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Expand Background Checks for Guns. But First, Reform the ATF.

Mike Weisser   |   November 3, 2014    8:15 AM ET

When it was revealed in December, 2010 that U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed with a gun that had been "walked" out of an Arizona gun shop as part of an ATF-managed gun-running operation called Fast and Furious, to put it politely, all hell broke loose. Guns "walk" out of a gun store when someone has been allowed to commit a "straw" purchase with the knowledge and approval of law enforcement, in this case, the ATF. A straw purchase is a serious federal felony because someone who can pass the required background check is, in fact, buying the gun for someone who can't. Straw sales are considered the primary method by which guns get into the wrong hands and the ATF conducts random inspections of licensed dealers in order to identify such sales.

The ATF has been responsible for regulating federally-licensed gun dealers since the passage of the Federal Firearms Act in 1938. This law, for the first time required interstate gun transfers to be made via licensed dealers (the license cost a buck), and also required dealers to sell guns only to residents of their own state. The law was strengthened by the Gun Control Act of 1968, which established categories of "prohibited" persons (felons, fugitives, etc.) to whom guns could not be sold, required dealers to verify the identity of the purchaser and to retain records of each sale. The ATF, which was a small operation within Internal Revenue Service under the Department of the Treasury, was given authority and additional resources to conduct gun-shop inspections to make sure that dealers were following the law.

The role of the ATF expanded again with the passage of the Brady Bill in 1994. This law created the instant background check system which allows the FBI to examine court records of anyone before the public purchase of a gun. The law requires dealers not only to verify the identification of the purchaser, but also to withhold delivery of the gun if the FBI, based on background check results indicates that the sale should not go through. If a dealer allows purchases to be consummated without a background check, or does not exercise diligence in verifying the identity of the buyer, once again ATF gets into the act.

If the current argument over expanding background checks to all gun transfers ends up in the elimination of private sales, the result will be a further widening of the firearm regulatory infrastructure and a greater degree of authority vested in the ATF. And because the debate over background checks has focused entirely on whether such checks will actually reduce crime, the issue of fixing the regulatory system has been largely ignored. Some Republicans whine that the system isn't working because the ATF's activities result in just a handful of gun prosecutions each year. But the issue isn't really whether the criminal enforcement of gun regulations should be stepped up. After reading thousands of pages of government documents on Fast and Furious, I believe the regulatory system itself may be in need of a serious overhaul to get things really fixed.

The ATF encouraged gun dealers to make these Fast and Furious sales which, in every single case, required the dealer to violate federal regulatory laws that the ATF is supposed to enforce. More than 2,000 weapons walked out of gun shops because the ATF believed that busting an important gun-running operation would, for the first time, heighten ATF's role and value in the federal law enforcement scheme of things. ATF is brought in on all crimes that involve guns, but the dirty little secret is that picking up the gun counts very little, it's all about catching and convicting the guy who used a gun to commit the crime.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against expanding background checks to cover private sales. But until the ATF's role in federal law enforcement is clearly defined and understood, just giving them more gun transactions to regulate could create more problems than it solves.

By STEVE PEOPLES   |   October 29, 2014    8:23 AM ET

SEATTLE (AP) — She has delivered the same 64-word speech eight times already, but Gabby Giffords is struggling to get through the ninth.

"Together, we can win elections," the former Arizona congresswoman tells her Seattle audience before starting to stumble.

After a moment of confused silence, an aide whispers the next line, and Giffords continues the broken sentence: "... change our laws."

Four years after she was shot in the head and went on to inspire millions with her recovery, Giffords is as committed as ever to pushing for tighter gun-control laws. But in the final days of this year's midterm elections, few candidates are willing to rally to her cause. There's little to suggest those elected next week will pursue the changes she seeks in the nation's gun laws.

As Giffords visited nine states in the past two weeks, the National Rifle Association was working in at least 30, with advertising and get-out-the-vote manpower, to strengthen its position in Washington and state capitals. She will be widely outspent this year by the NRA and others who support the rights of gun owners.

Two days after Giffords' appearance in Seattle, a 15-year-old high school student shot and killed two people and killed himself in an attack north of the city that seriously wounded three others. The shooting has barely made a ripple in the final days of the campaign.

"Long, hard haul," Giffords told The Associated Press in a brief interview after her Seattle event, using one of the short phrases that now dominate her speech.

In part by design, but also in recognition of the country's political landscape, not a single candidate in this year's midterm elections for statewide or federal office appeared with Giffords as she made her way from Maine to Washington state over 10 days.

She drew visits from Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, both Democrats, neither running for re-election next month.

"If this happened in March or December or any other time, we'd have asked other politicians to join," said Marti Anderson, an Iowa state lawmaker who helped organize a Giffords event in Des Moines. "But it's risky 15 days before an election."

Instead, Giffords took part in a series of discussions about domestic violence in smaller venues such as a Des Moines public library and a high school classroom in Portland, Oregon. With the Senate majority at stake, Giffords isn't running television ads in states where Democratic incumbents are seeking re-election, among them North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Hampshire.

The exception is Iowa, where her group announced plans this week to run television ads against Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst. "Joni Ernst won't vote to close the loophole that lets some dangerous people still get guns," Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald says in the ad set to run through Election Day.

Said Pia Carusone, Giffords' longtime chief aide, "We went in knowing we had to be strategic and careful."

The NRA has no such concerns. The powerful gun-rights lobby has spent more than $27.3 million this year on elections in at least 27 states through Oct. 15, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Giffords' organization, by contrast, has spent just $6.6 million in seven states.

The financial advantage is just one piece of the NRA's strength.

"Anyone who tries to gauge the National Rifle Association by money alone is making a huge mistake," said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam, citing 5 million dues-paying members and many more voters who look to his organization for guidance on how to vote on Election Day.

Arulanandam said he's grateful that Giffords is "on the mend and getting better every day," but he criticized her political goals. "People realize that regardless of what she says, her endgame is similar to Michael Bloomberg and President Obama, which is draconian gun control," he said.

Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, have gone to great lengths to rebut such criticism. Recently, with little sign that an effort to adopt universal background checks will pass in Congress, Giffords has focused on promoting a measure that would prevent convicted stalkers and abusive "dating partners" from accessing guns.

In a letter opposing the measure, the NRA says it "manipulates emotionally compelling issues such as 'domestic violence' and 'stalking' simply to cast as wide a net as possible for federal firearm prohibitions."

Giffords' team was initially hopeful, but it now concedes that the bill is not likely to come up in Congress' lame-duck session. And while the mood was largely positive during Giffords' tour, the frustration they're not connecting with voters this election season was evident.

"It's hard not to be, as a person in this country, disappointed by the lack of response," Carusone said. "But we're not surprised. We knew this wouldn't be easy."

Guns 'N Poses

Justin Frank   |   October 28, 2014    5:25 PM ET

A second teenage girl has died as a result of Friday's shooting at a Washington state high school. Several others students remain in critical condition.

In a nation preoccupied by Ebola, most people have become numb to yet another school shooting. A new case of Ebola captures much more attention. And in this shooting, the number of dead is already too low to attract significant media attention or print press coverage.

Numbing can be dangerous, though initially it serves to protect the psyche from potentially overwhelming anxiety. As we get used to horrific events we begin to distance ourselves from whatever emotional turmoil they might cause.

The obvious difference between gun violence and Ebola is that nobody defends the rights of Ebola victims to possess the virus. The number of deaths in the United States from gun violence itself has a numbing effect on even those who favor stricter gun control laws. It just gets repeated frequently and then compared to the small numbers of people killed by guns in any European country.

The obvious similarity between gun violence and Ebola is that both give rise to primitive fears. The former is fear of being attacked and of being defenseless against an external threat, much the way a child feels about an abusive parent. The latter is the fear of being contaminated and poisoned by a small speck of invisible substance that also enters from outside but that will kill us from the inside.

Quarantines and protective garb seek to block all germs from entering the body. Anti-immigration advocates seek to protect "their" United States from foreign contamination. But with guns, we use a mechanism of defense first expressed by abused children -- we threaten to bully those weaker than ourselves. The old story of the man who kicks his son who kicks the dog is at play here, and describes the problem clearly: I will not be afraid of your gun if I have my own.

Having a gun may be a prop to protect gun owners from unresolved childhood fears, primarily the fear of a menacingly unpredictable parent. Carrying a gun may make one feel emboldened at first, but over time, feelings of distrust and paranoia may recur. Sometimes the objects of fear change; now the NRA fears gun regulation as much as it does criminals. A further source of insecurity arises from the very fact that owning guns increases feelings of possibility.

At another high school, this one in Nebraska, graduating students can pose for their yearbook pictures while holding a gun. Acknowledging that such pictures might invite gun violence, the superintendent of that high school told the press that that they would only publish pictures that were "tasteful and appropriate."

Young people frightened of the future -- of uncertainty in the adult world -- can boost their self-confidence posing with a firearm. Most of the photographs ring hollow, however, and depict young people revealing a need to triumph over fear. And guns offer an easy way -- easier than thinking or talking -- to solve problems. As a side effect, the whole process leaves much unsaid -- such as the idea that girls are property to be possessed, fought over, or even killed if they reject a boy that needs a gun to express his otherwise inexpressible shame, hurt, and rage.

  |   October 28, 2014    2:04 AM ET


Oct 27 (Reuters) - A grandfather shot dead his daughter, granddaughter and then turned the gun on himself on Monday in a Seattle home, authorities said.

Officers received a call at around 8:15 p.m. from a 10-year-old boy who was inside the home and said his grandfather threatened his mother and sister with a handgun before he shot them, the Seattle Police Department said.

The boy ran from the home as the man, who police described as being in his 60s, shot himself. The identities of the shooter and the victims were not provided, and further details were not immediately available.

The Seattle Times newspaper reported that the granddaughter was in her teens, citing a police spokesman.

Police said they were investigating. (Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco)

If ISIS Had Committed the 11 School Shootings Since Sandy Hook, Congress Would Have Declared War.

H. A. Goodman   |   October 27, 2014    9:34 AM ET

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There's a reason why Americans make the pristine delineation between "radical Islamic terror" and "just another crazy person" intent on killing innocent people, or any of the other massive threats to our wellbeing (suicide, drunk driving, etc.) that are quickly glossed over by the majority of citizens. The hooded terrorist brandishing a knife on video incites enough passion to make 41 percent of Americans believe that U.S. ground troops should be sent back to Iraq; even after the counterinsurgency war ended in 2011 without a clear winner and even after the ongoing VA crisis. On the other hand, the disgruntled teen with a gun (even though gun violence kills more Americans than terrorism) never results in emails being read by the NSA or diatribes about the evils of Islam. The reason for such discrepancy in emotional reaction is because Americans see threats as neatly marketed, bite sized morsels where danger never resides in a grey area; ISIS makes for better television than discussing the causes of suicide. To be fair to gun advocates, the causes of suicide and the reasons why active shooters kill innocent people have nothing to do with inanimate objects. There are aspects of our society that have desensitized individuals to the point where others have to suffer for their problems and many people are forced to end their lives as opposed to continuing their existence due to complex issues. Not everything can be blamed on weapons, especially since killers in China murder children in nurseries with knives, but guns do play a factor in American violence. Furthermore, "terror" is almost always what others can do to us, not what we can do to ourselves.

Adam Lanza is rightfully the personification evil to most people, however we process this evil in a uniquely American manner. If this monster had a Muslim name, links to ISIS, and committed the horrific and unspeakable act of murdering 20 innocent children and 6 staff in an American elementary school in the name of "radical Islamic terror," the NRA would have sung a different tune. Republicans and conservatives everywhere would be in a frenzy, calls for war would be heard from both sides of the aisle, and the American people would be fixated on the next Muslim terrorist planning to kill our youth. Multiply this paranoia by at least 11 "planned mass shootings at a school since Sandy Hook" and ask yourself what would have consumed our society as a result of these murders.

According to Harvard University, mass shootings are on the rise:

The rate of mass shootings in the United States has tripled since 2011, according to a new analysis by researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and Northeastern University. In the last three years, there have been 14 mass shootings--defined as public attacks in which the shooter and victims were generally unknown to each other and four or more people were killed--occurring on average every 64 days. During the previous 29 years, mass shootings occurred on average every 200 days.

If the 14 mass shootings cited by Harvard were the result of Muslims killing in the name of Islam, how would our society have reacted? Is "terror" only the beheading of a journalist on video or it is also the madman who enters a movie theater and sprays the moviegoers with bullets?

No, the fact that mass shootings take place in this country does not mitigate (nor does it condone in any way) the threat posed by ISIS, al-Qaeda, or any other terrorist who utilizes Islam, or any other religion, to justify the killing of innocent people. If this is your reaction to the arguments presented in this article, rest assured that I am vehemently against everything terrorists stand for and represent. However, Ebola and ISIS have dominated the news for a reason and other far more serious threats to our nation never seem to make the headlines in a similar manner.

American deaths from suicide, mass shootings, drunk driving, gang violence, illegal drug addiction, and other dangers never elicit the same emotions in our country as a beheading video. In 2012, MADD states that 10,322 Americans died in drunk driving accidents and 290,000 people were injured in drunk driving crashes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has attributed "88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2006 -- 2010" to excessive alcohol consumption. As for drug use, according to RAND data Americans spend $28.3 billion on cocaine, $27 billion on heroin, and $13 billion on meth. Thus, according to the CDC, "Every day in the United States, 114 people die as a result of drug overdose, and another 6,748 are treated in emergency departments (ED) for the misuse or abuse of drugs." America's drug addiction correlates directly to the scourge of drug cartels on the border-who do you think they're selling to? As for gang violence, the CDC states that "Homicide is the second leading cause of death among persons aged 15-24 years in the United States." From 2007-2012, The National Gang Center reports that there were an average of 2,000 gang homicides annually.

Regarding suicide, this silent killer for some reason doesn't makes the nightly news. In 2010, Harvard University states that 19,392 people committed suicide using a gun in the United States. The Washington Post reports that the same people we send to fight terror have a much higher suicide rate than the average American:

The Pentagon report Friday also showed that suicides among reservists and National Guard troops actually increased by 8 percent last year. Overall, 289 active-duty troops committed suicide last year, compared with 343 in 2012. Among reservists and National Guard personnel, the number rose from 140 to 152 over the same period.

As for veterans, from 2008-2014, an average of 22 veterans committed suicide every day according to Breitbart.com. The fact that more people have heard about Ebola and ISIS in the past month than the suicide epidemic among veterans and soldiers speaks volumes about American society and what we view as threats to our nation.

To inquire as to why there's such a deep chasm of sentiment between the various dangers we face and the word "terror" does not, in any way, condone the genocidal and dastardly acts of terrorists like ISIS. That being said, we've waged two wars and somewhat altered our ideals (especially pertaining to privacy, torture, drones, and other aspects of our war against terror) in order to keep our nation safe from groups like al-Qaeda. Therefore, let's analyze the terror threat. From 2009 to 2013, between 9 and 19 Americans died annually from terrorism according to numbers compiled by the U.S. Department of State. In 2013, the State Department lists 16 Americans (not counting the three citizens murdered in the Boston Marathon Bombing) who died from terrorism. As for terrorism worldwide, we might be waging a war against terror in order to protect people in other countries. The State Department explains the scope of terrorism abroad, compared to its impact in America:

In 2013, a total of 9,707 terrorist attacks occurred worldwide, resulting in more than 17,800 deaths and more than 32,500 injuries. In addition, more than 2,990 people were kidnapped or taken hostage...

The ten countries that experienced the most terrorist attacks in 2013 are the same as those that experienced the most terrorist attacks in 2012. The ranking in terms of total attacks increased for Iraq, the Philippines, and Syria, decreased for Pakistan, Nigeria, Yemen, and Somalia, and remained the same for Afghanistan, India, and Thailand...

For the vast majority of terrorist attacks in Iraq (84.1%), no perpetrator group was identified. Of the remaining attacks, more than 98 percent were attributed to al-Qa'ida in Iraq, which began referring to itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in 2013.

The phrase, "which began referring to itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in 2013" explains how al-Qaeda has rebranded itself in 2014. Also, while 19 Americans died in 2013, over 17,800 people (who were not American) died from terrorism.

Finally, let's say that none of the arguments presented here make sense and that everything I've written is convoluted and ignores the real danger of ISIS. Therefore, one would expect Congress to decide upon whether or not we should declare war, correct? Wrong. As stated by novelist, journalist, and Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Tom Young in his latest Huffington Post piece titled, "What You Owe Your Military," Congress has deliberately ignored its responsibilities for the sake of politics:

In an act of appalling political cowardice, the 113th Congress left Washington in September refusing to vote on or even debate an Authorization for Use of Military Force against ISIS. Leaders offered lame excuses.

... As you read this, military aircrews are likely suiting up for their next sorties against ISIS. Unlike members of Congress, they don't get to wait until it's more politically expedient.

Even with all the Republicans bemoaning Obama's tyranny, and all the Democrats claiming that the Iraq War was a mistake, Congress in aggregate doesn't have the courage or conviction to make a decision pertaining to ISIS. What does that tell you about the threat you see nightly on the news?

There's a greater chance that the average American dies from gun violence in this country than from an ISIS sleeper cell or Ebola. The real threats and dangers to America aren't terrorism, they're killers like the causes of suicide, or the guy who drank too much after a party running you over at night. The real problem is that none of these dangers make for good television, or incite "outrage" so we simply chalk them up as part of life. We rationalize violence and death in order to suit our political sensibilities and as Americans, we view the hooded terrorists "over there" as a greater threat than the active shooter wreaking havoc on our schools. Ultimately, as a sad testament to where we're at as a society, if the mass shootings in this country were done "in the name of Islam," Congress would have already acted on a declaration of war. To state this reality doesn't mitigate terrorism, it simply highlights the disingenuous manner we view violence and death, as well as the pandering nature of our politicians.

The Gun Debate Will Reawaken With Ottawa Shooting

Gil Laroya   |   October 23, 2014   11:52 AM ET

Love them or hate them, guns are continually showing up in the headlines. What has changed the face of the gun debate is the increased number of shootings around the world. Whether it be from war, terrorism, mentally unstable citizens or rogue police, the question of guns in society will slowly force its way back to the top of people's minds. The question of whether or not to ban guns outright or to better regulate them is a hot-button issue with almost every American. Is there a middle ground to gun rights?

Guns have been a part of our society for generations. In my own family, I grew up with guns, having a dad in the U.S. Marine Corp and a grandpa in the U.S. Army. Like having a skateboard or a dog, having guns in our home was never a question. Guns were respected for what they were but were never associated with anything evil. Even with all the news about various shootings, assassination attempts and murders, the thought that guns were "evil tools of death" never came to mind.

Americans who are for gun rights point to the Second Amendment, which talks about the right to bear arms. But the reality is that laws and rights can be interpreted in many ways, giving light to both sides of the argument. In theory, one can find ways to support either side, depending on whether you're a gun advocate or a gun hater. Debates that reply on laws and rights will always eventually end up locked in court battles, but that does little to solve the current crop of gun-related problems.

There are large institutions like the NRA that gather pro-gun folks in attempts to fight those who would ban guns from U.S. citizens. The NRA, while started as a grassroots organization to help gun advocates find a voice, has grown to such a size that it is seen as more of a bully than an advocate. Outrageous claims that guns should be in teachers' hands or carried around in every Starbucks can be incredibly dangerous -- "Would you like a shootout to go with your tall latte?"

The incident in Ottawa yesterday puts an exclamation point on the benefits of guns -- when in the right hands, at the right time. Note that if either of these qualifiers is not met, then there is no guarantee that a gun will be used safely or socially. If a gun is in the wrong hands, like the Sandy Hook case of a mentally unstable person, then disaster is the result. The Ottawa case is an example of the right hands and the right time. If Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers had happened to forget his gun at home that day, who knows how many more people would have been killed?

Anti-gun advocates call for guns to be banned altogether from citizens. Although it sounds nice, the reality is that bans only take away guns from law-abiding people who register their weapons. We see cases of this in England, where even constables are limited in their ability to carry guns, that show bad guys shooting at unarmed cops who end up hiding behind their Fiats while being shot at. One of the biggest arguments for gun rights is the mere fact that crooks don't follow laws to begin with. This means that the bad guy keeps his AK-47 while lawful citizens are forced to turn their guns in.

This same effect is an issue with our U.S. immigration policy, where law-abiding undocumented immigrants, who work and pay taxes, get deported simply because they registered with the government, while undocumented immigrants who come here to sell drugs are protected because they can hide so easily. Such is the case with crooks with guns, because they typically use stolen or unregistered guns.

I'm glad that Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers had his gun that day. And I'm glad for every day that guns save countless lives in the hands of good people, like soldiers, guards and law enforcement. Sure, there are issues, and nobody is perfect. But bad guys don't care about bans or laws when they have guns to work with.

It's a tough call to try to ban something that only takes away from good people.

How many more shootings have to happen until people realize this?

Are You More Homicidal Than This Alabama 5-Year-Old?

Lester & Charlie   |   October 17, 2014   11:31 AM ET

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This week's poll from the Lester & Charlie Institute of Forward Thinking!

"Mommy? Daddy? What is homicide?"

This week, school officials in Alabama put a 5-year-old girl on a suicide and homicide watch after she pointed a crayon at a kindergarten classmate and said "pew! pew!"

Yes, this is real. The 5-year-old, identified only as Elizabeth, is said to have drawn a picture resembling a gun before picking up the deadly crayon and going "pew! pew!" - which, in America, could mean that she's a homicidal maniac!

The girl was then forced to sign a contract declaring that she pinky-promises not to kill herself or her classmates.

Of course, seeing as the girl is only 5, the school first had to take time to educate the toddler on what the words homicide and suicide mean. After making that clear -- preferably with film strips and stick figures, or perhaps a friendly demonstration of Russian Roulette -- they asked her if she was depressed. And then they forced her to undergo a psych evaluation questionnaire which assessed "Past thoughts of hurting self," "Current thoughts of suicide," and "Frequency of suicidal ideas." All because she made a gun noise with a crayon.

Is Alabama being a bit... alarmist? Granted, all Americans are on edge these days. John McCain can see Ebola and ISIL crossing the border from his porch, Robin Thicke says he didn't write "Blurred Lines," Mitt Romney is trying to be funny and Michael Bloomberg is no doubt plotting to take over the country and ban the holes in Swiss cheese.

But is it a fret too far for the good people of Alabama to think that a kindergartener, armed with a crayon -- in drawing class - is an immediate threat?

The 5-year-old's mother, identified as Rebecca, is livid. As for the anti-suicide/homicide contract her daughter was forced to sign, Rebecca pointed out that "most of these words on here, she's never heard in her life." Well, she's heard them now.

We don't know what happened to the girl -- aside from being evaluated and then sent home from school for the day. But we're worried. Because an operative at the Lester & Charlie Institute of Forward Thinking got a hold of the "psych evaluation questionnaire" that Alabama school officials are administering to suspected homicidal kindergartners.

Yes, we have the actual questionnaire -- and it's a doozy. It seems a bit unfair to expect a 5-year-old -- or anyone -- to figure out how to answer these questions the way the psych evaluators want them to. See for yourself. Take the Alabama psych quiz for kindergartners and find out: Are you more homicidal than a 5-year-old?

"Are you more homicidal than a 5-year-old?"

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Click here to take the test!

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Alexander C. Kaufman   |   October 16, 2014    5:50 PM ET

Walmart has removed ammunition from the shelves of several St. Louis-area stores amid renewed protests against police brutality.

Employees removed bullets and ammunition after demonstrators gathered outside Walmart stores in Ferguson and Maplewood, Missouri on Monday, CBS-affiliate KMOV-TV reported.

"If there is a history of violence and looting and other activity that are going on or things that are putting associates and customers at risk -- then yes, decisions can be made based on those circumstances," Walmart spokesman Brian Nick told KMOV.

Bullets were removed from some stores in the area on Monday, and were gone from several by Wednesday. It's unclear whether this was a coordinated effort among the stores.

Tensions in the area have simmered since Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in Ferguson this August. Things reached a boiling point in recent weeks, partially fueled by the release in late September of a video that showed white police officers shooting John Crawford III, a black man killed in early August after wielding a pellet gun in a Walmart in Ohio.

Now, as a St. Louis County grand jury weighs whether to bring charges against Wilson, some of the scattered gatherings of protesters in the area have fixated on Walmart.

More than 50 people were arrested Monday night, several inside the Maplewood Walmart, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Though the ammunition was removed from shelves and locked up in the back of the stores, it was still available for purchase at the Ferguson location, which was looted in August in riots that broke out the day after Brown's death.

This isn't the first time Walmart has pulled firearms and associated merchandise from its shelves amid tensions. Following the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the world's largest retailer yanked a semiautomatic assault rifle from its website. However, the gun remained available in some stores, The Wall Street Journal reported.

That move, in turn, was not without precedent. In 2001, following protests marking two years since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado, Kmart stores across the country pulled ammunition from their shelves.

Walmart did not immediately respond to a request from The Huffington Post for comment.

These Abusers Aren't Allowed To Own Guns. So Why Aren't States Removing Them?

Melissa Jeltsen   |   October 14, 2014    4:33 PM ET

On the worst night of her life, Nicole Beverly was beaten almost unconscious by her husband and then forced to sit beside him as he loaded and unloaded his gun, threatening to kill her. “I was sure I was going to die,” she told The Huffington Post.

Paralyzed with fear, it took her five months to tell anyone about the abuse and seek help. One crisp Michigan morning she did, filing a restraining order and fleeing with her two children. But after Beverly was granted the order, she was horrified to find out that the gun her husband had used to terrorize her remained in his possession.

Under the 1996 Lautenberg amendment to the Federal Gun Control Act, people who are subject to permanent domestic violence restraining orders can’t own or buy guns. (The law generally doesn’t apply to dating partners or temporary restraining orders, although there are legislative efforts underway to change that.)

But Michigan -- like most states -- doesn’t have a law requiring people with domestic violence restraining orders to actually surrender their firearms to authorities. Without a mandatory state process in place to remove his guns, Beverly's husband was left armed and dangerous.

“I was told by the judge that it was the expectation that when someone is served a restraining order that they will turn in their weapons. Of course he didn't turn in his weapons because he wanted to harm me and he does not follow rules in general,” she wrote in an email to HuffPost. “I had to call the judge and probation officers repeatedly and send emails regarding my concerns before he ordered that my ex-husband finally turn his weapons over. It was absolutely ridiculous and terrifying that the court would leave something like that in the hands of the abusive individuals.”

Across the country, states are failing to keep guns out of the hands of abusers who are prohibited under federal law from having them. According to data collected by Everytown For Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention group begun by Mike Bloomberg, the majority of states don't have legislation that's equivalent to federal restrictions. That's important: While an abuser may be barred federally from owning guns, without a state law on the books, local and state prosecutors can't bring charges against him.

As the map below shows, only 23 states and Washington, D.C., prohibit people with domestic violence restraining orders from owning or buying guns.

Just 15 states take this law a step further, requiring that firearms be surrendered once a qualifying restraining order is issued. So while Michigan, where Beverly was living at the time of her abuse, is one of the states that prohibits abusers subject to restraining orders from owning guns, it doesn't mandate that abusers relinquish their weapons.


Infographic by Jan Diehm for The Huffington Post.

In the map above, states without shading have varying laws around the issue. Some states allow but do not require judges to prohibit abusers subject to restraining orders from owning guns, or to order abusers to surrender their guns. In these situations, the judge can use his or her discretion.

Around three U.S. women a day are killed by intimate partners, according to several domestic violence advocacy groups, including the National Network To End Domestic Violence. Experts on the topic say that women are in the most danger when leaving a relationship -- and that’s why it’s imperative that authorities prioritize disarming abusers once a restraining order is granted.

“Often times, when she takes out that order of protection, she’s testing the relationship to find out if she can safely leave, and she’s testing the system to find out if they honor and respect what she says she needs help with,” said Kit Gruelle, an advocate who has worked with domestic violence survivors for 30 years. “Unfortunately, for some women these pieces of paper do become their last will and testament.”

There are no national statistics on the percentage of domestic homicide victims who had restraining orders against their killers at their time of death, but research has indicated that restraining orders are violated around 40 percent of the time. There's also some evidence that strengthening gun laws for abusers may save lives: According to one study, states that restrict abusers subject to restraining orders from accessing guns have been associated with reduced rates of domestic homicides.

One argument against gun restrictions is that if an abuser is determined to kill, he’ll find another way. David Adams, a psychologist who has interviewed dozens of batterers who killed their victims and wrote the book Why Do They Kill?: Men Who Murder Their Intimate Partners, said that the research suggests otherwise.

“Having interviewed killers about this, there’s a moment of time and a window of opportunity for them to kill,” he said. “Many of the killers said something to the effect of ‘24 hours before the incident, I couldn't stop thinking about her, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat,’ really obsessed. If they have a gun during that opportunity and access to her, it was going happen. If they didn’t have a gun, that moment may have forever passed.”

One study found that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely a woman will be murdered by her abuser. Over half of all women killed by intimate partners between 2001 to 2012 were killed using a gun, according to the Center for American Progress.

Adams said the more time that passes post-separation, the safer it becomes for the victim. “Confiscating a gun from someone who is prone to these impulsive acts of retribution is incredibly important -- really the difference between life and death,” he said.

In 2014, six states passed laws that will help keep guns out of the hands of abusers. The legislation varies in each state, from requiring that abusers subject to restraining orders surrender their weapons to giving teeth to existing surrender laws.

The recent progress is credited to a dramatic shift in position by the National Rifle Association, which has long stood firmly in the way of state efforts to strengthen gun laws. As HuffPost previously reported, over the past year or so, the gun lobbying group has scaled back its opposition to domestic violence bills.

For survivors of domestic violence like Beverly, just knowing that abusers have been stripped of their guns can offer some needed emotional relief.

"I knew his guns were the easiest way for him to kill me," she said. "With a gun, he wouldn't have to be in as close of proximity to harm me as with a knife or his fists, and my chances of survival would be much lower."

Beverly's ex-husband is now in prison after repeatedly violating the restraining order and stalking her.

"While I know that there are many illegal ways to purchase firearms in this country and that he could have easily bought another gun on the street, knowing that he didn't have easy access to his own guns did lessen my anxiety," she said. "Having a loaded gun pointed at your head is not something that you ever forget."

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

ALANNA DURKIN   |   October 14, 2014    8:28 AM ET

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords will begin a nine-state tour in Maine, where she will advocate for tougher gun laws that she says will help protect women and families.

The former Democratic congresswoman from Arizona, who was severely wounded in a 2011 shooting in Tucson that killed six people, will seek to elevate the issue of gun violence against women and push for state and federal action to make it more difficult for domestic abusers to access firearms.

What We Can Learn From the 188-Page Report on the Aurora Theater Shooting

Mike Weisser   |   October 13, 2014   12:49 PM ET

This week an official report commissioned by the Aurora city government about the July 20, 2012 theater shooting was released. The report was the work of the System Planning Corporation, whose TriData Division conducts detailed reviews of responses to emergency situations, including the mass shootings at Columbine, Virginia Tech and the University of Illinois. So they know what they're doing and the 188-page report is a serious and sober assessment of what was done right at Aurora and what was done wrong.

What was done right, first and foremost, was the immediate, quick and effective response of cops and firefighters to an emergency situation that can only be described as utter chaos. The first police unit arrived at the scene within two minutes after the first 911 call, by which time hundreds of theater-goers were milling around, many bloodied and in shock, others wounded, others worried about friends whom they couldn't find and, worst of all, nobody knowing whether the shooter or shooters were still inside the building or were moving from one theater to another.

The good news is that multiple police units arrived quickly at the scene, began looking for the gunman and assisting or controlling the panic-stricken crowd. Police units also made what was termed an "unprecedented" decision to transport shooting victims to hospitals in their own cars, rather than waiting for ambulances or other medical units to take charge. According to the report, had police cars "not been used for rapid transport of seriously wounded victims, more likely would have died."

The bad news was that there was no unified command or communication system linking the police to fire/EMS personnel. As a result, there was confusion in moving ambulances closer to victims, as well as assessing the risk to EMS personnel who needed to get into the theater in order to deal with victims who were still inside. The coordination between agencies was not resolved until nearly an hour passed after the shooting began, and numerous communications between first-responders were either lost or misunderstood. What probably saved additional lives was the fact that one of the first police officers to gain entrance to the theater was trained as a paramedic and thus able to make triage decisions until the situation was brought under control.

The report also contains suggestions for managers of theaters and other places where large groups are gathered and shootings might occur. Chief among these recommendations is what the report calls public education, "inform the public of appropriate measures if caught in a shooting situation." And the appropriate responses to a shooter are to flee, hide, and if neither is possible, to attack. Physical resistance to shooters, according to the Police Executive Research Forum, reflects a recognition that shooters now use high-capacity, semi-automatic weapons that may inflict severe tolls even if police respond, as in Aurora, in under minutes from the first shots being fired.

The flee, hide, fight strategy, which is best described in a video produced by the Houston PD, doesn't take into account the ability of armed citizens to resist an active shooter by pulling out and using their own guns. And we all know what Wayne LaPierre says, "only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Except there's only one little problem. It's not true. The recent FBI report on active shootings disclosed that in 160 incidents between 2000 and 2013, only one shooting was stopped by a civilian armed with a gun.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not in any way opposed to using a gun or anything else for genuine, self-defense. But I am opposed to the shameless pandering of the NRA and other gun promoters to the childish fantasy that if you walk around with a gun, that you're protecting yourself or others from harm. SWAT teams and other special response units train constantly - hundreds of hours -- making themselves ready to use guns. Do you really think that sitting on your duff watching a video amounts to the same thing?

"Mom, What's a Lockdown Drill?"

Tristan Higgins   |   October 10, 2014    1:35 PM ET

Something very disturbing happened today. My daughter, who is 11 and in 6th grade, participated in a lockdown drill at her school. I got an automated call from the school this morning to let me know that the drill would take place. I appreciated that call because it is the kind of thing that I would like to know. Kids sometimes worry about things. Especially things that they don't understand - or maybe they do understand, but cannot accept.

I remember distinctly being horrified and disgusted as a child by the awful murder of a woman in the middle of the street while a variety of people looked on yet did nothing. This was the first time in my life that I was confronted with the facts that there was evil in the world; the world is not in fact fair; and sometimes people can be disgusting and repulsive (and I don't mean the killer). I had nightmares for days. I am sure that my mother could add a lot more detail here, but the bottom line is some of my innocence was destroyed by the crime. I was simply not able to reconcile my understanding of the world so beautiful, filled with Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Strawberry Shortcake dolls, people who loved and cared for me, and this true horror.

Worrying how she would internalize the drill, I made a note to discuss it with my daughter tonight. And, I did just that. The perfect opportunity presented itself: my son was at baseball practice, and I had time with my daughter after karate.

"Tell me about your day, honey," I prompted. We played our usual high-medium-low game (which allows me to learn at least 3 things that happened in my children's days) and she added, "We had a lockdown drill today."

"Yes, I know. How did it go?" She explained that the alarm went off, the teacher locked the door, turned out the lights, and all of the children got down on the floor. They were to be quiet. My daughter commented that if it was real, they would have all been in trouble because no one was quiet.

I asked her if they explained the reason for the drill. She said it would happen when someone they don't know walks onto campus. As we began the discussion of what would cause someone to come onto a campus full of children to hurt them, I started to feel sick to my stomach. And ill-prepared.

My son came home during the conversation, and though he is much younger, I couldn't exclude him. We broadened the discussion to include him. "What is a lockdown, Mom?"

"Why would anyone want to hurt a bunch of kids?"

"What would make someone do that?"

I said something about how I had no idea. About how the people who do such things are hurting terribly and they want the world to hurt with them. About how people who are unstable can be thrown over the edge by the death of someone they love, the loss of their own children, etc. I struggled for explanations.

We talked about why they aren't supposed to just run. We talked about the fact that the law enforcement experts have decided our best chance is to lock ourselves in and wait - and pray if that's your thing. We talked about the guidance my daughter got today that if you can't get inside and you see the killer, you should run as fast as you can. That the killer is trying to hurt as many people as quickly as possible and might not care to chase you.

What? Why is this a conversation that I must have with my kids? How do I balance this with the philosophy that I have that the world is a beautiful place? That people are inherently good? That you will receive from the world what you put into it, but that you must keep giving even on bad and unfair days? That though the world might not operate fairly, you still should?

We talked about the fact that this happens sometimes in schools, post offices, work places. Evil walks among us - though I didn't say that.

"It won't happen to us, right Mom?"

Right, baby. It won't. I think we'd have a better chance of winning the lottery, or dying by shark attack. But, we practice a little just so that you are ready. Like we are ready for earthquakes and how we have a disaster plan, and a backpack.

I explained that we can put as much love into the world as possible. People who do these kinds of things seem to be loners, people who are made fun of. We talked about how many criminals were miserable kids, teased by kids or beaten by parents. I reiterated that the two of them should never be kids who tease others. They are the kids who are kind to all - especially the kids sitting alone. You never know when your kindness to someone might help.

The conversation morphed into a discussion of being teased - which I will talk about later. I moved us on to funny things, and positive life stuff. Like Santa and the Tooth Fairy. I hugged my daughter very tightly, and tickled my son so hard that he farted. Massive giggling ensued. Peace was restored. At least, I hope so. For their sakes.

After they were sound asleep, I slumped into my chair. What the hell? Why is this our conversation? How is it fair that a 7 and 11 year old have to practice what to do if a gunman comes onto their campus to shoot as many children as possible? Why are we having these conversations? Why, in America, are we standing for one second longer the free-for-all access to guns designed for massive-instantaneous killing?

I've not been very political as far as guns - besides a few tweets about how people keep misreading the Second Amendment - but tonight's dialogue about massacres of children has left me sick and repulsed. After Sandy Hook there was a public outcry - a hope that we might capitalize on the public outrage and do something to curb the reprehensible availability of automatic weapons. But, nothing has happened.

There have been more killings. According to ABC recently, more than 50 attacks or plots since Columbine. And still, nothing has happened. It's time. No more parents should have these conversations. No more children should have to introduce mass shootings into their Santa-Barbie-Minecraft-Lego filled worlds.

It's Butch to stand up for what's right, even when it is controversial. Be Butch.

RACHEL LA CORTE   |   October 10, 2014   10:16 AM ET

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Two competing measures on the Washington state ballot this fall ask voters to take a stance on expanded background checks for gun sales. One is seeking universal checks for all sales and transfers, including private transactions. The other would prevent any such expansion.

Supporters of the initiative to expand background checks have received large donations from wealthy figures, including Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, and have spent millions, far outpacing the anti-expansion effort.

How We Enabled ISIS By Disarming Iraqi Militias

John A. Tures   |   October 7, 2014    7:11 PM ET

As ISIS raced through Western Iraq, cutting through Kurdish villages and Sunni enclaves with rapid speed, the United States reacted with shock. How could the Iraqi Army "go ARVN," the term used in South Vietnam for an army that gave up resistance rapidly? Why weren't locals fighting back? Why did the United States have to drop in military supplies?

The problem wasn't a recent one. It was an older one, which went back to Iraqi politicians who wanted their rivals to be disarmed, and a U.S. government who went along with this disarmament policy. As a result, the locals were unable to defend themselves against ISIS fighters.

As far back as 2006, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered all rivals to be disarmed, including those belonging to the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites who didn't support his regime, according to CNN.

"Al-Maliki said Iraqi society must be cleansed of terrorism, the government must be rid of "administrative corruption" and factional militias must be disarmed. "We must also address the issue of government centrality and the centrality of the armed forces and that weapons must only be in the hands of the government and the people must be disarmed," he said. He said that "no militia in Iraq can share authority with the government's armed forces" and cited the constitution, "which states the dissolving of these militias into the security forces and to end their affiliation with the political parties they belong to."

Al-Maliki pointed to job creation strategies that would help steer manpower away from those groups.
"We would like to argue against all the arguments that will be put forth that militias are necessary to protect themselves and so on," said al-Maliki, who emphasized that "the presence of these militias will add to the tension and the danger of a civil war."

The policy continued through 2008, as CBS News reported. Additionally, Middle East scholar Juan Cole reported on news from Al-Hayat.


"Aljazeera showed al-Maliki and president Jalal Talabani urging all the major parties to pledge to disarm their militias. This plea will fall on deaf ears, in part because it is so hypocritical. Al-Maliki increasingly depends on the Badr Corps militia of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and Talabani's power comes in large part from the Kurdish Peshmerga militia, which he got recognized in the constitution as Kurdistan's national guard. So some militias are more equal than other militias.
The official spokesman of the Sadr bloc, Salih al-`Ukaili, told al-Hayat that al-Maliki's statement was an attempt to throw dust in people's eyes, since he had pledged to stop arresting militia commanders, but he had not in fact stopped. He complained that "American troops are still spreading fear among the people of Sadr City, where they have positioned large forces at the entrances to the district's quarters, engaging in nighttime incursions and arresting hundreds of youth without warrants."

After al-Maliki was forced to finally resign a month or so ago, Cole provided more details about how the Iraqi Prime Minister disarmed everyone who wasn't a supporter and the United States politicians went along with the idea despite protests from U.S. military officials from 2006 through 2008.

"Al-Maliki was so partisan in 2006 when he first came to power that he denied that Shiite militias were a security problem. When Gen. David Petraeus came to him in late 2006 with a plan to disarm the Sunni and Shiite militias in Baghdad, al-Maliki insisted that he begin with the Sunni armed groups. The US acquiesced, but as a result, the Shiite militias came into disarmed Sunni neighborhoods at night when the Americans weren't looking, and ethnically cleansed them. Baghdad went from some 45% Sunni in 2003 to only 25% Sunni by the end of 2007. Al-Maliki's sectarianism led to the transformation of Baghdad into a largely Shiite city.

Gen. Petraeus and others cultivated Sunnis who were alarmed at the rise of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (the predecessor of today's so-called "Islamic State"), and created "Awakening Councils" of armed Sunnis willing to fight the extremists. Al-Maliki opposed this program and had shouting matches with Petraeus over it, fearing that the armed Sunnis would become a problem for his Shiite government after the defeat of al-Qaeda. (In fact, if only al-Maliki could get the Awakening Councils back now, he'd be very lucky). As the American forces withdrew from a combat role in 2009, US generals asked al-Maliki to hire the some 100,000 Sunni Awakening Council fighters. They could have been integrated into the police in cities like Mosul or Fallujah. Al-Maliki took about 17,000 of them, but left the other 83,000 twisting in the wind, without any stipends or pensions. Because they had fought al-Qaeda, they were targeted by the terrorists for reprisals and some were killed. In some instances al-Maliki actually prosecuted some Awakening Council fighters for anti-government activities they had engaged in before they joined the Council. Figure each of the 83,000 had a circle of 20 close relatives and friends. That was 1.6 million Sunni Arabs (out of some 5 million at the time) that al-Maliki alienated."

Of course, al-Maliki was the biggest problem. And President Obama deserves some blame as well for not protesting the Iraqi Prime Minister's actions when he came into office. But it is shocking that this policy began under the Bush Administration, and the pro-gun conservatives in America accepted this, even though they tout the need for Americans to be able to defend themselves. Why didn't they allow Kurds and Sunni Awakening Councils, who were allies in Iraqi, to protect themselves against threats? Of course, Bush was looking to strengthen the Iraqi government as a success story, and if they didn't want groups able to protect themselves, that was too bad. But now as we drop military supplies to enable our former allies to defend themselves, we may have to rethink the wisdom of empowering the state at the expense of the individual. It's what Republicans preach back home, right?

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