NEW YORK — Bill Clinton addressed a number of crime and justice issues during a sweeping talk with CNN on Wednesday, including taking on the National Rifle Association and its pro-gun policy.
The former president, in a conversation with CNN’s Erin Burnett at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York, lumped together the NRA, stand your ground laws, and people surrounding themselves only with those who agree with them as problems that lead to a more violent climate in the United States.
Clinton, however, rejected the idea that several high-profile cases with apparent racial undertones mean the U.S. is more racist than it was in the past.
“I think we have enhanced the risks by changing the environment, basically, because it seems we bought the NRA’s theory that we would all be safer if everybody in this audience had a gun that was a concealed weapon,” Clinton said. “Then if one of them felt threatened by another, they could stand up right here and stand their ground. And we could watch the whole saga unfold. That is what happens.”
During the 2013 trial of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, the NRA stridently advocated to maintain stand your ground laws that allow people to respond with force to would-be attackers.
A jury acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in Martin’s death in 2013. The case captured the nation’s attention and raised a number of question about race.
The Zimmerman trial wasn’t the only case involving race that Clinton addressed on Wednesday.
Clinton pointed out that the more recent shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Missouri, ignited similar concerns about race and the law. Overnight on Wednesday the city broke into protests again over the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson.
Wilson has not been arrested, but a grand jury in Missouri has taken the Brown case.
Clinton said one of the primary problems in Ferguson was that the city’s police force and political leadership did not reflect the population.
“You can’t have a community that is more than two-thirds African-American where only one in six city council people are African-American and only three out of 60-plus police are African-American,” Clinton said. “You’ve got to have some effort to have ties to the community.”
Although Clinton said that while cases like Zimmerman and Ferguson do not mean the country is becoming more racist, he did express concern that the country is “playing with [racism’s] darker possibilities.”
“I actually think we’re less racist, less sexist, less homophobic than we used to be,” Clinton said. “I think our big problem today is we don’t want to be around anybody who disagrees with us. And I think that in some ways can be the worst silo of all to be held up in.”
The former president later added, “I think whenever people are insecure, they tend to return to home base psychologically. We tend to want to be with our own, however we define that. … I think that’s what is really at the root of many of our problems today.”