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Armed, Locked and Loaded: The Worst and Most Intimidating Gun States

Leonard Steinhorn   |   March 21, 2014   12:36 PM ET

No one should feel safe in the following states. And it is time to take a stand and do something about it.

These are states with the most Wild West gun laws where you are most likely to encounter someone -- anyone -- with a gun: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana and Mississippi.

It is legal in these states for people with absolutely no training to walk around armed and to carry their guns openly in the streets.

It is legal in these states to bring loaded guns into gambling establishments, sporting events and restaurants that serve alcohol. It is legal in these states to carry weapons into stores and shopping malls, and in some cases even onto college campuses and into bars and houses of worship.

In all of these states, it is legal to shoot first and claim self-defense much the way George Zimmerman did with Trayvon Martin and hundreds of others have done in less publicized cases.

And in all of these states, their background laws -- if they even exist -- are so full of loopholes that someone with a criminal record, a drug or drinking problem, or a history of mental illness can obtain a gun.

These are states of intimidation, where every one of us must wonder if the guy over there with a gun might pull the trigger because he's angry, under the influence, troubled, mentally ill or simply ticked off.

And it's all because of grossly permissive gun laws that allow almost anyone to walk around anywhere locked and loaded.

We've all seen the stories in the news, almost daily. Text your child during movie previews and it could kill you. Shop at a mall and it could cost you your life. Look suspicious to someone for any reason whatsoever and it could get you shot. Have a disagreement and it ends with a bullet.

Look at the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports: We are 30 percent more likely to die from guns used in arguments and alcohol-related conflicts than from robberies, burglaries, drug crimes and gangs.

What does that tell us? That as much as we fear common criminals, we may face an even larger threat from citizens who are allowed to carry guns almost anywhere and anytime.

It's no consolation that before many of these shooters pulled the trigger, they were once law-abiding citizens. That's irrelevant. What's relevant is that they were allowed to carry around and wield a lethal weapon, and because of that someone's life was cut short.

Of course, a gun can maim or murder in any state. But it's the states with higher population densities and virtually no restrictions on who can obtain a gun and walk around armed that pose the greatest threat.

That characterizes every state listed here -- Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana and Mississippi. And that is why no one should feel safe in these states.

Over the last four decades, guns have claimed the lives of about 1.4 million Americans -- more than all the Americans who have died in wars.

It is time to stand up to the gun lobby and tell the states most in their thrall exactly what you think: I don't feel safe in your state. Sign this petition and make your voice heard.

It's Time to Hold Accountable Advocates Who, in Pursuit of Their Values, Put Us at Risk

David Ropeik   |   March 19, 2014   10:47 PM ET

By 2002 golden rice was technically ready to go. Animal testing had found no health risks. Syngenta, which had figured out how to insert the vitamin-A-producing gene from carrots into rice, had handed over all financial interests to a nonprofit organization so that there would be no resistance to the lifesaving technology from GMO (genetically modified organism) opponents who resist genetic modification because big biotech companies profit from it. Except for the regulatory approval process, golden rice was ready to start saving millions of lives and preventing tens of millions of cases of blindness in people around the world who suffer from vitamin-A deficiency.

It's still not in use anywhere, however, because of the opposition to GM (genetic modification) technology. Now two German economists have quantified the price of that opposition, in human health, and the numbers are truly frightening.

Their study estimates that the delayed application of golden rice in India alone has cost 1,424,000 life years since 2002. That odd-sounding metric -- not just lives but "life years" -- actually not only accounts for those who died but quantifies the blindness and other health disabilities that vitamin-A deficiency causes. (The full name of the metric they used is "disability-adjusted life years," or DALYs.) The majority of those who went blind or died because they did not have access to golden rice were children.

These are real deaths, real disability, real suffering, not the phantom fears about the health effects of golden rice thrown around by opponents, none of which have held up to objective scientific scrutiny. It is absolutely fair to charge that opposition to this particular application of genetically modified food has contributed to the deaths of and injuries to millions of people. The opponents of golden rice who have caused this harm should be held accountable.

That includes Greenpeace, which, in its values statement, promises that "we are committed to nonviolence," only their nonviolent opposition to golden rice contributes directly to real human death and suffering. It includes the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility, which claims the credibility of scientific expertise and then denies or distorts scientific evidence in order to oppose GMOs. It includes the U.S. Center for Food Safety and the Sierra Club and several environmental groups, who deny and distort the scientific evidence on GM foods every bit as much as they complain that the deniers of climate-change science do. It includes the Non-GMO Project, started by natural-food retailers who oppose a technology that just happens to threaten their profits.

Society needs groups like Greenpeace and other environmental organizations to hold big companies accountable when they put their profits before our health, as they too often do. But society also has the right to hold advocates accountable when they let their passions blind them to the facts and, in pursuit of their values, put us at risk. Let's be absolutely clear: That is precisely what opposition to genetic modification of food is doing, as the study of the golden-rice delay in India makes sobering clear.

And golden rice is just one example. There are several other applications of GM technology that could contribute to food security and reduce hunger and starvation. Skeptics like the Union of Concerned Scientists criticize GM technology for not having fulfilled this promise. But that's because opposition has prevented most of these products from coming to the market in the first place. It's pretty tough to keep a promise you're not allowed to try to keep in the first place. Opposition to several GMO applications, based on fears that don't stand up against evidence from extensive safety testing, is denying people food and nutrition and doing real harm.

The whole GMO issue is really just one example of a far more profound threat to your health and mine. The perception of risk is inescapably subjective, a matter of not just the facts but how we feel about those facts. As pioneering risk-perception psychologist Paul Slovic has said, "risk is a feeling." So societal arguments over risk issues like golden rice and GMOs, or guns or climate change or vaccines, are not mostly about the evidence, though we wield the facts as our weapons. They are mostly about how we feel, and our values, and which group's values win, not what will objectively do the most people the most good. That's a dumb and dangerous way to make public-risk-management decisions.

When advocates get so passionate in the fight for their values that they potentially impose harm on others, it puts us all at risk, and we have the right to call attention to those potential harms and hold those advocates accountable. And this is much broader than just GMOs:

  • Delay on dealing with climate change exposes us all to much greater risk. We should hold responsible those whose ideologically driven denial of climate change is responsible for some of that risk.
  • Resistance to anything to make it harder for bad guys to get guns puts us all at risk. Society should hold responsible the paranoid arch-conservatism that has created resistance to any prudent gun control and contributed to that risk.
  • Parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids put others in their communities at risk. They certainly should be held accountable for this, and in some places, that's beginning. Several states are trying to pass laws making it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinating their kids.

To hold advocacy groups accountable, people could refuse to belong to or financially support these groups, and thus avoid personally contributing to the harm. They could belong to the groups but protest certain positions from within. They could choose to stand up to these groups in public meetings and respectfully challenge them to answer for the negative consequences and tradeoffs of what these groups espouse. A more skeptical press could challenge these groups about the harm that some of their positions can cause. Scientists can provide hard evidence about the negative impacts of the positions of these groups, as this new economic study does.

Governments can hold advocates accountable if they are threatening public health. The Australian government just rescinded the tax-exempt status of an anti-vaccine group on the grounds that their misinformation was putting children at risk. (This is a dangerously slippery slope, however, and calls for caution. Vaccines are an easy example. GMOs, guns, and most other issues are not so black-and-white.)

Scientists can also hold advocates accountable by demanding reasoned debate, in public forums, as GMO researchers did recently in the UK. When anti-GMO groups threatened to trash field trials of GM wheat, researchers invited them to debate the issue first, in public, with this challenge to open-mindedness:

You have described genetically modified crops as "not properly tested." Yet when tests are carried out you are planning to destroy them before any useful information can be obtained. ... We do not see how preventing the acquisition of knowledge is a defensible position in an age of reason.

Anti-GMO protestors, who claimed that they were just trying to "take back the flour," first accepted, and then refused. The British press and many in the public held them accountable, rejecting the advocates' closed-mindedness.

This needs to continue, and expand, on GMOs and any other emotional risk issue. Our values must always have a place in these debates, but when those values cause people to become so closed-minded and absolute that they deny or distort the evidence and refuse to acknowledge the harmful consequences that our values can sometimes produce, it is fair for society to hold those advocates accountable for pursuing things so stridently that they are putting the larger community at greater risk.

This blog post originally appeared on the Scientific American blog.

The Second Amendment: A Symbol of Freedom or an Invitation to Violence?

John W. Whitehead   |   March 17, 2014    3:39 PM ET

You can largely determine where a person will fall in the debate over gun control and the Second Amendment based on their view of government and the role it should play in our lives.

Those who want to see government as a benevolent parent looking out for our best interests tend to interpret the Second Amendment's "militia" reference as applying only to the military.

To those who see the government as inherently corrupt, the Second Amendment is a means of ensuring that the populace will always have a way of defending themselves against threats to their freedoms.

And then there are those who view the government as neither good nor evil, but merely a powerful entity that, as Thomas Jefferson recognized, must be bound "down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." To this group, the right to bear arms is no different from any other right enshrined in the Constitution, to be safeguarded, exercised prudently and maintained.

Unfortunately, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, while these three divergent viewpoints continue to jockey for supremacy, the U.S. government has adopted a "do what I say, not what I do" mindset when it comes to Americans' rights overall. Nowhere is this double standard more evident than in the government's attempts to arm itself to the teeth, all the while viewing as suspect anyone who dares to legally own a gun, let alone use one.

Indeed, while it still technically remains legal to own a firearm in America, possessing one can now get you pulled over, searched, arrested, subjected to all manner of surveillance, treated as a suspect without ever having committed a crime, shot at and killed. (This same rule does not apply to law enforcement officials, however, who are armed to the hilt and rarely given more than a slap on the wrists for using their weapons against unarmed individuals.)

Meanwhile, the government's efforts to militarize and weaponize its agencies and employees is reaching epic proportions, with federal agencies as varied as the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration placing orders for hundreds of millions of rounds of hollow point bullets, and local police agencies being "gifted" with military-grade weaponry and equipment from the Defense Department.

Ironically, while the Obama administration continues its efforts to "pass the broadest gun control legislation in a generation," the U.S. military boasts some weapons the rest of the world doesn't have. Included in its arsenal are an AA12 Atchisson Assault Shotgun that can shoot five 12-gauge shells per second and "can fire up to 9,000 rounds without being cleaned or jamming"; a Taser shockwave that can electrocute a crowd of people at the touch of a button; an XM2010 enhanced sniper rifle with built-in sound and flash suppressors that can hit a man-sized target nine out of ten times from over a third of a mile away; and an XM25 "Punisher" grenade launcher that can be programmed to accurately shoot grenades at a target up to 500 meters away.

Talk about a double standard. The government's arsenal of weapons makes the average American's handgun look like a Tinker Toy.

It's no laughing matter, and yet the joke is on us. "We the people" have been so focused on debating whether the Second Amendment "allows" us to own guns that we've overlooked the most important and most consistent theme throughout the Constitution: the fact that it is not merely an enumeration of our rights but was intended to be a clear shackle on the government's powers.

As such, the Second Amendment reads as a clear rebuke against any attempt to restrict the citizenry's gun ownership. It is as necessary an ingredient for maintaining that tenuous balance between the citizenry and their republic as any of the other amendments in the Bill of Rights, especially the right to freedom of speech, assembly, press, petition, security, and due process.

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas understood this tension well. "The Constitution is not neutral," he remarked, "It was designed to take the government off the backs of people." In this way, the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights in their entirety stand as a bulwark against a police state. Without any one of these freedoms, including the Second Amendment right to own and bear arms, we are that much more vulnerable to the vagaries of out-of-control policemen, benevolent dictators, genuflecting politicians, and overly ambitious bureaucrats.

When all is said and done, the debate over gun ownership in America is really a debate over who gets to call the shots and control the game. In other words, it's that same tug-of-war that keeps getting played out in every confrontation between the government and the citizenry over who gets to be the master and who is relegated to the part of the servant.

The Constitution is clear on this particular point, with its multitude of prohibitions on government overreach. As 20th century libertarian Edmund A. Opitz observed in 1964, "No one can read our Constitution without concluding that the people who wrote it wanted their government severely limited; the words 'no' and 'not' employed in restraint of government power occur 24 times in the first seven articles of the Constitution and 22 more times in the Bill of Rights."

In a nutshell, then, the Second Amendment's right to bear arms reflects not only a concern for one's personal defense, but serves as a check on the political power of the ruling authorities. It represents an implicit warning against governmental encroachments on one's freedoms, the warning shot over the bow to discourage any unlawful violations of our persons or property. As such, it reinforces that necessary balance in the citizen-state relationship.

As George Orwell noted, "That rifle hanging on the wall of the working-class flat or labourer's cottage is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there."

A longer version of this commentary is available on The Rutherford Institute's website.

Bullet Holes in the Bill of Rights

David Katz, M.D.   |   March 17, 2014   10:53 AM ET

This will be brief: I find it incredible, and deeply disheartening, that the confirmation of our next U.S. Surgeon General may come undone because Dr. Vivek Murthy has expressed his support for widely favored gun control measures, such as an assault weapons ban.

Now, before you start taking shots at me -- let's be clear: I am not writing about gun control today. I have done that before, and weathered the attendant barrage. Today, I am writing about bills, not bullets; dialogue, not Derringers.

The most ardent proponents of gun rights and the most impassioned advocates for gun control are obligated to come together and acknowledge the relevance of the Bill of Rights. Interpretations of the Second Amendment vary, but the fundamental relevance of the Bill of Rights and its amendments to the ineluctable aspects of being American do not. We are American. These are our rights.

So here's my problem: On what basis do we invoke the Second Amendment to put bullet holes in the First? Dr. Murthy as Surgeon General would have no policy-making authority at all. No Surgeon General, not even the most activist, has had anything whatever to do with gun laws. The likelihood of any such thing is so remote as to be laughable. One Surgeon General was terminated because she used the word "masturbation" in a speech.

So what this really comes down to is the tolerance of our culture for the expression of opinions, or in other words, expression of our First Amendment rights. Dr. Murthy is a public health physician. Given the relevant epidemiology, that a public health physician would express support for curtailing the distribution of high-capacity, semi-automatic weapons is far from surprising. That he has the right to do so is codified in our Constitution, and perhaps it's even relevant that it comes before, not after, the right to bear arms. Freedom of speech is the First Amendment.

We may differ or agree on what we think the Second Amendment means, or what we wish it meant, or what we prefer to do about it. But we are obligated to agree that the Second Amendment does not have primacy over the First. If political deference to the NRA is causing us to repudiate the expression of opinion unrelated to policy, then we are allowing the Second Amendment to put bullet holes in the First. And wherever we stand on gun control, that redounds to our collective shame.

-fin

Dr. David L. Katz; www.davidkatzmd.com
www.turnthetidefoundation.org

Author, Disease Proof

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Guns and Jesus (Not to Mention Mohammed)

Clay Farris Naff   |   March 14, 2014    8:49 AM ET

Grace Baptist Church in upstate New York, following the lead of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, is giving away an AR-15 assault rifle -- you know, the kind that killed kids at Sandy Hook Elementary.
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What does it say about a church when gives away an assault rifle as a door prize?
Delusional?
Desperate?
Dangerous?

All that and more. In trying to lure gun-hungry men back to the Bible, these fundamentalist churches demonstrate one thing fo' sho': Old Time Religion in America has fallen into the same snake pit as Islamism.

Delusional, in its understanding of theology and of contemporary American society. Jesus had his moments of anger, and he apparently said some weird things about swords, but the worst violence he could be charged with is withering a fig tree.

Yet, see this thread on thefirearmsforum.com for a lengthy discussion under the subject line: "What would Jesus shoot?" Be sure to scroll down to the illustration of Jesus teaching a young boy how to handle a handgun.
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It's a double delusion, because the external threat of violence has never been lower. Violent crime in America has plummeted. Gun ownership has likewise fallen to historic lows -- except among white Republicans and evangelicals, who largely overlap. What this means is that many of those who (mistakenly) feel the need to own guns for protection actually put themselves at risk by doing so. Nearly 100 people a day die of suicide in America. Most of them are men, most of them are conservatives, and most of them die by pulling the trigger of their own guns.

Desperate, because Christianity has lost its grip on our culture. Americans are abandoning churches like never before, and youth are leading the way. A third of the young have bailed out on religion. Why? A major reason is the incessant anti-gay hatred preached by churches like those cited above. A new study finds that nearly 70 percent of Americans ages 18 to 33 accept gay marriage. Sorry, bubbas, giving away guns won't "cure" that.

Dangerous, because the endless churning of fear, resentment, and twisted idealism in the cauldron of Old Time Religion stirs up an old and hideous wraith: fascism. That may seem out of place in liberty-loving America, but if the jackboot fits...

And it does. The celebrations of gun-toting violence, the radical revision of history into self-justifying myth, the casting of an inability to impose religious rules on all Americans as a loss of religious freedom, the self-pitying grievances, the venomous attacks on women, foreigners, Muslims, Jews, gays, and the calls for insurrection -- all these and more are hallmarks of a fascist movement.

Curiously, this is where Islamist fascism comes in. It matches up almost perfectly, including savage attacks on fellow (Shi'a) Muslims. If a picture's worth a thousand words, a click on this link should be worth twice that, because you'll soon find images of Jesus and Osama bin Laden each posing with a rifle. Really, fellas? That's who you want to model your savior after?

Only fear, and the exploitation of fear, could produce such monstrosities. Human nature has many dark corners, but the fear of humiliation lies in one of its deepest recesses. Humiliation prompts the most irrational, violent, and destructive reactions. The reason's not hard to grasp.

At the risk of oversimplification, let's glance at this through an evolutionary lens. We are social yet sexually competitive creatures. Hence, our access to resources, including mates, is largely determined by our social status. Celebrity, even for something as trivial as being a Kardashian, pays. No wonder, then, that we constantly and anxiously monitor our social standing among our peers, and the social standing of our peer group. Unfortunately, some use the humiliation of others to boost their own status. And humiliation, I believe, is the wellspring of fascism.

For some -- especially men raised in an "honor" culture -- humiliation is worse than death. No wonder, then, that Nazism grew out of a toxic brew of Prussian honor, Aryan myth, and the all-too-real humiliation imposed by the Versailles Treaty at the end of World War I. No wonder that Islamo-fascism grew out of the extreme honor culture of desert tribes, a crushing loss of status in being colonized following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and the Caliphate restoration myth.

And no wonder that Christo-fascism is taking shape before our eyes as white men steeped in biblical fundamentalism, John Wayne movies, and the honor culture of the Old South find their status as top dogs in our society losing all credibility.

White men? I generally scorn that kind of reductionism. But it's true. Sarah Palin apart, it becomes clearer by the day that women are bailing out of the comically misogynistic GOP. As for minorities, well, let's just say that Bobby Jindal must be feeling mighty lonely these days.

But here's the thing: It's not that white men in America are actually worse off. In fact, Tea Party types tend to be in that affluent class whose incomes have been rising. Their political power is far greater than their numbers, because of fanatical pressure groups like the NRA, the immense wealth various rightwing billionaires put at their disposal, and that blunt truth that fear pays at the polls.

Cynical manipulators get this. There are fortunes, both political and monetary, to be made by persuading anxious people that they are being humiliated by smart-ass elites and lazy, unworthy minorities. And there is no more convenient path to such anxious people than through the wide-open doors of a fundamentalist church. Giving out guns just saves an extra trip.

  |   March 12, 2014    5:28 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has denied an emergency request by the National Rifle Association to block enforcement of a California city ordinance that bans gun magazines capable of holding more than 10 bullets.

A court spokesman says Kennedy denied the request without comment.

Fake Fights About Big Forces

Mary Ellen Hannibal   |   March 10, 2014    6:10 PM ET

Oh dear, I thought this morning upon reading "Is the Wolf a Real American Hero?," an op-ed piece in The New York Times by Arthur Middleton, a post-doctoral student. This is going to make lots of people hopping mad, and for no good reason. It comes on the heels of another challenge to the trophic cascade theory in Nature, by writer Emma Marris. Her piece is "Rethinking Predators," and like Middleton, most of her evidence actually supports the assertion that carnivores at the top of the food chain have a big effect on what comes below. Yet both Marris and Middleton frame their pieces as take-downs of science done by scores scientists over decades of peer-reviewed research.

I first learned about trophic cascades while working on my book, The Spine of the Continent. I hung out with a bunch of researchers on a "science hunt" at a ranch in Colorado. There is a sentiment among some ranchers that scientists are all against hunting, and this is not the case; so the annual science hunt is something of a public relations event to demonstrate that people with PhDs also shoot large animals. They don't usually shoot top predators though -- they go for ungulates like elk and deer, and largely profess to shooting only what they will eventually eat. We're all part of the food web, after all.

One of the younger researchers on the science hunt told me he had reservations about the idea that the top predator in an ecosystem has such a big effect on all the interactions that go on in it. Bottom up forces, starting with the plants that photosynthesize sunlight, to him represent a bigger lever in nature. Fair enough, right? I for one, am completely able to hold in my mind the concept that both top down and bottom up are at work here.

Recently I interviewed Justin Brashares, a U.C. Berkeley professor who has studied trophic cascades very closely. Brashares' most recent research concerns not the top or the bottom but the middle of the trophic connection ('trophic' by the way, means 'food,' and cascade, of course, means to fall). With other researchers he's studying the effects of losing hippos in an ecosystem. Hippos are herbivores and in Brashares' study site they forage at night and poop in their water in the day. The aquatic result is thronging with biodiversity that disappears when the hippos go away. Doesn't it just make even more common sense that OF COURSE the middle of the food chain is important too?

It's fine, of course, to look under the hood of received wisdom, to challenge ideas that have become convention. But why take this big fake pose against decades of science? In the case of Middleton's piece, there are simply truckloads of research showing that the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone has restored ecological resilience there. Middleton says the wolves haven't restored Yellowstone to what it was before predators were removed. Okay, but does that mean that they're dispensable? His challenge implies as much. He glosses over the very fact he recounts, which is that yes, wolves have had a big effect on the Yellowstone ecosystem.

There are better windmills to be tilting at. The rest of us don't need to have absolutes declared about nature. Is the predator absolutely the big force, or is the vegetation absolutely the big force? Wait a minute, maybe the hippos are the big force? The point is all of the players in the ecosystem are important. It's a cycle. It's an interaction. It's a "tangled bank," as Darwin put it. We are pulling some of the tangle out at a greater rate than we are pulling out others. Top predators are under siege. Usually they are most directly threatened by ignorant, disenfranchised, underemployed white men who have a lot of guns. Now it seems, journalists and academics are finding them an easy shot too.

Steaks, Guns and God

Lester & Charlie   |   March 6, 2014    3:27 PM ET

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

Aeons ago, when your faithful, intrepid reporters Lester & Charlie were wee lads, we asked the nuns in charge of us at school: "Does God have a sense of humor?"

Those nuns, not ones to be out-sassed by sassy toddlers, were prepared with an answer. After the obligatory, "Of course he does. He made you, didn't he?" the nuns were more thoughtful: "God couldn't give you anything he didn't have himself," they said.

The wisdom of those nuns has seemed in sharp relief these days. Just last week, we told you about that guy in Michigan who shot himself in the head trying to demonstrate to his girlfriend that guns aren't that dangerous. And we told you about the man in Iraq who blew up an entire class of suicide-bomber wannabes while trying to show them how to use explosives to kill a whole bunch of unsuspecting people. Which, we suppose, is exactly what he did.

If God really does have a sense of humor, we're pretty sure he's laughing his ass off.

Naturally, we don't expect modern-day Christians to recognize any of these stories as proof of God's divine and hilarious intervention in the daily lives of us mere humans. That's saved for things like hurricanes and floods that hit states that happen to vote Democratic. (When they hit Red States, it's the Devil's work.)

But if it's true that God can't give us anything he can't give himself, can he also give himself a coronary from laughing too much?

That's the question we'd love to ask those nuns after reading about the Baptist church in Kentucky that has an ingenious idea about how to lure more Kentuckians into church to hear the word of God: Free guns!

Yes, guns. In what the Lone Oak Baptist Church in Paducah is calling an "outreach to rednecks" (really!), the 1,000 or so godless citizens who show up at the event will get a free steak dinner and a chance to win handguns, long guns and shotguns in an awesome raffle. And a chance to convert. Because, of course, the church insists its "main goal" isn't really to arm more citizens of Kentucky -- what it really wants is "to share the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Which struck some other church people as... odd. "How ironic," said the Rev. Joe Phelps of Louisville, pointing out the Biblical message of "putting away the sword." "The churches should stay out of the ways in which people can kill each other," said another Kentuckian, Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, ignoring what the people at the Lone Oak obviously know: If the Prince of Peace isn't enough to draw the heathens in, you gotta get creative!

And, apparently, it works! Last year the Kentucky Baptist Convention, which is sponsoring the event at the Lone Oak, converted nearly 1,700 people with similar giveaways -- sometimes called "Beast Feasts." At one raffle, they gave away Four-Wheelers. "You have to know the hook that will attract people," said the spokesman for the Kentucky Baptist Convention. (And by "people" we suppose he means "beasts.") "We have found that the number of unchurched men who will show up will be in direct proportion to the number of guns you give away."

Well, whatever works, we suppose. But are guns (and Four-Wheelers, and steak tartare) the only things that these unchurched "rednecks" like? And, more importantly, after they get their freebies, what's to keep them coming back to keep hearing Jesus' all-important message of forgiveness and turning the other cheek?

It seems to us that it's not enough just to get people to show up for one event. If you REALLY want them to stick around for all that Bible-learnin', you gotta plant their butts in the pews and keep them there. So let's give these Baptists a hand! After the free steak and guns, what other ideas will the Lone Oak Baptist Church have to keep these Kentucky "rednecks" coming back? What do YOU think?

"After these unchurched Kentucky 'rednecks' get their free guns, what will the Lone Oak Baptist Church do to keep them coming back?"

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Samantha Lachman   |   March 5, 2014    2:10 PM ET

A Republican Senate hopeful in Georgia is making the calculation that nothing gets primary voters more fired-up than free gun giveaways.

Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) announced Wednesday that he's launching a second assault weapon raffle in his campaign for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). In the first incarnation of the campaign stunt, Broun gave away an AR-15; this time, he's upped the ante by giving contributors the choice of either a Colt Marine Corps 1911 Rail Pistol or a Colt Mag Pole 6920 Flat Dark Earth.

In an email to supporters announcing the contest, Broun tied the Senate race's likely Democratic nominee, Michelle Nunn, to President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party's Senate leadership.

"Barack Obama is finally feeling the heat of his failed policies, and he is grabbing at straws to get more friends in Washington," the email read. "That is why Barack & Michelle Obama, Harry Reid and the Washington Democrat machine are ferociously working to get my opponent elected to the Senate. They know Michelle Nunn will serve as a rubber stamp vote for the policies of the Obama Administration, and we cannot afford to let that happen. One of the first changes they will make is to take away our 2nd Amendment rights."

He also stated that this giveaway was helping to protect the Second Amendment rights of the American public from gun-grabbing Democrats.

"It's no secret that the Democrats and liberal media would love to take away our guns and mandate every aspect of our lives, but I refuse to let them get away with that," he wrote.

Broun's email claimed that "over 100,000 patriots" signed-up for his first giveaway, though the prize went to a Maryland resident rather than one of the voters who will decide whether to give Broun the Republican nomination in the May 20 primary.

At a candidate forum in January, one of Broun's primary opponents, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), called Broun's assault weapon raffle "a little gimmicky." according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Broun's email:



  |   March 5, 2014   12:02 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court says defendants have to know in advance that their accomplices would use or carry a gun while committing a crime in order to be convicted under federal gun laws.

The justices ruled Wednesday that the jury instructions given in Justus C. Rosemond's conviction were incorrect. Rosemond was one of five people participating in a drug deal gone bad in Tooele, Utah. During the incident, nine or 10 shots were fired and a car chase ensued. It was not clear who fired the weapon.

Chris Gentilviso   |   March 4, 2014   10:44 AM ET

One Republican lawmaker is driving an effort to give her state's gun enthusiasts a break on their purchases.

Alabama state Rep. Becky Nordgren (R-Gadsden) launched HR 559 last week -- a bill that would exempt firearms, ammunition and firearms supplies from state sales tax during the weekend before the 4th of July.

According to Al.com, Nordgren called this the "perfect way to celebrate the rights and independence that we hold close to our hearts as Americans.”

In a Monday interview with WSFA-TV, Nordgren also cited rising gun costs, pointing a finger at the Obama administration in the process. The station noted Alabama has only 11 days left in its legislative session, meaning Nordgren will likely move quickly to get the legislation before a House committee.

"The reason why guns and ammo prices have skyrocketed is because of the threats from the Obama administration on gun control," Nordgren said. "And of course, in Alabama, we hold our 2nd Amendment rights very dear."

Similar efforts are also ongoing in Mississippi, where the state's House Ways and Means Committee passed a bill last week to create a "Second Amendment Sales Tax Holiday" during the first weekend in September. The AP reported last week that Louisiana, South Carolina and West Virginia are among the states with holidays like this in place.

Don't Give Men Guns

Gina Barreca   |   March 3, 2014   11:08 AM ET

When we look at the acts of almost unspeakable gun violence making news and breaking hearts, it doesn't take Rachel Maddow or Wayne LaPierre to target the fact that men are responsible. We don't need to hit the archives for historical documentation. What we need to do is this: We need to stop selling guns to men.

Women will be able to buy and own guns but not be permitted to share them with our male counterparts.

Why? Because it's clear that men don't know how to handle weapons. Remember, even Dick Cheney shot his lawyer -- by mistake. His wife, Lynne Cheney, might have killed a lot of artists' hopes as head of the National Endowment for the Arts, but she never shot any real artists. Not that I know of.

Sure, the National Rifle Association will say stuff like: If you outlaw guns for men, then only men will be outlaws.

To which my answer is: and that would make a difference how, exactly?

The only female outlaws I can think of are Thelma and Louise. And all Thelma and Louise did with their gun was shoot air holes in their trunk where they'd trapped a would-be rapist, and they did that so the criminal would be more comfortable.

Don't worry: Many women have experience with firearms. I spoke to a national organization of 5,000 women who worked for various governmental agencies, including law enforcement. I always enjoy seeing who sponsors these big conferences. As I recall, for this event they included Revlon and Smith & Wesson. I'd never done a gig where a girl could purchase mascara and ammo. Accompanying me to the closing party where participants wore evening gowns or little black dresses, my husband, charm on full wattage, asked the conference director "Are Gina and I the only ones here not packing heat?" She replied unhesitatingly "Yessir, I believe you are." Michael was unnerved; I felt supremely confident.

Naturally, I can't promise that all women will behave well. Country star Miranda Lambert's song "Gunpowder and Lead" declares it's those two dangerous elements, rather than sugar and spice, that little girls are made of. Lambert's line "His fist is big, but my gun's bigger" reminds us that this isn't child's play. The song's narrator is waiting for the guy who "shook her like a rag doll" who's now speeding toward her house.

But the Founding Fathers wanted us to defend ourselves against our oppressors, right? They knew we needed to fight those who would tread on us. Women have been tread on, plenty. The FF believed in the necessity for the American citizenry to arm itself against the threats of those who would rob of us of freedoms, including those who would curtail our voting rights and our right to choose what happens to Americans as autonomous, free-thinking individuals. Women fight for our freedoms every day.

Many gun-rights advocates cite a line attributed to George Washington -- "They should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them" -- which would fit right in with the idea that women, in most danger of abuse, should be the ones in line for guns and ammo; next are kids, since child abuse is also widespread. Obviously the elderly and physically disabled should all be armed, and -- to be fair -- so should those in iffy neighborhoods. My friend Rose said the NRA will be issuing a gun to each infant born, as some groups do with books to promote literacy.

All this makes as much sense as Washington's line about independence -- which is bogus. Washington never said it. What he actually said, on Jan. 8, 1790, goes like this: "A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined... their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent... for essential, particularly for military supplies." This is about making sure the military is adequately equipped, but not about preppers or preppies buying Howitzers for personal use.

As my friend Amy said, women look for a silver lining; men look for a silver bullet. The bullet business isn't working. We need something else. Ladies: Lock and load. Keep the toys from the boys.

# # #
Originally appeared in The Hartford Courant

9-Year-Old Girl Shot In The Head During Target Practice

Steven Hoffer   |   March 3, 2014   10:32 AM ET

A man shooting at targets in his backyard was arrested after he accidentally hit a 9-year-old girl in the head, police in Texas say.

Cristian Manzano, 20, was firing a gun on Saturday morning when a bullet shattered his neighbor's kitchen window and struck the girl, the Dallas Morning News reports.

The victim, who was not named, remained in critical condition as of Sunday, according to the Dallas Observer. She was initially taken to Children's Medical Center in Dallas, NBC DFW reports.

Neighbors said they heard four to five gunshots, according to News 8.

Manzano has been charged with causing serious bodily injury to a child and discharging a firearm in city limits.

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Karma's a Stitch

Lester & Charlie   |   February 28, 2014   10:50 AM ET

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

"Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die." ~Mel Brooks

Is it just us or does it seem that there are a lot more open sewers lately?

First, there's that guy in Michigan who shot himself in the head trying to demonstrate to his girlfriend that guns aren't that dangerous. As proof, he put each of his three (supposedly bullet-less) handguns to his head and pulled the triggers. The first two demos went OK. The third: BANG. (The girlfriend later said the man was drunk. Lesson: People probably shouldn't play with guns when it turns out both of them are loaded.)

In other news, you may have read about the man in Iraq who blew up an entire class of suicide-bomber wannabes during a demonstration of how to use live explosives to kill unsuspecting people. That demonstration was, we guess, more or less successful. The bomb went off, killing a whole bunch of unsuspecting people. Not exactly what was intended, but more or less the idea.

Mel Brooks himself would probably appreciate how the news of the deaths of the suicide-bomber students was received by some Iraqis. One man (who lost a friend to a suicide bomber in 2007) got the news from a friend who was "so happy as if he was getting married," wrote the New York Times. Another Iraqi burst out laughing, adding later as he passed out beers to customers, "May they burn in hell."

Like we said: more open sewers. Hilarity ensues!

Another example: a recent study out of Columbia University concluded that hating gay people can kill you. (Really!) "We found evidence that anti-gay prejudice is associated with elevated mortality risk among heterosexuals, over and above multiple established risk factors," read the report in the American Journal of Public Health. Wow. What are the chances that a single Bible-thumping Christian will consider this increased mortality risk a judgment from God? And is it the stress of all that hatin' that kills, or is there perhaps a shortage of manhole covers in, say, downtown Phoenix?

All of this might make us less afraid to open up our newspapers -- if they keep bringing us fewer "cut my finger" stories and more "fall into an open sewer and die" news! Assuming our luck holds out, what's the next open-sewer story YOU want to read?


"What's the "fall into an open sewer and die" story YOU want to see?"

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Click here to take the poll!

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