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Ed Mazza   |   June 17, 2014   12:41 AM ET

An armed Michigan man who got into a tense standoff with police last month had his rifle taken away, but authorities gave it back to him the very next day.

Joseph Houseman, a 63-year-old "Open Carry" advocate, prompted multiple calls to 911 when he stood in front of a Kalamazoo Dairy Queen with a rifle and shouted at traffic and passersby.

At least one 911 caller was concerned that Houseman may have been intoxicated.

When police responded to the scene, they found Houseman wearing what appeared to be pajama pants and carrying a rifle. When they tried to talk to him, Houseman gave the middle finger to the officers, grabbed his crotch and shouted about revolution, according to video of the incident obtained by the Kalamazoo Gazette and placed online at MLive.com.

A police officer repeatedly asked Houseman to put down his gun so they could talk, but he refused and accused the cop of "acting like a prick" and being in a gang.

At one point, when asked his name, Houseman identified himself as "Joe Schmoe."

After 40 minutes, Houseman put down his rifle, which was then confiscated by police. He also offered his real name and said he was sorry.

"I apologize. I have a bad attitude because we're losing our rights," he said.

When Houseman refused a breathalyzer test, officers decided not to give him his gun back. Instead, he was told to come to the police station and claim it the next day. He did, and his gun was returned.

Although the incident occurred in May, the video of the standoff was just obtained by the newspaper under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

Michigan has "open carry" laws, and Houseman was not arrested or charged with any crimes as officials believe he was not "brandishing" the weapon, MLive.com reports.

Read the full report on the MLive website.

Forget Gun Control: Legislate for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Instead

Brian Ross   |   June 16, 2014    4:11 PM ET

The NRA has one on gun control advocates: Guns aren't a cause of violence. When used for non-sporting purposes, they're a symptom of emotional disorders.

Of fear amplified to irrational levels.

Of sadness and clinical depression so deep that there seems no way out.

Of anger and rage and hatred unchecked by the "filters" most of us have.

Shootings happen when mental self-control breaks down. Filters either organically not there because of some level of mental illness, from bipolarism to clinical depression to rage control issues, or because alcohol strips them away temporarily, impairing judgment.

They come out because we've institutionalized and legitimized fear as a means of allowing everyone from peace officers to the stand-your-ground crowd to take human life with little consequence or consideration.

There is a broad systemic mental health concern. America has a cultish obsession with guns and gun violence that accepts all of this killing as "normal."

We blanche at letting our children see a sex act on a television or movie screen, but the majority of adults, many parents, see little or no problem with them watching hundreds of people slaughtered brutally in a movie or television show, or slaughtering hundreds of people first-person in a "shooter" video game.

Guns touch on the third rail of our most primal fears, which is why the NRA remains so powerful.

They are the magical shield against otherism, Wheaties for those with irrational fears of black helicopters and "big brother" government, minorities, and others with guns in a neighborhood, or a family.

They are phallic power to the powerless: Status symbols of personal power and tribal strength in groups ranging from minority youth gangs to AK-47 toting white gun groups strutting into Starbucks.

Guns generate fear. Gun fear begets more guns.

"The number of privately owned guns in the U.S. is at an all-time high, upwards of 300 million, and now rises by about 10 million per year," said the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action in a firearms safety fact sheet released Jan. 17, 2013. - GUNFAQ

That's an average of about 90 firearms per every 100 residents in this country, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey.

If 43.8% of gun applications are for rifles, 56.2% of gun permit applications tracked by the FBI are for handguns.

Fewer scared people are holding on to more and more firepower though, as gun ownership per capita has been declining.

While we focus on the deaths, more than 30,000 each year in the United States, if you count those wounded, the numbers skyrocket to epidemic levels.

The CDC reported that there were 73,505 non-fatal firearm injuries in 2010. There were an additional 13,851 non-fatal injuries from BB or pellet guns use.

In its third year, the American Gun Victims Wall, a project to chronicle every news report of a shooting in the United States, connects the dots. Those underlying mental illness issues are expressed in injury and death by firearms that stems from:

  • Mental Illness - (Across a whole range of disorders like bipolar, depression and rage control);
  • Crippling Stress - People in bankruptcies, divorces, relationship breakups, family disputes, or property issues with neighbors where stressers push reasonable people past their breaking point into temporary fits of rage or depression that clouds judgment;
  • Accidental Shootings - Poor weapons handling, poor storage, and bad judgment about leaving weapons in places where children can access them;
  • Substance Abuse - Alcohol and/or drug use that impairs judgment;
  • Low intelligence - People who are not high functioning enough to legally obtain a driver's license can still get a gun;
  • Failure to Comply - Police shoot people stopped for failure to comply 100% with their instructions even when there is no gun visible. The perception of a possible gun is enough to justify a shooting. A wrong motion by a suspect can end in death or injury.

All of which goes back to the root causes, and is why the NRA has been opposing Dr. Vivek Murthy as the Obama Administration's nominee for Surgeon General.

As Bill Moyers points out:

"Murthy's views represent a consensus among medical professionals that gun violence is a major public health issue. Gun violence, including suicide, kills some 30,000 Americans every year, about the same number as car accidents. Cars are highly regulated for health and safety; guns, barely. Accordingly, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among many others, have called for stronger gun safety laws. It would be surprising if, as a doctor, Murthy did not have concerns about gun violence and the strength of current regulations."

The gun control lobby has locked in on assault weapons as their target for reducing gun violence because they're BIG violence, scary looking, and they think, rather wrongly, are enough to drive Americans to the polls and to their Congressmen demanding action every time a shooter pops up at a school or a movie theater intent on their own private Rambo moment of glory as their mental disease escalates to acting out on their impulses.

What to Do

There are new attempts at restricting gun ownership by the mentally ill floating around Congress in the wake of the latest spate of mad people on shooting sprees: Santa Barbara. Oregon. Las Vegas.

They all miss the mark, kowtowing to the powerful NRA lobby and chipping away at the edges of the problem rather than tackling it head on.

What do we need to end the epidemic of gun violence? Better mental health and social health policy:

  • Laws regarding mental health need overhaul to allow parents, family members, and caregivers of people with crippling emotional disorders more responsibility, with family court/judicial oversight, of the care decisions of those with mental illness.
  • Stabilizing medications and therapies, in some cases, should not be optional.
  • Appointment of social workers or NGO volunteers to serve as caregivers to advocate with mental health professionals and the mental health system for those whose families have abandoned them;
  • Police called out for domestic disturbances from suicides to family abuse to neighborhood disputes should be trained to make judgment calls, and temporarily cache weapons of a household at a secure location run by the police, write a citation, and allow a judge to review the continued permitting of the weapon in the household, its possible restriction to a firing range or secure hunting facility, or revocation of the permit;
  • Tougher penalties for failure to secure weapons in households to prevent children and teens from gaining access without parental supervision.
  • A federal convocation of state legislators whose committees regulate gun laws to establish uniform and consistent rules for dealing with gun law infractions. A woman in New Orleans does four years for child shooting that resulted from hiding a gun under her bed for "safety." A couple in West Virginia leave a loaded child rifle in an umbrella stand that results in a child shooting and receive a citation;
  • More federal dollars targeted to social welfare programs to improve family mental health to help those with rage and other spectral emotional disorders cope and de-escalate;
  • Get tough laws on carry under-the-influence of alcohol or drugs of any kind;
  • The ban of weapons within a wide radius of venues which serve alcohol. Many mass shooters keep guns in their cars in parking lots and on nearby streets, and return to bars with them to settle scores or perceived sleights.
  • Revocation of so-called Stand Your Ground/Castle laws;
  • Increased police training in less deadly use of force, with annual Justice Department reviews of shooting statistics by all law enforcement agencies to determine if possible intervention or criminal filings against those misusing their badge are warranted;
The Second Amendment stands. Americans have a right to own guns responsibly.

When they find themselves in situations of temporary or permanent mental distress, though, that makes that ownership a danger to themselves or others, the solution to the problem is better mental health, and more police/court intervention, not more people arming themselves to the teeth in the most gun-saturated country on planet Earth.

My shiny two.

The Tragic Results of Complacency, Wishing, Hoping & Praying Is More Dead Children

Jon Hotchkiss   |   June 13, 2014   11:48 AM ET

Anyone who tells you the words of the constitution are immutable... is a liar. Anyone who tells you that if the constitution gives an American a "right," there is absolutely nothing that the government can do to take it away, is also a liar. And, anyone who clings to only the strictest interpretation of the second amendment... is complicit in the murder of the 20 kids and 6 adults who have been senselessly murdered since the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

The Second Amendment to the US Constitution says: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

And yet, despite the constitution's language, Americans have their guaranteed rights infringed all the time.

Here's just a few examples:

The first amendment to the constitution says 'Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech.' "No law." It's pretty unambiguous. "No law." Not "a few laws." Not "some" or "one or two" laws. But rather, "no law." And yet... And yet!...there are dozens of laws that abridge a multitude of speech.

For example, it is against the law to:

1. Stand outside the White House and say: "I want to kill the President."
2. Call someone a child molester. If they are not, in fact, a child molester.
3. Hand out naked photos of yourself with a lasso lodged in your rectum.

Not only are those examples of speech against the law, but anyplace south of Hoboken, NJ, the punishment for taking Lynard Skynard's name in vein is... the firing squad. In San Francisco, after you say "NPR," you must make the sound of a choir of angels. And you will be beaten to within an inch of your life if you are within 500 yards of Madison Square Garden and you even whisper "Rangers Suck."

But wait! There's still more! It's against the law to incite people to riot. Meaning, your speech may not create a clear and present danger.

Neither slander nor libel are permitted, either. Meaning, there are criminal penalties for knowingly lying about someone in either print or verbally.

"Fighting words" also don't have the protection of free speech. Meaning, it is criminal to say something to someone that would reasonably result in violence. For example, if you walk up to say Chuck Liddel - the former Ultimate Fighting champion, and shout in his face that his mother is a whore... the law will not protect or replace the lungs Chuck Liddel rightly reached into your chest and mercilessly yanked out.

Obscenity is also illegal.

Plus, at the start of a civil or criminal proceeding, the judge in the case may impose a "gag order" on the participants in order to more likely guarantee a fair trial.

And it's not just the first amendment where our guarantees have been limited.

The Eight Amendment says that "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." And yet, capital punishment is an option in 32 US states. Perhaps by firing squad. Or electric chair. Or more likely, a Rube Goldberg type electronic contraption with the sophistication of a Hillbilly moonshine still will automatically pump three types of sedatives into the arm of a convicted felon...after-which, he'll quietly go to sleep. Forever. That is, unless the drug companies that sell the sedatives refuse to supply it to prisons... and you have to buy them from less reputable European sources... after-which the guy struggles in pain for 30 minutes before finally dying.

That form of death appears to meet the definition of both "cruel and unusual."

Then there's the Fourth Amendment, which says "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated," and yet the NSA has been collecting meta-data on millions of Americans phone and internet use without justification or a warrant.

Then there's the limitations placed on some people who are supposed to be protected by the 5th Amendment, which says "No person shall...be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;" and yet, thousands of Americans are on a "no-fly" list which both prevents them from leaving the US... or returning to it, despite the fact that they have not been convicted of a crime. Let alone charged with one.

I don't profess to know what new gun laws will help keep more kids alive... nor do I know which new procedures or treatments or interventions will result in better care for the mentally disturbed or the better discovery of the radicals and zealots determined to start a "revolution" by shooting up a Wal-Mart.

HOWEVER - I thing I am 100% certain of, is this: Complacency is no longer acceptable. Praying is no longer the answer. Wishing is pointless. Hoping is a fool's errand and the absolute guaranteed results of continued complacency, praying, wishing and hoping is... many more dead kids.
___________
Jon Hotchkiss is the creator of This vs That, a new science series hailed as "revolutionary" and "hilarious." He invites you to see the 60 minute series premiere, FREE.

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)