News brief: Shinzo Abe, Pat Cipollone, New NPR-Ipsos gun survey
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
Japan's former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has died after being shot at a campaign event.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
His death was announced by the country's public broadcaster, NHK. Abe was Japan's longest-serving prime minister. He left office in 2020, but his leadership has had a lasting impact on Japanese politics. And his killing, a rare act of gun violence, has stunned the nation.
MARTINEZ: NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from Seoul to fill us in. Anthony, where and how did this happen?
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Well, Abe was on the street in western Japan's Nara city, and he was campaigning for a candidate ahead of parliamentary upper house elections on Sunday. And you can see him in video footage speaking through a microphone to the crowd, and then you hear what sounds like two gunshots ringing out. Pictures show him lying on the ground with blood on his shirt. He was apparently hit in the back. Security agents then tackled the suspect, and police arrested him. Police have identified that man as 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, who formerly served in Japan's military. Pictures show he appeared to be carrying some sort of improvised firearm. It looked like a double-barreled shotgun held together with black tape. Abe was rushed to the hospital. Doctors tried to save him. Reports that he had died came out just before about 6 p.m. local time.
MARTINEZ: Now, how is Japan and the rest of the world, actually, reacted?
KUHN: Mostly with shock and horror. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida flew back from the campaign trail. All the candidates put their campaigning on hold. And looking very distraught, Kishida had this to say to reporters.
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PRIME MINISTER FUMIO KISHIDA: (Speaking Japanese).
KUHN: "I'm not aware of the background of this act, but it took place during an election," he said, "which makes it an attack on the core of democracy. It is a contemptible act of barbarism and cannot be tolerated. I condemn it in the strongest words." A spokesman said that the White House is also shocked and saddened by the attack. They're monitoring reports and keeping their thoughts with Abe's family and the people of Japan.
MARTINEZ: Anthony, why is Abe still important on the Japanese political scene, even after stepping down?
KUHN: Even after he stepped down. He remained the head of the largest faction within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan for most of the past seven decades. And the current prime minister, Kishida, who previously served as Abe's foreign minister, has been struggling to emerge from his ex-boss' shadow, even as he tried to keep Abe and his faction on his side. Abe's successors, including Kishida, have largely stuck to Abe's conservative policies - strengthening Japan's military, tightening its alliance with the U.S., taking a harder line on China, trying to keep the economy growing despite its aging, shrinking population.
Abe's message was that Japan is back, both from two decades of economic stagnation and also the earlier stigma of its defeat in World War II. A lot of people do not like what Abe did, and he didn't achieve everything he wanted, but I think a lot of people would say that he articulated a clear vision for the country, and he managed to actually shift Japan's policies.
MARTINEZ: We mentioned that political and street violence in Japan are rare. Why is that?
KUHN: There are very strict gun laws. There are very few gun deaths every year. Handguns are outlawed. Japan saw political violence in the 1960s when there were street clashes between the left and right. But since then, there's been sort of a consensus that political sparring doesn't get physical, and it's kept behind closed doors in order to maintain a sort of calm facade.
MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn, joining us from Seoul, telling us about the death of former prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. Anthony, thanks.
KUHN: Thanks, A.
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MARTINEZ: The House January 6 committee has interviewed hundreds of people so far in its investigation into the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
FADEL: Today, the panel will talk to someone whose name has come up again and again during public hearings - former White House counsel Pat Cipollone. He's considered a key witness to former President Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election.
MARTINEZ: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas joins us now. Ryan, we've heard the name Pat Cipollone a lot from the panel, from witnesses. They subpoenaed him last week. Why are they so eager to talk to him now?
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, the committee really has been angling for this interview for a long time. It has already spoken with Cipollone. That was back in April. But it was an informal discussion. Now, as you said, he's set to appear under subpoena. This will be a transcribed interview. It's also expected to be videotaped. And the committee wants to talk to him because, as White House counsel, Cipollone was in the room during several key moments and conversations following the 2020 election and up through January 6. So he really is a critical witness here, one of the most critical even, to Trump's actions and his attempts to toss out the election results. And we know that in part because of the testimony that we've already heard in the committee's public hearings, including the one last week with former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson.
MARTINEZ: Right, yeah. Hutchinson and other witnesses have described Cipollone as a key figure trying to rein Trump in. So what does the panel want to hear from Cipollone?
LUCAS: There's a long list of things it wants to discuss with him and hear his firsthand account of what transpired. We know he was a firsthand witness to several key moments. That includes Trump's attempts to replace the acting attorney general with Jeffrey Clark, a mid-level DOJ official who wanted to use the department to help Trump overturn the election. Former Justice Department officials have testified that Cipollone helped block Clark from being appointed.
There's also the effort to submit fake electoral ballots and, of course, Trump's actions on January 6 itself and his role in the events of that day. Hutchinson, for example, testified that Cipollone tried to stop Trump from going up to the Capitol on January 6. She said Cipollone he told her that, we're going to get charged with, quote, "every crime imaginable," if Trump succeeded in going up to the Hill. And Cipollone also, Hutchinson said, pleaded to get Trump to call off the attack on the Capitol once the violence was underway.
MARTINEZ: And didn't Cipollone also push back against this theory that Mike Pence could unilaterally stop the count?
LUCAS: That's right. That's right. In the run-up to January 6, Trump lawyer John Eastman was pushing this wild theory that Pence had the authority on his own to stop the electoral count. Trump campaign aide Jason Miller has testified to the committee that Cipollone confronted Eastman about that, and Miller said Cipollone pushed back very hard on that theory and basically said that it was crazy.
MARTINEZ: All right. Now, this sit-down is happening behind closed doors. The panel has two more public hearings planned for next week. What do we expect to hear there?
LUCAS: Well, the committee is holding a hearing Tuesday. That one is expected to focus on the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6, how the mob was assembled, and it will likely put a spotlight on the role played by members of two extremist groups that we've talked a lot about in the context of January 6 - the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys. And then there's another hearing that the committee has planned for prime time Thursday, and that one is expected to focus on the 187 minutes on January 6 that Trump was kind of absent as the Capitol was attacked, when he wasn't saying anything publicly. He wasn't doing anything to stop the violence that was going down at the Capitol. That's what the committee has planned for now. It's unclear at this point whether there will be more public hearings after that or whether, with that hearing, it will have wrapped up, essentially, the public portion of its work.
MARTINEZ: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks, Ryan.
LUCAS: Thank you.
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MARTINEZ: Many Americans remain deeply frustrated that regular deadly mass shootings have become an ugly yet seemingly repetitive reality of life in the United States. A new NPR/Ipsos poll of gun owners out today shows some strong support for several key gun control measures and also some stark partisan divisions. NPR's Eric Westervelt has reported on gun violence. He's here to talk to us about the poll's findings. Now, Eric, this poll has some pretty interesting results on what many gun owners would accept. Tell us about some of the key reforms they've agreed on.
ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Yeah. Good morning, A. Yeah, the majority of gun owners in this NPR/Ipsos poll say they are in favor of some key, if relatively modest, gun control measures, including universal background checks. That includes checks at gun shows and for private gun sales. Support there by all gun owners was at 84% and almost the same percentage for Republican gun owners. And the poll showed very strong support among all gun owners for raising the minimum age to buy any kind of gun from 18 to 21. And it showed gun owners overwhelmingly backed, you know, what are called red flag laws so police can take away guns from people a judge has ruled too dangerous to have a firearm.
We should note, recently passed federal gun legislation includes some of those things, including incentive money for states to pass red flag laws. It expands some background checks for gun buyers under 21. And it boosts money for mental health resources in schools and communities, among some other provisions.
MARTINEZ: And with this week's mass shooting in Highland Park, Ill., assault-style semiautomatic weapons are back on everyone's mind. What did gun owners have to say about these type of guns?
WESTERVELT: Yeah, it's interesting. The poll shows a really sharp partisan split there on what to do about AR-15-style guns. These are these semiautomatic rifles, a weapon used in many mass shootings. Just 25% of Republican gun owners polled back a ban on AR-style rifles, while 84% of gun-owning Democrats support that move. And I think the issue somewhat divides Republican gun owners, too. We reached out to several poll participants. Ipsos agreed to use first names only. We talked to Fred. He's a 73-year-old Republican gun owner in Bakersfield, Calif. - told us, look; these AR-15-style guns, in his view, should be reserved only for the military.
FRED: It's made for war. It is not made to hunt with. It is made to kill, OK? Regular people have no business owning them. That's part of the problem we have.
WESTERVELT: But, A, other gun owners we talked to said, look; this ban doesn't make any sense. You know, it'll do nothing to stop gun violence and could lead to additional gun restrictions they see as dangerous and unconstitutional.
MARTINEZ: So speaking of partisan divisions, the poll also shows some of that among gun owners. What are some of the biggest gaps and concerns?
WESTERVELT: Yeah. For example, a majority of gun owners, not surprisingly, told us it's more important to protect gun rights than control gun violence. But here, as in other parts of the poll, these sharp partisan divides - I mean, there's a roughly 60-point gap between Republicans and Democrats on that question. Democrats saying it's more important to stop gun violence; Republicans saying far more important to protect the constitutional right to bear arms. So those enduring divisions don't bode well for the prospect of additional legislative action on gun control.
MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Eric Westervelt talking about today's NPR/Ipsos poll on gun owners. Eric, thanks for sharing the results.
WESTERVELT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.