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San Bernardino Attack Is More Serious Than 'Ordinary' Mass Shooting


We are joined in the studio now by Adam Winkler, who's a professor of constitutional law at UCLA. He is also the author of "Gunfight: The Battle Over The Right To Bear Arms In America." Mr. Winkler, welcome.

ADAM WINKLER: Thanks for having me.

WERTHEIMER: Now, what do you think? When something like this happens, it's shocking. The whole country starts talking about it. And as we heard from Mara, President Obama appears to think - I mean, it's almost routine. The president comes out. He says, at one point - he said at one point - that these mass shootings have become so common they almost seem normal. Does that - do you agree with that?

WINKLER: Well, it does seem to be the case. I mean, we have an exceptional situation in America. While mass shootings can and do happen everywhere - we just had a mass shooting in Paris, the worst mass shooting in human history was in Norway - we have a frequency of mass shootings in the United States. That is very unusual. It was about 310 mass shootings already this year.

WERTHEIMER: Well, the president then uses these kinds of events to call for legislation to end gun violence. Do you think that there - that it's possible that the piling up of these events would have some sort of incremental effect on the way people think about them? It seems to me we haven't seen that yet.

WINKLER: Well, I think the answer is kind of complicated. Since Newtown, we really haven't seen any new federal legislation. And it does seem like we've got a stalemate on gun control right now in America. But at the same time, we've seen a really reinvigorated gun control movement, a lot of political mobilization on the gun control side, money from Michael Bloomberg and others flowing into elections and sort of equaling the playing field in some ways. And we've seen significant reforms in about a dozen states. So I think the gun control movement is making some headway, but obviously things in Congress are stalled.

WERTHEIMER: And they're starting from way behind the line of scrimmage, I guess. The president - well, let me ask you this. You've done considerable research into gun violence. And you believe that our action - our reactions to it depend upon what we know or think we know about the perpetrators of that violence, the shooters. Could you explain what your thinking is about this one?

WINKLER: Well, that's right. I mean, this is a very unusual mass shooting. Most mass shootings involve one person. I think in the last 15 years we've only had two mass shootings that had more than one person involved. And this was a married couple with a young child. Usually we think of mass shootings as happening because some perpetrator is a loner or an outcast or disturbed with nothing to live for.

WERTHEIMER: And nothing to lose.

WINKLER: And this was a couple that clearly did have a lot to lose. And so it's very hard to understand why they did it. But we'll remain - we'll find out more information in the days to come to be sure.

WERTHEIMER: Anything - as you look at it, do you have any sense - I mean, just very quickly. We have about 20 seconds.

WINKLER: Well, we don't know what's happened here. It could be terrorism. It seems like they've got explosives. It sounds like this was a planned attack. Because it's more than one person, perhaps it is something more serious than the ordinary mass shootings. It's a shame that we say ordinary mass shooting.

WERTHEIMER: Adam Winkler is a professor of constitutional law at UCLA. Thank you very much.

WINKLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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