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  |   September 16, 2014    6:09 PM ET


Sept 16 (Reuters) - A Mississippi coroner who advised residents to arm themselves and shoot home intruders said on Tuesday that he had been angered over a recent spate of burglaries and was not seeking to drum up business.

David Scott Gregory, 40, the coroner of largely rural Winston County in eastern Mississippi, went on social media over the weekend to urge residents to buy guns and be willing to use them on burglars.

"I say shoot the idiots and call the Coroner!" Gregory wrote on Facebook. "I'd hate for any innocent people to get hurt but at the same time my stuff is my stuff, my hill is my hill."

Gregory, who has served 10 years as coroner and also works as a local radio DJ under the name "Scotty G," said feedback to his advice has been overwhelmingly positive.

Mississippi is among more than 20 states that have enacted a "stand your ground" self-defense law since Florida's contentious measure took effect in 2005. (Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans; Editing by Eric Walsh)

The Midterm Election in Aurora, Colorado Where My Son Was Shot Must Address Gun Control

Tom Sullivan   |   September 16, 2014   10:54 AM ET

For those who know me or have heard me speak, you know I measure time in Fridays. This Friday will mark the 112th Friday since my son Alex Sullivan was murdered on his 27th birthday in the mass shooting at the Aurora movie theater along with 11 others.

After Alex's death, when the wakes and funerals were over and the news trucks left town, I was left to figure out my own way of dealing with the loss of a loved one. Reading and re-reading the cards and letters offered me some comfort, but there were just too many questions left unanswered and an overwhelming sense of confusion about how this happened to me. I wanted to know how we as a society got to this point. And more importantly, I wondered what I could do to help make a change.

I began to go to the Colorado State Capitol to hear the discussions on common-sense gun legislation. I stood in line to testify on bills, like the one that would require background checks on all gun sales, and shared my experience about the effect gun violence had on my family and me.

During this time, my wife, daughter and I also met with our Representative, Mike Coffman, who represents Colorado's 6th Congressional District, which is also home to the Century 16 movie theater. He was courteous, showed compassion and asked us lots of questions. But what he didn't offer was any solutions. Since then, I have sat down with Congressman Coffman on at least three separate occasions in Aurora. I also visited his office in Washington, DC with two other parents whose children were killed in the theater shooting. You might think after all of this time Rep. Coffman would have shared his plan to curb these acts of senseless gun violence plaguing our community. But he hasn't. After all this time, Rep. Coffman is still the one asking questions.

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Not only has Mike Coffman failed to offer solutions, he seems to be working against the interests of our communities. He voted to require Colorado to allow people from other states, including states with lax or no gun safety training requirements, to carry concealed weapons in our communities, streets, churches, and playgrounds. When some legislators suggested excluding dangerous criminals like convicted sex offenders, stalkers, and suspected terrorists, Coffman voted to allow them to carry weapons anyway.

Colorado did the right thing and closed the loophole that made it easy for criminals, convicted domestic abusers, and the seriously mentally ill to buy guns without any questions asked. But we need federal action because criminals in many other states -- including six of the seven states bordering Colorado -- can go online or to gun shows and buy guns easily without a background check.

Responsibility for closing this loophole on the federal level lands squarely on the shoulders of Rep. Coffman and his peers in Congress. And yet, when asked at a recent congressional debate in Aurora whether he would vote in favor of the Manchin-Toomey bill that would require every gun purchaser -- including strangers who meet online -- to go through a background check so we can keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, Rep. Coffman said he would not support it.

Again, he offered no solutions of his own to curb gun violence. It angered me to hear Mike Coffman dismiss this common-sense approach, supported by 92 percent of gun owners nationwide.

Coffman's opponent, Andrew Romanoff, on the other hand, did not hesitate in offering his full support of Manchin-Toomey. "Surely we can make it a little harder if not impossible for people with violent criminal backgrounds or serious mental illnesses from acquiring firearms," he said. "Which is worth pointing out, cross state lines. That's why federal legislation in this case makes sense."

Our elected leaders need to lead us out of the darkness that surrounds us during times like these. Our elected officials in Washington, like Rep. Coffman, have been lacking in that leadership and I, for one, want to see that change.

With the midterm elections just days away, now is the time to ask our elected officials in Washington where they stand on gun violence prevention. It's really that simple. Stay engaged in the process, talk about the issues, get the information you need to make the right decision and most of all, vote for candidates who support common-sense public safety measures that will save lives.

These issues are too important. Our children's lives and our communities are at risk. Let the politicians in Washington know that enough is enough. We will work for a change, whether it is with them or without them. Change is coming.

This post is part of a series about "Real Time with Bill Maher" 's "Flip a District" initiative. Authors live in the state of the Congressperson whose district the program seeks to "flip." To learn more about Flip a District, visit here.

Gun Bans a Safe Haven for Killers

Jason P. Stadtlander   |   September 11, 2014   12:54 PM ET

Recently Panera Bread released a notice that they will be banning guns within all their restaurants. Although I understand the concern behind this decision, I believe this is not truly being thought through to its logical conclusion.

Panera is not the first to make such a policy. They follow an appeal from Moms Demand Action, an organization that supports preventing child access to guns, something I happen to agree with. However, I do not agree with this Panera policy, or the Kroger and Target policies, which have also been pushed by Moms Demand Action. It is my opinion that these policies have been hastily thrown together in an attempt to prevent firearms from existing at locations where children may be.

This policy is something Starbucks already contemplated, but they decided instead on a statement that guns are "unwelcome" rather than stating that they are banned altogether, which speaks volumes about an organization that appears to have actually put thought into their policy.

Gun Control vs. Gun Bans

A ban on guns is not gun control. I am for gun control -- that is, controlling who can have guns and who cannot. I do believe that individuals who own guns should go through a screening, licensure and perhaps even medical-history evaluation, but this is not the same as banning guns or preventing ownership of guns.

Alexander Hamilton once said, "The constitution shall never be construed ... to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms."

Second Amendment Rights

"Peaceable citizens" is the key term here. We are maintaining a level of peace by providing knowledge that there are repercussions for certain actions. During the Cold War we never fired a nuclear weapon at Russia (though there were very close calls, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis), but it was not because we were "good guys." It was because we knew that if we struck them, they had the power to retaliate. It was two sides possessing strength but respecting the other's strength. As long as guns exist in the world, criminals will always have guns -- but we law-abiding citizens have the power to choose whether we will hold our own strength against them.

Britain used to have strict gun laws in place for those who wanted to own handguns. Despite this, Michael Ryan killed 16 people and wounded another 14 people before shooting himself in the town of Hungerfold. Because the public and police were unarmed, Ryan was able to roam the streets for eight hours with two semiautomatic rifles before anyone with a firearm was able to come to the rescue.

This, along with a shooting spree by Thomas Hamilton in 1996, resulted in Britain banning guns with the Firearms Act of 1998. The effect was totally opposite to what the proponents of the act intended. Gun violence has soared to a point where some British police are now carrying guns for the first time due to gang-related gun violence.

Safe Haven for Terrorism

"When the law disarms good guys, bad guys rejoice."
--Ted Nugent

Words to live by?

The CEO of Panera stated, "Within our company, we strive to create Panera Warmth. This warmth means bakery-cafes where customers and associates feel comfortable and welcome. To this end, we ask that guns not be brought into this environment...."

Questions to ponder:

  • Thinking this through, one needs to ask what "warmth" it offers customers, knowing that the immediate line of defense for neighbors, friends and family is not an option in an extreme situation?
  • Casting aside emotion, let's think logically about this. What good comes from preventing people who can legally own guns -- those who have passed federal, state and local licensure and are required to pass a gun-safety course -- from bringing concealed firearms into a public building?
  • Are the violent people who walk in with the intent to shoot up a Panera Bread, a Walmart, a Target or a Kroger grocery store going to care what prohibitive gun policies are in place? And at the front end, will these intent-to-kill people have a license to carry to begin with?
  • In our legitimate desire to ward off disastrous gun violence, might we actually be preventing the only people who stand a chance at stopping said criminals from, at the very least, avoiding a worst-case scenario? Yes, the authorities can be called, and perhaps there would even be a police officer on site, but might people who are licensed to carry a concealed weapon be our first critical line of defense in such desperate situations?

Extremes on Both Sides

As much as I love my country, the United States is replete with extremes, which can drive most of us insane. We are a country with two political parties, whereas many other Westernized countries have multiple parties and never allow a single party to have a majority by itself.

One group would like to see guns outlawed completely -- a pointless endeavor, as it will not prevent criminals who have no respect for the law from acquiring guns. We have another group that believes in ownership and feels that the laws are too tight to begin with for those who own guns legally. Then we have the rest of us, who would like to see some kind of happy medium. Ironically, those of us who would prefer a happy medium are the ones without much of a voice, because we do not choose to follow either extreme.

Ask yourself this question: If you were a criminal, had a bone to pick with society or were mentally unstable and wanted to snuff out as many innocent lives as possible, would you walk into a McDonald's where there is no ban on guns and you might get shot, or would you set your sights on a Panera Bread, where you do not need to worry about resistance of any kind?

SUMMER BALLENTINE   |   September 11, 2014    4:32 AM ET

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers expanded the potential for teachers to bring guns to schools and for residents to openly carry firearms, in a vote Thursday that capped a two-year effort by the Republican-led Legislature to expand gun rights over the objection of the Democratic governor.

The new law will allow specially trained school employees to carry concealed guns on campuses. It also allows anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry guns openly, even in cities or towns with bans against the open carrying of firearms. The age to obtain a concealed weapons permit also will drop from 21 to 19.

All Of A Sudden The NRA Doesn't Want To Mention Guns

Mike Weisser   |   September 10, 2014    2:59 PM ET

Two weeks ago, coincidentally on the same day that the unfortunate 9-year old girl accidentally shot and killed a firearms instructor in Arizona, the NRA kicked off a series of Netflix-style video ads that are perhaps the organization's most disingenuous effort to present itself as something other than what it really is; namely, an organization devoted to ownership and use of guns. In fact, having watched all 12 one-minute productions, I can tell you that the only way you would know that this is an effort of the NRA is that each commentator ends his or her spiel by telling the viewer that their wholesome and didactic script was produced by the "National Rifle Association of America" with a slight pause and then heavy emphasis on the word 'America' even though officially the NRA is still just the NRA, not the NRAA.

This new media blitz by the people who used to bring us messages like "only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun" is significant insofar as the word "gun" is never mentioned in any of these videos, not even once. You would think that the NRA had become some kind of touchy-feely civics organization devoted to uplifting our moral virtues rather than a trade association committed to getting everyone in America to own a gun. And not only are the minute-long lectures all about honesty, and decency, and respect for everyone's point of view, but only four of the homilies are delivered by white males, who just happen to own most of the guns in America -- seven of the commentators are women, one is Asian-American and, of course, there's always room for Colion Noir, aka NRA's African-American spokesperson.

When I first started watching these videos I thought I was looking at a remake of the Reagan "it's morning again in America" campaign ads from 1984. Those were slickly-produced messages which never showed Reagan, who was beginning to look his age, but instead had a variety of American families proudly standing in front of a farmhouse, a factory gate, a well-manicured suburban lawn, all smiling, all happy, all gently reminding us that if we just remembered to vote Republican that all those things we cherished and loved would never be taken away.

The NRA scripts flow back and forth between a kind of Tea Party-lite condemnation about the problems we face -- government spying, unlawfulness in high places, fear of crime -- and an immediate sense of setting things right with the help of the "good guys," the real Americans who can be counted on every time to keep us safe, honest, decent and sound. And who are these good guys? They are your neighbor with a decal on the back of his truck which reads: N-R-A.

I can't imagine anyone actually watching one of these messages and coming away having learned anything at all. But I don't think that's the point. What the NRA is trying to do is cast itself in a softer, more reasonable and, if you'll pardon the expression, less combative way, because for the first time they are up against an opponent whose money, smarts and media access can sway lots of people to go the opposite way. And not only does Bloomberg have that kind of dough, for the first time he might be able to energize non-gun owners to stay active and committed to the gun control fray.

This week we have another retail chain, Panera, which is walking down the path blazed by Starbucks and Target and asking gun owners to leave their weapons at home. Like the other chains, Panera isn't posting a gun-free sign on their front doors, but if any of the 2nd-Amendment vigilantes believes that this isn't a victory for the folks who want more gun control, they better think again. The fact that Panera's announcement coupled their concern about guns with their desire to build social "communities" in their stores should tell you why, all of a sudden, the NRA has stopped talking about guns.

By ALICIA A. CALDWELL   |   September 9, 2014    3:18 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. government programs to help local police agencies obtain military-grade equipment evolved in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but more than a decade later lawmakers are questioning why smalltown police departments need armored vehicles, automatic weapons and camouflage uniforms.

"How do they decide an MRAP is appropriate?" Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., asked officials from the Homeland Security, Defense and Justice departments of the 617 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles given to local authorities in recent years.

"It's not a truck. It is a ... offensive weapon," he said Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

About $5.1 billion in military equipment has been given to local authorities since a Defense Department transfer program was created in 1990.

The new scrutiny on Capitol Hill was prompted by weeks of violent conflicts between police in Ferguson, Missouri, and protesters upset about the fatal police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old. Most military equipment is provided to local police under a program administered by Homeland Security and the Pentagon.

"These programs were established with a very good intention: to provide equipment that would help law enforcement perform their duties," said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of that Senate committee. "The question is whether what our police receive matches what they truly need to uphold the law."

Emerging from a lengthy back-and-forth with the officials who oversee equipment transfer and grant programs was a clear trading of blame for what lawmakers described as a lack of oversight.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who also serves on the Armed Services Committee, questioned why more heavy-duty armored vehicles have been given to local police agencies than state National Guard units.

"Could it be the Guard doesn't want them because they know they tear up roads, flip easily and have limited applicability?" McCaskill asked the witnesses.

Defense Undersecretary Alan Estevez told lawmakers state coordinators are ultimately responsible for vetting requests for guns, the multi-ton vehicles originally designed to keep troops in Afghanistan and Iraq safe from roadside bombs, and other equipment the military no longer needs.

The hearing also revealed bipartisan skepticism about why local police agencies need automatic weapons, sniper rifles and armored personnel carriers among other equipment.

"When was the last time we have seen what you have given been used ... other than the response to (Boston), against counterterrorism? When was another time?" asked Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

FEMA Assistant Administrator Brian Kamoie said military-style equipment bought by local and state police agencies helped deal with two terrorist-related incidents, including the Boston Marathon bombing and the attempted Times Square bombing.

He told Coburn that he was unaware that bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found hiding in a boat by a Boston-area homeowner, not a helicopter with infrared equipment.

FEMA grant purchase are intended to be used strictly for anti-drug or terrorism-related incidents, but Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he worried that police departments are increasingly relying on such equipment to tamp down riots, like in Ferguson.

"They think these are for riot suppression," Paul said. "There have been maybe two instances of terrorism and we've spent billions and billions of dollars. Really (this gear) shouldn't be on anyone's list of authorized equipment."

McCaskill questioned why 36 percent of the equipment passed from the Pentagon to local authorities was new.

"What in the world are we doing buying things we don't use?" McCaskill asked. "I guarantee, the stuff you are giving away, you are continuing to buy."

Lawmakers also pressed the officials on training and oversight of how equipment is used by local authorities.

Estevez and Kamoie said there is no federal oversight of training to use the MRAPs, automatic weapons and other tactical gear.

The Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs offers and encourages training, but doesn't require it, Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason told lawmakers.

Training and how the gear is ultimately deployed is left to the states, Estevez added.

___

Follow Alicia A. Caldwell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/acaldwellap

I-Z, We-Z, Uzi

Renee Fisher   |   September 2, 2014    2:11 PM ET

The tragic death of a gun instructor by a cute pink pants-wearing nine-year-old Uzi user-in-training has set off a wave of questions, starting with "Why is it necessary for a 9-year-old to learn how to operate an automatic weapon?" A spokesperson for the Uzis for Youth Movement had this to say*:

"Children are being raised in a dangerous world, but are being fed nonsense by the liberal media. If you watch kiddie TV, you'd think that the world is one big love in, populated by fluffy talking animals and people who smile a lot. We would rather our children know the truth. The world is filled with people who can't even speak English and dangerous animals with really sharp teeth. Children have to be trained to survive.

In addition to training children to use automatic weapons, the movement has reissued popular children's classics. In the new editions, Little Red Riding Hood has an Uzi and blows the head off the wolf. Snow White aims her Uzi at the dwarves and gives them 30 minutes to vacate the premises. Goldilocks offs the three bears and then goes back to sleep."

"Let's get real, here," continued the spokesperson, "if children could bring their Uzis to school, no one would mess with them. Schools would become what they were supposed to be, places where everyone learns to read and experiences the joy of friendship, without the bullying."

When asked to consider the idea of establishing an age threshold for instruction of automatic weapons, he had this to say:

"Like what, 10? 12? 18? 21? You see how inane this is. Is a 9-year-old's life of less value than that of, say, an 18-year-old? The reality is that all children of all ages should be learning to fire automatic weapons. We have plans for smaller versions of Uzis that will be available to toddlers, perhaps with cartoon decals to make them more appealing. I can see it now: Spiderman, Batman and Superman on the boys' guns. The girls could have Barbie, and instead of a 'Hello Kitty' version, there would be a 'Bye-Bye Kitty' one. For the youngest children, whose little fingers are too small to know the joy of pulling the trigger, we would offer Uzi-themed disposable diapers and soft, but lifelike, Uzi crib toys. Our motto is 'You're Never Too Young to Protect Your Crib.'"

*The above is satire.

How Does Wilson Fire Six Shots, While Getting Beaten, Without Gunshot Residue On Michael Brown?

H. A. Goodman   |   September 1, 2014    9:50 AM ET

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Darren Wilson might eventually be exonerated for the death of Michael Brown and there's a chance he indeed acted appropriately, at least in terms of self-defense, that fateful day. The law protects him, but it also allows the family of Michael Brown to inquire as to how their unarmed son was killed while walking in the street. Shoplifting cigars from a convenience store does not deserve the electric chair and Wilson never knew of the alleged theft. According to The Wall Street Journal, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson "said the officer stopped Mr. Brown because he was walking in the road and disrupting traffic." Time magazine has quoted Police Chief Thomas Jackson as stating, "This robbery does not relate to the initial contact between the officer and Michael Brown." So, don't connect the two incidents when trying to justify Brown's death. There might indeed have been a scuffle at one point after Brown was told to get on the sidewalk, but Wilson did not have a fractured eye socket, a CNN source dispelled that myth. One can't say Brown was a human deadly weapon if Wilson simply had bruising and not a fracture, or something of that nature. In court, Wilson will have to prove that an unarmed man (not committing a crime that moment and undeserving of death for any alleged prior crime) not only went after his gun, but was also either beating him as he shot six times, or rushing towards him with deadly intent before the shooting. Either way, it's hard to go from "get off the street" to scuffle within a car or suicidal charge at a Glock staring at you, without question Wilson's mindset, or behavior during the interactions of that fateful day.

First, there's the official police narrative cited in Newsweek that a close range altercation ensued, with Brown wrestling for Wilson's gun:

According to the account of the St. Louis County police, Wilson attempted to get out of his car and Brown pushed him back inside. A struggle ensued inside the car, in which Brown tried to take the officer's gun. A shot was fired from inside the car. The officer then stepped out of the car and shot Brown, who died of his injuries.

One of those six bullets that struck Brown was on the top part of Brown's head, so that alone raises another question regarding how one can be simultaneously beaten and aim at the top of his assailant's head. You can't at the same time say Wilson was getting beaten by a maniacal behemoth in the police car, at close range, yet got off six shots with no residue on Brown's clothing. Add to this no broken eye socket.

If Brown was such an imposing threat, then one can't shoot that many times, hitting a target that many times, while getting pummeled by a giant. Also, according to eyewitness "Josie" in an article by The Blaze, Wilson was being charged at by Brown from a distance after running away from the car ("he fell about two or three feet in front of the officer"), so which story is it, the close encounter or the far away death charge? These two different narratives utilized by the millions of Wilson supporters might lead to a claim of self-defense, but they can't both be the correct narrative.

Therefore, let's say "Josie" is right.

Let's say the teenager charged, but was far enough away that Wilson could wait before shooting? What if Brown was pretending to charge after taunting verbally, in an arrogant act of defiance, with the intent of pulling back? What if Brown was running, but quickly turned back to surrender, and Wilson mistook that for charging, what then? Too bad, you might say, but if he was far enough away from Wilson, a case can easily be made that the officer shot first and asked questions later.

Why?

The answer lies in the issue of "excessive force" on the part of the officer. Even Fox News states that Dr. Michael Baden, the man who conducted the autopsy, said the presence of six gunshot wounds points to "excessive" force by Wilson... "There is legitimate concern as to whether the shooting was overreacting. That has to be answered and we don't have all the answers." Baden also explained there was no gunshot residue on the body. A St. Louis news station states, "Dr. Michael Baden, the forensic pathologist hired by the Brown family, said there was no gunshot residue on Brown's skin surface, so at the time the gun went off it was at least a foot or two away." Baden also stated that it could be a foot or two, or a great number of feet away, one can't tell yet definitively: "The muzzle of the gun was at least one to two feet away," Baden said, adding that it "could have been thirty feet away." So, while the narrative that Wilson was getting pummeled by Brown in a mad attempt at his weapon is provocative, it doesn't correlate to the autopsy, or to The Blaze story. Brown was not struggling for the weapon when shot and he easily could have been far enough away for Wilson to wait before shooting a barrage of bullets, based on the autopsy report.

Did Darren Wilson expect to kill an unarmed black teenager that fateful day? No, he didn't, and neither did the officers who killed Eric Garner, nor did George Zimmerman. Certain aspects of their overzealous, perhaps paranoid negligence led to the death of unarmed citizens. This misconduct is also exemplified in the case of Dillon Taylor, a young white man shot by a black officer in Utah, who perhaps also shot first and asked questions later. Taylor should be alive, just like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, and to explain the added circumstances of race in Ferguson doesn't mitigate anyone's death, nor does it absolve the black cop of killing the unarmed white male. However, one doesn't cancel out the other and each is its own unique story. Part of this issue is police brutality and part of it, pertaining to the over five unarmed black men dead this month alone, is an issue of race and poverty. The issue of race plays a role in these encounters, and Harvard research links directly to this claim, as well as the 20% longer sentences blacks face than whites for the same crimes, as does the racial profiling in St. Louis.

However, at best, Wilson's actions ran contrary to the hundreds of thousands of police officers who tell citizens to "do this" or "do that" without killing them. If eyewitness to the shooting Dorian Johnson is correct, and there was a "tug-of-war" by Wilson to get Brown into his vehicle, and then the two young men ran away with Brown stating, "I don't have a gun, stop shooting!" then Wilson committed a crime. Or, if eye witness Piaget Crenshaw is correct and Wilson chased after Brown and Johnson, shooting Brown when he simply turned around, then Wilson also committed a crime.

Then there are the arguments of Michael Brown's attorney who state that Brown was trying to surrender, as evident by the bullet hole on the top of his head that "appeared to enter Brown's forehead and exit near his eye, which suggests that Brown's head was in a downward position." How do you shoot a bullet into the top of a 6'4" person's head? Was Brown cowering, trying to plead for the officer not to shoot, or was he flying towards the officer like Superman?

Finally, Wilson doesn't represent the tens of thousands of officers in this country who ensure that mundane interactions with unarmed citizens don't end in their deaths. If Michael Brown had been polite that day with Wilson (assuming he wasn't) and simply quickly abided by the allegedly profanity laced request to "get the 'f' off the street," then the young man might very well be alive today. I believe this, however that's not what America is about; fearing those who protect us might kill us if we don't comply immediately and in an utterly passive manner. I also believe that something murky, and morally ambiguous took place that day, given the autopsy, the number of bullets, and the eyewitnesses.

Guns, Guns, Guns

Murray Fromson   |   August 29, 2014    5:51 PM ET

Read More: gun control, shooting, guns

Having been an outspoken critic of uncontrolled handgun distribution over the past 40 years and the way the Constitution has been twisted to justify reckless sales of deadly weapons, I am pleased to say that the arms industry and the distributors of deadly handguns have taken positive steps to ensure the safety of most American citizens.

However the horrible account this week of how a 9-year-old child handled a deadly Uzi at an Arizona gun range and accidentally killed a weapons instructor is a tragic reminder that ALL AMERICANS have to be careful beyond our imagination to avoid such tragedies again.

Imagine what that child has to live with the rest of her life, having killed a man she didn't know, whom out of normal kindness was trying to help her. But what about the parents who recklessly took their young daughter to a gun range and allowed her to handle a weapon that was no toy and is used to murder or halt people in committing crimes everywhere? And what of the owners of gun ranges who allow children into the dangerously unsafe atmosphere of a shooting range?

We Need Parental Safety, Not Just Gun Safety

Chris Peak   |   August 29, 2014    2:17 PM ET

Left behind from the wake of the horrible tragedy that was the result of dumb parents letting their 9-year-old girl shoot an Uzi submachine gun, is a dead instructor whose wife is now a widow, a ruined little girl, and psycho Internet-trolls who believe that there was nothing wrong with this little girl handling such an obscene weapon -- a weapon that, in my learned opinion, should only be used by SWAT and the military. And maybe just the military.

But that's American Gun Culture as its finest.javascript:void(0);

I am a firm believer that even one gun in a world of 7.25 billion people makes the world unsafer. I'm sorry, but bringing home 20 poisonous rattle snakes makes you 20 times more likely to die from a snake bite. It's no different with guns. And gun supporters, citing a 223-year-old amendment that of course never foresaw submachine guns and AR-15s in the hands of untrained citizens, are wrong. You are wrong.

Your argument that "it's not guns that kill people, but people who kill people," is infantilizing and ignorant. But that's what I would expect from people who think the more memorable trip for their 9-year-old would be a shooting range and not Epcot. Was the soccer field under construction? Oh that's right. You were training her on the Uzi to fight ISIS. That's right.

Unfortunately, they were correct with this being memorable. Their precious and adorable little girl now has to live the rest of her long life with horrible guilt. Good luck footing the bill for her decades-long prescriptions and intense therapy sessions.

We're always quick to judge parents on how to parent their kids. I encourage you to continue to speak your minds about poor parenting that you see around town. Because contrary to what the parent being criticized thinks, there are no such things as "parental rights." Although there is a movement, of course, to amend the Constitution to include parental rights. Gun safety may be a lost cause, but parental safety will be the next fight.

I have this argument with friends of mine who have guns in a household with children. They don't want to believe that their home is actually less safe, not more. Those who believe in a society with no guns (me), and those who are training their kids on firearms at the age of 5, will never be able to agree on this. And I don't want to hear the anecdote that the gun in the house is there in case someone breaks in. Which is the frustrating part for me. Because more guns mean more opportunities for gun violence. I don't care if the gun sits in a locked cabinet folded up in your Gadsden flag. That is the funda-fucking-mental point that pro and anti gun supporters will never agree on. Which is why parenting has now become more dangerous than the Uzi. The Uzi, left alone in the middle of the desert, is safe. It only becomes less safe when a human picks it up. It becomes lethal when a kid picks it up.

If you're using your Amazon Prime subscription to buy every known book on child safety and guns, you've answered your own curiosities about your parenting skills. So please, don't have a child.

What's Next? 5-Year-Olds with RPGs?

David Fagin   |   August 28, 2014    5:27 PM ET

Like many kids in the late '70s/early '80s, I attended summer camp in the Catskills.

One of the activities for our group -- a group of about 20 rambunctious boys of 11-12 years-old-- was Riflery.

This was in the days before schools and shopping malls turned into the Wild West and your son/daughter needed a bodyguard to go the premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Our instructor, a guy named Jeff, whom I assumed to be in his 40s, would lead us down a huge hill to this field in the middle of nowhere, where the only thing visible for miles was the gazebo we stood inside and the targets we fired at.

Jeff would line us up, about five at a time, on our bellies and put a fully-loaded .22 caliber rifle in our hands. At which point, we would fire several shots at the targets, as instructed.

Never did it even occur to anyone that one in our group may turn and fire the gun at one of us. Never.

Boy, how times have changed.

Can you imagine, in today's world, a lone instructor leading a group of two dozen prepubescent boys into the middle of nowhere and putting loaded weapons in their hands? Within sixty seconds, Twitter would be flooded with tweets from people lambasting the irresponsible mothers who let their sons wander off with some crackpot into the wilderness, while gun advocates all over the world would be shamelessly calling these mothers ignorant and over-protective. God forbid one of those kids decides he doesn't like another one and puts a bullet through him. That's where the preachers and politicians step in and marches down Main Street are organized and the instructor is publicly crucified.

Back then, we had just as many arguments and problems as the kids of today do; e.g. arrogant bullies, quiet loners, incessant teasing of the weak by the strong, etc., etc., But, no matter the conflict, we never took it past our fists. It simply wasn't in our DNA.

It would have been so completely foreign and unfathomable for anyone to even broach the subject of one camper shooting another, the person who suggested it would've most likely been committed for psychiatric observation.

And now, fast-forward several decades and if you as a parent or an administrator, don't provide a contingency plan in the event one of your students decides to play Dirty Harry with the others, you'll be brought up on charges of negligent homicide.

After all we've seen in recent years, for a 9 year-old child to be allowed to fire a FULLY-LOADED SUBMACHINE GUN, practically unrestricted, is just mind-boggling. Not that I think there was any intent to kill on the part of the girl, but, should there have been, would the story have been any different? We're already conditioned to kids killing on a routine basis, so, all we'd really be talking about is the "freedom" to allow a child to possess a fully-functional Uzi. What kind of freedom is that?

How can this ignorant, irresponsible behavior in the name of the second amendment be allowed to continue? Oh. I forgot. It's the United States of Ammunition. My bad.

The Child Safety Issue That Doctors Don't Talk About

Mike Weisser   |   August 25, 2014    1:59 PM ET

While editorial opinion seemed to be running against the recent 11th-District ruling that reinstated Florida's gag law, there were some notable exceptions, chief among them being an op-ed that appeared in the Pensacola News Journal written by Marion Hammer. As a career NRA lobbyist, this lady has a long and courageous history fighting for the rights of gun owners in the Gunshine state, as well as for standing up for the oppressed in general, having been responsible not only for Florida's concealed-carry law but also as the architect of Florida's Stand Your Ground law, the first of its kind in the U.S.

Hammer begins her diatribe by reminding readers that the real agenda of physicians is to rid the country of guns, and she lifts anti-gun statements from the AAP website to support her case. She then goes on to remind physicians that if they "genuinely wish to offer safety information [they] can simply hand out firearms safety and safe storage brochures to all patients. Interrogating parents and children about what they own or have in the home is not only an intrusion but is a violation of privacy rights."

Now I know that the press is very sensitive to anything that even remotely smacks of censorship, hence, if someone wants to express their opinions the editorial policy usually means that the writer can say more or less anything they damn well want to say. But if Hammer thinks she's presenting anything other than a total fiction about the role and responsibilities of the physician in counseling patients, then either her own physician never went to medical school, or she simply doesn't have the faintest idea about what physicians actually do. Her statement that doctors are violating privacy by inquiring about items in the home is a mind-boggling distortion of the doctor-patient relationship and I only hope that she has the good sense to avail herself of medical care that's a little more aware of the requirements of the Hippocratic Oath than she seems to be.

In a way I can't blame her for promoting a vision of medical care that's so at odds with the reality of doctor-patient relationships, because there's even a physician out there named Robert Young, who basically said the same thing in an op-ed piece published by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Like Hammer, Dr. Young also believes that physicians should limit their concern about gun ownership to handing out gun safety brochures developed by the NRA, whose gun-safety program for children, Eddie Eagle, has never been shown to have any positive safety results at all.

I'm not surprised that Ms. Hammer would follow Dr. Young's lead in advocating the distribution of gun safety materials to patients. After all, she's a lobbyist for the NRA and all their training courses emphasize safe use of guns. On the other hand, the NRA avoids the issue of safe gun storage like the plague, because the last thing they would endorse are mandatory laws requiring gun owners to lock away their guns. After all, if guns are locked away to keep them from the kids, how will the "good guys" with the guns stop the "bad guys" with the guns?

Physicians need to ask patients if they lock away their guns for the same reason they ask patients whether their children are constrained while sitting in the car. Unlocked guns are a health risk just like unlocked seat belts, and if Marion Hammer wants to dispute the studies which link gun ownership to higher levels of child mortality and morbidity, she's also has the Constitutional right to promote the idea that the moon is made out of cheese.

Ferguson and Race From White America's Perspective, If It Switched Places With Black America

H. A. Goodman   |   August 25, 2014    4:07 AM ET

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One of the most mystifying elements of race in America is the inability of white and black citizens to switch places and experience life from their fellow American's perspective. If the tables were turned for one second, or one day, or even a week, the issue of racial profiling, or the killing of unarmed black teens by police might never again cause uproar in our country. There is a reason that 73% of blacks according to a USA Today/Gallup poll believed that if Trayvon Martin were white, George Zimmerman would have been arrested immediately while 52% of whites felt race made no difference in the case. There's also a reason why the National Review published the following essay titled, A White Person's Reaction To Obama's Trayvon Martin Speech, in which the author speaks from a vantage point foreign to most African-Americans regarding the Martin shooting:

He could have been me. I could have been out on neighborhood watch in my community performing my duties on a rainy night. It could have been me following a young African-American male around in my neighborhood because I did not recognize him, and because my neighborhood had been burglarized by young African Americans. It could have been me lying beneath a young black man who was striking my head against the concrete, my nose broken in a fight gone bad. It could have been me that tragic, deadly night.

It could have been me facing criminal charges for doing nothing illegal that night, presumed guilty of a crime I didn't commit, and presumed guilty of being a racist, even though I had not an ounce of racism in me, and even though the way I lived my life was proof of that assertion.

...It could have been me. I could have been George Zimmerman.

While the author of the National Review article could have also put himself in the shoes of Tayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager who was actually residing only yards away from where he was shot, and followed, by an overzealous neighborhood watchman, instead he chose to empathize with Zimmerman. Granted, not all white people side with Zimmerman (I certainly don't), however there's also a reason that the officer who shot Michael Brown has a support fund with over $234, 910 in donations from around the country. Certain Americans, particularly if they are conservative in their political leaning, are more likely to side with the police officers who killed Eric Garner in New York, or the officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, or the Detroit man who killed Renisha McBride in Detroit. The racial divide is also highlighted by the fact that Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Renisha McBride were unarmed when they were killed, but in the minds of many, they still posed a deadly threat.

Therefore, since even the white, liberal author of this Huffington Post article has no possible way of knowing what it feels like to live the life of an African-American in Ferguson, or Detroit, or New York, one possible way to empathize with the plight of my fellow Americans is to imagine a world where statistics from the Pew Research Center, NAACP, and other reputable sources are reversed. If the tables were turned, and the author of the National Review article empathizing with Zimmerman, or the author of this piece, as well as white America in general (if such a phrase can even be defined accurately) dealt with the economic, judicial, and political disparities faced by our fellow African- Americans, what would it sound like? Well, imagine a world where statistics are reversed, the tables are turned, and the history of this country is turned on its head, upside down, and inverted so that white Americans experience the world of many African-Americans in this country.

If white and black America switched places, and you reverse relevant statistics and data, you might get a fictional world where...

After the election of the country's first white president, many assumed that the white population of the U.S., around 13.2% of the population, would finally experience life in exactly the same manner as the majority of citizens in this great nation, 77.7% of whom are African-American or black. The recent shootings of unarmed white teens in places like Sanford, Detroit, and Ferguson have shown everyone that despite the first white president, and despite the laws protecting the voting and civil rights of whites in America, things have changed, but not enough. We certainly aren't living in the days where whites were murdered for whistling at a black woman, or lynched by mobs. For example, between Reconstruction (shortly after the Civil war freed whites from slavery) until the beginning of the Great Depression, there were an estimated 2,462 white Americans lynched and killed by black mobs in the South and other regions of the U.S. Therefore, one can't say that race relations in the country are back to where law enforcement set vicious dogs and used high pressure water hoses against white protesters in Birmingham, Alabama. White America has advanced, and will continue to prosper in this country, however race still matters, and the events at Ferguson in recent weeks highlight this sad reality.

Ferguson is a suburb of St. Louis where two-thirds of its residents are white, but only 3 of 53 police officers are white and it faces double the level of poverty found in Missouri. However, the overwhelmingly non-violent protests by the white citizens of Ferguson, as well as the riots by some white citizens, are indicative of the vast disparities faced by whites in America. Since 1950, whites have faced double the unemployment of black Americans in the U.S. and this is only part of the overall economic disparity. According to reputable and non-partisan research, whites face a number of startling economic disparities:

The median household income for blacks was $67,175 in 2011... For whites, it was $39,760; White Americans are nearly three times as likely as black Americans to live in poverty...

In 2011, the typical black household had a net worth of $91,405, compared with $6,446 for white households...

White men were more than six times as likely as black men in 2010 to be incarcerated in federal and state prisons, and local jails, the last year complete data are available.

So, when whites are three times as likely to live in poverty than blacks, when white men are more than six times as likely as black men to end up in jail, and when the average white household has a net work of only $6,446, there is something to be said for structural issues in our economy and society working against whites.

Furthermore, the 113th Congress is 85 percent black and 69% of the current administration is black. While the president is indeed white, most of the government is black and many feel the judicial system works against white Americans. According to the leading white American civil rights organization, criminal justice in America has some startling statistics:

White Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population...

White Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of blacks...

If White Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates of blacks, today's prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50%

One in six white men had been incarcerated as of 2001.

If current trends continue, one in three white males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime...

1 in 100 White American women are in prison...

Nationwide, White Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice).

Thus, Ferguson is the result of more than just the issue of an interaction between a black policeman and an unarmed white teenager. When one in three white males can expect to visit jail, there's something odd about the judicial system.

When black America finally realizes that white America experiences higher incarceration rates for similar crimes, as well as the vast economic issues faced by whites in this country, Ferguson and other cities in the U.S., as well as black conservatives and pundits, will finally understand what life is really like for their fellow white Americans.

This article is only intended to shed light upon the disparities faced by Americans in this county and absolutely not meant to incite violence, animosity, or anger.

Should We Actually Arm Citizens and Let Them Police Themselves?

John Roman, Ph.D.   |   August 19, 2014    1:56 PM ET

Urban Institute's Sam Bieler coauthored this post.

A city with limited resources and stubbornly high crime rates, Detroit is ripe for justice system innovation. Police Chief James Craig has seized on this opportunity, implementing a broad range of changes to the department.

These reforms appear to be making an impact. In the past year, Detroit has experienced significant declines in robberies, break-ins, and carjackings. Craig has split the credit for Detroit's recent crime decline between the work of his officers and a policy suggestion he made in late 2013: encouraging citizens to carry concealed firearms.

Detroiters appear to be heeding the call. In 2013, Michigan State Police issued 6,974 concealed carry permits in Detroit, more than double the number issued in 2009. However, attributing the crime drop to armed citizens and advocating for more of the same may be opening a Pandora's box.

Craig's equation is simple: more armed citizens means less crime. But research shows it's not quite that straightforward. The effect of privately owned firearms on crime is easily one of social science's most hotly debated topics. Every imaginable conclusion has been reached at least once: policymakers can take their pick of studies showing that more citizens carrying firearms reduces crime, increases crime, or has no clear effect.

Without good research, it's impossible to determine what's actually brought the city's crime rate down: policing, more civilians with guns, or some factor we've yet to discover. As has been said many times, when you conflate correlation and causation, you can come to all sorts of silly policy conclusions.

Given the muddled guns-crime relationship, policymakers may want to look at what research does tell us about increasing gun access to determine whether encouraging citizens to arm themselves is sound public policy. Beyond crime rates, there are verified consequences to expanded gun ownership that should be considered.

Domestic violence and gun ownership have a troubling relationship. As our colleague Janine Zweig has noted, female intimate partner homicide remains stubbornly high, making it a particular policy concern for law enforcement. Gun ownership has consistently been linked with increased risk of intimate partner homicide, particularly for women. Indeed, firearms are particularly common in the homes of battered women, where abusive partners may use them to both threat and assault. The consistent link between firearm access and serious intimate partner violence should give any public official a reason to pause before encouraging a community to increase the number of weapons in circulation.

Gun ownership also entails a significant suicide risk. While the relationship between crime and gun ownership is still the topic of debate, the finding that guns increase the risk of suicide has been consistently and repeatedly demonstrated. Citizens should be free to balance personal defense and increased suicide risk for themselves, but policymakers should think twice before encouraging behavior with such a severe, clearly identified risk.

Giving citizens the choice to own a firearm is one thing, but given the risks and the lack of clear evidence that guns deter crime, it is worth reconsidering whether encouraging gun ownership should be a police-endorsed tactic. Instead, policymakers' tactics of first resort should be evidence-based solutions with proven track records of reducing crime, like gang and gun violence interruption projects and programs that divert juveniles from the justice system.

Detroit has made important strides in fighting crime, and Craig's reforms have likely played a key role in making the city safer. Detroit police have embraced this momentum, developing a strategic plan that puts more officers on the street and uses rigorous analysis to support officers with sound data and policing tactics.

Advocating for more guns in the hands of civilians might be a step back. When it comes to making Detroit safer, Craig might be better off continuing to place his bets on arming Detroit's police officers with evidence-based crime reduction strategies, rather than its civilians with firearms.

Photo: AP Photo/The Grand Rapids Press, Rex Larsen