Processing Another School Shooting with a Mom Who Lived It
Following this week’s shooting in Uvalde, Andy speaks with a mother who knows the pain parents of the victims are experiencing. Rhonda Hart lost her 14-year-old daughter, Kimberly, in the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas, and talks about how she continues to fight for gun reform despite the uphill battle. Joining the conversation is reporter Jennifer Mascia and former firearms executive Ryan Busse, who explain why politicians won’t act on gun reform despite widespread bipartisan consensus among citizens. Plus, Andy processes the tragedy with Last Day host Stephanie Wittels Wachs, who dedicated an entire season to understanding America’s relationship with guns and shares how she talked with her 2nd grader about the shooting.
Keep up with Andy on Twitter @ASlavitt.
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Check out these resources from today’s episode:
- Read Jennifer’s article, “The Buffalo and Uvalde Gunmen Bought Their Rifles Legally at 18”: https://www.thetrace.org/2022/05/uvalde-mass-shooting-ar15-age-restriction/
- Order Ryan’s book, “Gunfight: My Battle Against the Industry that Radicalized America”: https://www.publicaffairsbooks.com/titles/ryan-busse/gunfight/9781541768734/
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Rhonda Hart, Andy Slavitt, Ryan Busse, Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jennifer Massey
Andy Slavitt 00:18
Welcome IN THE BUBBLE, Friday, May 27th. I’m Andy Slavitt. We’re all coming off an incredibly hard week. Not long after shooting in Buffalo. This week, we’ve all experienced and observed the tragic events in Uvalde, Texas. 19 students to teachers were killed by the classroom by an 18 year old gunman. So this is not the first time that this has happened. This is not the first time this has happened this year. This is the 27th school shooting since the start of the year. And it’s I think, the 900th school shooting since the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, a decade ago. So what are we going to do today? I think our first job is to just figure out how to process the news. And then I think we need to talk about how we can discuss it. Is this a hard issue to talk about? I don’t think there’s a lot of people talking directly to one another right now we’re going to do our best to do that. And to help me do that. I’ve got three amazing people. I’m joined by Jennifer Massey, a gun violence reporter who helped found the trace, a newsroom dedicated to covering gun violence. Jennifer, thank you for joining us on this busy and very sad day.
Thank you for having me.
Also joined by Ryan Busse. Ryan is the author of gunfight my battle against the industry that radicalized America. Ryan offers a very unique perspective as somebody who grew up as a gun owner and with the gun industry, and I think has a lot to contribute in this topic. Ryan, thanks for being here.
Yeah, bit like my book. I wish I didn’t need to write it. I wish I didn’t need to be here with all of you today. But thanks for having me.
Andy Slavitt 02:02
We appreciate you joining. And then we are also joined by Rhonda Hart. Rhonda has joined us as well, because she has personal experience, unfortunately, with the tragedy of gun violence, right and his daughter was killed in a school shooting in Texas at Santa Fe high school only four years ago with eerie similarities. And Ron was kind enough to join us as well today. Thank you, Rhonda.
Hi. Thanks for having me.
So I want to maybe Jennifer, you can help us just start with framing what we know about some of the facts that we’ve learned about the shooting, what we know about the shooter, what we know about how is it paying the weapon?
Yeah, so the shooter got guns legally, as soon as he could. Soon after his 18th birthday, he bought two semi-automatic rifles. He just turned 18 on May 16th. And he went to the school and he stormed past an armed guard. And while he was in the school, he engaged two responding officers and wounded them. And he isolated himself to a single classroom. And that seems to be where most of the fatalities, if not all the fatalities took place. We have 19 children second to fourth graders and two teachers. And it seems there was no known mental health history. He didn’t have a documented history of seeking mental health services, even though friends and co-workers said he was either quiet or sometimes he had bouts of aggression, where he went off but nothing that would raise a red flag. Not that Texas has a Red Flag Law, but nothing that seemed to raise the hackles of people around him enough to do anything. But then again, his guns were just a couple of weeks old, 11 days actually. So that’s a very, very short window to try to disarm somebody who might be at risk.
Andy Slavitt 04:13
And facts are still emerging around this case, and but what else do we know there’s some singing things that sound eerily similar to the shooting in Connecticut a decade ago? Do we have details about his grandmother, maybe pictures he posted things on social media, anything else known at this time that you think is important for people to keep in mind?
There are a lot of eerie and tragic parallels to Sandy Hook. We have a relatively young person still an adolescent from the community who first shot a caregiver in this case his grandmother, she is still being treated, she is still alive. And then he went to a school in his community. You know he’s from North Dakota, but he lived in the town and went to the high school. And so he picked a local spot to carry out his rampage. He did post some things on Facebook about a half hour before the shooting. And again, that’s a very tight window to notify authorities. But that seems to be the only social media trails so far that we know of that he left. And then there were a couple of Instagram photos before his account was yanked offline where he took pictures of his newly acquired rifles.
Rhonda, I know you’ve had to answer more questions on this than you’d like. Because the days like today, people turn to people like you to ask them questions like what’s the family feeling? And that’s largely because most of us, thankfully, can’t relate to situations like this. I want to ask you about some of those things that have you reflect on how things felt. And I’m wondering if you wouldn’t mind just doing us honor of telling us a little bit about your daughter?
Rhonda Hart 06:02
First thing I always tell people is that my daughter was a Girl Scout through and through. And she absolutely loved cats and the Harry Potter series. And she loved her little brother, she loved her family, she was a great kid.
And you lost Kimberly at 14. And if you tell us a little bit remind folks about the shooting that occurred at Santa Fe, Texas.
So what had happened at Santa Fe is that the young man was experiencing signs of mental illness. His dad had stayed home with him for about two weeks, to see him through this event that he was happening. And the day that the dad decided to go back to work was the day that the shooting had happened. The guns were easily accessible in the closet of the family home. And that’s how we access them.
So, Rhonda, when an event like this happens, and I’m sure everybody is trying to figure out how to process this and how to think about it. But if you take us to the local community, and the scenes we’re experiencing on TV, maybe you just ground us a little bit in what the process and the experience at the law enforcement in the reaction and reflection of parents in the community feels like and how you reacted to hearing this news yet again.
So it’s very physically damaging to me the way that my trauma response is through pain. So I am very much in physical pain right now. It’s very aggravating for me, I feel like we’ve been lied to about four years ago, Greg Abbott and crew promised us more school safety laws and more gun laws. And about three years later, he introduced permitless carry. And eight months after that law was signed into a bill into a law. We had a second mass school shooting in Texas, it’s very disturbing.
Andy Slavitt 08:19
I don’t want to turn just too quickly into solutions and policies. But I find that like, it’s very hard not to try to go there. But I want to Ryan is we introduce you to the conversation. You tell us a little bit about yourself in your background and what sort of drawn you to where you where you are at the moment relative to situations like this. And when it’s caused you to begin to advocate for it right about
Yeah, thanks. I grew up on a ranch on a real ranch with guns. They were an integral part of my life. Like many kids across the country, I came to see guns as something that represented something wholesome and fun, right? We worked a lot on the ranch, there wasn’t a lot of time to do fun things. When we did it. It often involves guns and so early on, guns occupied not this fearful place, but a place of hope and sort of cultural identity with my dad and my grandfather, my brother. When I graduated from college, I got a job in the gun industry. It felt a bit like, you know, a baseball kid making the major leagues. You know, it was a dream job for me. And early on in the firearms industry. There was the same kind of responsibility and decency and my father had taught me in so many other kids had been taught across this country. As I went on. I entered the industry in 1995. And as I went through the industry eventually I was in the industry for 25 years and for days I won big awards. But early on, I figured out that the sort of decent sort of cultural connection to guns that I still enjoy today. I’m still a gun owner today was being used and twisted in to building something that was Much more nefarious and divisive and powerful than I ever thought it could be. And so I spent the remainder almost 20 years of my life in the history holding to what I believed gun ownership could and should be in fighting against what I think it has largely become, due to the sort of Stranglehold the NRA has on the firearms industry, and now on all of our national politics. So that’s how I ended up here.
Andy Slavitt 10:25
And Rhonda, correct me if I’m wrong, but Santa Fe, Texas, from what I know, is a pretty conservative community. Also, to Ryan’s point, probably a culture of gun ownership of protecting the Second Amendment rights. Can you talk a little bit about the types of conversations that emerged and the issues around how that was changed or not changed as a result of the tragedy that happened at your community?
So first and foremost, you’re right, Santa Fe is a very conservative town, they saw this more as a problem with their faith. And with the school as a whole, they did not see this as a national issue. And so the conversations have been slow, and very, very difficult. I deal with them on a very limited basis. Because it’s very, very hard for me as someone that sees this as a national issue. And as someone who has voted Democratic since 2008. But they are slowly starting to come around, they are realizing that they were lied to, and that they were led on by leadership, especially Ted Cruz befriended one of the family members very, very closely in the 2018 election. And now that person is having a little bit of a change of heart, and they are starting to advocate for safer gun laws. So it’s been you know, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink. And so it’s been a very long process to say the least.
Andy Slavitt 12:50
Jennifer, maybe you could help us with sort of the state of affairs of the National Dialogue, which I think, to some degree in communities around the country, perhaps like Santa Fe, other conservative communities at places like the ones where Ryan grew up this notion that there’s one side that wants to quote unquote, take your guns away. And it’s the reason why every time there’s a shooting, sadly, the stock prices of the gun manufacturers actually increase, sales actually increase. There become more guns out there, because there’s a sense that that once I put forward, that somebody is trying to take away your guns, and yet, there are another set of people I imagined. Rhonda, Ryan, perhaps although we’ll let everybody speak for themselves, among them, who would say, you know, there are lots of things short of taking away people’s guns or short of, of the Second Amendment that can be done to make guns safer. But that debate seems to be waged on the mantle of it, we can’t have the conversation. Because even beginning the conversation is lead to conversation that was about stripping away gun owners’ rights.
Jennifer Massey 14:04
That’s because there’s a vocal minority who drown out everybody in the middle. And the middle is really what we’re talking about take just like background checks. I think a lot of people don’t realize that. About a quarter of our gun sales are private sales that are not subject to background checks under federal law. So we don’t have background checks on every gun sale. If you went to a gun owner and I have gun owners in my life. My nephew is 18 and he loves assault style rifles, and he’s a collector legally, you know, he’s like a gunsmith. He even says, I think somebody should be subjected to a mental health exam to get this gun. And I think a lot of gun owners appreciate that level of vetting, knowing that they themselves are responsible gun owners so they get it they see it. A lot of people I know in the military feel the same way because they know the potential of these weapons. Most Some Americans think background checks check for a lot more than they do. It’s a two minute check that I mean, that’s the FBI is goal to get it two minutes or less, to see if you’ve had a history of certain felonies, and certain misdemeanors. And in many states, it doesn’t check mental health, it doesn’t check racist grades on social media, it doesn’t check a lot of the things that you would do a background check for, for, say, a job. And this is a deadly weapon. So the layers of vetting that we’ve become accustomed to in this country, it’s one of convenience. And unfortunately, we’re seeing the toll of that now. But if you ask the ATF, they’ve said for years, we simply do not have the manpower to take away anybody’s guns. And that’s never been on the table. So it’s been taken to the extremes to shut down debate.
So kind of a straw man argument. I think they say, Ryan, you’re I think, again, I don’t want to speak for you. So please, correct anything you say. But I believe you’ve been on record as a defender of the Second Amendment. You’ve talked about some of the reasons why safe gun ownership has a place in a lot of people’s lives in the country. What do you see in terms of, you know, does that view mesh with the kinds of things that Jennifer just raised in the ground has talked about red flag laws, background checks? You know, are those things consistent with what you think a lot of gun owners would find reasonable? Or do you think people are just shut off to any kind of safety regulation?
Ryan Busse 16:31
Well, too many of them are shut off to those things. And I think Jennifer hits on that, because they’ve been sold a bill of goods that tells them there is this imaginary slippery slope. Yes, look, I’m a gun owner, and I hunt and shoot with my boys. And I want to continue to do that. I enjoy that freedom. But we live in a complex democracy, and there’s no freedom that exists without a corresponding and very strong responsibility. Meaning those scales have to be balanced. It’s that happens everywhere in our lives, with every single freedom that we have, we have this complex sort of balancing system. And the truth is right now in the country with guns and gun rights, the balance is just way, way, way out of whack. We have completely forgotten the responsibility portion of it. And the analogy that I use is, look, I like to drive a car. But when I drive across town, I don’t enjoy the ride so much that I think it’s okay to drive 90 miles an hour through a crowded school zone. Does that limit my freedom? I guess, I do it though, because I’m responsible citizen. And because I value live kids a lot more than I value dead ones. And when somebody puts a school zone sign up, I don’t go down to the capitol and rally and I don’t threaten to overthrow the democracy. And I don’t throw bumper stickers on the back of my vehicle saying that, you know, our republic is nearing its doom. These are just basic things that regular decent citizens need to do. And we have just lost touch with that on guns.
That feels like a pretty consensus oriented common sense opinion, whether you like to shoot guns and gun ranges, or hunt, or whether you just don’t want to have a gun in your house whatsoever, it feels like what Ryan just said, it’s the kind of thing that I can imagine most Americans agreeing with. Is that right?
Ryan Busse 18:15
I do want to jump in there. It’s a dangerous once the NRA set us on this course. Really, you know, far back, but for sure, in 1999. And then for really for sure. In 2007, as Barack Obama started to lead in the polls, right, once it set us on this course where fear division, hatred, conspiracy theory, we’re going to be the way we set our national politics. And those were going to be the same things that drove gun sales. It also set us on a course for debate where the only answer to these questions from one side was going to be no. And in other words, literally nothing can ever be agreed to. And that has morphed into what is called a very dangerous and I’m sure Jennifer knows about it, but it’s called Second Amendment absolutism. And I used to joke with people saying, well, come on, you already agree with reasonable regulation. You don’t think everybody should have an M1 Abrams tank and an A10 Warthog in your garage? Right? And a thermonuclear warhead. And the kid should have howitzers maybe, oh, no, of course we don’t. Now, I’m warning you. There’s a lot of people who think exactly that. I mean, and not 10 or 12 or 15 people, millions of people who literally believe that the Second Amendment is an absolute right. And there literally can be no restriction on it, period. It’s growing. And it’s a byproduct of this horribly divided NRAism, right, that is affected and infected our entire political system.
And there’s also an insurrectionist view of the Second Amendment, which we saw a flash of on January 6, there are people who believe that the Second Amendment is there so we can overthrow our sitting government.
I don’t know who needs to tell the insurrectionists this that if they decide to overthrow the government, the army in the Marine Corps does have bigger weapons and they will regret that life choice, I’m just saying, Army veteran right here.
Andy Slavitt 20:02
Rhonda, what do you see are the reasonable and most important policies, that would just make a lot of sense for us to be pushing forward.
I’ve said it about half a dozen times today alone, universal background checks, universal definition of safe storage for your gun in a safe flash lockbox with a, like a biometric. component to it. And red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders. And as an Army veteran who has fired an F 16. I also believe that members of the general public do not need to have that weapon in their possession. I don’t know what that looks like. Maybe, you know, we need to regulate the ammunition. At some point, if we can’t regulate the gun, we regulate the bullets. But definitely I don’t think that my neighbor Joe, down the street needs to have access to an AR15.
Are you already worried about taking her to what these parents dealing with what they’re dealing with in the news today are not going to get just universal support like they should, but have some of the same issues, afflict them?
Yeah, I know that they will, depending on how they speak up. I don’t know a lot about the demographics of the family is I don’t know, you know, how they vote or anything like that. But it’s going to be inevitable that when some of them speak up that, you know, maybe children get shot at school, that they’re going to get blasted for it.
At least as of now. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are due to be in Texas, along with the governor, with the NRA for their annual convention in Houston. And I hate to put this on you Ryan’s since this is your idea. But you know, because you’ve got more familiarity with the NRA than the rest of us does. What’s happening there? What should happen there? How is the NRA processing this in their response to go forward with this?
Ryan Busse 22:18
Wow, the NRA gambled in 1999, that it was essentially going to give the middle finger to the country, for the most part every time they have done it. And they have, you know, they have their method, they’ll be silent here for a few days. And then they’ll come out with some sort of pithy statement. But it’s worked and they’ve got away it.
They’ll say, good guy with a gun.
Yeah. And they’ve gotten away with it time after time after time. And they’ve told their membership, that these are singular bad actors. These are bad people. Air quotes here, we cannot be held responsible for these bad people. So they build up this sort of cadre of people who now feel persecuted, because there’s a bad guy who did something bad, right? And they’re trying to get us from us or trying to blame us. And so, you will victimhood is a very important component of radicalization. Very, very important, important component. And so any sort of anything they can use to victimize more and so in a lot of ways, the attacks on them, and the calls for regulation, and the castigation of the NRA, and the NRA leadership, which I think is more than deserving. I don’t know if there are any people in America who have done more to harm the country than what they’ve done to our political situation. But that is a badge of honor. That drives the fuel even further.
So the NRA wasn’t always like this. if I remember, back, I mean, I’m 55 years old. I’m not a gun owner. I’m not a member of the NRA. But I will say that I have some recollection of the NRA being an organization that that focused on things like safety gun safety.
Ryan Busse 24:05
Yeah. So it, they’re sort of the seminal events and what we think of as the NRA, and it’s 150, whatever, one years old, right. So it’s got a long history, and most for most of its history, it was not this radicalized political organization. But it took that turn in the mid-70s 1999. Columbine was another very pivotal turn, and then the rise of President and then obviously, we had horrific mass shootings. With the rise of President Obama, and sort of the latching into racism and conspiracy, like, Q anon really, honestly, I have no this nothing about Q anon surprises me I saw the NRA and its messaging campaign in and around President Obama, that sort of stuff that said, and then these intelligent people in these big ballrooms that were cheering and it must have felt like a cute or operate like it must have felt like Hillary’s got sex slaves in a pizza parlor in the basement of place that doesn’t even have a basement but people cheered. And so nothing really surprises me. I see so many of our current political mechanisms, conspiracy, hatred, all these things division, all or nothing politics, it’s now like in our local school boards, like I saw that all developed by the NRA for those last 15-18 years, but seminal events 77′, 99′ and then 2007 As President Obama started to launch his career.
I want to go there to talk about some of the things we can be doing about it and can happen. And maybe let’s start with playing a clip from President Biden this week, from the Roosevelt Room.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 26:04
Jennifer, I got a 20 year old who’s not legally allowed to buy alcohol. But in a number of states, and maybe you can just inform us a little bit, it sounds like he can walk right in to a gun shop and walk out with one?
44 states allow 18 year olds to buy long guns, including semi-automatic rifles. 29 states allow minors to possess them, so family members can give them to them. New York is one of those states where you can possess a semi-automatic rifle at 16 and buy one at 18 as we just saw in Buffalo. You know, experts say that cognitively there’s development lags until you’re about 25 or 26. That you know make it a risky proposition to wield a deadly weapon. The judgment might not be all there. But any attempt federally, right now there’s two bills in the house that are just stalled, that are attempts to raise the age to buy semi-automatic rifles, you can’t buy beer. But in 44 states, you can buy a semi-automatic rifle.
You mentioned round things like Red Flag Law, red flag laws and things like this. Can you talk about why those types of solutions? Well, well, they certainly won’t help everyone in every case. Make sense?
Rhonda Hart 28:13
We know from our research with regards to suicide, that when folks are thinking about completing a suicide act, and there’s a gun in the equation, they’re successful in that attempt about 90% of the time, it’s instant. And anytime that we remove the gun from that equation, the attempts on suicide dramatically decrease every other way that you can harm yourself is pretty irreversible. There’s medical technology that we can treat you, we can pump the stomach. So things like red flag laws just remove that part of the equation, and they literally can save lives. In the Santa Fe shooting, like I said, the kid was having mental health issues. If those guns had been taken out of the home, it would have stopped the whole thing. Or if the kid had been in mental health treatment, it would have been a non-issue.
So preventing 100% of shootings is impossible. But if the only alternative, according to what Ryan says is that you’ve got to be adamant Second Amendment absolute is if the only solution is doing absolutely nothing. Then you’re basically saying it will be easier to get a gun then to get a drink. Get a car.
I guess I want to insert some hope here, I think that cigarettes is a really good example of how we can improve our lives. If you think back 25 years ago, Andy, you mentioned your age, like I remember as a kid flying on airplanes. You couldn’t see through the airplane right? And we went to bars where everybody smoked, and cigarettes were marketed in a way that we can’t even remember those days now. And we did. We didn’t solve cigarette smoking, we didn’t eliminate lung cancer, what we did is choose as a society to take responsible actions to make things a little bit better. And that’s what we can and will and lots of states are doing with guns. We, we so many progressive, so many times, throw up these pollyannish goals like we’re going to solve this. And we’re going to fix that. Well, that’s not exactly the way a complex democracy works, complex democracy. Certainly one like ours operates in the gray space. So what we have to do every day is decide to make decisions and Institute regulations that make things a little bit better, instead of making them worse. And I don’t think Greg Abbott is really focused on making things better. He’s trying to make his political career but everybody’s not focused on making things better. Saying that a good guy with a gun is going to fix stuff. While there was a good guy with a gun there. Saying that constitutional carry with no background check is going to be a good thing. Texas already has that. It didn’t work. And so we can choose to do better things than that. And I think people are, you know, the response to my book tells me I thought it would get trolled to death, I thought I would get run out of the industry. I thought my kids would be attacked at school. I mean, literally, we were worried about our physical safety. But reasonable gun owners reach out to me every single day, like hundreds of them, like I can’t keep up with the messages, because they’re tired of this.
So I want to move in that direction. Which is what Jennifer, what does the data the polling data say about the kinds of things that Rhonda has been talking about? Well, there are these absolute is, where’s the consensus of the public?
There is no issue where there is more bipartisan consensus than gun reform, support for gun reforms among NRA members, Republicans, Democrats is higher than support for upholding Roe vs. Wade. I mean, there’s a complete disconnect between what the public wants and what their elected representatives are doing about it, at least on the federal level, and certainly on the level of many states.
Andy Slavitt 32:14
So I guess the place to take this conversation is, it sounds like there is a general consensus, be it with a loud minority, a general consensus on common sense things that there is. It rubs it to this wall we’ve talked about which is kind of a radicalized NRA. But I think the thing, the only thing that makes this work, the only thing makes us work is that the NRA is able to be influential with elected politicians. What is it that allows the NRA to have this hold on the Congress?
Fear of being primaried by somebody to the right, it’s really self-preservation fear of losing your job. Guns is one of those issues where you can burnish your conservative credentials, if you noticed, you know, states like Florida and Texas, had hedged on permitless carry before Trump lost the election. Now that every right wing politician is looking to out conservative each other guns is an easy issue to do that. And even if the NRA is a hobbled organization, like Brian said, NRA ism has seeped into our society, where truly people believe it is their God given right to have a gun for self-defense, because someone might attack me when the probability is that the gun will be used in a suicide or accidentally go off in your house.
Sure. But we’re not even putting on the table, whether someone has a God given right to have a gun, which simply put it on the table, whether or not someone can get it on demand right now, without a background check. So that’s the straw man argument that people are reacting to. But it’s not actually the argument that’s on the table. Yet, the dialogue is able to move to this. Well, it’s a slippery slope. And so I still don’t feel like I fully understand how something that a large percentage of people can disagree with that the argument could be altered. And what I have to ask is, do gun policy advocates, people who are for common sense gun reform? Are they doing something wrong? In their messaging, are they allowed? How is the argument getting lost? That when we have this set of policies that the country supports, that you don’t see that support in Congress that the Republican Party doesn’t see to it to say to itself, you know, what, we can have a platform which says, absolutely protect the Second Amendment to the end of the earth, but with appropriate set of common sense restrictions, at least with regard to schools. I mean, to even start there.
Gun reform doesn’t bring people out to the polls. Yeah, it’s one of those issues that will energize people. And because it’s a radicalization.
Yeah. And I think, Andy, this is sort of illustrative. And I make this point in my book that I believe that kind of the political Northstar of our culture war of our cultural radicalization is in this gun issue. And, and I look, I’m a progressive. And so I hate to be pejorative about progressives, but I’m just about I’m gonna be here. The reason this works the way it does, and the reason that you’re scratching your head right now is because progressives tend to be pretty damn good at policy, and pretty damn crappy at politics. And we just don’t, we just don’t go to the mat, like, NRA or Trump. I mean, how many times have we said in the last five or six years? Oh, my gosh, that’s the end. They’ve gone too far. No, they didn’t, no they didn’t. And NRA has been doing that for 17-18-19 years. And that’s why we now have definition that when, when a politician says, oh, gosh, I might consider background checks. Like, to me, that doesn’t sound anti-gun. I mean, it barely borders on responsible. Yet the NRA instantly labels that person, as some sort of communist socialist for, you know, like, the most hyperbolic terms are used, and you know, what? It sticks. And progressives tend to just be too thoughtful and complex to kind of fight down in those cultural war trenches. Well, we were winning some of the battles, but those that larger cultural war trench, like the NRA has defined that pretty well.
Andy Slavitt 36:33
well, I don’t know how someone meets Rhonda hears her story, and is able to hold that position. Well, look, I really want to thank you all. And I’m gonna give each of you a chance to have a last word here in this conversation. But I want to thank you all, for allowing us to discuss this very difficult topic to see through the issues a little more clearly. And I’m wondering if you might leave us with your version of what a path looks like, not a, as Ryan said, not a magic answer to magic solution. Not necessarily even the legislation we need, but the next couple of steps that we ought to be taking, that can help us move things in the right direction. So that someday we’ll be able to look back and say, we started to get there. And maybe, Jennifer, since I started with you, I’ll start with you, again.
At its heart, this is an electoral reform issue, vote. And, you know, I know gun rights advocates, they tend to be, you know, like reliable Republican votes. And a lot of progressives don’t vote on this issue. But we’re seeing this more and more. And this should be in your mind when you go to the polls, the people that you elect matter, all politics is local. But we do have disproportionate representation in Congress. And that’s important to keep in mind when you go to the polls.
Ryan Busse 38:02
I’m very concerned with and I think reasonable gun owners are concerned with political radicalization, and the danger it poses gun fueled political radicalization, the danger it poses to our democracy. I think much like voting, no, right is going to matter. These arcane, little policy debates that we’re having here are not going to matter if we see our democracy shredded, and I think it was dangerously close, much of that has gotten fueled. And I guess the path forward for me is that I think reasonable people, because we are reasonable, because we don’t like debates, because we don’t like loud screaming and, you know, frankly, assholes with microphones that just, you know, drown us out. We have to start taking them back. And that means in our personal lives, you know, I use the pejorative term like crazy uncle Bob at Thanksgiving, like no, it’s no longer okay to look the other way at conspiracy theory, or to hear him spout off or to talk about second amendment absolutism. We got to do this person, by person by person, and that means us doing it. So that’s what I asked you.
So I’m just going to reiterate what Jennifer said, and y’all need to vote. Because that’s your only choice. And then if you’re an adult, and you have a child in your house, and you also have a gun, I need you to lock it up. Just take that first basic step and do that.
Rhonda, so sorry, you had to share in this experience yet again. But you did so generously, in a way that I think really helps people. Jennifer Ryan, thank you for the reporting. You do the work you do the speaking you do. And making at least more dialogue out there happen. Very tough conversation, but I got a lot out of it. Thank you, everybody.
Well, that’s a lot of information from you. So people have been thinking about this for a long time and sadly in the case of Ronda someone who has just lived through this horror show, but I think the thing that I want to do to finally finish this episode for you, is to help us figure out how we process what we just experienced. And for that I could think of no one better to have on the show than someone who’s been on this show since the beginning. Every once in a while. Stephanie Wittels Wachs.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 40:28
If I have call you, Steph, you have to call me And.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs
Yeah, that’s the deal.
Okay, that’s fine. I guess. You could be the first person ever to call me and it’s nice to laugh a little bit on day like today. And it’s one of the things that you’re great at, for those of you don’t know, Steph, she runs the podcast, a little podcast called The Last Day, which is doing it entire year on guns and who knew that at the middle of this year that there’d actually be shootings that you’d have to react to? Aren’t you just shocked?
Stephanie Wittels Wachs
Yeah, so I knew that actually, And. Yeah, spoiler alert, I, we knew when we started the season that this was going to happen. And that we would have to sort of halt and rewrite and rewrite. What was insane about this particular situation is that we halted and rewrote about Buffalo. And we’re redoing the script at the 11th hour and then had to halt again, to write about the most recent tragedy.
So you’ve been, for those who haven’t been listening to this season of the Last Day, maybe you could tell us a little bit about what you’ve been covering, and help us because I think what I’ve observed and listening religiously, is just how to react, help us with how to react to situations like this.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs
I don’t think anyone knows how to react to situations like this. And that’s partially why we’re doing the show. It’s so unbelievably horrific, and tragic, and common and familiar. And that’s the part that I think is starting to just crush all of us collectively, at the routine around this, that it’s been it’s been 10 years since Sandy Hook, we’re having the same conversation. And the only thing that’s changed is that our kids are more accustomed to active shooter drills. I mean, that’s horrific, right? So I wanted to dig in there. I have two kids. I just picked my son up from school. He was safe, thank God. But I think as parents, right, I look around and I’m like, where are we? Why is nothing being done? I remember being so full of rage after Sandy Hook, I remember it being a real turning point and thinking, okay, surely this is the moment and then nothing happened, right? And it just keeps getting worse and it becomes more normal. And, and when things start to feel normal. That’s when my like, red flags start to go up. Because I’m like, oh, no, no, no, no, if we, if it becomes too normal, we’re gonna lose our empathy, we’re gonna lose our humanity, we’re gonna be able to just scroll past and we cannot scroll past. And it’s also not helpful to scream at one another. Right? Like I mean, I’m guilty of it. Like I have gone on Twitter, I’ve raged and ranted and decided that I’m on this side, and you’re on this side. And we’re on different sides and, and have been pitted against X, Y, and Z. And this season, we went to Montana, I hung out with people in their homes for multiple days that I have very different political beliefs with. And I sat down with them, and I listened to them and I listened to their stories.
Yeah, I don’t know whether it gets to the common part, for sure. But I want to just capture something you said because it gets so profoundly captures how I think a lot of us are feeling which is that this is both so impossible to imagine. And yet so obvious that it’s going to happen. Yeah, that combination. Like with Sandy Hook, it felt like, this is so awful. And it’s got to shake us all up. And now this feels like this is so awful. And of course, we can’t be optimistic that it’s gonna shake us up. Of course, we can’t be optimistic because we’re too experienced.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 44:22
Yeah, I mean, I am feeling real hopeless right now. I’m gonna tell him like, I can’t even lie about it. Like I was, I was reading the script, you know, I write the show. And I was reading the script, and I just like totally broke down. You know, it’s like, reading the stats about a gunman walked into the buffalo supermarket and we lost these many people and it’s just if you stop and take a moment and breathe through that we can’t let it happen anymore, right? Like we have to feel all those feelings like I am feeling this rage and this sorrow in equal parts right now. And, and it has to spur us into something right. Like we can’t accept this.
Do you might tell us what you talk to your kids about after this shooting happened?
Stephanie Wittels Wachs
Yeah, I mean, I have a daughter who’s eight I took her to get her ears pierced yesterday. She was so excited and nervous and so proud of herself that she did it. And she made it through and you know, like as parents, we’re going through all sorts of stuff and looking at our at our kids. And I mean, she just won the all-star championship this weekend for softball big deal. Big huge deal. Yeah, won the game point like not to brag, I’m gonna brag. She won the game point, okay. And everyone was cheering and hooting and hollering and like, I look at her and I look at how wonderful her little life is right now. And think about like, she’s in second grade. Like, that’s how old these kids were at the school. And I know she’s gonna go to school, and I know she’s gonna hear about it. And I want to be able to sort of set the framework for her to talk about these things.
Andy Slavitt 46:08
So what do you say, what do you say to her?
Stephanie Wittels Wachs
I said, Listen, something really bad happened yesterday at a school in Texas. And somebody came in and had a gun, and a lot of people were hurt. And a lot of children were hurt. And I know that that sounds really scary. And it’s really sad. And I’m really sorry to have to tell you this. But I love you, and you are safe. And your teachers and your school are going to do everything they can to make you safe. But I want you to know that this is going on. And then I said I want you to be able to ask me whatever questions you have.
What was her headspace? Like? Where was? Where did she go to Detroit to fear did she go to Thanks, mom. Okay, and kept it inside.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs
She went to immediate sorrow. She’s my child. She, she’s a deep empath.
So sad. For what? Sad for what happened?
Stephanie Wittels Wachs
sad for what happened to them. And she started crying immediately. And she said, how many kids were in the hospital? And I said 19 kids were killed. And saying that to an eight year old is unfathomable, right? And then she asked some other really interesting questions. She wanted to know how I knew about it. And if everybody knew about it, and she wanted to talk about news and how news is spread, and I mean, she started asking all sorts of questions, right? Is this going to happen here? Is the man going to come here and do it?
Is this the right approach to let them lead the conversation and to just listen and respond?
Stephanie Wittels Wachs
I mean, it’s the only approach I know I know how to do I mean, I, I think you have to, again, not a therapist, okay? Have a theater degree make a lot of art in my life. But um, what works for us is like I tell her the truth, and then I give her space to feel it and then I give her space to ask questions. And I think that’s part of it, right? Like these kids. These kids are coming out of two years of trying to survive a disease I don’t know if you heard about it, it’s been crazy around here and now this you know, it’s like they’re in survival mode eight year olds.
Andy Slavitt 48:18
Yeah. You know, you gave me your kind of give me advice going into the show. Today before we before we write what brought the guests on, who by the way were remarkable and generous and I’m sure it’s just getting it from left and right. You know, I normally either go into a show knowing a little bit about what I hope the audience can get out of it, or having enough confidence that if we have a real conversation and bring the real issues up, that I have to have enough faith that that that will amount to something that we can then direct and I had no choice here but to just really just have a conversation with bout three people who have experiences and perspectives who know a little bit more about this and hope that that there would be something that could come for the audience but I generally tend to be wary of trying to tie up things too neatly into up here’s all you need to know go vote and things will get better. Go vote and things will change. I do think to some extent, that being informed it being informed with facts and not misinformation helps. But I can’t even say that here. Staff I can’t even legit say that there’s something that could change the whole situation. What I do hope to at least be able to do with your help as we just kind of wind down these last couple of minutes is help people with how to process this in the healthiest best way possible.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s like what I was saying with my kid, I think you have to feel all of those feelings and allow that, allow it to hurt. Because it does and it should. And if it doesn’t, we’re in trouble. Allow that humanity to come right up, allow that empathy to kick in, and whatever it is for you. But for me, it’s sorrow and rage. And then you get up, and you put two feet on the floor and you put on pants. You know, if that’s your thing, cry cry, I like to cry while I put on pants. I do both at the same time. And figure out what we need to do.
Andy Slavitt 50:38
I like elastic pants.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs
Oh, let’s be clear. I obviously meant elastic. No one is wearing denim on a day like this. No, we’re wearing elastic. And you got to keep moving forward. Right. That’s the thing like, and I think the way we have been talking about guns, it has been so binary, I’ve been part of the binary, I am guilty, it has been get rid of all of the guns, all of them or stockpile of guns, right? There’s two positions here. It’s not working. It’s not working, we have to do something different. And that’s the entire reason we did the season. I wanted to go to communities, where people have guns where people are dying by suicide, where people are dying by homicide and figure out why is this in your house? Why do you need this thing? Because I don’t understand it. It’s not something that I can sort of relate to. What I found in during the season is that we really do have more in common like, do you think people who have guns in their houses? Have them there for no reason? No. Why do they have them in their houses to keep their family safe. That’s why they want to have them. So like, obviously, these people have an interest in keeping people safe. Nobody wants kids to die. Nobody wants that.
Well, it was really interesting to hear Ryan say that his association with guns up until you know, recently, but his association as a kid was of the bonding with his father, and all the fun things that they did. And in that was the, dodging that the gun a gun in itself as a suit can be a symbol of something positive for people. It’s hard thing to maybe to acknowledge at some point of time, but it is, agree with you it is the basis for conversation where you could say, look, is that the same thing is saying we should be an absolute, you should be an absolute as we talked about the Second Amendment absolutist. Who thinks that that’s equivalent to saying that there’s absolutely nothing that can be done. And I just maybe that’s the right note to close on, because it’s something that’s on your show Last Day, and in our show we talked about this concept of harm reduction. That you can’t fix everything. It doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. And if we don’t prevent every school shooting, but you prevent five school shootings. Yeah.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 52:56
I’m down to by that. by that. I mean, that’s thing, right that that we can’t, why do anything that is so bonkers. It is such? No, no, no, we can do something. It’s like, think about that logically? Like, do you give up on broccoli? Completely? If your kid doesn’t want to eat it at every meal? No, no, eat one meal, right, have one vegetable a week? Right? Do you? Do we not wear seatbelts because some people still die in car crashes? No, of course we wear seatbelts. You know, we talk a lot about this on the show too. Like, in the 80s, only 14% of people wear seatbelts. You know, it was a huge backlash. Now people buy cars for safety features, like we can shift the conversation, it’s going to take time, it’s going to take like talking to people who don’t agree with which is really hard. But like the step like all the data is there. If 90% of people support universal background checks in America, that’s not 90% of people who are like me, who don’t have guns, that’s 90% of all people. So like, yeah, the extremists like the 10%. Yeah, I don’t think we’re gonna, we’re not gonna reach them. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about responsible gun owners and responsible human beings in this world. Who want to stop living in a state of carnage. You know, like, I’m just, so sad. Andy like, I’m so like, I’m, I’m like, devastated. And everyone I talk to you today is like, devastated. And like, we have to do something. We have to, there’s no, doing nothing is no longer an option. We have to do something.
Andy Slavitt 54:35
Well, look, let’s both of us agree to keep going. You know, you’re a source of strength for many, many, many people, including me. If we want something to change, the one thing I know for damn sure is if you want something and you actually have to do something. So let’s just let that be where we land this plane today. Steph, thank you.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs
Amen. Amen. Amen, And, good to see you, And.
Okay, we were gonna have Beto O’Rourke in here next week, given the events in Uvalde, he has asked that we move that out a little bit, understandably, he’s got bigger priorities right now, then what’s going on in the bubble, but he will be back in a week or two. But that’ll be great. Next week. Al Franken’s here. And he is he stopped by the house, actually. And so we recorded and reflected on the US Senate, whether the US Senate can keep up with the obligations that why it has not representing democracy so well. And then Friday, we will bring you a Friday conversation that I think will be great, some really great guests, talking about the economy and some things that I think are really great for us to know. All right, well, we’re going into a long weekend, folks. I hope that it’s a great one. I hope you get to relax, I’m gonna get to put some of the news out of your head. It’s been a very heavy, challenging emotional week. And I can tell you, you deserve time with your family. You deserve time with your friends. You deserve to turn off the news. So please do that. Okay. Thanks.
Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kathryn Barnes, Jackie Harris and Kyle Shiely produced our show, and they’re great. Our mix is by Noah Smith and James Barber, and they’re great, too. Steve Nelson is the vice president of the weekly content, and he’s okay, too. And of course, the ultimate bosses, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs, they executive produced the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, with additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia where you’ll also get the transcript of the show. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter. If you like what you heard today, why don’t you tell your friends to listen as well, and get them to write a review. Thanks so much, talk to you next time.