Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Gun Control Is Not The Way To Stop School Shootings, Cooke Says


And this week, President Trump pressed lawmakers to come up with a unified plan on gun policy that he can support.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have to pursue commonsense measures that protect the rights of law-abiding Americans while keeping guns - and we have to keep the guns out of the hands of those that pose the threat.

GREENE: But it is not entirely clear what measures the president really supports. An NRA lobbyist met Trump yesterday and said that the president does not support gun control. Charles Cooke is editor of National Review Online. And while Cooke supports some regulations, he told Rachel Martin that the recent school shooting has not shaken his belief in gun rights.

CHARLES COOKE: We need to give law enforcement, as long as there is a due process component - a strong due process component - more leeway in removing guns from people who have shown themselves to be violent or have made threats. But in terms of sweeping gun control, I haven't changed my view. And the reason for that is not that I don't care about what happened, or that I don't think it was a disaster for those involved, or that I wasn't personally affected - I have children myself - but because I just strongly disagree that that is - that gun control is the way you will stop this.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: President Trump met with Democrats and Republicans from both House and Senate. And in that discussion about what to do about gun violence in the country, the president, a Republican, actually suggested that an assault weapons ban could be a good idea.

COOKE: Well, I think the president is entirely incoherent. He's also somebody who does not have particularly strong views in favor of guns. I understand that he has been defended by the NRA, both on his policy positions and also, oddly enough, just in general. But if you go back to Donald Trump 20 years ago, you will find somebody who was in favor of an assault weapons ban and waiting period and so forth. So we're dealing with an anomaly within the system.

I do think it is much more useful politically to look at the underlying political reality here. And that means looking at what Republicans think of this issue. And, you know, as much as Donald Trump flails around, I don't think that's going to change.

MARTIN: There have been other Republicans who have at least softened their language when thinking about an assault weapons ban. I interviewed a top Republican donor recently who said that he was going to stop supporting candidates who didn't fully embrace an assault weapons ban. Why do you argue that that's a bad idea?

COOKE: Well, I think it's a red herring. I don't think it will do anything. I mean, there are already 10 million AR-15s in the country. It's peculiar to me that we focus in on this weapon. It doesn't have a more lethal capacity than a handgun, especially in a close-range situation.

MARTIN: Do you support raising the age limit for someone to buy an assault-style weapon from 18 to 21, as the president has suggested and which is getting traction among Republicans right now?

COOKE: I don't know. I'm not quite sure whether we have thought this through. At what point do we think somebody is capable of exercising their own judgment? And I feel as if what's happened here is that we looked at the age of this guy in Florida - he was 19 - and we said, well, we would like to stop that post hoc. And so why don't we change the age at which he would have been able to buy a rifle?

The fact that this guy was on the radar and there weren't any tools with which the local sheriff's office could stop him is a big problem. And that proposal, which has been picked up by Marco Rubio, among others, strikes me as the most fruitful one.

MARTIN: So this is the idea of expanding these so-called red flag laws that because so many people had warned about Nikolas Cruz's behavior, there were red flags, right? And a handful of states in this country have already passed these laws that say, listen, someone like Nikolas Cruz, a parent, a teacher, someone in his life, if they had alerted a judge, and a judge had made a decision that this young man should not have weapons, they could have removed those guns from him. Would you advocate a more expansive set of those laws across the country?

COOKE: Yes, absolutely, providing, of course, that there is sufficient due process. But I think, in this case, there would have been more than enough evidence. I mean, the big fear that gun owners have is that the system will be abused. So, for example, you know, I'm a semi-public figure. So someone will call the FBI and say, you know, Charles Cooke is crazy. He made this joke on Twitter, and he's probably going to shoot up a school.

But the point is that if that happened, a judge or a police officer would come and see me, and they would ask my wife and my employer and my friends and others whether I was a threat. And they would, of course, say no. But with Nikolas Cruz, they would have said yes.

MARTIN: You just explained a scenario in which you have faith in American institutions to some degree, and we are living in a moment where a lot of people don't. And, quite frankly, the NRA has spun up that fear, that paranoia that you will not get due process, that this will be left up to some subjective liberal judge who wants to strip you of your Second Amendment rights.

COOKE: Well, I think there are two reasons for that, and I think they're both fair. One is that often, when these laws are implemented, they are implemented by left-leaning politicians. The second thing here - and, again, I think Democrats have themselves to blame for this - is that you have seen over the last two years an almost endless push to restrict Second Amendment rights and strip them, in many cases, from people who the government has put on secret lists. Which is so flagrantly unconstitutional and is obviously going to inspire a lack of trust.

But again, that bill, when it was introduced, was defeated. Hopefully, it will be defeated again. And just because, you know, that bad idea has been put to the - doesn't mean that this can't be done correctly. I'd also just say, I do have a lot of faith in American institutions. Yes, maybe I have the optimist eye as an immigrant, but I think that our institutions are holding up pretty well.

MARTIN: What do you make of this moment writ large when you think about the gun debate in America and how it has been intractable for so many generations now? Do you think this is a moment where something might change if you agree that something should change?

COOKE: Well, as I say, I hope that the Cornyn-Murphy bill passes, which would fix the background check system. And I hope that we have some sort of gun violence restraining order bill. So I do hope something changes. I still think the gun debate is intractable, both because there are so many guns in circulation that it seems to me that we are always going to be tinkering around the edges and also because this issue has, over the years, largely been won by conservatives. And so to dismantle the victories that they have won would take such a long time, that even if you could somehow do it, I'm not convinced there would be a great change.

MARTIN: Charles, thanks so much for your time.

COOKE: Thank you for having me.

GREENE: Rachel was talking there to Charles Cooke. He is the editor of National Review Online.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRIOSENCE'S "OUT OF REACH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.