STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
In an exceedingly rare development, Republicans say they're open to at least a discussion with Democrats about gun control - or at least one gun control measure. Republicans still broadly oppose new gun regulations. But House Speaker Paul Ryan says he wants to look at rules for bump stocks, which allow a weapon to fire somewhat like a machine gun. Bump stocks were apparently used by the shooter in Las Vegas on Sunday night. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also signaled some openness.
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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: We know that members of both parties and multiple organizations are planning to take a look at bump stocks and related devices. We certainly welcome that. We'd like to be part of that conversation.
INSKEEP: Well, let's continue that conversation with Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, who's on the line from Washington, D.C.
Congressman, good morning once again.
TOM COLE: Hi, Steve. Good to be with you.
INSKEEP: What makes this an item that Republicans are willing to regulate?
COLE: I think it's very obviously a device, which most of us knew nothing about until the awful tragedy in Nevada, that takes a legal, you know, product - or legal weapon and makes it, effectively, an illegal weapon. Automatic weapons have been illegal in this country since the 1930s. So I think people understand that immediately. They obviously see the horror of what happened. And they're, I think, mostly prepared to act on it.
INSKEEP: I wonder if, though, you can say that this is enough. You're correct that there have been restrictions on automatic weapons since the 1930s. But if you can't get a bump stock, you can still get a machine gun. It's just hard. And even if you can't get a machine gun, you can get an AR-15, which is a military-style rifle. Is it really going to be enough to ban or do something about bump stocks?
COLE: Well, I don't know if it's enough. But it's certainly, I think, the right thing to do. And in terms of getting a machine gun - yes, you can get one. They're legal. There were legal till, like, '86. And under very rare - but they're hard to get. They're extremely rare. We have none of them that have been used in a crime since that point that they were made illegal. So I think that's different. And AR-15's, quite frankly, there are millions of them in circulation. They're a legitimate, you know, weapon. And they're something that most people that have, you know, either have for defense, sporting purposes or hunting. So you know, yes, they've been used in crimes. That's true of a lot of different entities. But this is, I think, fundamentally different. I literally - when I saw the clips and listened to the soundtrack of what happened in Nevada...
COLE: ...I had just assumed immediately it was an automatic weapon from the firing. I was shocked when I found out you could actually modify, you know, a semiautomatic weapon that easily.
INSKEEP: Is there anything larger that leaders in your party would be willing to sign onto that would address the problem of mass shootings?
COLE: You know, it depends on what you - I would argue that the best way to address this is actually mental health. And both parties have actually done quite a bit in that regard. But if you're talking in terms of, you know, individual actions that have to do with banning particular types of weapons, probably not.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about one other thing, Congressman, that I feel obliged to ask about because it directly involves your state and Obamacare.
The Washington Post reports that the state of Iowa is one of the states seeking flexibility to improve its insurance markets under Obamacare and hopefully lower premiums. They wanted flexibility to fix their insurance markets. And according to The Washington Post, President Trump read about this and personally intervened to make sure that Iowa was told no. And it's not the only example of this. I'm looking at a letter from the secretary of Health and Human Services from your state, Oklahoma. And apparently, Oklahoma was seeking flexibility to lower insurance premiums for thousands of people by 30 percent under Obamacare. But they needed permission from the administration, which just plain missed a deadline, and so that's not going to happen.
So here's my question - in your view, Congressman, is the administration intervening to make people's insurance premiums higher just because it doesn't like Obamacare?
COLE: No, I don't think so. I think - let's put the blame where it belongs, which is on Obamacare. And you know, in my state, it's a very flawed system. It's - we're having a 69 percent rate increase. You know, we don't get coverage - because we're a non-Medicaid expansion state - that other states receive. So look, I think the law is fundamentally flawed. And so I think that that's where I would put the responsibility.
INSKEEP: Let's even accept that premise. Nevertheless, there are ways to fix it apparently. According to your state's secretary of Health and Human Services, Terry Cline, they'd worked out a way to lower premiums by 30 percent for 130,000 people, and the administration didn't get back to them. Doesn't that indicate that the president would rather people pay higher premiums and suffer until Obamacare is repealed...
INSKEEP: ...Which is something he's publicly said he wants to do?
COLE: Well, I don't think that's the case where the president's concerned. I don't know what happened in this particular instance. I know Dr. Cline is actually a terrific official, honestly. But, you know, I think this is something that the law is fundamentally flawed. We need to change it legislatively, not count on the administration to do it bureaucratically.
INSKEEP: Should the administration make the bureaucratic fixes that apparently are available?
COLE: In my opinion, yes.
INSKEEP: Should that be done even for Oklahoma in this case where the administration...
COLE: Of course. It should be done for every state. But, you know, again, I think a lot of these things are much harder to do bureaucratically than they should be. And legislation is the appropriate answer.
INSKEEP: Congressman Tom Cole, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thanks for...
COLE: Thank you.
INSKEEP: ...Taking our questions.
Tom Cole is a member of the Republican House leadership and a representative from Oklahoma. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.