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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Experts say the gun violence that ruined the July 4 holiday in many cities will have long-lasting effects on survivors and even on whole communities.

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

In Baltimore, Philadelphia and Fort Worth, a total of 11 people were killed in mass shootings, and at least 38 were wounded by gunmen who fired on crowds, cars, kids and sidewalks.

MARTIN: Joining us to talk about this is NPR's health correspondent Rhitu Chatterjee. Rhitu, good morning. Thank you for joining us.

RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So, Rhitu, these shootings just seemed to keep on happening. Would you just give us a sense of the scale of this problem?

CHATTERJEE: This year already we've had nearly 350 mass shootings. And if you want to get a sense of the scale for all kinds of gun violence, we've already lost more than 21,000 people just since January 1 of this year. And more than half of those deaths were, in fact, suicides. And, you know, obviously, we're not counting those who were injured who have to live with those injuries for the rest of their lives. And to give you a sense of just how many people in America gun violence touches, a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly 1 in 5 Americans say they've lost a family member to gun violence, and a similar number say they've witnessed someone getting shot. And those numbers are even higher in communities of color.

MARTIN: So just to pick up on something that you just said, when we talk about the toll of gun violence, we're not just talking about the people who have died, and we're not just talking about the people who are injured, sometimes grievously. We're also talking about people who have to live with this, who've witnessed this, or who are caring for family members who have been injured, you know, sometimes with lifelong injuries. So what do we know about the mental health toll of all this?

CHATTERJEE: There's a tremendous mental health toll of gun violence. Now, let's start with mass shootings, for example. I spoke with psychologist Robin Gurwitch at Duke University, and here's what she told me.

ROBIN GURWITCH: Any time a community is impacted by large-scale mass violence, the community is changed forever. The names of those communities are now linked with mass violence events, whether it is Sandy Hook, whether it is Oklahoma City, Columbine. There's so many.

CHATTERJEE: Gurwitch says that the people who are closest to the acts of violence - those who have witnessed it, maybe they have injuries, people who've lost loved ones - they are at highest risk of long-term mental health issues. And in the immediate aftermath of these incidents, people can end up having symptoms like feeling hypervigilant, having trouble sleeping. Maybe they don't feel as comfortable going on about their daily lives because their overall sense of safety is just shattered.

MARTIN: Do we know whether people continue to experience these symptoms of trauma over time?

CHATTERJEE: So the good news, Michel, is that most people will recover in time, but a significant minority, about 25%, will continue to struggle in the long run. They're at a higher risk of PTSD, of developing other issues like substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. And children can be vulnerable to these symptoms too, especially if their parents and caregivers are struggling, which is what happens when people don't get the mental health care support, the social support, not just in the immediate aftermath but in the long run, because what we see is that once there's a mass shooting or an act of violence, communities will get support right away, but those supports tend to dwindle over time. But experts I spoke to said it's really important to keep those supports and services going so that communities have a chance at healing in the long run.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee. Rhitu, thank you.

CHATTERJEE: Thank you, Michel.

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MARTIN: The leaders of the NATO countries head to their annual meeting. It's being held in Lithuania next week with a focus once again on Russia's war on Ukraine.

SCHMITZ: Sweden wants to join the alliance, whose nations promised to defend each other against outside attacks. But one of the NATO allies, Turkey, has blocked that application for more than a year.

MARTIN: President Biden meets with Sweden's prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, to talk about that today. And NPR White House reporter Deepa Shivaram will be watching. Deepa, good morning.

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.

MARTIN: So let's start with why Sweden wants to join NATO and why it's taking so long to get that application ratified.

SHIVARAM: Yeah, this all started a little over a year ago. Sweden has long been a neutral country, but that changed after Russia invaded Ukraine. And that's when both Sweden and Finland applied for membership to NATO. The war essentially made public opinion in Sweden change to support joining this military alliance. And all countries that belong to NATO have to ratify any new members. Finland was approved earlier this year, but for Sweden, Turkey is a big holdup. They claim that Sweden is harboring Kurdish separatists whom Turkey has designated as terrorists. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants Sweden to extradite more than 100 people over this. And on top of all of that, there was an incident last week in Stockholm. An Iraqi man living in Sweden burned the Quran, which is the - an Iraqi man living in Sweden burned the Quran, which is the Muslim holy book, outside of a mosque. The man reportedly had a permit for this demonstration because Swedish courts have said that denying it would be infringing freedom of speech. But there have been massive protests and backlash since this happened, and the Swedish Foreign Ministry has condemned the burning. But, of course, many Muslim countries are seeing this as religious hatred, and that includes Turkey. Erdogan has also condemned this, and it's all been complicating an already long-standing conflict.

MARTIN: So for President Biden and, you know, for a number of other Western leaders, it's been a priority to try to keep NATO strong and unified in the face of Russian aggression. So what has the White House been doing to try to accelerate Sweden's ratification?

SHIVARAM: The administration has been in talks with Turkey, trying to sway them for months. That's included national security adviser Jake Sullivan traveling to Istanbul, Secretary of State Antony Blinken meeting with his Turkish counterpart, and other NATO countries have been putting pressure on Turkey as well. And there's also been talks over these F-16 fighter jets. Turkey has been trying to get them from the U.S. for years. In May, President Biden talked to Erdogan, and later after that conversation, Biden publicly connected the two issues, providing the F-16s and Sweden's approval into NATO. John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told reporters last week that he thinks the jets should be in play now.

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JOHN HERBST: I think that the administration could do more to be able to offer Erdogan the F-16s as part of a deal, and that might well be a decisive factor.

SHIVARAM: But in order to move forward, Congress would need to approve. And Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who leads the Foreign Relations Committee, has said he's concerned about Turkey's human rights record. So the path forward on this whole thing is a little bit unclear.

MARTIN: So that brings us to this meeting today. What are Biden and Kristersson expected to talk about?

SHIVARAM: The focus today is definitely going to be on NATO and trying to expedite this ongoing process of getting Sweden ratified. The White House says they'll be talking about Russia, relations with China and climate change as well. And then on Sunday, the president's travels kick off. He's first headed to London, where he's meeting with King Charles, then that NATO summit. And then after that summit, Biden will end his trip in Finland, the newest NATO member, to meet with Nordic leaders.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Deepa Shivaram. Deepa, thank you.

SHIVARAM: Thank you.

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MARTIN: A federal judge has blocked some government agencies and Biden administration officials from communicating with tech companies.

SCHMITZ: Government officials say they work with social media companies to stop criminal activity like child abuse and terrorism. In recent years, the agencies also asked for better policing of misinformation on COVID vaccines and election interference. Republican attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri sued over that, arguing the government was suppressing conservative viewpoints.

MARTIN: Cat Zakrzewski is a tech policy reporter with The Washington Post, and she's with us now to tell us more about it. Cat, good morning. Thanks for being here.

CAT ZAKRZEWSKI: Thanks for having me on the show.

MARTIN: This just seems like an extraordinary development. I just can't think of another instance where government officials were told they could not talk to key players in an industry. So just tell us what's the basis for it.

ZAKRZEWSKI: This puts sweeping restrictions on government communications with the tech companies. For years, Republicans have argued that social media companies' policies to address disinformation related to elections and public health have resulted in unfair censorship of their views. The Republican AGs brought those arguments to court, subpoenaing thousands of emails between Biden officials and tech companies that they say showed illegal collusion between the administration and the tech industry. But the Biden administration disputes these claims, and they've argued that those communications uncover - actually reflect the government using its bully pulpit to promote accurate information in the face of foreign interference in elections and a deadly pandemic.

MARTIN: What do we know about what this ruling means for how the government operates now?

ZAKRZEWSKI: So this order puts limits on executive agencies across the government. This affects the Department of Justice, the State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC. It also affects more than a dozen individual officials with a lot of power over various institutions related to elections and public health, including the Department of Homeland Security secretary, Jen Easterly, who leads the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. And in addition to limiting the government's communications with tech companies, the judge also prohibited agencies and officials from, quote, "collaborating with key academic groups that focus on social media." These are groups like the Election Integrity Partnership, academics who work out of Stanford and University of Washington on issues like voter suppression and public health disinformation. And I just want to point out that the judge did make some exceptions for communications in this order, including to allow government officials to warn the tech companies of potential national security threats, criminal activity or voter suppression.

MARTIN: OK, but before we let you go - we have about 30 seconds here - why are the plaintiffs going after government officials and government agencies and these academic researchers? Why not sue the social media companies directly?

ZAKRZEWSKI: Well, they've tried that before, and it didn't work. The tech companies effectively argued that they have a First Amendment right to decide what appears on their sites. So we've really seen a new twist in Republicans' complaints now focusing instead on the federal government's role in that process.

MARTIN: There would seem to be profound implications for the First Amendment and free speech. We'll have to talk more about that in the future. That's Cat Zakrzewski. She's a tech policy reporter with The Washington Post. Cat, thank you so much.

ZAKRZEWSKI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.