Thursday Reads: Guns and American Culture (and other news)

Morning Paper at Cap Ferrat, by Rebecca Kao Wang

Morning Paper at Cap Ferrat, by Rebecca Kao Wang

Good Morning!!

I live in a state that has very strict gun control laws. A recent study by Boston Children’s Hospital found that states with the toughest gun laws have the lowest rates of gun deaths. And Boston tends to average between one shooting victim every other day to one victim per day. I’ve been thinking about this for the past couple of days since I read this article at WBUR: When Mass. Criminals Want A Gun, They Often Head North

Massachusetts gun laws are widely considered some of the toughest in the country. But with a rash of shooting deaths in Boston this year, some law enforcement officials say it’s obvious that there are ways around the rules. And when Massachusetts criminals want to get their hands on a gun, they frequently head north.

In 2012, more than half of the guns that law enforcement seized in Massachusetts and managed to trace to their origins came from other states, according to federal statistics. The biggest suppliers by far were New Hampshire and Maine, as is the case most years.

According to the article, ATF agents discovered that gun traffickers in Massachusetts were legally buying large numbers of guns from New Hampshire and Maine, where they are much easier and cheaper to buy, and reselling them to people in Massachusetts.

The flow of guns from northern New England to Massachusetts is propelled by key differences among state gun laws. It’s all about private handgun sales, in particular. In Massachusetts every private handgun sale must be recorded and reported to the state within seven days. And the buyer must have a license to carry from local police, which in turn requires a background check. The Massachusetts rules are tight.

Up north, not so much. Buyers at federally licensed gun shops in Maine and New Hampshire are subjected to a federal background check for prior felonies, or a history of severe mental illness. But when it comes to private gun sales — at a gun show, or even a commuter parking lot — no documentation is required — no background check, no record of the transaction.

Darcie McElwee, an assistant U.S. attorney in Maine, says that in her state a private seller doesn’t even have to ask the buyer for a driver’s license.

Now it’s still illegal to sell guns to a convicted felon or for a felon to buy a gun, so if someone is caught doing this, they’ll go to jail for two years minimum. And the rates of gun deaths and injuries are still lower in Massachusetts than in states with less strict gun laws.

Clearly strict state laws are not enough to prevent gun violence. We need federal laws to control gun sales and to encourage gun safety–like the Massachusetts law that requires guns to be unloaded and locked up when not in use. But how can we make that happen? According to the WBUR article, Congress has even made it difficult to keep track of guns that are used in crimes and for academic researchers to access federal government data on gun trafficking.

Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey has introduced a bill to require all guns to be personalized so they can only be fired by the owner or another authorized person. These so-called “smart guns” already exist.

One of California’s largest firearm stores recently added a peculiar new gun to its shelves. It requires an accessory: a black waterproof watch.

The watch’s primary purpose is not to provide accurate time, though it does. The watch makes the gun think. Electronic chips inside the gun and watch communicate with each other. If the watch is within close reach of the gun, a light on the grip turns green. Fire away. No watch means no green light. The gun becomes a paperweight.

A dream of gun control advocates for decades, the Armatix iP1 is the country’s first smart gun. Its introduction is seen as a landmark event in efforts to reduce gun violence, suicides, and accidental shootings….

Of course the NRA will fight this tooth and nail, and it’s not going to get through the Senate, much less the House, in the current environment.

Now check this out. According to a piece at Venture Beat, you can quickly and easily buy guns on Facebook!

Fifteen minutes.

That’s all it takes for children, felons, and people without IDs to buy illegal weapons on Facebook pages dedicated to the sale and celebration of guns.

A VentureBeat investigation has uncovered dozens of pages on Facebook where guns are for sale, including semi-automatic weapons, handguns, and silencers. While the transactions don’t actually happen on Facebook, the social network is a remarkably easy way to find shady people willing to sell you a weapon — no questions asked. The illegal transactions then take place in diners, dark parking lots, and isolated country roads — away from the prying eyes of the feds and local police.

In Kentucky, Greenup County Sheriff Keith Cooper remembers when a call came into dispatch last October saying a 15-year-old student had been arrested on the Greenup County High School campus for carrying an unlicensed and loaded 9mm handgun to school. The boy was arrested and brought to Cooper’s office for an interview.

When Cooper, a former Kentucky State Trooper with a heavy Southern drawl, asked the kid where he got the gun, his reply was shocking: Facebook.

Read it and weep. Oh, and Facebook claims they don’t allow people to sell guns or explosives on their pages, but clearly they’re not enforcing these rules very well.

It’s not news to anyone that America has a love affair with guns. Guns and hunting are part of American culture, going hand-in-hand with the cult of rugged individualism. I’ve always thought it came from the frontier tradition. Most of the country was settled by pioneering who set out from the East coast to begin new lives in the Midwest and West before the arrival of the accoutrements of civilization–like law enforcement, banks, and insurance companies. In my generation at least, kids saw endless movies and TV shows about “cowboys and Indians;” and we played with toy guns–even us girls. And of course, since we were born shortly after World War II, many of us watch movies that glorified war.

Still I’ve never wanted a real gun. It seems to me that the gun culture is much stronger in some ways than in those innocent days of the 1950s and ’60s. But why? The obvious answer is the lobbying and propaganda efforts of the National Rifle Association (NRA). And what about  the recent work of ALEC and the Koch Brothers to get state “stand your ground” laws passed around the country? Dahlia Lithwick has posted a fine piece about this at Slate.

“Stand Your Ground” Nation: America used to value the concept of retreat. Now we just shoot.

Last week, Kriston Charles Belinte Chee, an unarmed man, got into a fight with Cyle Wayne Quadlin at a Walmart in suburban Arizona. Quadlin opened fire midargument and killed CheeOfficers decided not to charge Quadlin because, they concluded, the killing was in self-defense. According to the police spokesman, “Mr. Quadlin was losing the fight and indicated he ‘was in fear for his life.’” Just a week earlier, a jury in Jacksonville, Fla., found Michael Dunn guilty on four counts of attempted murder but did not convict him on the most serious charge of first-degree murder, in the death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Dunn shot and killed Davis, also unarmed, because the music coming from his car was too loud. Dunn claimed he saw something like a gun in the vehicle, and that was apparently enough for some members of the jury to conclude that Dunn hadn’t committed first-degree murder.

Given all this, it’s not unreasonable to argue that, in America, you can be shot and killed, without consequences for the shooter, for playing loud musicwearing a hoodie, or shopping at a Walmart. The question is whether the wave of “stand your ground” legislation is to blame.

Is it true? Lithwick quotes doubters who say that neither George Zimmerman invoked “stand your ground,” However juries were told about the “stand your ground” principle, and could have been confused by the growing consensus in Florida that people [at least white males] have the right to shoot an unarmed person if they “feel threatened.” Lithwick writes:

It’s clear that at least some of the jurors in both cases took the principle of “stand your ground” into account to some degree during deliberations. We now know that at leastone juror, and possibly two, in Dunn’s trial took to heart the specific instruction that Dunn “had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.” Whether or not jurors in Florida are technically instructed to apply the “stand your ground” component of self-defense law, it’s increasingly clear that they are, at minimum, confused about it (understandably) and may even be starting to apply it reflexively. Yes, Dunn’s attorney argued traditional self-defense. But, as former assistant U.S. attorney David Weinstein told the Associated Press, “I think people will say that because some of the language from the stand your ground statute gets embedded into the jury instructions, that stand your ground has an effect.”

I might go further. I might say that whether or not specific jurisdictions define self-defense to include a duty to retreat, and whether or not specific juries are charged to apply it, America is quickly becoming one big “stand your ground” state, as a matter of culture if not the letter of the law.

Please go read the whole thing. It’s frightening but important. Lithwick argues that the new laws are changing the culture itself–and not just in the states with “stand your ground” laws.

Now I’ve gone and written another single-subject post. I just have room for a few headlines before I turn the floor over to you.

Washington Post: Hillary Clinton makes case for ‘full participation’ and equality

Talking Points Memo: Hillary Clinton Defends Obamacare While Backing Changes

BBC News: Ukraine warns Russia against ‘aggression’ in Crimea

NPR: Crimea: 3 Things To Know About Ukraine’s Latest Hot Spot

The Daily Beast: The Spoiled Rotten Kids of the DC Elite

NYT: New F.D.A. Nutrition Labels Would Make ‘Serving Sizes’ Reflect Actual Servings

Dana Millbank: Republicans flip-flop on ‘judicial activism’

I hope Dak will weigh in on this one. Matthew O’Brien: How the Fed Let the World Blow Up in 2008

USA Today: NASA – 715 new planets found, 4 might support life

What stories have caught your interest today? Please share your links in the comment thread, and have a great day!


Tuesday Reads: Romney Gets Women’s Health Questions in IL, Santorum Talks Brokered Convention, Manning and Tebow, and the Trayvon Martin Murder

Good Morning!!

Today is the Illinois primary, so I have a few links for you about that–even though I’m sure you’re as sick of reading about Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum as I am.

According to CNN, Romney leads Santorum by double digits as of last night.

The Caucus Blog (NYT): Before Illinois Primary, Santorum Talks of Brokered Convention

Mr. Santorum remains insistent that he and the other Republican challengers are in a position to deny Mr. Romney the 1,144 delegates he needs to claim the party’s nomination. In an appearance on CBS’s “Early Show,” Mr. Santorum said Mr. Romney could not win.

“The convention will nominate a conservative,” Mr. Santorum said. “They will not nominate the establishment moderate candidate from Massachusetts. When we nominate moderates, when we nominate a Tweedledum versus Tweedledee, we don’t win elections.”

Asked about the odds of a brokered convention, Mr. Santorum said, “Obviously, they are increasing.”

Washington Post: On eve of Illinois primary, Mitt Romney faces tough questions about women’s issues

PEORIA, Ill. — Mitt Romney wanted to talk about the economy, but Bradley University had other ideas.

The Republican presidential front-runner faced tough questions about his opposition to Planned Parenthood and mandatory birth control coverage as he met with students Monday night.

CNN (with video): Romney can’t escape birth control questions in Illinois

After Romney riffed for about 20 minutes on President Barack Obama’s management of the economy, he solicited questions from the large student-heavy audience.

As the first questioner made apparent, these voters were not pre-screened.

“So you’re all for like, yay, freedom, and all this stuff,” said the first woman to approach a microphone. “And yay, like pursuit of happiness. You know what would make me happy? Free birth control.”

….

“You know, let me tell you, no no, look, look let me tell you something,” he said, waiting for the crowd noise died down. “If you’re looking for free stuff you don’t have to pay for? Vote for the other guy, that’s what he’s all about, okay? That’s not, that’s not what I’m about.”

Romney also told the students that he would end government funding for Planned Parenthood and he didn’t know or care where women could go for health care after he ends the funding. What a guy.

Washington Post Politics: Romney, Santorum each claim conservative mantle before Illinois primary

On the eve of the hotly contested Illinois primary, each of the leading Republican presidential candidates drew inspiration from touchstones of conservatism on Monday and offered himself as the standard-bearer for the right’s fight against President Obama.

Mitt Romney traveled to the urban campus where Obama once taught constitutional law to lecture the president on the principle of economic freedom, paying homage to the University of Chicago’s legacy as the intellectual center of free-market economics.

A hundred miles west in Dixon, Rick Santorum tried to channel the spirit and vision of Ronald Reagan during a stop in the former president’s boyhood hometown, hoping to give his insurgent campaign a last-minute infusion of energy.

As they journeyed across Illinois, Romney and Santorum each cast himself as the rightful heir to Reagan’s conservative mantle…

As we’ve all noted previously, if Ronald Reagan ran today, he wouldn’t be nominated. He wasn’t anywhere near as far right as today’s Republicans.

In sports news, the Peyton Manning sweepstakes is over. Manning is going to the Denver Broncos, and Xtian fundamentalist weirdo Tim Tebow may be traded.

Unfortunately, Jim Clayton of ESPN started a rumor that the New England Patriots might want Tebow. I don’t know if I could take that. I don’t really think Tebow’s super-pious act would go over that well in Foxborough. I haven’t seen any of the Patriots players kneeling down and praising Jesus before games and after scoring. Ugh!

Dakinikat and I both wrote about the Trayvon Martin case yesterday, and I have a few more links on that.

First, Connie posted a link to this very informative Mother Jones article yesterday: The Trayvon Martin Killing, Explained. If you haven’t heard the 911 calls, the audio from all of them is posted in the piece. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law,” which gives very broad interpretations to “self-defense” is explained in the MJ article. Here’s a bit of it:

In 1987, then-Gov. Bob Martinez (R) signed Florida’s concealed-carry provision into law, which “liberalized the restrictions that previously hindered the citizens of Florida from obtaining concealed weapons permits,” according to one legal analyst. This trendsetting “shall-issue” statute triggered a wave of gun-carry laws in other states. (Critics said at the time that Florida would become “Dodge City.”) Permit holders are also exempted from the mandatory state waiting period on handgun purchases.

Even though felons and other violent offenders are barred from getting a weapons permit, a 2007 investigation by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found that licenses had been mistakenly issued to 1,400 felons and hundreds more applicants with warrants, domestic abuse injunctions, or gun violations. (More than 410,000 Floridians have been issued concealed weapons permits.) Since then, Florida also passed a law permitting residents to keep guns in their cars at work, against employers’ wishes. The state also nearly allowed guns on college campuses last year, until an influential Republican lawmaker fought the bill after his close friend’s daughter was killed by an AK-47 brandished at a Florida State University fraternity party.

Florida also makes it easy to plead self-defense in a killing. Under then-Gov. Jeb Bush, the state in 2005 passed a broad “stand your ground” law, which allows Florida residents to use deadly force against a threat without attempting to back down from the situation. (More stringent self-defense laws state that gun owners have “a duty to retreat” before resorting to killing.)

The Florida courts have upheld the law and issued some truly shocking findings.

This has led to some stunning verdicts in the state. In Tallahassee in 2008, two rival gangs engaged in a neighborhood shootout, and a 15-year-old African American male was killed in the crossfire. The three defendants all either were acquitted or had their cases dismissed, because the defense successfully argued they were defending themselves under the “stand your ground” law. The state attorney in Tallahassee, Willie Meggs, was beside himself. “Basically this law has put us in the posture that our citizens can go out into the streets and have a gun fight and the dead person is buried and the survivor of the gun fight is immune from prosecution,” he said at the time.

One of those defendants ended up receiving a conviction for attempted voluntary manslaughter for an unrelated case, in which he shot indiscriminately at two people in a car.

The only hope Trayvon Martin’s family may have is for the U.S. Justice Department to step in and investigate the shooting as a hate crime. And I just saw the news breaking on Twitter that the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI have opened an investigation into the Trayvon Martin case.

Here are a couple of articles about the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law and its impact on the courts.

Miami Herald: Florida’s self-defense law could hamper efforts to prosecute Trayvon Martin shooter

Slate: Why Trayvon Martin’s Killer Remains Free: “Florida’s self-defense laws have left Florida safe for no one—except those who shoot first.”

Boy am I glad Massachusetts has tough gun laws! Florida college students held a rally yesterday in Sanford, FL, the Orlando suburb where the shooting took place.

College students around Florida are rallying Monday to demand the arrest of a neighborhood watch captain who fatally shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.

Students rallied in front of the Seminole County criminal courts building in Sanford – the central Florida city where the shooting occurred – and on the campus of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.

In the courts building is the State Attorney’s Office, where prosecutors will review the case and decide whether to file criminal charges against George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who killed Martin on Feb. 26.

Demonstrators are demanding the arrest of the 28-year-old Zimmerman, who authorities say shot the teenager during a confrontation in a gated community. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense; Florida law allows a person to use deadly force if the person believes he or she is facing a deadly threat.

The problem is that Zimmerman actually pursued Martin and had the boy pinned face down on the ground when he pulled the trigger. He wasn’t “standing his ground.” He initiated a confrontation with a boy who weighed 140 pounds, nearly 100 pounds less than Zimmerman.

Just a couple more links.

Al Sharpton at HuffPo announcing his rally in Sanford on Thursday.

On Thursday, March 22 at 7 p.m., National Action Network (NAN) and I will convene an urgent rally at the First Shiloh Baptist Church in Sanford, FL. to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. We will be joined by community leaders and concerned citizens from all ethnicities, backgrounds and walks of life that cannot even begin to comprehend this nightmarish situation. A young teenager walking home, armed only with candy and a drink, should never lose his/her life because someone in a gated community feels ‘threatened.’ George Zimmerman, the accused adult shooter, is roaming the earth freely while Trayvon’s mother, father and family members must bury their precious child. It is an atrocious miscarriage of justice, and we demand that authorities in Florida arrest Zimmerman immediately and charge him for the crime of murder. Anyone with sound reasoning cannot disagree.

Sharpton goes on to discuss the “Stand Your Ground Laws” and why they shouldn’t apply to what Zimmerman did. To me, the 911 calls are evidence that Zimmerman was the aggressor. At least five individuals saw the altercation and heard Trayvon’s screams for help while George Zimmerman lay on top of him.

At the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates pulls a quote from the Miami Herald story I linked earlier:

“We are taking a beating over this,” said [Bill] Lee, who defends the investigation. “This is all very unsettling. I’m sure if George Zimmerman had the opportunity to relive Sunday, Feb. 26, he’d probably do things differently. I’m sure Trayvon would, too.”

Bill Lee is the Sanford police chief who let George Zimmerman go free without even taking a drug and alcohol text. He thinks Trayvon should have done things differently. What does that mean? That it was wrong for this boy to go to the corner store for some candy and a bottle of iced tea? There’s more about Zimmerman’s attitudes at the link.

I’ll end with this: What bothers me most is that Trayvon’s body was taken to the morgue as an unidentified person. The body was held there for three days, supposedly because the boy had no ID. But I learned last night that Trayvon had his cell phone with him. The boy’s father was calling the cell phone, and there certainly should have been a way to identify the boy from that phone. Why couldn’t they call the last number called? Why didn’t the police go door to door in the neighborhood and try to find out who the boy was? Surely that alone is evidence of profiling. The assumption was that the boy didn’t come from that neighborhood.

That’s it for me for today. What are you reading and blogging about?