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“Guns Are Out Of Control”: Some Extremists Fire Guns And Other Extremists Promote Guns

Over the last two decades, Canada has had eight mass shootings. Just so far this month, the United States has already had 20.

Canada has a much smaller population, of course, and the criteria researchers used for each country are slightly different, but that still says something important about public safety.

Could it be, as Donald Trump suggests, that the peril comes from admitting Muslims? On the contrary, Canadians are safe despite having been far more hospitable to Muslim refugees: Canada has admitted more than 27,000 Syrian refugees since November, some 10 times the number the United States has.

More broadly, Canada’s population is 3.2 percent Muslim, while the United States is about 1 percent Muslim — yet Canada doesn’t have massacres like the one we just experienced at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., or the one in December in San Bernardino, Calif. So perhaps the problem isn’t so much Muslims out of control but guns out of control.

Look, I grew up on a farm with guns. One morning when I was 10, we awoke at dawn to hear our chickens squawking frantically and saw a fox trotting away with one of our hens in its mouth. My dad grabbed his .308 rifle, opened the window and fired twice. The fox was unhurt but dropped its breakfast and fled. The hen picked herself up, shook her feathers indignantly and walked back to the barn. So in the right context, guns have their uses.

The problem is that we make no serious effort to keep firearms out of the hands of violent people. A few data points:

■ More Americans have died from guns, including suicides, since just 1970 than died in all the wars in U.S. history going back to the American Revolution.

■ The Civil War marks by far the most savage period of warfare in American history. But more Americans are now killed from guns annually, again including suicides, than were killed by guns on average each year during the Civil War (when many of the deaths were from disease, not guns).

■ In the United States, more preschoolers up through age 4 are shot dead each year than police officers are.

Canada has put in place measures that make it more difficult for a dangerous person to acquire a gun, with a focus not so much on banning weapons entirely (the AR-15 is available after undergoing safety training and a screening) as on limiting who can obtain one. In the United States, we lack even universal background checks, and new Harvard research to be published soon found that 40 percent of gun transfers didn’t even involve a background check.

We can’t prevent every gun death any more than we can prevent every car accident, and the challenge is particularly acute with homegrown terrorists like the one in Orlando. But experts estimate that a serious effort to reduce gun violence might reduce the toll by one-third, which would be more than 10,000 lives saved a year.

The Orlando killer would have been legally barred from buying lawn darts, because they were banned as unsafe. He would have been unable to drive a car that didn’t pass a safety inspection or that lacked insurance. He couldn’t have purchased a black water gun without an orange tip — because that would have been too dangerous.

But it’s not too dangerous to allow the sale of an assault rifle without even a background check?

If we’re trying to prevent carnage like that of Orlando, we need to be vigilant not only about infiltration by the Islamic State, and not only about American citizens poisoned into committing acts of terrorism. We also need to be vigilant about National Rifle Association-type extremism that allows guns to be sold without background checks.

It’s staggering that Congress doesn’t see a problem with allowing people on terror watch lists to buy guns: In each of the last three years, more than 200 people on the terror watch list have been allowed to purchase guns. We empower ISIS when we permit acolytes like the Orlando killer, investigated repeatedly as a terrorist threat, to buy a Sig Sauer MCX and a Glock 17 handgun on consecutive days.

A great majority of Muslims are peaceful, and it’s unfair to blame Islam for terrorist attacks like the one in Orlando. But it is important to hold accountable Gulf states like Saudi Arabia that are wellsprings of religious zealotry, intolerance and fanaticism. We should also hold accountable our own political figures who exploit tragic events to sow bigotry. And, yes, that means Donald Trump.

When Trump scapegoats Muslims, that also damages our own security by bolstering the us-versus-them narrative of ISIS. The lesson of history is that extremists on one side invariably empower extremists on the other.

So by all means, Muslims around the world should stand up to their fanatics sowing hatred and intolerance — and we Americans should stand up to our own extremist doing just the same.

 

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, June 16, 2016

June 20, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association, Public Safety | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“When Silence Is Just Not Loud Enough”: Moments Of Silence In The House Have Become An Abomination

Our president was speaking to us in his grave yet hopeful voice, a timbre and tone he has had much practice in using. Far too much practice.

He uses it when there has been a mass shooting in America. And by some counts, this was his 14th time.

“We have to make it harder for people who want to kill Americans to get their hands on weapons of war,” our president is saying.

We have been working on that one for a while. But it is really not a matter of human lives lost, people lying in pools of blood or corpses shredded by gunfire.

Solving that problem would be relatively easy. The real problem is political — which is why no gun legislation with a serious chance of passing stands before Congress.

The body counts, the gore, the all-too-vivid last moments captured on a hand-held camera mean nothing compared with the politics of gun ownership.

It remains very easy to buy a semi-automatic rifle almost anywhere in America. Only seven states ban them.

So the killing continues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013 guns were used in 11,208 deaths by homicide. That’s a lot. That’s nearly 31 per day.

Why so many? “Crazy” is a popular choice. Do you have to be crazy to shoot and kill 49 people in a nightclub? How about 20 small children in an elementary school? Or 12 people at a Batman movie?

Were all the shooters crazy? Could be. But foreign countries have crazy people, too, and many countries’ murder rates are much lower than ours.

Again, why? One reason is that in America, we allow individuals to own weapons of mass destruction — semi-automatic firearms with large magazines.

And though Congress banned them for 10 years — 1994 to 2004 — it has refused to reinstate the ban even though mass killings continue.

In America, a gun is not just a gun. It is a fetish, a totem, an icon. It has an appeal that defies mere logic.

Charles Bronson — and I swear I am not making up the name — is the former commissioner of agriculture and consumer services for the state of Florida. He used to be in charge of gun permits. Today he is still against more stringent gun laws, such as the ones that would ban semi-automatic AR-15 military-style rifles.

“People use AR-15s to hunt deer, to hunt hogs, to hunt all kinds of game,” Bronson told a reporter, and he said it would be a shame to change the gun laws “because of one person’s lawlessness.”

I am trying to see his point of view: One person kills 49 people and wounds 53 others, and that is nothing compared with the pleasure of executing a hog.

All these arguments are familiar. Everything about mass shootings is achingly familiar — the moments of silence, the lighting of candles, the wearing of ribbons, the hourlong news specials, the flags at half-staff, the president coming down to the briefing room and then the full-scale speech like the one President Barack Obama will make Thursday in Orlando.

“These mass shootings are happening so often now that lamenting them afterwards is becoming a national ritual,” Conan O’Brien said Monday.

O’Brien is a late-night comic. He is also an observer of life in these United States. It is sometimes hard to observe that life and still remain a comic, and I admire him for trying.

“I have really tried very hard over the years not to bore you with what I think,” he said, his voice growing angrier as he spoke. “However, I am a father of two. I like to believe I have a shred of common sense, and I simply do not understand why anybody in this country is allowed to purchase and own a semi-automatic assault rifle. … These are weapons of war, and they have no place in civilian life. …

“I do not know the answer, but I wanted to take just a moment here tonight to agree with the rapidly growing sentiment in America that it’s time to grow up and figure this out.”

Time to grow up. A fine idea. And I really wish the sentiment behind it were “rapidly growing.” Because not everybody in America will get a chance to grow up. Some of those children we send each morning to the “safety” of their schools will never make it back home alive. (According to Everytown for Gun Safety, “since 2013, there have been at least 188 school shootings in America — an average of nearly one a week.”)

On Capitol Hill on Monday, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan called for a ritual moment of silence in the House chamber to commemorate those killed in Orlando.

Connecticut Democrat Jim Himes stood up and walked off the floor instead. Previously, he had tweeted:

“I will not attend one more ‘Moment of Silence’ on the Floor. Our silence does not honor the victims, it mocks them.”

“The Moments of Silence in the House have become an abomination. God will ask you, ‘How did you keep my children safe’? Silence.”

“If God is an angry God, prepare to know a hell well beyond that lived day to day by the families of the butchered. I will not be silent.”

And I, for one, hope he keeps talking, tweeting, speaking out and walking out.

 

By: Roger Simon, The National Memo, June 15, 2016

June 17, 2016 Posted by | Congress, Gun Control, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Only Sensible Answer To A Brutal Problem”: It’s Time: Democrats Are Speaking Up About Gun Control

Pressure from Democrats to finally push the needle on gun reform, after repeated mass shootings have been met with silence from the right, came just hours after the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Following House Speaker Paul Ryan’s usual moment of silence on the floor on Monday, Democrats chanted “Where’s the bill?” and dismissed the silence as meaningless without legislative action.

Democrats are pursuing a slate of legislation, including “No Fly, No Buy,” which would ban those on the FBI’s no-fly list from accessing guns; addressing the “Charleston loophole,” which allows guns to be sold after a three-day waiting period, even if the FBI’s background check isn’t complete; and legislation that would ban anyone convicted of a hate crime from purchasing guns.

On Wednesday, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and other senate Democrats staged an old-school talking filibuster to urge movement on gun reform. And while a handful of conservative voices — and Donald Trump, via a tweet — have come out in favor of curbing access to military-style weapons, the vast majority pivoted towards focusing on “radical Islamic terrorism” in the wake of the attack.

Republicans talk a tough terrorism game, yet they don’t see a problem with suspected terrorists being able to purchase guns. As Hillary Clinton tweeted on Wednesday, “people can’t board planes with full shampoo bottles — but people being watched by the FBI for terrorism can buy a gun, no questions asked?” The nation was able to swiftly pass new airport security measures in the wake of 9/11, yet in the wake of the worst LGBT hate crime in American history, and the worst terrorist on American soil attack since 9/11, Republicans are holding back, hiding behind the Second Amendment.

The effort by Republicans to shift the debate away from gun control and towards ISIS is a reflection of who is really pulling the strings — the gun manufacturing lobby. Ted Cruz has raked in $36,229 from gun lobbyists. When, as speaker of the Florida House, Marco Rubio’s caucus failed to pass a bill allowing employees to bring firearms to work, NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer complained ominously that Rubio “talked the talk, but he didn’t walk the walk.”

The CEO of Sturm, Ruger, and Co., Michael Fifer, assured shareholders a month ago that, although demand for their product was “easing,” they should anticipate higher gun sales during the election season, as the “rhetoric from both sides” will “[keep] consumers aware and thinking about their firearm rights.”

Fifer didn’t try to hide his opportunism, adding that “If the political environment in this election year causes one or more strong spikes in demand, we may stretch our capital expenditures budget to take advantage of the opportunities presented.” In other words: Yes, the political fear mongering is purposeful, and yes, it is profitable.

Despite the silence and inaction, Democrats are pushing forward in their campaign to make progress on gun control. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced legislation that would ban anyone convicted of a hate crime from purchasing, possessing, or shipping a gun, marking the first proposed gun control legislation after the Orlando shootings.

Like other gun reform proposals, this one is common sense. According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, 43,000 hate crimes committed in the United States involved the use or threat of a gun. And considering that the most recent one involved the slaughter of 49 people in a gay nightclub, or that the brutal shooting in Charleston, South Carolina resulted in 33 federal hate crime charges, there is ample need for the legislation.

Democrats are also expected to continue pushing for the renewal of the ban on assault rifles. Rep. Seth Moulton, an Iraq War veteran, penned an op-ed for Wednesday’s New York Daily News in which he advocated for the ban. “I know assault rifles,” Moulton tweeted. “I carried one in Iraq. They have no place on America’s streets.”

“I had to look at pictures of dead and mangled bodies in order to understand the magnitude of what it meant to pull that trigger,” he wrote.

President Obama joined presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — and nearly every Democrat in national politics — this week in reinforcing calls for a ban on assault rifles, which was in effect from 1994 to 2004.

The pressure to change laws is a popular one, too: A CBS poll conducted this week found that the percentage of Americans who support banning assault weapons jumped to 57 percent, from 44 percent in December. And a White House petition to ban the AR-15 from civilian use has tallied more than 157,000 signatures in three days.

Republicans continue to repeat the polarizing message that those on the left are trying to “take your guns away” — a useful slogan that doubles as ad copy for gun manufacturers.

Meanwhile, they stand in the way of reforms that are not only long overdue and hugely popular, but also the only sensible answer to a brutal problem that every other nation on earth has legislated out of existence.

 

By: Matt Tracy, The National Memo, June 15, 2016

June 17, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Gun Control, Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Quiet Times Seem No More”: Orlando Is Why We Need Surveillance

The FBI had the Orlando gunman under watch — twice — and, after much consideration, decided to stop following him. Was this a mistake? Obviously, tragically so.

But in this massive lost opportunity to prevent a slaughter dwells a positive sign for our ability to stop future attacks. Law enforcement at least had its eye on him. Scarier would have been that it had never heard of Omar Mateen.

Protests against government surveillance programs tend to grow in the quiet stretches between terrorist outrages. Absence of immediate fear is when the critics can best downplay the stakes — that even one miscreant can kill large numbers, and with weapons far deadlier than assault rifles.

It’s when privacy advocates have the most success portraying surveillance programs as highly personal invasions of ordinary folks’ privacy. Actually, there’s nothing very personal in the National Security Agency’s collection of our communications metadata. Basically, computers rummage through zillions of emails and such in search of patterns to flag. The humans following leads have zero interest in your complaints about Obamacare, as some foes of the surveillance programs have ludicrously claimed.

In the Orlando case, co-workers had alerted the authorities to Mateen’s radical rantings. The FBI put him on a terrorist watchlist, monitoring him for months. He was taken off when investigators concluded he was just mouthing off. The FBI had reason to probe him again, but again he was turned loose.

That was a failure, but a failure highlighting a weakness in the surveillance laws. The FBI dropped the case because the standard for showing probable cause — evidence of a crime or intent to commit one — is too high for needle-in-haystack terrorism investigations.

(Note that a local sheriff was able to use Mateen’s ravings as reason to have him removed from security guard duty at the St. Lucie County Courthouse in Fort Pierce, Florida.)

The bureau clearly erred in expecting a real terrorist to be informed. That Mateen had expressed sympathy for both al-Qaida and the Islamic State — groups in conflict with each other — was apparently seen as a sign that the man wasn’t seriously engaged in their politics.

Perhaps not, but he seriously approved of their bloody activities. That should have spelled danger, especially when added to his history of mental instability and spousal abuse and possible sexual confusion (an apparently new consideration).

But the FBI has been dealing with thousands of cases of potential homegrown terrorists not unlike Mateen. It must also consider that expressing support for a terrorist organization is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.

We need a new standard for potential terrorists inspired by online jihadist propaganda. Meanwhile, the public should back law enforcement’s stance on encryption. Recall the FBI’s battle to force Apple to unlock the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, the San Bernardino gunman.

Privacy advocates have harshly rapped President Obama for defending the government surveillance programs he himself once criticized. There’s a simple difference between them and him (and then and now): Obama receives the daily threat reports, and they don’t.

Government surveillance programs do need rules. Court review is important. But it simply isn’t true that public safety can be maintained in the age of lone-wolf terrorism without considerable surveillance. And the risks advocates ask us to take on in the name of privacy should be addressed honestly.

The parade of major terrorist attacks — Paris, San Bernardino, Brussels and now Orlando — has sped up. The more horror the less the public cares about reining in surveillance activities. Defenders of privacy should recognize this reality and more carefully choose their battles. The quiet times seem no more.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, June 16, 2016

June 17, 2016 Posted by | Mass Shootings, National Security, Terrorism | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Gun Debate Reclaims Center Stage In Democratic Race”: Granting Gun Manufacturers Immunity From Lawsuits

The bulk of the attention surrounding Bernie Sanders’ interview with the New York Daily News this week focused on the senator struggling at times with policy details. In response to a variety of questions, the Vermont independent gave responses such as, “It’s something I have not studied”; “I don’t know the answer to that”; and “I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.”

But another area of contention surrounds a subject Sanders understands perfectly well.

Towards the end of the interview, the Daily News editors noted, “There’s a case currently waiting to be ruled on in Connecticut. The victims of the Sandy Hook massacre are looking to have the right to sue for damages the manufacturers of the weapons. Do you think that that is something that should be expanded?” Sanders, seeking clarification, said, “Do I think the victims of a crime with a gun should be able to sue the manufacturer, is that your question?”

Told that it was the question, he replied, “No, I don’t.”

As Politico reported, this isn’t sitting well with some of the lawsuit’s Democratic supporters.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy and Gov. Dannel Malloy attacked Bernie Sanders on Tuesday for stating that shooting victims should not be able to sue gun manufacturers, an issue that has dogged the Vermont senator throughout his presidential run.

“I don’t know why our party would nominate someone that’s squishy on the issue of guns, this is a very personal issue for those of us that represent Sandy Hook,” Murphy, who is a supporter of Hillary Clinton, said in an interview with POLITICO. “The idea that Sandy Hook families should be completely barred from court is really backwards and unfair.”

Keep in mind that Connecticut’s Democratic presidential primary is April 26, just a week after New York’s. The state’s governor and both of its U.S. senators have already formally endorsed Clinton.

It’s important to note that, in Monday’s interview, Sanders elaborated on his perspective on this issue. After expressing his opposition to lawsuits targeting gun manufacturers, the senator circled back to add some specificity to his position: “In the same sense that if you’re a gun dealer and you sell me a gun and I go out and I kill him [gestures to someone in room]…. Do I think that that gun dealer should be sued for selling me a legal product that he misused? [Shakes head no.] But I do believe that gun manufacturers and gun dealers should be able to be sued when they should know that guns are going into the hands of wrong people. So if somebody walks in and says, ‘I’d like 10,000 rounds of ammunition,’ you know, well, you might be suspicious about that. So I think there are grounds for those suits, but not if you sell me a legal product.”

In other words, the senator’s position has some nuance, even if it’s one of the few issues in which Sanders faces criticism from the left.

Complicating matters further, Paul Waldman explained yesterday that Sanders’ previous approach to the issue points to some relevant shifts.

It gets complicated because of Sanders’ past opposition to gun laws. He opposed the Brady Law, and supported the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a 2005 law that granted gun manufacturers and sellers sweeping immunity from all kinds of lawsuits (Clinton voted against it). He has justified that vote by saying that he wouldn’t want to see “mom and pop” gun stores sued when a gun they sell gets used in a crime, but the truth is that the bill went way beyond that. […]

And here’s what’s really strange: Sanders continues to defend his vote for the PLCAA, even though he recently signed on as a co-sponsor to a bill that would repeal it.

The result is a picture that’s a little murky. As the Democratic race continues, it’s an issue that appears ripe for a real, substantive debate.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 7, 2016

April 8, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Gun Manufacturers, Mass Shootings, Sandy Hook | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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