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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons From a Skinhead

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

The contents of this post may be sensitive for readers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is Freedom, Anyway?

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

Let me tell you a story.

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

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

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

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

That got me thinking: What is freedom, anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This brings us back to Earl.

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

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

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

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

Sounds familiar? It should.

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

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

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

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

So what is freedom today?

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

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

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

That's our right, I suppose.

That's our freedom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I watched Stephen Colbert.

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

The authors' motivation:

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

Again, like a defective Glock, my brain jammed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's time to get real.


[Cross-posted from HeadButler.com]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More from the AP:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calls to Hinckley's attorneys were not immediately returned.

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

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

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

___

Associated Press writer Pete Yost contributed to this story.

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

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

Straw Today, Stones Tomorrow

Peter Paskale   |   August 7, 2014    3:14 PM ET

As the big bad wolf will gladly confirm, it's way easier to blow-down a house of straw.

And so it is with arguments. An argument made of straw is easier to demolish than one that's made of stone. Why would anybody therefore want to build themselves such a poor and flimsy straw-bale argument?

Precisely because they want to blow it down. All by themselves.

It's such an accepted strategy within communications that is even has a name -- The Straw-Man Fallacy -- and that's why NRA commentator Dom Raso is claiming gun rights should be extended to blind people.

Mr Raso is an awesome speaker. He's also highly credible, and that's important for the success of a Straw Man Fallacy, because the straw-man involves tricking your audience.

Mr Raso's argument is that blind people are being denied their Second Amendment right to carry guns, and on the basis of his evidence, and putting my own views on guns to one side, I would have to say that I agree with him. To deny blind people the same rights as the rest of us would be discrimination unfairly based on a physical disability. This however, is where the straw-man comes in, because the Gun Control Act of 1968 makes no mention of blind people.

While the Act does list various groups who are prohibited from carrying guns, blind people are most definitely not amongst them.

Mr Raso therefore, has powerfully won an argument against a case that doesn't exist, and that doesn't exist for the very reasons that he cites in his video. It's all rather odd and circular, but done for a reason, because creating a Straw Man Fallacy is only stage one of a larger communications strategy:

Step One: The straw-man

Let's say that blind people represent group A. Mr Raso's straw-man has now led you, the audience, to inaccurately believe that blind people are unfairly discriminated against under the Gun Control Act.

Step Two: The demolition

Our speaker builds a powerful case for why that is wrong. He creates and wins a compelling argument against an illusionary target of his own creation.

Step Three: The extension

If Mr. Raso can prove that Argument A demonstrates unfair prejudice, then we as an audience become pre-inclined to believe that maybe groups B & C are also being prejudiced against.

Step Four: The precedent

While Argument A was an illusory straw-man, groups B & C will be real. The successful straw-man however, will have created a precedent under which it can now be successfully argued that groups B & C, who are genuinely listed under the Gun Control Act, should also be able to carry fire-arms.

Maybe I'm being Machiavellian again, but usually when a speaker invokes a straw-man fallacy, it's only step one. Showing how easily you can blow down the house of straw is merely a prelude to panicking the occupants of the house of stones into quitting the building with less of a fight.

Mr. Raso makes a fabulous case. I believe this is the prelude to something bigger.

--

Peter Paskale is a communications coach and analyst who writes The Presenters' Blog at speak2all.wordpress.com.

Good Guy With a Gun

Savas Abadsidis   |   August 7, 2014    1:03 PM ET

Mark Glaze knows guns. The son of a former licensed gun seller from Gunnison, Colorado might seem an unlikely choice for a gun control advocate, yet Glaze, who had spent years as a lawyer, progressive lobbyist and gay activist, found his calling with Mike Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which he helped relaunch as Everytown for Gun Safety. Glaze recently ended his tenure with the organization, and his departure had the unusual distinction of winning praise from both mainstream news outlets -- Reuters credited him with helping build "a leading counterweight to the National Rifle Association" -- and guns.com, which praised him as a "young standout." When it came to his many television appearances for the cause, there was virtually no one who could take on Glaze's personality, rock-solid reasoning and advocacy bona fides. I spoke to Glaze in an exit interview of sorts.

2014-08-05-markglazeguns.jpg Mark Glaze's last day after 3.5 years as executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, then Everytown, in our NYC offices, June 13, 2014. Photo credit: Danny porter.
So, James Brady just died and you recently left your position at Mayors Against Illegal Guns -- do you think these events portend, good or bad omens in terms of gun control legislation?

Nobody is indispensable in life, and Everytown's doing just fine without me, which is both a source of pride and a jagged little pill, to quote Alanis Morissette. But Jim Brady was a star to guide your ship by, and I'm not just talking about what he did for gun policy. Here's a guy who was grievously wounded, and had a very tough road back. Nobody would have blamed him for sitting the rest of his life out. Instead he and Sarah, his great wife, spent their lives and their energy in a way that mattered. It took seven years to pass the law that bears their name -- people like me who are in a hurry, to get things done, forget that. But the background check system they helped build, imperfect as it is, has stopped more than two million felons and other dangerous people from buying guns, and no serious person doubts it's saved thousands of lives. How many people can say that? Not me. It was a life well-lived.

As for the state of the movement, it's stronger than it's been in a generation. To start -- there's an actual movement of millions of people who care about this, and not in a "kinda" way, but in a way that has them signing pledges to vote only for candidates who support common-sense gun laws. In a way that has them holding house parties in Kentucky on weekends to sign up dozens of new allies. Not a lot of issues have that kind of energy behind them today. And that's why states with Democratic and Republic governors -- we're talking about the Scott Walkers and Bobby Jindahls of the world -- are signing bills to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. And those victories will beget more and bigger victories in the states, and ultimately in Congress. We're getting there, faster than people think.

What were the high points of your tenure?

No question that helping arrange the merger of Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns was the high point for me. These moms are the best thing going, in not just our movement, but in any advocacy effort in the country. They're giving us, for the first time in a long time, the chance for symmetrical warfare with the NRA. Because like core NRA voters, they are, to understate the case, intense. They actually get up every morning and care about whether their kids are going to come home safely, and they do something about it, and they are not going away. And the fact that that merger started with a secret meeting in Big Sky, Montana and conversations with Shannon Watts, my colleague Brina Milikowsky and me on a gondola over the summer doesn't hurt. If I had a book in me, which I don't, it would be a cool chapter.

The other high point was passing a universal background check bill in my home state of Colorado. In the relatively short time that bill's been in place, it's already stopped hundreds of prohibited buyers from getting a gun -- every one of them a ticking time bomb. At the same time, 2013 was a banner year for gun sales there. So for me, it's Exhibit A that gun ownership and tough laws to keep firearms out of the wrong hands are totally consistent, and the obvious way forward.

The lows?

After Newtown, when a majority of senators representing a minority of the population blocked what 92 percent of the public, including 74 percent of NRA members and 81 percent of gun owners want: background checks for every gun buyer. It was a low point because we lost, of course, but also because it was one of those moments when it all could have fallen apart -- when people could have lost faith and let the steam go out of the movement and just wandered away. That happens a lot in public policy fights. But instead, they got mad, and got determined, and that loss became the moment that really built a movement. So even that low wasn't so low, in the end.

Why did you decide to you leave?

Like everyone else who worked on guns these past few years, I put a lot of myself into this -- and the "this" started with the Tucson mass shooting, and ran through the Aurora mass shooting, and the Newtown mass shooting, and the tens of thousands of gun murders that happened in those years. And as we were fighting those fights, I think Everytown had a lot to do with breathing life into a dead issue, along with other new organizations. Our own group grew from eight employees to eighty -- most of them in New York City, where I don't live. I loved my job, and the team, but I needed a break from an issue that's emotionally tough. I just spent a week at the beach. I haven't done that in three years.

You've been a lobbyist for a dozen years, do you think that that the system is irrevocably broken?

Badly broken, yes. Completely or irrevocably, no. One of the last consulting projects I worked on before I went to Everytown full-time was a campaign for the Human Rights Campaign aimed at getting the Senate to reverse the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. And we won. Health care reform passed. So big things are still possible, but they're much harder than they should be, and much slower.

The empirical fact is that for great change to happen, great disruption is sometimes needed, often in the form of some cataclysm. Look at money in politics -- which is a blight on our democracy and a national embarrassment. The Watergate scandals -- in which bags of money were literally being delivered to the political party committees -- helped usher in a cohort of reform-minded members of Congress in 1974 who implemented a raft of reforms, including campaign contribution limits. The flood of "soft money" in the 90s led to the McCain-Feingold soft money ban. I don't have any doubt that the Roberts court will continue -- in their friendly, "nothing happening here," incremental way -- whittling away at what remains of campaign finance limits, and the result, sooner or later, will be corruption and scandals that will so shock the system that there will be another wave of reform, sooner than we think.

It's the same with guns. Newtown rebuilt a movement. But it didn't change the federal laws, and there will be another horrendous mass shooting, and another, and another. And some of them will involve gaps in the laws that senators had the opportunity to fix. A felon who avoided a background check by buying from an unlicensed seller on a random website; a high capacity magazine. And sooner or later, Congress will decide they can't defy political gravity forever. And we will have reform.

What would you do to change it?

That's a big question, but one of the major structural problems is the virtual elimination of political competition in Congress. Thanks to self-interested Republicans and Democrats alike -- we're all to blame here -- the number of truly competitive House districts is a relative handful. That means that the majority of seats are safe, there is hydraulic pressure for members in those seats to be more conservative or liberal than moderate, the middle is virtually nonexistent, and compromise is a dirty word and virtually impossible. If I could pick two major and tough reforms, it would be redistricting reform -- each state would have to conduct redistricting through some variant of a nonpartisan commission that would produce more competitive districts -- and, probably, a constitutional amendment that returns to Congress and the states the power to regulate campaign fundraising and spending, including regulating outside groups. It's not the only answer, but until we get the Supreme Court the country deserves, it's a good organizing principal.

What's next?!

I'm consulting on some interesting projects, on my own for now, having some fun and thinking about how to spend the rest of my life. Reader opinions are welcome on that.

Michael S. Rosenwald   |   August 7, 2014    2:21 AM ET

Read More: smart gun, guns, armatix

In nearly 30 years at Heckler & Koch, a legendary German gunmaker, Ernst Mauch designed some of the world’s most lethal weapons, including the one that reportedly killed Osama bin Laden. A state regulator once called him a “rock star” in the industry.

Katla McGlynn   |   August 5, 2014    1:21 PM ET

Gun violence is still a problem that plagues this country daily. But, could the solution be a simple change of weapon?

Comedian Monroe Martin explores one possible solution in this 40-second "Rant" on trading in guns for nunchaku.

Gun lovers might have a hard time trading their bullets for martial arts, but Monroe does make it sound like a viable option (especially for people who love revenge).


Via Now This

  |   August 5, 2014    8:20 AM ET

PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) -- Police say that a 5-year-old playing with a gun shot and injured a 3-year-old girl in Colorado.

The girl was in critical condition but stable condition Monday after the shooting. The Pueblo Chieftain reports ( http://bit.ly/1o8xdqm ) that Pueblo police believe two other children were playing with a handgun in the backyard of a home.

Police say a 9-year-old boy got the handgun from the house and that a 5-year-old got the gun and pointed it at the girl. The gender of the 5-year-old was not disclosed.

The mother of the victim was home at the time and has not been identified by police.

The child who shot the 3-year-old will not be charged with a crime. But the gun owner, 22-year-old Adrian Chavez, was arrested and faces child abuse charges.

Rahel Gebreyes   |   August 4, 2014    6:50 PM ET

From eating habits to sexual activity, doctors ask their patients all types of questions to assess behavior that could create long-term health risks. But now a federal ruling has upheld Florida's Firearm Owners' Privacy Act, officially taking gun-related questions off the table and drawing criticism from doctors and even a few gun owners, too.

Susan Leigh Borgesi, a gun owner and mother of two, told HuffPost Live on Monday that the law had gone “too far.”

“I don't feel like the legislature should step in and tell a doctor and his or her patient what they should be discussing, particularly when it comes to owning guns,” she told host Nancy Redd. “It certainly is a health risk to have a gun in the home, especially if you may have, perhaps, domestic violence in the home [or] a suicidal person in the home. It is definitely something that a doctor should be able to talk to their patients about.”

Borgesi suggested that much of the support for the “docs vs. glocks” ruling could be the result of misinformation.

“There’s a lot of fear-mongering going on out there because people ... have been taught that one particular party over another political party might want to take guns away from all Americans, which I don’t find to be realistic,” she said.

Despite the scare tactics, Borgesi explained why she doesn’t feel that her second amendment rights are at risk.

“Just because we’re talking about gun safety and responsible gun ownership, we’re not talking about taking away your rights,” she said. “We’re just talking about being responsible with the power that comes with owning a gun.”

Watch the full HuffPost Live conversation here.

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Can Gun Control Advocates Ever Wield As Much Influence As The NRA? A Test Case

Mike Weisser   |   August 4, 2014    2:48 PM ET

Several months ago I wrote a blog in which I pointed out that Mike Bloomberg's access to media at all levels would make him a formidable opponent of the NRA when it came to talking to non-gun owners about guns. The NRA has a lock on communicating with the gun-owning community, but a majority of Americans don't own guns. So how do you engage this usually-silent majority to counteract the power and influence of the NRA? Well here was a good test case.

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a bill introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) that more clearly defines domestic violence and strengthens what is already a federal prohibition against the purchase of guns by individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse. The NRA opposed it rather quietly, sending a non-public letter to some senators, but so far avoiding any public comment on the debate. They did get Joyce Malcolm, a law professor, to show up and lecture the Senate panel on the dangers of restricting the 2nd Amendment, but their stealth approach to this issue reflects the fact that they have been making a major marketing push towards women as owners and users of guns and opposing domestic abuse laws would, from the perspective of most women, put them on the wrong side. Even the NRA finds that 2nd Amendment "rights" take a back seat to marketing strategies.

It can't be said, however, that Mike Bloomberg shares the NRA's reluctance to make a lot of public noise over this issue. On the eve of the Senate hearing, Everytown ran a 30-second television spot in media markets covering territories belonging to Senators Kelly Ayotte, Jeff Flake and Dean Heller, three Republicans who last year voted against the Manchin-Toomey compromise after Sandy Hook and whom, it is felt, may this time with Klobuchar's bill, be swayed to go the other way. The ad is pretty dramatic and the Everytown website also contains a quick-click method to send a message to Ayotte, Heller and Flake.

Last month the Everytown group won a big one when their pressure pushed the mega-retailer Target to issue a public statement requesting that shoppers refrain from bringing guns into their stores. Target's decision was a slap in the face of the NRA which has been pushing a roll-back of gun-free zones as part of their strategy to widen the acceptance of concealed-carry laws. But the strategy used by Bloomberg's group against Target was, if you'll pardon the pun, a very targeted affair. Inviting local media to a picket-line around a store entrance is one thing; inundating elected officials with emails and calls is quite another. The latter tactic has always been seen as a major weapon in the NRA's arsenal for swaying votes. For the first time, the other side in the gun debate seems to be doing the same thing.

It's not really the number of phone calls or emails that makes politicians respond. It's a less tangible thing that we call the intensity of the folks sending their messages, a devotion to the cause that the NRA has diligently developed amongst its membership over many years. When something terrible and high-profile occurs like Sandy Hook, it's not very difficult to get a grassroots response from either side. But a Senate hearing isn't usually the stuff that makes for media buzz, so it will be interesting to see the degree to which Bloomberg's group can generate a grassroots response to their ad. If they do, the playing field that has been tilted for so long in the NRA's direction may just start moving back the other way.