Guests: Cory Booker, Fmr. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Rev. Welton Gaddy
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: And now to discuss why America should be talking about gun control—ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
We begin tonight with a question: what if you had a gun that was entirely made of plastic, where all the components of the gun were high strength enough so the gun would function as a gun, but none of it was metal, so it wouldn‘t be detected by metal detectors? That means that everyone that is protected by metal detectors from the Capitol building to an airport to an event to see the president, you‘d be able to get your gun in there, scot-free. You could walk right through a metal detector with your gun and nobody would know you had that gun.
Should it be legal to carry an all-plastic gun?
These things can be manufactured. Glock, the company that made the gun that was used in the Arizona shooting this weekend, Glock announced back in the 1980s that they had perfected manufacturing techniques that would allow them to do this.
Should an undetectable gun like that be legal to buy in the United States? No. That should not be legal. At least, that was the decision that our country made when the issue came up. Congress voted on whether plastic guns should be legal to sell in this country back in 1988. The measure passed the House by a vote of 413 to four. There were only four votes against it.
One of those four votes, one of the total of four people who voted against making plastic guns illegal at the time was then-Congressman Dick Cheney of Wyoming. Twelve years after that vote, 12 years later, in the year 2000, Dick Cheney was still catching hell for that vote. That vote haunted him his entire political career.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”/NBC - JULY 30, 2000)
TIM RUSSERT, MEET THE PRESS: Two votes that really did create a lot of interest, particularly amongst police organizations, were your votes on gun control. The first was a ban on cop killer bullets. The vote was 400 yes, 21 no. And a vote on plastic guns that terrorists use to hijack planes to get them undetectable through security, 413 to 4. Those aren‘t Democrat/Republican numbers, liberal/conservatives. That‘s a fringe vote. You‘re one of four.
Today, would you vote, support measures to ban cop killer bullets and to ban plastic guns that cannot be detected by airport security?
RICHARD CHENEY, FMR. U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Well, obviously, I‘d be
happy to entertain that notion. I don‘t want to say that I‘m absolutely
for cop killer bullets. I‘m clearly not. But I think both of these cases
these measures came up under suspension of the rules. They came up where amendments weren‘t allowed, debate was limited.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Even 12 years later, you see him physically squirming on that one. Dick Cheney physically trying to squirm away from the shame of that vote by saying, oh, it was about the process by which the ban was brought up. I was unhappy about the closed rule process.
The “ban plastic guns” legislation was initially opposed by the NRA, naturally. But even the NRA looked around, realized how that made them look, and they changed their mind on it. In the end, the plastic gun ban passed overwhelmingly with the NRA‘s tacit blessing. President Ronald Reagan signed it into law in November of 1988.
Now, in that “Meet the Press” clip, you also heard Mr. Russert take Dick Cheney on, not just for the plastic gun ban vote, but also for his vote on so-called cop killer bullets.
If you are of the same age as Jared Loughner, the suspect in this weekend‘s shootings, if you‘re in your early 20s, this may be a phrase you haven‘t even heard. But in the ‘80s and the ‘90s, cop killer bullets got a lot of attention and got banned. Bullets designed to penetrate body armored were banned in 1986 after a vote in the Senate of 97 to one. That ban on cop killer bullets was signed into law in August of that year, again, by President Ronald Reagan.
It was also under President Ronald Reagan when we decided as a nation to take the great leap of banning the production of fully automatic machine guns for civilian use. Yes, it was Ronald Reagan in 1986 who signed legislation, making it illegal for run-of-the-mill, everyday U.S. civilians to continue purchasing machine guns.
Would you like to have your own antiaircraft weaponry? You know, at some airports there‘s still aircraft observation areas. That‘s one of my favorite things about some reports.
Remember when we used to think it was a cool thing to encourage tourism at airports, for people to watch the planes take off and land. Well, whether or not your local airport has one of those areas, you are not welcome to bring your own personally owned anti-aircraft weapon to one of those areas, because that‘s the kind of thing that, yes, is also regulated by the federal government. Oh, the horror.
Your Second Amendment rights do not extend to allowing you the capacity as a U.S. citizen to possess artillery capable of shooting an aircraft out of the sky. And it‘s not very controversial that that‘s the case.
None of those things, the anti-aircraft weapons or the machine gun or the plastic guns, the cop killer bullets, none of these things are the type of weapons or ammunition that were used in the shootings this weekend in Arizona. There was nothing unusual about that alleged killer‘s choice of a $500 pistol.
But the idea that in the wake of this shooting, in the wake of this national convulsion of grief and anger and a desire to respond to this shooting, the belief that despite how the country feels right now, that any form of gun control, any form of public policy to try to curtail gun massacres in America is impossible, the idea that it‘s impossible to pass any legislation regarding guns in America, I believe that idea is not true.
Three days out from this weekend‘s shooting, we are almost at the point, again, where nobody in politics can agree on anything. But left, right, and center, the diagnosis of whether or not we as a country are capable of responding to the problem of gun massacres in America, everybody agrees that that‘s totally impossible, right?
Look at this. “Why gun control is dead in America.” That‘s “Salon” today. “Democrats and GOP agree, gun control is a non-starter in Arizona following shooting,” at “Talking Points Memo” today. “Arizona shootings unlikely to change federal gun laws,” “The Miami Herald” today. “Don‘t expect any changes in gun laws after Tucson shooting,” at “FireDogLake” today. “Gun control advocates resigned to few changes in wake of Giffords‘ shooting,” “Huffington Post” today.
I was not trying to find stories today that are pessimistic about the likelihood of passing new policy in response to this shooting, but this is all that is out there.
The reason we are the longest surviving democracy in the world, the reason we are proud to the point of jingoism about the American democratic experiment is because of the simplicity of the core idea of our democracy, that we will form a representative government that takes its legitimacy from the people so that we, collectively, not because of some top-down edict, but we collectively, through our representatives as a country can solve problems that arise in our country.
Whether it‘s competition or a threat from some other country, whether it is natural calamity, whether it is the risks or the promise of our complicated free market capitalist economy, whether it is disease or panic or terrorism or crime, the whole capital “I” idea of American government is that we as a people can solve problems that arise here. We can solve problems that arise in our country. We are not helpless before what the universe deals us or what some wise man with some inherited title thinks is best for us. We get to solve our own problems. That is what our government is supposed to be capable of.
And one of the problems we have as a country is gun massacre, mass shootings. Arizona was the first one of 2011. There were at least seven of them in the last five years. Some of which we listed on last night‘s show and we did not even list all of them.
No other country in the world has the problem that America has with gun massacres. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Jonesboro, Northern Illinois University, Fort Hood, Red Lake, Minnesota, Brookfield, Wisconsin, Atlanta, Killeen, Texas, Tucson.
The common wisdom right now is that this is a problem that America is powerless to solve, that our government can‘t be used to solve this problem. We are helpless before this.
Up until six years ago, it would not have been legal for Jared Loughner to have bought the 30-round magazine he had in his Glock when he allegedly went to this Congress on Your Corner event on Saturday morning in Tucson. According to law enforcement officials, Mr. Loughner had one round in the chamber of his gun and 30 rounds in an extended magazine, the long extended magazine that extends way done below the base of the gun like this one.
He reportedly had another one of those 30-round clips plus two standard-sized 15-round clips in his pocket. It was when he stopped to reload after he had emptied the first magazine that he was stopped and the killing was stopped.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK, PIMA COUNTY, AZ: When the gentleman ran out of the ammunition from his first magazine, he was attempting to change magazines. A woman, who we have the name of, but I don‘t have, went up and grabbed the magazine and tore it away from him. There would have been a huge, greater catastrophe had he been successful in doing that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If this attack had happened six years ago instead of this past weekend, unless Mr. Loughner had the wherewithal to obtain his weaponry illegally, it is unlikely that he would have had the killing capacity that he did. He would have been able to fire half as many rounds as he allegedly fired before stopping to reload. Which means, in all likelihood, some of his victims would still be dead, some of them would still be wounded, but the death toll and the toll of the wounded would be less.
Would that have stopped this gun crime? No. Would it have lessened the impact? Yes. Would it have been a grave controversy in America to have not let that one little part of the federal assault weapons ban expire? Would it?
Laws about guns are one of the few things in the world that is un-Google-able. And all the things that all of us who work on the show research all day long, every day, in all of the days that we work on this show, there‘s a tiny handful of topics you literally can‘t do your research about on Google. All the other ones are about something related to sex, or something that might seem like it might be related to sex when you type it into the Google search engine.
But laws about guns, that is the one thing that has nothing to do about sex that you can‘t get any useful information about by Googling, because the gun lobby so completely dominates the debate. Because of that, I will not even advice you to do your own independent research about this online. You have to do it at the library and in books. You will not find trustworthy, unbiased information about this online, I‘m telling you.
But in 2004, when the assault weapons ban was allowed to expire, one of the things that expired with it was a ban on high-capacity magazines for handguns. It is a dog bites man story. It is beyond a political cliche to note how powerful the gun lobby is in America. How much they dominate what‘s even allowed to be debated in American politics about guns. And, yes, the whole assault weapons ban was allowed to expire in 2004, all of its provisions were allowed to end.
Everyone says it‘s impossible for America to solve any of its problems that relate to guns now. To even try to solve any of the problems, if any of the solutions have anything to do whatsoever with guns.
But who is it who will say that it is important for Americans like Jared Loughner to have been able to fire 31 bullets from his handgun without stopping -- 31 bullets from his semiautomatic handgun? Who will say it was important to have this extended magazine hanging out of his semiautomatic pistol so he could keep firing at humans until 31 rounds had left the gun and 20 people had been shot? Who will make that argument?
In 1988, four representatives were willing to say—four, four—four representatives were willing to say, no, we‘re not going to ban plastic guns. Plastic guns are too important to us as a country. We‘re not going to ban them. Four people were willing to vote against that. Even dick Cheney recanted on that.
In 1986, precisely one senator was willing to say, we as a country should keep legal handgun rounds that are specifically designed to penetrate body armor. Cop-killing bullets are too important to America. There was one senator who was willing to say that.
There are policy measures that Americans of every part of the political spectrum have long agreed should be used to stop or prevent some level of gun mayhem in the United States of America. I don‘t care about the common wisdom. This is not an unregulatable field. Who is going to stand up against not only that common wisdom, right?
But who is going to stand up, who is going to be the one—who is going to be the one to stand up against Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy and Senator Frank Lautenberg‘s bill to fix what elapsed in 2004? A bill that says, no, we‘re not going to relitigate the whole assault weapons ban, we know we can‘t win on that issue now, but at least let‘s go back to making high-capacity magazines for handguns illegal. At least let‘s go back to stopping Jared Loughner at 15 bullets instead of 30 before he had to reload.
This fix has already been written off as absolutely impossible! Not going anywhere! You cannot debate this sort of thing in America! The common wisdom says, no, this is going nowhere, don‘t even bother introducing it. Common wisdom says it is impossible. America is incapable of solving this problem or even talking about solving this problem.
You know what? This is not impossible. This is, quite literally, the least we can do. Who is going to oppose this? Who is going to be the Dick Cheney of this one? Twenty years later, if they survive in politics, still answering questions about how on earth they could vote against something like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSSERT: If it was a clean vote, would you authorize money to ban cop killer bullets and ban plastic weapons?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There is precisely one argument in favor of gun control that is nationally known in this country. There is precisely one case for gun control, one proposal for policy to stop gun violence, to reduce the number of Americans killed by guns that is nationally famous.
That was—it was the one thing that people can repeat to one another. It‘s the one thing that people know, even if they know nothing else about the subject. It was made by somebody who is a household name.
It is repeated from person to person. It has been passed down as a good argument, even beyond the immediate reach of the person who made the original case, or beyond the case of people who heard the case as it was originally proposed. It has taken on a life of its own.
It is a national phenomenon, in terms of policy about stopping gun violence. That one argument, that case for policy to stop gun violence, the one that anybody in the country, if you ask them, has likely heard of, I am not kidding, is this famous comedy riff from Chris Rock.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS ROCK, COMEDIAN: Everybody talking about gun control, got to get rid of the guns. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) that. I like guns.
You got a gun, you don‘t have to work out.
ROCK: I ain‘t working out. I ain‘t jogging. You got pecs, I got Tecs.
ROCK: Oh, man. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) you don‘t need no gun control. You know what we need? We need some bullet control. We need to control the bullets. That‘s right.
I think all bullets should cost $5,000.
ROCK: Five thousand dollars for a bullet. You know why? Because if a bullet costs $5,000, there‘d be no more innocent bystanders.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
ROCK: Every time somebody gets shot, it would be like, dang, he must have did |something. That‘s $50,000 worth of bullets in him.
People would think before they killed somebody if a bullet cost $5,000. Man, I would blow your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) head off, if I can afford it.
ROCK: I‘m going to get me another job. I‘m going to start saving some money, and you a dead man! You better hope I can‘t get no bullets on layaway.
So, even if you get shot by a stray bullet, you‘re not going to have to go no doctor to take it out. Whoever shot you will take that bullet back. I believe you got my property!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Ladies and gentlemen, America‘s only nationally known spokesperson for gun control, Chris Rock. That is the one thing you can Google online about public policy to stop gun violence that will not take you down a 100 percent “pry it from my cold dead hands,” unreadable, all caps, guns forever rabbit hole. It is comedy.
Everyone says that making or even debating public policy against gun crime is impossible. There‘s no way that America can solve this huge problem that we have. We are helpless. Our hands are 100 percent tied. We have zero options. That is the common wisdom.
I do not think that is true. No, I don‘t think the $5,000 bullet idea heard around the world is going to fly, but here‘s an idea. You see all those little hieroglyphically-looking markings. Those are laser engraved on the backside of a bullet.
It‘s an idea called ammunition coding. The idea is that you give every round of ammunition a unique fingerprint at the time it‘s manufactured. Then if that ammunition is used in a crime, law enforcement will be able to trace the origin of the ammunition.
It does not stop crimes before it happens, obviously, but it gives law enforcement a leg up to solving crimes if they do happen. It doesn‘t ban anything. It doesn‘t impinge on anybody‘s rights to fire as many bullets as they want to. It is a way of solving gun crimes.
Are we so incapable of responding to gun crime that we can‘t even implement an idea like that?
Bullet coding legislation has been considered by a number of states in recent years. And that‘s just one example of something that seems politically possible, even now, even in America. If we want to take on the American problem of gun massacres, the uniquely American torrent of gun murders—if we want to take that on and we want to deny the common wisdom that we are powerless as a nation before this problem, what are our options?
Joining us now is a man who is living that challenge every day, actually doing it with some success, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, my friend, Cory Booker.
Cory, it‘s good to see you.
MAYOR CORY BOOKER, NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: Good to see you, Rachel. How are you?
MADDOW: I‘m good. I‘m sorry to lead into you with Chris Rock, but I do think that‘s the one argument people have heard about gun control that they can repeat.
BOOKER: Right. But I think what he does, and he is a sort of social commentary expert, is that we had a horrible tragedy in Arizona, but every single day in America, 34 people, as many people got killed at Virginia Tech, we have a massacre every day spread out throughout the United States. Someone was shot in Newark today.
And there are steps we can take. And I have to say, there is a bipartisan coalition, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, who are just tired of this unbelievably tragic yet ridiculous reality. There are sensible laws that we can pass, that the majority of gun owners in America, when you poll them—Frank Luntz had a poll, polled gun owners, upwards of 80 percent were agreeing with sensible gun laws that we just can‘t get through Congress.
MADDOW: What kind of laws? What kind of things would people who own guns even support?
BOOKER: It‘s outrageous that you can‘t go to a criminal—can‘t go to a gun retailer and buy a gun, but there‘s gun shows all across America. And if you are a terrorist on a terrorist watch list, if you are a criminal, you are a spousal abuser, you don‘t have to show any background check whatsoever, you can load up a trunk of a car. We‘ve got to end the gun show loophole.
There‘s other things we can do. For example, right now, there‘s something called the fire sale law. And that if you shut down a retailer for selling guns illegally, to people not doing a background check, they can then take their entire inventory and sell it once they‘ve been closed down without doing a background check.
These laws that we have in America, that most sensible people, right and left, would agree that need to be changed are the source of thousands of guns that move around America. We call it the iron pipeline here on the East Coast because they come from states with very lax gun laws, like Virginia. And it sources guns in Philly, New York, Newark, New Haven, and all the way up the iron pipeline.
MADDOW: In terms of how you have dealt with this in Newark—when you became mayor of Newark, what did you see as the options available to you—in terms of policy options, in terms of ways to practice law enforcement in your city that would make a practical difference?
BOOKER: Well, first of all, let me tell you, I have a tough cop who‘s the head of my police department. And before I came on the show, he was literally screaming at me about the need to get some of this crazy stuff off our streets, these high magazines that unleash a terror within my community.
MADDOW: The number of bullets, the high capacity magazines?
BOOKER: The number of bullets, the kind of—the kind of armament we get off. And please understand, there‘s something that people need to know -- in my entire four years of Newark, we‘ve had hundreds of unfortunate people have shot. But only one time have I seen a shooting in my city by someone who bought a gun legally.
What we are seeing right now is because of the easy access to these unbelievable weapons of mass destruction, when you pull a trigger and can let go of that many bullets within a second or two, these weapons of mass destruction is, if there are things that we should be advocating policy wise that could begin to restrict the ability of criminals to get their hands on these guns. And that‘s what‘s most frustrating to me.
Look, the outrage we‘re having in America right now is understandable and it‘s gut-wrenching what we saw go on. But what people don‘t understand, day after day, this is happening all over our country. And people are not standing up and saying, together, we should do something about this.
It is horrifying to go into neighborhoods and talk to kids—kids who can tell you about guns and armament, because they‘re so easily accessible. And they‘re easily accessible because we have Swiss cheese gun laws that allow criminals to get them.
And so, right now from Congress not even appointing a new head of the ATF, which is ridiculous, it‘s been head up for the longest time, leadership matters, to improving our national instant check system, where there‘s so many holes in our ability and gaps and failures to do background checks, we‘re not really funding what really it would take to have a 21st century system. To even looking at ways to make sure that we close the loopholes between—close the gaps between federal agency, state agencies, and local authorities to communicate with each other to make sure—Fort Hood is a great example, where the FBI was not communicating with the military.
And in this case, we often have, with the military in Arizona, not communicating with the FBI or others about critical information that could put people on lists that would ban them from being able to buy guns.
I‘m not worried, and frankly, we could debate this—I‘m not worried about the people, the law-abiding citizens in my city owning guns. I‘m worried about how easily criminals can get their hands on guns in America right now.
And by the way, we‘re also sourcing weapons in other countries. I mean, Mexican gang wars that do affect our country. The weapons going even down there are coming from areas in the United States, because it‘s so easy to buy guns if you‘re a criminal.
MADDOW: It‘s—I think that when we start thinking about the politics and the possible around gun issues, what you‘re identifying there, which is not even necessarily changing the laws about what is legal to buy, but making sure what is illegal is actually unavailable, just enforcement questions, that is one of the things that I think blows out of the water—excuse the phrase—but the common wisdom that we can‘t move forward, we can‘t find anything to agree on. I think there‘s a lot of room to politically to agree on enforcement.
BOOKER: Right. And for a nation this strong, this great of a country, to tolerate such levels of fear within our communities of real violence, such tragedies gone on our country every single day—for us to accept that is not American in my opinion. We‘re a greater country this. We can deal with this level of violence, and we can make it a thing of the past in our country if we come together and do what‘s sensible and reasonable.
MADDOW: It‘s too important to give up on.
Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey—it is always good to see you, my friend. Thanks for your good work.
BOOKER: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: There is a connection between what was going to be voted on in Congress this week and the reason that that is not happening, the reason that Congress adjourned. That‘s coming up next.
MADDOW: Stories like the shooting in Tucson have a way of seeming like they just happened on the one hand. On the other hand, they seem like they‘re the only story the world has ever known and that will be the only story that matters in perpetuity.
But I can tell you for the record that this story has been going on just long enough for the first round of stuff posted on the Internet about it to get fact-checked also by the Internet.
Exhibit A, the bullpucky contention that suspect, Jared Loughner, is a registered Republican. This was posted online, was supposed to be the proof, this voter registration document that broke loose from its moorings and went floating around the sea of confusion.
The way you can tell this is not real - the way you can tell that Jared Loughner isn‘t proved by this to have been a registered Republican is, as the folks on the hotly conservative Web site, “Free Republic” point out, is that whoever Photoshopped this fake registration for Mr. Loughner managed to misspell “Tucson” as “Tuscon.” That‘s the spelling they use for tourists, not the people who live there.
Also, the Pima County registrar‘s office says Mr. Loughner registered in 2006 as an Independent, last voted in 2008, and is now listed as inactive.
Working from the other side of the political spectrum, there‘s the bullpucky contention based on evidence from Jared Loughner‘s own supposed YouTube profile, that Jared Loughner is a communist.
Guess which book‘s on Mr. Loughner‘s list of books the conservatives have wanted to most talk about on TV?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, what we know about this individual, for example, is that he was reading Karl Marx and reading Hitler and burning the American flag.
GLENN BECK, HOST, “THE GLENN BECK SHOW”: His favorite books include “The Communist Manifesto” - oh, and “Mein Kampf.” It‘s almost like there‘s no difference between the two to these guys.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: To these guys. All the other people like Jared Loughner. Just like there‘s no difference for this one guy, this one evidently disturbed 22-year-old guy.
There‘s no difference between him and those books and “The Wizard of Oz,” which was also on his list or “Peter Pan,” which he puts right before “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which is followed by conservative hero‘s “Ayn Rand‘s” first novel, “We the Living” or “The Phantom Tollbooth,” which is a chapter book with little pictures.
Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, the Republican‘s new Chair of the Education Committee, looked at that list of books and told her local paper, quote, “This guy appears communist. His beliefs are the liberal of the liberals.”
“Phantom Tollbooth,” really? And you know, if Ayn Rand is a liberal, then somewhere, tonight, Sen. Rand Paul is having a huge fight with his book shelf.
Anyone who tells you that this kid, who is accused in this crime, is a Nazi or a communist or a liberal or a conservative or anything else based on the utterly random list of books he put on his YouTube profile, that person is not giving you analysis that you should bank on, to say the least, OK?
I know it‘s a big story, but the facts, the real facts are still worth seeking out. It matters.
MADDOW: In February of 1990, the son of now Arizona Governor Jan Brewer was found not guilty by reason of insanity of sexual assault and kidnapping.
He was committed at that time to the Arizona State Hospital, where he has spent most of the past 20 years. Jan Brewer, herself, is nationally famous for a lot of other reasons now, including the state‘s anti-immigration law she signed last year.
But for decades, as a public servant, Jan Brewer was a real champion of Mental Health Services in the State of Arizona. As a state legislator, she pushed for money in the state hospital‘s budget to cover a new schizophrenia drug.
As Secretary of State, she pushed for an online medical directory system that made it easier for Arizonians to turn over power of attorney to relatives for both physical and mental health needs.
One of Jan Brewer‘s first acts as governor was to restore almost $9 million that had been cut from a mental healthcare and drug treatment program.
When Arizona‘s budget imploded and the state made the decision to try to close their budget gap through cutting the services that the state offers, one of the things that was absolutely gutted in the State of Arizona was what Jan Brewer had fought for decades to protect and augment - the system to treat and care for and control people with serious mental illness in that state.
When she signed of on the $36 million cut in mental health coverage for her state, just for this year, Jan Brewer said this, quote, “It was one of the hardest things I‘ve ever done in my career.”
Over the past two fiscal years, mental health coverage for people who don‘t quality for Medicaid in Arizona has been cut by about half.
Since Jared LOUGHNER was arrested after the Arizona shootings on Saturday, there‘s been no official word of any formal mental health assessment of him, either as a criminal suspect or just as a human.
But the reporting is deep and wide, describing what seems like irrational writings and beliefs and behavior by Mr. Loughner. There are numerous reports by people who interacted with him in person, and who had the feeling that he was mentally ill.
Even though behavior that seemed crazy reportedly cost Mr. Loughner his job at a fast food restaurant, his volunteer position at an animal shelter, and his place at a community college, all recently, there is no evidence yet that he received any mental health treatment or that anybody formally referred him to mental health services, let alone committed him to them against his will.
Would those services have been available had anybody tried hard enough to get Jared Loughner into them? To the extent that they might have been state provided, state-funded services, the answer is that it would have been a lot less likely or the care itself would have been a lot less comprehensive this year than would have been true even two years ago in Arizona.
Did his family, did the people who came into contact with him, have any options to get him into mental health care? If they did have options, did they know they had them?
The U.S. House of Representatives is not in session, as we expected it to be, anyway, this week. Tomorrow, the House will consider a resolution honoring the victims and survivors of Saturday‘s shooting in Tucson, and then the house will adjourn.
So because the house is not really in session this week, they will not be working on what was on their schedule this week, which was a vote to repeal health reform.
According to our next guest, one of the provisions of health reform is all about making really, totally sure that health insurance companies have to offer the same coverage for mental illness that they do for physical illness.
If your insurance covers your body, it should also cover your mind. It‘s a concept called mental health parody. It was pursued in legislation that was championed by Tipper Gore in 1996.
It was greatly strengthened in 2008 in a measure signed by President George W. Bush. And in health reform, that previous legislation finally came to maturity. The loopholes were closed. It was codified in black and white. Health reform made mental health parody law of the land.
And what that means is that in Jared Loughner‘s home, and in every home across the country, everybody with health insurance is due now to receive a notice, making clear to everybody who has health insurance that if you are insured for a broken leg, you can also get help for mental illness.
That notice also provides information on ways to know if that person receiving the notice or a family member might need to access mental health care services. Overtly notifying everybody in the country that they have mental health options, that is part of health reform. For horrible reasons, there is no chance of that or the rest of health reform getting repealed this week.
Joining us now is former Congressman, Patrick Kennedy, Democrat of Rhode Island, the son, of course, of the late Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and a longtime mental health advocate. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.
FMR. REP. PATRICK KENNEDY (D-RI), MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCATE: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Did I correctly characterize there what the health reform legislation would do with the law that you worked to get passed back in 2008?
KENNEDY: Rachel, you did characterize it, because, frankly, in the health care fight, it‘s, do we have a sick care system or do we have a health care system?
Do we only take people after they get ill, or do we try to keep them from getting ill in the first place? And that should apply whether it‘s heart attack or diabetes, or it should apply when you have a mental illness.
People don‘t have to suffer the symptoms and the society suffers these consequences of these symptoms if we treat it first. And that is the message we need to get out.
And, frankly, I think if anything comes of this, and I doubt we can find any silver lining, but if there is any, we should commit ourselves to making sure this doesn‘t happen again. And tragically, we keep telling ourselves we don‘t want it to happen again. And yet, it happens again and again and again.
And the reason is, Rachel, is because of the discrimination and the stigma that occurs when it comes to the brain and mental illness, because people don‘t think of it as an organ in the body, traditional to every other organ, and they don‘t think of it in medical terms.
But we know the medicine, we know - we‘re learning about the neuro-circuitry. We have to diagnose these illnesses and we have to treat them. And ultimately, if we do enough research, we can cure these illnesses.
MADDOW: In terms of public policy to address mental illness effectively, there doesn‘t seem to be any evidence that Jared Loughner, this alleged gunman in Arizona, ever had any interaction with the mental health system.
If he did have mental health issues, as seems possible, if not likely, given what we know about his recent past, should we still think of the system as having failed him if he never actually participated in the system?
KENNEDY: Now, this, again, goes to the big picture. We all have a community responsibility to the Jared Loughners. Because if we don‘t take care of him, look at the consequences on these families.
Look at the consequences on their - living their whole lives now without their loved ones. So this is not something that if we turn away from, it will go away. We‘re better off turning towards someone who needs help.
If someone falls on the side of the street, we go and we instinctively help them up. If we see someone with a heart attack, we try to ask for help. But if someone‘s acting strange with a mental illness, we often turn the other direction.
The thing that we can learn from this is that unless we turn towards that person and get them the support they need, we can‘t hope in a way that somehow they‘ll come back and they‘ll be all right.
We need to make sure they‘re all right because the devastating consequence are families that are suffering tonight because of that tragic act.
MADDOW: Congressman, with states right now facing horrible budget situations all across the country, one of the things that is often first on the chopping block are mental health services.
Is there a case to be made about the wisdom of maintaining investments in these things, or even increasing investments in these things at a time of fiscal austerity?
KENNEDY: Well, look at our criminal justice system. We‘re spending all this money. We‘re going to prosecute this fellow. We‘re going to do all this.
Most of so many crimes that could have been prevented by proper mental health intervention, at a fraction of the dollars that it‘s going to cost for us to prosecute, litigate, and incarcerate this tragic perpetrator who was identified, many times before, as needing help.
But, again, as a society, we don‘t turn towards him to help him, because it‘s stigmatized. There‘s a discrimination against people who act strangely. So if their illness is in the head as opposed to their heart, we treat them differently.
Until society changes its attitude towards these illnesses, we‘re never going to be able to codify, Rachel, or pass more budgets that will address this. It‘s an attitudinal challenge that our country has now that it has to come to grips with.
And frankly, Rachel, as you pointed out with Gov. Brewer, she has it in her family. There isn‘t a family in America that doesn‘t have people suffering from mental illness. And it‘s about time we take away the stigma and we address this as the physical illness that it is.
If we treat people, we won‘t have these kinds of tragedies, or at least, we‘ll have less of them. And I think you could tell every family out there who‘s suffered as a victim, that wouldn‘t it be nice if there were less people who had to suffer these tragedies.
MADDOW: Patrick Kennedy, former Rhode Island congressman and a staunch mental health advocate, thank you for joining us tonight, sir. It‘s nice to have you here.
KENNEDY: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: President Obama will address a memorial gathering in the country tomorrow. What the president might say that could help the people listening is next, with our friend, the Rev. Welton Gaddy. Please stay with us.
MADDOW: Tomorrow there will be a memorial service in Arizona that is expected to be attended by President Obama. We do not yet know what the president will choose to say to the country about the shooting on Saturday.
But everyone expecting him to address the issue of the political climate in the country, the issue of civility, should consider that the president has done that recently.
He did it not long ago, in May, a few weeks after members of Congress, including Gabriel Giffords, had their windows smashed in, in the wake of the vote for health care reform.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it. You can question somebody‘s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism.
Throwing around phrases like “socialists,” “Soviet-style takeover” and “fascists” and “right-wing nut” - that may grab headlines, but it also has the effect of comparing our government, our political opponents, to authoritarian, even murderous regimes.
This kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines Democratic deliberation. It prevents learning since, after all, why should we listen to a fascist or a socialist or a right-wing nut or a left-wing nut?
It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out. It robs us of rational and serious debate, the one we need to have about the very real and very big challenges facing this nation.
It coarsens our culture. And at its worst, it can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response.
(END VIDEO CLIP) b
MADDOW: Joining us now is the person in the world who I genuinely I want to talk with, when I want to talk with someone about important things like this.
He is Rev. Welton Gaddy, pastor of the Northminster Baptist Church in Monroe, Louisiana and head of the Interfaith Alliance. Welton, thank you so much for being here.
REV. WELTON GADDY, PRESIDENT, INTERFAITH ALLIANCE: Glad to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: What do you think is the right role for the president at a time like this, when the country is turning to faith and to quiet reflection as much as it‘s turning to debate and discussion in the wake of this disaster?
GADDY: Rachel, I think the president has a tremendous challenge in front of him. I think he needs to identify with the families that are hurting so badly. He needs to show empathy for them.
He needs sensitivity toward that city and that state. I‘ve talked with some people in Tucson. And almost invariably, I hear we‘re terribly grieved and terribly angry.
I think the president, though, at the bottom line role, has to be the chief executive officer of the United States and talk in very specific terms about how people can find hope at a time when they are scared, when they‘re angry, when they don‘t know where to turn next, and when they really do border on a kind of paranoia.
In some instances, if you read presidential history, you will see presidents who have tried to take on the role of a religious leader, a kind-of-pastor in chief instead of commander-in-chief. That‘s not what we need here.
We have religious leaders. There are religious dimensions to this. But we need President Obama to be straightforward in saying not just this is a bad time, that we‘ve got to be good to each other. He‘s got to define civility.
He‘s got to talk about how we reach across the aisle. He‘s got to talk about the way in which government itself is dying in terms of democratic process unless we learn to talk with each other with dignity and respect.
And he‘s got to be clear that the rule of law will exist side by side with the protection of people‘s civil rights and with individuals‘ access to health care for both mental and physical concerns.
MADDOW: Welton, I don‘t know if the president will address the issue of civility tomorrow. I think it‘s possible that the White House will think that could be seen as an implicit argument from the president that this killer was politically motivated. We don‘t actually know that at this point.
GADDY: Right. That‘s correct.
MADDOW: I‘ve got to say, though, I am personally also not sure that I want effort spent to make our political dialogue more civil. I want people to stop threatening to shoot each other, whether they do it civilly or not.
Whether or not people are rude or intemperate, I literally just want the threat to violence to stop. That‘s where I sort of draw the line in terms of responsibility. Where are you on that on that issue?
GADDY: Well, I‘m first at the point of defining civility. Civility is not just good etiquette. It is not just being passive. It‘s respecting the other person‘s point of view. It‘s not looking at someone different from you and saying because they‘re different, they‘re wrong or they‘re evil.
I look at American history. And the times we‘ve been at our best, Rachel, are times when debates were profoundly hot, heated. The debates took on all kinds of conflicting issues, but the people in the debate could walk out of the room and put their arms around each other and say, “We‘re both Americans. We‘re both trying to do the right thing.”
We‘ve got to get back to that or we‘re going to continue to lose people in the streets and our democracy itself.
MADDOW: Rev. Welton Gaddy, head of the Interfaith Alliance and one of the wisest people I know. Welton, thanks so much, as always.
GADDY: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: We will be right back.
MADDOW: MSNBC will televise tomorrow‘s memorial service in Tucson in its entirety without commercial interruption beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. “THE LAST WORD” will air as usual at 10:00. Keith will host a special live edition of “COUNTDOWN” at 11:00. And we‘ll be back with a special edition of our show at midnight Eastern. We hope you‘ll tune in.
Now, it‘s time for “THE LAST WORD” with Lawrence O‘Donnell. Good evening, Lawrence.
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