News Brief: New Zealand Attack, Sandy Hook Lawsuit, Border Wall

19 hours ago
Originally published on March 15, 2019 11:10 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Tragic news from New Zealand.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yeah. Two mass shootings in the city of Christchurch have left at least 49 people dead, many others injured. At least one gunman targeted two different mosques. The prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, called it a terrorist attack.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: These are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand and, in fact, have no place in the world.

MARTIN: Police said that four people, including three men, one woman, had been taken into custody. One of those suspects has been charged with murder.

GREENE: And let's talk to one of the reporters who's been covering this. It's Keith Lynch. He's deputy editor of the New Zealand news site Stuff and joins me now.

Thanks for being here.

KEITH LYNCH: No problem.

GREENE: This is just - I mean, this is just terrible news. The death toll is rising. I know there are just scores more people in hospitals and injured. Just give us the latest in what you're hearing.

LYNCH: Yeah. So at this stage, we know that at least 49 people have been killed in what is certainly a well-planned attack. The prime minister and the police commissioner, as you noted, have called it a terrorist attack. This is absolutely unprecedented in New Zealand. And there are dozens more people in hospital at the moment. At least one person has died tonight in Christchurch Hospital after being taken there after this gunman opened fire across these two mosques.

We know that about 40 people were killed at one mosque in Deans Avenue in Christchurch, and about seven to eight others were killed in the Linwood mosque. So that would be about a 15-minute drive from one of those mosques to the others. As you guys have noted, there has been four arrests in the city, including one woman. And one man has been charged with murder. He'll appear in Christchurch District Court tomorrow morning.

GREENE: Has - anyone talking about a motive at this point?

LYNCH: Yeah. So the man who has been arrested, we understand his name is Brenton Tarrant. He's a 28-year-old Australian man who came to Christchurch with the specific idea to carry out these attacks. So he has published a manifesto online. We made the decision today not to repeat what is in his manifesto because we don't think it's right to give oxygen to his ideology. What it does contain, I can say, broadly speaking, is extreme hatred and extreme racism, particularly towards Muslims.

GREENE: You said this is unprecedented in your country. Can you talk about that and talk about how people are coping with this?

LYNCH: Yeah. So New Zealand is - you know, it's a pretty quiet country. Christchurch is a really quiet and peaceful city. We had an absolutely horrific disaster here back in 2011, when 185 people were killed in a major earthquake. This is much different because, you know, that was a natural disaster. This is a manmade disaster. Christchurch is in a real sense of shock tonight. Everything is closed. The entire city was in lockdown. Every school in the city was in lockdown today. People, I think, are really still coming to terms with what has happened.

GREENE: Keith Lynch of the news site Stuff in New Zealand. I know much of the world will be thinking about your country today. Thank you so much for the time this morning.

LYNCH: No problem.

GREENE: So here's a question. Who is responsible for a mass shooting? And could that list include the manufacturer of a gun? A court here in the United States has been grappling with that very question.

MARTIN: Right. Yesterday, the Connecticut state Supreme Court ruled that families of those killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2011 can move forward with a lawsuit against the gun manufacturer Remington. One of Remington's assault-style firearms was used by the gunman in the massacre that happened in Newtown, Conn. It left 20 children dead, six educators as well. Ian Hockley lost his 6-year-old son Dylan in that attack. He is part of this lawsuit. And he spoke after the judge's decision came down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IAN HOCKLEY: I can't say I'm excited by this ruling. I wish it was never here. But what we've said from the outset is all we want is our day in court, for the law to be upheld and for a jury to decide our case.

GREENE: Davis Dunavin is a reporter for member station WSHU and has been following this case.

Davis, thanks for being here.

DAVIS DUNAVIN, BYLINE: Thank you, David.

GREENE: So tell me exactly what these families are hoping to sue Remington for. How would this legal case work?

DUNAVIN: Right. So they started this lawsuit as a wrongful death lawsuit against Remington because, you know, as you said, Remington makes the Bushmaster AR-15 style rifle that was used in the shooting.

And what they're really interested in is a part of this that's called wrongful marketing. So the family's attorneys pointed to some ads from Remington that showed the rifle with a slogan that said, consider your man card reissued, or ads that show a lone gunman on a battlefield. And they say, you know, also Remington marketed this directly toward young people. They say they basically get product placement in violent, first-person shooter video games, like "Call Of Duty."

GREENE: OK. So the Supreme Court seemed, I mean, convinced by some of the arguments here. And this follows a lot of battles in lower courts. It was - you know, just listening to that father there, it's - how would you ever be excited about something like this? But are they feeling like at least there's a path forward now?

DUNAVIN: Right. Yeah, they are. And, you know, that's - what they've said, essentially, is they want gun companies like Remington to be able to be held accountable. You know, originally, a lower court struck this down because of a 2005 federal law that said, you know, gun manufacturers aren't responsible, aren't liable for shootings that are committed with their guns. Another one of the parents in the lawsuit is David Wheeler. And his son Ben Wheeler was one of the children who died in the shooting. And here's what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID WHEELER: There is a reason this particular consumer product is the one that is used by people who want to inflict the most damage. That reason, very likely, partially resides at the feet of the manufacturers and their advertising and marketing policies.

DUNAVIN: And then another family member named Bill Sherlach, whose wife was a psychologist at Sandy Hook, he said he expects to spend the rest of his life on this avenue in one way, shape or form.

GREENE: So it sounds like this case might have real implications, I mean, not just for Remington but other, again, gun manufacturers as well in terms of how they market their products to people.

DUNAVIN: Right. So first, obviously, it establishes a precedent. It opens up the possibility that gun manufacturers could be sued in other state courts after shootings. But also, if and when this goes to court now, attorneys can get discovery. And that means they can get Remington's documents like memos, emails having to do with marketing. And then they might get a clear picture of what goes on behind the scenes at gun companies when they're deciding how to market the guns. And that's what the nine families and the one survivor involved in this lawsuit have said they really want to see.

GREENE: Davis Dunavin reports for NPR's member station WSHU. Thanks a lot.

DUNAVIN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: Now news in Washington - ahead of a key vote on the national emergency declaration, President Trump sent a message to Republican senators. The message was stay united.

MARTIN: Yeah. And that demand failed on Thursday. In a rare bipartisan rebuke of this White House, 12 Republican senators broke from their party. They aligned with Democrats and blocked the president's efforts to divert funds for a border wall. Here's one of those senators, Republican Rob Portman from Ohio.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROB PORTMAN: Congress, not the president, has the sole authority to determine how to spend taxpayer money.

MARTIN: The vote was 59 to 41. And it sets up the first veto of the Trump presidency.

GREENE: And NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe's with us.

Good morning, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So how big a setback is this for President Trump?

RASCOE: Well, policywise, it's not really a huge setback. You had 12 Republican senators voting with Democrats. But that's not enough to override a veto. Trump tweeted right after the vote in all caps - one word - veto. (Laughter) So that's where this is headed.

But it's a setback in the sense that a dozen members of Trump's own party went against him on his signature issue - immigration. To have that many Republicans rebuff this declaration in the face of Trump actively lobbying members to hold the line, it's a sign that Republicans are pushing back. Now, obviously, Republicans are going to stick with Trump overall. There's no doubt about that. But this shows that there may be some limits.

GREENE: And why were the limits here? We're not talking about one or two Republicans. I mean, this is a sizable number of Republicans. Why did they decide to take a stand on this issue?

RASCOE: What many of these Republicans were saying is that they support Trump. They support the wall. But they're against this idea of using an emergency declaration to access funds that Congress refused to appropriate. They said they wanted to protect Congress' authority. Here's Republican Senator Lamar Alexander making that point.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAMAR ALEXANDER: Our nation's founders gave to Congress the power to approve all spending so that the president would not have too much power. This check on the executive is a source of our freedom.

RASCOE: So what these senators seem to really be getting at with these votes is that there will be life after Trump. And if you approve this sort of authority for Trump, then you open the door to when a Democrat, at some point, gets in the White House, using this authority, potentially, to kind of take on issues like climate change without including Congress. And that's what these Republicans didn't want to happen.

GREENE: Which is an argument that did not persuade President Trump or the White House. And, you know, Ayesha, this is a president who does not hold back in going after people who stand in his way. Is - are there going to be consequences, potentially, for being a Republican who voted against this president?

RASCOE: At this point, Trump has not directly addressed those that went against him. But look. He's likely not pleased. And he's someone who demands loyalty. And he takes these votes very personally. Ahead of this vote, he was saying it's about border security. And he warned that a vote in favor of this was a vote in favor of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. So it's unlikely he's going to go after all 12 of these senators. But he's known to kind of hold grudges. I mean, he's still talking about John McCain not voting on health care all those years ago.

GREENE: Oh, that's right. So it's going to - he's going to veto it. And then what happens after that?

RASCOE: This is going to be in the courts. And so, ultimately, the courts will decide whether this is an appropriate action for the president to take.

GREENE: OK, NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe. Thanks, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MECCA:83'S "2AM SAMBA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.