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More Guns Won't Make Us Safer

Rob Tindula   |   November 13, 2015   10:22 AM ET

Firearms have long been championed as "the great equalizer" for their ability to remove physical size from the self-defense equation. In reality however, mass shootings, police brutality, and firearm related accidents serve as daily reminders that a gun does more harm than good.

Yet in the wake of repeated violence, pro-gun rights advocates continue to preach that the ubiquitous distribution of guns is the most effective means of defense against assailants. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, which claimed the lives of 26 people, mostly children, Executive Vice President of the NRA Wayne LaPierre made the organization's position on gun control painfully clear, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun."

But under further scrutiny and a little research, this argument is groundless.

For example, making the distinction between a good and bad person has not only proven to be almost impossible, but is very idealistic considering the ease at which almost anyone can acquire a firearm under the current system. Since the inception of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act on March 1, 1994 through December 31, 2012, only 1.6 percent of the nearly 148 million applications for firearm transfers or permits were denied, meaning that almost anyone without a prior felony conviction or fugitive status can purchase a weapon legally.

And unfortunately, these legally purchased guns end up being responsible for innocent civilian deaths as was the case in the recent Umpqua Community College shooting and many others. The lack of stringency coupled with the difficulty of accurately identifying potential threats is in many instances responsible for providing the tools used for committing terrible crimes.

The threat of having a legally acquired weapon falling into the wrong hands doesn't just stop there. A 2000 study on firearm storage patterns found that in homes with both children and firearms, 55 percent had one or more firearms stored in an unlocked place. This alarming lack of concern for keeping firearms under lock and key directly leads to negative consequences.

A study by Safe School Initiative found that 68 percent of school attackers acquired legal weapons from either their own home or a relative. Moreover, data from the U.S. Department of Justice from 2005-2010 shows that on average, more legally purchased guns were stolen during burglaries annually, 232,400, than applications for guns were denied, 142,167.

The issue of legally purchased firearms often ending up in the wrong place aside, a study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that the notion of guns being used for protection in the home is also bogus. The study concluded that there was little evidence to suggest the protective effect of keeping a gun in your home, even in the small subset that involved forced entry, because the vast majority, 76.7 percent, of homicide victims in their home were killed by a relative or someone known to them and that, "efforts to increase home security have largely focused on preventing unwanted entry, but the greatest threat to the lives of household members appears to come from within."

This threat from within seems to also include protection from ourselves as data from the CDC reveals that in 2013, Americans were about twice as likely to take his/her life by firearm than commit a homicide with a gun. Therefore, while typically considered a defensive tool, firearms aren't often used for protection against outside forces.

Even if a firearm is in the correct hands, they can escalate a seemingly innocuous situation into something deadly. This occurs frequently in law enforcement. Take for example the recent cases of Samuel Dubose, 17-year-old Deven Guilford, and David Kassick, all of whom were unarmed but shot and killed by police this year after being stopped in traffic. While it's true that each victim exhibited some form of resistance, the bottom line is that they were all unarmed and the police officer's own weapon was responsible for accelerating the situation to the point of an innocent person's death. Guns intended for protection can have just as unfair and tragic consequences as those that aren't.

While repeated acts of violence have garnered support in the form of prayer, it has not translated into legislation, which has proven to be the most effective method of preventing these tragedies.

For example, following the Dunblane school massacre in Scotland on March 3, 1996, which claimed the lives of 16 children and one teacher, the UK banned the private use of all handguns, even for most police officers. Not surprisingly, this universal respect for the power of the firearm has resulted in a far lower number of gun-related deaths and gun-related homicides than the United States.

One doesn't even need to leave the United States to see the effect of more potent legislation. Based on a state by state comparison, states with stricter gun laws yield fewer deaths. It's an obviously clear correlation. Especially considering that handguns account for far more of homicides each year than any other weapon type, making them less available would have an immediate impact.

The simple fact is that we can do something about gun violence and the evidence is overwhelming. Our system does not keep the "bad guys" from possessing guns, they do not make a home safer, they can turn a harmless situation into something fatal, and proper legislation has been proven to reduce violence. We as Americans need to turn the conversation inward and seriously weigh the consequences of our second amendment rights against the greater good. Otherwise we are willingly putting ourselves and our loved ones at risk.

The Gun Industry Is Winning Public Opinion, But They're Losing in One Key Metric

Mike Weisser   |   November 10, 2015    2:21 PM ET

It's another year until we elect the next occupant of the White House, but the gun industry is in full swing reminding gun owners that a Democratic win will result in yet another attempt to confiscate everyone's guns. And the Democrats, much to the joy of the NRA, are making it clear that gun control will be an issue in the upcoming election, particularly if the ticket is headed by a lady raised in a suburb of Chicago who would love to spend the next four years back in Washington, D.C.

The dirty little secret about the gun business is that gun sales spike upward when gun owners believe they won't be able to buy any more guns. You can get a pretty good idea of this situation from the ATF's annual report on gun manufacturing, which shows that 40 million guns were manufactured and imported between 2009 and 2012, an increase from 24 million manufactured and imported the previous four years. That's a rise of 66 percent from the last four years of George Wubbleyou through the first four years of You Know Who, and the numbers during the second term of what Rush calls 'the regime' have stayed just as strong.

Even Apple doesn't have sales increases compared to what's happened with guns. If you purchased Smith & Wesson stock for what was about three bucks a share in 2008, you could sell it today for $18. Ruger's stock was around eight bucks when Barack took the oath in 2008, now it's sitting above $52 a share. Google has gone from $200 to $700 over the same period. Guess what? The crummy, old gun business has outperformed hi-tech.

In addition to an unprecedented sales increase, the attitudes of Americans have clearly softened when it comes to attitudes about guns. The polls say that a majority of Americans believe a household with a gun is safer than a household unarmed. Americans also believe that we need more 2nd-Amendment rights and less laws regulating small arms. So under Obama the industry has achieved both remarkable sales and acceptance of a laissez-faire attitude regarding additional laws. Is it any wonder the gun industry doesn't let a day pass without trumpeting 'gun-grabbing' charges against Hillary and the rest of the 'Democrat' gang?

There's only one little problem. Underneath this blanket of good news, the gun industry is facing a problem that won't be overcome no matter how loud they talk about America's love of guns. And the problem has to do with the fact that every year the number of Americans who legally own guns keeps going down. It used to be that the decline in the percentage of households with guns was slightly less than the increase in the overall population; hence, the raw number of families with guns continued to go up. But this is no longer the case, with recent surveys showing that the drop in percentages of homes with guns has been greater than the increase in the population as a whole.

Another, even more disquieting trend facing the gun industry is that the demographic groups whose growth increasingly spurs population as a whole -- women, new immigrants, minorities, millennials -- are not particularly pro-gun. Dana Loesch can yap all she wants about the 'millions' of American mothers who protect their families by being armed and Colion whatever-his-name can prance around with an AR telling inner-city residents that a gun will make them 'free,' but both of those canned and stupid scripts are falling on deaf ears.

I would love to see just one survey which after finding that a majority of Americans believe that a gun will protect them from crime, then ask the same population whether they have actually gone out and bought a gun. It hasn't happened, it's not going to happen, and the gun industry knows full well that for a majority of Americans, there's no love lost with guns.

The Price of 'Normalizing' Open Carry

Josh Horwitz   |   November 10, 2015    9:48 AM ET

Those who advocate the Open Carry of firearms in public have been telling us for some time that their goal is to "normalize" this behavior. On October 31, we learned the price of treating such threatening and dangerous behavior as normal, and it might have been three human lives.

On Halloween Day, Naomi Bettis of Colorado Springs saw her neighbor across the street walking around with a black rifle, a handgun and two gasoline cans, and she called 911 promptly at 8:45 a.m. Bettis was so unnerved by what she saw that she canceled her own plans to get in her car and leave home. She also reported that the man appeared to have broken the window of a ground-floor business.

The dispatcher's response to Bettis? "Well, it is an open carry state, so he can have a weapon with him or walking around with it, but of course, having those gas cans, it does seem pretty suspicious. So we're going to keep the call going for that." The dispatcher ultimately created a possible burglary in progress call. Colorado Springs police have clarified that a priority 2 level call of this nature describes a situation "with potentially dangerous circumstance but no apparent imminent life threat." No officers were dispatched to the scene.

At 8:56 a.m., Bettis called 911 again. By this time it was too late to prevent tragedy. "Some guy was just riding his bike through the alley and the guy [armed with the rifle] started shooting him," Bettis reported, crying. "[The man who was on the bike is] laying in the driveway ... Please send somebody here." Finally, all available officers and an ambulance were dispatched. Not until several minutes into this second call does Bettis confirm that she can see officers on the scene.

Police confronted the suspect, Noah Harpham, 33, in the street. When he pointed a gun at the officers, they were forced to kill him. He was armed with an AR-15 rifle, a .357 caliber revolver and a 9mm semiautomatic pistol. By the time they brought him down, Harpham had killed three people: bicyclist Andrew Alan Myers, 35; and then Jennifer Vasquez, 42, and Christy Galella, 35.

Bettis was stunned by the lack of response to her first call. She had done her duty as a citizen, and could not understand why officers weren't immediately dispatched during her first 911 call when there was still an opportunity to prevent the loss of innocent life.

Many law enforcement officers were stunned as well. Jacki Kelley, a spokeswoman for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office in Colorado, demonstrated law enforcement's quandary. "Is this person exercising their rights or about to start a very serious situation in which someone is going to be killed?" she said. "We just don't know the difference." John Jackson, a past president of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, and the current Greenwood Village police chief, said, "You legalize it to be OK to carry a gun and the hard part of that is it only takes moments to level the barrel of a gun and shoot someone." Dan Montgomery, who served for 47 years as a police officer, including 25 years as the chief of police of Westminster, Colorado, expressed frustration, stating, "If you've got someone walking down the street and they are holding a rifle in their hands, that requires an emergency response by police. What the hell are they doing with the rifle?"

The situation is not intractable, however. The Colorado state legislature has the ability to repeal the state's Open Carry law so this behavior is now treated with the seriousness it deserves.

The city of Colorado Spring has options as well. Colorado does have an NRA-drafted preemption law in place that restricts the ability of local governments to regulate firearms, but the city of Denver challenged the law, and in 2006 the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Denver could ban the practice of Open Carry.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers sees no reason to change the city's Open Carry law, however. "What your open carry laws are don't dictate what your violent crime rate is," he said. "I have no appetite" for changing the law, he told Colorado Springs Gazette. Not surprising, given that Suthers has been in the NRA's pocket for some time. "I've had an A rating from the NRA throughout my career," he bragged in March.

That might be true, but should such a tragedy happen in Colorado Springs again, residents will know exactly who to blame for failing to learn Halloween's lesson. The next time a killer uses Colorado's Open Carry law to gain the critical minutes needed to center in on their prey, that blood will be squarely on the hands of Colorado state legislators and municipal leaders who failed to act.

Also on HuffPost:

One Thing That Is Worse Than Guns

Cynthia Dill   |   November 9, 2015    1:54 PM ET

I met Jeff at the Woodfords Congregational Church, a polling place in Portland, Maine, on Election Day. He was videotaping people collecting and providing signatures to put a citizens referendum question on the ballot.

Jeff was nice. He's from Appleton and answered most of my questions politely, and didn't object to me videotaping him as he videotaped others.

When I asked whether he was carrying a gun, Jeff said no, and I was glad because he was sitting in a chair about 5 feet away from a table where pleasant-looking senior citizens were volunteering their time for democracy. Two of them told me outside later they were uncomfortable with Jeff's presence.

"This is not right," said Maureen Hyslop, a stylish woman I guessed to be in her seventies.

Another, Johannah Hart O'Brien, who had snappy barrettes in her hair and is a retired teacher of high-risk kids, was collecting signatures for the background check bill out of concern for student safety. "I feel intimidated by him," she said of Jeff, "but we created this reality with guns everywhere." And she wanted to do something about it.

Our new reality is cameras and guns are everywhere against a backdrop of a Constitution that protects speech, voting, privacy and gun ownership.

Sick and tired of police abuse and oppression, black people are filming arrests to show the public and authorities their reality, while the Justice Department recently instituted a policy of recording interrogations.

"Creating an electronic record will ensure that we have an objective account of key investigations and interactions with people who are held in federal custody," Attorney General Holder said. "It will allow us to document that detained individuals are afforded their constitutionally-protected rights. And it will also provide federal law enforcement officials with a backstop, so that they have clear and indisputable records of important statements and confessions made by individuals who have been detained."

Even the American Civil Liberties Union, a civil rights organization that "generally take(s) a dim view of the proliferation of surveillance cameras in American life," has concluded "police on-body cameras are different because of their potential to serve as a check against the abuse of power by police officers."

On Election Day in Portland, it wasn't Jeff's camera that was creepy, it was that he sat in a chair for hours aiming it at strangers that was disturbing. And for what purpose?

A friend had texted Jeff a day or so before Election Day about a new group -- Project Dirigo -- so Tuesday morning, Jeff showed up and was deputized with an official-looking badge by a guy named Shane, who Jeff met for the first time and whose last name Jeff didn't know.

Project Dirigo never had a meeting, and Jeff was unaware of any website or Facebook page, he told me. There hadn't been any emails, in fact Jeff had no idea who else was in the group besides his one friend who sent him the text message, his wife and Shane, who gave him the camera and a mission to "protect" the integrity of the petition process.

Jeff's charge was to tape people for hours at the polls, and he did. When I asked him what the purpose of the videotaping was, Jeff said he didn't really know -- just that the tapes would be used to make sure the rules weren't broken.

When I asked Jeff what the rules are, he didn't know, but one thing is certain. Jeff, his wife and his friend are members of the NRA and they oppose the background check bill, and Shane Belanger is the past president of the Maine Open Carry Association, according to news reports.

When I asked Jeff his last name, he laughed and refused to give it to me. "I don't give my name out to random people," he said as his camera captured the images and conversations of strangers.

Videotaping people is like burning flags. It isn't an issue that's black and white, or red or blue.

I met Gregory Trueworthy, a retired Army Ranger and Republican, outside of the church. He had very white teeth was sporting fitted military-like attire that showed off his big guns. A self-described "Second Amendment guy," he supports background checks and believes people who want to carry concealed weapons should be required to get a permit.

Trueworthy told me he is "security sensitive," and spotted Jeff and the camera immediately upon entering the polling place. He "didn't like it," and thinks Jeff should not be allowed to film people without their permission.

Most of the people I spoke to outside of the polling place, however, felt differently. Many didn't even notice Jeff's camera, and those who did appeared to care little.

A guy videotaping people collecting signatures might be scary to some, but more frightening to me is that a guy like Jeff joined a group in response to a text message, and traveled from Appleton to Portland to wear a badge and spend the day videotaping people for a cause he knows very little about.

So you're uncomfortable with Jeff and his camera? Welcome to America. Others are uncomfortable with you, or with gay marriage, or with protesting. To be uncomfortable and free is our creed.

Jeff's camera is not scary, but his apparent blind faith to join a group simply because it purports to support guns is scary. People joining ideological groups without knowing answers to basic questions is scariest of all.

Jeff didn't know the rules about collecting signatures to put a question on the ballot about background checks for gun buyers, but he was eager to make the trip from Appleton on Tuesday to videotape strangers to make sure they weren't broken.

Cameras aren't going away. Electronic recordings are mashed together with security concerns and justice in an era of terrorism and technology so we might as well embrace their potential while we search for answers to questions about privacy.

Maybe the only thing that can stop a bad person with a video camera is a good person with a video camera.

Blow_hot_and_cold Brings Individuals and Political Views Together

Brad Hobbs   |   November 9, 2015    9:28 AM ET

Do Something Good, is an incubation collective based out of New York City focusing on interactive experiences for the public.

Their blow_hot_and_cold exhibition features a life size politician mounted to a flagpole surrounded by eight high powered fans each representing a political subject with pro & anti opinions on the subjects of gun laws, climate change, health care and abortion.

The way the exhibit works is by reading tweets on the subjects featured with the power of the fans rising and decreasing when one of the issues are tweeted in real time, as each fan fluctuates the flag changes direction to face the option with the strongest support.



I caught up with the collective at I.M.A.G.E gallery in Brooklyn to find out why and how they came up with this project.


Tell me about Do Something Good and the project.

Do Something Good is an Incubation Collective primarily focused on realizing interactive experiences that arise at the cross section of art and technology; driven with the purpose of creating unique transformative experiences. blow_hot_and_cold is the first piece to manifest itself outside the digital realm and is a collaborative project of Damjan Pita, Derek Harms, Vasco Barbosa and Samar Zaman.

How did you come up with the concept?

We believe that politicians, particularly in the United States, no longer stand for what they truly believe. Their opinion is based on the topics and viewpoints that receive the most attention in media. The strategic teams behind these politicians are increasingly using data analysis like A/B testing to determine what opinion will be the most advantageous to their campaign.

Politicians are now in constant search of being on the leading side of popular opinion, with their beliefs vacillating like a flag in the wind.

How does it work?

Each political issue is represented by two opposing fans, one for and one against. By processing the sentiment of tweets in real-time, the power of each fan rises and falls based on the support that issue receives online. As each issue fluctuates, the politician shifts direction to face the opinion with the strongest support. Visitors are encouraged to interact with the installation by walking between the flag and the fans to disrupt the wind.

Why these topics?

As election day nears, there is a shift in focus of what topics politicians choose to dedicate their time and effort to. The four topics in the work currently have the largest volume of conversation on social media, and therefore likely to be the most influential in shaping the opinions of a potential candidate.

What are your views on these topics?

All members in our group are in support of gun regulation, female reproductive rights, universal healthcare and legislation that encourages the protection of the environment.

What would you like the outcome to be for this?

With blow_hot_and_cold we are calling out the unfortunate truth that politicians no longer stand for what they truly believe. Our hope is that visitors will be more aware of their influence on elected leaders.

What's next for you and this project?

With exactly one year today before the presidential election, we'd like to demonstrate the influence of this on the installation. And as this political phenomenon is not only a U.S. problem, we intend to bring the work to other countries and localise the topics to be relevant in that country.

You can follow Do Something Good at the below links. The exhibition is running until Thursday 12th November 2015 at I.M.A.G.E Gallery in Brooklyn.

I.M.A.G.E Gallery
1501 Broadway,
Brooklyn, NY

Gun Control: The Saddest Debate in America

Cara McDonough   |   November 5, 2015    9:59 AM ET

I live in New Haven, Conn., and when the Sandy Hook school shooting occurred in December of 2012, details were revealed all day long.

There was one segment that afternoon when a reporter fell silent for a remarkably lengthy period of live news coverage, and I later realized he must have been learning the number of young lives lost; there were no speculative words to fill the space, just a quiet understanding that something awful had transpired. I felt a bleak sense of foreboding in my gut. Not sick, or like I'd been punched. Beyond anger, like my stomach had actually disappeared. Hopeless.

The feeling has returned -- watered-down, but present -- with the recent resurgence of gun control discussions since the shooting that occurred on the campus of Umpqua Community College on October 1.

It's how I feel when I try voicing my opinion on the need for sensible gun control online, and opponents counter by commenting that no measures would be enough to stop what happened, and would make attaining firearms difficult for responsible gun owners. It's how I felt when I learned that protesters had greeted President Obama when he went to Oregon to visit families of the deceased. When my brother sent me the video of a Glock 43 commercial that's running in Virginia, where he lives.

It's hopelessness, yes, because I feel that nothing will change; already the debate has waned, making room for lively Election 2016 chatter.

But it's hopelessness that's also about the lack of civilized discourse surrounding guns. About the nature of this particular discussion, similar to so many debates surrounding cultural issues, marked by ignorance and passion on both sides, a dangerous combination.

The truth is I don't feel qualified to discuss gun control issues in an informed way. I usually write about parenthood and family life. About the everyday occurrences that are humorous or meaningful enough to share with readers. I like to shout about my political views, but I don't often put them down on paper.

Furthermore, I'm not good at debating this issue in a balanced manner. I'm a liberal. I'm pro-choice, was a staunch same-sex marriage advocate and I don't have much use for the second amendment. So it's difficult for me to verbalize my feelings about "sensible" gun control, because I'd prefer it if no one had guns in the first place.

My arguments regarding the issues I hold dear are often one-sided, and inspired by arguments made by people who think along the same lines. I pull quotes from personalities hawking their views on MSNBC, and share journalism that proves my points with words I wish I had the grace and knowledge to call my own.

Like many of you, I sometimes engage in online discussions about these issues on Facebook and Twitter, commending my friends when they make a particularly good point and disagreeing with those whose views differ from my own. I am respectful in the public forum, but in private messages and impassioned conversations with my like-minded husband, friends or family, I let loose. "What is wrong with these people?"

And in the past, waging battle in this polarizing -- but safe -- manner has been just fine; this right vs. wrong, pro vs. against, name-calling, angered, back-and-forth we call a political debate. The insults are much easier to hurl on the internet. Nobody's really listening, everybody is furious. It's ok.

But ever since the latest mass shooting ("latest mass shooting," a phrase painful to write and absorb) it's not.

I can't shake the encroaching hopelessness, the strange apathy. It creeps up on ordinary days. That uneasy feeling - you know the one - where there's something stressful you need to deal with, but you can't remember what. When this happens to me and I do finally remember, the thing is question is usually something relatively minor, like an unpleasant talk I need to have with a coworker.

This time, gun control. Not being a politician or personally affected by gun violence, I feel stupid admitting this. But this time around, more than with any other cultural battle, I want to dig deeper. My anger is provoked by those who hold an opposing position, and then festers because I don't understand them.

I don't get the gun thing. Wasn't raised with guns, and don't think I've ever held one. If you disagree with me -- and have read this far -- you do get it. This seems like a good start to an important conversation.

There's certainly nothing revolutionary in this realization: that a for vs. against standoff is never going to get us anywhere when both sides feel that they are, without doubt, right. My hope is simply that important people will take crucial steps to begin the conversation, off the internet, face to face.

I'm not one of these important people, but I am ready to talk. To ask my questions, and respond to yours.

Maybe there are answers in dialogue. Maybe there are not. But desperation looks bad on us, and if we can begin listening to one another, I believe we might find the smallest glimmer of something better.

Straight Shooting: The "Gun Problem" Isn't a "Mental Illness Problem." It's Just a "Gun Problem."

Dr. Peggy Drexler   |   November 5, 2015    8:36 AM ET

Increasingly, when we talk about gun violence in this country we also talk about mental illness. In many ways, this is not surprising: A number of instances of gun violence are committed by those with untreated, or undiscovered, mental disorders. This has lately led many politicians to place the blame for incidents of gun violence squarely on the lack of resources available for those suffering from mental illness. "It's a mental illness problem," Donald Trump recently declared on "Meet the Press" on NBC. "Guns, no guns, doesn't matter. You have people that are mentally ill and they're going to come through the cracks and they're going to do things that people will not even believe are possible."

And, it seems, most Americans would agree. A joint poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News and released last week found that while 82 percent of Americans surveyed thought gun violence is a serious problem, more people -- by 2 to 1 -- believe such violence is a result of inadequate methods and means of treating the mentally ill than of inadequate gun laws. The problem with these findings, though, is that they likely won't be used to implement, or even argue for better, detection and treatment of those with mental illness. Instead, they'll be co-opted by politicians -- like Trump -- who'll use the survey and others like it as evidence that gun controls are just fine; that, as one site put it, "guns don't kill people; crazy people do."

Except that's not entirely true: The vast majority of gun violence is still committed by people who are not mentally ill. Many incidents are accidents. Many are committed by children who happen upon guns in their/their neighbors'/their relatives' houses. And many, as we know, are committed by teenagers who are just beginning to show symptoms of the onset of mental illness -- cases in which early detection wouldn't necessarily apply. And, of course, not everyone suffering from mental illness will commit gun violence -- in one study, in fact, fewer than 5 percent of gun-related deaths were committed by those diagnosed with mental illness. (As President Obama recently said, "we are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses... we are the only advanced country on earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.") Meanwhile, efforts to imply that all, or even most, incidents of gun violence are at the hands of the mentally ill only serves to increase the stigma directed towards those who suffer, which a 2013 study out of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health acutely confirmed.

So while it's easy to put the blame for gun violence on the mentally ill -- or the lack of support for them -- it's misleading, and ultimately unlikely to do anything to end needless gun-related deaths.

Especially if levels of support for the mentally ill do not change. Because despite all this talk of mental illness in the context of gun violence, few have offered any solutions to problems of inadequate of inaccessible mental health care. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 61.5 million Americans suffer from mental illness in any given year -- while the CDC reports that just over a third of people with severe depression had been to see a mental health professional within the previous year -- though we rarely hear about this underserved group of people until a tragedy occurs. But for those impacted -- as well as for their families -- mental illness is an everyday tragedy too often ignored -- until, it seems, it's needed as a scapegoat. As "Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver recently said on his show, "there is nothing like a mass shooting to suddenly spark political interest in mental health."

That's because the real motive behind bringing up mental illness in the context of gun violence isn't to discuss ways we might better the services available to those suffering, but to steer the conversation away from the topic that's really at hand: that guns are too readily available to too many people. While it's true that in some cases -- some cases -- the "crazy person" might pull the trigger, it's also true that someone else gave the crazy person the gun.

Which is why, if reform is to be had in either or both the spheres of mental health or gun violence, it's not an either/or blame game: The U.S. needs mental health reform, and it also needs tighter gun laws, and the two need to work in concert to make any sort of impact. There are other ways to make a difference, too. For one thing, manufacturers should be required by law to use available safety technology to prevent accidental deaths. For another, there should be increased funding for medical research on guns, an area of research where there is very little funding at all. But the real, and increasingly untold, story is that there are two concurrent crises going on, and while these two crises occasionally overlap, it's naïve -- and flat out wrong -- to think that simply solving one will magically solve the other.

The Equality Argument For Gun Control

Jacob Schuman   |   November 4, 2015    1:01 PM ET

Opponents of gun control most often discuss the issue in terms of "liberty" -- the individual right to own and carry a firearm. The failure of nearly every federal effort over the last 20 years to restrict gun access has shown this to be an effective strategy, and one that has trumped -- if not trampled -- public safety arguments.

Yet there exists an opportunity to shift the debate -- not by abandoning the safety message, but by tapping into another less obvious, but potentially potent, aspect of gun control: equality.

The fact is, the widespread availability of guns is a significant, but often overlooked, cause of persistent inequality in the United States. Focusing on the relationship between guns and inequality will allow gun control advocates to argue that restricting firearm access is an essential step towards achieving social justice and economic empowerment.

The first way that guns drive inequality is by making life more violent and less stable for people living in economically disadvantaged communities. Crime rates, especially violent crime rates, are higher in poorer neighborhoods. While this is true across the world, and is likely to remain so, open access to firearms in the United States makes these crimes easier to commit, more lethal, and more destructive of community life.

Most people think of violent crime as the result of poverty, but in fact it is also a cause. Over the July 4th weekend this year, for instance, 82 people were shot in Chicago, most of them in the city's struggling South Side, where crime rates are ten times higher than wealthier areas of the city. For residents of these neighborhoods, who are striving to make ends meet and improve their economic lot, the chaos and destruction wrought by gun violence is an enormous obstacle. And it is one that richer communities do not have to face.

Given the racial aspect of socio-economic inequality in the United States, the negative impact of gun violence is borne especially by minority communities. The nonfatal gunshot injury rate in Chicago, for instance, is about 6.5 per 100,000 people. Divided by race, however, it's 1.62 per 100,000 for whites, 28.72 for Latinos, and 112.83 for blacks. For all males, the gunshot injury rate is 44.68 per 100,000, yet for black males it's 239.77, and for black males aged 18-34 it's a staggering 599.65 (about 1 in 200). In other words, a young black man in Chicago has a 38,000 percent greater chance of being shot than a white person. This is a blatant form of racial inequality.

Those fighting gun restrictions would argue that these figures merely demonstrate the need for residents of poorer neighborhoods to arm themselves for their own protection. But firearms are far more often used for community-destroying crime than they are for individual self-defense. Gun violence, in short, is a structural impediment to true equality for high-crime, low-income areas.

Second, guns place marginalized communities in constant fear of mass shootings. Of course, armed maniacs have attacked nearly every fora of American life, and any American could become a victim. Yet mass shooters have repeatedly targeted vulnerable groups -- children, women, and religious and racial minorities. These groups are targeted precisely because they are vulnerable, and yet, since they often lack the political power to enact meaningful gun control restrictions, they are left defenseless.

The sad reality is that hateful, violent minds will inevitably latch onto our culture's latent bigotries -- racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and so forth -- and then lash out at those perennially disfavored groups. While this danger is likely to endure, the easy availability of firearms makes such hate crimes far more deadly and far more frightening.

Black Americans cannot truly be free if they cannot even feel safe praying in church, lest a maniac gun them down. Nor can Jewish Americans feel fully secure so long as they must pass through metal detectors on their way into synagogue, to protect them from an armed fanatic.

Shockingly, our most vulnerable population -- children -- must endure a special risk of gun violence, as the new trend for state legislators is to prove their pro-gun bona fides by pushing to expand gun rights into the classroom. For instance, there are proposals in at least three states to allow concealed carry in K through 12 schools. The psychological terror mass shootings inflict, in sum, is part of the broader social inequality that vulnerable groups must endure.

If we allow the gun control debate to continue solely as a conflict between the freedom to own a weapon and the danger that firearms pose, we obscure an important truth -- the danger presented by gun violence is not distributed equally in our society. Low-income communities and minority groups bear a unique burden in the form of neighborhood gun violence and the threat of mass shootings.

Gun control advocates struggle, and legislative efforts fail, when opponents invoke the ideal of liberty -- of defending gun rights against an over-reaching state. By moving beyond public safety and invoking equality, advocates have the opportunity to challenge their opponents with an equally lofty and essentially American ideal. When it comes to gun policy, the equal protection of the law must be no less important than the right to bear arms.

Mollie Reilly   |   November 3, 2015   12:14 PM ET

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton unveiled a new campaign ad Tuesday calling for lawmakers to take action against gun violence.

The ad, which features the former secretary of state speaking at a town hall last month, highlights Clinton's anti-gun violence proposals, which include strengthening background checks.

"This epidemic of gun violence knows no boundaries," Clinton says in the ad. "How many people have to die before we actually act? Before we come together as a nation?"

The 30-second spot will air in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Watch the ad above.

Clinton has made gun violence a key issue in her campaign, vowing to "get those guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them." She's also attacked her main opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), for his record on gun control. (Sanders voted against the Brady Bill, which made background checks mandatory, in 1993.) 

Sanders, meanwhile, has strongly voiced his support for stronger gun laws in the wake of the mass shooting at an Oregon community college last month.

"Condolences are not enough,” Sanders said in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. "We've got to do something … We need sensible gun control legislation."

A HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted in August found 55 percent of Americans are in favor of stricter gun laws.

Also on HuffPost:

Gun Violence, Mental illness and Money

Lori Stevic-Rust, Ph.D. ABPP   |   November 3, 2015    9:28 AM ET

On this beautiful fall day in northeast Ohio, I wish I were writing something about pumpkins and the amazing colors on the trees, but as a psychologist I have been asked to share my thoughts about the ongoing debate over mental illness and gun control.


I would venture to guess that all of you have strong thoughts about mental health and perhaps even stronger thoughts and opinions about gun control. But when the two topics are presented together, it is nearly impossible to find individuals who feel neutral about the subject -- it evokes our emotional brain and logic seems to sit silent. It has become nearly impossible to engage in a morally courageous conversation about the complexity of these issues -- to push through our biases and step around our indifference and then roll up our sleeves and create opportunities to change our current situation of increasing violence and gun deaths. It is much easier to simply be right.

In the field of psychology, we refer to mental shortcuts in decision making as heuristics. They are the simple rules that we default to when forming complex opinions or judgments. These shortcuts usually involve focusing on only one aspect of a problem while ignoring the others. It is easier for the brain to process this way. This strategy can be very useful if you are a firefighter entering a burning building and need to rely on intuitive thinking based on recognition from experiences that are stored in memory and then react quickly.

However, most of our cognitive decisions and opinions are based on something called affect heuristics where decisions and judgments are guided by feelings rather than deliberation and reasoning. The Nobel Prize winner in economics, Daniel Kahneman describes how our brain jumps to conclusions based on our feelings of like or dislike at the expense of using deliberation and reasoning. Politicians and marketers rely on this to sway our thinking. [1]

Consider that when we use the term mental illness a variety of images, ideas and beliefs are conjured up -- perhaps it conjures up an image of a certain race, gender, religion or age. Maybe a visual of somebody who is unkempt in appearance or intellectually dull. In fact, when asked to identify the mentally ill individual from a list of pictures rarely is the white, middle aged, male, dressed in a suit with an attractive appearance identified as the person suffering from a mental illness. This is our bias in active operation and from that perspective we formulate ideas, opinions and decisions. We believe we know what the broad description of mental illness looks like and can predict how those individuals will behave.

Similarly, when the word gun control is used an emotional reaction is evoked followed by phrases like, "Guns don't kill, people kill." The tiresome arguments and rants about "rights to bear arms" and frequently used phrases involving "restriction and freedoms." Or it evokes a fear of guns and the belief that all should be banned. Gun control has devolved into a platform of for or against not a conversation about what guns, for what purpose and used by whom. A close examination of the gun control regulation and state laws reveals many opportunities to sell guns, make money and few sensible restrictions to protect citizens. The issue of gun control has become so emotionally charged that rarely do we as citizens pause long enough to hear and know the truth. We simply react.

Unfortunately, these emotional debates only serve one purpose -- to divide us as a nation into categories -- for or against, liberal or conservative. We continue to debate and use this issue for personal and political gain while the death toll rises.

The facts are -- mental illness is a broad category that involves everything from psychotic disorders to panic attacks, from recurrent major depression to grief reactions. Hospitalization for mental health can occur for a variety of reasons and inpatient and outpatient treatment programs are variable. Hospitalization is not a good indicator of predicting future violent behavior and yet it is part of the gun regulation policy. Background checks and gun regulation as they are currently written are ineffective and not based on data. To make the claim that mental illness is the reason for gun violence is to oversimplify a complex social issue. The evidence shows that a history of violent behavior, repeated exposure to violence in a community and substance abuse are better indicators of violent and impulsive behavior as opposed to the mere presence of a diagnosis of mental illness or a hospitalization. However, as gun regulations are currently written, there are few limitations placed on individuals who have engaged in prior violent or menacing acts. [2]

When we begin to chant about mental health reform, I am willing to sing along, if we are going to address the social issues of poverty, racism and hate that contributes to mental health problems and violent behavior. However, if mental health reform is simply used as the shiny object to distract us from the real issues, then I think we need to change the channel and begin to start a real conversation about the messy and difficult challenges that we face in our communities.

The National Rifle Association is the most powerful lobbying group in Washington, D.C. If mental health is the issue and the concern, where is the money and the strength for those lobbying groups? As intelligent, well-educated citizens, we believe that we are capable of making well-informed factual decisions. However, the scientific truth of the matter is our emotional brain tends to react faster than our intellectual brain can keep up. We may actually save more lives by quietly listening to our bias, slowing down our impulsive and reactive brain and finding our moral courage to address these issues. Gun control and mental illness have become like religion and politics -- nobody wants to get into those ugly discussions -- least of all politicians who want to remain in office.

As long as impulsive and angry individuals can readily access high powered weapons, which they can under the current regulations and with all the loop holes built into the laws, mass killings will continue. The real question is: Are we strong enough and brave enough to use our voice and our vote to address this issue. It is easy to say, "My thoughts and prayers are with you." The hard words are "I promise to stand up and try to make a difference."




NRA Repeats Same Old Misleading, Racist Tropes in New Anti-Clinton Video

Mike Weisser   |   November 2, 2015    3:52 PM ET

Now that the 2nd Amendment has become an issue in the looming 2016 presidential campaign, it was just a matter of time until the NRA got its own campaign playbook together and started adding its voice to the political fray. So it was hardly a surprise when the NRA released its first political message right out of the mouth of Wayne LaPierre, who claimed he was responding to Obama's appearance at a police chief's meeting in Chicago where the president dutifully repeated his call for 'common-sense' laws to help end the everyday carnage from guns.

The NRA's campaign message turns out to be a riff on the "we don't need no stinkin' new gun laws" mantra that was first promoted by Donald Trump. And once Trump said it, all the other Republican presidential pretenders fell into line with what has become official policy for the NRA. And why don't we need any more gun laws to stop what Wayne-o calls the "bloodshed?" Because all we have to do is "enforce the federal gun laws" and "direct every federal jurisdiction to round up every felon, drug dealer and gangbanger with a gun" and the problem will be solved right then and there.

But Obama won't do it, and if she's elected Hillary won't do it because they "wait for a crime that fits their agenda and blames the NRA." Which is another way of saying that instead of locking up all those bad guys with guns, the Democrats just want to pass new gun-control laws. "President Clinton and President Obama use the carnage to campaign for new gun laws" says Wayne-o, and the result of not enforcing current laws is that "thugs" like De'Eris Brown (picture of Brown with voice-over from Wayne-o) don't go to jail and instead end up shooting a nine-year old girl.

So here we have the NRA game plan as we inch towards election 2016. Blame it all on the Democrats who don't enforce crime laws, tie them to "thugs" who are always young men of color, and make sure to remind everyone that urban "bloodshed" has nothing to do with guns. Doesn't it remind you just a bit of the Willie Horton campaign ads that secured the White House for the first iteration of George Bush? But if the Horton campaign was short on facts and long on emotional, racist-tinged images, it can't be compared to the misrepresentations and racist-laden messaging this time around.

Let's start with the charge that Clinton and Obama won't enforce laws and are "soft" on crime. In 1993, the national violent crime rate was 746. Eight years later, at the end of the Clinton administration, the rate had fallen to 506, a decline of 33 percent. Eight years after that, at the end of Bush II, the rate stood at 457, a further decline of 10 percent. In 2014, seven years into Obama, it's at 357, a drop from the end of Bush's tenure of 22 percent. Since 1993 the violent crime rate has declined by 52 percent, of which 90 percent disappeared during the administrations of two, crime-loving Dems.

The folks who produce those insipid NRA videos might want to take another look at the numbers. I happen to believe that most Americans, gun owners or not, will see right through this stupid charade even if Wayne-o and the NRA haven't yet figured it out.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly alleged that the NRA's video mis-identified De'Eris Brown as Jamal Streeter. It has been updated to correct the error.

It's a Party. Bring Your Gun.

Charlie Allenson   |   November 2, 2015    1:11 PM ET

There's a Miley Cyrus song, Party in the USA. Welcome to my party.

If it weren't for Larry this party would never have happened. Oddly, I never met him. Never spoke to him. Never saw a photo of him until after.

Yet Larry changed my life, my wife's, a mother's, a father's, the lives of two other brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, my nephews, the 140 members of an honor society dedicated to global sustainability, the more than 18,000 students and faculty at a university, and the people in a small village in Tanzania, in the most profound way possible.

Here's what I know about Larry. He was my niece Becca's boyfriend. He played guitar. He lived in Columbus, OH. He had some sort of job. Becca broke up with him. Larry trashed his apartment, including his fridge and then went all Pete Townshend on his guitar. Becca fled.

He later drove down to her campus housing and shot Becca to death in her sleep. Then Larry lay down next to Becca and shot himself in the head. Larry left not one, but two suicide notes each in some fashion professing his love for Becca.

The party moved to the coroner's office where a cousin who owned a local funeral parlor pleaded for her mom and dad not to go in to say goodbye. Please, he begged, remember Becca as everyone knew and loved her. Not as she was at that moment.

For that I thank Larry and the two massive .357 magnum bullets he fired straight into her face. Up close and very, very personal. That .357 was one of two guns in his possession. So I'd also I'd like to offer a tip of the hat and a few party noise poppers to the NRA for fostering such pervasive and perverse gun proliferation.

It took just a couple heartbeats for Larry to turn beautiful Becca from a kind, big-hearted, filled-with-promise young woman into something completely unrecognizable. No one went in.

Parts of the funeral service are forever sharp. Like the 300 people who came to the service. Many uninvited but crashed the party with an overflow of love, affection, an extreme sense of loss and a torrent of freely flowing tears.

And the Rabbi was there -- a young woman who only a couple of weeks before had given birth to beautiful baby. In loud, clear voice, made stronger with sorrow, she sang one of Becca's favorites, Over the Rainbow. All joined in.

Photos came in on iPhones from that tiny village in Tanzania where Becca had taught English. They too held a gathering for Becca.

The party continued at the cemetery. So many came. Self-invited out of compassion, love and respect. This was a Jewish funeral so members of the immediate family, followed by friends, each lifted a shovelful of earth and tossed it onto Becca's coffin. I was maybe fourth in line. The hollow thud of my clumps of dirt hitting the pine lid was one of most sickening sounds I've ever heard. Or probably ever will hear. It haunts my dreams. I don't expect that sound to stop anytime soon.

The party rolled on. My daily phone calls to Becca's mom and dad. Understandably, most of my calls go to voicemail. We're a hard partying bunch.

Oh -- another big party event. Have you ever gone tombstone shopping? For a murdered college kid? It's a whole new depth of heartbreak. One I didn't think was possible to reach. But reach it we all did, and have continued to fall even further. So thanks for that too, Larry. Really.

And let's add all the exquisitely painful emails, texts and calls back and forth about what to write on Becca's tombstone. Something witty? Something tearful? How about Becca's own words:

Go outside no matter what and sit.
Wait for a while until you sigh
And can't think of anything else.
Have a good time.

I thought the party might be winding down at this point. At least a little. Not happening.

It was then Becca's mom's birthday. Her first without Becca being there for hugs and laughs and cake. This week is Becca's birthday. She would have turned 22. Though some reading this might immediately think that's just a gun caliber.

How do I sing, Happy birthday to yoooooooooo? Do I leave out "happy?" Do I sing just Birthday to yoooooooooo? Something's missing. Someone is missing. Becca is missing. She was executed by Larry and his gun.

Then there will be all the other incomplete birthdays to suffer through: Her dad's. Her brother's. And each anniversary of Becca's murder. And each of Becca's birthdays she won't have for as long as we each live.

Maybe we should just sing, Bullet to the Head by Rage Against Machine. But the machine we need to rage against is the NRA and the politicians in its pocket who will not only do nothing to stop gun violence, but actively work against anything that might save other families from suffering the loss of a child to gun violence.

I wonder how many executives at the NRA, and how many elected officials would have to lose a child of their own to gun violence before they decide enough innocents have been sacrificed at the altar of the Second Amendment. Hey,Tom Selleck, Wayne LaPierre, Kyle Cox. Hey, Joni Ernst, Mitch McConnell, Tom Cotton, Steve Scalise, Barbara Comstock and John Cornyn. Is all the gun money you get worth all these lives? Is it?

Adults Are the Problem

  |   October 30, 2015    9:18 PM ET

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Benjamin Hart   |   October 30, 2015    3:46 PM ET

Read More: guns

Earlier this month, a jury ordered Badger Guns, one of the country’s most notorious “bad apple” firearms retailers, to pay nearly $6 million to two Milwaukee, Wisconsin, police officers who were shot with a weapon bought at the store in a straw purchase.