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  |   December 6, 2014    9:44 AM ET

Several recent killings of black men or boys by police officers across the nation and grand juries' decisions not to indict some of the officers have angered many people, especially in minority communities, and have spurred sometimes violent demonstrations.

Here's a look at killings by police that protesters have cited as examples of an epidemic of police brutality and heavy-handed law enforcement efforts often targeting minorities and related events:

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CHOKEHOLD DEATH

On July 17, a white plainclothes police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, applied what a medical examiner determined was a chokehold to an unarmed black man accused of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on a New York City street. A videotape of the takedown of Eric Garner, who had asthma, showed him repeatedly saying, "I can't breathe," while officers wrestled him to the ground. Garner died soon after, and a grand jury decided Wednesday not to indict Pantaleo, prompting daily protests and chants of "Black lives matter!"

On Aug. 5, a white policeman responding to a call about a man waving what appeared to be a rifle in an Ohio Wal-Mart store shot and killed John Crawford III, who was black. What Crawford was holding was an air rifle. A special grand jury decided in September the actions of Officer Sean Williams and another Beavercreek officer in the racially charged case were justified.

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'HANDS UP! DON'T SHOOT!'

On Aug. 9, white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown on a street in Ferguson, Missouri. Supporters of Brown's family say he had his hands up in surrender, but Wilson has said that's "incorrect" and he couldn't have done anything differently in their confrontation. A grand jury decision last month to not indict Wilson sparked violent demonstrations and looting in the St. Louis suburb, and around the nation protesters have chanted, "Hands up! Don't shoot!"

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STAIRWELL SHOOTING

On Nov. 20, a rookie New York Police Department officer walking with his gun drawn in a darkened stairwell of a public housing complex shot and killed a black man leaving the building with his girlfriend. Police Commissioner William Bratton said that Akai Gurley had been "a total innocent" when he was shot and that the shooting, by an Asian officer, was under investigation. The Brooklyn district attorney said Friday that the case would be presented to a grand jury.

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PELLET GUN SHOOTING

On Nov. 22, a white rookie police officer, Tim Loehmann, shot and killed a 12-year-old black boy, Tamir Rice, who had been pointing a pellet gun near a Cleveland playground. Police say Tamir was told to raise his hands but reached into his waistband for the realistic-looking airsoft gun, which was missing its orange safety indicator. The shooting, captured on surveillance video, has prompted street protests, and Tamir's family on Friday filed a lawsuit against the city, Loehmann and his partner.

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UNARMED DRUG SUSPECT KILLED

On Tuesday, a white police officer who authorities say mistook a pill bottle for a gun shot and killed an unarmed black drug suspect during a struggle at a Phoenix apartment building. About 150 people upset about the killing of Rumain Brisbon marched to police headquarters, and police and prosecutors met with local civil rights leaders.

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FIGHT OVER TAILLIGHT TICKET

On Thursday, in tiny Eutawville, South Carolina, a white former police chief was charged with murder in the 2011 shooting death of an unarmed black man, Bernard Bailey, who had gone to Town Hall to argue about a broken-taillight ticket. Bailey and then-chief Richard Combs fought, and Combs shot Bailey twice in the chest. Combs' lawyer accused prosecutors of taking advantage of national outrage toward police to obtain the indictment.

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137 BULLETS FIRED

Also Thursday, in Cleveland, the U.S. Department of Justice and the city reached an agreement to overhaul the police department after federal investigators found officers use excessive force far too often, causing deep mistrust, especially among blacks. The investigation was prompted chiefly by a November 2012 car chase that ended in the deaths of two unarmed black people in a hail of 137 bullets.

  |   December 3, 2014    7:20 AM ET

BURIEN, Wash. (AP) — Authorities say a driver crashed into a Washington sporting goods store on purpose so he could steal guns, and then he tried to hide in the ceiling.

The King County sheriff's office says it arrested a suspect after a more than four-hour standoff at the Big 5 store in Burien, south of Seattle.

Police Shootings as Accidents

Tom Harvey   |   November 30, 2014    9:06 PM ET

Some deaths from police shootings are crimes, ranging from negligent homicides to outright murder; but it's very difficult to know how many and nearly impossible to be sure about any particular case. We have had almost no success in dealing with these incidents by attempting to hold particular officers responsible.

The standard that an officer is justified in using lethal force if they are responding to a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm many be appropriate in deciding whether the officer is guilty of a crime; but it provides no protection for others. The officer may come to the confrontation already feeling fear -- is any increment to that fear sufficient? Can one tell instantly the difference between startle or surprise and fear? The incident last week in Cleveland where a 12-year-old with a BB pistol was killed is an example. The officer, no doubt, thought a real gun was being drawn to fire at him. The gun wasn't real and the kid, knowing it wasn't, could not have been trying to shoot the officer -- two mistakes in a flash resulting in a tragic death. We may never know if negligence, indifference or hostility made enough of a contribution to the causes to make this criminal; but the accidental component of the chain of causation is obvious.

Scientific investigation of accidents works when it is followed by action to implement the resulting recommendations. We have reduced the number of highway deaths per mile traveled by a factor of three in the last 30 years. The number of airline tragedies has gone down even more. Air crash investigation gives us an informative example of how it can be done. Leaving airliners aside, even small plane crashes produce a detailed and publicly released investigation report in every case. In the case of car crashes, the larger number lends itself to a sample. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gathers a sample that is scientifically designed to be representative and intensely studied in detail.

We don't even collect statistics on the gross number of people who are killed by police officers, we only have guesses that start at 400 and go upward. We have precise information about every officer killed, 33 of them by gunfire in 2013.

If we do study officer-involved shootings and find probable causes for them, we are going to, in my opinion, discover that training and the cultural perception of constant threat is the major factor -- it won't be bad will by the officers. Police and gun users in general are trained to shoot. They are not given real hands-on training in recognizing when an apparent threat isn't real. We may know in an intellectual way that a dark blob coming out of a pocket is as likely to be a cell phone or a wallet as to be a gun and that reaching for a waistband is far more likely to be about holding ones pants up that going for a weapon. We know that when we have time to think. So we think that we will know when to shoot or not to shoot.

But, when it's a crisis confrontation, there's not time to think. The training that's been ingrained into the body and the lower parts of the brain takes over. That training in our police agencies has been shoot, shoot fast and keep shooting. Every once in a while a training target that's supposed to represent an innocent, not to be shot, may pop up; but restraint isn't seriously taught. We should let three-quarters of the targets be subtle false threats and have the trainee who shoots a target showing a tiny little dirty orange plug in a barrel (signifying a toy gun) go home and start the course over. That would help.

Part of the problem is that we use being armed as the symbol of authority. Law officers feel they aren't genuine if they aren't carrying a firearm -- not just on the job but off-duty and after retirement. We have a bizarre federal law that says that officers can't be stopped from carrying guns by state or local governments or even by their own agencies when off duty. There is no room for the view that guns are a risk that must be weighed against the need for them. Deadly force is the only tool that's universally available for dealing with problems.

It's no wonder that honest cops of good will end up wondering: "What have I done?" Of course, being human, their wonder quickly turns into rationalization and a desperate search for an explanation.

If you want to understand just how bad are the reflexes trained into ordinary officers, you can look at the fusillade incidents where many officers empty their guns at once. Recent examples include one in LA where an estimated 33 officers fired 600 shots, one in Miami where dozens of cops shot 50 rounds, and an incident in Nebraska which killed a crew-member of the Cops TV Show as well as the suspect. It is not possible to believe that all of these shooters had identified a target that was a sufficient threat to require deadly force. General fire in the direction thought to be occupied by the enemy is a wartime tactic, but is extremely dangerous when practiced in our cities.

The trainers get their own attitudes from the industry of advisors who make a living painting a dangerous world and recommending aggressive ways to deal with it. Much of this is supported by gun and equipment manufacturers who want to sell things both to agencies and to the portion of the public who emulates law enforcement; but there are also those who are just consultants and advisers.

The Force Science Institute is an example of an organization that is well-known in the law enforcement community and illustrates the positions and attitudes of people who proclaim themselves experts in offensive and defensive use of force by law officers. They publish a continuous stream of justifications for the use of force. An example last month is in their newsletter Force Science News #267 which has "Suspects on a curb: Are you as safe as you may think?" as an article or in the next issue "What locations are riskiest for you? New study IDs worst sites." It's not any one statement or article but the development of a mindset that encourages shooting first and thinking later.

So if we can't effectively hold individual officers responsible, how do we get safety for our citizens. How do we get the policies and training that we need? I believe the answer is that we have to demand responsibility from the leaders and organizations; then they will get it from their people. We don't need certainty "beyond a reasonable doubt" to fire a police chief or to take a police department into receivership. If we do convict an occasional policeman in a rare clear case, that's likely to be viewed as just one "bad apple" and nothing will change. Management fired and departments disbanded will have an effect. First we need transparency, not just in some places but nationwide.

White Vision: Seeing Clothes on a Naked Emperor

Lucia Brawley   |   November 26, 2014    2:03 PM ET

This is what trials are for, to determine whether or not the accused is a coldblooded killer; whether it was manslaughter; or whether it was excessive force. The outrage is that there will be no trial at all. People are not protesting a verdict. They're protesting the fact that the officer who killed Michael Brown will not see the inside of a courtroom because the Grand Jury decided not to indict Darrell Wilson. Worse, the Special Prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, acted more like a defense attorney than a prosecutor, discrediting witnesses and putting social media on trial. He also timed his announcement of the decision perfectly to ensure night skies lit up with fires, offering validation to those who believe in the criminality of black youth, and guaranteeing juicy fodder for media outlets, who would rather cover "riots" than the injustice of the decision.

Mind you, it's not riots when white college students set cars on fire after a football victory. It's not a terrifying mob when gun activists waltz into Target with AK-47s. But justifiably outraged youth revolt against what is clearly oppression in the eyes of the world, call in the troops.

Contrary to what some critics say on social media, most of us who are outraged are not taking a monolithic view on all cops. We're taking a fact-based stand against vastly disproportionate cases of police and others (George Zimmerman) killing unarmed black men, due to what can only be chalked up to racial fear, and doing so in large part with impunity. And to the point of Brown's size being 6'3," 292 lbs, Wilson himself is 6'4", 210 lbs, armed. And he shot 12 times, when according to eyewitnesses, Michael Brown had his hands up in the air.

Many police officers are heroes, sworn to protect and serve. And they do just that, every day, often at great personal cost. But there needs to be better training. There need to be fewer guns out there in general, to prevent officers being so afraid. It can't be a shoot-first mentality. There needs to be racial sensitivity training. There need to be more indictments of cops who kill unarmed citizens. There needs to be the option of shooting to wound, not kill, if one must absolutely shoot. And if officers took the Aurora shooter alive, took Gabi Giffords' assailant alive, mass murderers with massive arsenals, why do they have to shoot unarmed black boys dead?

When you're black, which I am not, it must seem monolithic, of course. All too frequently cops pull guns on unarmed black men who have done nothing wrong. Many of my Ivy-League-educated black male friends, including my own husband, can attest to this, after getting pulled over for a minor infraction, like a license-plate light being out or registration out of date. It is fear, plain and simple, that caused Wilson to see the black face in front of him as a "demon." A cultural illness of "otherness" colors our vision as white people and that includes white officers. It must be addressed, so that trigger-happy cops don't ruin the reputation of all cops. And more importantly, so we can build trust between our communities and those sworn to protect and serve them.

Can you imagine how maddening it must be for black people to experience the daily indignities of unacknowledged white supremacy -- from media portrayals or the lack thereof to inequities in the job market and in the schools, right down to being told by your society that white men may shoot you down without any consequences? The fact that black people don't retaliate more -- especially considering their disproportionate contribution to the building of American society and culture -- bespeaks the patience of Job. This is not the version of our country, the country we love, that I want to pass on to my mixed children or your white ones or anyone's children anywhere.

The epidemic of monolithic thinking seems to me to be weighted far more on the side of white Americans, officers and civilians alike, thinking of all black boys as criminal. It motivates white women to clutch their purses when they see young black men walking down the street. It motivates white men to shoot to kill unarmed black boys. It motivates prosecutors not to prosecute. Juries to be selected that are not sufficiently integrated. Grand Juries not to indict. Juries not to convict. Media to report on a few angry looters, rather than on the source of their outrage. And audiences to gobble it all up in a ratings bonanza. White Americans, we need to grow up and let go of the comforting blankie of our longest-held fears.

  |   November 23, 2014   10:27 AM ET

WEST WINDSOR, N.J. (AP) — Police say a father has accidentally shot and killed his adult son during a hunting trip in New Jersey.

WCAU-TV (http://bit.ly/1qQBVN4 ) reports that the shooting happened Saturday afternoon in West Windsor.

How Do Illinoisans Feel About Stricter Gun Violation Penalties?

Reboot Illinois   |   November 20, 2014    4:58 PM ET

Most politicians have made their stances on gun control laws widely known. Republican Illinois Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner has said he supports the rights of Illinoisans to own guns while some Democrats have expressed support for stricter gun control laws as a way to stymie violence in the state. What about Illinoisans as a whole, though? What do average people in the state think about gun laws?

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University polled registered voters throughout the state to gauge their feelings and found that most "show strong support for two key provisions of a gun crime bill which is pending in the legislature."

The provisions are: increasing mandatory minimum prison sentences from two years to three years for felony gun convictions and requiring convicted felons to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. Nearly 69 percent and 65 percent supported the provisions, respectively.

From The Paul Simon Institute:

Some background: House Bill 5672 seeks to enhance penalties for certain violations of laws concerning unlawful use or possession of weapons. It is sponsored by Democratic State Rep. Michael Zalewski of Riverside and calls for increased prison sentences for certain gun crimes from two years to three years.

The bill also requires at least 85 percent of certain gun-related-crime prison sentences to be served, a provision called "Truth in Sentencing" by bill supporters. Current law requires 50 percent of these sentences to be served.

Many local and statewide officials support these proposals as a way to curb violent crime in the state, particularly Chicago.

Check out these charts to see how Illinoisans' support for these measures were divided, and click on the charts to see interactive information at Reboot Illinois.

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The poll was conducted Sept. 23 to Oct. 15 and contains the responses from 1,006 registered Illinois voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Check out Reboot Illinois to see how the Paul Simon Institute found Illinoisans feel about police officers and how well they do their jobs.

Sign up for our daily email to stay up to date on all things Illinois politics.

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Brazil and South Africa Are Addicted to Gun Violence

Robert Muggah   |   November 19, 2014    9:55 AM ET

Brazil and South Africa have dramatically expanded their geopolitical influence over the past two decades. But after years of democratic and economic gains, the two countries now find themselves in the doldrums. One of the reasons for this is that they are addicted to violence. Brazil and South Africa lead their respective continents in murder. This is no easy feat: last year the United Nations reported that 8 of the top 10 most violent countries in the world were located in Latin Americas and Africa. Yet between them, Brazil and South Africa now share 16 of the 50 most dangerous cities on the planet.

The scale of killing in both countries is breathtaking. At least one in eight people dying violently around the world each year is either a Brazilian or South African. In 2013, an estimated 53,646 Brazilian citizens were murdered -- a rate of 25.2 per 100,000. Last year another 16,259 South Africans died as a result of homicide -- some 31.3 per 100,000. And while criminologists and public health experts dispute the "real" number of murders (police tend to underestimate violent crime), everyone concedes that these figures likely under-estimate the true scale of the problem.

High profile murders in Brazil and South Africa have put the issue of firearm-related violence back in the spotlight. Earlier this month in the northern Brazilian city of Belém, off-duty police officers went on a shooting spree and massacred 10 people. Meanwhile, in Johannesburg, the assassination of South Africa´s national football captain, Senzo Meyiwa, comes on the heels of Olympian Oscar Pistorius for gunning down his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. These individual gun deaths add to the lethal epidemic that is afflicting both countries.

There is nothing inevitable about gun violence. And while the scandalously high rates of murder in both Brazil and South Africa are treated by many as "normal," there are encouraging signs of change. Targeted crime prevention measures and public health interventions pursued in both countries are cause for cautious optimism. For example, in December 2003, Brazil´s national congress passed a landmark Disarmament Statute. For law introduced unprecedented restrictions on purchasing firearms and prohibited civilians from carrying them.

The Brazilian Statute also prescribed a firearms amnesty in order to reduce the number of guns in circulation. A national campaign led by non-governmental organizations, churches, and an army of volunteers collected more than 450,000 weapons, one of the largest hauls in history. These weapons were publicly destroyed. In 2004, just one year after the Statute, firearm homicide declined by 8 per cent, and this after 13 years of steady increases. This translates into 3,234 lives saved in a single year. The Disarmament Statute remains in force, but is under threat by right-leaning Congressmen.

Meanwhile, an array of far-reaching violence prevention programs have also been rolled out in Brazilian states like Minas Gerais, Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo. In Rio, a community policing effort involving gun retrievals has reduced homicidal violence by 65% since it started in 2009. In Sao Paulo, hot spot policing and police reform efforts also contributed to reductions in murder by about 70% since 1999. These and other activities have attracted the attention of law enforcement officials everywhere, including from South Africa.

There are also signs of positive steps being taken to reduce gun violence in South Africa. For example, the country´s Firearms Control Act, or FCA, regulates firearms ownership. Since its signing into law in 2000, it has contributed to statistically significant reductions in gun violence. A recent peer-reviewed study demonstrates a 13.5 percent reduction of firearm homicide in five cities where it was applied since 2001. If the FCA has one limitation, it is that it does not go far enough.

The South African organization Gun Free South Africa (GFSA) and the South African Football Association are proposing additional gun law reform. They are calling for concrete action -- including amnesty schemes such as the one that netted over 32,000 weapons between January and April 2010. GFSA and the Association have asked the South African Parliament and the Minister of Police to declare a blanket amnesty, similar in many ways to the one adopted in Brazil. They are also recommending that the collection program should be accompanied by a gun destruction campaign so that they are never used to commit another murder.

Notwithstanding these many initiatives, gun violence is reaching crisis proportions in both Brazil and South Africa. A citizen from either country is intentionally murdered every few hours by a bullet. In South African alone roughly 18 people are shot and killed a day. Many more suffer crippling injuries and untold pain and suffering. This does not mean that citizens should throw up their hands in despair. To the contrary: there are obvious lessons about what works and what does not when it comes to controlling gun violence. As regional powerhouses, Brazil and South Africa are seeking more authority in global affairs. But neither country can make a genuine claim to genuine global power status when this violent carnage persists in their own backyards.


*Robert Muggah delivered a TED talk in 2014 on how to reduce violence in cities around the world. It will go live in early 2015.

Public Health as Political Prisoner

David Katz, M.D.   |   November 18, 2014    7:36 PM ET

If a foreign government took the United States Surgeon General hostage, I'm confident we'd be pretty upset. I think we would be working on reprisals, and maybe even prepping a SEAL team.

I don't know if it's better or worse that we need no help from a foreign power to take our surgeon general hostage. Our own political system manages all on its own.

Admittedly, it's not quite the surgeon general who is hostage to our political system; it is the president's nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy. Dr. Murthy's nomination is in limbo, because Congress won't take up his confirmation. We'll get to why in just a moment.

Before that, however, it's worth noting that everybody who is anybody in public health and medicine supports Dr. Murthy as a highly-qualified candidate. I am pleased to be counted among them, and from a uniquely personal vantage point. Dr. Murthy was a medical student of mine at Yale quite some years ago, and I got to know him well during those formative years. We have remained close, and collaborated, ever since.

He is both an excellent candidate for the job, and a really good person.

But, as noted, his candidacy is, in essence, a prisoner of our political system -- or at least, of political discord.

Why? In some reports, Dr. Murthy is cited as having spoken in favor of various gun control measures long before he was a candidate for surgeon general. Naturally, we are talking about truly radical stuff here, like, for instance: background checks so we don't routinely arm deranged sociopaths. Or, perhaps, not everyone being entitled to semi-automatic weapons with high-capacity magazines. Truly outrageous assaults on the second amendment, clearly.

But we needn't go nearly that far. The official reason for opposition to Dr. Murthy is a tweet dated 10/16/12 that states: "Guns are a health care issue."

If we reasonably take the full expanse of "health care" to encompass both patient care, and public health, I think the only possible reaction to this statement is a yawn, and: Duh!

What can possibly be controversial about this statement? For gun control advocates, there is clearly no cause for dissent. Those contending that guns foment murders and massacres certainly agree that a public health issue is in play.

But there can be no cause for dissent from the most ardent gun enthusiasts either. After all, the rationale for guns-for-all is so that we can defend ourselves, presumably against the harms to which we might succumb if unarmed. Self-defense against harm is, pretty self-evidently, an issue of both public justice, and public health.

And, of course, anything with the potential to involve emergency surgery and blood transfusions is pretty much, by definition, a health care issue.

And then there is the -- forgive the pun -- real smoking gun of the "guns are a health care issue" issue: suicide. I don't think anyone wants to refute the notion that suicide attempts are a health care issue. After all, we health care professionals are the first responders to them. This one, too, should be among those truths we hold to be self-evident.

So here's the thing: Guns are used far more often for suicide than for either homicide or self-defense. We don't have all the research we would like on the topic, mostly because the NRA spends pretty lavishly to ensure it won't get done, but what we have is rather compelling. A peer-reviewed paper from 1998 suggests that the ratio of gun use for suicide to use for self-defense is 11 to 1. CDC data from 2010 indicate that 60 percent of firearm deaths are suicides, and more than half of all suicides are by gunshot.

That second statistic is more compelling than it may seem. After all, most people who contemplate, and then attempt suicide, don't have guns. So what it means that more than half of all suicides are gun related is this: Most people who attempt suicide do NOT use guns, but those who use guns succeed much more often.

Guns don't kill, people kill -- even themselves. But guns make them a whole lot better at it.

And that's tragic, because suicide may result from uncompensated depression, or a moment of despondency that could be assuaged. A suicide attempt is an opportunity to identify the source of such anguish, and restore the chance to live. A completed suicide is: game over. Guns are strongly associated with the latter.

The simple, if sad, fact is that we are indeed all subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Maybe at one time or another most of us think at least fleetingly about taking arms against that sea of troubles, and by opposing, ending them. For most of us, it is just a fleeting thought. For some, it evolves into a plan, a gesture, or an attempt. For those with a gun handy, it results far more often in the need for a hearse rather than an ambulance. This is not ideology; it's just epidemiologic fact.

Suicide is a health care issue. If guns figure in it, as they irrefutably do, then guns are a health care issue, too. QED.

The surgeon general, whatever his or her views on gun control, has no political authority, and will do absolutely nothing about gun control in office. Even if the position did allow for that, why would that unsettle anybody? Even the president of the United States, openly in support of gun control legislation also supported by a decisive majority of us Americans, can't get much of anything done about it. Is the NRA really all that concerned about the profound ramifications of a public health physician's personal opinion? I'm impressed if so, because it must mean I have all kinds of power to which I am oblivious.

Far more likely, nobody actually is all that concerned about Dr. Murthy's totally predictable, completely uncontroversial position on this topic. It is all just political theater.

But it is bad theater. A public health physician stated -- before ever he was under consideration for surgeon general -- that guns are a public health issue. We may ignore the fact that he was exercising his first amendment rights at the time, and posed then -- as he poses now -- no threat to the second amendment rights of anyone else.

More importantly, he was speaking a truth, universally recognized as such. There should be no political agenda directed against universally recognized truths.

Cheer or lament it, public health is no threat to gun rights. But threats to public health that result from ideology over epidemiology, and resistance to statements of fact, are potentially ominous for us all.

However we may differ over guns, I suspect all of us like to live in a society where stating a fact does not bring reprisals. On that basis alone, please tell your members of Congress you would like Dr. Murthy freed from his political prison -- and confirmed as U.S. Surgeon General. Ideally, no SEALS will get involved.

-fin

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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP believes all sorts of radical things, like: no Uzis for certifiable sociopaths; the Second Amendment should not be defended at the expense of the First; and, oh yea, guns are a health care issue.

Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center; Griffin Hospital
President, American College of Lifestyle Medicine
Editor-in-Chief, Childhood Obesity

Follow at: LinkedIN; Twitter; Facebook
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Author: Disease Proof

David Lohr   |   November 17, 2014    5:28 PM ET

Authorities in Buffalo, New York, reportedly plan to confiscate handguns from the estates of recently deceased gun owners.

"We recently started a program where we're cross referencing all the pistol permit holders with the death records and we're sending people out to collect the guns whenever possible," Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said at a recent press conference, according to WGRZ.

Under the terms of the new program, the weapons will be seized if the descendant's estate fails to take necessary steps to dispose lawfully of them.

Derenda said the goal of the program is to ensure the firearms don't wind up in the hands of a criminal.

"At times, [guns] lay out there and the family is not aware of them and they end up just out on the street," he said.

The plan is legal under state penal law 265.20(f), which states the estate of a deceased permit-holder has 15 days to dispose lawfully of the descendant's handguns or surrender them to the authorities. If they don't, they can face up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The Buffalo Police Department further explained the law in a recent Facebook posting:

"The estate is also requested to notify the Erie County Pistol Permit Office ... of the permit holder's passing, along with a copy of a death certificate and information about the disposition of the firearm(s), so that the license may be cancelled."

According to the law, when a firearm is surrendered, authorities will hold the weapon for up to two years, during which time the estate can sell or transfer it to a licensed permit holder. In the event neither of those things occurs within that time period, the weapon will be disposed of by the authorities.

The National Rifle Association did not respond to a request for comment from HuffPost on Monday. Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, declined to go into detail about the program.

"I don't think that I want to say any more on it," King told HuffPost. "It's an issue that will most likely be resolved in the courts."

In a Friday interview with Fox News, King said Derenda should have been clearer about the specifics of the law.

"They're quick to say they're going to take the guns," King told Fox News. "But they don't tell you the law doesn't apply to long guns, or that these families can sell [their loved one's] pistol or apply to keep it."

Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, called the program "cold-hearted" and "ghoulish."

"This is the kind of behavior one might expect in a police state, but not the United States," Gottlieb said, according to a statement obtained by Guns.com. "But it proves that the anti-gun mindset knows no boundaries. From now on, no gun control zealot will be able to dismiss and ridicule the concerns of law-abiding firearms owners that there is no reason to fear gun registration, no matter what form it takes. This explains why gun owners are opposed to registration and other forms of record-keeping and permit laws."

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown did not immediately respond to a request for comment from HuffPost.

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Robbie Couch   |   November 14, 2014    6:49 PM ET

Peter Thum saw preteens carrying rifles while he was in Kenya and Tanzania. Disturbed by the sight, the social entrepreneur decided to become a catalyst for change.

And to use jewelry to do it.

Thum is a co-founder of Fonderie 47 -- a brand of watches, bracelets, rings and other accessories helping rid Central Africa of deadly weaponry. The brand's items are in part created with melted down and recycled metal from AK-47s seized through disarmament efforts in the region, according to NPR.

Although not everyone may be able to purchase Fonderie 47's high-end items, a portion of each sale helps support Mines Advisory Group -- an international organization that removes and destroys weapons that remain after conflict. For example, one $195,000 watch ensures the demolition of 1,000 weapons, according to Fast Track.

Thum is not new to the humanitarianism scene. About 13 years ago, he founded Ethos Water -- a bottled water brand that donated a share of its profits toward sanitation and clean water efforts in the developing world. Ethos Water was sold to Starbucks in 2005.

Thum's eye-opening experience in Africa occurred while the entrepreneur was visiting safe water projects in the region.


According to Mines Advisory Group, the Cold War created arms supply routes across the globe. As a result, many regions around the world are now home to surplus amounts of weaponry. The United Nations said illegal weapons in Central Africa increase cross-border crime and complicate international relations in the region, Voice of America reported.

"This is a very tangible action," Thum told NPR of supporters buying jewelry to help the cause. "It's not a peace conference. Let's take a device that makes people dead and get rid of it."

Because of Fonderie 47, more than 40,000 weapons have been confiscated through the Mines Advisory Group, Fast Track reported, with the majority being from Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Thum's success spurred him to bring his international idea home through Liberty United -- a jewelry company where "every purchase helps stop gun violence in America." The company, launched last year, uses jewelry sales to support local efforts curbing gun violence -- such as the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, CeaseFirePA, and the Newburgh Armory Unity Center -- according to Fast Track.

On Oct. 16, Liberty United announced a partnership with Cook County, Illinois -- which encompasses Chicago -- allowing the company to repurpose illegal guns collected by law enforcement. A portion of profits will boost area nonprofit efforts fighting gun violence, according to a press release.

"Our gun violence epidemic is destroying communities and setting back an entire generation of young Chicagoans," Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart said. "With this partnership, we're taking guns that would otherwise be incinerated and turning them into something beautiful, while benefiting a local organization working on the front lines to stop the bloodshed."

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What Does Washington's I-594 Mean Going Forward? Trouble for the NRA

Mike Weisser   |   November 5, 2014    4:02 PM ET

As expected, in Washington I-594 won and I-591 lost. The margins of victory and defeat were about equal, which meant that, at least in this state, voters know how to read because the way the two propositions were worded, a 'yes' vote on both would have effectively cancelled them out. But proponents of gun safety were smart enough to see through the cynical ploy by Alan Gottlieb, who uses a non-profit called the 2nd Amendment Foundation to disguise what is a very successful right-wing direct mail operation and he put I-591 on the ballot because he knew that I-594 was going to pass.

Basically, I-594 makes Washington the sixth state to restrict all gun transactions to NICS checks. This closes what has always been considered a major loophole in the effort to keep guns out of the "wrong hands" because in those states where all gun transfers must go through NICS, a person with a criminal record or other disqualifying issue would not be able to get a gun no matter when or where the gun became available, as opposed to the current system in which individuals who do not meet legal qualifications for gun ownership can only be denied gun ownership at the initial point of sale.

The NRA has steadfastly rejected an expansion of background checks because, they claim, it targets law-abiding citizens while doing nothing to prevent crime. Imagine, says the NRA, "If your mother had a prowler at her home, having to do a background check on your own Mom before you could give her one of your guns for protection." Now I can't figure out how someone's going to get a gun to dear old Mom when the prowler is already in her home, but that's hardly the only thing the NRA says about armed defense that I can't figure out. Without a shred of evidence-based data they have been tirelessly promoting the idea that an armed America is a safer America for the last twenty years, but why let facts stand in the way of a good marketing campaign, right?

The good news is that the voters in Washington didn't buy this nonsense and, the last time I looked, were approving I-594 by a margin of nearly 20 points. Taking this issue directly to the voters was a smart move for the issue's supporters, first of all because they knew that the NRA would bottle up such a bill in the legislature, but second of all because universal background checks appear to have wide popular support. Even groups that generally support the NRA, such as Republican men, appear to favor NICS checks on most, if not all gun transactions, and ballot initiatives are a clever way to turn such grass-roots support into laws.

If gun safety advocates use the experience in Washington as a template and begin moving ballot initiatives for background checks into other states, they will not only negate the lobbying power of the NRA at the legislative level, but can use the financial resources of their chief supporters to equalize or overcome the monies that the NRA doles out for political campaigns. In the I-594 contest the supporters spent nearly $8 million to gain what will probably be somewhere above 1 million votes, the measure's opponents spent slightly under half a million and vote-wise fell far short. Bloomberg kicked in $2.3 million, the Microsoft boys -- Gates & Ballmer -- threw in another $1.6 million and Paul Allen added half a mil. Gates, Ballmer and Allen are all residents of Washington, but if Mayor Mike decided to move his funding cavalcade to another state he'd no doubt dig up a few wealthy friends to help foot the bill.

Don't get me wrong. You could fund a citizen's initiative on background checks in Alabama with a gazillion dollars and it would probably fail. But the first state to legalize same-sex marriage was Massachusetts in 2004. Now the list is up to 32...

Hilary Hanson   |   November 4, 2014    4:40 PM ET

At least three people have been shot within a 7-day span due to toddlers getting access to guns.

Monday at around 9:30 p.m., two 3-year-olds were playing with a shotgun in a Baltimore home, the Baltimore Sun reported. Police told the Sun that the two kids found the gun in one of their bedrooms, though it’s unclear why it was there.

The gun went off and hit one of the children, a boy, in the lower leg. He was taken to a hospital and was in stable condition as of Monday night.

Just two days prior, a 3-year-old girl in Lorain, Ohio was listed in critical condition after her 4-year-old brother shot her in the head. The siblings were playing at home alone when the boy found a .40 caliber handgun. Police said the boy was crying and holding his sister in his arms when they got to the scene, and that he told them multiple times he was sorry.

On October 27, Patrick Sanders, 20, was sleeping on the couch at a Houston-area apartment when his loaded pistol slipped out of his pants and a 3-year-old boy in the home picked it up. Sanders was shot in the face as he tried to get the gun away from the boy and it accidentally went off.

There are no definite statistics on how many people every year are killed or injured by children getting their hands on guns, according to the Washington Post.

“We know how many times children die each year as a result of gun deaths,” Jon S. Vernick, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, told the Post in September. “We don’t know how many times children pull the trigger and someone dies."

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Why Connecticut Parents Should Not Vote for Tom Foley

Laura Merriman   |   November 4, 2014    8:57 AM ET

It is completely unacceptable that Connecticut Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley said on gun control in the wake of the Newtown shooting, "We're talking about something that happened several years ago. I'm looking down the road. I'm looking ahead. I'm looking at jobs and the economy. I'm not governor and I wasn't governor at the time." I have argued before that nothing threatens public safety more than nearly unchecked access to arms. This is still the case.

We have become so accustomed to school shootings that they are now forgotten within a day or two of the news cycle. Our children deserve better and so it is up to us to elect the right leadership. Here's what we know: when people have unchecked access to weapons, children are mass murdered at school. Violence against women happens. Suicide occurs at far higher rates in states with more gun ownership, despite the fact that gun owners experience the sames rate of depression and mental illness as non-owners.

The father of Santa Barbara shooting victim Chris Martinez blamed his son's death on "craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA". He also stated, "Our children deserve a land free from fear." Echoing what anti-gun violence activists around the country feel, Martinez asked, "They talk about gun rights, what about Chris' right to live? When will this insanity stop?" It should be more than unsettling to any thinking, feeling person that although we know what the root of the problem is, we repeatedly fail to hold politicians accountable for shamefully lax stances on guns.

U.S. children are murdered by guns thirteen times more often than in other developed countries are. As a nation, we are fixated on the ebola outbreak, yet 86 Americans are killed by gun violence daily without us considering this to be an epidemic. After Sandy Hook, Connecticut passed some of the strictest gun control in the country, signed by Governor Dan Malloy. Too much is at stake in the Connecticut gubernatorial race to risk electing Tom Foley.

We shouldn't just care about gun violence just because last time it was someone else's kid. Children must be able to attend school without risking getting shot. Martinez's father said, "I don't care about your sympathy. I don't give a shit that you feel sorry for me". I am also tired of the same post-shooting the same post-shooting rhetoric. We are doing a huge disservice to the victims of school shootings and their families by letting the same tragedies occur over and over again.

Unfortunately much of the discussion surrounding the Santa Barbara shooting revolved around the shooter Elliot Rodgers hating women. Of course sexism is a social problem. But it is liberal access to arms that determined the actions he was able to take.

But guns are a feminist issue because they are widely used to commit acts of violence and intimidation against women. Access to a weapon escalates domestic violence situations; women whose partners own a gun are 500 times more likely to be murdered than those with partners who don't, which is why the NRA feminist movement is a joke. Melissa Jeltsen's incredible piece on the death of Laura Aceves demonstrates what happens when weak government is paired with low wages and liberal access to arms: all of these things being key components of the GOP platform.

David Hemenway, the director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center explains, "A large percentage of homicides -- and especially homicides in the home -- occur during altercations over matters such as love, money, and domestic problems, involving acquaintances, neighbors, lovers, and family members; often the assailant or victim has been drinking. Only a small minority of homicides appear to be the carefully planned acts of individuals with a single-minded intention to kill... it is just a question of the caliber of the gun, whether a vital organ is hit, and how much time passes before medical treatment arrives."

In 1996, under heavy lobbying from the NRA, Congress slashed funding for research on gun violence from $2.5 million annually in the early 1990s to an insanely low $100,000 per year. Funding was only reinstated by President Obama in 2013, ending a 17-year virtual freeze on the Center for Disease Control conducting gun research.

Additionally, the NRA succeeded in getting lawmakers to restrict how cities are able to share information about gun crimes. How are we a free speech democracy if our citizens are not allowed to know information as basic as how many guns there actually are in the U.S.? If having more guns around really does reduce injuries and fatalities, as pro-gun activists allege, then why suppress research on firearms? The NRA went so far as to threaten the families of scientists researching gun violence. How is this different from how terrorist organizations operate?

Unsurprisingly, the more guns there are, the increasing amount of violent incidents occur. Mississippi has the highest rate of gun ownership nationally, at an astounding 76.8 percent. It is not just happenstance that Mississippi also faces the 2nd highest rate of gun violence. In 2010 alone, 475 Mississippians were murdered by a gun. On the other hand, California just placed new restrictions on semiautomatic weapons.

We must end gun policies based on the fantasy that there need only be a "good guy with a gun" to intervene in a shooting. An excellent Mother Jones investigative piece demonstrates that out of 62 mass shootings in the U.S., not a single time has the assailant been stopped by an armed civilian. Mother Jones explains, "In other recent (but less lethal) rampages in which armed civilians attempted to intervene, those civilians not only failed to stop the shooter but also were gravely wounded or killed", thus striking down the "good guy with a gun" disillusion. In one case often cited by the NRA, the reason two armed students were able to intervene during a shooting at the University of Virginia Law School is that they were trained police officers -- and the shooter had run out of bullets.

It is complete lunacy that many states are passing legislation that allow guns in public spaces, including bars. Guns only escalate conflict. When guns and drinking mix, and when people are given free access to high caliber weapons without background checks, it is not a matter of if, but when. What did Bobby Jindal expect by allowing guns at bars in New Orleans? This summer's shooting on Bourbon Street in New Orleans is an excellent case and point. It is almost as if he passed the law knowing that people will be killed or severely injured as a result.

Tragically, guns seep across borders from states with sensible gun laws from ones that irresponsibly lack comprehensive background checks. Guns purchased in Mississippi, Wisconsin, and Indiana are responsible for 60 percent of Chicago's gun violence, which predominantly effects low-income people of color. Phil Cook, professor of Public Policy and Economics at Duke University, explains "There is no question that Chicago's murder rate is driven by the availability of guns. Choking off the supply of illegal guns on the street will be critical to reducing murder in Chicago." Until there are gun restrictions like the law California just passed in every single state, it is only a matter of time before there will be another massacre, and this should shame every person who votes for an NRA-backed candidate in the United States.

Last year at New York University, NBC news anchor Joy Reid argued that the gun rights movement is largely founded in racism. Certainly the fear of inter-racial crime is a motivating factor for many gun owners. It has been the reason behind many recent white-to-black shootings, where the "good guy with a gun" argument falls flat on its face. Amanda Robb's GQ piece brilliantly portrays how our national obsession with personal security and fame intersect with being over armed, as she narrates how George Zimmerman's family has tried to capitalize on the murder of an unarmed black teenager. Minority groups are disproportionately the ones affected by gun violence.

What kind of a society have we become when we allow heavily armed, mostly white, men to intimidate women, children and other men in public spaces? The Texas Open Carry movement states that its goal is to "condition Texans to feel safe around law-abiding citizens that choose to carry [guns]". Open carry is more than a provocation; it is blatant intimidation. Without comprehensive background checks, how can we be safe in open places without knowing the intentions or mental state of an open gun carrier?

The Open Carry trend is especially deranged when considering that concerned citizens have been harassed raising their concern to local authorities. Of course any sensible person should report a mass collective of armed civilians congregating in an open space because of how easy it would be for these demonstrations to turn into a mass shooting within seconds. Civilians do not need to be "conditioned" to feel comfortable around objects of violence and intimidation. We have an obligation to regulate these militias, as stated by our Constitution.

Tom Foley called Sandy Hook a thing of the past and said he does not have a plan to address gun control in a state where 20 innocent children and six adults were gunned down less than two years ago. As The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky put it so well, the Republican Party "is a party of nihilism that has no desire to solve any social problem, holding the rest of us hostage to its craziness as the bodies mount." Elected officials like CT State Representative Dave Yaccarino who are able to overcome stalemate partisanship and vote against their party to prioritize our children's safety deserve our vote. Politicians like Tom Foley do not. Because our children deserve better.

Ebola Is Good

Brian Rooney   |   November 3, 2014    3:28 PM ET

The Ebola virus is the best thing to happen to American politicians in years. Ebola has done what neither war, climate change, nor economic meltdown have accomplished. It has united our politicians in action because Ebola is bad. Ebola threatens America. It came dangerously close to infecting a King Charles Spaniel in Texas. Like that nerd in grade school who always raises his hand, no one likes the Ebola virus. Our political leaders have come out bravely against Ebola and it's their intention to prosecute the virus as an adult.

From New York to Florida, California, Illinois and states in between, an accidental alliance of Republicans and Democrats has joined against Ebola. Many states are requiring a 21-day quarantine for health workers returning from West Africa, even if they have no signs of illness. New Jersey's Chris Christie, whose administration once quarantined several lanes of the George Washington Bridge against an exodus of commuters said, "We've taken this action and I have absolutely no second thoughts about it." He's showing leadership, decisiveness. He doesn't look back. He's also considering running for president. "Chris Christie. He was against Ebola."

The other day when a New York City doctor tested positive for Ebola, the governor and the mayor appeared before cameras to promise action. Mayor Bill de Blasio said, "We want to state at the outset that there is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed," even though one of the few occasions the mayor of New York and the governor hold a joint press conference is when New Yorkers should be alarmed. Alarm is good. Voters unite around politicians who tell you to be alarmed.

In a silly attempt to stand up for reason, the Centers for Disease control and various medical authorities say these quarantines may actually hinder the Ebola fight and are not medically necessary, which shows what they know. Governors know best what's good for their state.

Chris Christie isolated a nurse after she got off a plane in Newark and tested negative for Ebola. When the nurse Kaci Hickox was sent home to Maine and broke her quarantine, Gov. Paul LePage got really lucky. A state judge set Hickox free. LePage was able to stand up and say, "As governor, I have done everything I can to protect the health and safety of Mainers." Who couldn't vote for that?

The governor of Connecticut also signed an order to quarantine anyone who may have been exposed to Ebola. Connecticut has not had a case of Ebola, let alone an Ebola death, and Gov. Dan Malloy is going to make sure they never do. He's in charge. He's looking out for the average Joe Nutmeg. This is the same state where a man with a gun massacred 20 school children and six adults. But it's hard to quarantine people with guns. The National Rifle association gets so testy about it. It's much easier to quarantine people who don't have Ebola.

Every year guns kill 32,000 Americans, more than six times the number of people who have died of Ebola in the current outbreak. So far we've had only two homegrown Ebola infections in the U.S. and just one death of a man who arrived with the disease. The effect of Ebola on America is less than your average two-car accident, but that's what's great about this disease. It's so small it's easy for a gang of politicians to box it into a corner and stomp on it.

In Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal forcefully called for a ban on all direct air flights from Ebola-stricken countries to the U.S., even though there are none. But in the meantime Jindal's state quarantine is preventing Ebola specialists who've been in West Africa from attending a New Orleans medical meeting to discuss how to treat and cure Ebola. If they had come, they would have had to spend 21-days sitting alone in a hotel room. Jindal, who likes to think of himself as having presidential mettle, is so tough on Ebola, he'll quarantine even the scientists thinking about Ebola. That's the kind of action we've come to expect from our politicians.