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Understanding the Misunderstanding; The Use of Weapons in Filming Carries With it Inherent Danger

Joe Wallenstein   |   January 13, 2015    1:42 PM ET

After 30 years as an Assistant Director, Production Manager and Producer, I was invited to become Director of Physical Production at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts.

One would think that in jaded, old Hollywood, home to a thousand movie productions, people would be able to differentiate between real life and make-believe, in filming.

But guess what?

"People" would be wrong.

A beginning class was filming a mugging in an alley near school. One man held another man at gunpoint. The gun was rubber with no moving parts. There were a dozen students present. There was a camera on a tripod, dolly track, lights and a truck filled with electrical equipment. But a little old lady walking by failed to make the nexus between the cinematic accouterments and the fact that it was only a movie. She called the police and reported a hold up at gunpoint in an alley.

The police came running. And believe or not, when the LAPD gets a call about a gun and a mugging in an alley, they don't automatically say to themselves': "Oh, gosh, must be film students." They take it seriously. That is why we tell our students, "if the police roll up while you are filming, the actor must immediately DROP THE WEAPON."

Many people believe they can wave a weapon at the police while they explain it's only a make-believe gun. Most police will tell you: "We don't see you... we only see the weapon."

On another occasion, I was sitting in my office on a Saturday when the phone rang and a man's voice blurted: "You almost got my son killed. What-the-hell are you doing down there?"

You can believe that's the kind of dialogue that gets my undivided attention. Some of our students had been filming in a Seven-Eleven store in South Central Los Angeles in the middle of the night. The scene called for a young man attempting to rob the store by pretending to have a gun. In fact, he had no gun. What he did have was a ski mask. The student director told him specifically to place the mask on the top of his head but not to lower over his face until he was inside the store.

The student waited patiently outside for his cue to enter. The director yelled: "Action" and the young actor lowered the mask and stepped into the store. At that precise moment, a Good Samaritan, driving by, saw someone in a ski mask entering a Seven-Eleven and dialed 911. The cops responded quickly. We actually had on film two guys, the size of Delaware, holding shotguns, look right into camera and say: "if we had seen you enter the store, we would have shot you."

The students, thinking they were being diligent, had written a hand-drawn note on a piece of white paper and stuck it in the corner of one of the store windows. Naturally, the police never saw it. That event gave rise to our PRO WEAPONS IN USE signs that every USC student carries to location and places at any point of entry to the set.

We have even gone so far as to insist that students filming on our stages place those sign outside the stage doors.

Always err on the side of caution.

15 Things That Need to End in 2015

John Willey   |   January 8, 2015    3:23 PM ET

It's amazing how much changes when the calendar flips from December 31 to January 1. Everything is fresh and new and we can all start over with our lives. No more do we have to think about how horrible the past year was and we can all look forward to the exciting things that lie ahead. Or something like that. The truth is the new year really doesn't mean that much. Sure, it's a good time to reflect and think about what you want to change going forward, but in actuality not much really does. Everyone goes to the gym for a couple of weeks, they lose a few pounds, then they fall of the wagon, stop going to the gym and gain it all right back.

It seems everything is like that though. We all talk about how much we want to change in the new year, but things usually end up pretty much the same as in years past. But there are some things that HAVE to change in the new year.

1. People talking on their cell phones in public. Don't do it in the line at Starbucks. Don't do it in line at the bank. DO NOT DO IT ANYWHERE. I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone chatting away on their phones as they are checking out their groceries or ordering a cup of coffee. Please give that person standing in front of you your full undivided attention. It's beyond rude. With that said...

2. People who talk on SPEAKERPHONE. Seriously?! I don't want to hear both ends of your conversation. It's bad enough that I have to hear what you are saying and now you want me to hear what your Aunt Shelia is saying, too? Next time I see you, I hope it's at Home Depot so I can smash your phone with a hammer.

3. People who autopost from Twitter to Facebook. There is no reason. They are two different social platforms; treat them as such. Never should an @ be found on Facebook.

4. Chewing gum in public. It's disgusting. Have you ever driven past a cow pasture and seen all the cows just sitting there, chewing? That's what you all look like.

5. Arguing politics online. Has there ever been a political argument online where one side realized the error in their ways and completely flipped their opinion? The next time it happens will be the first. Everyone has an opinion and everyone is wrong.

6. People not getting vaccinated. It's stupid. I just got my dog shots so that she wouldn't die of distemper. Why wouldn't you get a shot to prevent your kids from dying of a potentially fatal disease?

7. Racism. I know that this is impossible. As long as two people don't look like each other, there will always be hatred and misunderstanding. It makes no sense to me, though. Look at a group of kids playing with each other. None of them cares about what the other person looks like, they just want to play. Why can't adults be like that? So stop teaching your kids to hate each other.

8. Gun violence. I don't want to take away your right to have a gun; far from it. If you want to carry one, that's fine. I just want to make sure that you are doing it in the safest way possible and that a person who shouldn't own a gun doesn't. There is no need for you to walk into an Arby's with an AK-47. I will never understand why people say that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. It seems we hear too often about the bad guys and not enough about the good guys. More guns is NOT the answer and instead of not talking about things and sitting behind the Second Amendment, lets have a human discussion.

9. Cops shooting unarmed people. I've heard too many stories like this. I know that being a cop is not the easiest job in the world and that their next shift could possibly be their last, but we hear about these types of stories far too often. I don't know how cops are trained to handle certain situations, but pulling up to a 12-year-old in the park and killing him in two seconds is not the way to go.

10. People shooting the police. Stop it. It does nothing to further your cause. The only thing that it does is make things exponentially worse for everyone.

11. Poverty/War/Name your unattainable goal. We can try, but this is never going to happen. Seven billion people living on a rock in space where two thirds of it is covered by water? There are just too many people and too many of them want to be in charge.

12.  Talking about stay-at-home-dads as if working moms don't exist.  I'm a stay-at-home-dad for no other reason than my wife is a freaking rock star. Sure, there seems to be more of us SAHDs every year, but that would also mean that there are more households with the working mom as the sole breadwinner. Let's hear some stories about them and their struggles for a change.

13. My dog pooping on the floor. It might not rank up there with some of the others on this list, but it's something that really needs to stop. She knows where the door is, she knows how to let me know she has to go, she needs to stop dropping a deuce on the dining room floor. Newborn puppies are harder than newborn babies.

Help me out puppy
14. Group texts. Please don't include me in one.  I barely care about your original text and I am certainly not going to care about seven one word responses from people I don't know.  The only way to truly put an and to this is for people to stop hitting "Reply All."  You have that option, use it.

15.  List posts.  They are lazy ways to write things and they are oversaturated in our society now.  I get it that people will invest their time though when they know they only have to read 15 things.

This post originally appeared on Daddy's in Charge

You can follow John on Twitter @daddysincharge

Ending Gun Violence Complacency

  |   January 8, 2015    1:11 PM ET

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A Personal Memory of Former Governor Mario Cuomo

Angela Vitaliano   |   January 2, 2015   10:56 AM ET

When last April, in Oklahoma, Clayton Darrell Lockett died of a heart attack after a failed execution by lethal injection, going through the atrocity of 43 minutes of pain, I thought of interviewing former Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, a champion in the fight against the inhumanity of the death penalty.

I did not have high hopes that Mr. Cuomo was going to concede the interview; lately he was living pretty much out of the limelight and I am not a "big" name that he could have known or appreciated anyway before. But I always give a chance to miracles to happen, so I sent him an email with my request. For two days I didn't get any reply so I thought, "Ok, no miracle this time."

The third day, it was during the morning, I was sitting at my desk, when my phone rang.

"Hello," I said.

"Good morning, Angela Vitaliano?" asked a voice.

I had no clue who was on the phone and I was totally distracted by the fact that, for once, my complicated last name had been pronounced correctly.

"Yes, speaking, who is there?" I said with some impatience in my voice, looking at the screen of my computer, where a sentence was waiting to be completed.

"I am Mario Cuomo," he said.

For a few seconds, my mind was crossed by an array of thoughts: from "Damn, I don't have any questions ready" to "give me a pen!!!", while at the same time, many other silly voices in my head were screaming that I was going to fail the interview because I was not ready.

"Good morning Mr. Governor," I replied after a very short moment that felt as long as a lifetime. After that, our conversation was easy and amazingly interesting.

Mostly I listened to him: his words on the death penalty were enlightening and touching together. The severe tone of his voice doubled my respect for him, but didn't make me uncomfortable or worried for my accent or any possible mistakes. And I felt some emotion in his voice when he told me an episode of his youth that involved his mother:

"I was a little kid and it was Christmas time. I was with my mom in Jamaica, Queens, and she told me that I could pick a toy, but only one. I looked around the store and I came back to her with a toy gun in my hand. She saw it and immediately slapped my hand and said "don't hold a gun anymore in your life unless you are a cop. Weapons kills people." That was the moment when I realized how precious the life of a human being is and how much respect we always have to show for it."

Mr. Cuomo didn't hesitate to admit that he felt ashamed because his own country was still using death penalty, but added that he was confident in a different outcome for the future.

"Sometimes people ask me "but what if someone would hurt Matilda or your kids?" and I reply, every time, that of course I would feel anger and a need to get "justice" but this is why we are a country of law and the law is good because is not about personal feeling or rage, but about fairness and humanity and civilization".

Our conversation led to the writing of one of the articles that I am most proud of, and that was published on May 15, 2014 for espresso.repubblica.it.

When I heard that Mr. Cuomo passed away, some details of our conversation came back to me and perhaps, if you aren't familiar with the "attitude" of Italian politicians, you won't understand how powerful these details were for me. Mr. Cuomo called me in person, no one announced him; he never, during our conversation, used the "paisano" card to make our conversation more confidential -- being an American from Italian origins doesn't mean that you are any less a leader of "your" country and that you keep your institutional attitude when needed. He didn't use any title to introduce himself and at the end of our conversation he said "thank you".

We lost a great man, a giant in the history of the city, of the State and of the country, the country he loved and wanted to make better, fighting one of its most horrible practices: death penalty. And, as an Italian in New York, I feel we lost one of those "Italians" who make me very proud.

May you rest in peace Mr. Cuomo and my condolences to the governor Andrew Cuomo and the whole Cuomo's family.

  |   December 30, 2014    9:14 PM ET

UPPER DARBY, Pa. (AP) — A man who had posted an online video threatening to kill police and FBI agents tried to use his car to run down officers seeking to arrest him on Tuesday so, fearing for their lives, they shot and killed him, authorities said.

Police did not immediately identify the man, who was killed in Upper Darby, in suburban Philadelphia, as officers ordered him out of the car and he appeared ready to accelerate at them as they manned a blockade.

Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said the officers feared the man would kill them and they "did what they had to do." He said five officers fired at the man and no officers were injured.

Police had secured an arrest warrant for the man after he threatened to kill police and FBI agents in the online video, Chitwood said. The man's death comes a little more than a week after a man who made similar threats shot two New York Police Department officers dead in their patrol car and then killed himself in a subway station.

Police said they began following the man after he left a home in nearby Clifton Heights. They said when officers stopped him at an intersection and ordered him out of the car, he reversed and slammed into a police vehicle and then prepared to run over other officers.

Officers opened fire, killing the man, Chitwood said. The man did not fire at police, and Chitwood said he did not know if the man had a weapon.

In the New York case, Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were ambushed on a Brooklyn street as they sat in their marked car on Dec. 20. Their attacker, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, had referenced in online posts the high-profile killings by white police officers of unarmed black men, specifically Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner on Staten Island. Soon after the officers' shooting Brinsley, who was black, killed himself.

Decisions by grand juries not to indict the officers involved in the killings of Brown and Garner have sparked protests around the nation, with demonstrators lying down in the streets as though they're dead. Many protesters have chanted "Hands up! Don't shoot!" a reference to their contention Brown's hands were raised when he was shot dead by police, and "I can't breathe," which Garner was heard saying on a video recording of his encounter with a policeman who put his arm around his neck.

On Sunday night, two men opened fire on a police car patrolling a tough part of Los Angeles, but the two officers inside were not injured and one was able to shoot back, authorities said. One suspect was later arrested, and the other was on the loose. Police haven't determined a motive for the shooting in South Los Angeles, an area plagued by gang violence, but said there were no indications it was linked to other attacks on police.

  |   December 30, 2014    9:14 PM ET

UPPER DARBY, Pa. (AP) — A man who had posted an online video threatening to kill police and FBI agents tried to use his car to run down officers seeking to arrest him on Tuesday so, fearing for their lives, they shot and killed him, authorities said.

Police did not immediately identify the man, who was killed in Upper Darby, in suburban Philadelphia, as officers ordered him out of the car and he appeared ready to accelerate at them as they manned a blockade.

Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said the officers feared the man would kill them and they "did what they had to do." He said five officers fired at the man and no officers were injured.

Police had secured an arrest warrant for the man after he threatened to kill police and FBI agents in the online video, Chitwood said. The man's death comes a little more than a week after a man who made similar threats shot two New York Police Department officers dead in their patrol car and then killed himself in a subway station.

Police said they began following the man after he left a home in nearby Clifton Heights. They said when officers stopped him at an intersection and ordered him out of the car, he reversed and slammed into a police vehicle and then prepared to run over other officers.

Officers opened fire, killing the man, Chitwood said. The man did not fire at police, and Chitwood said he did not know if the man had a weapon.

In the New York case, Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were ambushed on a Brooklyn street as they sat in their marked car on Dec. 20. Their attacker, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, had referenced in online posts the high-profile killings by white police officers of unarmed black men, specifically Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner on Staten Island. Soon after the officers' shooting Brinsley, who was black, killed himself.

Decisions by grand juries not to indict the officers involved in the killings of Brown and Garner have sparked protests around the nation, with demonstrators lying down in the streets as though they're dead. Many protesters have chanted "Hands up! Don't shoot!" a reference to their contention Brown's hands were raised when he was shot dead by police, and "I can't breathe," which Garner was heard saying on a video recording of his encounter with a policeman who put his arm around his neck.

On Sunday night, two men opened fire on a police car patrolling a tough part of Los Angeles, but the two officers inside were not injured and one was able to shoot back, authorities said. One suspect was later arrested, and the other was on the loose. Police haven't determined a motive for the shooting in South Los Angeles, an area plagued by gang violence, but said there were no indications it was linked to other attacks on police.

AMANDA LEE MYERS   |   December 30, 2014    7:26 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of law enforcement officers killed by firearms jumped by 56 percent this year and included 15 ambush deaths. But gun-related police deaths still remain far below historic highs and lower than the average annual figures in the past decade, according to a report released Tuesday.

The annual report by the nonprofit National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund found that 50 officers were killed by guns this year. That's higher than the 32 such deaths last year but the same as 2012 figures.

Pondering the Deeper Meanings of This Holy Season

Marian Wright Edelman   |   December 24, 2014    1:44 PM ET

After all the shopping and preparation for celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa, I hope we will stop and sit and think more deeply about their meaning in our over commercialized, trivialized, mass selling mania for and to children and deeply stressful time for so many. The poor baby in a manger is lost along with the poor babies crying out all over America for food, shelter, safety, and education in the jingle of cash registers, and the Christian belief that God entered history as a poor child is drowned out in the jungle of commerce and advertising.

Something is deeply awry in our nation with the world's biggest economy that lets its children be the poorest group and the younger they are the poorer they are during their years of greatest brain development. The Prince of Peace is mocked as we let a child be injured or killed by guns every thirty minutes. The growing boy Jesus who pondered and studied His heavenly Father's word would worry about the millions of children around America and the world growing up without an education - unable to read and compute - sentenced to social and economic death in a competitive and globalizing economy, and in America, to a mass incarceration system that will turn back the clock of racial progress unless dismantled.

Who are we and who do we want to be as Americans? What do we value? What values do we want to stand for and transmit to our children in our warring polarized world where the violence of poverty and guns snuff out the lives and dim the eyes and spirits of children and adults? I share here a few prayers for us to ponder as we enjoy our turkey and roast beef and prepare for a new year that I hope is joyful and fulfilling for all including those left behind.

_________________________________________________________

God, please stop injustice, the killing of innocent children by violence at home and in far away lands.

God, please stop injustice, the killing of innocent children by poverty at home and abroad.

God, please stop injustice, the assault on precious child dreams by neglect and apathy near and far.

God, please stop injustice, so our children may live and love and laugh and play again.

_________________________________________________________

O God, forgive and transform our rich nation where small babies die of cold quite legally.

O God, forgive and transform our rich nation where small children suffer from hunger quite legally.

O God, forgive and transform our rich nation where toddlers and school children die from guns sold quite legally.

O God, forgive and transform our rich nation that lets children be the poorest group of citizens quite legally.

O God, forgive and transform our rich nation that lets the rich continue to get more at the expense of the poor quite legally.

O God, forgive and transform our rich nation which thinks security rests in missiles and in bombs rather than in mothers and in babies.

O God, forgive and transform our rich nation for not giving You sufficient thanks by giving to others their daily bread.

O God, help us never to confuse what is quite legal with what is just and right in Your sight.

_________________________________________________________

God, is America's dream big enough for me? For the little Black boy born the wrong color in the wrong place to the wrong parents in some folks' sight?

God, is America's justice fair enough for me? For the little Brown or White girl labeled from birth as second best?

God, is America's economy open to us? For the many children who have to stay poor on the bottom so too few can stay rich on top?

God, does America have enough for me in a land of plenty for some, but of famine for others?

God, is America's dream large enough for me? I who am poor, average, disabled, girl, Black, Brown, Native American, White?

Is America for me?

Doctors Should Tell The Truth About Guns

Mike Weisser   |   December 23, 2014    9:34 AM ET

Last week I attended a conference on medicine and gun violence in which a cross-section of researchers and clinicians focused on how to figure out if patients are at risk for gun violence and how to intervene appropriately when such a clinical situation appears to exist. The problem raises medical, legal and ethical issues involving proper patient care, privacy, liability and other questions that the medical profession has been wrestling with for a long time but have really come home to roost this year.

Three states have now passed laws limiting the degree to which physicians can ask patients about guns and only a last-minute surge of votes from Democratic senators who will shortly be replaced by Republicans allowed a Surgeon General to be confirmed whose views are decidedly anti-gun.

Throughout the conference I kept listening to presentations which were based on an
assumption about medicine and guns which I'm not sure is really true. And it goes like this: in order to effectively raise the issue of gun risk, the physician must first determine whether a patient is, indeed, a risk to himself or others if he has access to a gun. And if the physician determines that the patient is, in fact, a health risk if there's a gun around, how do you determine the degree of gun access without infringing on his right to own a gun whether he's a risk for gun violence or not?

The reason I'm not comfortable with this assumption is because I happen to believe one simple thing about guns, namely, that if there is a gun lying around, locked or unlocked, the risk of gun injury is simply much greater than if the gun doesn't exist. To borrow a phrase from the late Elmore Leonard, "Don't fool with guns in here, okay? The goddamn piece's liable to go off." Now researchers can parse all the data with a fine-tooth comb from today until next year, but the bottom line is exactly what Leonard says: if it's around, sooner or later it's going to go off.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not anti-gun, no matter what many people who read this blog and others will choose to believe. I currently own two black guns, a Colt H-Bar and a Ruger Mini-14, along with a Mossberg tactical shotgun, a Marlin 30-30, without doubt the single best deer gun ever made, and one of those Remington 700s in 270 Winchester which might go off even if the trigger isn't pulled.

Not that I'm against handguns, for that matter, because I also own every Glock 9, the two John Browning masterpieces, a Colt 1911 and a P-35, a Walther PP in 22, another Walther PP in 32, a little TPH for when I'm out walking in shorts, three or four K-frame Smiths and just for good measure, a Beretta 92. And I almost forgot the two Sigs, the new little guys in 380 and 9. But as much as I love my toys, I know one thing - put a round in the chamber, pull the trigger and if someone's standing in the direction in which the gun is pointed, they're going down.

It's all well and good that physicians are concerned about how to make guns safer, how to keep them out of the "wrong" hands, how to lock them up or lock them away. But I think what doctors should do is always tell all their patients that a gun can cause real harm. And they should say it again and again. My internist doesn't ask whether I smoke before cautioning me not to light up a cigarette.

Pediatricians don't ask parents whether they fasten the child's seatbelt before reminding them to make sure the kids ride safe. The role of the physician, every physician, is to reduce harm. Not having a gun reduces harm. The patient doesn't agree with the doctor, that's fine. But the physician did what is required and expected, which was to tell the truth about guns.

Bernie Goetz "The Subway Gunman" 30 Years Later

Richard Feldman   |   December 22, 2014    5:53 PM ET

Thirty years ago today the inviolate right to self-defense and the battle over firearm civil liberties were joined in one of the unlikeliest of battle zones -- New York City. Riding a southbound express train in lower Manhattan, a slight of build navy contractor rode that subway car into gun lore history -- his name was Bernard Goetz dubbed -- "the subway gunman" -- defending himself and every other scared New Yorker to ride the underground. (Ironically, at the time Mr. Goetz's naval contract was to protect all of humanity by creating a safeguard against terrorists stealing nuclear weapons.)

In a scene eerily reminiscent of Charles Bronson in the Hollywood hit "Death Wish" four punks threatened and attempted to rob their victim, but enclosed within that graffiti encrusted rail car the "hare turned around and bit the hound" he fired his Smith and Wesson 5 shot 38-caliber revolver into his would-be muggers. The bumper stickers were everywhere in NYC - "Ride with Bernie -- he Goetz 'em"! The crime rate in the dangerous subways plunged dramatically -- so much so the authorities even held back the numbers -- the truth hurt too much.

Bernie Goetz wasn't caught immediately. It was a brief hiatus allowing the incident to grow into an international media sensation. During a White House press conference in early January Sam Donaldson asked President Reagan his position on the "Goetz shooting." The next day a young NRA political director held a news conference at the Park Terrace Hotel on 7th Avenue with Roy Innis, National Chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and State Senator Chris Mega from Brooklyn declaring, "A government which cannot protect its citizens has no right denying them the means to protect themselves"! The famed journalist Murray Kempton asked if he was urging vigilantism? His retort, "when will Mayor Koch provide the same level of protection to the citizens who ride the subways and pay their taxes that he enjoys surrounded by a phalanx of New York's finest, oh with guns at the ready"? It was a good question then and an even better one today - thirty years later!

New York City leaders have maintained that same hypocritical, elitist, racist, and demonstrably counter-productive licensing posture then extant under Ed Koch. Mayors Dinkins, Giuliani, Bloomberg and now DiBlasio enforce indignity upon outrage sacrificing the essential human right of self-defense, even life and property. The mealy mouthed subterfuge that the police will protect you -- (tragically they can't always protect themselves witness the assassinations of two cops in Brooklyn on Saturday), is an excuse that costs lives, civilian lives as those of us in the rest of America know all too well. The issue is never the gun (despite politicians blather) but really, "In whose hands are the guns"?

Looking back, it was a defining moment for the emerging gun rights movement led by the National Rifle Association -- and I know because I was that young NRA spokesman. The era prior had been about eliminating the right to even own a handgun; now the debate would be transformed into the lawful ability to carry one. The following year Florida passed the first modern "shall issue" statute mandating the issuance of a carry license if the applicant met certain basic standards. No longer could Palm Beach, Broward and Dade Counties Florida prevent their citizens from having the same self-defense rights as other Floridians.

Forty-two states in this country with 72% of the population are now "shall issue" states the inverse of 1984! New York is not one of them. Thirty years is too long to be "allowed" to enforce ones legal and unalienable human rights. It's time for Congress to enact an intelligent, well designed, National Carry Law so none of us has to fear being in the wrong place at the wrong time without the means to lawfully protect ourselves as Bernie Goetz discovered thirty years ago today.

Do Mass Shootings Like Newtown Actually Reduce Support for Gun Control?

John A. Tures   |   December 15, 2014    4:10 PM ET

As America passes the second anniversary of the Newtown massacre, where 26 students and teachers lost their lives, one would have expected a greater support for gun control to stem the tide of such slaughters. But as with other cases of such gun violence, it has led to a greater push for more guns, not less. In fact, for the first time, a majority of Americans claim that gun rights are more important than gun control.

2014-12-15-PewResearchCenterGunSurveys121514.jpg

Research by the Pew Research Center found that in 1993, 57 percent of Americans supported "controlling gun ownership," while 34 percent found it more important to "protect the right of Americans to own guns."

As Congress signed a crime bill to ban assault weapons in 1994, the NRA and conservatives launched all kinds of criticism of President Bill Clinton and Democrats. But the number of Americans supporting the idea of controlling gun ownership climbed to 66 percent while those wishing for more gun rights fell to 29 percent.

That support was shattered as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered more than a dozen fellow students in Columbine High School near Denver, and a day trader killed his family and colleagues in an Atlanta suburb. Support for gun control slipped to 54 percent over the following years.

Nevertheless, support for gun control rebounded to nearly 60 percent, as these two tragic events were the only major spree shootings over the ten-year period. Only 32 percent said it was more important to protect the rights of gun owners. Yet President Bush and the Republicans in Congress let the assault weapons ban lapse in 2004. And we've had many more spree shootings in the decade since the assault weapons ban was rescinded.

Support for gun control plunged in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, which led to the deaths of more than 30 students and professors, including the son of one of my colleagues at LaGrange College. For the first time, supporters of gun control dropped to 49 percent, with 45 percent demanding more gun rights.

As the number of school shootings, workplace violence, and family massacres continued, support for gun control dropped as well. Gun control recovered slightly to 51 percent (with 45 percent opting for more gun rights) before the Denver theater shooting and the Newtown killing spree. Now, in December of 2014, only 46 percent support gun control, while a majority claims they want more gun rights.

Traditional explanations for these public opinion changes include views of President Obama, concerns about the crime rate, and the opinions of angry white males swamping other groups. None of these are supported by the evidence.

The increased demand for more gun rights predates the election of President Barack Obama. Sure gun control support increased as the overall crime rate fell in the 1990s, but also fell as the crime rate continued to decline in the following decade. And the Pew Research Center found that every group except for liberals and Hispanics boosted their support for gun rights, including women, blacks, college grads and non-college grads (and graduate degree holders), urban, suburban and rural dwellers, every age group, independents, and even Democrats, according to Emily Badger with the Washington Post.

Supporters of gun control have sought to highlight the vast number of shootings that have occurred in recent years. But while it seemed to make sense, it may not have been a good strategy. They need to highlight examples where tough gun laws reduced shootings. Otherwise, such publicity may only reduce support for gun control.

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

Ariel Edwards-Levy   |   December 10, 2014    5:29 PM ET

For the first time in more than 20 years, Americans say it's more important to protect the right to own guns than it is to control gun ownership, according to a Pew Research poll released Wednesday that finds "a substantial shift in attitudes since shortly after the Newtown school shootings."

While 46 percent prioritize gun control, 52 percent of Americans are more concerned about the right to own guns, the first time a majority has held that position since Pew started asking the question in 1993. In a poll taken immediately after the December 2012 shootings, public opinion favored gun control by 7 points, 49 percent to 42 percent.

Two Years After Newtown, A Shift in Favor of Gun Rights

While the partisan divide on the question remains as wide as ever, the increasing support for gun rights spans across a wide swath of demographics. Compared with last January, support for gun rights increased by 6 points among Republicans and Democrats, 7 points among independents, 8 points among whites and 10 points among African Americans.

Americans are also more likely than two years ago to say gun ownership does more to protect against crime than it does to put people's safety at risk. Fifty-seven percent now say guns are largely protective, up from 48 percent in 2012.

Other surveys show similar changes. An October Gallup poll found that 47 percent of Americans wanted stricter gun laws, down from 58 percent after the Newtown shootings.

The Pew Research poll was conducted between Dec. 3 and Dec. 7, using live phone interviews to reach 1,507 adults who use both landlines and cell phones.

GMOs. When Minds Are Still Open Civil Debate Can Give the Facts a Say in How People Feel

David Ropeik   |   December 10, 2014    3:43 PM ET

I regularly highlight examples of what I call the Risk Perception Gap... when people worry too much about some things or not enough about others, and those perceptions leads to risky choices and behaviors all by themselves. The hope is that by describing this phenomenon and giving it an official name, and explaining the psychology of why it happens, these essays might help us all recognize the emotional nature of risk perception and avoid some of its dangers.

Examples of people worrying too much, or not enough, are everywhere. Ebola, vaccines, climate change, obesity... But it's also instructive, and encouraging, when people get risk right, when careful, open-minded consideration of the evidence produces judgments and decisions that more closely align with the evidence. It was inspiring to witness an example of that the other night, at a debate about genetically modified food.

Usually public forums about GM food are less debates and more just angry, invective-laced arguments with lots of interruptions where GMO opponents repeat their values-based tribal beliefs and shout down anything that challenges their views. This one was different, and different in ways that should give us all hope about people's ability to keep open minds and make choices based on what the bulk of the evidence seems to say.

The setting was an Intelligence Squared debate, part of a privately funded non-profit series created to "restore civility, reasoned analysis, and constructive public discourse to today's often biased media landscape." Teams of two debaters argue for or against a proposition in front of an audience, which then gets to ask questions. A moderator helps keep the discussion on point, productive, and civil. The audience is asked to vote before the debate starts, and again afterwards. The winner is the side that gained the most support between the first vote and the second.

The proposition was:

Genetically modified plants, the kind where genes are spliced from one species into another, as only modern agricultural biotechnology can do; for, against, or undecided?

You can see the full debate itself here.

While there was a clear and passionate difference of opinion, the debate was largely about the evidence. The debaters didn't yell at each other. They mostly didn't interrupt each other. They mostly provided direct answers to questions, and when they tried to lapse into sales-pitch talking points the moderator cut them off (More than once I wished this would be the way that political debates might be conducted).

Importantly, the two participants who argued against agricultural biotechnology were not the scream-and-yell types who usually show up at public hearings and rallies about GMOs, spewing all sorts of wild and unsupported claims and shouting down anyone who disagrees their perspective. The opponents of the proposition were adamantly anti-GM advocates, but willing to respectfully debate the evidence.

The audience of a few hundred people included several well-known advocates of both sides. But it also included a lot of people who had come not to cheer for their side, but to actually learn more about GM food. Cheering for each side was robust, but when GMO opponents in the audience hissed at the opening statements of the "Pro" side, the moderator shut them down politely but firmly. A woman who said she had attended dozens of these IQ2 debates told me that this was the first time the audience had tried that. When the audience got to raise questions, aspects of the GM food issue unrelated to the proposition (e.g. what about those evil greedy corporations patenting seeds and genes?) were disallowed.

When the votes were revealed, what had been a relatively even split in the first poll -- 32 percent for GM Food, 30 percent against, 38 percent undecided -- had shifted dramatically. The final tally was 60 percent for, 31 percent against, and 9 percent still undecided. People who listened in or watched online could vote too, and a tally that had been overwhelmingly against the proposition before the debate also shifted, coming in at 51 percent in favor and 49 percent opposed. (Beware the online tally, of course. Those votes can be gamed by either side, and probably were.)

A closer look at the numbers is particularly encouraging. Half the people voted the same way both times. But half changed their minds, voting differently the second time. Most of these moved from undecided to one side or the other (mostly to the pro side). But 15 percent of those who voted for or against the first time changed their minds! And most of those (12 percent of the overall population) had voted against the first time, but changed to either for (9 percent) or undecided (3 percent). (Here's a graphic of those details.)

It would be naïve to make too much of this. It was hardly a definitive general plebiscite on GM food. The vote may not have even been about GMOs at all. We were asked to vote on who made a more persuasive argument, and the pro team had markedly better debaters.

But some conclusions can be drawn. One is that the GMO issue doesn't seem to be one of the classic polarized right-left culture war battles. There certainly are cultural affinities among those who most strongly oppose GM food. But GMOs seems to be a group identity issue only to one "side", a small albeit passionately vocal group. The debate results support what most surveys find, that most Americans have barely heard about this issue, much less taken up a position for or against.

But the most hopeful conclusion may be that -- despite the natural tendency humans have to quickly make up their minds about things, based largely on emotions, and then to stick to those views no matter what else they may hear -- there are also plenty of people willing to find out more before they make up their minds, and who are willing to keep an open mind and carefully think things through. That is crucial if society is to make intelligent choices on a wide range of issues, beyond GMOs.

In a world where so many risk issues are decided by public passions based on very little information and a whole lot of gut instinct and emotion, this debate was a ray of hope that we can do better, that we can bring the power of human reason to bear on the challenge of making the healthiest possible choices. It was model of careful thinking about risk that we would all do well to try and follow.

  |   December 6, 2014    9:44 AM ET

Several recent killings of black men or boys by police officers across the nation and grand juries' decisions not to indict some of the officers have angered many people, especially in minority communities, and have spurred sometimes violent demonstrations.

Here's a look at killings by police that protesters have cited as examples of an epidemic of police brutality and heavy-handed law enforcement efforts often targeting minorities and related events:

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CHOKEHOLD DEATH

On July 17, a white plainclothes police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, applied what a medical examiner determined was a chokehold to an unarmed black man accused of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on a New York City street. A videotape of the takedown of Eric Garner, who had asthma, showed him repeatedly saying, "I can't breathe," while officers wrestled him to the ground. Garner died soon after, and a grand jury decided Wednesday not to indict Pantaleo, prompting daily protests and chants of "Black lives matter!"

On Aug. 5, a white policeman responding to a call about a man waving what appeared to be a rifle in an Ohio Wal-Mart store shot and killed John Crawford III, who was black. What Crawford was holding was an air rifle. A special grand jury decided in September the actions of Officer Sean Williams and another Beavercreek officer in the racially charged case were justified.

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'HANDS UP! DON'T SHOOT!'

On Aug. 9, white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown on a street in Ferguson, Missouri. Supporters of Brown's family say he had his hands up in surrender, but Wilson has said that's "incorrect" and he couldn't have done anything differently in their confrontation. A grand jury decision last month to not indict Wilson sparked violent demonstrations and looting in the St. Louis suburb, and around the nation protesters have chanted, "Hands up! Don't shoot!"

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STAIRWELL SHOOTING

On Nov. 20, a rookie New York Police Department officer walking with his gun drawn in a darkened stairwell of a public housing complex shot and killed a black man leaving the building with his girlfriend. Police Commissioner William Bratton said that Akai Gurley had been "a total innocent" when he was shot and that the shooting, by an Asian officer, was under investigation. The Brooklyn district attorney said Friday that the case would be presented to a grand jury.

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PELLET GUN SHOOTING

On Nov. 22, a white rookie police officer, Tim Loehmann, shot and killed a 12-year-old black boy, Tamir Rice, who had been pointing a pellet gun near a Cleveland playground. Police say Tamir was told to raise his hands but reached into his waistband for the realistic-looking airsoft gun, which was missing its orange safety indicator. The shooting, captured on surveillance video, has prompted street protests, and Tamir's family on Friday filed a lawsuit against the city, Loehmann and his partner.

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UNARMED DRUG SUSPECT KILLED

On Tuesday, a white police officer who authorities say mistook a pill bottle for a gun shot and killed an unarmed black drug suspect during a struggle at a Phoenix apartment building. About 150 people upset about the killing of Rumain Brisbon marched to police headquarters, and police and prosecutors met with local civil rights leaders.

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FIGHT OVER TAILLIGHT TICKET

On Thursday, in tiny Eutawville, South Carolina, a white former police chief was charged with murder in the 2011 shooting death of an unarmed black man, Bernard Bailey, who had gone to Town Hall to argue about a broken-taillight ticket. Bailey and then-chief Richard Combs fought, and Combs shot Bailey twice in the chest. Combs' lawyer accused prosecutors of taking advantage of national outrage toward police to obtain the indictment.

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137 BULLETS FIRED

Also Thursday, in Cleveland, the U.S. Department of Justice and the city reached an agreement to overhaul the police department after federal investigators found officers use excessive force far too often, causing deep mistrust, especially among blacks. The investigation was prompted chiefly by a November 2012 car chase that ended in the deaths of two unarmed black people in a hail of 137 bullets.