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Another Week, Another Mass Shooting

Lev Raphael   |   July 24, 2015    9:14 PM ET

I keep getting comparisons in my Facebook feed between the U.S. and Australia when it comes to gun control and calls for us to follow their example. Noble idea. Flawed logic.

We can't and we won't, despite the fact that there are claims Australia "in some ways shares the United States' frontier mentality and history" since it was also ruled by Great Britain. But what happened there after a decade of gun violence left 100 people dead couldn't possibly happen here, even though it's resulted in a decline in suicides and a possible decline in murders (analysts dispute the results).

Australia's reform was radical: "The law banned semi-automatic and automatic rifles and shotguns. It also instituted a mandatory buy-back program for newly banned weapons." Does anyone see a U.S. buyback of millions of guns ever happening?

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Serious gun control efforts in the U.S. are doomed and always have been -- and not just because of the power of the NRA or because of the Second Amendment. Guns are so enmeshed in American history, so much a part of our cultural DNA, that there will never be truly meaningful gun control in the U.S. Advocates of gun control don't seem to understand that and don't seem to appreciate the continuing, cross-generational impact of our founding national story.

One main reason we rebelled against the British was their attempt to take away our guns.

In 1774, the British only had 2,000 troops in heavily-armed and seething Boston, and the British response was to take control of the powder house, which meant that Bostonians wouldn't be able to use their guns. The British also started searching for guns and ammunition without warrants. And to suppress a rebellion against their rule, the British effectively began embargoing exportation of guns and ammunition to the Colonies.

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The very first battles at Lexington and Concord between Americans and the British took place because British troops were coming to seize an American arms cache.

So there you see guns galvanizing us before we had a flag, a Declaration of Independence, a government, a national anthem, before we had anything that truly united us. Guns, and holding on to our guns.

Every time there's a mass shooting like the one in the Louisiana movie theater, we see news conferences and petitions and TV panels and pinion pieces engaged in soul-searching -- but repeated efforts at gun control have failed miserably for decades and they'll keep failing no matter how much anguish we suffer. Citing gun control in other countries like Australia is pointless, because no other country has our unique history with guns and what they inescapably mean to us. Tragedies like the one this past week in Louisiana will keep happening, and so will the laments about the need for change -- but our history can't be re-written.

Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books in many genres which you can find on Amazon and B&N.

Why The Shootings Will Continue

Paul Heroux   |   July 24, 2015    4:23 PM ET

We are going about this all wrong. The folks on the left say with fewer or no guns we will have fewer or no more gun crimes. The folks on the right say with more guns we will have more safety from people who would abuse guns.

Despite thinking that they are keeping people safe, both sides of this issue are arguing from what is in their own interest.

The right way to approach this issue is different than what we are doing. First, we need to realize that high profile events are high profile because they are unlikely. And trying to stop an unlikely event is very difficult if not impossible. Predicting a public mass shooting is a bit like predicting where lighting is going to strike the ground. There are some generic indicators but nothing that can act as an actual alarm bell. Guessing is what most politicians and pundits are doing right now when it comes to public safety.

What Drives Our Gun Crime Rates?

There are about 10,000 homicides with a firearm each year in the United States. Many of these are done by members of gangs. Their choice of weapon is a handgun. If should follow that if we want to reduce gun crime rates in America we would try to reduce the gun violence by the people doing it where they are doing it. Keep in mind that not all criminal shootings are the same; as such there is no one size fits all solution. But there are things that can and should be done. The OJJDP stated:

Long-term solutions to address the problem of gun violence must include a comprehensive approach to reducing the number of youth involved in gangs.

That said, gang related gun violence is not the only source of gun violence. I have previously written about how not all gun crimes are the same, but in general, here are several categories of the improper use of guns.

  • Individual Shootings
  • Mass Shooting
  • Accidental Shootings
  • Suicide with a Gun

Our Misplaced Focus

We are focused on so-called assault rifles. We are focused on mental illness. We are focused on background checks for guns. None of these has all that much to do with our gun crime rates in America.

  • Assault weapons are essentially rifles that look like they could be military use, but that is to the untrained eye. There are no 'machine guns' or automatic firearms commercially sold in the United States today. Handguns are the gun of choice when abusing guns.
  • Mental illness is not common in people who are driving our gun crime rates. people with mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violence than someone who commits violence. And the research shows that people with mental illness are generally no more violent than the general population. With a few high profile shootings done at the hands of individuals with a history of mental illness in one form or another, we have suddenly shifted our national attention to mental illness at the culprit for gun violence in America. This is absurd.
  • Background checks are not something that gang members subject themselves to. Law abiding citizens do. As such, getting more and more strict and increasing the layers of paperwork needed to get an FID or a LTC does little to nothing to reduce gun crimes.


What Doesn't Work?

The pool of what doesn't work is endless.

First of all, there is no correlation between the states' levels of gun violence and the Brady Campaign's ranking on states' gun law strictness - I have personally done the correlation. However, in the spirit of fairness, just because there is no correlation, it does not necessarily mean there is no causation. The point here is that the left often uses this claim in error. Second, the idea that more guns leads to less crime is all correlation. While the left makes the claim that a correlation exists when one does not, the right makes a claim that is nothing more than just correlation. Neither side has any sense of what actually works. They push talking points based on a political agenda, not good science. The research on gun bans shows they don't work.

While it seems to make sense, people who claim that if we just arm guards in public places and this will reduce public mass shootings need to prove this with real studies that show there was a decrease in gun violence. By evidence I mean that we had a experimental group and a control group and we saw a decrease in public mass shootings in the experimental group. This data doesn't exist partly because the occurrences of such mass shootings are so low. In fact, public mass shootings have still happened where there are armed guards.

People who claim that fewer guns will mean less crime need to consider that there is a very robust literature on defensive gun uses (DGU). Admittedly, much of the research in this area was very poorly done. But it doesn't detract from the fact that there are legitimate DGU examples that can be referenced. In this same vein where we have more guns we also have more accidental gun discharges. Proponents who cherry-pick examples aren't using science or common sense.

So the bottom line is that we are talking about half a dozen of one, six of the other. Both the left and the right on this issue are missing the point. Both are pushing political agendas. Neither is pushing good science.

What Works?

What works is a science. Neither side of the gun debate really uses science and research is a responsible manner. This hinders real progress.

If we are going to implement strategies to reduce public mass shootings, we have to keep in mind that we are not really going to reduce gun homicide rates in America. Just as in medicine, there is no one wonder drug that will reduce illness. So too is the case with criminal justice programs.

Considering that gang contribute to a significant amount gun violence, we should be pursuing interventions such as the Kansas City Gun Experiment or Operation Ceasefire, which have been proven effective as evaluated through rigorous scientific measurement.

Remember to keep in mind that what works reducing drug use, might not work for other types of crime. What works in reducing truancy might not work for reducing antisocial or aggressive behavior. Juvenile criminal justice prevention programs are a science. They should not be applied 'willy nilly.'

Unfortunately, in my career I have personally seen excitement in city and state agencies I have worked in and with when the prospect of getting funding for a program trump prudent implementation and measurement. Performance measures are not built into the administration of the program. No real discussion of the limitations of what the program is going to and not going to accomplish is had.

There is another critical element that we are missing in this debate and that is that we are a very violent society. We enjoy watching violence on TV and in movies, playing it in video games and listening to it in music. We pay money to have access to simulated violence in these mediums. Politics may well be a part of the problem of the increase in mass public shootings, but politics has always been with us. What is new is the availability of learning through media and social media about the reactions of others who were have political greviances. It is reasonable to surmise that the recent increase in pubilc mass shootings is the result of copy-cat crimes.

My point of this article is that we need to consult the research on what works in a more objective and less self-interested manner, whether you are on the left, the right, a city or state administrator or a politician.

Paul Heroux is a state representative from Massachusetts on the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. Paul previously worked for a prison and a jail. Paul has a Master's in Criminology from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master's in Public Administration from Harvard. Paul can be reached at paulheroux.mpa@gmail.com.

Another Day, Another Shooting

Shawn VanDiver   |   July 23, 2015   11:41 PM ET

Hours ago, there was a shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana. Last week, a military recruiting station and Naval Operational Support Center were attacked. And before that, the sentencing of a shooter who attacked a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado years ago.

There aren't many issues that incite ire and outrage like the gun debate. We keep having these shootings, yet nothing seems to change for the better. That seems to be in part because the battle lines are so sharply drawn.

On one side, you have "gun rights" advocates declaring that no one can regulate or legislate their right to own as many firearms as possible. They insist that the 2nd amendment gives them carte blanche to do whatever they please with guns. The behavior of this side ranges from crazy to also crazy. Some choose to mount 'open carry' demonstrations where they can brandish assault rifles in retail establishments and restaurants; others -- often those most afraid of government overreach -- post up outside military recruitment centers to protect the troops they both fear and love from terrorists.

On the other side of the debate, you have a tiny minority advocating for a complete ban on guns. While their position doesn't put anyone at risk from accidental discharges or deadly public signaling failures, it is absolutely an impractical (and unconstitutional) solution for a country that owns as many firearms as America.

But the truth is that most of us are somewhere in the middle. We want to protect our communities. We want to keep our children safe when they go to school and ensure that our neighbors can go to work without fear of being killed because of the uniform they wear.

As a 12-year Navy veteran who taught hundreds of Sailors how to effectively employ firearms and non-lethal weapons in the use of force, I think the middle is where our lawmakers need to get, and fast. I would assert that we need common sense reform for what we need to do, at the state level, to maintain our constitutional right to bear arms while arming ourselves with the tools to be safer in public.

In order to carry a weapon while in the military, a service member must complete a series of requirements to qualify on each individual weapon. Aboard my first ship, I spent a lot more time on the shooting range than most other Sailors because I was in charge of the work center responsible for maintaining and repairing the weapons, as well as for training all of the Sailors at our unit in their employment. Despite the range time I logged, I was still required to shoot a firearms qualification course and attend weapons familiarization training at least once a year. Special forces -- the baddest of the badasses -- too are required to train on these weapons exponentially more than other units.

So what does this process I'm proposing look like? It looks like an online application, perhaps even completed on your smartphone or a tablet at the store from which a consumer is purchasing their firearm. Within that online application, you can submit your background check and mental health evaluation questionnaires. This mental health evaluation would need to be conducted by a third-party doctor, in person, who will have already reviewed your questionnaire that was filled out between 1 and 30 days in advance. They would be paid in a manner similar to Medicare (i.e. they apply after your visit and the state reimburses).

The ten-day waiting period that we have here in California should still apply, but if you've gone online, applied for your gun license, and completed your background check, mental health evaluation, and 40 hours of training, then you can have a temporary license sent to the licensed firearms dealer of your choice. Consumers showing up without an independent confirmation from the agency to the dealer would not be able to get their weapons. If you are a regular gun purchaser, this process would only happen once per year. If you purchase another firearm between 365 days and 4 years after your initial purchase, you'll have to go through that same background and mental health screening again.

If you do not purchase another weapon, then your firearms license would be renewed on a five-year cycle. After the five years elapsed, and synced with your driver's license, you would go through the background check and mental health evaluations again. Eventually, when you receive your replacement driver's license, you will now have an icon that shows you are a registered gun owner. There could also be a concealed carry icon so that a police officer, bar security, or anyone else you're in close quarters with will know that you are a gun owner -- for your safety and theirs.

The best part about all of this? The costs don't fall on you as you're purchasing the gun. They are covered by ammunition purchases: five cents per round for the first five years that the law is in place, dropping to two cents per round after that. The money that the state sees from this revenue would go toward processing, enforcement, mental health checks, training, and other costs associated with this law.

Before you tell me how I am violating your rights by proposing a record of gun owners, note that the constitution does not say that you have the right to bear arms and not tell anyone. We regulate chemicals, elevators, airplanes, and financial transactions -- and none of those are specifically designed to kill other human beings.

What I'm proposing isn't revolutionary -- it's common sense. It falls in the middle of some really crazy arguments on all sides, exactly where so many of us in this country are, too. But nonetheless, some will say that I'm using this crisis as a political opportunity to push my leftist agenda. This is a cheap and craven line to get out of a tough and necessary conversation. The fact is that, without fresh blood on the ground, no one is listening. We have to have these discussions while families are mourning. We have to care about this beyond prayer, empathy, and hand-wringing. We have to actually make change.

It's time to be reasonable. It's time to respect each others' lives as much as we respect each others' rights. It's time to require training and screening for all firearms.

Jade Walker   |   July 21, 2015    6:42 AM ET

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Police investigating the death of a Los Angeles man uncovered an arsenal inside his home and garage — more than 1,200 guns and about two tons of ammunition, authorities said Monday.

Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Andrew Smith called the number of rifles, pistols and shotguns staggering. Many had never been fired and some were still wrapped in boxes, with price tags still attached.

"Our truck couldn't carry it all," Smith told the Los Angeles Times. "We had to go back and make another trip."

There were no signs of foul play. Police have found no evidence the man, who has not been identified, was involved in criminal activity.

"One truck couldn't carry it all."

Police made the discovery after the man's decomposing body was found in a car down the street from his home in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood.

Detectives want to find out why he had so many guns and are examining the weapons to determine if they have been linked to any crime.

"We have a lot of work to do," Smith said. "Running the background, history and legality of these weapons is going to require a tremendous amount of time."

"It's not a crime to have a large number of weapons so long as they were legal to own and legally obtained," Smith added. "We want to make sure that's the case."

Also on HuffPost:

NRA's Post-Charleston Silence Shows Vulnerability of Tenuous Pro-Gun Positions

Mike Weisser   |   July 20, 2015    2:58 PM ET

In the weeks following the unspeakable gun violence in Charleston, there was one public voice notably absent, namely, the NRA. As opposed to the belligerent screed from Wayne-o after Sandy Hook, this time America's "oldest civil rights organization" kept their collective mouths shut. Well, almost all of them did, and the one exception was Charlie Cotton, a Board member from Texas, who quickly posted a statement blaming Clementa Pinckney for hastening his own demise because of his opposition to guns, and then just as quickly took the post down.

Good ol' Charlie epitomizes the saying, "it's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt." And if you don't believe me, here's a few samples of other Cotton comments obligingly sent to me by a friend. In February, he objected to a bill that would have eliminated corporal punishment in Texas public schools with this gem: "a good paddling in school may keep me from having to put a bullet into him later." He once referred to Black-on-Black shootings as "thug on thug," and in case the readers of his blog didn't get the not-so-veiled, racist comment he added, "cops know what I really mean."

In addition to proving his stupidity on issues far and wide, Cotton has also been a driving force behind the NRA-backed gun legislation in the Lone Star State, including the recent law that legalizes "open carry" of handguns in public venues. The open-carry question has a contentious history in Texas; just last year the NRA publicly scolded a group of Texans who were parading around a fast-food outlet with AR rifles in plain sight, but the ensuing uproar on the part of open-carry activists forced the NRA to back down.

For our boy Charlie, the zeal of open-carry proponents in Texas has been a difficult fence to straddle, given the ambivalence of the NRA towards the spectacle of open-carry demonstrations on the one hand, while not wanting to piss off the open-carry fringe on the other. In 2013, when then-candidate Greg Abbott was willing to support whatever loony idea would get him a few more votes in the race for Governor, he endorsed the idea of open-carry of handguns, and ol' Charlie pulled a classic on-the-one-hand-this-but-on-the-other-hand-that, by supporting the legislation but warning Open Carry Texas and other nut-job groups that sitting in Starbucks dangling AR-15s might lead to public "panic."

Now that open carry of handguns is legal in Texas, our boy Charlie Cotton still finds himself in something of a predicament, because it's not quite clear what mainstream America thinks about turning every American city into the O.K. Corral. The NRA's post-Charleston silence is a pretty clear indication that the whole notion of gun ownership may still be up for grabs, 2nd Amendment or no 2nd Amendment. And this came home to me last night when a friend sent me ol' Charlie's latest comment about open carry on his blog, in which he claimed he was still in favor of concealed carry because letting everyone know that you own a handgun might result in you being "attacked or burglarized" if a thug who saw the gun decided to follow you home. For that matter, sitting in IHOP with an unconcealed handgun would make you an immediate target if a "6-man hi-jack team" hits the store intending to do something other than ordering waffles and grits.

Did Charles Cotton, who happens to be a licensed attorney, actually make a public statement conjuring up the image of an IHOP invasion by a "hi-jack team?" Let's not forget that Texas is where a serious internet discussion is being carried on by residents who truly believe that a Pentagon-directed military exercise called Jade Helm is actually the beginning of a federal invasion of Texas, followed by martial law and the seizure of all guns. If Charlie Cotton and the NRA have decided they need such paranoid lunatics to promote the ownership of guns, the gun-sense movement is much closer to victory than they believe.

Jeb Bush Wants Military Recruiters Armed... Overturning His Dad's Policy

John A. Tures   |   July 20, 2015    9:40 AM ET

Presidential candidate Jeb Bush says he wants to overturn the ban on arming military recruiters, a response to the killing of five servicemen in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In doing so, he'll undo a policy enacted under his dad's administration, back in 1992.

In a campaign stop in Nevada, Bush said "it seems to me that if you have military bases or recruiting offices, these are symbols of American might, they're targets." He also called upon Congress to act to overturn the ban.

Ironically, Jeb Bush would be overturning a policy from his father's presidential administration, adopted when President George H. W. Bush was in the last year of his term in office.

Oliver Darcy with The Blaze, a site founded by conservative talk show host Glen Beck, reported that the having recruiting stations become "gun free zones" came from Department of Defense Directive 5210.56, signed by Donald J. Atwood, Deputy Defense Secretary under George H. W. Bush.

Fox News guest Chad Jenkins said:

Well, and look at the Fort Hood shootings. We had two shootings now that were mass casualty situations and now the recruiting station. Unfortunately, the executive order put in place by President Bill Clinton back in the nineties took away the rights for service members to carry, conceal, and to protect themselves here in the homeland.

The conservative "Patriot Post" makes a similar claim.

In researching all of President Bill Clinton's Executive Orders (you can look for yourself here) from 1993, none of them covered this issue.

I did find this military regulation, Army Regulation 190-14, signed in March of 1993. But all it does is implement the Bush Administration policy from 1992.

Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno, who served as the military commander in charge of forces in Iraq during the George W. Bush Administration, said he'll review the policy, but noted that such a policy could cause more problems than it solves. Sure enough, in Gainesville, Georgia, a recruiter accidentally shot himself while on duty.

A lot of the debate after shootings at Ft. Hood (and the less-documented shooting at an Arkansas military recruiting station) was about whether the act was terrorism or workplace violence, missing the point about whether the military should protect itself better against either event.

I'm inclined to agree with Republican candidates (others like Scott Walker and Donald Trump agree with Jeb Bush) and like Bobby Jindal's plan for providing armed guards for these stations. But I don't agree with attempts to blame the incident on Bill Clinton. Evidence shows the policy was developed before Clinton became president.

And Republicans who want to lift the gun ban should be prepared to explain it to a small group of constituents, the ones who have conspiracy theories about the military concerning exercises like "Jade Helm 15" and the belief that our military is about to put us all in Wal-Mart concentration camps.

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

Brazil's Gun Violence Problem Is 'Made in Brazil'

Robert Muggah   |   July 20, 2015    7:14 AM ET

Rio de Janeiro´s famously laid-back residents are in a state of panic. A string of high profile knifings in well-heeled areas of the city are putting Cariocas on edge. The recent stabbing of a doctor inspired the drafting of new legislation to control knives. Though well intentioned, this effort is misguided.

It is not so much knives, but rather handguns that are doing the most damage. Revolvers and pistols were responsible for 42,416 of Brazil´s jaw-dropping 56,337 murders in 2012. Across the country, gun-related homicide has increased by 387% since the 1980s. Simply put, guns are more lethal than bladed weapons.

A popular misconception is that automatic assault rifles trafficked from neighboring countries are behind the city´s spike in lethal violence. Grainy footage of young men menacingly waving AK-47s are circulating in social media. Media stories regularly feature line-ups of arrested suspects and their arsenals of heavy weaponry.

The facts on the ground tell a very different story. Between 2010 and 2014, at least 39,150 firearms were seized in Rio de Janeiro. According to military and civil police records, 3,989 firearms were collected in the first five months of 2015. Of these, roughly 80% were handguns. Just 223, or 5%, of all the collected weapons consisted of semiautomatic rifles and machine guns.

From Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo, revolvers and pistols are most commonly used in crime - over 90% of all reported gun-related incidents according to the civil police. What is more, about two thirds of all seized guns were previously legally registered to civilian owners, highlighting the murky continuum linking the legal and black markets.

A burning question is how to reduce the availability of illegal firearms and ammunition. Politicians argue that it´s impossible to keep weapons from crossing Brazil´s porous borders. They have a point. Arms and ammunition seized in Rio de Janeiro can be traced to dozens of countries, with some of them crossing over the Atlantic, but also Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Paraguay.

But these foreign-sourced firearms represent a modest slice of the total guns in circulation. Most firearms and ammunition in Rio de Janeiro were not trafficked from abroad, but rather produced and sourced closer to home. Of the 8,622 firearms seized by Rio de Janeiro´s military police in 2014, over 68% were manufactured by Brazilian (government-subsidized) firms including Taurus, Rossi, IMBEL and CBC. Most of these were purchased, gifted or stolen in Brazil.

If Rio de Janeiro is going to get its gun violence problem under control, its public authorities and citizens need to have an honest debate about how firearms are getting into the wrong hands. Finger-pointing at neighboring countries or banning knives will generate virtually no impact. At a minimum, the federal, military and civil police should start sharing information, tighten up controls to keep legal firearms from slipping into criminal markets, and mark their ammunition so it can be traced to source.

One Man is Crowdfunding an End to Gun Violence

NationSwell   |   July 17, 2015   12:10 PM ET

When Ian Johnstone was just 10 years old, his father was shot during a random robbery attempt in San Francisco. The perpetrators were a group of teenagers who had been using drugs; the 16-year-old shooter fired once into the elder Johnstone's back, instantly paralyzing him. A week later, his dad died in the hospital from complications

"You can't help but feel frustrated and jaded and powerless about the issue," says Johnstone.

Those feelings returned to the forefront of his mind in late 2013 after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. While working in the tech industry, the idea of crowdfunding gun buyback programs came up while he was speaking with a group of friends. Instead of relying on funds from cities or grants, money raised to finance buybacks could come from private online donations -- often from people in the very communities most affected by gun violence.

From this conversation, Gun By Gun was born. In less than two years, the organization has crowdsourced more than $80,000, using the money to collect more than 750 guns in four cities over the course of five campaigns.

McKinney TX: The Best Place to Live for Whom?

Dr. Tiffany D. Sanders   |   July 17, 2015   10:46 AM ET

The incident in McKinney, TX where a police officer manhandled a 14-year-old black girl and drew his weapon on unarmed black teens is very disturbing. What's ironic is that McKinney was voted last year as the best place to live. But for whom? Middle class whites who are oblivious to their white privilege and who don't have to worry about the police drawing their weapons on their children. Or for blacks who appear to be treated like second-class citizens because of the color of the skin.

Police officers are professionals who are there to serve and protect, and not to escalate tenuous situations with erratic behavior. Clearly this cop, Eric Casebolt, was out of control, running off emotions, throwing children to the ground while cursing at the remaining telling them to go home. He doesn't deserve to be police officer

Mr. Casebolt blamed his behavior on two suicide calls that he responded to earlier that day. Understand this, if you can't handle the heat, get out of the kitchen! Many of us have high-pressure positions but we cannot use that as a lame excuse for manhandling and drawing guns on teens. We must use appropriate coping skills to stay calm or excuse ourselves from doing said work, if we feel we cannot manage ourselves or our emotions enough to be level headed and rationale in a time of need.

I was pleased, yet terribly disappointed to hear that the officer resigned from the force with a "heavy heart." What about the racing, scared, panic stricken teens' hearts - were you considering that when you did your barrel role?

Mr. Casebolt you owe these teens and their parents a sincere apology. As I stated you don't deserve to be an officer for the McKinney force, but somewhere in the future, you will likely get another police position in the best place to live, small town America and resurrect your career. This infamous act will be forgotten, and your pension will be intact. Lucky you.

Turns Out Obama Wasn't Targeting Porn, Guns, Gambling And Payday Loans After All

Zach Carter   |   July 9, 2015   12:18 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- A Justice Department investigation has cleared its consumer protection lawyers of Republican charges they engaged in a multi-agency conspiracy to shut down industries disfavored by the Obama administration, including online pornography and payday lending.

The internal probe, launched in response to concerns raised by congressional Republicans, found “no evidence” DOJ lawyers intentionally targeted credit repair companies, online gambling-related operations, pornography, or online tobacco and firearms sales, according to the report. The report did find, however, that Justice Department lawyers may not have believed online payday lending was a universally noble trade that always operated in the best interests of low-income clients.

The report was requested by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), who, with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), has led the GOP charge against a Justice Department program known as Operation Choke Point. The department said the operation aimed to prevent fraudsters from accessing the banking system, but Republicans tarred it with far more sinister motivations.

A January 2014 report from Issa's Government Oversight Committee accused the program of attempting to shut down the payday lending industry (neglecting to mention that payday lending is illegal in many states, and riddled with fraud in states where it is legal). The GOP accusations snowballed from there, with charges the Obama administration was attacking gun dealers and tobacco sales, in an under-the-table crusade to crush companies that liberals don't like.

Porn stars, condom companies and other firms that had experienced inexplicable trouble with their banks began suspecting Operation Choke Point was to blame.

Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) once suggested that Obama might try to use the program to illegally ban "maybe too big of a soft drink." Luetkemeyer introduced legislation to stifle Operation Choke Point, which would have dramatically curtailed the government's ability to detect and prosecute money laundering.

Outraged conservatives never explained why they thought the Obama administration wanted to do away with porn and condoms.

The Justice Department report takes the air out of those conspiracy theories. The DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility "concluded that Department of Justice attorneys involved in Operation Choke Point did not engage in professional misconduct," says the report, provided to members of Congress this week. "OPR's inquiry further determined that Civil Division employees did not improperly target lawful participants."

While the report found no serious misconduct, it notes DOJ attorneys may have viewed online payday lending with disdain. Internet payday lending, according to the report, was “not a focus” of Operation Choke Point when it was initiated, and became a topic of interest after the operation was underway.

"Some of the congressional and industry concerns relating to Internet payday lending was understandable," the report reads. "Some memoranda from the Civil Division's Consumer Protection Branch (CPB) discussed and at times seemed to disparage payday lending practices … Some emails also corroborated that certain attorneys in the CPB working on Operation Choke Point may have viewed Internet payday lending in a negative light. Nonetheless, the relatively few Operation Choke Point subpoenas related to Internet payday lending were well supported by facts showing that the targets of the subpoenas allegedly were involved in mass-market fraud schemes."

If DOJ attorneys held low opinions about Internet payday lenders, they had a good deal of company. State regulators and even brick-and-mortar payday loan shops have complained about online entities fleecing borrowers and giving the broader payday industry -- which already had plenty of challenges -- a bad name.

The report notes that some Internet payday loan providers “engage in practices that are abusive and fraudulent” and says “32 percent of online borrowers report that money was withdrawn from their bank accounts without authorization.”

In one instance, the report says, a memo circulated by DOJ attorneys shouldn’t have referred to Internet payday lending as “predatory.” Another memo shouldn’t have referred to moves by many Internet payday lenders to get out of the business and decisions by several banks to look more closely at the businesses as a “significant accomplishment,” investigators said. And a DOJ attorney shouldn’t have referred to payday lenders losing their banking relationships as a “collateral benefit” of the operation, according to the report.

DOJ has filed three Operation Choke Point prosecutions -- all against banks it says ignored indications they were processing fraudulent payments. In some cases, it appeared that firms were simply pillaging money from consumer bank accounts without authorization. Anti-money laundering law has long barred banks from allowing illegal money to flow through the banking system, and requires banks to keep tabs on customers. Federal courts have signed off on settlements in all three Choke Point cases.

Read the full report here.

Testing Trump's Theory on Guns in France and the U.S.A.

John A. Tures   |   July 8, 2015   10:15 AM ET

When Americans reacted in horror to the shootings at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris by a pair of Islamic terrorists, it didn't take long for the weapon of choice to become part of the debate. Presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted "If the people so violently shot down in Paris had guns, at least they would have had a fighting chance. Isn't it interesting that the tragedy in Paris too place in one of the toughest gun control countries in the world? Remember, when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns!"

As France experienced another series of terror attacks in Lyon and Grenoble, it's worth examining whether France should have gun policies as strict as those in America, or not.

Trump's hypothesis claims there is a positive relationship: as the gun restrictions increase, the number of firearm-related homicides should also increase. Similarly, as gun restrictions decrease, the number of gun-related deaths should also decline.

According to Adam Taylor with the Washington Post:

French gun laws date back to April 18, 1939, though they have been amended a number of times since. They are certainly tough: There is no right to bear arms for the French, and to own a gun, you need a hunting or sporting license, which needs to be repeatedly renewed and requires a psychological evaluation.

So Trump's contention that France has tougher gun laws than the U.S.A. is supported.

And the crimes for illegal gun possession carry a stiff sentence. According to Philip Alpers, Amelie Rosseti and Marcus Wilson "In France, the maximum penalty for unlawful possession of a firearm is seven years [in] prison and a fine."

Do those tough gun laws translate to fewer gun homicides, especially in contrast to the looser restrictions on guns in the United States? That appears to be the case. France had 127 firearm homicides in 2010, down from 214 in 1997. The United States had 11,078 gun-related fatalities in 2010, higher than in 1998 when there were 9,257 such killings.

Of course, France is smaller in size and has a smaller population that the United States. What if the two were compared in terms of ratios of firearm deaths? Alpers, Rossetti and Wilson note that the number of gun deaths in France was 0.2 per 100,000 in 2010. That's even down from a higher statistic of 0.44 per 100,000 several years earlier. That compares unfavorably to the 2.8 per 100,000 deaths by firearms found in the United States in 2010. While numbers like 0.2 and 3.59 sound small, that means Americans experience 17.95 times as many gun-related killings as do the French, as a ratio of the population of the two countries.

As Taylor points out, "Mass shootings are relatively rare, when compared to the United States. While the Charlie Hebdo attack was horrific, it was also an anomaly." So Trump's hypothesis is not supported. There are far more homicides related to firearms in the United States than in France.

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Anti-gun sign at a college in Alabama. Photo taken by the author.

But the French believe they can do more. More than a decade ago, a young Frenchman, Maxime Brunerie, with ties to neo-Nazis, tried to kill his President. In response, "France's government proposed strengthening gun control laws and putting more restrictions on arms," wrote The Orlando Sentinel. And Taylor notes that attacks by another terrorist in Toulouse and Montauban brought out a similar outcry for more restrictions on guns. Why?

What seems to be the problem for France? Clearly, the country has far fewer gun deaths than in America, in terms of overall numbers and as a percentage of the population. But the problem seems to involve law enforcement, not just the laws themselves. Taylor contends that the police who arrived on the scene were outgunned by the terrorists. Further assistance did not arrive until much later.

And where the terrorists got their guns may be the source of France's lingering gun problem and vulnerability to such attacks. Taylor cites several sources that contend the Charlie Hebdo killers were wielding Kalashnikov rifles, allowed in France only under extreme circumstances. Such guns have illegally trickled into France from East Europe and possibly beyond, creating an illegal market for such weapons, including AK-47s. "The number of illegal guns is thought to be at least twice the number of legal guns in the country" Taylor writes.

Perhaps Switzerland has the solution. Their murder rate is comparable to that of France, according to Alpers, Rossetti and Wilson, with only 15 gun-related deaths and 0.19 per 100,000 residents. And they have the third highest gun ownership rate, trailing only the United States and Switzerland, according to the UN's Small Arms Survey. Those numbers are supported by data from Alpers, Rossetti and Wilson.

According to Varvel a Swiss student from Brigham Young University "explained that at age 19, every male citizen in Switzerland is required to begin mandatory military service. Once they begin training, they are each issued a SIG SG 550 fully automatic assault rifle," and 50 bullets.

Yet that same student supported the recent executive actions by the current administration, including background checks and banning fully automatic assault weapons. "I don't believe the Founding Fathers wanted such lackadaisical control of guns," he claimed. "Perhaps they envisioned something more like what Switzerland has done."

There's no way to determine if a better armed police or citizen bearing arms could have stopped the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Evidence does show that France has been able to keep a much lower gun homicide rate than America has, but will remain vulnerable to terrorism without a greater ability to crack down on illegal guns in the system, or more citizens trained in responsible gun ownership as seen in Switzerland.

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

Boehner and Company Once Again Block Gun Violence Research With NRA Talking Point

Mike Weisser   |   July 6, 2015    3:58 PM ET

"Listen, the CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect the public health. I'm sorry, but a gun is not a disease. And guns don't kill people; people do. And when people use weapons in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual, not blame the action on some weapon. Listen, there are hundreds of millions of weapons in America. They're there. And they're going to be there. They're protected under the Second Amendment."

And who said that? Not Wayne-o of the NRA, not that bunch from Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, and certainly not one of the five SCOTUS justices who decided back in 2008 that the 2nd Amendment gave Americans the Constitutional right to own guns. It was, in fact, stated last Thursday by John Boehner, Speaker of the House, to explain why he and his colleagues voted against CDC-funded gun research for the 38th time since the CDC was first defunded back in 1998.

Now you can accuse John Boehner of lots of things, but being an expert on Constitutional law isn't one of them. So when he makes a comment about what the Constitution protects and doesn't protect, at best you have to take it with a grain of salt, at worst there's a good chance that he's dead wrong. In the case of what he said about the 2nd Amendment, it's not so much that he's right or wrong; it's more that he's just mouthing what he's been told to say by whichever friendly NRA lobbyist told him to say it. And in this respect he's saying what he and his colleagues have been saying ever since the NRA decided to use the 'guns don't kill people' slogan as an unofficial tag-line on bumper stickers and other promotions, even though the phrase has been floating around popular culture since nobody knows when.

I happen to be writing a book on the 2nd Amendment at the moment, so I have read Scalia's majority opinion more times than I can count. But in light of Boehner's comment, I went back to the text once again, just to make sure that I hadn't missed something or misunderstood what Scalia actually said. Because the fact that the SCOTUS decided that guns are "protected" doesn't explain exactly what the 2nd Amendment actually protects, and for that explanation we have to go back and refer to the 2008 Heller decision again. And here's exactly what it says: "In sum, we hold that the District's ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense."

Now it turns out that in 2013, the last year for which we have complete data according to the FBI, 281 Americans were justifiably killed by other Americans, of whom 223 were killed with guns. Most of these killings occurred during the commission of another crime, usually but not always an assault. Which is exactly what the 2nd Amendment protects, namely, the justifiable use of a gun for self-defense. Now if someone would like to explain to me how the Constitution protects the 11,000 murders, 20,000 suicides and the 60,000 assaults that occur each year with guns, I'm all ears.

In 1980, only 11 percent of all motorists wore seatbelts, but by 2000 mandatory seatbelt laws probably saved upwards of 10,000 lives every year. This remarkable change in driving habits and safety laws occurred because of safety research conducted by the CDC. Did you ever hear the AAA say that "cars don't kill people, people kill people?" Nobody would ever say something so stupid or dumb. But John Boehner gets away with it every time he and his colleagues cave in to pressure from the NRA and vote to defund CDC research on guns. Of course we all know that gun research is just a smokescreen for taking away all our guns. Ever notice how CDC research got rid of all those cars?

Guns and the Godly

Lawrence Wittner   |   July 2, 2015   12:13 PM ET

Where do American Christians stand on guns and gun-related violence?

Christianity is a religion that professes love and peace. Admittedly, the Christian Bible's frequent depiction of Christ ("The Prince of Peace") as rejecting violence seems contradicted by his remark that he had come not to bring peace, but a sword. But this statement can be interpreted as meaning that his preaching would cause religious divisions in society, rather than that he approved of the spread of weapons and war. Also, of course, Christians are supposed to revere the Ten Commandments, which include the injunction: "Thou shalt not kill." Not surprisingly, then, during the first three centuries of the Christian church, it was staunchly pacifist. And even thereafter, Christianity has often emphasized turning the other check and loving one's enemies. So you would expect that, by a wide margin, American Christians -- and particularly Protestants, who emphasize their return to early Christianity -- would reject the plague of guns and gun violence that has engulfed the United States.

But you would be wrong.

According to the polls, white evangelical Protestants are the U.S. religious group most likely to have access to guns, with 57 percent of them living in homes with one or more person owning such weapons. The runners-up are the less numerous white mainline Protestants, 55 percent of whom have one or more gun owners in their households. By contrast, only 31 percent of Catholics fall into this category, while Jews appear even less likely to live among people packing guns.

The divergence in attitudes toward gun control is even more striking. According to an August 2012 survey done by the Public Religion Research Institute, only 35 percent of white evangelical Protestants and 42 percent of white mainline Protestants favored the passage of stricter gun control laws, as compared to 62 percent of Catholics and 60 percent of people without religious affiliation. In 2013, after additional gun massacres, another opinion survey by the same non-partisan organization found that white evangelical Protestants continued to constitute the religious group least likely to support stricter gun control laws, with only 38 percent in favor and 59 percent opposed. By contrast, the passage of stricter gun control laws was favored by African American Protestants (76 percent), Catholics (67 percent), the religiously unaffiliated (60 percent), and, for a change, white mainline Protestants (57 percent). Although Jews were apparently not polled on these issues, there were numerous indications that they also supported gun control by a wide margin.

How should this white Protestant (and particularly white evangelical Protestant) fondness for gun ownership and hostility to gun control be explained? After all, there should be something disturbing to people committed to love and peace about the fact that, among all economically-developed countries, the United States has by far the highest rate of gun-related murders in the world -- indeed, about 20 times the average for the next 30 countries on the list. Also, 87 percent of white evangelical Protestants describe themselves as "pro-life."

The embrace of guns by many white Protestants is bolstered by a number of arguments linked to their religious assumptions. One contention is that the United States was established by God and, therefore, the Second Amendment to the Constitution (which they allege guarantees individual gun ownership) is sacred. Another is that depriving people of "self-defense" deprives them of a God-given right. In addition, they tend to believe that corrupt, un-Christian values, rather than the easy availability of guns, lie behind the frequency of gun massacres.

Mike Huckabee, who has a strong appeal to white Protestants, particularly of the evangelical variety, often draws upon these themes. "We don't have a crime problem, or a gun problem, or even a violence problem," he said on Fox News after one massacre. "We have a sin problem. And since we've ordered God out of our schools and communities . . . we really shouldn't act so surprised when all hell breaks loose."

If gun murders simply reflect a turning away from God, though, it's hard to understand why gun violence is so much more prevalent in the United States than in other economically developed countries. Americans, after all, are much more religious than people in other developed nations. According to a 2009 Gallup poll conducted in 114 countries, 65 percent of respondents in the United States said that religion played an important role in their daily lives. By contrast, only 30 percent said that in France, 27 percent in Britain, 24 percent in Japan, 19 percent in Denmark, and 17 percent in Sweden. Similarly, the murder rate in the American South -- where the white Protestant Bible Belt is located -- has long been the highest in the United States.

A more satisfactory explanation for the unusually high rate of U.S. gun murders and massacres might lie in the fact that other countries have strict gun control laws that have limited gun ownership and use. And this, in turn, might result from the fact that they do not labor under the burden of a predominantly evangelical white Protestantism, committed to gun-owners' "rights" at all costs.

Given the size of this constituency in American life, as well as its disproportionate influence in American politics, gun killings -- which claim some 30,000 American lives each year -- are unlikely to taper off soon. Indeed, racists, religious fanatics, the mentally ill, criminals, police, and, yes, average Americans will continue to gun down their neighbors with great frequency year after year. As Sarah Palin, an evangelical Protestant, told her enthusiastic followers: "We say keep your change, we'll keep our God, our guns, our constitution."

Lawrence Wittner (www.lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, What's Going On at UAardvark?

  |   July 1, 2015    4:23 PM ET

Read More: guns

Standing before a packed courtroom last week, convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev addressed the victims of the terrorist attack and owned up to his actions:

“I am guilty … if there’s any lingering doubt about that, let there be no more. I did do it along with my brother … ”

“I prayed for Allah to bestow his mercy upon the deceased, those affected in the bombing, and their families.”