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“More Frequent Than You Might Think”: Do We Really Want To Lead The World In Toddler Shootings?

I remember last fall when I saw this article by Christopher Ingraham I hesitated to share it because it is so sad.

This week a 2-year-old in South Carolina found a gun in the back seat of the car he was riding in and accidentally shot his grandmother, who was sitting in the passenger seat. This type of thing happens from time to time: A little kid finds a gun, fires it, and hurts or kills himself or someone else. These cases rarely bubble up to the national level except when someone, like a parent, ends up dead.

But cases like this happen a lot more frequently than you might think. After spending a few hours sifting through news reports, I’ve found at least 43 instances this year of somebody being shot by a toddler 3 or younger. In 31 of those 43 cases, a toddler found a gun and shot himself or herself.

This week, Ingraham updated the numbers.

There have been at least 23 toddler-involved shootings since Jan. 1, compared with 18 over the same period last year.

In the vast majority of cases, the children accidentally shoot themselves. That’s happened 18 times this year, and in nine of those cases the children died of their wounds.

Toddlers have shot other people five times this year. Two of those cases were fatal: this week’s incident in Milwaukee, and that of a 3-year-old Alabama boy who fatally shot his 9-year-old brother in February.

I know we all despaired when even the shooting of 20 first and second graders in Newton wasn’t enough to unseat the power of the gun lobby in blocking the implementation of small steps towards common sense gun control. But are we really willing to be the world’s leader in toddler shootings?

Recently President Obama initiated one step in a process that could prevent these kinds of tragedies.

President Obama will use the power of his office to try to jump-start long-stalled “smart-gun” technology that could eventually allow only the owner of a firearm to use it, the White House announced Friday…

The administration stopped short of mandating the use of smart guns by federal agencies but said it saw promise in committing more federal money and attention to a technology that has evolved in fits and starts over more than two decades.

The idea behind the smart-gun technology is to limit the use of a firearm to its owner, through personalized identifiers like a biometric sensor on the gun grip, a ring sensor worn by the owner or a digital pass code entered on a wristband.

Advocates see the technology as a way of stopping criminals from using stolen guns — or children from accidentally shooting themselves or others.

In reporting on this, the Fox News headline reads: Obama set to push for ‘smart gun’ tech despite concerns. You might wonder about the source of those “concerns.”

The NRA does not oppose the technology. But in responding to the president’s controversial January executive action, the group’s Institute for Legislative Action said the private market, not the government, should drive its development.

“Although NRA is not opposed to the development of new firearms technology, we do not believe the government should be picking winners and losers in the marketplace,” the statement said.

While the administration may not be pushing an executive order mandating the purchase of smart guns, Second Amendment advocates fear a slippery slope.

There is no argument to be made here that this is an attempt by Obama to take away anyone’s guns. In light of that, the fallback position is to worry about a “slippery slope”…the case to be made when all else fails.

Second Amendment advocates can’t stop President Obama from pursuing the possibilities of this kind of technology. But in light of these numbers on toddler shootings, it actually blows my mind that they would even attempt to raise objections.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 3, 2016

May 4, 2016 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Deaths, Gun Lobby, Toddler Shootings | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“And Why Does It Matter?: Why Are We So Obsessed With The Race And Religion Of Mass Killers?

For a few hours on Twitter and cable news on Wednesday night, there was a restless anticipation, as if everybody with a chyron or two thumbs was waiting at some imaginary line on a virtual track, waiting for the starting pistol.

A few hours earlier, everybody knew, two or three heavily armed people had shot up a center that helps disabled children in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 people and wounding 17 before escaping. The updates started trickling in: Police had surrounded a bullet-ridden black SUV; one person from the car was on the ground, motionless; one male and female suspect wearing “assault-style clothing” were dead, and a third possible suspect had been arrested after fleeing from the scene of the massacre. Politicians were tweeting out calls for gun control (Democrats) and “thoughts and prayers” for the victims (Republicans, mostly).

People were worried about the victims. Were they children with disabilities? Social workers dedicated to helping them live meaningful lives? People from the Department of Public Health trying to enjoy a holiday party at the facility?

But the real question on everyone’s mind was this: Were the killers white people, Muslims, or something else? Lots of talking heads were tiptoeing around that question, but Bill O’Reilly just laid it out.

“We have to be careful here,” O’Reilly told counterterrorism expert Aaron Cohen, a guest on Wednesday’s show. “Very, very careful. If it is a terrorist attack, generated by fanatical Muslims, it becomes an international Paris-type story, with implications for the president of the United States on down. So we don’t want to speculate.” That didn’t deter Cohen, who immediately responded: “My sources have also said that an Islamic name has been released. That is compounded by the fact that the attackers went to a specific place with tactical gear that would allow them to create maximum damage. I believe this is strongly linked to Islamic-motivated international terror.”

The obvious inference is that if the shooting turned out to be “just a local beef in San Bernardino,” as O’Reilly put it, it’s just another mass shooting in America. We play this game every time there is a mass shooting in America: If the assailant has a Muslim-sounding name, we react one way, and if he (it’s almost always a he) is white, we react another way.

Just think about that for a second. As you are undoubtedly aware, mass shootings are nothing new in the United States — there has been, on average, more than one a day this year, and Wednesday was no exception, with one person killed and three wounded in a mass shooting in Georgia. In 2015 alone, mass shootings — defined as four or more people shot — have left 462 people dead and 1,314 wounded.

Yet America’s foreign and domestic policy hinges to an insane degree on a killer’s name and religion.

If the murderer of 20 grade schoolers and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, had been a Muslim from Nigeria, for example, do you doubt there would be thundering calls for eradicating Boko Haram? Instead, since he was a young white male, the U.S. essentially did nothing.

We don’t yet know what prompted Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, to allegedly murder 14 people, and unless they left a note or manifesto, we may never be sure. Law enforcement hasn’t ruled out terrorism, and maybe it will turn out they were radicalized at some mosque or on Twitter and wanted to become jihadis. But if somebody named, say, Robert Dear had crashed his own office Christmas party wearing “assault-style clothing” and murdered 14 of his colleagues or their guests, you can bet your pundit card nobody would be talking about international terrorism.

Motive does matter if we are serious about trying to address the cause and prevent future mass murders. But if it’s a Muslim terrorist, “we” seem to think that lets “us” off the hook. Mostly, we appear interested in which Twitter/TV battle we are supposed to engage in: Is this a “foreigner” problem we can fix with bombing other countries and sealing America’s borders, or a domestic problem we can tackle by enacting new gun legislation? If you disagree with either of those propositions, you can argue the other side.

More serious than this idiocy is the fact that one or two sociopaths can push America into foreign entanglements, if they have one specific type of last name and creed. Freedom of religion is a cornerstone of America’s social contract, as is presumption of innocence. We betray both with this Pavlovian grief bifurcation.

Soon after Wednesday’s shooting, BBC News reporter James Cook described the murder of 14 people in San Bernardino as “just another day in the United States of America. Another day of gunfire, panic, and fear.” That stings. But given America’s evolving reaction to the killings, we probably deserve worse.

 

By: Peter Weber, The Week, December 3, 2015

December 5, 2015 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Race and Ethnicity, Religious Freedom, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Taking On The N.R.A.”: A New, Reinvigorated Gun-Control Movement With Grassroots Support And Backed By Real Money

In the wake of the massacre at Umpqua Community College, in Oregon, Hillary Clinton promised that if she is elected President she will use executive power to make it harder for people to buy guns without background checks. Meanwhile, Ben Carson, one of the Republican Presidential candidates, said, “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.” The two responses could hardly have been more different, but both were testaments to the power of a single organization: the National Rifle Association. Clinton invoked executive action because the N.R.A. has made it unthinkable that a Republican-controlled Congress could pass meaningful gun-control legislation. Carson found it expedient to make his comment because the N.R.A. has shaped the public discourse around guns, in one of the most successful P.R. (or propaganda, depending on your perspective) campaigns of all time.

In many accounts, the power of the N.R.A. comes down to money. The organization has an annual operating budget of some quarter of a billion dollars, and between 2000 and 2010 it spent fifteen times as much on campaign contributions as gun-control advocates did. But money is less crucial than you’d think. The N.R.A.’s annual lobbying budget is around three million dollars, which is about a fifteenth of what, say, the National Association of Realtors spends. The N.R.A.’s biggest asset isn’t cash but the devotion of its members. Adam Winkler, a law professor at U.C.L.A. and the author of the 2011 book “Gunfight,” told me, “N.R.A. members are politically engaged and politically active. They call and write elected officials, they show up to vote, and they vote based on the gun issue.” In one revealing study, people who were in favor of permits for gun owners described themselves as more invested in the issue than gun-rights supporters did. Yet people in the latter group were four times as likely to have donated money and written a politician about the issue.

The N.R.A.’s ability to mobilize is a classic example of what the advertising guru David Ogilvy called the power of one “big idea.” Beginning in the nineteen-seventies, the N.R.A. relentlessly promoted the view that the right to own a gun is sacrosanct. Playing on fear of rising crime rates and distrust of government, it transformed the terms of the debate. As Ladd Everitt, of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told me, “Gun-control people were rattling off public-health statistics to make their case, while the N.R.A. was connecting gun rights to core American values like individualism and personal liberty.” The success of this strategy explains things that otherwise look anomalous, such as the refusal to be conciliatory even after killings that you’d think would be P.R. disasters. After the massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, the N.R.A.’s C.E.O. sent a series of e-mails to his members warning them that anti-gun forces were going to use it to “ban your guns” and “destroy the Second Amendment.”

The idea that gun rights are perpetually under threat has been a staple of the N.R.A.’s message for the past four decades. Yet, for most of that period, the gun-control movement was disorganized and ineffective. Today, the landscape is changing. “Newtown really marked a major turning point in America’s gun debate,” Winkler said. “We’ve seen a completely new, reinvigorated gun-control movement, one that has much more grassroots support, and that’s now being backed by real money.” Michael Bloomberg’s Super PAC, Independence USA, has spent millions backing gun-control candidates, and he’s pledged fifty million dollars to the cause. Campaigners have become more effective in pushing for gun-control measures, particularly at the local and state level: in Washington State last year, a referendum to expand background checks got almost sixty per cent of the vote. There are even signs that the N.R.A.’s ability to make or break politicians could be waning; senators it has given F ratings have been reëlected in purple states. Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s embrace of gun control is telling: previously, Democratic Presidential candidates tended to shy away from the issue.

These shifts, plus the fact that demographics are not in the N.R.A.’s favor (Latino and urban voters mostly support gun control), might make it seem that the N.R.A.’s dominance is ebbing. But, if so, that has yet to show up in the numbers. A Pew survey last December found that a majority of Americans thought protecting gun rights was more important than gun control. Fifteen years before, the same poll found that sixty-six per cent of Americans thought that gun control mattered more. And last year, despite all the new money and the grassroots campaigns, states passed more laws expanding gun rights than restricting them.

What is true is that the N.R.A. at last has worthy opponents. The gun-control movement is far more pragmatic than it once was. When the N.R.A. took up the banner of gun rights, in the seventies, gun-control advocates were openly prohibitionist. (The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence was originally called the National Coalition to Ban Handguns.) Today, they’re respectful of gun owners and focussed on screening and background checks. That’s a sensible strategy. It’s also an accommodation to the political reality that the N.R.A. created.

 

By: James Surowiecki, The New Yorker, October 19, 2015 Issue

 

October 19, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Difference Between Three Dead And Four Dead”: Here’s Why No One Can Agree On The Number Of Mass Shootings

Depending on where you get your news, Thursday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, was the 294th mass shooting, the 295th, or the 45th school shooting of the year. As Dave Cullen wrote in New Republic, news outlets will get the facts wrong in the immediate aftermath of an attack, but the conflicting news reports point to a more serious problem in America’s discussion of its gun problem. Gun control advocates rely heavily on the shocking numbers to make their case, but statistical discrepancies allow opponents to easily undermine the arguments. There’s no case to be made when everyone gets to view the evidence on their own terms.

The confusion stems from varying governmental categorizations. There are mass murders and mass killings, active shooters and serial killers, mass shootings and mass public shootings. For instance, Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowd-sourced website that many news outlets use, defines a mass shooting as one with “four or more people shot in one event.” In other words, they include incidents in which four people are wounded, but no one is killed. Accordingly, the database considers the Umpqua shooting the 295th mass shooting of the year.

The FBI, by contrast, doesn’t have an official definition of “mass shooting” on the books, but in 2014 defined a “mass killing” as one with three or more fatalities in a report about active shooters—“an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area,” like at Columbine or Newtown. Using the three-fatality threshold, the Oregon shooting is the 54th mass killing of 2015. But in July, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) defined a mass shooting as a homicide in which four or more people are killed with firearms—a definition based on the FBI’s definition of a “mass murder” as opposed to a “mass shooting.” Under that definition, the Oregon shooting is the 32nd such incident in 2015.

The conflation of “active shooter,” “mass murder,” and “mass shooting” has allowed the gun lobby to discredit statistics that point to the need for further control. The 2014 FBI report showed that active shooting incidents were increasing, but the NRA and other groups complained that this did not necessarily mean mass shootings were also increasing. Opponents of gun control can claim, like Jeb Bush did on Friday, that “stuff happens,” implying such incidents are just a fact of modern life.

Similarly, Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox has said that the inclusion of statistics from the FBI’s “active shooter” report gives the false impression that incidents are rising when they are not. “A majority of active shooters are not mass shooters,” Fox told Time. “A majority kill fewer than three.” On Friday, Fox wrote in USA Today that “media folks reminded us of the unforgettable, high profile shootings that have taken place over the past few months, hinting of a problem that has grown out of control… as if there is a pattern emerging.”

Fox is correct in pointing out that “active shooters” and “mass shootings” are not the same thing. But other statistics, including a Harvard analysis, show that mass shootings—in which four people were killed—have increased in frequency. The July CRS report also indicated that mass shooting incidents are also becoming deadlier.

Of course, no matter which definition—and which statistics—you choose, America’s gun violence is appalling. The difference between three dead and four dead might be statistically significant, but is morally negligible. Just hours after the Oregon shooting, a man shot dead his wife and two others, and injured a fourth person, in North Florida. On Friday, five people were shot outside a Baltimore shopping center. The Mass Shooting Tracker total is now at 297.

 

By: Gwyneth Kelly, Reporter-Researcher at the New Republic, October 2, 2015

October 4, 2015 Posted by | Gun Lobby, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Voting Record On Gun Violence Could Tip The Scale”: Kelly Ayotte Should Be Worried About Losing Her Seat Over Gun Control

Gun violence “is something we should politicize,” President Barack Obama insisted in emotional, frustrated remarks on Thursday after a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon left ten people dead.

Obama’s speech charged politicians to lead with gun control legislation, but he left out the more obvious point: Congress’s makeup needs to change if there’s any hope of ever passing the most basic of gun control legislation, universal background checks. This starts with targeting vulnerable pro-gun politicians and replacing them with Democrats or Republicans who better represent public opinion.

And no one is more vulnerable than Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who faces reelection in a presidential swing state in 2016.

Ayotte is an incumbent of an unpopular Congress in a blue-leaning state. No matter what, she’d already face an uphill climb during a presidential year, when turnout is generally better for Democrats. But it’s her record on gun violence that could tip the scale in favor of Democrats.

After the Newtown, Conneticut shooting in late 2012, Ayotte was considered a possible GOP vote in favor of the Toomey-Manchin amendment to strengthen background checks. In the end, only four Republicans broke with their party to vote for the bill, leaving it to fail 54-46 in the Senate. Ayotte was one of the votes against it. For weeks after her vote, Ayotte faced tough questions at town halls over her vote, including one memorable encounter with the daughter of a Newtown victim. “You had mentioned that the burden to owners of gun stores that these expanded background checks would cause,” the daughter Erica Lafferty said. “I’m just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the hall of her elementary school isn’t as important as that?” Ayotte’s poll numbers fell. According to an April 2013 survey by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling, before the vote, 48 percent of New Hampshire voters approved of the job she was doing, while 35 percent disapproved. After the vote, she went underwater, with 44 percent approving while 46 percent disapproved. Since then, she’s recovered her poll numbers.

Ayotte won’t be the only Republican facing scrutiny for a pro-gun record. Other vulnerable politicians are in a similar position—in 2016, more Republicans are running in moderate swing states. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Senator Rob Portman of Ohio also voted against background checks in 2013, face competitive Democratic challengers, and received intense scrutiny for their votes.

Now, none of this is a guarantee that gun control will remain a top concern 13 months from now, but there are some encouraging signs that 2016 might be a key moment for the gun violence movement, despite the political power of the National Rifle Association.

For one thing, they have deep-pocketed groups on their side: Independence PAC, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, backed by Michael Bloomberg. These groups saw some unexpected, if spotty successes in a 2014 cycle, which otherwise went poorly for Democrats overall. Colorado ousted the pro-gun Republicans who had replaced legislators recalled over passing gun control and saw a successful ballot measure to expand background checks in Washington state.

Admittedly, there aren’t many examples of Democrats winning a seat from Republicans based on gun control alone. But it could motivate voters, particularly in states that have dealt with high-profile shootings of late. And Virginia might prove to be a model for 2016. Every seat in the Virginia General Assembly is up for election in 2015, and the narrowly Republican-controled legislature voted down background checks, while sending pro-gun bills to the Democratic governor (who vetoed). Republicans are expected to hold on to a majority, but since two Virginia journalists were slain on camera in August, guns have reemerged as an issue in the state. According to a late September poll from the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, 14 percent of Virginia voters say reducing gun violence should be the top priority of state legislators, behind concerns over public schools and federal spending but above issues like health care and traffic.

As Virginia could show, it sometimes takes a tragedy to change the politics around gun violence. The changing politics around guns might mean bad news for Ayotte, too.

 

Rebecca Leber, Staff Writer for The New Republic; October 2, 2015

October 3, 2015 Posted by | Gun Violence, Kelly Ayotte, Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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