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Up First: The Victims Of El Paso's Shooting, And What's Next; Controversy In Kashmir

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

I'm David Greene in El Paso, Texas, where there is a scene that has just become too familiar in our country - members of a community attending vigils, preparing funerals for loved ones who were murdered over the weekend in a mass shooting at a Walmart. And we are now beginning to learn more about the 22 people who were killed here. They range in age from 15 to 90. Thirteen were American citizens, seven were from Mexico, one was a German national. We're also getting a clearer picture of the timeline of this attack.

And Mallory Falk is a reporter for NPR's member station KERA, and she is with me here in El Paso. Mallory, thanks a lot for being here and for all the work you're doing.

MALLORY FALK, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

GREENE: So police are starting to share some details about the shooter and specifically what led him to this Walmart. What are we learning now?

FALK: Police Chief Greg Allen said the suspect purchased his gun legally near his hometown in Allen, and it was a six-point - a 7.62 caliber rifle. Allen says the suspect drove 10 to 11 hours to El Paso. And he said the suspect got here and was lost in a neighborhood and ended up at Walmart because he was hungry. The chief said the suspect has cooperated from the beginning and, quote, "appears to be in a state of shock and confusion."

GREENE: Well, as we're learning that, you also were reporting at a vigil last night for it sounds like one of the youngest victims here. Just take us there.

FALK: The vigil was for Javier Amir Rodriguez, and he is the youngest victim of the shooting, just 15 years old. He was supposed to be starting his sophomore year of high school. And as you can imagine, there was a lot of sorrow at the vigil. His parents and sister didn't speak, but they released 22 doves - one for Javier, followed by 21 for the other victims.

I spoke with several of Javier's friends, and they described an energetic soccer fanatic who was also a bit of a jokester. One of his friends said Javier liked to tell jokes and then ensure that you laughed at those jokes. He'd give you - kind of give you a hard time until you cracked a smile. During the vigil, several of his classmates and former soccer coaches spoke, as well as the superintendent of the school district, Juan Martinez, and he got very emotional. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUAN MARTINEZ: Javier did not deserve to be taken away from his family. Javier did not deserve to be taken away from his friends. Javier did not deserve to be taken away from his school. And Javier did not deserve to be taken away from all of us.

FALK: And after those speeches, his teammates circled up and embraced each other. And it was just clear that the community will be grappling with his death for a long time to come.

GREENE: You know, Mallory, one of the things I've noticed being in El Paso as - the pain that people are feeling. They'll quickly say, though, that this is not El Paso, that they want people to know this city not for this act of violence. What are you seeing as you've been spending time - as people have been processing this?

FALK: Yeah, I am really seeing this insistence that this is not El Paso, and this is not going to define this city. There is a feeling that this is a very warm, welcoming, tightknit community, surprisingly tightknit for a community of this size, and that this one act is not going to change that. But many people are also expressing anger. They see a connection between President Trump's rhetoric about immigrants and the border and what happened here on Saturday.

GREENE: Mallory Falk reports for NPR member station KERA and is reporting on the situation here in El Paso. Thanks, Mallory.

FALK: Thank you.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The mass shootings in El Paso and also the one that happened in Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend have reignited the debate around gun control.

GREENE: Yeah. Addressing the country yesterday, President Trump called for laws to prevent the mentally ill from purchasing guns. He also called for tighter controls on violent video games and the Internet. But he stopped short of calling for stricter gun laws. So after the massacre shooting at a concert in Las Vegas, after the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary, after the rampage at a high school in Parkland, Fla., after so many mass shootings over the years, some even aimed at lawmakers, where at this moment does the push for gun reform stand?

MARTIN: We've got NPR's Tim Mak in our studio in Washington to help us understand that very subject. He covers national security and politics. Hi, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

MARTIN: So tell us - the House has already passed legislation, right? What's in that bill?

MAK: So the bill would require background checks on all gun sales, including those at gun shows and over the Internet. It's really notable because it's the first legislation addressing firearm safety that has passed in either chamber of Congress since 1994. So it's a whole generation since that last set of legislation passed. It came after Democrats swept back into power in the House after the 2018 midterms, and it was the first campaign in recent memory where gun control groups outspent gun rights groups.

So as a result, a lot of these organizations found the results of the midterms as kind of a mandate to act on this sort of legislation.

MARTIN: So what happens to that bill? I mean, it has to get approval in the Senate. Does it stand a chance there?

MAK: Right. Yeah, the question of what even gets a vote in the Senate is decided by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and he's been noncommittal. He says he wants to engage in bipartisan discussions on how to address mass murders, but he didn't get into any real specifics on this.

The Senate has its own framework for background checks, and that was from a proposal considered and voted down back in 2013 after the shootings in Sandy Hook. And this framework is led in part by Senator Pat Toomey. He's a Republican from Pennsylvania. He wants this legislation to pass, but he told reporters in a kind of surprising exchange yesterday that he doesn't think he has the support to pass it right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAT TOOMEY: If we force the vote tomorrow, then I think we probably - the vote probably fails, and we may actually set back this whole effort.

MAK: So it's worth noting that even the architect of the legislation doesn't really think that there's a momentum for passage.

MARTIN: Right. Well, if there hadn't been momentum after Sandy Hook and now these two shootings, it's hard to see when there might be. So let's talk about the NRA and its role in this moment. There's been a lot of infighting within the organization. What's the state of it? What's the health? And how could that impact the prospects for any movement on guns?

MAK: Right. So the NRA has seen its president step aside, it's seen its chief lobbyist resign, all over a power struggle and allegations of financial misconduct at the very highest levels of the organization. Just last week three board members stepped down because they felt they weren't getting straight answers about the financial situation at the organization. Gun control groups think it's an opportunity for them. Here's what Everytown for Gun Safety's president, John Feinblatt, told me.

JOHN FEINBLATT: I think the NRA is completely dysfunctional right now. It's like looking at a five-alarm fire, but the amazing thing is they lit the match. And the question really is, can the NRA get its house in order to be a player in 2020?

MARTIN: Wow.

MAK: So yeah. Right. While we're having this conversation about gun control, it's really notable that the most powerful gun control group in the country is struggling with internal troubles.

MARTIN: Right. Just briefly - what about the president? I mean, have the president's views on gun control and the NRA changed over time?

MAK: Well, he said early yesterday in a tweet he supported, quote, "strong background checks." But by the time he gave remarks in front of television cameras and prepared remarks, he didn't make any mention of background checks at all. So he's had an inconsistent message on this, while the NRA has backed him really, really fiercely through the last few years.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Tim Mak. Thanks, Tim.

MAK: Thanks a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right, we're going to shift our focus to the other side of the world - to India, specifically the disputed region of Kashmir.

GREENE: Yeah, we say disputed because both India and Pakistan claim that territory, and it's wedged right between the two of them. Now India's government has taken this extraordinary step by revoking a special status that's long governed the Indian side. This move would tighten the Indian government's control over its side of Kashmir. Protesters are on the streets to voice their opposition.

MARTIN: NPR's Lauren Frayer is in Mumbai covering this for us and joins us now. Hi, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi there.

MARTIN: So as David noted, that's the sound from protests that happened in Delhi last night. What are people saying? What are they chanting?

FRAYER: So some of those people are chanting, Kashmiris, we are with you. Don't mess with the constitution. This - they're upset that this legal change for Kashmir - which, by the way, is the biggest for Kashmir in India's democratic history - has happened without any input from Kashmiris themselves.

Their state is under security lockdown. India has cut phone lines there, cut Internet service there, put Kashmiri politicians under house arrest. Some have now actually been taken into police custody. Thousands of extra troops were deployed to Kashmir over the weekend. So they're all indications that the government knew this would be deeply unpopular in Kashmir and sought to stifle any protests there, even before it announced this move.

MARTIN: What's the practical effect of revoking this special status that Kashmir has? I mean, what has it given Kashmir?

FRAYER: So this special status dates all the way back to 1947. British colonial rule ended. India and Pakistan were founded. They immediately fought over Kashmir, that Himalayan territory, as you said, sandwiched right between the two. It is a Muslim majority area, like Pakistan, and the territory ended up being split between India and Pakistan. The leader of the Indian part only agreed to join India back then on condition of this special status.

This special status gives native Kashmiris special rights to buy property. It allocates government jobs to them, also university spots. And now all of those rights are being scrapped.

MARTIN: Why? I mean, why is the government deciding now to revoke the status?

FRAYER: So the government thinks that this is a way to better integrate the state of Jammu and Kashmir into the rest of India. As I said, it's India's only Muslim majority state. It's also home to a strong separatist movement. Most Kashmiris either want to join Muslim Pakistan next door or get independence. And the government may believe that autonomy that it has given Kashmir has exacerbated those independence aspirations, and it wants to bring its legal status in with - the same as other Indian states.

MARTIN: So the fate of the decree is now in the courts. Where is it likely to go?

FRAYER: It's not in courts yet, but opponents say they are preparing lawsuits, and most people believe this will end up in India's Supreme Court.

MARTIN: NPR's Lauren Frayer reporting from Mumbai on this development. Lauren, thanks. We appreciate it.

FRAYER: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF YAYA'S "ROADS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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