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Guns, Butter, and The Burden of Proof

David Katz, M.D.   |   June 22, 2016   12:14 PM ET

In all of biomedicine, spanning clinical care, medical research, and public health practice, we subscribe to the "precautionary principle." Basically, it says: if there is a chance something can be harmful, assume it is. The burden of proof is in the other direction. You are not obligated to prove something is dangerous; you have to prove it is safe. That is precautionary, because a default assumption in that direction protects people. Or, at least, it's supposed to do so. There are inevitably gaps between the principle and practice, such as when a doctor is reckless, a vaccine tainted, or a drug rushed to market by a manufacturer disclosing only the positive data.

But our faithfulness to any principle is always imperfect because we are imperfect. That does not invalidate the principle -- it just makes it one part instructional, one part aspirational.

In clinical practice, the precautionary principle famously situates itself in the oath we physicians take: primum non nocere (first, do no harm). In research, the salience is even greater. The statistical threshold for showing a treatment does work is conventionally set much higher than the threshold for deciding it does not, in the service of avoiding a "false positive" outcome. A false positive finding suggests a treatment effect that is really just a statistical fluke, and imposes the risk of promulgating a treatment that is ineffective. There is some risk involved in virtually any treatment, just as there is a risk in crossing the street or taking a shower, so there has to be a potential benefit to justify that risk. Ineffective treatments offer no such benefit, so any risk is too great.

Now, to the matter at hand. As my title implied, this is a bit about guns and a bit about butter (well, saturated fat, actually), and the precautionary principle pertains to both.

As I am writing this, I am disappointed, but not surprised, in the immediate aftermath of Senate votes here in the U.S. defeating all of the proposed gun control measures following our latest mass casualty calamity. The measures defeated included the "obviously preposterous" idea that people deemed by the FBI unsafe to board a plane might be unsafe to buy high-capacity semi-automatic weapons.

In an entirely honest world, I suspect the arguments for the unfettered sale of guns would sound like: guys like guns, and there's lots of money to be made selling them, so those of us making money from that want to keep making money from that. Thank you, and have a nice day.

Of course, we don't live in such an honest world. Mired as we are in prevarication, subterfuge, chicanery, and ulterior motives, we get the inevitable snow job instead. We hear about defense against tyranny (from those perpetrating it), and the Constitutional right for every sociopath to have an Uzi.

But leaving such arguments aside, we might simply invoke the precautionary principle as bedrock for matters pertaining to public health, as the flow of guns clearly does. As noted above, it offers clear and relevant guidance: the burden of proof resides with those seeking to demonstrate safety/advantages, not with those concerned about harms.

Arguments that we are in any way safer and less prone to harms ranging from personal injury to governmental tyranny courtesy of ubiquitous guns are entirely hypothetical. The available evidence all goes the other way. Compared to peer countries with tighter gun controls, the U.S. has massively higher rates of gun related deaths of every description. Peer countries with tighter gun controls and democracies are as stably democratic as are we.

There are, certainly, theoretical arguments in support of the "guns for all" platform. In the unlikely scenario, for instance, that an unprovoked maniac is charging at you with a sword or battle axe from a sufficient distance and with adequate warning so that you can take out the loaded gun you happen to have in your holster or handbag and defend yourself, recourse to that gun could be a good thing. So, too, when you have an irrepressible hankering for venison. But in the overwhelming majority of real-world scenarios, including the nightclub in Orlando, guns in the hands of "good guys" or gals do not preempt carnage. As more bullets fly, they may figure in compounding it. More often still, they simply contribute to unrelated tragedies: accidental injury, accidental death, and suicide.

Global data seem to suggest quite robustly that fewer guns and bullets in circulation do not predict a greater risk of tyranny, but rather a lesser risk of mayhem. Trends in Australia ice this cake by revealing what happens when gun distribution is reduced: so, too, are all the adverse consequences of bullets flying around.

We'll leave it there. The burden of proof does not reside with those of us who see potential harm in high capacity, semi-automatic weapons in the hands of suspected domestic terrorists. The burden of proof is with the "we sell guns, so think buying more of them is a good idea" crowd. But those folks, apparently, are literate to the writing on the wall. The NRA has effectively told Congress, one imagines at gunpoint: federal funds cannot be used to study gun control. So, let's ask: who is afraid of funding research, those who want to know the truth, or those who favor the profitable bliss of ignorance and denial? If the NRA is right about the value of more guns, they should be first in line to get the data to prove it.

Anyway, moving on. The arguments for more guns are predicated on theoreticals, while ignoring the mass of real-world evidence. The arguments for the exoneration of saturated fat, or if you will, the "eat more meat, butter, cheese" platform- are exactly the same.

In the real world, none of the healthiest, longest-lived, most vital populations on the planet have a diet high in saturated fat or its prominent sources. Quite the contrary, in fact. Diets associated with optimal health outcomes over a lifetime, and generations, vary widely in total fat content, but are all plant-predominant, and low in saturated fat.

Moreover, at the level of an entire population, when a concerted effort was made to reduce intake of saturated fat in a sensible way (i.e., not replacing it with Snackwells), the result was as good or better than hoped or expected. Cardiovascular disease rates went down over 80%, and life expectancy increased by ten years. In a study of some 85,000 spanning 20 years, cardiovascular disease rates declined significantly when saturated fat calories were replaced with either whole grain calories, or unsaturated fat calories from the customary sources: nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, and fish.

And all of this is entirely consistent with a vast and diverse body of evidence encompassing methods from cell culture, to animal models, to randomized controlled trials in people.

How, then, can there even be a counter argument? As with guns, it's a case of supposition over substance. It's a case of making perfect evidence we don't have the enemy of the very good evidence we do. Because, admittedly, we don't have perfect evidence.

Consider what it would take to prove, beyond the last shadow of the last doubt, that more guns in more hands mean more, not fewer, good people in body bags. We would need several sizable populations- let's say, about 100,000 people each. These populations would need to be almost exactly matched for demographics, socioeconomics, education, vocation, temperament, mental and physical health, and of course, laws and law enforcement. We would then need to assign these populations randomly to no guns, some guns, or guns for all; these guns, or those guns. We would then need to follow them for a decade or so, and count up the body bags. The study has not been done, and I advise against holding your breath.

The same pertains to saturated fat and its prevailing sources. To know with absolute certainty that more saturated fat from the usual suspects- pastrami, cheeseburgers, ice cream, and so on- is directly responsible for more, not less, chronic disease would require the same construct. Those same, several, comparably comparable populations would need to be assigned randomly to exactly matching diets and lifestyle practices differing only in saturated fat intake from specific sources, and followed for a decade or more to compare outcomes. Then, and only then, with all other factors exactly matched, could we say with unassailable certainty what saturated fat did, or didn't do.

For whatever it's worth, the food trial is even harder than the gun trial- because inevitably, eating more of X means either eating less of Y, or simply eating more overall. Either way, you've changed something other than X. Is more meat, butter, cheese "bad" for us because it's bad for us, or because it displaces beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains that are better for us? There is almost no way to answer that question with anything other than: who cares? If we focus on the dietary pattern that most reliably promotes vitality and longevity, that contrived detail ceases to matter.

The evidence we do have is imperfect in both cases, but the way the weight of it tips is perfectly clear. Where there are more guns in more hands, there are more bullet holes in good people. Where there is more meat, butter, and cheese in place of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds- there are more years lost needlessly from life and life lost needlessly from years to chronic disease. Even more conclusively, the "eat more meat, butter, cheese" argument is on the wrong side of history, and the great imperatives of our time: climate stabilization, water use, sustainable food production, ecosystem protection, and the preservation of biodiversity.

The same liabilities attach to Coca Cola, Snackwells, and multicolored marshmallows for breakfast, of course. The notion that we must choose between an excess of sugar and an excess of saturated fat is one of the great diverting boondoggles of modern nutrition. A diet of wholesome foods in any sensible combination reliably navigates around both.

There you have it. Arguments for more guns and bullets, and arguments for more meat, butter, and cheese both put profit-driven "what ifs?" ahead of the weight of evidence. Both represent ideology ahead of epidemiology. They are shot full of holes with every reality check. Those making those arguments dismiss, disdain, or simply misconstrue the burden of proof. It is theirs.

If you have bullets or butter to peddle, it tolls for thee.

-fin

David L. Katz

Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center; Griffin Hospital
President, American College of Lifestyle Medicine

Senior Medical Advisor, Verywell.com

Founder, The True Health Initiative

Follow at: LinkedIN; Twitter; Facebook
Read at: INfluencer Blog; Huffington Post; US News & World Report

Our Pluralistic Democracy Must Protect The Rainbow Children Of God

Brian Levin, J.D.   |   June 21, 2016    6:54 PM ET

Awash With Guns

Heavily-armed freelance terrorist killers -- inspired by foreign extremists groups but not orchestrated by them -- like the one who struck Orlando last week and my community six months ago, represent a critical ongoing terror threat to America, but not the only one. As I testified before Congress in October 2015: "The United States faces multiple severe risk factors and a diverse set of emerging contemporary actors" with the most prominent being violent salafist jihadists, followed by domestic far right anti-government or bigoted extremists, with many of the worst now being active shooters.

Despite this, and a ruling yesterday by the Supreme Court not to overturn a Connecticut law restricting assault weapons, the Senate failed to move forward on four limited proposals involving access to firearms for those on terror watch lists. This availability of weaponry has not been lost on extremists.

Adam Gadahn, the deceased spokesman for Al Qaeda, another group the killer supported, exclaimed in 2011:

America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?

Even the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a champion of Second Amendment rights in upholding a personal right to firearms ownership against a total handgun ban in the case of D.C. v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) still ruled the government may impose reasonable restrictions:

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose..... [N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

Armed Freelance Terrorists Pose A Threat

As I wrote in the Huffington Post in 2010: "Lone wolf offenders in particular often self-radicalize from a volatile mix of personal distress, psychological issues, and an ideology that can be sculpted to justify and explain their anti-social leanings." Yet, despite red flags about the killer's behavior and instability from law enforcement, employers, and a gun store owner he was still able to buy a Sig Sauer MCX folding semi-automatic rifle used in the Orlando massacre.

Not all unstable hate freelancers with access to guns are primarily homophobes or salafist jihadists either. Exactly one year ago, Dylan Roof murdered nine innocent African-American worshippers at Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, South Carolina despite having a criminal record that should have prevented a firearm purchase. These attacks lie at the intersection of hate crime -- where a crime target is intentionally selected due to perceived group membership; and terrorism -- where symbolic threats and violence are used to intimidate populations for social or political goals.

Freelancers with firearms are not the only ones who represent an armed extremist threat to the homeland. Just this month, CIA Director Brennan testified that in addition to those inspired freelancers, "ISIL is training and attempting to deploy operatives for further attacks. ISIL has a large cadre of Western fighters who could potentially serve as operatives for attacks in the West." In addition, domestic armed militias grew by 34 percent to 276 last year according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. If that weren't enough we also have overheated domestic political divisions in an especially volatile election year to add to a truly diverse threat matrix.

Sources for Hate Likely Intertwined

Murky details have emerged that the Orlando killer, apparently led a deeply conflicted double life that may have led to his homophobic rampage. He was apparently a turbulent swirl of personal aggression and bigotry, intolerant fundamentalism; as well as being in a state of probable sexual identity conflict. All these fissures merged with an erratic relationship and employment history toward a trajectory of radicalization. While this radicalization emerged from a diverse, and sometimes conflicting, set of far flung extremist movements, including that of al Qaeda philosopher Anwar al-Awlaki; it culminated in his stated allegiance to ISIS. His violent threats and bigotry, however, extended further back into childhood where he jokingly mocked the 9/11 attack and threatened to bring a gun to school.

One of the more ironic twists to the horrendous anti-LGBT hate massacre in Orlando last week, the worst mass shooting in recent American history; is that the killer, who went to a gay bar and dating sites, would have been executed by ISIS- the very terror group who exploited his allegiance to them. In addition, ten countries, including Afghanistan where the shooter's parents emigrated from make homosexuality punishable by death.

Violent Homophobia Is A Logstanding Scourge in America

Unfortunately, homophobia is not only confined to foreign lands or extremists. As early as 1994 I testified before Congress that lesbians and gays were "subject to the highest levels of violence of all bias crime victims." And as Attorney General Loretta Lynch observed Sunday, this fact remains true today. The LGBT community in the United States has the highest per capita hate crime victimization rate of any group enumerated by the FBI.

The 999 anti-LGBT hate crimes in 2014 accounted for 18.2 percent of hate crime incidents according to the FBI, but the CDC estimates the percentage of LGB individuals in the United States at just 2.3 percent. In the United States, of the 141 hate motivated homicides enumerated by the FBI from 1999-2014, a total of 31 individuals were killed arising out of anti-LGBT bias.

Relying on unofficial self-reporting by victims and communities, a coalition of 13 regional anti-LGBT violence service organizations, reported 24 anti-LGBT bias homicides in 2015. That is highest number since 2011. Sixty-two percent of the self-reported homicide sample were people of color; while 67 percent of all anti-LGBT homicides were transgender or gender non-conforming people. Sixteen or 54 percent of this sample's homicide victims were transgendered people of color in 2015. Over the last decade the coalition's unofficial anti-LGBT bias homicide numbers totaled 226 and their bigotry was made in America. Of the 45 states and the District of Columbia that have hate crime laws, 30 cover sexual orientation and 15 cover transgender, as does the federal law.

Moreover, non-criminal bigotry against LGBT individuals is spouted from the pulpit. An imam with a record of justifying death for gay people recently spoke at the shooter's mosque. In Sacramento, Roger Jimenez, a Baptist preacher stated right after the massacre, his proposal of what the government should do with LGBT individuals: [R]ound them all up and put them up against a firing wall, and blow their brains out." A New York Rabbi contends, "a direct connection between earthquakes and homosexuality" to explain how God uses disasters to teach right from wrong.

Responding To Violent Hatreds From Different Sources

Three things are clear. First, we face a multi-dimensional armed extremism threat including both foreign and domestic actors, that include those inspired by fundamentalism, politics, and bigotry. Second, with most of these extremist attackers using firearms, we must undertake common sense restrictions to keep these weapons out of the hands of extremists, whether they be inspired freelancers, or even more ominous orchestrated killers deployed by organized groups. Third, the LGBT community has historically faced violence beyond those that are heavily armed and inspired by foreign terror groups. Local toughs armed with bigotry and an array of imprecise weapons prey on our fellow LGBT Americans as well.

The first places to move forward include enforcing existing measures, as well as ratify new ones, that further prevent no fly list designees, criminals and the mentally unstable from having easy access to the weapons of war. We must hire more federal agents to investigate bona fide terror suspects without placing whole faith communities under a lens of suspicion. Next, we must pass hate crime legislation in those 20 states that lack coverage for the LGBT community. Lastly, as the FBI data indicates, we must encourage states not meaningfully participating in data collection and enforcement efforts to do so. To do otherwise impermissibly places these rainbow children of God at further risk of victimization whether it comes from an inspired gun toting freelance terrorist, a hateful local assailant with a baseball bat or both.

Florida Rape Victim Skirts Waiting Period And Performs Her Own Abortion With An AR-15

James Schlarmann   |   June 21, 2016    2:49 PM ET

More fake news daily at The Political Garbage Chute.

LAGO DEL DESESPERACIÓN, FLORIDA -- Back in April of this year, 28-year-old nurse and Florida resident Jane Sampson was raped while walking home after working a late shift at St. Mary's Hospital. To her utter shock and dismay, when Jane missed her period in May, she took a pregnancy test and found out she was carrying her rapist's child. Without any hesitation, she headed to the Planned Parenthood in her city, only to be told that in Florida she had to wait 24 hours to have the pregnancy -- the pregnancy only brought about by her rape -- terminated.

"I was so angry and sad," Sampson told our reporter via Skype, "because I had already been horribly violated and traumatized. Then, a month after I was raped I find out I'm pregnant with that scumbag's seed? I wanted it out of me right then and there. And in America an abortion is my constitutional right; it has been for decades. But not in red-ass Florida."

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So, Sampson says, she did some quick research online and found that not even traveling to one of Florida's closest neighboring states would let her, as a rape victim, immediately terminate the rape pregnancy. That's when Sampson says she stumbled upon a fact that she said "completely changed everything." In Florida, while rape victims have to wait a full day to get an abortion, anyone can buy an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with absolutely no waiting period whatsoever.

"Once I found out that I had more rights to a firearm than I did to control my own biological bodily functions," Ms. Sampson told us, "I knew exactly what I had to do. So I went down to Liberty Gun and Ammo and bought myself a Bushmaster AR-15. I was going to end this pregnancy one way or another."

Given that the AR-15 is a high-powered rifle, Sampson knew it would take some modification to use in her own abortion. Luckily for Jane, Bushmaster has a special line of U-Abort It™ rifle accessories that can be added to the AR-15, allowing it to be used with surgical precision.

"It turns out, my state isn't the only one that sees zero irony in making weapons of wanton death and destruction easy to get while making a safe and legal, constitutionally protected medical service as hard to have performed as possible," Jane told us, "and so Bushmaster developed a whole product line for red state women like me who still want to have control over our own reproduction, silly us."

Once the abortion was complete, Sampson says she had no more use for the gun. Fortunately for her, being a resident in Florida, she could take her AR-15 to any one of the 55 state gun orphanages that Governor Rick Scott had created during his first term. The gun orphanages match up lost, abandoned or surrendered firearms to homes that, according to the official state charter for the orphanages "display good, clean, ammo-hoarding patriotism."

"There really aren't that many experiences in life that are worse than being raped," Sampson said, "except maybe finding out you're pregnant from the rape. But, luckily for me even though my state doesn't value my life enough to let me decide to instantly terminate my attacker's pregnancy he inflicted me with, they gave me an option to take matters into my own hands, I guess."

A recent article posted on The Daily Beast showed that 6 in 10 women in the United States face mandatory waiting periods to have an abortion, even in the case of rape or incest.

Terrorist Shoots, NRA Scores

Marty Rudoy   |   June 20, 2016    9:28 PM ET

CLEVELAND: Goodyear Satire Co--

In sports news, the NRA Finals ended in victory as the Senate blocked four gun control measures supported by a 70% minority of the American people, who will continue to be slaughtered 50 at a time.

"They will die knowing the constitutional rights of foreign terrorists have been preserved," boasted Donald Trump, speaking from the NRA's front pocket, "Just as our forefathers intended."

"The Democrats played their bleeding hearts out," complimented Terrorist Forward Wayne Lapierre. "But there'll have to be more carnage than 49 people before we permit our Senators to infringe the rights of the lunatic fringe."

The Senate will now wait until the next greatest mass shooting in American history before it fails again. "That should be next week," predicted Homeland Insecurity Chief Jeh Johnson.

"We're like the Washington Generals playing against the Harlem Globetrotters," complained every Democrat. "But as long as we put up the good fight, we'll get reelected," they chanted in unison. "We're cool with that."

Let's Be Honest, Gun Control Opponents

Nick Laure   |   June 20, 2016    5:53 PM ET

Hello, gun rights advocates!

Let me just be clear that I'm specifically addressing those of you that refuse to accept any sort of restrictions or common sense gun reform. Not all gun owners are bad. There are just a bunch of you out there making everyone else look psychotic.

I have already come to terms with the fact that you and I will never agree on gun rights or how they should be regulated in this country. I've exhausted myself far too much trying to get through to people and flip a switch of some kind for a reality check that might stop the madness. That's not what this is about.

All I want to implore of you at this point is that you please be honest with yourselves and with the rest of us. Just admit it. Say it out loud.

Your gun rights are more important to you than other people's lives.

Doesn't honesty feel great? I understand that a little bit of selfishness is human nature. You probably don't personally know any of the victims of mass shootings, and you think you'd be able to use your gun to defend yourself in the event that one occurred. But forget everyone else, right?

So really, you can drop the pretenses. You know your arguments are just there as a front for your real intentions, because they fall apart with any analysis.

You really can't try to tell me that you oppose gun control because you think that arming civilians will prevent mass shootings. Surely you don't expect elementary school students like those at Sandy Hook to be carrying guns. And I doubt you think it would be realistic for a crowd of nightclub goers to be packing heat while they dance to Rihanna. Or that patrons in a dark movie theater will be able to see and stop a shooter before he opens fire.

Admit that your gun rights are more important to you than preventing even one mass shooting.

And we both know that arming guards often won't work either. You're not that naive. There was an armed officer--someone actually trained to shoot a gun--present at Pulse nightclub, and the gunman still managed to kill 49 people. The element of surprise will always give the shooter an advantage.

This isn't an action movie. You aren't Liam Neeson. And the video below didn't go viral enough, but it completely shuts down the "good guy with a gun" theory. You're not even fooling yourself with that argument anymore, so maybe it's time to be honest about it.

And you are absolutely right about the fact that people could still get guns illegally despite gun control measures. But you have to be realistic enough to know that the average person is going to have a great deal of difficulty obtaining weapons on the street. I haven't met my local gun fencer yet, but I'm sure I'd find him super approachable, as would any mentally ill kid from the suburbs.

You really cannot tell me with any seriousness that making it more difficult to obtain assault weapons would stop nobody. There is no way a logical person could possibly believe that. Common sense would dictate that it would not be feasible for many people -- particularly the less resourceful -- to obtain a gun illegally. Could you? I wouldn't know where to begin. Legally getting a gun, though? Different story.

Let's consider a kid in Connecticut that wants to shoot up a school. Do you see him talking to arms dealers in a dark alley downtown? Or would it be more likely to see him taking an assault rifle that one of his parents already legally owns? (If this scenario sounds familiar, it's because it happened in Newtown.) Not all gun owners are responsible people. I know you can't think it's fair for the rest of us to pay the consequences.

Yet even though it might potentially stop a tragedy, you oppose gun legislation because some people could still get guns illegally. And that has worked out so well so far. Listen, nobody thinks gun control will stop all shootings, but I refuse to believe anyone could think it wouldn't stop any shootings.

Nobody thinks gun control will stop all shootings, but I refuse to believe anyone could think it wouldn't stop any shootings.

You can't be blind to what has happened in Australia, where gun control has been extremely successful, or the numerous U.S. states where gun control correlates with fewer gun deaths. You can't ignore the fact that exactly zero of the top 10 deadliest U.S. shootings occurred during the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994-2004). If you're being honest with yourself, you can't tell me that you really think that some level of gun control is unlikely to help.

Oh, and please don't allow me to forget to touch on one of your favorite arguments, the one that suggests we might as well outlaw all things that could possibly be utilized as weapons. Am I forgetting about the time someone single-handedly murdered dozens of people in minutes with a baseball bat? A sword? A chainsaw?

Yes, a bomb could do considerable damage. That's why we don't sell bombs at department stores. I mean, really, I know there's no way you think those arguments are substantive. It must be so exhausting to constantly rehash talking points trickled down from the NRA.

So again, please just own up to how you really feel. Admit that your gun rights are more important to you than preventing even one mass shooting. That your fears of oppression from gun control outweigh any prospect that it might change things for the better. That you don't even think it's worth a try, despite evidence to the contrary.

Go ahead. I'm sure it will be cathartic. Just stop trying to fool yourself and others with the fallacious arguments, and then we can all get back to praying it all away. I have a feeling it will work this time!

It Is Written

Brian Caldirola   |   June 20, 2016    5:20 PM ET

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Anti-gay Islamic Terrorism - Why the surprise?

Richard Feldman   |   June 20, 2016    3:15 PM ET

The blood hadn't dried from the homophobic terrorists shooting rampage when leading politicians began blaming the gun and calling for a ban on sales of the AR-15.

The central issue is never the gun (per se) but rather, in whose hands are the guns? The politicians were wrong in their finger pointing. Turns out the Orlando jihadist used a Sig Sauer MCX, not an AR clone.

It all sounds so disgustingly familiar - the rush to judgment, the emailed action alerts, pleading for contributions to fight the devil de jure.

Have we learned nothing from our impatience to "do something" after 9/11 resulting in our sorrowful passage of the freedom-constricting Patriot Act?

Trump supporters and Bernie supporters all agree - "what we've been doing isn't working, let's try something else." Americans have real problems and we no longer retain the luxury to play "identity politics" and blame citizens who own guns - because they (we) didn't do it!

Was the carnage the fault of the gun?

Did it stem from the radical Islamic commandment that demands the killing of LBGT people as former Congressman Barney Frank suggested?

Was it the self-loathing homophobia of an ideology determined to end our Western way of life as well as the civility and acceptance of differences considered the basis of historic "liberalism"?

It's still too early to know and the facts still change almost hourly, but what is all too predictable and a revoltingly insulting to those we lost in Orlando is the circling array of politicians sniffing the carnage like buzzards preparing for a feeding frenzy. No matter the platitudes mouthed, they see money to be raised and manipulation of polling data to be promoted. When emotions run high is exactly when judiciousness and circumspection are excluded from any legislative discussion - hardly the time to promote public policy.

The fundamental rights and freedoms of the American people should not be on the chopping block because of the acts of a jihadist following the spectacle of gay-hatred from radical Islam. Even if you despise guns, this is the moment when all our other freedoms (those that you do care about) are most at risk of being marginalized, eviscerated and duly diminished all in the name of fighting terrorism.

Bostonian's didn't demand an end to the Marathon after the bombing, nor support a ban on pressure cookers.

New Yorker's didn't demand a ban on gasoline sales in containers or the closure of Hispanic nightclubs after the 1990 firebombing that killed 87 (EIGHTY-SEVEN!) in the Bronx at the Happy Land Club.

Americans didn't call for mandatory FBI checks before truck rental agreements or clamp down on fertilizer distributors after Oklahoma City.

So why guns?

The shooter was employed by a federal security contractor, was investigated twice by the FBI for alleged terrorist sympathies and at the same time held a valid Florida concealed carry license. No new gun control law is ever going to prevent a grossly unfortunate, but entirely legitimate sale.

The position of the 100 million plus American gun owners who have never misused their firearms and believe that owning guns for self protection and defense of their way of life is a quintessential element of our American freedoms which can be summed up in the words of Ben Franklin who said,

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety".

In other words, "Make the linchpin of this discussion 'guns' and nothing changes". However, if we focus on terrorism, homophobia and those sworn to end our way of life, destroy our domestic tranquility, upend our Constitution while murdering and raping those who refuse to espouse their ideology whether they are Irish, Italian, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Hindus, gays, lesbians and straights and you'll have an unstoppable army of enthusiastic voters behind you!

The Pulse Nightclub in Orlando was a "gun free zone". That wasn't much of a safeguard against jihadist terror - why the surprise?

Nina Golgowski   |   June 20, 2016   10:20 AM ET

A firearm safety class turned deadly over the weekend when the owner of a gun shop in Amelia, Ohio, was fatally shot by a student, authorities say.

Students were performing weapon malfunction drills on Saturday when a gun discharged through a wall at Monroe Township's KayJay Gun Shop, shooting James Baker, 64, in the neck, the Clermont County Sheriff's Office said in a release. 

"Efforts to resuscitate Baker were unsuccessful and Baker was pronounced [dead] at 3:12 p.m.," the sheriff's office stated.

About 10 people were taking the concealed carry weapons permit class when the shooting occurred, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported. It's not clear whether Baker or someone else was actually teaching the class. The student who discharged the firearm has not been identified.

Neighbors have reacted with shock and sadness to the news.

"He was a friend to everybody," Baker’s neighbor, Anita Fritz, told the Enquirer. "If it snowed, he'd get everybody's driveway."

Neighbors say Baker was also popular among local law enforcement officers, who would regularly come to his shop to get their weapons serviced.

"Ten sheriff cops came because they all loved him," one woman told WCPO-TV, describing the aftermath of Saturday's shooting. "He was just loved by everyone."

According to the gun shop’s website, it offers firearm safety, training and CCW classes.

In a statement, the sheriff's office said an investigation is underway and "the Sheriff’s Office will be reviewing the incident with the Prosecutor’s Office prior to the release of any further details of this incident." The office declined to provide additional information.

A request for comment from the gun shop was not immediately returned.

Keep Guns Out Of Dangerous Hands In Orlando, In Chicago, In Every Community

Sen. Dick Durbin   |   June 18, 2016    9:29 AM ET

Co-author Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-IL)

The horrific mass shooting in Orlando was the deadliest in our nation's history. In response, this week Democrats in both the House and the Senate said ENOUGH, and demanded action to stem the rising tide of gun violence in our country.

On Monday, House Democrats refused to participate in the perfunctory moment of silence held after each mass shooting, pledging to remain silent no more. Then on Wednesday, Senate Democrats led by Chris Murphy of Connecticut, took the floor in a 15 hour filibuster to demand action on common sense legislation supported by 90% of the American people. We are proud to have joined in those efforts. Democrats in both chambers will no longer stand for business as usual in the face of these horrific gun crimes. Congress must honor the victims of this bloodshed not with merely thoughts and prayers, but with action.

What happened in Orlando on Sunday was shocking, and our hearts are broken for the victims and their loved ones. And while the scale of these mass shootings captures the nation's attention, the carnage caused by guns on the streets of Chicago every day is no less tragic. More than 280 people have been killed in this great city since the first of the year. Thousands more are living under siege in neighborhoods where they fear sitting on their front porches or letting their kids out to play because of the threat of gun violence.

No one in the United States of America should ever have to live this way.

That's why we are pushing in Washington to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. There are simple steps Congress can and must take to end this gun violence nightmare: We must make universal background checks the law of the land, and close a shocking loophole in current law that allows known or suspected terrorists to buy guns and even explosives. In 2015 we were informed that forty percent of the crime guns confiscated in the most violent neighborhoods in Chicago were coming from gun shows in Indiana where guns can be purchased without background checks. And despite having been on the terrorist watch list in the past, the Orlando shooter was able to purchase an assault weapon and ammunition to stage his attack.

Establishing universal background checks and closing this terrorist gun loophole will help keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons, the mentally unstable and individuals with ties to terrorism. This should be done now as a matter of national security and public safety. This is a starting point. We know that much more must be done to keep guns out of dangerous hands, and that the appalling gun violence in Orlando and here in Chicago is the consequence of inaction.

The pursuit of gun reform is personal for us. And we won't stop -- not until all Americans everywhere can live free from the threat of gun violence.

Guns. Again.

Rep. Chris Taylor   |   June 17, 2016    7:46 PM ET

I remember where I was when I heard about Sandy Hook, one of the most horrifying occurrences in this country in my lifetime. And I remember the panic I felt thinking of my son, Sam, who was six and sitting in his first-grade classroom. And I remember lingering at his school for days afterward when I would drop him off, barely able to let him go. I realized that the issue of guns would be one I would spend the rest of my life working on.

When pretty much anyone can get a military-style assault weapon with ease, including homegrown terrorists and individuals with an agenda of hate so severe they kill, the horror of gun violence doesn't end, even as the public becomes more and more desperate that it does.

And Wisconsinites are desperate that gun violence end and common sense measures be adopted. In a January Marquette poll, 85.3% of Wisconsinites indicated they support universal background checks for gun purchases, with strong support in every corner of our state. And 65% of Wisconsinites want to keep concealed guns off school grounds.

Yet in Wisconsin, Republican legislators wouldn't even allow a vote on my resolution to honor the children and staff killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. Instead, in the five years they have been in charge, Republicans have repealed our 48 hour waiting period for handgun purchases, legalized concealed guns, which research from Stanford University shows has increased instances of violent crime, and tried but thankfully failed to allow more guns in our elementary schools and college classes. They will try again next session.

Republican policy makers insist that guns make us safer. If that were the case, the U.S., with the most civilian gun ownership in the world, would be the safest country among industrialized nations. Instead, we are the most deadly by far. And a gun owner has a far bigger risk that their gun will accidently kill someone they love than ever save a life. As Stanford gun researcher John Donohue has stated, "A loaded, unsecured gun in the home is like an insurance policy that fails to deliver at least 95% of the time you need it. . ."

But Democrats in the state legislature have to get more courage too. Perhaps if we talked more about creating safe communities and keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals through waiting periods, comprehensive background checks and no buy fly laws, we might start winning elections.

On the day that U.S. Senator Chris Murphy concluded his 15-hour filibuster, I began preparing a resolution for the victims in Orlando, almost exclusively LGBTQ members and people of color who have been killed, and tortured and abused throughout a shameful history of discrimination which continues to present day. Orlando was a hate crime that turned into a hate massacre because of the guns used. Next session, will Assembly Republicans block this resolution from even being considered? What about a reinstatement of the 48 hour waiting period for handgun purchases? Or universal background checks?

The question to ask now, is what are our elected officials going to do to curb this epidemic of gun violence? Praying for the devastated families isn't enough. It's not enough when gun violence claims 88 lives every day in our country. It's not enough when 52 women each month are gunned down by their intimate partners. It's not enough when 7 children lose their lives daily. It's not enough when there has been 186 school shootings on school campuses since Sandy Hook.

Enough talk. It's time for action.

How We Can Save Lives During a Mass Shooting

Amy Dardashtian   |   June 17, 2016    4:08 PM ET

The shooting in Orlando is now the worst civilian perpetrated mass shooting in American history. With each new senseless tragedy, we find ourselves debating gun control again.

First, understand there is no winning when it comes to guns. There will always be a way to get around restrictions because there are so many guns in circulation, including millions of semi-automatics legally owned by law-abiding citizens. Background checks, weapons bans, mental health registries, may help sometimes but will not prevent ALL criminals and terrorists from doing what they set out to do. Mass shootings have been a reality since the 1960s and even before.

As we see the casualties mount with each new shooting, the one question gun advocates and gun opponents should both be asking, is: is there a way to save even one life, without threatening each person's ability to defend their own?

The answer lies in examining the country's most contentious debate: a federal ban on "assault weapons." Since 2004, when the country's ban on certain assault weapons expired, politicians and gun opponents have been fighting for its reinstatement.

On the opposing end, the NRA, led by Wayne LaPierre fears that a ban on "assault weapons," namely semi-automatic guns will lead to a ban on handguns, then shotguns and revolvers and ultimately all guns. This is a parade of horribles argument fueled by a fear over the loss of Second Amendment rights.

Let's assuage those fears. In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms, for self-defense and the defense of the country. The Second Amendment originally arose out of antifederalist concerns that citizens wouldn't be able to defend themselves if a tyrant came to power. So, considering it is settled law, that citizens can own guns, a ban on all weapons would violate constitutional rights and be easily challenged by a powerhouse like the NRA.

SCOTUS also says the Second Amendment is not absolute, saying, "The Court's opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill...or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." The latter may support bans on the commercial sale of certain types of firearms.

The last federal assault weapons ban passed in 1994, after five children were killed in a school shooting. The law did not ban all guns; in fact nearly 700 guns were still legal. It banned semi-automatic guns with two or more militaristic features. Some called these cosmetic criterion useless because gun manufacturers merely tweaked their designs to get around the restrictions. The ban also made high-capacity magazines, capable of holding more than ten rounds, illegal. The ban on high-capacity magazines is the critical point for me. Why? Because history demonstrates that the best chance we have at saving lives while preserving Second Amendment rights lies with banning high-capacity magazines. Some states already have.

Many will say, myself included, that no one needs more than ten rounds in a magazine to defend their home or to hunt. It is easy to reload. High-capacity magazines should only be employed by the military or law enforcement. Our country already bans civilian use of fully automatic weapons, aka machine guns, which can fire up to one thousand consecutive rounds following one pull of the trigger. In contrast, semi-automatic weapons require pulling the trigger every time you want to fire a bullet. They fire up to a bullet per second. With a 30-round magazine that means it may take only 30 seconds to fire 30 shots. However, with a ten round magazine, it takes ten seconds to fire ten bullets but then, wait for it... there is a pause. Time is wasted to reload. Time that equates with a chance to save a life. Can shooters bring more than one ten-round magazine? Sure, the Virginia Tech shooter did. But, it's the time to reload that is critical. In Colorado, the Aurora movie theater shooter legally purchased a 100-round magazine. The shooting lasted just two minutes yet twelve people were killed and seventy-two injured, including many who are now paralyzed. Police responded within 90 seconds. If the shooter had to reload, lives may have been saved. Never underestimate what can happen in seconds; someone could run to safety, someone could tackle the shooter or police could fire a fatal shot. Reloading constitutes a life saving distraction. But don't take my word for it. Let's look at the historical facts.

Opponents of reinstating the assault weapons ban point to a government study that the ban had little to no effect on crime because semi-automatic weapons accounted for about two percent of all crimes. But what if we isolate mass shootings? Did the ban make a difference? And if so, how? Here's what I found. Assault weapons, including semi-automatic guns, were the weapons of choice in the majority of mass shootings. From 1994-2004 when the ban was in effect there were about 40 mass shootings. From 2004-2016, there were about 45 mass shootings. The amount of mass shootings stayed relatively the same in both decades. More handguns were used during the ban since semi-autos were harder to acquire. However, if you look at the number of casualties you will see a drastic difference. During the ban, about 160 people were killed but in the last decade since the ban expired, more than 400 people have been killed. Almost the same number of mass shootings but close to one-third less casualties when some semi-auto guns and all high-capacity magazines were banned. For this reason, if you look at the list of the 26 worst mass shootings in U.S. history you will see only two took place during the ban. One involved a domestic incident where the shooter had his gun since the 1980s and the other was Columbine, where the shooters got a gun from a gun show that didn't require background checks. So, if you are a gun advocate then I ask you this: if you can hunt, if you can defend your home, if you can carry your semi-autos and as many ten round magazines as you want, are you willing to spare those few seconds that could save lives? The seconds it takes a mass shooter to reload a new magazine?

If your answer is still no then consider this chilling fact. Newtown shooter Adam Lanza got his guns and ammunition from his mother. Background checks and bans wouldn't have stopped him from bringing guns into a school. When he brought his three semi-automatic weapons into that elementary school he also brought 22 high-capacity magazines. Each one was capable of firing 30 rounds. He brought more than 500 rounds of ammunition. Most of those elementary school children were shot multiple times. If you could've saved one of them, would you have?

A Time To Mourn, A Time To Be Silent, A Time To Speak

Sarah Kallies   |   June 17, 2016    1:11 PM ET

Read More: loss, tragedy, orlando, guns, grief

One of the hardest parts of being mentally ill was realizing the reason I was so sad all the time was because I did not have the appropriate set of skills to maneuver the hard emotional hits of life. Both big and small. You assume, as a child, you are either just broken or doing it wrong. And I was. Both. But it was not my fault.

I was that girl that always laughed way too loud. Cried a little too much. And always at the wrong time. And it was more awkward for me then it was for everyone else. Believe me. It led to immense self-loathing.

It took over three decades for me to receive a diagnosis and appropriate medication and therapy. I am still in therapy. Probably will be for the rest of my life. But one of the best things I learned to do through intensive counseling was to face my inability to deal with tragedy and pain.

To grieve.

A very hard, yet necessary part of life. When we do not allow ourselves to process our emotions when things in the world are out our control, something inside of us breaks a little. Dies. Causes us to become just a little bit worse. And the consequences can be just as horrifying as the initial loss. Whether immediate or later down the road, those unaddressed emotions become demons.

This is why so many people, both mentally ill or otherwise, turn to different forms of addiction. Or fear. Or just being loud and opinionated. But what does it achieve?

It's why I resorted to pills and alcohol. And it took years of excruciating work to get through all my pain. To appropriately grieve things that happened to me when I was as young as five. And the farther I got, the better I felt. The healthier I got.

What's my point?

Something horrible happened recently. A lot of innocent people dies. And while I did not personally know any of them, it has still felt like a tremendous punch to the gut. Like getting the wind knocked out of me. This is called empathy.

And why does empathy matter? Because many are still fighting for theirs. And hundreds of people lost family members, close friends, co-workers, neighbors. Human beings. I don't need to know the race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, shoe size or favorite cereal of any of these individuals. That's none of my business.

You know what is? Being a descent human being. A member of the human race.

It's called compassion. It's what makes us good. I will repeat that. These are the qualities in life that make us good. Not bad. Not the ones making the poor choices. Doing the horrible things.

My heart, once again, aches as I watch the world respond to this tragedy. I am left confused, sad, disappointed, even a little angry. Most people understand how to behave. But unfortunately, not everyone.

Case in point, how would I explain tragedy and grief to a 5 year old? Well, when something bad happens to someone else, it is okay for us to feel bad for and with them. To even cry, grieve, mourn. And maybe if we didn't know them that well or at all, this is when we should choose silence so that the people who did can have a very necessary time of their own to cry, to grieve, and even heal.

Look. Listen. Speak.

Dear adults, all the other stuff: the guns, the terrorism, the politics, the lgbt angle, the religious opinions, are making it hard to hear the, "I'm sorry for your loss." -- it's all just become white noise. So if that was or is your first reaction to a tragedy like this I encourage you to take a look at your heart.

These issues are obviously important to a lot of people. And very heated. Fine. I get that. I have things I am passionate about too. Like coffee. I would probably end up in prison without my coffee. But when I see a story in the news about someone who had ALL their coffee stolen I know just how to respond. "I'm really sorry someone stole your coffee." I know that I can get worked up and bent out of shape about the evil coffee terrorists and the anti-bean activists at another time.

Because right now is not the time. And your time will come. It will. It always does. That's why we have the first amendment. But don't let your right become more important than someone else's incredible loss. Grieving mothers, fathers, families, friends. They are currently experiencing the worst week of their lives.

I am not condemning anyone. This is not directed at any particular individual or group. It's for everybody. Remember, I am the master of doing the wrong thing. But I have also learned that humility will get you a long way. That learning how to be accountable is a great quality. To change into a better person when you see something unattractive in yourself.

So let's try and do better. Please. Because whether you realize it or not, your response, coupled with everyone else's, could be the thing that sends someone else into that pit of self-loathing. That interrupts their ability to grieve. Your tiny little Facebook status has a ripple effect.

And what do you want left in your wake?

The NRA And The Orlando Shooting

Mike Smith   |   June 17, 2016   12:25 PM ET

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Stop Saying AR-15s Aren't Assault Rifles

Kelly A Scaletta   |   June 16, 2016    7:34 PM ET

In the wake of the Orlando shootings, the AR-15 and weapons like it are in the spotlight because, once again, a semi-automatic rifle was used in the shooting.

This time, it was technically a Sig Sauer MCX, but it's in the same classification of gun. It's a category of weapon called "military" or "assault rifles." And while some people would like to blame that nomenclature on the "ignorance" of liberals, it's how they are actually marketed.

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But there is also a technical distinction between an assault weapon and the "semi-automatic rifles" which the gun advocates want you to know about.

I will quote the Blaze here, so as to not be called "gun grabber" or be accused of any bias in my definition:

For the purpose of this article, we'll focus on AR-15s since it is what CBS calls "the most popular rifle in America" and one often designated an "assault" rifle. An AR-15 is the civilian equivalent to the military's M-16. So what's the difference?

Kelly Alwood, a firearms trainer and consultant, told TheBlaze the only difference is that one is fully automatic and the other is semi-automatic. It's a small yet simultaneously big distinction. Firearms for use by the military are able to shoot continuously with one pull of the trigger, machine-gun style. Civilian firearms, on the other hand, only allow one shot per trigger pull.

So one is semi-automatic, and the other is fully automatic. Got it.

See, with a semi-automatic weapon, you have to pull the trigger each time you want to fire a round. You can't just hold the trigger down and have a steady stream of bullets come out like you can with a fully automatic.

Doesn't that sound a lot less deadly?

This, to the gun-rights advocate, is the quintessential distinction between them. But that's a distinction without a difference.

Then there's what's called a "bump stock."

You can buy one right here for just $135.95.

So what is a bump stock, you ask?

I'll let this guy tell you because he seems like he knows what he's talking about. After all, he's selling them, right?

At about the 20-second mark, what did he say?

"This stock will let you use your semi-automatic rifle to bump-fire--or mimic automatic firing--without breaking any laws."

"Mimic automatic firing... without breaking any laws."

Those are his words, not mine. And while he goes on to adhere to the semantic distinction, he's doing it emphasizing that in practicality, there is not one.

Alright, so what does that mean.

At 38 seconds:

"Bump firing is the use of a recoil of a semi-automatic firearm to simulate the effect of firing fully auto."

So basically, it lets you do the same thing as a fully automatic weapon; it just lets you do it in a slightly different way. Each time the gun recoils, it bounces back, which causes it to automatically pull the trigger again, which causes another recoil and so on.

With both an automatic weapon and a bump stock, you're holding your finger still while the gun automatically fires, but on a technicality, the trigger is being pulled each time with a semi-automatic.

Using the word "automatic" as an adjective, you can describe a semi-automatic with a bump stock as an automatic weapon, even you can't call it one by its technical definition.

Perhaps a visual will help. Here's a guy bump-firing 100 rounds in a matter of seconds:

Visually, does that seem any different than an automatic gun to you? Would you feel terrified if you were pinned in with a crowd as someone fired into it with a gun like that? Or would you feel safe and secure in knowing that it's not really an assault rifle?

But there's a problem with the guy in the last video. He's using what's called a double drum, and they suck. They tend to jam up, and that's the last thing you want to happen if you're trying to murder 100 people in a matter of minutes. Just ask James Holmes.

So what's a would-be psychopath to do?

Well he could go buy himself the top-rated AR-15/M16 50RD 223/5.56X15 DRUM Magazine which sells for $215.00 and describes itself as:


Rugged, reliable 50-round drum magazine designed for .308/7.62x51mm & .223/5.56x45mm, full metal jacket ammunition provides plenty of capacity and reduces reloading time. Rated for full-auto fire, the low-profile drum is still compact enough for shooting from the prone position. Integral hand wheel makes it easy to crank back the spring for quick loading/unloading. X-15 magazine fits AR-15/M16 style rifles, and functions with .223/5.56x45mm & 300 Blackout ammunition. The X-15 is also shorter than a standard 30rd magazine.

It's designed to reload quickly, and it's rated for full auto fire--their words, not mine.

Becuase in case the first 50 rounds that went into the deer didn't do the job, you need to be able to dump another 50 into him fast, or Bambi might get away.


Look, let's stop with this nonsensical distinction without a difference between automatic and semiautomatic. With a bump stock, it's effectively the same thing. The "gun rights" people know it because they're the ones buying it; the gun manufacturers know it because they're the ones selling it.

And the killers know it because they're using them to shoot over 100 people in a matter of minutes.

Do you think those victims feel any less "assaulted" because they weren't "technically" shot by an assault weapon?

What they're hoping for is that the rest of us won't know, and we'll just buy into the "one pull per bullet" nonsensical rhetoric and let it go.

I don't think the founders had the Orlando shooting in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment.

But we should in considering our gun legislation and start recognizing the difference between a weapon to defend yourself and your family and one designed for assaulting others.