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Shields and Brooks on the Week in Politics

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - December 14, 2012

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

So, gentlemen, we have all been torn up all day long today with this terrible shooting in Connecticut.

David, it -- just, it is beyond understanding, so how do we make sense of something like this?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the first thing that occurs to me is that you realize the tremendous difference between the process of the grief, the process of the shock, the process of processing all we're feeling today, and the policy process.

One is just this innate outpouring of grief. And then the policy process is about cost-benefit analysis, about studies and counterstudies. You're trying to figure out what would work. And so you feel almost cheap on a day like today. You think, down the road, we will talk about what works, what doesn't.

Already, the debates are starting, gun control, all the different policy options on the table. But I am willing to enter into those debates, I guess. But you just want to register the -- just the emotion you feel for the scenes, the empathy you feel for the parents and so on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president certainly did that today, Mark. But it seems to me we ask -- we ask the same questions over and over again every time one of these things happens.

MARK SHIELDS: You're right, Judy. And I agree with what David said.

I would just point out the president delivered his remarks in the James S. Brady Press Briefing at the White House, James S. Brady, who was shot and crippled permanently in an assassination attempt when he was press secretary to President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

And we have the thoughts and the prayers and the flags at half-mast. But what we don't have -- and it's the hallmark of a -- I think, of a cowering political and public body -- that is, we don't have a debate. We don't have a discussion.

And the question about -- is not whether somebody stands for or against this, whether you even bring it up. And the reality is that in the United States of America in 2012, it's easier in many states to rent an automobile -- to buy an automatic weapon than it is to rent an automobile. It's more demanding.

And I just -- you know, one of the things about having been in the Marine Corps is that they teach you how to use guns. They teach you how to use rifles and handguns and automatic weapons. And you come away with just one conclusion, if you reflect on it, and that is they are tools of destruction. They are meant to kill people. That's all.

They're not sporting equipment, as Jim Lehrer has remarked. And they're not tennis rackets. They're not shoulder pads or baseballs. I mean, they are tools of destruction meant to do what was done today. And I just think our society has failed to confront, and particularly our political leadership, but all of us have failed to confront that. Oh, gee, it's too tough an issue.

But, I mean, the reality is, there are too many guns in hands of people who just shouldn't have them. And if we can license people who clip our toenails and promote prize fights, then we sure as hell ought to be able to license people who have automatic weapons.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see that?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I guess I don't know anything about this case. We don't know who the shooter is. I guess we know now what the weaponry was.

But after the Aurora case, I tried to look into and made my best decision about what would work. And it's very frustrating, because it's very hard to find things that would work.

But there are sort of two avenues. There is the mental health avenue, which is -- and it should be said that, the 98 percent of people who have mental illnesses are not violent. Even people with schizophrenia doesn't mean they are violent.

But there is a small minority who do become violent. And so my belief was that being more aggressive, more assertive in trying to find those people and trying to deny people with those particular sorts of mental health issues access to guns was the way to go.

I think it would be helpful in the media if we did not publicize these people, especially if they have committed suicide. Don't put them on the cover of magazines. Don't put their faces on TV. Don't release their names. I somehow think that would diminish some of the perverse heroism of them.

As for the gun issue, I think there is a good case to be made for gun control because of the normal amount of killing that goes on with guns. I am a little more skeptical that gun control would reduce these sorts of incidents, because if you look at where they happen, they happen a lot here, they happen a lot in Europe, they happen in Korea, and Norway was the worst. Some of these are very tight gun control regimes.

Second, the people who do them tend to be disturbed, but also meticulous planners. And in a country with 300 million guns, I'm skeptical we can keep it out of their hands. So I might be willing to pursue -- I think it is a good idea to pursue more gun control. I am skeptical it will help prevent these cases.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the president said today that -- he said something should be done, he said, regardless of the politics, in so many words. Do you think that is going to happen?

MARK SHIELDS: I don't know.

I think the president has to lead, I mean, because it's obvious that what we have is the National Rifle Association essentially has paralyzed the political process in this country. And Democrats who have any sort of rural constituencies are terrified to support gun control or even to bring up the subject.

And Republicans are in lockstep, just sort of reflecting on the Second Amendment. I mean, we did ban machine guns in this country. You know, that's been done, and bazookas. I mean, that -- we have had success in certain weapons. And, you know, I -- it requires an enormous national will.

But I don't know how else we're going to get that debate going, except by the tragedy of...

DAVID BROOKS: I would -- just purely in the political -- the politics of it, a few points. First, gun ownership is way down. It's -- we are at a historic low.

Second, oddly -- and I'm not sure why -- I don't have any explanation for this -- support for gun control laws has dropped significantly over the last 20 years. I'm not sure why that is.

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