Protesters chant on East Front of the Capitol to show solidarity with House Democrats' sit-in on the floor calling on Republicans to allow votes on gun violence legislation, June 23, 2016.
( Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone. Bob is out on assignment this week but I’m not cohosting alone. Deborah Amos, the great NPR Mideast correspondent, who actually reports on everything, is here to help out. Hi, Deb.
DEBORAH AMOS: Hi, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay, so we discussed the run-up to Brexit last week and we haven't had time to assess the fallout this week, so I guess we'll just have to wait ‘til next week.
DEBORAH AMOS: We’re just going to leave you with this: Eight hours after the polls closed in the UK, citizens there hammered Google with a couple of crucial questions. Number 1, what does it mean to leave the EU? Number 2, what is the EU?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But enough about such thorny issues. We’ll talk about guns.
[HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVE CLIPS]:
REP. JOHN LEWIS: The time for silence and patience is long gone. Let us vote!
DEBORAH AMOS: Yesterday morning, legendary activist and Georgia Democrat John Lewis led dozens of Democratic lawmakers to a civil rights-style sit-in in the House of Representatives.
REP. JOHN LEWIS: We have been too quiet for too long. There comes a time when you have to say something, when you have to make a little noise…
DEBORAH AMOS: Those lawmakers told personal stories about gun violence. They chanted. They even broke into song.
[SUPPORTERS SINGING “WE SHALL OVERCOME”]
Republicans, particularly House Speaker Paul Ryan, was not overcome.
[CHANTING UP & UNDER]
SPEAKER PAUL RYAN: The Chair appreciates that members will differ on matters of policy and will seek to express those differences. But the Chair would hope that the business of the House could be conducted in a fashion that represents – that respects positively on the dignity and the decorum of this institution.
DEBORAH AMOS: By the time the legislators disassembled on Thursday afternoon, the sit-in had lasted nearly 26 hours.
REP. JOHN LEWIS: The fight is not over! This is just one step. But when we come back here on July the 5th, we’re going to continue to push, to pull, to stand up and, if necessary, to sit down!
DEBORAH AMOS: They broke for Independence Day, leaving only one bill with a chance at survival on the floor, one that's bipartisan, penned by Republican Susan Collins, that would deny guns to people on certain terrorist watch lists. To some, it was a watershed moment, a long-awaited call to action, to others, an empty political stunt. To civil libertarians, opposed to any bill that lends credibility to opaque and possibly unconstitutional terrorist watch lists, it was a cynical ploy. But to all, it was a rip-roarin’ spanner thrown into the workings of Congress.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And yet, underscoring the fresh theatrics, there was that same old tug-of-war.
RACHAEL LARIMORE: I feel like it happens every time we hear a horrible death toll. We search for the identity of the killer and his motivation and immediately we hear calls for gun control, which, in turn, sets people who are gun owners and gun enthusiasts on edge and puts them on the defensive and this fight breaks out.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Rachael Larimore is the senior editor at Slate.
RACHAEL LARIMORE: The difference between urban elite media and the rest of America is kind of an axe I grind personally [LAUGHS] every day because I live in Ohio. I work for a media outlet on the East Coast, and so I see both sides of things. I see two groups of people that aren't really connecting on any issue. It’s very hard for gun owners to take seriously the gun control articles they’re reading.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What are some of the technical mistakes often made by members of the East Coast media elite when writing about guns?
RACHAEL LARIMORE: People confuse the term “assault rifle” and “assault weapon.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what's the difference?
RACHAEL LARIMORE: Assault rifle is a weapon that has selective fire, which means it can be fired in semi-automatic or in automatic mode. Automatic mode means more than one cartridge can be fired with a single trigger pull. Semi-automatic means that every time you pull the trigger, one cartridge is fired; one bullet comes out. The most powerful machine guns and automatic rifles can shoot 1,000 times a minute and a semi-automatic rifle can fire maybe 50 or 60 times a minute. Those are both still frightening if you're trapped in a room with a semi-automatic rifle but they’re still very different. And the weapons that can be fully automatic are very hard to get in this country. There's a lengthy permit process that you have to go through with the ATF, and you cannot get automatic weapons that were manufactured after 1986. Newer weapons are only available to military and police forces.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Give me some phrases that really set people's teeth on edge.
RACHAEL LARIMORE: [LAUGHS] Ah, let me think about this for a moment. So “weapons of war” is one and “common sense gun control” is another one. I think it rankles because gun supporters feel like there are measures in place that are common sense, that you have background checks in most states and that you have legislation in place that keeps people from getting ahold of automatic weapons.
In this particular shooting, there have been more calls for making the Second Amendment mean you have the right to bear a musket, which was a very common weapon back during the time the Constitution was written. The problem with that, of course, is that there was an air rifle during the late 1700s that could fire 20 bullets in succession without having to be reloaded. The framers gave us a document that has largely withstood the test of time. I think it underestimates them to imply that they couldn't think of anything past a musket.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What do you think news outlets should do to ensure that this divide isn't so great that it precludes any kind of progress forever?
RACHAEL LARIMORE: I think the media should treat gun coverage as a regular beat and that the people who write about guns should be informed in the minutiae that send up a red flag to gun enthusiasts, that if you're going to write about guns, learn to fire a gun. It needs to be rational and calm and ongoing and not just in response to major tragedies.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Rachael Larimore is a senior editor at Slate.