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Court Decision Uses Gun Industry's Own Fiction to Uphold Assault Rifle Regulations

Mike Weisser   |   October 21, 2015   10:07 AM ET

Right after the Sandy Hook massacre, both New York and Connecticut passed laws that tightened up restrictions on owning 'black' guns, a.k.a., the military-style AR rifles like the type Adam Lanza used to kill 26 adults and young kids. The laws basically toughened the earlier assault weapons bans, provoking immediate outcries from the pro-gun gang who challenged the laws based on their inalienable 2nd-Amendment rights. After all, the 2008 Heller decision protected private ownership of all guns that are "in common use," and what could be more common than AR rifles of which probably more than four million have been manufactured over the last twenty years?

The gun industry began promoting black guns in the 1990s when they realized that hunting and traditional sporting use of guns was dying out. This promotion took two forms: on the one hand creating the fiction that black guns, like all guns protected us from crime; on the other hand creating the equally beguiling fiction that military-style weapons were no different from other, traditional rifles since they could only be fired in semi-automatic mode.

The industry went so far as to create an entirely new shooting tradition, replacing the phrase 'assault rifle' with the nomenclature 'modern sporting rifle' so as to pretend that an AR-15 is nothing other than the same, old hunting gun that sportsmen have for generations been taking out to the woods. And for those who like to imagine themselves mowing down ISIS or Al Queda in the streets and alleys of Philadelphia or New York, the guns being sold by Bushmaster, Colt, Stag and other black-gun manufacturers are referred to as 'tactical' weapons, which everyone knows is simply an assault rifle with a different name.

Both the CT and NY laws were challenged and upheld in District Court; now the Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit, has upheld both laws again. What is interesting about this decision, indeed remarkable, is the fact that it is based not just on the government's authority to regulate guns that are in "common use," but to regulate these particular types of weapons based on their definition as created and promoted by the gun industry itself! The Circuit Court accepted the notion that black guns are just another type of sporting rifle, and it was the acknowledgement that black guns are no different from other types of sporting guns that ultimately legitimized the assault-rifle bans in Connecticut and New York.

Plaintiffs in this case argued that there were more than four million AR-15 rifles owned by civilians and that these guns, like other civilian weapons, could only be fired in semi-automatic mode. As the Court said, "This much is clear: Americans own millions of the firearms that the challenged legislation prohibits." Further, the Court also accepted the notion that many Americans keep an AR-15 in their home for self-defense. Given those circumstances, how could the Circuit Court decide that prohibiting civilian ownership of such weapons was not a violation of 2nd-Amendment rights? Because what the Court did was take the gun industry's own fiction about these guns and stand it on its head.

The industry's marketing of black guns as 'sporting' rifles is based on one thing and one thing only; namely, these weapons can only be shot in semi-auto mode. Never mind that you can deliver up to 60 rounds of ammunition in thirty seconds or less; never mind that the .223 round has a lethality specifically designed to kill or injure human targets; never mind that many military and law enforcement units also deploy the semi-auto gun. That residents in New York and Connecticut can own all kinds of semi-automatic rifles which do not contain certain military-style features means that the ban on AR-style rifles is not a prohibition of semi-automatic weapons at all.

As a noted Supreme Court justice once said, "History also has its claims." And one of those claims is that the 2nd Amendment doesn't give the gun industry the right to invent a tall tale to justify how it tries to sell guns.

Andy McDonald   |   October 21, 2015    9:05 AM ET

Oh silly billy, guns aren't responsible for gun violence! Even if you somehow got rid of all the guns, people would still die of natural causes, so why bother?!

Girl Pants Productions brings you a terrifically funny satire, completely dismantling the pro-gun argument.


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Colleges Have a Role to Play in Reducing Gun Violence

Susan Henking   |   October 20, 2015    6:04 PM ET

Robert Kennedy has been dead longer than many of today's traditional age college students have been alive. Yet, his words surfaced recently calling for us to look directly at the need for gun control and to take some action. Speaking in Roseburg, Oregon, site of one of two mass shootings that occurred in the United States that day, Kennedy spoke directly to a world in which both four-year olds and convicted murderers could purchase guns. The year was 1968. The Kennedy era seems (and, indeed, is) long ago and yet his words resonate. "Is that reasonable?" he asked, over and over again.

The answer is no.

No, it is not reasonable to live, nearly 50 years later, in a nation where guns are the cause of well over 30,000 deaths per year and in a country "with less that five percent of the world's population. . . [that is] home to 35-50 percent of the world's civilian-owned guns."

No, it is not reasonable that compared to our neighbor to the north, Canada, and to many other countries, those in the United States experience substantially higher homicide rates and deaths by firearms.

I say this as a college president. We know that the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg is not alone. Indeed, there were campus shootings in Arizona and Texas only days later.

I say this as president of a college in Chicago, a city all too often offered up as "the" site of gun violence in the United States. But we, too, know we are not alone.

I say this as an American citizen, ashamed of our ranking alongside other countries when it comes to the negative impact of guns on individual lives. I say this, too, as a white woman knowing that gun violence in our country is deeply inflected by race, social class and other axes of difference. And, I say this in October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, knowing how guns in homes contribute to this horror as well.

Kennedy asked mid-twentieth century America: "Is it reasonable?" None of this was reasonable then or now.

Spoken less than a month before his own assassination, Kennedy's words come from 1968, a mere two years after Charles Whitman shot and killed 16 people on August 1, 1966 on the University of Texas at Austin campus. Like Kennedy's words, Whitman's actions seem so long ago. Like Kennedy's words, Whitman's actions continue to resonate in the all too frequent school and college shootings that have occurred in intervening years.

While only a small proportion of the gun deaths in the United States occur on campuses, such events make it starkly evident that higher education must attend to the role of guns in American culture and bring the force of our roles to bear against the violence that is endemic in our country. Whether mass shootings or the murder of faculty for issuing low grades or tenure committees for denying colleagues, shootings on school and college campuses are so prevalent that they merit a Wikipedia entry. These are not the only shootings that matter, but they are one of the reasons colleges and universities must respond.

We cannot risk analysis paralysis, or, perhaps worse, allow the appearance of debate or political lethargy to substitute for change. That we need more education for critical thinking around such issues is both obvious and urgent. That we need action is obvious as well. What we have been doing in the 50 years since Kennedy raised his question and Whitman murdered those around him has been inadequate at best.

We can learn from neighbors like Canada, whose response to events like the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique shootings put our country to shame. And, we can learn from those whose lives have been shaped by gun violence -- from Jim Brady to the children of Sandy Hook, from those who moved on from Columbine to advocate for gun control to the men and women whose lives were wasted in Roseburg. We can learn that we need to change our world, our country, and our access to and use of guns.

This will require rejecting some voices and some dollars. It will require standing with others, and for others, like the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence or EveryTown for Gun Safety.

It will require us to risk more than talk. It will require us to be reasonable.

This October as Roseburg and UCC adjust to their unfortunate newly symbolic role alongside Columbine, Virginia Tech and, nearly 50 years ago, the University of Texas at Austin, Kennedy's ghostly words give us a crucial criterion for a role for higher education and for us all. He asked: Is it reasonable?

It is our responsibility to say no.

Once Upon a Time Mom was Shot Dead

Juliet Linley   |   October 20, 2015    5:47 PM ET

No mom snuggles up to her toddler for a cosy bedtime read, with a book in which the protagonists' mother is shot and killed just one page into the narrative.


Yet when our daughter was given l'Histoire de Babar, Which I had read so long ago I had no recollection of aside for jolly images of impeccably-dressed elephants (and a frail lady who introduced him to suits and chocolate eclairs) I found myself scrambling to change the story mid-sentence.

Just before reading the line about a wicked hunter killing Babar's mommy, I spared our three-year-old the tears and fumbled around with something like the mummy tripped but was fine.

Enough has been written about the colonial implications if Laurent de Brunhoff's Babar, but how about French kids growing up with the death of a mother as the preface to the story?

Our daughter grew up with a sanitized version of events, because as we sat reading the book in her bed, I managed to fumble through as soon as I realised what was about to happen and paper over the death I moved swiftly on to the happier narratives about Babar meeting Celeste and becoming the ruling royals of the jungle, and luckily since she couldn't read yet, she didn't realize what had been omitted.

But fast forward five years and our toddler son is in the waiting room at the Rome pediatric dentists' clinic (his front teeth were smashed in a tumble so they rather appropriately look more like little tusks than teeth) and 56 minutes into the wait in a stuffy, overcrowded room, I break all rules and pull out my phone and YouTube to avoid the impending meltdown.

I try to rapidly think through what would be the most innocuous cartoon I can show him, and suddenly those affable, elegantly-dressed elephants comes to mind.

Searching on YouTube with an extremely fussy toddler tugging at you can be trying at the best of times, so I quickly poked what immediately jumped out at me: "Babar's First Steps".




Of course.

But no. A little while into the story, I glance down and see a wicked-looking hunter lurking behind Babar and his mother, taking aim at them as they amble happily through the jungle. Shots ring out. She tumbles. She falls. Babar starts crying desperately and I whip the phone out of our son's hands.

Big mistake of course, especially in a tiny room packed with people.

He tears up and starts bawling.

He wants to see the gun. And who is that man? And is the mummy elephant hurt? Or dead?

"Mummy is she dead? I want to see."

What does our three-year-old know about death? What does he need to know right now about mothers dying? Really, did I really have to choose that cartoon?

I damn myself and wish I had gone for my husband's favourite, the infallible Peppa Pig.

I may well find that grunting family inane and un-educational, but there are definitely No Dying Mothers in that one.

So now I am trying to wrestle the phone away from our toddler (what is it about ending cartoon-time that turns them into wrathful Rottweilers?) and after a huge amount of fast-talking, coercing and cajoling (what is it about toddlers on the verge of a tantrum that turn parents into top terrorist negotiators?) I succeed, but only just.

I still need to deal with the barrage of questions.

And, I wonder, should I have just let him continue watching and not done all of this? Was I making more of an issue than necessary?

I decide that, given children's photographic memories and their ability to retain images they have seen in the heads for what seems like forever -- and to keep chewing the cud around them -- I did the right thing.

And then the words start tumbling effortlessly out of my mouth. Guns hurt. And they kill. That was just a story, but did you see how sad Babar was? Did you see how horrid the hunter looked? And how cruel he was as he took more shots at her? (that was the point at which I interrupted it. I later checked and the scene goes on much longer. Oh bliss.) Is it kind to shoot someone or even pretend to? Is it a nice game to poke a stick in your friend's face and go Bang Bang like the hunter did?

"No. But it wasn't a true story, right? That would be really sad," he asks looking searchingly up at me.

It's just a little early to start telling him that in the real world mothers do get killed. And that firearms often are the cause. And that while their children might not always be there to witness the murder firsthand, they live with that immense loss firsthand.

And they live with it forever.

Luckily for now, he looks at me and gets it.

Or so I think.

"I don't like guns." he declares.

I smile. There, I was right.

But then:

"Mummy, you know what I like? I like fighter jets."

Defining the Business of Selling Guns: One Common-sense Step Towards Fixing Broken Background Checks System

Mike Weisser   |   October 20, 2015    8:24 AM ET

This week the Center for American Progress issued a report recommending changes in the definition of being engaged in the business of selling guns. Clarifying what constitutes dealing in firearms would bring more gun transactions under the purview of the ATF and thus create more barriers to guns moving from one person to another without a NICS-background check. The CAP report is a response to President Obama's announcement after Roseburg that he might invoke executive authority to redefine how many gun transactions would demonstrate an ongoing business activity, as opposed to simply owning or collecting guns.

Gun dealers have been regulated by the federal government since 1938 when a law was passed that required dealers to purchase a Treasury license for one dollar and follow some simple rules whenever they transferred a gun, namely, verifying that the individual to whom they delivered the gun lived in the same state where the dealer was located.

The 1938 law was completely revamped and the scope of government gun regulation widened to an unprecedented degree by the Gun Control Act of 1968. Now dealers were not only required to verify the age and address of the customer, but also to verify that the prospective gun owner was not a member of various prohibited categories; i.e., felon, drug addict, fugitive, mental defective, and so forth. A gun dealer had no way of checking the veracity of such information, but at least there was a document on file for every over-the-counter sale.

Verifying whether an individual was telling the truth about his fitness to own a gun was what lay behind the Brady Bill passed in 1994. In lieu of a national waiting-period on all gun purchases was a provision that required every federally-licensed dealer to contact the FBI who then verified that the customer was telling the truth. But in order to access the FBI examiners, you had to be a federally-licensed dealer. No federal dealer's license, no contact with NICS. Which is where the whole notion of 'loopholes' in the gun-licensing system came from; which is what Obama would like to close. And the easiest way to close the loophole, or at least make it smaller, is to define the word 'dealer' in a way that requires more people to become FFL-holders if they want to buy or sell guns.

The CAP report is a judicious and careful attempt to set out some criteria that could be used to determine who is really engaged in the business of selling guns. It does not recommend any specific amounts of guns that might be transferred nor how much money someone needs to earn over any given period of time. Rather, it looks at how various states define commercial enterprises and whether such definitions would be a useful guide to creating a more realistic way to establish that someone is going beyond just collecting or owning guns.

What the report doesn't mention is that if the FFL imposes some sort of uniformity over dealers at the federal level, when we look at how states license gun dealers, there's no uniformity at all. Every state collects sales taxes, every state imposes and enforces other business regulations, but when it comes to guns, most states simply place the entire regulatory burden on the feds and the ATF. In order to receive an FFL, the prospective dealer must send a copy of the license application to the local cops, but if the particular locality doesn't have any local laws covering gun dealers, the local gendarmerie could care less.

I hope the CAP report will be taken seriously by the president before he issues an Executive Order that more clearly defines what it means to engage in the commerce of guns. I also hope he won't publish an Executive Order that places more unfulfilled regulatory responsibilities on the ATF and provokes the usual 'I told you so' from the pro-gun gang. If it were up to that bunch, there would be no gun regulations at all.

Another Day, Another Shooting: What An Unforgettable Tragedy At My College Taught Me

Unwritten   |   October 20, 2015    3:27 AM ET

Originally published on Unwritten by Rachel Bucek.

Friday morning rather than waking up to my alarm, I was woken up by a friend saying "Guys, guys...I want you to know there was a shooting that took place last night. We all just got alerts on our phones." As I turned over my phone my heart instantly sank as I read message that was lighting up the screen: "NAU Alert, Reported Shooting."

I am currently a sophomore in college attending Northern Arizona University. It was reported Thursday night that there had been a school shooting...1 student killed and 3 injured. My initial reaction to hearing about this shooting was as expected, I felt terrified. I have always prided myself on being a very cautious and realistic person when it comes to "expecting the unexpected." I took all the precautions, I've read all about how to defend myself, what to do when there's a school shooting, and how to calm yourself in a stressful environment, but nothing could prepare me for the disaster that occurred at my very own school.

Although I have no relation to any of the victims or the shooter in this tragedy, I did come across a realization Friday morning when I heard the news. Though it is important for us to mourn and keep those who have been affected by this moment in our thoughts and prayers, we should not be afraid of the world around us. As I laid in bed scared for my friends and scared for myself I recognized something far more important than my fears - my confidence in this world.

We are a generation that stands tall in this moment, who do not cower. All throughout life we will be faced with the inevitable, we will be challenged...and as hard as it may be, we will come across many more tragedies in days to come. Rather than fearing the inescapable, we need to be aware that there are people in this world who care and are here to comfort each other, and if you don't know someone like that, maybe you need to be that person. Yes, this world is full of people who do bad things, and although it does affect our daily lives we need to remember there is still good in the world and it is all around us. There is no easy way to overcome fear, each and every person has their own way of healing that will come to them with time. Whether its a friend from a different state, or someone you've met over Facebook, reach out to those who are hurting no matter what circumstances or tragedy they may be going through. Support one another, because it is the easiest and most sincere way of helping.

This school shooting helped me realize that though I should stay alert, I have no reason to be afraid. I am one of the many people who can make a difference in this generation. I can be a comforter for those who are struggling during this time, I can help people regain a sense of contentment at my school, because it truly is a beautiful place. Although this is hard to say, this won't be the last time we are faced with a situation such as this. As a generation we need to stand strong with one another, and hold one another up when we are feeling weak. There is nothing more that can get my school through this frightening time.

I have written this piece with hopes to encourage you all. We live in a world full of endless possibilities good and bad, but this should not cause us to live our lives in fear. We cannot allow ourselves to be constricted by an incident such as this. I am hurting for the families of these students, and it is unfortunate that tragedies such as this one are taking place so often. Yet I am still confident and comfortable at my school. I am sure I can speak for most of the NAU student body when I say we are overwhelmed by the support we are receiving from friends and family across the country.

Chloe Angyal   |   October 19, 2015    2:36 PM ET

It took a second for the gun to accidentally go off, weeks for Florida to pass a law to keep guns out of children’s hands, and a lifetime for Sean Smith to forgive himself.

Igor Bobic   |   October 18, 2015   10:24 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — After 15 years of a virtual gag order on guns in presidential politics, Democrats are talking again.

President Barack Obama is considering more executive action on gun control. The front-runner in the Democratic race to replace him says she "will not be silenced" on guns. At the Democrats' first debate in the presidential season, candidates jockeyed for bragging rights over who had the lowest rating from the National Rifle Association.

The return of the gun debate comes in the first White House contest since the December 2012 shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six educators at an elementary school, and a string of mass shootings after that. The absence of gun legislation passed by Congress has spurred a steady call for action from the Democratic base.

Democrats say support for new gun laws is broader now and the politics of the issue have shifted enough to make the push for tougher measures a political winner, even if there remains almost no chance for success in Congress.

Republicans are eager for Democrats to test the theory.

They watched the Democratic debate and saw fodder for advertising aimed at rural voters and gun owners still firmly opposed to putting more restrictions on gun purchases. Those voters have tended to retain their passion on the issue and have been motivated to vote, long after a shooting recedes from the headlines.

The White House has been upfront that it plans to keep attention on the issue.

Obama has directed his staff to review gun laws for possible ways he could make changes without congressional approval.

One option could be changing regulations to ensure gun show and Internet purchasers are subject to background checks, a move that would probably run into a court challenge over whether he has that authority.

It would risk a backlash from supporters of gun rights — one that could complicate Obama's agenda in Congress and create trouble for Democratic lawmaker running in conservative or rural districts.

But Democrats increasingly argue that fears of such a backlash are overblown, particularly if the issue is framed narrowly.

"You see such strong support all across the country for proposals like closing the gun show loophole," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, urging Congress to act. "There's ample public data to indicate that even a majority of gun owners support something like this."

A July Pew Research Center poll found that 85 percent of those questioned, including 87 percent of those in gun-owning households, support requiring background checks for private sales and at gun shows. But on the more general question of whether gun laws should be tighter, just 52 percent of respondents overall agreed, in a CBS News poll conducted in July and August.

That survey found 77 percent of Democrats in favor of tighter laws, a number that helps explain why the issue has lit up the Democratic primary. Hillary Rodham Clinton has kept up a drumbeat for weeks, using the issue to try to drive a wedge between liberal Democrats and her top rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has voted against some gun control legislation.

Clinton on Friday suggested that the U.S. might consider a gun buy-back program and mocked the gun lobby for opposing such measures.

"They just scare responsible folks into thinking that the black helicopter is going to land in the front yard and someone is going to come and take away your guns," she said.

Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, said the buy-back idea "validates what the NRA has said all along. The real goal of gun control supporters is gun confiscation."

It was hard to imagine Democrats picking a fight with the NRA in past presidential contests.

Democrats' electoral losses after the 1994 passage of the ban on assault-type weapons had a chilling effect on the debate. President Bill Clinton posited that Vice President Al Gore lost the 2000 election because of opposition to Gore's gun stance in his home state of Tennessee and other rural, right-leaning states. Democrats have since all but taken the issue off the table in national campaigns.

The former president's analysis has been disputed by some who say it exaggerates the influence of the NRA in the election, but its impact has been clear. Obama made scant reference to gun control in either of his campaigns. John Kerry, the 2004 nominee, memorably emerged from the cornfields of eastern Ohio carrying a shotgun after hunting geese.

The photo op was aimed at rural, white voters, who have become less critical for Democrats' path to the White House. Democrats are no longer dependent on winning states such as Tennessee, Arkansas or West Virginia, where skepticism of any new gun law runs deep, and more reliant on energizing African-American, Latino and unmarried female voters.

Republicans strategist Ed Goeas said the Republican nominee will be braced for a debate over guns and ready to talk about perpetrators of mass shootings, focusing on improving mental health systems.

Advocates of tighter gun laws are heartened by the fact the debate even exists.

"Guns have been considered a third rail issue especially for Democrats and now major presidential candidates are actually running on it," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Violence. "For someone like me, it's almost surreal to watch."


Republican Presidential Candidates Project the United States Poorly

Liaquat Ali Khan   |   October 16, 2015    2:42 PM ET

The United States is a home of knowledge. It is a nation of teachers, managers, lawyers, journalists, accountants, software developers, physicians, technology innovators, and skilled workers in all fields of life. The United States has more than five thousand universities and colleges, many of them highly regarded in the world. Literacy is high. For the most part, Americans are a sophisticated audience and cannot be easily fooled.

Yet, the Republican presidential candidates make incendiary statements day after day. Some statements are shockingly pestiferous. Some statements come from presidential candidates who studied law or medicine at premier colleges and universities. Sadly, most candidates compete to excel in extreme speech. If leaders mirror the people, the Republican presidential candidates project the United States and their political party poorly to the world.

The Republican candidates forget that what they say will be aired in all corners of the world. Because the United States is an influential nation, all nations and their media pay close attention to what American leaders say in speeches. On the basis of what they hear, the peoples of the world make judgments, form opinions, and allocate respect to leaders and their nations. Ignoring global dynamics, the Republican candidates behave as they are only talking to American hardcore conservatives or potential voters in key presidential primary and caucus states. Worse, they do not care what the world says.

Take Ted Cruz. Son of an immigrant Cuban father and Texan mother, Ted Cruz, also known as Felito Cruz, studied at Princeton University and Harvard Law School. Presumably an erudite fellow bred with cross-cultural discernments, Cruz, one hopes, would be subtle and scholarly in speech acts. Yet Cruz crudity is vivid. If Iran tried to acquire nuclear weapons, tells Ted Cruz to a receptive audience, "we may have to help introduce (Iranian Supreme leader) to 72 virgins."(This means that Cruz would kill the Iranian leader.) The crowd cheers even though Cruz ridicules Islam, a religion of fellow-Americans, and constructs a hypothetical to justify the language of violence in times of massacres at American schools and churches.

Ben Carson, an African-American, the son of a Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) minister, was raised in Detroit, Michigan. Carson studied at Yale and Michigan universities and taught neurosurgery at John Hopkins hospital. Citing various reasons, Carson believes that no American Muslim should be permitted to be the United States president. As an African American, Carson understands that his racial group has suffered slavery, segregation, discrimination, and indignities for more than four hundred years. It is unclear how Carson cuts himself loose from his intimate historical consciousness and behaves as if the language of exclusion is a noble objective. The world might infer that Carson is advocating the views of the SDA church about Islam. Critics of the SDA church might wonder whether Carson's strict observance of the Sabbath is compatible with the US constitution, pointing out that the United States cannot have a president religiously obligated not to work on Saturdays. The people are also surprised that Carson links gun control to the Holocaust.

Donald Trump leads the pack of Republican presidential candidates in emitting thoughtless statements. The adage if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail is invented for people like Trump. Author of The Art of Deal, Trump believes that everything in the world is like dealing in real property. "It's tangible, it's solid, it's beautiful. It's artistic, from my standpoint, and I just love real estate," says Trump. For Trump, buying homes and shops at questionable prices from working class people to build fanciful casinos for gamblers is the meaning of smartness and social service. It is no wonder that Trump wants to build a wall at the Mexico-US border to prevent "rapists and drug addicts" from infiltrating into America. "I'm intelligent. Some people would say I'm very, very, very intelligent." (Fortune, April 3, 2000). For sure, Trump has entertainment skills. But the world expects the United States President to be a serious leader.

Some other Republican candidates are also making brash policy statements. For example, Carly Fiorina would not talk to Vladimir Putin but employ the Sixth Fleet to speak daggers. Mike Huckabee champions Kim Davis for violating the law even though the U.S. Constitution mandates that the President "shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bobby Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants, issues tough statements against Muslims, reminding Muslims how Hindu extremists rant against Muslims in India. Jeb Bush, a member of the American royal family that manufactures presidents, is a bit restrained in his rhetoric but even he cannot avoid being offhand. "Stuff happens," says Bush to unwittingly de-emphasize the use of guns in the death of nine persons by a shooter at an Oregon community college.

In their combined impact, the Republican presidential candidates distort the global image of the United States and project it as a nation where the language of violence is respected verbiage, where killing foreign leaders is openly advocated, where defaming other nations as exporters of criminals is normal, where Islam is openly maligned, and where showing lack of compassion is the high mark of analytical clarity. This is not the America I know and live in.

Until the Festering Wound of Fear and Hatred Heals

Stephanie Mitchell Hughes   |   October 16, 2015   10:29 AM ET

With each successive mass shooting since Sandy Hook, the question "How long?" reverberates louder and louder inside my head like a drumbeat. How long will we as members of the human race allow our babies, children, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and yes even grandparents to be needlessly massacred as the result of gun violence? How long will we allow the blood of the innocent to flow freely saturating the ground where they fell after being gunned down? How long will the response to such unspeakable tragedy be limited to candlelight vigils where the air is filled with bagpipes playing the familiar refrain from Amazing Grace followed by vitriolic exchanges across social media about guns, the further demonization of individuals with mental illnesses, and meaningless speeches by politicians only seeking to produce 15-second sound bites rather than actual solutions? I am just asking how long? In a recent New York Times article, columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote that in the United States in 2013, 82 preschoolers were killed by guns as compared to 27 police officers who were shot to death in the line of duty during the same time period. According to a report from the PBS data team, there is more than one mass shooting each day in the United States. The Washington Post just reported that to date this year at least 43 toddlers age 3 and younger have shot or killed themselves or someone else. In the meantime the proverbial Nero fiddles while the country that we claim to love burns to the ground.

I must quickly state that I do not know if more laws and fewer guns is the answer to ending gun violence. My belief is not based upon the so called constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms that has been such an effective rallying cry for gun rights advocates. Rather, I believe that our nation has become so polarized and fractured that any gun reform measure would be the equivalent of a small bandage over the gaping and deeply infected wound of fear and hatred of difference. This same intense fear and hatred of difference drives people into the abyss of a violence that is increasingly "resolved" by using a gun.

Reacting to difference with fear and hatred is destroying our ability to extend empathy, love, and grace to each other. We do not seem to realize that we cannot cut our brothers and sisters without drawing our own blood. Until we learn to love each other as we love ourselves, gun violence will continue its destructive march across our nation. Why? Because we cannot hate, fear, or kill who we love.

Loving, extending forbearance, accepting, and forgiving each other may seem like weakness. To the contrary, hate and fear are the easy path. Love, forbearance, and forgiveness are hard choices; choices that require courage and strength. Perfect love and empathy reveal this critical truth: that regardless of our differences we are truly each other's keeper.

So the answer to the question "How long?" is until the festering wound of fear and hatred is completely healed. That healing occurs whenever we choose to respond to differences with love, forbearance, and forgiveness instead of fear and hatred. Fear and hate are contagious. The more the rancid brew of fear and hatred is stirred the more its toxicity will multiply.

Mass shootings are destroying the very fabric of our nation. Gun violence is a complex, multi-layered issue that does not lend itself to an easy solution. However, no solution will effectively and fully address gun violence until we learn to freely extend love, forbearance, and forgiveness to each other. Love, fear, and hate are choices. Today, I challenge you to choose love.

As always be empowered, encouraged, and enlightened!

Men With Autism Are Not the Killers, They Are the Victims

David Royko   |   October 16, 2015   10:16 AM ET

Guns, god and abortion are three issues I rarely argue about any more because it's a waste of time. If people are in agreement about any of those, they're preaching to their own choirs. As for those with opposite views, have you ever had an argument about GG&A that changed opinions -- either theirs or your own?

So we are not particularly interested in wading into the gun debate that has been raging in the U.S. for as long as I can remember. Autism is our family's primary issue.

But guns are an autism issue.

And no, I am not referring to the twisted and increasingly predictable cry of, "Did he have autism?!" that we hear after our daily dose of mass shootings. Wrongly scapegoating people with autism has become routine. (See Andrew Solomon's New York Times op-ed of Oct. 12 for a clear-eyed look at this.)

Our concern comes from the other end of the pistol.

Our son, Ben, has severe autism, is 22 years old, and lives at a residential program in a different town from us.

During a visit with Ben, I was taking care of something in the lobby of our hotel while Karen, Ben's mom, headed to the elevator with the big guy.

As Karen describes it:

We were waiting for the elevator and Ben was pacing around happily like he usually does. We were in room 207 on the second floor, and the door to Room 107 was ajar. I looked away from Ben for a moment just as he pushed open the door to 107 and started to go in. He was either just curious or thought it was our room. At the same time, a man -- he looked to be around 70 -- was walking down the hall and saw Ben going into what was apparently his room. The man became agitated and ran down the hall yelling, 'Hey, don't go in there!' I quickly offered, 'I'm sorry, he's disabled, he's no threat,' which didn't seem to calm the man down as I ran to get Ben out of the doorway. When I faced the door I could see a woman, probably the man's wife, lightly pushing Ben out. Ben was being gentle about the whole thing. She and Ben both had smiles on their faces -- she could see that Ben wasn't a threat. The man hadn't seen that.

End of incident, no big deal, right? It was a routine occurrence in the life and times of our big Benny boy, and no harm done.

Except I couldn't help thinking about Mohammad Usman Chaudhry. Or David Levi Dehmann. Or Steven Eugene Washington. Or... the nauseating litany of men wrongly killed due in large part to their autism grows longer almost by the day. Google those names, or try "man with autism killed by police," if you have the time. You'll need plenty because there are plenty of guys exactly like Ben who have been killed by clueless people, law enforcement or otherwise. More cops are being trained and taught about autism and these tragedies still happen with depressing frequency.

Citizens are not being trained and in fact are increasingly worried that "autistics" are dangerous by nature. And many of these citizens are armed.

Ben is six feet, three inches tall, acts irrationally, and can seem threatening, especially to someone unaware of his condition. He can't effectively communicate with strangers.

And he is always unarmed. Ben is not a significant threat to anyone in the world.

The man in Room 107 saw Ben differently -- a big man sneaking into the hotel room his wife was in.

What if the man had had a gun on him? What if his wife hadn't realized Ben was harmless, and screamed? What if she herself had been armed?

What would you have done?

For Ben and his cohorts in autism, an armed world is a more dangerous world.

Benjamin Hart   |   October 15, 2015    5:28 PM ET

NEW YORK (AP) — A gunrunner who smuggled more than 100 weapons from Atlanta and Pittsburgh into New York City on cheap interstate passenger buses bragged about it in a cellphone call to his ex-girlfriend while carrying a cache in a duffel bag on the streets of Manhattan, prosecutors said Wednesday.

"I've got MAC-10s on me, an SK assault rifle and four handguns and I'm walking through New York," Michael Bassier said in the intercepted phone call in March, according to authorities.

The conversation — evidence in a yearlong undercover probe of a gun-trafficking ring — demonstrates the persistent threat of guns that are bought in states with lax gun-control laws, resold to criminals in New York and used in shootings, authorities said a news conference announcing the arrests.

Bassier, 31, was among eight reputed members of the gun ring facing conspiracy and other charges. He was being held without bail following an arraignment on Tuesday; there was no immediate response to a message left on Wednesday with his attorney.

The takedown follows a series of similar investigations over the past several years, including recent ones targeting guns smuggled from the South in private cars and commercial airliners. While New York City has some of the strictest gun-control laws, the cases show the need for federal legislation to help address the problem, said Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson.

"So we had guns in a car, guns on a plane and now guns on a bus," Thompson said. "How many different ways to we have to try to get to these guns before we wake up as a country and realize that we have to stop the bloodshed?"

An undercover New York Police Department officer using the alias "Zoey" infiltrated the ring last year and persuaded Bassier to make him his exclusive customer, authorities said. During the course of the investigation, the suspect made 12 trips by Chinatown-based buses to Atlanta and six trips by car to Pittsburgh to purchase semi-automatic pistols and assault weapons, they said.

Bassier recruited straw purchasers to pay between $150 to $300 per gun at gun stores and pawn shops and on websites in their home states, then resold them for $800 to $1,200, authorities said. In all, he provided 112 weapons to the undercover in transactions that often took places in a Walgreens parking lot in Brooklyn, authorities said.

The wiretap evidence shows Bassier knew exactly what he was doing, prosecutors said.

"I'm selling them the right way and the wrong way," he told his ex. "When I'm out of state, like Atlanta and Georgia and all that, it's all legal ... but in New York, it's completely illegal."

The woman expressed dismay, telling Bassier, "I thought you said you've changed."

His response: "I have."

Mollie Reilly   |   October 15, 2015    2:59 PM ET

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) proposed a ballot measure on Thursday that would bolster the state's gun laws and give California's voters a chance to do what the state legislature hasn't.

Newsom's call comes two weeks after a gunman killed nine other people at a community college in Oregon, again prompting anger and frustration nationwide over the lack of action to prevent mass shootings.

The proposed measure, written in conjunction with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, has five components: banning most possession of high-capacity magazines, mandating background checks on ammunition sales, requiring individuals to report lost or stolen firearms, ordering the state to share data with the federal government on who is prohibited from owning guns, and strengthening existing laws aimed at keeping guns out of the wrong hands. 

Newsom, who is running for governor in 2018, unveiled his proposal at a press conference in San Francisco, near the site of the 1993 massacre at 101 California Street. That shooting, in which a gunman killed eight people and wounded six others at a law firm before killing himself, sparked a national conversation on gun control that eventually led to the passage of a federal assault weapons ban in 1994. (The law expired in 2004 and has not been renewed by Congress.) 

On Thursday, Newsom pointed to the number of mass shootings in recent years, lamenting that lawmakers have failed to take any meaningful action toward preventing such incidents. 

"We have the ability to do something about it," he said. "We have the capacity to turn things around." 

Newsom noted that an advantage of passing firearms reforms via ballot measure is that it will bypass legislators who receive donations from the National Rifle Association.

"I'll say this to the NRA, with all due respect: You can intimidate politicians. We've seen that. You've been effective," Newsom said. "But you can't intimidate the public. That's why we're bringing this directly to the public."

Watch Newsom's remarks:

Posted by Gavin Newsom on Thursday, October 15, 2015

Newsom's measure needs to collect 365,880 signatures to qualify for next year's ballot. That shouldn't be much of a challenge in California, where a 2013 Field Poll found that 61 percent of voters believe it's more important to impose greater restrictions on gun ownership than to protect the right to bear arms. That same poll also found 75 percent support requiring individuals to pass a background check to buy ammunition and 58 percent back banning high-capacity magazines. 

California already has some of the nation's toughest gun laws, including a 1999 ban on assault weapons. Additionally, cities including Los AngelesSan Francisco and Sunnyvale have adopted gun control measures of their own.

All of those proposals have been met with strong opposition from the NRA, which weighed in on Newsom's proposal on Twitter:

As of last week, there have been more than 1,000 mass shooting incidents in the United States since January 2013. Meanwhile, Congress has failed to pass any meaningful legislation addressing the epidemic of gun violence.

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One by One, Put Down Our Guns

Dr. Cindi Love   |   October 15, 2015    1:02 PM ET

The most recent mass shooting at Umpqha Community College has catalyzed public debate about restrictions on the ownership and carrying of firearms on campuses.

If anything good can come out of the repetitive tragedies of school shootings, perhaps it is the fact that we cannot speak about campus violence without speaking of violence in society as a whole.

The truth is that students remain safer on campuses than non-students (most of us) in general society. We just find it harder to talk about the larger context of our rights vs. public health and safety.

It is so strange to me that some of us were once so scared of AIDS that we were willing to vilify our neighbors and children like Ryan White, yet some of us aren't scared of students having the right to conceal a gun in their backpack at school.

At the risk of over-simplifying the discussion on carry or not to carry, there are two major perspectives:

Those who lean into the constitutional rights argument believe we should allow gun possession on campus by faculty, students and staff so they can defend themselves. These individuals feel the same about the right to carry in society as a whole.

The opposite view is that more guns on campus will increase the risk of violence. These individuals feel the same about the risks in larger society.

I would like to suggest that the staggering toll of gun violence in America is a critical public health and safety issue, not a constitutional rights concern. We will not take effective action until we choose to depoliticize this issue and take charge of our own health and safety.

I remember a time when we didn't wear seat belts, when people smoked cigarettes everywhere including planes. The politicians and the media rallied people to defend the rights of citizens on these issues as well. A lot of time passed and a lot of people died while we came to our senses. We managed to move to a better place by focusing on public health and safety, not our right to kill ourselves and others

I have the right to drink, and I don't have the right to drink and drive. I have the right to carry a gun, and I don't have the right to shoot someone whom I feel offends me. The person who chooses to massacre students in a classroom, in a movie theatre or in a mall is not operating from a rational perspective of rights, rather an irrational position of righteous indignation, hurt, blame and anger.

The Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health has convened experts on gun policy and violence from around the world to:

Demonstrate both the weaknesses of current federal gun policies and the efficacy of various state laws designed to reduce firearm availability to high-risk groups...Compelling case studies from Australia, Scotland, and Brazil demonstrate effective policy responses to gun violence that have led to significant reductions in gun-related deaths.
I want to share their recommendations/best practices and hope that you will share them with your elected officials as support for a national effort to improve public health and safety. And, it would not hurt to talk them through with your local and state officials because concealed carry regulations will be enacted there long before we get anything done at the federal level.

The recommendations/best practices are:

Background checks: Establish a universal background check system for all persons purchasing a firearm from any seller.

High-risk individuals: Expand the set of conditions that disqualify an individual from legally purchasing a firearm.

Mental health: Focus federal restrictions on gun purchases by persons with serious mental illness on the dangerousness of the individual.

(Editorial Comment: And, at the same time, invest our considerable resources in creating better treatment for those who need it)

Trafficking and dealer licensing: Appoint a permanent director to ATF and provide the agency with the authority to develop a range of sanctions for gun dealers who violate gun sales or other laws

Personalized guns: Provide financial incentives to states to mandate childproof or personalized guns.

Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines: Ban the future sale of assault weapons and the future sale and possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines.

Research funds: Provide adequate federal funds to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, and National Institute of Justice for research into the causes and solutions of gun violence.

And, when you Facebook your elected official, cite the research from Daniel W. Webster & Jon S. Vernick. Webster is Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health & Director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research, Deputy Director of Research for the Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence, and Director of the PhD program in Health and Public Policy. Vernick is Associate professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Co-Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

Make note of the results of their national public opinion poll which reflects support among the majority of Americans -- including gun owners -- for stronger gun policies. It is time. One by One. Put Down our Guns.