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Rand Paul's Pro-Gun Past Is Remarkable, Even Among Republicans

Dana Liebelson   |   April 15, 2015   12:12 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- When Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul was not invited to speak at the National Rifle Association's annual convention last week, insiders with knowledge of conversations with Paul's office floated that his affiliation with a more conservative gun rights group was partly behind the snub. Paul's association with Second Amendment proponents such as these could alienate moderates as he embarks on a presidential race.

The U.S. senator from Kentucky is the only current or expected 2016 contender affiliated with the National Association for Gun Rights, the group told The Wall Street Journal. NAGR's founder told the paper that he is working for Paul's presidential campaign. The group has also used Paul's name in fundraising emails in the past.

In 2011, Mother Jones reported that Paul supporters received an email on behalf of the group, warning inaccurately that a proposed United Nations treaty was going to allow the government to confiscate all "unauthorized" civilian guns. (The treaty aimed to prevent terrorists from getting weapons.)

Paul's connection with the group could prove off-putting to the moderate voters he will need to court for 2016. Even staunch Second Amendment advocates whose views align with Paul's on guns are not enthusiastic about his relationship with NAGR.

Gary Marbut, the president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association who helped author the state's Firearms Freedom Act, told The Huffington Post that he likes Paul, but "any association by Rand with NAGR is unfortunate." He questioned whether Paul knows the "history and persona" of the group, adding that "NAGR is much more of a liability than an asset to the gun rights community."

In response to questions sent by The Huffington Post, Dudley Brown, the president of NAGR, wrote in an email: "We don't give comment to Pravda's big sister." Pravda was a newspaper used for Soviet political propaganda and established in 1912, about 93 years before HuffPost.

This isn't the first time Paul has been associated with a controversial pro-gun crowd. A Facebook invitation for a Second Amendment rally at the Kentucky state Capitol on March 27, 2010, lists both Paul and the Ohio Valley Freedom Fighters, a volunteer militia, as speakers. Videos from the event show them speaking in front of the same backdrop, and a local progressive blogger claims they were both there.

During his speech at the event, Paul bragged about shooting AR-15 semi-automatic rifles and promised that he would never vote for any federal regulation of firearms. He also spoke to a couple of gun activists who were dressed like Robin Hood.

Later, Kevin Terrell, founder of the Ohio Valley Freedom Fighters, spoke at the event, saying at one point that the U.S. Capitol was occupied by "Soviet socialists." Terrell added that civil war is "imminent" and advised the "press to start getting it right from this moment on, and stop aiding and abetting un-American activity. Like the Tories of old, the worst shall be hung." Others, he added, would be tarred and feathered.

Paul and the Ohio Valley Freedom Fighters militia did not respond to requests for comment for this story. But when Paul was later asked about the claims made by the militia at that event, he noted that he wasn't there for that portion. "I didn't hear any of those people. It might have been said, but, I didn't hear that." He added, "I'm not in favor of any physical violence."

Paul has long advocated that guns be used to fight and deter criminals, a common refrain among conservatives. David Kopel, research director of the Independence Institute, which has received grant money from the NRA's Civil Rights Defense Fund, pointed out that "U.S. burglars generally try to make sure no one is home, and they take this precaution in order to avoid getting shot."

However, speaking at another event, Paul took this logic to an unsavory conclusion. He told a story about a woman whose son was shot by a homeowner during a home invasion, using the son as a punchline to make the crowd laugh.

"The mom was wailing and going, 'She shot my boy! She shot my boy!'" Paul said. "The general surgeon looked at her and he says, 'Well I guess that's an occupational hazard if you break into homes.'"

Paul has also said that allowing civilians to carry guns will help curb mass tragedies, pointing to pilots, teachers and principals as examples. He has said, "If a teacher had concealed carry at Virginia Tech, we might have lost four kids instead of 20." In wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, he said that he hadn't "heard one proposal from [President Barack Obama] or Harry Reid that would have saved one life." Obama and Reid were pushing measures such as expanded background checks, a ban on newly acquired assault weapons and a cap on large ammunition magazines.

For his advocacy of these and other positions, Paul has positioned himself as the most unshakable champion of gun rights in the Republican presidential field, telling Bloomberg last week that "there's probably no greater advocate for the Second Amendment in Congress than myself."

His associations with NAGR and other groups may well prove that.

But if you ask gun control advocates which candidate or potential candidate they most fear, it's not Paul's name that tops the list. Rather, it's everyone considering a run for the Republican ticket, minus New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has taken a more moderate stance on gun control.

"There's not much difference" between the Republican presidential contenders on gun policy, since they all oppose certain popular gun control measures, Brian Malte, senior national policy director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told The Huffington Post. "In our view, these are lap dogs of the gun lobby."

An Open Letter to Mark Kelly About the NRA's Eddie Eagle Program

Mike Weisser   |   April 15, 2015   11:16 AM ET

Dear Mark: The last thing I'll do is tell someone else they shouldn't say something that they have said. I may disagree with you but everyone has the right to go on record any way they choose. So I won't tell you that you shouldn't have posted the positive tweet about the Eddie Eagle program, but I am going to tell you why your tweet isn't true.

Mark, you may believe that the Eddie Eagle program is a serious and successful effort to spread the word about gun safety, but it's actually the NRA's poster child for making everyone believe that the organization represents a positive force in the debate about guns. In fact, we wouldn't need a gun debate if the NRA hadn't decided back in the 1980s to abandon a hundred-year tradition of representing hunters and sport shooters, embarking instead on a continuous campaign to become America's leading civil rights organization by protecting us from gun-grabbing liberals, big-city mayors and anyone else with an interest in having a rational discussion about guns.

Your beloved wife, Gabby Giffords, was almost killed by a crazy whose Glock pistol allowed him to shoot 19 people without reloading thanks to a high-capacity magazine which the NRA has defended as the "right" of every American to own. And if the Safeway parking lot where she was gunned down had been a gun-free zone, the NRA will tell you that this only increased the risk of an active shooting, but the data on such shootings shows the reverse to be true.

But let's leave all the talk about the NRA's distortions about gun risk aside Mark, and focus on the Eddie Eagle program itself. The NRA advertises the program as "a gun accident prevention program" that seeks to educate children about what to do if they ever come across a gun. The curricular materials were developed by Dr. Lisa Monroe whom, according to the NRA, has earned accolades and accomplishments spanning more than two decades." Further, the program was named "the best" of 80 gun accident prevention programs evaluated in a study published in the Journal of Emergency Nursing Online.

Wow. That's quite an impressive evaluation of Eddie Eagle and I'll bet you paid this close attention Mark before you wrote your tweet, right? There's only one little problem Captain Kelly. None of it is true. None, as in nothing. Ready? The outstanding educator, Lisa Monroe, who has earned all kinds of education awards over the last two decades was, in fact, earning her Master's degree in 1995, didn't publish her first article until 1999 and taught at the University of Oklahoma grade school that is run by OU's Department of Education for the next ten years. As for the notion that Eddie Eagle was the best of 80 accident-prevention programs evaluated, in fact the reviewer evaluated three programs, found Eddie Eagle to be slightly more effective than the STAR program of the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, but noted that her evaluation was based only on the curricular content since there had never been any study conducted to determine outcomes of the program; i.e., how did the program alter student behavior as regards being safe around guns?

In other words Mark, the description that the NRA uses to promote its Eddie Eagle safety program is false. They want you to believe that their "educational program" is akin to a public service announcement, but it's actually a cynical and craven marketing ploy.

Mark, please don't get me wrong. I have no issue with anyone on either side of the gun debate reaching out to the other side if and when they find something being said or done that deserves attention and support. But the truth is that you haven't taken the trouble to investigate what the Eddie Eagle program is all about. Not to worry Mark -- I've done it for you.

  |   April 15, 2015    9:31 AM ET

Read More: gun violence, guns

It was a mild, crystal clear desert evening on November 15, 2004, when Jennifer Longdon and her fiance, David Rueckert, closed up his martial-arts studio and headed out to grab some carnitas tortas from a nearby taqueria. They were joking and chatting about wedding plans—the local Japanese garden seemed perfect—as Rueckert turned their pickup into the parking lot of a strip mall in suburban north Phoenix. A red truck with oversize tires and tinted windows sideswiped theirs, and as they stopped to get out, Rueckert's window exploded. He told Longdon to get down and reached for the handgun he had inside a cooler on the cab floor. As he threw the truck into gear, there were two more shots. His words turned to gibberish and he slumped forward, his foot on the gas. A bullet hit Longdon's back like a bolt of lightning, her whole body a live wire as they accelerated toward the row of palm trees in the concrete divider.

Study: People Who Own a Lot of Guns Are More Likely to Get in Fights, Carry Guns Outside the Home

Mike Weisser   |   April 13, 2015    9:43 AM ET

Jeffrey Swanson and his co-researchers have just published a new report on gun violence which will ignite the usual angry, impulsive response from the pro-gun community to the effect that aberrant behaviors and guns pose no risk at all. This is because after the faithful gather in gun-free Bridgestone Arena to listen to Ted Nugent remind them about the dangers of gun-free zones, they'll come across the street to the convention center and listen to Wayne-o tell them that without a gun everyone's at risk from ISIS, Obama and God knows what else.

The new study compares rates of impulsive, angry behavior with access to guns. Swanson and his research colleagues asked 5,653 respondents to answer questions about their own behavior, and also asked these same research subjects if they owned and/or carried guns. The subjects lived in cities, suburbs and rural areas throughout the United States, and roughly one-third stated that they owned or had access to firearms, which seems to be what we consider the national firearm ownership rate to be today.

Every respondent was asked whether they had tantrums or angry outbursts; broke something in anger; lost their temper and got involved in physical fights. These are classic indicators of impulsive, angry behavior, with the tantrums/outbursts being the least serious, the fights being the most serious and the breaking of some object in between. Both the owners and non-owners of guns reported engaging in all three types of behaviors, with tantrums being three times as common as physical fights for both groups, and the percentage of gun owners and non-gun owners engaging in any of the three anger indicators being about the same.

What struck me as I read the survey results was that overall, there was not a great difference between gun owners and non-gun owners regarding to what degree they admitted engaging in any form of impulsive, angry behavior. Where the difference was clearly pronounced was among the 5 percent (roughly 290 people out of 5,600) who admitted to owning 11 guns or more, which was the only gun-owning group whose penchant for getting into fights was significantly higher than people who owned no guns at all. For that matter the percentage of the 11+ gun-owning group to get into physical altercations was substantially higher than gun folks who owned fewer guns.

Where the number of guns owned by individuals seemed to be a real risk issue can be found in the correlation between number of guns owned, engaging in any of the three anger indicators and carrying a gun outside the home. The good news in this survey was that less than 5 percent of the respondents reported that they walked around with a gun. The not-so-good news is that folks who owned six or more guns and carried a concealed weapon reported that they engaged in at least one of the three impulsive behaviors four times more frequently than persons who owned five or fewer guns.

This is the first study I have seen that finds a correlation between numbers of guns owned and a propensity to carry one of them around. As such, it undercuts the usual pro-CCW argument that people carry guns to defend themselves against crime. I always thought that folks who are "into" guns are more likely to carry one, simply because they enjoy doing whatever they can do with their guns.

Notwithstanding my admiration for Swanson's overall work, I am a little skeptical of his conclusion in this article when he says that it is "reasonable to imagine" that many people with common mental disorders leading to angry, impulsive behavior have an arrest history and therefore should be denied access to guns. Swanson joins other scholars who have called for more restricted access based on misdemeanors, DUI and other non-felonious behaviors, but I'm not convinced that research so far shows any link between angry impulses and actually using a gun. I'm not saying the connection isn't there; I'm saying that it remains to be found.

Governor Walker: We Dare You to Tell the Truth

Jeri Bonavia   |   April 8, 2015    6:57 PM ET

Over the past few days, more than 2,000 Wisconsinites signed an open letter to Governor Scott Walker, who is on his way to the NRA convention:

Dear Governor Walker:

After more than four years in Wisconsin's highest public office, you should be well aware of the devastating toll that gun violence takes on the lives of your constituents all across the state.

Surely you remember Bill Thao, who was only 13 months old, when he was shot and killed; and Laylah Peterson, just five years old, when a stray bullet killed her while she was sitting on her grandfather's lap.

You must also know that almost all Wisconsinites -- between 80 and 90 percent, including the vast majority of gun owners and NRA members -- support commonsense solutions like requiring criminal background checks prior to all gun sales.

It's not hard to see why. Closing the background check loophole is proven to be one of the most effective steps we can take to reduce gun violence and save lives. Just look at Missouri: After gun rights extremists repealed the state's background check law in 2007, gun murders shot up 23 percent.

Simple changes to our laws could save lives in our state. Yet, instead of giving your all to protect our families, you are heading to the NRA convention in a misguided attempt to advance your personal political ambitions.

More than 2,000 concerned citizens of Wisconsin may not be able to convince you to cancel your speaking engagement at the NRA convention, but we can make one simple and reasonable request:

Tell the truth about us.

Tell the truth about where the vast majority of Wisconsinites stand when it comes to commonsense gun laws and the NRA leadership's reckless agenda.

Tell the truth, including the fact that nearly 90 percent of your own constituents in Wisconsin support background checks on all gun sales.

If you truly represent the people of Wisconsin, as your office demands, you will have the courage and dignity to represent us honestly.


Jeri Bonavia and 2,364 Wisconsinites

  |   April 2, 2015    6:58 PM ET

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Kan., April 2 (Reuters) - Kansas residents will be allowed to carry concealed weapons in the state without training or a permit starting in July under a bill signed into law on Thursday by Governor Sam Brownback.

Brownback, a Republican, said the new law will protect the rights of gun owners, while opponents said the measure poses safety risks.

"Responsible gun ownership - for protection and sport - is a right inherent in our Constitution," Brownback said in a statement.

Alaska, Arizona, Vermont, Arkansas and Wyoming have similar laws and nine other states are considering them, according to the governor's office.

The measure passed with strong support from both chambers of the Republican-controlled Kansas legislature.

Kansas will retain a permitting process for residents who want to carry a concealed weapon in states that require them, Brownback said. Businesses can still post signs that say concealed weapons are not allowed on their property, he said.

Brownback said he encourages people to take gun safety training courses.

Loren Stanton, president of the Kansas chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, questioned the wisdom of making training voluntary for carrying a concealed weapon.

"There is no way that taking away training can make guns safer," Stanton said. (Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Kansas; Editing by David Bailey and Eric Beech)

Going Back to Indiana: With Two Cheers for Its Gun-Toting Gals!

Peter Schwartz   |   March 31, 2015    1:28 PM ET

The National Rifle Association, firearms manufacturers and gun rights bloggers frequently state (and assume) that in the 21st century, a new generation of female, minority and millennial gun-owners purchases, carries and uses firearms. This claim aligns the firearms industry and gun rights zealots with new demographic realities in the United States, which of course no longer favor the traditional rural, white, male base of the gun-owning population. Affirmations of demographic breadth also justify the - somewhat breathtaking - wave of concealed-carry and open-carry laws approved by state legislatures in recent years, explains the exponential growth curve for gun purchases in the last decade, and augurs well for the comitatus vision of collective self-protection favored by gun rights and Second Amendment freedom fundamentalists of the Tea Party variety.

If only this beautiful vision were true.

Social research survey data from mainstream polling organizations (such as Gallup, Pew and NORC at the University of Chicago) tells us, over and over again, that women represent approximately 10 percent of the nation's gun-owning population. Indiana which by virtue of its history, geography, politics and demographics is almost perfectly representative of the gun culture and gun economy of the United States, may offer an opportunity to reassess this demographic truism, and with it the credibility of the NRA assertion that gun owners are not simply an atavistic remnant of a fading age of Caucasian male celerity, in which the gun, like many an appendage from our earliest species origins, survives only as a useless, slightly maligned encumbrance. Because guns in the United States are collocative with a host of other right-wing cultural tropes that have found their way into our political idiom (white supremacy, states rights, limited government, homophobia, biblical fundamentalism, military zeal, homespun rural values and toxic nostalgia, among others), the implications of any authoritative challenge to (what on the face of it are indeed) absurd, politically motivated claims of firearms fluorescence greatly matter for the future of political discourse, political opportunity and public policy in the United States.

As my Women and Guns essay emphasizes, much of this debate would not be necessary were the NRA and its fellow travelers open to transparent, consistent firearms data collection and reporting practices standard in pretty much every other public policy arena. But they are not open to these practices. And in lieu of real data, firearms freedom fanatics pump out an exhaustive (and exhausting) array of unsubstantiated assertions about the breadth, enthusiasm and virtue of their cohort. For instance, prior to the NRA annual convention in Indianapolis in 2014, the organization floated estimates that 25 percent of the attendees (or approximately 18,000) would be women. Ten years ago, female attendance at the NRA convention rarely exceeded 5-10 percent of the total, which might at that time have therefore amounted to about 4,000 or 5,000 women (although notably, even in 2004 the NRA touted (without substantiation) its growing cadre of female members). The final tally following the 2014 meeting was 19 percent. If one assumes attendance numbers include children (and the NRA is trying to be very family-friendly), and that closer to half of the children are females, we can deduce that the percentage breakdown for adults is probably closer to 85 percent male and 15 percent female (or about 11,000 adult women, rather than 18,000).

To be charitable, this data does indicate a significant uptick in the participation rates of women at the nation's largest and most politically supernatural firearms festival, so one might say this gives the NRA and the gun rights folks cause for cheer!

In January 2013, the Indiana State Police  began publishing quarterly reports that detail the number of active concealed carry gun licenses held by Indiana residents, by county and by gender. As compared to the FBI background check information, which calls out specific transactions reported by firearms dealers (although not specific quantities of guns purchased), the Indiana State Police permit data identifies individuals approved to carry concealed weapons, independently of transaction or firearm ownership numbers. As a result, the Indiana State Police data gives us a more precise demographic perspective on intrastate gun ownership patterns.

The same Indianapolis Star article referencing  the 25 percent female attendee projection for the NRA convention in Indianapolis used Indiana State Police data to spotlight "explosive" growth in the number of women in Indiana with concealed carry permits, an increase of 43 percent in only 5 quarters, from Q4 2012 through Q1 2014. At the end of Q4 2014, the state had issued approximately 22 percent of its gun permits to women. Further cause for cheer! Perhaps the modern woman does indeed incorporate a Smith & Wesson into her ensemble.

But here's the thing, and I'm afraid this means there will not be three cheers for Indiana gun owners. Without getting into the weeds on these Indiana State Police calculations, the most accurate data, comparing the last 6 months of 2013 and 2014, shows a dramatic decrease in compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and raw numbers for gun permits issued to Indiana women. In the last 2 quarters of 2013, the state issued 15,407 concealed carry permits to women, for a CAGR of 32.95 percent.  In the last 2 quarters of 2014, the state issued only 5,372 concealed carry permits to women, for a CAGR of 8.65 percent. The downward trend probably indicates that a relatively small pool of female candidates exists for concealed carry permission, and that this lake is pretty quickly drying up.

Here are some other findings.

Concealed Carry Permits Issued in Indiana, by County

  • Rural Indiana. County-level analysis of the data shows that gun permit registration levels per 100,000 inhabitants are highest in the smallest, least densely populated, slowest-growing, oldest, least crime-ridden and most Caucasian counties of the state (generally in the southwest corner of the state, where the traditional gun-owning cohort resides - see map).

  • Suburban Indiana. Gun permit registration levels are also high in two of the more affluent suburban counties ringing Indianapolis in the center part of the state - Hancock County and Morgan County.

  • Urban Indiana. Gun permit registration are lowest per 100,000 inhabitants in the largest, more densely populated, fastest-growing, youngest, most crime-heavy and most racially and ethnically diverse counties of the state (generally in the northern half of the state).

  • Indianapolis. Marion County, which is essentially Indianapolis, and among Indiana's 92 counties easily the most densely populated (with 15 percent of the state's population), has roughly half the concentration of concealed carry permits as its suburban neighbors in Hancock County and Morgan County. Some will argue that black-on-black crime and illegally obtained guns go hand in hand. But if one assumes (falsely, presumably) that whites obtained all legal concealed carry permits issued in Marion Count, the concentrations per 100,000 inhabitants would still be significantly lower than for the surrounding suburban counties.

  • The Female Gun-Ownership Base. Within the counties that register the highest rates of concealed-carry permits, women obtained permits in the last 2 quarters of 2014 at nearly 3 times the frequency of their counterparts in counties with the lowest concentration of permits. By contrast, the men in high-rate counties obtained permits at only a bit more than 1.5 times the frequency of men in low-rate counties. Women in high-rate counties represented 45 percent of permits obtained in this period, while women in low-rate counties represented only 32 percent of permits obtained.

None of this data is good news for the firearms and freedom crowd. Demographic conditions simply do not exist for the explosive growth of gun ownership by women in Indiana. To the contrary, and despite the best efforts of the right-to-carry movement, these demographic constraints on female gun ownership overwhelm the catalysts to such growth. And if the conditions for this growth do not exist in Indiana, they likely do not exist elsewhere in the nation.

As the Hancock and Morgan county numbers indicate, suburban gun ownership provides the only hope for the NRA and the gun rights movement. We are therefore left with only two cheers for Indiana and it's gun-toting women. And with this conclusion, much of the substance for NRA and gun evangelist assertions about the relevance of gun ownership and gun rights for emerging generations of Americans who are not white, male and rural drains away. As with the Republican Party, in general, the only option for Second Amendment true believers, is to bet everything on the base, at the risk of losing relevance with everyone else.

The Gun Industry's Nod to 'Safety' Is Just Another Sales Pitch

Mike Weisser   |   March 30, 2015   11:09 AM ET

Ever since Sandy Hook, the gun industry has decided that safety is its middle name. And chief among the proponents of this new strategy is the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which has taken upon itself the mission of pushing gun safety messages to kids who aren't yet old enough to own or purchase guns, but it's never too early to start cultivating the next generation of consumers. You'll pardon me for sounding just a tad sarcastic in this commentary, but this new-found concern about safety issues is interesting, given the fact that gun design hasn't really changed in the last 125 years. In other words, guns are as lethal and dangerous now as when the invention of smokeless-powder cartridges in the 1880s allowed gun makers to design small arms that could fire multiple rounds without having to be reloaded after every shot.

But what's interesting about the new attention to safety being paid by the gun industry is that the notion that guns might be potentially dangerous no matter how they are used is a concept that is remarkably absent from the NSSF's safety campaign, even though the campaign's name, Project Childsafe, does beg the question of what exactly are we trying to keep the children safe from?

To the credit of the gun manufacturers, you may have to read the fine print, but they don't beat around the bush when it comes to telling a gun owner the truth about the product he just bought. For example, the instructional manual issued by Smith & Wesson for its old warhorse, the Model 10, K-frame revolver, states that "this firearm is classified as a dangerous weapon." The manual that accompanies Ruger's Mini-14 rifle is even more explicit, stating in big, bold red letters -- FIREARMS ARE DANGEROUS WEAPONS -- a warning that has not deterred me from owning three of them.

The risk posed by a gun, however, seems to be lost on the folks who produce safety videos for the NSSF. The most recent is a bouncy, joyful message from a veteran, competitive shooter, hunter and mom named Julie Golob, whose family shares a love of the heritage, outdoors and the shooting sports; in other words, all the right credentials to be considered an expert on how to communicate with children on any subject, let alone safety and guns. The video goes on to showcase a few cutesy testimonials from what is now the standard racial and gender inclusive group of kids, who relate how their parents did or didn't talk to them about guns. At which point Julie reappears and chants the usual refrain borrowed from the NRA's phony safety program, Eddie Eagle, about not touching the gun -- leaving the area -- telling an adult, which is then followed by a new lyric for the older kids involving telling them never to touch a gun unless being supervised by an adult, never point a gun at anyone and always assume that every gun is loaded.

Oh, by the way, Julie doesn't forget to mention that guns should be locked or locked away. As she puts it, parents have to set a "talk the talk and walk the walk" example. The video runs 5 minutes, 37 seconds, and the entire comment about safe storage, which is the only way to keep guns away from kids no matter how many times you tell them not to touch a firearm, consumes a total of 8 seconds. In other words, the only valid statement about gun safety in this entire message takes up 2 percent of the message.

As I said at the beginning of this commentary, you'll have to excuse me for sounding a bit sarcastic. But when the organization which represents the gun industry in every legislative and public discussion about gun safety can produce a public service announcement that is, to put it bluntly, an exercise in cheap hucksterism, then when it comes to safety the gun industry is inviting itself not to be taken very seriously.

New York City Gun Shop Video May Not Be Real, But It Has the Gun Lobby Worried

Mike Weisser   |   March 23, 2015    8:59 AM ET

Until recently, I was somewhat dismayed at the degree to which the digital side of the gun debate was so completely owned by the pro-gun crowd. Not that they don't deserve their fair share of the online environment, and not that they haven't worked tirelessly to bring this about. But I'm interested in is a fair and honest fight between the two sides, and it won't happen until both sides show up.

I was never particularly impressed by the content of the NRA video channel; the messaging tends to be didactic, wordy, sometimes outright stupid and basically boring as hell. But video characters like Billy Johnson, Colion Noir, Chris Cheng and Natalie Foster have carved out followings for themselves on the NRA website, along with YouTube, which means that a basic, pro-gun argument is viewed by hundreds, if not thousands of people every day. And while we usually think of arguments for more gun safety as belonging to the folks who try to promote more regulation of guns, the fact is that some of the best videos that show people how to use guns in a safe way are produced by the gun industry itself.

The last several weeks, however, have seen this state of affairs beginning to change. Last week the Brady Campaign released a video on gun laws and gun violence, which they posted on a site that's a spoof on the TripAdvisor website, which set a new standard for gun videos produced by either side. I talked about this video in HuffPost and said that it was not only clever and theatrically well done, but also directly challenged a basic NRA argument that we will all be safer if everyone has a gun. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the evidence on the risks versus the benefits of an armed citizenry can be used to definitively sway the argument either way. What I am saying is that this video at least presents the argument about gun risk in persuasive and artistic terms.

The gun-sense folks have now released another video which is generating web-based commotion because of its content, artistry and tone, but this time the commotion is coming more from the other side in ways which indicate that the video's argument is really hitting home. I am referring to a video released by States United to Prevent Gun Violence which shows a New York City gun shop that only sells guns which were used in gun violence, including the Bushmaster AR taken off the body of Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook and the pistol that the two-year old son of Veronica Rutledge used to kill his mom.

The guns are fakes, the store doesn't really exist and I'm not sure that the 'customers' who walked in and then exhibited varying degrees of shock and concern after being told the history of those guns were real customers at all. But no matter, the video is powerful, artistic and drives the message, pace the NRA, that owning a gun is a risk.

The video has been attacked by the usual pro-gun suspects like Breitbart and Daily Caller, but the most interesting response to the video from the pro-gun side was a demand made to the New York State Attorney General by the state's NRA-affiliate Pistol and Rifle Association to investigate the video's sponsor for violations of the state gun-control statute which, of course, this same association did everything it could to try and prevent from becoming law. If Eric Schneiderman has nothing better to do than chase after States United because they stuck a bunch of unlocked toy guns on a wall, then Andy should fire him immediately and appoint a new AG. Andy has better things to do.

The reaction to this video by the gun guys in New York tells me that the digital playing field on gun violence is beginning to level out. Now if the gun-sense folks could only find a stellar personality a la Clint Eastwood, to drive their video messages home...

Carol Kuruvilla   |   March 21, 2015    5:15 PM ET

On a bright October day in 2006, Terri Roberts’ son walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, lined 10 young girls against the blackboard and began to shoot.

Nearly a decade after that tragedy, Roberts is still unsure of what drove her son Charles to kill five young girls that day and later turn the gun on himself. But just as surprising for Roberts is the extraordinary bond that has grown between her family and the Amish community.

They visit each other’s houses, have tea and try their best to heal.

“They’ve become the friends we never thought we’d have,” Roberts told The Huffington Post over the phone. “It’s an incredible testimony of God’s grace to take something that is so tragic and somehow grow from it and through it.”

It was this spirit of forgiveness and renewal that drew Roberts to State College Presbyterian Church on Friday. She joined Penn State University students and local religious organizations to watch as two guns, donated by the local police force, were flattened and repurposed as garden tools.

The lead blacksmith, Mike Martin, is a youth minister who comes from a line of peace-loving Anabaptists. His organization, Raw Tools, is inspired by the Bible verse Isaiah 2:4 to literally beat “swords into plowshares.”

raw tools

The Colorado native lives just a few miles away from the site of the Aurora theater shooting. He began repurposing guns after the attack on a school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, where 27 people lost their lives to gun violence.

CNN documented 83 incidents of gun violence that happened over the course of just one day in 2014, finding that shootings left 35 people dead. On a wider scale, more than 32,000 Americans were killed by guns in 2011, CNN reported, citing the most recent data available.

Martin said that after hearing stories about officers using excessive force, it was particularly meaningful for him that the shotgun and rifle were donated by police.

“It just reinforces to me that no one really wants to use force,” Martin told HuffPost. “When it happens, maybe it’s more of a human instinct that has been trained in many of us. And it takes some kind of retraining to have nonviolent actions instead ... We don’t want to react with force, but it’s one of the only reactions we know.”

Martin said that the metal from the guns can create at least 12 garden mattocks.

raw tools

Shane Claiborne, founder of the Simple Way faith community, hopes the event will inspire people to “bring life out of death, turn weapons into tools, and rejoice in the promise of resurrection.”

“No more violence toward police. No more violence from police. No more violence -- period,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated incorrectly that a 2012 shooting was in Newtown, Massachusetts. It was in Newtown, Connecticut.

Samantha Lachman   |   March 20, 2015   11:42 AM ET

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) vetoed a bill Friday that would have eliminated the permit requirement for concealed carry, citing the concerns of law enforcement officers.

The bill was passed out of the Republican-controlled state legislature, and would have ended a state law requiring anyone over the age of 21 to have a permit and undergo safety training to legally carry a gun that's not visible. Gun rights supporters say the requirements are costly, time-restrictive and infringe on Second Amendment rights.

"Throughout my career, I have strongly supported the Second Amendment, as demonstrated by my repeated endorsements and high grades from the National Rifle Association," Tomblin wrote in a statement. "However, I must also be responsive to the apprehension of law enforcement officers from across the state, who have concerns about the bill as it relates to the safety of their fellow officers. It also would eliminate the required gun safety training courses for those applying for a concealed carry permit. In light of these concerns and in the interest of public safety for all West Virginians, I have vetoed Senate Bill 347."

Guns can still be carried openly without a permit in West Virginia. Just a handful of states -- Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Vermont and rural parts of Wyoming -- do not require a permit to carry a concealed gun. The West Virginia Sheriffs' Association had come out against the bill, saying it would allow dangerous people to carry concealed weapons and would take away permit money that funds local law enforcement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael (R) denied that there were safety concerns associated with the bill, according to WBOY.

"There has been an overwhelming outcry from across the state about this bill," he said. "We already have an open carry law in West Virginia, I'm not surprised. I believe this is an educational process and will work itself out."

Everytown for Gun Safety, a coalition of gun control groups, celebrated Tomblin's veto in a statement Friday, saying that "common sense" won in West Virginia. A state poll Everytown conducted earlier this month found that 83 percent of West Virginia's likely voters favored a permit requirement for concealed carry.

"After years of operating in state legislatures unchecked, the NRA's agenda of putting gun lobby interests above the safety of our communities is now being defeated in state after state, and today, here in West Virginia," said Dee Price, a volunteer with the West Virginia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. "It's just common sense that if a person wants to carry a loaded, hidden handgun in public, they need to demonstrate they have a clean recent violent criminal record and have been trained to handle and carry a gun safely."

The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Huffington Post. Tomblin was endorsed by the NRA during his 2011 special election gubernatorial campaign.

This Is Where Likely 2016 Voters Draw The Line On Gun Rights

Samantha Lachman   |   March 18, 2015   11:55 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- A vast majority of likely 2016 voters oppose legislation that would allow gun owners to carry their concealed weapons without a permit, according to a new national poll released Wednesday.

The poll, shared first with The Huffington Post and conducted on behalf of Everytown for Gun Safety, a coalition of gun control groups, was done to assess public attitudes toward carrying concealed weapons. The issue is a timely one, as three state legislatures -- in West Virginia, Kansas and Montana -- are considering rolling back some of their permit requirements.

Everytown found that 88 percent of likely 2016 voters oppose concealed carry without a permit, and 57 percent of voters said they would be less likely to support a candidate who voted to allow concealed carry without a permit.

The poll did find that a majority of voters support allowing concealed carry in public, with the strongest support among Republicans, conservatives and rural voters. While the issue of concealed carry did produce some cleavages -- 62 percent of white voters support it, while majorities of African-American and Latino voters do not -- what wasn't controversial was the concept that one must obtain a permit to carry. Even 80 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of gun owners opposed concealed carry without a permit.

Everytown Chief Strategy Officer Brina Milikowsky told HuffPost that the group's polling results made it "overwhelmingly clear" that Americans "strongly oppose" concealed carry without any training, which often is a part of the permit process.

"The NRA is pushing bills in states across the country that would dismantle the permitting process that serves as a public safety measure to keep guns out of dangerous hands -- and it's imperative that political leaders in Kansas, Montana and West Virginia -- states where bills are moving forward -- listen to their constituents and not the gun lobby," she said in a statement.

Milikowsky added that the poll's results demonstrate "that the dynamics on gun politics are changing and that Americans will hold their leaders accountable for voting the right way to keep our families and communities safe from gun violence."

State-based polling conducted by Everytown has echoed the national results. In West Virginia, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) must decide whether to sign legislation sent to his desk allowing anyone over the age of 21 to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. A poll Everytown did there found that 83 percent of likely voters in West Virginia, and 81 percent of gun owners, favor a permit requirement.

In Kansas, where a bill ending the state permit requirement has already been passed by the state Senate and is being considered by the House, Everytown found that 78 percent of Kansans support a concealed carry permit requirement. If the state House passes the legislation, which it seems likely to do, the bill would head to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's desk.

And in Montana, 83 percent support a permit requirement. A bill passed by the Montana state House would dismantle the state's current concealed carry permitting system, which requires those living in cities to have a permit (those in rural areas are not required to have one). Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock has vetoed similar legislation in the past.

Permit-less concealed carry, which gun rights supporters refer to as "constitutional carry," is legal in Vermont, Arizona, Alaska and Wyoming. Gun rights supporters say people who meet the requirements to own a gun shouldn't have to obtain permission from their state government to carry it concealed. A 2012 Christian Science Monitor poll found that 91 percent of Americans believe a license should be required to carry a concealed gun.

The National Rifle Association declined to comment on the Everytown poll ahead of its release.

The poll, conducted by Strategies 360, surveyed 1,508 likely 2016 voters nationwide for a week in late February, and has a margin of error of 2.5 percent.

Samantha Lachman   |   March 17, 2015    3:54 PM ET

The Texas state Senate gave preliminary approval Monday to legislation that would allow licensed handgun owners to visibly bear their firearms, in a move that would repeal a 140-year-old open carry ban.

The Republican-controlled chamber approved the bill along party lines, and a final vote on the measure is expected Tuesday. The measure is likely to become law, since the state House of Representatives is also controlled by Republicans and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has said he would sign such legislation if it reached his desk. Currently, Texas is one of just six states -- along with California, Florida, New York, Illinois and South Carolina -- to prohibit the open carry of handguns.

If the bill succeeds, the more than 800,000 Texans who have a concealed handgun license would be able to exhibit their guns in a shoulder or waist holster. The bill allows business owners to ban weapons from their premises and does not allow open carry on college campuses.

Gun rights advocates say open carry laws are an important component of self-defense and that the law would align Texas with most of the rest of the nation. Opponents of the measure, on the other hand, say openly carrying guns intimidates people in public places.

The developments in the Texas Senate come as multiple other GOP-controlled state legislative chambers across the country are pushing to expand gun rights.

In West Virginia, where Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) will have to decide whether to sign recently passed legislation that would allow anyone anyone over the age of 21 to carry a concealed gun without obtaining a permit or taking any safety courses.

A poll conducted by one Republican and one Democratic polling firm on behalf of Everytown for Gun Safety, a pro-gun control group, found that a significant majority of West Virginians oppose repealing the permit requirement for concealed carry, including majorities of Republicans and of gun owners.

Similar legislation has advanced in a number of other state legislatures in the past week. In Arkansas, a bill that would allow licensed public college and university staff to carry a concealed weapon on campus passed the state House of Representatives. The Arizona House of Representatives passed a bill that would let those with concealed carry permits take their weapons into public buildings. The Iowa House advanced a package of bills that would allow children under the age of 14 to have handguns with adult supervision, allow anyone with a permit to carry a weapon on school grounds and eliminate public access to the names of those who hold carry permits. And in Colorado, the GOP-controlled state Senate repealed a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines on Monday, although the legislation is unlikely to succeed in the Democratic-controlled state House.

Republicans have also supported legislation in at least 14 states to allow guns on college campuses, with gun rights advocates arguing that potential sexual assailants would be deterred by the presence of guns.

Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America, which is part of Everytown For Gun Safety, said that the push to allow open carry in Texas and eliminate the requirement in West Virginia together reflected a desire "to put more guns in more places."

"Make no mistake: Whether it's guns on campus, lowering or eliminating permitting requirements for concealed carry, or pushing for open carry of handguns, it's just an attempt by the gun lobby, and the lawmakers who carry out their wishes, to put more guns in more places, no questions asked," Watts told The Huffington Post. "For decades, the gun lobby has pushed in state legislatures for laws that profit gun manufacturers, but now Moms Demand Action is pushing back in all 50 states, so that these attempts no longer go unchecked."

So Why Are More Americans Turning Away From Guns?

John A. Tures   |   March 13, 2015   12:51 PM ET

We've all seen dozens of articles touting a spike in gun sales and a surge in membership in gun groups like the National Rifle Association. But the number of gun owners and gun households in the United States is dropping. Could the tactics of gun groups and certain individuals be to blame?

Back in 1974, the number of gun owners was nearly 50 percent in America. It's not surprising, given America's crime levels and social unrest. But back then, the NRA was also a group that stood for gun safety and responsible gun ownership.

Nowadays, that number households with a gun has dipped under one-third of Americans, according to the Associated Press. Only 22 percent of individuals claim to own a firearm (down from 31 percent in the mid-1980s), according to the General Social Survey, conducted by the right-leaning University of Chicago. And that's even with all of the events folks claim are driving gun sales, like Hurricane Katrina, the Great Recession of 2008 and social unrest in Ferguson, Mo. Thanks to gun groups, it's even easier to get a firearm today, which means more people should be packing heat.

So why are more Americans saying no to gun ownership?

Sure, some get a weapon for personal protection, but with huge drops in the crime rate from the 1990s through today, it's a little easier to feel secure. The same factors that drove Robert Putnam to find a decline in bowling leagues may also spur a drop in hunting groups, as the assault on anything that smacks of "community" is in full swing.

But being a gun owner means something different from those heady days of 1974. The public face of the gun owner is the person going into a Chipotle restaurant, brandishing an AK-47 to "protect" the patrons. It's someone bringing a gun to an opponent's political rally, to intimidate the other side, or into a lawmaker's office with veiled threats.

It's that lone neighborhood watch person with a violent history who disregards the police dispatcher to take the law into his own hands. It's the mom with a cache of weapons whose son loves acting out dark fantasies while playing violent video games. It's the family whose kid accidentally discharges the weapon in a WalMart, with tragic results.

And lots of people are saying "that's not me."

The conservative site Newsmax reported that a poll in late February found only 32 percent of Texans liked these open carry laws, "while the remainder, 68 percent, would either prefer no legal handguns in public or to keep the current laws allowing licensed carry of concealed handguns." Only 10 percent supported people toting unlicensed firearms in public. In a state often regarded as the most pro-gun in the USA, those results are pretty jarring.

Oh don't get me wrong. I'm sure gun sales might still be up, as a few folks assemble their own private arsenal in case of disaster. But the trends don't look too good for those who want to build a sizable coalition of voters for future legislative battles over guns. Maybe the old tactics of the NRA emphasizing responsible gun ownership and professionalism were better than the "in your face" style today.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at