Virginia did its utmost to ease James Hodgkinson’s path to violence

David Frum writes: America is more vulnerable to assassins than most other democracies, for many reasons. The United States is a less-surveilled society than Britain or France. American police forces are more decentralized than those of most European countries. Above all, the U.S. is vulnerable to this crime because targeted killing typically requires access to a gun—and guns are easier to acquire here than in any comparably developed society. We’ll learn more about when the Alexandria murderer decided on his crime, and whether his weapon was legally acquired. The commonwealth of Virginia certainly did its utmost to ease his way, however, by conferring the legal right to move about with an openly brandished rifle. (The City of Alexandria, though, where the shooting took place, bars the open carry of assault weapons.)

In the wake of this crime, as after the Gabby Giffords attack in 2011, we’ll soon be talking about whether and when political rhetoric goes too far. It’s an important conversation to have, and the fact that the president of the United States is himself the country’s noisiest inciter of political violence does not give license to anyone else to do the same. Precisely because the president has put himself so outside the boundary of political decency, it is vitally important to define and defend that border. President Trump’s delight in violence against his opponents is something to isolate and condemn, not something to condone or emulate. [Continue reading…]

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Congressional gunman had a history of domestic violence

The Daily Beast reports: The gunman who attacked members of Congress on Wednesday morning, wounding a GOP leader, had a long history of domestic violence that included the use of a gun and hated Republicans.

James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois, opened fire on a congressional baseball practice outside of Washington, D.C., a senior law-enforcement official told The Daily Beast. Hodgkinson was killed by police.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, two Capitol Police officers, and congressional staffers were wounded. They are all expected to survive, according to police.

Hodgkinson may have practiced before the attack, a neighbor told The Daily Beast.

On March 24, neighbor William Schaumleffel called the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office to complain that Hodgkinson had fired approximately 15 shots outside. A responding officer found Hodgkinson shooting into nearby trees and advised him to stop, according to a sheriff’s report, which added that Hodgkinson had a valid firearm license.

“I thought, my God, what is that guy shooting?” Schaumleffel recalled.

He told The Daily Beast that he was out in his backyard with his grandchildren when the shooting started. He heard one shot, then another, and then three in rapid succession.

Hodgkinson held the gun to his shoulder and fired across Schaumleffel’s field, he said. Schaumleffel said he yelled to him to say that there were houses in that direction and that he should stop, but wasn’t sure if he heard him.

The shooting started again, in what Schaumleffel now calls “target practice.”

“I told my wife, hey, I’m gonna call the sheriff. He’s liable to turn the gun on us,” Schaumleffel said.

Schaumleffel said had never met the Hodgkinson, and said that almost everyone in the neighborhood owned a gun. But no one starts shooting randomly, into the distance, like Hodgkinson did.

“He was being very reckless that day,” Schaumleffel said.

Shortly after the incident, Hodgkinson reportedly left Illinois and was living in Virginia.

Hodgkinson had a history of violence that did not rise to the level to prohibit him from legally owning a firearm.

Hodgkinson was the foster father of at least two girls. The first, Wanda Ashley Stock, 17, committed suicide in 1996 by pouring gasoline on herself and setting herself on fire after a few months of living with the Hodgkinsons, the Belleville News-Democrat reports. The Hodgkinsons gave an interview to the paper after her suicide, calling her a “very practical, level-headed girl.”

Privacy laws do not allow the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to release foster records.

In 2002, Hodgkinson became the foster father of another girl whom he allegedly abused, according to police record. [Continue reading…]

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Americans spent an estimated $17 billion on ammunition while Obama was president

Philip Bump writes: The eight years during which Barack Obama served as president were a boom time for the gun industry. Obama’s consistent and futile efforts to introduce new regulations restricting gun sales were whipped into rhetoric about imminent crackdowns on gun ownership — rhetoric that predated Obama’s election, much less his policy efforts.

There’s been some indication that gun sales have receded in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. The go-to metric for gun sales — a figure that isn’t directly compiled by the government — is the number of federal background checks completed during a month. The biggest month for such checks tends to be December, as people buy firearms as Christmas gifts. In December 2015, the FBI conducted 3.3 million background checks. In December 2016, after Trump’s win? 2.8 million.

Over the first two months of the year, the number of checks completed totaled 4.3 million. In January and February 2016, the total was 5.2 million. That’s a 2017 decline of 17 percent — but it was also the third-highest January-February total on record. (The FBI started conducting background checks in 1998.) [Continue reading…]

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American husbands are incomparably more deadly than terrorists

Nicholas Kristof writes: It’s true that Muslim Americans — both born in the United States and immigrants from countries other than those subject to Trump’s restrictions — have carried out deadly terrorism in America. There have been 123 such murders since the 9/11 attacks — and 230,000 other murders.

Last year Americans were less likely to be killed by Muslim terrorists than for being Muslim, according to Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina. The former is a risk of approximately one in six million; the latter, one in one million.

The bottom line is that most years in the U.S., ladders kill far more Americans than Muslim terrorists do. Same with bathtubs. Ditto for stairs. And lightning.

Above all, fear spouses: Husbands are incomparably more deadly in America than jihadist terrorists.

And husbands are so deadly in part because in America they have ready access to firearms, even when they have a history of violence. In other countries, brutish husbands put wives in hospitals; in America, they put them in graves. [Continue reading…]

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Gary Younge: America’s deserving and undeserving dead children

It’s rare to hear an author say, “Researching and writing this book has made me want to scream.”  But perhaps it’s not surprising, given the topic of Gary Younge’s Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives — the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly death-by-gun of startling numbers of kids in this country — and the time he spent tracking down the stories of the young Americans who died on a single day in November 2013 in separate incidents nationwide.

After all, these days, the U.S. is a haven and a heaven for guns.  It’s hard to find another nation on the planet — except in places like Syria or Afghanistan where whole populations have been thrown into desperate internecine conflicts — in which guns are so readily available. Between 1968 and 2015, the number of guns in the U.S. essentially doubled to 300 million. Between 2010 and 2013 alone, American arms manufacturers doubled their production of weapons to almost 11 million a year.  And those guns have gotten more deadly as well.  Military-style assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns are now the weapons of choice for mass killers and “lone wolf” terrorists in this country.  In almost all cases those killers got their guns and ammo (often high-capacity magazines capable of holding 15 to 100 rounds) in perfectly legal fashion. And it’s getting easier to carry concealed weapons all the time. Missouri, for instance, recently passed a law that allows the carrying of such a weapon without either a permit or training of any sort.

Under the circumstances, no one should be surprised that kids die in remarkable numbers from guns for all kinds of reasons. Believe me, though, that makes it no less shocking when you read Younge’s unsettling and moving book. Long a journalist, columnist, and editor for the British Guardian stationed here in the U.S., today he offers us a look at the death toll from guns among our young and the way we Americans generally like to explain that toll to ourselves (or rather how we like to explain it away). Tom Engelhardt

An all-American slaughter
The youthful carnage of America’s gun culture
By Gary Younge

Every day, on average, seven kids and teens are shot dead in America. Election 2016 will undoubtedly prove consequential in many ways, but lowering that death count won’t be one of them. To grapple with fatalities on that scale — 2,500 dead children annually — a candidate would need a thoroughgoing plan for dealing with America’s gun culture that goes well beyond background checks. In addition, he or she would need to engage with the inequality, segregation, poverty, and lack of mental health resources that add up to the environment in which this level of violence becomes possible.  Think of it as the huge pile of dry tinder for which the easy availability of firearms is the combustible spark. In America in 2016, to advocate for anything like the kind of policies that might engage with such issues would instantly render a candidacy implausible, if not inconceivable — not least with the wealthy folks who now fund elections.

So the kids keep dying and, in the absence of any serious political or legislative attempt to tackle the causes of their deaths, the media and the political class move on to excuses. From claims of bad parenting to lack of personal responsibility, they regularly shift the blame from the societal to the individual level. Only one organized group at present takes the blame for such deaths.  The problem, it is suggested, isn’t American culture, but gang culture.

Researching my new book, Another Day in the Death of America, about all the children and teens shot dead on a single random Saturday in 2013, it became clear how often the presence of gangs in neighborhoods where so many of these kids die is used as a way to dismiss serious thinking about why this is happening. If a shooting can be described as “gang related,” then it can also be discounted as part of the “pathology” of urban life, particularly for people of color. In reality, the main cause, pathologically speaking, is a legislative system that refuses to control the distribution of firearms, making America the only country in the world in which such a book would have been possible.

[Read more…]

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Extremist militias recruiting in fear of Clinton winning election, activists say

The Guardian reports: In the past 12 months, Jessica Campbell has had her car’s fuel line cut and its wheel nuts loosened. Late last year, she had a GPS tracker surreptitiously attached to her vehicle. She is now accustomed to being tailed by unfamiliar vehicles on Interstate 5 near her home in Cottage Grove, just outside Eugene, Oregon. Strangers have regularly come uninvited onto her property; someone even stripped the barbed wire on her fence “just to send a message”. Online, she has repeatedly been threatened with rape and death.

And last week, when she showed up at the Canyon City community hall in Grant County, she told me that someone shot at her and her entourage. They misread their GPS, took a wrong turn and stopped to get their bearings when a crack rang out with what Campbell thought was a .22 bullet whizzing by their vehicle.

Such threats are part of the pushback her work has sparked in rural Oregon.

Campbell co-directs the Rural Organizing Project, a not-for-profit group that sets out to confront the rightwing insurgency that has been bubbling away in parts of rural Oregon and throughout the west. A political organizer since high school, she now coordinates groups attempting to respond to divisive tactics from rightwing activists on immigration, race and public land ownership.

This extremist surge received national media attention during the occupation of the Malheur national wildlife refuge by the Bundy group, but it has continued to rise alongside Trump, with his legitimization of white nationalist politics and his apparent inspiration of insurrectionists across the country. [Continue reading…]

The SPLC identified 998 active extreme antigovernment groups in 2015: The antigovernment movement has experienced a resurgence, growing quickly since 2008, when President Obama was elected to office. Factors fueling the antigovernment movement in recent years include changing demographics driven by immigration, the struggling economy and the election of the first African-American president. [Continue reading…]

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Gun nation

 

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The Sandy Hook hoax

Reeves Wiedeman reports: On December 14, 2012, Lenny Pozner dropped off his three children, Sophia, Arielle, and Noah, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Noah had recently turned 6, and on the drive over they listened to his favorite song, “Gangnam Style,” for what turned out to be the last time. Several hours later, while Sophia and Arielle hid nearby, Adam Lanza walked into Noah’s first-grade class with an AR-15 rifle. Noah was the youngest of the 20 children and seven adults killed in one of the deadliest shootings in American history. When the medical examiner found Noah lying face up in a Batman sweatshirt, his jaw had been blown off. Lenny and his wife, Veronique, raced to the school as soon as they heard the news, but had to wait for hours alongside other parents to learn their son’s fate.

It didn’t take much longer for Pozner to find out that many people didn’t believe his son had died or even that he had lived at all. Days after the rampage, a man walked around Newtown filming a video in which he declared that the massacre had been staged by “some sort of New World Order global elitists” intent on taking away our guns and our liberty. A week later, James Tracy, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, wrote a blog post expressing doubts about the massacre. By January, a 30-minute YouTube video, titled “The Sandy Hook Shooting — Fully Exposed,” which asked questions like “Wouldn’t frantic kids be a difficult target to hit?,” had been viewed more than 10 million times.

As the families grieved, conspiracy theorists began to press their case in ways that Newtown couldn’t avoid. State officials received anonymous phone calls at their homes, late at night, demanding answers: Why were there no trauma helicopters? What happened to the initial reports of a second shooter? A Virginia man stole playground signs memorializing two of the victims, then called their parents to say that the burglary shouldn’t affect them, since their children had never existed. At one point, Lenny Pozner was checking into a hotel out of town when the clerk looked up from the address on his driver’s license and said, “Oh, Sandy Hook — the government did that.” Pozner had tried his best to ignore the conspiracies, but eventually they disrupted his grieving process so much that he could no longer turn a blind eye. “Conspiracy theorists erase the human aspect of history,” Pozner said this summer. “My child — who lived, who was a real person — is basically going to be erased.” [Continue reading…]

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Sovereign citizen fears realized in Baton Rouge shooting

CBS News reports: Kansas City native Gavin Eugene Long, who died on his 29th birthday on Sunday after ambushing and killing three Baton Rouge police officers, said in online postings that he didn’t want to be affiliated with any group.

Long was, however, a member of a group involved in the sovereign citizen movement.

Since 2011, the FBI has considered sovereign citizens “a growing domestic threat to law enforcement.” In a bulletin, the agency wrote that they consider “sovereign-citizen extremists as comprising a domestic terrorist movement.”

Simply put, sovereign citizens believe themselves to be above the law of the land. Their reasons vary, but they don’t believe they have to do things like pay taxes or respect law enforcement officials, because in their minds all governments are operating illegally.

The movement’s most high-profile member to date has been Terry Nichols, the accomplice in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

According to the Kansas City Star, Baton Rouge shooter Long “declared himself a sovereign in records filed with the Jackson County recorder of deeds last year.”

Specifically, Long said he was a member of the Washitaw Nation of Mu’urs. J.J. MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, told the Star that the group believe themselves to be native of the North American continent and therefore about the laws of any country, state, or city. [Continue reading…]

 

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Slain Baton Rouge officer days before shooting: ‘I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me’

The Associated Press reports: Just days before he was shot and killed, a Baton Rouge police officer posted an emotional Facebook message saying he was “physically and emotionally” tired and expressing how difficult it was to be both a police officer and a black man, a friend said Sunday.

“I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me,” Montrell Jackson wrote.

Friends and family of Jackson, 32, were mourning the 10-year veteran of the police force that relatives described as a “gentle giant” and a “protector” after he and another two law enforcement officers were shot and killed Sunday morning by a gunman.

Sgt. Don Coppola Jr. of the Baton Rouge Police Department identified the other slain Baton Rouge police officer as 41-year-old Matthew Gerald, who had been with the department less than a year. The third officer killed was 45-year-old sheriff’s deputy Brad Garafola, a 24-year veteran, spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office said. [Continue reading…]

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Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II: ‘America, now is the time to weep’

 

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Tough gun laws in Australia eliminate mass shootings

Science News reports: Australia has seen zero mass shootings in the 20 years since it enacted strict gun control laws and a mandatory gun buyback program, researchers report June 22 in JAMA.

Key to this success is probably the reduction in people’s exposure to semiautomatic weapons, Johns Hopkins University health policy researcher Daniel Webster writes in an accompanying editorial.

“Here’s a society that recognized a public safety threat, found it unacceptable, and took measures to address the problem,” Webster says.

In April 1996, a man with two semiautomatic rifles shot and killed 35 people in Tasmania and wounded at least 18 others. Two months after the shooting, known as the Port Arthur massacre, Australia began implementing a comprehensive set of gun regulations, called the National Firearms Agreement.

The NFA is famous for banning semiautomatic long guns (including the ones used by the Port Arthur shooter), but, as Webster points out, it also made buying other guns a lot harder too. People have to document a “genuine need,” pass a safety test, wait a minimum of 28 days, have no restraining orders for violence and demonstrate good moral character, among other restrictions, Webster writes.

“In Australia, they look at someone’s full record and ask, ‘Is this a good idea to let this person have a firearm?’” Webster says. In the United States, “we do pretty much the opposite. The burden is on the government to show that you are too dangerous to have a firearm.” [Continue reading…]

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How the U.S. gun industry sells self-defense

 

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How dangerous is a gunless gunman?

“Why isn’t the assassination attempt on Donald Trump bigger news?,” asks Callum Borchers at the Washington Post.

The No. 1 trending question related to Donald Trump on Google right now is “Who tried to shoot Trump?” Which means a lot of people don’t know the answer. Which is probably because the assassination attempt on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee hasn’t been covered as a major news story.

The reason so many people wanted to know who tried to shoot Trump was because it was widely reported that a man did indeed try to shoot Trump.

The thing is, the young man in question — Michael Steven Sandford — didn’t actually try to shoot Trump.

By his own testimony, he certainly wanted to shoot Trump, but there’s a significant difference between wanting and trying.

For Sandford to try and shoot Trump he would have needed to possess a loaded gun — but he didn’t have one. What he actually tried to do was grab a police officer’s gun.

I know next to nothing about police training, but I’m confident that one of the basics in firearms use is on the need to retain control of ones own weapon. The officer in question seems to have passed that test.

The larger question here is not about the identity of the hapless would-be assassin but instead it is this: Why is it that Donald Trump and fellow gun rights supporters aren’t willing to demonstrate their confidence in the principles they claim they believe in, by speaking out in gun-permissive venues?

In other words, why wasn’t Sandford entitled to bring a gun to the rally?

The argument the gun lobby keeps on making is that people like Sandford, even if armed, would pose less threat if everyone else was also armed.

So why doesn’t Trump dispense with his Secret Service detail (which requires no one other than law enforcement officials can carry guns) and allow attendees to bring their own guns to his rallies? Of course, each would be required to produce a gun permit as they carry their handguns or assault rifles into the venue.

The more guns there are, the safer Trump should feel, right? Or maybe not…

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The #1 factor experts say accounts for high number of mass shootings in U.S.

Patricia Pearson writes: Canadians are reputed to be polite. But that isn’t a very compelling argument for why the lone wolves there are less inclined to engage in the kind of mass shooting that occurred in Orlando. All three pathologies that appeared to be in play at the horrific Pulse nightclub massacre — homophobia, psychological instability and adherence to a cult-like “Ism” that could act as a justifying frame in the killer’s mind — exist for some of Canada’s citizens as well. Two of those factors resulted in rifle bullets whizzing around the halls of the Canadian Parliament in October 2014.

The shooter, Michael-Zahef Bibeau, had an illegally acquired Winchester Model 94, a deer-hunting rifle that enabled him to fire off all of seven rounds before he had to halt in his tracks and fumble to reload. He was handily tackled at that point by security. Just hold that thought.

Canadians have had their fair share of “mass stabbings,” which virtually by definition don’t turn out to be particularly massive. Knives don’t kill people, people kill people, but people kill people on a markedly diminished scale with knives, and that’s hard not to notice for those of us who live outside the U.S.

To acquire and carry a gun in Canada, you need to go through a mind-boggling number of tests and procedures, the results of which are then vetted by police. Each one of these steps surely acts as a cool-down procedure on a mentally unstable mind.

Explosively enraged at the world? First attend your “gun safety class” on a Saturday, next available slot in two months, in the town 20 miles from your house. Then study for, write and pass the safety test that enables you to apply — to the police — for a license. That will entail extensive background checking on their part, after which you may or may not be freed to research where you can go to purchase your weapon and finally unleash your hateful rage. [Continue reading…]

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The gay rights movement could take on the NRA — and actually win

Jennifer Carlson and David Pettinicchio write: It’s an all-too-familiar routine for Americans: mass shooting, dramatic calls for change, inaction. It happened when 20 schoolchildren were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. When a dozen people were killed in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. When almost three dozen were slaughtered at Virginia Tech.

But this time, things might be different. Not because of the record number of people killed in Orlando or because this heinous act was a terrorist attack, a hate crime and a mass shooting. It’s because the victims were part of a social movement with infrastructure and political know-how largely unmatched within the gun-control movement. It’s because the attack targeted gays — and their community is organized.

Today’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer coalition is made up of powerful groups able to mobilize at a moment’s notice, including the NOH8 Campaign, the Human Rights Campaign and PFLAG. This robust and multifaceted apparatus is one of the most effective political movements in recent American history. It has faced down obscene public indifference to gay lives (peaking with the AIDS epidemic), violence against LGBTQ people (who suffer more hate crimes than any other protected group), laws that criminalized gay sex (Bowers v. Hardwick was overturned only in 2003) and widespread intolerance. [Continue reading…]

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