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Michael McAuliff   |   June 23, 2016   11:33 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- The Senate did not kill the last standing gun reform bill still under serious discussion on Capitol Hill Thursday, but at best left it on life support.

A bipartisan group of senators worked for a week to come up with an extremely modest gun reform bill that was intended to block gun purchases for anyone on the country's no-fly list or the list of individuals who require special scrutiny to board a plane.

It would have covered just 2,700 Americans and legal residents, and was seen as a compromise to a measure that failed on Monday that would have used the much-larger terrorism watch list to block gun purchases.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) decided that rather than have a normal vote on the measure, he would hold a vote to table it, which would have effectively ended consideration of the bill, authored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

The measure survived, barely, with 52 senators, including eight Republicans, voting to keep it under consideration, and 46 Republicans voting for tabling it.
Just before the vote, Collins made one last appeal for her bill.

“Surely on an issue of this importance, we should be able to come together and work for common-sense solutions,” Collins said.

Collins got last-minute support from a group of former generals from Republican and Democratic administrations who wrote a letter asking senators to back Collins' bill.

"We are not doing everything we can to prevent future incidences of active shooter terrorism in America," said the generals, including David Petraeus and Michael Hayden.

They argued that the loophole that lets people on the two lists -- who are by definition potential terrorists -- buy weapons poses a grave risk.

"The implications of the 'terror gap' are clear: it allows dangerous people to get their hands on guns," they wrote.

Most of Collins' Republican colleagues disagreed with her and the generals, however, and the situation suggested that if McConnell agrees to bring the measure back up in a more regular fashion, Collins would need to convince at least six more members of her party to back it in order for it to pass.

That prompted Democrats to call the vote a “fake” one.

“We have a bill that would keep guns out of the hands of some suspected terrorists, and Republican leaders cynically choose to give it a path to nowhere,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “Even the most modest of gun proposals can’t get a real up-or-down vote.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) saw a silver lining, saying it was the first time in decades that the Senate voted against the wishes of the National Rifle Association.

"Even though it wasn't a big victory, it was a victory," Reid said, adding that McConnell should just bring the bill back. McConnell did not make that commitment.

"It's really too bad the Republican leader worked so hard to defeat the compromise," Reid said.

This story was updated and rewritten to reflect the vote and debate on the bill.

House Republicans Fail To Keep Us Safe

Joel Rubin   |   June 23, 2016    9:47 AM ET

Democratic frustration with the Republican's inability to keep our country safe is not a political talking point -- it is about real policy that affects real people. The number one job of our country's most representative elected body is to legislate in order to keep the American people safe. And in this regard, on both domestic and foreign policy, House Republicans have failed miserably.

When I ran for Congress after resigning from the State Department as the senior official in charge of State's relations with the House of Representatives, I knew that I was seeking to serve in a body full of words, not deeds. But change needed to come to that body, because when the House doesn't function, America's government doesn't function.

We have seen this time and again, from the failed government shutdown in 2013 that cost our country billions to the Houses' inability to grapple with climate change that is destroying our planet. But most frighteningly, the Houses' inability to deal with terrorism is putting our security at risk, and doing so like never before. Orlando has sadly once again shown us that. Enough is enough.

Nearly 30,000 Americans die from gun violence every year. No other country at peace with itself has this level of internal violence. Of course, countries in the throes of war and chaos like Syria, El Salvador, and Iraq share these levels of killings, but such company should not give us comfort.

At the same time, we're fighting terrorist organizations overseas in order to destroy them in their home bases, so that they can't harm us here. But you wouldn't know if from the Houses' behavior. It's been nearly a year and a half since President Obama asked Congress to authorize military action against the Islamic State in an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) request. The Houses' failure to even bring this up for a vote shows how unserious Republicans are about defeating the Islamic State and protecting us from terrorists.

The failure of the House to act on guns and terrorism is putting our lives in danger.

As a candidate, I often spoke on the campaign trail about gun violence and terrorism. I spoke about how as a father of three young girls, every night I went to bed worried about whether my children would be safe from violence at their school, when visiting a public shopping mall, or just plain living their lives. I was not alone in that fear. But as a Democrat, I knew that we had little power to stand up to the NRA legislatively in the House.

And as a State Department official, I spent many days preparing for briefings, meetings, and hearings on the question of how to defeat the Islamic State. Yet when we made the official AUMF request to both create parameters for our military operations and to demonstrate that Americans stood united against the Islamic State, the House took no action once again.

It's crucial to point out that Speaker Paul Ryan has total control over which legislation comes up for a vote. And it's abundantly clear that Ryan is failing to allow for a vote to tighten up our nation's gun laws so that suspected terrorists can't buy guns and that background checks are more effective -- positions supported by 90% of Americans. It's also clear that he's also failing to do anything about the fight against terrorists overseas.

House Republicans -- just like Donald Trump -- are obsessed with labelling Democrats as soft on terrorism because President Obama doesn't say the magic words "Islamic Terrorism." But their behavior in actually doing anything about the fight against the Islamic State both at home and abroad is nonexistent.

So when it comes to voting to protect Americans from gun violence, to keep us safe from terrorists, and to stand united in the fight against the Islamic State, House Republicans -- the party of know-nothing Donald Trump, who promises to do more of the same -- are an abysmal failure.

Our country can't afford any more do-nothing Congresses and know-nothing Presidents on the question of terrorism. Too much is at stake.

What saddens me most about this episode, where House Democrats had to result in physical protest on the House floor to have their voices heard, is that Paul Ryan has young children just like me. He and I are close in age. I wonder if he worries about their safety at night too, just like I do. And I wonder if he understands how little both he and his House Republican colleagues are doing to protect them.

Joel Rubin is a former Congressional Candidate in Maryland's 8th Congressional District, as well as the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for House of Representatives Affairs.

Matt Fuller   |   June 22, 2016    9:44 PM ET

Read More: paul ryan, guns, democrats, house

WASHINGTON -- Democrats took over the House floor Wednesday in a "sit-in" demonstration over Republican leaders' refusal to hold a vote on gun legislation.

Their efforts to achieve this goal continued throughout the night, even after the Republican lawmakers snuck into the chamber at 2:30 a.m. and voted to adjourn the session until July 5.

It was an incredible scene. Throughout the day, Democrats clogged the House floor, holding the printed names of gun victims over their heads and loudly chanting "No Bill, No Break." Democrats were protesting the Republicans' refusal to take up the so-called No Fly, No Buy legislation, which would bar people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing guns.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) gaveled the House back into session, nearly 11 hours after the Democratic sit-in began. He read a prepared script to set up a procedural vote, as if the House was in order and that Democrats weren't breaking rules.

When Ryan stepped down from the podium, Democrats chanted "Shame!"

As the vote progressed, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) tried to address the House.

"To my Republican friends," Deutch began. But Republicans shouted Deutch down and didn't let him speak.

Eventually, Democrats sang in response, "We Shall Overcome."

The singing was interrupted when presiding officer Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) called the vote. That prompted Democrats to chant: "Give us a vote!"

The scene capped a day of tumult.

At the end of the vote series, Democrats and Republicans lingered on the House floor, unsure what would happen next.

Democrats broke into sporadic chants of "Shame!" and "No Bill, No Break." Eventually, they returned to making speeches at the podium, giving no signal they would stop their occupation of the House floor.

Some Republicans hung around, occasionally shouting at them. Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) antagonized Democrats for not having a plan to fight terrorism, and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) started yelling.

"Radical Islam killed these people!" Gohmert shouted, pointing to a poster of gun violence victims from Orlando.

Gohmert even got into a shouting match with Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), which other Democrats and Republicans had to break up. 

The protests continued overnight, with Democrats sharing stories of gun violence victims and railing against their counterparts' "cowardice." Even after the Republicans voted in the middle of the night to adjourn until after the July 4 holiday, Democrats remained on the floor, fighting for a vote on gun control measures.

Read more:

Democrats Stage Sit-In On House Floor Over Gun Bills

Protesters Gather Outside U.S. Capitol To Push For Vote On Guns

Senate Democrats Bring Food To Support House Colleagues Conducting Sit-In On Gun Laws

Democrats Finally Tried To Do Something About The Gun Bloodshed

Democrats Cause Chaos On House Floor As Republicans Pretend Everything Is Fine

You Will Never Be As Ecstatic As This Woman Delivering Pizzas To Rep. John Lewis

Gun Violence Prevention: Ten Critical Facts Regarding Guns, Gun Laws, and the United States Supreme Court

Brenda M. Cotter   |   June 22, 2016    6:15 PM ET

There has been a resurgence of discussion about gun violence prevention in the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando. For those who may be less familiar with some of the gun terms used, and the legal principles at the heart of the discussion, here is a summary of ten basic and important facts:

1. An "automatic" weapon is one in which a single trigger pull can release more than one shot (think "machine gun"). Contrary to popular belief, automatic weapons are not illegal in the United States but they are heavily regulated and, accordingly, their use is generally confined to police and military.

2. A "semi-automatic" weapon is one in which a single trigger pull releases a single shot; however, the weapon then automatically ejects the cartridge and reloads a new one.

3. Semi-automatic weapons utilize a "magazine," which is an ammunition storage and feeding device. The capacity of a gun "magazine" is the amount of ammunition or rounds that can be fired before stopping and reloading the gun. Some magazines hold just a few rounds while some can hold up to 100 rounds. There is no single definition of a "high-capacity magazine" but some legislation has defined it as a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds. Both handguns and rifles can have high-capacity magazines.

4. The term "assault weapon" does not have a standard meaning. However, it generally refers to an automatic weapon or a semi-automatic weapon with a large capacity magazine. Note that an assault weapon can be a pistol or handgun, as well as a rifle.

5. On September 13, 1994, Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, an "assault weapons ban," which applied to certain semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines. However, the ban only applied to weapons manufactured after the date of the law's enactment, and it expired on September 13, 2004, in accordance with its sunset provision. Multiple efforts to renew the ban have failed.

6. Gun safety laws vary substantially state by state. For example, New York, Massachusetts, California, and New Jersey have among the strictest gun laws. In contrast, certain states, including Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming, do not even require a permit for adults (generally 21 and older) to carry a concealed firearm or openly carry (provided the person is not otherwise prohibited from owning a firearm). Sometimes those latter jurisdictions are referred to as "Constitutional Carry" jurisdictions in that they take the view that the right to carry weapons is inherent in the Constitution and, accordingly, should not be conferred by government via a permit.

7. During the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, involving Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the gunman was overpowered and stopped when he had to pause firing in order to change the 31 round, high-capacity magazine on his Glock pistol. In 2012, the Aurora, Colorado shooter used a 100-round magazine, but it jammed before all of those rounds could be discharged. High-capacity magazines were also used in the Sandy Hook and Orlando attacks.

8. The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads: "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." The Second Amendment was adopted in 1791. At the time of the adoption of the Second Amendment, there were no automatic or semi-automatic weapons, or high-capacity magazines.

9. District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) is a landmark United States Supreme Court case that concerned regulation of handguns (the Heller opinion did not address the issue of high-capacity magazines). In a 5-4 decision, with the majority opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess and carry firearms. The Heller majority found that the language of the first clause of the Second Amendment, "[a] well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State," merely sets forth a purpose and does not limit the later or "operative" language of the amendment, "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

10. However, the Heller opinion expressly states that the right to keep and bear arms, like most constitutional rights, is not unlimited. The Second Amendment, said the Heller majority, is "not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose." The Court noted, in particular, that "dangerous and unusual" weapons would properly be subject to regulation but it did not define, and has not defined, which weapons might be included in that category. Specifically, the Court has not yet commented on the regulation of semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines. At some point, in the near future, the Supreme Court will likely consider how ownership, use, and regulation of semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines square with the Second Amendment.

Why Every Member Of Congress Should Take An Acting Class

Anthony Meindl   |   June 22, 2016    5:31 PM ET

As we continue to process the shootings in Orlando, and now as 60 members of the House of Representatives stage a sit-in to push for gun legislation, I want to share a few points about how we collectively allow ourselves to feel - and heal - through such a national tragedy. 2016-06-22-1466630889-260713-sCONGRESSsmall.jpg

I simply cannot iterate how extremely difficult, scary, vulnerable, empowering and healing that is.

A thorough examination of self in front of other human beings allows oneself to drop the "act" or persona we've been playing for years. (Or maybe it's playing us without us even realizing it as we're mostly on unconscious autopilot).

Where do we feel? How do we heal? Why do we segregate? Us vs. Them. To make ourselves feel better about our fears of someone who seems different and yet science says (through the Human Genome Project) that (on average) we share 99.5% of the same DNA sequence of all other human beings.

How do we make conscious choices about actively sharing love in the world? That's not Pollyanna. That's empowerment. That's not New Age "woo-woo," that's philosophy.

How do we decrease our footprint of prejudicial exclusion and expand our circle of inclusion?

I'm not different than you because of whom I love. I'm not different from you because I meditate, but you pray. I'm not exotic because I come from a country you've never heard of.

'Merika isn't the Universe. It's a tiny label we've given our home that exists in a solar system with billions of other such homes we've never even heard of. That's ultimately how small and insignificant we are.

We're human. We get scared. We feel separate. Our reinforcing any belief system that pits us against anyone else only reinforces the illusion of separatism and allows us to marginalize others.

The narratives have to change.

Here's what our policy makers will learn in an acting class:

We always have a choice. When dealing with tragedy, challenges, personal setbacks, and the unexplainable - we always have a choice in how to respond. Perhaps before reacting (from a memorized script we've heard thousands of times before), we each take a breath and ask ourselves, "Is what I'm about to say going to leave the person I am speaking to more uplifted, inspired or hopeful? If not, maybe I could choose not to say it." What if we sat instead with our feelings rather than reacted? But we have very few spaces to do that nowadays. We live in a culture that demands answers to things immediately. And yet, the natural process of life ultimately takes much longer than the 3-second sound bites we've become accustomed to ingesting for things to often reveal themselves.

If you're an empath - and I hope you are - the things that happen to other people out there also collectively happen to you. There is no me or them. It's us. It's consciousness. It's connection. If you can't sit with that, at the very least, it's called compassion. Anyone I can marginalize so that I feel like I'm in control is not empathy. Taking an acting class will wrestle control from your ideas, plans and hands and prostrate you at the feet of humbleness realizing we have no control. So trying to create false versions of it are futile.

Feeling is the only way we get liberated from the imprisonment not feeling brings. Interesting paradox; feeling is the expression of our life force, but burying feeling destroys lives. Everyone's addicted to something. Yes, you are! Cigarettes. Drinking. Shopping. Gossip. Our phones. Porn. Negativity. Facebook. Scrolling Instagram pics. TV. Drugs. Unhappiness. Complaining. If you can admit you are, you're halfway home. If you can see what the addiction is, you then can probably identify what you feel that drives the addiction into place. Loneliness. Shame. Anxiety. Separation. Depression. Futility. Existential Angst. Fear. In extreme cases, our aversion to going deep into our feeling is what leads to violent explosions of all kinds. If you want to heal, you have to feel.

James Baldwin said, "All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up." Catharsis (from the Greek) is the process of purifying or healing through feeling. The expression of it, the release into it, the sharing of it creates renewal, redemption, restoration and ultimately, a life of meaning.

So Congress how about it? Instead of talking, talking, talking about things . . . why don't you feel them instead?

I'm Tired Of Feeling Sad About Gun Violence

Jennifer Wolfe   |   June 22, 2016    3:58 PM ET

I couldn't get out of bed this morning.

It wasn't because it's my first official day of vacation, or because I stayed up too late last night -- my days of all nighters are long gone, to be sure. The air was cool, the mockingbirds were announcing the dawn, and I knew my children were safely asleep.

After laying there for awhile sipping my coffee in bed, I realized that I'm just feeling sad today.

Before I went to bed last night I couldn't pull myself away from Twitter and Facebook. Post after post captured my attention, even though I struggled to read the stories about Orlando.

It was a particularly unhealthy thing to do right before bed-I know that. But all day I'd been thinking about what happened, and trying to process what seemed impossible to fathom. I'd been reading blog posts about how to talk to your children about mass shootings, and hearing the angst from the LGBTQ community and their allies.

But what really sent shivers down my spine was the story from Eddie Justice's mom. Did you see it?

Yesterday, while Eddie's mother waited to learn if her son was one of the victims in the shooting, she released the images of the last conversation she had with him - via text.

As Eddie hid in a bathroom of the nightclub, knowing the shooter was coming closer and closer, and finally in the bathroom with him, he texted his mom.

"Mommy I love you".
And later, "I'm gonna die".

These words haunted me. The vision of this 30 year-old man, cowering in a restroom hoping against hope that he would make it out alive washed over me with a wave of sadness. Thinking of his mother, awakening from sleep to receive this text, I wept.

And when I woke up this morning, I found out that he was right. He did die, along with 48 other young men and women. And I'm just feeling sad today because of it all.

My friend Alexandra Rosas posted on Facebook today that "How can any of us not feel the good fortune of returning from a weekend to a Monday morning's normal life...The return to normalcy, what so many in Orlando do not have today, and my heart breaks for the weight of the loss they wake up to." Her words shook me; here I am, in my normal life, knowing my children are safe - and there is Eddie's mom, knowing he is not.

I'm just feeling sad today. I'm tired of writing my reactions to mass shootings in schools and movie theaters and churches and nightclubs. I'm exasperated by politicians who won't look at common sense ways to reduce gun violence in our country, and instead take to the airwaves to say how sorry they are children have died. I'm weary from imagining all the 'what if' scenarios involving my children and loved ones. I'm drained from having to drag myself to my computer one more time to speak out for ending gun violence because I don't know what else to do. And I'm sick of prayers, especially from those who prevent policy that could prevent sons from dying in a restroom, texting their mothers.

I'm just feeling sad today

Eventually I pulled myself out of bed today. I did all sorts of normal things: fixed my son a smoothie, watered the garden, and texted my daughter. I cleaned out the laundry room, thinking of things she would need to set up her new apartment. Later, as my son and I walked the dog, I asked him if he'd heard the news about Orlando. He's sixteen now, and while part of me was wishing he was younger and we could avoid this conversation, I knew it was important we talked. Because even though I'm feeling sad today, I know it's nothing compared to the sadness of 49 other mothers who would give anything to walk alongside their son, having the hard conversations, and hearing their voice just one more time.

To read more of Jennifer's stories about loving fiercely, thinking deeply and teaching audaciously, visit her blog, mamawolfe, at

Hell and Hedge Funds

Robert Greenwald   |   June 22, 2016    3:39 PM ET

While the Republican National Committee is attempting to keep the address of tonight's Trump fundraiser in New York top secret, reliable sources suggest it will take place somewhere in Dante's Fourth Circle of Hell.

Here in this fiery inferno, presided over by greed, is where the man who has built a fortune on shady deals and a presidential campaign based in bigotry will meet and hobnob with the billionaire who named his company after the guard dog to Hades and rakes in millions selling misery and death.

I'm talking, of course, about Stephen A. Feinberg, the secretive financier and founder of Cerberus Capital Management. Feinberg has not publicly endorsed Trump. Feinberg rarely publicly does anything. The exception is when he very publicly announced that Cerberus would sell Freedom Group, his massive portfolio of gun companies.

That move came with much uncharacteristic fanfare just a few weeks after 20 children and six adults were gunned down in Newtown, Conn. by a killer armed with one of Freedom Group's products -- a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle.

More than three years later, Freedom Group -- now renamed Remington Outdoors, remains a major part of Cerberus' portfolio. After the announcement that he would sell, Feinberg apparently changed his mind. It seems that guns were too lucrative to let a mere accessory to mass murder problem get in the way. That's pretty much business as usual for the gun makers, as we show in our latest documentary from Brave New Films, Making a Killing: Guns, Greed, and the NRA. The gun industry pays its sales and marketing team, the NRA, to work hard keeping Americans terrified, angry and buying guns.

Now Feinberg is going to give some of that money to help elect Donald Trump president.

Feinberg is listed as a host on the invitation, thereby putting him publicly on the hook for $250,000 to the Trump for President campaign. As far as he is concerned, it's a sound investment. He gives money to a man who is going to allow him to sell more guns, and make more money. Politics as usual.

Although with Trump, the investment might be even better than usual. After all, with Trump at the helm of the country, spewing hate on an international stage, who knows how high the death toll could go. He could inspire more bigotry -- which leads to more killing, which leads to more gun sales. No wonder Feinberg is so rich. For those who profit from death, a Trump presidency is a great investment.

Orlando Diaries

Talal Almas   |   June 22, 2016    1:45 PM ET

A depraved attack--aptly described as the United States' worst mass-shooting incident--befell the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando recently, leaving 49 dead, 53 injured, and a million others truly heartbroken. Hours of scrutiny, inspection, and analyses later, the FBI recently came to the glaring conclusion that this incident furthers the list of recently executed "home-grown" attacks of terrorism, pointing duly to its similarity to the San Bernardino incident.

Firstly, I feel extremely sorry and heartbroken in the aftermath of such a brutal, debauched attack that can never, ever be justified, regardless of whatever reasons the attacker may have advocated. My heart goes out to all of the victims and equally so, to their loved ones and family. The attack was not only a mere shooting incident, however; it was a reminder of the improvements that must be made in terms of gun laws, organization and the management of mentally-afflicted people. As a nation that always stands for personal choices, liberty, and freedom to volition within the confines of law, the U.S. has always espoused the need for individualistic decision-making. Given this, it is not odd or even minutely surprising that sexuality and gender too, like other facets of a human, are subjective topics that everyone can have different opinions on. But who was Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter, to judge people at the club for being gay?

The answer is simple: he was no one other than a bigoted, seemingly psychotic, and perhaps a severely mentally disturbed person who, when he discovered no other outlet, channeled his internal frustrations through the means of violence.

However, Mateen's extremely egregious actions and thought processes in view, we need to work towards fomenting significant reforms. And to note one thing, as a friend of mine recently stated, blaming Islam for these attacks, or pointing fingers at the much-venerated president Obama for not using the word "radical Islamism" will not be, by any means, a stepping stone for such a reform. I do agree that Mateen was a Muslim whose morals and ethical standards were extremely skewed. But can we attribute his personal problems to how Islam is, as a whole? Certainly not. 1.6 billion muslims are not all a part of a huge Facebook group chat where every person informs the others about his/her spurious plans. Instead, these 1.6 billion Muslims also stand in unwavering solidarity with the Orlando victims.

Recently, a group of Muslims gathered in Orlando, in a huge congregation, to offer a truly heartfelt prayer for the Orlando victims and their families. In other Muslim communities I have the privilege of being a part, Muslims are making amends by reinforcing the original teachings of Islam, which are all centered on peace and tolerance. Islam does not teach a follower to hurt others based on their gender, race, ethnicity or sexuality. In this context, it is not surprising that increasing the already high level of surveillance on Muslims will not be the key to a reform. Instead, a standardized process of a much tighter gun control, a ban on machine guns (both Orlando and Sandy Hook were carried out with AR-15 assault rifles), and a better professional system of identifying and dealing with mental health issues--a topic that is often deemed too trivial in many countries still--will be of immense utility. Furthermore, educating individuals regarding oppressing homophobia in both Muslim and non-Muslim communities will also be a potentially helpful step.

Therefore, as a nation, we need to reflect on how allowing easy access to deadly weapons such as guns is sowing seeds for more home-grown acts of terrorism. Granted that dissidents might argue that guns are needed as a means of personal protection, but that is truly analogous to fighting fire with fire. Why should not we, in the first place, aim to take the fire down? It is starkly obvious that we cannot immediately deal with each and every psychotic and mentally ill person in the U.S. Does this mean we should still allow these people to have access to deadly firearms too? Or should we make access to guns very restricted, and instead vie to fight violence, amongst other things, with a better process of dealing with parochial and intolerant societies that advocate concepts like homophobia?

The latter truly does stand out as the better answer to me.

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.


David L. Katz

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

Senior Medical Advisor,

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."


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