December 22, 2012
Guests: Mark Glaze, Joe Watkins, Anthea Butler, Dr. Sudeepta Varma, Dr. Jonathan Metzl, Chris Stedman, Serene Jones, Kerry Washington, Jamie Foxx, Michael Skolnik
JOY REID, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question, does the focus on
mental health take us away from the real debate about guns?
Plus, "Django" the "n" word and what all the fuss is about.
And move over Santa. This year, send your letters to Hasbro if you
want to change the world.
But first, following the gun massacre in Newtown, the NRA finally
speaks. You simply had to hear it to believe it.
Good morning. I`m Joy Reid in today for the lovely Melissa Harris-
Perry. And today, I am almost speechless because yesterday, the leading
political force behind pro-gun policy, the National Rifle Association,
broke their silence with a flabbergasting, yet predictable response to the
tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. The NRA`s executive vice president Wayne
LaPierre made his assessment plain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: The only way to stop
a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested
in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with
a gun is a good guy with a gun.
(END VIDEO LIP)
REID: In the seven days that have passed since 20 adults -- I mean
since 20 children and seven adults lost their lives in Newtown, the country
has been immersed in a national dialogue, not only to explain this
inexplicable event, but to achieve a legislative response that will make
our country safer. The NRA`s contribution? More guns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAPIERRE: I call on Congress today to act immediately to appropriate
whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school
in this nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: And given the NRA`s track record, this is no idle chatter from
a grandstanding lobbyist. This is what they do best. For most of the NRA`s
history, the organization acted chiefly as a sporting and hunting
association. In the first 100 plus years of its existence, the NRA stuck
to training and marksmanship. And while they have had a legislative
affairs division since the 1930s, it wasn`t until the mid 1970s that the
organization made a radical turn into politics. Since 1980, 44 states have
passed some form of law advocated by the NRA that allows gun owners to
carry concealed weapons. Just in the past four years across 37 states, the
NRA and its allies have helped to pass 99 laws making guns easier to own,
to carry in public, and harder to track. The group has helped pass legal
gems like allowing gun owners in Kansas to carry concealed weapons in
elementary schools, and extending gun permits in Nebraska to people who
have pled guilty to a violent crime. And while it`s illegal in most states
to drink and drive, in eight states, you can bring your gun to the bar.
And thanks to the NRA, you can now carry a firearm on an Amtrak train or to
a family trip to a national park.
Not only has the NRA been the primary force responsible for blocking
gun control legislation, it has also been leading the charge to weaken
accountability in the gun manufacturing industry. In 2005 at the urging of
the NRA, Congress passed a law that specifically shields gun manufacturers
from lawsuits seeking to hold them accountable for crimes committed by the
weapons they produce and sell. Perhaps it`s not the laws the NRA has
helped pass are as much of a concern as the ones they have effectively
Last year, a legislative proposal was made in Connecticut to make it a
felony to own high capacity magazines with more than ten bullets. But as
part of a campaign organized by the NRA and other gun advocates, opponents
to the law swamped state legislatures with 30,000 letters and e-mails and
showed up en masse to a committee hearing to oppose the law. Gun makers
warned that the billion-dollar firearms industry would move its jobs
elsewhere if the bill passed, and in the end, not surprisingly, the
So last Friday, in Newtown, Connecticut, Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster
AR-15 rifle with still legal magazines holding not ten, but 30 rounds, to
kill those 26 souls at Sandy Hook elementary.
With me at the table today is Anthea Butler, professor of religious
studies at the University of Pennsylvania. MSNBC contributor Ari Melber of
"The Nation" magazine. Joe Watkins, Republican strategist and former aide
to President George H.W. Bush, and Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against
Illegal Guns. So that was a lot, a lot to deal with, a lot of history of
the NRA. And it`s interesting because in the history of the NRA, it used
to be, as I said, sort of a sporting and hunting organization, training.
They actually used to support gun control legislation.
Let`s talk about what changed, and Mark, I know you are an expert in
this. What changed about the NRA itself in terms of its advocacy that made
it an opponent of gun control?
MARK GLAZE, MAYORS AGAINST ILLEGAL GUNS: Well, there -- thanks for asking,
first of all. I think it`s kind of the lingering question underneath gun
policy. Why doesn`t Congress, why don`t state legislatures do more? The
easy answer is a mythology has developed about the ability of the NRA to
kick elected officials out of office that is almost entirely untrue but is
totally devastating to the work we`re trying to do. And so this is a
moment that we can draw attention to that.
What happened over a period of decades is that there were power
struggles within the organization, and finally, early in the 1990s, their
then high-ranking official finally sort of said what a lot of folks in the
NRA had felt for a long time, which was we should not be talking about gun
policy issues as matters of protecting the right to go out and hunt or
protecting yourself. This ultimately is about the right of free people to
hold guns in their houses or wherever they want because eventually the
government might make a list, check it twice, and then come and take them
And ever since then, you`ve seen the organization not at the
membership level but at the leadership level become more radicalized.
After they won the Supreme Court case identifying a right to own a gun in
your home for self-defense, the question I think for them was well, what do
we do now? Do you fold up a $240 million a year organization? Does Wayne
LaPierre give up his $1.4 million a year salary? No. They have
methodically gone from state legislature to state legislature, chipping
away at modest restrictions that most NRA members support. So he has a
huge problem, I think, based on that bizarre press conference, with the
membership of the NRA, which is actually quite reasonable.
REID: Right. And, Ari, I want to get obviously first of all your
reaction to the press conference of the NRA the other day, but then as an
attorney, to sort of talk about that turn, because it is sort of a unique
kind of feature of the idea of the Constitution, that you have this unique,
you know, the individual right to bear arms. Because historically, there`s
been lots of gun legislation. You know, I was reading about sort of even
the battle at the OK Corral and all of these other fights back in the Wyatt
Earp days, when you had to check your gun in at the sheriff`s office. And
that was perfectly reasonable, and people believed that that was settled
law. It was sort of a novel turn in our idea of the Constitution in the
`80s and `90s that you had this individual right to bear arms.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. We`ve had what can only be
described as a radical jurisprudential shift in the way the courts and the
public understands what was once a collective and fairly measured right to
You make a great point about the Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which
provided this blanket immunity to gun manufacturers, again not gun owners,
gun manufacturers. And that passed by 65 votes in the Senate. That was
the last big federal push, and it was an NRA drafted bill. When I worked
as an aide in the Senate, I found them to be very powerful.
I disagree partly with your analysis about where their power comes
from, although I do think we are in a fundamentally shifting moment.
As to your question on the press conference itself, crazy likes crazy.
Angry likes angry. And that was -- I can`t use some of the words that came
to mind on television when I saw that yesterday. The best thing for people
who care about reasonable gun regulations -- I always say I grew up in a
house with a gun. I am not out to take away everyone`s gun. But the best
thing would be for people to watch that press conference. LaPierre came
out and said everyone`s worried about real guns, you should be worried
about fake guns.
REID: The guns from video games.
MELBER: Right. He showed a video game during the press conference,
and I hope people, if they can, we have a Youtube culture, should get up
and watch the whole press conference. If you`re watching at home and if
you own a gun or you think I don`t want anyone taking my gun, fine. Watch
that press conference and see whether you think that man speaks for you.
Because he was cold, he showed no compassion, he showed no understanding of
where we`re going as a nation right now.
REID: Funny you should ask, funny you should mention that press
conference, because we do actually have a little more sound from it. We
only played one of the bites, but let`s play one more piece of sound. This
is the sound in which Wayne LaPierre explains, to your point, Ari, who`s
really to blame for all of the violence and carnage in our culture, and if
we could play that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAPIERRE: Killers, robbers, rapists, gang members, who have spread
like cancer in every community across our nation.
Through vicious violent video games with names like Bullet Storm,
Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and SplatterHouse. And throughout it all,
too many in the national media, their corporate owners and their
stockholders, act as silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: So he did everything but blame it on the rain. I got to turn
to you, Rev. We just had games from the `90s, movies from the `90s, the
media. He`s blamed everything except the most obvious culprit here, which
is the availability of these weapons of war on our streets. You are, I
hate to isolate you as the one conservative at the table, but how can this
be possible that a political philosophy can be built around blaming
everything but guns?
JOE WATKINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I don`t know that people
who are Republicans stand together on what should be done yet. We`ve just
had a tragedy, just a terrible tragedy that took place a little more than a
week ago, and I think for everybody, whether you`re a Democrat or a
Republican, a conservative, a moderate or a liberal, what you care about is
protecting our kids and making sure that something like this never happens
again, and that we have a policy that is thoughtful and smart and that
protects kids from this kind of sadness ever visiting anybody`s school ever
again, as long as we have a United States of America. And that`s what we
ought to be about.
It`s unfortunate that people might advance policy that isn`t well
thought out or policy that they may think is helpful but that doesn`t
address the tragedy that just took place. I think for me, it`s much bigger
than just, you know, I`m a Republican, so therefore this is what I believe
or I`m a staunch supporter of the NRA -
REID: Does the NRA speak for you at this point? Given what you heard
yesterday from Wayne LaPierre, do they speak for you?
WATKINS: What Wayne LaPierre said yesterday doesn`t speak personally
for me. I`m also a pastor. I also work with a school district. I care
about kids, I care about their safety, and I want more than anything else
to make sure that we have policy, a thoughtful policy, and it takes time
sometimes to think about how we cobble together a policy that will work,
that will protect our kids ultimately.
REID: Quickly, I want to get Anthea Butler`s response.
ANTHEA BUTLER, UNIV. OF PENNSYLVANIA: I would thoughtfully say to the
first part of the Reverend, that we waited a long time to get some policy,
but unfortunately, the NRA and ALEC have been working together to make
different kinds of policy, so the first thing that needs to happen is we
need to put a stop to this constant lobbying and everything that`s been
happening with the NRA so we can just have more guns.
Yesterday was ridiculous. Basically you had this guy -- if he had
just brandished a gun while he was talking, that would have been the end.
That was the accessory that he was missing. But it was there. It was the
one thing he could not say. But it was all over the place. How can you
blame a 1980s level video game for what just happened? It`s just
ridiculous. So yeah, I really feel like there`s time for a change, and to
talk about not making policy changes right now would be very detrimental.
REID: OK. We are going to come right back to those points. We just
have to take a quick break. When we come back, the one thing Wayne
LaPierre said that had all of us scratching our heads.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAPIERRE: The NRA is going to bring all its knowledge, all its
dedication and all its resources to develop a model national school shield
emergency response program for every single school in America that wants
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: That was the NRA`s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre,
laying out the organization`s plan to put its full weight behind a plan to
arm the nation`s schools. The NRA certainly has the resources to put
towards such a plan. In 2010, the organization had $227 million in
revenue. In the last election cycle, the NRA spent more than $18 million
backing pro-gun candidates. But with all that money, the group didn`t have
so much success. Six of the seven NRA-backed candidates lost their bids
for the Senate, and of 26 House incumbents that failed to be re-elected, 18
were NRA favorites. In fact, the Sunlight Foundation named the NRA one of
the most ineffective outside spenders in the 2012 election cycle.
And yet as a single-issue organization, they have long been seen as
one of the most influential policy advocates.
Back with my panel. And before we even get into that question, the
other thing that has changed about the NRA is that their membership, while
it is growing, I think they have like four million members strong, actual
gun ownership in the country is declining, and it has been declining. We
have a graphic that shows the change in gun ownership from the `70s until
today. So back in 1973, one in two households were gun-owning households.
In 2010, that became one in three. In 1980, one in three individuals, one
in three people, had a gun. In 2010, it`s one in five.
So, Mark, it`s actually, we are not becoming a more gun owning
society. It`s not spreading. It`s not broadening. It`s actually
shrinking in numbers, but the people who already have guns are buying more
of them. It`s becoming more regional. It is becoming more prevalent in
the South than the Northeast. We are actually sort of dividing in a lot of
ways that we divide in the election in terms of gun ownership. How does
that impact our ability to make policy when you essentially have two
nations, one gun owning and primarily Southern and one that is withdrawing
from the idea of owning guns?
GLAZE: It`s a serious question, and it`s a good one to talk about not
just on its own merits, but also because it explains where the NRA is
today. In the generation that we, most of us, have been alive, exactly
what you just said happened, happened, which is that as the population
became more urban and less rural, the number of households that have guns
somewhere inside have shrunk, and as a result, the firearms industry has
had to kind of adopt a somewhat different business model, and so has the
NRA -- which used to, by the way, stay far away from the industry. They
were about rights, not about commerce. Not really the case anymore.
But the new model they have adopted is that as you are looking at a
smaller and smaller set of households buying guns, and you`re selling a
durable good -- I have a gun, my dad was a gun dealer, I have guns that my
grandfather had -- you are forced to sell more and more guns to the same
shrinking pot of people, and it makes sense for you to make them more and
more expensive, which usually means military style hardware, in order to
build your business model. And the business model also has to include
whipping up hysteria and fear that the next election is going to bring gun
confiscation. That brings a spike in sales.
REID: And people buy even more. And what`s interesting, too, and
Ari, I mean, I really do see this as almost more of a commerce play.
Ironically, video games like Mortal Kombat - they could have cited some
more recent ones - they actually increase sort of interest in guns and kind
of helps the industry a lot, too.
MELBER: Or he could have cited video games that use weapons, instead
REID: Black Ops?
MELBER: Because Mortal Kombat is mostly unrealistic karate chops,
blood death. It`s a small point, but one of the 12 things that was wrong
with the press conference.
REID: Yes. Absolutely. And I mean, I totally see this as the NRA is
looking out for the industry. They have got to sell more product.
One more little statistic that we might throw in. Mother Jones did a
study where they looked at what kinds of guns, to your point, the semi-
automatics, the things that are being sold, so what kind of guns are mass
shooters choosing to buy off the shelves? What are they looking for?
Semi-automatics. 68 of the mass shootings have been done with semi-
automatic weapons. Assault weapons, 35. Revolvers, 20. Shotguns, 19. So
the NRA which primarily has looked at this as this sort of hunting related
organizations, shotguns, they are going to take your revolver, but we
understand that the problem is the automatic and semi-automatic weapons.
BUTLER: Absolutely. And we can`t talk about guns without talking
about the magazines that go inside the guns. You know, instead of having a
Glock that has maybe six to nine bullets, you have got something that has
30 bullets, right? So you can get an extended magazine and shoot the gun.
If you go out to the gun range, then that means you can rapid fire
repeatedly. How do I know this? I`m from Texas, OK? So on the one hand, I
don`t want to take away guns from people who hunt, who feel as though they
need a gun for protection, but oftentimes what ends up happening is
everybody wants more guns, it`s like the Matrix movie, the first one, where
he says more guns, more guns, more guns. And you can`t hold but one gun at
a time. It`s not like the movies. You can`t shoot them off like Yosemite
Sam. So I really think that we have to have a conversation both about the
kind of gun sales that we`re having, banning assault weapons, and then to
think about closing down these extended magazines and allowing only a
certain number of bullets to be bought at a given time.
REID: OK, we have more people that want to get in on this, but we`re
going to get more on the other side of the break. So just stay right
And up next, the changing attitudes about changing gun laws. Do we
have the political will to find our way?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Columbine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Virginia Tech.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tucson.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aurora.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fort Hood.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oak Creek.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Newtown.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Newtown.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Newtown.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Newtown.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many more?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: That was the new star-studded PSA from the Campaign to Demand a
Plan to End Gun Violence. Here at the table again, Mark Glaze, who is the
director of the organization behind that plan, Mayors Against Illegal Guns,
because part of what I want to talk about now is that while there has not
been the political will on the federal level to achieve comprehensive gun
control legislation, there has been more movement at the state and
municipal level. So, Mark, talk about what you guys have been able to
achieve state by state.
GLAZE: Sure. Well, our organization, which is more than 800 mayors,
has principally focused at the federal level, but over the past couple of
years, as we have identified a major opportunity and a path to victory at
the state level, because there are not a lot of quote/unquote, gun control
groups at the state level, the return on investment -- just a little bit of
attention on state legislslatures can be pretty high.
For example, in Michigan, which is basically a Republican government
top to bottom, which is neither here nor there but also pretty pro-NRA
government from top to bottom, they actually have a pretty good background
check system that extends federal law to require that you get a background
check if you`re going to buy a handgun over the Internet or from an
unlicensed purchaser. The NRA went in with a stealth attack, as they so
often do, and almost got rid of that system. So our mayors, police chiefs,
domestic violence advocates and a bunch of grassroots supporters, kind of
went in there and in a period of three weeks basically turned it around and
handed the NRA a humiliating defeat. A couple of weeks later, the governor
vetoed a bill that would have amazingly - that would have allowed guns in
day care centers and in elementary schools. So states, the federal
government is at a standstill on a lot of things, including guns. We think
we are going to make some progress, and one path to victory is stuff like
REID: And just to show you how effective it has been, a couple of
remarkable pieces of data. Let`s look at the states that have the strong
gun laws versus the states that have weak gun laws. You can see that most
of those states that have strong gun laws are blue states. A lot of them
are in the northeast. If you look at the states that have the weakest gun
laws, many of those states are in the south. And now if we go to a map
that superimposes that data, remarkable sort of superimposition of strong
versus weak gun laws versus gun deaths, and you can see those states in
red, the redder they get means that they have the higher levels of gun
deaths. So a state like Louisiana, for instance, where our wonderful host,
Melissa Harris-Perry, lives, have the weakest gun laws and the highest
number of gun deaths.
So you know, I want to ask you, Reverend Joe Watkins, given that that
is a fact, that`s the data, do you think that the political will after
Newtown will be there to actually get some of these weak gun law states to
see the light?
WATKINS: I think there will be political will to do something about
it. Nobody wants to see a tragedy like this happen again. And I think
everybody, again, regardless of your political party or inclination, wants
to make sure that our kids are protected. And also, that guns don`t end up
in the hands of people who might commit these kinds of atrocities.
Also, you know, I`d like to see the conversation change in the
country, because right now, we have a conversation that is so contumacious,
so combative with people who may not see it the way we see it.
What I want to see is a gun policy that works for everybody, that
protects our young people, protects innocent people, and puts nobody at
risk. And I want that to be thoughtful and smart and well done, and done
in a collaborative way. Part of the way you do that is not by if Wayne
LaPierre comes out with a press conference that -- with which many of us
may disagree, that we don`t have to call him crazy. What we can say is,
let`s, maybe he`s not well informed. Maybe he could be better informed.
REID: Well, maybe we can give him some information too, because it
isn`t just Newtown. Go ahead.
MELBER: I respectfully disagree to the extent that we are telling
stories to America about America, and the gun lobby has very effectively
told a story about the frontier, about protection, about protecting our
children. I understand where that comes from, and that comes from a deep
WATKINS: But this is the 21st century. In the 21st century, we have
to deal with what`s happening now. We have had too many atrocities in the
last couple of years, and the narrative has changed. So we`ve got to deal
with that going forward. We can`t be glued to the past or whatever has
been in the past. Leadership is about saying, you know what, how do we
take people who don`t agree with us and have them work with us to protect
MELBER: That`s where I`m going, which is how do we protect our
children in this environment based on what we know. And I think we have to
take the mantle of security from the NRA -- they have been telling a story
about how guns make you safer. I think Joy just gave us some national data
about how depending on how you regulate guns, they may make you much less
safe. So as a community, as a community, as a nation and a community, we
have to think seriously about that. And I`m going to just use a prop. You
said we shouldn`t call Mr. LaPierre crazy. The "New York Post," which is
owned by Rupert Murdoch, has the front page today calling him "gun nut."
REID: Of course, Rupert Murdoch, who is now for gun control--
MELBER: Now, this is important, not because any of us want to make
him subhuman or really hurt him, but this is coming from a conservative
place where many conservatives are standing up and saying it is nutty. It
GLAZE: A point that we try to make a lot, and that our mayors make,
many of whom are gun owners, all of whom support the Second Amendment, is
that you have to make a distinction between NRA members and the NRA
leadership. We had Frank Luntz do a poll of NRA members. He`s no
shrinking daisy or a crazy lefty like some of you. And ...
REID: And I think it`s a great point. I just want to show one quick
thing before we go to another break. There was an amazing home page, "The
Huffington Post" had, because we have been talking about the mass
shootings, were talking about the individual deaths. This is just since
Newtown. Take a look at that. That is how many people have died in gun
crimes since then.
BUTLER: And this is what we have to come to grips with -- how many
people have died, how many people are going to continue to die, how many
people could be maimed and put in wheelchairs. When are we going to stop
this mess. And I want to just say one thing about what you talked about,
this history we`re in the 21st century. Wayne LaPierre looked like he was
back in the 19th century, OK?
REID: Right. Right.
BUTLER: That conversation was a conversation that was disingenuous,
stupid, and he tried to play at the rest of America. But we will not be
REID: All right. We are giving Anthea the last word, I think that was an
excellent point to end this segment. And I want to thank Mark Glaze. The
rest are back for more.
And up next, my letter to Senate designate Tim Scott, who is poised to
make history, but will he make a difference?
REID: We`ve been talking about last week`s tragic shooting in
Newtown, Connecticut, that has consumed us as a nation, and has led to a
renewed call for action on gun control. Finding common ground on gun
policy will be tough, but necessary. So this week`s letter is addressed to
the man headed to the U.S. Senate who will either decide to compromise on
gun control laws or stand in the way. Dear Senate Designate Tim Scott,
it`s me, Joy Reid. Man, you definitely made some history in the deep south
on Monday when Republican Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina appointed
you to fill out two years of retiring Senator Jim DeMint`s term. You`ll be
the first black senator from the south since reconstruction, the first
African-American Republican Senator in more than three decades, and only
the seventh African-American to serve as a U.S. Senator. While your
appointment is seen by some as a measure of progress, others have called
you a mere token. Elevated only to show that the GOP has gotten the
diversity memo it missed this past election. So Mr. Scott, let`s move past
whether the discussion is of the historic nature of your appointment and
let`s talk about you. Let`s talk about your reaction to the deadly
shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TIM SCOTT (R ), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think the solutions are not
necessarily in new legislation. Perhaps the solution starts with us
examining the mental condition of the person and the persons in the past
that have had the desire to create the atrocities that we`ve seen recently.
We should also look at an opportunity for us to engage this entire culture
of moral decay and of violence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Wow. OK. Let me get this straight. No new legislation? You
saw nothing about the shooting in Connecticut that should lead to new
legislation? I only ask because I know you are, in fact, a fan of
legislation, especially when it comes to guns. You were first elected to
Congress just two years ago and yet, you`ve already co-sponsored at least
four pieces of legislation on guns. Number one, House Bill 3814, which
would prevent gun dealers from informing law enforcement about individuals
making multiple gun purchases. Number two, the national-right-to-carry
reciprocity act of 2011, which would make it possible for people to carry
concealed firearms in almost every state. Number three, protecting gun
owners in bankruptcy act of 2011, because people filing bankruptcy should
be able to exempt $3,000 from their property list for their guns, according
to you. And number four, the Second Amendment enforcement act that, if
passed, would take away the ability from Washington, D.C. to determine its
own gun laws. Perhaps it should be no surprise you, the card carrying
member of the NRA who rode to victory with Tea Party backing, made your
position clear when you first ran for Congress, saying quote, "I stand
strongly in support of our Second Amendment rights.
The Constitution grants South Carolinians the right to defend
themselves and their families and I will continue fighting to ensure that
right is not weakened in any way. Really, congressman, all of this when of
the 142 guns used by the perpetrators of the 62 mass murders since 1982 in
this country, three-quarters of those guns were obtained legally. All of
this when in 2008 and 2009, gun deaths were the leading cause of death
among black teens. Let`s be clear. Even though you stand to be the only
African-American senator in 2013, this is not about race. You said when
you chose not to join the Congressional Black Caucus that your campaign was
never about race, and that`s fine. You will be the senator representing
the great state of South Carolina, not the state of African Americans. But
I do hope that as a senator, you`ll prove those who call you a token wrong,
and that you`re not just a new face touting the grand old party line.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAPIERRE: Dozen more killers, a hundred more? How can we possibly
even guess how many given our nation`s refusal to create an active national
database of the mentally ill. The fact is this. That wouldn`t even begin
to address the much larger, more lethal criminal class.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: That was the -- that was the NRA`s Wayne LaPierre yesterday
drawing an artificial link between mental illness and violence. An
unfortunate refrain made in the wake of the mass shootings like the one
last week in Newtown, Connecticut. As Dr. Richard Friedman of the Weill
Cornell Physicians wrote this week in the "New York Times" "All the focus
on the small number of people with mental illness who are violent serve to
make us feel safer by displacing and limiting the threat of violence to a
small well-defined group. But the sad and frightening truth is that the
vast majority of homicides are carried out by outwardly normal people in
the grip of all too ordinary human aggression to whom we provide nearly
unfettered access to deadly force. Is the tendency to blame mental illness
simply a distraction, even a deflection, keeping us from engaging in a more
substantive gun control debate?
Still with me, Anthea Butler, religious studies professor of the
University of Pennsylvania and Republican strategist Joe Watkins, and
joining the panel, Dr. Sudeepta Varma, a board member -- a board certified
psychiatrist and mental health expert, she is also a clinical assistant
professor of psychiatry at New York University and Dr. Jonathan Metzl,
director of the program in medicine, health and society at Vanderbilt
University in Tennessee, where he also teaches psychiatry, and the author
of "The Protest Psychosis." And Jonathan, I want to go to you first. And
I want to get your reaction to this idea of the NRA, which opposes any sort
of gun registration, particularly on national level saying that they`d like
to create a database, a national database of the mentally ill.
DR. JONATHAN METZL, PSYCHIATRY PROF., VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Well, I
have two - two things to say about that. One is that I think it`s
understandable so it`s not just the NRA that`s making the connection
between mass shootings and mental illness. I think there always -- you
know, in the aftermath of Virginia Tech and the shootings in Arizona, there
is an understandable reaction to say how can we understand this, how can we
explain this. Only a crazy person, because it`s so outside the realm of
normal. And so there is a tradition in our country I think of trying to
link these mass shootings to mental illness. Now, the problem with it and
certainly the problem with the NRA`s position I think is that first of all,
the association is false in that. As an aggregate group, people with
mental illness are as an aggregate group are far less likely than the
national average to commit gun crimes. And if you take all people with
mental illness, and particularly when you take substance abuse out of the
mix, people who are mentally ill are far, far more likely to be the victims
of violence rather than the perpetrators of violence. And so, what they`re
doing is they are reinforcing a very problematic stereotype about the
crazed mentally ill lunatic that really is not based in reality.
REID: Right. And in a lot of ways, I guess it`s a way to sort of
make us feel safer by thinking well, oh, it`s just that small number of
people. And to your point, it isn`t just the NRA. I want to play some
sound of President Barack Obama who -- the people on the NRA side feared
was going to go and confiscate everyone`s guns. But this is what President
Obama said on Wednesday about this topic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are going
to need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as
access to a gun.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: So, Sudeepta, while we understand that clearly, we want to
address mental health in this country, that is obviously true, we also want
to address gun violence, is the linkage problematic for both? I mean is it
going to make it more difficult to address mental illness if people are
thinking of these folks as violent?
DR. SUDEEPTA VARMA, PSYCHIATRIST: Yes, exactly. I think that it`s just
going to promote the stigma that already exists. I think one of my fears
is that, you know, to your point, that we`re talking about 95 percent of
the population that are committing crimes are not mentally ill. So we`re
talking about less than five percent of the contribution. So we think of
this five percent, we need to get better care so we need to have access, we
need to reduce the stigma. One of the things that we see within the
mentally ill population, that lack of awareness or lack of insight promotes
violence in this situation or sort of just relapsing into the illness. We
also see that people who have not gotten help six months prior, that is
another promotion, also substance abuse adds to the mix. So what we need
to do in terms of the mentally ill conversation is that reducing barriers,
promoting access to care, parity laws need to be looked at.
REID: And Jonathan, you have written about how some of this has also been
racialized, too, right, this idea of sort of ascribing mental illness. We
do it right now with mass shooting, but in the past we have also done it
with other kinds of crimes, right?
METZL: Well, there are some interesting points about that. I mean
people are kind of saying with the "New York Post" here that, you know, is
Wayne LaPierre crazy. I don`t think he`s crazy at all. I think he knew
exactly what he was saying. He was talking to a particular base and his
conference yesterday was actually full of a series of kind of code words,
historical code words that were linked to mental illness and to my mind,
racial stigma. So things about deranged killers, hearing voices, gang
bangers on the loose, all this kind of stuff. He was speaking to an
anxiety about a kind of othering that tied into me to a kind of mass
paranoia, that here`s why we need guns. And I think that there`s -- there
a history to that kind of rhetoric in this country. In my book, I look at
the 1960s, actually, a time when people were very concerned with the issue
of gun control, but they weren`t concerned because there were individual
deranged white shooters on the loose. People were concerned because the
Black Panthers wanted guns and Huey Newton wanted guns and other people
wanted guns and at that time, our national rhetoric was not it`s one
person`s individual brain, and so what they said is black culture must be
crazy and that led to, among other things, the Voting Rights Act of 1968.
And so there`s a real racial difference in terms of how we interpret these
REID: There was a great piece in "The New Yorker" now that talks
about sort of how the turn toward gun rights, individual gun rights, did
have its roots in the rights movement and the Black Panthers wanting guns.
I mean, Anthea, I want to turn to you on this very quickly. You know, this
idea of saying will deranged killers and sort of looking at the mass
shooters, but not ascribing mental illness to, let`s say, people in urban
environments that are committing these crimes.
BUTLER: Yeah, exactly. I mean it`s not mental illness. It`s just
we`re deranged and evil. I made a comment on Twitter last week, I said is
it just that, you know, people of color are evil when they go and shoot
somebody and white guys are just crazy? And I didn`t mean it in a
pejorative way. What I meant to say was that, well, listen, people can be
mentally ill across the spectrum. People can also be evil across the
spectrum. Why are we only ascribing certain kinds of words to certain
kinds of people? So I really take your point and that`s very true. And it
also is about the fear of not having enough guns if the brown people or the
black people rise up and come and get you.
WATKINS: People make bad choices, too?
WATKINS: Isn`t that right? Bad people make bad choices. I know a
lot of people that are not crazy, not suffering from mental illness, who
have made very bad decisions and have hurt people in the process.
REID: Right. OK. We`re going to -- we`re going to take a quick
break. But after the break, we are going to stay on this topic. Our fear
of the mentally ill and where it comes from.
REID: Let`s be clear. All of the focus on the mentally ill after the
shooting in Newtown, Connecticut does have a place. Caring for our
mentally ill should be a priority, but that`s not because those afflicted
with mental illness are an outsized threat to us. Rather, because people
with mental illness are 11 times more likely to be the victims of violent
crimes than the general population. In fact, a study by "The American
Journal of Psychiatry" found that only about four percent of violent crimes
are committed by people with mental illness so where does the stigma
against the mentally ill come from in the first place? And I want to go to
Sudeepta on this. Because that is I think what people are most afraid of,
right? Does the idea of mental illness, which can range many thing from
clinical depression all the way to schizophrenia, everything in between,
but people are now wondering, well, how do we know when somebody goes from
mentally ill to dangerously violently ill?
VARMA: Yes. Yes. And violence is always difficult to predict within
the mentally ill population, but we do know that there are certain things
that can elevate that risk. So, for example, you know, being of a younger
age, closer to the first break, you`re not already involved in mental
health care. There has been for somebody who might already have a
diagnosis six months has lapsed and they have not been in treatment.
Substance abuse is a big part of it. And also lack of awareness or insight
into the illness. You do see that in some major psychiatric illnesses
where the frontal lobes are affected. Where there is this concept of
anosognosia, (inaudible), where there is lack of awareness. So, and also I
want to say that in terms of what are our commitment laws and how hard is
it for doctors to hospitalize patients, are there available resources when
they need help and talking about areas of confidentiality and barriers to
that. So there was a law in Florida that was passed, that was recently
reversed about physicians not being able to ask about gun safety in the
VARMA: And that makes it very challenging. As a psychiatrist we`re
allowed to ask about it in terms of suicidality or homicidality, but the
physicians are looking at the fact that one in 25 pediatric trauma cases
are coming in because of gun shot wounds, and they can`t ask about that,
and that`s part of (ph) about safety in the homes, whether it be related to
guns or food or asbestos or child abuse. So we have to be able to do our
REID: So, and Jonathan, you know, we are talking about sort of not
being able to draw a direct parallel, we don`t know when somebody who is
mentally ill is going to be violent, but we are seeing sort of a pattern in
these mass shootings. You know, if you take out the D.C. sniper case, you
are seeing these are young white men, in some cases they have diagnosed
mental illness, in some cases we don`t know. But is there something that
we should be looking for in the demographics?
METZL: Well, absolutely, there is -- you know, I think everyone all
around the table about this conversation would agree that there is nothing
sane about the acts that have happened, but I`m very torn about this issue,
because I think that again, as I was saying before, they tie into very
profound stigmatizations. I mean I think that as I was mentioning before,
there are issues that are predictive of violence that we know about. They
are not mental illness. It`s past history of violence ...
METZL: Substance abuse, alcohol abuse at the time. Those are far,
far more predictive of gun violence than mental illness.
REID: ... than mental illness. And I want to ...
WATKINS: -- the drug business. I mean ...
WATKINS: That`s one area where you will find a lot of gun violence
and if you look at some cities, some urban areas where there are large
numbers of gun deaths, it`s not because of mental illness. It`s because of
the drug trade, the drug business, of course, and crime.
REID: But isn`t there a part of it that people who are witnessing and
dealing with those environments and who are living through these shootings,
then there is an issue with mental illness. I mean a kid growing up in
that environment ...
REID: You have to think ...
WATKINS: Yeah. But it`s another ...
WATKINS: ... traumatic. It`s traumatic. I mean it`s a tough thing
for any kid. There was a time at our church where on New Year`s Eve, when
we had our New Year`s Eve celebration, as soon as the clock turned 12:00,
we knew that it was 12:00 o`clock because we could hear the gunfire outside
our church. That hasn`t happened in recent years. But that`s a
frightening thing to know that on New Year`s Eve, you might get hit by a
BUTLER: Yeah. Yeah.
WATKINS: And what a ...
BUTLER: I mean and it happens. It happens. But I also think, you
know, I`m thinking about our administrative assistant we had whose son was
shot and killed on Easter Sunday. He came out on his -- on a porch to talk
to another kid, shot him in front of his father. And it was the most awful
thing, I had never been this close to somebody who had had a child that had
been shot and this was random violence in Philadelphia.
BUTLER: It was ridiculous, it was wrong, but kids also get
desensitized and I think that`s a form of mental illness, too. The
depression and despair that some of our communities makes this happen.
BUTLER: And we have to deal with that just as much as we would deal
the psychosis or anything else.
REID: And the mass shooting. But I think that`s very important and I
wish we had more time to talk about this, because I think there`s a part of
this that is -- the people who live through these crimes, what are they
going to be -- what are they going to have to deal with in terms of their
own sort of mental state? All right, well, I want to thank Sudeepta and
Jonathan. Joe and Anthea are sticking around.
And still to come in the next hour, my interview with the Django
Unchained" stars, Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington, but next, the faith
factor: searching for God in the wake of tragedies like Newtown.
REID: Welcome back. I`m Joy Reid in for Melissa Harris-Perry this
week. Regardless of whether you are one of the faithful or non-believer,
one of the inarguable facts of the response to the tragedy in Newtown is
this. Everywhere we look, we are all seeing God. You couldn`t help, but
notice God on the day of the shooting, when one of the most visible voices
speaking publicly for the people of Newtown was a priest, Monsignor Robert
Weiss of Newtown St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church.
It was Monsignor Weiss who was there in the firehouse next door to the
Sandy Hook Elementary where he was tasked with delivering the news to
parents that their children would not be coming home from school that day.
God was inescapable at Sunday`s vigil with an interfaith service
invoked the God of many religions. Leaders of the Protestant, Catholic,
Jewish, Muslim and Baha`i faiths all offered prayers for the victims.
There was no ignoring God right there on stage with President Obama as
he spoke at the vigil, delivering a speech that at times felt more like a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For we know that if the
earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an
eternal house in heaven not built by human hands. "Let the little children
come to me," Jesus said, "and do not hinder them for to such belongs the
kingdom of heaven."
May God bless and keep those we`ve lost in his heavenly place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: And it`s not the first benediction from the president in the
wake of a mass shooting. Only this time, the profound sadness of the day
happened at a time of year usually marked by happiness and celebration.
The immeasurable loss in Newtown was compounded by the image of gifts
already bought, wrapped and tagged with the names of children who won`t be
there to open them on Christmas morning.
And yet even as it seems that we`re seeing God everywhere after what
unfolded on Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary, the 28 lives lost on that day
are compelling many to question whether God was there at all. When asked
to consider this, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee had this to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: We ask why there`s
violence in our schools, but we systemically removed God from our schools.
Should we be so surprised schools would become a place of carnage? Maybe
we ought to let him in on the front end and we wouldn`t have to call on him
to show up when it`s all said and done and at the back end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: And while so far, Huckabee seems to be a rare voice bringing
God into the politics of guns, there are also those who are bringing the
politics to God. Religious groups motivated by the moral imperative to
protect the defenseless have long been vocal proponents of gun regulation,
as far back as the Gun Control Act of 1968. And since the shooting, at
least three national faith-based organizations have called on Congress and
President Obama to act on gun control.
At Sunday`s sermon at the Washington National Cathedral, the very
Reverend Gary Hall urged faith communities to put the power of the pulpit
behind gun policy, saying, quote, "I believe the gun lobby is no match for
the cross lobby."
Whether the NRA has met its match in G-O-D remains to be seen, but it
does beg the question of whether, as we attempt to understand and respond
to the Newtown tragedy, how do people of faith process the unthinkable?
Here with me: Anthea Butler, from the University of Pennsylvania,
professor of religious studies; Joe Watkins, pastor of Christ Evangelical
Lutheran Church in Philadelphia; Serene Jones, president of Union
Theological Seminary; and Chris Stedman, assistant humanist chaplain at
Harvard University, and the author of "Faitheist: How an Atheist Found
Common Ground with the Religious."
And, you know, I want to go to reverend, first, Reverend Joe Watkins
first -- because I think this is the question that most commonly gets asked
by people of faith after a tragedy like this.
JOE WATKINS, PASTOR: Yes.
REID: Where was god? How do you answer that when your parishioners
come to you after a tragedy and say, why was God not there for me?
WATKINS: Well, that`s maybe a human way of looking at it. God lets
the rain fall on everybody, on good people and people who aren`t so good,
and he loves us all. Sometimes it may feel like we can`t -- it may be hard
for us to feel his love.
But I liken it to when I go up in an airplane, on a rainy day when you
fly off somewhere and the clouds are looming, and it`s raining, as soon as
you get above those clouds, the sun is doing what it does every single day
which is shining, and I know that God is there always.
And God loves us all. He doesn`t love everything that we do. He
doesn`t sign off on every behavior that we have. But he loves us all. He
loves us so much.
And I believe and what I preach is that God wants us to love him back,
and to be obedient, to listen to him and to live in a way that pleases him.
REID: Well, I mean, I think people of faith understand that, but I do
think -- and, I just want to go quickly to Anthea on this, because you
teach the theology behind --
ANTHEA BUTLER, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Yes.
REID: -- how we approach life. What does the theology say about how
you`re supposed to process bad things happening and a good and loving God?
BUTLER: I wrote a piece about this called "Guns and Babies." And one
of the things I said in there, I took on Huckabee and some of these other
people, I said, basically, you know, God is present. God is present.
If you believe that, you know, as a Christian at least, that`s where
I`m going to speak from this when I teach, you know, God is omnipresent.
God is omnipotent. If you really believe that theology, how can you take
God out of something? You can`t take God out of anything.
So this is the problem when people say these kinds of platitudes to
make up excuses for evil things that have happened. What`s stunning to me
is that nobody would say this is evil, this is the devil. We haven`t heard
that word once --
BUTLER: -- by any of these bigger religious leaders. And that`s why
someone like the monsignor to me is much more important because he`s a
person that`s closest to the people in Newtown. He`s the one that`s got to
bury these kids.
I`m much more interested in what he thinks theologically and how he
can comfort those who need to be comforted during this time period.
I`ll just say this. I mean, it`s great that Chris is here because I
said in my piece, I was just like I need some atheist to talk about here
the God people are making me upset because they just don`t know how to say
the appropriate things.
Sometimes you don`t have to say anything. Sometimes you need to just
weep with those who weep.
REID: Let`s let the atheist have his say, sir. Because, you know,
this is another question I have personally always been curious about, is,
you know, people of faith have -- to Rev`s point -- faith to fall back on.
When something bad happens, they can sort of retreat into their faith.
What do people who do not believe in God, where do you get your
comfort? Where does the comfort come from?
CHRIS STEDMAN, AUTHOR, "FAITHEIST": Well, I think one of the things
that nonbelievers do in times of tragedy is they turn to their communities,
much like religious people do as well. I work for the humanist community
at Harvard. And a big part of what I do is help build the community of
nonreligious folks in Harvard but also in the community surrounding
And one of the main things that I do is part of my job is I`m
available for people when they`re going through a time of personal crisis
or they`re working, you know, through some kind of tragedy and they need
someone to speak with. And much like, you know, religious communities
serve a huge function in not only helping to support the life of the
community when something like -- as unthinkable as what happened in Newtown
happens. But they also are there to provide that kind of support for
people, and that`s what we do in our nonreligious community as well.
There was a book that came out in 2010 called "American Grace" by
Robert Putnam and David Campbell. It was an extensive study of the lives
of religious Americans.
What they found is that religious Americans are much more civically
engaged that the nonreligious. They participate in volunteer efforts more,
they give more to charity. But the reason why they are more civically
engaged is because they have this kind of community structure. So we
believe that nonreligious people can benefit from this same kind of
structure and sure enough, there are nonreligious organizations who have
been helping out in Newtown, who have been raising money, who have been
supporting the families.
And I think that the time has come now that one in five Americans
identifies as religiously unaffiliated and one in three under the age of
30, the time has come for nonreligious communities to be providing those
same kinds of things.
REID: I mean -- and, Serene, I think the important point of what
Jonathan (ph) just said, the demographics. Younger people are starting to
move away. Do you see just as a broader look, when you have these
tragedies happening repeatedly, happening over and over that shock the
conscience -- is there a movement or do you anticipate that there will be
more of a questioning of God?
REV. SERENE JONES, PRESIDENT, UNIONO THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: Actually,
I see in events like this many people for good or for ill, when you`re
overwhelmed by an act of violence that shatters your ability to make sense
of the world, the compulsion to suddenly be 2 years old again and wrestling
inside yourself with questions you had about God or whatever your parents
told you when you were 2 comes pouring to the surface. So it can make
people both more religious and it can also raise questions that push the
boundaries of what is religious.
But I think for communities concerned to be present and heal in these
context at a very local level, I couldn`t agree more with the importance of
the on the ground. It really is, and this is not a distinctly religious
ability, to be able to listen to people, to not be afraid.
The part of the challenge is when you`re dealing with this level of
trauma is what you hear is awful stuff, people wailing. You can hear the
violence inside of people come to the surface when they`re shattered.
REID: I just recall listening when President Obama was giving his
sermon -- I guess you could call it, in Newtown. Just hearing people as he
was reading the names crying out in the background. It was heart-wrenching
because you could actually hear people sort of emoting, with the president
there speaking, and he was there to be the comforter and be the pastor.
But, you know, I mean, I feel like that event was so shocking but it
isn`t the first time we`ve dealt with this. You know, you can go back to
the four little girls who are killed in a Birmingham church, inside of a
church. You can talk about the Sikh temple where you are having evil
invade our religious space.
And I do wonder whether people of faith will start to be shaken by
that and wonder if evil can come in here, in a school, in a church, then
where can`t it go?
WATKINS: It can show up anywhere. And the mandate at least for
Christian people is to love everybody as Jesus forgave the people who
crucified him on the cross. Martin Luther King`s mother, some people may
recall, was killed inside the church, inside the church that her husband
pastored during a service by somebody who was not well.
And so, these things happen to people and they are sad, they`re awful.
But through it all, it`s meant to grow our faith, to grow us as human
beings, and to grow our love for other folks.
JONES: I think one of the challenges, though, when this happens, is
that when violence is done to you and psychologists can attest to this as
well as faith people, the compulsion to repeat that violence is so strong.
So even inside communities where violence happens, we can`t assume --
JONES: -- that that`s going to be a peaceful response. I think part
REID: I`m going to hold it right here. We`re going to have more over
the break. Stay right there.
The bell that rang yesterday wasn`t just to memorialize those lost.
It was a call to action. And we`re going to talk about that, next.
REID: That was a moment from yesterday`s multi-faith remembrance in
front of the Washington National Cathedral for victims of the Newtown
tragedy. The cathedral bell tolled 28 times, once for each of those killed
inside the school as well as for the shooter and his mother.
In the wake of the shooting, religious leaders are urging their
followers to back up prayer with support for gun control policies.
And I want to come back to my panel and I wanted to go to Serene first
to ask whether or not on either side of this debate -- is it appropriate to
bring the issue of God and religion into the question of gun control?
JONES: There is absolutely no topic that is not appropriate to bring
God into, because God is in all things as love at all times.
Absolutely, you see all the major denominations in the country right
now are weighing in very strongly in favor of a renewed discussion of gun
control. And just yesterday, the National Association of Evangelicals came
to the table and said we need to talk about this in a fresh new way, we`re
willing to talk about gun control.
Now, in that same context, you have someone like Richard Land from the
Southern Baptists again coming back and saying that we are supporting the
notion of arming our schools?
JONES: And then you have Mike Huckabee, even the NRA using god
language to argue for the other side.
When I see that happening in this country, I look at Mike Huckabee, I
look at the NRA, I think about Richard Land and I think what is it inside
of you and this is a pastoral issue that makes this kind of violent
response seem like it`s normal. It`s part of the problem.
WATKINS: To me as a pastor, I think the most important thing at a
time like this is to comfort people. People are hurting. We just had a
horrible -- just a terrible event take place and these people are hurting,
they`ve lost their kids, lost their loved ones, some of the teachers that
I mean, the role of anybody, certainly in the ministry, is to comfort.
You want to comfort these families right now in this time.
REID: And not sort of making politics. But one of the other things
religious leaders, Mike Huckabee and others are doing -- Chris, you made
this great point in the break I wanted to bring into the show. That the
other thing they`re doing is blaming a lack of God, blaming godlessness,
sort of putting this in the laps of the irreligious.
What is your response to that?
STEDMAN: Well, maybe I`m naive, but it has really surprised me how
much in the wake of tragedies such as this, people point the finger at
atheists or the nonreligious. I mean, you know, with the shooting in
Newtown, there was Huckabee, James Dobson, Newt Gingrich came out and made
similar comments, and you know, this is not a new phenomenon.
After the horrible shooting (INAUDIBLE) in Wisconsin, we had pat
Robertson come out and say that the shooter was probably someone who was
angry at God, who hated religion, and that people of --
REID: And there`s no evidence of that.
STEDMAN: -- needed to come together against these evil atheist
And, you know, this is why I think it was really wonderful that there
was this inter-faith service after the shooting. But I think it was a
missed opportunity for there to also be a nonreligious or atheist
perspective represented there, because, you know, when something like this
happens, people are looking for someone to blame, they`re looking for, you
know, a group of people to outgroup or to demonize, and it surprises me how
often it`s atheists.
I guess if you look at any number of studies that show that atheists
are a widely mistrusted or, you know, disliked group in the United States,
it`s not surprising then that atheists get blamed. But I think when groups
come together to show, you know, to build a coalition and show solidarity
after a tragedy like this, it`s important that they think to include
atheists and the nonreligious as well, because we`re just like everyone
else. We mourn when something like this happens.
STEDMAN: And we`re a community of people who, you know, who see this
for the horrible thing that it is as well.
REID: And, of course, there`s no evidence. We don`t know the
religious affiliation or non-affiliation of people who do this.
But I want to -- I want to come to you, Anthea, because, you know,
while it is important to sort of bring -- broaden this out and not make
this about what Christians think about everything, you know, this shooting
has really focused our attention on the issue of violence. For African
Americans who have experienced violence and lived in communities where
violence is being perpetrated by them and against them, religion is often
invoked as a way to sort of cope with it, a way to explain it.
Can something about the African-American experience, including the
religious experience, help to inform the country broadly about how to
respond to this?
BUTLER: Yes, I think so, because we have endured lots of different
kinds of violence. We had the violence of slavery, we had the violence of
lynching, we had the violence of the civil rights movement, we had the
violence of guns and drugs being brought into the community.
So I think one of the things that our community can offer is a sense
of solidarity first of all and second, community. I think community is
Part of what`s going on with this whole gun thing, it`s about
individual rights. We have forgotten about what community means. And so,
when the African-American community comes together, whether in church or
the community center or something like that, and we say we`re going to
stand against the violence, we`re going to stand and march in our
communities, we`re going to talk about this, we`re going to bring kids in
and try to give events for them and all that, it is a holistic kind of way
to think about how to deal with violence.
I want to just say one more thing. I think this is a really important
point. What people don`t understand about religious people who like their
guns is that guns, God and the Constitution for them go all together. And
they are wrapped into this sort of sacred way of thinking about the nation,
thinking about God, thinking about what their guns do.
So, for the Mike Huckabees and David Brodys and Newt Gingriches of the
world, guns and God go together. They don`t know how to separate. All
they can think about is, if we don`t have our culture perfectly perfect,
then God can`t help us. That`s just bad theology.
REID: Right. So, what`s sort of ironic about it, too, is that, you
know, even the NRA or even they go back to sort of the founding, the 19th
and 18th century, the prevailing concept was that someone with a private
weapon is a bandit, right? I mean, this idea of marrying freedom and
religion to guns is really actually kind of a modern concept.
I want to ask Serene one more question -- and that is whether or not
you think that this will be successful. Now that we focused people`s
minds, religious, irreligious, on the issues of guns, morality, all of that
together -- can policy be made and will religious people be a big part of
making that happen?
JONES: Yes, I think it can be successful in large part. I think in
the immediate we can dramatically improve the laws that we have around
guns. Now, churches have to deal with the long term issue is we could make
guns illegal tomorrow, and we still have all the guns that are out there,
many of them in religious communities, homes, and the church is going to
play an important role in that.
I think that even bigger question is what do we do about the level of
acceptable violence in our society? And that is a deeply theological
issue. Why do we think violence is normal?
JONES: Why do we support it? Churches are going to have to keep
pushing at that question on and on and on. Did Jesus ever say anything
about guns? No.
REID: Yes, absolutely. I really want to thank you.
I want to thank, Serene Jones, Chris Stedman, and Joe Watkins.
And Anthea is hanging out with me for more.
And after the break, we are completely switching gears. Up next, my
interview with Kerry Washington and Jamie Foxx, stars of the controversial
new film, "Django Unchained."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kill white folks and they pay you for it? What`s
not to like?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Collect it where you die, boy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a rambunctious soul, ain`t it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: The holiday season just isn`t official without Christmas Day
blockbuster movies. One of the biggest and most controversial of the
season will be Quentin Tarantino`s "Django Unchained", which follows a
slave-turned-bounty-hunter trying to rescue his wife. It turns the
traditional slave narrative of "Roots" on its head.
I had the opportunity recently to sit down with two of the movie`s
stars, Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington and I asked them whether the revenge
aspect of the movie was what attracted them to the project.
KERRY WASHINGTON, ACTRESS: It`s kind of like the hip-hop generation`s
"Roots", you know --
WASHINGTON: -- because it`s a remix.
We don`t really talk about it as a revenge movie. We talk about it as
a love story. I mean, this isn`t about getting anybody back. This is
about Django needing to find his wife.
And it`s two people who love each other a lot who can`t be together,
but this time the reason they can`t be together is because it was illegal
for black people to fall in love and be married, because that kind of
commitment would get in the way of selling human beings.
REID: Jamie, do you think that America is ready for this sort of
slave as action hero and did you feel like the revenge aspect of it was a
part of sort of, you know, the arc of this character?
JAMIE FOXX, ACTOR: Revenge would be go kill every white person that
had nothing to do with your cause, which I think it was a thing we really
talked about, and we talked about this openly, because people think -- and
I have experienced this just here lately. People think that for some
reason, black folk want to kill all the white folk. And that`s not it.
I know you know this because obviously you come from a black family.
I`ve never thought for whatever happened to me in the South and being
called (EXPLETIVE DELETED), I never thought I want to get the people back.
All I wanted to be was left alone and do my thing. If somebody came on my
radar, I would deal with that, but other than that.
So, that was the thing with "Django", we wanted to make sure that yes,
it is satisfying when he takes the life of this overseer, but that was
righting that wrong of this overseer who was standing with a Bible in his
hand and Bible passages because he knew we couldn`t read and he preached
from the Bible and said this is why you`re who you are.
REID: You guys both talked about talking to Tarantino and coming at
this script and talking about your family members going wait. The thing I
think a lot of black people in the theater will wince at is the "N" word,
right? Hearing it so much.
WASHINGTON: You`re supposed to. You`re supposed to. The film is not
-- we didn`t want to romanticize slavery.
Part of what was attractive about the project was we`ve really never
dealt with the brutality of what slavery was. Whatever you see in this
film, as horrible as it may be to hear or horrible as it may be to see, it
doesn`t come close to how bad it really was.
And I would -- if you got in a time machine and went to the pre-Civil
War South, you would hear the N-word a lot more than you would hear it in
FOXX: You could go to the South right now, get what you need right
now if you want to get the N-word told to your face. When you say the N-
word it`s supposed to not feel good.
WASHINGTON: That`s right.
FOXX: When you see how they use it, that`s the way it was back then.
If Quentin Tarantino or any director had done a movie about slavery and
didn`t put it like that, there was no need to do it in 2012, 2013, because
you ain`t really giving it the real thing.
I understand also, too --
FOXX: -- because when I was doing this movie and Quentin pulled me to
the side, said I got to talk to you. I said what`s up. You got to be a
slave. I said, huh?
When he said it, I was like huh? I looked at my Louis bag and Range
Rover key because, you know --
REID: You`re Jamie Foxx.
FOXX: I`m Jamie Foxx. He said in order to make this movie happen,
you got to go back there, which is tough for me to act like I can`t read,
for me to act like -- for me to be in chains and all that, and she made a
statement, we`re just acting.
FOXX: But they actually went through it.
I look at it like this. When I raised the thing and I said, oh,
Django get to get it --
WASHINGTON: Yes, he wins? He wins?
FOXX: Django get to win like that. He gets to run off, come on, man.
When we look back on this movie, as hot button as some of this is
right now, but I want to look back at this movie 10, 20 years from now,
you`d be very happy it went like that.
REID: Well, Jamie, the controversy over the film may die down in 20
years, but it`s on fire right now.
And when we come back, I`ll discuss "Django Unchained" with my panel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will call the man who had me kill another man in
front of his son and he didn`t bat an eye. You remember that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course I remember.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you said was that this is my world and in my
world, you got to get dirty. So that`s what I`m doing. I`m getting dirty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: And that was a scene from Quentin Tarantino`s "Django
Unchained", which opens on Christmas day. Let me repeat, the movie hasn`t
opened so no spoilers here.
But that hasn`t stopped it from already causing controversy among
critics. The question isn`t whether America is ready for a film about
slavery. It`s whether or not this revenge style presentation trivializes
slavery all together.
At the table, UPenn`s Anthea Butler rejoining me, MSNBC contributor
Ari Melber who recently wrote about the amorality of "Django Unchained" for
"The Atlantic". We`re going to ask him about that. Michael Skolnick,
editor in chief of GlobalGrind.com, and Toure, host of MSNBC`s "THE CYCLE".
All right. I knew this is going to be a hot one.
TOURE, MSNBC`S "THE CYCLE": I mean, just let it go, Joy. Just let it
REID: But, you know, since Ari wrote that this film was amoral, I
want to go to Ari, first.
Ari, what do you mean? What do you -- without any spoilers, keeping
in mind people who haven`t seen the film, what do you mean about the film
ARI MELBER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, you can keep your television on
and still see this movie.
MELBER: What I will say without revealing the end, it is one thing to
reflect evil and reflect a tragedy and another to luxuriate in it.
My problem with this film, having gone in with an open mind and liking
some of Quentin Tarantino`s previous work, he takes the evil of slavery
which we will never be done talking about because it is part of our history
and part of our present and it is part of our future, and he uses it as a
license to go on a mass murder killing spree, to as I said, luxuriate in
elements of racism that for me, didn`t feel historical, ethical or
judicious but felt rather slavish.
People will come to this movie, people should see this movie and I
hope it sparks a really good cultural conversation but, at the end of the
day, I don`t think you can go into this place as an artist and not take it
TOURE: Joy, if I did not sit in the theater next to Ari as we watched
it, we were at the screening together, he did not actually watch the movie.
This is a movie about love. Two forms of love, right? It`s about
romantic love. He is searching for his wife and is willing to go through
hell to rescue his wife from the worst thing. He`s willing to become the
worst thing imaginable, a black slaver, in order to rescue her.
TOURE: That is a very romantic and beautiful story. The violence is
just to get through that. We have to go through hell to rescue her. But
then it`s about self-love, right?
In the opening scene, he throws off the rug that he`s wearing, like
James Brown throwing off his cape, and he is attacking white supremacy
throughout the film, and he`s this constant refrain of he`s riding into
town on this horse, shoulders back, head high, these glasses on.
Nobody has ever seen any person of blackness with this level of
dignity and they`re all constantly shocked by this. One of the key moments
of the film, Leonardo DiCaprio says there`s more of them than us, why don`t
they just kill us. If I was them, I would.
And he goes into this phrenology explanation which is obviously not
real. But he`s close, right? It`s not in the brains. Our brains are not
any different but the minds are different, right?
We talked about the colonized mind on this show and "Django," FOX`s
attack on that mind throughout the piece is cathartic, it is heroic and the
killings that he does in this film of people who represent slavery are
heroic and if he wasn`t killing slave masters and Samuel L. Jackson, who
represents slavery, then he would be psychotic.
REID: Hold on, hold on, hold on.
BUTLER: Stop, stop. We need to mediate between two things. I don`t
think it`s romantic.
I want to tell you why I don`t think it`s romantic, because real life
slavery wasn`t romantic.
When I teach this, my students are just dead because I drag them
through slavery, to lynchings, to all this stuff and they`re beat up by the
time we get to 1920s. I tell them you need to see this much, you need to
understand this violence. We read real narratives. We read the narratives
of the WPA and everything else.
One of the things I brought up when we were talking about this show
beforehand is that this whole thing is just violent nonstop. But the way
that the violence happens is it`s towards black people and black people
being able to try to rise up above this stuff.
This movie which I haven`t seen, I have to say this up front, is doing
something very different. So I don`t think it`s just immoral. I think
there`s some kind of weaving between the Tarantino does to try to hold this
REID: You`re saying that slavery obviously was gruesome. This movie
is violent and perhaps some people would say appropriately violent for what
Michael, you`re a filmmaker. From your perspective --
MICHAEL SKOLNIK, GLOBALGRIND.COM: You know, I have never been a fan
of Tarantino for his violence, the issue here.
SKOLNIK: But when I watch this, I think the challenge is, is that the
violence against black people is what`s brutal.
SKOLNIK: Right? That`s the brutality. The violence against black
people, the burning of the flesh, the torture, the --
BUTLER: This stuff happened, though. This is the point.
REID: That`s in the film.
BUTLER: We haven`t seen this before.
SKOLNIK: In this capacity. And then the response, the revenge
killing, that is heroic. That`s triumphant.
And the problem Americans have with this, or will have with this film,
is that Django`s triumph is our triumph over slavery but we haven`t
reconciled, we talk about it -- Ari, you`re right -- but we haven`t
BUTLER: And people don`t want to talk about it.
REID: And what we haven`t reconciled, right, is the catharsis aspect,
which you were talking about. This sort of when you read the history of
slavery, you wonder why didn`t African-Americans just rise up, why didn`t
they sort of do what was done in Haiti? Why wasn`t there more violence
against slave owners when oftentimes blacks were in the majority?
So -- I mean, Ari, are you reacting against the idea this is just an
emotional catharsis film where black people can go to the theater and watch
slaves killed by white people? Is that what you`re finding objectionable
or is it something about the violence being cartoonish and being
MELBER: I mean, we`re on television so how much should I say about my
feelings about killing white people? Even Jamie Foxx got in trouble for
This is my problem with it. Not the catharsis, not the reckoning, but
the lack of as I put it, morality in the reckoning. There was a big
difference with "Inglourious Basterds" because it started out --
REID: Another Tarantino film.
MELBER: Another Tarantino film that had a very similar revenge
fantasy for Jews and Nazis, and it started out in this pursuit of Nazis.
And what we saw by the end of the film was that the Christoph Waltz
character, Hans Landa, was not actually evil. Tarantino was exploring not
anti-Semitism emanating from this person`s heart, but the banality or
plasticity of evil. That to me was much more subtle.
What we saw here was the notion that everyone was terribly evil so
that means you can go on a mass murder spree. And again, without spoilers,
I think people who see this movie will see that it`s not only the evil
slave masters who die. There are other people who die.
And so in the end, as I --
TOURE: They are part of the infrastructure of slavery. As Jamie Foxx
said he doesn`t go on a killing spree of any white person he encounters.
He goes on a killing spree of people who are part of the infrastructure --
SKOLNIK: There was one moment where he has a moment of clarity,
should he kill one person or not. I won`t give it away.
MELBER: Without giving it away. Without giving it away, my response
to that is there`s a legal principle of self-protection and he, by the end,
sacrifices that and I don`t think Tarantino works well --
REID: Hold on. One second. Hold on. We will let two words, then --
BUTLER: Nat Turner. This is what you need to think about. When you
say this hasn`t happened before, there are all kinds of slave rebellions.
They just got squelched, OK?
BUTLER: And Nat Turner (INAUDIBLE), I believe it was 50, 51 people
get killed. So, this is what`s going to be interesting to me is when I see
this film, to think about happened with Nat Turner. I`m wondering if this
is the Styron (ph) sort of way of doing "Django Unchained."
Hold on, hold on.
TOURE: We don`t need to make the Nat Turner anymore.
REID: Ok, we got to go. We got to go. When we come back on the
other hand, we got to talk about the thing. I don`t believe anybody
brought up the N-word piece. But we are also going to talk about Kerry
Kerry Washington defended herself from critics who take issue with her
turn as a damsel in distress. We`re going to talk about that, and we`re
going to talk about the N-word with this panel on the other side.
REID: And we are back talking about a very hot topic, the movie
"Django Unchained" which comes out Christmas Day. Terrific panel --
Michael, Toure, Ari, Anthea.
We didn`t get to in the last time when we talked about sort of the
film and whether or not the film had a morality problem, right? It also
has an N-word problem, an N-word issue, I guess you could say. People are
going to go in this film and they`re going to hear the N-word. They`re
going to hear a lot even for a Quentin Tarantino film.
MELBER: A hundred and ten times.
REID: A hundred and ten times.
MELBER: With one count, yes.
REID: I mean, knowing Tarantino`s work, he does use the N-word a lot
on his work.
I want to start with you, Toure. Do you think it`s defensible this
time for him to have that word in there so much?
TOURE: Yes, absolutely. I want to undercut the discussion, but this
is the most simplistic and base discussion we could have about this movie.
We`re in 1853, 1854 --
REID: N-word was a prevalent term used against black people at the
TOURE: This -- I mean, to not use it in this movie would be sort of
ahistorical. It would be strange. It doesn`t feel out of place as it does
in some of the other movies where he uses it to say this thug is amoral or
has lack of character or this black person has this sort of super cool
thing or the thing he talked about yesterday with Jimmy in "Pulp Fiction",
which we could do a whole segment on it --
TOURE: -- as a separate usage, right.
But there`s three ways Tarantino uses it. The white person who is
amoral, the black person who is super cool, and then, Jimmy in "Pulp
But in this film, it`s just sort of washes over you. I`m more
interested in looking at and more taken by all the various tortures of
slavery we get throughout the piece and he is showing you all sorts of head
pieces and the hot box. I mean, I don`t think we have seen this sort of
thing since "Roots."
BUTLER: This is also, we know, that happened.
SKOLNIK: Sure. But I also think black people were cattle, right?
That`s what white people called their stock.
I would argue that the N-word was used much more in 1858 than it was
used in this movie and I think that`s Tarantino`s point. He wanted to go
there. We as America have to go there because we haven`t gone there.
Other countries have dealt with the atrocities of their past. We have
not dealt with that atrocity.
So, if you look at what happened in Newtown, right? And we talk about
the culture of violence, maybe it`s not video games, maybe it`s America`s
history of culture of violence that we haven`t dealt and has gotten us to
REID: But I want to ask, Ari, did he do it so much -- was it so
gratuitous and so cartoonish that he sort of undercut the point of making
these points Toure and Michael were talking about?
MELBER: Yes. We should not excise the N-word or racism from our
history but there is a wrong way to do it. It`s not historically accurate,
nor does it need to be, nor does it claim to be. But what we see is an
importing of the modern use of the N-word in a very pejorative sense to a
period of time when most scholars say it was not used in that way, 110
times is a lot of times.
People will have to go to the theater and decide for themselves
whether he was doing it intelligently and ultimately, with a commitment to
equality and transcendence, which I think is what Michael was talking
about, what I would echo. Or whether he was doing something else.
And, yes, the record here --
TOURE: -- slavery is not the N-word.
REID: There`s another element to the film that people are criticizing
as well. That`s Kerry Washington`s role. She plays --
MELBER: Wait. I didn`t know women had speaking roles in this
TOURE: Really. Really. Really.
REID: Let`s play what Kerry Washington --
MELBER: I told you, Toure.
TOURE: Bring it, bring it.
SKOLNIK: Let me be the ref.
TOURE: You don`t usually see --
REID: Hold on. Let`s listen to Washington defend herself and then
you guys can have it.
(BEGIN VIDOE CLIP)
WASHINGTON: For black women, it`s different for us. I`ve had women
say to me, like, it`s not very feminist. I say you know what? This is a
modern feminist story in a way for black women because we have never been
afforded the fantasy of being saved. That`s not a part of our history.
Families were broken up. The dividing of the black family was a tool
of slavery. It was how they kept us in chains was by breaking us down and
making us believe that our men couldn`t save us, wouldn`t save us, weren`t
there for us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: There was a great debate over where I`m going next but I`m
BUTLER: I thought it was interesting, modern feminist story, I
thought, you know, if this is about a modern feminist story to me, I would
have been the character riding out to go save my man, you know?
REID: See, that`s --
BUTLER: That`s the thing she`s trying to get at.
REID: Right. Right. Right.
BUTLER: I think what she`s trying to say, she didn`t say it in the
way I would have articulated it, is that this is a story where a black
woman can finally, you know, know she has the love of her man because he
has done so much to get to her.
REID: Heroic black man.
TOURE: You know, I take your critique of Kerry`s use of modern
feminist -- fine, absolutely. I`m never going to argue with you on that
But what happens to this film is that a black woman is rescued by her
man who is willing to risk his life, risk his freedom, for her. How often
do you see that? I mean, there are many portrayals of strong black women
who hold up the family in film, some portrayals of that. Hollywood does
not do a good enough job with black women, so I don`t want to make that
But she is rescued. Isn`t that a beautiful fantasy to be able to live
through for two hours and 45 minutes?
REID: OK. Hold on just one second. We`re going to have more in just
a moment. But, first, time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: Yes, thanks for sticking me in there.
REID: Yes, get in there, Alex.
WITT: Just a second, here we go.
Coming up on our show, we`re going to examine the NRA`s proposal of
armed guards at schools. I will talk to a Colorado congresswoman about why
an armed guard did not help at Columbine.
In office politics, Pulitzer Prize winner John Meacham`s take on the
right to bear arms and why it`s different today than when originally
written in the Constitution.
Will they or won`t they? We will get several takes on whether
Congress and the White House will avoid the fiscal cliff. There are widely
differing opinions on that.
Controversy swirls around the new film "Zero Dark Thirty." Does it
get a false portrayal of so-called enhanced interrogation? I`m going to
talk to a writer who`s been following that story.
And with that, I`ll send it back to you, Joy-Ann. I was just throwing
REID: No, I like the Ann. Ann works for me. Thank you very much,
Alex. I appreciate.
REID: Well, up next, one letter to a particular toy maker is making a
Christmas time that`s extra special for a 13-year-old girl and her little
brother. Talk about a turn.
We`ll be back.
REID: This is the season when children are writing letters to Santa.
Our foot soldier this week, 13-year-old McKenna Pope wrote a letter of a
different kind. And it wasn`t even for herself.
McKenna knew exactly what her 4-year-old brother Gavyn wanted for
Christmas. The pint-sized culinary enthusiast who once attempted to cook
tortillas on his lamp asked for an easy bake oven. You remember those,
right? I had one myself and I used to make cakes for my little brother.
McKenna was excited to go Christmas shopping with her parents now that
she knew the perfect gift to get for Gavyn. But then, she was disappointed
to find out that the only easy bake ovens for sale were purple with pink
accents. To McKenna, those ovens weren`t meant for boys. Even the boxes
and advertisements only featured girls.
While she was disappointed, McKenna was not discouraged. Having
recently signed other petitions on Change.org, McKenna decided it was time
to launch one of her own. She penned a letter to the leaders of the toy
company Hasbro and made this video.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCKENNA POPE, 13-YEAR-OLD: So, tell me, what do you want? What do
you want for Christmas?
GAVYN BOSCIO, BROTHER: I want a dinosaur, easy bake oven.
POPE: Why don`t they have any boys in the easy bake oven commercial?
BOSCIO: Because -- because only girls play with it.
POPE: That was my little brother, my favorite chef in the world. He
said it himself, girls are the only ones who are supposed to cook. Is this
the message we want to send to our youth?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: In less than one month, McKenna`s Change.org petition received
45,000 signatures. Even still, she didn`t expect the response from Hasbro.
But, in fact, on Monday, McKenna found herself, along with her mother
and would brothers at Hasbro headquarters in Rhode Island. She told the
story of her visit right here on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POPE: Hasbro, they -- first of all, they gave me a tour I round the
factory which I thought was really cool. And they showed me a prototype
they have of a black and silver and blue easy bake oven which they said
that they will use gender neutral marketing to market with, like including
boys in their ads, things like that. It`s really awesome.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: And McKenna and her family were among the very first to see the
prototype which will be introduced at the New York toy fair in February.
McKenna told us her Christmas list is made up of books. Here in
Nerdland, we want Santa to send us more of McKenna Pope`s looking to change
For fighting for little brothers all around the country, McKenna Pope
is our foot soldier of the week. Check out our interview with McKenna on
our Web site, MHPShow.com.
And that is our show for today. Thank you to Anthea Butler, Ari
Melber, Michael Skolnik and Toure.
And thanks to you at home for watching.
I`ll see you tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. And we will ask
-- what`s the deal with the fiscal cliff?
And coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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