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Virginia Beach Mourns As Probe Into Mass Shooting Continues

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Virginia Beach is searching for an answer to a question that may never come. Why did a gunman enter a municipal building, open fire and then kill 12 people? The suspect is a city employee who had submitted his resignation on Friday, just hours before the massacre. He was killed in a gun battle with police. NPR's Bobby Allyn is in Virginia Beach and joins us now.

Bobby, you've been there over the weekend. What have the last few days been like for that community?

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: So the weekend has been a complete nightmare. So this shooting happened in a very public place. It was a sprawling campus of municipal buildings that's often high traffic. People go there to vote. They go to pull building permits. So not only was this a mass shooting that completely emotionally leveled the community, but it happened in a government office. And I talked to one woman who somehow survived. Her name was Christi Dewar. And when I say somehow, it's really because her colleague gave her safe haven - pushed her into a room, helped her barricade. And then he came out to help other co-workers. And in the process of trying to save others, he was fatally shot.

CHRISTI DEWAR: I called him a big teddy bear. He was the type of person that - you know he would - in fact, you know he'd lay down his life for - and exactly what he did.

ALLYN: And so she was talking about Ryan Keith Cox. He was a longtime employee in the public utilities department. And, you know, people are really sort of heralding him as a hero because he put his life on the line to save his co-workers. And even though others were saying, you know, get in - get in - you have to protect yourself, Ryan Keith Cox just was very focused on saving others. And he lost his life in the process.

MARTIN: Right. So it's notable that the investigators, they made a big deal of the fact that they were only going to say the suspect's name once. Are we learning anything more about him?

ALLYN: Yeah. So what we do know about him is that he's 40 years old. He was a longtime employee of the city. All his colleagues who I talked to say he was quiet, say that he, you know, was respectful - that this wasn't we-saw-this-coming kind of event. I mean, nobody ever would have suspected that he would do something this violent because there was nothing troubling about him, his colleagues told to me.

And he did write a resignation letter just hours before he carried out this violent shooting. And you know, exactly what that said we don't - we do not know. We might know soon what the resignation letter said, and that's going to play right into motive, which is a key area that investigators are exploring. Right. Was there a grievance? Was he disgruntled? We don't know, but we're hoping to find answers soon.

MARTIN: NPR's Bobby Allyn, thank you so much.

ALLYN: Thanks, Rachel.

MARTIN: So what can be done to end the seemingly endless cycle of mass shootings in this country? Is it just something Americans have to accept as a grim part of reality? David Frum says no. He's a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and a staff writer now at The Atlantic. And he joins us on the line. David, thanks for being back on the show.

DAVID FRUM: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: In your most recent article, you list a number of reasons why you think the political tide is turning when it comes to gun control measures. And I want to start with what you say about the NRA, the National Rifle Association. You say the group is in crisis. What's the evidence there?

FRUM: The NP - the National Rifle Association is facing formidable financial challenges, and they're having an internal contest in which the contestants are using, as weapons, records of the organization's financial wrongdoing. They're exposing each other's huge self-dealing and corruption in a way that is obviously affecting donations. I mean, people may be willing to donate money to support pro-gun causes; they're not willing to donate money to buy Zegna suits for the group's executive director.

MARTIN: Are we seeing any proof that that's having an impact on their larger ability to lobby?

FRUM: What we can see is the NRA is redirecting about $100 million from its charitable foundation to its ongoing operation. That's always a sign of distress, and it's possibly illegal.

MARTIN: You also write that the political map is changing in a way that could make it easier for gun control measures to pass. How so?

FRUM: The NRA used to be a bipartisan organization. For a long time, one of its board members was John Dingell, the pro-union congressman from Michigan. The NRA has pledged its fate now to the Republican Party, and its politics are becoming more and more radical, as anyone who's watched NRATV can see. That means that when Republicans do well, the NRA wins fights. But when Republicans lose, as they have been losing in the 2018 cycle, suddenly the organization is under pressure in a way that it wasn't back in the 1990s, when it had friends on both sides of the aisle.

MARTIN: What about states that are clearly making it easier for people to buy and carry guns, easing gun restrictions?

FRUM: Well, I've written about that in the past. And certainly after Newtown, the response of many states was to make gun access easier. But Democrats picked up 300 state legislative seats in 2018. They now hold a majority of the states' attorney general offices. And so that easing of gun rules which depends on Republican majorities becomes less easy when Republicans lose their majorities at the state level as they are doing.

MARTIN: In California over the weekend, there was this Democratic convention of sorts, and 14 Democratic presidential hopefuls were there. This is a group that's pretty receptive to gun control, usually seizes on the - any opportunity to talk about stricter gun control measures. But this - just hours after this massacre in Virginia Beach, only one candidate, Cory Booker, directly addressed this. What does that say to you?

FRUM: Well, that convention dealt with so-called big ideas. And the move toward gun safety requires the grinding-out of a lot of little ideas. There's not one big law that would make a difference. What you need to do is systematically make it a little bit tighter to get access to weapons and particularly to handguns and to military style weapons. Americans, of course, don't want to burden hunters and farmers and ranchers who need access to rifles and shotguns. That's not what is doing the damage. What is doing the damage are the weapons that urban people have. And to make that system safer, you need lots of small changes, one by one, at the state level.

MARTIN: David Frum, a staff writer at The Atlantic, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

David, thanks. We appreciate it.

FRUM: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.