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News brief: senators consider gun deal, Shanghai reopens, queen's jubilee

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

A bipartisan group of senators is seeking some common ground in the debate over gun violence.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

And that common ground is narrow. They're focusing on incremental changes to existing policies that could get enough votes to become law. Senators John Cornyn of Texas, a Republican, and Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut are leading the effort. Here's Murphy speaking this week at an event in Hartford.

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CHRIS MURPHY: We don't have to end the epidemic of gun violence in this nation with one piece of legislation, right? What we need to do is break this logjam, but break this logjam with a piece of legislation that's going to save lives, not a piece of legislation that is just going to check boxes.

MARTINEZ: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is following these talks. Kelsey, I mentioned how they're seeking common ground. Where exactly might they all be able to land?

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Well, I should say that they are still really in the very earliest phases of kind of figuring out what is even possible. So they're not necessarily writing the final policies or even just finessing the details. They're talking kind of big picture - what can they do? And I'm told they're looking at three major areas. One is creating incentives for states to create and implement so-called red-flag laws. And there's a mental health component under discussion, a component related to school safety and security and possibly some very narrow changes to the way the existing background check system works. You know, when it comes to red-flag laws in particular, which is kind of the thing that most members of Congress have been talking about, we're talking about, like, financial incentives to encourage states to pass new laws that allow family members or police officers or other very specific individuals the opportunity to petition a court or other legal system to temporarily remove a gun from an owner who might cause harm with that gun.

They also want to see if they can change existing federal grant programs to help states make those programs a reality. So this is very narrow. And it's an attempt at nudging states in the direction of passing laws, not a situation where they would be, you know, passing negative repercussions if the states don't pass those laws.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, a lot of people, though, want Congress to do a lot more. Why is this such a narrow conversation?

SNELL: You know, I've had it described to me as senators confining their discussions to what can actually become law. They call it the art of the possible, over and over and over again, as I've talked to them. You know, that means policies that can get at least 60 votes in the Senate, with some combination of Democrat and Republican. So that's not some sweeping change to background check laws, and it isn't an assault weapons ban. I'm also told that they want to confine the bill to changes that could have prevented the shooting in Uvalde specifically. You know, Republicans say this is driven by the circumstances of that shooting, not some big, broader attempt. You know, it's very hard for them to agree on any element of this. Republicans oppose federal red-flag laws, at least many of them do, and they want to leave this to states. Democrats say focusing solely on mental health is a diversion and that while mental health issues exist across the globe, gun crimes happen in the U.S. because guns are easy to access in the U.S. So they're trying to kind of find some way to keep the blinders on and do something.

MARTINEZ: But does that mean there is little hope, then, that Congress will do something big on guns?

SNELL: Well, the House Democrats do have some ideas of their own for bigger policies, but those can't pass the Senate. I have heard a lot of optimism in the Senate about what they are working on, but like I said, it won't be a massive shift in federal gun policy, and there's a lot that still could go wrong. But they are still hoping that this can get done.

MARTINEZ: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Kelsey, thanks.

SNELL: Thanks for having me.

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MARTINEZ: Turning now to the Chinese city of Shanghai, which today took some big steps toward reopening after more than two months of lockdown. And people were pumped.

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FADEL: Shanghai's more than 25 million residents had been forced to stay in their homes since March. Businesses were closed. Public transit was shut down. And one of the biggest cities on the planet went quiet.

MARTINEZ: NPR's John Ruwitch joins us now from Shenzhen in southern China. John, so is this it? I mean, have they really ended this epic lockdown?

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Well, the simple answer seems to be yes, for the most part. I mean, there are some parts of town with a few COVID cases still where movement is restricted, but the majority of people in this city are free to go wherever they want now. Public transportation resumed. They're restarting international flights. Private cars are allowed on the streets again. And online I saw people celebrating the sight of traffic jams. You know, there are still restrictions for people. You can't dine in restaurants. And everyone in Shanghai will need to take a COVID test every three days and show a negative result to be able to do just about anything, like go into a building or enter an apartment complex. But they did take a big step today.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, we heard those fireworks, so clearly, people are happy and relieved maybe. But you've been talking to some people in Shanghai, and they're concerned that this might not really be the end.

RUWITCH: Yeah, mixed feelings. A friend described it as like New Year's but also a little bit surreal and feeling maybe a little bit tenuous. You know, it's been an exceedingly tough experience for people in Shanghai. Trust in the government has been dented, right? This was originally supposed to be a four-day lockdown for anybody in Shanghai. And nobody really knows what's going to happen if - or maybe we should say when - cases pop up again in this city. One woman we talked to, Nicole Wong (ph), is a marketing strategist. She's been in lockdown for 80 days and hasn't been out at all. But she thinks the city is just opening up too quickly, and she made a point of not going out today.

NICOLE WONG: (Through interpreter) Even though everyone has a COVID test and a green health code, I'm still worried that there is a risk of contamination.

RUWITCH: Yeah, and an artist named Lucas Wong (ph), who we caught up with, was out having some drinks last night to celebrate early, but he also has concerns.

LUCAS WONG: (Non-English language spoken).

RUWITCH: So here he's saying that he doesn't see things really getting back to full normal anytime soon, and it's been a traumatic experience for the city. And he predicts that lots of stores and businesses went under during the lockdown and that in the coming days, we're going to see the extent of the carnage.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. And I'm pretty sure I know the answer to this, but I'm going to ask anyway - this lockdown, it comes at a steep economic cost, right?

RUWITCH: (Laughter) It does.

MARTINEZ: Yeah.

RUWITCH: Shanghai's a big city. It's cosmopolitan. It's in the spotlight. People around the world know it. But it's just one place of many in China where this kind of thing has happened. There's still a lot of parts of the country where people are experiencing lockdowns or restricted movement. You know, even without lockdown, just getting around now is tough. You have to have negative COVID tests. There are QR codes that are required. It's all a drag on the economy. And the government recognizes this, right? Last week, Premier Li Keqiang had a video conference with tens of thousands of officials from every corner of the country, and he urged them to help companies get back up on their feet, get back to production and to push economic growth in the second quarter into positive territory, which some read as a sign that Q2 growth might be negative. The full-year GDP growth target for China is around 5.5%. That is going to be a hard number for them to hit.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's John Ruwitch in Shenzhen. John, thanks.

RUWITCH: Thank you.

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MARTINEZ: Queen Elizabeth celebrates her Platinum Jubilee beginning tomorrow.

FADEL: Four days of celebrations will mark her record-setting 70 years on the throne. Many here, like royal analyst David McClure, describe the queen as steadfast and dependable.

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DAVID MCCLURE: I think history will regard her as one of the most successful monarchs of all time.

FADEL: But the celebration comes at a tricky time for the royal family.

MARTINEZ: For more, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt, who is outside Buckingham Palace. Frank, what's the scene there? What are some of the events planned for the coming days?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Yeah, A, the scene is wild. There are hundreds and hundreds of people already here. In fact, there's a big tour group right in front of me. And on the side by the parade route, you already have people set up tents - royal superfans - to try to get their best possible position for tomorrow's parade. And then on Saturday night, in front of Buckingham Palace, they've already set up a big stage. There's going to be a big concert with Diana Ross, Alicia Keys, Duran Duran, Adam Lambert and Queen. And then on Sunday, more than 16,000 street parties across the country.

MARTINEZ: Duran Duran - that's worth it already.

LANGFITT: (Laughter).

MARTINEZ: As the nation, though, celebrates the queen, what is the state of the monarchy?

LANGFITT: Well, it's uncertain. I think we're in the beginning of an uncertain period, A. The queen, of course, she's 96. Her health has been in decline. In the fall, we saw her on a cane for the first time in a long, long time. She doesn't even live in Buckingham Palace anymore. She's moved out to Windsor Castle outside of the city. She remains extremely popular. Eighty percent of people have a good impression of her here. But, you know, in recent years, there's been a lot of turmoil and scandal in the family. Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, of course, they left for California two or three years ago. In March, Prince Andrew paid an estimated millions of dollars - we don't know for sure - to settle a civil case claiming sexual assault, which he denied. And the big challenge, though, as - I think if you look at the polls, the queen is actually more popular than the monarchy as an institution. And while most people here still support the monarchy, younger people more would like to see it fade away. I was talking to a woman named Emma McDonald (ph). She's 21, and she lives outside of London. And here's what she had to say.

EMMA MCDONALD: I don't mind the queen as a person or any of them individually, but I think as a concept, as an institution, I don't really agree with it. I think probably it is time. To me, it seems like a bit of an unfair way for the country to be set up. I don't really feel a lot of connection to the monarchy or the queen.

MARTINEZ: Frank, Prince Charles is next in line. How does the public see him?

LANGFITT: This is another problem, A. He's much less popular than his mother. And a lot of this goes way back. You know, many Britons blame Charles for the failure of his marriage to Princess Diana, which ended back in 1996. This is Lola Krasser (ph). I was talking to her recently, and she said the divorce kind of frames the way that she still sees the prince. This is how she put it.

LOLA KRASSER: Prince Charles, in my opinion, is weak. It goes back to Diana. I lost respect for him through carrying on that affair while he was still married and so public as well.

LANGFITT: And Krasser there, she's referring to Charles' long-running affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, who was also married at the time, and after their divorces, the two married in 2005.

MARTINEZ: So where does this leave the monarchy?

LANGFITT: I think when the queen eventually leaves the stage, I think in perhaps a pretty tricky position, polls show that more people actually want Prince Charles to actually abdicate and let his son, Prince William, who's much more popular - considerably more popular - become king. Charles is - also, he's 73. He shows no sign of giving up the crown that he's waited this long to wear. And so the concern here is in the early days of a King Charles or some something like that, it could be a tricky and challenging time for the monarchy.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Frank Langfitt. Frank, thanks a lot.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, A.

MARTINEZ: We're watching another story. President Biden is announcing that the U.S. will provide more advanced rocket systems and munitions to Ukraine to counter Russian attacks. The longer-range missile systems would help Ukraine more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield. That's what the president said in an opinion piece published by The New York Times. He also insisted the U.S. will not try to encourage the ouster of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Senior administration officials say the systems can hit targets accurately as far as 50 miles, or 80 kilometers, away. It's part of a $700 million package the administration is set to present later today. Follow NPR for more coverage throughout the day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.