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David Lohr   |   November 17, 2014    5:28 PM ET

Authorities in Buffalo, New York, reportedly plan to confiscate handguns from the estates of recently deceased gun owners.

"We recently started a program where we're cross referencing all the pistol permit holders with the death records and we're sending people out to collect the guns whenever possible," Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said at a recent press conference, according to WGRZ.

Under the terms of the new program, the weapons will be seized if the descendant's estate fails to take necessary steps to dispose lawfully of them.

Derenda said the goal of the program is to ensure the firearms don't wind up in the hands of a criminal.

"At times, [guns] lay out there and the family is not aware of them and they end up just out on the street," he said.

The plan is legal under state penal law 265.20(f), which states the estate of a deceased permit-holder has 15 days to dispose lawfully of the descendant's handguns or surrender them to the authorities. If they don't, they can face up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The Buffalo Police Department further explained the law in a recent Facebook posting:

"The estate is also requested to notify the Erie County Pistol Permit Office ... of the permit holder's passing, along with a copy of a death certificate and information about the disposition of the firearm(s), so that the license may be cancelled."

According to the law, when a firearm is surrendered, authorities will hold the weapon for up to two years, during which time the estate can sell or transfer it to a licensed permit holder. In the event neither of those things occurs within that time period, the weapon will be disposed of by the authorities.

The National Rifle Association did not respond to a request for comment from HuffPost on Monday. Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, declined to go into detail about the program.

"I don't think that I want to say any more on it," King told HuffPost. "It's an issue that will most likely be resolved in the courts."

In a Friday interview with Fox News, King said Derenda should have been clearer about the specifics of the law.

"They're quick to say they're going to take the guns," King told Fox News. "But they don't tell you the law doesn't apply to long guns, or that these families can sell [their loved one's] pistol or apply to keep it."

Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, called the program "cold-hearted" and "ghoulish."

"This is the kind of behavior one might expect in a police state, but not the United States," Gottlieb said, according to a statement obtained by "But it proves that the anti-gun mindset knows no boundaries. From now on, no gun control zealot will be able to dismiss and ridicule the concerns of law-abiding firearms owners that there is no reason to fear gun registration, no matter what form it takes. This explains why gun owners are opposed to registration and other forms of record-keeping and permit laws."

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown did not immediately respond to a request for comment from HuffPost.

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Robbie Couch   |   November 14, 2014    6:49 PM ET

Peter Thum saw preteens carrying rifles while he was in Kenya and Tanzania. Disturbed by the sight, the social entrepreneur decided to become a catalyst for change.

And to use jewelry to do it.

Thum is a co-founder of Fonderie 47 -- a brand of watches, bracelets, rings and other accessories helping rid Central Africa of deadly weaponry. The brand's items are in part created with melted down and recycled metal from AK-47s seized through disarmament efforts in the region, according to NPR.

Although not everyone may be able to purchase Fonderie 47's high-end items, a portion of each sale helps support Mines Advisory Group -- an international organization that removes and destroys weapons that remain after conflict. For example, one $195,000 watch ensures the demolition of 1,000 weapons, according to Fast Track.

Thum is not new to the humanitarianism scene. About 13 years ago, he founded Ethos Water -- a bottled water brand that donated a share of its profits toward sanitation and clean water efforts in the developing world. Ethos Water was sold to Starbucks in 2005.

Thum's eye-opening experience in Africa occurred while the entrepreneur was visiting safe water projects in the region.

According to Mines Advisory Group, the Cold War created arms supply routes across the globe. As a result, many regions around the world are now home to surplus amounts of weaponry. The United Nations said illegal weapons in Central Africa increase cross-border crime and complicate international relations in the region, Voice of America reported.

"This is a very tangible action," Thum told NPR of supporters buying jewelry to help the cause. "It's not a peace conference. Let's take a device that makes people dead and get rid of it."

Because of Fonderie 47, more than 40,000 weapons have been confiscated through the Mines Advisory Group, Fast Track reported, with the majority being from Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Thum's success spurred him to bring his international idea home through Liberty United -- a jewelry company where "every purchase helps stop gun violence in America." The company, launched last year, uses jewelry sales to support local efforts curbing gun violence -- such as the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, CeaseFirePA, and the Newburgh Armory Unity Center -- according to Fast Track.

On Oct. 16, Liberty United announced a partnership with Cook County, Illinois -- which encompasses Chicago -- allowing the company to repurpose illegal guns collected by law enforcement. A portion of profits will boost area nonprofit efforts fighting gun violence, according to a press release.

"Our gun violence epidemic is destroying communities and setting back an entire generation of young Chicagoans," Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart said. "With this partnership, we're taking guns that would otherwise be incinerated and turning them into something beautiful, while benefiting a local organization working on the front lines to stop the bloodshed."

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What Does Washington's I-594 Mean Going Forward? Trouble for the NRA

Mike Weisser   |   November 5, 2014    4:02 PM ET

As expected, in Washington I-594 won and I-591 lost. The margins of victory and defeat were about equal, which meant that, at least in this state, voters know how to read because the way the two propositions were worded, a 'yes' vote on both would have effectively cancelled them out. But proponents of gun safety were smart enough to see through the cynical ploy by Alan Gottlieb, who uses a non-profit called the 2nd Amendment Foundation to disguise what is a very successful right-wing direct mail operation and he put I-591 on the ballot because he knew that I-594 was going to pass.

Basically, I-594 makes Washington the sixth state to restrict all gun transactions to NICS checks. This closes what has always been considered a major loophole in the effort to keep guns out of the "wrong hands" because in those states where all gun transfers must go through NICS, a person with a criminal record or other disqualifying issue would not be able to get a gun no matter when or where the gun became available, as opposed to the current system in which individuals who do not meet legal qualifications for gun ownership can only be denied gun ownership at the initial point of sale.

The NRA has steadfastly rejected an expansion of background checks because, they claim, it targets law-abiding citizens while doing nothing to prevent crime. Imagine, says the NRA, "If your mother had a prowler at her home, having to do a background check on your own Mom before you could give her one of your guns for protection." Now I can't figure out how someone's going to get a gun to dear old Mom when the prowler is already in her home, but that's hardly the only thing the NRA says about armed defense that I can't figure out. Without a shred of evidence-based data they have been tirelessly promoting the idea that an armed America is a safer America for the last twenty years, but why let facts stand in the way of a good marketing campaign, right?

The good news is that the voters in Washington didn't buy this nonsense and, the last time I looked, were approving I-594 by a margin of nearly 20 points. Taking this issue directly to the voters was a smart move for the issue's supporters, first of all because they knew that the NRA would bottle up such a bill in the legislature, but second of all because universal background checks appear to have wide popular support. Even groups that generally support the NRA, such as Republican men, appear to favor NICS checks on most, if not all gun transactions, and ballot initiatives are a clever way to turn such grass-roots support into laws.

If gun safety advocates use the experience in Washington as a template and begin moving ballot initiatives for background checks into other states, they will not only negate the lobbying power of the NRA at the legislative level, but can use the financial resources of their chief supporters to equalize or overcome the monies that the NRA doles out for political campaigns. In the I-594 contest the supporters spent nearly $8 million to gain what will probably be somewhere above 1 million votes, the measure's opponents spent slightly under half a million and vote-wise fell far short. Bloomberg kicked in $2.3 million, the Microsoft boys -- Gates & Ballmer -- threw in another $1.6 million and Paul Allen added half a mil. Gates, Ballmer and Allen are all residents of Washington, but if Mayor Mike decided to move his funding cavalcade to another state he'd no doubt dig up a few wealthy friends to help foot the bill.

Don't get me wrong. You could fund a citizen's initiative on background checks in Alabama with a gazillion dollars and it would probably fail. But the first state to legalize same-sex marriage was Massachusetts in 2004. Now the list is up to 32...

Hilary Hanson   |   November 4, 2014    4:40 PM ET

At least three people have been shot within a 7-day span due to toddlers getting access to guns.

Monday at around 9:30 p.m., two 3-year-olds were playing with a shotgun in a Baltimore home, the Baltimore Sun reported. Police told the Sun that the two kids found the gun in one of their bedrooms, though it’s unclear why it was there.

The gun went off and hit one of the children, a boy, in the lower leg. He was taken to a hospital and was in stable condition as of Monday night.

Just two days prior, a 3-year-old girl in Lorain, Ohio was listed in critical condition after her 4-year-old brother shot her in the head. The siblings were playing at home alone when the boy found a .40 caliber handgun. Police said the boy was crying and holding his sister in his arms when they got to the scene, and that he told them multiple times he was sorry.

On October 27, Patrick Sanders, 20, was sleeping on the couch at a Houston-area apartment when his loaded pistol slipped out of his pants and a 3-year-old boy in the home picked it up. Sanders was shot in the face as he tried to get the gun away from the boy and it accidentally went off.

There are no definite statistics on how many people every year are killed or injured by children getting their hands on guns, according to the Washington Post.

“We know how many times children die each year as a result of gun deaths,” Jon S. Vernick, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, told the Post in September. “We don’t know how many times children pull the trigger and someone dies."

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Why Connecticut Parents Should Not Vote for Tom Foley

Laura Merriman   |   November 4, 2014    8:57 AM ET

It is completely unacceptable that Connecticut Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley said on gun control in the wake of the Newtown shooting, "We're talking about something that happened several years ago. I'm looking down the road. I'm looking ahead. I'm looking at jobs and the economy. I'm not governor and I wasn't governor at the time." I have argued before that nothing threatens public safety more than nearly unchecked access to arms. This is still the case.

We have become so accustomed to school shootings that they are now forgotten within a day or two of the news cycle. Our children deserve better and so it is up to us to elect the right leadership. Here's what we know: when people have unchecked access to weapons, children are mass murdered at school. Violence against women happens. Suicide occurs at far higher rates in states with more gun ownership, despite the fact that gun owners experience the sames rate of depression and mental illness as non-owners.

The father of Santa Barbara shooting victim Chris Martinez blamed his son's death on "craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA". He also stated, "Our children deserve a land free from fear." Echoing what anti-gun violence activists around the country feel, Martinez asked, "They talk about gun rights, what about Chris' right to live? When will this insanity stop?" It should be more than unsettling to any thinking, feeling person that although we know what the root of the problem is, we repeatedly fail to hold politicians accountable for shamefully lax stances on guns.

U.S. children are murdered by guns thirteen times more often than in other developed countries are. As a nation, we are fixated on the ebola outbreak, yet 86 Americans are killed by gun violence daily without us considering this to be an epidemic. After Sandy Hook, Connecticut passed some of the strictest gun control in the country, signed by Governor Dan Malloy. Too much is at stake in the Connecticut gubernatorial race to risk electing Tom Foley.

We shouldn't just care about gun violence just because last time it was someone else's kid. Children must be able to attend school without risking getting shot. Martinez's father said, "I don't care about your sympathy. I don't give a shit that you feel sorry for me". I am also tired of the same post-shooting the same post-shooting rhetoric. We are doing a huge disservice to the victims of school shootings and their families by letting the same tragedies occur over and over again.

Unfortunately much of the discussion surrounding the Santa Barbara shooting revolved around the shooter Elliot Rodgers hating women. Of course sexism is a social problem. But it is liberal access to arms that determined the actions he was able to take.

But guns are a feminist issue because they are widely used to commit acts of violence and intimidation against women. Access to a weapon escalates domestic violence situations; women whose partners own a gun are 500 times more likely to be murdered than those with partners who don't, which is why the NRA feminist movement is a joke. Melissa Jeltsen's incredible piece on the death of Laura Aceves demonstrates what happens when weak government is paired with low wages and liberal access to arms: all of these things being key components of the GOP platform.

David Hemenway, the director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center explains, "A large percentage of homicides -- and especially homicides in the home -- occur during altercations over matters such as love, money, and domestic problems, involving acquaintances, neighbors, lovers, and family members; often the assailant or victim has been drinking. Only a small minority of homicides appear to be the carefully planned acts of individuals with a single-minded intention to kill... it is just a question of the caliber of the gun, whether a vital organ is hit, and how much time passes before medical treatment arrives."

In 1996, under heavy lobbying from the NRA, Congress slashed funding for research on gun violence from $2.5 million annually in the early 1990s to an insanely low $100,000 per year. Funding was only reinstated by President Obama in 2013, ending a 17-year virtual freeze on the Center for Disease Control conducting gun research.

Additionally, the NRA succeeded in getting lawmakers to restrict how cities are able to share information about gun crimes. How are we a free speech democracy if our citizens are not allowed to know information as basic as how many guns there actually are in the U.S.? If having more guns around really does reduce injuries and fatalities, as pro-gun activists allege, then why suppress research on firearms? The NRA went so far as to threaten the families of scientists researching gun violence. How is this different from how terrorist organizations operate?

Unsurprisingly, the more guns there are, the increasing amount of violent incidents occur. Mississippi has the highest rate of gun ownership nationally, at an astounding 76.8 percent. It is not just happenstance that Mississippi also faces the 2nd highest rate of gun violence. In 2010 alone, 475 Mississippians were murdered by a gun. On the other hand, California just placed new restrictions on semiautomatic weapons.

We must end gun policies based on the fantasy that there need only be a "good guy with a gun" to intervene in a shooting. An excellent Mother Jones investigative piece demonstrates that out of 62 mass shootings in the U.S., not a single time has the assailant been stopped by an armed civilian. Mother Jones explains, "In other recent (but less lethal) rampages in which armed civilians attempted to intervene, those civilians not only failed to stop the shooter but also were gravely wounded or killed", thus striking down the "good guy with a gun" disillusion. In one case often cited by the NRA, the reason two armed students were able to intervene during a shooting at the University of Virginia Law School is that they were trained police officers -- and the shooter had run out of bullets.

It is complete lunacy that many states are passing legislation that allow guns in public spaces, including bars. Guns only escalate conflict. When guns and drinking mix, and when people are given free access to high caliber weapons without background checks, it is not a matter of if, but when. What did Bobby Jindal expect by allowing guns at bars in New Orleans? This summer's shooting on Bourbon Street in New Orleans is an excellent case and point. It is almost as if he passed the law knowing that people will be killed or severely injured as a result.

Tragically, guns seep across borders from states with sensible gun laws from ones that irresponsibly lack comprehensive background checks. Guns purchased in Mississippi, Wisconsin, and Indiana are responsible for 60 percent of Chicago's gun violence, which predominantly effects low-income people of color. Phil Cook, professor of Public Policy and Economics at Duke University, explains "There is no question that Chicago's murder rate is driven by the availability of guns. Choking off the supply of illegal guns on the street will be critical to reducing murder in Chicago." Until there are gun restrictions like the law California just passed in every single state, it is only a matter of time before there will be another massacre, and this should shame every person who votes for an NRA-backed candidate in the United States.

Last year at New York University, NBC news anchor Joy Reid argued that the gun rights movement is largely founded in racism. Certainly the fear of inter-racial crime is a motivating factor for many gun owners. It has been the reason behind many recent white-to-black shootings, where the "good guy with a gun" argument falls flat on its face. Amanda Robb's GQ piece brilliantly portrays how our national obsession with personal security and fame intersect with being over armed, as she narrates how George Zimmerman's family has tried to capitalize on the murder of an unarmed black teenager. Minority groups are disproportionately the ones affected by gun violence.

What kind of a society have we become when we allow heavily armed, mostly white, men to intimidate women, children and other men in public spaces? The Texas Open Carry movement states that its goal is to "condition Texans to feel safe around law-abiding citizens that choose to carry [guns]". Open carry is more than a provocation; it is blatant intimidation. Without comprehensive background checks, how can we be safe in open places without knowing the intentions or mental state of an open gun carrier?

The Open Carry trend is especially deranged when considering that concerned citizens have been harassed raising their concern to local authorities. Of course any sensible person should report a mass collective of armed civilians congregating in an open space because of how easy it would be for these demonstrations to turn into a mass shooting within seconds. Civilians do not need to be "conditioned" to feel comfortable around objects of violence and intimidation. We have an obligation to regulate these militias, as stated by our Constitution.

Tom Foley called Sandy Hook a thing of the past and said he does not have a plan to address gun control in a state where 20 innocent children and six adults were gunned down less than two years ago. As The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky put it so well, the Republican Party "is a party of nihilism that has no desire to solve any social problem, holding the rest of us hostage to its craziness as the bodies mount." Elected officials like CT State Representative Dave Yaccarino who are able to overcome stalemate partisanship and vote against their party to prioritize our children's safety deserve our vote. Politicians like Tom Foley do not. Because our children deserve better.

Ebola Is Good

Brian Rooney   |   November 3, 2014    3:28 PM ET

The Ebola virus is the best thing to happen to American politicians in years. Ebola has done what neither war, climate change, nor economic meltdown have accomplished. It has united our politicians in action because Ebola is bad. Ebola threatens America. It came dangerously close to infecting a King Charles Spaniel in Texas. Like that nerd in grade school who always raises his hand, no one likes the Ebola virus. Our political leaders have come out bravely against Ebola and it's their intention to prosecute the virus as an adult.

From New York to Florida, California, Illinois and states in between, an accidental alliance of Republicans and Democrats has joined against Ebola. Many states are requiring a 21-day quarantine for health workers returning from West Africa, even if they have no signs of illness. New Jersey's Chris Christie, whose administration once quarantined several lanes of the George Washington Bridge against an exodus of commuters said, "We've taken this action and I have absolutely no second thoughts about it." He's showing leadership, decisiveness. He doesn't look back. He's also considering running for president. "Chris Christie. He was against Ebola."

The other day when a New York City doctor tested positive for Ebola, the governor and the mayor appeared before cameras to promise action. Mayor Bill de Blasio said, "We want to state at the outset that there is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed," even though one of the few occasions the mayor of New York and the governor hold a joint press conference is when New Yorkers should be alarmed. Alarm is good. Voters unite around politicians who tell you to be alarmed.

In a silly attempt to stand up for reason, the Centers for Disease control and various medical authorities say these quarantines may actually hinder the Ebola fight and are not medically necessary, which shows what they know. Governors know best what's good for their state.

Chris Christie isolated a nurse after she got off a plane in Newark and tested negative for Ebola. When the nurse Kaci Hickox was sent home to Maine and broke her quarantine, Gov. Paul LePage got really lucky. A state judge set Hickox free. LePage was able to stand up and say, "As governor, I have done everything I can to protect the health and safety of Mainers." Who couldn't vote for that?

The governor of Connecticut also signed an order to quarantine anyone who may have been exposed to Ebola. Connecticut has not had a case of Ebola, let alone an Ebola death, and Gov. Dan Malloy is going to make sure they never do. He's in charge. He's looking out for the average Joe Nutmeg. This is the same state where a man with a gun massacred 20 school children and six adults. But it's hard to quarantine people with guns. The National Rifle association gets so testy about it. It's much easier to quarantine people who don't have Ebola.

Every year guns kill 32,000 Americans, more than six times the number of people who have died of Ebola in the current outbreak. So far we've had only two homegrown Ebola infections in the U.S. and just one death of a man who arrived with the disease. The effect of Ebola on America is less than your average two-car accident, but that's what's great about this disease. It's so small it's easy for a gang of politicians to box it into a corner and stomp on it.

In Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal forcefully called for a ban on all direct air flights from Ebola-stricken countries to the U.S., even though there are none. But in the meantime Jindal's state quarantine is preventing Ebola specialists who've been in West Africa from attending a New Orleans medical meeting to discuss how to treat and cure Ebola. If they had come, they would have had to spend 21-days sitting alone in a hotel room. Jindal, who likes to think of himself as having presidential mettle, is so tough on Ebola, he'll quarantine even the scientists thinking about Ebola. That's the kind of action we've come to expect from our politicians.

Expand Background Checks for Guns. But First, Reform the ATF.

Mike Weisser   |   November 3, 2014    8:15 AM ET

When it was revealed in December, 2010 that U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed with a gun that had been "walked" out of an Arizona gun shop as part of an ATF-managed gun-running operation called Fast and Furious, to put it politely, all hell broke loose. Guns "walk" out of a gun store when someone has been allowed to commit a "straw" purchase with the knowledge and approval of law enforcement, in this case, the ATF. A straw purchase is a serious federal felony because someone who can pass the required background check is, in fact, buying the gun for someone who can't. Straw sales are considered the primary method by which guns get into the wrong hands and the ATF conducts random inspections of licensed dealers in order to identify such sales.

The ATF has been responsible for regulating federally-licensed gun dealers since the passage of the Federal Firearms Act in 1938. This law, for the first time required interstate gun transfers to be made via licensed dealers (the license cost a buck), and also required dealers to sell guns only to residents of their own state. The law was strengthened by the Gun Control Act of 1968, which established categories of "prohibited" persons (felons, fugitives, etc.) to whom guns could not be sold, required dealers to verify the identity of the purchaser and to retain records of each sale. The ATF, which was a small operation within Internal Revenue Service under the Department of the Treasury, was given authority and additional resources to conduct gun-shop inspections to make sure that dealers were following the law.

The role of the ATF expanded again with the passage of the Brady Bill in 1994. This law created the instant background check system which allows the FBI to examine court records of anyone before the public purchase of a gun. The law requires dealers not only to verify the identification of the purchaser, but also to withhold delivery of the gun if the FBI, based on background check results indicates that the sale should not go through. If a dealer allows purchases to be consummated without a background check, or does not exercise diligence in verifying the identity of the buyer, once again ATF gets into the act.

If the current argument over expanding background checks to all gun transfers ends up in the elimination of private sales, the result will be a further widening of the firearm regulatory infrastructure and a greater degree of authority vested in the ATF. And because the debate over background checks has focused entirely on whether such checks will actually reduce crime, the issue of fixing the regulatory system has been largely ignored. Some Republicans whine that the system isn't working because the ATF's activities result in just a handful of gun prosecutions each year. But the issue isn't really whether the criminal enforcement of gun regulations should be stepped up. After reading thousands of pages of government documents on Fast and Furious, I believe the regulatory system itself may be in need of a serious overhaul to get things really fixed.

The ATF encouraged gun dealers to make these Fast and Furious sales which, in every single case, required the dealer to violate federal regulatory laws that the ATF is supposed to enforce. More than 2,000 weapons walked out of gun shops because the ATF believed that busting an important gun-running operation would, for the first time, heighten ATF's role and value in the federal law enforcement scheme of things. ATF is brought in on all crimes that involve guns, but the dirty little secret is that picking up the gun counts very little, it's all about catching and convicting the guy who used a gun to commit the crime.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against expanding background checks to cover private sales. But until the ATF's role in federal law enforcement is clearly defined and understood, just giving them more gun transactions to regulate could create more problems than it solves.

By STEVE PEOPLES   |   October 29, 2014    8:23 AM ET

SEATTLE (AP) — She has delivered the same 64-word speech eight times already, but Gabby Giffords is struggling to get through the ninth.

"Together, we can win elections," the former Arizona congresswoman tells her Seattle audience before starting to stumble.

After a moment of confused silence, an aide whispers the next line, and Giffords continues the broken sentence: "... change our laws."

Four years after she was shot in the head and went on to inspire millions with her recovery, Giffords is as committed as ever to pushing for tighter gun-control laws. But in the final days of this year's midterm elections, few candidates are willing to rally to her cause. There's little to suggest those elected next week will pursue the changes she seeks in the nation's gun laws.

As Giffords visited nine states in the past two weeks, the National Rifle Association was working in at least 30, with advertising and get-out-the-vote manpower, to strengthen its position in Washington and state capitals. She will be widely outspent this year by the NRA and others who support the rights of gun owners.

Two days after Giffords' appearance in Seattle, a 15-year-old high school student shot and killed two people and killed himself in an attack north of the city that seriously wounded three others. The shooting has barely made a ripple in the final days of the campaign.

"Long, hard haul," Giffords told The Associated Press in a brief interview after her Seattle event, using one of the short phrases that now dominate her speech.

In part by design, but also in recognition of the country's political landscape, not a single candidate in this year's midterm elections for statewide or federal office appeared with Giffords as she made her way from Maine to Washington state over 10 days.

She drew visits from Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, both Democrats, neither running for re-election next month.

"If this happened in March or December or any other time, we'd have asked other politicians to join," said Marti Anderson, an Iowa state lawmaker who helped organize a Giffords event in Des Moines. "But it's risky 15 days before an election."

Instead, Giffords took part in a series of discussions about domestic violence in smaller venues such as a Des Moines public library and a high school classroom in Portland, Oregon. With the Senate majority at stake, Giffords isn't running television ads in states where Democratic incumbents are seeking re-election, among them North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Hampshire.

The exception is Iowa, where her group announced plans this week to run television ads against Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst. "Joni Ernst won't vote to close the loophole that lets some dangerous people still get guns," Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald says in the ad set to run through Election Day.

Said Pia Carusone, Giffords' longtime chief aide, "We went in knowing we had to be strategic and careful."

The NRA has no such concerns. The powerful gun-rights lobby has spent more than $27.3 million this year on elections in at least 27 states through Oct. 15, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Giffords' organization, by contrast, has spent just $6.6 million in seven states.

The financial advantage is just one piece of the NRA's strength.

"Anyone who tries to gauge the National Rifle Association by money alone is making a huge mistake," said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam, citing 5 million dues-paying members and many more voters who look to his organization for guidance on how to vote on Election Day.

Arulanandam said he's grateful that Giffords is "on the mend and getting better every day," but he criticized her political goals. "People realize that regardless of what she says, her endgame is similar to Michael Bloomberg and President Obama, which is draconian gun control," he said.

Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, have gone to great lengths to rebut such criticism. Recently, with little sign that an effort to adopt universal background checks will pass in Congress, Giffords has focused on promoting a measure that would prevent convicted stalkers and abusive "dating partners" from accessing guns.

In a letter opposing the measure, the NRA says it "manipulates emotionally compelling issues such as 'domestic violence' and 'stalking' simply to cast as wide a net as possible for federal firearm prohibitions."

Giffords' team was initially hopeful, but it now concedes that the bill is not likely to come up in Congress' lame-duck session. And while the mood was largely positive during Giffords' tour, the frustration they're not connecting with voters this election season was evident.

"It's hard not to be, as a person in this country, disappointed by the lack of response," Carusone said. "But we're not surprised. We knew this wouldn't be easy."

Guns 'N Poses

Justin Frank   |   October 28, 2014    5:25 PM ET

A second teenage girl has died as a result of Friday's shooting at a Washington state high school. Several others students remain in critical condition.

In a nation preoccupied by Ebola, most people have become numb to yet another school shooting. A new case of Ebola captures much more attention. And in this shooting, the number of dead is already too low to attract significant media attention or print press coverage.

Numbing can be dangerous, though initially it serves to protect the psyche from potentially overwhelming anxiety. As we get used to horrific events we begin to distance ourselves from whatever emotional turmoil they might cause.

The obvious difference between gun violence and Ebola is that nobody defends the rights of Ebola victims to possess the virus. The number of deaths in the United States from gun violence itself has a numbing effect on even those who favor stricter gun control laws. It just gets repeated frequently and then compared to the small numbers of people killed by guns in any European country.

The obvious similarity between gun violence and Ebola is that both give rise to primitive fears. The former is fear of being attacked and of being defenseless against an external threat, much the way a child feels about an abusive parent. The latter is the fear of being contaminated and poisoned by a small speck of invisible substance that also enters from outside but that will kill us from the inside.

Quarantines and protective garb seek to block all germs from entering the body. Anti-immigration advocates seek to protect "their" United States from foreign contamination. But with guns, we use a mechanism of defense first expressed by abused children -- we threaten to bully those weaker than ourselves. The old story of the man who kicks his son who kicks the dog is at play here, and describes the problem clearly: I will not be afraid of your gun if I have my own.

Having a gun may be a prop to protect gun owners from unresolved childhood fears, primarily the fear of a menacingly unpredictable parent. Carrying a gun may make one feel emboldened at first, but over time, feelings of distrust and paranoia may recur. Sometimes the objects of fear change; now the NRA fears gun regulation as much as it does criminals. A further source of insecurity arises from the very fact that owning guns increases feelings of possibility.

At another high school, this one in Nebraska, graduating students can pose for their yearbook pictures while holding a gun. Acknowledging that such pictures might invite gun violence, the superintendent of that high school told the press that that they would only publish pictures that were "tasteful and appropriate."

Young people frightened of the future -- of uncertainty in the adult world -- can boost their self-confidence posing with a firearm. Most of the photographs ring hollow, however, and depict young people revealing a need to triumph over fear. And guns offer an easy way -- easier than thinking or talking -- to solve problems. As a side effect, the whole process leaves much unsaid -- such as the idea that girls are property to be possessed, fought over, or even killed if they reject a boy that needs a gun to express his otherwise inexpressible shame, hurt, and rage.

  |   October 28, 2014    2:04 AM ET

Oct 27 (Reuters) - A grandfather shot dead his daughter, granddaughter and then turned the gun on himself on Monday in a Seattle home, authorities said.

Officers received a call at around 8:15 p.m. from a 10-year-old boy who was inside the home and said his grandfather threatened his mother and sister with a handgun before he shot them, the Seattle Police Department said.

The boy ran from the home as the man, who police described as being in his 60s, shot himself. The identities of the shooter and the victims were not provided, and further details were not immediately available.

The Seattle Times newspaper reported that the granddaughter was in her teens, citing a police spokesman.

Police said they were investigating. (Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco)

If ISIS Had Committed the 11 School Shootings Since Sandy Hook, Congress Would Have Declared War.

H. A. Goodman   |   October 27, 2014    9:34 AM ET


There's a reason why Americans make the pristine delineation between "radical Islamic terror" and "just another crazy person" intent on killing innocent people, or any of the other massive threats to our wellbeing (suicide, drunk driving, etc.) that are quickly glossed over by the majority of citizens. The hooded terrorist brandishing a knife on video incites enough passion to make 41 percent of Americans believe that U.S. ground troops should be sent back to Iraq; even after the counterinsurgency war ended in 2011 without a clear winner and even after the ongoing VA crisis. On the other hand, the disgruntled teen with a gun (even though gun violence kills more Americans than terrorism) never results in emails being read by the NSA or diatribes about the evils of Islam. The reason for such discrepancy in emotional reaction is because Americans see threats as neatly marketed, bite sized morsels where danger never resides in a grey area; ISIS makes for better television than discussing the causes of suicide. To be fair to gun advocates, the causes of suicide and the reasons why active shooters kill innocent people have nothing to do with inanimate objects. There are aspects of our society that have desensitized individuals to the point where others have to suffer for their problems and many people are forced to end their lives as opposed to continuing their existence due to complex issues. Not everything can be blamed on weapons, especially since killers in China murder children in nurseries with knives, but guns do play a factor in American violence. Furthermore, "terror" is almost always what others can do to us, not what we can do to ourselves.

Adam Lanza is rightfully the personification evil to most people, however we process this evil in a uniquely American manner. If this monster had a Muslim name, links to ISIS, and committed the horrific and unspeakable act of murdering 20 innocent children and 6 staff in an American elementary school in the name of "radical Islamic terror," the NRA would have sung a different tune. Republicans and conservatives everywhere would be in a frenzy, calls for war would be heard from both sides of the aisle, and the American people would be fixated on the next Muslim terrorist planning to kill our youth. Multiply this paranoia by at least 11 "planned mass shootings at a school since Sandy Hook" and ask yourself what would have consumed our society as a result of these murders.

According to Harvard University, mass shootings are on the rise:

The rate of mass shootings in the United States has tripled since 2011, according to a new analysis by researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and Northeastern University. In the last three years, there have been 14 mass shootings--defined as public attacks in which the shooter and victims were generally unknown to each other and four or more people were killed--occurring on average every 64 days. During the previous 29 years, mass shootings occurred on average every 200 days.

If the 14 mass shootings cited by Harvard were the result of Muslims killing in the name of Islam, how would our society have reacted? Is "terror" only the beheading of a journalist on video or it is also the madman who enters a movie theater and sprays the moviegoers with bullets?

No, the fact that mass shootings take place in this country does not mitigate (nor does it condone in any way) the threat posed by ISIS, al-Qaeda, or any other terrorist who utilizes Islam, or any other religion, to justify the killing of innocent people. If this is your reaction to the arguments presented in this article, rest assured that I am vehemently against everything terrorists stand for and represent. However, Ebola and ISIS have dominated the news for a reason and other far more serious threats to our nation never seem to make the headlines in a similar manner.

American deaths from suicide, mass shootings, drunk driving, gang violence, illegal drug addiction, and other dangers never elicit the same emotions in our country as a beheading video. In 2012, MADD states that 10,322 Americans died in drunk driving accidents and 290,000 people were injured in drunk driving crashes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has attributed "88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2006 -- 2010" to excessive alcohol consumption. As for drug use, according to RAND data Americans spend $28.3 billion on cocaine, $27 billion on heroin, and $13 billion on meth. Thus, according to the CDC, "Every day in the United States, 114 people die as a result of drug overdose, and another 6,748 are treated in emergency departments (ED) for the misuse or abuse of drugs." America's drug addiction correlates directly to the scourge of drug cartels on the border-who do you think they're selling to? As for gang violence, the CDC states that "Homicide is the second leading cause of death among persons aged 15-24 years in the United States." From 2007-2012, The National Gang Center reports that there were an average of 2,000 gang homicides annually.

Regarding suicide, this silent killer for some reason doesn't makes the nightly news. In 2010, Harvard University states that 19,392 people committed suicide using a gun in the United States. The Washington Post reports that the same people we send to fight terror have a much higher suicide rate than the average American:

The Pentagon report Friday also showed that suicides among reservists and National Guard troops actually increased by 8 percent last year. Overall, 289 active-duty troops committed suicide last year, compared with 343 in 2012. Among reservists and National Guard personnel, the number rose from 140 to 152 over the same period.

As for veterans, from 2008-2014, an average of 22 veterans committed suicide every day according to The fact that more people have heard about Ebola and ISIS in the past month than the suicide epidemic among veterans and soldiers speaks volumes about American society and what we view as threats to our nation.

To inquire as to why there's such a deep chasm of sentiment between the various dangers we face and the word "terror" does not, in any way, condone the genocidal and dastardly acts of terrorists like ISIS. That being said, we've waged two wars and somewhat altered our ideals (especially pertaining to privacy, torture, drones, and other aspects of our war against terror) in order to keep our nation safe from groups like al-Qaeda. Therefore, let's analyze the terror threat. From 2009 to 2013, between 9 and 19 Americans died annually from terrorism according to numbers compiled by the U.S. Department of State. In 2013, the State Department lists 16 Americans (not counting the three citizens murdered in the Boston Marathon Bombing) who died from terrorism. As for terrorism worldwide, we might be waging a war against terror in order to protect people in other countries. The State Department explains the scope of terrorism abroad, compared to its impact in America:

In 2013, a total of 9,707 terrorist attacks occurred worldwide, resulting in more than 17,800 deaths and more than 32,500 injuries. In addition, more than 2,990 people were kidnapped or taken hostage...

The ten countries that experienced the most terrorist attacks in 2013 are the same as those that experienced the most terrorist attacks in 2012. The ranking in terms of total attacks increased for Iraq, the Philippines, and Syria, decreased for Pakistan, Nigeria, Yemen, and Somalia, and remained the same for Afghanistan, India, and Thailand...

For the vast majority of terrorist attacks in Iraq (84.1%), no perpetrator group was identified. Of the remaining attacks, more than 98 percent were attributed to al-Qa'ida in Iraq, which began referring to itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in 2013.

The phrase, "which began referring to itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in 2013" explains how al-Qaeda has rebranded itself in 2014. Also, while 19 Americans died in 2013, over 17,800 people (who were not American) died from terrorism.

Finally, let's say that none of the arguments presented here make sense and that everything I've written is convoluted and ignores the real danger of ISIS. Therefore, one would expect Congress to decide upon whether or not we should declare war, correct? Wrong. As stated by novelist, journalist, and Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Tom Young in his latest Huffington Post piece titled, "What You Owe Your Military," Congress has deliberately ignored its responsibilities for the sake of politics:

In an act of appalling political cowardice, the 113th Congress left Washington in September refusing to vote on or even debate an Authorization for Use of Military Force against ISIS. Leaders offered lame excuses.

... As you read this, military aircrews are likely suiting up for their next sorties against ISIS. Unlike members of Congress, they don't get to wait until it's more politically expedient.

Even with all the Republicans bemoaning Obama's tyranny, and all the Democrats claiming that the Iraq War was a mistake, Congress in aggregate doesn't have the courage or conviction to make a decision pertaining to ISIS. What does that tell you about the threat you see nightly on the news?

There's a greater chance that the average American dies from gun violence in this country than from an ISIS sleeper cell or Ebola. The real threats and dangers to America aren't terrorism, they're killers like the causes of suicide, or the guy who drank too much after a party running you over at night. The real problem is that none of these dangers make for good television, or incite "outrage" so we simply chalk them up as part of life. We rationalize violence and death in order to suit our political sensibilities and as Americans, we view the hooded terrorists "over there" as a greater threat than the active shooter wreaking havoc on our schools. Ultimately, as a sad testament to where we're at as a society, if the mass shootings in this country were done "in the name of Islam," Congress would have already acted on a declaration of war. To state this reality doesn't mitigate terrorism, it simply highlights the disingenuous manner we view violence and death, as well as the pandering nature of our politicians.

The Gun Debate Will Reawaken With Ottawa Shooting

Gil Laroya   |   October 23, 2014   11:52 AM ET

Love them or hate them, guns are continually showing up in the headlines. What has changed the face of the gun debate is the increased number of shootings around the world. Whether it be from war, terrorism, mentally unstable citizens or rogue police, the question of guns in society will slowly force its way back to the top of people's minds. The question of whether or not to ban guns outright or to better regulate them is a hot-button issue with almost every American. Is there a middle ground to gun rights?

Guns have been a part of our society for generations. In my own family, I grew up with guns, having a dad in the U.S. Marine Corp and a grandpa in the U.S. Army. Like having a skateboard or a dog, having guns in our home was never a question. Guns were respected for what they were but were never associated with anything evil. Even with all the news about various shootings, assassination attempts and murders, the thought that guns were "evil tools of death" never came to mind.

Americans who are for gun rights point to the Second Amendment, which talks about the right to bear arms. But the reality is that laws and rights can be interpreted in many ways, giving light to both sides of the argument. In theory, one can find ways to support either side, depending on whether you're a gun advocate or a gun hater. Debates that reply on laws and rights will always eventually end up locked in court battles, but that does little to solve the current crop of gun-related problems.

There are large institutions like the NRA that gather pro-gun folks in attempts to fight those who would ban guns from U.S. citizens. The NRA, while started as a grassroots organization to help gun advocates find a voice, has grown to such a size that it is seen as more of a bully than an advocate. Outrageous claims that guns should be in teachers' hands or carried around in every Starbucks can be incredibly dangerous -- "Would you like a shootout to go with your tall latte?"

The incident in Ottawa yesterday puts an exclamation point on the benefits of guns -- when in the right hands, at the right time. Note that if either of these qualifiers is not met, then there is no guarantee that a gun will be used safely or socially. If a gun is in the wrong hands, like the Sandy Hook case of a mentally unstable person, then disaster is the result. The Ottawa case is an example of the right hands and the right time. If Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers had happened to forget his gun at home that day, who knows how many more people would have been killed?

Anti-gun advocates call for guns to be banned altogether from citizens. Although it sounds nice, the reality is that bans only take away guns from law-abiding people who register their weapons. We see cases of this in England, where even constables are limited in their ability to carry guns, that show bad guys shooting at unarmed cops who end up hiding behind their Fiats while being shot at. One of the biggest arguments for gun rights is the mere fact that crooks don't follow laws to begin with. This means that the bad guy keeps his AK-47 while lawful citizens are forced to turn their guns in.

This same effect is an issue with our U.S. immigration policy, where law-abiding undocumented immigrants, who work and pay taxes, get deported simply because they registered with the government, while undocumented immigrants who come here to sell drugs are protected because they can hide so easily. Such is the case with crooks with guns, because they typically use stolen or unregistered guns.

I'm glad that Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers had his gun that day. And I'm glad for every day that guns save countless lives in the hands of good people, like soldiers, guards and law enforcement. Sure, there are issues, and nobody is perfect. But bad guys don't care about bans or laws when they have guns to work with.

It's a tough call to try to ban something that only takes away from good people.

How many more shootings have to happen until people realize this?

Are You More Homicidal Than This Alabama 5-Year-Old?

Lester & Charlie   |   October 17, 2014   11:31 AM ET


This week's poll from the Lester & Charlie Institute of Forward Thinking!

"Mommy? Daddy? What is homicide?"

This week, school officials in Alabama put a 5-year-old girl on a suicide and homicide watch after she pointed a crayon at a kindergarten classmate and said "pew! pew!"

Yes, this is real. The 5-year-old, identified only as Elizabeth, is said to have drawn a picture resembling a gun before picking up the deadly crayon and going "pew! pew!" - which, in America, could mean that she's a homicidal maniac!

The girl was then forced to sign a contract declaring that she pinky-promises not to kill herself or her classmates.

Of course, seeing as the girl is only 5, the school first had to take time to educate the toddler on what the words homicide and suicide mean. After making that clear -- preferably with film strips and stick figures, or perhaps a friendly demonstration of Russian Roulette -- they asked her if she was depressed. And then they forced her to undergo a psych evaluation questionnaire which assessed "Past thoughts of hurting self," "Current thoughts of suicide," and "Frequency of suicidal ideas." All because she made a gun noise with a crayon.

Is Alabama being a bit... alarmist? Granted, all Americans are on edge these days. John McCain can see Ebola and ISIL crossing the border from his porch, Robin Thicke says he didn't write "Blurred Lines," Mitt Romney is trying to be funny and Michael Bloomberg is no doubt plotting to take over the country and ban the holes in Swiss cheese.

But is it a fret too far for the good people of Alabama to think that a kindergartener, armed with a crayon -- in drawing class - is an immediate threat?

The 5-year-old's mother, identified as Rebecca, is livid. As for the anti-suicide/homicide contract her daughter was forced to sign, Rebecca pointed out that "most of these words on here, she's never heard in her life." Well, she's heard them now.

We don't know what happened to the girl -- aside from being evaluated and then sent home from school for the day. But we're worried. Because an operative at the Lester & Charlie Institute of Forward Thinking got a hold of the "psych evaluation questionnaire" that Alabama school officials are administering to suspected homicidal kindergartners.

Yes, we have the actual questionnaire -- and it's a doozy. It seems a bit unfair to expect a 5-year-old -- or anyone -- to figure out how to answer these questions the way the psych evaluators want them to. See for yourself. Take the Alabama psych quiz for kindergartners and find out: Are you more homicidal than a 5-year-old?

"Are you more homicidal than a 5-year-old?"


Click here to take the test!

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Alexander C. Kaufman   |   October 16, 2014    5:50 PM ET

Walmart has removed ammunition from the shelves of several St. Louis-area stores amid renewed protests against police brutality.

Employees removed bullets and ammunition after demonstrators gathered outside Walmart stores in Ferguson and Maplewood, Missouri on Monday, CBS-affiliate KMOV-TV reported.

"If there is a history of violence and looting and other activity that are going on or things that are putting associates and customers at risk -- then yes, decisions can be made based on those circumstances," Walmart spokesman Brian Nick told KMOV.

Bullets were removed from some stores in the area on Monday, and were gone from several by Wednesday. It's unclear whether this was a coordinated effort among the stores.

Tensions in the area have simmered since Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in Ferguson this August. Things reached a boiling point in recent weeks, partially fueled by the release in late September of a video that showed white police officers shooting John Crawford III, a black man killed in early August after wielding a pellet gun in a Walmart in Ohio.

Now, as a St. Louis County grand jury weighs whether to bring charges against Wilson, some of the scattered gatherings of protesters in the area have fixated on Walmart.

More than 50 people were arrested Monday night, several inside the Maplewood Walmart, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Though the ammunition was removed from shelves and locked up in the back of the stores, it was still available for purchase at the Ferguson location, which was looted in August in riots that broke out the day after Brown's death.

This isn't the first time Walmart has pulled firearms and associated merchandise from its shelves amid tensions. Following the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the world's largest retailer yanked a semiautomatic assault rifle from its website. However, the gun remained available in some stores, The Wall Street Journal reported.

That move, in turn, was not without precedent. In 2001, following protests marking two years since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado, Kmart stores across the country pulled ammunition from their shelves.

Walmart did not immediately respond to a request from The Huffington Post for comment.