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“Guns And The Two Americas”: If You Want To Lessen Your Chances Of Getting Shot, Stay Out Of The South

The waves of mass shootings continue to roll over the United States like surf on the ship of state’s prow. Every few weeks now we get hit with a jolt of cold water. We shake and shudder, and then brace ourselves for the next one.

So we beat on — a nation whose people are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of most other developed countries. The only thing extraordinary about mass shootings in America is how ordinary the killing grounds are — elementary schools, high schools, colleges, military recruitment centers, theaters, parks, churches.

Is no place safe? Actually, several places are. You want protection in a country that allows a deranged man to get an assault weapon to hunt down innocent people in a public space? Go to the airport — that bubble of gun-free security. Or go to a major-league baseball game, or a stadium in the National Football League.

Our big league venues may be engaging only in security theater, as critics assert, but their owners don’t think so. They now mandate metal detectors to snag weapons, and most of them even ban off-duty cops from bringing guns to the games.

Nationwide, if you want to lessen your chances of getting shot, stay out of the South. The South is the most violent region in the United States, and also the place with the highest rate of gun ownership. More guns, easily obtained by the mentally ill, religious fanatics and anti-government extremists, mean more gun deaths.

Better to go to a city or state with gun restrictions, at least if you’re playing the odds. Most of the states with tighter gun laws have fewer gun deaths.

That’s one America, the slightly safer one. It includes government gun-screened zones like airports, courthouses and many high schools. But more significantly, it also covers property used by our most popular obsession, pro football — the free market at work.

The other America is an open-fire zone, backed by politicians who think it should be even more crowded with average people parading around with lethal weapons. Just after the tragedy in a Louisiana theater a week ago — a shooting by a hate-filled man who was able to legally obtain a gun despite a history of mental illness — Rick Perry called gun-free zones a bad idea.

In his view, echoing that of the fanatics who own the Republican Party by intimidation, everyone should be armed, everywhere. Once a shooting starts, the bad guy with the gun will be killed by the good guy with the gun, somehow able to get a draw on the shooter in a darkened theater, or behind a pew in church.

This scenario almost never happens. The logic is nonsense, the odds of a perfectly timed counter-killer getting the drop on the evil killer unlikely. And even when such a situation does happen, as in the Tucson shooting of 2011, the armed citizen who jumps into the melee can pose a mortal threat to others. In Tucson, an innocent person came within seconds of getting shot by an armed bystander who wasn’t sure whom to shoot.

Most gun-free zones, like the theater in Lafayette, La., are not gun-free at all. They have no metal detectors or screening — that would cost too much, the theater owners claim. Gun-free is a suggestion, and therefore a misnomer. Eventually, the more prosperous theaters in better communities will pay for metal detectors, further setting apart the two Americas in our age of mass shootings.

The Mall of America — more than 500 stores in four miles of retail space, drawing 40 million annual visitors to a climate-controlled part of Minnesota — is trying to be a gun-free zone. “Guns are banned on these premises” is the mall’s official policy.

If the mall took up Rick Perry’s suggestion, shoppers could roam among the chain stores packing heat, ready for a shootout. The owners of that vast operation, similar to those who stage concerts and pro sports, think otherwise. The mall has a security force of more than a hundred people. Yeah — I hear the joke about the feckless mall cops. But the Mall of America trusts them more than well-armed shoppers to protect people, as they should.

Surprising though it may seem, gun ownership is declining over all in the United States. We are still awash with weapons — nearly a third of all American households have an adult with a gun. But that’s down from nearly half of all households in 1973.

What we’re moving toward, then, are regions that are safer than others, and public spaces that are safer than others, led by private enterprise, shunning the gun crazies who want everyone armed. The new reality comes with the inconvenience and hassle of screening and pat-downs similar to the routines at airports — enforced gun-free zones, not mere suggestions.

As a way to make everyday life seem less frightening, the new reality is absurd. But that’s the cost, apparently, of an extreme interpretation of a constitutional amendment designed to fend off British tyranny, a freedom that has become a tyranny in itself.

 

By: Timothy Egan, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, Opinion Pages, The New York Times, July 31, 2015

August 1, 2015 Posted by | Gun Ownership, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Bobby Jindal Enabled Louisiana’s Gun Violence Problem”: Worked To Weaken The State’s Already Lax Gun Control

Governor Bobby Jindal suspended his sputtering presidential campaign on Friday, a day after 59-year-old gunman John Houser killed two people and wounded nine others in a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana. “We’re going to do whatever we can to support our community here,” he said on Fox News. “This is a time for us to come together.”

He should do a lot more than that. Louisiana has some of the weakest gun laws and worst gun violence in the nation.

The state doesn’t require background checks on private sales, even for assault weapons; doesn’t require gun owners to register their firearms; and doesn’t have a limit on the number of firearms that can be purchased at one time, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. As for gun violence, the state has the second-highest gun death rate in the nation, according to an analysis of the latest National Vital Statistics report. Louisiana’s lax oversight also enables firearms trafficking to other states, in which it ranks fifteenth in the nation, and 28 percent of guns wind up in criminals’ hands within two years of sale—almost six points above the national average.

Jindal has worked to weaken the state’s already lax gun control by signing a wave of bills in 2013 and 2014. He broadened the “Stand Your Ground” law to protect shooters who hurt, but don’t kill, someone they feel is threatening. He allowed concealed weapons in places that serve alcohol. He banned public access to the personal information of concealed handgun permit owners. He approved guns in churches. And he allowed Louisianans to apply for lifetime concealed-carry permits.

So don’t expect from Jindal the type of comments that Barack Obama delivered after last month’s massacre in a Charleston, in which the president said, “Now is the time for mourning and for healing. But let’s be clear. At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”

Jindal called Obama’s remarks “completely shameful”—words that more appropriately describe the governor’s own gun policies.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, July 24, 2015

July 27, 2015 Posted by | Bobby Jindal, Gun Control, Gun Deaths | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“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

“Politicians Should Be Held To A Higher Standard”: For Gun Victims, The Prayers Of Conservative Politicians Are Not Enough

After the latest mass shooting by an anti-tax, anti-government, anti-feminist arch-conservative in Lafayette, LA, the reactions from Republican politicians were as predictable as they were empty and stale. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal had the usual reaction:

Frankly, that reaction is getting more than a little tiresome no matter what one’s religious beliefs might be. When terrorists used airplanes as missiles against the United States in 2001, we didn’t just pray for the victims: we changed our entire airline security system, spent billions on a new homeland security bureaucracy, and invaded not one but two countries at gigantic cost to life and treasure. When the ebola virus threatened to break out in the United States we didn’t pray for deliverance from the plague; we went into a collective public policy and media frenzy to stop it from spreading further. When earthquakes prove our building standards are inadequate to save lives, we don’t beg the gods to avert catastrophe and pray for the victims; we spend inordinate amounts of money to retrofit so it doesn’t happen again.

On every major piece of public policy in which lives are taken needlessly, we don’t limit ourselves to empty prayers for the victims. We actually do something to stop it from happening again.

But not when it comes to gun proliferation. On that issue we are told that nothing can be done, and that all we can do is mourn and pray for the murdered and wounded, even as we watch the news every day for our next opportunity to grieve and mourn and pray again–all while sitting back and watching helplessly.

For most of us, prayer and good vibes are all we can provide. It’s not in our power to prevent the next deranged killer from gaining access to a deadly weapon of mass violence. But politicians should be held to a higher standard. They do have the power to act. For them, prayers are empty and basically meaningless compared to the power they refuse to wield to actually solve the problem.

No longer should we accept the facade of devotional compassion Bobby Jindal and his friends use to mask their indifferent obedience to the NRA and its rabid voters. If they refuse to act, their prayers don’t mean a thing.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 25, 2015

July 26, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Elected Officials Have Failed To Lead On Gun Regulation”: How Many Must Die In Mass Shootings For Lawmakers To Act?

The alleged perpetrator of yet another mass shooting — this one in a Lafayette, Louisiana movie theater — had been “involuntarily committed” by his family, and reportedly had a history of domestic violence and mental illness. Why was he able to get a handgun? Because elected officials have failed to lead on gun regulation.

At a Thursday night screening of the comedy Trainwreck, the 59-year-old man from Alabama, identified as John Russell Houser, shot and killed 33-year-old Jillian Johnson and 21-year-old Mayci Breaux, and injured nine other people, seven of whom remain hospitalized.

The suspected shooter used a .40 caliber handgun and had an additional magazine, which he used to reload, firing one round to kill himself inside the theater, Lafayette police chief Jim Craft told reporters Friday.

Police found 13 shell casings in the theater, Craft said. State police and FBI agents are also investigating the shooting, according to MSNBC.

Houser was denied a pistol permit in 2006 while he was living in Alabama, the New Orleans Advocate reports. According to The Associated Press:

Court documents from 2008 say family members of the theater shooter petitioned the probate court to have him involuntarily committed “because he was a danger to himself and others.”

A judge issued the order, and John Houser was taken to a hospital in Columbus, Georgia.

The wife and other family members of [Houser] … asked for a temporary protective order in 2008 against the man.

Court documents seeking the order said John Houser, “exhibited extreme erratic behavior and has made ominous as well as disturbing statements.”

The documents said even though he lived in Phenix City, Alabama, he had come to Carroll County, Georgia, where they lived and “perpetrated various acts of family violence.”

Houser “has a history of mental health issues, i.e., manic depression and/or bi-polar disorder,” the filing said.

The filing says Houser’s wife, Kellie Maddox Houser, “has become so worried about the defendant’s volatile mental state that she has removed all guns and/or weapons from their marital residence.”

The protection order was at least temporarily granted.

Law enforcement officials have not yet reported how Houser obtained the handgun used in the theater shooting. But based on the earlier court records, it seems clear Houser should not have been in possession of a firearm.

In a BBC interview earlier this week, President Obama said “his failure to pass ‘common-sense gun safety laws’ in the U.S. is the greatest frustration of his presidency.”

“If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it’s less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands,” the president said.

So, what will it take for U.S. political leaders to pass common-sense gun regulations?

The killing of two women and wounding of nine others in a Louisiana movie theater?

Perhaps the recent shooting of four Marines at a Chattanooga, Tennessee military recruitment office, or the killing of 12 people and injuring of eight at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013?

Maybe, the racially motivated murder of nine parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina church, including a state senator? The South Carolina legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds, a symbolic act to honor those killed by a white supremacist, but gun control was never even up for debate.

How about the 2012 killing of 12 people and injuring of 58 in another movie theater, this one in Colorado? The shooter has been convicted and awaits the sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty, but what has been done to limit future mass shootings?

Surely, the gunning down of 20 children and six adults in an elementary school (after the shooter killed his mother at their home) in Connecticut would spur elected officials to action. President Obama even visited the town and gave an emotional speech appealing for stronger gun regulations. But, no, the 24/7 news cycle, the American people, and Congress moved on.

How about shooting a United States congresswoman, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in the head? That shooter killed six people and injured 12 others. Giffords’ congressional colleagues were still not moved to act. She lived and has become a vocal advocate to prevent gun violence, but no longer in office, she won’t achieve reform by herself.

According to Mother Jones, more than three-quarters of the guns possessed by the killers involved in mass shootings in the United States since 1982 were obtained legally. It’s doubtful common-sense restrictions, background checks, and waiting periods would have allowed all these gun sales to go through.

Nearly 600 Americans have been killed and 500 injured in mass shootings in the last three decades, and “active shooter events have become more common in recent years,” according to The Washington Post.

A U.S. president hasn’t been shot since Ronald Reagan survived an assassination attempt in 1981. Four U.S. presidents have been assassinated while in office in our nation’s history by men with guns.

Even if the commander-in-chief was shot and killed by a person with a gun who shouldn’t have had one — in the 21st century — that would likely still not motivate officials to enact policies that decrease mass shootings by taking guns out of the hands of extremists, those with criminal histories, and those living with mental illness.

The problem is these armed killers may act alone, but they have far too much company when it comes to people with undue access to firearms. If current legislators continue to fail to protect their constituents from the dangers of gun violence, and don’t even pass laws that would limit the potential for mass shootings, then perhaps voters need to find other lawmakers who will.

 

By: Matt Surrusco, The National Memo, July 24, 2015

July 26, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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