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Gunplay on the Highway: You've Been Warned

Rick Horowitz   |   July 26, 2014    4:31 AM ET

Watch the latest news and you have to wonder: Is this what the future has in store?

In the Gun Debate, Mental Illness Doesn't Predict Dangerousness

Paul Heroux   |   July 21, 2014   12:29 PM ET

Fear-mongering masquerading as informed concern is what most politicians and pundits do when it comes to the discussion of mental illness and dangerousness. The new focus on mental illness as the principal culprit behind gun violence is not only without merit, it is discrimination.

A handful of high-profile shootings America has turned the gun debate focus to mental illness. This is absurd. There are 10,000 homicides with a firearm every year in America. Only a small fraction of these are done by people who had mental illness as a factor. Over one recent weekend, more than 60 people were shot in Chicago alone. The media is rightly not focusing on mental illness because it is not a primary factor in gun violence.

The Science

People living with a mental illness are generally no more likely to be violent than someone who does not have a mental illness. And people who are living with a mental illness are more likely to be victims to violence than they are to perpetrate violence.

The times that people with mental illness may become violent may not be too different than when people who don't have mental illness become violent. There are a few exceptions to this, which include when a medication contributes to someone becoming irritable, or when someone doesn't take their medication. Other times, as with paranoid schizophrenia, someone may be acting as they believe in their own self-defense and not as an intentional act of aggression or premeditated malice or forethought.

Politics in Science

There is a lot of legislation that is seeking to keep guns out of the hands of the so-called mentally ill. But who are the mentally ill? Are they people who have anything listed in the DSM? If that is the case, that would include ADHD, learning disorders, or intellectual disorders. It would also include people with a clinical disorder, which is often a temporary disorder (Axis I), or a personality disorder or intellectual disability, which is often a lifelong disorder (Axis II).

  • Do we want to prohibit someone who has PTSD from a firearm? What if it is a war veteran who hunts for food, common throughout the country?
  • Do we want to prohibit someone with postpartum depression from a firearm? How do we monitor that? What if she no longer has it? Should she have to be subjected to increased scrutiny to the point of discrimination or harassment?

The issue that we should be concerned with is not whether or not someone has or had a mental illness. We should be asking: Is the person is a danger to him or herself or to others if he or she had a gun? That is the question. The notion that we can use mental illness as a way to determine that someone is somehow more dangerous is just ill-informed.

The National Institute of Mental Illness estimates that in the past year 26 percent of the population have suffered from a mental illness in one form or another, and about 45 percent have suffered from mental illness at some point in their life. This equates to millions of people who had or have a mental illness. Mental illness as a disqualifying factor to obtain a gun is going to 1) discourage people from seeking treatment for fear of losing their Second Amendment rights, and 2) would exclude and disqualify a lot of people from firearms, which is akin to disarming the citizenry.

This is an important issue to address because people across America, people who should know better, Democrats and Republicans, people who are pro-gun and anti-gun all make the same mistake in stigmatizing against people with mental illness.

Discrimination

Mental illness is an easy villain for both sides of the issue to demonize. The folks on the right see it as a way to shift the focus of gun violence away from the gun and to the person with mental illness and say keep the guns out of "their" hands. Meanwhile, folks on the left seem to think they are more enlightened in their understanding of mental illness and the need for treatment.

The public tends to view anything they don't understand as dangerous. The fear of the unknown is hardwired into our survival instincts. This non-adherence to the facts about the probability of violence in people with a mental illness hurts people who have mental illness. There seems to be this sentiment that we need to be afraid, to be very afraid of "them." This is beneath the dignity of an enlightened and informed society.

While it is true that our prisons are filled with people who are suffering from a mental illness, many of these people are incarcerated for reasons that could have been avoided had they had the proper support and treatment. And there are nearly 20,000 suicides with a firearm every year. This may be a legitimate place to be concerned about depression, bipolar disorder or other similar mental illnesses and access to a firearm. But relatively few people who are depressed or who have bipolar disorder actually commit suicide.

We need to realize that high-profile events are high-profile because they are unlikely. And trying to stop an unlikely event is very difficult if not impossible. Predicting a school shooting or when someone who has or had a mental illness is going to shoot someone is a bit like predicting where lightning is going to strike the ground. There are some generic indicators but little that can act as an actual alarm bell.

There are things that can and should be done to reduce gun violence, but focusing on people with a mental illness is not one of them.

Paul Heroux is a state representative from Massachusetts on the Joint Committee on Mental Health & Substance Abuse. Paul has a bachelor's in psychology and neuroscience from USC, a master's in criminology from the University of Pennsylvania, and a master's in public administration from Harvard. Paul worked in jail and prison before becoming a State Rep. Paul can be reached at paulheroux.mpa@gmail.com or 508-639-9511.

Dear NRA

Tami Shaikh   |   July 19, 2014    4:13 PM ET

Dear People of the NRA,

I have a few questions for you. Please don't take offence to any of this, as I am writing to you as a mother and a teacher. Why do you believe it's OK to make guns available to everyone? There is only one purpose to use a gun -- that is to kill a human being or an animal. In my mind, they are both huge offenses.

Guns are created to kill and laws are supposed to be made to protect people and govern actions that are allowed in a democratic society. Why, then, do you guys push for "gun laws," which basically means "to give someone the right to kill," in my opinion?

Don't you have families? Doesn't it bother you when you read about gun violence in schools and colleges? I know that you have to run your businesses, but have you ever thought of what happens when people who don't know how to use these guns get a hold of them?

In our society, parents and teachers are usually the first people that children feel comfortable and safe with, and so we have a great responsibility. When you put guns and rifles in the hands of people who are not mentally stable or who are underage, you make our jobs more difficult. Our children feel unsafe in their own schools and homes. If you look at the map above, you will see what I'm talking about.

On June 10, a school shooter attacked Reynolds High School in Portland, Oregon. This is the 15th school shooting since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

My question to you is this: Do our children deserve this? I was talking to an acquaintance who didn't agree with my view on gun control and they said, "Well people can die in natural disasters too." My answer to that is that as parents, we send our kids to schools thinking they are safe. Natural disasters can't be avoided, but gun deaths can. We trust these educational institutions, whether they are elementary schools or universities, and then you, Mr. NRA, put guns in the hands of people who aren't mentally stable enough to know the difference between killing human beings and hunting for ducks. (Which, if you ask me, isn't right either)

As a teacher, I can't even comprehend the impact school shootings have on these children. The trauma and devastation it causes, not just to the ones who physically witness the shooting, but the ones that are watching it on TV. Our nation that works so hard to make sure we live in a safe environment is tormented because our gun controls laws aren't strict enough? We send our military overseas to make sure we are safe, yet we allow this epidemic of gun violence to increase.

I believe that humans were put on this earth to live in peace and harmony, not to kill each other. The impact of these guns in schools, in my opinion, will cause long-term negative effects on our children. We used to have fire drills and earthquake drills; now we have lockdown drills.

You say on your website that "The National Rifle Association is America's longest standing civil rights organization"; can I please ask you how? How can you call it a Civil Rights Organization, when so many innocent civilians die every year because of the misuse of these guns?

All I'm saying is that don't just think of making money selling these guns to the wrong people. Think about the larger impact on the world. Parents are losing children, children are losing their families and friends are losing friends and siblings. Is this really OK to you? Do you want our children to grow up with a sense of insecurity? We say we are the land of the brave, are we allowing our next generation to be brave or are we making them feel insecure and unsure of their surroundings.

Thanks,

A concerned mom

Samantha Lachman   |   July 18, 2014   12:35 PM ET

U.S. Capitol Police arrested Rep. Tom Marino's (R-Pa.) press secretary on Friday after he allegedly attempted to bring a handgun and magazine into a House office building.

Roll Call first reported that Ryan Shucard was arrested after the police found a Smith & Wesson 9mm and magazine during the routine search required for entry into the Cannon House Office Building, according to Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider.

Shucard, who was being processed at Capitol Police headquarters at the time of the Roll Call report, is being charged with carrying a pistol without a license, which is a felony.

The press secretary was placed on unpaid leave from the representative's office.

"That will last until we know more about the situation," Marino chief of staff Bill Tighe told Roll Call.

Tighe said Capitol Police had told his office that Shucard appeared to have accidentally brought the gun with him to the building and had no intention to use it maliciously. They said the weapon Shucard was carrying was not loaded.

Shucard joined Marino's office in May, according to his LinkedIn profile. He worked as a staff assistant for Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) for nearly 18 months beginning in October of 2011.

The incident has a precedent: a staffer for former Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) was arrested for trying to bring a loaded weapon belonging to Webb into the Russell Senate Office Building in 2007.

BEN NUCKOLS   |   July 16, 2014    7:13 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — If House Republicans have their way, District of Columbia residents won't be allowed to walk the streets with a joint in their pocket, and they will be allowed to carry a semi-automatic rifle.

The GOP-controlled House approved a spending bill Wednesday that would undo the District's strict gun-control laws and its law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. The fate of the spending bill and the amendments will likely depend on negotiations between the House, Senate and White House.

Robbie Couch   |   July 15, 2014    7:03 PM ET

After her mother, father and four siblings were brutally killed July 9, an outpouring of public support for Cassidy Stay is keeping a smile on the brave teenager's face.

As of Tuesday evening, more than $325,000 had been raised via a GoFundMe page created by community members. All donations made through the page will go toward a trust fund for the 15-year-old, who "will no doubt need major financial support in the future" without her parents.

Last Wednesday, alleged shooter Ronald Lee Haskell, 33, entered the Stay family's suburban Houston home posing as a delivery man, police said. Haskell was searching for his former wife, the sister of Cassidy's mother. He shot and killed Cassidy's family, according to authorities, and is now being charged with capital murder.

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The Stay family home in Spring, Texas.

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A photograph, flowers and candles left on the Stay family's porch.

Cassidy, who survived the incident by pretending to be dead after being shot by the alleged gunman and has since made a full recovery, spoke outside Lemm Elementary School on Saturday, just three days after the shootings, Click2Houston reported.

"'Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light,'" Cassidy quoted from a "Harry Potter" novel, which she said she has drawn strength from, according to Click2Houston. "I know that my mom, dad, Bryan, Emily, Becca and Zach are in a much better place and that I'll be able to see them again one day."

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Ribbons placed on trees near Lemm Elementary School in honor of the shooting.

More than 6,000 people from around the world have donated to Cassidy's fund as of Tuesday evening.

Jody Dellinger, who established the GoFundMe page alongside Sgt. George Beck -- a first responder to the Stay family's crime scene -- said he's been overwhelmed by the community's reaction.

"We had no idea that it would be the official site for the family," Dellinger told Community Impact News. "The outpouring just dumbfounds me when you have a tragedy like this."

If you'd like to donate to Cassidy, visit her GoFundMe page.

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  |   July 14, 2014    9:13 PM ET

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed legislation Monday that would have allowed specially trained teachers to carry concealed guns, asserting that the move could jeopardize student safety in public schools.

The veto by the Democratic governor sets up a potential showdown with the Republican-led Legislature, which could override Nixon if it gets a two-thirds vote of both chambers during a September session.

Nixon announced the veto with a written statement on the deadline day for him to take action on bills passed earlier this year.

"Arming teachers will not make our schools safer," he said. "I have supported and will continue to support the use of duly authorized law enforcement officers employed as school resource officers, but I cannot condone putting firearms in the hands of educators who should be focused on teaching our kids."

The Missouri legislation called for allowing public school districts to designate certain teachers or administrators as "school protection officers," who would undergo special training to carry concealed weapons.

Supporters contend that armed school personnel could save students' lives by responding to an attacker without waiting precious minutes for police to arrive.

"I am disappointed this governor, who was all but absent during the process, has chosen to veto a bill designed to protect our children," said sponsor Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit.

The Legislature began considering the measure after the deadly 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. At least nine states passed bills last year authorizing armed school personnel and more than a dozen introduced similar measures this year.

The Missouri legislation also lowered the minimum age required to get a concealed weapons permit to 19 from 21 and allows permit holders to carry guns openly, even in cities that ban open carry. In addition, health care professionals could not be required to ask whether a patient has access to guns, and public housing authorities could not ban tenants from possessing firearms.

The bill passed the Missouri House in May by a 111-28 vote, two more than would be required for a veto override. The Senate's 21-7 vote fell two votes shy of that threshold, but three Republicans were absent.

With another veto Monday of legislation that would have barred minors from buying electronic cigarettes while also restricting further regulation, Nixon has rejected 33 bills approved by lawmakers this year, the most in one year since he took office in 2009 and among the most ever by a Missouri governor in a 12-month span.

The Hypocrisy of Extreme Partisanship

Paul Heroux   |   July 11, 2014    6:24 PM ET

Guns and Welfare!

The Right loves to defend gun rights, and the Left loves to defend access to welfare.

However, any casual observer can observe that partisans on both sides make the same structural arguments, even though the content may be different.

Gun control and welfare reform are often advocated from voices on the far left and far right, respectively. Both voices use high profile examples to make their point. Both voices tend to use top down approaches to reform. Neither voice is worried about the impact that top down approaches will have on legitimate users.

For example, anytime their is a high profile shooting, reformers come swooping in and offer a sweeping top down reform so that the problem will never happen again. Invariably resistance comes from the other side of the aisle. The argument is made that the proposed sweeping change will hurt legitimate users of guns.

But then when there is a high profile case of welfare fraud, the same people who opposed sweeping top down reforms to gun control are proposing sweeping top down reforms to welfare reform. Meanwhile, defenders of welfare will make the same structural argument that said sweeping reforms will hurt legitimate users of welfare.

This is frustrating.

Bills proposed by legislators often have spectacular names such as "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996" or the "Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994". Surely these massive sweeping changes to law will deliver the desired outcomes.

But sometimes they don't.

What the 1994 law actually accomplished is debatable. And that which the 1996 law accomplished is also debatable.

Sure, one can argue that access to guns is a Constitutional right protected by the Second Amendment. But one could also argue that access to welfare is a Constitutional right protected by extension of the Tenth Amendment and even Fourteenth Amendment.

The title of a bill or the intention of a bill is not enough. We have to look at the unintended consequences. We have to look to see if we are going to do more harm than good. We have to see if we are going to exclude people from getting benefits that they previously paid into when they were working, or that we provide people with disabilities precisely because are a compassionate society who takes care of those truly in need.

When tinkering with these important programs it is imperative to remember that a lot of harm can be done when using a broad approach. We need to use a scalpel not a broadsword.

As frustrating as high profile events are, it is important to remember that high profile events are high profile precisely because they are unusual and unlikely. Making policy based on high profile events is a surefire way to overreact and make inefficient and, worse, ineffective policy. A high profile event is good time find out where a shortcoming of a policy or a failure of a policy might reside, but a high profile event is not necessarily what policy should target. Doing so would result in the majority of cases being marginalized and a strategy designed around an unlikely event.

If there were a button to push that would eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in welfare without negatively affecting the legitimate users of welfare, or reduce gun crimes without negatively affecting the legitimate users of guns, every legislator, Democrat and Republican, would push that button.

Paul Heroux is a state representative from Massachusetts. Paul can be reached at paulheroux.mpa@gmail.com.

Dear President Obama: Secure The Border Now Or Risk Civil War

James Marshall Crotty   |   July 10, 2014    6:05 PM ET

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As any grade-schooler, let alone a graduate of Harvard Law School, knows, the first job of a US President is to protect the homeland. Nothing comes before that sacred duty. Not famine abroad, not health insurance at home, not even Lilly Ledbetter. The President exercises this primary function as the Commander-in-Chief. And the most elemental expression of the Commander-in-Chief role is border security.

President Barack Obama has made a running joke of this mandate. After busying himself playing pool and drinking beer with the Governor of Colorado on Tuesday (to the shocked dismay of at least one Texas Democrat), on Wednesday the President had the chutzpah to proclaim that he will not forthrightly halt the flow of illegal immigrants into this Recession-racked country until Republicans sign off on amnesty for the millions of illegal immigrants already here.

With that cowardly, cynical statement, it is now sadly clear to this columnist that Mr. Obama -- whose progressive stances on environmental protection, gay marriage, and ending the war in Iraq I fulsomely backed -- has zero interest in fully protecting our borders. He and the Democratic Party have too much to gain demographically -- and, thus, politically -- by minting newly indebted voters through making the US a magnet for illegal immigration. It's Chicago Machine patronage on a grand and twisted scale.

The facts speak for themselves. Of the reported 240,000 migrants -- 52,000 of them children -- that have arrived illegally in the last several months (with 300,000 more currently on their way), a Senate hearing yesterday confirmed that only 10% were actually sent back to their host countries. If you are sitting in Central America and calculating your chances of gaining a relatively comfy new life in America -- on Uncle Sam's dime -- those are pretty good odds.

It gets worse.

Only 10% of unaccompanied minors required by law to show up for immigration status hearings actually showed up, a U.S. Immigration and Customs official testified Wednesday. And only 46% of illegal immigrant children accompanied by an adult actually showed up for status hearings.

For these children and their families a notice to appear is a "notice to disappear" into the shadows, never to be heard from again. The reason is simple. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is responsible for placing illegal immigrant children in safe environs as they await status hearings, routinely places such children in the homes of parents and guardians who themselves are here illegally.

What do you think are the chances of an illegal immigrant parent or guardian bringing their illegal immigrant child to a status hearing? Not very good. Yet, such illegal-immigration-encouraging placements are precisely what the Obama administration continues to do with the tens of thousands of children pouring over our border right now.

News travels fast in illegal immigrant circles. No doubt, the illegal immigrant parents and guardians of illegal immigrant children already here have spread the word throughout the Americas that if you get here, you are in. And 90% of the time they are right.

Only now, at this late hour, is the President contemplating a paltry expenditure -- about $5 million -- to spread the word via some ill-fated public information campaign that Central American parents should not send their children to the US border. He can't be serious. If we had a $1 billion information campaign across every bus shelter and billboard in Guatemala City, San Salvador, and Tegucigalpa, nothing appreciable would change. Why? Because such public information would not match up with US border policy.

You see, as the illegal immigrants pouring into our country well know, the pitcher is leaking out the bottom, but the President continues to let a flood of water back in. His pathetic HHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) flunkies that appeared before a Senate inquiry on Wednesday confirmed as much. As I listened on CSPAN radio, an infuriating Mark H. Greenberg, acting assistant secretary at HHS, finally had to admit that it was a deliberate administration policy not to ask the immigration status of parents with whom they were placing illegal immigrant children. Are you kidding me? If the President was dead serious about stopping illegal immigration, and if all departments of government were, in turn, working in consort to solve this epidemic, immigration status would be the first thing that HHS checked. No wonder illegal immigrant children don't show up for deportation hearings. Their illegal immigrant parents and guardians don't want to be busted themselves!

The President is out of excuses. For two years after he entered office in 2009, Mr. Obama enjoyed Democratic control of both houses of Congress. At that juncture -- a time when fiscal stimulus was universally called for -- he could have appropriated enough money and manpower to almost completely end illegal immigration across our borders. He trumpeted then and has trumpeted ever since the percentage increases he made in personnel, equipment, deportations and so on over the previous administration. However, most Americans are not seeking a percentage breakdown or incremental improvements. We want a complete moratorium on illegal immigration. Then, and only then, will we consider what to do with the law-breakers already here.

However, the President was never interested in stopping illegal immigration. Democrats knew that they could solidify their electoral gains in swing states like New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado (and soon Texas) by talking a good game, but, in fact, doing nothing. If the President were genuinely interested in solving the problem, he would have implemented an all-hands-on-deck approach to border enforcement six years ago. Instead, he played the blame game. He's at it still.

And yet the thing is, even at this late hour -- as the border crisis metastasizes, as armed citizen militias talk openly about taking border control into their own hands, as socially liberal, eco-friendly types like me fume over the deliberate delays and rhetorical obfuscation from this administration -- President Obama still has one last chance, a tiny and short window before all hell breaks loose, to deal with the elephant in the living room of his weak-kneed tenure.

The final hour wake-up call would start with a no-strings-attached supplemental spending bill that would fund thousands more border control agents, including much-needed researchers, lawyers, and judges to detect the high-level of political asylum fraud -- which is upwards of 70%, according to yesterday's Senate testimony -- plus sizable medical personnel to screen, and, if necessary, quarantine the many illegal immigrant transporting diseases against which this country has scant protection. This bill would also modify the ill-conceived William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 so the US could immediately deport any illegal immigrant from any part of the world in as little as one day. The supplemental spending bill would fund expanded detention facilities and courtrooms right on the border (not far afield, where illegal immigrants can easily escape detection) plus funding for planes to send illegal immigrants back to their home countries, often on the very day they arrive. Believe me, once those planes started landing en masse throughout Central America, the locals would get the message: No Vuelvas.

Moreover, such a bill would save the President's bacon on the economic front. After all, this President has routinely asked U.S. employers to hire returning war veterans. I have done so. And I know many other American entrepreneurs have done so as well.

However, for those thousands of vets unable to find work in the private sector, there could be job openings right now as border patrol agents for which their armed service on the borders in Iraq and Afghanistan makes them eminently qualified. Just say the word, Mr. President.

But the shamefully AWOL Mr. Obama would rather shoot pool, drink beer, play golf, and attend fundraisers than deal directly with the greatest domestic crisis of his Presidency. What kind of lawyer leaves the prima facie investigation of a catastrophe to his underlings? Yet, that is precisely what the President has done.

He's sent his feckless Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson to the border six times. By the way, this is the same Jeh Johnson -- the Michael "Heckuva Job" Brown of this administration -- whose repeated failure to directly answer questions about the administration's intentions in this area on last Sunday's Meet the Press (read the transcript) was an even greater abomination than Susan Rice's ill-fated trip to that same table.

Naturally, not once has President Obama gone to the border himself. He said on Wednesday that this is because he doesn't want to turn the crisis into "theater."

Say, what?

Obama's AWOL status during this defining crisis is worse than George W. Bush's atrocious performance during Hurricane Katrina. After all, Bush at least visited Louisiana and Mississippi. Might this President find -- if he deigned to visit our southern flank -- facts on the ground that would empirically contradict his open border narrative? Yes.

In particular, he might learn from real live border agents in the field (not carefully chosen agents prepped by the President's advance team) -- what formerly confidential surveys revealed in yesterday's Senate hearings confirmed -- that most of those children and families currently descending on the border did so because they got a clear signal from our President that they would find safe harbor once here.

Obama's open border apologists counter that the "innocent" women and children currently descending on our border are escaping poverty and violence. That they have no other choice but to run a dangerous gauntlet for Texas, New Mexico or Arizona. However, poverty and violence in Mexico and Central America have gone on for decades. What has appreciably changed over the last two years is DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

However, the President doesn't want to hear that. The President does not want to see his role in this mess. This is why President Obama -- who is clearly the guilty party in this humanitarian disaster -- continues to spin it as a problem of Republican politics.

However, as made clear by the massive increase of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America since the President's DACA executive order -- passed June 15, 2012, conveniently a day after Flag Day (and my 53rd birthday) -- this is clearly a problem of Presidential policy.

Now think for a moment if the President expanded DACA to what he has deceptively dubbed "immigration reform." Instead of doing the sensible thing and first completely shutting down the border to illegal immigration -- and verifying that shutdown from independent and objective sources -- the President's plan would grant amnesty to anyone already here, just as we were finally trying to clamp down on illegal immigration in earnest. The resulting stampede for all U.S. border points from all corners of the planet would net millions crying for political asylum and amnesty, plus other health and human service protections, within months.

My friends, you are seeing in miniature on our borders right now what would happen writ large once the world gets a whiff that amnesty might become policy in Washington, DC. No matter how quickly the law got funded, we would not be able to staff up quickly enough to effectively stop the bum rush. Our borders would be overwhelmed almost overnight. And, believe me, the law-abiding citizens in border areas -- whose land, cattle, property and families would be violently threatened like never before -- would not stand idly by. They would fight back. And you could have tens of thousands of dead and wounded illegal immigrants on our country's southern flank.

Is that what you want, Mr. President? An all-out border war? With National Guardsmen arresting and fighting our own countrymen, instead of protecting us from the illegal immigrant invasion? You are already signaling that is your priority by sending National Guard personnel to stop the protests in Murrieta, California, instead of using those guardsmen to stop the flow of illegal immigrants that are giving the good citizens of Murrieta such justifiable angst.

We need ten thousand more border control agents to completely and permanently stem the tide of smugglers, thieves, killers, human traffickers, rapists, would-be terrorists, and, yes, illegal immigrant women and children pouring across our southern border. In other words, a jobs program that both parties and most sensible Americans could get behind. But, as with Syria, ISIS, and a host of other ills, this passive President is again many years late and several billion dollars short.

Instead of stoking this powder keg, which is bringing long-simmering and well-armed Nativist elements out of the shadows, our apologetic President should, instead, fly his entourage to the US border forthwith and deliver a real Berlin moment. And not the populist pabulum he served up to his Euro acolytes during the 2010 campaign. He should say candidly to the people of Mexico, Central America and South America that: A. Under no circumstances will you be given political asylum in America (Lady Liberty has already fallen for that gambit one too many times); B. You will not be reunited with your families; C. You will not be given work visas or citizenship; and D. You need to stay home and work to make your own countries better. Period.

Moreover, he needs to send a clear, full-throated, and unequivocal message to the governments of Latin America that, unless you proactively police your borders, reform your politics and law enforcement, and stem the tide of women and children flowing towards our border, you will be punished with sanctions, trade restrictions, and worse.

Obama could do it. He should do it. However, he is not courageous enough to do it.

Instead, he lets the border crisis fester because it serves him politically to do so.

Friends, we are not cold-hearted bigots because we, like every civilized nation on earth, put reasonable limits on who can and who cannot enter our country at any one time. We are not cruel and insensitive because we expect neighboring Mexico to use its sizable energy and mineral wealth to help its own people, enforce its own borders, and to stop cynically profiting from the repatriated income of illegal immigrants without having to pay for their health care, education, driving privileges, housing, Food Stamps, and sundry other needs.

President Obama, violence is poised to break out during this heated summer from ranchers, farmers, and ordinary citizens who are sick and tired of having their lands trampled on, and their communities overwhelmed, by drug smugglers, human traffickers, rapists, killers, and all manner of other illegal immigrant.

Sir, do you want the next American Civil War on your watch?

Then do what both Democrats and Republicans are pleading for you to do and get thee to the border now. Moreover, once there, announce that you are going to support a $30 billion emergency-spending bill -- with no strings attached -- that totally secures this nation's border for decades to come.

You will find that once you genuinely secure our border -- with 10,000 new border patrol agents, including 1000 National Guardsmen in the interim, and all manner of high-tech surveillance tools -- that you will get your amnesty program within a year. And not just for Dreamers, but for all 18-20 million illegal immigrants (the 11 million figure is tossed out by open border apologists to make amnesty easier to swallow) here in this country right now.

The fabric of this fragile Republic, the fate of tens of thousands of children who are victims of your misguided actions (one-third of the young girls traveling to our border have been raped and/or abused en route) -- as well as your Presidential legacy -- depends on your actions over the next few days. Please do the right thing and completely secure our borders now.

--@CROTTY

Review - Edge Of Tomorrow

Philip David Morton   |   July 10, 2014    4:52 AM ET

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I think Edge Of Tomorrow is one of the best films of the year. It's not just edge of your seat nail biting entertainment. You'll also think about it when it's over, which is saying a lot in the flash paper world of big movie entertainment where stories are made to go in one eye out the other. Not gimmicky or derivative, it's actually about something we've lost touch with in American culture; perseverance in the face of despair. It's something the audience certainly knows about. The economy is fostering it upon 99 percent of us every day.

Every 10 years or so Hollywood seems to make a repeating day movie. I should know, I was part of one of the cycles. So I know how hard it is to do it well. The first one is an Oscar nominated short in 1989 titled 12:01 PM, directed by Jonathan Heap, widely regarded as one of the best short films ever made. I adapted that short into a feature film for New Line Cinema, called 12:01, which was scuttled when it was discovered Ground Hog Day was already in pre-production. Then of course there was Ground Hog's Day. Then we came back to life as a film starring Jonathan Silverman and Martin Landau. Ten years later there was Run Lola Run, where Lola repeats the day three times and saves the man she loves. The film was so inventive it brought star Franka Potente and director Tom Tykwer to international acclaim. About ten years later it was Source Code starring Jake Gyllenhaal where the repeating cycle was 8 minutes and though intricately spun it didn't find it's way into wide recognition.

Edge of Tomorrow is cut from that same cloth. Trapped in a repeating day a shallow self serving hero William Cage (Tom Cruise) is faced with a brutal comeuppance for his selfish ways. I'm a Tom Cruise fan and think he's upped his game in his many outings as he matures as a performer. He brings many layers to this one, not the least of which is his lighthearted ability to bring a comedic spin, seemingly impossibly, to his multiple assassinations by his mentor and love interest, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) during his training sequence. Bill Paxton as a fierce platoon commander and Brendan Gleeson as General of United Earth Forces, not to mention the rag tag squad Cruise is hung out to dry with round out the excellent cast.

The cleverness of the movie is partly that we have to experience a new alien invasion threat. A tall order that director Doug Liman and the art department succeed at alarmingly well. The second problem, any writer can tell you, is having to personalize the movie in Cage's crushing Kafkaesque entrapment. He dies on an Omaha-like beach so many times you begin to become convinced it's actually happening. And once he gets past that soul crushing labyrinthine gauntlet things get really hard. The man who only had himself to live for, starts to live for someone else and that begins to change who he is. Adapted from a book there are three credited screenwriters including Christopher Mcquarrie, hat's off to them all.

Changing one's pattern is the single hardest thing a person can do, a teacher of mine once told me. I believe it to be true. Try stopping eating sugar, or quit smoking or whatever your pattern is that you want to change.

This film has the unusual opportunity to show the crushing consequences of a man who can't change his patterns, the painful fallout of which is to be brutally extinguished constantly. His only hope is to change. Cruise shows the impossible frustration of not wanting to change even under these conditions. We watch as he's forced to effortfully commit to learning a new way. Emily Blunt scores major points as the beautiful and deadly teacher who reluctantly signs on with him because there is no other choice. That she is slowly won over by this shallow man who starts to find his depth is the heart of the film. That Cruise pulls us along through deeper and deeper frustrations and failures as he bends, breaks, is broken again and keeps his suffering honest, is what wins us over.

Hard work seems to be a forgotten ideal in American identity. Everyone is working hard, but desperation has replaced fortitude. The idea of working hard to achieve a goal now seems to be the stuff of ancient tales from the 1980s, forget the stories of the survivors from the depression and world war two, they seem like they're form another planet. We've lost touch with 'toughing it out' to make a better life for the next generation. Maybe it's because of all the eye candy advertisers tell us we deserve right now.

Transcendence, stepping outside of oneself, the connection and commitment one feels for other people and acting in service for them, is the truest deepest expression of the human heart.

This film is about that expression. About hope beyond possibility, hope beyond the mind's ability to understand and hope that your perseverance will have meaning in the face of despair.

It's a uniquely human quality, hope. And it has changed the world many times over many thousands of years, in ways that technology or politics never have nor will.

This film touches on that deep theme and brings it home as in the end hope is all they have left. Perseverance wins. It's a good message for the rest of us who leave the theater and go back to fighting the good fight every day.

Unarmed And Dangerous: On Writing A Thriller With No Guns

Diana Renn   |   July 9, 2014   10:24 AM ET

I was partway through my first draft of a thriller for young adults, Latitude Zero, and my villain was about to threaten my protagonist. Then something happened that was worse than anything I could dream up for a novel: a gunman unleashed terror at Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing twenty children and six adults.

Like many people, this tragedy immobilized me. I felt powerless to stop watching the news. Some of the victims were just a year older than my son. Their faces haunted my dreams.

Gradually the relentless news let up. Real life beckoned, which in my case was the work of writing fiction. I returned to my novel. The villain backed my teen sleuth into a corner, and pulled out...

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Nothing.

I could not put a gun in his hand.

The idea of guns repulsed me. I didn't want them in my neighborhood or schools. Now I did not want them in my book.

Was I against violence or other representations of it? No. I just felt that guns were an easy reach, and that maybe we were all becoming too desensitized to them. In movies and in books, even for teen readers, guns seem as readily available as forks and spoons.

But no one was holding me at gunpoint telling me to arm my villain. Maybe I had other options.

I quickly discovered how tough it is to write a thriller with no guns. A gun is an obvious representation of power. A gun requires no words.

Unarmed, how could my villain exert his power? Shaking his fist and shouting "I'll get you!" wouldn't thrill my savvy teen readers -- and I did want them to be a little bit thrilled. This was, after all, a thriller.

My story took place partly in Ecuador. Could a villain clobber someone over the head with a pre-Columbian artifact? Hurl a spear from a jungle tribe? Run someone off a narrow mountain road? Maybe, but those gun alternatives meant contorting my plot in unnatural directions.

I thought hard about my antagonist. He was smart, with a technical background. Then I thought hard about my main character, Tessa, a media figure with a reputation to safeguard. Information could be obtained, falsified, misrepresented, disseminated. And I realized that information would be the weapon of choice for my villain. Information, based on social media and surveillance-era threats. Cyberbullying and its spin-off crimes would not work for every book, but in this thriller, in going back to character instead of relying on genre conventions, I found the perfect fit.

Still, it was hard work, avoiding that gun and maintaining high stakes. My villain had to be extremely cunning, articulate and precise in his threats. And the threats had to keep coming, keep changing, to keep the tension high. I had to build a new plot line, an added layer of complication. This layer engaged me deeply, and I knew I was on the right track, but it was exhausting work.

Just when I felt like having the villain simply reach for that gun, another real-life event hit close to home: the Boston Marathon Bombing and the subsequent manhunt for a suspected bomber -- a teenager, really -- took place just a mile away from my house. As the search helicopters droned above me that day, I thought again about why I wanted to take extra care with how I portrayed guns, or any violence, in my books. There is nothing casual about guns or the people who wield them with malevolent intent. I choose to take guns seriously, in real life and in fiction.

I am not against guns in all novels for young readers. Books can be a safe place to explore important issues of violence and power. But I believe writers of fiction for younger readers have an added responsibility to handle the guns with care. We should be clear in our minds about why characters might reach for a gun in any given scene, and to look for creative alternatives when possible. We should avoid throwing guns around for quick plot fixes, or because we think readers expect guns in thrillers.

I hope that the lack or appearance of guns in my books will get young readers thinking about the prevalence of gun violence in entertainment. Maybe then they will go on to think and talk about the prevalence of gun violence in real life. Because in the end, that's what is really at stake.

How the NRA Benefits From Stoking Fear About Gun Regulations

Mike Weisser   |   July 8, 2014    5:04 PM ET

One thing about the gun debate I find interesting is how quickly and easily gun owners get riled up when politicians, or anyone else for that matter, begin talking about taking away their guns. From the way they talk, you'd think the world was about to come to an end. What was Heston's famous line? "From my cold, dead hands." Heston made more forgettable movies than anyone could ever remember, but five words uttered at the NRA convention and he's immortalized forevermore.

I see the same intensity of feelings in comments on my blog. "You're a traitor," is one of the less-angry ones; "Mike the Gun Guy is Enemy #1," crops up from time to time. I have never once advocated any legislative or legal response to gun violence, but God forbid I say that maybe some of what the NRA claims to be true isn't so true and you'd think I was calling for the confiscation of every, single gun.

Maybe I just don't appreciate how gun owners think about their guns. So I decided to get a better understanding of the average gun owner by conducting a survey on how frequently gun guys (and gals) actually walk around with a gun. After all, if you listen to the NRA, you quickly learn that nobody understands the problems faced by gun owners like they do, and nothing is more important to gun owners than being able to protect themselves and their loved ones by walking around with a gun.

Yesterday I sat down and sent an email to 650 men and women who took the required safety course from me that my state requires for issuance of the LTC. If they had, in fact, received their LTC, I asked them to tell me how often they carried a concealed weapon with the choices being: always, usually, sometimes, frequently or never at all. Obviously, the folks who said they always or usually carried a concealed weapon were embodying Wayne LaPierre's "good guys" dictum. The rest? "Pussies" or worse.

Within 24 hours I got back more than 130 responses, of whom 103 stated they had their LTC. And how did the NRA do in convincing them that they would be fulfilling a sacred trust by walking around with a gun? Not very well, I'm afraid. Only 29 of 102 LTC-holders reported that they 'always' or 'usually' carried a gun, of whom 23 were guys and 6 were gals. The rest just weren't convinced that they needed to carry a gun, and 54 of the respondents, 44 men and 10 women reported that they 'rarely' or 'never' carried a concealed weapon at all.

Now don't get me wrong. The latest numbers indicate that there are roughly 8 million active concealed-carry permits in the United States, so if the results of my poll are representative, that means there may be about 2 million people walking the highways and byways of our beloved country ready at any moment to yank out and use their guns. But 2 million doesn't even represent 1% of the country's population so it's not like there's some huge, gun-toting army out there just waiting to protect the rest of us from the criminal hordes.

On the other hand, a couple of million people who believe that something's about to happen in DC that will directly affect them can make a lot of noise. They can contact their Representatives, or make a telephone call, or send a nasty email to me. I have never done any of those things because I can't recall that Congress ever debated a law which would have any direct impact on me. But the NRA, to their credit, has managed to make its membership feel that any discussion about gun control is a discussion about them. Why pass up the opportunity to let everyone know what's the most important thing to you? I wouldn't, that's for damn sure.

  |   July 7, 2014    8:34 AM ET

WINSLOW TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) — Authorities say a sleeping New Jersey teenager was struck by a bullet when gunfire broke out outside her home and a bullet pierced her bedroom wall.

The 13-year-old girl from the Sicklerville section of Winslow Township was struck in the buttocks early Monday. Her injuries were not considered life-threatening. She was taken to Cooper University Hospital in Camden.

Why The NRA Is Staying Silent On Target's Gun Ban

Mike Weisser   |   July 3, 2014    8:16 PM ET

Last week the mega-chain Target joined Chipotle and Starbucks in making their stores places where customers have a good chance of getting gunned down. At least this is what the NRA believes will happen now that the company's CEO announced that Target shoppers should leave their guns at home. Everyone remembers the NRA's reaction after Sandy Hook -- namely, that schools that were gun-free zones invited kooks like Adam Lanza to walk in and start blasting away. But the notion that public space is safer if people don't walk around with guns seems to be spreading and it's interesting that the NRA's response so far to Target's new policy has been no response at all.

The gun industry is not only encountering some push-back to its notion of guns as being the best way for citizens to protect themselves against crime; they can't even get their facts straight about whether there's any connection between gun ownership and criminal activity at all. The NSSF (the trade association for America's firearms industry) just posted a video which announces that "gun crimes have fallen dramatically over the past 20 years," except the graphic that accompanies this statement shows that the entire decline took place between 1993 and 2000, which was before Obama went into the White House and gun sales soared.

Despite what John Lott says, there's no proof that higher levels of gun violence occur in gun-free zones. And the evidence that protecting yourself with a gun may actually be less safe than using other protective methods to thwart a criminal attack -- yelling, punching, running away -- comes from, of all people, a scholar named Gary Kleck who first "discovered" that arming ourselves made us better able to stop crime. Kleck published a study in 1995 which, based on answers collected from interviews with 213 respondents, claimed that people used guns to prevent more than 2 million crimes from being committed each year. But in 1994 he submitted a report to the Department of Justice in which he found that defensive methods other than guns actually resulted in fewer injuries from criminal attacks. He didn't mention these findings when he began touting the benefits of armed resistance the following year.

And neither did the NRA. Ever since the mid-1990s the gun lobby has been tirelessly beating the drums for expanding concealed carry, as well as for diminishing the list of locations where guns cannot be found. Their latest victory was Georgia, where a new law took effect July 1 which expands the right to carry a gun in locations that serve alcohol, houses of worship and government facilities, as long as the owners of the affected properties don't object.

The campaign to promote carrying guns in public places took a big step backwards, however, with the decision by Target to ask gun-toting shoppers to stay out of their stores. The announcement was worded in a way that did not absolutely ban concealed-carry in states which, unlike Georgia, don't give property-owners the right to restrict the presence of guns. But when Target said that guns are at odds with the "family-friendly" atmosphere they try to maintain, they weren't just sending a message to gun owners, they were sending a clear message to the gun lobby as well.

Despite twenty years of unending appeals to fears of crime and the utility of owning guns, the NRA and its allies have failed to convince a majority of Americans that walking into a public place with a gun in your pocket is the smart thing to do. What they have done is to provoke a grass-roots backlash organized and funded by a guy with lots of bucks whose efforts to get Americans behind the notion of less guns equals more safety may just begin to pay off.