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New York attorney general speaks to NPR about Buffalo shooting

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Biden headed to Buffalo today to show his support for the community there after the mass shooting over the weekend that left 10 people dead.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: What happened here is simple and straightforward terrorism - terrorism, domestic terrorism.

KELLY: The role of enforcing New York laws, whether on domestic terrorism or guns, falls to state attorney general Letitia James. She was with the president in Buffalo today. She joins me now.

Thank you for making the time on what I imagine is a hard day in a row of way too many hard days.

LETITIA JAMES: Thank you for having me. It's been a rough last few days, and it'll be even more difficult in the days to come as we funeralize these 10 victims.

KELLY: Yeah. What are you going to do? What can you do about gun violence?

JAMES: We need to - let me just say first that I'm so happy that the president and the first lady made the time to visit Buffalo and to speak to some of the family members.

The eyes of the nation are on Buffalo. And our focus obviously should be on a real and present danger, and that is white supremacy. It was really important that the governor called out this act of hate for what it really was - domestic terrorism fueled by white supremacist beliefs and racism and a racist theory which has been propagated by those on social media as well as on cable news and by some elected officials.

From this point on, I'm respecting the families. I'm awaiting notices of the funerals. I believe the first funeral will be Monday.

KELLY: OK.

JAMES: I'm so glad that Officer Salter will receive a full tribute. The police will recognize him as if he died as an active law enforcement officer because he was a hero that day.

KELLY: If I may return to what the president called for today - among the things he called for was also keeping assault weapons off the street. I will note...

JAMES: It would...

KELLY: ...As you know...

JAMES: It would be great...

KELLY: ...New York already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. New York already has a ban on the sale of most assault-style firearms. New York already has a red flag law designed to stop gun sales to people who might pose a threat. But here we are. So my question again - what are you going to do?

JAMES: New York has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, but if other states don't regulate guns like we do, we unfortunately are powerless to a certain extent to fully crack down on them. The Iron Pipeline - most of these guns come from the South with lax gun laws.

We are looking at perhaps bringing some cases against some gun manufacturers and gun distributors. As you know, they enjoy immunity because Congress right now, particularly the GOP, are in the pockets of the gun lobby.

KELLY: Although you've pledged to hold gun manufacturers and distributors liable, what can you do?

JAMES: Right now, the state of New York, the state legislature crafted a law. We will be testing that law. We are trying to develop some cases and pursue an exception that they created to the immunity law, which would allow us to go forward in cases of negligence. And again, we are investigating and examine - and trying to determine a fact pattern, which in fact is consistent with that law. We - I anticipate that the law will be challenged by the gun lobby, but nonetheless, it's important that we not sit on our hands and we do all that we can do, again, to provide safety to the residents of the state of New York.

KELLY: There are a whole lot of questions coming from residents of Buffalo, from others on social media, saying if the shooter were a Black man, he wouldn't have been given time to surrender; the police would have shot him. You are a Black woman. You have seen way too many of these incidents. Do you have an answer to that?

JAMES: Let me just say that there - in this particular case, the gentleman wore armor - headgear and full body armor. Had the police confronted him, he would - there would have been more individuals, I believe, who would have died - members of the law enforcement. And so I understand the anger on the streets of Buffalo. I heard it when I was there. I recognize that.

But right now, what we need to do is respect the victims and their families. We need to funeralize all 10 victims, and then we need to have open and honest discussions about race and police and community relations.

KELLY: Yeah. In the minute we have left, you referenced that you heard some of the fury in Buffalo. You were shouted down there by residents over the weekend - people who sounded really tired of hearing promises from leaders when the killings just don't stop. What would you say to them now?

JAMES: So the complaint that you heard was from one - two individuals who we all know, individuals who focus on issues that have been investigated and resolved, and there are reports that we have prepared. Unfortunately, these two individuals have not read those reports. They focus primarily - the one gentleman brought up India Cummings. We did a full investigation. That report is on our website. And the other individual talked about the fact that we have not prosecuted any police. And again, we don't prosecute police. We focus on investigations and the facts.

KELLY: So your message is conversation. You need to hear from people. Change calling for...

JAMES: We need to hear from people. We need to have more discussions. That's why I went to Buffalo and plan on going - returning to Buffalo this weekend and will be at some of the funerals starting next week.

KELLY: Letitia James...

JAMES: I will confront...

KELLY: We'll leave it there.

JAMES: ...Confront everyone and - thank you.

KELLY: We'll leave it there.

JAMES: I appreciate it.

KELLY: Thank you so much. New York Attorney General Letitia James. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.