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Why Won't Congress Act on Gun Control?

Quora   |   July 5, 2016   11:08 AM ET

Why has Congress not been able to pass meaningful gun control reform legislation in 2016? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, on Quora:

Thirty-thousand Americans die each year from gun violence. Two-thirds commit suicide. Congress often lags behind the American people, and this issue has been no different. For instance, Americans, including gun owners, overwhelmingly believe that everyone who buys a gun should have to first pass a criminal background check. In the wake of the recent mass shooting in Orlando, Americans continue to find it inconceivable that someone suspected of being a terrorist can legally buy a firearm in this country.

Too often, Congress has refused to enact commonsense reforms, even though they are supported by the majority of the American people. Why is that?

Historically, the gun lobby has had a much more vocal, well-funded, and passionate base of supporters. But for tragic reasons, the politics are beginning to shift on this issue, as the gun violence epidemic today is leaving no community unscathed. It is not just families in cities such as my hometown of Chicago that are affected by gun violence on a daily basis; neighborhoods that never thought they would have to deal with it are now affected as well. So we have momentum building among families and supporters devastated by gun violence and who feel the urgency to act and stop this epidemic. We have also seen gun owners turned off by the maximalist position that the gun lobby takes after these mass shootings, which opposes even commonsense measures that are consistent with the Second Amendment such as universal background checks, preventing suspected terrorists from buying a gun, developing smart gun technology, and banning assault weapons. But if all of our voices are heard, if we continue making the case that we can reduce gun violence consistent with the Second Amendment, there is hope.

Lastly, I think we need to create space for more safe dialogue between people on opposite sides of this issue - between families who have been affected by gun violence and those Americans who want to enjoy their Second Amendment rights. We need to break down the stereotypes, mistrust, and defensiveness that has built up, so everyone understands these policies are not about taking away guns from law-abiding gun owners, or infringing on the Constitution. They're about finding common ground that keeps all communities safe, while respecting everyone's rights.

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Congress And Guns

Mike Smith   |   July 1, 2016    6:33 PM ET


Let's Try Using Wisdom To End Gun Violence

Jennifer Wolfe   |   July 1, 2016    6:22 PM ET

"Use wisdom, not weapons", he pleaded to the crowd gathered in front of the California state Capitol building to end gun violence this morning. Not surprisingly, he elicited big cheers from his words - the crowd was comprised of moms, kids, and a few dads from Moms Demand Action and Everytown For Gun Safety, and we were there to gather support for California AB 1511, legislation that will close a loophole that allows guns to be loaned to people who haven't passed a background check.

Common sense, don't you think?

In my opinion, if Congress isn't going to take action and vote for common sense gun laws, we need to take it local- go back to our towns, go back to our states, and focus our energy on getting states to pass the legislation to protect our children that the nation can't seem to agree on.

I'm glad I live in California.

I spent the morning listening to legislators and volunteers and parents who believe in common sense gun control; people who are "survivors" of gun violence, who have lost family and friends to gun violence, or who like me and other moms, don't want to watch one more moment of silence or prayer vigil after another innocent soul is shot down. We want to use wisdom, not weapons, to solve our problems. We want to see common sense used as part of the equation when talking about how to stop the killing in our country. We want to support the majority of Americans who believe in increased gun control and let Congress know we're onto them, we see who is influencing them, and we will vote them out of office.


Small but mighty, we are. We are Moms Demanding Action-and just try to stop us.

To join us in our effort to end gun violence and enact common sense gun laws, follow Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety on Facebook and Twitter. Join us in your community, or start a group of your own. Use wisdom to end the epidemic of gun violence in our country. Use your voice to stand up for your children- and mine. Don't wait until it happens in YOUR town to someone YOU love - remember, together we can do great things.

To read more posts about thinking deeply, loving fiercely and teaching audaciously, visit Jennifer's blog, mamawolfe, at

The "Price" of Freedom

Jane Dougherty   |   June 30, 2016    7:06 PM ET

The "Price" of Freedom

July 4th - the day Americans celebrate our country's independence. The day we watch fireworks and wave Old Glory. It's a day when our children run around with sparklers. The day we feel most patriotic. The day we wear the colors of the American flag - red, white and blue. The day we celebrate freedom. The day we throw a big party for our nation.

Freedom means different things to different people. My perspective on the meaning of freedom has changed over the past few years. For me, freedom means the ability to live free of fear, free of intimidation and free from gun violence. Freedom in America, as set out in the Declaration of Independence, is meant to be life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, there is a vocal minority who believe these fundamental rights are pre-empted by the right to unrestricted access to deadly weapons.

Gun extremists have corrupted and dishonored the true meaning of freedom. Their idea of freedom is the unfettered ability to have any gun, anywhere, without any regulation. Something as simple and widely supported as a background check is deemed "a burden" and infringes on their absolutist rights. Gun extremists go as far as to try and convince us that owning a gun is a "God-given right." Extremists insist on being able to open carry, conceal carry, and of course hoard an unlimited number of guns and ammunition in their homes.

I know far too well the price of freedom, because my sister, Mary Sherlach, was one of the 30,000 Americans who are killed every year at the hands of a gun. My sister was the school psychologist at Sandy Hook School. She was living her life of freedom. She had a right to that life. She had a right to grow old in the pursuit of her own happiness. But a disturbed man who never should have had easy access to firearms and an arsenal of bullets took that right away from her. Those bullets took my sister's freedom. Those bullets took my sister Mary's life.

Almost daily we read and hear about others lives taken by gun violence. Americans going about their lives in their homes, schools, malls, offices, hospitals, campuses, theaters, parks, and churches. On average, 91 Americans trying to live their lives are shot and killed every day, and hundreds more are injured. And the latest - on June 12th, at a nightclub in Orlando, our country experienced the deadliest mass shooting in our country's modern history, leaving 49 dead and more than 50 others injured. That night, members of the LGBTQ community went to out to celebrate their freedom, only to have their lives, liberties and pursuits of happiness taken away in mere moments by a hate-filled terrorist with a gun.

In further affronts to our freedom this week, a majority of U.S. Senators voted against closing loopholes that make it far too easy for dangerous people - including suspected terrorists - to buy guns in this country. And the Republican leadership in the U.S. House refused to acknowledge the public outcry led by House Democrats to even hold a vote on

common-sense gun laws. Instead of doing the job they were elected to do, they went on vacation. They have ignored the will of the people, and now we know where they stand.

When we cannot go about our daily lives free from the fear of gun violence, we are no longer a free nation. We are a nation held hostage by the NRA and extremist gun lobby. The very legislators offering thoughts and prayers every time another mass shooting occurs and then voting against the overwhelming interests of the American public are those same ones lining their pockets with contributions from the gun lobby. I'm sick and tired of thoughts and prayers. Their thoughts and prayers are not doing anything to save lives.

I, for one, am not willing to sacrifice my freedom to live in a nation where someone on the terror watch list can legally purchase guns. I won't sacrifice my freedom so that felons, convicted domestic abusers, the dangerously mentally ill and those convicted of hate crimes can legally possess firearms. I won't sacrifice my freedom so that someone doesn't have to bear "the burden" of a 90-second background check to ensure we are doing all we can to keep guns out of dangerous hands.

The historic events--the filibuster in Senate and the sit-in in the House-- reflect the outrage and urgency that Americans are feeling around the country: it is high time our government take action and do everything in its power to help reduce gun violence in America and save lives. And the inspiring leadership by members of both Chambers shows that our voices and our calls to action are being heard.

This July 4th, I will honor all victims and survivors of gun violence by wearing my orange flag pin. Orange, the color of gun violence prevention, coupled with the American flag, is a badge I can wear proudly. Because only in a nation, free from gun violence, will we be truly free.

Jane Dougherty is the sister of Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist killed in the Sandy Hook School shooting on December 14, 2012. Mary, along with Principal Dawn Hochsprung was killed when the two women rushed at the shooter in an attempt to save their school. Jane has become a leading gun violence prevention advocate in Colorado and nationally. She is a member of Everytown for Gun Safety and a Fellow with the Everytown Survivor Network.

Disarm Hate: The LGBTQ Community Unites With Anti-Gun Violence Activists

David F Brand   |   June 30, 2016    5:06 PM ET


For hours, New York City's Fifth Avenue pulsed as revelers danced to thumping electronic music atop floats and spectators, packed several rows deep on the sidewalk or hanging over balconies, cheered passing demonstrators. As the world's largest Pride procession flowed south toward the Stonewall Inn, freshly minted anti-gun violence organizer Justin Hayes surveyed the swarm of activists assembled along 38th Street, eager to join the excitement.

"The NRA is in trouble. They kicked the glitter hornet's nest, baby," Hayes said, smiling. "The LGBT community is used to fighting. Anything we have, we've had to fight for. It's not new for us."

The massacre at Pulse, an LGBTQ club in Orlando, has galvanized the LGBTQ community and motivated many people previously uninvolved in the anti-gun violence movement to act in support of stricter gun laws.

In the days leading up to Pride, Hayes, a hair stylist who has worked on numerous hit television and Broadway shows, helped unite several prominent anti-gun violence groups, including the Brady Campaign, Everytown for Gun Safety and New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. He named the coalition "Disarm Hate 2016" and is coordinating a rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. along with "sister rallies" in major American cities for August 13.

Hayes said the Disarm Hate campaign focuses on four simple goals: "Equal human rights for the LGBTQ community," an assault rifle ban, a national registry of gun owners and a mandatory fourteen-to-thirty day waiting period between purchasing and receiving a gun.

Hayes said he recognized that mass shootings fueled by extreme hatred would persist until LGBTQ individuals, organizations and allies actively opposed laws that enable easy access to assault rifles. The community could not afford to wait for "other people" to affect change so he decided to get involved, he said.

"I started to listen to younger gay kids talking about how we don't need to rally, we don't need to do anything because it's the largest mass murder in modern US history so things are going to change [on their own]," Hayes explained. "I thought, 'You're fucking crazy.' Twenty white kids in Sandy Hook were massacred -- kindergartners in an affluent part of Connecticut. And we have weaker gun laws now four years later. If you think anything is going to just change because forty-nine gay and lesbian kids were killed, you're crazy."

Thus, Hayes created a Twitter account and launched the Disarm Hate 2016 campaign from his kitchen table in New Jersey.

In addition to anti-gun violence groups, Hayes has recruited LGBTQ-rights organizations, such as the Trevor Project and the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Celebrities, politicians and countless other individuals have tweeted the hashtag #DisarmHate. The Daily News even splashed the motto across its front page the day after the Pride Parade.

The group who marched behind the Disarm Hate banner at Pride included a handful of recent college graduates, who said they had never before taken action against gun violence. Young children in Disarm Hate t-shirts and stickers sipped water and ate snacks as they waited to march with their parents. Seasoned anti-violence activists mingled with Pride spectators at a nearby bar that provided a clean bathroom, soccer on television and watered-down drinks.

Finally, nearly three hours after the parade began, event staff signaled for the Disarm Hate group, along with the other organizations waiting on 38th Street, to enter the parade. As the activists stepped onto Fifth Avenue, scores of spectators raised their fists, nodded and applauded their support. Several joined marchers in chanting "What do we want? Gun Control! When do we want it. Now?" throughout the march.

Leah Gunn Barrett, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, carried the Disarm Hate banner alongside Hayes and other movement leaders. NYAGV is cosponsoring the August 13 rally on the National Mall.

"The LGBT community is on board with gun violence prevention," Barrett said. "We believe that the rest of the country deserves what New York has - universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines. Smart gun laws work and that's why New York has the 4th lowest gun rate in the nation."

In nature, hornet colonies reach their peak population in late-summer. During the preceding months, most mature hornets devote their energy to nurturing the younger generations. Around August, when the young reach maturity, hornets experience a surge of aggression and activity. Just before they began marching, four young friends in Disarm Hate t-shirts passed around an aerosol can and doused one another in gold glitter. Their excitement seemed to grow with each spray. If the LGBTQ community is indeed a "glitter hornet's nest," then expect a robust rally in August.

Arthur Delaney   |   June 30, 2016    3:02 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- After last month's massacre in Orlando, Democrats in Congress pushed legislation aimed at stopping suspected terrorists from buying guns. 

Mass shootings by terrorists make up a small percentage of gun deaths in the U.S., however. The majority of gun deaths are actually suicide, which probably comes up less often in the gun debate because people don't fear it. 

"The focus largely is on gun murders and mass shootings because those are things you can't control," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told "So That Happened," the HuffPost Politics podcast. 

"It's probably a real false sense of security that people have that they wouldn't be a victim of suicide," Murphy continued. "Most people are talking about the mass shootings, about the gun violence that happens in our cities, because they think that's much more of a threat to them than being involved in a suicide."

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 33,636 Americans died from firearm injuries in 2013, and 63 percent of those were suicides.

Research suggests that gun availability can be a risk factor for suicide, which is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. 

Need help? Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Murphy led Senate Democrats in an effort to force votes on gun control in the U.S. Senate last month. The following week, Democrats in the House staged a "sit-in" to protest the lack of action in Congress on guns. Neither chamber seems likely to approve gun restrictions anytime soon. 

Murphy said the Senate is at a "stuck moment" on gun control but that June 2016 will be looked back on as a watershed moment. 

If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.


“So, That Happened” is hosted by Jason Linkins, Zach Carter and Arthur Delaney. Joining them this week: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), historian William Hogeland, and Democratic congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout.


The Right To Bear Courage

  |   June 30, 2016    1:16 PM ET

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Two Pacifists Go To A Shooting Range

  |   June 30, 2016   12:11 PM ET

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The "Second-Class" Second Amendment Right

Dennis A. Henigan   |   June 30, 2016   12:02 PM ET

In the final day of its term, the Supreme Court decided a gun case, while managing to sidestep the Second Amendment. In Voisine v. Unites States, by a 6-2 vote, the Court gave an expansive reading to the federal law prohibiting gun possession by persons convicted of a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence." The majority held that the statute applies to the reckless use of force against a domestic partner or family member, even in the absence of a conscious intent to do harm. Writing for the majority, Justice Kagan gave the example of throwing a plate in anger against a wall near where your wife is standing.

Justice Thomas was not pleased that the right to gun possession could be deprived for such a minor transgression. He filed a dissent accusing the majority of relegating the Second Amendment to a "second-class right." Although Justice Sotomayor joined his dissent as to the meaning of the statute, she did not join the portion of his opinion arguing that to apply the statute more broadly would offend the Second Amendment. Only Justice Thomas thought the statute raised a Second Amendment issue. It was the second time Justice Thomas had accused a Court majority of treating the Second Amendment as a "second-class right." The first was his dissent, joined by Justice Scalia, from the Court's refusal last year to review a lower court ruling upholding a state assault weapon ban.

One need not give the Second Amendment "second-class" status to recognize what should be obvious: by its very nature, the Second Amendment is a different kind of right. Why? Because it is a uniquely dangerous right.

In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court cast aside established precedent and, for the first time in our history, recognized an individual right to possess guns in the home for self-defense. It is undeniable that exercise of that right exposes individuals, their families and the community-at-large to a vastly increased risk of harm. The fact is that those who exercise the Heller right have no assurance that a gun in the home will be used only for the salutary purpose of self-defense. Indeed, research shows that, for every time a gun in the home is used in a self-defense shooting, there are four unintentional shootings (often involving young children), seven criminal assaults (often involving domestic disputes, with women as the victims) and eleven completed or attempted suicides. Given that attacks with guns are far more likely to be lethal than attacks with other weapons, it is hardly surprising that the presence of a gun in the home increases the risk of homicide in the home three-fold and increases the risk of suicide five-fold.

The increased risk from exercise of the Heller right also is borne by the community-at-large. Residents of the states with the highest rates of gun ownership (Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Wyoming, West Virginia and Arkansas) are more than 2.5 times more likely to become homicide victims than those in the states with the lowest rates of gun ownership (Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey). The more Americans decide to exercise the Heller right, the more deadly violence becomes.

Of course, it is possible for the exercise of other rights, particularly freedom of expression under the First Amendment, to create a risk of violence or physical injury. But if that risk becomes sufficiently great, the courts will deny the protection of the First Amendment altogether. The core exercise of freedom of expression is unlikely to pose a serious risk of physical harm, particularly lethal harm. The same cannot be said of the Second Amendment right. For this reason, it is misguided for courts to reflexively apply to the Second Amendment the same constitutional standards and reasoning developed in First Amendment cases.

Given the uncertainty about the Court's future composition, it is not at all clear that the High Court will continue to recognize a Second Amendment right to have guns for self-defense, particularly since the Heller five-justice majority opinion is built on a historical house of cards that professional historians have denounced as "law office history." But if the Heller right survives the continuing attack on its false originalism, at least the judiciary should give the right its own unique jurisprudence. It is a uniquely different kind of constitutional right.

The fallacy of the analogy between the First and Second Amendments is revealed in the Thomas dissent in Voisine. "I have little doubt," he writes, "that the majority would strike down an absolute ban on publishing by a person previously convicted of misdemeanor libel." Surely the risk that a person convicted of libel will inflict future injury to another's reputation by libeling again is transparently of a different nature than the risk created by allowing someone who has committed an act of domestic violence to possess a lethal weapon. Damage to reputation is simply not comparable to a gunshot wound.

It is to be hoped that there will be other occasions for Justice Thomas to complain that a Supreme Court majority is treating the Second Amendment as a "second-class right." It will likely mean that the Court has sensibly recognized that it is the most dangerous right.

I've Had A Gun Pointed At My Face, And The Trigger Pulled.

Roger Wolfson   |   June 29, 2016    6:30 PM ET

I've had a gun pointed at my face, and the trigger pulled.

My experience has made me conscious of how gun control advocates like myself are failing America, how gun enthusiasts have good points that need to be understood, and how the only successful approach to reducing gun violence in America needs to involve a hell of a lot more initiatives than regulating the sale of guns.

When that gun was pointed at me, I was a Senate Aide in Washington DC, working for Senator Paul Wellstone and Ted Kennedy as Labor Committee staff. It was after midnight, I was driving home from a party, through Adams Morgan. I saw an altercation in a parking lot, under a single streetlight.

A man was mugging a woman. She resisted him, tried to fight back. He threw her harshly to the ground. He marched toward her, determined. I saw abject fear in her eyes.

I drove over in my Volvo (of course I had a Volvo) and pulled up right between the two. I don't know who was more surprised to see me, the mugger or the victim. I honked my horn again and again, hoping it would scare the mugger away, that he'd scatter, like some frightened bird.

He didn't. He was entirely unimpressed, let alone scared. If anything, he seemed irritated. Enough so that he took a few steps toward me, and pointed a handgun toward the spot right between my eyes, and pulled the trigger.


My brain didn't fully register what was happening. It didn't seem possible that it could be so easy to shoot someone at such close range. My right foot remained on the brake instead of the accelerator. The only part of my body able to move was my right hand, which just kept pounding that horn. The mugger looked at his gun, frustrated. Shook it like it was a can of something that wouldn't open, and tried one more time. No luck.

Then he smiled broadly at me like I was the beneficiary of his bad luck -- and just walked away. I think the woman climbed into my car and we drove to the police station, but it's also possible the police arrived, I don't remember clearly, anymore. Memory is a funny thing. At the time, I could recall a clear visual image of that gun. I couldn't remember anything about the mugger's face. As I understand from Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, a friend and a memory expert, what I experienced was probably "gun blindness." It's common. All you can recall is that bluish metal, that round hole lined up with you, and little else.

As it turns out, the woman who was being mugged was a Republican House staffer. The following day she gave me a box of Kudos candy bars, and a note that read "you deserve Kudos for saving my life." I checked up to see how her boss voted on gun control laws in the future, and he came down against them. There's a reason why I'm not upset with her or with her boss about that, and I'll explain.

We all know the numbers. Nearly 12,000 Americans every year aren't as lucky as I and the Republican staffer were. Five percent of the world's population resides in America, and yet Americans possess nearly half of all privately-owned guns in the world. In part because of the plethora of guns, Americans are twenty-five percent more likely to die by gun than in any other developed nation (according to the Journal of American Medicine). Clearly, this is not just a safety issue, it's a health issue. And whatever efforts have been made to curtail this violence isn't working.

Why aren't the efforts working? Well, let's start with approach. Gun control advocates (like myself) tend to demonize Gun advocates (like the woman who was being mugged that night). Not surprisingly, that approach doesn't work well.

In his article in Big Think, David Ropeik successfully makes the argument that one of the reasons some gun owners might care so deeply about the Second Amendment is because of how affected these people are by the decline of America. These gun owners are disturbed, to their core, by limited opportunities, limited upward mobility. By real and perceived threats against their safety, from individuals and even from the government.

Gun control advocates can argue whether those threats are legitimate, but they can't argue with those feelings. Those feelings are real, they are based on real trends, and gun reform measures are unlikely to succeed unless they are included in a package that addresses these feelings, too.

A true gun reform package should include clean government regulations, like campaign finance reform and truth-in-government provisions that reduce the amount of lies that infect public discourse and that build public trust in government. A true gun reform package should include mental health provisions so that the almost 21,000 Americans who use guns to kill themselves annually have treatment available when they need it, and not just a gun. A true gun reform package should include alcohol and substance abuse treatment, and measures to reduce domestic violence (related to guns or otherwise).

A true gun reform package should include a jobs opportunity bill, a meaningful investment in our social infrastructure that promises more upward mobility for average Americans. A true gun reform package should make all of us feel safer, not just people who want fewer guns.

And the portion of this bill that addresses guns, has to include ammunition. Especially when 3D printers are capable of creating lethal guns in just minutes, without a waiting period or even the involvement of a gun manufacturer. Philip Bump made this point well in the Atlantic, four years ago. We're rapidly reaching a time when technology might make regulating guns impossible. So it's time to include the regulation of ammunition - which is harder to create from whole cloth - in the equation.

As for how can all this be paid for? Gun violence costs American taxpayers $229 billion a year in health care, lost revenue, legal fees, long-term prison costs, investigations, security, and more. If we transfer some of that money toward preventative measures, we'll not only reduce trauma and increase safety, but we'll save money. A LOT of money.

When I worked for Paul Wellstone, he had a policy: before you suggest I introduce a partially effective bill, at least tell me what a bill would look like that would actually solve the problem. Right now, few of the proposals being introduced in Congress are comprehensive. Most have no chance of passing, and although they might make for effective campaign fundraising on the Left (gun proposals raise money), they also raise money on the right, in almost equal amounts of campaign donations.

Perhaps most upsetting of all, is that gun control proposals tend to increase gun sales.

That's one of the things those who want change must face. When we focus only on reducing guns for some, and not on increasing safety for all, we actually pad the pockets of the NRA and gun manufacturers. Because people who don't feel safe will do what they feel they have to do, to feel safe. That means gun advocates will stockpile more weapons. And, as statistics show, the more guns that are purchased, the less safe we all are. Especially gun purchasers, who are 80% more likely to be wounded by their own gun than by anyone else's.

Please join me in calling upon our legislators, and our community, to demand a public safety bill that addresses the root causes of increased gun ownership, the root causes of gun violence, and that includes sensible and fair gun and ammo regulations that are as respectful as possible to the second amendment.

This is a tall order, I know. But it's the only one I can think of that comes close to matching the problem itself.

I hope, somewhere, the Republican Staffer I encountered in Adams Morgan can agree with me on this. Ultimately, the only way to affect real change is by working with our opponents. Not against them.

Sources below:

(Note from the author: in an earlier version of this blog, I identified the gun as likely being a Glock 19. I was never sure, and don't hold myself out as an expert on guns, so I've removed that reference).

Kim Bellware   |   June 29, 2016    3:58 PM ET

More than a dozen Republican members of Congress used campaign contributions to buy guns, ammunition or tickets to gun-related events, a public interest group said Wednesday.

An analysis of campaign finance records shows that since 2014, 13 members of the House or Senate spent a combined $25,526 from their campaign coffers to purchase "guns, ammunition or tickets to gun shows and shooting events," according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, a nonpartisan nonprofit.

While campaign dollars are more typically spent on expenses like advertising, travel and legal fees, CREW said lawmakers buy guns as campaign gimmicks or for fundraisers. 

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) last year spent more than a $1,300 on firearms autographed by gun fans, including musician and NRA board member Ted Nugent and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). The weapons were later raffled off.

Gun giveaways can be legally murky, CREW said, depending on how strictly lawmakers adhere to state rules on the transfer of gun ownership.

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) spent $2,750 in October at a Houston gun club, which provided event space, gun rental and ammunition for a campaign appearance. 

Other lawmakers who CREW said spent campaign money on gun-related items and events were Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Rep. Jason Smith (R-Ill.)Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.), Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

A CBS News poll this month found that while Americans' overall gun ownership is at its lowest point since 1978 -- 36 percent of people reported having guns, compared with 51 percent nearly 40 years ago -- gun sales are at record highs. 

Falling gun ownership amid record high gun transactions and gun manufacturing suggest existing gun owners are acquiring even more firearms. The same CBS poll found 19 percent of Americans who live in gun-owning households have 10 or more guns.

The NRA has proven to be a reliable supporter of candidates who further the lobby's interests. During the 2014 election cycle, the NRA and its committees contributed $809,462 to individual campaign coffers. That figure was dwarfed by the $3.3 million the NRA spent on lobbying, and $27 million in "outside contributions" for committees and Super PACs.  

"The Only Thing Jesus 'Open Carried' Was the Cross": A Minister Confronts the Gun Industry

Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite   |   June 28, 2016    5:40 PM ET


Did Jesus ever "open carry"? Yes, he did. Jesus open carried the Roman weapon of execution, the cross on which he died. And that's the only weapon Jesus ever open carried.

That is the faith position of the Rev. Nathan Dannison senior pastor of First Congregational Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Kalamazoo is a community that experienced a mass shooting rampage that killed six people and injured two others just in February of this year.

So far, Congress has not succeeded in reigning in the power of an out-of-control gun industry. Rev. Dannison and his clarity about the Christian gospel may be showing us another way.

When the local minor league baseball team, the Battle Creek Bombers, advertised that one of their home games would be hosting a "2nd Amendment Appreciation Night" that encouraged gun owners to "open carry" at the game, at the same time as they were honoring the Boy Scouts, Rev. Dannison decided it was time to act decisively. He started a petition to boycott the team if they went ahead. Despite the many signatures supporting this action, the team went ahead.

I asked Rev. Dennison, who is a graduate of Chicago Theological Seminary where I teach, what he and the other supporters of this kind of local action against an out-of-control gun industry were going to do now.

He could not have been more clear. They will keep going.

"We will continue to boycott the Northwoods League. We will continue to communicate our disgust to their league partners. We will do so until they disarm, ban weapons from their games, and apologize. Otherwise we will make room for another baseball league in our community."

That's the new strategy of this faith and community movement. Town by town, baseball game by baseball game, and faith commitment by faith commitment we change the image of guns from the way Americans express their "freedom" to the dangerous bondage to the gun industry and its false and idolatrous promises of safety.

It is an uphill struggle to make this case, there is no doubt. For example, Joel Fulton, co-owner of Freedom Firearms, the retail gun shop sponsor of the event said open-carried handguns are as "American as baseball and apple pie."

They're not, counters Rev. Dannison. And Dannison knows guns in Michigan as well as the gospel.

"I am a hunter, a marksman, a 'gun owner,' and a seventh-generation Michigander," he told me. "I am tired of the open-carry handgun people controlling the debate. They have had their chance and they have demonstrated their complete incompetence in finding common ground."

And, in my view, when the gun retail stores are trying to sell more guns under the guise of "freedom," they have shown they are more interested in profits than in the safety of the people of central Michigan.

I asked Rev. Dannison if the church members have been supportive of this boycott action.

"Our church celebrates the victory of the risen Christ and the eternal Word of God Almighty. I have heard nothing but prayer and experienced nothing but celebration and I expect this to continue until the swords are hammered into plowshares and the guns into garden tools."

Rev. Dannison is exceptionally clear on what he sees as the faith future of guns in this culture. I asked him, "What would you like people to do besides signing the petition?"

And he replied,

"Throw away your guns, sell them, destroy them, disarm, disarm, disarm!"

Guns are a "false god," Rev. Dannison believes. I could not agree more.

Finally, I asked, "Your church sign carries a profound message that the only weapon Jesus ever "open carried" was the cross. What does this mean for your own faith and for how you carry out your work as a Christian minister?"

And Rev. Dannison replied,

"Jesus conquered death. There is no reason for a Christian of good faith to carry a weapon."

Where American politicians have failed on gun control, exceptional religious clarity and courage may prevail. Town by town.

Dave Jamieson   |   June 28, 2016   10:29 AM ET

In the wake of the Orlando attack, more Americans would trust Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump when it comes to handling terrorism threats as president, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday.

Fifty percent said they trust Clinton on terror, compared to 39 percent for Trump. Those numbers are comparable to the split in a March poll, before the gap narrowed to just 3 points last month, when Trump's poll numbers rose in general.

But after the mass killing at a gay nightclub in Orlando, that gap has widened once again. Far more respondents thought Clinton had a better overall response to the attacks, by 46 percent to Trump's 28. And an even wider margin said they thought she showed better temperament in the wake of the shooting -- 59 percent to 25.

Trump's initial response to the mass killing was a self-congratulatory tweet, thanking supporters for their praise of him "for being right on radical Islamic terrorism."

Forty-nine clubgoers were killed and another 53 injured at Pulse nightclub on June 12, making it the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. The gunman, Omar Mateen, a U.S. citizen, had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call during the rampage. Mateen committed the attack with an AR-15-type semi-automatic rifle and a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun, reigniting the country's debate over gun control.

In the ABC-Post poll, Americans were split on whether assault weapons should be banned. Fifty-one percent said the sale of such guns should be prohibited, while 48 percent said it should not. But a vast majority of respondents -- 86 percent -- said buyers should be blocked from purchasing guns if they are on the FBI's list of people with potential ties to terrorism.

The GOP-controlled Congress has declined to take up gun control measures following the Orlando shooting, prompting a daylong sit-in by Democrats on the House floor.  

Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistmisogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.

Where Are The Bodies? A Modest Proposal To Use Visual Aids For Gun Reform

R. Kyle Alagood   |   June 27, 2016    4:55 PM ET

It is a melancholic object to news consumers that an epidemic of gun violence is sweeping the nation. Each day 297 people in the United States suffer from the ailment described by medical professionals as a "gunshot wound." Around 30 percent of those afflicted by the condition, which tears human flesh and may penetrate internal organs, will die.

Perhaps most distressing is the regularity of virulent gunshot-wound outbreaks, wherein a large number of people, usually in some sort of safe space such as a school or entertainment venue, succumb to gunshot wounds without prior warning of the risk that an outbreak may occur. Oftentimes, the percentage of gunshot-wound deaths during virulent outbreaks far exceeds 30 percent.

Foreign governments warn their citizens that when traveling to the United States, the high-income nation with the greatest occurrence of gunshot wounds, the visitors can dramatically decrease their chances of exposure by avoiding fights and staying indoors at night. Already this year, around 25,000 people in the United States, including 271 children under age twelve, have suffered from a gunshot wound. More than 6,000 have died. On June 12, a particularly virulent outbreak occurred at a gay nightclub in Orlando. In the course of a few hours, 102 people there suffered gunshot wounds, and 49 of them died.

It is agreed by all rational persons that such prodigious numbers of people regularly suffering from a painful, often fatal, condition is deplorable and should be remedied at once. Why, then, have lawmakers regularly failed to protect their constituents by passing reasonable firearm regulations, such as universal background checks or mandatory firearm-ownership insurance?

The vast majority of people and politicians who oppose reasonable regulation of firearms as a means of minimizing gunshot-wound outbreaks are not themselves particularly at risk and probably have never seen a person with an untreated gunshot wound. To them, a gunshot wound does not emanate from the barrel of a firearm but from the poisoned mind of a person (who, by chance, happens to be wielding a firearm). Because many of the people in positions of power to combat gunshot-wound outbreaks--particularly conservative lawmakers and their supporters--seemingly fail to understand the synchronicity of gunshot wound outbreaks and firearm access, they regularly oppose even the slightest regulation of firearm access and ownership.

Having turned my thoughts onto the subject of educating lawmakers and the people they represent about the link between gunshot-wound outbreaks and firearms, I have found unavailing the existing methods of education, which seem to center on statistics and ideology-based shouting. It is no surprise that the current campaign has been remarkably unsuccessful, for as the Donald Trump phenomenon has shown, it is gut instinct and not rational thought that calls conservatives to action.

No one seems to deny that people in the United States suffer from an alarming rate of gunshot wounds. Rather, my inquiries suggest that a large number of people simply do not understand what a gunshot wound is or what causes it. This lack of knowledge, I believe, stems from a lack of imagery and direct exposure to gunshot victims. Simply put, most people have never seen images of gunshot wounds peppering an innocent person's body, had to identify the body of a gunshot sufferer, or met someone who has survived being shot.

Instead of being forced to visually confront the brutal reality of the country's gunshot-wound epidemic, most people only ever see images of victims smiling and enjoying life before it was taken from them by firearm-propelled shrapnel. These images of people whose lives are lost to gun violence allow us to normalize the gunshot-wound epidemic without fully reflecting on the moral implications of our society's dalliance with instruments created to maim and kill. This must change.

Firearm-safety advocates should begin to publish the gruesome photographs of every person in this country who suffers from a gunshot wound. To do so will force so-called "firearm enthusiasts" to confront the grisly reality caused by the objects of their enthusiasm, and it will keep the fire burning for those of us who support firearm-safety regulations.

The impact of using crass, disturbing, realistic visual aids to confront firearm enthusiasts and elected officials is not without precedent. For decades, abortion opponents have trotted out gory, sometimes inaccurate, images of aborted fetuses. While social science has been reluctant to deem the image campaign a success, it is unlikely anyone has seen these blown-up photos on placards in front of schools and health clinics without having a visceral reaction. Regardless of one's position on abortion, the visual aids cause an emotional reaction that is often lacking in news coverage of debates on firearm-induced murder.

The benefits of distressing but powerful visual aids have long been recognized. During the first Gulf War, for example, then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney banned photography of soldiers' caskets returning to the United States. Cheney's policy remained intact through the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. The U.S. government prohibited Americans from seeing their children being rolled off Air Force jets en masse--regardless of parents' wishes. The lack of visual aid allowed the U.S. government to disassociate war and death, just as the lack of compelling imagery of gunshot wounds has helped conservatives disassociate lax gun restrictions and mass death.

With victims' (or their families') consent, much could be done to utilize the power of photography in the struggle for firearm-safety regulations. Photographs of people injured, maimed, and murdered by firearms could be blown up to larger-than-life sizes on placards and carried by protesters in front of government buildings throughout the country. Images of dead brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, moms, dads, friends, and relatives could be entered into the Congressional Record. The pictures of firearm-induced atrocities would be in legislators' mail, with letters from victims or their families. Gunshot-wound victims could bare their scars before lawmakers. Deceased victims might be memorialized by open-casket funerals blocking the doors to the U.S. Capitol. The images of each injured or fallen gunshot victim could be plastered on the sides of buildings, on billboards, and on the Internet for all to see. And every time another person succumbs to a gunshot wound, the campaign would begin anew.

Visual aids also will help solve another problem hampering the response to the gunshot-wound epidemic--the inability of many people to mentally process numbers greater than twenty (and, thus, the scale of the epidemic).

As the great philosopher Eddie Izzard put it, "We think if somebody kills someone, that's murder, you go to prison. If you kill ten people, you go to Texas, they hit you with a brick, that's what they do. Twenty people, you go to a hospital, they look through a small window at you forever. And over that, we can't deal with it, you know."

But confronting the nation with photographs of gunshot-wound victims will compel us to deal with the tens of thousands of yearly injuries and deaths we have somehow normalized. Images will remind firearm-safety advocates why we must march resolutely to victory. Most importantly, photos of a gunshot wound's effect on sufferers will allow firearm enthusiasts to digest deaths one at a time, relieving them of the complex mental calculation required to process the atrocity of firearm-induced mass death. Then perhaps Congress and conservatives will work with the rest of us to do something meaningful to contain gun violence and prevent further gunshot-wound outbreaks.