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Rep. Charlie Dent On Bump Stocks Bill


We're joined now by Representative Charlie Dent, a Republican from eastern Pennsylvania. He's a co-sponsor of a bipartisan effort to ban bump stocks, which allow semiautomatic weapons to be altered so they can fire repeatedly, shot after shot. Mr. Dent, thanks so much for being with us.

CHARLIE DENT: Thank you. Great to be with you this morning.

SIMON: Why do Republicans - who seem to believe gun laws would not reduce homicides because murders will still break the law to get guns - now seem to feel anyone's going to be deterred by a bump stock law?

DENT: Well, Scott, I think - well, we were all just horrified by the events of Las Vegas - I mean, so many killed and wounded. And you know, so of course our thoughts are with all of them and their families. But I think most of us are not only shocked by the event but shocked by the fact that somebody was able to convert, functionally, a lawful, legal firearm - or firearms into an illegal firearms, as far as I'm concerned.

I mean, automatic weapons in the United States have been banned for a very long time, as they should be. The fact that somebody can take a bump stock or some other type of device and functionally convert a semiautomatic into a fully automatic is more than concerning. And many of us believe that that must be outlawed. And...

SIMON: But there are an unestimated huge number of them that are already in circulation and, one would presume, if they were to be outlawed, an underground market. I mean, does the bump stock just go far enough?

DENT: Well, I don't know. I mean, look, I think most Americans do support an individual's right to own a firearm. I certainly do. Now, the issue then becomes, you know - I don't think it's practical to suggest that we could have some kind of gun confiscation movement in this country. There are just probably hundreds of millions of firearms that are owned privately.

SIMON: I wasn't suggesting that. But I mean, what about limiting the number of weapons or rounds that can be contained in a magazine, which used to be the law.

DENT: Well, that's a debate we will likely have. Some states have moved in that direction. But I would suggest that the other issue that many of us are talking about, too, is continuing to enhance background checks for the purchase of private sales of firearms. That is an issue that many of us are advancing. Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin advocated for legislation a few years. I had strongly supported it. Now, I don't want to suggest that, you know, enhancing background checks in any way would have stopped what happened in Las Vegas. From what I've learned so far, I mean...

SIMON: Yeah.

DENT: ...There was no clue that this individual had a history of mental illness or certainly didn't have a criminal record to speak of. So I mean, a lot of us are grasping for answers.

SIMON: Well, I think anyone of any political stripe would say that the U.S. just has too many mass shootings, it being noted one is too many. But there's one every few days. The Republican Party controls the House, the Senate, the White House. Shouldn't the party that controls government see reducing mass shootings as a matter of national security?

DENT: I believe we should take a look at - yeah, absolutely. This is a problem of certainly domestic security, national security. And I'm concerned about firearm deaths. I'm also concerned what I've been witnessing, too, in Europe and elsewhere, where people take vehicles and they drive them into crowds and kill many people. I mean, we have, sadly, you know, very evil people in this world who will do terrible things. Sometimes they're motivated politically. Sometimes they're mentally ill. Sometimes, in the case of Las Vegas, we simply don't know what motivated this guy.

SIMON: Well - but why give people who have mental problems the legal capacity to get dangerous weapons?

DENT: Well, they - actually, you know, like I said, they're not allowed to. This person who has been involuntarily committed to a mental health institution is prohibited...

SIMON: Yeah.

DENT: ...From purchasing a firearm. And in the (unintelligible), you know, I think we can enhance that. One of the challenges we have is that sometimes people with these mental health histories - their information is not properly shared with the instant check systems that are either run by the federal government or by the states.

SIMON: Mr. Dent, will you permit me to interject with just one last question?

DENT: Sure.

SIMON: We are always so grateful when you come on this show. I got to tell you - we got a lot of noes from Republicans who didn't want to come on this show and talk about gun policy, except, you know, maybe they'll go on Fox News. If the Republicans are proud of their record on guns, why not be interviewed about it?

DENT: Well, I can't speak for all of my colleagues on this. I mean, we obviously have a very serious violence problem in the country and particularly a firearm violence issue. And that - you know, we must address it. That said, we also have to respect the rights of people who own...


DENT: ...Lawful legal firearms that are not a threat to anybody.

SIMON: Mr. Dent, thank you so much for being with us again, sir.

DENT: Thank you. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.