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Vocapedia > USA > Gun violence > Gun control / debate / laws / legislation




Mark Kelly leans his head on the shoulder

of his wife and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords

as they attend a news conference asking Congress and the Senate

to provide stricter gun control in the United States

on March 6, 2013 in Tucson, Arizona.


Giffords and Kelly

were joined by survivors of the Tucson shooting

as they spoke outside the Safeway grocery store

where the shooting happened two years ago

where six people were killed.


Photograph: Joshua Lott/Getty Images


Boston Globe > Big Picture

2013 year in pictures: Part I



















Bob Englehart


Gun Laws

Bob Englehart

is the staff cartoonist for the Hartford Courant,

and his cartoons are nationally syndicated

by Cagle Cartoons.


28 January 2013















permit laws










red flag laws


















Chicago gun laws










Colorado gun laws











New York gun law / legislation














Oregon gun laws



























Florida > gun control measures        March 2018





















gun laws


watch?v=v06QbyTG5Ts - NYT - 16 December 2019



























Utah’s gun permit        2010






enact a Stand Your Ground gun law        2013






states with tighter gun laws

have fewer gun deaths






laws to curb gun violence




















Sensible Gun Control

23 January 2013


R.J. Matson

is the editorial cartoonist

at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Roll Call,

and is syndicated internationally by Cagle Cartoons.

















People who have lost loved ones to gun violence

gathered in Washington

before the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting.


Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images


Fight on Guns Is Being Taken to State Ballots




















NRA Stands Its Ground

John Darkow

has been a professional cartoonist for over 20 years,

spending the last 10 as the staff cartoonist

at the Columbia Daily Tribune.

He is syndicated internationally by Cagle Cartoons.


24 January 2013



























































































































































































































gun debate














gun reform












regulation debate






sensible regulation of guns






cartoons > Cagle > Gun debate






cartoons > Cagle > Gun debate        January 2011
















control guns






control gun violence














USA > gun control        UK / USA


































100000005743406/florida-school-shooting-victims-gun-control.html -  Feb. 16, 2018












































https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZq2F9LcUrI - 22 June 2016





















watch?v=pj_3M_RvKVY - 5 January 2015

















































































make gun controls tougher






gun policies






reduce shootings






regulations on bump stocks






ban / outlaw (...) bump stocks,

accessories that allow semi-automatic firearms

to mimic the rapid firing action of machine guns.












gun control activist






gun control advocates






regulate guns







































USA > background checks        UK / USA




































































implement universal  background checks










guns / firearms > FBI > National Instant Criminal Background Check System

















handgun database










USA > Gunmakers' town in crisis after shootings        UK


December 2012


Ilion, home of Remington Arms

which makes the type of rifle

used in the Newtown massacre,

finds itself at the centre

of the gun control debate




















 Sarah Brady in 2011

with her husband, James S. Brady,

who was shot when a gunman

tried to kill President Ronald Reagan.



Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


Sarah Brady, Gun Control Activist, Is Dead at 73


APRIL 3, 2015















Sarah Brady (born Sarah Kemp)        1942-2015


Sarah Brady (...) became

a tireless gun control activist

after her husband,

the White House press secretary

James S. Brady,

was shot and left partly paralyzed

in the attempted assassination

of President Ronald Reagan in 1981











James Scott Brady        1940-2014


White House press secretary

who was wounded

in an assassination attempt

on President Ronald Reagan

and then became

a symbol of the fight for gun control,

championing tighter regulations

from his wheelchair













Brady Campaign

















What Does the Rise of Homemade Guns Mean for Gun Laws?

We Made One To Find Out.        NYT        16 December 2019





What Does the Rise of Homemade Guns Mean for Gun Laws? We Made One To Find Out.        Video        NYT        16 December 2019


Virtually anyone can buy a kit online to build a gun from parts

— without a background check.


That raises questions about the future of gun regulation.


















Obama: US gun control laws 'greatest frustration of my presidency'    BBC    23 July 2015





Obama: US gun control laws 'greatest frustration of my presidency'        Video        BBC News        23 July 2015


US President Barack Obama

has talked about what he called

the lack of sufficient "common-sense gun safety laws"

in the US.


In an exclusive interview

with the BBC's North America editor Jon Sopel,

Mr Obama said a failure to tackle gun control

had been the greatest frustration of his presidency.


















gun bills










gun safety laws / gun control laws / gun laws / gun control legislation













































stricter gun laws








tougher gun laws








gun laws > state-by-state maps

on some of the most important gun laws        2015






UK > Scotland > gun laws






states with tighter gun laws

have fewer gun deaths






laws to curb gun violence






New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act

— or SAFE Act, as the 2013 gun law is known.







New York gun law / legislation








State Gun Laws Enacted in the Year Since Newtown        December 10, 2013


About 1,500 state gun bills

have been introduced

since the Newtown massacre.


178 passed

at least one chamber of a state legislature.


109 have become law.


In the 12 months

since the mass shooting

at Sandy Hook Elementary School

in Newtown, Conn.,

almost every state

has enacted at least one new gun law,

according to a database compiled

by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.


Nearly two-thirds of the new laws

ease restrictions and expand

the rights of gun owners.


Most of those bills

were approved in states

controlled by Republicans.


Those who support

stricter regulations

won some victories

— mostly in states

where the legislature and governorship

are controlled by Democrats —

to increase restrictions

on gun use and ownership.






Colorado’s new gun-control laws















gun-control law > enforce






30-round magazine






White House >  executive orders on gun control







USA > pro-gun control        UK









gun restrictions






























gun opponents










gun buyback










tracking guns










Mayors Against Illegal Guns










Violence Policy Center    VPC


Each year,

more than 30,000 Americans die

in gun suicides, homicides,

and unintentional shootings as a result

of the ready availability, and accessibility,

of specific classes of firearms.


Gun violence is more than a crime issue;

it is a broad-based public health crisis

of which crime

is merely the most recognized aspect.


The Violence Policy Center (VPC),

a national tax-exempt 501(c)(3)

non-profit organization based in Washington, DC,

works to stop this annual toll of death and injury

through research, advocacy,

education, and collaboration.



are the only consumer product not regulated

by a federal agency for health and safety.


This unique exemption

has been exploited by the gun industry

as it has moved to embrace increased lethality

as the foundation of its design,

manufacturing, and marketing efforts

in the wake of the long-term decline

in household gun ownership.



believes that the answer to reducing gun violence

lies in applying the decades-long lessons

of consumer product safety regulation

and injury prevention

to the gun industry and its products.


This approach is detailed

in our landmark 1994 publication

Cease Fire: A Comprehensive Strategy

to Reduce Firearms Violence.


The VPC has a long and proven

record of policy successes

on the federal, state, and local levels,

leading the National Rifle Association to acknowledge us

as "the most effective...

anti-gun rabble rouser in Washington."

- August 2014

















Chicago gun laws










Chicago's handgun restriction        2010

























Texas' New Open-Carry Law










California's gun laws










California > state law

that essentially bans carrying guns openly in public

and allows carrying concealed weapons

only if applicants can demonstrate good cause.












Guns and the Two Americas


JULY 31, 2015

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages

Contributing Op-Ed Writer

Timothy Egan


The waves of mass shootings continue to roll over the United States like surf on the ship of state’s prow. Every few weeks now we get hit with a jolt of cold water. We shake and shudder, and then brace ourselves for the next one.

So we beat on — a nation whose people are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of most other developed countries. The only thing extraordinary about mass shootings in America is how ordinary the killing grounds are — elementary schools, high schools, colleges, military recruitment centers, theaters, parks, churches.

Is no place safe? Actually, several places are. You want protection in a country that allows a deranged man to get an assault weapon to hunt down innocent people in a public space? Go to the airport — that bubble of gun-free security. Or go to a major-league baseball game, or a stadium in the National Football League.

Our big league venues may be engaging only in security theater, as critics assert, but their owners don’t think so. They now mandate metal detectors to snag weapons, and most of them even ban off-duty cops from bringing guns to the games.

Nationwide, if you want to lessen your chances of getting shot, stay out of the South. The South is the most violent region in the United States, and also the place with the highest rate of gun ownership. More guns, easily obtained by the mentally ill, religious fanatics and anti-government extremists, mean more gun deaths.

Better to go to a city or state with gun restrictions, at least if you’re playing the odds. Most of the states with tighter gun laws have fewer gun deaths.

That’s one America, the slightly safer one. It includes government gun-screened zones like airports, courthouses and many high schools. But more significantly, it also covers property used by our most popular obsession, pro football — the free market at work.

The other America is an open-fire zone, backed by politicians who think it should be even more crowded with average people parading around with lethal weapons. Just after the tragedy in a Louisiana theater a week ago — a shooting by a hate-filled man who was able to legally obtain a gun despite a history of mental illness — Rick Perry called gun-free zones a bad idea.

In his view, echoing that of the fanatics who own the Republican Party by intimidation, everyone should be armed, everywhere. Once a shooting starts, the bad guy with the gun will be killed by the good guy with the gun, somehow able to get a draw on the shooter in a darkened theater, or behind a pew in church.

This scenario almost never happens. The logic is nonsense, the odds of a perfectly timed counter-killer getting the drop on the evil killer unlikely. And even when such a situation does happen, as in the Tucson shooting of 2011, the armed citizen who jumps into the melee can pose a mortal threat to others. In Tucson, an innocent person came within seconds of getting shot by an armed bystander who wasn’t sure whom to shoot.

Most gun-free zones, like the theater in Lafayette, La., are not gun-free at all. They have no metal detectors or screening — that would cost too much, the theater owners claim. Gun-free is a suggestion, and therefore a misnomer. Eventually, the more prosperous theaters in better communities will pay for metal detectors, further setting apart the two Americas in our age of mass shootings.

The Mall of America — more than 500 stores in four miles of retail space, drawing 40 million annual visitors to a climate-controlled part of Minnesota — is trying to be a gun-free zone. “Guns are banned on these premises” is the mall’s official policy.

If the mall took up Rick Perry’s suggestion, shoppers could roam among the chain stores packing heat, ready for a shootout. The owners of that vast operation, similar to those who stage concerts and pro sports, think otherwise. The mall has a security force of more than a hundred people. Yeah — I hear the joke about the feckless mall cops. But the Mall of America trusts them more than well-armed shoppers to protect people, as they should.

Surprising though it may seem, gun ownership is declining over all in the United States. We are still awash with weapons — nearly a third of all American households have an adult with a gun. But that’s down from nearly half of all households in 1973.

What we’re moving toward, then, are regions that are safer than others, and public spaces that are safer than others, led by private enterprise, shunning the gun crazies who want everyone armed. The new reality comes with the inconvenience and hassle of screening and pat-downs similar to the routines at airports — enforced gun-free zones, not mere suggestions.

As a way to make everyday life seem less frightening, the new reality is absurd. But that’s the cost, apparently, of an extreme interpretation of a constitutional amendment designed to fend off British tyranny, a freedom that has become a tyranny in itself.

Guns and the Two Americas,
JULY 31, 2015,






Here’s a Way to Control Guns


JULY 17, 2015

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributors






NEARLY three years ago, in the days after the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Obama went to Newtown, Conn., to speak at a vigil for the victims. He spoke movingly, and seemed to embody the nation’s outrage and its determination to reduce the number of people killed with guns in America. “Do not lose heart,” he told the families of the victims. He said he would use “whatever power this office holds.”

He has not done that. He tried one lever of presidential power — proposing legislation. When that didn’t work, the president failed to move the other levers in a meaningful way.

For more than a year, we and fellow religious leaders across the nation have worked to persuade President Obama to use what we believe is the most powerful tool government has in this area: its purchasing power. The federal government is the nation’s top gun buyer. It purchases more than a quarter of the guns and ammunition sold legally in the United States. State and local law enforcement agencies also purchase a large share. Major gun manufacturers depend on these taxpayer-funded purchases. For the government to keep buying guns from these companies — purchases meant to ensure public safety — without making demands for change is to squander its leverage.

Some of the leading brands of handguns purchased by the government — Glock, Smith & Wesson, Sig Sauer, Beretta, Colt, Sturm, Ruger & Company — are also leading brands used in crimes. Among the brands of handguns recovered by the Chicago Police Department at crime scenes between January 2012 and October 2013, all six of these companies ranked in the top 11. When police officers carrying Glocks are recovering Glocks at crime scenes on a regular basis, shouldn’t this prompt questions about whether the police department could use its influence to reduce the number of guns that end up in the hands of criminals? When Smith & Wessons turn up frequently in the hands of criminals, shouldn’t questions be asked when Smith & Wesson seeks a contract with the federal government?

What could gun manufacturers do to protect the public?

They could distribute their guns exclusively through dealers that sell guns responsibly, and end their relationships with the small percentage of bad-apple dealers that sell a disproportionate number of the guns used in crimes. They could produce “smart guns” that can be fired only by authorized users, and that therefore are far less likely to be used in accidental or intentional shootings. These measures, over time, would prevent many thousands of deaths.

But companies will innovate in these areas only if their major customers ask them to.

The president can push companies to compete in the area of safer guns and more responsible distribution. Here’s how to start.

First, use federal purchasing power to begin a substantive conversation with gun manufacturers. The Pentagon is in the process of selecting the provider of handguns for the United States Army. It should require all bidders to provide detailed information about their gun safety technologies and distribution practices in the civilian market. No response, no contract.

The F.B.I. should do likewise. In his forthright statement on how Dylann Roof obtained the gun used to murder churchgoers in Charleston without having a completed background check, the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, explained that gun dealers have the discretion to execute a sale — or not — if a background check isn’t completed within three days. The next logical step, in our view, is for Mr. Comey to ask the F.B.I.’s firearms suppliers to stop doing business with dealers who won’t agree to use that discretion to protect the public.

Second, work with companies to develop new models of distribution, such as through dealers certified by the industry as reputable.

Third, rescue the federal government’s smart-gun research efforts from oblivion. Tens of millions of research dollars are needed to help get promising safety technologies to market.

Fourth, develop a set of metrics for measuring manufacturers’ performance. We might measure, for instance, the number of a manufacturer’s guns found at crime scenes, as a percentage of their overall sales.

Let’s give gun manufacturers an incentive to make more smart guns and to allow fewer guns into the hands of criminals.

The Rev. David K. Brawley, the Rev. Otis Moss III, the Rev. David Benke and Rabbi Joel Mosbacher are members of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, aimed at building power for social change.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on July 18, 2015, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: A Way to Control Guns.

Here’s a Way to Control Guns,
JULY 17, 2015,






The Killer Who Supports Gun Control


December 14, 2013
The New York Times


A YEAR ago, America was shocked by the murder of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But momentum to take action has faded, and we still lose that many lives to gun violence every eight hours on average.

The price of our gun policy can be seen in this breathtaking statistic: More Americans have died from guns here in the United States since 1970 (nearly 1.4 million) than American soldiers have died in all the wars in our country’s history over more than 200 years (about 1.2 million).

Those gun killings have been committed by people like John Lennon (his real name, but no relation to the Beatles star), who, in 2001, used an assault rifle to shoot an acquaintance dead in a quarrel over drugs. Lennon is now locked up at Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, N.Y., and he underscores that while people kill people, so do guns.

“I do take responsibility for the murder; I’m sorry for taking his life, and all the life he could have had,” Lennon writes in an essay that he sent me out of the blue and that I’ve published on my blog. “But without a gun, I would not have killed.”

Lennon says that only “that perfect killing machine” of a gun assured that the murder would succeed.

“Could I have stabbed him?” he adds. “Strangled him? Bludgeoned him? If I had done so and he hadn’t died, why would that have made me less culpable than I am now, a man who swiftly and cowardly shot another man to death? A killer nonetheless, I hash these things out, in my head, in my cell, in Attica serving 28 years to life.”

Lennon does not deny that people will still try to kill each other without guns. Indeed, he knows that firsthand, for he writes about being the target of a revenge attack:

“He sneaked upon me in the prison yard like I sneaked upon his friend in a Brooklyn street. When I turned, I saw his arm swing for my neck. I weaved. Then I felt the piercing blows, as he gripped my shirt and dug into my side. Pressured by the blood-thirsty crowd, he stabbed me six times because I shot his friend to death. The ice pick didn’t do the job, though. He got away with it because we were in a blind spot of the yard, and I never told on him. Prison ethics. While my assailant’s intent was clear, the weapon he had access to was insufficient. Therefore I lived.”

“It’s clear that the only reason I’m alive is because my assailant didn’t have his weapon of choice,” he adds. “Can you imagine if we had access to guns in prison?”

Lennon says that he has been tempted to commit suicide but that hanging himself — the best option in prison — is grim and difficult. So he settles for living. Indeed, he notes the irony that it is only because he is in a safe refuge without guns that he has not been murdered or killed himself; at large, he believes he would be dead.

In quoting a murderer and publishing an essay by him on my blog, I’m not diminishing his crime or romanticizing it. But Lennon speaks a blunt truth that Washington politicians too often avoid.

“I’m all for the market system,” Lennon says, “but when the products are killing machines, why shouldn’t we tighten measures to keep guns out of the hands of people like me?”

He’s right. Take cars, which are also potentially lethal instruments ubiquitous in America. We’ve undertaken a remarkable half-century effort to make automobiles far, far safer — and that is precisely the model for what we should do with guns. We’ve introduced seat belts, air bags, prominent brake lights and padded dashboards. We’ve cracked down on drunken drivers, improved road layouts and railings, introduced graduated licenses for young drivers and required insurance for drivers.

The upshot is that we have reduced the vehicle fatality rate per 100 million miles driven by more than 80 percent — so that firearms now claim more American lives each year than vehicles.

We need to approach gun safety in the same meticulous way we approach safety in motor vehicles and so many other aspects of life: It’s ridiculous that a cellphone can require a code to use, but a gun doesn’t.

One of the heroes at Sandy Hook was Victoria Soto, a 27-year-old teacher who was killed while trying to hide and protect her students. It would be nice if Washington could show a fraction of that courage, but instead, on this issue of guns, politicians display paralysis and fecklessness. So, as Lennon writes, and he should know: “we parade through life to the relentless drumbeat of death.”

    The Killer Who Supports Gun Control, NYT, 14.12.2013,






Investing in Guns


January 18, 2013
The New York Times


In 2006, Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity firm run by the secretive financier Steven Feinberg, set out to raise $6.5 billion in a new fund called Cerberus Institutional Partners Series IV. Feinberg’s reputation for extracting value from troubled companies — by replacing management, shuttering facilities and creating “efficiencies” — was such that by May 2007, when the fund was finally closed, it had gotten commitments for nearly $1 billion more than it had sought.

Cerberus Institutional Partners Series IV is the fund that took over Chrysler in 2007. It bought General Motors’ financing arm, now called Ally Financial. It gobbled up hospitals, purchased bus companies, and even bought the raunchy magazine Maxim.

It is also the fund that bought Bushmaster Firearms, the company that made the assault weapon used by Adam Lanza to massacre 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn., last month. It bought Remington Arms, the maker of the pump-action shotgun that was among the guns James Holmes used to kill 12 people and wound 58 in Aurora, Colo. It bought a handful of other firearms companies, which it then merged into a new parent company, Freedom Group. At which point, Cerberus was the largest manufacturer of guns and ammunition in the country.

Not long ago, I obtained a partial list of the institutional investors that committed money to the Cerberus fund. One of the investors, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, which put in $500 million, has already announced that it will divest its gun holdings. “We shouldn’t be investing in things like that,” says Bill Lockyer, the California state treasurer. He noted that assault weapons are illegal in California.

Most of the other big investors, however, have kept their heads down. TIAA-CREF, the financial services giant, committed $147.8 million to the Series IV fund. (“No comment,” said a spokesman.) The State of Wisconsin Investment Board put up $100 million. The University of Texas endowment made a $75 million commitment; the Regents of the University of California kicked in $40 million; the University of Missouri endowment was an investor. So were the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension system, the Indiana Public Retirement System, and the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System (which kicked in $400 million). And plenty of others.

When I called these investors to ask their rationale for investing in a fund that financed a gun “roll-up,” as the Cerberus strategy is called, I got three main responses. The first was that the percentage of their investment that went to Freedom Group was minuscule. “We have a very small investment in Bushmaster, which translates to about $1 million,” said Dianne Klein, a spokeswoman for the University of California system. (She added that the California system was going to divest its gun holdings.) Jennifer Hollingshead at the University of Missouri told me that the endowment’s exposure was less than $450,000 — “which represents about 0.01 percent of our total portfolio.”

The second response was that, as limited partners, the institutional investors didn’t have a say in how Cerberus invested the money. The fact that Feinberg decided to buy companies whose guns have repeatedly been used for mass slaughter was, in effect, his decision to make.

The third was that the core duty of a pension fund or university endowment is to maximize returns. Nobody made this point more vehemently than Bruce Zimmerman, a spokesman for the University of Texas Investment Management Company. “We have no plans to divest,” he said. “We invest strictly on economic considerations, and we do not take into account social and political consideration.”

Cerberus never tried to hide what it was doing. And why would it? It was proud of its gun strategy. It held annual meetings with its investors and talked freely about Freedom Group. Investors were also aware that in 2010, Cerberus had tried (and failed) to take Freedom Group public.

But until Newtown, none of the investors gave the business a second’s thought. Aurora, Fort Hood, Wisconsin — and dozens of other mass slaughters — came and went, and the investors stuck with Cerberus.

Newtown, it is often said, has changed that dynamic, sensitizing the country to the insanity of its gun laws, and giving gun control advocates hope that reform might finally be possible. But with the tragedy barely a month old, you can already feel the pushback. Supporters of the National Rifle Association in Congress are vowing to resist any effort to tighten the nation’s gun laws. Gun-friendly state legislators are pushing absurd laws aimed at pre-empting federal gun legislation. And then there are the investors, who have a unique ability to push companies to change, if they so choose. (Just recall the South African boycott.)

What I learned this week is that, Newtown notwithstanding, too many of them have other priorities. Making money is still more important that saving lives.

    Investing in Guns, NYT, 18.1.2013,






Shop Owners Report

Rise in Firearm Sales

as Buyers Fear

Possible New Laws


December 21, 2012

The New York Times



Rainier Arms, a gun dealer in Auburn, Wash., receives great Yelp reviews for its responsiveness. But a call to the dealer on Friday led to a full voice mail box, and an e-mail to its sales team drew this automatic response: “Thank you for contacting Rainier Arms for your AR-15 needs. Due to an overwhelming response to the latest political climate, we are experiencing longer-than-normal response times.”

At Bud’s Gun Shop in Maryland, a message on the Web site said that customer service was “completely overwhelmed” and it discouraged customers from calling or e-mailing.

And on GunBroker.com, an Oracle .223 that normally retails for around $650 had been bid up to $1,175 with three days left in the auction.

With gun-control legislation getting more serious discussion than it has in years, gun sales are spiking as enthusiasts stock up in advance of possible restrictions.

Gun sales have been increasing over the past five years, with marked increases around the 2008 and 2012 elections, and after mass shootings like the one in Aurora, Colo., and now in Newtown, Conn.

“The largest factor by far is fears over a potential change in gun laws — that’s what’s driving most guns enthusiasts or even first-time buyers to go buy a gun,” said Nima Samadi, senior guns and ammunition analyst for the research firm IBISWorld.

There is increasing demands for guns in the United States. Last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted 16.45 million background checks for firearm sales through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a 14 percent jump from the previous year. In the first 11 months of this year, the bureau conducted 16.8 million background checks, a record since the system’s founding in 1998.

Since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, though, a few companies associated with gun sales have backed away. Cerberus Capital Management put the company that makes the Bushmaster, a gun used in the shootings, up for sale on Tuesday, saying, “The Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level.”

Dick’s Sporting Goods temporarily ceased selling all guns in its location closest to Newtown, and has also put a hold on sales of so-called modern sporting rifles, which include semiautomatic guns, nationwide.

And Deseret Digital Media, which owns KSL.com, a Web site that has been criticized by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for allowing unregulated gun sales, said it was suspending classified advertisements for guns.

Elsewhere, though, consumers are hurrying to buy guns, leading to some models being out of stock, warnings of shipping and customer-service delays, and significant premiums on assault rifles.

“We are seeing a total madhouse of buying everything in sight,” said Bob Irwin, owner of the Gun Store, a Las Vegas shooting range and retailer. Thursday, he said, was the largest sales day in the history of the store, which has been open for 30 years. “We have not only a run on the guns, but a run on ammunition.”

Mr. Irwin has begun limiting how much of some types of ammunition customers can buy, and he has canceled employees’ days off to handle the demand.

Walmart, the largest retailer of guns and ammunition in the United States, indicated that several semiautomatic guns were out of stock at locations across the country. Kory Lundberg, a spokesman, said the company was not sold out of guns altogether, but had low inventory in some situations. Walmart carries guns in about half its stores, and about one-third carry so-called modern sporting rifles, the category including the Bushmaster and other AR-15 weapons.

Other retailers around the country were selling out of guns and accessories. On Friday on ImpactGuns.com, the Bushmaster .223 was out of stock. Davidson’s, a supplier to gun retailers, placed a notice on its Web site that said it was seeing “unprecedented demand,” and at MidwayUSA.com, more than 100 parts for AR-15 guns were out of stock and on back order.

On AR15.com, a gun-enthusiast Web site, a user posted that a barrel for a gun disappeared from an online shopping cart overnight, and is now on back order. Another user, named warplg8654, responded, “Dealers can’t keep anything in stock for what I think are obvious reasons given the current political climate.”

When a user called JazzFan asked whether paying a $100 premium for a Stag Model 3 was a good deal, another user said that seemed “reasonable with all of the panic buying.”

Gavin Gear, the founder of the enthusiast site Northwest Gun, said gun owners were feeling “apprehension.”

“People are trying to think ahead, and if they want to own a particular firearm and they think it’s going to be outlawed or restricted, they’re more likely to buy now,” he said.

    Shop Owners Report Rise in Firearm Sales as Buyers Fear Possible New Laws,
    NYT, 21.12.2012,






Personal Guns

and the Second Amendment


December 17, 2012
The New York Times


When the Supreme Court struck down a ban on handguns by the District of Columbia in 2008, ruling that there is a constitutional right to keep a loaded handgun at home for self-defense, the decision was enormously controversial in the legal world. But the court’s conclusion has generally been accepted in the real world because the ruling was in tune with popular opinion — favoring Americans’ rights to own guns but also control of gun ownership.

The text of the Second Amendment creates no right to private possession of guns, but Justice Antonin Scalia found one in legal history for himself and the other four conservatives. He said the right is not outmoded even “in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem.”

It is not just liberals who have lambasted the ruling, but some prominent conservatives like Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The majority, he wrote, “read an ambiguous constitutional provision as creating a substantive right that the Court had never acknowledged in the more than two hundred years since the amendment’s enactment. The majority then used that same right to strike down a law passed by elected officials acting, rightly or wrongly, to preserve the safety of the citizenry.” He said the court undermined “conservative jurisprudence.”

In the real world, however, criticism has abated in part because the majority opinion was strikingly respectful of commonplace gun regulations. “Like most rights,” Justice Scalia said, “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.”

And: “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms” —“prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’ ”

Justice Scalia does not say how federal courts should evaluate such regulations and the Supreme Court may need to return to this issue soon, to resolve a substantial disagreement that has arisen in federal appeals courts.

Does the court’s 4-year-old ruling imply “a right to carry a loaded gun outside the home”? That is what the Seventh Circuit appellate court concluded last week in striking down an Illinois law that prohibited most people from carrying a loaded weapon in public.

Or does the Supreme Court’s ruling on handguns support the view that public interest in safety outweighs an individual’s interest in self-defense because gun rights are more limited outside the home? That is what the Second Circuit found last month in upholding a New York State law limiting handgun possession in public to people who can show a threat to their own safety.

Where “gun violence is a serious problem,” as Justice Scalia said it is in the United States, the courts must be very cautious about extending the individual right to own a gun. The justice’s opinion made that clear.

Read related editorials on gun control:

rethinking guns and legislation abroad.

    Personal Guns and the Second Amendment, NYT, 17.12.2012,






The Great Gun Gag


December 6, 2012
9:00 pm
The New York Times


On national television, you can talk about the sordid details of your sex life, the depth of your religious piety or your belief that an organization that no longer exists, Acorn, stole the 2012 presidential election -- a fantasy held by half of Republicans. You can call climate change a hoax, you can say the moon landing never happened, you can even praise Alex Rodriguez, though you shouldn't.

But you cannot talk about the 300 million or more guns circulating in private hands in the United States. The most armed society in the world, ranked first among 179 nations in the rate of gun ownership, had 9,146 gun homicides in 2009. The same year, Canada had 173. But don't bring that up.

In Florida, it was against the law -- until the law was blocked by a federal judge last summer -- for hospital doctors to even ask about firearms ownership of victims, even though gunshot wounds account for 1 in 25 emergency room visits.

Conservatives complain about anti-free-speech vigilantes who keep incendiary voices of the right from being heard on college campuses, and they have a valid point. But some of these same First Amendment defenders are the first to smother any talk about the American weapons culture. The gun gag rules.

The latest public figure to face the shame shower is Bob Costas, the sports broadcaster who occasionally steps outside the chalk lines of the games he covers. Last Sunday, a day in late autumn devoted as usual to the lucrative violence of professional football, Costas spoke about a more tragic kind of violence. In passing on the words of a local writer, he wondered whether the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend might still be alive had guns not been so readily available. Belcher, who kept a handgun on the kitchen table and an assault rifle in the den, shot Kasandra Perkins, the mother of their infant child, and then himself last weekend.

Costas made his brief remarks at halftime of the Sunday night game. Within minutes, the censors went after him. Top Republicans called for his resignation. Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin, who are to reasoned argument what salt is to a slug, condemned him. And Herman Cain, the pizza guy who at one point led the Republican presidential primary field in the polls, passed on this tweet: "Excuse me, Bob Costas, but you are an idiot, so shut up."

Those last two words pretty much define the current climate regarding debate about guns and violence. In this country, it is the issue that dare not speak its name.

Costas said later he had nothing against the Second Amendment. But our gun culture more often than not leads to tragedy, he noted. In this, he was stating a fact, not an opinion. "Give me one example of an athlete -- and I know it's happened in society -- but give me one example of a professional athlete who by virtue of having a gun took a dangerous situation and turned it around for the better," he said.

My sentiments are with Costas. I've lost friends and family members to gun violence. Still, I have nothing against people exercising their Second Amendment rights. Adults can have all the guns they want, but please -- they should understand that their arsenal makes them less safe.

People with guns in the home are at a far greater risk of dying of homicide than those without, the American Journal of Epidemiology reported in 2004. For men, the likelihood of death by suicide is much higher if a gun is nearby. And 90 percent of suicide attempts by gun are successful; for willful drug overdoses, the rate is only 2 percent.

Understandably, people buy guns for self-defense. But a gun in the home is 12 times more likely to result in the death of a household member, or a visitor, than an intruder, a 2010 study by the official journal of the Southern Medical Association found.

For all those grim numbers, the United States is not the most violent society. Drug oligarchies and broken tribal nations are much more lethal places to live. But among the 23 wealthiest countries, the United States is easily the bloodiest: homicide gun rates are 19.5 times higher here than in any other high-income country, Politifact reported.

Going into a theater or a mall in America can be a risky thing, as recent mass shootings have shown. I just returned from Idaho, where people are buying guns at a record clip because of the delusional fear that President Obama is going to take them away. The safest place in Idaho, by far, is just inside the security line at the Boise airport, where a big sign warns people that they will soon be entering a mandatory gun-free zone.

How these basic truths came to be treated as unmentionables is a tribute to the gun lobby's power to strangle debate on even simple safety questions. At the same time, they have all but shut down public health research into gun violence.

For the politicians and pundits who do the gun industry's bidding, the First Amendment does not apply to the Second Amendment. It took a sportscaster, accustomed to parsing the nuances of a stunt blitz, to break the code of shameful silence.

    The Great Gun Gag, NYT, 6.12.2012,






The Human Cost

of the Second Amendment

September 26, 2012
8:30 pm
The New York Times

A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web


Wisconsin, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Columbine. We all know these place names and what happened there. By the time this column appears, there may well be a new locale to add to the list. Such is the state of enabled and murderous mayhem in the United States.

With the hope of presenting the issue of guns in America in a novel way, I'm going to look at it from an unusual vantage point: the eyes of a nurse. By that I mean looking at guns in America in terms of the suffering they cause, because to really understand the human cost of guns in the United States we need to focus on gun-related pain and death.

Every day 80 Americans die from gunshots and an additional 120 are wounded, according to a 2006 article in The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Those 80 Americans left their homes in the morning and went to work, or to school, or to a movie, or for a walk in their own neighborhood, and never returned. Whether they were dead on arrival or died later on in the hospital, 80 people's normal day ended on a slab in the morgue, and there's nothing any of us can do to get those people back.

In a way that few others do, I became aware early on that nurses deal with death on a daily basis. The first unretouched dead bodies I ever saw were the two cadavers we studied in anatomy lab. One man, one woman, both donated their bodies for dissection, and I learned amazing things from them: the sponginess of lung tissue, the surprising lightness of a human heart, the fabulous intricacy of veins, arteries, tendons and nerves that keep all of us moving and alive.

I also learned something I thought I already knew: death is scary. I expected my focus in the lab to be on acquiring knowledge, and it was, but my feelings about these cadavers intruded also. I had nightmares. The sound of bones being sawed and snapped was excruciating the day our teaching assistant broke the ribs of one of them to extract a heart. Some days the smell was so overwhelming I wanted to run from the lab. Death is the only part of life that is really final, and I learned about the awesomeness of finality during my 12 weeks with those two very dead people.

Of course, in hospitals, death and suffering are what nurses and doctors struggle against. Our job is to restore people to health and wholeness, or at the very least, to keep them alive. That's an obvious aim on the oncology floor where I work, but nowhere is the medical goal of maintaining life more immediately urgent than in trauma centers and intensive-care units. In those wards, patients often arrive teetering on the border between life and death, and the medical teams that receive them have fleeting moments in which to act.

The focus on preserving life and alleviating suffering, so evident in the hospital, contrasts strikingly with its stubborn disregard when applied to lives ended by Americans lawfully armed as if going into combat. The deaths from guns are as disturbing, and as final, as the cadavers I studied in anatomy lab, but the talk we hear from the gun lobby is about freedom and rights, not life and death.

Gun advocates say that guns don't kill people, people kill people. The truth, though, is that people with guns kill people, often very efficiently, as we saw so clearly and so often this summer. And while there can be no argument that the right to bear arms is written into the Constitution, we cannot keep pretending that this right is somehow without limit, even as we place reasonable limits on arguably more valuable rights like the freedom of speech and due process.

No one argues that it should be legal to shout "fire" in a crowded theater; we accept this limit on our right to speak freely because of its obvious real-world consequences. Likewise, we need to stop talking about gun rights in America as if they have no wrenching real-world effects when every day 80 Americans, their friends, families and loved ones, learn they obviously and tragically do.

Many victims never stand a chance against a dangerously armed assailant, and there's scant evidence that being armed themselves would help. Those bodies skip the hospital and go straight to the morgue. The lucky ones, the survivors - the 120 wounded per day - get hustled to trauma centers and then intensive care units to, if possible, be healed. Many of them never fully recover.

A trauma nurse I know told me she always looked at people's shoes when they lay on gurneys in the emergency department. It struck her that life had still been normal when that patient put them on in the morning. Whether they laced up Nikes, pulled on snow boots or slid feet into stiletto heels, the shoes became a relic of the ordinariness of the patient's life, before it turned savage.

So I have a request for proponents of unlimited access to guns. Spend some time in a trauma center and see the victims of gun violence - the lucky survivors - as they come in bloody and terrified. Understand that our country's blind embrace of gun rights made this violent tableau possible, and that it's playing out each day in hospitals and morgues all over the country.

Before leaving, make sure to look at the patients' shoes. Remember that at the start of the day, before being attacked by a person with a gun, that patient lying on a stretcher writhing helplessly in pain was still whole.


Theresa Brown is an oncology nurse and the author of

"Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life,

and Everything in Between."

    The Human Cost of the Second Amendment, NYT, 26.9.2012,






6,000 Bullets


July 23, 2012
The New York Times


With the ease of downloading a song, anyone with a computer and a credit card can order thousands of bullets and shotgun shells on the Internet, along with tear-gas canisters and speed loaders. They can get the same high-capacity ammunition clips that infantry soldiers use. They can even get bulletproof vests and SWAT helmets. All without fear of a single background check.

No one is paying attention to whether buyers have criminal histories or mental-health records. No one is monitoring bulk sales of ammunition to see who might be building an arsenal. Even after a young man in Colorado buys 6,000 rounds by mail order and uses them to commit mass murder, it is the rare politician who proposes to make the tools of terror slightly harder to obtain.

When he was campaigning for office in 2008, Barack Obama vowed to reinstate the assault weapons ban that had expired in 2004. That would have prohibited the AR-15 rifle used in the Colorado theater shooting on Friday, along with the large 100-round magazine attached to it. But as president, Mr. Obama has made no attempt to do so. Mitt Romney banned assault weapons as governor of Massachusetts and undoubtedly saved many lives, but now he opposes all gun control measures. He never repeats what he said in 2004 when he signed the ban:

“Deadly assault weapons have no place in Massachusetts,” he said. “They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.”

Both men fear the power of gun ideologues, particularly in swing states like Pennsylvania, Nevada and North Carolina, where many voters have fallen under the spell of a gun lobby that considers any restriction an unthinkable assault on the Constitution. Senator Ron Johnson, the Tea Party favorite from Wisconsin, spoke for the Republican Party (and many Democrats) when he said that limiting high-capacity magazines would infringe on a basic right. “When you try and do it, you restrict our freedom,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Freedom to do what, precisely? To fire off 100 rounds without reloading? A few sport shooters may enjoy doing that on a firing range, but that’s hardly sufficient reason to empower someone else to do it in a movie theater. It has nothing to do with the basic right of home protection and self-defense found by the Supreme Court in 2008.

A Democratic senator, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, is one of the few officials courageous enough to propose a better idea: A ban on clips that hold more than 10 bullets, which are not needed to hunt, practice or protect oneself. He first proposed this last year, after a gunman in Tucson used a 33-round magazine to shoot 18 people, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, killing six. The shooter was tackled when he had to reload.

The ban went nowhere and will undoubtedly be laughed off by gun advocates this year, too. In 1993, they killed a proposal by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York to impose a heavy tax on handgun ammunition, especially the bullets that expand and cause heavy tissue damage. A few years ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California signed a law requiring identification to buy handgun ammunition and forbidding mail-order sales. A group of gun sellers sued and won a trial-court ruling that the law was too vague. (The state attorney general, Kamala Harris, appealed the ruling in February.)

But the gun lobby’s legal and political victories can’t obscure the facts. The assault weapons ban didn’t clearly reduce crime, the best study of the measure found, but allowing high-capacity magazines would “result in more shots fired, more persons hit, and more wounds inflicted per victim than do attacks with other firearms.” Sensible restrictions on ammunition and clips won’t eliminate mass shootings; they may make them less likely and reduce their level of violence.

Many politicians of both parties know this. To overcome their fear of the gun lobby, they need only look at the faces of the victims in Aurora, Colo.

    6,000 Bullets, NYT, 23.7.2012,






Silencing the Guns


March 26, 2012
11:55 pm
The New York Times


When Gabrielle Giffords tendered her resignation from the House of Representatives to Speaker John Boehner because she did not feel she could continue to serve at her current level of disability, the entire House erupted in a rare moment of bipartisan unity, supporting their brave colleague who had survived a bullet through the brain at point-blank range.

That was not, however, the first bipartisan moment related to the attack on Gabby Giffords, nor would it be the last. In 2004, Congress let the assault weapons ban Bill Clinton had passed “sunset” despite overwhelming public support. That law limited the number of rounds of ammunition a shooter could fire before having to reload, and letting it die an untimely death allowed a mentally ill young man in Tucson to purchase a handgun with a 33-round magazine. Had the assault weapons ban remained in place, he may well have been able to shoot the congresswoman, but he would not have been able to empty his clip, killing 6 people and wounding 13 others, before being tackled to the ground.

That moment was followed by another bipartisan moment, when President Obama delivered a moving speech on Jan. 12 at the scene of the carnage in Tucson. In it, the president called on the nation to mourn not only the shooting of a beloved member of Congress but the lives of the people who died at the hands of Giffords’ assailant, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge. But on neither that national day of mourning nor on any day since has the president or the members of Congress, who are either too frightened or too corrupted by the National Rifle Association, honored Giffords or the memory of those who died in that massacre in Tucson in the most appropriate way: with a return to common sense, like reestablishing the assault weapons ban that might have saved their lives. Later in January, Representative Carolyn McCarthy and Senator Frank Lautenberg proposed legislation to outlaw high-capacity magazines; it has gone nowhere.

The first President Bush, unlike his swaggering son (who advocated the demise of a ban on assault weapons whose sole purpose is to hunt humans) showed political courage by publicly quitting the N.R.A. in disgust in 1995 when it began advocating ideas like its contention that citizens need military-style assault weapons to protect themselves against our own government (members, for example, of the National Guard). In colorful but paranoid language, it called law enforcement officers “jack-booted government thugs,” prompting the elder Bush to condemn the group for its disrespect for the law and those who defend it. Since then, it has successfully advocated for increasingly radical laws. One of them, of course, is Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which discourages de-escalation of potential firefights in public with predictable results, like the shooting death in Sanford, Fla., of Trayvon Martin.

Between the Giffords massacre and Martin’s death, we have seen more shootings and more bipartisan moments. Around the anniversary of the Tucson massacre that cut short the congressional career of an extraordinary woman — a woman I had come to know personally and adore in her five years in Congress — came two more mass killings. One occurred in Chardon High School in a small town in Ohio, as a 17-year-old opened fire on students with a Ruger .22-caliber semiautomatic with a capacity of 10 rounds. Fortunately the alleged shooter, T.J. Lane, didn’t have access to a gun with more firepower. About two weeks later, a man entered one of the nation’s premiere medical centers, at the University of Pittsburgh, with two semiautomatic handguns, and opened fire.

And in yet another show of bipartisanship, political leaders on both sides of the aisle put on their silencers. If an assassination attempt on one of their own did not move members of Congress to ask whether the N.R.A. has a little too much sway in their chambers, a few dead and wounded teenagers, medical patients, and their family members were not going to unlock their safeties. Most have clearly made the risk assessment that they have more to fear from the N.R.A. than they do from an occasional sniper. In the 2010 election cycle, the N.R.A. spent over $7 million in independent expenditure campaigns for and against specific candidates, and it has a remarkable record of success at taking out candidates and elected officials with the misfortune of being caught in its crosshairs.

Over a million Americans have lost their lives to gunfire since that awful spring of 1968 when both Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were killed by assassins’ bullets. Last year alone guns killed or wounded another 100,000 Americans; roughly 30,000 of them died. Had that occurred elsewhere, we would call it genocide. We don’t know exactly how many have been killed in the fighting in Libya, Egypt and Syria, but our elected officials have had far less trouble calling for the ouster of Middle Eastern leaders than the leadership of the N.R.A. But it’s not just money that prevents common-sense action on gun violence in America. Millions of Americans hunt, and a third of all households in the United States own a gun. Guns were part of the frontier culture that shaped the American psyche, and hunting has passed from generation to generation in much of America. As a son of the South, I could give an intruder a run for his money (although, like most people, I would do better to rely first on our security service and the loud alarm a break-in sets off), and I put on my thickest Southern accent and tease my soon-to-be teenage daughter that I’ll be out on the front porch “cleaning my shotgun” when her first date arrives at the door.

In so many cases, it’s a failure of our leaders — Republicans, who prey on the fears of their constituents and don’t even bother anymore to hide the puppet strings pulled by large corporations, and Democrats, who too frequently forget that humans are supposed to be vertebrates (and hence to have a spine) — to speak to Americans’ ambivalence about guns. Over the years in my capacity as a strategic messaging consultant, I’ve tested a range of messages on guns, and the messages that resonate with hunters and gun owners sound like this: “If you need an M-16 to hunt deer, you shouldn’t be anywhere near a damned gun,” or “If you’re hunting with an AK-47, you’re not bringing that meat home for dinner.” The first things responsible hunters teach are never to point a gun anywhere but up or down unless you mean to shoot, and where the safety is.

It’s no wonder that Democrats have backed off of even talking about guns since Clinton signed the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban into law nearly two decades ago. The last thing you want to be armed with as an advocate of common sense are phrases like “gun control,” which makes a government-wary public and law-abiding gun-owners uneasy — and susceptible to tendentious “slippery slope” arguments about how “they want to take away your guns.” In contrast, everyone but the lunatic fringe in America supports gun safety laws — such as eliminating the gun-show loophole that allows the sale of military-grade weapons without background checks, and has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans as well as Mexicans, whose drug cartels find the loophole extremely helpful.

Democrats could steel their spines if they could find the point of intersection between law-abiding gun owners and law-abiding citizens who may or may not own a gun but want to keep their families safe. In national testing, we’ve found that a simple, non-equivocating statement focusing on that point of intersection — law-abiding — beats the toughest “they want to take away your guns” message we can fire at it. It leads every demographic group other than those who stockpile weapons to support common-sense gun safety laws. Offered a message that speaks to their ambivalence, people readily recognize that a 33-round clip makes it virtually impossible to tackle a shooter until he has had time to kill 15 or 16 people. They understand that allowing people to purchase military-style weapons at gun shows without a background check renders gun safety laws meaningless. And they find it incomprehensible that we have laws on the books that tie the hands of law enforcement officials trying to track down where a gun was bought and sold, and that we keep such sloppy records that criminals, people with a history of commitment for care for serious mental illness, and people with active restraining orders on them can slip by background checks even where they’re required.

Beginning with a statement of principle both makes clear the speaker’s intent and inoculates against all the slippery-slope arguments used by the N.R.A. and the elected officials in its employ or fearful of its power: “My view on guns reflects one simple principle: that our gun laws should guarantee the rights and freedoms of all law-abiding Americans. That’s why I stand with the majority who believe in the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns to hunt or protect their families. And that’s why I stand with the majority who believe they have the right to send their kids to school and see them return home safely at night.” Versions of a message containing that principle win by over a 2:1 margin with independents, and they win in every region of the country, including in my own backyard, in the red clay of Georgia.

This shouldn’t be an issue of left or right. Grocery stores in Tucson, where Gabby Giffords was shot (and where my mother-in-law shops — she just happened to be out of town that Saturday), are not hotbeds of “socialism.” I don’t know the party affiliations of the fallen teenagers in Chardon or the staff members, patients or families in Pittsburgh, but I suspect they ranged across the political spectrum.

Guns don’t kill people. Silence does.


Drew Westen is a professor of psychology at Emory University

and the author of “The Political Brain:

The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.”

    Silencing the Guns, NYT, 26.3.2012,






How Freedom Group

Became the Big Shot


November 26, 2011
The New York Times



LINED up in a gun rack beneath mounted deer heads is a Bushmaster Carbon 15, a matte-black semiautomatic rifle that looks as if it belongs to a SWAT team. On another rack rests a Teflon-coated Prairie Panther from DPMS Firearms, a supplier to the United States Border Patrol and security agencies in Iraq. On a third is a Remington 750 Woodsmaster, a popular hunting rifle.

The variety of rifles and shotguns on sale here at Cabela’s, the national sporting goods chain, is a testament to America’s enduring gun culture. But, to a surprising degree, it is also a testament to something else: Wall Street deal-making.

In recent years, many top-selling brands — including the 195-year-old Remington Arms, as well as Bushmaster Firearms and DPMS, leading makers of military-style semiautomatics — have quietly passed into the hands of a single private company. It is called the Freedom Group — and it is the most powerful and mysterious force in the American commercial gun industry today.

Never heard of it?

You’re not alone. Even within gun circles, the Freedom Group is something of an enigma. Its rise has been so swift that it has become the subject of wild speculation and grassy-knoll conspiracy theories. In the realm of consumer rifles and shotguns — long guns, in the trade — it is unrivaled in its size and reach. By its own count, the Freedom Group sold 1.2 million long guns and 2.6 billion rounds of ammunition in the 12 months ended March 2010, the most recent year for which figures are publicly available.

Behind this giant is Cerberus Capital Management, the private investment company that first came to widespread attention when it acquired Chrysler in 2007. (Chrysler later had to be rescued by taxpayers). With far less fanfare, Cerberus, through the Freedom Group, has been buying big names in guns and ammo.

From its headquarters on Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, Cerberus has assembled a remarkable arsenal. It began with Bushmaster, which until recently was based here in Maine. Unlike military counterparts like automatic M-16’s, rifles like those from Bushmaster don’t spray bullets with one trigger pull. But, with gas-powered mechanisms, semiautomatics can fire rapid follow-up shots as fast as the trigger can be squeezed. They are often called “black guns” because of their color. The police tied a Bushmaster XM15 rifle to shootings in the Washington sniper case in 2002.

After Bushmaster, the Freedom Group moved in on Remington, which traces its history to the days of flintlocks and today is supplying M24 sniper rifles to the government of Afghanistan and making handguns for the first time in decades. The group has also acquired Marlin Firearms, which turned out a special model for Annie Oakley, as well as Dakota Arms, a maker of high-end big-game rifles. It has bought DPMS Firearms, another maker of semiautomatic, military-style rifles, as well as manufacturers of ammunition and tactical clothing.

“We believe our scale and product breadth are unmatched within the industry,” the Freedom Group said in a filing last year with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Here at Cabela’s, Mark Eliason, the vice president for sales and marketing at Windham Weaponry, a new competitor of Bushmaster that was established by Bushmaster’s founder, surveys the racks. He estimates that roughly 20 percent of the long guns for sale here are made by Freedom Group companies. In the aisles, he examines shelf upon shelf of ammunition. About a third of it comes from the Freedom Group, he says.

“That’s a very large presence,” Mr. Eliason says.

So large, in fact, that rumors about the Freedom Group — what it is, and who is behind it — have been circulating in the blogosphere. Some gun enthusiasts have claimed that the power behind the company is actually George Soros, the hedge-fund billionaire and liberal activist. Mr. Soros, these people have warned, is buying American gun companies so he can dismantle the industry, Second Amendment be damned.

The chatter grew so loud that the National Rifle Association issued a statement in October denying the rumors.

“N.R.A. has had contact with officials from Cerberus and Freedom Group for some time,” the N.R.A. assured its members. “The owners and investors involved are strong supporters of the Second Amendment and are avid hunters and shooters.”

Mr. Soros isn’t behind the Freedom Group, but, ultimately, another financier is: Stephen A. Feinberg, the chief executive of Cerberus.


CERBERUS is part of one of the signature Wall Street businesses of the past decade: private equity. Buyout kings like Mr. Feinberg, 51, try to acquire undervalued companies, often with borrowed money, fix them up and either take them public or sell at a profit to someone else.

Before the financial crisis of 2008, scores of well-known American companies, from Chrysler down, passed into the hands of private-equity firms. For the financiers, the rewards were often enormous. But some companies that they acquired later ran into trouble, in part because they were burdened with debt from the takeovers.

Mr. Feinberg, a Princeton graduate who began his Wall Street career at Drexel Burnham Lambert, the junk bond powerhouse of Michael R. Milken fame, got into private equity in 1992. That year, he and William L. Richter founded Cerberus, which takes its name from the three-headed dog in Greek mythology that guards the gates of Hades.

Today, Mr. Feinberg presides over a private empire that rivals some of the mightiest public companies in the land. Cerberus manages more than $20 billion in capital. Together, the companies it owns generate annual revenue of about $40 billion — more than either Amazon or Coca-Cola last year.

Why Cerberus went after gun companies isn’t clear. Many private investment firms shy away from such industries to avoid scaring off big investors like pension funds.

Yet, in many ways, the move is classic Cerberus. Mr. Feinberg has a history of investing in companies that other people may not want, but that Cerberus believes it can turn around. When Cerberus embarked on its acquisition spree in guns, it essentially had the field to itself.

“There’s much less competition for buying these companies,” says Steven N. Kaplan, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a private equity expert. “They must have decided there is an opportunity to make money by investing in the firearms industry and trying to build a big company.”

Whatever the reason, Cerberus, through the Freedom Group, is now a major player.

It may come as a surprise to many people, given the prominence of guns in American culture, the national conversation and politics, but the commercial firearms market in the United States is actually relatively small. Sales of guns and ammunition total about $4 billion annually, according to estimates from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade group.

True, the N.R.A. estimates that about 70 million to 80 million Americans collectively own 300 million firearms. But how many of those people buy new guns regularly? For companies like the Freedom Group, the challenge is to expand the market. These days, more women are involved in target shooting, according to participation reports from the National Sporting Goods Association. But, analysts say, many young men who in the past might have taken up game hunting are now more interested in other pursuits like online gaming.

So, to keep growing, the Freedom Group has expanded its sales staff in the United States and increased its business internationally. It has sold weapons to the governments of Afghanistan, Thailand, Mexico and Malaysia, among others, and obtained new business from the United States Army, including a contract worth up to $28.2 million, to upgrade the M24 sniper weapon system.

Cerberus brings some connections to the table. The longtime chairman of its global investments group is Dan Quayle, the former vice president. The Freedom Group, meantime, has added two retired generals to its board. One is George A. Joulwan, who retired from the Army after serving as Supreme Allied Commander of Europe. The other is Michael W. Hagee, formerly commandant of the Marine Corps.

Jessica Kallam, a spokeswoman at the Freedom Group, said executives there declined to comment for this article. Timothy Price, a managing director of Cerberus, also declined to comment.

THE old Bushmaster factory in Windham, Me., doesn’t look like much. With a facade of brick and gray aluminum siding, it squats in an unassuming office park on the Roosevelt Trail.

But Cerberus representatives who arrived here in 2005 clearly saw potential. Inside, several dozen gunsmiths, working by hand, were fitting together 6,000 to 7,000 weapons a month. At the time, Bushmaster was thriving, though it had been stung by bad publicity stemming from the Beltway sniper shootings. (In a 2004 settlement with victims of the shootings and their families, Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply, the store where the gun was acquired, agreed to pay $2 million, and Bushmaster agreed to pay $568,000, but they did not admit liability.)

Richard Dyke, then the principal owner and chairman of Bushmaster, welcomed the visitors from New York. A blunt-spoken Korean War veteran and Republican fund-raiser, he had made a fortune himself by buying companies in trouble, including one that made poker chips. In 1976, he bought a bankrupt gun maker in Bangor, Me., for $241,000, moved it to Windham and later changed its name to Bushmaster.

The company that Mr. Dyke bought had patents on semiautomatic weapons designed for the military and police. But he was drawn to the nascent market in military-style firearms for civilians. He saw as his customers precision target shooters, including current and former military personnel, police officers and, well, military wannabes, he says.

A Bushmaster Carbon 15 .223 semiautomatic is about three feet long. But, weighing in at just under six pounds, it is surprisingly easy to maneuver, even for a novice. It doesn’t have to be recocked after it’s fired: you just squeeze the trigger over and over.

“At 25 meters, if you are a decent shot,” Mr. Dyke says, “you can put it into a bull’s-eye that is the size of a quarter.”

The Bushmaster brand began to grow in the 1980s after the company started supplying its semiautomatics to police departments. It won a much larger consumer following in the 1990s, after it landed several small military contracts.

Bushmaster was among the first to sell ordinary people on weapons that look and feel like the ones carried by soldiers. Today many gun makers have embraced military-style weapons, a major but controversial source of growth for the commercial gun market, says Tom Diaz, a senior policy analyst at the Violence Policy Center, a research group that backs gun control.

“It’s clear that the militarized stuff is the stuff that sells and is defining the industry,” Mr. Diaz says.

Mr. Dyke says he’s not sure why Bushmaster caught the eye of Cerberus. Whatever the case, when Cerberus came calling, Mr. Dyke, then past 70, was ready to sell. At the time, Bushmaster had $85 million in annual sales and about several million dollars in debt, he says. In April 2006, he sold the company to Cerberus for about $76 million, he says, and Cerberus rented the Bushmaster plant here for five years.

The next year, Cerberus formed the Freedom Group.

Now Bushmaster is gone from Maine. Earlier this year, Mr. Dyke says, the Freedom Group notified him it was closing Bushmaster’s operation in the state and moving it to a bigger plant owned by Remington, a typical consolidation play for a private investment firm looking to cut costs and increase efficiency. Remington, for its part, announced earlier this year that it was expanding its manufacturing capacity and hiring new employees to make Bushmasters.

Several months ago, Mr. Dyke started a new company, Windham Weaponry, at the old Bushmaster site and has rehired most of his former employees. But he’s not planning to go head-to-head with the Freedom Group.

“It’s the big gorilla in the room,” he says, adding: “We don’t have to do $100 million. We’d have hopes of doing $20 million.”


REMINGTON has been producing guns since 1816, when, according to lore, a young man named Eliphalet Remington made a flintlock rifle in his father’s forge in Ilion Gulch, in upstate New York. By the 1870s, the brand was so popular that the company diversified into typewriters.

In 2007, the Freedom Group swooped in and bought Remington for $370 million, including $252 million in assumed debt. In one stroke, the Freedom Group gained one of the most famous names in American firearms, the largest domestic maker of shotguns and rifles and a major manufacturer of ammunition.

“That caused a lot of stir in the industry,” says Dean J. Lockwood, a weapons systems analyst at Forecast International, a market research firm.

Next, the Freedom Group in rapid succession went after other firearms companies: DPMS; Marlin Firearms, a classic maker that came with two niche shotgun brands, Harrington & Richardson and L. C. Smith; and Dakota Arms. The Freedom Group also bought S&K industries, which supplies wood and laminate for gun stocks, as well as the Advanced Armament Corporation, which makes silencers. It acquired Barnes Bullets, which makes copper-jacketed bullets popular with precision shooters and police departments.

The more the company diversifies its portfolio, analysts say, the more it has to offer to firearms distributors and leading retailers like Wal-Mart and Cabela’s.

“You can see Freedom Group constantly expanding its manufacturing base,” Mr. Lockwood says. “You don’t want to be a one-trick pony. They are trying to get as far into the market as they can.” What is left? The Freedom Group does not own the Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation or Sturm, Ruger, both publicly traded. Nor does it own the Colt’s Manufacturing, which is privately owned.

Cerberus also does not own Winchester Repeating Arms or Browning, both part of the Herstal Group of Belgium.

Still, the Freedom Group has ingested so many well-known brands so quickly that some gun owners are uneasy about what it might do next. Two years ago, a Cerberus managing director, George Kollitides, ran for the board of the N.R.A. Despite an endorsement from Remington, and the fact that he was a director of the Freedom Group and Remington, he lost. His campaign didn’t sit well with some gun bloggers, who viewed him as an industry interloper.

Andrew Arulanandam, the N.R.A.’s director for public affairs, declined to speculate about why Mr. Kollitides lost. “It’s a great question to ask our four million members,” he said.


THE challenges for gun makers in America go far beyond those faced by many other companies. As in many industries, sales tend to rise and fall with the economy. But firearms makers must also grapple with the vicissitudes of politics and public opinion.

Many Americans are solidly behind the right to own guns. In a Gallup poll conducted in October, only 43 percent of respondents said they supported stricter gun laws — an all-time low since the company first asked the question in 1990. And 47 percent reported that there was a gun in their home or on their property, the highest level of self-reported gun ownership since 1993, according to the poll, which canvassed about 1,000 adults in early October.

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed a “right to carry” bill that would require states to recognize one another’s permits to carry concealed weapons. If the bill passes the Senate, people in states with weaker concealed-weapon regulations would be able to carry concealed handguns into states like California, which requires extensive background checks.

The development would be good news for handgun makers like Colt and Smith & Wesson, but wouldn’t be much help to the Freedom Group, which focuses on long guns.

That, however, may be changing. Not long ago, Remington introduced the Remington 1911 R1, its first pistol in decades. Industry analysts speculate that the Freedom Group might next go shopping for a handgun maker to expand its presence in that segment of the market.

“At the right price,” says Jim Barrett, an analyst at CL King who covers firearms companies, “it would be logical for them to be interested in one of the premier handgun manufacturers.”

But, in an industry with few independent players left, the big question is this: What is Freedom Group’s long-term strategy? Because the company is private, outsiders can only speculate.

The Freedom Group had planned to go public, but backed away earlier this year when the financial markets turned turbulent. As of the end of September, the company had nearly half a billion dollars in debt, according to a third-quarter earnings report available on the Freedom Group’s Web site. That includes about $225 million in debt that the company raised last year to pay itself a special dividend used to buy back preferred stock from Cerberus, according to a company prospectus filed with the S.E.C.

Some analysts say tactical rifles have peaked, that the market has topped out, and that small, concealable handguns are the way forward for the near future. And yet, after a tough 2010, gun sales at the Freedom Group were up 5.6 percent during the first nine months of this year, although the company reported a net loss of $6.3 million for the same time period, according to the company’s most recent earnings report.

Meantime, the Freedom Group, despite its place atop the industry, appears to be operating without an official chief executive of its own. Its most recent C.E.O., Theodore H. Torbeck, resigned in September 2010 and no replacement has been named. For the moment, a temporary office of the chief executive, led by Robert L. Nardelli, the Cerberus executive who oversaw Chrysler, is helping to lead the company

“It’s a sensible strategy to roll up things,” says Gautam Khanna, an aerospace and military industry analyst at Cowen & Company. The issue is whether the Freedom Group, and Cerberus, can persuade more Americans to buy more guns.

“That,” Mr. Khanna says, “is an open question.”

    How Freedom Group Became the Big Shot, NYT, 26.11.2011,






Some With Histories of Mental Illness

Petition to Get Their Gun Rights Back


July 2, 2011

The New York Times



PULASKI, Va. — In May 2009, Sam French hit bottom, once again. A relative found him face down in his carport “talking gibberish,” according to court records. He later told medical personnel that he had been conversing with a bear in his backyard and hearing voices. His family figured he had gone off his medication for bipolar disorder, and a judge ordered him involuntarily committed — the fourth time in five years he had been hospitalized by court order.

When Mr. French’s daughter discovered that her father’s commitment meant it was illegal for him to have firearms, she and her husband removed his cache of 15 long guns and three handguns, and kept them after Mr. French was released in January 2010 on a new regime of mood-stabilizing drugs.

Ten months later, he appeared in General District Court — the body that handles small claims and traffic infractions — to ask a judge to restore his gun rights. After a brief hearing, in which Mr. French’s lengthy history of relapses never came up, he walked out with an order reinstating his right to possess firearms.

The next day, Mr. French retrieved his guns.

“The judge didn’t ask me a whole lot,” said Mr. French, now 62. “He just said: ‘How was I doing? Was I taking my medicine like I was supposed to?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ ”

Across the country, states are increasingly allowing people like Mr. French, who lost their firearm rights because of mental illness, to petition to have them restored.

A handful of states have had such restoration laws on their books for some time, but with little notice, more than 20 states have passed similar measures since 2008. This surge can be traced to a law passed by Congress after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech that was actually meant to make it harder for people with mental illness to get guns.

As a condition of its support for the measure, the National Rifle Association extracted a concession: the inclusion of a mechanism for restoring firearms rights to those who lost them for mental health reasons.

The intent of these state laws is to enable people to regain the right to buy and possess firearms if it is determined that they are not a threat to public safety. But an examination of restoration procedures across the country, along with dozens of cases, shows that the process for making that determination is governed in many places by vague standards and few specific requirements.

States have mostly entrusted these decisions to judges, who are often ill-equipped to conduct investigations from the bench. Many seemed willing to simply give petitioners the benefit of the doubt. The results often seem haphazard.

At least a few hundred people with histories of mental health issues already get their gun rights back each year. The number promises to grow, since most of the new state laws are just beginning to take effect. And in November, the Department of Veterans Affairs responded to the federal legislation by establishing a rights restoration process for more than 100,000 veterans who have lost their gun privileges after being designated mentally incompetent by the agency.

The issue goes to the heart of the nation’s complicated relationship with guns, testing the delicate balance between the need to safeguard the public and the dictates of what the Supreme Court has proclaimed to be a fundamental constitutional right.

Mike Fleenor, the commonwealth’s attorney here in Pulaski County, whose office opposed restoring Mr. French’s rights, worries that the balance is being thrown off by weak standards.

“I think that reasonable people can disagree about issues of the Second Amendment and gun control and things like that, but I don’t believe that any reasonable person believes that a mentally ill person needs a firearm,” Mr. Fleenor said. “The public has a right to be safe in their community.”

In case after case examined by The New York Times, judges made decisions without important information about an applicant’s mental health.

Larry Lamb, a Vietnam veteran from San Diego who has suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, lost his gun rights and his cache of weapons in 2006 when he was involuntarily hospitalized after his dog’s death left him suicidal. A psychiatrist who examined Mr. Lamb wrote that he “is extremely paranoid with a full-blown P.T.S.D., believing that he is still at war in the active military and he is a personal bodyguard of the president and many senators.”

In early 2008, a Superior Court judge in San Diego granted Mr. Lamb’s petition to have his firearms rights restored, after his psychologist testified that he was not dangerous. But the judge, without access to Mr. Lamb’s full medical history, was unaware of a crucial fact: the local Veterans Affairs hospital had placed a “red flag” on Mr. Lamb, barring him from the hospital grounds because he was perceived to be a threat to personnel there.

The spread of these restoration laws is especially striking against the backdrop of the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and others in Tucson early this year by a suspect who has been declared mentally incompetent to stand trial — a case that spotlighted anew the link between mental illness and violence.

Supporters of gun rights and mental health advocates point out that a vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent. At the same time, though, a variety of studies have found that people with serious mental illness are more prone to violence than the general population.

The difficulty of assessing risk emerges in places like Los Angeles, where the Superior Court conducts a relatively thorough review of firearms rights requests. The Times found multiple instances over the last decade in which people who won back their gun rights went on to be charged with or convicted of violent or gun-related crimes, including spousal battery, negligent discharge of a firearm or assault with a firearm.

Then there are the nightmare cases — like that of Ryan Anthony, 35, a former Emmy Award-winning animator at Disney who was involuntarily hospitalized in mid-2001 after losing his job and separating from his wife. Mr. Anthony filed a petition to get back his gun rights in early 2002, telling a court-appointed psychiatrist that he wanted to go skeet shooting.

A few weeks after the court granted his petition, Mr. Anthony bought a Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun, holed up in a Holiday Inn in Burbank, Calif., and committed suicide.


An N.R.A. Victory

The galvanizing revelation for gun-control advocates after the Virginia Tech massacre, the worst mass shooting in American history, was that the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, should never have been able to buy the guns he used in the rampage.

Two years earlier, a special justice declared Mr. Cho “an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness” and ordered him to outpatient treatment.

Under federal law, anyone involuntarily committed or adjudicated a “mental defective” is barred from buying or possessing firearms. But the prohibition is often toothless because many states do not share their mental health records with the F.B.I.’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Mr. Cho’s case offered Representative Carolyn McCarthy, Democrat of New York, a chance to advance a stalled bill that she had sponsored several years earlier to improve reporting by states to the F.B.I. database.

Ms. McCarthy’s political career and commitment to gun control was born out of tragedy. In 1993, a deranged gunman opened fire on a commuter train on Long Island, killing six people, including her husband, and gravely injuring her son. After more than a decade working on the issue in Congress, however, she had little to show for it.

Ms. McCarthy said she was wiser after years of setbacks. “I don’t believe in introducing legislation that won’t go anywhere,” she said.

She joined forces with Representative John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat and former N.R.A. board member, who acted as a liaison with the gun lobby. The N.R.A. had long been interested in gun-rights restoration. It also wanted to help tens of thousands of veterans who lost their rights after being designated mentally incompetent and unable to handle their finances by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“We don’t want to treat our soldiers as potential criminals because they’re struggling with the aftermath of dealing with their service,” said Chris Cox, the association’s chief lobbyist.

The gun lobby secured a broad provision in the legislation. The new law made money available to states to help improve their record sharing, but the provision pushed by the N.R.A. made it a prerequisite for states to establish a “relief from disability” program for people with histories of mental health issues to apply for the restoration of gun rights. The Veterans Affairs Department and other federal agencies were required to do the same.

Gun-control groups attacked the provisions. “You make one bad judgment, and you could have another Virginia Tech on your hands,” Kristen Rand, legislative director for the Violence Policy Center, said in an interview.

But the most prominent gun-control organization, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, ultimately supported the bill. “She felt if she didn’t do this, it wasn’t going to proceed,” Paul Helmke, the group’s president, said of Ms. McCarthy. “An imperfect bill is better than no bill.”

Ms. McCarthy said her background as a nurse made her amenable to restoring someone’s rights, “if they could prove they are no longer mentally ill.”

After the bill became law in 2008, the N.R.A. began lobbying state lawmakers to keep requirements for petitioners to a minimum.

In Idaho, for example, a committee of law enforcement and mental health officials proposed requiring courts to make findings by “clear and convincing” evidence and mandating that petitioners have a recent mental health evaluation. But without the N.R.A.’s imprimatur, the legislation went nowhere.

Instead, a Republican state representative, Raúl R. Labrador, who is now a congressman, worked with the N.R.A. to draft a bill, passed last year, that dropped the requirement for a mental health evaluation and lowered the standard of proof to a “preponderance of evidence.”

A few states have set stricter standards. In New York, decisions are made by mental health officials, and applicants must submit a long list of documents, including five years’ worth of medical records and records of psychiatric and substance abuse treatment going back 20 years. State officials can also require applicants to undergo clinical evaluations and risk assessments.

So far, there has been only a trickle of petitions in states with new restoration laws. The statutes are not yet well known, and federal authorities have yet to certify many of the state programs, making them fully operational under federal law.

But the demand will almost certainly grow, given the experience of states with longer-standing restoration statutes. In California, for instance, judges restored gun rights to 180 people in 2010. At the federal level, the Veterans Affairs Department has already received more than 100 applications, of which 12 were processed and one was granted.

As for the original aim of Ms. McCarthy’s legislation, the reporting of mental health records by states to the F.B.I. database remains woeful. The reasons vary, including privacy laws, technological challenges and inattention from state officials.

But one significant hurdle has been that only a handful of states have received the federal money to improve their reporting capabilities. Officials with the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicated that while 22 states applied for grants in 2009 and 2010, only nine have gotten financing. Most of those that did not receive grants were rejected because they did not have certified restoration programs in place.


One State’s Experience

Lawmakers in Virginia, the scene of Mr. Cho’s rampage, were among the first to respond to the federal legislation by amending the state’s existing restoration statute to reflect the new law. To restore firearms rights, judges must find that the petitioner “will not likely act in a manner dangerous to public safety” and that “the granting of the relief would not be contrary to the public interest.” There are few specific standards or guidelines beyond that.

In 2010, judges in Virginia considered roughly 40 restoration applications and granted firearms rights under state law to 25 people — 14 who had been involuntarily committed, and 11 who had been the subjects of temporary detention orders and were voluntarily admitted for mental health treatment, according to figures from the Virginia Supreme Court and the State Police. In 2009, the courts restored rights to 21 people.

There is no central repository for cases heard around Virginia, but to get a picture of how the process works in one state, The Times obtained dozens of petitions and judges’ orders, mainly from 2009 and 2010, along with supporting documentation, and interviewed petitioners, lawyers and judges. The hearings were often relatively brief, sometimes perfunctory, and judges had wide latitude in handling the petitions.

Teresa Hall, who had moved to Idaho, said she simply wrote a letter to Hampton General District Court explaining that her commitment several years earlier occurred when she was experiencing marital difficulties. To her shock, she got a judge’s order granting her petition several days later in the mail.

“I was surprised it was that easy,” Ms. Hall said.

Some judges insisted on seeing a doctor’s note, but others did not.

In a typical case, Joshua St. Clair, who served in Iraq with the National Guard, got his gun rights back last year. About six months earlier, Mr. St. Clair, now 22, had heard a rattling at his gate. He said he “kind of blacked out” and the next thing he knew, he was pointing his M-4 assault rifle at his friend’s chest. That led to a temporary detention order, treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and loss of his firearms rights.

He took a note from his psychiatrist to his restoration hearing, which he said “lasted maybe about five minutes,” but he said the judge did not even ask to see it. The judge asked Mr. St. Clair’s father a few questions and asked Mr. St. Clair himself whether he thought he should have his rights restored. He said, “Of course.”

Often the doctors’ recommendations came from general practitioners, not mental health professionals. The notes tended to be short, often just a few sentences.

In many cases, the hospitalizations occurred just a few months, or even weeks, earlier.

Bobby Bullion, 37, got his gun rights back about four months after he left a note for his wife and son that indicated he was considering suicide — his wife had told him she was divorcing him — and the police found him in his car with two loaded weapons. Mr. Bullion presented the judge with a letter from his psychiatrist endorsing the restoration.

Oran Greenway, 68, had his rights restored in August, just two months after he was involuntarily committed. The judge’s restoration shocked Mr. Greenway’s relatives, who said they had been worried for years about his mental stability. In an interview, he said he started taking Lexapro for depression several years ago. In 2005, he slammed a large branch on a neighbor’s head during an argument, resulting in a conviction for assault and battery.

“Knowing what I know about Oran, I wouldn’t let Oran have a gun,” said Elizabeth Dequino, a cousin who lives up the road.

Even when a court-ordered commitment occurred years ago, the wisdom of restoring certain petitioners’ firearms rights was open to question. David Neal Moon, 63, was involuntarily committed in 1995 after his struggles with schizoaffective bipolar disorder got so bad that he had threatened to commit suicide and was walking in circles around his house with a MAK-90 assault rifle, as if on guard duty, according to medical and court records and an interview with Cynthia Allison, who is now his ex-wife.

A psychiatrist’s report described him threatening to “bash in the face of his wife” and ranting about getting his guns so he could “shoot everybody.” It also mentions a violent hair-pulling episode with his wife.

He had not been committed since, but he had continued to struggle with his illness and was bad about taking his medication, Ms. Allison said.

In an interview, Mr. Moon insisted he took his medication and was not mentally ill. Yet he alluded to his phone being tapped by the State Police and “by maybe the Pentagon.”

His firearms hearing in early 2009 in Amherst General District Court, where Mr. Moon showed up in military camouflage, lasted “about eight minutes,” said Mr. Moon’s lawyer, Gregory Smith, adding that he did not recall presenting any recent medical evaluation.

Just over a month later, another judge granted Ms. Allison a protective order against her husband. The pair had split up, and Mr. Moon had been making veiled threats by phone and telling his children about demons in the walls, according to her court affidavit.

“The judge just sat there and listened to him talk,” Ms. Allison said. “I didn’t even say anything. If you listened to him talk, you could tell he’s as crazy as a bedbug.”

Among those whose applications were denied, many were turned down for technical reasons, like filing in the wrong jurisdiction or failing to show up for a hearing.

In others cases — like one last year in Lynchburg in which the petitioner, Undreas Smith, submitted a letter explaining he had been struggling with recent deaths in his family — the judge ruled against the petitioner because he failed to provide documentation from a mental health provider.

In the case of James Tuckson Jr. of Harrisonburg, who was involuntarily committed in 2006 and applied in October to get back his gun rights, prosecutors said his multiple arrests probably played a significant role in the judge’s decision to deny Mr. Tuckson’s petition.

Presented with The Times’s findings, Richard Bonnie, the chairman of the Virginia Commission on Mental Health Law Reform, which was formed after the Virginia Tech shootings, expressed concerns about the restoration process, particularly the vagueness of the statute. Mr. Bonnie said the panel would begin collecting information on the petitions on a monthly basis to better evaluate how they were being handled.

“There is an ambiguity in the statute that we need to look at,” he said.


‘A Hole in the Process’

When Sam French, the man with bipolar disorder whose daughter removed his guns, appeared late last year in Pulaski General District Court, he presented his recent medical records. Progress notes over several months showed that his bipolar disorder and substance abuse were in “remission.”

Nevertheless, Bobby Lilly, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney, opposed the petition, partly because Mr. French’s latest update indicated he had expressed interest in lowering the dosage of his medication. Mr. French’s two most recent hospitalizations had come after he went off his medication.

Mr. Lilly was also worried because it had been less than a year since his release. “We didn’t have a demonstrated track record of being able to comply with whatever the mental health provider’s directives were,” Mr. Lilly said.

In fact, a few months later, in March, a judge at the circuit level — the higher court in Virginia — denied Mr. French’s application for a concealed weapons permit because a five-year wait after a psychiatric commitment is required for such a permit.

But there is no waiting period for the restoration of basic gun rights.

Mr. French’s case fell to Judge Royce Glenwood Lookabill, a genial presence on the bench since 2006. Judge Lookabill said he quizzed Mr. French about whether he had had any other episodes and whether he was taking his prescribed drugs.

“I was satisfied that he wasn’t a danger — again, subject to him taking his medication,” Judge Lookabill said in an interview.

The judge acknowledged, however, that he might have made a different decision had he been aware of Mr. French’s previous commitments, including one that came after he was arrested for public drunkenness and later allegedly assaulted two police officers. (The assault charges were dropped.) No one had checked a state database for his commitment history.

“It’s a hole in the process,” said Mr. Lilly, who added that his office had only limited access to such information.

Judge Lookabill suggested that the process belonged in a higher court and should be made more adversarial. “I would feel a lot more comfortable,” he said, “if there were more safeguards.”


An Increased Risk

Most people with mental health issues, of course, will never be violent. But there is widespread consensus among scientists that the increased risk of violence among those with a serious mental illness — schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder — is statistically significant. That risk rises when substance abuse, which is more prevalent among people with mental illness, is also present.

One frequently cited study, led by Jeffrey W. Swanson, an expert on mental health and violence who is now at Duke University, showed that 33 percent of people with a serious mental illness reported past violent behavior, compared with 15 percent of people without a major mental disorder. Violent behavior was defined as including acts ranging from taking part in more than one fistfight as an adult to using a weapon in a fight. The rate for those with substance abuse issues but without a serious mental illness was 55 percent. The highest rate, 64 percent, was exhibited by people with major mental disorders and substance abuse issues.

Other studies have concluded that additional factors significantly increase the risk of violence among people with mental illness, including exposure to violence and being a victim of violence.

But taking these data and applying them to individuals is profoundly difficult.

Scientists have concluded that it is most accurate to augment clinical judgments with an “actuarial” approach, in which variables like psychiatric diagnosis, history of violence and anger control are plugged into a risk assessment model. The models categorize people into higher and lower risk groups. But many clinicians are unfamiliar with the technique. Indeed, none of the doctors who wrote letters on behalf of their patients in cases The Times reviewed appeared to utilize the approach.

Doctors’ declarations clearly influenced judges. But most wrote their letters at the request of their patients, which Randy Otto, a former president of the American Board of Forensic Psychology and an associate professor at the University of South Florida, said can be problematic.

“They’re more subject to pressure from their patients to offer opinions that will help the patients get what they want,” Dr. Otto said.

He said many doctors, particularly those not in the mental health field, are probably not steeped in the most important clues to future violence. Even psychologists and psychiatrists, relying on their clinical judgment alone, are extremely unreliable in predicting violence, studies have shown.

“Unstructured clinical judgments, just judgments of mental health professionals about how risky someone is,” Dr. Otto said, “are probably the least reliable and the least accurate.”


Weighing the Threats

The difficulties of predicting violence are particularly striking in Los Angeles County, where the Superior Court has a relatively rigorous process for determining whether to restore gun rights.

In California, anyone placed on a 72-hour or 14-day psychiatric hold and determined to be a danger to themselves or others loses gun rights for five years. But upon discharge, the person can apply to have these prohibitions lifted. Applicants in Los Angeles County are required to provide records from all involuntary hospitalizations, which are checked against a list provided by the State Department of Justice. They must also be examined by a court-appointed psychiatrist, who can call friends or relatives to gather more information.

Under the statute, the burden is on the district attorney to establish that the petitioner “would not be likely to use firearms in a safe and lawful manner.”

Over all, 1,579 petitions have been filed in Los Angeles Superior Court since 2000. More than 1,000 were dismissed, usually because applicants did not furnish the required documentation or failed to show up. Of those who actually got hearings, 381 won their cases.

“Dealing with somebody who suffers from severe mental illness and mixing that with firearms, you really have to cross the t’s and dot the i’s,” said Richard J. Vagnozzi, a deputy district attorney who handles these cases. Mr. Vagnozzi said the process “isn’t perfect, but we do the best we can with the available data and what we’re allowed to do.”

Even with the vigorous checks, there are people like Afshin Poordavoud, who lost his gun rights in June 2000. During a heated argument with his brother, Mr. Poordavoud threatened to shoot himself. His brother called the police, and Mr. Poordavoud was hospitalized briefly, according to court records.

Several months later, Mr. Poordavoud petitioned to have his firearms rights restored and to have the police return his shotgun and 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun. A court-appointed psychiatrist recommended that the decision be put off for three months and that Mr. Poordavoud get a full psychiatric evaluation and treatment, pointing out that the hospital had found him to be “likely depressed and minimizing his level of depression and suicidal risk.”

Mr. Poordavoud returned to court three months later with a letter from a therapist, indicating he had been undergoing treatment. This time, a different psychiatrist examined him but wrote at the end of his report, “Inconclusive: I have no opinion.” The psychiatrist suggested that the case be referred back to the initial doctor so she could interview Mr. Poordavoud’s therapist and obtain the full file from his hospitalization.

The judge, however, granted Mr. Poordavoud’s restoration request that same day in a pro forma hearing.

In late 2004, Mr. Poordavoud drove up to a house in Chatsworth, Calif., in the middle of the night and began banging on the windows and the doors, shouting for an acquaintance to come out, according to court testimony.

When a man opened the door, Mr. Poordavoud sprayed him and two others with mace, according to court testimony. In the ensuing fight, Mr. Poordavoud slashed at one of them with a pair of brass knuckles fitted with blades.

Mr. Poordavoud retrieved a gun from his car and fired a single shot that missed. In an interview, he said he had only fired in the air in self-defense.

The police eventually charged Mr. Poordavoud with multiple felonies. He pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and using tear gas not in self-defense, and he was sentenced to about a year in county jail.

“I had an anger problem,” said Mr. Poordavoud, who is no longer allowed to have guns because of his felony record. “I still have an anger problem.”

Violence against others is not the only concern.

Ryan Anthony, the talented but troubled Disney artist who had a history of alcoholism, had talked about suicide for years with relatives. His father, Michael Anthony, said his son once threatened to jump off a highway overpass; another time, he vowed to hang himself from a chandelier in his home. A few months before he filed his petition to restore his firearms rights, he had attempted suicide by swallowing some pills, said his brother Loren.

But Mr. Anthony was able to hide his troubled past when a court-appointed psychiatrist examined him for the restoration hearing in April 2002. He told Dr. Rose Pitt, according to court records, that he had simply been going through a difficult period after he lost his job and split up with his wife. He was normally not a drinker, he said, but began drinking heavily. Since his involuntary hospitalization in mid-2001, he had been sober and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Dr. Pitt wrote in her report.

“Does not own guns but wants to skeet shoot, and so wants to purchase guns,” Dr. Pitt wrote. “There does not appear to be any contraindication to his being able to get guns.”

His relatives were incredulous. Had they been called, they said, they would have told officials to deny his request.

“I would have said, ‘No, that doesn’t sound right,’ ” Loren Anthony said. “He didn’t like guns.”

Mr. Anthony had been staying with Steven and Sofia Shafit, family friends. They said he had been doing better but was still hurting.

About two weeks after he got his firearms rights restored, he borrowed $300 from Ms. Shafit, saying he wanted to take a girl on a date. Instead, he went out and bought a shotgun — investigators found the receipt by his body — and checked into a room at a Holiday Inn.

On the desk, he left a three-page suicide note, according to a report from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. At some point, he lay down on the bed, placed the barrel of the shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.


Toby Lyles, Lisa Schwartz and Jack Styczynski
contributed research.

Some With Histories of Mental Illness Petition to Get Their Gun Rights Back,






How Many Deaths Are Enough?


January 17, 2011
The New York Times


On April 22, 2008, almost exactly one year after 32 students and faculty members were slain in the massacre at Virginia Tech, the dealer who had sold one of the weapons used by the gunman delivered a public lecture on the school’s campus. His point: that people at Virginia Tech should be allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus.

Eric Thompson, owner of the online firearms store that sold a .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun to the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, did not think that his appearance at Virginia Tech was disrespectful or that his position was extreme. He felt so strongly that college students should be allowed to be armed while engaged in their campus activities that he offered discounts to any students who wanted to buy guns from him.

Thompson spun the discounts as altruistic. He told ABCNews.com, “This offers students and people who might not have otherwise been able to afford a weapon to purchase one at a hefty discount and at a significant expense to myself.”

The sale to Cho was not Thompson’s only unfortunate link to a mass killer. His firm sold a pair of 9-millimeter Glock magazines and a holster to Steven Kazmierczak, a 27-year-old graduate student in DeKalb, Ill., who, on the afternoon of Feb. 14, 2008, went heavily armed into an auditorium-type lecture hall at Northern Illinois University. Kazmierczak walked onto the stage in front of a crowd of students and opened fire. He killed five people and wounded 18 others before killing himself.

We’ve allowed the extremists to carry the day when it comes to guns in the United States, and it’s the dead and the wounded and their families who have had to pay the awful price. The idea of having large numbers of college students packing heat in their classrooms and at their parties and sporting events, or at the local pub or frat house or gymnasium, or wherever, is too stupid for words.

Thompson did not get a warm welcome at Virginia Tech. A spokesman for the school, Larry Hincker, said the fact that he “would set foot on this campus” was “terribly offensive” and “incredibly insensitive to the families of the victims.”

Just last week, a sophomore at Florida State University, Ashley Cowie, was shot to death accidentally by a 20-year-old student who, according to authorities, was showing off his rifle to a group of friends in an off-campus apartment complex favored by fraternity members. A second student was shot in the wrist. This occurred as state legislators in Florida are considering a proposal to allow people with permits to carry concealed weapons on campuses. The National Rifle Association thinks that’s a dandy idea.

The slaughter of college students — or anyone else — has never served as a deterrent to the gun fetishists. They want guns on campuses, in bars and taverns and churches, in parks and in the workplace, in cars and in the home. Ammunition everywhere — the deadlier, the better. A couple of years ago, a state legislator in Arizona, Karen Johnson, argued that adults needed to be able to carry guns in all schools, from elementary on up. “I feel like our kindergartners are sitting there like sitting ducks,” she said.


Can we get a grip?

The contention of those who would like college kids and just about everybody else to be armed to the teeth is that the good guys can shoot back whenever the bad guys show up to do harm. An important study published in 2009 by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine estimated that people in possession of a gun at the time of an assault were 4.5 times more likely to be shot during the assault than someone in a comparable situation without a gun.

“On average,” the researchers said, “guns did not seem to protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault. Although successful defensive gun uses can and do occur, the findings of this study do not support the perception that such successes are likely.”

Approximately 100,000 shootings occur in the United States every year. The number of people killed by guns should be enough to make our knees go weak. Monday was a national holiday celebrating the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While the gun crazies are telling us that ever more Americans need to be walking around armed, we should keep in mind that more than a million people have died from gun violence — in murders, accidents and suicides — since Dr. King was shot to death in 1968.

We need fewer homicides, fewer accidental deaths and fewer suicides. That means fewer guns. That means stricter licensing and registration, more vigorous background checks and a ban on assault weapons. Start with that. Don’t tell me it’s too hard to achieve. Just get started.

    How Many Deaths Are Enough?, NYT, 17.1.2011,






Why Not Regulate Guns

as Seriously as Toys?


January 12, 2011
The New York Times


Jared Loughner was considered too mentally unstable to attend community college. He was rejected by the Army. Yet buy a Glock handgun and a 33-round magazine? No problem.

To protect the public, we regulate cars and toys, medicines and mutual funds. So, simply as a public health matter, shouldn’t we take steps to reduce the toll from our domestic arms industry?

Look, I’m an Oregon farm boy who was given a .22 rifle for my 12th birthday. I still shoot occasionally when visiting the family farm, and I understand one appeal of guns: they’re fun.

It’s also true that city slickers sometimes exaggerate the risk of any one gun. The authors of Freakonomics noted that a home with a swimming pool is considerably more dangerous for small children than a home with a gun. They said that 1 child drowns annually for every 11,000 residential pools, but 1 child is shot dead for every 1 million-plus guns.

All that said, guns are far more deadly in America, not least because there are so many of them. There are about 85 guns per 100 people in the United States, and we are particularly awash in handguns.

(The only country I’ve seen that is more armed than America is Yemen. Near the town of Sadah, I dropped by a gun market where I was offered grenade launchers, machine guns, antitank mines, and even an anti-aircraft weapon. Yep, an N.R.A. dream! No pesky regulators. Just terrorism and a minor civil war.)

Just since the killings in Tucson, another 320 or so Americans have been killed by guns — anonymously, with barely a whisker of attention. By tomorrow it’ll be 400 deaths. Every day, about 80 people die from guns, and several times as many are injured.

Handgun sales in Arizona soared by 60 percent on Monday, according to Bloomberg News, as buyers sought to beat any beefing up of gun laws. People also often buy guns in hopes of being safer. But the evidence is overwhelming that firearms actually endanger those who own them. One scholar, John Lott Jr., published a book suggesting that more guns lead to less crime, but many studies have now debunked that finding (although it’s also true that a boom in concealed weapons didn’t lead to the bloodbath that liberals had forecast).

A careful article forthcoming in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine by David Hemenway, a Harvard professor who wrote a brilliant book a few years ago reframing the gun debate as a public health challenge, makes clear that a gun in the home makes you much more likely to be shot — by accident, by suicide or by homicide.

The chances that a gun will be used to deter a home invasion are unbelievably remote, and dialing 911 is more effective in reducing injury than brandishing a weapon, the journal article says. But it adds that American children are 11 times more likely to die in a gun accident than in other developed countries, because of the prevalence of guns.

Likewise, suicide rates are higher in states with more guns, simply because there are more gun suicides. Other kinds of suicide rates are no higher. And because most homicides in the home are by family members or acquaintances — not by an intruder — the presence of a gun in the home increases the risk of a gun murder in that home.

So what can be done? I asked Professor Hemenway how he would oversee a public health approach to reducing gun deaths and injuries. He suggested:

• Limit gun purchases to one per month per person, to reduce gun trafficking. And just as the government has cracked down on retailers who sell cigarettes to minors, get tough on gun dealers who sell to traffickers.

• Push for more gun safes, and make serial numbers harder to erase.

• Improve background checks and follow Canada in requiring a 28-day waiting period to buy a handgun. And ban oversize magazines, such as the 33-bullet magazine allegedly used in Tucson. If the shooter had had to reload after firing 10 bullets, he might have been tackled earlier. And invest in new technologies such as “smart guns,” which can be fired only when near a separate wristband or after a fingerprint scan.

We can also learn from Australia, which in 1996 banned assault weapons and began buying back 650,000 of them. The impact is controversial and has sometimes been distorted. But the Journal of Public Health Policy notes that after the ban, the firearm suicide rate dropped by half in Australia over the next seven years, and the firearm homicide rate was almost halved.

Congress on Wednesday echoed with speeches honoring those shot in Tucson. That’s great — but hollow. The best memorial would be to regulate firearms every bit as seriously as we regulate automobiles or toys.

    Why Not Regulate Guns as Seriously as Toys?, NYT, 12.1.2011,






Handguns for 18-Year-Olds?


November 25, 2010
The New York Times


The National Rifle Association keeps coming up with clever new ways to undermine public safety.

Just in the past year, the gun-rights group sought to scuttle basic gun controls enacted by the District of Columbia, including a ban on powerful semiautomatic weapons in the nation’s capital. The group also blocked common-sense efforts in Congress to bar people on the F.B.I.’s terrorist watch list from buying guns and explosives. It kept open the deadly loophole in federal law that lets gun traffickers and other unqualified buyers to obtain weapons without background checks at gun shows.

Last week, President Obama had barely nominated a new director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is supposed to control firearms — Andrew Traver, a well-qualified career professional — before the gun lobby denounced him as “deeply aligned with gun control advocates.” Mr. Traver’s sin? Associating with a police chief’s group that wants to reduce the use of handguns on city streets. The nomination was rated dead on arrival in the next Congress, where the N.R.A. will, if anything, be more powerful.

Finally, the gun lobby has filed two lawsuits in federal court in Lubbock, Tex., to compel the State of Texas to allow young people between the ages of 18 and 20 years old to buy handguns and carry them concealed in public places.

The first suit challenges the longstanding federal law prohibiting licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to anyone under 21 years old. The second case contests a Texas law setting 21 as the minimum age for carrying a concealed weapon.

As a legal matter, both lawsuits should fail. In its recent Second Amendment rulings, the Supreme Court struck down complete bans on handgun ownership, but explicitly left room for limits on gun ownership and possession by felons and the mentally ill, and other reasonable restrictions like Texas’ age limitations. The Supreme Court has said nothing to suggest that the Second Amendment requires Americans to allow armed teenagers in their communities.

Beyond the dubious legal claims, the idea that young individuals ages 18 to 20 have a constitutional right to buy weapons and carry them loaded and concealed in public is breathtakingly irresponsible.

Young people in that age range commit a disproportionate amount of gun violence. F.B.I. crime data from 2009 shows arrests for murder, nonnegligent homicides and other violent crimes peaking from ages 18 to 20. That age group accounts for about 5 percent of the population but nearly 20 percent of homicide and manslaughter arrests, and nearly twice the number of such arrests for those ages 30 to 34, according to the F.B.I. figures.

What the N.R.A. should be doing is keeping our streets and our teenagers safer by working to extend the prohibition on guns sales to people 18 to 20 years old by licensed dealers to include unlicensed sellers at gun shows and elsewhere.

    Handguns for 18-Year-Olds?, NYT, 25.11.2010,






More States

Allowing Guns in Bars and Restaurants


October 3, 2010
The New York Times


NASHVILLE — Happy-hour beers were going for $5 at Past Perfect, a cavernous bar just off this city’s strip of honky-tonks and tourist shops when Adam Ringenberg walked in with a loaded 9-millimeter pistol in the front pocket of his gray slacks.

Mr. Ringenberg, a technology consultant, is one of the state’s nearly 300,000 handgun permit holders who have recently seen their rights greatly expanded by a new law — one of the nation’s first — that allows them to carry loaded firearms into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.

“If someone’s sticking a gun in my face, I’m not relying on their charity to keep me alive,” said Mr. Ringenberg, 30, who said he carries the gun for personal protection when he is not at work.

Gun rights advocates like Mr. Ringenberg may applaud the new law, but many customers, waiters and restaurateurs here are dismayed by the decision.

“That’s not cool in my book,” Art Andersen, 44, said as he nursed a Coors Light at Sam’s Sports Bar and Grill near Vanderbilt University. “It opens the door to trouble. It’s giving you the right to be Wyatt Earp.”

Tennessee is one of four states, along with Arizona, Georgia and Virginia, that recently enacted laws explicitly allowing loaded guns in bars. (Eighteen other states allow weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol.) The new measures in Tennessee and the three other states come after two landmark Supreme Court rulings that citizens have an individual right — not just in connection with a well-regulated militia — to keep a loaded handgun for home defense.

Experts say these laws represent the latest wave in the country’s gun debate, as the gun lobby seeks, state by state, to expand the realm of guns in everyday life.

The rulings, which overturned handgun bans in Washington and Chicago, have strengthened the stance of gun rights advocates nationwide. More than 250 lawsuits now challenge various gun laws, and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, a Republican, called for guns to be made legal on campuses after a shooting last week at the University of Texas, Austin, arguing that armed bystanders might have stopped the gunman.

The new laws have also brought to light the status of 20 other states — New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts among them — that do not address the question, appearing by default to allow those with permits to carry guns into establishments that serve alcohol, according to the Legal Community Against Violence, a nonprofit group that promotes gun control and tracks state gun laws.

“A lot of states for a long time have not felt the need to say you could or couldn’t do it,” said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “There weren’t as many conceal-carry permits out there, so it wasn’t really an issue.” Now, he said, “the attitude from the gun lobby is that they should be able to take their guns wherever they want. In the last year, they’re starting to move toward needing no permit at all.”

State Representative Curry Todd, a Republican who first introduced the guns-in-bars bill here, said that carrying a gun inside a tavern was never the law’s primary intention. Rather, he said, the law lets people defend themselves while walking to and from restaurants.

“Folks were being robbed, assaulted — it was becoming an issue of personal safety,” said Mr. Todd, who added that the National Rifle Association had aided his legislative efforts. “The police aren’t going to be able to protect you. They’re going to be checking out the crime scene after you and your family’s been shot or injured or assaulted or raped.”

Under Tennessee’s new law, gun permit holders are not supposed to drink alcohol while carrying their weapons. Mr. Ringenberg washed down his steak sandwich with a Coke.

But critics of the law say the provision is no guarantee of safety, pointing to a recent shooting in Virginia where a customer who had a permit to carry a concealed weapon shot himself in the leg while drinking beer at a restaurant.

“Guns and alcohol don’t mix; that’s the bottom line,” said Michael Drescher, a spokesman for Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, a Democrat, who vetoed the bill but was overridden by the legislature.

The law allows restaurant and bar owners to prohibit people from carrying weapons inside their establishments by posting signs out front. But many restaurateurs are reluctant to discourage the patronage of gun owners, often saying privately that they do not allow guns but holding off on posting a sign.

“I’ve talked to a lot of restaurants, and probably 50 to 60 percent of them have no clue what’s going on,” said Ray Friedman, 51, who has created a Web site listing the firearms policies of area restaurants.

Previously, states like Tennessee did not allow its residents to carry concealed weapons unless they had a special permit from the local authorities. That began to shift in the mid-1990s, as the gun lobby pushed states to adopt policies that made permits for concealed weapons more accessible.

The new law passed with broad legislative support, despite opposition from the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and the Tennessee Hospitality Association.

So far, the law has been challenged only once. Filed by an anonymous waiter, the complaint contended that allowing guns into a tavern creates an unsafe work environment for servers. His complaint was denied by the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

“A loaded concealed weapon in a bar is a recognized hazard,” said David Randolph Smith, a lawyer who represents the waiter and is preparing to appeal the decision. “I have a right to go into a restaurant or bar and not have people armed. And of course, the waiter has a right to a safe workplace.”

Down at Bobby’s Idle Hour, however, Mike Gideon said he did not believe that guns in bars were unsafe. As he sipped a beer in the fading afternoon light, Mr. Gideon, who characterized his 19-gun collection as “serious,” said that having a few permit holders around made any public space safer and that he boycotts any business that does not allow him to carry a weapon.

“People who have gun permits have the cleanest records around,” said Mr. Gideon, 54. “The guy that’s going to do the bad thing? He’s not worried about the law at all. The ‘No Guns’ sign just says to him, ‘Hey, buddy, smooth sailing.’ ”

    More States Allowing Guns in Bars and Restaurants, NYT, 3.11.2010,






The Hard Work of Gun Control


July 9, 2010
The New York Times

Thirteen days ago, the Supreme Court undermined Chicago’s ban on handguns by applying the Second Amendment to the states, ruling that people have a right to protect their homes with a gun. Four days after that, Chicago passed another handgun restriction that edged right up to the line drawn by the court. And on Tuesday, a group of gun dealers and enthusiasts sued the city again to overturn the new law.

Bullets are flying on city streets, but the vital work of limiting gun use has become a cat-and-mouse game. Beleaguered citizens deserve better from both sides.

We strongly disagreed with the reasoning that led the court to find an individual right to bear arms in the Second Amendment, ending handgun bans in Washington, D.C., in 2008 and everywhere else last month. Nonetheless, the law of the land is now that people have a constitutional right to a gun in their home for self-defense.

That right can be limited, the court explicitly said, with reasonable restrictions. But it provided very little guidance as to what is reasonable, leaving lawyers, lawmakers and judges to thrash it out in a bog of lawsuits that could take many years to clear.

Cities and states have a need to be extremely tough in limiting access to guns, but they need to do it with more forethought than went into the Chicago ordinance. Lawmakers there sensibly limited residents to one operable handgun per home, with a strict registration and permitting process. But residents are not allowed to buy a gun in the city. They must receive firearms training, but ranges are illegal in the city. Chicago lawmakers sloughed off on the suburbs the responsibility to regulate sales and training. As a result, more people will travel more miles to transport guns.

The law is likely to draw heightened equal-protection scrutiny from skeptical judges at all levels. Chicago would have been better off allowing gun sales under the strict oversight of the police department, which could then better check the backgrounds and movements of every buyer and seller. The District of Columbia passed a largely similar ordinance last year after its law was struck down by the court. But it permits sales at the few gun shops in the district, and a federal judge upheld that ordinance after it was challenged. It could stand as a model for other cities.

As flawed as the Chicago regulation is, the lawsuit challenging it is entirely over the top. It disputes virtually every aspect of the law as a violation of the Second Amendment and poses ludicrous hypothetical situations to show that everyone needs a gun. “If an elderly widow lives in an unsafe neighborhood and asks her son to spend the night because she has recently received harassing phone calls,” the lawsuit complains, “the son may not bring his registered firearm with him to his mother’s home as an aid to the defense of himself and his mother.” Putting granny in the middle of a neighborhood firefight is preferable to having her simply call the police?

The gun lobby is going to attack virtually every gun ordinance it can find, if only to see what it can get away with now. (Last week, the same lawyers who brought the Chicago and Washington cases sued North Carolina, challenging a law that prohibits carrying weapons during a state of emergency.)

Lawmakers need not match the lobby’s obduracy. Cities and states should counter with tough but sensible laws designed to resist legal challenges and keep gun possession to a minimum.

    The Hard Work of Gun Control, NYT, 9.7.2010,






The Court: Ignoring the Reality of Guns


June 28, 2010
The New York Times


About 10,000 Americans died by handgun violence, according to federal statistics, in the four months that the Supreme Court debated which clause of the Constitution it would use to subvert Chicago’s entirely sensible ban on handgun ownership. The arguments that led to Monday’s decision undermining Chicago’s law were infuriatingly abstract, but the results will be all too real and bloody.

This began two years ago, when the Supreme Court disregarded the plain words of the Second Amendment and overturned the District of Columbia’s handgun ban, deciding that the amendment gave individuals in the district, not just militias, the right to bear arms. Proceeding from that flawed logic, the court has now said the amendment applies to all states and cities, rendering Chicago’s ban on handgun ownership unenforceable.

Once again, the court’s conservative majority imposed its selective reading of American history, citing the country’s violent separation from Britain and the battles over slavery as proof that the authors of the Constitution and its later amendments considered gun ownership a fundamental right. The court’s members ignored the present-day reality of Chicago, where 258 public school students were shot last school year — 32 fatally.

Rather than acknowledging Chicago’s — and the nation’s — need to end an epidemic of gun violence, the justices spent scores of pages in the decision analyzing which legal theory should bind the Second Amendment to the states. Should it be the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, or the amendment’s immunities clause? The argument was not completely settled because there was not a five-vote majority for either path.

The issue is not trivial; had the court backed the immunity-clause path championed by Justice Clarence Thomas, it might have had the beneficial effect of applying more aspects of the Bill of Rights to the states. That could make it easier to require that states, like the federal government, have unanimous jury verdicts in criminal trials, for example, or ban excessive fines.

While the court has now twice attacked complete bans on handgun ownership, the decision left plenty of room for restrictions on who can buy and sell arms.

The court acknowledged, as it did in the District of Columbia case, that the amendment did not confer “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” It cited a few examples of what it considered acceptable: limits on gun ownership by felons or the mentally ill, bans on carrying firearms in sensitive places like schools or government buildings and conditions on gun sales.

Mayors and state lawmakers will have to use all of that room and keep adopting the most restrictive possible gun laws — to protect the lives of Americans and aid the work of law enforcement officials. They should continue to impose background checks, limit bulk gun purchases, regulate dealers, close gun-show loopholes.

They should not be intimidated by the theoretical debate that has now concluded at the court or the relentless stream of lawsuits sure to follow from the gun lobby that will undoubtedly keep pressing to overturn any and all restrictions. Officials will have to press back even harder. Too many lives are at stake.

    The Court: Ignoring the Reality of Guns, NYT, 28.6.2010, 






Justices Say Gun Rights Apply Locally


The New York Times
June 28, 2010


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court held Monday that the Constitution's Second Amendment restrains government's ability to significantly limit "the right to keep and bear arms," advancing a recent trend by the John Roberts-led bench to embrace gun rights.

By a narrow, 5-4 vote, the justices signaled, however, that less severe restrictions could survive legal challenges.

Writing for the court in a case involving restrictive laws in Chicago and one of its suburbs, Justice Samuel Alito said that the Second Amendment right "applies equally to the federal government and the states."

The court was split along familiar ideological lines, with five conservative-moderate justices in favor of gun rights and four liberals opposed. Chief Justice Roberts voted with the majority.

Two years ago, the court declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess guns, at least for purposes of self-defense in the home.

That ruling applied only to federal laws. It struck down a ban on handguns and a trigger lock requirement for other guns in the District of Columbia, a federal city with a unique legal standing. At the same time, the court was careful not to cast doubt on other regulations of firearms here.

Gun rights proponents almost immediately filed a federal lawsuit challenging gun control laws in Chicago and its suburb of Oak Park, Ill, where handguns have been banned for nearly 30 years. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says those laws appear to be the last two remaining outright bans.

Lower federal courts upheld the two laws, noting that judges on those benches were bound by Supreme Court precedent and that it would be up to the high court justices to ultimately rule on the true reach of the Second Amendment.

The Supreme Court already has said that most of the guarantees in the Bill of Rights serve as a check on state and local, as well as federal, laws.

Monday's decision did not explicitly strike down the Chicago area laws, ordering a federal appeals court to reconsider its ruling. But it left little doubt that they would eventually fall.

Still, Alito noted that the declaration that the Second Amendment is fully binding on states and cities "limits (but by no means eliminates) their ability to devise solutions to social problems that suit local needs and values."

    Justices Say Gun Rights Apply Locally, NYT, 28.6.2010,






Pastor Urges His Flock to Bring Guns to Church


June 26, 2009
The New York Times


LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Ken Pagano, the pastor of the New Bethel Church here, is passionate about gun rights. He shoots regularly at the local firing range, and his sermon two weeks ago was on “God, Guns, Gospel and Geometry.” And on Saturday night, he is inviting his congregation of 150 and others to wear or carry their firearms into the sanctuary to “celebrate our rights as Americans!” as a promotional flier for the “open carry celebration” puts it.

“God and guns were part of the foundation of this country,” Mr. Pagano, 49, said Wednesday in the small brick Assembly of God church, where a large wooden cross hung over the altar and two American flags jutted from side walls. “I don’t see any contradiction in this. Not every Christian denomination is pacifist.”

The bring-your-gun-to-church day, which will include a $1 raffle of a handgun, firearms safety lessons and a picnic, is another sign that the gun culture in the United States is thriving despite, or perhaps because of, President Obama’s election in November.

Last year, the National Rifle Association ran a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign against Mr. Obama, stoking fears that he would be the most antigun president in history and that firearms would be confiscated. One worry was that a Democratic president and Congress would reinstitute the assault-weapons ban, which expired in 2004.

But there is little support for the ban. Mr. Obama and his party have largely ignored gun-control issues, and the president even signed a measure that will allow firearms in national parks.

Still, the fear remains that Mr. Obama, and his attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., will crack down on guns sooner or later. That — along with the faltering economy, which gun sellers say has spurred purchases for self-defense — has fueled a record surge in gun sales.

“Every president wants to be re-elected, and gun bans are pretty much a nonstarter for getting re-elected,” said Win Underwood, owner of the Bluegrass Indoor Range here. “What I suspect is going to happen is, Obama’s going to cool his jets until he can get re-elected, and then he’ll start building his legacy in these hot-button areas.”

When Mr. Obama was elected in November, federal instant background checks, the best indicator of gun sales, jumped 42 percent over the previous November. Every month since then, the number of checks has been higher than the year before, although the postelection surge may be tapering off, as all surges eventually do. While the number of checks in April increased 30 percent from the year before, the number of checks in May (1,023,102) was only 15 percent higher than in May 2008.

The National Rifle Association says its membership is up 30 percent since November. And several states have recently passed laws allowing gun owners to carry firearms in more places — bars, restaurants, cars and parks.

“We have a very active agenda in all 50 states,” said Chris W. Cox, legislative director of the N.R.A., widely considered the country’s most powerful lobby. “We have right-to-carry laws in over 40 states; 20 years ago, it was in just six.”

Of the 40 states with right-to-carry laws, 20 allow guns in churches.

Public attitudes also seem to be turning more sympathetic to gun owners. In April, the Pew Research Center found for the first time that almost as many people said it was more important to protect the rights of gun owners (45 percent) than to control gun ownership (49 percent). Just a year ago, Pew said, 58 percent said gun control was more important than the rights of gun owners (37 percent).

Gun-control advocates say they feel increasingly ineffective, especially after a recent spate of high-profile shootings, including last month’s murder, inside a church in Kansas, of a doctor who performed late-term abortions.

“We’ve definitely been marginalized,” said Pam Gersh, a public relations consultant here who helped organize a rally in Louisville in 2000, to coincide with the Million Mom March against guns in Washington.

“The Brady Campaign and other similar organizations who advocate sensible gun responsibility laws don’t have the money and the political power — not even close,” she said. “This pastor is obviously crossing a line here and saying ‘I can even take my guns to church, and there is nothing you can do about it.’ ”

Ms. Gersh said she was not aware that a group of local churches and peace activists were staging a counterpicnic — called “Bring your peaceful heart, leave your gun at home” — at the same time as Mr. Pagano’s event.

But news media attention — some from overseas — has focused on Mr. Pagano, who has been planning the event for a year, in celebration of the Fourth of July. Cameras will not be allowed in the church, he said, to protect the congregation’s privacy.

The celebration will feature lessons in responsible gun ownership, Mr. Pagano said. Sheriff’s deputies will be at the doors to check that openly carried firearms are unloaded, but they will not check for concealed weapons.

“That’s the whole point of concealed,” Mr. Pagano said, adding that he was not worried because such owners require training.

Mr. Pagano said the church’s insurance company, which he would not identify, had canceled the church’s policy for the day on Saturday and told him that it would cancel the policy for good at the end of the year. If he cannot find insurance for Saturday, people will not be allowed in openly carrying their guns.

Arkansas and Georgia recently rejected efforts to allow people to carry concealed weapons in church. Watching the debate in Arkansas was John Phillips, pastor of the Central Church of Christ in Little Rock. In 1986, Mr. Phillips was preaching in a different church there when a gunman shot him and a parishioner. Both survived, but Mr. Phillips, 51, still has a bullet lodged in his spine.

In a telephone interview, he said he found the idea of “packing in the pew” abhorrent.

“There is a movement afoot across the nation, with the gun lobby pushing the envelope, trying to allow concealed weapons to be carried in places where they used to be prohibited — churches, schools, bars,” Mr. Phillips said.

“I don’t understand how any minister who is familiar with the teachings of the Bible can do this,” he added. “Jesus didn’t say, ‘Go ahead, make my day.’ ”

Mr. Pagano takes such comments as a challenge to his faith and says they make him more determined.

“When someone from within the church tells me that being a Christian and having firearms are contradictions, that they’re incompatible with the Gospel — baloney,” he said. “As soon as you start saying that it’s not something that Christians do, well, guns are just the foil. The issue now is the Gospel. So in a sense, it does become a crusade. Now the Gospel is at stake.”

    Pastor Urges His Flock to Bring Guns to Church, NYT, 26.6.2009,






Gun Rulings Open Way

to Supreme Court Review


June 17, 2009

The New York Times



A year ago, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision establishing the constitutional right of Americans to own guns. But the justices did not explain what the practical effect of that ruling would be on city and state gun laws.

Could a city still ban handguns? The justices said the District of Columbia could not, but only because it is a special federal district. The question of the constitutionality of existing city and state gun laws was left unanswered.

That left a large vacuum for the lower courts to fill. Supporters of gun rights filed a flurry of lawsuits to strike down local gun restrictions, and now federal appeals courts have begun weighing in on this divisive issue, using very different reasoning.

One court this month upheld Chicago’s ban on automatic weapons and concealed handguns, while in April a California court disagreed on the constitutional issue.

The differing opinions mean that the whole issue of city and state gun laws will probably head back to the Supreme Court for clarification, leading many legal experts to predict a further expansion of gun rights.

The new cases are fallout from last year’s Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller, which struck down parts of Washington’s gun control ordinance, the strictest in the country, and stated for the first time that the Second Amendment gives individuals a right to keep and bear arms for personal use. But the court declined to say whether the Second Amendment in general applies to state and local governments.

In January, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, in a ruling joined by Judge Sonia Sotomayor, declined to apply the Second Amendment to a New York law that banned the martial arts device known as chukka sticks. The ban was allowed to stay in place.

Then in April, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled that the Second Amendment did apply to the states, even though it allowed a California county to ban guns on government property like state fairgrounds. That case, Nordyke v. King, is being considered for a rehearing by the full Ninth Circuit.

Those two conflicting cases set the stage for two other cases that were heard as one in the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, testing that city’s handgun ban. On June 2, a three-judge panel of the court, led by Chief Judge Frank H. Easterbrook, a well-known conservative, ruled that there was no basis for the court to apply the Second Amendment to the states. Such a decision, Judge Easterbrook wrote, should be made only by the Supreme Court, not at the appellate level.

The right of states to make their own decisions on such matters, Judge Easterbrook wrote, “is an older and more deeply rooted tradition than is a right to carry any particular kind of weapon.”

The lawyers for the plaintiffs, including the National Rifle Association, have asked the Supreme Court to take up the Chicago cases.

A split among the federal appeals circuits, especially on constitutional issues, invites Supreme Court action, said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“Californians, Hawaiians and Oregonians have a Second Amendment right to bear arms, but New Yorkers, Illinoisans, and Wisconsinites don’t,” Professor Winkler said. “The Supreme Court will want to correct this sooner rather than later.”

The process of applying amendments of the Bill of Rights to the states, known as incorporation, began after the Civil War but had its heyday in the activist Supreme Court of the Earl Warren era. Much of the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and some rights of criminal defendants, have been applied to the states, but other elements have not, including the Seventh Amendment right to a civil jury trial and the Second Amendment.

Incorporation fell out of favor after the 1960s, but a new generation of largely liberal scholars of law and history have brought it back into the intellectual mainstream, said Akhil Reed Amar, a law professor at Yale University, who supports the process.

“The precedents are now supportive of incorporation of nearly every provision of the Bill of Rights,” Professor Amar said. “Now what’s odd is that the Second Amendment doesn’t apply to the states.”

Sanford Levinson, a law professor at the University of Texas, said he would be surprised if the Supreme Court accepted these gun cases, because some of the conservative justices on the court had scoffed at incorporation arguments in the past and might not want to set a precedent.

Professor Amar, however, argued that the justices would not only take up the case but would also ultimately vote for incorporation of the Second Amendment.

Even if the Second Amendment becomes the controlling law of every state and town, constitutional scholars say it is still unlikely that gun laws would be overturned wholesale. The Supreme Court’s Heller decision last year, notes Nelson Lund, a law professor at George Mason University, “clearly indicates that governments will still have wide latitude to regulate firearms.”

Even the Ninth Circuit in California, while applying the Second Amendment to the states, still upheld the gun ordinance that gave rise to the lawsuit.

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the view of the Ninth Circuit reflected what polls have said was, by and large, the view of the American people.

“There is a right to bear arms,” Professor Volokh said, “but it’s not absolute.”

Gun Rulings Open Way to Supreme Court Review,






In Texas School,

Teachers Carry Books and Guns


August 29, 2008

The New York Times



HARROLD, Tex. — Students in this tiny town of grain silos and ranch-style houses spent much of the first couple of days in school this week trying to guess which of their teachers were carrying pistols under their clothes.

“We made fun of them,” said Eric Howard, a 16-year-old high school junior. “Everybody knows everybody here. We will find out.”

The school board in this impoverished rural hamlet in North Texas has drawn national attention with its decision to let some teachers carry concealed weapons, a track no other school in the country has followed. The idea is to ward off a massacre along the lines of what happened at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.

“Our people just don’t want their children to be fish in a bowl,” said David Thweatt, the schools superintendent and driving force behind the policy. “Country people are take-care-of-yourself people. They are not under the illusion that the police are there to protect them.”

Even in Texas, with its tradition of lenient gun laws and frontier justice, the idea of teachers’ taking guns to class has rattled some people and sparked a fiery debate.

Gun-control advocates are wringing their hands, while pro-gun groups are gleeful. Leaders of the state’s major teachers unions have expressed stunned outrage, while the conservative Republican governor, Rick Perry, has endorsed the idea.

In the center of the storm is Mr. Thweatt, a man who describes himself as “a contingency planner,” who believes Americans should be less afraid of protecting themselves and who thinks signs at schools saying “gun-free zone” make them targets for armed attacks. “That’s like saying sic ’em to a dog,” he said.

Mr. Thweatt maintains that having teachers carry guns is a rational response to a real threat. The county sheriff’s office is 17 miles away, he argues, and the district cannot afford to hire police officers, as urban schools in Dallas and Houston do.

The school board decided that teachers with concealed guns were a better form of security than armed peace officers, since an attacker would not know whom to shoot first, Mr. Thweatt said. Teachers have received training from a private security consultant and will use special ammunition designed to prevent ricocheting, he added.

Harrold, about 180 miles northwest of Dallas, is a far cry from the giant districts in major Texas cities, where gang violence is the main concern and most schools have their own police forces. Barely 100 students of all ages attend classes here in two brick buildings built more than 60 years ago. There are two dozen teachers, a handful of buses and a football field bordered by crops.

Yet the town is not isolated in rustic peace, supporters of the plan point out. A four-lane highway runs through town, bringing with it a river of humanity, including criminals, they say. The police recently shut down a drug-producing laboratory in a ramshackle house near school property. Drifters sometimes sleep under the overpass.

“I’m not exactly paranoid,” Mr. Thweatt said. “I like to consider myself prepared.”

Some residents and parents, however, think Mr. Thweatt may be overstating the threat. Many say they rarely lock their doors, much less worry about random drifters with pistols running amok at the school. Longtime residents were hard-pressed to recall a single violent incident there.

Others worry that introducing guns into the classroom might create more problems than it solved. A teacher tussling with a student could lose control of a weapon, or a gun might go off by accident, they said.

“I don’t think there is a place in the school whatsoever for a gun unless you have a police officer in there,” said Bobby G. Brown, a farmer and former school board chairman whose two sons were educated at the school. “I don’t care how much training they have.”

His wife, Diane Brown, added: “There are too many things that could happen. They are not trained to make life-and-death-situation judgments.”

Mr. Thweatt declined to say how many teachers were armed, or who they were, on the theory that it would tip off the bad guys. He also declined to identify the private consultant who provided teachers with about 40 hours of weapons training.

Most critics question whether teachers, even with extra training, are as qualified as police officers to take out an armed attacker.

“We are trained to teach and to educate,” said Zeph Capo, the legislative director for the Houston Association of Teachers. “We are not trained to tame the Wild West.”

Texas gun laws ban the weapons on school property. But the Legislature carved out an exception allowing school boards to permit people with concealed handgun licenses to carry their weapons. No local district had taken advantage of the exception until the Harrold school board acted.

Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said the state’s hands were tied. “We have really tried not to get involved in this,” Ms. Ratcliffe said. “Frankly, it’s a matter of local control.”

Gun-control advocates say, however, that while the school district may be complying with state gun laws, it appears to be violating the education statute. That law says “security personnel” authorized to carry weapons on campuses must be “commissioned peace officers,” who undergo police training.

“It seems to us not only an unwise policy but an illegal one,” said Brian Siebel, a lawyer in Washington for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

The school district has countered that teachers are not “security personnel” and so do not need to become peace officers.

As a general rule, the seven school board members — a collection of farmers and oil workers led by an ambulance medic — have referred all questions from reporters to Mr. Thweatt. But one member, Coy Cato, gave a short interview. “In my opinion, it is the best way to protect our kids,” Mr. Cato said. Asked if others in the community shared his view, he said that he had not taken a poll, but “I think so.”

Still, several residents complained that the board made little or no effort to gather public opinion on the matter. Some said they did not hear about the plan until reporters started asking questions about it in early August.

Mr. Thweatt said the board discussed the proposal for nearly two years and considered several options — tranquilizer guns, beanbag guns, Tasers, Mace and armed security guards — but each was found lacking in some way. “We devil-advocated it to death,” Mr. Thweatt said.

That discussion went unnoticed by many parents.

Traci McKay, a 34-year-old restaurant employee, sends three children to the school, yet said she had not heard about the pistol-carrying teachers until two weeks before the start of the semester. She was stunned.

“I should have been informed,” Ms. McKay said. “If something happens, do we really want all these people shooting at each other?”

Ms. McKay said Mr. Thweatt had yet to explain why a town with such a low crime rate needed such measures. She is afraid, however, that her children might face repercussions if she takes up a petition against the idea.

“We are pretty much being told to deal with this or move,” Ms. McKay said.

In Texas School, Teachers Carry Books and Guns,






Justices Rule for Individual Gun Rights


June 27, 2008

The New York Times



WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court declared for the first time on Thursday that the Constitution protects an individual’s right to have a gun, not just the right of the states to maintain militias.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority in the landmark 5-to-4 decision, said the Constitution does not allow “the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home.” In so declaring, the majority found that a gun-control law in the nation’s capital went too far by making it nearly impossible to own a handgun.

But the court held that the individual right to possess a gun “for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home” is not unlimited. “It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” Justice Scalia wrote.

The ruling does not mean, for instance, that laws against carrying concealed weapons are to be swept aside. Furthermore, Justice Scalia wrote, “The court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

The decision upheld a federal appeals court ruling that the District of Columbia’s gun law, one of the strictest in the country, went beyond constitutional limits. Not only did the 1976 law make it practically impossible for an individual to legally possess a handgun in the district, but it also spelled out rules for the storage of rifles and shotguns. But the court did not articulate a specific standard of review for what might be a reasonable restraint on the right to possess a firearm.

The court also said on Thursday that the district law’s requirement that lawful weapons be rendered essentially inoperable, by trigger locks or disassembly, was unconstitutional because it rendered the weapons useless for self-defense.

Joining Justice Scalia were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

A dissent by Justice John Paul Stevens asserted that the majority “would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons.” Joining him were Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

The high court’s ruling was the first since 1939 to deal with the scope of the Second Amendment, and the first to so directly address the meaning of the amendment’s ambiguous, comma-laden text: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Not surprisingly, Justice Scalia and Justice Stevens differed on the clarity (or lack thereof) of the Second Amendment. “The amendment’s prefatory clause announces a purpose, but does not limit or expand the scope of the second clause,” wrote Justice Scalia. “The operative clause’s text and history demonstrate that it connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms.”

Not at all, Justice Stevens countered, asserting that the majority “stakes its holding on a strained and unpersuasive reading of the amendment’s text.” Justice Stevens read his dissent from the bench, an unmistakable signal that he disagreed deeply with the majority.

Indeed, it was clear from the conflicting opinions of Justices Scalia and Stevens that the case had generated emotional as well as intellectual sparks at the court.

Justice Scalia devoted page after page of his opinion to the various state constitutions and to the use of language in the 18th and 19th centuries to support his view that an individual right to bear arms is embodied in the Constitution. And Justice Scalia, who clearly takes pride in his writing as well as his reasoning, used adjectives like “frivolous” and “bizarre” to describe the other side’s arguments.

Not to be outdone, Justice Stevens called the majority’s interpretation of the Second Amendment “overwrought and novel” and said it “calls to mind the parable of the six blind men and the elephant,” in which each of the sightless men had a different conception of the animal.

“Each of them, of course, has fundamentally failed to grasp the nature of the creature,” Justice Stevens wrote.

The ruling on Thursday will surely not quiet the debate about guns and violence in the United States, where deaths by firearm take a far higher toll than in many other countries, as Justice Scalia acknowledged.

“We are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country,” he wrote, saying that he took seriously the concerns of those who believe that “prohibition of handgun ownership is a solution.”

Lawmakers in the District of Columbia and across the country may look to the decision as a blueprint for writing new legislation to satisfy the demands of constituents who say there is too much regulation of firearms now, or too little, depending on the sentiments in their regions. (Washington’s Mayor, Adrian M. Fenty, will instruct the police department to issue new handgun-registration rules within 30 days while city officials study the ruling, The Washington Post reported on its Web site.)

Nor was there any suggestion that the court’s ruling would lead to a proliferation of deadly, military-style assault weapons. Alluding to the 1939 Supreme Court decision, which held that the weapons protected under the Second Amendment were those “in common use at the time,” Justice Scalia said, “We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’ ”

The White House issued a statement saying that President Bush “strongly agrees with the Supreme Court’s historic decision today that the Second Amendment protects the individual right of Americans to keep and bear arms.”

The Supreme Court ruling is likely to play out in this year’s elections, as Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, made clear. “I applaud this decision as well as the overturning of the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns and limitations on the ability to use firearms for self-defense,” Mr. McCain said in a statement, which contained a reminder that his Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, refused to join him in signing an amicus brief in support of overturning the district’s law.

Indeed, Mr. Obama’s view, expressed in a statement, was more nuanced than Mr. McCain’s. “I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures,” Mr. Obama said, predicting that the ruling would provide needed guidance for lawmakers.

The National Rifle Association and other supporters of rights to have firearms are sure to use the decision as a launch pad for lawsuits. The N.R.A. said it would file suits in San Francisco, Chicago and several Chicago suburbs challenging handgun restrictions there. “I consider this the opening salvo in a step-by-step process of providing relief for law-abiding Americans everywhere that have been deprived of this freedom,” Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the N.R.A., told The Associated Press.

Reaction on Capitol Hill differed sharply. Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican minority leader in the House, applauded the ruling. “The Constitution plainly guarantees the solemn right to keep and bear arms, and the whims of politically correct bureaucrats cannot take it away,” he said in a statement.

But Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and a former mayor of San Francisco, said she was disappointed in the ruling. “I speak as a former mayor,” she said at a session of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I speak as somebody who has gone to homicide crime scenes.”

The last time the Supreme Court weighed a case involving the Second Amendment, in 1939, it decided a narrower question, finding that the Constitution did not protect any right to possess a specific type of firearm, the sawed-off shotgun.

By contrast, the issues in the District of Columbia case seemed much more “mainstream,” if that term can be used in reference to gun-control issues. When the justices announced on Nov. 20 that they were accepting the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, No. 07-290, they indicated that they would go to the heart of the long debate.

The question, they said, is whether the district’s restrictions on firearms “violate the Second Amendment rights of individuals who are not affiliated with any state-regulated militia but who wish to keep handguns and other firearms for private use in their homes.”

Dick Anthony Heller, a security guard who carries a handgun for his job protecting federal judiciary offices, challenged the District of Columbia’s law after his request for a license to keep his gun at home was rejected.

There have been debates about the efficacy of gun-control efforts in the capital. Those district residents who want guns — and are willing to risk punishment if caught with them without bothering to apply for permits — can get them easily enough, across the Potomac River in Virginia and in other nearby states.

Washington’s homicide rate, while high by world standards, is sharply lower than it was in the early 1990s. Last year, there were 181 homicides in Washington, down from a peak of 479 in 1991, when crack cocaine was a huge problem in some sections of the city.

Concluding his opinion, Justice Scalia wrote, “Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem.”

“That is perhaps debatable,” Justice Scalia wrote, “but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.”

When the Heller case was argued before the justices on March 18, Mr. Heller’s lawyer, Alan Gura, did not assert that the Second Amendment precluded any kind of ban related to gun possession. He said that a ban on the shipment of machine guns and sawed-off shotguns would be acceptable, and in answer to a question from the justices, so, too, might be a prohibition on guns in schools. Some of the justices signaled during arguments that they thought the District’s near-total ban on handguns went too far.

A legislature “has a great deal of leeway in regulating firearms,” Mr. Gura argued, but not to the extent of virtually banning them in homes.

The Washington law not only established high barriers to the private possession of handguns, it also required that rifles and shotguns be kept either in a disassembled state or under a trigger lock.

Walter Dellinger, the lawyer who argued for the district on March 18, asserted that “the people” and “the militia” were essentially the same, and that the Second Amendment gave people the right to bear arms only in connection with their militia service.

Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, representing the federal government, argued on behalf of the individual-rights position, which has been the Bush administration’s policy. But he said that the appeals court had also gone too far in overturning the ordinance and that the right to bear arms was always subject to “reasonable regulations.”

Justices Rule for Individual Gun Rights,










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