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Is It Time to Update the Second Amendment?

Sanjay Sanghoee   |   May 2, 2014    3:07 PM ET

As Winston Churchill famously said, "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing -- after they have tried everything else." It was a backhanded compliment about our ability to find the courage to do what is necessary, and time and again, Americans have risen to the challenge.

Except on gun control.

It should dismay us greatly that even after the Newtown tragedy, which claimed the lives of 20 young children, and the countless gun related deaths since -- including this week when a gunman went on a rampage at a FedEx facility in Georgia, we have been unable to enact stronger laws to prevent the reckless marketing and sales of guns by manufacturers and dealers. Even basic measures such as expanded background checks and restrictions on the sale of assault weapons have failed in Congress, and we seem to be no closer to making progress on this issue than before Newtown.

When even the massacre of children doesn't move us, it is time to ask why we have become so ineffectual and unable to do the right thing. A big part of the answer lies in our blind adherence to the Constitution, and more specifically, the Second Amendment, which codifies the right to bear arms. Even gun control advocates who recognize the urgent need to do something are so scared of appearing un-American that they routinely sidestep the core issue of whether the Second Amendment makes sense anymore and even wind up bolstering the other side's cause in some cases.

This, of course, is exactly what gun companies and the National Rifle Association count on to continue their policy of bullying America into submission on guns. As long as we are afraid to question the sacred cow of the pro-gun movement, there cannot be meaningful progress on gun control.

So does the Second Amendment really serve a useful purpose in modern society and should it be modified to suit our times?

The answer to the former depends on whether you imagine that the Second Amendment somehow protects Americans from a tyrannical government. It does not. No matter how many weapons private citizens stockpile or even what type of guns they own, a private militia can never match the firepower of the U.S. government. Simply put, if our government ever decides to suppress the citizenry by force, privately held guns won't be the factor that makes a difference.

With this in mind, the central purpose that the Second Amendment once served is no longer applicable, and therefore neither is the Amendment in its current form. Even gun control advocates are not opposed to private citizens keeping a handgun at home for personal protection or hunters owning a rifle, but those exceptions can be covered without the overarching sweep of the Second Amendment.

Also, as much as the pro-gun movement would like you to believe, there is no real evidence that more guns in the hands of private citizens protects society from violence. The popular idea (amongst some people) that if every person was armed, criminals could be neutralized more easily or be less likely to commit crimes in the first place is absurd and more the result of an effective media campaign by the NRA than a real fact. The presence of more guns in society simply raises the danger of more people being hurt and we don't need statistics to recognize that.

Ironically, the problem with the Second Amendment is that by being so broad, it actually makes it vulnerable to interpretation and sets up the conflict between the right to bear arms (reasonable) and the ability to pose a serious threat to civilized society (unreasonable). Limiting its scope, therefore, could strengthen the spirit of the Amendment by removing its undesirable consequences.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens recently suggested adding the words "when serving in [the militia]" to update the Second Amendment but that won't necessarily work either since the definition of 'militia' itself is debatable. It's time to stop quibbling over words and make the Amendment as specific as possible to avoid subjective interpretations leading to deadly consequences for our nation.

To summarize, if we want meaningful gun control in America, we first need to remove the all-encompassing shield of the Second Amendment that the multi-billion dollar gun industry and its lobbyists routinely hide behind to ply their weapons. Only without that artificial protection can we begin to have a real debate about the type of gun laws we need.

I know that many will bristle at the notion of modifying our Constitution but as an evolved nation with civilization and peace as our guiding principles, we are actually obligated to rethink anything that derails those principles - no matter how appropriate the Second Amendment may have been when it was adopted in 1791. If the essence of America is freedom, then we also need to be free of blind ideology, needless paranoia, and the fear of questioning our Constitution - which was written by free-thinking Americans who had no problem questioning their own status quo.

One such free-thinking American today is former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a long-time advocate of gun control, who recently pledged $50 million of his personal capital to take on the destructive influence of the NRA. Predictably, the NRA is trying to use that to make Americans afraid of what could happen to their guns, but let's not be fooled by them.

Support Mr. Bloomberg on his mission instead.

Sanjay Sanghoee is a writer and commentator. He has written extensively about gun control since the Aurora, Colorado shootings and is the author of two books. Follow him @sanghoee.

Better Love It or Leave It, Because We Cling to Guns

Allen Schmertzler   |   May 2, 2014   10:07 AM ET

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The times they have a changed. I remember when the extreme right-wing nuts were social pariahs. No mainstream politician or national media organization would openly embrace or advocate for them. They were either percolating as white supremacist racists, shamed KKK holdouts, Hell's Angels road bandits, or grouped into a category labeled "survivalists." They were all armed and willing, had caches of enough weapons and supplies sometimes hidden in bunkers, and they were going to save America. We knew they existed, sometimes gave them some thought, but mostly ignored them as pesky bugs that one just has to monitor and avoid as best as possible, because there was a powerful sense that the rightness of the American Dream machine would prevail.

This was also a time when America's youth were "crusaders" against government over-reach. Despite their being armed only with the first amendment, idealism, and organizing peaceful and mostly non-violent protests, a majority of Americans angrily called them unpatriotic and yelled for them to "love it or leave it!" Odd to realize now how that slogan was never aimed at the right wing nuts.

During the same period of social discontent when the Black Panthers "stood their ground" armed with the second amendment, the FBI and all shades of law enforcement agents either killed many of them in shoot-outs or imprisoned others. Americans, in the mid-west, and from coast to coast supported the government and its agents with patriotic fervor for ridding society of those illegal treasonous Hanoi Jane and black militant types. The chaotic unrest of the '60s and '70s faded as the social crusaders donned work suits and NBA team uniforms and assimilated back into the melting pot.

Fast forward to Cliven Bundy's "home on the Nevada range," where the big ugly truth stood its ground that America is still a Civil War house divided across one hundred fifty plus Aprils. What first appeared to be a resurgent state rights sagebrush rebellion on steroids took a prickly cactus turn.

There was the usual and now quite predictable circus of "Republican" characters that jumped on this event to spin the narrative, score political points, spend Koch brother monies, stoke the base, create another poster child victim of Obama's illegal government over-reach, and gain another propaganda win.

The shocking surprise was the turnout of "first responders." The neo-minutemen and women that flocked to the Nevada "Concord" from other states, forming a volunteer armed citizenry, that took up sniper positions, and were ready to place women as the first receivers of bullets against federal agents enforcing the law against the cattle welfare queen, Cliven Bundy. This group was more than ready and desirous of martyrdom to bring about their larger cause, the overthrow of the evil empire.

Just when did it become fashionable and acceptable, and not punishable for armed treason against the government? That is exactly what occurred there. No one was saying, "love it or leave it" to this posse, because they cling to guns, because they have become embedded into a way larger fabric of American society than their predecessors were able to. I wonder if the gush of the Republican power elite somehow legitimized and thus emboldened these folks? Could this have become the first shots of the rewriting of the Civil War?

Thankfully, the same guy that started this defused the standoff. Cliven Bundy talked. No longer an obscure desperate lone ranger, Cliven had the embrace and love from the Republican machine that empowered him to spew his Civil War era racism. The same machine that gaveth him a platform, now couldn't find enough cactus, sagebrush, or moral platitudes to distance themselves fast enough. Oh well, no one promised unconditional love.

It is beyond me why the extreme right wing Republican power machine doesn't do a better job vetting the Cliven Bundys. Does so much power and money breed such stupidity? I guess in their mind they won anyway. They know the hatred is still out there waiting for the next crusade, and it isn't the sort of group that anyone other than me might politely ask of them, but here goes, please, "America, love it or leave it!"

Ed Mazza   |   April 30, 2014    4:14 AM ET

Sarah Palin is at it again, this time saying that if she was in charge, waterboarding would be "how we baptize terrorists."

On Tuesday night's "Daily Show," Jon Stewart said Palin's speech was tailor-made for an Al Qaeda recruitment video -- or maybe part of a new series of speeches called the "HUH?! Talks."

"They're like TED Talks, except they make no sense," Stewart said.

Watch the segment above for more on Palin.

The former vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor was speaking at an NRA meeting in which guns were the implied solution to a long list of cultural problems.

"The NRA convention is like a fortune cookie game in bed, except here the answer is always 'you need a gun,'" Stewart said. "It's a hilarious and incredibly misguided game... like tennis darts."

For more of Stewart's take on the convention as well as new gun laws, see the clip below.

As a Future Seminarian Headed to Georgia, I'm Scared About the 'Guns Everywhere' Law

Richard M. Weinberg   |   April 28, 2014    4:00 PM ET

I'm both excited and scared to be headed to Atlanta in August to attend Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Excited because moving anywhere from Washington, D.C. -- and the Northeast in general, where I've lived my entire life -- is a welcome change. But, I also have not just a few hesitations about being a liberal Northeastern gay Episcopalian in the South at a Methodist seminary -- this despite friends assuring me that Atlanta is different than the rest of the South.

Atlanta may be different, but it's still in Georgia, where last week Governor Nathan Deal signed into law the so-called "guns everywhere" bill, officially named the Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014. As someone about to become a seminarian in the state, I can't quite wrap my head around the idea that while receiving Communion on Sunday, one of my fellow congregants might be packing heat.

Thankfully, both bishops in my denomination, the Rt. Rev. Robert C. Wright, bishop of Atlanta, and the Rt. Rev. Scott Anson Benhase, bishop of Georgia, issued a joint statement opposing the bill.

This bill solves nothing, and it only creates the potential for more gun violence, not less, to say nothing of increasing political polarization in Georgia. Our state's current gun laws are already quite fair to gun owners, adequately protecting their rights. All the citizens of Georgia have rights as well. We have a right to keep guns out of our houses of worship and our schools,

the statement said. (So I assume the Episcopal churches I'll be frequenting will opt for a "no guns, please" sign at their entrance.)

My direct involvement in advocacy related to curbing gun violence has come in the past year-and-a-half. Following the horrific shootings at Newtown, my boss, the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of Washington National Cathedral, entered the public debate on gun violence head-on, making headlines with a rousing sermon in which he famously quipped, "The gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby." Since December 2012, our work at the Cathedral has included organizing two annual Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath weekends, hosting a vigil service on the one-year anniversary of the Newtown shooting, marching for commonsense gun laws and working with faith-based coalitions across the country to reflect the overwhelming majority view of people of faith who are opposed to the epidemic of gun violence in America.

Now I have a confession to make. Just about a week ago I was out to dinner with one of my best friends. He wanted me to come meet his younger sister and brother-in-law. My friend had warned me many times that his family is conservative, but hey, so are a number of my family members. Quite unexpectedly, at one point near the end of the meal, the conversation turned to their respective love of guns. Comparisons on who owned what ensued, and to a degree I was comfortable with the "hunting" talk for the most part and decided to keep quiet.

But then the conversation took a turn when my friend's brother-in-law expressed his concern over efforts to limit the sale of high-capacity magazines. Rather than speak up and risk an uncomfortable confrontation with my friend's family, I excused myself quickly as we were paying the check.

The following day I apologized to my friend explaining that I felt I had missed an opportunity to express my views from my Christian standpoint. I wish I had told those at the dinner table about my co-worker whose cousin Alex Sullivan died in Aurora, or about the interviews I conducted with family members of gun violence victims, including Scarlett Lewis, the mother of Jesse, a six-year-old boy who died at Newtown or Ann Wilson, whose son Daniel and husband James died within five years of each other at the ages of 20 and 50, respectively, in Washington, D.C. Listening to the heartbreaking stories of those who have suffered such loss was a challenge and a privilege, and what was inspiring was the resilience of their faith. It made it personal for me.

Now, I don't know what my dinner table companions' reactions would have been had I entered the conversation. And I know that gun enthusiasts are not in favor of gun violence and wouldn't not share empathy toward victims. But it seems to me that people on polar opposite sides of the gun debate come to the conversation from completely different places. On the one side, Second Amendment advocates just like guns, believe in their right to have them, and oppose any legislation that would seek to limit their lawful access to them. On the other side, gun control advocates are mindful foremost of the violence illegal guns cause and rally around the notion that commonsense measures to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands are appropriate for the well being of all citizens. One of those measures -- universal background checks -- is even supported by more than 80 percent of Americans.

What's to be done? Well, for one thing, those of us who believe that gun laws save lives have to speak up and not be silent like I was at dinner the other week. Respectfully engaging in conversation around the culture of guns, listening to one another -- either about a passion for hunting, concern for the ability to defend one's home or about the stories of some of the 30,000 annual victims of gun violence and the ways we can protect gun owners' rights while also protecting innocent would-be victims, would be meaningful conversations to have.

It would seem when I move to Georgia in August that I'll be afforded more opportunities to engage with those I disagree. As a Christian, I follow one who died at the hands of extreme violence. And I'm confident of my calling to condemn violence of any kind that would cause such tremendous loss of life. If the Holy Spirit can aide us all in open conversation that would lessen the polarization of our political discourse, then come Holy Spirit, I pray: fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love. Amen.

Samantha Lachman   |   April 25, 2014    5:19 PM ET

National Rifle Association Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre sees a lot of haters out there, from President Barack Obama's administration to the media, who "scheme to destroy our country."

Speaking at his group's annual meeting in Indianapolis Friday, LaPierre stoked fear of an erosion not just of Second Amendment rights, but of other values too, according to a transcript released by the NRA:

Freedom has never needed our defense more than now. Almost everywhere you look, something has gone wrong. You feel it in your heart, you know it in your gut. Something has gone wrong. The core values we believe in, the things we care about most, are changing. Eroding. Our right to speak. Our right to gather. Our right to privacy. The freedom to work, and practice our religion, and raise and protect our families the way we see fit. Those aren't old values. They aren't new values. They are core freedoms, the core values that have always defined us as a nation. And we feel them -- we feel them -- slipping away.

LaPierre laid out a spectrum ranging from "terrorists" to "haters," all of whom could presumably be stopped with guns:

We know, in the world that surrounds us, there are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and carjackers and knockout gamers and rapers [sic], haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all. I ask you. Do you trust this government to protect you? We are on our own.

Without specifically mentioning Democrats, LaPierre pledged defiance against those whom he says would strip away individual rights.

This election is going to be a bare-knuckled street fight. They're going after every House and Senate seat, governor's chair and statehouse they can get their hands on -- laying the groundwork to put a Clinton back in the White House. They intend to finish the job, to fulfill their commitment -- their dream -- of fundamentally transforming America into an America you won't recognize. But mark my words: The NRA will not go quietly into the night. We will fight.

A new coalition of gun control groups called Everytown for Gun Safety released a new ad Friday, just a week after former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a $50 million campaign aimed at beating the NRA in policy battles across the country.

Several prominent Republicans appeared at the NRA event Friday, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Despite LaPierre's remarks, there is little evidence to suggest that the so-called "knockout game" is a real phenomenon.

Read the full text of LaPierre's speech here.

Why I'm Going to the NRA Convention

Rebecca Bond   |   April 25, 2014   11:00 AM ET

I'm a gun responsibility advocate and I'll be attending the NRA Convention in Indianapolis this weekend. Sound like an oxymoron? Well, it shouldn't be. Evolve, the gun safety and responsibility organization my husband Jon and I founded, believes that something as important as responsible gun ownership should not be politicized.

I will be going to the convention with my gun-loving, safety-and-responsibility-advocate brother, Troy. One of the reasons I asked Troy to join me is that he personifies everything good about gun culture: tradition, family values, safety, calling out irresponsible behavior when he sees it. Troy lives in rural Minnesota, has some chickens that lay some eggs (not enough to feed the family, but the kids love it) and makes an honest living running a property maintenance company while fixing the occasional car on the side. Troy is not a politician. But he believes that his community -- the gun community -- should lead the safety and responsibility messaging.

We're going to the convention to talk to gun owners and manufacturers about the work of Evolve. Sandy Hook was a wake-up call for me and for millions of other Americans, not just because of the terrible human toll suffered by the families who lost loved ones, but because the senseless slaughter provoked a national standoff about gun safety. A standoff that has the potential to send the gun safety and personal responsibility conversation right down the drainpipe of politics. Again.

My husband and Evolve co-founder, Jon, is an ad guy, raised in a quintessentially Woody Allen-esque family. I come from more traditional Lutheran Scandinavian Minnesota, and my brother's love of guns reflects my family roots. But the vitriolic debate that broke out after Sandy Hook convinced Jon and me that the politicized arguments were not going to help in remaking an aspirational culture of safety and responsibility. One that can be owned by everyone.

We looked at other times when a national consensus developed around the issue of safety; for example, the National Safety Council, which grew out of efforts to promote safe driving when America began its love affair with cars. The Council wasn't interested in taking cars away from drivers, even unsafe drivers. But it did, and still does, evolve motivational and innovative ideas around safety and careful driving messages. The new campaign efforts around the issues of safety now emphasize the need for drivers, particularly young drivers, to understand the dangers of texting while they drive.

Another example is Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which began in 1980 but really took off when public service announcements appeared in movie theaters in 1988 reminding us to designate a "safe" driver who would stay sober so that everyone else could have a good time and still return home safely. Like the Safety Council, nobody was asked to give up drinking. But the language and culture about safe driving and alcohol was changed forever. Change the language around an idea and we change how people think about it. What is significant is that the alcohol industry has actively supported responsible drinking. Think about it, how effective would "designated driver" be without the support of the key stakeholders -- bars and restaurants? The Century Council, for instance, is comprised of virtually all the major spirits companies that "aims to fight to eliminate driving and underage drinking and promotes responsible decision-making regarding alcohol use." They lead the safety and responsibility message; they make it cool to be educated and talk about alcohol. In addition, they are creative and open to working with new partners to make sure their message is heard by all. This is good business and politics -- because if you "self-regulate" then the government and its citizens tend to leave you alone.

Evolve wants to help do the same thing with guns. The NRA, NSSF, and others in the industry have paid lots of attention to gun safety. There is a legacy of safety messaging. But the fact of the matter is that most efforts are exclusive to the gun industry. History shows that responsibility campaigns that remain insular, not embracing a spirit of inclusiveness, can run the risk of inside baseball and can end-up talking only to themselves. And not talking to the wide range of people who should be thinking and talking about it.

There are always new and emerging segments of owners and motivating interests -- today's gun owners don't all come from a heritage of gun family traditions -- so "it takes a village." It's not enough to advocate for ownership and not make safety and personal responsibility also the coolest thing on the block. For everyone.

Now that's not a problem for the automobile industry because everyone drives a car. But a majority of Americans don't own guns, and the gun industry could also be willing to learn how to talk to non-gun owners, as well, so that gun safety and responsibility can become a part of popular culture, with everyone at least owning the basics. By combining objective outsiders, who know marketing and popular culture, with industry support, perhaps we could create the new gun equivalent of "friends don't let friends drive drunk" -- perhaps with the gun shop owners and gun manufacturers taking on the role of the bar -- and a larger coordinated message effort emerging from that.

Evolve says "safety is not a side" because we don't think something as important as gun safety and responsibility should be politicized. We only care about the biggest and most innovative safety and responsibility campaigns and tools. Campaigns that continue to evolve and talk to everyone.

For those of you wondering, we are completely independent and we depend entirely on ourselves for support. Our first video "The Bill of Rights for Dumbasses," which has been viewed by nearly 100,000 people, was totally financed by us and in-kind services. We know that politicizing safety is not a big enough idea and there are plenty out there who want a new playbook. Troy and I look forward to meeting many of you this weekend.

Learn more about Evolve on Facebook

  |   April 24, 2014    9:49 PM ET


By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. April 24 (Reuters) - A bill banning the sale of single-shot handguns that can be modified into semi-automatic weapons advanced in the California legislature on Thursday as lawmakers sought to close what the bill's supporters say is a loophole in the state's gun safety laws.

Gun control advocates say thousands of weapons are sold in California each year without a required safety feature that indicates when a bullet is in the chamber, endangering children and others who may be shot accidentally.

"Right now there is a very large opening in the law that permits guns that otherwise we wouldn't consider safe for sale and purchase in California," said Sacramento assemblyman Roger Dickinson, a Democrat who authored the bill.

Under existing law, semi-automatic weapons must have an indicator showing when there is a bullet in the chamber. But many manufacturers do not include the feature, leading some dealers to convert guns to single-shot weapons before selling them, just to change them back later, Dickinson said.

The most populous U.S. state has some of the nation's strictest gun control laws, and Dickinson's measure is the latest of dozens of bills introduced in the state in the wake of mass shootings in 2012 in Colorado and Connecticut.

Last fall, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, who has tacked to the center despite large Democratic majorities in the legislature, vetoed several of the bills, rebuffing efforts by fellow Democrats to enact a sweeping expansion of firearms regulation.

The proposed ban on converted semi-automatics without the safety feature is a priority for the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, said the group's legislative expert, Amanda Wilcox.

The loophole was created after single-shot weapons were exempted from the safety requirement to protect collectors of antique guns, Dickinson said.

After the rule went into effect in 2007, the number of guns being sold as single-shot weapons in the state skyrocketed, which Dickinson said indicated many were being converted.

In 2013, more than 18,000 single-shot gun sales were registered in the state, up from 134 in 2007, the state says. But Assemblyman Brian Jones, a San Diego-area Republican who voted against the bill, said that doesn't mean all purchasers are trying to get around the law.

The National Rifle Association said the measure would hurt law-abiding citizens by "eliminating the only options for Californians to purchase numerous handguns that are commonly owned throughout the rest of the country."

The bill passed the assembly 48-25, and goes to the state senate. (Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)

State Firearm Laws Could Reduce Gun-Related Injuries in Children

Kate C. Prickett   |   April 24, 2014    1:13 PM ET

Regardless of where one comes down on the debates about gun control, everyone seems to agree that keeping firearms out of the hands of unattended children is a good idea. After all, firearm-related injuries remain one of the leading causes of death among U.S. children, with close to 3,500 killed a year. The small and seemingly simple step of securing firearms in a locked cabinet makes a huge difference in protecting young children. By our estimates, approximately 5 percent of preschool age children live in homes in which their parents reported that they owned guns but did not store them in a secure and locked place. To address this problem, many states have implemented Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws. This collection of legislative approaches range from suggestive guidelines for storage behaviors in families with minors to more stringent requirements and harsher penalties for noncompliance, holding gun owners criminally liable regardless of whether someone gets hurt.

Unfortunately, little research exists to test whether these laws are actually associated with family firearm safety behaviors. A primary goal of our study, just published in the American Journal of Public Health, was to understand how gun storage behavior in families with young children varied across states with different CAP laws, controlling for a wide range of parent, family, and state-level factors that are often associated with gun ownership, generally, and gun safety behaviors, specifically. We found that the efficacy of state CAP laws seemed to rely on the general firearm legislative climate in each state. CAP laws were only associated with decreased likelihood of unsafe gun storage behaviors in states that had strong firearm legislation overall. Although we cannot infer causation from these findings, we hypothesize that parents may not be aware of the specific laws in their states but are more generally aware that their state has many laws that regulate gun use, prompting them to be more careful about the purchase and storage of firearms. We also think that having stronger general state laws could potentially affect which families own firearms -- parents who own guns in a state without any regulation may constitute a very different pool of people than those who own firearms in a state in which they have to jump through hoops, such as a background check, to get them.

Overall, these findings highlight that a significant proportion of children in the U.S. are living in homes where they can potentially access firearms, and these estimates are likely conservative due to underreporting arising from not wanting to share private or potentially embarrassing information or from parents' loose interpretation of what constitutes a 'safe' or 'locked' gun. Moreover, even laws that do not directly target the types of behaviors that result in young children accidentally accessing firearms could have potential spillover effects for the safety of children.

This is why comprehensive firearm legislation -- even legislation that doesn't seem to necessarily solve the immediate public health issue that politicians are responding to (such as a school massacre) -- could potentially be important.

Take, for example, proposed federal legislation on background checks that would have closed loopholes in firearm purchases at gun shows. Recent polls show broad bipartisan public support for this type of legislation, and, although it likely won't stop school massacres, it has potential spillover effects that may affect minors' access to firearms. Parents who do not keep their guns safe at home probably will not show up in a database of people with a diagnosed serious mental health illness, but having a mandated background check or waiting several days to return to a store to purchase a gun may create enough friction that could stop some parents who may be less able or inclined to take heed of their pediatrician's recommendations or abide by their state's CAP laws.

Ms. Kate C. Prickett is a PhD candidate with the Population Research Center and the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Alexa Martin-Storey is an assistant professor with the Département de Psychoéducation, Université de Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada.

Shootings in Chicago

Jeff Danziger   |   April 23, 2014    1:34 PM ET

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What's Wrong With Gun Registration?

Tom Harvey   |   April 22, 2014   11:05 AM ET

I live in Maryland, whose nickname is the "Free State," and I am no less free because of the laws in my state require registration of handguns and prohibit the more dangerous varieties of firearms, magazines and ammunition. In fact, I feel more free because I have less fear of being blown away, freedom and all, than I would have if guns were less regulated.

Very few people have serious objections to registration of activities in many other contexts; we register our cars, dogs, bicycles, burglar alarms, births, deaths, marriages and our kids into schools every day. Even with no military draft, we have draft registration. Many people have totally given up on privacy in giving any information to businesses. But guns are treated differently. Why? One reason is that we are inundated by demands that we do so from loud gun proponents stirred up and financed by a cynical commercial gun lobby. Another is we all have at least a little bit of rebellion in us and we can dream of throwing off the restraints of civilization and of running wild.

But we should not forget that this dream is a dream of going back to the state of nature and, as every one knows, the state of nature is where life is "nasty, brutish and short." It certainly was short for the twenty children and six teachers who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the thirty thousand or so who died from gun incidents last year.

The slogan or talking point "registration always leads to confiscation" has been taken up and repeated so many times that it seems impossible to trace its origin. Of course, law enforcement agencies, whether tyrannical or benign, have seized illegal items as part of their duties throughout history; but the picture being painted by gun zealots is of "jack-booted thugs" from the federal government taking the tools of liberty from true patriots. An example of this is currently happening in New York State where the SAFE Act requires registration of assault weapons. Many owners are being reported as unwilling to comply.

Seizure of weapons that are illegal, held by prohibited persons or not brought into compliance with licensing requirements is being presented as a sinister conspiracy rather than normal law enforcement. A U.S. congressman, Steve Stockman (R-TX), has just introduced a bill to cut off federal funds to states engaging in "registration" or "confiscation" of guns.

The NRA expresses fear of government tracking in amazing detail. For example, it filed a Friend of the Court brief against National Security Administration data collection on the grounds that such data could identify firearm ownership, siding with the ACLU. 

Lots of people have frustrations about the current state of society and it's easy to project these frustrations onto the government, but we don't live in a tyranny and President Obama isn't a totalitarian dictator. We have an amazing array of freedoms which would be severely put in jeopardy if we did have a revolution. The existence or even the perception of armed angry people hiding their identity among us and waiting to spring forth diminishes our ability to find happy, productive and unmolested lives. In our society, the vast majority of our citizens stand for enforcement of the law as it is adopted by our representatives in legislatures or Congress, and even the NRA calls for the enforcement of laws while they work to make that enforcement impossible.

So those of us who don't live our lives in paranoid fear and can sleep without having a gun under our beds can ask why we would want to insist that guns be registered with the government. The most important reason is to keep guns out of dangerous hands. Our existing system for that purpose is to background check some sales of guns, but there is an immense loophole for private sales in most states. Anyone with an interest in getting a gun knows where to buy one without a check being performed. The background check system also is dependent on identifying from the entire population, not just those wanting to acquire guns, those who are prohibited and keeping that list in databases. A registration and permit system would apply to all sales and require determining the suitability of only those wanting to buy a gun at the current moment.

Another limitation of background checking is that it assumes that a person passing the check will remain a legal gun possessor indefinitely. Many of the situations that are denounced as confiscation consist of a government moving to seize guns already in the hands of people who are later convicted of crimes that make their continued gun possession illegal. Getting these guns out of the hands of their now illegal owners is critical to protecting the public but is slowed and blocked by resistance from legislatures and pro-gun forces.

A gun registration system can also serve the goals of preventing legal owners from letting their guns get into illegal hands in secondary ways. It can include a requirement that gun transfers, losses and thefts be reported. This will help greatly in investigation of illegal guns seized on the street and of incidents of gun violence.

If firearm registration remains politically infeasible, there is another way to accomplish most of these goals. That is to have insurance, starting at manufacture and requiring continuance of insurer responsibility through all transfers unless replaced by new insurance. Readers who know my writing know I spend most of my time advocating such insurance in the face of massive resistance from both the gun and the insurance industry.

  |   April 21, 2014    2:32 PM ET

SHANGHAI (AP) — A quarter of the police in Shanghai began carrying guns during routine patrols for the first time this week as part of a China-wide boost in police firepower following a deadly mass knifing blamed on Xinjiang separatists.

Ordinary police in China generally don't carry firearms, and none of the officers patrolling the train station in the southwestern city of Kunming on March 1 was armed when at least five assailants began rapidly hacking at victims with long knives.

Steven Hoffer   |   April 21, 2014   11:54 AM ET

Police say a 2-year-old Utah boy passed away Friday after his 3-year-old sister accidentally shot him in the stomach with a rifle.

Authorities in Cache County said that the girl fired a .22 caliber weapon in the deadly incident, KSL reports.

"The gun had been used earlier in the day by the victim's father and was set down after returning home," said Cache County Sheriff's Lt. Mike Peterson, according to KUTV. "The gun was in an unloaded state but did have live rounds in the magazine. We believe the three-year-old had to manipulate the action enough to chamber a live round prior to the incident occurring."

The children's parents were at home when the gun discharged, and the boy's mother immediately called for help. The boy was rushed in critical condition to Logan Regional hospital for surgery, before being flown to Primary Children's Hospital, where he later died, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

While authorities believe that the shooting was accidental, a report will be sent to the county Attorney's Office for review. The county attorney will decide if charges will be filed.

The victim's name was not immediately released.

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  |   April 17, 2014    5:45 PM ET

Read More: guns

Hand over your email address to a political campaign, and typically all you can expect in return is an endless stream of solicitations for money.

Bloomberg Gives Boost to Gun Control

Adam Winkler   |   April 16, 2014    4:07 PM ET

Today's announcement by billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg of the creation of Everytown for Gun Safety, a new political organization committed to electing pro-gun control legislators, is just the boost the gun control movement needs. The failure of Congress to enact reform in the wake of Newtown, despite widespread support in the polls, has discouraged many gun control supporters. When proposals to enhance background checks has 90 percent support but fail even to get through the Senate, gun control advocates have reason to be worried.

That's why Bloomberg's new organization is so important. Background check reform was defeated by the effective political mobilization of gun enthusiasts by the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups. The NRA and its allies were able to swamp senators offices with calls, letters, and emails against reform. Senators, especially from swing states, became convinced that voting to improve background checks would stir up single-issue, pro-gun voters on Election Day. Not without reason has the NRA been considered one of the most powerful political players in Washington.

Bloomberg is promising to bring those same types of political operations used by the NRA to the gun control movement. Everytown for Gun Safety will be devoted to identifying and scoring pro-gun control candidates; providing them with contributions and independent expenditures; and turning out the vote for them on election day. Everytown also aims to be an active membership organization for supporters of gun safety laws -- connecting them up in a political network that will promote the sharing of information and additional means of raising funds. With $50 million in financing from Bloomberg, Everytown will have funding unprecedented among gun control groups devoted to political advocacy.

Bloomberg understands that the lack of political mobilization has cost gun control advocates. The NRA is effective because it can turn out voters for its candidates. The same is true of other major effective political groups, like Planned Parenthood. Although the gun control movement has other important political players, like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Gabrielle Giffords' Americans for Responsible Solutions, Bloomberg is promising to build an active membership organization with a few million members. That's something the gun control movement has never really had.

There are obvious hurdles to any gun control advocacy group. There are a lot of single-issue, pro-gun voters in America but not a lot of single-issue, pro-gun-control voters. Everytown, to be successful, will have to inspire more people who support gun control to make this the sole issue they vote on in primary and general elections. It's also easier for gun rights advocates to mobilize because they are united by a common hobby -- shooting -- and all that it entails. They network at gun ranges, read similar periodicals and websites, and follow the same Twitter feeds. That means that information can reach them easily and they can be political mobilized to call officials or support a given candidate. Gun control advocates aren't united in the same way, which makes mobilization more difficult.

Perhaps Bloomberg's $50 million will help. That's what he's betting on -- and why gun control supporters should be buoyed by today's news.