for Republicans.
Brian Lehrer: Pretty good, pretty close. Now we get into the ones in your article on which Republicans and Democrats disagree more. Those first three were so interesting to see on those big issues, including universal background checks, there's really a lot of agreement among rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans around the country. Now we get into ones where there's more difference. Yes?
Kaleigh Rogers: Right. As soon as you start getting into bans, that's where you start to lose a lot of the Republican support. This caller was correct or pretty close to correct. It was 83% of Democrats, 37% of Republicans who were in favor of banning assault weapons. You can see public opinion shift a little bit after some of these big-profile mass shootings. People start to get more concerned again and thinking maybe we should ban these weapons, but it's rare for that Republican support to creep up much higher than around 40% like we're seeing here.
Brian Lehrer: Marshall, thanks for calling in. Because we're running out of time, I'm just going to run through these last several with you. The one at the end is the one that might be most revealing in a certain respect. Your question number five, what percentage of Republican and Democratic respondents do you think said they strongly or somewhat favor allowing teachers and school officials to carry guns in K-12 schools? 24% of Democrats. Only 24% thought allowing teachers to carry guns in schools is a good idea, but 66% of Republicans, so there's a big partisan divide there.
Then what percentage of Republicans and Democrats said they were very or somewhat confident that passing stricter gun control laws would reduce mass shootings in this country? Just 34% of Republicans thought that it would make any difference to mass shootings, but 87% of Democrats. That's such a huge split. Then what percentage of Republicans and Democrats said they or anyone in their household owns a gun of any kind? This may be a political dividing line here because only 28% of Democrats, but 48% of Republicans said they own guns.
Finally, what percentage of Republicans and Democrats said they believe the right of people to own guns is more important than protecting people from gun violence? This one, Kaleigh, this is the one that made me sit up and do a double take and ask myself if I read that right. What percentage of people believe the right to own guns is more important than protecting people from gun violence? Only 9% of Democrats thought that it is, but 39% of Republicans said gun rights are more important than protecting people from gun violence.
Kaleigh Rogers: Right. A plurality of Republicans, so 49%, said that both are equally important, but it's really striking that that 39% said that the right to own a gun is more important. Not equally important or just as important. More important than protecting people from gun violence. As you noted, that's a 30% gap between the Democrats and the Republicans here, which I think explains a lot about why this is such an ongoing debate.
Brian Lehrer: By looking at all these poll results from Pew, from Morning Consult, from others, do you think you learned anything in the process of writing this article about opportunities or barriers for gun control laws to actually pass since that's the issue here as we do this topic in our midterm election series?
Kaleigh Rogers: Yes. I think that it revealed that there is so much more consensus that I think a lot of people might assume. There's the stereotype that Democrats want no guns and Republicans want no gun laws. Obviously, that's not the case. The vast majority of Americans fall somewhere in the middle, and there is a lot of area to come together and make laws that appeal to a broad variety of people. I think that actually we saw that happen this summer with the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
Again, it's limited what Congress can do, but they really focused on those areas where Americans agree and tried to target that for this kind of legislation. I think at the state level, that's what we could see as well, especially in states that there might still be a lot of debate among voters. If you could focus on those few areas where there is consensus, then that's how you're going to get laws passed, that's where you're going to start making incremental progress to hopefully reducing the gun violence.
Brian Lehrer: Kaleigh Rogers writes about politics and technology for FiveThirtyEight. Kaleigh, thank you so much.
Kaleigh Rogers: Thanks, Brian.
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