With lightening speed for a state legislature, New York became the first state to pass a comprehensive gun safety bill since the massacre December 14, 2012 at Newtown, Connecticut. New York’s gun control bill, passed and signed today, is the toughest in the nation. It expands the definition of “assault weapon” to include semiautomatic weapons to include those with just one feature commonly associated with military weapons, like a bayonet mount, flash suppressor or pistol grip. Previously the definition required two features. New York’s bill also revokes or suspends gun licenses held by people whom mental health experts determine to be a danger to society. The new law limits magazines to just seven rounds of ammunition instead of ten, and provides for enhanced monitoring of ammunition purchases to flag high-volume buyers. Gun licenses must be re-certified every five years. (They used to never expire.) The law increases penalties for illegal gun possession and for using a gun against emergency responders. “Common sense can win,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo as he signed the bill, less than an hour the New York State Assembly passed it by a vote of 104 to 43 . “You can overpower extremists with intelligence and with reason and common sense,” Cuomo said. The National Rifle Association called the law “draconian,” and said it was passed “under a veil of secrecy in the dark of night.” The bill passed on the second day of New York state’s 2013 legislative session.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) posted a 35 second Internet ad called “Stand and Fight” that takes aim at President Obama’s children over the issue of gun safety regulations. The ad accuses President Obama of being an “elitist hypocrite” for accepting armed secret service protection for his children, Sasha, age 11, and Malia, age 14, while other children attend school without armed guards. The voiceover in the ad asks “Are the president’s kids more important that yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when HIS kids are protected by armed guards at THEIR school? Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he’s just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security. Protection for their kids and gun-free zones for ours.” There were reports on MSNBC that the NRA pulled the ad almost as quickly as they posted it, but as of this evening the ad was still visible at the NRA’s new website, NRAStandandFight.com.
A portion of Bushmaster’s tasteless online promotion. (The company has since pulled it.)
Bushmaster, the company that makes the machine gun Adam Lanza used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre December 14, 2012, was forced to pull a shockingly bad ad campaign from its website that taunted men about their masculinity and portrayed them as not masculine unless they owned a gun. Bushmaster’s site quizzed men about whether they ate tofu, knew how to change a tire or had ever watched figure skating “on purpose.” If men passed the “quiz,” they would get awarded a “Man Card” that entitled them to “leave the seat up without shame.” A “Man Card” could be revoked if a man was a “coward,” a “cry baby” or found himself on a “short leash.” One part of the site said “Colin F. avoids eye contact with tough-looking 5th graders. MAN CARD REVOKED.” The ad also made it clear that a man could reclaim his manhood by buying a Bushmaster assault rifle, like the one Adam Lanza allegedly used at Newtown.
The U.S. government has invested billions to determine the causes behind traffic fatalities and used that information to make policies that have markedly reduce traffic deaths in the United States. Government research on traffic safety has led to the widespread use of seat belts, front and side impact air bags, child safety seats and other advances that have greatly advanced road safety and reduced vehicular deaths for Americans. The number of deaths annually from firearms in the U.S. closely approximates the number of traffic fatalities — roughly 30,000 deaths per year from each. Yet there has been little research into, or advances made in reducing gun deaths. Why? Because the National Rifle Association (NRA) has long worked behind the scenes to block laws allowing the collection and dissemination of data about the impact of gun ownership on Americans’ safety. The NRA quietly pushed a provision that was inserted into the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) restricting the data doctors can collect from their patients about their ownership and use of firearms. From 1986 and 1996, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control conducted peer-reviewed research into the impact of the presence of guns in people’s homes. While there is a widespread belief among gun owners that the presence of guns in their homes makes them safer, the CDC found the opposite — that having a gun in the home creates a 2.7 times greater risk of homicide and a 4.8 greater risk of suicide for the occupants. The NRA took action to prevent CDC from publicizing these results, and blocked continued funding of government research into the impact of firearms on citizen safety.
Wayne LaPierre, Executive VP of the National Rifle Association
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre gave an instructive lesson in PR techniques during his talk last Friday about NRA recommendations to prevent further machine-gun massacres of innocent people. LaPierre completely dodged the central safety issues on everyones’ mind — the rise of public massacres and massive numbers of gun deaths in the U.S., — and instead switched the subject to video games, a lack of armed guards in schools and other topics well-removed from the central issues at hand. In so doing, La Pierre applied the classic PR playbook techniques of changing the focus and broadening the issue. It goes like this: If you can’t wage a successful battle on the issue you currently face, then change the issue to one you think you can win more easily.
PR techniques like this were first used to great effect by tobacco industry, which provided a model for other industries to follow. Back in the 1990s, when the EPA labeled secondhand smoke a Group A Known Human Carcinogen that kills 3,000 people a year, the cigarette industry reacted by redirecting public concern at great cost onto entirely new, previously-unknown issue called “sick building syndrome,” that focused on poor building ventilation and the supposed off-gassing of new carpet, drywall and other building materials. Thus it was no longer secondhand smoke that was making people sick in their homes and workplaces, it was bad construction materials and poor air circulation. Proposals to ban smoking in restaurants and bars were portrayed as threats against private property rights. Cigarette taxes became issues of fairness and effective tax policy, cigarette marketing became an issue of freedom of commercial speech, cigarette-related fires become an issue of fire safety programs, and so on.
In keeping with his track record of tackling tough political issues during his time in office, President Obama today took steps today to address what he and many others are recognizing as an epidemic of gun violence in the United States. The mass slaughter of innocent people, including 20 six and seven year old children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last Friday has spurred President Obama to make addressing gun violence a top priority for his second term in office. In lightening-quick time by Washington, D.C. standards, the President established an interagency task force headed by Vice President Joe Biden that is is charged with immediately developing a comprehensive strategy to reduce gun violence and address mental health care issues in the U.S. Mr. Obama also said he supports efforts in Congress to revive the lapsed ban on military-style assault weapons and enact restrictions on high-volume ammunition clips, noting a majority of Americans support these policies. In giving his talk, President Obama listed off all the gun deaths that have happened across the U.S. just since the Sandy Hook incident on Friday, noting that 10,000 Americans each year die from gun violence. He sought the help of the American people, including responsible gun owners, to help him change things in the U.S. for the better, challenging lawmakers to summon a fraction of the courage that the teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary summoned last Friday as they tried to protect their students.
Protesters mass in Washington, D.C. to demand action against gun slaughter (Credit:Fox News, D.C.)
The National Rifle Association has gone dark, shutting down its Facebook page, going silent on Twitter and staying silent on it’s blog as it hunkers down in face of anti-gun protesters marching on its Washington, D.C. headquarters in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. WalMart, one of the world’s largest sellers of both guns and kids’ toys, announced it is pulling Bushmaster rifles off its shelves nationwide. And another large gun seller, Dick’s Sporting Goods, tastefully removed all guns from view at its store closest to Newtown, Connecticut, where the mass killing took place last Friday, and announced it will stop selling “modern sporting rifles” at stores nationwide. The California state treasurer is considering purging the state’s pension investment funds of stock in companies that manufacture guns, and Cerberus Capital Management, a big investment firm, divested itself of holdings in Freedom Group, which makes Bushmaster rifles like the one the shooter used at Sandy Hook. The California State Teachers’ Retirement Fund is also looking to divest itself of funds invested in Freedom Group. Meanwhile, online petitions demanding legislators move quickly to better regulate guns and gun purchases are gathering signatures at phenomenal rates. One petition we’ve been following on SignOn.org — the biggest one so far — continues to gather hundreds of signatures every hour and is currently up to almost 380,000 signors. Another petition on the White House’s “We the People” petition website that sprang up demanding the Obama administration take immediate action to limit access to guns has gathered 184,202 signatures. It needed just 25,000 signatures to get serious consideration by the Obama administration.
A Bushmaster .233 semiautomatic rifle, the kind that was used to slaughter 20 children in Newtown, CT. The National Rifle Association has campaigned to keep the gun legal.
In almost the blink of an eye, an online petition demanding sensible federal-level gun safety laws has gathered more than 230,000 signatures, and is continuing to gather signatures at a rate of almost 2,000 per hour. The response to the petition was so overwhelming that shortly after starting it, the woman who began the petition changed the goal for the number of signers to 250,000. The petition’s impetus was the December 14 bloodbath at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in which a 20 year-old gunman entered the school and slaughtered 20 six and seven year old pupils and six adult employees who tried to save the children. The petition seeks closure of gun show loopholes that allow people to buy guns without background checks, an end to the online sale of ammunition, mandatory waiting periods for gun purchases during which thorough background checks are conducted, and mandatory psychological and medical evaluations prior to making gun purchases. The petition also requests that character references be provided and evaluated out prior to gun purchases. More accountability should be placed in the hands of retailers, the petition says. When patrons refuse wait periods, authorities should be notified. Gun handling training and testing should be mandatory, as should a renewal process that includes many of the above-mentioned evaluation terms. “Our second amendment rights are long overdue a reevaluation. How many more senseless and entirely PREVENTABLE shootings have to occur before we do something about Gun Control,” asks Staci Sarkin, the petition’s creator. The petition will be send to the House of Representatives. “As a citizen and constituent of this great country, I am asking that you take a firm stand and make a positive change by restricting access to guns and saving lives,” Sarkin’s petition states. Sign the petition here.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper courageously said the time is right to talk about guns and gun violence in the U.S. and what can be done about it.
Last Thursday, ironically just one day before the latest tragic school massacre in Connecticut, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper became a lone voice of political sanity on gun issues in the U.S. when he said it’s finally time to have an open discussion about guns and gun control in Colorado. Hickenlooper said he wanted to wait until a few months had passed after the Aurora Theater massacre to raise the issue, and no sooner did he mention it than yet another horrific mass shooting took place in an elementary school in Connecticut, killing 20 very young children and seven adults. Today, on the day of that tragic massacre, President Obama backed up Hickenlooper. Obama, reacting at a White House briefing as many of us do to such shootings, with great sadness, uttered a statement that it is finally time for action to be taken to reduce gun violence in the U.S.:
“As a country we have been through this too many times. Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago — these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. We’re going to have to come together to meaningful action on this, regardless of the politics,” Obama said.
Guest post by Ken Gordon, former Majority Leader of the Colorado Senate
Former Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon
It would take you less than an hour to drive from Columbine High School to the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora. Both venues are in the suburbs of Denver and subject to the laws created by the Colorado Legislature.
Few politicians have mentioned laws when talking about the shooting in Aurora. The following story will help explain this reluctance.
I was the Minority Leader in the Colorado House when the Columbine shooting occurred.
Most of the guns used at Columbine were bought at the Tanner Gun Show in Adams County. Robyn Anderson, a friend of the Columbine shooters, Harris and Klebold, went with them to the show, and helped them buy the guns. She testified in a House hearing that they purposefully bought guns at tables that were not federally licensed dealers, because they did not want to give their names and addresses for a background check.
Following Columbine, I sponsored the legislation to require background checks for any purchase at a gun show. We referred to it as “closing the gun show loophole.”
Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr.’s family (Screen capture from Democracy Now! video)
The family of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. has filed a $21 million civil rights lawsuit against the City White Plains, New York and the White Plains Police Department. Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., 68, was shot dead inside his own home in the early morning on November 19, 2011 by White Plains police after he accidentally set off his life aid medical alert pendant while sleeping. Police arrived at his apartment, but responded as though a crime was in progress instead of as if responding to potential medical emergency. The police knocked in Chamberlain’s door and demanded he open it. Chamberlain told the police he was okay, and didn’t need their help, but the police continued to pound on Chamberlain’s door, yelling racial slurs and demanding Chamberlain open the door. Afraid, Chamberlain refused. Police then broke down Chamberlain’s door, shot him with a taser, then fired beanbags at him. Finally, White Plains Police Officer Anthony Carelli shot Chamberlain dead. Police claimed Chamberlain tried to attack them with a knife. Video from a camera on the taser gun surfaced in May, showing police breaking down Chamberlain’s door and shooting him with the taser. Chamberlain is seen standing inside his apartment, shirtless and wearing boxer shorts. The family filed the lawsuit just under two months after a Westchester County grand jury refused to indict Police Officer Anthony Carelli for the shooting.
Activists opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad posted a startling YouTube video of the aftermath of the Syrian government’s May 25, 2012 massacre of 51 children and nearly as many adults. In the video, a man picks up the bodies of the dead and mangled children one at a time. As he shows them to the camera, a voice says “These are children, for God’s sake! Hey, World, look at Assad’s crimes! God is greater than you, you arrogant murderer!” English subtitles translate voices in the video that urge the international community to intervene to save the Syrian people. United Nations officials report Syrian government artillery and tank fire killed more than 90 people total in the district of Houla in the central province of Homs, which has been under almost constant attack by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad for months. Syria’s state-run news agency blamed the massacre on non-specific “armed terrorists.” The Syrian government restricts journalists from entering the country, and since several journalists attempting to cover what has been happening in Syria have lost their lives, amateur videos like this one posted on YouTube are the outside world’s main source of information about what is happening inside Syria. WARNING: The video is graphic.
An anonymous women’s prayer group sent an email to Mikey Weinstein, the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), in which they promised to pray for women who work for MRFF or who are related to Weinstein to get incurable breast cancer as punishment for the organization’s activities. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation works to ensure that all members of the United States Armed Forces get the Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom to which they are entitled by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Doing this sometimes requires that MRFF point out when fundamentalist Christian programs and activities step over the line of separation of church and state. This has earned MRFF some powerful detractors, and while hate mail is routine for the organization, this email was particularly misguided. The authors of the email specifically named the women they would target in their prayers, saying (note errors are in original)
“Our prayer circle has never failed to achieve our hosts granting of the scripture we pray. for direct intervention against you as you are a true demon to America. Luke 9:1 We will not stop our prayers until you stop the evil you do with Lucifer on a daly basis. Luke 9:1 But not against you Mickey. We know by your internet site and your book who it is to be. Now for our prayer, we pray that the women who work in your MFRR and the women in your family will befall fast moving breast cancer which can not everbe cured.” The email then listed the names of 14 women associated with MRFF. The last line of the email stated, “[K]now that we pray and pray hard all the days until you stop your destruction of our American army and accept Christ Jesus as Lord and join His army.”
The MRFF says that the organization’s “significant base of Christian supporters often shares their horror at the actions” of fundamentalist Christians like those who wrote the email “that give all Christians a bad name and awful reputation.”
The American Legislative Exchange Council, the group that has come under attack recently for its proliferation of “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, announced today that it is eliminating its Public Safety and Elections Task force, the subcommittee responsible for creating and pushing voter suppression laws, liberal or “Shoot First” gun laws and other controversial legislation that has drawn more scrutiny to the organization. ALEC’s move to dump the task force comes shortly after ten major corporations fled the group. ALEC has been at the heart of the spread not only of controversial “Shoot First” gun laws, but also of laws that attack unions, divert taxpayer funds to private schools, “papers, please” immigration laws and other controversial laws. ALEC explained the dumping of its Public Safety and Elections Task Force by saying it was eliminating the group to focus more strongly on economic issues that “spur competitiveness and innovation and put more Americans back to work.” An ALEC spokeswoman said the organization would no longer work on issues pertaining to elections or guns. The elimination of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force is a victory for grassroots groups like ColorOfChange.org that have been campaigning to highlight ALEC’s role in spreading legislation drafted by corporations.
Kraft Foods, Coke, Pepsi, Intuit and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have all pulled their support of the controversial corporate bill mill the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Now Common Cause, a nonprofit public interest advocacy organization, is circulating a petition urging McDonalds, State Farm Insurance and Johnson & Johnson to cut their ties to ALEC. ALEC has been revealed as a driving force behind so-called Shoot-First laws that led to the Trayvon Martin killing and increased citizen vigilantism, “Voter ID” bills that deny millions of U.S. citizens a right to vote and attacks on public schools that divert taxpayer money to charter and private schools. ALEC is a members-only group that exposes state legislators to corporate lobbyists several times throughout the year at conferences and gatherings at tony beach-front spa and golf resorts. Legislators pay a small fee to belong to ALEC, but corporations pay tens of thousands of dollars to become members. Corporate members gain direct access to legislators at ALEC-sponsored events. You can read more about ALEC at ALECExposed.org.
Under the law, American citizens used to have to back away from threats, but since 2005 many American states have radically expanded self-defense rights to allow people to meet threats with force, not just in their own homes, but in public places as well. Since 2005, over 30 states have passed so-called “Shoot first” or “Stand Your Ground” laws that make it harder to convict people of murder if they claim they killed in self-defense. Since Florida’s shoot-first law was enacted in 2005, justifiable homicide cases have tripled, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. In the five years prior to the passage of Florida’s shoot-first law, 12 private citizens committed killings, but in the five years after the law’s passage, the average number of killings by private citizens in Florida jumped to 36. The national group Associate of Prosecuting Attorneys says “Stand your Ground” laws present a barrier to the prosecution of genuine criminals. Such laws have been spread in part through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-backed group in which corporations partner with legislators behind closed doors to promote conservative, pro-business bills.
“Stand your ground” laws — also called “Shoot First” laws — are drawing greater scrutiny in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin, the 17 year old African American in Florida who was allegedly shot while simply walking home from a convenience store. Shoot First laws are versions of “Make My Day” laws that allow people who claim they fear for their life or bodily safety to freely shoot to kill someone who enters their home. Florida’s version confers a shoot-first right on people who are even in public places outside their homes. Many Shoot First laws were enacted starting in 2006 in large part due to the efforts of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a secretive collaboration between corporations and legislators that helps advance corporate agendas in legislatures across the U.S. ALEC composed and circulated Shoot First model legislation (pdf), which they then got into the hands of conservative legislators, helping to greatly advance their spread. ALEC’s “model” Shoot First law (which they dubbed the “Castle Doctrine Act,”) was composed by ALEC’s “Public Safety and Elections” committee. In 2011, the National Rifle Association was the corporate co-chair of this ALEC committee. The NRA is funded by gun manufacturers (pdf). ALEC apparently got the idea for the law from Florida state Rep. Dennis Baxley of Ocala, taking the idea from him and adopting it as their “model legislation” in 2006, after which the laws spread across the nation.