Rep. Eric Swalwell Says Shootings Underscore The Need For Gun Control
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
As we're all struggling to face the reality of two more mass shootings in this country in less than 24 hours - not to mention the fact that there were nine since last Sunday - lawmakers are facing questions from their constituents about what they're planning to do about it. Congressman Eric Swalwell of California made gun control a signature issue of his presidential campaign. Although he is no longer running for president, he has promised to continue to be a voice for gun safety measures, and he is with us now.
Congressman, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us - although I am sorry about why.
ERIC SWALWELL: Well, thank you for having me on. And I, like your listeners, are grieving for Gilroy and El Paso and, just as recently as this morning, Dayton.
MARTIN: I want to mention that Mark Bryant of the Gun Violence Archive is remaining with us for this hour to offer context if we need him. And so, Congressman, you unveiled a detailed plan to address gun violence as part of your presidential campaign. You had a chance to talk about some of these issues in the debate that you participated in. Tell us about, if you would, just, like, what's your signature idea here? And tell us why you think that's so important.
SWALWELL: You know, the signature principle is we don't have to live this way. And so many of my constituents have been calling and texting and saying that they're afraid to go to public places. They're afraid to take their kids shopping with them - that they're mindful of that now and in ways that they've never been before. And, you know, one of the ways that we could reduce that fear would be to ban and buy back the 15 million assault weapons in America.
You know, many folks have called for an assault weapon ban on future manufacturing and sales, but I don't think that would go far enough. I think we need to get every single weapon of war off the streets. And it's not something - this is not an original idea. You know, Australia did it in the '90s and New Zealand is underway doing it now after their mosque shooting.
MARTIN: Well, advocates of expansive gun rights would argue that the United States is different, and that the right to own a gun is both - is a constitutional right. What do you say about that?
SWALWELL: It's not an unlimited right. And again, the question is, do we want to just accept that this is our normal now, where you see rising white nationalism and unlimited or nearly unrestricted weaponry? And when those two intersect, we're going to continue to have, you know, the carnage that we saw over the weekend.
And I believe that you can keep your pistols to protect yourself and shoot for sport, that you can keep your shotguns, you know, for, you know, going duck hunting and that you can keep your rifles for continuing, you know, customs of, you know, hunting with your family. But we don't need the most dangerous weapons in the hands of the most dangerous people. And the only thing that we're lacking here is not a recognition that assault weapons are a problem - it's just the courage to do something in Washington about it.
MARTIN: Well, there have been points in recent history when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress as well as the White House. Why didn't those - why weren't those steps taken then?
SWALWELL: They should have been. I wish that had been. And - but there were - when there was an assault weapons ban in the '90s going into the early 2000s, there was a reduction in mass shootings. But again, I don't think that goes far enough. And I also don't want to mislead people to believe that if we banned assault weapons and bought them all back that would end every act of gun violence. There's still the issue - you know, two-thirds of gun violence are suicides. In cities like Chicago, they have mass shootings, you know, every week. And that goes to deeper issues of a lack of hope and investment in education and jobs.
So we can do all of these things. And right now, I just see, you know, a Washington that is afraid to do anything big on this issue because we've been told for so long that it's divisive when, in fact, most of us know what the solutions are. It's just finding the will of our leaders...
MARTIN: And what do you...
SWALWELL: ...To undertake them.
MARTIN: Forgive me. And what do you say to people who argue that their right to hold a gun or to have a gun or to purchase as many guns as they want is as fundamental to their sense of Americanness as, say, the First Amendment is to other people and other rights, other constitutional rights that guarantee freedom that other Americans hold dear? What do you say to them? Or is this not even a matter of persuading people who feel that strongly about this particular issue but rather gaining momentum among other people?
SWALWELL: I would say that that group of people who would say no regulation ever or take it out of my, you know, cold, dead hands - that they are a vocal minority. And most Americans believe that our right, you know, to pray at a church, in a synagogue and a mosque or dance at a concert or to shop at Walmart and come home is greater than any other right in our Constitution.
MARTIN: That is Congressman Eric Swalwell of California.
Congressman, before we let you go, what steps are you prepared to make in the current Congress? As we mentioned, you have folded your presidential campaign for now. But are there steps that you are prepared to make as a sitting member of Congress?
SWALWELL: Yes. First and foremost, I have written legislation to ban and buy back assault weapons. So I'm going to go back to my colleagues who have been reluctant to get on that bill and ask them to get on that bill. I'm calling for Congress come back into session to address the rise of white nationalism and the amount of weapons out there and for the Senate to take up the background check bill that we already passed in the House of Representatives. We beat 17 NRA-endorsed members of Congress this last election, so the momentum is with us for gun safety.
SWALWELL: It's on Mitch McConnell to bring that action.
MARTIN: Congressman, thank you so much.
That's Congressman Eric Swalwell...
SWALWELL: Thank you.
MARTIN: ...Of California. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.