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“He Was Opposed To Women Having A Say In Anything”: The Ugly Views Of America’s Latest Mass Shooter

This isn’t the first time he’s targeted a movie theater. John Russell Houser, America’s latest mass shooter, had reportedly threatened violence against theaters before he opened fire in a Louisiana cinema last night, killing two others and himself.

Houser, who’s had several run-ins with the law dating back to the 1980s, allegedly once attempted to burn down the office of a lawyer representing theaters that showed pornography. Former attorney John Swearingen told NBC News on Friday that Houser had once tried to burn down his Columbus, Georgia, law office back in the 1980s.

“I represented somebody — maybe several people — he did not like, and he tried to hire someone to burn the law office,” Swearingen said.

According to the local sheriff, Houser applied in 2006 for a permit to carry a concealed weapon but was denied because he had been arrested on an arson charge. The sheriff did not say whether Houser had been convicted. In Alabama, where Houser resided “off and on” for a nearly a decade, residents are not required to apply for a permit or license to buy or own a handgun so no background could be done.

Emerging reports also indicate that Houser was a far-right activist. Houser appears to have been a fan of the Tea Party, the Westboro Baptist Church and Golden Dawn — and extreme right-wing neo-Nazi political party in Greece. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Houser attended a conference hosted by former KKK leader David Duke in 2005 and the host of a talk radio show Houser frequently called into, described the 56-year-old as a “radical Republican.”

“He was anti-abortion. The best I can recall,” former radio host Calvin Floyd told the Washington Post. “Rusty had an issue with feminine rights. He was opposed to women having a say in anything. You could talk with him a few minutes, and you would know he had a high IQ but there was a lot missing with him,” Floyd explained.

Last night, Houser stood up in a crowded screening of Amy Schumer’s comedy “Trainwreck” at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana and opened fire, killing two young women and injuring nine other people.

Local authorities have since described Houser as a “drifter,” although at one point he did wage an unsuccessful campaign for elected office. According to court documents, in 2008 Houser’s wife removed all the guns from the couple’s home citing threats he had made to family members and his history of mental illness. CNN reports Houser had been evicted from his home in March 2014 and court records show that he filed for bankruptcy protection in 2002.

“It is a shame Tim McVeigh is not going to be with us to enjoy the hilarity of turning the tables with an IRON HAND,” Houser wrote on the Golden Dawn website, referring to the far-right mastermind of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

 

By: Sophia Tesfaye, Salon,

July 27, 2015 Posted by | Gun Violence, Mass Shootings, Mental Illness | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“When A Hobby Verges Upon Obsession”: Veronica Rutledge And America’s Gun Cult

That Idaho mother shot to death by her two-year-old son in a Walmart store? Judging by Veronica Jean Rutledge’s biography, you can be just about certain that she’d driven to the store wearing a seatbelt, with her little boy buckled carefully into his car seat.

By all accounts, Rutledge, age 29, was that kind of mother: loving, diligent and careful — an entirely admirable young woman. In the aftermath of the tragedy, photos of her shining face are almost unbearable to contemplate.

A high-school valedictorian, Rutledge graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in chemistry. She was a promising research scientist at Batelle’s Idaho National Laboratory, working on reducing the toxicity of nuclear waste.

It would appear to follow that her child’s home environment was carefully childproofed, with household poisons stored safely away and dangerous objects placed out of reach. Rutledge probably would never have dreamed of letting her son play outside unsupervised, nor left him alone in the bathtub.

And yet she carried a loaded semi-automatic handgun in her purse on a post-Christmas shopping trip and left it unattended in a shopping cart, where the child took it out and somehow pulled the trigger.

Rutledge died instantly there in the electronics aisle.

Very likely her son is too young to understand or remember what happened, although it will shadow his life forever.

In the immediate aftermath, Terry Rutledge, Veronica’s father-in-law, gave an ill-advised interview to a Washington Post reporter expressing anger that anybody would use the tragedy “as an excuse to grandstand on gun rights,” as the article put it.

“They are painting Veronica as irresponsible, and that is not the case,” he said. “… I brought my son up around guns, and he has extensive experience shooting it. And Veronica had had handgun classes; they’re both licensed to carry, and this wasn’t just some purse she had thrown her gun into.”

Oh no, it was a designer item produced by an Illinois firm called Gun Tote’n Mamas with a zipped compartment for carrying a concealed handgun — given to her as a Christmas present from her husband.

Nevertheless, Rutledge made an incomprehensible blunder, and it cost her life. The blunder, as I see it, of carrying a loaded handgun — with a chambered round, no less — as a kind of fashion accessory, a totemic item signifying her cultural identity.

Her close friend Sheri Sandow explained that for all her academic accomplishments, Rutledge was “as comfortable at a campground or a gun range as she was in a classroom.”

OK, fine… but why Walmart? Not because she was fearful, Sandow explained.

“In Idaho, we don’t have to worry about a lot of crime and things like that,” she said. “And to see someone with a gun isn’t bizarre. [Veronica] wasn’t carrying a gun because she felt unsafe. She was carrying a gun because she was raised around guns. This was just a horrible accident.”

Indeed, she needn’t have felt unsafe. The most recent homicide in Blackfoot, Idaho, where the family lived, was six years ago.

The scientist in Veronica Rutledge, had she allowed herself to think about it rationally, would have understood that the pistol in her purse was far more dangerous to her and her child than any external threat. As an NRA adept and a big fan of the Guns.com website, however, she evidently become so habituated to carrying a gun around that she quite forgot she had it.

By itself, there’s nothing inherently objectionable about target shooting, a harmless pastime like bowling or golf. I own a target pistol myself, and take it out sometimes to plink aluminum cans. I also own shotguns, although I no longer hunt.

But when a hobby verges upon obsession, you’re talking about cultlike behavior. Spend a few minutes browsing around Guns.com and maybe you’ll see what I mean. Current features include Kid Rock’s gun collection, and the effects of shooting a giant Gummi Bear with a 12 gauge.

Cool!

In a recent New Yorker article, Adam Gopnik explained the political psychology of guns. The great majority of Americans agree that there should be sensible limitations on the possession and use of tools whose function is killing, “while a small minority feels, with a fanatic passion, that there shouldn’t. In a process familiar to any student of society, the majority of people in favor of gun sanity care about a lot of other things, too, and think about them far more often; the gun crazy think about guns all the time, and vote on the issue with fanatic intensity.”

Hence handguns as costume jewelry, totems signifying one’s membership in the NRA tribe. Terry Rutledge, however, can rest easy. If the 2012 Newtown, CT massacre failed to bring reform, his daughter-in-law’s death won’t change anything significant.

Except possibly the behavior of anybody tempted to pack heat around little children.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, January 7, 2014

January 8, 2015 Posted by | Gun Deaths, Guns, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You And Your Brother Are Evil’: GQ’s Insane Profile Of George Zimmerman’s Family

October’s issue of GQ features a profile of the family of George Zimmerman, the man who owes his life to Florida’s “stand your ground” law and extremely understanding jurors, after fatally shooting Trayvon Martin. Writer Amanda Robb paints a picture of a family tormented by paranoia, as the Zimmermans struggle to live in a country where the vast majority of the population despises their brother.

Here are a few of the most fascinating, heartbreaking, complicated moments.

Their paranoid security protocols

“They watched the movie Argo to learn how to live like CIA. Code names for everyone. No mail delivered to the house. No visitors. No talking to the few neighbors they had. No long phone conversations — keep it short and vague to outwit surveillance. Never discuss your whereabouts via phone or text. Keep a weapon close by at all times. [George’s brother] Robert slept with his gun. Still does.

“And in case someone–or multiple someones–decided to mount an attack on the house, the Zimmermans pre-packed their own ‘go-bags’ filled with everything they would need to flee in a rush, as well as what they called ‘footballs’ — like the one President Obama has with the nuclear codes–that contained laptops, cell phones, and other essential electronics.

“They also memorized a color-coded threat-ID system. Code blue: Law enforcement at the door. Code brown: Draw your weapons. Code black: Come out guns blazing.”

Concealed weapons certification class

Robb accompanied Gladys to a concealed weapons certification class to learn more about the region’s gun culture. “The class’s instructor, a police officer in Belle Isle, repeatedly recommends ‘accessorizing your gun,’ which he illustrates by lisping and wagging his wrist like a stereotypical ‘queen.’ The instructor keeps up the act until he finds out I live in New York City. Then he veers into Colonel Klink from the 1960s TV series Hogan’s Heroes. ‘Welcome to Germany,’ he says. ‘Everyone on the train!’

We don’t actually learn to fire our weapons in this concealed-weapons class, so eventually I tell the instructor, “I have no idea how to load, aim, or shoot a gun.” He recommends I get a .38. “It’s a good baby gun,” he says. “Yes!” [George’s mother] Gladys exclaims. “Personally, I love my .45!” Then she does this kind of Angie Dickinson draw-and-aim move from the TV show Police Woman.

A brush with luxury

The Zimmermans agreed to make an appearance on CNN after the network agreed to pay for two hotel rooms for three nights and “everything” else they might need. After racking up debts from lawsuits, mortgages and the rent from their secret home, this looked pretty good.

“They ran up a big room-service bill, cleaned out the minibars, got their clothes laundered, made several trips to the spa, treated a party of ten to dinner at the hotel restaurant, and bought swag–from bracelets to bath fizzies–at the gift shop.

“Toward the end of their stay, according to Robert, a manager presented him with a bill for $3,600. He says he called CNN, outraged, only to have the producer accuse them of splurging shamelessly on CNN’s dime. “You and your brother are evil!” he remembers her screaming. The hotel manager threatened to call the police. Alone in his room, Robert started shaking. He wrapped all the blankets around him, ordered shrimp, chain-smoked cigarettes, got roaring drunk. Nothing helped. He called his mother in a panic. “I can’t get warm,” he sobbed. “I just can’t get warm.”

 

By: Joanna Rothkopt, Assistant Editor, Salon, September 29, 2014

October 1, 2014 Posted by | George Zimmerman, Gun Violence, Trayvon Martin | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Yet Again, Money Influencing Politics”: How The Gun Lobby Became A Threat To Public Safety

Just a generation ago, the NRA was a nonpartisan and relatively non-ideological organization that advocated for responsible and safe gun ownership in addition to defending gun rights.

But in its 20 years under the leadership of chief executive Wayne LaPierre the organization has become another cog in the broader conservative advocacy machine.

At the same time, with gun ownership declining, the organization has come to rely less on its members’ dues and more on firearm manufacturers, which now account for over half of the NRA’s revenues according to Walter Hickey at Business Insider.

The gun lobby also lost a key element of what had long been its defining mission: Guns remain a hot-button topic for political debate, but in the courts the issue has largely been settled. Gun rights won.

In 2010, the Supreme Court settled a long-standing debate about whether the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to bear arms or only applied to, as the Constitution reads, “a well-regulated militia.” The court ruled that the right to own firearms, while not without limits, is as integral as the right to free speech or the free exercise of religion. Since then, a number of municipal bans on firearm ownership have been overturned — most recently when a federal court struck down a California law that allowed counties to restrict the concealed carry of guns.

But the gun makers’ lobby remains strong and well-financed, and it has an institutional imperative to keep lobbying. It is now in the business of selling guns by promoting the idea that we can never have too many, nor should there be any public places where firearms aren’t welcome — and by spinning conspiracy theories about various imagined plots to disarm law-abiding Americans.

Today, the NRA and its political allies promote such policies as allowing concealed weapons in bars, allowing the blind to carry firearms (“Blind gun user Michael Barber said: ‘When you shoot a gun, you take it out and point and shoot, and I don’t necessarily think eyesight is necessary’”), making it a felony for doctors to discuss gun safety with their patients (never mind the First Amendment) and barring private firms from telling their employees to keep their guns at home.

Pro-gun lawmakers have gotten the message. Last month, five Republican legislators in Washington State introduced a bill that would exempt all firearms and ammunition from the state’s sales tax. Now in theory at least, one reason for tax breaks is to encourage some social good. For example, 20 years of tax credits have played a role in the exponential increase of wind energy production in the US. Yet here was a proposed tax break that would only encourage the sale of more guns in a country that’s already bristling with them.

These laws are predicated on the belief that more guns make a society safer. One of the cosponsors of the Washington State bill, Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley) told a local conservative talk radio host, “It’s beyond a shadow of a doubt: More firearms in a society cuts crime in that society.” (In fact, according to the UN, the US is believed to lead the world in private gun ownership and has the highest total crime rate among wealthy countries.)

Kentucky lawmakers proposed a similar measure back in December, and in Kansas, the belief that more guns mean more safety forms the basis of a law that only permits local officials to bar firearms from public buildings if they install costly metal detectors or hire security guards. In South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley is backing a law that would allow people to carry concealed guns without a permit or any safety training.

The problem is that this faith in guns for security, like global warming denialism, flies in the face of a mountain of serious, peer-reviewed research.

Last month, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a study conducted by epidemiologists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) finding that access to a firearm makes an individual almost twice as likely to become the victim of a homicide and three times more likely to commit suicide.

Previous studies had found that countries with higher rates of gun ownership also have higher rates of gun deaths and that states with more guns have higher homicide rates. But gun advocates dismissed those studies because they didn’t account for illegal gun sales. (The National Rifle Association’s side of the scholarly debate rests largely on the discredited and allegedly fraudulent work of economist John Lott.)

The UCSF study took a different approach, starting with a dead body and working backwards to see whether that person owned or had access to a firearm, legal or illegal. The study was a meta-analysis combining data from 15 previous, peer-reviewed papers.

It also found a significant gender gap in terms of homicide: Men with access to a gun were 29 percent more likely to be a victim of homicide, while women with a gun close at hand were almost three times more likely to be murdered. The report cited previous studies that found that most female murder victims knew their assailant, and three-quarters of women killed with a gun died in their own homes. Researchers concluded that the presence of guns may make impulsive killings during domestic disputes more common.

Another soon-to-be-published study may provide the most compelling evidence to date that looser gun laws lead to more bloodshed. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health were able to conduct a natural experiment in Missouri after the state repealed a law requiring handgun purchasers to get a license and pass a background check in 2007. According to the study’s authors, repealing the law “contributed to a sixteen percent increase in Missouri’s murder rate.”

That translated into 55 to 63 more murders per year in Missouri between 2008 and 2012, despite the fact that during the same period, “none of the states bordering Missouri experienced significant increases in murder rates and the U.S. murder rate actually declined by over five percent.” The increase in murders began in the first full year after the state’s licensing requirement was repealed, and the researchers “controlled for changes in policing, incarceration, burglaries, unemployment, poverty, and other state laws adopted during the study period that could affect violent crime.”

The conclusions presented in these studies, along with previous research, fly in the face of the persistent claim that more guns make a society safer. But this is as much a story of money influencing politics as anything else. With supporters like Springfield Armory, Inc, Pierce Bullet, Seal Target Systems, Beretta USA Corporation, Sturm Rugar & Co and Smith & Wesson, public safety simply isn’t a high priority for the gun lobby.

 

By: Joshua Holland, Moyers and Company, Bill Moyers Blog, March 4, 2014

March 5, 2014 Posted by | Guns, National Rifle Association, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Racial Fears, Gun Fantasies, And Another Dead Teenager”: Real Action Hero’s, Standing Between America And Disaster

Among the arguments I’ve made about the troubling aspects of American gun culture is the way so many gun owners have in their heads a dangerous fantasy about what the world is like and what role they play in that world. The people I’m talking about, the ones who think it’s terribly important that they be able to bring their firearms into any store or coffee shop or church they might visit, believe that every moment of every day in every place they go is nothing more than a violent situation just waiting to happen. Will they be there to stop a mass shooting at the Safeway? Will they be walking down the street and come upon a group of heavily armed thieves taking down an armored truck? Will they encounter an al-Qaeda strike team at the Starbucks, and this 50-year-old insurance salesman with a concealed carry license will be the only thing that stands between America and disaster? They sure seem to think so.

Is that all gun owners? Of course not. It’s not even most gun owners. But it’s lots of them, and I think it comes through in the case of Michael Dunn, the Florida (of course) man who got into an argument with some teenagers outside a convenience store over the teens’ loud music, and ended the argument by firing 10 shots into their car, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. This case includes some rather remarkable statements about black people from Michael Dunn, which we’ll get to in a moment. But I think it’s the way race and the gun owner’s fantasy come together that produced this tragedy.

The basic facts are that Dunn and his fiancée pulled into a convenience store, where she went inside and he stayed outside. Dunn then got into an argument with four teenagers in another car over the volume of the music they were playing; the argument escalated, and eventually Dunn took out his gun and fired ten shots, killing Jordan Davis, one of the teens. Dunn claims that he saw a shotgun, or maybe a pipe, emerge from the teens’ car, so he had no choice but to defend himself. No such gun or pipe was ever found. That part of his story was also contradicted by his fiancée, who testified that afterward he said nothing to her about them having a gun. Dunn also says that Davis got out of the car and approached him, but that part of his story was contradicted by the medical examiner, who testified that Davis’s wounds were not consistent with someone who was standing up, but rather appeared to have been sustained while he was sitting in the car.

I can’t say with certainty what happened that day. As a liberal, is my bias to believe the gun-toting white adult was at fault and not the dead black teenager? Yes it is. But there are some good reasons to think that when Dunn got into an argument with a bunch of black kids over their music (“rap crap,” as he called it during his testimony yesterday), he was particularly inclined to assume they’d try to kill him at any moment, because that’s how those people are. While in jail awaiting trial, Dunn wrote letters to his family that said, among other things, “It’s spooky how racist everyone is up here and how biased toward blacks the courts are. This jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs.” When he says “racist” in that letter, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about bias against black people. He also wrote, “This may sound a bit radical but if more people would arm themselves and kill these **** idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.”

That doesn’t sound like a man who’s “crazy with grief,” as he testified he was over the shooting. But it gets worse. On a web site set up by Dunn’s supporters, the defendant writes this:

I am sorry for the tragic outcome of that night in Jacksonville and the loss of Davis’ son [sic]. But I would offer that, rather than rail against the “Stand Your Ground” laws, people take a look at the violence and lifestyle that the “Gangsta Rap” music and the ‘”thug life” promote. The jails are chock full of young black men – and so are the cemeteries. Gun laws have nothing to do with it. The violent sub-cultures that so many young men become enthralled with are destroying an entire generation. Root cause analysis says to correct the behavior. The black community needs to do a better job of selling worthwhile role models. Most importantly, young men need to know that they are not just risking jail time when they threaten the lives of others… they’re risking their very own lives.

Just to repeat, this is something Michael Dunn himself wrote. How is it possible to read that as anything other than, “That n***er had it coming”?

There was another detail of his testimony yesterday that stuck out to me. This is from the New York Times report:

As the Durango backed up quickly to elude the gunfire, Mr. Dunn stepped out of his own car, dropped to one knee and fired more volleys to thwart any ‘blind fire,’ or wild, random shooting out the car window, he said.

At that point, he said, his mind was on his fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, who was about to walk out of the convenience store. ‘I did it in my panicked state,’ he said, of the later volleys. ‘I was worried about the blind firing situation, where they would shoot over their heads, whatever, and hit me, or hit me and Rhonda.’

So the car is pulling away to elude his gunfire, and Dunn immediately considers the “blind fire” scenario, just like he’s read about in his gun magazines (or somewhere, anyway). He drops to a stable firing stance, then pumps shot after shot into the car. He saved the day—he’s not a 47-year-old software engineer, he’s a real action hero!

Gun owners argue that carrying a weapon makes you less likely to escalate a confrontation, since you know it could turn deadly. And I’m sure that for many of them, that’s true. But for others, after spending all that time at the range, after all the fantasizing about the day when they get to act out the things they’ve seen on screen, when a confrontation happens, instead of doing the things smart people do to make violence less likely, they think Bring it on. I’m ready. So when you get into an argument with some black kids about loud music, you’re sure that at any moment there’s going to be an exchange of fire, because those thugs probably brought a shotgun down to the convenience store, and you’d better fire first. Some guy won’t stop texting during the previews of a movie, and gets pissed when you tell him to stop? Better have your hand on your weapon just in case, and when he throws popcorn at you, you shoot him in the chest. That’s what a man has to do.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 12, 2014

February 13, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns, Racism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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