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Lydia Oconnor   |   December 3, 2015    5:27 PM ET

A sheriff's office north of New York City encouraged licensed handgun owners to start carrying their firearms on Thursday, one day after a mass shooting claimed 14 lives and injured 21 others at a social services center in San Bernardino, California.

In a Facebook post, the Ulster County Sheriff's Office urged residents to exercise their Second Amendment rights "in light of recent events that have occurred in the United States and around the world."

December 3, 2015ATTENTION LICENSED HANDGUN OWNERSIn light of recent events that have occurred in the United States...

Posted by Ulster County Sheriff's Office on Thursday, December 3, 2015

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, took the event in San Bernardino as an opportunity to call for stronger gun control laws.

"We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world, and there's some steps we could take, not to eliminate every one of these mass shootings, but to improve the odds that they don't happen as frequently: common-sense gun safety laws, stronger background checks," Obama said on Wednesday.

Also on HuffPost: 

Mariam Baksh   |   December 3, 2015    3:57 PM ET


Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Thursday that Congress ought to take action to stem gun violence in the wake of the latest mass shooting.


Wednesday's massacre, which took place at a center for individuals with disabilities in San Bernardino, California, left 14 people dead and at least 21 others injured. The following day, Sanders paraphrased President Barack Obama's call for additional gun control.


“What he said is, this is not an easy problem to solve," Sanders said Thursday in a speech on the Senate floor. "But just because it is not an easy problem to solve does not mean that we should not do everything that we can.”


As an independent senator from the rural state of Vermont, Sanders’ past positions on gun control have been somewhat out of step with the Democratic Party. In 1993, he voted against the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which would have instituted a national criminal background check system.


But Sanders has since been evolving on the issue, and now favors background checks. In 1997, he voiced his support for banning assault weapons, saying,“I'm pro-hunting, but no one needs an AK-47 to hunt."


Sanders now has an F rating from the National Rifle Association. In his speech Thursday, he pointed out a number of specific legislative actions that have strong public support.


“We need to significantly expand and improve background checks,” Sanders said. “Who is arguing that people who should not have guns because of a criminal background, because of mental problems, should ... be able to purchase guns? Very few Americans disagree with that.”


Sanders also spoke in favor of banning assault weapons, declaring gun trafficking a federal crime and cracking down on proxies who purchase guns on behalf of those who can’t legally acquire them.





“And very significantly,” he added, “we need to greatly expand and improve our mental health capabilities. These people need treatment when they need treatment, regardless of their income, regardless of their insurance status.”


On the issue of mental health, Sanders finds himself in agreement with some House Republicans. In response to the San Bernardino shooting, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also called for greater access to mental health services, pointing to bipartisan legislation that’s been proposed to address the issue.


Also on HuffPost:


6 Things Americans Should Know About Mass Shootings

The Conversation US   |   December 3, 2015    1:48 PM ET

Frederic Lemieux, George Washington University


Police secure the area near a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, December 2 2015. Mario Anzuoni/REUTERS

America has experienced yet another mass shooting.

As a criminologist, I have reviewed recent research in hopes of debunking some of the common misconceptions I hear creeping into discussions that spring up whenever a mass shooting occurs.

#1: More guns don't make you safer.

A study I conducted on mass shootings indicated that this phenomenon is not limited to the United States.

Mass shootings also took place in 25 other wealthy nations between 1983 and 2013, but the number of mass shootings in the United States far surpasses that of any other country included in the study during the same period of time.

The U.S. had 78 mass shootings during that 30-year period.

The highest number of mass shootings experienced outside the United States was in Germany -- where seven shootings occurred.

In the other 24 industrialized countries taken together, 41 mass shootings took place.

In other words, the US had nearly double the number of mass shootings than all other 24 countries combined in the same 30-year period.

Another significant finding is that mass shootings and gun ownership rates are highly correlated. The higher the gun ownership rate, the more a country is susceptible to experiencing mass shooting incidents. This association remains high even when the number of incidents from the United States is withdrawn from the analysis.

Similar results have been found by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, which states that countries with higher levels of firearm ownership also have higher firearm homicide rates.

My study also shows a strong correlation between mass shooting casualties and overall death by firearms rates. However, in this last analysis, the relation seems to be mainly driven by the very high number of deaths by firearms in the United States. The relation disappears when the United States is withdrawn from the analysis.

#2: Shootings are more frequent.

A recent study published by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center shows that the frequency of mass shooting is increasing over time. The researchers measured the increase by calculating the time between the occurrence of mass shootings. According to the research, the days separating mass shooting occurrence went from on average 200 days during the period of 1983 to 2011 to 64 days since 2011.

What is most alarming with mass shootings is the fact that this increasing trend is moving in the opposite direction of overall intentional homicide rates in the US, which decreased by almost 50% since 1993 and in Europe where intentional homicides decreased by 40% between 2003 and 2013.

#3: Mass shootings are not necessarily terrorism-related.

Journalists sometimes describe mass shooting as a form of domestic terrorism. This connection is dangerous and misleading.

There is no doubt that mass shootings are "terrifying" and "terrorize" the community where they have happened. However, few active shooters involved in mass shooting have a political message or cause. The church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina was a hate crime but still not a terrorism act.

The majority of active shooters are linked to mental health issues, bullying and disgruntled employees. Active shooters do not share any political motivations and do not aim at weakening government legitimacy. Instead, they are inspired by revenge or a quest for power.

#4: Restricting sales works.

Due to the Second Amendment, the United States has permissive gun licensing laws. This is in contrast to most developed countries, which have restrictive laws.

According to a seminal work by criminologists George Newton and Franklin Zimring, permissive gun licensing laws refer to a system in which all but specially prohibited groups of persons can purchase a firearm. In such a system, an individual does not have to justify purchasing a weapon; rather, the licensing authority has the burden of proof to deny gun acquisition.

By contrast, restrictive gun licensing laws refer to a system in which individuals who want to purchase firearms must demonstrate to a licensing authority that they have valid reasons to get a gun -- like using it on a shooting range or going hunting -- and that they demonstrate "good character."

The type of gun laws adopted has important impacts. Countries with more restrictive gun licensing laws show fewer deaths by firearms and a lower gun ownership rate.

#5: Historical comparisons may be flawed.

Beginning in 2008, the FBI used a narrow definition of mass shootings. They limited mass shootings to incidents where an individual -- or in rare circumstances, more than one -- "kills four or more people in a single incident (not including the shooter), typically in a single location."

In 2013, the FBI changed its definition, moving away from "mass shootings" toward identifying an "active shooter" as "an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area." This change means the agency now includes incidents in which fewer than four people die, but in which several are injured, like this 2014 shooting in New Orleans.

This change in definition impacted directly the number of cases included in studies and affected the comparability of studies conducted before and after 2013.

Even more troubling, some researchers on mass shooting, like Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, have incorporated in their studies several types of multiple homicides that cannot be defined as mass shooting: for instance, familicide (a form of domestic violence) and gang murders.

In the case of familicide, victims are exclusively family members and not random bystanders.

Gang murders are usually crime for profit or a punishment for rival gangs or a member of the gang who is an informer. Such homicides don't belong in the analysis of mass shootings.

#6: Background checks work.

In most restrictive background checks performed in developed countries, citizens are required to train for gun handling, obtain a license for hunting or provide proof of membership to a shooting range.

Individuals must prove that they do not belong to any "prohibited group," such as the mentally ill, criminals, children or those at high risk of committing violent crime, such as individuals with a police record of threatening the life of another.

Here's the bottom line. With these provisions, most U.S. active shooters would have been denied the purchase of a firearm.

The Conversation

Frederic Lemieux, Professor and Program Director of Bachelor in Police and Security Studies; Master's in Security and Safety Leadership; Master's in Strategic Cyber Operations and Information Management, George Washington University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

'Thoughts and Prayers' Isn't Just a Meaningless Platitude, It's the GOP's Campaign Strategy

Mike Weisser   |   December 3, 2015   11:19 AM ET

Want to know what the pro-gun crowd thinks about gun violence? Or I should say, what the pro-gun crowd wants everyone else to think about gun violence? All you gotta do is wait for a mass shooting to occur, then check the Twitter accounts of the so-called GOP presidential candidates. I say 'so-called' because the idea that any of this bunch has demonstrated even a sliver of leadership, never mind the slightest attention to facts, makes me wonder how we could remotely imagine one of these clowns sitting in the Oval Office after January 20, 2017. Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

I knew we were in for a know-nothing treatment of gun violence when, in putting together a game plan for 2016, the GOP decided that the 2nd Amendment would be the 'values' niche issue this time around. They used to have abortion and then gay marriage to gin up the base, but when Donald Trump started boasting about defending himself by carrying a gun, I knew the NRA's wildest dream about defining the social agenda for America was finally coming true.

Then we had the shooting of two television journalists in Virginia, and while killing only two people is hardly worth mentioning in the same breath as dispatching ten victims in Oregon, nine in Charleston, never mind 14 in San Bernardino, what was impressive in a bizarre way about the Virginia shooting was that the entire thing was caught on tape. And the very next day, there was Trump telling us that the problem had nothing to do with guns, it was caused by the lack of mental hospital space which was needed to lock all the crazies away.

Once Trump defined the issue in accordance with the standard NRA lexicon that it's not guns that kill people, etc., everyone else fell into line. The next opportunity for the GOP pretenders came a month later in Oregon when the killing of ten faculty and students at Umpqua Community College unleashed a torrent of pro-gun commentary from the GOP presidential field. Once again Trump knew the nuts were "coming out of the woodwork;" Ben Carson called for better detection of "early warning signs," and in case there was any doubt about why the shooting occurred, we had self-appointed gun fantasists like John Lott telling us that we couldn't expect anything else to happen in a gun-free zone.

This time around, however, the Republicans might have overshot their mark. Because when Hillary spoke out about the Umpqua massacre, she made a point of tying it to enacting "sensible gun-control measures," and promised to lead the effort after she took over the Oval Office in 2017. This was the first time that the Democrats made gun ownership a campaign issue, and it caught the GOP entirely off guard. Let's remember it was Hillary's husband who decided that Democrats lost the White House in 2000 due to the power of the NRA. So I knew that, going forward, the GOP would have to come up with a revised game plan to avoid having to appear condoning gun violence while still keeping the gun-nut vote on their side.

And to the credit of their campaign PR teams, it seems to me that the Republican presidential wannabes have indeed come up with an approach to gun violence which gets them all off the hook; namely, that gun violence is an act of God, so what can mere mortals do? Here's a selection of Twitter feeds from last night: Trump -- "Good luck to law enforcement and God bless." Cruz -- "Our prayers are with the victims." Bush -- "Praying for the victims." Paul -- "My thoughts and prayers are with the victims."

Any mention of guns? Here's Hillary: "We must take action to stop gun violence now." And what Hillary knows is what the pro-gun gang and its new crop of presidential pretenders don't want to imagine; that maybe most Americans are sick of the shootings, sick of guns, and fed up with the NRA.

Igor Bobic   |   December 3, 2015    9:05 AM ET


Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina on Thursday objected to closing a loophole that allows suspected terrorists to legally purchase firearms.

 

In the wake of a Colorado shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic last week and the deadly Paris terror attacks last month, Democrats in Congress have pushed to bar gun sales to those on the FBI's terror watch list. House Republicans, however, this week blocked debate on legislation that would do so.

 

Asked about the matter on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, dismissed the effort as a half measure that didn't get to the root of the problem.

 

"That's kind of a red herring, honestly," she said. "If somebody is a suspected terrorist on a watch list they can be indicted at any time. And once you are indicted you cannot own a firearm. So let's enforce the laws we have. Let's start with that."

 

Fiorina added that she didn't support the ban because responsible gun owners could mistakenly be added to the list.

 

"My best friend's husband was on the watch list for years, it was a complete mistake," she said. "He also happened to be a gun owner. If I had utter faith in the competence of government I might agree with that, but do you? I don't. The government screws up all the time."

 

The Republican businesswoman noted the suspects of a mass shooting at a center for individuals with disabilities in San Bernardino, California, which she called an "unspeakable tragedy," appeared to have acquired their weapons legally.

 

"It's a red herring --  if someone is a suspected terrorist, they can be indicted. Why aren't they? If someone illegally owns a gun, they can be prosecuted. Why aren't they?"

 

In an earlier interview on MSNBC, newly minted House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) similarly argued against closing the loophole.

 

"There are people who are arbitrarily placed on this thing, sometimes they are on there by mistake," he said.

Guns, Terrorism, and Honesty

Ali A. Rizvi   |   December 3, 2015    8:48 AM ET

Which of the following statements would you say you agree with?

Pick as many as you like. My answer is at the bottom.

1. Better gun control is essential to curb gun violence.

2. Islamic jihadism is a dangerous ideology that must be fought.

3. Guns should not be banned or confiscated.

4. Muslims should not be harassed or discriminated against just because they're Muslim.

5. We should aggressively criticize and even satirize the problematic aspects of Islam (the religion), as we would with any other religion or political ideology.

6. Day-to-day gun violence is more deadly than Islamic terrorism right now because it has killed many more people.

7. Islamic terrorism is more deadly than day-to-day gun violence, because if it actually succeeds in its stated goals (such as obtaining weapons of mass destruction as ISIS wants to do), it will kill millions more.

8. Anyone who kills innocents to advance a religious/political agenda is a terrorist -- this could include Muslims, far-right Christian abortion clinic bombers, radical leftists from the 1960s, Jews, Hindus, and atheists.

9. Islamic terrorism is the most deadly form of terrorism in the world today.

10. Anyone who is mentally disturbed or disgruntled and shoots up his school or workplace is a criminal, but is not a terrorist -- even if he's Muslim.

11. All Islamic terrorists are Muslim.

12. The vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, and should not have to apologize for the few that are.

13. The few Muslims that do commit terrorist acts do so in complete accordance with a plausible, legitimate interpretation of the Islamic religion.

14. Islamic jihadists are motivated by many legitimate grievances like US foreign policy and the nagging remnants of Western imperialism.

15. Islamic jihadists are motivated by Islamic doctrine, the words of the Quran and hadith, and the promise of an afterlife, eternally, in Paradise.

16. Islamic imperialism (whether the 7th century Arab kind or the Ottoman kind) has done just as much harm (if not more) to the world than Western imperialism.

My answer:

All of them.

None of these points contradict each other. Go ahead and read through them again.

Gun violence, Islamic terrorism, and anti-Muslim bigotry are all real, serious problems that need to be faced head-on. It's disingenuous to be in denial about one or the other just because you have a certain political affiliation. These don't have to be conservative or liberal issues. Don't make them be.

#Solidarity with the victims and their families in San Bernardino.

The Mundanity of Mass Shootings

Avi Sholkoff   |   December 3, 2015    8:37 AM ET

I remember the last time I felt the true agony of gun violence. I remember where I was and my reaction and utter state of bewilderment. I sat on a cramped bench during an assembly at my school when I felt the vibration of my phone.

Expecting it to be an update about the Patriots or the Lakers, I scanned around, making sure the teachers would not see me. I then briefly looked at my phone, and to my surprise it was not a text from a friend or a SportsCenter update, but a CNN notification about a shooting.

A shooting at an elementary school. Details emerged after we left the auditorium and within time, it would be known as the infamous Sandy Hook Shooting.

Fast-forward almost three years. I'm walking in the rain to my Spanish class. My phone vibrates and I take a peek. It's a notification from the New York Times. It says "The authorities are responding to reports of a shooting with multiple victims in San Bernardino, CA." I looked at it, felt some sadness and disappointment, then went back to listening to some Justin Bieber song.

What I lacked was this anguish I felt during the Sandy Hook shooting. Obviously, I felt devastation and anger, but really, how uncommon is such a shooting? It's really only a matter of time before the next one.

We've spent the past couple weeks mourning the Paris shooting. After the Paris shooting came the Planned Parenthood shooting. Today, we have the shooting in a San Bernardino facility for the developmentally disabled. It's a sad truth, but in a matter of weeks or months, another shooting may occur, and the San Bernardino shooting will be in the history books with the Tucson and Aurora shootings.

The names flow from my mouth so quickly, like state capitals. Jared Loughner, Adam Lanza, James Holmes, and most recently, Robert Dear. Why do I know these names? They committed mass murders of innocent, kind, and compassionate human beings. They obtained guns and utilized them not for hunting or for sport but for murder.

While I should feel immense sympathy and a desire to make a change, this attitude appears more and more idealistic and unimaginable after each shooting. What really can we do to change the culture of gun violence in the United States?

President Obama is a fantastic orator, but I'm beginning to become a little tired of hearing similar speeches about tragedies in our country and unanswered pleas to prevent gun violence. I'd rather him speak about his executive action on immigration, his economic plans, even BO. Just anything besides offering condolences for gun violence.

Mass shootings should not be normal. We as a country must be united in preventing gun violence. We must not only offer our "prayers, and condolences" as each of the Republican Presidential candidates mentioned. No, we must offer pragmatic solutions. The new president must make it his/her priority to create policies to drastically minimize mass shootings in the United States.

I wish for a day when shootings will no longer be mundane, but will truly be news with ample time to mourn, not just another notification in my lock screen.

On Gun Violence: Uttering the Unutterable

Warren J. Blumenfeld   |   December 3, 2015    8:35 AM ET

I love life, and I love the people of my country far far far more than I value the "freedom" to bear arms. We must repeal the Second Amendment now!

There! I uttered the unutterable, the ultimate taboo in U.S. political discourse.

As the horse once served as a primary means of transportation in earlier times, it now grazes and prances peacefully on rich pastures. Possibly during former moments in our history, we may have had reason to enact and enforce the Second Amendment of our great Constitution, but those bygone days have long since passed. Now we must put the Second Amendment out to pasture.

I believe that even our brilliant and well-meaning, but flawed founders did not want unlimited and unrestricted rights of firearm ownership. They could never have imagined the enormous leaps and heights to which the Second Amendment now menaces not only the very lives of our people, but more poignantly, how it imposes an existential threat to our nation.

Even if our early leaders had advocated for unrestricted gun ownership, these are the same men who owned and marketed enslaved Africans, committed genocide against and expelled native peoples, withheld enfranchisement from women, engaged in and killed one another in duels, and so on. Since those early times, legislation, judicial actions, and constitutional amendments have at least attempted to redress those past tragedies. Though we can never bring back the estimated 30,000 victims of gun violence each year, by gutting the Second Amendment we can give our residence a greater chance at life.

I often travel abroad visiting cites and people around the world. Increasingly during my journeys, people express to me that they admire the remarkable achievements and wonders of the United States, but because of the perennial gun violence, they vow not to step foot on this land. These same people believe they have more freedoms in their countries with severe firearms restrictions than we could ever have under our Second Amendment. And because of their well-founded hesitations to visit our country, they will never experience our gleaming cities, our fertile plains, our lush grasslands, our majestic mountains and national parks, and yes, our seemingly endless supply of shops. In the end, the realities of gun violence in the U.S. hurts everyone everywhere, with the possible exception of our enemies who desire to witness us defeated from within.

Rather than working to reduce the supply of firearms on our streets and in our homes, gun sales and ownership steadily increases. The United States ranks number 1 of 178 countries researched in 2014 for the highest rate of firearms with 112.6 per 100 residents, with Serbia coming in a distant second at 69.7, Yemen third at 54.8, and Switzerland forth at 45.7. Just this past "Black Friday" after Thanksgiving, requests for firearms background checks reached historic proportions with over 185 thousand on this single day.

What will it take for us to cease fighting insanity with insanity? How many more of our precious people of all ages will have their lives cut short under the banner of "freedom to bear arms"? What will it take for us to reverse the unholy alliance between corporate America and powerful pressure groups controlling politicians in the service of firearms manufacturers?

When is enough, enough?!

Why Young Americans Become Mass Murderers

René Zografos   |   December 3, 2015    5:57 AM ET

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Photo: René Zografos

I have talked to many different people around the world about why young people become mass murderers in the USA. How suddenly, almost out of the blue, a young person can shoot many often random people dead in few seconds. The American president himself said, after the Charleston church shooter killings, that this happens more often in the US than in other countries in the world. He is sorrowfully right.

Let's look at the big picture and look at what America has become for youngsters who are trying to find themselves in a country where it is essential to be socially accepted. A country where winners, wealth and celebrities are cherished, where success and materialism go hand in hand as a long everlasting contest. On top of that, we now have the tools to show how successful we all are through social media and reality TV-shows.

In some older tribes in Asia and Africa, people who had done wrong were punished with loneliness - they were excluded from the tribe a period of time or even sometimes forever. A verdict like this was considered as the worst punishment a human being could get. To be sentenced to loneliness was considered worse than a death sentence.

Many American youngsters are left alone with no hope for the future. They feel lonesome and are outside of the daily society. The lack of jobs, not to afford to go to school or to participate in something meaningful or to be needed by someone, can therefore create illness and, over time make these persons do drastic actions and in worst cases become mass murderers. Actually - to turn to a mass murder may not be the worst destiny in life for these individuals; loneliness and to be left outside is sometimes worse. To start with drugs may also be another short solution for some of these kids.

Many people I have talked to seem to agree with these old tribes that to be left outside is the worst thing that can happen to humans. Even people with drastically little material wealth are quite satisfied with their lives as long as they have their own little clan to be a part of - some human contact every day, to feel needed or have someone to talk to when the days are good or bad. Moreover people in prison can feel that they are part of a group and have someone to talk to sometime.

Every young child has dreams and goals when they are young. Often these dreams don't come true, but in many other countries they deal with this quite without difficulty because the people feel included somehow, although other countries sadly have started to inherit some of the same problems as we find in America. Schools can be free or cheap in other countries, to be in a sports club or any other area where people socialize is almost always free or at least cheap and everyone can join. There is this common impression around the world that America has this ego-mentality that not everyone is entitled to have a good education, that the already wealthiest persons should have all the great opportunities in life, and the ones who can't afford it should be excluded.

Many people in well-developed countries feel that America must address these issues or else the middle class will be in great danger. With only wealthy and many underprivileged people in a country, will address problems as poverty, more often conflicts between people, apathetic behavior and even in worst cases it can create mass murderers.

2015-12-03-1449138300-7737562-ram_huff1.jpg
Photo: René Zografos

Almost everyone I have talked to around the world also thinks that gun laws in America are too liberal. Most Americans also give the impression to understand this. Australia has tightened their gun laws with great success, but strict gun rules will not alone erase the problems America has. A warmer, more including society for all will most likely help a lot more. People think America must do both. Tighten their gun laws and make the society more including and warm.

There is this desperate wish from people abroad, people who genuinely love America, to change the system of this nation to include everyone, because these inhumane actions which keep the youngsters or anyone else outside of the daily society can create monsters you don't want to have in your backyard.

Radical But Doable Solution to Gun Issue

Zita Harkaran Vasilisinova   |   December 2, 2015    9:49 PM ET

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I have recently lost a friend, mother of 4 -- she got shot. Her husband is the main suspect.

Twice this summer, I have driven through a street shooting with my daughter sitting helplessly in the back.

I have pushed myself to spread the message of higher consciousness and unity to anyone who will listen because of Sandy Hook tragedy.

There are way too many guns around and unfortunately it's not the sharpest or most loving people who own them.

Shootings of all kinds have gotten more common and we feel more and more hopeless about it.

Today I offer a simple (even if slightly radical) solution.

We can change our society simply by not associating with anyone who owns a gun. By not staying in a house with a gun it and by choosing to be with men or women who have brains, heart and emotional intelligence instead of fancy car, big guns and small apparatus.

I know this is not a perfect solution but it is a step forward.

We should make those who propagate guns feel undesirable in EVERY sense of the world. Don't talk to them, don't date them, don't sleep with them, don't laugh at their jokes and don't have their children.

The government is not on our side when it comes to guns.
We need to take a strong stand on guns and actively push them out of our homes, communities and from our country.

Each of us has this power. Let's actively create society that is build on love, trust and respect for everyone.

Anyone who has access to a gun can potentially turn into dangerous friend, boyfriend, husband or a stranger.

This is a reality for which way too many have already paid for.

Fatally.

Guns are not sexy.

They won't protect you.

They are made to kill.

A decision that no one should ever make.

Spread this message if you agree.

Nick Wing   |   December 2, 2015    3:47 PM ET

Americans were exposed to the terror of mass gun violence again on Wednesday, this time at a social services center in San Bernardino, California. The initial reports revealed a distressingly familiar pattern: A heavily armed active shooter or shooters, at least 14 people dead and more injured, harrowing images of law enforcement and first responders rushing to get the area under control, and stunned people -- some of them wounded and bleeding -- streaming out of the facility.

It seems like we've seen this time and time again. But mass shootings occur even more frequently than many people realize, because most of them don't make the national news.

Over on Reddit, the Guns Are Cool community has compiled a list of every U.S. mass shooting this year. According to their count, Wednesday's burst of violence was the 355th this year. 

The moderators of the subreddit -- which is not actually of the belief that guns are cool -- use a broad definition of mass shooting, listing every event in which "four or more people [including the shooter] are shot in a spree." Under this definition, a shooting that wounds at least four people, but doesn't kill them, is still a mass shooting. That means the mass shooting in San Bernardino wasn't even the first one on Wednesday -- one woman was killed and three people were injured in an early morning shooting in Savannah, Georgia.

The number and frequency of mass shootings in the U.S. has become an increasingly heated point of debate over the past few years. The FBI doesn't have an official definition of mass shooting, and there are disagreements over how to count the incidents.

Mother Jones, for example, uses a much narrower definition of of this form of gun violence. In its "Guide to Mass Shootings in America," the publication defines a mass shooting as a single episode carried out by a single shooter in a single location, usually a public place, that kills at least four people. Mother Jones also excludes most crimes that are primarily related to gang activity, armed robbery or domestic violence. Using this definition, there have been 72 mass shootings since 1982, the most recent at Umpqua Community College, in Roseburg, Oregon, in October.

ExxonMobil, Climate Change, and Merchants of Doubt. Big Companies Aren't the Only Ones Slinging Science Bullsh-t.

David Ropeik   |   December 2, 2015    3:28 PM ET

For years, the tobacco industry knew that their products were harmful to health. To protect their profits they covered up what they knew, paid scientists to cast doubt on that evidence, and right through their CEOs' public testimony in Congress, just plain lied. As a result of these deceits, tens of thousands of people died.

Ultimately this selfish dishonesty came to light, and the industry was held legally liable in a massive settlement with 46 states that cost them $206 billion, to pay for the harm they did. Now the New York Attorney General is investigating ExxonMobil
along basically similar lines, as evidence makes clear that the company knew about the potential harm of climate change, and either hid that knowledge or tried to sow public doubt and forestall government action against fossil fuels, the company's lifeblood.

Some, including some members of Congress, are also calling on the US Attorney General to investigate ExxonMobil for possible criminal violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) as well as consumer protection, truth in advertising, public health, shareholder protection or other securities laws.

Such Merchants of Doubt behavior by corporations is unquestionably selfish, immoral, and infuriating. But as much as this despicable and harmful dishonesty cries out for punishment, just how should it be sanctioned. Do we really want it to be illegal? That's not as simple as it seems.

Is ExxonMobil's behavior any different than that of the organics industry, which continues to fund research and advocacy to cast doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus that genetic modification of food causes no harm to human health? Is that not Merchants of Doubt behavior by a business interest to protect its profits? I recently posed that question to Naomi Oreskes, co-author of the book Merchants of Doubt. She acknowledged, hesitantly, that it might be.

What about the researchers and academics who publish papers, invoking the credibility of their expertise and the 'peer-reviewed academic literature', that dishonestly cherry pick and twist the evidence, and flat out lie, specifically to cast doubt on the consensus about the human safety of GMOs. Isn't that precisely what they rightly accuse the tobacco and fossil fuel and chemical companies of doing? They may not be acting not for profit, but these academics and scientists are unquestionably contorting the evidence to spread doubt. Here's one recent example, by the widely (and rightly) respected Dr. Sheldon Krimsky

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The consensus regarding human safety and agricultural biotechnology is no more illusory than is the consensus among scientists on climate change. There are skeptics and remaining questions to answer on both issues. But there is also overwhelming scientific consensus on both. And Dr. Krimsky knows it.

Or how about the overtly dishonest manipulation of the evidence about the human safety of GM foods by Greenpeace and other GM opponents, who investigations have shown are clearly and knowingly fudging the facts to advance their values-based agenda. See William Saletan's investigation of this in Slate.

Let's be clear. This advocacy does harm, real harm, far more proven tangible harm than the evidence says GM technology itself does. Blanket opposition to agricultural biotechnology impedes adoption of many specific applications that could be dramatically improving human health and welfare - even saving lives (Golden Rice).

Advocates who knowingly distort the science and promote doubt and fear of vaccines do real harm. Advocates who deny the evidence about nuclear radiation - that it is FAR less dangerous than widely assumed (see Radiation and Fear: the Mismatch) - do real harm, impeding adoption of a carbon free form of energy. Those who knowingly deny the evidence that nearly unchecked accessibility to guns facilitates more killing with guns...lord knows THEY do real harm.

So if we hold ExxonMobil legally liable for such behavior, and the law is fairly applied, shouldn't anyone who deceives and casts doubt on what they know the science says be held to the same legal standard? Aren't they doing real harm with their deception, whether their motive is profit (the organics Industry) or advancing a value-based agenda in a way that harms others. Tort law - liability for causing harm - doesn't care about motive. If you lie and do harm, you are liable.

You can see the slippery slope here. As much as corporate Merchants of Doubt behavior infuriates, do we want to all such behavior illegal? Where is the line between knowingly deceptive distortion of the evidence in a way that does tangible harm, and free speech? When does "GMOS are unsafe" or "Vaccines are dangerous" or "Climate change isn't happening" go from advocacy to falsely yelling "Fire" in a theater? Has ExxonMobil crossed that line? Greenpeace? The organics industry? How about the countless for-profit "Natural is Good" websites that peddle all kinds of snake oil products, taking money out of people's pockets by preying on fear of almost anything human-made? How about the coal industry and the Koch Brothers and conservative donors who also helped fund climate change denial/skepticism? Should Robert Kennedy or Bill Maher or Jenny McCarthy be held legally liable for doing harm with their distortions of the evidence about vaccines? How about academics and scientists who claim the mantle of expertise and objectivity while knowingly twisting the facts to serve their beliefs, across a wide range of issues?

The danger is clear. There is no line, just a slippery slope, with some more obviously sinister Merchants of Doubt at the top, but lots of less-than-obvious offenders doing essentially the same thing sliding down the slope all the way to the bottom. Where does advocacy turn into legally liable tort/harm? Somewhere, for sure. The answer probably revolves around how purposeful and knowing the deceit was, and how directly that deceit and contrived doubt caused real damage.

But in a society that enshrines free speech as a basic right, the answer of how and when to sanction such behavior, without going too far, is not as simple as it might first seem. Investigations into such behavior should tread carefully. And they should target anyone who engages in it, not just the big bad companies we all love to hate.

Igor Bobic   |   December 2, 2015    2:47 PM ET


WASHINGTON -- U.S. presidential candidates on Wednesday reacted to a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, where authorities reported at least 20 victims at a nonprofit center that works with individuals with developmental disabilities.


Democratic presidential hopefuls former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for further action to stem gun violence:














Republicans, on the other hand, offered their thoughts and prayers to the victims and the first responders:










































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Ron Dicker   |   December 2, 2015   10:13 AM ET

The trick shot artists from Dude Perfect take up arms in a display of wildly skilled and sometimes goofy target practice. Ever seen a bullet split on an ax blade and blast two bottles? Or guys scoring baskets with ammo? We're thinking the NBA will want to avoid that one.

And how about a little behind-the-back? 

 H/T Viral Viral Videos

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