If the mass shooting this summer during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises has receded in the public’s memory given the recent horror in Newtown, Connecticut, court proceedings in Centennial, Colorado, this week have thrust it back into view.
We’ve learned heretofore unknown and certainly unpleasant details from the day of the shooting. Prosecutors played a tape in which a panicked moviegoer calls 911, but the dispatcher can’t hear him over the sound of gunshots—30 of them in 27 seconds. An officer testified that, when there weren’t enough ambulances around, he crammed victims into the back of his patrol car. They were so badly injured that he testified he could hear blood “sloshing around” on the floor of his car when he made turns.
Other details that we heard piecemeal before have been confirmed: about the types of weapons Holmes used and his efforts to obtain them.
Crucially, looking at the evidence presented by prosecutors this week, it’s easy to see several points at which sensible gun control legislation could have stopped the slaughter. Here are the three most obvious ones:
Tracking large-scale ammunition purchases. Steve Beggs, an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, testified that Holmes went on a buying spree starting May 10, 2012. By July 14, he had bought 6,300 rounds of ammunition, two pistols, a .223 caliber Smith & Wesson AR-15 assault weapon, a shotgun, body armor, bomb-making materials and handcuffs.
The large-scale bullet purchases are the big red flag here. Nobody is monitoring bulk ammunition purchases: Some states, like Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey, have limits on the amount you can buy and ask that dealers track their sales for law enforcement, but Colorado has no such rules. And the ones that do exist can easily be evaded by buying ammunition online anyhow, which is what Holmes did.
The federal government should be able to track bulk ammunition sales—there is clearly a controlling public interest when somebody is assembling an arsenal that could support a small militia. If authorities had even briefly question Holmes about why he was stockpiling so many weapons, it’s almost a certainty they would have noticed his extremely bizarre behavior: He was reportedly almost incoherent in the weeks leading up to the attack. The White House is said to be considering a national database to track the sale and movement of weapons, and it should absolutely include ammunition, too.
Online sales of ammunition should also be banned or highly regulated, since they create an easy way for people to stockpile dangerous weapons without ever showing their face. A 1999 bill in Congress to regulate the online sale of ammunition was never adopted, but should be now.
Better mental health screenings for weapons purchases. Holmes was not only stockpiling weapons but, as noted, exhibiting excessively strange behavior. He left a voicemail at a local gun range asking if he could join, but the message was reportedly incomprehensible. “It was this very guttural, very heavy bass, deep voice that was rambling incoherently,” the owner of the range told The New York Times. “It was bizarre on a good day, freakish on others.” Only weeks before his rampage, Holmes’ psychiatrist was alerting police at his university about his behavior—a drastic step for any mental health professional to take.
Yet, Holmes was able to obtain his weapons with ease. Note this exchange during yesterday’s court proceedings:
Holmes’ defense attorney Tamara Brady asked [ATF agent] Beggs if there is a legal process to keep from selling these items legally in Colorado to a “severely mentally ill person.” Beggs answered that there is not.
Biden’s task force on gun control has reportedly been exploring the idea of mandating state participation in the mental-health database and stronger mental-health screenings for gun purchasers—areas in which it might find common ground with the NRA. Those measures should certainly be part of the final package.
Banning assault weapons and large capacity magazines. Holmes used a .223 caliber assault rifle during the attack, which as noted was heard firing 30 shots in 27 seconds. Holmes also bought ammunition drums larger than the standard 30-round high-capacity clip, including one that held up to 100 rounds.
According to details disclosed in court, at most 90 seconds elapsed between the first 911 call and police intervention in the movie theatre, yet Holmes was able to shoot 71 people. Many gun-control advocates rightly find this to be an unacceptable level of firepower, and Biden’s group will almost certainly propose an assault weapons ban and high-capacity clips. In the Senate, Dianne Feinstein is moving towards strong legislation that would do the same.
What’s important is that, unlike the 1994 ban, the new laws should make all assault weapons illegal—the language should be strong enough that gun manufacturers can’t evade the ban with minor alterations to their weapons. Feinstein’s bill would make only one military characteristic illegal, whereas the 1994 ban had the threshold at two.
By: George Zornick, The Nation, January 9, 2013
Another unfolding American gun massacre has produced an avalanche news coverage, but it’s coverage that continues to omit crucial context about gun violence and the rash of often public shooting sprees that plague the country. It’s a troubling journalism trend, and one that seems to be getting worse. As America recoils from new shootings, the news media are casting the gun horrors in less context, not more.
It’s true that the press is moving away from presenting shooting sprees as isolated incidents. The coverage of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., has been rich with references to the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre from this summer. Then again, how can reporters not connect the dots from those two rampages to a sweeping cultural and criminal problem, and one that continues to worsen and extends to all corners of the country.
But simply acknowledging the deadly trend doesn’t mean the news media are providing much-needed context. For instance, each year roughly 30,000 Americans die from gun violence. By comparison, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, approximately 4,300 Americans have died in that conflict.
As Forbes’ Rob Waters noted, from the period between 2000 to 2009, “If you exclude natural causes of death and consider only deaths caused by injury, [gun violence] is the second-leading cause of death over that time span; only car accidents (417,000) killed more people.” And according to Bloomberg News, the number of Americans killed by guns will soon exceed the yearly number of auto fatalities, as auto-related deaths are falling and gun fatalities are rising.
To understand the larger story of gun violence in America, people have to understand the context. People have to be aware of the 30,000 figure. They ought to know, for instance, that in the week since Newtown, an estimated 500 Americans have died from gunfire, and more than 1,200 have been wounded. They ought to know that just since the Sand Hook School massacre, approximately 50 more American children and teens have died from gunfire.
If we don’t understand the saturation status we’re not going to understand the steady stream of public shooting sprees.
But news consumers aren’t getting that information from the media – at least not in the wake of the Newtown tragedy.
Very few mentions of the 30,000 statistic have appeared in newspaper articles or on television segments about the Connecticut massacre. In fact, a Nexis search uncovers only two major newspaper news articles that referenced that key figure in the last week, one in the San Francisco Chronicle, on December 18, and one in the Hartford Courant December 19. (The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Tampa Tribune and Indianapolis Star published references to the 30,000-death statistic in opinion pieces about the Newtown killings.)
On television, the references were just as rare: I found only four. One each on PBS, CNN, NBC and MSNBC.
It’s possible that a handful of additional newspaper news accounts and television discussions mentioned the fact that approximately 30,000 people die from gunfire every year. (Nexis transcripts don’t capture every cable news segment.) But given the extraordinary amount of coverage of the Newtown shooting, the press had ample opportunities to highlight the 30,000 number. But these findings indicate that the references were quite scarce. In fact, they were even scarcer than when I urged the press to include crucial gun death context following the Aurora gun massacre in July.
Other key points that have been largely ignored in the Newtown coverage:
•There are huge economic costs associated with gun violence. For example, firearm-related deaths and injuries resulted in medical and lost of productivity expenses of about $32 billion in the U.S., according to most recently available data.
•Gun violence is among the leading causes of premature death in the U.S.
•Among the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, 87 percent of all kids killed by guns are American kids.
The point here isn’t to simply to wallow in a grim statistics. It’s to illustrate how little context is included in the so-called ‘gun debate’ in this country. And especially the so-called gun debate that takes place in the media.
If that conversation is really going to happen it’s imperative Americans understand what’s at the center of the topic, and that sadly, this crisis extends far beyond Newtown.
By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, December 21, 2012
After last week’s Aurora massacre, Michael Bloomberg emerged as something of a liberal hero by almost single-handedly forcing gun control into the national debate.
Within hours of the tragedy, the New York mayor said in a radio appearance that “soothing words are nice, but maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it, because this is obviously a problem across the country.” He made the same call in a national television appearance over the weekend, leading a crusade on an issue that the Democratic Party once championed but essentially abandoned a decade ago. President Obama’s call last night for “violence reduction,” hesitant and non-specific though it was, is testament to the traction Bloomberg’s shaming campaign gained this past week.
And now, to follow this all up, Bloomberg is going to host a fundraiser for … a Republican senator who expressed his opposition just this week to reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons.
Granted, Scott Brown, the beneficiary of the Aug. 15 New York City fundraiser Bloomberg is planning, is unusually flexible on Second Amendment issues, at least by the standards of today’s Republican Party. As a state legislator in Massachusetts, he voted in 2004 to extend the state’s assault weapons ban (though he sided against banning the sale of weapons purchased before the ban went into effect). And as a U.S. senator, he broke with the NRA to oppose a bill that would require states to recognize concealed carry permits from other states.
Brown has been leaning on states’ rights to balance his home state’s liberalism on gun issues with the anti-gun control fervor that grips the national GOP, arguing that the federal government has no business passing new laws but that states should be free to do so. This is how he justifies his opposition to reinstating the federal assault weapon ban, which expired eight years ago.
The non-cynical reading of Bloomberg’s decision to raise money for Brown is that the mayor wants to reward what amounts to a modest break with GOP gun control orthodoxy, and to deliver a message to other Republicans that he’s willing to help them if they do the same. At some level, it’s surely a factor here.
But it’s hard to ignore the other major issue that might attract Bloomberg to Brown’s side: Wall Street. This has a little to do with Brown, who voted for the Dodd-Frank reform law but also worked to make it much weaker than it could have been, and a lot to do with his opponent, Elizabeth Warren, whom the Wall Street crowd is treating as its biggest enemy running for office this year.
When the Occupy Wall Street movement emerged last fall, Warren boasted that she’d created “much of the intellectual foundation” for the movement’s top 1 percent/bottom 99 percent messaging. Bloomberg, meanwhile, called the protests “not productive” and said that “what they’re trying to do is take the jobs away from people working in this city.” More recently, Bloomberg argued that President Obama, who is calling for the end of the Bush tax cuts for incomes over $250,000, has “not only embraced the frustration expressed by Occupy Wall Street protesters—which was real—but he adopted their economic populism.”
Bloomberg’s decision to raise money for Brown tells us a lot about his ideology, which is commonly portrayed in the media as centrist and independent. But that’s not really where he’s coming from. On most issues – guns, abortion, gay rights, the environment — Bloomberg is a standard-issue liberal Democrat. On economic issues, he’s a Wall Street Democrat, not averse to raising taxes (he’s even said the Bush rates should expire for everyone) but mindful of and often deferential to the sensitivities of the financial services sector. This puts him on the same page as Bill Clinton, Cory Booker and the many, many other Democrats who’ve cultivated mutually beneficial relationships with Wall Street over the past two decades. Obama himself benefited from Wall Street’s help in 2008, although that won’t really be the case this year.
In this sense, Bloomberg’s support for Brown isn’t really a sign of how independent he is as much as it is an indicator of how far removed Warren is from where most elite Democrats are on Wall Street issues.
By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, July 26, 2012
Talk about power: The gun lobby barely had to say a word before the media sent advocates of saner gun regulation shuffling off in defeat.
In a political version of Stockholm syndrome, even those who claim to disagree with the National Rifle Association’s absolutist permissiveness on firearms lulled themselves into accepting the status quo by reciting a script of gutless resignation dictated by the merchants of death.
It’s a script built on half-truths and myths. For example, polls showing declining support for gun control in the abstract were widely cited, while polls showing broad backing for carefully tailored laws were largely ignored.
Arguments that gun regulation won’t accomplish anything were justified with citations of academic studies that offer mixed or inconclusive verdicts. In the wake of last week’s killings in Colorado, these studies were deployed to hide the elephant in the room: Our country is the scene of more gun deaths than any other wealthy nation in the world. And it isn’t even close.
A study last year in the Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection & Critical Care analyzed gun death statistics for 2003 from the World Health Organization Mortality Database. It found that 80 percent of all firearms deaths in 23 industrialized countries occurred in the United States. For women, the figure rose to 86 percent; for children age 14 and under, to 87 percent. Can anyone seriously claim that our comparatively lax gun laws had nothing to do with these blood-drenched data?
Some of the evasions are couched in compassion. We are told that the real answer to mass slaughter lies not in better gun statutes but in more attentiveness to those afflicted with psychological problems.
Yes, we need better treatment for the mentally distressed. But while we build a better system of care for mental illness — and, by the way, nobody talks concretely about how to create and pay for such a system — isn’t the more direct solution to ban automatic weapons and oversize magazines so that when someone does go off the rails, it won’t be possible for him to shoot off close to 100 rounds in 100 seconds? And why shouldn’t we make it harder for such a person to buy the instruments of slaughter online?
Regulations, it is said, just won’t work. Bad people will get guns somehow. But if that were true, why did the assault-weapons ban work? If regulation is futile, why do we bother to regulate safety in so many other ways? We manage to prevent needless deaths through rules on refrigerators, automobiles and children’s toys, yet politics blocks us from keeping up to date on the regulation of firearms, whose very purpose is to kill.
We’re told that no laws will end all human tragedies. That’s true. And if the standard for a useful law is that it must put an end to all tragedies and solve all problems, there is no point in passing any laws at all.
Those of us who believe in sensible steps to regulate weapons are supposed to bow before this catalogue of despair and shut up. Most liberal politicians are doing just that. It does not seem to occur to them that the general idea of gun control is bound to recede in the polls when so many advocates of popular regulations give up on making their case.
Bad arguments prevail when they go unanswered. That, by the way, is why it’s not enough for advocates of a sensible course on guns to think their job is over if they write one impassioned column or make one strong statement after a mass killing — and then move on to the latest campaign flap.
The polls still show considerable support for practical measures to curb gun violence. For example: a 2011 New York Times/CBS News poll found that 63 percent of Americans favor a ban on high-capacity magazines; just as many supported an assault-weapons ban. The same year, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 83 percent supported financing a system in which people treated for mental illness would be reported to a federal gun registry database to prevent them from buying guns; 71 percent favored this for those treated for drug abuse.
Such numbers should give heart to those who seek solutions to gun violence. Yet so many progressive donors have given up on financing the cause of gun safety. And although President Obama took an important step forward in a New Orleans speech Wednesday night, so many progressive politicians sit back and assume that the gun lobby will win again.
There is a word for this: surrender.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 25, 2012
In the wake of tragic gun violence, most politicians realize the decent, responsible thing to do is send sympathies to those affected while leaving politics out of it. Others aren’t as sensible.
After the Columbine massacre, for example, then-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) blamed science textbooks for the murders: “Our school systems teach the children that they are nothing but glorified apes who are evolutionized [sic] out of some primordial soup.”
In 2007, after the Virginia Tech massacre, Newt Gingrich blamed liberals for supporting “situation ethics,” adding, “Yes, I think the fact is, if you look at the amount of violence we have in games that young people play at 7, 8, 10, 12, 15 years of age, if you look at the dehumanization, if you look at the fact that we refuse to say that we are, in fact, endowed by our creator, that our rights come from God, that if you kill somebody, you’re committing an act of evil.” Gingrich, explaining the VT tragedy, went on to condemn Halloween costumes and the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law.
And this morning, after the slayings in Aurora, Louie Gohmert weighed in with some stupidity of his own.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said Friday that the shootings that took place in an Aurora, Colo. movie theater hours earlier were a result of “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs” and questioned why nobody else in the theater had a gun to take down the shooter.
During a radio interview on The Heritage Foundation’s “Istook Live!” show, Gohmert was asked why he believes such senseless acts of violence take place. Gohmert responded by talking about the weakening of Christian values in the country.
“Some of us happen to believe that when our founders talked about guarding our virtue and freedom, that that was important,” he said. “Whether it’s John Adams saying our Constitution was made only for moral and religious people … Ben Franklin, only a virtuous people are capable of freedom, as nations become corrupt and vicious they have more need of masters. We have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country.”
“You know what really gets me, as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of a derelict takes place.”
I see. So, in the mind of this strange Republican congressman, a madman killed 12 people because of … the separation of church and State? The First Amendment is to blame for a shooting spree in a movie theater?
If decency had any place in American politics, this would be an immediate career-ender for the ridiculous congressman from Texas. Some political missteps are simply unforgivable.
Update: Gohmert also wondered aloud why no one else in the theater was armed, complaining that the victims should have shot back.
By: Steve Beneb, The Maddow Blog, July 20, 2012