iOS app Android app More

Dominique Mosbergen   |   June 13, 2014    1:51 AM ET

Two years after her 13-year-old daughter was shot and killed inside a school bus, a Florida mother faced her child's killer in court this week and did something so profound, it stunned everyone gathered: she approached the young man, and hugged him.

“In 20 years, I’ve watched human tragedy unfold in this courtroom,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ellen Sue Venzer said, per the Miami Herald. “I could have never imagined a victim’s mother embracing her child’s killer.”

The teenager responsible for the girl's death, 16-year-old Jordyn Howe, is said to have been overcome with emotion as his victim's mother held him in her arms. “I’m sorry,” Howe is quoted as telling the woman, while fighting back tears.

In Nov. 2012, Howe accidentally shot 13-year-old Lourdes "Jina" Guzman-DeJesus while they were both riding on a South Miami-Dade school bus. According to the Associated Press, Howe had taken his stepfather's pistol and brought it to school. He had reportedly been showing it off to his friends when the weapon discharged, shooting Lourdes in the neck.

She later died at the hospital.

Howe pleaded guilty Tuesday to manslaughter with a deadly weapon, possession of a firearm by a minor and carrying a concealed weapon.

In an incredible gesture of forgiveness and selflessness, Lourdes' mother, Ady Guzman-DeJesus, agreed to a plea deal for Howe which will allow him to avoid prison time. According to the AP, Howe will be attending a juvenile rehabilitation academy and later, the teen -- with Guzman-DeJesus by his side -- will speak at schools about the dangers of guns.

“We can make a change to help other children,” Guzman-DeJesus told reporters after Howe's hearing Tuesday. "[Howe] was Jina’s friend, too, and I know she wouldn’t want the worst."

Ed Mazza   |   June 12, 2014    1:21 AM ET

When Dad threatens Mom with a gun, who should a child turn to for help? According to Pat Robertson... don't call the cops!

A child wrote to the "700 Club," the televangelist's show on ABC Family:

“Whenever my parents fight, my dad threatens my mom with his gun. Fortunately, this now means nothing to my mom, and she never goes nuts about it; she is very calm. But as a child, I get nervous and worried when this happens. Even my younger brother saw this incident. What should we do about it and him?”

"You don't want to get your father busted... but you could," Robertson answered in a clip posted online by The Raw Story, before suggesting that the child talk to mom instead of "busting" dad.

"Say, 'Mom, this thing is scaring me and I ask you, please, to get my father to have some help,'" Robertson said.

Despite the questionable advice, Robertson isn't entirely ignorant of the dangers.

"One day he's gonna pull the trigger. It doesn't take too much if you've got a loaded weapon and you're brandishing it around, 'I'm gonna kill you,' and the next thing you know the thing goes off. Maybe accidentally, but the mother will wind up dead," he said. "You need to do something to intervene but you're a kid, what do you do, y'know? Your mother ought to take care of that."

According to Opposing Views, American women make up 84 percent of all female gun victims in the developed world.

Kids (and adults) who witness domestic violence, including threats and intimidation, should call 911. For advice and assistance, call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (TTY: 1-800-787-3224) or visit them online.

(h/t The Raw Story)

Concealed Carry Laws Don't Decrease Gun Violence -- But The NRA Continues To Say The Opposite

Mike Weisser   |   June 10, 2014   11:57 AM ET

The NRA and its academic acolytes like John Lott have been tirelessly promoting the idea that guns protect us from crime, which is another way of saying that everyone should carry a gun, which is another way of saying that we should all buy more guns. And the proof that more guns equals less crime comes in the form of a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which shows that over the past twenty years, violent crime, particularly gun crimes, have fallen by more than 50 percent. Since it's over the same two decades that every state has adopted some form of concealed carry weapons (CCW) law, the gun lobby argues that the reason we are a much safer country is because everyone's walking around with a gun. Now if we could get rid of those unhealthy gun-free zones, right?

Another, much more troublesome report was issued in January with data and conclusions that the NRA chooses to ignore. The report was based on a study of 6,300 patients admitted to a Level 1 trauma center in Newark suffering from gunshot wounds between 2000 and 2011, a time when, according to the FBI-UCR data, overall violent crime in Newark dropped by 22%. Actually, the murder rate during that period increased by nearly 60%, but since we're only talking about less than 60 dead bodies lying around, we'll leave that one alone.

Getting back to the gunshot wounds, the physicians who conducted the research found that the number of patients didn't significantly change, notwithstanding the alleged drop in gun violence everywhere else, and the severity of the wounds substantially increased. Despite the fact that Level 1 trauma centers utilize the most advanced life-saving skills imaginable, the mortality rate from gunshot wounds climbed from 9% to 14%, the number of spinal cord and brain injuries nearly doubled, and the incidence of multiple bullet wounds increased from 10% to nearly 25%.

The gun lobby could (and will) ignore these numbers were it not for the fact that the national picture for the trend gunshot wounds is roughly the same as what happened in Newark. According to the CDC, the rate of intentional gun injuries per 100,000 was 17.25 in 2000 and 17.83 in 2011, holding steady nationally just like the researchers in the case of Newark's University Hospital found over the same eleven years. That being the case, how does one reconcile those numbers with the BJS report that the NRA uses to bolster its claim of such a dramatic decrease in the criminal use of guns? The BJS report shows a decline in the gun homicide rate from 7 per 100,000 to less than 4 from 1993 to 2011, and a decline in nonfatal gun victimizations from above 7 per 1,000 persons to less than 2. So who's right?

They're both correct except that virtually the entire decline in gun violence occurred between 1993 and 2002, while since the latter date the gun violence rate, including both fatalities and injuries, has stabilized or slightly increased. This stabilization of the number of admissions for gun violence is exactly what was reported by the medical team at University Hospital in Newark, even while the severity and cost of injuries continues to climb.

Meanwhile, for all the talk about good guys with guns protecting us from bad guys with guns, the "decrease" in gun violence ended in 2002, while the number of states that now issue CCW has roughly doubled since 2002. The NRA's notion that we are a much safer country now that residents of every state can apply for CCW falls flat on its face, even when we look at the data that the NRA uses to prove its own case.

Do Something for Gun Safety

Madeleine M. Kunin   |   June 9, 2014   12:10 PM ET

"Why did Chris die?" Richard Martinez asked all of us after the shooting death of his son and five other students on the University of California, Santa Barbara campus.

I cannot get his anguished voice out of my head. It was a mixture of anger, grief and despair that cried out. What if it had been my son? What if it had been your son or daughter?

Richard met the enemy straight on. "They talk about gun rights but what about Chris's right to live? When will this insanity stop?" After receiving phone calls from California politicians, he exclaimed, "I don't care about your sympathy. Go to work and do something!"

Yes, do something. I admit, when I was running for office I did not speak up for gun control. I didn't have the courage. I would today after a series of mass shootings. Time has passed since 1990 when the NRA defeated an incumbent Vermont Congressman, Republican Peter Smith, largely because he came out in favor of gun control. His opponent, Bernie Sanders, gained the support of the NRA. This year, Burlington voters overwhelmingly passed common sense gun safety measures but the legislature has steadfastly ignored them.

The words "gun control" continue to paralyze politicians. Any proposal for safety is considered a slippery slope leading to the confiscation of guns. Therefore, the only answer from the NRA and the gun industry that supports it, is to oppose it.

It's time to rephrase the question - these bills are not a matter of "control" they are a matter of gun safety.

We could begin by supporting legislation requiring safe storage of guns to keep them away from children. A bill in the last legislative session to that effect died without a hearing.

A second common sense step would be background checks - once given weak support by the NRA, but no more. I fully support the right to bear arms for hunting, for sport, but I cannot support access to deadly guns for people who have criminal records, who are guilty of domestic violence, or who are dangerously mentally ill.

To answer Richard Martinez, lawmakers and their constituents will have to relinquish the notion that any form of gun safety legislation will force law abiding citizens to give up their guns. There is no evidence to support that view. But there is evidence that easy access to guns will continue to be a potential threat to all families and a time bomb for family members who are suicidal or mentally ill.

After too many mass vigils like the one that followed the Sandy Hook massacre, we have learned that while sympathy is well meant, it does not lead to action. Courage does. If enough citizens heed a father's cry, and "do something," we can protect the safe right to bear arms, and our children's right "to live."

What War Are We Fighting Here?

K. Ford K.   |   June 9, 2014   11:40 AM ET

I still remember the day my father taught me how to shoot a gun. We walked into the woods behind our house and he balanced a .22 rifle on my shoulder. He showed me how to aim it at an old tomato juice can. Then he helped me pull the trigger. The noise in my right ear terrified me and as the bullets blasted holes in the can, I remember how the red label peeled away in strips. I was four-years-old.

Growing up, guns were a part of everyday life. We had hand guns, antique guns, rifles leaning against corners in the closets, my brother's BB guns left all over the house along with discarded board games and building blocks and the silver, toy pistol I cradled like a doll when I was two. We all admired my uncle who invented guns for Browning. I learned that guns were for hunting, self-defense and defending liberty long before I learned how to read. But by the time I turned 21, I knew three people, two of them children, who had been shot and killed in gun-related accidents. My belief in that old-west, American tradition was beginning to unravel.

I certainly understand the principle of defending liberty, but the practice of it has steadily evolved beyond all reason. With so many innocent Americans dead, what war are we fighting here? Why are Americans killing Americans?

The number of American soldiers killed in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars since 2001: 6,500 souls

The number of American citizens killed in gun violence since 2001: approximately 390,000 souls

The number of American civilians killed defending their political liberty since 2001: 0

This situation is a distinctly American dilemma that exists no place else on the globe. Why is America so different? Why do some of our citizens fear the government and feel they need to purchase as many guns as possible? Why do they feel the need to protect their own liberty from a government that has sworn to uphold their liberty in the first place? Is this war about fear? Fear of what? And why are we a breeding ground for troubled young minds who kill out of revenge? Revenge for what? Is that what this war is about?

Any discussion of the culture of violence in America must include the bullying, rejection and abuse that the shooters in mass shooting cases have all experienced. Violent movies and games may make the situation worse, but bullying, rejection, loneliness, isolation, paranoia and abuse are the seeds of violence in America's bloody, homegrown war against the innocent and the blameless.

We need to act as a nation, for 'We the People' are the United States government. We need to bring about change that will stop the bloodshed. We need increased compassion for the innocent thousands who are murdered in cold blood. But we also need to find some compassion for the shooters who were innocent up until the moment they decided to pull that trigger. The shooter's problems are our problems as a nation. We must find and help these troubled people long before they buy their first gun.

It doesn't have to be the way it is now. We can change as a society, but it will take a radical shift in the way many Americans feel about guns and gun ownership. When I turned twenty-five, my father gave me three guns as a birthday gift but when I moved to Japan, I left them behind. In Japan, private citizens are prohibited from owning guns. In part, this is due to the Japanese constitution, which was drafted by the Americans after WWII. Their constitution prohibits the development of a Japanese military, and the ban on civilian weapons was a logical next step. As a consequence, Japan has very little crime or violence. During the years I lived there, Japan averaged two gun-related deaths a year. It was a wonderful relief to walk the Tokyo streets and take the trains at night without fear for my own safety. For the first time in my life, I had no fear of being attacked or shot.

When I returned home to visit my father, a lifelong NRA member who had just been elected president of the local gun club, I gave my guns back to him. "Guns create more problems than they solve," I told him. He was shocked, but he was a reasonable man and he respected my decision.

My decision to give up my guns was a personal decision. I'm not advocating a no-gun policy in the United States but we need to look at the situation rationally. It was Thomas Jefferson who said,

"Rightful liberty is unobstructed action, according to our will, within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others."
Jefferson knew that it is impossible to talk about liberty without also talking about the equal rights of others. Never forget that our basic right as Americans is the right to live. In order for this undeclared, bloody, American war to end, rightful liberty and equal rights must both be protected, never one at the expense of the other. As American citizens, we are all entitled to both.

  |   June 7, 2014    3:55 PM ET

Read More: hawaii, guns

Nearly half the guns Hawaii criminal investigators traced in 2012 came from other states, according to data compiled by ProPublica.

The nonprofit news organization used information from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that analyzed gun traces authorities ran while investigating crimes.

Good Guy/Bad Guy

Jonathan Richards   |   June 6, 2014    9:24 PM ET

Read More: gun control, open carry, nra, guns

2014-06-07-GoodGuyBadGuy.jpeg

'Guns' by Negativland: In the Era of Open Carry Protests

Melissa Webster   |   June 5, 2014    2:25 PM ET

"Guns" by Negativland

"The Internet has created a culture of mediocrity," Mark Hosler of the experimental band Negativland told me over a cup of tea in December 2012, mere days before the Sandy Hook mass shooting that killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conneticut. Though he was talking about how the Internet's easy access and availability has eliminated previously established thresholds that used to block inferior work in music, photography, journalism and publishing from ever reaching the general public, the broader culture of mediocrity in America is far more alarming.

Call me jaded, cynical, whatever, but I can't help thinking there is nothing that has become more mediocre or predictable in America than gun advocates in Texas pushing for open carry laws free from regulation or even the need for a license, who prefer to spread their message through fear, i.e. openly carried loaded guns, on unsuspecting consumers just minding their own business in some random store or restaurant, at the expense of any intelligent public discourse, compromise or basic consideration for the confused Americans they confront, who only know that strangers with loaded weapons have just walked into their midst.

Given that mass shootings have become indiscriminate and normal in the United States, Americans' fear and confusion over such a vague and pointless "protest" is understandable. Given that our cowardly government leaders, bought and paid for by the National Rifle Association (NRA), have done little to nothing to resolve this issue, America's lack of tolerance for these kinds of stunts is even more understandable. And when NRA officials publicly oppose so-called open carry protests as well, then there's really no question these extremely misguided open carry idiots need to be reigned in before it escalates and someone actually gets hurt.

I admit I'm no constitutional scholar, so correct me if I'm wrong here, but the Constitution's Second Amendment allows for the right to bear arms. That's it. Just to bear arms, right? It does not specify what types of "arms" you can bear. It does not specify where or how exactly you can bear these arms. It certainly doesn't say your right to bear arms, for no other reason than simply because you can, trumps your fellow American's right to shop, eat and live in peace, free from your drama and unnecessary melodramatic bullshit.

So this is my "protest," and I direct this specifically at pro-gun, let's-bring-back-the-Wild-Wild-West, open carry advocates currently walking into public establishments in Texas with AK-47s. You have the right to bear arms. Awesome. Congratulations! Nobody is taking that right away from you, but this is a nation of laws, not the Wild, Wild West, and common sense trumps personal, selfish, self-serving ideology that puts your neighbors at risk.

Negativland gets it right in this "Guns" video, when they say "Sit back and wait," because with idiots like this trying to bring back the nostalgia of the Wild, Wild West and make it cool; with the NRA condemning it as "weird," and then backtracking and apologizing to these idiots, thus validating them; with no political leaders willing to truly take a stand and implement significant regulation and limits on gun ownership and access, the next mass shooting is just around the corner. "Sit back and wait" again and again and again.

At some point, people like the ones in Texas and the NRA that enables them will have to be held accountable. Real accountability, not prayers and platitudes, instead of allowing them to hide behind the myriad of excuses so far used to blame for America's gun violence epidemic, every excuse except the ones that are actually to blame, which are America's romantic delusions of the bygone days of the Wild West, Americans' easy access to guns, and the laughable gun laws that put those guns in the hands of mentally unstable kids, or, ya know, gun extremists who think it's a good idea to carry a loaded weapon into a restaurant full of children.

I'm tired of wasting time on more pointless debate that goes in circles and gets us nowhere, while the bodies of dead kids continue to pile up and people in Texas walk around with loaded guns in their hands like they're Wyatt Earp. "There's something downright weird about this whole thing." Indeed.

Mollie Reilly   |   June 3, 2014    7:49 PM ET

The National Rifle Association is walking back its recent criticism of pro-gun activists in Texas, apologizing to protesters for the "confusion" over the powerful gun lobby's position on open carry of firearms.

Last week, the NRA released a statement condemning the actions of open carry activists in the Lone Star State after a video emerged of the protesters harassing a veteran on Memorial Day. In the statement, the NRA said recent public demonstrations in restaurants had "crossed the line" and were "downright weird."

"Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners," the statement read.

But on Tuesday, NRA official Chris Cox was quick to renounce the statement, describing it as a "mistake."

"It's a distraction," Cox said during an interview with an NRA radio show. "There was some confusion, we apologize, again, for any confusion that that post caused."

He continued: "It shouldn't have happened. I've had a discussion with the staffer who wrote that piece, and expressed his personal opinion. Our job is not to criticize the lawful behavior of fellow gun owners."

Cox's repudiation came shortly after Open Carry Texas, a major proponent of open carry laws in the state, leveled harsh criticism at the NRA for disparaging the protests.

"If they do not retract their disgusting and disrespectful comments, OCT will have no choice but to withdraw its full support of the NRA and establish relationships with other gun rights organizations that fight for ALL gun rights, instead of just paying them lip service the way the NRA appears to be doing," the group wrote on its Facebook page.

(h/t Talking Points Memo)

Watch the video below of protesters harassing a veteran:

Lay Down Your Arms America

Carrie Norton   |   June 3, 2014    3:01 PM ET

Memorial Day 2014 has come and gone and back we go to our bread-and-butter concerns and our daily jousts with infomania. So in an effort to extend the conversation beyond the inevitable spike, I am moved to express my utter despondency on the painful subject of gun violence in America.

Over the recent Memorial Day holiday, many Americans gathered to honor those who have lost their lives in service to our nation and to us as individuals, families and communities. I honored my father's service in the Korean War. I reflected with frustration on our veterans seeking to rejoin civilian society and finding themselves unjustly up against so many odds. I gave silent thanks to those who continue to serve as I write this post.

I also feel compelled to honor and memorialize those who have lost their lives in service to gun violence perpetrated by members of their own communities. Following the massacre of 20 innocent first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, I could not imagine we would fail to finally act to stop the madness once and for all.

But we have failed, and our citizens, often young people with everything to live for, have paid the price. As the tragedy in Santa Barbara last weekend illustrates, there is an overarching need to address mental health issues as they relate to gun violence, but I'll leave that analysis and discussion for the experts. There is also a critical need to address gun ownership in the hands of anybody and everybody and to set and, more importantly, enforce reasonable parameters.

The first time I felt personally impacted by gun violence in our country was as an MBA student living in France on a semester abroad. I remember being horrified and mortified by the Columbine massacre, that such a level of violence could occur in our country. I tried to view the atrocity through the eyes of the average French citizen, for whom such events were virtually inconceivable. As an American, I was ashamed.

But Columbine has turned out to beone of the first in a series of public displays of barbarism that we continue to tolerate in this country. According to Chris Matthews, there have been 200 mass killings since 2006 in our country (a mass killing is defined by 4 or more victims). The excuses are many, Second Amendment rights foremost among them. Polls have shown a majority of Americans want stricter controls, but time after time, federal legislation is rejected, and what little has passed is woefully inadequate.

We can no longer pretend to be surprised when future massacres occur. On some level, we have already resigned ourselves to expecting them. Commonplace. Some might say through our lack of action, that we have become enablers, or worse yet, abettors in these crimes because of our passiveness.

America is supposed to be the leader of the free, civilized world, a nation of peace-loving people: ergo, mass-killings have no place in our society. Except that they do.

As a citizen, I can no longer stand by waiting for legislation that will never pass. I cannot accept that my efforts -- the signing of a multitude of petitions and multiple if small, donations for life-saving public policies -- have not amounted to a hill of beans.

The Second Amendment rights were appropriate in a context where we were trying to establish the rule of law and protect ourselves from unknown enemies but that time is long past. We have the rule of law and we have law enforcement agencies in every nook and cranny of the land. We do not need to take the law into our own hands.

If we can muster the will, we are quite capable of modeling peace. The way to do that is NOT by 'protecting' ourselves with more and more guns and it is certainly NOT by making guns easily accessible to people who may use them for violent purposes.

If, in our great American tradition, discourse and debate were to begin in Congress and in town halls across the country, in communities everywhere, and if distinctions were drawn between the rationale for personal protection and the legitimate needs of recreational hunters and others, conceivably a more peaceful society could emerge.

One last thing. I live in Los Angeles, storytelling capital of the world. I implore the entertainment community -- television, film and gaming -- to ask themselves in all honesty, how there can be no connection between the fantasy that Elliot Rodger concocted in his tortured mind, and the culture of gratuitous violence omnipresent in the stories we tell in Hollywood and export to the rest of the world? We can and must find equally compelling ways to tell stories that do not take violence for granted.

So as you sit in your home today, if you are in possession of a gun for any reason, please consider asking yourself, "How is it really serving me? What is it for? Is it really making me safer?" And then perhaps you could ask yourself: "If I lay down my arms, and others do too, can the power of those individual gestures help us collectively get to a safer society?"

Please join me in making your voice heard by signing my friend Miranda's powerful petition, which will help us get closer to some signs of progress:

  • Require universal background checks
  • Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines (and in in the meantime, don't buy them)
  • Enact a national open carry laws
  • Require data analysis and alert systems to monitor suspicious buying patterns correlated to suspicious behavior

Let's do what it really takes to eliminate the endless potential for gun violence: #laydownyourarmsamerica

The NRA's Dirty Secret: Mass Shootings Drive Gun Sales

Mike Weisser   |   June 2, 2014    1:03 PM ET

The NRA will let one week go by and then they'll issue a statement about the Elliot Rodger shootings in Santa Barbara. Actually, they'll issue two statements which they always have ready to go. First they'll say that the slaughter shows that the mental health system is 'broken' and needs to be 'fixed.' Then they'll say that a 'good guy' with a gun would have stopped the 'bad guy,' and they'll remind everyone that Concealed Carry Weapons (CCW) legislation is impossible to get in California so there are no 'good guys' walking around in Isla Vista anyway.

The truth is that neither statement is true and or ever been true. But they sound like they're true, which gets the NRA off the hook. They can promote gun sales all they want but also come down on the side of safety and responsibility because it's the mental health system that needs to be fixed, right?

Last week Dr. Richard Friedman, a professor of psychiatry, explained that the link between mental illness and violence is tenuous at best and accounts for less than 5% of overall violence at worst. Which means that if every nut lost his guns, the 10,000+ gun homicides we endure each year would drop by a whole, big 500 or so. Wow -- talk about ending gun violence by 'fixing' the mental health system. Some fix.

As for all those 'good guys' walking around with guns, the FBI says there are roughly 300 justifiable homicides each year, a number that hasn't changed even with the CCW upsurge in the past year. Yeah, yeah, every year armed citizens 'prevent' millions of crimes just by waving their guns around in the air. I also know that Martians actually did land in Parrump.

The self-satisfied folks who really believe that 'guns don't kill people, people kill people,' simply refuse to accept the fact that if you pick up a gun, point it at someone else and pull the trigger, that the result is going to be very serious injuries or loss of life. There Is no other way, including running over someone with a car, that has such a devastating effect. The NRA gets around that problem by promoting, with an almost mystical reverence, the notion of using guns for self defense. John Lott's nonsense to the contrary, there is absolutely no evidence which proves that guns save more lives than they destroy.

Now don't get me wrong. If you're already sending a comment about how Mike The Gun Guy is really Mike The Anti-Gun Guy, why don't you save the HP comment screeners a little time and at least wait until you read this entire blog? Because believe it or not, I'm not anti-gun. I have said again and again that 99.9% of all gun owners are safe and responsible with their guns. I have also said, but it bears repeating, that we should be able to figure out how to end gun violence without making lawful and careful gun owners jump through more legal hoops, including expanded background checks.

This morning I received an email from one of the largest internet gun-sellers who is dumping new, name-brand AR-15s for under 600 bucks. These are guns that were selling for twice that much a year ago and, as the email warned, "any sudden media attention to political situations, restrictive laws and regulations can drive prices through the roof again overnight."

The gun industry sits on the horns of a dilemma. They can moan and groan all they want about gun control but it is high-profile shootings that ignite the debate which then leads to stronger sales. The NRA claims that it's all about safe gun ownership but let's not make it too safe. Because if we do, it will be more than just a couple of Tea Party politicians giving away free AR-15s.

Mike Weisser is the author, most recently, of Because They're Assholes: Violence and Gun Violence (Guns in America)

Shots Fired. Madness in Progress.

Michael Winship   |   June 2, 2014    8:03 AM ET

This is the way it goes, because this is the way it always goes.

First, another horrific spree of violence and mass murder as we saw just last Friday in Santa Barbara, California, fueled by irrational fury, much of it perpetrated with guns obtained legally in the hands of someone who should never have been allowed one.

Then there's mourning, the makeshift memorials of flowers and stuffed animals, candlelit processions and vigils, funerals. The families and friends cry out in despair and condemn a society that permits such things. They attack the National Rifle Association for preaching a libertine philosophy of unregulated firearms. This time, most prominent was Richard Martinez, grief-stricken father of victim Chris Martinez. "Why did Chris die?" he asked. "Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA. They talk about gun rights -- what about Chris' right to live?"

The NRA observes radio silence for a few days, out of respect for the dead, they'll say, but in reality just keeping a low profile until the coast is clear and they can reemerge with statements from Wayne LaPierre and the like saying that they're shocked, just shocked by this tragedy but don't you dare blame it on guns. We might need tighter mental health guidelines but keep away from my right to own my personal weapons of mass destruction and carry them wherever I want.

Noise and promises will be made, some legislation will be introduced and, at the state level at least, maybe even passed. (Since Santa Barbara, a bill is now in the California legislature that would allow restraining orders to keep "people with a potential propensity for violence from buying or owning a gun." Yet The New York Times reported that while in the year after the Sandy Hook/Newtown killings almost every state passed at least one new gun law, "Nearly two-thirds of the new laws ease restrictions and expand the rights of gun owners.")

And forget about Congress. Although the House did approve some more cash for the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System this week, there are no changes in the rules or regulations; any attempt is squelched by the gun lobby. So nothing much happens. Until the next time there's a killing spree and the maddening cycle begins all over again. It's like beating our heads against a wall over and over because it feels so good when we stop. Only it never stops. Because we keep letting ourselves be bullied into submission by loudmouths with guns.

As if on cue, here's Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher of election '08 fame: "I am sorry you lost your child," he wrote to the parents of the Santa Barbara dead. "I myself have a son and daughter and the one thing I never want to go through, is what you are going through now. But: As harsh as this sounds -- your dead kids don't trump my Constitutional rights." Yes, if brave Joe the Plumber had been there last Friday night, he would have shot it out with Elliot Rodger in Santa Barbara, or, more likely, offered to unclog his sink.

And check this out -- just a couple of days before the Santa Barbara murders, Chris Cox, the NRA's chief lobbyist, went after the pro-gun control group Doctors for America. He wrote, "... While doctors know medicine, as a group they don't have any specialized knowledge of firearms or firearm policy."

This is rich. First, any doctor who has ever spent any time in an ER and tried to help a gunshot victim who's bleeding and near death, could be said to have a certain "specialized knowledge of firearms." Second, the NRA has done its damnedest to prevent doctors and scientists from getting hold of the research necessary to evaluate just how much harm guns are doing. As Lois Beckett reported in April for the independent, investigative news agency ProPublica, "For nearly 20 years, Congress has pushed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to steer clear of firearms violence research... As gun violence spiked in the early 1990s, the CDC ramped up its funding of firearms violence research. Then, in 1996, it backed off under pressure from Congress and the National Rifle Association. Funding for firearms injury prevention activities dropped from more than $2.7 million in 1995 to barely $100,000 by 2012, according to CDC figures."

As for FY 2014: $0.

Yes, the Justice Department spent $2 million last year and is offering $1.5 million for gun violence research this year. And the National Institutes of Health have put out a call for new research, although it's still uncertain how much money is involved. But for the NRA to oppose such work -- dismissing it as "propaganda" and describing increased funding as "unethical," while at the same time saying doctors don't know enough to judge -- is reminiscent of the proverbial kids who murder their parents and then beg for leniency because they're orphans.

Cox and his associates say the ultimate goal of gun control advocates is "civilian disarmament." Please. We've said it over and over: Go ahead and keep your rifles for hunting and your handguns for target practice and home security, even though, as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence repeatedly reports, "A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense." Just explain why you have a need to possess an arsenal similar to that of an emerging nation-state -- and give me a good reason that ultimately doesn't have to do with insecurity about your manhood.

The NRA, which has the nerve to call itself "America's longest-standing civil rights organization," says it's about freedom. Wrong. The bottom line is that it really is the bottom line: money. The NRA and its gun lobby pals keep the market jumping. So firearms and ammunition manufacturers, including Remington Outdoor, Smith & Wesson, Sturm Rugar, and Olin (Winchester Ammunition), give the NRA millions. Depending on the company, this includes direct contributions, percentages of sales and sometimes even free NRA memberships with a purchase.

According to a report early last year by Walter Hickey in Business Insider, "Since 2005, the gun industry and its corporate allies have given between $20 million and $52.6 million to it through the NRA Ring of Freedom sponsor program... The NRA also made $20.9 million -- about 10 percent of its revenue -- from selling advertising to industry companies marketing products in its many publications in 2010, according to the IRS Form 990."

Charlie Pierce, prodigious political blogger over at Esquire magazine put it well:

This is a country at war with itself for profit. This is a country at war with itself because its ruling elite is too cowed, or too well-bribed, or too cowardly to recognize that there are people who are getting rich arming both sides, because the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, so you make sure that it's easy for the bad guys to get guns in order to make millions selling the guns to the good guys.

You've no doubt heard that this doesn't happen in countries like Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada where the gun rules are strict and lives are saved. But here the cycle of death, denial, resistance and madness goes on. Leave it to The Onion, the satirical news site, to speak the truth. Its headline, after the heartbreak in Santa Barbara:

"'No Way to Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens."

South Sudan: The Risk of Becoming a Child Soldier

World Vision   |   May 30, 2014    1:00 PM ET

By James East

Conflict damages children in so many ways but one of the most injurious is when the very conditions created by war then lead to their recruitment into armed groups and the perpetuation of harm.

In South Sudan today, it is estimated by the U.N. that nine thousand children are serving in some form of armed force or group. Amidst all the warnings of a humanitarian food crisis brought about by conflict, these kinds of violations facing children should not be forgotten.

Akom, 14, a South Sudanese teenager is one of these recruits. He joined a militia only in the last few weeks. Revenge fueled his desire to sign up and fight after what he witnessed following the invasion of his hometown of Malakal, in Upper Nile state.

Malakal is now a ghost town of looted, trashed and burned buildings. In the face of mass killings, rapes and terrible brutality its entire population evacuated en masse and fled in various directions, with thousands of citizens fleeing to the protection of a U.N. base just outside town.

As Akom tells the story, he and a neighbor had returned to the town only to recover goods from their homes. "My neighbor was carrying food and flour. We were stopped by men who thought we were looting. They made us sit on the ground while two of them argued about whether they should kill the boy I was with. Then a third man came over and just shot him. I was crying. They told me, 'Get out of here.' They killed him because he was bigger than me. I want to get my revenge."

Even though Akom's mother and older brother are still living on the U.N. base, he left them to sign up with the militia. He has since received basic military training, including how to use a gun.

Fellow trainee, Awer, 15, says he joined the militia because his school has not functioned since January when it was occupied by families displaced from the various towns and villages invaded by the opposition forces. He'd much rather be in school now, but says he had hoped to join the army after getting an education to become an officer. This is a common career path for children whose own parents have often fought and where there are few other career opportunities. This is especially true in South Sudan where the role of the armed groups was central to the creation of an independent state in 2011.

As Awer and his relatives fled the invading forces he says they became separated. He believes his family went north to Khartoum in Sudan, leaving him behind with his uncle. Awer has only been in the militia a few weeks but says he has already fired a gun in combat. "I wasn't scared," he says.

A militia insider agrees children should be getting an education but defends the use of children.

"They are not in frontline roles. They don't have their own guns. They help with things like giving water to the wounded or washing utensils. They volunteer to join us and as you have heard they are not afraid to be soldiers."

But he acknowledges that in the melee of war and as opposition forces advance sometimes the children at the rear of operations find themselves in the combat zone and using guns, even if they don't own them.

International law is clear: children cannot be recruited as soldiers.

World Vision's experience of working with children in conflict zones has found that youth and adolescents are especially vulnerable to conscription by armed groups. This is also the case in South Sudan where World Vision is responding to the needs of tens of thousands of children who have been displaced.

Mass displacements of people away from the fighting destroy family incomes making the armed groups, an attractive place to turn to when the money runs out, even if the wages are basic or come in the form of food and shelter.

Displacement camps themselves are often breeding grounds for despair and boredom. There is nothing to do and little hope. To adolescents, armed groups can appear an attractive alternative.

Armed groups also offer a sense of protection. They provide a feeling of collective security to communities that feel very threatened, as well as, access to personal weaponry. There is often community pressure on adolescents to help protect the clan or tribe, especially when manhood is perceived to start earlier than 18 years of age.

In order to reduce the risks of recruitment World Vision is organizing adolescent activities within the displacement camp just outside Malakal in an attempt to keep young men occupied. It is a small effort in a sea of vulnerability.

"We are providing sports, including football, volleyball and netball. These are outlets for adolescent energies and frustrations that have been building up. We also offer study groups in math and English as a way to engage youth in something constructive that keeps them learning when there is no sign of schools reopening", said Makiba Yamano, Word Vision's Child Protection in Emergencies Specialist.

South Sudan is already on a U.N. watch list for the recruitment of children and has to provide regular reporting to the U.N. Security Council on how it is tackling the problem. But the current conflict is setting back efforts and a comprehensive and lasting peace is required to ensure children are back, being schooled in class and not in war.

James East is Emergency Communications Director at World Vision reporting from South Sudan.

Bullets, Ballots and Bullies

David Katz, M.D.   |   May 29, 2014   10:12 AM ET

This video of a father who lost his son in the recent California massacre is riveting and heart-wrenching. But since it wasn't our son or daughter -- this time -- we will doubtless well up, and move on. We always do, much to our shame.

But yet another high-profile massacre does invite a question for those favoring the free flow of personal "arms" in our society. Let's consider "X" all the times such arms, in the hands of private citizens, are used to subordinate tyranny, foreign or domestic. And let's be generous and even extend the definition of "X" to all effective use of a gun by a civilian for fully justified self defense. Let's consider "Y" the times readily accessible guns in our culture are used to harm others unjustifiably, or for self-harm, either intentional or inadvertently.

What, exactly, would the ratio of X:Y need to be to justify our current hands-off-my-arms approach? What would the ratio need to be to justify change?

Before turning back to that, we should note that these questions may suggest some others. The first and most obvious is: do we know what these numbers are? To the extent the answer is "yes," the available data indicate that guns are used far more commonly for ill than for good. Gun ownership is associated with a markedly higher rate of gun-related injury to the gun owner and his or her household. But to a large extent the answer is "no," because the same groups that oppose any kind of gun control oppose any funding of research to establish what the real-world effects are of the virtually unhindered flow of guns.

Now back to the question: what would the ratio of X:Y need to be to justify changes to the status quo?

All of the balloting on the issue of gun control indicates that an overwhelming majority of us favor reforms, including at the very least rigorous background checks, and the banning of high-capacity semi-automatic weapons for other than military and paramilitary uses. So, presumably, that same overwhelming majority of us has the impression that the ratio of X:Y is already far too low to justify the status quo.

Those who disagree either think that the ratio of X:Y is high enough to argue for business as usual, or just don't care what the ratio is. For some, the "right to bear arms" is an ideological absolute.

But of course, the right to bear arms never was, and cannot be absolute. None would suggest that the right extends to prison inmates, psychiatric inpatients, or 2 year olds. None would suggest that it extends to all arms. Personal use of nuclear or biological "arms," for instance, is presumably objectionable to all.

But even if we limit ourselves to reasonable interpretations of "absolute," what does it indicate if the ratio of X:Y just doesn't matter? It means that even if private gun ownership often resulted in intentional or unintentional harm of the "good guys," and NEVER resulted in effective self-defense let alone defense against tyranny, it wouldn't matter. It would mean that the ideological absolute would always prevail over the epidemiological data.

Taken to the extreme, this could mean that every argument any of us ever has with anyone would be settled at the point of a gun. At this absurd extreme, X is 0, and Y is all of us, and the ratio of benefit to harm is nonexistent because there is no benefit and the harm is universal.

If there is anyone who would still advocate for unimpeded access to guns for all on the basis of ideology despite such an extreme (and admittedly absurd) epidemiology, there are names for it. The kinder designation is fanaticism. The more useful appellation for beliefs and perceptions completely dissociated from reality is: insanity.

I am not necessarily saying that anyone out there is that crazy, although I wouldn't be shocked to learn some are. What I am saying is that if zero benefit and infinite harm is unacceptable, then we might all agree that there is a line somewhere. And that means we can agree.

A ratio of benefit to harm above the line could justify our current situation. A ratio below the line would argue for change. All we have to do is agree that there must be a line somewhere, and then we might meet on common ground, and engage in the challenging, but manageable job of deciding where exactly to draw the line.

Why don't we do even that? Why don't we take even the modest step of agreeing there must be a line somewhere, and determining which side of it our guns and bullets are on at present?

It clearly has nothing to do with ballots, since a majority favor reforms and the flow of information that would inform them. And it has little to do with extreme ideologues, since they are a trivial influence in a democracy of 300 million people.

It's not the hot but scattered flames of ideology that matter here -- it's the fuel for that fire, and the fan. The fuel, of course, is money, and the fan is BS. The entanglements of the NRA with gun manufacturers and sellers are well publicized. The status quo is making some people very rich. Some small portion of those funds is allocated to bully cowards in government, fuel and fan the flames of fanaticism, and disseminate the propaganda that Constitutional rights are threatened if we can't all have whatever arms we want whenever we want them.

Frankly, there is a name for it when a small group of wealthy people subvert the will of the majority: tyranny.

I feel obligated to point out that those who believe that our one reliable defense against tyranny is high-capacity, semi-automatic weapons in the hands of civilian ideologues seem to be ignoring the possibility that we have high-capacity semi-automatic weapons in the hands of civilian ideologues because of tyranny. I would also suggest that those who see those guns as our best defense must have a very low view of the rest of our Constitution, which was of course brilliantly drafted with checks and balances far more effective than bullets.

As for defense against foreign tyrants, that's the job of our military -- and there is nothing in the history of our nation since it was founded and a standing military established to suggest that they will invite gun-toting civilians along to help. Those wanting arms for this purpose should enlist.

When ideology prevails and epidemiology doesn't matter, it's not because of the ideologues. They have no real influence. It's because of bullies with money.

Money in the hands of few to subvert the will of many is more than bullying; it is tyranny. Who out there is defending the Martinez family, and those who will inevitably follow, from such tyranny?

-fin

Dr. David L. Katz has co-authored multiple editions of a leading epidemiology textbook. More importantly, he has 5 children he loves very much- and would like them to live in a safe and rational world.

www.davidkatzmd.com
www.turnthetidefoundation.org

http://www.loreofthecorners.com/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dr-David-L-Katz/114690721876253
http://twitter.com/DrDavidKatz
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/david-l-katz-md-mph/7/866/479/