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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

  |   August 19, 2014    8:50 AM ET

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Sheriff's deputies in Florida say a 7-year-old boy is in critical condition after his grandmother mistook him for an intruder and shot him.

The shooting happened around 1 a.m. Tuesday in Tampa.

According to Hillsborough County Sheriff's officials, 63-year-old Linda Maddox and her twin grandsons were sleeping after their father had left for work. Maddox told deputies she had placed a chair against the bedroom door handle for extra protection. When she heard the chair sliding against the floor, she assumed it was an intruder and grabbed a loaded .22-caliber revolver she keeps by the bed and fired one shot in the dark toward the door.

Deputies say seconds later she heard the screams of her grandson Tyler Maddox. He was shot once in the upper body. He was taken to a hospital.

America Is Nervous -- We Must Lay Down Our Arms

Michelle Kraus   |   August 18, 2014    1:41 PM ET

There are far too many loose guns floating around the United States of America. What are we doing? This is not the world our forefathers conceived when they wrote the Second Amendment. Violence begets violence, and with no reasonable measures for arms control, our country is rapidly becoming militarized. The police are reacting to threats. Every angry or troubled soul could be carrying a concealed weapon and usually is. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we have the right to bear arms per the Second Amendment, but that was signed into law way before assault rifles were even a glimmer on the horizon. We are at an impasse in our country, society and culture, and must find a way to resolution.

Indeed guns are part of large sectors of our country often passed down through the generations -- father to son. But it seems that our reality has changed. Too many novices are running wild and getting access to high powered weaponry. Last week, another young, white, mentally impaired woman was killed by the police right in San Jose, California. The weapon she was brandishing turned out to have been a power drill that had been painted to look like an assault weapon. Maybe, if the culture wasn't running wild with illegal guns, the murder rate and gang activity so high in this locale -- the police would have reacted differently. Yikes we sure don't know and thank goodness don't have to make those decisions every day.

Look, the economy is still in the toilet for many Americans. Times are tough and income inequality still prevails. Funds have been cut from mental health services in many states, and unfortunately many are going untreated -- proverbially falling through the cracks. Americans are nervous in this world of troubles. What's going to happen to them? Is the US going back to war? And if so where -- Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, or even Russia? Will folks be able to afford gasoline if this happens? Why are hybrids so expensive? Is the next airplane going to fall from the sky and where? What does it take to stay safe and keep your family safe? Sadly, this is the environment that allows racism and prejudice to fester and get a toe hold to dig in. Certainly, we know that we have got tough choices coming down the road. Turning the police into soldiers is not the answer as evidenced in Ferguson, Missouri, nor is denying generational family traditions. But maybe there's just an opening big enough to consider enacting the simplest of laws that control the supply chain of weapons in this country. You know, we lived through Prohibition, and now track liquor and its sale. Marijuana is leaning toward legalization around the country. Can't we step back from the random acts of violence in our streets, towns and cities? This might be the time to take action on gun control safety, and really turn a search light on what's become of our public safety officers. We have to do better than this.

Gun Owners of America Is Silent About the Michael Brown Shooting

John A. Tures   |   August 14, 2014   10:14 AM ET

Last Saturday, unarmed citizen Michael Brown was gunned down by the police. You would think that conservative gun groups like the NRA or the GOA would be rallying around the Brown family, and demand justice.

But they haven't even mentioned such an event.

The shooting, which took place in a St. Louis Missouri suburb known as Ferguson, has received plenty of media attention, as Brown was gunned down. There are so many angles that gun groups could take. They could condemn the police for killing an unarmed citizen. They could insist that citizens should arm themselves for protection against the government (police).

But they didn't use either of these arguments.

Francis Wilkinson, who wrote the article "'Jack-Booted Thugs' With NRA Approval" for Bloomberg View, already looked into this, concerning the NRA at least. Here's some of what he wrote.

"I wonder: Has the shooting death of the Missouri teen traumatized [Wayne] LaPierre into silence? After all, Twitter is full of images of police dressed in camouflage and looking for all the world like a powerful government militia terrorizing the citizens of Ferguson. The NRA has previously lamented "black-suited, masked, massively armed mobs of screaming, swearing agents invading the homes of innocents." LaPierre has expressed grave concern over "federal agents wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms to attack law-abiding citizens." Surely, if anyone in the U.S. is concerned about police forces abusing their lethal powers, it must be LaPierre, self-styled guardian of individual rights, protector of the little guy, scourge of overzealous government agents. Yet once again, an unarmed black boy or man has been shot dead by police, and LaPierre is silent. I just can't figure it out."

But Wilkinson may not realize that the NRA is not the real conservative gun group out there. You'd think it was the NRA, but it is actually the Gun Owners of America (GOA), the group you see bringing heavy weaponry into eateries to make customers feel more safe.

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I went to the Gun Owners of America site to find outrage over Brown's shooting by a Ferguson cop. It wasn't mentioned.

They did have critical "open letters" to politicians they didn't agree with. There was the "self-defense corner" with stories where someone used a gun to save a life, a gun debate on MSNBC from a few weeks ago, Obama, a UN treaty that would confiscate guns, but nothing about Brown.

According to the St. Louis media, gun sales have skyrocketed. Whether it's fear of the police or fear of looting from reprisals, those sales have spiked at least 50 percent, and possibly 400 percent. You'd think that would warrant some commentary, if only to stand by Brown, or the police, or residents.

Conservatives are always looking for ways to reach out to the African American community. This is one area that should be pursued, but is being ignored for some reason.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.

Samantha Lachman   |   August 13, 2014    1:38 PM ET

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) signed an extensive package of gun control measures on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.

The legislation allows police chiefs to ask courts to deny firearms identification cards needed to buy guns to individuals they feel are unfit to obtain them, toughens penalties for some gun-based crimes, creates an online portal for background checks in private gun sales, carves out a firearms trafficking unit within the state's police department and requires that Massachusetts join the National Instant Background Check System.

Gun control advocates hailed the measures as ones that make Massachusetts "a leader for the rest of the nation."

“With the stroke of Governor Patrick’s pen today, Massachusetts is now a leader for the rest of the nation in passing common-sense gun reform while continuing to respect the Second Amendment rights we all value,” Molly Malloy, the leader of Massachusetts' chapter of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement. “The single most effective thing we can do to keep guns out of dangerous hands and reduce the number of Americans killed with guns every day is require criminal background checks on all sales to close the loophole that allows felons, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill to buy guns. Real leadership is what will keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, and we are grateful to have leaders on this issue taking action to protect our families in the commonwealth.”

State lawmakers from both parties agreed on the package of measures in July. The legislation was supported by both gun control advocacy groups and the Massachusetts Gun Owners Action League, though the National Rifle Association opposed the bill, arguing that government officials could abuse new licensing powers created with the legislation.

Businessman Charlie Baker, who is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination to succeed Patrick, said in a candidate debate Wednesday that he would have signed the package of gun control measures, though he had previously avoided giving a definitive answer on whether he supported the provision allowing police chiefs to deny firearms identification cards to those they consider dangerous.

Patrick, who is considered a rising star within the Democratic Party and a potential future contender for the party's presidential nomination, has said he will return to the private sector when his gubernatorial term expires in January.

What the 2nd Amendment and Roe v. Wade Mean in Alabama

Mike Weisser   |   August 13, 2014   11:25 AM ET

The right to bear arms, as stated in the 2nd Amendment and defined by the SCOTUS in the Heller and McDonald cases, got a boost last week from the most unlikely source -- an abortion-rights case in Alabama where Federal District Court Judge Myron Thompson struck down a 2013 law that would have made it extremely difficult for women to receive abortion services unless they were able to travel long distances from home, thereby creating an undue burden and nullifying the right to an abortion guaranteed by Roe Vs. Wade.

The new law, similar to a measure that was voided in Mississippi, required physicians who performed abortions to be granted credentials in neighboring hospitals, but such credentials are only granted to physicians who live and practice within a limited distance of the particular hospital. Three of the five abortion clinics in Alabama are currently staffed by physicians who reside in other states and travel to Alabama for the purpose of administering scheduled abortions. Hence, they could not receive hospital credentials and therefore could not operate their abortion clinics.

Judge Thompson heard testimony from numerous witnesses representing both the State of Alabama and the abortion providers, and nearly all of the 172-page decision is a very careful summary of what was said by parties on both sides. Ultimately the weight of the testimony convinced the jurist that by reducing the number of abortion clinics from five to just two, the State was effectively blocking access to an abortion and therefore could not be reconciled with the rights of women to terminate their pregnancies as stipulated in Roe vs. Wade.

You have to wade through almost the entire decision, however, before you come to the point where women in Alabama seeking an abortion find themselves making common cause with Alabama residents who want to own a gun. To quote Judge Thompson: "At its core, each protected right is held by the individual: the right to decide to have an abortion and the right to have and use firearms for self-defense. With this parallelism in mind, the court poses the hypothetical that suppose the government the government were to implement a new restriction on who may sell firearms and ammunition, and further, only two vendors in the State of Alabama were capable of complying with the restriction. The defenders of this law would be called upon to do a heck of a lot of explaining -- and rightly so in the face of an effect so severe."

Last year Alabama also passed a new gun law that made it easier for residents to receive a concealed-carry license and also allowed for concealed-carry of handguns into certain public events. Alabama has always been a gun-rich state, with per capita gun ownership well above the national norm. Now I can't imagine there would ever be as many women in Alabama seeking an abortion as there might be folks looking to buy guns. But even though Judge Thompson was educated at Yale, he's Crimson Tide through and through. Abortion might not be a popular issue in an evangelical state, but when explained as a parallel to the 2nd Amendment, all those God-fearing, Bible-thumpin' gun owners may just agree that what works for one side should work for the other.

But Thompson's decision is also a case in point for the folks who want more controls over guns. Because ultimately in order to make their case for more gun control, people who don't own guns are going to have to figure out how to talk to people who do. The last few pages of Judge Taylor's decision should be required reading for Brady, the NRA and all the advocates for or against guns. Sometimes people who face off on opposite sides of an issue may have more in common than they think.

Lessons From a Skinhead

Linda Bloom LCSW and Charlie Bloom MSW   |   August 12, 2014    2:44 PM ET

The contents of this post may be sensitive for readers.

Frank Meeink beat the odds; he survived. An Irish-Italian kid, he grew up in the slums of South Philly. Both of his parents were alcoholics, drug addicts and dealers. Frank was 2 and his mother was 19 when his parents split up. A few years later, during their once-a-month visits, Frank's father taught him how to fight with beer bottles, pool cues and lead pipes, then later with knives and guns. His mother remarried a brutal man who physically abused Frank frequently calling him his "prisoner of war" and "retard." Frank's mother did little to protect him from the savagery that he was subjected to on an a daily basis. She made it clear to him that she would always choose her husband over Frank, every time. The one only bright spot in his life were his loving grandparents, Nanny and Pop. He lived with them intermittently throughout his teens. During this time Frank's big love was sports. He played hockey, football, and baseball, and he played well.

"Wardens and gang chiefs parented me more than my parents ever did," Frank told us. "As a kid, I never felt accepted by the Irish or the Italians because I was half of each and they didn't like each other. I also never felt accepted in my own home." Filled with rage as a result of the humiliation and abuse from his mother and stepfather, Frank was ripe for joining a gang to find somewhere to belong. Frank found his way into a white supremacist group of kids, shaved his head, covered his body with tattoos, and cruised the neighborhood with his gang of misfits, bashing in skulls for kicks.

In his late teens, Frank went on to join the American Nazi movement, which provided his life some structure and a philosophy to live by. Because he had a charismatic personality, Frank quickly rose to a position of leadership in the organization, even though he was one of its youngest members. Through his leadership, Frank drew other bored, angry youths into the group. They shared a common hatred for all minority groups, particularly blacks, Asians, Hispanics gays and Jews. During the five years that he was involved in the movement, Frank absorbed the propaganda he was fed, believing that he was fighting a holy war to rid the world of all undesirables. He was convinced that he was dealing out God's justice.

Frank found that getting drunk and beating up '"scum" were powerful ways of shutting down his emotions and not feeling the pain of alienation, loneliness, and despair. He would often lose himself in a frenzy of violence that left him exhausted and his victims bloodied beyond recognition. He justified his actions by claiming that he was fighting the forces of Satan. Aryans, he believed, were the only true children of God. He became the crew commander in a subgroup of the Ku Klux Klan, named "Strike Force," and he had the words tattooed on the back of his neck. "I was covered in so many tattoos," he told us, "that I was a walking Nazi exhibit."

At 17, Frank was arrested for kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to three to five years in prison. Since there were Aryan Brotherhood and Aryan Nationalists in the prison, Frank received protection while he was incarcerated. During that time he became steeped in the philosophy of the Aryan Brotherhood and earned their respect. He also, for the first time in his life, engaged in sports and card games with blacks and Hispanics. He was the only white person on the football team, but he was faster and more talented than practically any other player. Although both Frank and the other players experienced racial tensions when he first joined the team, those tensions soon turned into feelings of mutual respect. For the first time in his life, Frank began to see the humanity of those he had previously viewed as sub-human.

As his awareness began to deepen, Frank started to face the reality of the destruction he had caused and pain that he had created in so many lives. Two of his closest friends in prison were black teenagers named Jell-O and Little G. Frank's life was beginning to change in ways that he could never have imagined. His father did not visit or call the three years he was in prison. Frank's first child was born when he was in prison. He loved his new baby daughter but was on terrible terms with the baby's mother.

After prison, Frank returned to his skinhead friends. His life soon became out of control with excessive drinking, drugging, and irresponsible sex. By the time he was 20, he had fathered a daughter and two sons with three different women. Then one night Frank had a transformative moment at a white supremacy movement meeting. While listening to their usual racial slurs, he realized that he no longer fit in the group. His deep friendships in prison had changed him. "I saw the lies behind the 'truth' that I had believed with all my heart since I was 14 years old." Becoming a Nazi is a life-long commitment, punishable by enduring a serious assault if one leaves. When Frank left the movement, he was savagely beaten by the gang, after which time he recovered and had no further dealings with them.

When Frank tried to get work, some places wouldn't even let him fill out an application because he was covered with tattoos. He ran out of money and finally got a job moving furniture for an antique dealer. The owner of the business happened to be Jewish. Frank wasn't the first troubled kid this man had tried to save by giving him a job. His employer knew Frank was a ninth grade drop out, a convict on parole, and a neo-Nazi, yet he was kind, generous, and respectful to Frank. He blew Frank's last prejudicial stereotype to bits.

As Frank's transformation continued, his narrow life broadened, and he began to meet people of different races, religions and ethnicities, people he had never actually encountered before, that he had only known through his bigoted beliefs. These experiences helped Frank to understand that hatred, his own and that of others is caused by fear and ignorance.

Today Frank is living a life that was inconceivable to him when he was in his teens. He has dedicated himself to service and his primary focus is on youths in need of responsible support, guidance, and a sense of belonging. Traveling throughout the country Frank has become a much sought-after speaker whose words of inspiration and recovery have been received by thousands of people of all ages. He has been a speaker for the Anti Defamation League, and has spoken at many universities and conferences. Frank also started an organization in which black and white kids from different parts of Philadelphia, who would otherwise grow up to hate each other, learn to play hockey, get to know each other, and work together. He calls it "Harmony Through Hockey." He is their head coach.

Frank tried to find respect by being like those whom others feared. What he learned was that respect comes from treating others respectfully. He told us that in sharing his story, his pain, and his shame with others, a common bond is created that enhances the lives of everyone involved. "It's the simple things: keeping your promises, treating people the way you want to be treated, and doing good things for others. What goes around comes around. You always get paid back for whatever you do."

Frank has written a book called Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story, published by Hawthorne Books in 2009. His website is: FrankMeeink.com.

What Is Freedom, Anyway?

Patrick Stephenson   |   August 11, 2014    3:57 PM ET

Let me tell you a story.

My father grew up in a small coal-mining town in Appalachia. When he was around 10 years old, he knew a man who was a sign-painter. I'll call him Earl.

One day Earl decided to run for Congress. He made a sign that displayed his campaign message and mounted it on the side of his black Ford Model A for all to see. The sign read: "EQUAL RIGHTS FOR WHITES."

Think about that. This was Appalachia in the early 1950s. Blacks had few if any rights. Whites had all the rights. And here was some white guy driving around with a sign demanding equal rights.

For him, freedom was a zero-sum game. More freedom and more rights for you meant less freedom and fewer rights for me.

That got me thinking: What is freedom, anyway?

There are those who think that freedom is the ability to load a semiautomatic pistol with a 33-round magazine.

Suppose that were true. What would that tell us about freedom?

I think it would tell us that freedom is the ability to kill a lot of people without re-loading. That's not a very inspiring definition of freedom, at least for me.

Others think that freedom is the right to exploit your workers by not giving them decent protections or benefits, like access to health care. Again, not the most inspiring definition.

But what if freedom was fulfilling your natural potential to the greatest extent possible? A lot of radical hippies have played with this idea.

After all, everybody has potential. Even the weakest and the most vulnerable among us have something to offer, if we just help them find it.

There are lots of inspiring stories in this regard. But I wonder about the stories we don't hear about.

I'm talking about people who, God forbid, make mistakes or get really unlucky. Maybe they're born in a poor neighborhood or into a fractured and violent family. Maybe they have a child and drop out of school. Maybe they do some time and end up stuck in a minimum wage job and need food stamps to feed their kids.

True, someone truly exceptional could rise above it all. But it's hard to see how most people could achieve their potential in a situation like that.

I tend to believe that if you're going to have the courage to find out what you can really do, you should be able to take a few things for granted. For example, you should know that no matter the risks you take -- like founding a business, writing a novel or starting a charity -- you'll still have a meal on your table, a roof over your head and a doctor you can visit, even if everything goes to pieces.

In particular, you'll have the option to go school for education or back to school for retraining -- no matter if you have no money, several kids, or even a non-felony and non-violent record. And you should be able to do it without burying yourself under a mountain of debt.

I know -- what about personal responsibility? But a couple of mistakes shouldn't ruin your life. And if you don't have a rich family or a community to back you up, then yeah, you might have to get a little help from the government.

Isn't this just sort of obvious? I mean... umph, er... eh?

Maybe it's not obvious. But it's civilized -- the sort of thing you'd expect in a modern, industrialized and forward-looking country.

It's not even new. This is old school. Back in the 1950s -- when Earl was driving around town with his sign -- both parties generally accepted a progressive New Deal paradigm intended to help normal citizens fulfill their potential.

One raving liberal made this clear. "I have just one purpose," he said once. "... and that is to build up a strong progressive Republican Party in this country." That guy was Eisenhower.

What happened? How did 'freedom' go from being all you can be to carrying an assault rifle into Chipotle?

This brings us back to Earl.

You may think that people like him are now few and far between. I'm not so sure. Earl wasn't an outlier. Back in the early '50s, he was an omen that smart political spin-masters could use fear and hatred to pry apart the body politic.

Mark Twain had this all figured out over a hundred years ago. Go back and read Huckleberry Finn sometime. Finn's father is a drunkard, a bully and a bigot. He resents Huck's ability to read, gets drunk and beats him up. (I quote him below, so get ready for the N-word.)

In a rare moment of lucidity, he goes on a long political rant. "Call this a govment!" he growls. "Oh yes, this is a wonderful govment, wonderful. Why, looky here. There was a free nigger there from Ohio... They said he was a p'fessor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages... They said he could VOTE when he was at home. Well, that let me out. Thinks I, what is the country a-coming to?"

Huck's father hated the government because it allowed somebody black to vote. For him, freedom was exclusive. If others got rights, his were less meaningful.

Sounds familiar? It should.

"Heaven help the God-fearing, law-abiding, Caucasian, middle class, Protestant, or -- even worse -- Evangelical Christian, Midwest, or Southern, or -- even worse -- rural, apparently straight, or -- even worse -- admittedly heterosexual, gun-owning, or -- even worse -- male working stiff, because not only don't you count, you're a downright obstacle to social progress... That's how cultural war works. And you are losing."

So did Charlton Heston sum up the concept of zero-sum freedom. Gays can be accepted, even married? Your straight marriage must be less special. Illegal child immigrants can be citizens? Suddenly your citizenship feels almost worthless.

Since the start of the civil rights movement, very devious people have figured out how to make these seething resentments work for them. Angry voices on talk radio. Screaming man-babies on cable news.

It's the idea that if somebody different from you is getting their rights then yours are being taken away. And the govment's in on it.

So what is freedom today?

I like to think that somewhere in this mess, there's still the idea that people should achieve their natural potential. That could include -- oh, I don't know -- a grant for adult education or re-training from time to time.

But mainly, freedom today is the ability of amoral blowhards to feed the fears of resentful people and make millions doing it. It's politicians using ignorance and anger to gain and maintain power.

This is not a great way to build a great future for a great country.

That's our right, I suppose.

That's our freedom.

JUAN A. LOZANO   |   August 10, 2014    6:31 PM ET

HOUSTON (AP) — A proposal to allow alcohol sales at guns shows in Texas got a mostly unfavorable reaction at a gun show in Houston on Saturday, with some in attendance calling it a bad idea.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission on Friday announced it is considering the proposal, provided that at such events live ammunition isn't allowed or buyers can't take possession of their weapons.

The Hot Kids' Book? 'My Parents Open Carry.' (Yes, It's For Real.)

Jesse Kornbluth   |   August 10, 2014    5:43 PM ET

There's nothing funny about children suffering from gunshots -- and, in the last few years, more than 7,000 American kids under 20 do each year. What's even less funny is that hundreds of these kids are killed by other kids. Not deliberately. But because the adult owner of the gun left a loaded weapon where kids could find it.

I have some personal experience with guns, none of it pleasant. As a Cub Scout, I once found myself in a backyard with other Cubs. They were brandishing BB guns. "Run," they said, and raised their rifles, so I did, and they blasted away. Decades later, I collaborated on a novel with a Mafioso. It hit some resistance from publishers, so he put a pistol to my head and encouraged me to say my prayers. (Speak no ill of the dead? Nonsense: I was thrilled to hear he killed himself.)

So when Bill Maher mocked a 34-page illustrated book for children called My Parents Open Carry -- "If mom and dad are both safe because they're packing, why, on the cover, are they using their daughter as a human shield?" -- my brain automatically recoiled and I refused to think about it.

Then I watched Stephen Colbert.

Again, it seemed too silly to take seriously. Consider: The book tells the story of 13-year-old Brenna Strong, who spends a Saturday morning running errands with her mom, Bea ("Be Strong") and her dad, Richard ("Dick Strong"). Just like thee and me -- only Mr. and Mrs. Strong carry handguns for self-defense. Openly.

The authors' motivation:

We looked for pro-gun children's books and couldn't find any. Our goal was to provide a wholesome family book that reflects the views of the majority of the American people, i.e., that self-defense is a basic natural right and that firearms provide the most efficient means for that defense.

Again, like a defective Glock, my brain jammed.

Then my wife told me that the book was one of the biggest sellers on Amazon -- and that a third of the 300 Amazon reviewers gave it 5 stars.

I wondered: How could that be? And before I knew it, I'd read all the 5-star reviews.

Yes, there were sincere reviews from gun enthusiasts, like these:

Teaching our children about the 2nd Amendment is of paramount importance in these days of mindless liberals trying to take away the basic God given right to protect one's family.

Why bother educating your children on the facts and reality they will face in life? Keep your heads buried in the sand, Libbys! Chicago Jesus and his storm troopers will be there in your moment of need! No need for you to learn how to protect yourself!

I would recommend this book to anyone that carries a firearm with kids ages 5-10.

But most of the 5-star reviews would be right at home on Gawker. Slapping 5 stars on top? Pure irony. Or snark. And they were sufficiently ironic and snarky that they were funny-in-a-black-humor-kind-of-way, and I decided that although these were totally offensive and non-PC, they were worth sharing because, these days, it's hard to find any kind of humor. So.....

The book was a great way to bring up a few difficult topics with my remaining child, such as why she doesn't have brothers and sisters anymore or a left ear. I can't wait for the sequel: "My Parents Accidentally Shot and Killed My Best Friend." In fact, the whole series is bound to change the way we look at this misunderstood group: - "My Baby Brother Shot Me in the Face with My Parent's Gun." - "My Dad Got Really Mad at My Mom But Fortunately He Had a Gun Handy So He Could Teach Her a Lesson." - "My Dad Protected Us By Mistakenly Shooting a Trick-or-Treater in the Face." Or my personal favorite: "My Parents Are Ignorant Throwbacks Committed To The Glorification and Perpetuation of Deadly Violence and the Reckless Endangerment of Everyone Around Them."
Sequel: "Heather Has Two Glocks."
Sequel: "My Dark-Skinned Parents Open Carry. Or At Least They Did Until the Cops Shot them Fifty-Two Times."
I read it along with "Sandy Hook Massacre: When Seconds Count, Police Are Minutes Away," and it really set me up for a cozy night in.
I was having a hard time explaining to little Billy why daddy needs to carry his AR-15 into Chipotle when he goes for burritos but now, finally, I have a book that helps. Looking forward to the follow up: "It's Okay, He Was Wearing a Hoodie."
Based on the gay porn 'stache and Max Factor eye-lights, Dad may be open about carrying his gun, but I think there's something he's not being open about.
A must-have for all those who think that mandatory wheelchair ramps are part of a United Nations' plot to turn America into a Marxist slave nation!
"Open Carry" isn't a verb. And I'll stand my ground and shoot in the face anyone who pretends it is.

But we shouldn't end this on a note of ha-ha, however grim. This one's the keeper:

I hear a sequel is on its way, and I have the perfect topic for the authors. "My Classmate Open Carried, Killed a Fellow Student, then Killed Himself, " a true story based on the events at Arapahoe High School on December 13th, 2013.

The authors can interview the kids who were traumatized by the sight and sound of bullets flying nearby. They can interview the children who had to walk through the bloody halls with their hands in the air as they exited the building. They can interview the students in the library who were trapped in the same room as the gunman, not knowing whether they would live or die and, as a special bonus, got to watch the killer shoot himself in the head, collapse and die.

Kids' books usually include pictures and the police have plenty to share -- the innocent and dying female student, her riderless horse attending her funeral along with 6,000 Colorado residents, the dead body of the male shooter, the bloody hallway, the damaged library, the emergency room filled with doctors trying to save the victim, etc.

It's time to get real.


[Cross-posted from HeadButler.com]

David McCabe   |   August 8, 2014    5:43 PM ET

The death of James Brady, who survived a gunshot to the head during an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan 33 years ago, has been ruled a homicide by a Northern Virginia medical examiner, a spokeswoman told The Associated Press.

Because the examiner ruled the death the result of Brady's 1981 injuries, prosecutors could bring charges against the man who shot him, John Hinckley Jr., NBC Washington reported Friday.

The District of Columbia Police Department was notified of the ruling Friday, spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump told the AP.

Brady was serving as Reagan's press secretary at the time of the assassination attempt outside the Washington Hilton hotel. He was partially paralyzed as a result of his injuries and never returned to his position in the White House -- though he continued to hold the title for the rest of Reagan's time in office.

After the shooting, he endured an arduous recovery process and -- along with his wife, Sarah -- became an advocate for tougher restrictions on firearms. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, a landmark piece of gun legislation signed into law by President Bill Clinton, bears his name.

Hinkley, who shot at Reagan in an attempt to gain the attention of actress Jodie Foster, was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He remains in a mental hospital in the Washington, D.C., area.

More from the AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) — This week's death of former White House press secretary James Brady, who survived a gunshot wound to the head in a 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, has been ruled a homicide by a medical examiner, District of Columbia police said Friday.

John Hinckley Jr. shot Brady, who lived through hours of delicate surgery and further operations over the years, but never regained normal use of his limbs and was often in a wheelchair. His family said he died Monday at age 73 from a series of health issues.

Nancy Bull, district administrator for the Virginia medical examiner's office, which made the ruling, declined to disclose the results of the autopsy and referred inquiries to District police.

DC police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said the department was notified of the homicide ruling Friday.

Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate Reagan outside the Washington Hilton Hotel on March 30, 1981, just two months into the new president's term. Reagan nearly died from a chest wound. Three others, including Brady, were struck by bullets from Hinckley's handgun.

Hinckley Jr., now 59, was found not guilty by reason of insanity of all charges in a 13-count indictment, including federal counts of attempted assassination of the president of the United States, assault on a federal officer, and use of a firearm in the commission of a federal offense, as well as District of Columbia offenses of attempted murder, assault, and weapons charges. The District of Columbia offenses included charges related to the shooting of Brady.

William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, said the office "is reviewing the ruling on the death of Mr. Brady and has no further comment at this time."

Calls to Hinckley's attorneys were not immediately returned.

Officials at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, where Hinckley is a patient, have said that the mental illness that led him to shoot Reagan in an effort to impress actress Jodie Foster has been in remission for decades. Hinckley has been allowed to leave the hospital to visit his mother's home in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Besides partial paralysis from brain damage, Brady suffered short-term memory impairment, slurred speech and constant pain.

Brady undertook a personal crusade for gun control after suffering the devastating bullet wound. The Brady law, named after him, requires a five-day wait and background check before a handgun can be sold. President Bill Clinton signed it into law in 1993.

___

Associated Press writer Pete Yost contributed to this story.

This post has been updated to reflect confirmation of the homicide ruling from the D.C. Police Department.

CORRECTION: Earlier reports said the homicide ruling came from the D.C. medical examiner. It came from a Northern Virginia examiner.