Les anglonautes

About | Search | Vocapedia | Learning | Podcasts | Videos | History | Arts | Science | Translate

 Previous Home Up Next


History > 2013 > USA > Gun violence (I)





President Obama Introduces a Plan to Reduce Gun Violence

President Obama puts forward a specific plan to protect our children and communities
by reducing gun violence, introducing legislative and executive action
that combined would close background check loopholes
to keep guns out of dangerous hands;
ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,
and taking other common-sense steps to reduce gun violence;
make schools safer; and increase access to mental health services. January 16, 2013.

Published on Jan 16, 2013

YouTube > White House















Focus on Mental Health Laws

to Curb Violence Is Unfair, Some Say


January 31, 2013
The New York Times


In their fervor to take action against gun violence after the shooting in Newtown, Conn., a growing number of state and national politicians are promoting a focus on mental illness as a way to help prevent further killings.

Legislation to revise existing mental health laws is under consideration in at least a half-dozen states, including Colorado, Oregon and Ohio. A New York bill requiring mental health practitioners to warn the authorities about potentially dangerous patients was signed into law on Jan. 15. In Washington, President Obama has ordered “a national dialogue” on mental health, and a variety of bills addressing mental health issues are percolating on Capitol Hill.

But critics say that this focus unfairly singles out people with serious mental illness, who studies indicate are involved in only about 4 percent of violent crimes and are 11 or more times as likely than the general population to be the victims of violent crime.

And many proposals — they include strengthening mental health services, lowering the threshold for involuntary commitment and increasing requirements for reporting worrisome patients to the authorities — are rushed in execution and unlikely to repair a broken mental health system, some experts say.

“Good intentions without thought make for bad laws, and I think we have a risk of that,” said J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist and clinical professor at the University of California, San Diego, who has studied rampage killers.

Moreover, the push for additional mental health laws is often driven by political expediency, some critics say. Mental health proposals draw support from both Democrats and Republicans, in part because, unlike bans on semiautomatic weapons or high-capacity magazines — like the one proposed in the Senate last week — they do not involve confrontation with gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association.

“The N.R.A. is far more formidable as a political foe than the advocacy groups for the mentally ill,” said Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University and president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association.

Indeed, the N.R.A. itself, in response to the massacre in Newtown, argued that mental illness, and not the guns themselves, was at the root of recent shooting sprees. The group called for a national registry of people with mental illness — an alternative that legal experts agree would raise at least as many constitutional alarms as the banning of gun ownership.

For mental health groups, the proposals under consideration are tantalizing: By increasing services for those with mental illness, they raise the possibility of restoring some of the billions of dollars cut from mental health programs in recent years as budgets tightened in the financial downturn. The measures also hold out hope for improvement of a mental health system that many experts say is fragmented and drastically inadequate. And some proposals — those to revise commitment laws, for example — have the support of some mental health organizations.

But some mental health and legal experts say that politicians’ efforts might be better spent making the process of involuntary psychiatric commitment — and the criteria for restricting firearms access once someone has been forcibly committed — consistent from state to state. And some proposals have caused concern, raising questions about doctor-patient confidentiality, the rights of people with psychiatric disabilities and the integrity of clinical judgment.

Especially troublesome to some mental health advocates are provisions like New York’s, which expand the duty of practitioners to report worrisome patients — a model likely to be emulated by other states. New York’s law, part of a comprehensive package to address gun violence, requires reporting to the local authorities any patient “likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others.” Law enforcement officials would then be authorized to confiscate any firearm owned by such a patient.

John Monahan, a psychologist and professor of law at the University of Virginia, said that such laws are often superfluous.

Although many mental health practitioners mistakenly believe that federal laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act forbid them to disclose information about patients, such statutes already include exceptions that permit clinicians to give information to the authorities when a patient presents a threat to others, Dr. Monahan said.

Most states also have laws requiring mental health professionals to notify the authorities and any intended victim when a patient makes a direct threat.

New York’s provision, Dr. Monahan said, differs from virtually every other state’s laws in allowing guns to be taken not only from those committed against their will but also from patients who enter treatment voluntarily.

“The devil is in the details,” he said of New York’s new law. “The two fears are that people will be deterred from seeking treatment that they need or that, once they are in treatment, they will clam up and not talk about violence.”

Most mental health experts agree that the link between mental illness and violence is not imaginary. Studies suggest that people with an untreated severe mental illness are more likely to be violent, especially when drug or alcohol abuse is involved. And many rampage killers have some type of serious mental disorder: James E. Holmes, accused of opening fire in a movie theater in Colorado in July, was seeing a psychiatrist who became alarmed about his behavior; Jared L. Loughner, who killed 6 people and injured 13 others in Arizona, including former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was severely mentally ill.

But such killings account for only a tiny fraction of gun homicides in the United States, mental health experts point out. Besides the research indicating that little violent crime can be linked to perpetrators who are mentally ill, studies show that those crimes are far more likely to involve battery — punching another person, for example — than weapons, which account for only 2 percent of violent crimes committed by the mentally ill.

Because of this, some criminal justice experts say it makes more sense to pass laws addressing behavior, rather than a diagnosis of mental illness. In Indiana, for example, firearms can be confiscated from people deemed a potential threat, whether or not they have a mental illness.

Proposals in a number of states seek to redefine the threshold for involuntary commitment to psychiatric treatment. But in doing so, they have reignited a longstanding debate about the role of forced treatment.

In Ohio, lawmakers are expected to consider a proposal to increase access to outpatient commitment instead of hospitalization, while also doing away with language requiring people with mental illness to show a “grave and imminent risk to substantial rights” of themselves or others before they can be committed.

In Colorado, where legislators are undertaking a broad overhaul of the state’s mental health system proposed by Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, the proposal also includes changing the criteria for involuntary commitment.

Under the state’s current laws, caregivers can place patients on 72-hour mental health holds only if they are believed to pose an “imminent danger” to themselves or others. The governor’s plan would allow caregivers to commit people if they believe there is a “substantial probability” of harm. Virginia and some other states already have standards based on “substantial probability.”

But some mental health advocates are wary about lowering the threshold. “The evidence that we have tells us that that’s not an appropriate solution, it’s not an effective solution to this problem,” said Jennifer Mathis, deputy legal director at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, an advocacy group for people with psychiatric disabilities.

But Cheryl Miller — whose 21-year-old son, Kyle, was shot by the police last June after he pointed a toy gun at them — believes that a revised law might have saved her child.

Two weeks before Kyle was killed she took him to an emergency mental health clinic to get him hospitalized. But the staff refused to commit him.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to take him home; he needs to go to the hospital,’ ” Ms. Miller said. “They didn’t think so. It goes back to, was he an imminent danger to himself? And it was ‘No.’ ”

    Focus on Mental Health Laws to Curb Violence Is Unfair, Some Say, NYT, 31.1.2013,






Gunman in Phoenix Kills One and Flees


January 30, 2013
The New York Times


PHOENIX — A gunman opened fire at an office complex here on Wednesday, killing one man and injuring two others before speeding away, the police said. Three other people were hospitalized for stress brought on by the shooting.

A police spokesman identified the gunman as Arthur Harmon, 70.

The gunman opened fire just outside the lobby of the office complex after a mediation session at a law firm in the building over a lawsuit he had filed against a call center based in Scottsdale, Ariz., the authorities said. The call center’s chief executive, Steven Singer, 48, who was at the session, was killed.

The shooting took place around 10:30 a.m. in the lobby of a three-story commercial building on North 16th Street, in the heart of the city. The police spokesman, Sgt. Tommy Thompson, said it was “not random.” The gunman “came here for a reason,” he said from the scene.

Among the injured was Mark Hummels, a lawyer at Osborne Maledon, who was representing Mr. Singer, according to a statement released by the firm. He was shot in the neck and lower back and remained in serious condition after surgery at John C. Lincoln Hospital, the statement said.

A woman in her 30s was being treated at the hospital for gunshot wounds that did not appear to be life-threatening, the police said.

Some witnesses told the police that they saw an “older white man” talking to two people before he opened fire. Others heard gunfire from inside their offices and hid under their desks.

Don Jacksa, a software engineer who works in the building, said he and his co-workers “locked the doors and waited.” Jeremiah Barnes, a driver for a rehabilitation clinic, said he was on his way out to lunch when he spotted a white car driving erratically in reverse out of the parking lot, barely missing incoming cars.

A middle school near the scene of the shooting was placed on lockdown as SWAT teams scoured the office complex, looking for the gunman.

In the afternoon, officers entered Mr. Harmon’s home, some eight miles north of the office complex, but emerged several minutes later, empty-handed. As of early Wednesday evening, he remained at large. Sergeant Thompson said he should be considered “armed and dangerous.”

One neighbor said Mr. Harmon was a retired salesman, reserved yet friendly to those he knew. Another neighbor said he liked to sit in his front yard, drinking beer, and to work on his car.


Timothy Williams contributed reporting from New York.

    Gunman in Phoenix Kills One and Flees, NYT, 30.1.2013,






Chicago Girl’s Shooting Death Jolts City

and Touches Capital


January 30, 2013
The New York Times


CHICAGO — When students filled the halls of King College Prep here on Wednesday, there was a sea of purple and red.

Purple was the favorite color of Hadiya Pendleton, 15, a classmate and member of the school’s majorette team, which had just returned from Washington after performing at an event celebrating the inauguration of President Obama.

Red symbolized gun violence, because Ms. Pendleton was killed on Tuesday by a gunshot to her back while hanging out with friends in a park not far from Mr. Obama’s family home.

The details of her death shook Chicago and gave fuel to gun-control advocates in the running debate over firearms. The story traveled back to Washington on Wednesday, where Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, mentioned Ms. Pendleton during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about gun violence, and the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, called it “another example of the problem that we need to deal with.”

The shooting was not unfamiliar for some in Chicago, where gun violence has contributed to at least 40 deaths this year and more than 500 homicides in 2012.

“But you don’t think at 2 in the afternoon at a park you’re going to lose the one you love and care about,” said Klyn Jones, a friend who was with Ms. Pendleton on the day she died.

Friends described Ms. Pendleton as a girl with an easy smile and generous nature. She loved Latin class and had worked hard on her overhand serve for the school volleyball team.

The inauguration trip was an inspiration, Ms. Jones said. “He was an African-American from Chicago, and she is too,” Ms. Jones said. “It goes to show that as long as you put your mind to something, you can do it and affect the world.”

But on Tuesday, Ms. Pendleton and about 12 friends were at a park on the city’s South Side, not far from the University of Chicago campus. When it started to rain, they all took shelter under a canopy. Ms. Jones said she looked up from her phone and saw a man jumping a fence.

He ran toward the group and started shooting, then jumped into a vehicle, which drove away, according to the police.

“It is believed that the offender mistook the group for gang members and fired at them,” said Joshua Purkiss, an officer with the Chicago Police Department.

Another boy was shot once in the leg, but is in good condition. A third victim had a graze wound.

Ms. Jones said a friend cradled Ms. Pendleton’s head in her lap as they waited for the ambulance. Ms. Jones held her hand. They thought she would pull through. At the hospital, they received the news.


Steven Yaccino reported from Chicago,

and Catrin Einhorn from New York.

    Chicago Girl’s Shooting Death Jolts City and Touches Capital, NYT, 30.1.2013,






Gun Advocates Take Back Seat to Calls

for Stricter Laws at Newtown Forum


January 30, 2013
The New York Times

NEWTOWN, Conn. — In riveting testimony repeatedly interrupted by standing ovations, parents, public officials, law enforcement officers and school employees issued a full-throated call on Wednesday night for strengthening the nation’s gun laws in the wake of the massacre of 26 children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.

For one night at least, in the same high school auditorium where President Obama comforted the victims of Sandy Hook and issued his call for action on guns, the legislative muddle of competing lobbies and gun agendas was washed away by the grief of Sandy Hook and demands for measures to make sure something like it never happens again.

David Wheeler, who lost his son, Benjamin, on Dec. 14, told a state legislative panel studying gun violence, mental health and school safety that his first-grade son died because an unstable suicidal individual “had access to a weapon that has no place in a home.”

At the end of his three-minute remarks, he told a panel that Thomas Jefferson said government was instituted to protect our unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He said that those words and their order were no accident.

“The liberty of any person to own a military-style assault weapon and a high-capacity magazine and keep them in their home is second to the right of my son to his life,” he said. “His life, to the right to live of all of those children and those teachers, the rights of your children, of you, of all of us. Let’s honor the founding documents and get our priorities straight.”

Testimony included repeated calls for improved mental health services and reflections on the responsibilities of parents. But the main focus was on the weapons used at Sandy Hook and in other mass slayings in the United States.

Brad Greene, who spoke surrounded by supporters of an antigun march scheduled for Feb. 14 in Hartford, said he and others had received a chilling education in the nation’s gun laws.

“We have come away appalled at what our laws allow,” he said. “We are incredulous at the type of assault and semiautomatic weapons and magazine clips that are considered legal. What is the logic behind allowing anyone with a wad of cash to buy an arsenal without a background check? It’s beyond our comprehension.”

Unlike the committee’s first hearing on Monday in Hartford, at which gun rights supporters from across the state turned out in force, proponents of gun control in green ribbons and stickers reading “We Demand Change Now” were by far the most conspicuous presence — both in testimony and in the audience, which filled the Newtown High School auditorium. And local officials and residents, still scarred by the tragedy, demanded it lead to change, no matter how hard the legislative obstacles.

Susie Ehrens, whose daughter, Emma, escaped from the school, appealed to the legislators to act as if it were their own children who did not come home alive that day.

“We are Americans,” she said. “We stop being the world’s greatest country when we allow our most vulnerable citizens to be slaughtered because we might offend people by taking away their guns. We stop being something to be proud of when we love our guns more than we love our children.”

Jim Gaston, a member of the Newtown Board of Selectmen, said he was a gun owner, owned rifles and enjoyed shooting.

“As a gun owner and someone who enjoys the sport,” he said, “I can assure you there is absolutely no reason that civilians need to have or should have access to high-powered assault weapons or mega-magazines.”

After the families, officials and school personnel testified, other members of the public spoke against new gun rules as well as for them.

David Barzetti said his 5-year-old son played with Jesse Lewis, one of the children who was killed. He said he understood the anguish over gun issues but did not believe more laws were needed.

“We are divided into two groups, one that thinks if we keep people from owning guns it can stop another 12/14 from happening,” he said, referring to the date of the shooting. “The other group wants to protect ourselves from others like Adam Lanza.”

He said gun control laws did not reduce crime and that gun owners should have choices of what weapons to own. “Obviously we don’t need an assault rifle to kill a deer, but we also don’t need to take away a 500-horsepower vehicle from an owner who wants to own a high-powered vehicle. That’s their choice.”

There were some vivid windows into the horror Dec. 14. Mary Ann Jacob, a school staff member, recalled the way it began as a routine Friday morning, how Victoria Soto, one of the teachers, grumbled that it was a bad day because she had spilled her coffee. Then came strange sounds that Ms. Jacob could not decipher until it became clear that hundreds of bullets were rocketing through the school.

“Make no mistake,” she said. “If there was a police officer in our building that day, he would be dead. Adam Lanza did not knock on the door and ask for permission to come in. He shot his way through the door barely seconds after he got out of his car.”

She added, “Nobody needs a gun that can kill 26 people and shoot hundreds of rounds of ammunition in three minutes.”


Kristin Hussey contributed reporting.

    Gun Advocates Take Back Seat to Calls
    for Stricter Laws at Newtown Forum, NYT, 30.1.2013,






Strict Chicago Gun Laws

Can’t Stem Fatal Shots


January 29, 2013
The New York Times


CHICAGO — Not a single gun shop can be found in this city because they are outlawed. Handguns were banned in Chicago for decades, too, until 2010, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that was going too far, leading city leaders to settle for restrictions some describe as the closest they could get legally to a ban without a ban. Despite a continuing legal fight, Illinois remains the only state in the nation with no provision to let private citizens carry guns in public.

And yet Chicago, a city with no civilian gun ranges and bans on both assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, finds itself laboring to stem a flood of gun violence that contributed to more than 500 homicides last year and at least 40 killings already in 2013, including a fatal shooting of a 15-year-old girl on Tuesday.

To gun rights advocates, the city provides stark evidence that even some of the toughest restrictions fail to make places safer. “The gun laws in Chicago only restrict the law-abiding citizens and they’ve essentially made the citizens prey,” said Richard A. Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. To gun control proponents, the struggles here underscore the opposite — a need for strict, uniform national gun laws to eliminate the current patchwork of state and local rules that allow guns to flow into this city from outside.

“Chicago is like a house with two parents that may try to have good rules and do what they can, but it’s like you’ve got this single house sitting on a whole block where there’s anarchy,” said the Rev. Ira J. Acree, one among a group of pastors here who have marched and gathered signatures for an end to so much shooting. “Chicago is an argument for laws that are statewide or, better yet, national.”

Chicago’s experience reveals the complications inherent in carrying out local gun laws around the nation. Less restrictive laws in neighboring communities and states not only make guns easy to obtain nearby, but layers of differing laws — local and state — make it difficult to police violations. And though many describe the local and state gun laws here as relatively stringent, penalties for violating them — from jail time to fines — have not proven as severe as they are in some other places, reducing the incentive to comply.

Lately, the police say they are discovering far more guns on the streets of Chicago than in the nation’s two more populous cities, Los Angeles and New York. They seized 7,400 guns here in crimes or unpermitted uses last year (compared with 3,285 in New York City), and have confiscated 574 guns just since Jan. 1 — 124 of them last week alone.

More than a quarter of the firearms seized on the streets here by the Chicago Police Department over the past five years were bought just outside city limits in Cook County suburbs, according to an analysis by the University of Chicago Crime Lab. Others came from stores around Illinois and from other states, like Indiana, less than an hour’s drive away. Since 2008, more than 1,300 of the confiscated guns, the analysis showed, were bought from just one store, Chuck’s Gun Shop in Riverdale, Ill., within a few miles of Chicago’s city limits.

Efforts to compare the strictness of gun laws and the level of violence across major American cities are fraught with contradiction and complication, not least because of varying degrees of coordination between local and state laws and differing levels of enforcement. In New York City, where homicides and shootings have decreased, the gun laws are generally seen as at least as strict as Chicago’s, and the state laws in New York and many of its neighboring states are viewed as still tougher than those in and around Illinois. Philadelphia, like cities in many states, is limited in writing gun measures that go beyond those set by Pennsylvania law. Some city officials there have chafed under what they see as relatively lax state controls.

In Chicago, the rules for owning a handgun — rewritten after the outright ban was deemed too restrictive in 2010 — sound arduous. Owners must seek a Chicago firearms permit, which requires firearms training, a background check and a state-mandated firearm owner’s identification card, which requires a different background review for felonies and mental illness. To prevent straw buyers from selling or giving their weapons to people who would not meet the restrictions — girlfriends buying guns for gang members is a common problem, the police here say — the city requires permitted gun owners to report their weapons lost, sold or stolen.

Still, for all the regulations, the reality here looks different. Some 7,640 people currently hold a firearms permit, but nearly that many illicit weapons were confiscated from the city’s streets during last year alone. Chicago officials say Illinois has no requirement, comparable to Chicago’s, that gun owners immediately report their lost or stolen weapons to deter straw buyers. Consequently those outside the city can, in the words of one city official, carry guns to gang members in the city with “zero accountability.”

And a relatively common sentence in state court for gun possession for offenders without other felonies is one year in prison, which really may mean a penalty of six months, said Anita Alvarez, the Cook County state’s attorney, who said such punishments failed to serve as a significant enough deterrent for seasoned criminals who may see a modest prison stint as the price of doing business.

“The way the laws are structured facilitates the flow of those guns to hit our streets,” Garry F. McCarthy, the Chicago police superintendent, said in an interview, later adding, “Chicago may have comprehensive gun laws, but they are not strict because the sanctions don’t exist.”

In the weeks since the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., Toni Preckwinkle, the Cook County Board president, has introduced a countywide provision requiring gun owners beyond the city limits to report lost or stolen guns, though a first offense would result simply in a $1,000 fine. In the city, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pressed for increased penalties for those who violate the city’s gun ordinance by failing to report their guns missing or possessing an assault weapon.

“Our gun strategy is only as strong as it is comprehensive, and it is constantly being undermined by events and occurrences happening outside the city — gun shows in surrounding counties, weak gun laws in neighboring states like Indiana and the inability to track purchasing,” Mr. Emanuel said. “This must change.”

State lawmakers, too, are soon expected to weigh new state provisions like an assault weapons ban, as Chicago already has. But the fate of the proposals is uncertain in a state with wide-open farming and hunting territory downstate.

“It’s going to be a fight,” said State Representative Jack D. Franks, a Democrat from Marengo, 60 miles outside Chicago. Complicating matters, an appellate court in December struck down the state’s ban on carrying guns in public, saying that a complete ban on concealed carry is unconstitutional. Illinois is seeking a review of the ruling, even as state lawmakers have been given a matter of months to contemplate conditions under which guns could be allowed in public.

Many here say that even the strictest, most punitive gun laws would not alone be an answer to this city’s violence. “Poverty, race, guns and drugs — you’ve got to deal with all these issues, but you’ve got to start somewhere” said the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who was arrested in 2007 while protesting outside Chuck’s Gun Shop, the suburban store long known as a supplier of weapons that make their way to Chicago.

At the store, a clerk said the business followed all pertinent federal, state and local laws, then declined to be interviewed further. Among seized guns that had moved from purchase to the streets of Chicago in a year’s time or less, nearly 20 percent came from Chuck’s, the analysis found. Other guns arrived here that rapidly from gun shops in other parts of this state, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia, Iowa and more.

“Chicago is not an island,” said David Spielfogel, senior adviser to Mr. Emanuel. “We’re only as strong as the weakest gun law in surrounding states.”

    Strict Chicago Gun Laws Can’t Stem Fatal Shots, NYT, 29.1.2013,






Invitation to a Dialogue: Forcing Treatment


January 29, 2013
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Recent tragic events have linked mental illness and violence. Some people — I, for one — consider this link dangerously stigmatizing. People with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Moreover, psychiatrists have limited capacity to reliably predict violence. Nonetheless, these events increase pressure to identify people who might conceivably commit violent acts, and to mandate treatment with antipsychotic medications.

For a tiny minority of patients who have committed serious crimes, mandated treatment can be effective, particularly as an alternative to incarceration. But for most patients experiencing psychotic states, mandated treatment may create more problems than it solves.

For many medical conditions, better outcomes occur when patients share in treatment design and disease management. Imposed treatments tend to engender resistance and resentment. This is also true for psychiatric conditions.

Patients with psychotic symptoms often feel that their own experience is dismissed as meaningless, like the ravings of an intoxicated or delirious person. Decisions to decline antipsychotic medications are often regarded mainly as a manifestation of illness — an illness the person is too sick to recognize — even though many people might reject antipsychotics because of metabolic and other toxicities.

When a clearly troubled person firmly believes that he or she needs no help, there are no simple answers. These situations are particularly agonizing for families. Safety is paramount — and at times can be elusive. Still, if psychiatrists humbly try to understand the person on his or her own terms, do not dismiss the person’s experience as meaningless and truly respect the person’s choices about treatment, sometimes this opens the way to an effective treatment relationship. For some suffering and alienated people — certainly not all — feeling respectfully understood can be a critical step toward recovery.

Mandated treatment is a blunt instrument that may drive more people away from seeking care than it compels into care.

Framingham, Mass., Jan. 28, 2013


The writer is a psychiatrist and an associate clinical professor

of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

    Invitation to a Dialogue: Forcing Treatment, NYT, 29.1.2013,






Tools of Modern Gunmaking:

Plastic and a 3-D Printer


January 29, 2013
The New York Times


A man in Wisconsin viewed it as a technical challenge. Another, in New Hampshire, was looking to save some money. And in Texas, a third wanted to make a political point.

The three may have had different motivations but their results were the same: each built a working gun that included a part made in plastic with a 3-D printer.

What they did was legal and, except for the technology and material used, not much different from what do-it-yourself gunsmiths have been doing for decades. But in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., and the intensified debate over gun control, their efforts, which began last summer, have stoked concerns that the inexpensive and increasingly popular printers and other digital fabrication tools might make access to weapons even easier.

“We now have 3-D printers that can manufacture firearms components in the basement,” said Representative Steve Israel, Democrat of New York. “It’s just a matter of time before a 3-D printer will produce a weapon capable of firing bullets.”

A 3-D printer builds an object layer by layer in three dimensions, usually in plastic. To effectively outlaw weapons made with them, Mr. Israel wants to extend an existing law, set to expire this year, that makes weapons that are undetectable by security scanners — like a printed all-plastic gun — illegal.

But there are also major technical obstacles to creating an entire gun on a 3-D printer, not the least of which is that a plastic gun would probably melt or explode upon firing a single bullet, making it about as likely to kill the gunman as the target.

In the meantime, Michael Guslick in Milwaukee, Chapman Baetzel in Dover, N.H., and Cody Wilson in Austin, Tex., did something much simpler and, for now, more effective. They printed the part of an AR-15 assault rifle called the lower receiver, the central piece that other parts are attached to. Then, using standard metal components, including the chamber and barrel — the parts that must be strong enough to withstand the intense pressure of a bullet firing — they assembled working guns.

In all, the three men, who have written about their efforts on the Web, have fired hundreds of rounds, although the plastic receivers eventually deform, crack or otherwise fail from heat and shock. But Mr. Wilson, for one, is working on a fourth-generation design that he says should be more durable.

A lower receiver is the only part of an AR-15 that, when bought, requires the filing of federal paperwork. But it is legal to make an AR-15 — and many other guns — for personal use as long as there is no intent to sell them. And if the lower receiver is homemade, no paperwork is required.

Amateur gunsmiths have made lower receivers for years, in metal, although the process requires a certain level of machining expertise. Inexpensive 3-D printers have grown in popularity — their rise has been compared with that of personal computers in the 1980s — in part because they are easy to use. It is not even necessary to know how to create the design files that instruct the device to print bit after bit of plastic to build the object, as there are files for tens of thousands of objects available on the Internet, created by other users and freely shared.

Still, some tinkering is usually required. Mr. Guslick, who works in information technology and describes himself as a hobbyist gunsmith, printed his receiver on a machine he bought online through Craigslist. He used a file and abrasive paper to make the piece fit properly, but over all the project was not much of a technical challenge. “Anybody could do this,” he said.

Mr. Baetzel, who made his receiver on a 3-D printer he built from a kit, said the part worked fine until he cracked it when bumping the gun while putting it in his car. He has since printed a replacement along with a modified grip and stock which, he said, has made the gun sturdier.

For Mr. Baetzel, who works as a software tester, the motivation for printing gun parts was economic. “Shooting is an expensive sport,” he said. He figured he could save perhaps $40 by making the receiver rather than buying one.

Only Mr. Wilson, a law student who prints his receivers on friends’ machines, had overtly political motives, wanting to demonstrate what he called the absurdity of gun-control laws. He took his efforts even further, printing high-capacity magazines like those that would be banned under recommendations proposed by President Obama and successfully testing them this month on a firing range south of Austin. He has posted the drawing files at his Web site, defcad.org, so that others can print the magazine.

“It’s unbannable,” he said. “The Internet has it now.”

Mr. Wilson also has a project to develop a fully printable one-shot weapon, although he has not made much progress. He is seeking a firearms manufacturer’s license, which he would need to even make prototypes of a complete weapon.

He gets advice and technical help from a network of about 15 collaborators around the world, and has posted other printer files at his site, including Mr. Guslick’s file for a lower receiver.

Mr. Baetzel posted his files on his own blog, Ambulatory Armament Depot, after a printer file-sharing site, Thingiverse, forced him to remove them in December. A spokeswoman for MakerBot, a 3-D printer manufacturer that sponsors Thingiverse, pointed out that the site’s terms of service prohibit content that “contributes to the creation of weapons.”

Mr. Guslick, who is currently machining a few metal lower receivers, said 3-D printers were far from the best tool for gun-making, an opinion shared by Neil Gershenfeld, a professor at M.I.T. and director of the school’s Center for Bits and Atoms.

“A well-equipped machine shop for a long time has been able to make gun parts,” Mr. Gershenfeld said. “Three-D printers make not very good ones.”

The types of computer-controlled tools found in a machine shop — primarily laser cutters and milling machines — are expensive. But smaller and cheaper versions are now available to dedicated hobbyists, though they do not yet have quite the mass appeal of 3-D printers.

Yet the printers have other drawbacks besides the use of plastic. They are slow, often taking hours to build an object, and the results, while impressive to the eye, can be too crude for extremely close-fitting parts.

And as Mr. Guslick pointed out, anyone who is desperate for a weapon “has the ability to assemble a zip gun from parts bought in a hardware store for $15.”

The National Rifle Association did not respond to messages requesting the group’s position on 3-D manufacturing. But for gun-control advocates, the real worry regarding 3-D printers and other machines is what the future might bring in the way of technological advances.

“Down the road it’s going to be a big concern,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “We don’t know how that’s going to come about and don’t know what technology.”

Mr. Baetzel, for one, said he did not worry about what other people might do with the technology. “I follow the laws,” he said. “I personally think everyone else should follow them.”

He said he did not post his designs hoping that someone would use them illegally. “It was more, ‘Look at this cool thing I did.’ ”

    Tools of Modern Gunmaking: Plastic and a 3-D Printer, NYT, 29.1.2013,






Congress Takes Up Gun Violence


January 29, 2013
The New York Times


Senate hearings on stronger gun controls are scheduled to begin on Wednesday before a divided Congress and a nation agonizing over how to prevent more of the carnage that killed 20 schoolchildren and six adults last month at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. The gun lobby’s opposition to reasonable controls is already fierce, and political courage is, as ever, wavering in Congress. But this singular opportunity to curb the gun violence must not be wasted in more of the posturing in Washington that tolerates 30,000 gun deaths a year.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear a raft of proposals, including a vitally needed ban on fast-firing semiautomatic weapons, like the military-style Bushmaster assault rifle the Newtown gunman used in his killing spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The measure would also ban ammunition magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets, which have facilitated battlefield-scale killing of the innocent in the Newtown school, the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and dozens of similar tragedies.

Making federal background checks universal, instead of limiting them to sales by licensed gun dealers, is no less vital, closing a loophole that lets 40 percent of firearm sales take place with no oversight. This proposal is the chief goal of many gun-control groups and has a different aim than the assault weapons ban: the proliferation of handguns that are used in most gun violence, particularly in cities.

Another measure would create a separate criminal offense for gun trafficking and toughen penalties on those involved, including the “straw buyers” who purchase weapons later funneled into criminal hands. This should be accompanied by tighter restrictions on high-risk gun dealers who sell a disproportionate number of the guns traced to crimes, as well as new resources for more frequent inspection of all gun stores. Congressional corridors and committee evasions are not the way to advance these bills. They should be debated and voted on in public view so each lawmaker can be tallied on these major issues. The Second Amendment is nowhere at stake.

The fight will not be easy. A bill introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California would, for example, ban 157 of the worst assault weapons while leaving 2,200 guns untouched in the sportsmen’s marketplace. “I understand how difficult this is,” Ms. Feinstein said. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”

The reform effort will require an unprecedented outpouring of public support and pressure on Congress — a national drive that President Obama needs to make unrelenting and well-organized. The sponsor of the assault weapons ban in the House, Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York, wisely says nothing will come of the reform effort unless the president is “out there selling it.”

Mr. Obama is supposed to follow Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. in leaving Washington for drumbeating rounds with community leaders. Mr. Biden is already emphasizing his mantra for audiences: “Tell your congressman.”

Republicans and wobbly Democrats in the House are waiting on results from the Senate, where the Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, will play a crucial role. He is skeptical of an assault weapons ban and wary of losing Senate Democrats in next year’s elections. But he admits, “We need to accept the reality that we are not doing enough to protect our citizens.”

Mr. Reid aims to have legislation shaped by the Judiciary Committee for floor debate that will be freely open to amendment. This unusual process has the virtue of putting senators on the record for each major proposal, but could weaken a measure as much as strengthen it.

Nothing is settled in Congress. The outcome depends to a great degree on how demanding the public is for credible action against the gun violence ravaging the nation.

This is part of a continuing series on the epidemic of gun violence

and possible solutions. Other editorials are at nytimes.com/gunchallenge.

    Congress Takes Up Gun Violence, NYT, 29.1.2013,






And in Last Week’s Gun News ...


January 28, 2013
The New York Times


Monday, Jan. 21:

Eleaquin Temblador had plans. He was working to earn his high school diploma and wanted to join the U.S. Marine Corps and marry his girlfriend. ... Instead, family members are planning Temblador’s funeral. For reasons no one can explain, gunmen in a light-colored, older-model vehicle gunned down the 18-year-old ... as he rode his bicycle home from his girlfriend’s house.

— Dailybreeze.com, Los Angeles

Relatives of a teen who was shot while playing basketball at a local park said the 16-year-old is now paralyzed from the waist down. ... Police said the shooter, a 17-year-old boy, had a gun stuck in his waistband. While he was playing basketball, someone bumped into him and the gun went off. ...

— Click Orlando.com

Tuesday, Jan. 22:

A Baton Rouge man who authorities said was playing with a gun was booked ... in the accidental shooting of his 2-year-old brother. ... [The man’s uncle] said the teen had armed himself due to “environmental pressure” from neighborhood friends.

— The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

The New Mexico teenager who used an assault rifle to kill his mother, father and younger siblings told police he hoped to shoot up a Walmart after the family rampage and cause “mass destruction.” ... Nehemiah Griego, the 15-year-old son of an Albuquerque pastor ... “stated he wanted to shoot people at random and eventually be killed while exchanging gunfire with law enforcement,” the [police] report said.

— ABC News

Wednesday, Jan. 23:

Kansas City police arrested a 16-year-old Ruskin High School student accused of shooting at a school bus after the driver refused to allow him to board on Wednesday.

— The Kansas City Star

A 4-year-old boy has died after being shot in the head Wednesday. ... The deputy [sheriff] located the child’s body inside of a Ford Taurus. There was a bullet hole in the roof of the car. ... “Jamarcus loved Batman, Spider-Man and football and was looking forward to starting kindergarten,” [his mother] said.

— Newsnet5.com, Akron, Ohio

Thursday, Jan. 24:

The estranged husband of a woman found dead in her Madison apartment Thursday was found dead in his home ... of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. ... “We can’t really believe it; I mean, these things happen on TV, they don’t happen to us,” [her stepmother] said. “We’re middle class, normal Americans, and she was a nice girl.”

— WISC-TV, Madison, Wis.

Police said an 11-year-old girl is in critical condition after being shot in the face by her father in a New Jersey home on Thursday night. Investigators said 27-year-old Byaer Johnson apparently entered the home to visit his young daughter. ... He was asked to leave, then picked up a handgun and shot his daughter.

— CBS News

Friday, Jan. 25:

An Oakland police officer was shot and wounded Friday evening, the second officer in the city to be injured by gunfire this week. ... The shooting happened after a man in a car ran a stop sign, crashed into another car ... and ran off. Shortly thereafter, an uncle and his nephew reported that they were shot a block away by a man who tried to steal the uncle’s bicycle.

— SFGate.com

A man has been charged with murder for fatally shooting his brother during a “domestic” dispute outside a South Side Englewood home Friday afternoon. ...

— Chicago.CBSlocal.com

Saturday, Jan. 26:

A party in Salem that spilled outdoors ended in drive-by gunfire that hit at least two people and riddled a car and nearby homes. ...

— KOINlocal6, Salem, Ore.

A 55-year-old man has been released from custody after allegedly shooting and killing his own dog. Police say Gordon Lagstrom was drunk Saturday night when he pulled a .38 caliber handgun and shot to death his 4-year-old Australian terrier, Lena.

— Boston.CBSlocal.com

The city broke a nine-day murder-free streak last night when a man was found dead in the basement of a Queens apartment complex, police said. The 20-year-old victim, whose name was not released, had been shot in the head.

— New York Post

Among those killed Saturday was a 34-year-old man whose mother had already lost her three other children to shootings. Police say Ronnie Chambers, who was his mother’s youngest child, was shot in the head while sitting in a car. Police say two separate double-homicide shootings also occurred Saturday about 12 hours apart. ... Chicago’s homicide count eclipsed 500 last year for the first time since 2008.

— CBS News

    And in Last Week’s Gun News ..., NYT, 28.1.2013,






Reliving Horror and Faint Hope

at Massacre Site


January 28, 2013
The New York Times


NEWTOWN, Conn. — The gunfire ended; it was so quiet they could hear the broken glass and bullet casings scraping under their boots. The smell of gunpowder filled the air. The officers turned down their radios; they did not want to give away their positions if there was still a gunman present.

They found the two women first, their bodies lying on the lobby floor. Now they knew it was real. But nothing, no amount of training, could prepare them for what they found next, inside those two classrooms.

“One look, and your life was absolutely changed,” said Michael McGowan, one of the first police officers to arrive at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, as a gunman, in the space of minutes, killed 20 first graders and 6 adults.

Officer McGowan was among seven Newtown officers who recently sat down to share their accounts of that day. Some spoke for the first time, providing the fullest account yet of the scene as officers responded to one of the worst school massacres in United States history, one that has inflamed the national debate over gun control.

It is an account filled with ghastly moments and details, and a few faint instances of hope. One child had a slight pulse, but did not survive. Another was found bloody but unhurt, amid her dead classmates. Teachers were so protective of their students that they had to be coaxed by officers before opening doors. And the officers themselves, many of them fathers, instinctively used their most soothing Daddy voices to guide terrified children to safety.

The stories also reveal the deep stress that lingers for officers who, until Dec. 14, had focused their energies on maintaining order in a low-crime corner of suburbia. Some can barely sleep. Little things can set off tears: a television show, a child’s laughter, even the piles of gifts the Police Department received from across the country.

One detective, who was driving with his wife and two sons, passed a roadside memorial on Route 25 two weeks after the shooting, and began sobbing uncontrollably. “I just lost it right there, I couldn’t even drive,” the detective, Jason Frank, said.

Officer William Chapman was in the Newtown police station along with Officer McGowan and others when the first reports of shots and breaking glass came in early on the day of the massacre. The school was more than two miles away. They traveled up Route 25, then right onto Church Hill Road. “We drove as fast as we’ve ever driven,” Officer McGowan said.

They made it in under three minutes, arriving in the parking lot while gunfire could still be heard.

“I got out of the car and grabbed my rifle and it stopped for second,” Officer Chapman said. “But then we heard more popping. You could tell it was rifle fire. And it was up so close, it sounded like it was coming from outside. So we were all looking around for someone to shoot back at.”

As the officers converged on the building, the gunfire stopped again. Officers Chapman and Scott Smith made their way to the front entrance. It was here, only minutes earlier, that a rail-thin 20-year-old named Adam Lanza, armed with a .223 Bushmaster semiautomatic carbine, two semiautomatic pistols and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, had blasted his way through the glass.

Leonard Penna, a school resource officer who had raced to the scene from his office at the Newtown Middle School, entered the school with Sgt. Aaron Bahamonde and Lt. Christopher Vanghele, through a side door that leads to the boiler room, he said. Officer McGowan and two other officers entered through a locked rear door. One of them knocked out the glass with his rifle butt so the rest of the officers could get in.

The halls were familiar to Officer McGowan. He attended the school as a child. But now, they were eerily silent.

“The teachers were doing a phenomenal job keeping their kids quiet,” Officer Chapman said.

The officers turned their radios down. They entered the front lobby and saw the first bodies, those of Dawn Hochsprung, the principal, they would later learn, and Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist.

“You saw them lifeless, laying down,” Officer Penna recalled. “For a split second, your mind says could this be a mock crime scene, could this be fake, but in the next split second, you’re saying, there is no way. This is real.”

The officers went from room to room, urgently hunting for the killer before he could do more harm.

They found a wounded staff member in one room, made sure her co-workers were applying proper first aid and moved on.

As Officers Chapman and Smith approached the second classroom in the hallway on their left, they spotted a rifle on the floor. Inside, they found the gunman, Adam Lanza, dead by his own hand, along with the bodies of several children and other adults.

The officers searched the room for any other gunmen, then began searching for signs of life among the children. One little girl had a pulse and was breathing. Officer Chapman cradled her in his arms and ran with her outside, to an ambulance. Officer Chapman, a parent himself, tried to comfort her. “You’re safe now; your parents love you,” he recalled saying. She did not survive.

Most of the bodies were found in the classroom next door, where, Detective Frank recalled, “the teacher had them huddled up like a mother hen — simple as that, in a corner.”

Officer Penna, who was the first officer to enter the second room, found a girl standing alone amid the bodies. She appeared to be in shock, and was covered in blood, but had not been injured. He, not knowing the gunman had been found, told her to stay put.

He ran into the next classroom and saw the dead gunman, with Officers Chapman and Smith standing nearby. State troopers and other officers were now flooding in. Officer Penna returned to the second classroom, his rifle slung around his chest, grabbed the uninjured girl by the arm and ran with her out to a triage area set up in the parking lot.

With state troopers coming in, the officers began to evacuate the children who were still behind locked doors. But many of the teachers, seeking to protect their students and following their own training, refused to open up.

“We’re kicking the doors, yelling ‘Police! Police!’ ” Officer McGowan said. “We were ripping our badges off and putting them up to the window.”

Detective Frank, who had been off duty and rushed to the scene so quickly that he had to borrow a gun from a colleague once he arrived, remembers ripping the handle off one of the doors, “just trying to get through.”

As the children emerged, the officers tried to reassure them. “Everything is fine now,” they said, even as they stayed alert for a possible second gunman. “Everybody hold hands, close your eyes,” they told the children.

Some officers formed a human curtain around the bodies of Ms. Hochsprung and Ms. Sherlach, to shield the children from the sight as they filed past. Others blocked the doorways of the two classrooms.

As the scene settled that day, officers standing guard outside warned newly arriving colleagues not to go in if they had children. Detective Joe Joudy, one of the senior members of the force, spotted Officer Chapman walking back to the building, covered in blood. “I was a mess, and he looks at me and says, ‘They’ve got to get you guys out of here,’ ” Officer Chapman said.

Newtown’s three-man detective squad, which also included Dan McAnaspie, would spend much of the next week working with the State Police to collect and inventory every bit of evidence from the crime scene.

“Words can’t describe how horrible it was,” said Detective Joudy, who has been with the department for 27 years.

As he left the building that day, Officer Tom Bean, who had also been off duty when he rushed to the scene, realized he had not told his wife where he was. He fumbled for his phone in the parking lot, and called her. “That’s when I broke down in tears, crying,” he said.

More than a month later, the officers continue to feel the pain of that day. Some spoke reluctantly, not wanting to compare their torment with the agony of the families of the children and adult victims. But they also worried about their ability to do their jobs, as they continue to suffer. They said they omitted some details out of sensitivity to the victims, and to protect the investigation as it continued.

At least one person, Officer Bean, said he has already received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he had been unable to return to work since the shootings, and had needed medication to sleep.

The officers and their union are reaching out to state lawmakers, hoping to expand workers’ compensation benefits to include those who witness horrific violence.

“Our concern from the beginning has been the effects of PTSD,” said Eric Brown, a lawyer for the union that represents the Newtown police. “We estimate it is probably going to be 12 to 15 Newtown officers who are going to be dealing with that, for the remainder of their careers, we imagine, from what we’ve been told by professionals who deal with PTSD.”

For Detective Frank, who spent days sequestered in the school, meticulously collecting evidence, the images keep recurring — and not just of the children. The monster-truck backpack he found that was identical to his 6-year-old’s. The Christmas ornaments that sat unfinished, drying on the windowsill.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “These kids will never take those ornaments home to their parents.”

    Reliving Horror and Faint Hope at Massacre Site, NYT, 28.1.2013,






Sandy Hook Parents’ Testimony

to Legislature

Reflects Divide on Guns


January 28, 2013
The New York Times


HARTFORD — Victims of gun violence, burly men clad in hunting jackets and National Rifle Association hats, mothers wearing stickers reading “We Demand Change Now.”

They were among hundreds of people who packed into the State Capitol on Monday for a charged and often emotional hearing on gun laws. The turnout highlighted the deep divisions in a state that has become a focal point of the national gun control debate since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown last month that killed 20 children and 6 adult staff members.

Among those to testify Monday were parents of some of the youngest Newtown victims, who took opposing sides.

“The sole purpose of those AR-15s or AK-47s is to put a lot of lead out on the battlefield quickly, and that’s what they do and that’s what they did at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” said Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, was a victim. Mr. Heslin told lawmakers that he had grown up around guns and was the son of an avid hunter, but that he believed that there was no reason any citizen should have an assault-style weapon like the one used to kill his son.

“That wasn’t just a killing. That was a massacre,” he said. “Those children and those victims were shot apart. And my son was one of them.”

But Mark Mattioli, whose son James, 6, was also killed at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14, said: “I believe in a few simple gun laws. I think we have more than enough on the books. We should hold people individually accountable for their actions.”

Mr. Mattioli said he also thought some liberals were using the attack in Newtown to spread fear on gun issues.

“The problem is not gun laws,” he added. “The problem is a lack of civility.”

The hearing, one of several scheduled by the legislature’s Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety, was expected to run deep into the night. Nearly 1,500 people, including family members, gun control advocates, gun rights advocates and gun industry representatives, had signed up or were invited to testify, although it was not clear how many would get the chance. The task force hopes to have legislation prepared for passage by the end of February.

Outside the building, people braved frigid temperatures and driving snow while waiting to pass through metal detectors, part of the heightened security measures for the hearing. Women from groups like March for Change and One Million Moms for Gun Control, which are calling for stricter gun laws, stood far outnumbered by gun rights supporters, most of them men.

One man carried a sign reading “Gun Control Does Not Make You Safer.” Another wore a jacket that said “N.R.A. Empowerment Member.”

David Gentry, a personal trainer from Stamford, wore a holster on his waist with a copy of the Constitution tucked in it. “I just feel that’s where the conversation should start,” he said.

Mr. Gentry, a father of two, said he was saddened by the Newtown massacre but also worried about “knee-jerk reactions” to it. Immediately after the attack, he said, he renewed his N.R.A. membership, bought four N.R.A. T-shirts and decided to attend the hearing on Monday to oppose stricter gun proposals.

“There are things we can do in this country to help secure our children and improve firearms safety,” he said. “Better training, securing firearms, yet not making them inaccessible to authorized owners.”

Kori Hammel, a musician and mother from Stratford, came with March for Change.

“Sandy Hook was 10 minutes from where I grew up,” she said. “I just can’t act like everything is O.K.”

Inside the hearing room, gun rights supporters wore round yellow stickers reading “Another Responsible Gun Owner.” People on the other side of the issue wore green ribbons, which have become a symbol of the Newtown tragedy.

Connecticut is considered to have some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. But gun ownership has been on the rise, and the gun industry and pro-gun groups have flexed more muscle in Hartford in recent years. Last year, gun rights advocates showed up by the hundreds at a hearing to oppose legislation that would have restricted high-capacity ammunition magazines like the ones used by Adam Lanza in the Newtown massacre.

On Monday, the state’s gun manufacturers said they supported stricter background checks but warned the task force against legislation they said could harm the state’s historic gun industry. Connecticut is the nation’s seventh-largest maker of firearms.

“We have a reason to consider the ramifications on the firearms industry that has contributed much to the state’s history and culture and continues to play a vital role,” said Dennis Veilleux, president and chief executive of Colt Manufacturing, which has been based in Connecticut since the mid-19th century.

Robert Crook, president of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, a gun rights lobbying group, said none of the gun control bills floating around Hartford would have stopped Mr. Lanza and would instead restrict the rights of lawful gun owners.

“Remember, gun owners are the good guys,” he said.

The testimony was marked by plenty of poignant moments.

Veronique Pozner, whose son Noah died in the attack, showed task force members the last picture taken of her son the night before the shooting as she urged broad new restrictions.

She recalled her son’s inquisitive nature. “He used to ask, ‘If there are bad guys out there, why can’t they just all wake up one day and decide to be good?’ ”

Ms. Pozner said she did not always have an answer.

    Sandy Hook Parents’ Testimony to Legislature Reflects Divide on Guns, NYT, 28.1.2013,





Confessions of a Liberal Gun Owner


January 27, 2013
The New York Times



I AM a New England liberal, born and bred. I have lived most of my life in the Northeast — Boston, New York and Philadelphia — and my politics are devoutly Democratic. In three decades, I have voted for a Republican exactly once, holding my nose, in a mayoral election in which the Democratic candidate seemed mentally unbalanced.

I am also a Texas resident and a gun owner. I have half a dozen pistols in my safe, all semiautomatics, the largest capable of holding 20 rounds. I go to the range at least once a week, have applied for a concealed carry license and am planning to take a tactical training course in the spring. I’m currently shopping for a shotgun, either a Remington 870 Express Tactical or a Mossberg 500 Flex with a pistol grip and adjustable stock.

Except for shotguns (firing one feels like being punched by a prizefighter), I enjoy shooting. At the range where I practice, most of the staff knows me by sight if not by name. I’m the guy in the metrosexual eyeglasses and Ralph Lauren polo, and I ask a lot of questions: What’s the best way to maintain my sight picture with both eyes open? How do I clear a stove-piped round?

There is pleasure to be had in exercising one’s rights, learning something new in midlife and mastering the operation of a complex tool, which is one thing a gun is. But I won’t deny the seductive psychological power that firearms possess. I grew up playing shooting games, pretending to be Starsky or Hutch or one of the patrolmen on “Adam-12,” the two most boring TV cops in history.

A prevailing theory holds that boys are simultaneously aware of their own physical powerlessness and society’s mandate that they serve as protectors of the innocent. Pretending to shoot a bad guy assuages this anxiety, which never goes away completely. This explanation makes sense to me. Another word for it is catharsis, and you could say that, as a novelist, I’ve made my living from it.

There are a lot of reasons that a gun feels right in my hand, but I also own firearms to protect my family. I hope I never have to use one for this purpose, and I doubt I ever will. But I am my family’s last line of defense. I have chosen to meet this responsibility, in part, by being armed. It wasn’t a choice I made lightly. I am aware that, statistically speaking, a gun in the home represents a far greater danger to its inhabitants than to an intruder. But not every choice we make is data-driven. A lot comes from the gut.

Apart from the ones in policemen’s holsters, I don’t think I saw a working firearm until the year after college, when a friend’s girlfriend, after four cosmopolitans, decided to show off the .38 revolver she kept in her purse. (Half the party guests dived for cover, including me.)

It wasn’t until my mid-40s that my education in guns began, in the course of writing a novel in which pistols, shotguns and rifles, but also heavy weaponry like the AR-15 and its military analogue, the M-16, were widely used. I suspected that much of the gunplay I’d witnessed in movies and television was completely wrong (it is) and hired an instructor for a daylong private lesson “to shoot everything in the store.” The gentleman who met me at the range was someone whom I would have called “a gun nut.” A former New Yorker, he had relocated to Texas because of its lax gun laws and claimed to keep a pistol within arm’s reach even when he showered. He was perfect, in other words, for my purpose.

My relationship to firearms might have ended there, if not for a coincidence of weather. Everybody remembers Hurricane Katrina; fewer recall Hurricane Rita, an even more intense storm that headed straight for Houston less than a month later. My wife and I arranged to stay at a friend’s house in Austin, packed up the kids and dog, and headed out of town — or tried to. As many as 3.7 million people had the same idea, making Rita one of the largest evacuations in history, with predictable results.

By 2 in the morning, after six hours on the road, we had made it all of 50 miles. The scene was like a snapshot from the Apocalypse: crowds milling restlessly, gas stations and mini-marts picked clean and heaped with trash, families sleeping by the side of the road. The situation had the hopped-up feel of barely bottled chaos. After Katrina, nobody had any illusions that help was on its way. It also occurred to me that there were probably a lot of guns out there — this was Texas, after all. Here I was with two tiny children, a couple of thousand dollars in cash, a late-model S.U.V. with half a tank of gas and not so much as a heavy book to throw. When my wife wouldn’t let me get out of the car so the dog could do his business, that was it for me. We jumped the median, turned around, and were home in under an hour.

As it happened, Rita made a last-minute turn away from Houston. But what if it hadn’t? I believe people are basically good, but not all of them and not all the time. Like most citizens of our modern, technological world, I am wholly reliant upon a fragile web of services to meet my most basic needs. What would happen if those services collapsed? Chaos, that’s what.

IT didn’t happen overnight, but before too long my Northeastern liberal sensibilities, while intact on other issues, had shifted on the question of gun ownership. For my first pistol I selected a little Walther .380. I shot it enough to decide it was junk, upgraded to a full-size Springfield 9-millimeter, liked it but wanted something with a thumb safety, found a nice Smith & Wesson subcompact that fit the bill, but along the way got a little bit of a gun-crush on the Beretta M-9 — and so on.

Lots of people on both sides of the aisle own firearms, or don’t, for reasons that supersede their broader political and cultural affiliations. Let me be clear: my personal armory notwithstanding, I think guns are woefully under-regulated. It’s far too easy to buy a gun — I once bought one in a parking lot — and I loathe the National Rifle Association. Some of the Obama administration’s proposals strike me as more symbolic than effective, with some 300 million firearms on the loose. But the White House’s recommendations seem like a good starting point and nothing that would prevent me from protecting my family in a crisis. The AR-15 is a fascinating weapon, and, frankly, a gas to shoot. So is a tank, and I don’t need to own a tank.

Alas, the days of à la carte politics like mine seem over, if they ever even existed. The bigger culprit is the far right and the lunatic pronouncements of those like Rush Limbaugh. But in the weeks since Newtown, I’ve watched my Facebook feed, which is dominated by my coastal friends, fill up with anti-gun dispatches that seemed divorced from reality. I agree it would be nice if the world had exactly zero guns in it. But I don’t see that happening, and calling gun owners “a bunch of inbred rednecks” doesn’t do much to advance rational discussion.

Thus, my secret life — though I guess it’s not such a secret anymore. My wife is afraid of my guns (though she also says she’s glad I have them). My 16-year-old daughter is a different story. The week before her fall semester exams, we allowed her to skip school for a day, a tradition in our house. The rule is, she gets to do whatever she wants. This time, she asked to take a pistol lesson. She’s an NPR listener like me, but she’s also grown up in Texas, and the fact that one in five American women is a victim of sexual assault is not lost on her. In the windowless classroom off the range, the instructor ran her through the basics, demonstrating with a Glock 9-millimeter: how to hold it, load it, pull back the slide.

“You’ll probably have trouble with that part,” he said. “A lot of the women do.”

“Oh really?” my daughter replied, and with a cagey smile proceeded to rack her weapon with such authority you could have heard it in the parking lot.

A proud-papa moment? I confess it was.


Justin Cronin is the author, most recently, of the novel “The Twelve.”

    Confessions of a Liberal Gun Owner, NYT, 27.1.2013,






What We Don’t Know Is Killing Us


January 26, 2013
The New York Times


In one of the 23 executive orders on gun control signed this month, President Obama instructed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal science agencies to conduct research into the causes and prevention of gun violence. He called on Congress to aid that effort by providing $10 million for the C.D.C. in the next budget round and $20 million to expand the federal reporting system on violent deaths to all 50 states, from the current 18.

That Mr. Obama had to make such a decree at all is a measure of the power of the gun lobby, which has effectively shut down government-financed research on gun violence for 17 years. Research on guns is crucial to any long-term effort to reduce death from guns. In other words, treat gun violence as a public health issue.

But that is precisely what the National Rifle Association and other opponents of firearms regulation do not want. In the absence of reliable data and data-driven policy recommendations, talk about guns inevitably lurches into the unknown, allowing abstractions, propaganda and ideology to fill the void and thwart change.

The research freeze began at a time when the C.D.C. was making strides in studying gun violence as a public health problem. Before that, the issue had been regarded mainly as a law enforcement challenge or as a problem of disparate acts by deranged offenders, an approach that remains in sync with the N.R.A. worldview.

Public health research emphasizes prevention of death, disability and injury. It focuses not only on the gun user, but on the gun, in much the same way that public health efforts to reduce motor vehicle deaths have long focused on both drivers and cars.

The goal is to understand a health threat and identify lifesaving interventions. At their most basic, gun policy recommendations would extend beyond buying and owning a gun (say, background checks and safe storage devices) to manufacturing (childproofing and other federal safety standards) and distribution (stronger antitrafficking laws), as well as educating and enlisting parents, physicians, teachers and other community leaders to talk about the risks and responsibilities of gun ownership.

But by the early 1990s, C.D.C. gun research had advanced to the point that it contradicted N.R.A. ideology. Some studies found, for example, that people living in a home with a gun were not safer; they faced a significantly elevated risk of homicide and suicide.

The N.R.A. denounced the research as “political opinion masquerading as medical science,” and in 1996, Congress took $2.6 million intended for gun research and redirected it to traumatic brain injury. It prohibited the use of C.D.C. money “to advocate or promote gun control.” Since then, similar prohibitions have been imposed on other agencies, including the National Institutes of Health.

Technically, the prohibition is not a ban on all research, but the law has cast a pall that even prominent foundations and academic centers cannot entirely overcome. That is in part because comprehensive public health efforts require systematic data gathering and analysis, the scale and scope of which is a government undertaking. To understand and prevent motor vehicle deaths, for instance, the government tracks more than 100 variables per fatal crash, including the make, model and year of the vehicles, the speed and speed limit, the location of passengers, seat belt use and air bag deployment.

Guns deaths do not get such scrutiny. That does not mean we do not know enough to act. The evidence linking gun prevalence and violent death is strong and compelling; international comparisons are also instructive.

But we need more data to formulate, analyze and evaluate policy to focus on what works and to refine or reject what does not. How many guns are stolen? How do guns first get diverted into illegal hands? How many murderers would have passed today’s background checks? What percentage of criminal gun traces are accounted for by, say, the top 5 percent of gun dealers? How many households possess firearms: is it one-third as some surveys suggest, or one-half?

The gun lobby is likely to claim that any federally financed gun research, per se, is banned by law, a charge that would force debate of whether evidence-based policy recommendations are tantamount to lobbying. Or the C.D.C. may choose to focus on data collection and leave the policy recommendations to outside researchers. That would be a sorry situation for government scientists, but an improvement over the status quo.

It is obvious that gun violence is a public health threat. A letter this month to Vice President Joseph Biden Jr.’s gun violence commission from more than 100 researchers in public health and related fields pointed out that mortality rates from almost every major cause of death have declined drastically over the past half century. Motor vehicle deaths per mile driven in America have fallen by more than 80 percent. But the homicide rate in the United States, driven by guns, is almost exactly the same as it was in 1950.

    What We Don’t Know Is Killing Us, NYT, 26.1.2013,






Selling a New Generation on Guns


January 26, 2013
The New York Times


Threatened by long-term declining participation in shooting sports, the firearms industry has poured millions of dollars into a broad campaign to ensure its future by getting guns into the hands of more, and younger, children.

The industry’s strategies include giving firearms, ammunition and cash to youth groups; weakening state restrictions on hunting by young children; marketing an affordable military-style rifle for “junior shooters” and sponsoring semiautomatic-handgun competitions for youths; and developing a target-shooting video game that promotes brand-name weapons, with links to the Web sites of their makers.

The pages of Junior Shooters, an industry-supported magazine that seeks to get children involved in the recreational use of firearms, once featured a smiling 15-year-old girl clutching a semiautomatic rifle. At the end of an accompanying article that extolled target shooting with a Bushmaster AR-15 — an advertisement elsewhere in the magazine directed readers to a coupon for buying one — the author encouraged youngsters to share the article with a parent.

“Who knows?” it said. “Maybe you’ll find a Bushmaster AR-15 under your tree some frosty Christmas morning!”

The industry’s youth-marketing effort is backed by extensive social research and is carried out by an array of nonprofit groups financed by the gun industry, an examination by The New York Times found. The campaign picked up steam about five years ago with the completion of a major study that urged a stronger emphasis on the “recruitment and retention” of new hunters and target shooters.

The overall objective was summed up in another study, commissioned last year by the shooting sports industry, that suggested encouraging children experienced in firearms to recruit other young people. The report, which focused on children ages 8 to 17, said these “peer ambassadors” should help introduce wary youngsters to guns slowly, perhaps through paintball, archery or some other less intimidating activity.

“The point should be to get newcomers started shooting something, with the natural next step being a move toward actual firearms,” said the report, which was prepared for the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Hunting Heritage Trust.

Firearms manufacturers and their two primary surrogates, the National Rifle Association of America and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, have long been associated with high-profile battles to fend off efforts at gun control and to widen access to firearms. The public debate over the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and elsewhere has focused largely on the availability of guns, along with mental illness and the influence of violent video games.

Little attention has been paid, though, to the industry’s youth-marketing initiatives. They stir passionate views, with proponents arguing that introducing children to guns can provide a safe and healthy pastime, and critics countering that it fosters a corrosive gun culture and is potentially dangerous.

The N.R.A. has for decades given grants for youth shooting programs, mostly to Boy Scout councils and 4-H groups, which traditionally involved single-shot rimfire rifles, BB guns and archery. Its $21 million in total grants in 2010 was nearly double what it gave out five years earlier.

Newer initiatives by other organizations go further, seeking to introduce children to high-powered rifles and handguns while invoking the same rationale of those older, more traditional programs: that firearms can teach “life skills” like responsibility, ethics and citizenship. And the gun industry points to injury statistics that it says show a greater likelihood of getting hurt cheerleading or playing softball than using firearms for fun and sport.

Still, some experts in child psychiatry say that encouraging youthful exposure to guns, even in a structured setting with an emphasis on safety, is asking for trouble. Dr. Jess P. Shatkin, the director of undergraduate studies in child and adolescent mental health at New York University, said that young people are naturally impulsive and that their brains “are engineered to take risks,” making them ill suited for handling guns.

“There are lots of ways to teach responsibility to a kid,” Dr. Shatkin said. “You don’t need a gun to do it.”

Steve Sanetti, the president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said it was better to instruct children in the safe use of a firearm through hunting and target shooting, and engage them in positive ways with the heritage of guns in America. His industry is well positioned for the task, he said, but faces an unusual challenge: introducing minors to activities that involve products they cannot legally buy and that require a high level of maturity.

Ultimately, Mr. Sanetti said, it should be left to parents, not the government, to decide if and when to introduce their children to shooting and what sort of firearms to use.

“It’s a very significant decision,” he said, “and it involves the personal responsibility of the parent and personal responsibility of the child.”


Trying to Reverse a Trend

The shooting sports foundation, the tax-exempt trade association for the gun industry, is a driving force behind many of the newest youth initiatives. Its national headquarters is in Newtown, just a few miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where Adam Lanza, 20, used his mother’s Bushmaster AR-15 to kill 20 children and 6 adults last month.

The foundation’s $26 million budget is financed mostly by gun companies, associated businesses and the foundation’s SHOT Show, the industry’s annual trade show, according to its latest tax return.

Although shooting sports and gun sales have enjoyed a rebound recently, the long-term demographics are not favorable, as urbanization, the growth of indoor pursuits like video games and changing cultural mores erode consumer interest. Licensed hunters fell from 7 percent of the population in 1975 to fewer than 5 percent in 2005, according to federal data. Galvanized by the declining share, the industry redoubled its efforts to reverse the trend about five years ago.

The focus on young people has been accompanied by foundation-sponsored research examining popular attitudes toward hunting and shooting. Some of the studies used focus groups and telephone surveys of teenagers to explore their feelings about guns and people who use them, and offered strategies for generating a greater acceptance of firearms.

The Times reviewed more than a thousand pages of these studies, obtained from gun industry Web sites and online archives, some of them produced as recently as last year. Most were prepared by consultants retained by the foundation, and at least one was financed with a grant from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

In an interview, Mr. Sanetti said the youth-centered research was driven by the inevitable “tension” the industry faces, given that no one under 18 can buy a rifle or a shotgun from a licensed dealer or even possess a handgun under most circumstances. That means looking for creative and appropriate ways to introduce children to shooting sports.

“There’s nothing alarmist or sinister about it,” Mr. Sanetti said. “It’s realistic.”

Pointing to the need to “start them young,” one study concluded that “stakeholders such as managers and manufacturers should target programs toward youth 12 years old and younger.”

“This is the time that youth are being targeted with competing activities,” it said. “It is important to consider more hunting and target-shooting recruitment programs aimed at middle school level, or earlier.”

Aware that introducing firearms to young children could meet with resistance, several studies suggested methods for smoothing the way for target-shooting programs in schools. One cautioned, “When approaching school systems, it is important to frame the shooting sports only as a mechanism to teach other life skills, rather than an end to itself.”

In another report, the authors warned against using human silhouettes for targets when trying to recruit new shooters and encouraged using words and phrases like “sharing the experience,” “family” and “fun.” They also said children should be enlisted to prod parents to let them join shooting activities: “Such a program could be called ‘Take Me Hunting’ or ‘Take Me Shooting.’ ”

The industry recognized that state laws limiting hunting by children could pose a problem, according to a “Youth Hunting Report” prepared by the shooting sports foundation and two other groups. Declaring that “the need for aggressive recruitment is urgent,” the report said a primary objective should be to “eliminate or reduce age minimums.” Still another study recommended allowing children to get a provisional license to hunt with an adult, “perhaps even before requiring them to take hunter safety courses.”

The effort has succeeded in a number of states, including Wisconsin, which in 2009 lowered the minimum hunting age to 10 from 12, and Michigan, where in 2011 the age minimum for hunting small game was eliminated for children accompanied by an adult mentor. The foundation cited statistics suggesting that youth involvement in hunting, as well as target shooting, had picked up in recent years amid the renewed focus on recruitment.

Gun companies have spent millions of dollars to put their recruitment strategies into action, either directly or through the shooting sports foundation and other organizations. The support takes many forms.

The Scholastic Steel Challenge, started in 2009, introduces children as young as 12 to competitive handgun shooting using steel targets. Its “platinum” sponsors include the shooting sports foundation, Smith & Wesson and Glock, which donated 60 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistols, according to the group’s Web site.

The site features a quote from a gun company executive praising the youth initiative and saying that “anyone in the firearms industry that overlooks its potential is missing the boat.”

Larry Potterfield, the founder of MidwayUSA, one of the nation’s largest sellers of shooting supplies and a major sponsor of the Scholastic Steel Challenge, said he did not fire a handgun until he was 21, adding that they “are the most difficult guns to learn to shoot well.” But, he said, he sees nothing wrong with children using them.

“Kids need arm strength and good patience to learn to shoot a handgun well,” he said in an e-mail, “and I would think that would come in the 12-14 age group for most kids.”

Another organization, the nonprofit Youth Shooting Sports Alliance, which was created in 2007, has received close to $1 million in cash, guns and equipment from the shooting sports foundation and firearms-related companies, including ATK, Winchester and Sturm, Ruger & Company, its tax returns show. In 2011, the alliance awarded 58 grants. A typical grant: 23 rifles, 4 shotguns, 16 cases of ammunition and other materials, which went to a Michigan youth camp.

The foundation and gun companies also support Junior Shooters magazine, which is based in Idaho and was started in 2007. The publication is filled with catchy advertisements and articles about things like zombie targets, pink guns and, under the heading “Kids Gear,” tactical rifle components with military-style features like pistol grips and collapsible stocks.

Gun companies often send new models to the magazine for children to try out with adult supervision. Shortly after Sturm, Ruger announced in 2009 a new, lightweight semiautomatic rifle that had the “look and feel” of an AR-15 but used less expensive .22-caliber cartridges, Junior Shooters received one for review. The magazine had three boys ages 14 to 17 fire it and wrote that they “had an absolute ball!”

Junior Shooters’ editor, Andy Fink, acknowledged in an editorial that some of his magazine’s content stirred controversy.

“I have heard people say, even shooters that participate in some of the shotgun shooting sports, such things as, ‘Why do you need a semiautomatic gun for hunting?’ ” he wrote. But if the industry is to survive, he said, gun enthusiasts must embrace all youth shooting activities, including ones “using semiautomatic firearms with magazines holding 30-100 rounds.”

In an interview, Mr. Fink elaborated. Semiautomatic firearms are actually not weapons, he said, unless someone chooses to hurt another person with them, and their image has been unfairly tainted by the news media. There is no legitimate reason children should not learn to safely use an AR-15 for recreation, he said.

“They’re a tool, not any different than a car or a baseball bat,” Mr. Fink said. “It’s no different than a junior shooting a .22 or a shotgun. The difference is in the perception of the viewer.”


The Weapon of Choice

The AR-15, the civilian version of the military’s M-16 and M-4, has been aggressively marketed as a cool and powerful step up from more traditional target and hunting rifles. But its appearance in mass shootings — in addition to Newtown, the gun was also used last year in the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., and the attack on firefighters in Webster, N.Y. — has prompted calls for tighter restrictions. The AR-15 is among the guns included in a proposed ban on a range of semiautomatic weapons that was introduced in the Senate last week.

Given the gun’s commercial popularity, it is perhaps unsurprising that AR-15-style firearms have worked their way into youth shooting programs. At a “Guns ’n Grillin” weekend last fall, teenagers at a Boy Scout council in Virginia got to shoot AR-15s. They are used in youth competitions held each year at a National Guard camp in Ohio, and in “junior clinics” taught by Army or Marine marksmanship instructors, some of them sponsored by gun companies or organizations they support.

ArmaLite, a successor company to the one that developed the AR-15, is offering a similar rifle, the AR-10, for the grand prize in a raffle benefiting the Illinois State Rifle Association’s “junior high-power” team, which uses AR-15s in its competitions. Bushmaster has offered on its Web site a coupon worth $350 off the price of an AR-15 “to support and encourage junior shooters.”

Military-style firearms are prevalent in a target-shooting video game and mobile app called Point of Impact, which was sponsored by the shooting sports foundation and Guns & Ammo magazine. The game — rated for ages 9 and up in the iTunes store — allows players to shoot brand-name AR-15 rifles and semiautomatic handguns at inanimate targets, and it provides links to gun makers’ Web sites as well as to the foundation’s “First Shots” program, intended to recruit new shooters.

Upon the game’s release in January 2011, foundation executives said in a news release that it was one of the industry’s “most unique marketing tools directed at a younger audience.” Mr. Sanetti of the shooting sports foundation said sponsorship of the game was an experiment intended to deliver safety tips to players, while potentially generating interest in real-life sports.

The confluence of high-powered weaponry and youth shooting programs does not sit well even with some proponents of those programs. Stephan Carlson, a University of Minnesota environmental science professor whose research on the positive effects of learning hunting and outdoor skills in 4-H classes has been cited by the gun industry, said he “wouldn’t necessarily go along” with introducing children to more powerful firearms that added nothing useful to their experience.

“I see why the industry would be pushing it, but I don’t see the value in it,” Mr. Carlson said. “I guess it goes back to the skill base we’re trying to instill in the kids. What are we preparing them for?”

For Mr. Potterfield of MidwayUSA, who said his own children started shooting “boys’ rifles” at age 4, getting young people engaged with firearms — provided they have the maturity and the physical ability to handle them — strengthens an endangered American tradition.

Mr. Potterfield and his wife, Brenda, have donated more than $5 million for youth shooting programs in recent years, a campaign that he said was motivated by philanthropy, not “return on investment.”

“Our gifting is pure benevolence,” he said. “We grew up and live in rural America and have owned guns, hunted and fished all of our lives. This is our community, and we hope to preserve it for future generations.”

    Selling a New Generation on Guns, NYT, 26.1.2013,






New Hampshire Police Chiefs

Hold a 31-Gun Raffle

for a Training Program


January 26, 2013
The New York Times


NEWPORT, N.H. — When the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police was looking to raise money for an annual cadet training program, it sold raffle tickets for $30 apiece. The drawing was scheduled for May, but by Jan. 12 all 1,000 tickets had been sold.

The prize: 31 guns, with a new winner drawn each day of the month.

The fund-raiser, sponsored by the association in partnership with two New Hampshire gun makers, Sig Sauer and Sturm, Ruger & Company, has prompted a chorus of protests from lawmakers and gun-control advocates questioning why the police are giving away guns, even in the name of a good cause.

Some in law enforcement have also raised questions. When Chief Nicholas J. Giaccone Jr. of Hanover pulled up information about the raffle on the Internet, he said, he was flabbergasted.

“I looked at the first weapon and Googled that one,” said Chief Giaccone, who recalled using an expletive when he pulled up information about the Ruger SR-556C, a semiautomatic weapon. “It’s an assault rifle.”

In a letter to the editor of The Eagle-Tribune, which covers southern New Hampshire, Richard J. O’Shaughnessy of Salem wrote, “People who should know better are adding to the glorification of the gun culture in this state.”

And referring to the shootings last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, State Representative Sharon L. Nordgren, a Hanover Democrat, said, “They’re just the same kind that were used in Newtown.”

The Ruger that caught Chief Giaccone’s attention is an AR-15-style rifle, which is the most popular style of gun in America, according to dealers, and was the type used by Adam Lanza to kill 20 children and six adults at the elementary school. Another gun in the raffle, the Sig Sauer P226 handgun, was also carried by Mr. Lanza, according to the Connecticut State Police.

“It’s just ironic that that would be their choice of the kind of gun that they’re raffling,” Ms. Nordgren said.

Organizers of the raffle are standing firm. In a statement released this month, Chief Paul T. Donovan of Salem, the president of the association, defended the fund-raiser, saying that all winners would be required to meet all applicable rules for gun ownership.

“While this raffle falls on the heels of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police extends their deepest sympathies to the families and first responders,” Chief Donovan wrote. “New Hampshire Chiefs of Police feel the issues with these tragic shootings are ones that are contrary to lawful and responsible gun ownership.”

The proceeds from the raffle go toward a cadet program involving participants ages 14 to 20 who are given instructions in various kinds of police skills and procedures. Some of them go on to pursue careers in law enforcement.

The guns will be distributed through another raffle partner, Rody’s Gun Shop, a windowless outpost here in Newport, a town that comes to life when employees of Ruger, which is one of its main employers, leave work for the day.

“Around here, most people are into guns,” said Michael Gaffney, an employee of a nearby hardware store who won a rifle in a raffle years ago. “You get a chance to win a free gun! It’s like any raffle, very much akin to trailer raffles, snowmobile raffles or turkey raffles.”

On a recent weeknight, the Rody’s parking lot was filled with idling cars, their occupants waiting for the store to open at 6 o’clock. The store filled up immediately. Customers, some with their children in tow, browsed the shotguns and rifles on the walls and discussed the possibility of gun bans. While the shop’s owner would not comment on the raffle, his customers were nonchalant.

“Honestly, I don’t see what the big deal is — they’re just talking about it because of Sandy Hook,” said Lorraine Peterson of Litchfield. “I don’t mean to sound insensitive. This is New Hampshire. This is a sport.”

Gun raffles are business as usual here and in many other parts of the country — frequently used by hunting clubs and sometimes by athletics booster clubs to raise money and anchor galas.

“We host raffles like this all the time,” said Richard Olson Jr., the president of the New Hampshire Wildlife Federation and the Londonderry Fish and Game Club. “Anybody that’s speaking up is using the Newtown massacre as a pretext to poke at the issue negatively.”

Mr. Olson said that he once planned a gun raffle to raise money for a fishing derby and that he was considering using one to raise money for the wildlife federation’s conservation efforts on New England cottontail rabbits.

Shifting economic and political conditions have spread gun raffles to other spheres, too. Josh Harms, a Republican state representative in Illinois, intends to raffle three guns in March to raise money for his campaign treasury.

Greg Hay, a firefighter from Quincy, Ill., said his union decided last January to hold a gun raffle to replenish its accounts after a drawn-out arbitration. He said the sluggish economy had limited fund-raising from the union’s annual country music concert.

“We didn’t really want to have any more assessments, so we needed to start looking at better moneymakers,” said Mr. Hay, who expects the union, Quincy Firefighters Local 63, to take home about $25,000 from the raffle, which started last June and awards one gun per week for a year.

The fund-raiser has been so successful that the union had planned to sponsor a second one until a recent increase in gun prices — fueled by increased demand amid fears of gun bans in the wake of the Newtown shooting — made the effort less promising.

“Maybe we’ll hold off until gun prices go down and start to go back to a decent level,” Mr. Hay said.

Opponents of the raffle in New Hampshire are quick to say it is not the guns they oppose, but the fact that the police are conducting it.

“I think in some respects it shows the wrong message,” said State Representative Stephen Shurtleff, Democrat of Merrimack. “For law enforcement, normally they’re dealing with firearms in a negative way. For that reason, it’s just not an appropriate thing. We’re trying to get guns off the street.”

    New Hampshire Police Chiefs Hold a 31-Gun Raffle for a Training Program, NYT, 26.1.2013,






Senator Unveils Bill

to Limit Semiautomatic Arms


January 24, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — During a lengthy and at times emotionally wrenching news conference, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California on Thursday announced legislation that would ban the sale and manufacture of 157 types of semiautomatic weapons, as well as magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

The bill, which Ms. Feinstein introduced in the Senate later in the afternoon, would exempt firearms used for hunting and would grandfather in certain guns and magazines. The goal of the bill, she said, is “to dry up the supply of these weapons over time.”

Surrounded by victims of gun violence, colleagues in the Senate and House and several law enforcement officials, and standing near pegboards with several large guns attached, Ms. Feinstein acknowledged the difficulty in pursuing such legislation, even when harnessing the shock and grief over the shooting of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., last month. “This is really an uphill road,” Ms. Feinstein said.

Since the expiration of a ban on assault weapons in 2004, lawmakers have been deeply reluctant to revisit the issue. They cite both a lack of evidence that the ban was effective and a fear of the gun lobby, which has made significant inroads at the state and federal levels over the past decade in increasing gun rights.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, recently said that he was skeptical about the bill. Ms. Feinstein immediately called him to express her displeasure with his remarks.

Many lawmakers, including some Democrats, prefer more modest measures to curb gun violence, like enhanced background checks of gun buyers or better enforcement of existing laws.

One such measure has been introduced by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who will begin hearings next week on gun violence. Among the witnesses will be Wayne LaPierre, the chief executive of the National Rifle Association.

“Senator Feinstein has been trying to ban guns from law-abiding citizens for decades,” said Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for Mr. LaPierre. “It’s disappointing but not surprising that she is once again focused on curtailing the Constitution instead of prosecuting criminals or fixing our broken mental health system.”

More legislation is expected to arise over the next week or two, and some of it will have bipartisan support. Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, and Senator Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois, have agreed to work together on gun trafficking legislation that would seek to crack down on illegal guns. Currently, federal law does not define gun trafficking as a crime.

Mr. Kirk is also working on a background check proposal with Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, who is considered somewhat of a bellwether among Democrats with strong gun-rights records.

Mr. Leahy’s bill would give law enforcement officials more tools to investigate so-called straw purchasing of guns, in which people buy a firearm for others who are prohibited from obtaining one on their own.

Ms. Feinstein was joined on Thursday by several other lawmakers, including Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York, who will introduce companion legislation in the House, and Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who emotionally recalled the day when the children and adults were gunned down in Newtown. “I will never forget the sight and the sounds of parents that day,” he said. Several gun violence victims, relatives of those killed and others gave brief statements of support for the bill.

Ms. Feinstein’s bill — which, unlike the 1994 assault weapons ban, would not expire after being enacted — would also ban certain characteristics of guns that make them more lethal. More than 900 models of guns would be exempt for hunting and sporting.

Such a measure is vehemently opposed by the N.R.A. and many Republican lawmakers, as well as some Democrats. “I don’t think you should have restrictions on clips,” said Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who has said he welcomes a Senate debate on guns. “The Second Amendment wasn’t written so you can go hunting, it was to create a force to balance a tyrannical force here.”

Proponents of the ban argue that in spite of claims to the contrary, the 1994 measure, of which Ms. Feinstein was a chief sponsor, helped curb gun violence. “The original bill, though flawed, had a definite impact on the number of these weapons faced by the police on streets and used in crimes,” said Adam Eisgrau, who helped write the 1994 ban while serving as Judiciary Committee counsel to Ms. Feinstein. The new bill, with more explicit language on the types of features on banned weapons, “is far more respectful of firearms for recreation uses,” he said.

Bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines were among the proposals unveiled by President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. last week. Mr. Biden took the campaign for tougher gun laws to the Internet on Thursday in an online video chat that was part of an effort by the White House to build public support for its guns package. Mr. Biden, who developed the plans embraced by Mr. Obama, will host a round-table event in Richmond, Va., on Friday, and officials have said that Mr. Obama will travel at some point to promote the package.


Peter Baker contributed reporting.

    Senator Unveils Bill to Limit Semiautomatic Arms, NYT, 24.1.2013,






Man Charged in Shooting

at College in Houston


January 23, 2013
The New York Times


HOUSTON — A man was charged late Tuesday in a shooting at a community college here that left four people hospitalized and touched off fears that the campus had been the site of another mass shooting.

The man, Carlton Berry, 22, was charged with aggravated assault but remained hospitalized for injuries sustained in the shooting.

A dispute between Mr. Berry and another man on Tuesday led to the shooting at Lone Star College’s North Harris campus, the authorities said. At least one of the men may have been a student or a former student at the college. Both were detained by the authorities.

Three people were wounded by gunfire, including the two men in the altercation and a maintenance worker who was shot in the leg. A fourth person, who was not shot, was taken to a hospital with medical problems.

School officials said the campus would reopen on Wednesday morning on a normal schedule.

On Tuesday, Joshua Flores, a senior, was standing outside the cafeteria with friends when they heard gunshots. “We thought it was fireworks, so we didn’t go anywhere,” said Mr. Flores, 21. “And then a bunch of people came running our way, yelling: ‘The guy has a gun! Run! Run!’ ”

The college, which has 19,000 students, was evacuated, and Houston police officers and Harris County sheriff’s deputies spent hours clearing the buildings and deeming them safe.

Officials with the Sheriff’s Office said they received the first call at 12:19 p.m. They said they did not know what the dispute was about. One of the men in the altercation had student identification, but officials had not confirmed that he was enrolled at the college.

An official with the Sheriff’s Office, Maj. Armando Tello, said there appeared to be only one gun involved. Major Tello was the acting sheriff because Sheriff Adrian Garcia was out of town.

The shooting shocked students, faculty members and administrators at the 200-acre campus. The school is in northern Harris County and about 30 minutes from downtown. It is so close to George Bush Intercontinental Airport that college officials said one can often look up and wave at the passengers.

Students said they did not realize that the shots were actually gunfire. Because the shooting occurred outdoors — in a center courtyard near the library and academic buildings, officials said — many heard the sounds. One student sitting at a table on the third floor of the library thought it was a book cart toppling.

“Later we heard people screaming, and we knew it was gunshots,” said the student, Jonathan Moreno, 19, a freshman.

Mr. Moreno hid with other students in a back room on the third floor of the library in the moments after the shooting. “It was a scary thing,” he said. “Some people were panicking. Some lady was about to have like an asthma attack. There were some people crying.”

Other students sat or crouched in classrooms in buildings with the lights turned off. Some fled classrooms and buildings so quickly that they left their belongings behind and planned on returning late Tuesday night to retrieve them.

Richard Carpenter, the chancellor for the Lone Star College System, said the North Harris campus, the system’s first, was celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. “In 40 years, this is the first kind of incident like this we’ve ever had,” Mr. Carpenter said. “The campus will be reopening tomorrow. It has been safe for 40 years. We think it’s still safe.”

One freshman, Whikeitha Thomas, 21, had been in math class for about 15 minutes when he heard loud bangs. “A teacher came in,” Mr. Thomas said. “She said: ‘There’s been a shooting on campus. Lock the doors. Turn off the lights.’ ”

Mr. Thomas and his classmates hid in the classroom. In those tense moments, one of the students, a 23-year-old woman, collapsed. Mr. Thomas and another student gave the woman CPR inside the classroom and called 911. “The lights were off at first until she passed out,” Mr. Thomas said. “When she passed out, they turned the lights back on so I could perform CPR.”

As Mr. Thomas was trying to revive the woman, she told him that she was more frightened than the others. She said she had survived the Virginia Tech shooting. “She said, ‘I went through this already at Virginia Tech, and I just don’t like this feeling.’ ”


Manny Fernandez reported from Houston,

and Emma G. Fitzsimmons from New York.

    Man Charged in Shooting at College in Houston, NYT, 23.1.2013,






Texas Attorney General to New Yorkers:

Come on Down, With Guns


January 20, 2013
The New York Times


AUSTIN, Tex. — Attention New Yorkers: Texas wants you. And your guns.

Last week, the day after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York approved a broad package of gun-control measures that made New York’s tough gun laws even tougher, the Texas attorney general, Greg Abbott, began running Internet advertisements in Manhattan and Albany asking New York gun owners to consider moving to Texas.

The two ads — displayed on news sites and aimed at Web users with Manhattan and Albany ZIP codes — promote the state’s low taxes and gun culture, with one asking, “Is Gov. Cuomo looking to take your guns?” The other reads, “Wanted: Law abiding New York gun owners looking for lower taxes and greater opportunity.”

When clicked on, the ads lead users to a Facebook page where a letter from Mr. Abbott, the state’s chief law enforcement official, promotes Texas’s strong economy and lack of an income tax, allowing transplanted gun owners “to keep more of what you earn and use some of that extra money to buy more ammo.”

The ads are a rare burst of political theater from Mr. Abbott, a former State Supreme Court justice who has built a reputation as a gentlemanly yet fiercely conservative litigator eager to challenge the Obama administration, and who, in a speech last year, described his job this way: “I go to the office. I sue the federal government. And then I go home.”

Mr. Abbott has been laying the groundwork and raising millions of dollars for a possible run for governor in 2014, regardless of whether Gov. Rick Perry, his ally and fellow Republican, decides to seek re-election.

Mr. Abbott’s ads were paid for not by the attorney general’s office but by his political campaign, Texans for Greg Abbott. A campaign spokesman, Eric Bearse, said the ads began running on Wednesday and were “interest targeted” to those in Manhattan and Albany who visited several news sites, including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Mr. Bearse said the ads were created in response to New York’s new gun-control laws as well as the executive actions that President Obama announced the same day to curb gun violence. He declined to say how much they had cost Mr. Abbott, whose campaign account has grown to $18 million.

“It’s a somewhat unconventional method to weigh in on a very serious issue,” Mr. Bearse said. “It makes the point that Texans value freedom, and specifically their freedom to protect themselves. Our state has experienced the largest population growth in the country from places like California and New York because our culture does value freedom.”

The ads illustrate the extent to which the debate over guns and gun violence since the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., has played out differently in Texas than it has in other parts of the country.

In Texas, guns and the right to carry them continue to be closely linked to the state’s self-image. Those licensed to carry a concealed weapon can do so in restaurants, shopping malls and even the Capitol building here in Austin.

Responding to Mr. Obama’s gun proposals, Mr. Perry said in a statement that he was disgusted to see the political left and the news media use the school shooting to advance a pre-existing agenda, and he suggested that prayers rather than laws were in order.

A day after the president unveiled his proposals, a different sort of gun debate unfolded here, after a Republican state senator from Granbury, Brian Birdwell, filed a bill to allow those with a concealed handgun license to carry their firearms on college campuses.

Mr. Abbott posted his ads on his Facebook page, creating an impromptu cross-state forum and occasional shouting match between New Yorkers and Texans on both sides of the issue. A woman from Jarrell, Tex., called the ads “another embarrassing example” of politicians in the state. Another woman in Texas complained of Yankees and their liberal attitudes, adding, “Stay up North we don’t want you in Texas.”

And one Republican New Yorker wrote that she was sick of Mr. Cuomo, ready to move to Texas and would greatly appreciate “any info, regarding employment, schools, and city to live in.”

New Yorkers moving to Texas might find that the two places have more in common than they expect: each is as much a state of mind as it is an actual state. The century had barely gotten started when Mr. Perry declared in his inaugural address in 2011 that historians would look back and call it “the Texas century.” New Yorkers are as New York-centric as Texans are Texas-centric.

And there is at least one place where newly arrived New Yorkers might feel strangely at home: New York, Tex., an unincorporated community amid the green acres of East Texas, about 1,500 miles from Times Square. It is made up of a handful of houses, a cemetery, a church and Reynolds New York Store.

Carolyn Reynolds, who runs the feed and fertilizer store, paused when asked for the population. She started counting under her breath. “Right now, I’d consider it 11,” she replied.

Still, Mr. Abbott said in a statement, because of the state’s low taxes and gun laws, “our New York is better than their New York.”

    Texas Attorney General to New Yorkers: Come on Down, With Guns, NYT, 20.1.2013,






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,






Please Take Away My Right to a Gun


January 18, 2013
The New York Times


A FEW years ago, I awoke at 2:30 a.m. to more than a “rapping, rapping at my chamber door.” It was a full-force pounding of a body trying to break into my little house in Washington, D.C. It was the sound and scenario that, as a single woman living alone, I feared more than spiders in the house.

Because I was writing political speeches at the time, my BlackBerry slept on the pillow beside me. I grabbed it and looked out my bedroom window at the stoop below. There he was: tall, dark clothes, big. He backed up and then raced to the door, pounding his body against it. Then he kicked at it the way actors take boots to the heads of bad guys in the movies.

I dialed 911 and ran downstairs, my 100-pound Newfoundland with me.

I gave the dispatcher my address, let her know that I lived around the corner from a police station and said, “Please hurry.” She heard the loud noise and remained on the line with me.

I put the BlackBerry on speaker and pushed a heavy armchair toward the door. I watched as the wood expanded with each pound. The white paint splintered some. The deadbolt held at the top, but the bottom half of the door popped open, letting in the steam heat from the summer night. I took that chair and slammed it so the side pushed the door back in line with the frame. I held that chair with everything my 5 foot 3 inches had. My dog sat right by me on the rug, ready.

“The police are outside,” the dispatcher said.

I let go of the chair’s arms and thanked the woman for staying on the phone with me. I answered the questions from the police and looked at the drunk man in the back of the patrol car, kicking at the seats. When they left, I pushed the couch, chair, coffee table and even a lamp in front of the locked door. I did that every night for a week until a steel-gated security door was installed.

And then, I did more.

I considered buying a gun. The threat of violence rattles you like that. What rolled round my head after that dark morning was: what if I hadn’t heard the noise, what if it’s different next time? While I held that chair with all of my strength, I wished that I had had a gun because if he had gotten in, then I could have pointed it at him, maybe deterred him and if necessary pulled the trigger.

So I looked at guns. Some had mother-of-pearl handles and looked like something Mae West would use in a movie. Others were Glocks, shotguns and rifles. I had gone as far as to dial the number of the Metropolitan Police Department’s firearms registration division and begin the process. Then I stopped and put my BlackBerry down.

I remembered who I am.

I am one of the millions of people in this country who live with depression. I knew that in the gun registration form there would be a version of this question: Have you ever voluntarily or involuntarily been committed to a hospital? The answer is yes — voluntarily. But because my hospitalization was years earlier and I wasn’t in treatment at the time, I could have gotten a gun.

My depression appeared for the first time in the late ’90s, right before I began writing for politicians. It comes and goes like fog. Medicine can help. I have my tricks to manage and get through it. Sometimes it sticks around for a day or a week, and sometimes it stays away for a couple of years. But it never leads me to sleep all day, cry and wear sweat pants like the people in the commercials. You’d look at me and never know that sometimes my fight against the urge to die is so tough the only way I get through it is second by second; I live by the second hand.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 38,364 Americans lost that fight in 2010 and committed suicide; 19,392 used a gun. No one ever attempted to break down my door in the early morning again, but I had an episode when my depression did come back in full force in the early winter of 2009, after I made a career-ending decision and isolated myself too much; on a January night in 2010; and again in May 2012, after testifying in the federal criminal trial of John Edwards, my former boss. If I had purchased that gun and it had been in my possession, I’m not sure I would have been able to resist and would be here typing these words.

The other day, the president and the vice president announced their plans to curb gun violence in the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Conn. I agree with all of their measures. But I believe they should be bolder and stop walking on eggshells about what to do with people like me and those not even close to being like me but still labeled with the crazy term “mentally ill.” The executive actions the president signed to increase access and treatment are all good, although the experts will struggle with confidentiality and privacy issues.

But since most people like me are more likely to harm ourselves than to turn into mass-murdering monsters, our leaders should do more to keep us safe from ourselves.

Please take away my Second Amendment right. Do more to help us protect ourselves because what’s most likely to wake me in the early hours isn’t a man’s body slamming at my door but depression, that raven, tapping, rapping, banging for relief.

I have a better chance of surviving if I never have the option of being able to pull the trigger.


Wendy Button is a former political speechwriter.

    Please Take Away My Right to a Gun, NYT, 18.1.2013,






Massacre at School Sways Public

in Way Earlier Shootings Didn’t


January 17, 2013
The New York Times


The massacre of children at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., appears to be profoundly swaying Americans’ views on guns, galvanizing the broadest support for stricter gun laws in about a decade, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.

As President Obama tries to persuade a reluctant Congress to pass new gun laws, the poll found that a majority of Americans — 54 percent — think gun control laws should be tightened, up markedly from a CBS News poll last April that found that only 39 percent backed stricter laws.

The rise in support for stricter gun laws stretched across political lines, including an 18-point increase among Republicans. A majority of independents now back stricter gun laws.

Whether the Newtown shooting — in which 20 first graders and 6 adults were killed — will have a long-term effect on public opinion of gun laws is hard to assess just a month after the rampage. But unlike the smaller increases in support for gun control immediately after other mass shootings, including after the 2011 shooting in Tucson that severely wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the latest polling results suggest a deeper, and possibly more resonating, shift.

In terms of specific gun proposals being considered, the poll found even wider support, including among gun owners.

The idea of requiring background checks on all gun purchases, which would eliminate a provision that allows about 40 percent of guns to be sold by unlicensed sellers without checks, was overwhelmingly popular. Nine in 10 Americans would favor such a law, the poll found — including 9 in 10 of the respondents who said that there was a gun in their household, and 85 percent whose households include National Rifle Association members.

A ban on high-capacity magazines, like the 15- and 30-round magazines that have been used in several recent mass shootings, was supported by more than 6 in 10, and by a majority of those who live in households with guns. And just over half of all respondents, 53 percent, said they would support a ban on some semiautomatic weapons.

After the mass shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 and Tucson in 2011, polls found that 47 percent of Americans favored stricter gun laws.

“I’m from a rural area in the South, I grew up in a gun culture, my father hunted,” Leslie Hodges, a 64-year-old graphic artist who lives in Atlanta and has a gun, said in a follow-up interview. “However, I don’t believe being able to have a gun keeps you from thinking reasonably about changes that would keep someone from walking into a school and being able to kill 20 children in 20 seconds. I think that we can say, O.K., we want the freedom to have guns in this country, but there are rules we can all agree to that will make us all safer.”

The poll also gave an indication of the state of play in Washington at the outset of what is expected to be a fierce debate over the nation’s gun laws, as the National Rifle Association and several members of Congress, particularly Republicans in the House, have criticized the gun control measures that Mr. Obama proposed Wednesday and have vowed to block them.

Americans said that they trusted the president over Republicans in Congress to make the right decisions about gun laws by a margin of 47 percent to 39 percent, the poll found.

The National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobby, is viewed favorably by nearly 4 in 10 Americans, the poll found. All told, 38 percent said that they had a favorable opinion of the group, while 29 percent had a negative view and the rest had no opinion. The N.R.A. was viewed positively by 54 percent of those with guns in their homes.

But the group is deeply unpopular with people in households without guns, who were twice as likely to have a negative view of the N.R.A. as a positive one: 41 percent of them expressed a negative view of it, while only 20 percent expressed a positive one.

The survey underscored how common guns in America are: 47 percent of those surveyed said that they or someone in their household owned a gun, and 31 percent had close friends or relatives who did. The top reasons cited for owning guns were protection and hunting.

The national poll was conducted by land lines and cellphones from Jan. 11 to Jan. 15, before the president announced his proposals to curb gun violence. It surveyed 1,110 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Some gun owners, like Sally Brady, a 69-year-old retired teacher who lives in Amissville, Va., explained in follow-up interviews why they would support some restrictions on ammunition or more thorough background checks of all gun buyers.

“I see no reason for high-capacity magazines if you want to go hunting,” said Mrs. Brady, an independent who owns a hunting rifle. “The purpose of hunting is sport, and you don’t need a whole big bunch of bullets to shoot a deer or a squirrel. If you’re that poor of a shot, stay out of the woods.”

Despite the higher support for stricter gun laws, many Americans do not think the changes would be very effective at deterring violence. While most Americans, 53 percent, said stricter gun laws would help prevent gun violence, about a quarter said they would help a lot.

Other steps were seen as being potentially more effective. About three-quarters of those surveyed said that having more police officers or armed security guards would help prevent mass shootings in public places. And more than 8 in 10 said better mental health screening and treatment would help prevent gun violence.

Violence in popular culture is seen by a large majority of Americans, 75 percent, as contributing to gun violence in the United States, including about 4 in 10 who say it contributes a lot.


Marjorie Connelly, Megan Thee-Brenan and Marina Stefan

contributed reporting.

    Massacre at School Sways Public in Way Earlier Shootings Didn’t, NYT, 17.1.2013,






Recalling Pain of Guns’ Toll,

Mayors Urge Bills’ Passage


January 17, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Some mayors spoke about the bad feeling they got with each call that there had been another shooting in their city. Others described the pain of burying police officers who had worked for them. Many recalled their attempts to console grieving families.

So as mayors from around the nation gathered here on Thursday for the 81st winter meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors, many said they were heartened by President Obama’s call for new laws to curb gun violence, which included several measures that the conference had sought for decades. Many said they planned to urge Congress to enact them.

“Far too often it is the mayor who gets the call about a tragic crime committed with an illegal gun that’s resulted in a loss of life,” Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, the president of the conference, said in a speech. “It may be the life of a child. A police officer. A young black man. A young woman. It could be anyone in our cities. But it’s the mayor who visits the family members who have had their hearts torn out, and the mayor who attends funeral after funeral after funeral.”

Mayor Ron Littlefield of Chattanooga, Tenn., recalled a police officer who was shot to death while responding to a robbery at a pawnshop. Mayor Sly James of Kansas City, Mo., lamented what he called the “slow-motion mass murder” that claims the lives of more than 100 young people in his city each year. And Mayor R. T. Rybak of Minneapolis said he had “heard too many eulogies for amazing people whom I will never know.”

The mayors gave a standing ovation to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who praised the work they had done over the years on gun issues and urged them to push for the passage of the president’s proposals.

“There are some who say the most powerful voice in this debate belongs to the gun lobby and those who demand a stop to these common-sense approaches to save lives,” Mr. Biden told the Conference of Mayors. “I think they’re wrong.”

“Newtown has shocked the nation,” the vice president said. “The carnage on our streets is no longer able to be ignored. We’re going to take this fight to the halls of Congress. We’re going to take it beyond that. We’re going to take it to the American people.”

Many mayors said they were eager at the prospect that new gun laws might pass.

Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. of Charleston, S.C., who has been in office for more than three decades, said he hoped that the country would “seize this moment.”

“I know that no police officer wants to be confronted with an assault weapon,” he said. “They would be out-ammoed. And I think that it’s time for our country to deal with this, it’s time for Congress to deal with this.”

But even here, at a meeting of a group that has advocated stricter gun laws for decades, there was not unanimity. Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City, a Republican, said he did not believe that the gun control proposals being discussed would “resolve the problem they’re trying to resolve.”

“There are larger issues out there, and more specific issues, and I really would like to see us get a better handle on mental health,” he said. “I think the way that has trended in the last 10 years, the way that filters out into our jails and types of violence like this needs to be addressed. I wish they’d concentrate on that.”

One thing the mayors who are seeking new gun laws seem to lack is a high-profile sitting Republican mayor who agrees with them — the way, say, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani became an influential voice in the debate in the early 1990s when he expressed his support for an assault weapons ban. (Mr. Giuliani reiterated his support for such a ban in an interview this month on NY1, the New York cable news channel.)

But some Republican mayors from smaller cities support tighter gun laws. Mayor Richard Ward of Hurst, Tex., a Republican, came here to lobby Congress with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an advocacy group led by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston.

Mr. Ward, a gun owner who said he enjoyed “blasting away” at targets, said that after he joined the group, he got more than 100 letters from constituents who belonged to the National Rifle Association urging him to leave it.

“The next election I got 90 percent of the vote,” he said, chuckling. “After that I got 86 percent — they’re gaining on me!”

Mr. Rybak, the Minneapolis mayor, suggested that his counterparts, who buy thousands of guns to arm their police departments, should use their clout with the gun industry.

“We buy a boatload of guns in this country,” he said Wednesday at a news conference called by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “If the gun lobby comes here to Congress and starts throwing their weight around about what’s going to happen with guns, well, the mayors of America are going to stand up: we buy a lot more guns than almost anybody in this country.”

    Recalling Pain of Guns’ Toll, Mayors Urge Bills’ Passage, NYT, 17.1.2013,






The States Confront Gun Violence


January 17, 2013
The New York Times


State lawmakers in Wyoming didn’t need to hear President Obama’s gun-control proposals on Wednesday in order to attack them. A week ago, before the White House had even decided what actions to take, Republicans introduced a bill in the Wyoming Legislature to block any federal limitation on firearms, such as an assault weapons ban. A federal agent seeking to enforce such a ban would be guilty of a felony and face five years in prison.

This ludicrous bill would be laughable if the idea weren’t spreading. A similar bill filed in Tennessee would also make federal gun enforcement a state crime, though it’s more “moderate” than Wyoming’s: federal agents doing their jobs would be charged only with Class A misdemeanors. Inevitably, a bill like Wyoming’s has been filed in Texas. And, in Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant announced that the state would block federal gun measures. A proposed law in the state would claim that Washington has no jurisdiction over weapons made in Mississippi.

There’s no point in telling these fanatics that federal gun restrictions are completely constitutional, even under the Supreme Court’s latest interpretation of the Second Amendment, or that federal law pre-empts state law. They already know these bills will be unenforceable. They are merely legislative fist-shaking, letting pro-gun voters know that lawmakers share their antipathy to the Obama administration, and signaling to the National Rifle Association and other gun-manufacturing lobbies that they are worthy recipients of rich political contributions.

Already, states like these have done enormous damage to public safety by acceding to the N.R.A.’s demands for laws that are anything but symbolic. The gun lobby hasn’t been content with the ability of Americans to lawfully possess hundreds of millions of handguns and assault rifles. It wants gun owners to be able to carry these weapons anywhere they want, even among children, concealed or displayed, and preferably without the annoyance of permits, background checks, or safety precautions.

After the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, the N.R.A. defied logic and pushed a bill to allow guns on college campuses. Thanks to help from the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative organization of state lawmakers to which the N.R.A. contributes heavily, five states now allow campus guns. Only nine states prohibit guns at sporting events, and just 26 prohibit them where alcohol is served.

Wisconsin actually allows guns in the public gallery that looks down on the state assembly, and the N.R.A. pressured lawmakers last week to keep it that way. The N.R.A. and the American Legislative Exchange Council were behind the “stand your ground” laws that allow people to shoot others if they believe they are in danger, which has led to hundreds of deaths while allowing killers to walk free.

State gun laws matter. Of the 10 states with the most restrictive laws, seven also have the lowest gun death rates, according to a study by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Similarly, lax gun laws correlate to a high level of gun deaths.

That’s why it’s good to see several states step up to their responsibilities to prevent violence instead of following the southern and western states that appear to be encouraging it. New York was out front this week in passing a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, among other measures. A similar ban is moving ahead in Illinois. New Jersey and Connecticut are moving more slowly, appointing task forces to make recommendations, but are at least heading in the right direction.

California is considering legislation that would limit sales of ammunition, requiring background checks and permits for bullet buyers. Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, the site of so much carnage, has reversed his opposition to new restrictions, proposing universal background checks as well as an overhaul of the state mental health system to identify those who should be kept away from weapons.

Still, too many states continue to put their citizens at risk as they pledge ever-greater fealty to the gun manufacturers. It’s time the states became laboratories for safety rather than violence.

This is part of a continuing series

on the epidemic of gun violence and possible solutions.

Other editorials are at nytimes.com/gunchallenge.

    The States Confront Gun Violence, NYT, 17.1.2013,






What Should Be Done About Guns?


January 17, 2013
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Re “Obama to ‘Put Everything I’ve Got’ Into Gun Control” (front page, Jan. 17): It has become fashionable of late to lament the unbridgeable divide over guns in our country. President Obama’s critics charge that his recent action on gun control puts him at odds with all gun owners and enthusiasts.

As a hunter, gun owner and gun control advocate, I believe that the reality is different. In fact, Americans are far from poles apart on the issue of gun control. We recognize that all things entail some measure of risk as well as benefit, and we legislate regulations accordingly. Guns divide us because they fall in the gray area; we disagree as to whether their utility outweighs their risk.

This is largely because we lack the data to inform our opinions. For decades, the gun lobby has done its best to suppress all research on firearms and their dangers. And as President Obama said on Wednesday, “We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.” His promise to back research into this area is encouraging.

Only when we understand the cold, hard facts behind gun violence will we be able to properly balance Second Amendment rights with the fundamental human right to peace of mind and safety.

Fleetwood, Pa., Jan. 17, 2013

To the Editor:

“Gun Reform for a Generation” (editorial, Jan. 17) holds out hope for an attempt at sanity in the effort to control gun violence.

I would happily register as a non-gun-owning citizen who is qualified to use a weapon accurately and safely. This would be no intrusion on my civil liberties. It would simply note that I have been trained in the safe use of firearms (in my military days). If there were a reasonably accurate and functioning national database, it might catch some mentally ill people who applied for or had already registered for their guns.

No one is trying to take guns away from those who feel they are needed. But government has every right to know who has what guns and to what use the guns and ammunition may be put.

As a veteran, I trust our military and our civilian police to intelligently and openly protect me from “all enemies, foreign and domestic.” They have guns, have gone through security checks and know how to use them safely. It’s past time for “gun reform for a generation.”

New York, Jan. 17, 2013

To the Editor:

Re “I Went After Guns. Obama Can, Too” (Op-Ed, Jan. 17):

While I’m not usually inclined to agree with John Howard, the former Australian prime minister, he was right to introduce broad and sweeping gun laws in Australia in 1996. But his article did not address a stark difference between the thinking of Americans and Australians.

Australians, myself included, simply cannot comprehend this embedded and unwavering belief in the United States Constitution and the refusal to update the Second Amendment. As far as I’m aware, there is no desperate need for any “regulated militia” to exist within the United States in 2013.

The talk of guns is something that isn’t discussed too regularly in Australian society, and we don’t believe that the government is trying to curb our freedom. I hope that history looks back in generations to come and sees the Newtown, Conn., massacre and President Obama as the catalysts that brought about a safer America.

Sydney, Australia, Jan. 17, 2013

To the Editor:

Re “Warning Signs of Violent Acts Often Unclear” (front page, Jan. 16):

While Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York Legislature are truly to be congratulated on their swift passage of strong gun control legislation, their efforts to involve mental health professionals as an early warning system may be overly optimistic.

As your article notes, psychological prediction tools are uncertain, and the new law is shortsighted as to how such efforts could backfire and make disturbed people less likely to reveal their intentions. After all, the cornerstone of psychotherapy is confidentiality.

Without that, very few patients would reveal anything that would risk a report to the authorities. Much more input from mental health professionals experienced with severely disturbed and potentially violent patients should be sought in shaping legislation.

Manhasset, N.Y., Jan. 16, 2013

The writer is a former chief psychologist at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center and Kingsboro Psychiatric Center.

To the Editor:

Given the problems with requiring mental health professionals to report certain patients to law enforcement, I propose an alternative. Many commercial companies and government agencies screen job applicants for sensitive positions using the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory test.

Gun permit applicants should be required to take this test and achieve passing scores on the schizophrenia and psychopathic deviation scales.

The proven ability of this test to identify fake responses would eliminate a flaw in the background check process — falsifying or fudging background information.

East Hampton, N.Y., Jan. 16, 2013

To the Editor:

Re “White House Denounces Web Video by N.R.A.” (news article, Jan. 17):

The Republican Party desperately needs someone to stand up to the National Rifle Association and say “enough!” When the children of the president of the United States are used in a political ad of any kind, a boundary of decency and respect has been crossed.

To mention his daughters and their school to promote gun freedom reflects an organization that is no longer just tone deaf to the vast majority of Americans, but overtly defiant. Until someone in the G.O.P. denounces the organization, the exodus from the party will continue, and with good reason.

Longmeadow, Mass., Jan. 17, 2013

    What Should Be Done About Guns?, NYT, 17.1.2013,






Mother of 7-Year-Old With Gun Is Arrested


January 17, 2013
The New York Times


The mother of a 7-year-old student who took a handgun to his public elementary school in Queens, was arrested on Friday, the police said.

The woman, Deborah Farley, 53, was charged with criminal possession of a weapon and endangering the welfare of a child along with several other weapons-related charges.

The police declined to provide further details.

It remained unclear how or why the weapon, a .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol, was in the second-grade boy’s backpack, but its discovery set off a tense few hours as the school was placed on lockdown while the police made sure there was no danger.

The police said that a magazine, separated from the pistol but loaded with 10 bullets, and a plastic bag with 7 to 10 additional rounds of ammunition were also found in the boy’s bag. Officials had yet to determine whether there was a bullet in the gun’s chamber, Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said on Thursday, but the weapon was not fired.

“The question of whether the child saw” the gun and ammunition “and put it in his backpack, or an older brother hid it there, is still under investigation,” Mr. Browne said.

The boy arrived at Wave Preparatory Elementary School in Far Rockaway about 7:30 a.m. About two hours later, the boy’s mother learned that he had the gun and she raced to the school. She told administrators that she needed to take him out of school for a dentist appointment, Mr. Browne said.

“Initially, it would appear that her intention was just to get the gun back and get it out of the school,” Mr. Browne said.

But after the mother asked her son if he had a gun in his bag, he told her that he had given the weapon to a classmate, prompting her to alert the principal. The school was placed on lockdown just after 10 a.m., Mr. Browne said.

Two school safety officers assigned to Wave Preparatory went to a second-floor classroom and found the other student. Upon searching his bag, the officers found a flare gun, but not the .22-caliber pistol, which they discovered moments later in the first child’s backpack, along with the ammunition and loaded gun clip, Mr. Browne said. The police believe that the flare gun, which was unloaded, may also have come from the first boy’s home.

Investigators were trying to determine exactly how the pistol ended up in the boy’s backpack and how his mother learned it was there.

The boy has two older half brothers, ages 21 and 27, Mr. Browne said.

On Thursday night, two police officers stood at the top of the stairs inside an apartment building, listed as the mother’s address, above a barbershop on Cornaga Avenue.

Earlier in the day, students at Wave Preparatory described a nervous few hours that began when the principal went on the intercom to say that the school was being locked down and that they were to remain in their classrooms.

“I thought we were going to get killed,” said Javier Ferrufino, an 11-year-old in fifth grade. “We went to the back of the classroom. I hid with my friend behind some computers.”

Officials at the school declined to comment.

The city’s Education Department released a statement confirming that a gun had been found and that the school had been locked down.

When parents arrived in the afternoon to pick up their children, more than a dozen police officers were at the school.

A notice given to parents said: “Due to an incident today there was need to secure all students in their classrooms. This procedure is called a lockdown. Our school-based support team is prepared to assist you with any emotional needs as a result of today’s lockdown.”

Giovanni Dennis, an 8-year-old third grader, said he hid under his teacher’s desk after the principal announced the lockdown. His mother, Cecelia Dennis, said she was upset that she did not know about the lockdown until she arrived to get Giovanni. “I think they did a good job of locking down the school,” she said. “But they could have notified the parents earlier.”

Lawrence Clark, 49, went to pick up his stepdaughter Shakyla Howard, 8, at 4:15. “I live 30 seconds from the school, and I just found out about this five minutes ago from my brother-in-law’s Facebook page. And he lives in Utica,” Mr. Clark said. “This school sends out texts and e-mails about all this stupid stuff, like parent-teacher conferences. But I didn’t find out about this until just now?”

Shakyla said: “They made us turn off the lights and hide behind the teacher’s desk. I almost cried. I was afraid we were going to get shot.”


Marc Santora and Jack Styczynski contributed reporting.

    Mother of 7-Year-Old With Gun Is Arrested, NYT, 17.1.2013,






7-Year-Old Takes Gun to Queens School


January 17, 2013
The New York Times


A handgun was found in the backpack of a 7-year-old student at a public elementary school in Queens on Thursday morning, New York City officials said, leading to a tense few hours as the school was placed on lockdown while the police made sure there was no danger.

It remained unclear how the gun, a .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol, ended up in the boy’s backpack. The police said that a magazine, separated from the pistol but loaded with 10 bullets, and a plastic bag with 7 to 10 additional rounds of ammunition were also found in the boy’s bag. Officials had yet to determine whether there was a bullet in the gun’s chamber, Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said on Thursday, but the weapon was not fired.

“The question of whether the child saw” the gun and ammunition “and put it in his backpack, or an older brother hid it there, is still under investigation,” Mr. Browne said.

The boy, a second grader, arrived at Wave Preparatory Elementary School in Far Rockaway about 7:30 a.m. About two hours later, the boy’s mother learned that he had the gun and she raced to the school. She told administrators that she needed to take him out of school for a dentist appointment, Mr. Browne said.

“Initially, it would appear that her intention was just to get the gun back and get it out of the school,” Mr. Browne said.

But after the mother asked her son if he had a gun in his bag, he told her that he had given the weapon to a classmate, prompting her to alert the principal. The school was placed on lockdown just after 10 a.m., Mr. Browne said.

Two school safety officers assigned to Wave Preparatory went to a second-floor classroom and found the other student. Upon searching his bag, the officers found a flare gun, but not the .22-caliber pistol, which they discovered moments later in the first child’s backpack, along with the ammunition and loaded gun clip, Mr. Browne said. The police believe that the flare gun, which was unloaded, may also have come from the first boy’s home.

Investigators were trying to determine exactly how the pistol ended up in the boy’s backpack and how his mother learned it was there. Mr. Browne said that whether the boy’s mother would face charges was “still under review.”

The boy has two older half brothers, ages 21 and 27, Mr. Browne said.

On Thursday night, two police officers stood at the top of the stairs inside an apartment building, listed as the mother’s address, above a barbershop on Cornaga Avenue.

Earlier in the day, students at Wave Preparatory described a nervous few hours that began when the principal went on the intercom to say that the school was being locked down and that they were to remain in their classrooms.

“I thought we were going to get killed,” said Javier Ferrufino, an 11-year-old in fifth grade. “We went to the back of the classroom. I hid with my friend behind some computers.”

Officials at the school declined to comment.

The city’s Education Department released a statement confirming that a gun had been found and that the school had been locked down.

When parents arrived in the afternoon to pick up their children, more than a dozen police officers were at the school.

A notice given to parents said: “Due to an incident today there was need to secure all students in their classrooms. This procedure is called a lockdown. Our school-based support team is prepared to assist you with any emotional needs as a result of today’s lockdown.”

Giovanni Dennis, an 8-year-old third grader, said he hid under his teacher’s desk after the principal announced the lockdown. His mother, Cecelia Dennis, said she was upset that she did not know about the lockdown until she arrived to get Giovanni. “I think they did a good job of locking down the school,” she said. “But they could have notified the parents earlier.”

Lawrence Clark, 49, went to pick up his stepdaughter Shakyla Howard, 8, at 4:15. “I live 30 seconds from the school, and I just found out about this five minutes ago from my brother-in-law’s Facebook page. And he lives in Utica,” Mr. Clark said. “This school sends out texts and e-mails about all this stupid stuff, like parent-teacher conferences. But I didn’t find out about this until just now?”

Shakyla said: “They made us turn off the lights and hide behind the teacher’s desk. I almost cried. I was afraid we were going to get shot.”


Marc Santora and Jack Styczynski contributed reporting.

    7-Year-Old Takes Gun to Queens School, NYT, 17.1.2013,






Lessons From Guns and a Goose


January 16, 2013
The New York Times


When I travel abroad and talk to foreigners about the American passion for guns, people sometimes express a conclusion that horrifies me: in America, life is cheap.

President Obama announced a terrific series of gun-control measures to show that we do indeed hold life dear. But the fate of these proposals ultimately will depend on centrist Americans who are torn. They’re troubled by the toll of guns but also think that it’s reassuring to have a Glock when you hear a floorboard creak downstairs.

So, to those of you wavering, let me tell you the story of a goose.

I grew up on a farm in Yamhill, Ore., a rural town where nearly every home had guns. My dad gave me a .22 rifle for my 12th birthday, and I then took an N.R.A. safety course.

I understand the heartland’s affection for guns, and I share that sense of familiarity. A farm needs a gun or two to deal with coyotes with a fondness for lamb, and, frankly, it’s also fun to shoot.

But all those guns didn’t make us safer. Take the time we gave a goose to a neighbor.

That goose would wander off to a different neighbor’s property and jump into the watering trough for his sheep. The sheep owner was furious that the water would be fouled, and one time he was so fed up he threatened to shoot the goose.

He was probably just making a point, but, since he had a gun handy, he pulled it out and aimed it in the direction of the goose. Seeing this, the goose-owner (who had come to fetch his bird) saw the need to protect his property and pulled out his own gun. They faced off — over a goose!

Our neighbors were both good, admirable, law-abiding people, but their guns had led to a dangerous confrontation. The N.R.A. might say that guns don’t kill people, geese kill people, but in the absence of firearms they wouldn’t have menaced each other with axes or hammers.

The sheep-owner’s wife eventually persuaded the men to stand down. Good sense prevailed, the goose survived, and so did the neighbors.

But I think of that episode because it underscores the role that guns too often play in our society: an instrument not of protection but of escalation.

Lovers throw plates at each other and then one indignantly reaches for a gun — maybe just to scare the other. And then, too often, something goes wrong.

One study, reported in Southern Medical Journal in 2010, found that a gun is 12 times more likely to result in the death of a household member or guest than in the death of an intruder. Another study in 1993 found that gun ownership creates nearly a threefold risk of a homicide in the owner’s household.

Far too many Americans are like Nancy Lanza, who may have thought that her guns would make her safer, and then was killed with them. Something similar happened in Yamhill, where a troubled teenager took a gun that his grandmother owned and shot her dead. The N.R.A. is right that most guns are used safely, but it’s also true that guns are more likely to cause tragedies than to avert them.

President Obama said that there have been 900 violent gun deaths since Sandy Hook, but that was a rare error. He perhaps was speaking of gun homicides only, but he should also include gun suicides — which are even more common and certainly qualify as violent firearms deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculates that each year there are more than 11,000 gun homicides and nearly 19,000 gun suicides. That’s 30,000 firearms deaths a year in the United States. At that rate, there have already been some 2,500 violent gun deaths since Sandy Hook.

David Hemenway, a public health specialist at Harvard, says that having a gun at home increases the risk of suicide in that household by two to four times.

To reduce auto deaths, we’ve taken a public health approach that you might call “car control” — driver’s licenses, air bags, seat belts, auto registration. The result is a steady decline in vehicle fatalities so that some time soon gun deaths are likely to exceed traffic fatalities, for the first time in modern American history.

There are no magic solutions to the gun carnage in America. But in the same spirit as what we’ve accomplished to make driving safer, President Obama has crafted careful, modest measures that won’t solve America’s epidemic of gun violence but should reduce it.

If we could reduce gun deaths by one-quarter, that would be 7,500 lives saved a year. Unless life in America really is cheap, that’s worth it.

    Lessons From Guns and a Goose, NYT, 16.1.2013,






Gun Reform for a Generation


January 16, 2013
The New York Times


We usually cringe when politicians drag ordinary people onstage for their events. But the four children who appeared with their parents and President Obama in the White House on Wednesday at his announcement on gun control proposals drove home the nature of the crisis facing the country. While guns and gun control have been a subject of debate among politicians and lawyers and lobbyists and pollsters and political groups in the center and on the fringes, our children have been living in a free-fire zone for sociopaths with virtually unfettered access to instruments of mass murder.

It is past time that elected leaders did something about it without worrying, as Mr. Obama said on Wednesday, about getting “an A grade from the gun lobby.” It has been a bipartisan betrayal of the public’s safety, the fault of Democrats and Republicans, and of a string of presidents who have said mournful things after the mass murders at Columbine and Virginia Tech and Aurora and Newtown but did not act.

Wednesday was the exception. One month after the Newtown, Conn., murders, Mr. Obama presented a comprehensive set of initiatives that was, for a change, structured around what needs to be done and not what political tacticians think the president could get a dysfunctional Congress to pass. Mr. Obama can be frustrating at moments like this, and his delivery today was as professorial as ever. But he stepped up to the broader issue before the nation in remembering the tragedy at Newtown.

“While there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil,” he said, “if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.”

Mr. Obama said he believes the Second Amendment bestows an individual right to own guns. We have disagreed with that position, but it is now the law as judged by the Supreme Court, and as Mr. Obama said so passionately, it should be no impediment to gun regulation.

“Along with our freedom to live our lives as we will comes an obligation to allow others to do the same,” Mr. Obama said, noting that 900 people have died in gun violence since Newtown, a vast majority of them on the streets of “big cities and small towns.”

We have “the right to worship freely and safely; that right was denied to Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wis.,” Mr. Obama said. “The right to assemble peaceably; that right was denied shoppers in Clackamas, Ore., and moviegoers in Aurora, Colo. That most fundamental set of rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, fundamental rights that were denied to college students at Virginia Tech and high school students at Columbine and elementary school students in Newtown; and kids on street corners in Chicago on too frequent a basis to tolerate.”

Mr. Obama’s announcement was preceded by a blast of propaganda from the far right that his proposals would be confiscatory and tyrannical. Anyone who was paying attention to the news in the last couple of weeks knew that this was nonsense, and the proposals announced on Wednesday were not remotely similar to what the gun lobby wanted Americans to believe they would be. They will not limit any law-abiding American’s right to own guns for hunting, or sport, or collection, or self-protection.

The package is a mix of executive orders intended to tighten and heighten enforcement of existing gun laws and sweep away ideologically motivated restrictions on government action against gun violence, and new laws that will have to be passed by Congress.

Mr. Obama’s bills would require universal criminal background checks for all gun sales, doing away with the loopholes for gun shows, private sales and Internet sales that have exempted 40 percent of all gun sales from those checks. He called on Congress to reinstate and toughen the ban on assault weapons that was allowed to expire in 2004. He wants to restore a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines and to ban armor-piercing bullets that are used by criminals to kill police officers. The president asked Congress to pass a $4 billion measure intended to retain 15,000 police officers who are being laid off as states and localities react to the recent recession and to budget cuts from Washington.

Mr. Obama also issued executive orders to make the background checks system more comprehensive and strengthen enforcement of existing gun laws. He is ending a freeze on research into gun violence at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was imposed by lawmakers at the behest of a gun lobby that is terrified by the prospect that gun violence could be viewed, as it should be, as a public health issue. He also signed an order making it clear that doctors and other health care providers are not prohibited by any federal law from reporting their patients’ threats of violence and that the health care reform law “does not prevent doctors from talking to patients about gun safety.”

Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. acknowledged that getting any of the president’s proposals through Congress was going to be a herculean task. Mr. Biden said, “I also have never seen the nation’s conscience so shaken by what happened” in Newtown. We have hoped, too, that the murders last month would finally inspire action, especially if Americans pressured their representatives in Congress to do something about this crisis.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden will have to make good on Mr. Obama’s promise to do everything they can to fight for these proposals in Congress — and that will mean twisting arms and making threats to members of his own party as well as to Republicans.

The gun lobby is focused within the Republican Party, but Democratic lawmakers have also been to blame for failing to pass meaningful gun regulations. Already, some Democrats who should be strongest on gun controls are showing familiar signs of weakness.

Senator Pat Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, will be needed as a leader in this effort but has been mumbling about the need to hold extensive hearings. And Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, was making ominous, cowardly remarks over the weekend about tailoring whatever the Senate does to what he thinks could get through a House dominated by the far-right fringe of the Republican Party. He has started to wriggle away from the idea of an assault weapons ban, for example.

This is not a time for lawmakers to do the politically safe thing or the N.R.A.-approved thing, even if they know it is less than needed. It is time to reach for big ideas and strong laws on gun violence.

This is part of a continuing series on the epidemic of gun violence and possible solutions. Other editorials are at nytimes.com/gunchallenge.

    Gun Reform for a Generation, NYT, 16.1.2013,






White House Denounces

Web Video by N.R.A.


January 16, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The National Rifle Association provoked a furious response from the White House on Wednesday by releasing a video accusing President Obama of being an “elitist” and a “hypocrite” because he opposes posting armed guards at schools, while his daughters have Secret Service protection.

The video also prompted commentary on social media about whether the gun rights organization might have been too strident, even for its own members.

The White House lashed out at the N.R.A. even as Mr. Obama stood with young children to unveil broad proposals to create tougher gun laws and use the power of the presidency to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

“Most Americans agree that a president’s children should not be used as pawns in a political fight,” said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary. “But to go so far as to make the safety of the president’s children the subject of an attack ad is repugnant and cowardly.”

The N.R.A. video refers to Mr. Obama’s strong reservations about the group’s idea to prevent school massacres by posting armed guards at all of the nation’s schools.

“I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools,” Mr. Obama said during a recent interview on the NBC News program “Meet the Press.” “And I think the vast majority of the American people are skeptical that that somehow is going to solve our problem.”

The video, posted at a Web site called N.R.A. Stand and Fight, starts by asking, “Are the president’s kids more important than yours?” The video does not show Mr. Obama’s daughters, Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11, but it suggests that Mr. Obama holds their safety to a different standard than he is willing to offer for other children.

The N.R.A. does not appear to have spent much money paying for the video to run as an advertisement on television. But it still generated ire among Democrats and gun control advocates who said it improperly dragged the president’s daughters into the national debate over guns.

Kim Anderson, a top official with the National Education Association, a teachers’ union, said the video “demonstrates a level of insensitivity and disrespect that N.E.A. members wouldn’t tolerate in any classroom in America.”

The video prompted quick declarations of outrage among liberal talk show hosts and on Twitter, with many people saying that the N.R.A. had gone too far by referring to the president’s children.

But the video also generated expressions of support, with some conservatives criticizing the president for standing with children at his event. On Twitter, N.R.A. backers used the hashtag #standandfight to express support.

“Patriots, we must back the #NRA in their efforts to preserve our liberties,” one person wrote on Twitter.

The N.R.A. has been the subject of intense criticism in some quarters since the shooting in Newtown, Conn., last month. Shortly after the massacre, Wayne LaPierre, the chief executive and vice president of the N.R.A., held a news conference in which he called for more security in schools and an end to the “gun-free zones” that are common around school buildings.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Mr. LaPierre said at the time.

But the organization has said that its rejection of any new restrictions on guns has led to a surge in new members, suggesting that its influence on Capitol Hill is not about to wane.

In a second video posted to its Stand and Fight Web site on Wednesday afternoon, the organization replays parts of Mr. LaPierre’s news conference and suggests that the “elite” news media and the president are out of touch with everyday Americans.

“America agrees with Wayne and the N.R.A.,” the four-and-a-half-minute video says.

    White House Denounces Web Video by N.R.A., NYT, 16.1.2013,






Obama to ‘Put Everything I’ve Got’

Into Gun Control


January 16, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Four days before taking the oath of office, President Obama on Wednesday staked the beginning of his second term on an uphill quest to pass the broadest gun control legislation in a generation.

In the aftermath of the Connecticut school massacre, Mr. Obama vowed to rally public opinion to press a reluctant Congress to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, expand background checks, and toughen gun-trafficking laws. Recognizing that the legislative fight could be long and difficult, the president also took immediate steps by issuing a series of executive actions intended to reduce gun violence.

Surrounded by children who wrote him letters seeking curbs on guns, Mr. Obama committed himself to a high-profile and politically volatile campaign behind proposals assembled by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. that will test the administration’s strength heading into the next four years. The first big push of Mr. Obama’s second term, then, will come on an issue that was not even on his to-do list on Election Day when voters renewed his lease on the presidency.

“I will put everything I’ve got into this,” Mr. Obama said, “and so will Joe.”

The emotionally charged ceremony, attended by family members of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., reflected a decision by the White House to seize on public outrage to challenge the political power of the National Rifle Association and other forces that have successfully fought new gun laws for decades.

The White House is planning a multifaceted effort to sell its plans, including speeches around the country by the president and vice president and concerted lobbying by interest groups to influence several dozen lawmakers from both parties seen as critical to passage. The White House created a Web page with video testimonials from victims of gun violence and a sign-up for supporters to help advocate the president’s plan.

“I tell you, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it,” Mr. Obama said. “And, by the way, that doesn’t just mean from certain parts of the country. We’re going to need voices in those areas, in those Congressional districts where the tradition of gun ownership is strong, to speak up and to say this is important. It can’t just be the usual suspects.”

The N.R.A. made clear that it was ready for a fight. Even before the president’s speech, it broadcast a provocative video calling Mr. Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for opposing more armed guards in schools while his daughters had Secret Service protection. After the speech the group said it would work to secure schools, fix the mental health system and prosecute criminals but criticized the president’s other proposals. “Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation,” the N.R.A. said in a statement. “Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected, and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.”

Mr. Obama’s plan included 4 major legislative proposals and 23 executive actions that he initiated on his own authority to bolster enforcement of existing laws, improve the nation’s database used for background checks and otherwise make it harder for criminals and people with mental illness to get guns.

Mr. Obama asked Congress to reinstate and strengthen a ban on the sale and production of assault weapons that passed in 1994 and expired in 2004. He also called for a ban on the sale and production of magazines with more than 10 rounds, like those used in Newtown and other mass shootings. Mr. Obama’s plan would require criminal background checks for all gun sales, closing the longstanding loophole that allows buyers to avoid screening by purchasing weapons from unlicensed sellers at gun shows or in private sales. Nearly 40 percent of all gun sales are exempt from the system.

He also proposed legislation banning the possession or transfer of armor-piercing bullets and cracking down on “straw purchasers,” those who pass background checks and then forward guns to criminals or others forbidden from purchasing them.

For Mr. Obama, the plan represented a political pivot. While he has always expressed support for an assault weapons ban, he has made no real effort to pass it on the assumption that the votes were not there. But he and the White House are banking on the idea that the Newtown shooting has changed the dynamics. “I have never seen the nation’s conscience so shaken by what happened at Sandy Hook,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday. “The world has changed and is demanding action.”

The future of the plan may depend on how much political energy Mr. Obama puts behind it, not just to pressure Republicans but to win over Democrats who support gun rights. Even the White House considers passage of a new assault weapons ban exceedingly difficult, but there did seem to be some consensus building for expanding background checks.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat and a longtime gun control supporter, made no mention of the assault weapons ban in a statement but pointed to the background checks. “If you look at the combination of likelihood of passage and effectiveness of curbing gun crime,” he said, “universal background checks is at the sweet spot.”

On the other side, Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, dismissed an assault weapons ban as ineffective. “But in terms of background checks, in terms of keeping weapons out of the hands of criminals and people who have serious mental health difficulties, we want to do that, and we would take a close look at that,” he told C-Span.

Gun control groups said they would campaign hard for the president’s proposals. Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said his group would focus on as many as 25 Congressional districts, including those of Democrats and Republicans. “We will be doing what we can do to make sure that sitting on their hands is the least safe place to be,” he said.

Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, a gun rights supporter, said he re-evaluated his position after Newtown. “I was shaken by it, and that caused me to think in a much more probing way about the policy,” he said in an interview. “If it has anywhere near the impact on others that it did on me, then I think the ground shifted a lot.”

But Mr. Obama’s plans still generated strong opposition. “Nothing the president is proposing would have stopped the massacre at Sandy Hook,” said Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida. “President Obama is targeting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens instead of seriously addressing the real underlying causes of such violence.”

Other Republicans echoed those sentiments. “The Second Amendment is nonnegotiable,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas.

Representative Dan Benishek of Michigan said in a Twitter message: “Let me be clear, I will fight any efforts to take our guns. Not on my watch.”

Also Wednesday, Mr. Obama nominated B. Todd Jones, the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to lead an agency that has not had a Senate-confirmed director since 2006.

The 23 executive actions Mr. Obama signed on Wednesday were largely modest initiatives to toughen enforcement of existing laws and to encourage federal agencies and state governments to share more information. Mr. Obama lifted a ban on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting research on gun violence and directed that a letter be sent to health care providers saying doctors may ask patients about guns in their homes.

Several Republicans accused Mr. Obama of flouting Congress. “Using executive action to attempt to poke holes in the Second Amendment is a power grab,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa.


Reporting was contributed by Charlie Savage,

Jennifer Steinhauer and Jonathan Weisman.



This article has been revise

to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 16, 2013

An earlier version of this article suggested

that several recent mass shootings

involved 30-round magazines.

While they all involved high-capacity clips,

not all of them used clips that held 30 rounds.

    Obama to ‘Put Everything I’ve Got’ Into Gun Control, NYT, 16.1.2013,






I Went After Guns. Obama Can, Too.


January 16, 2013
The New York Times


SYDNEY, Australia

IT is for Americans and their elected representatives to determine the right response to President Obama’s proposals on gun control. I wouldn’t presume to lecture Americans on the subject. I can, however, describe what I, as prime minister of Australia, did to curb gun violence following a horrific massacre 17 years ago in the hope that it will contribute constructively to the debate in the United States.

I was elected prime minister in early 1996, leading a center-right coalition. Virtually every nonurban electoral district in the country — where gun ownership was higher than elsewhere — sent a member of my coalition to Parliament.

Six weeks later, on April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant, a psychologically disturbed man, used a semiautomatic Armalite rifle and a semiautomatic SKS assault weapon to kill 35 people in a murderous rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania.

After this wanton slaughter, I knew that I had to use the authority of my office to curb the possession and use of the type of weapons that killed 35 innocent people. I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.

Our challenges were different from America’s. Australia is an even more intensely urban society, with close to 60 percent of our people living in large cities. Our gun lobby isn’t as powerful or well-financed as the National Rifle Association in the United States. Australia, correctly in my view, does not have a Bill of Rights, so our legislatures have more say than America’s over many issues of individual rights, and our courts have less control. Also, we have no constitutional right to bear arms. (After all, the British granted us nationhood peacefully; the United States had to fight for it.)

Because Australia is a federation of states, the national government has no control over gun ownership, sale or use, beyond controlling imports. Given our decentralized system of government, I could reduce the number of dangerous firearms only by persuading the states to enact uniform laws totally prohibiting the ownership, possession and sale of all automatic and semiautomatic weapons while the national government banned the importation of such weapons.

To make this plan work, there had to be a federally financed gun buyback scheme. Ultimately, the cost of the buyback was met by a special one-off tax imposed on all Australians. This required new legislation and was widely accepted across the political spectrum. Almost 700,000 guns were bought back and destroyed — the equivalent of 40 million guns in the United States.

City dwellers supported our plan, but there was strong resistance by some in rural Australia. Many farmers resented being told to surrender weapons they had used safely all of their lives. Penalizing decent, law-abiding citizens because of the criminal behavior of others seemed unfair. Many of them had been lifelong supporters of my coalition and felt bewildered and betrayed by these new laws. I understood their misgivings. Yet I felt there was no alternative.

The fundamental problem was the ready availability of high-powered weapons, which enabled people to convert their murderous impulses into mass killing. Certainly, shortcomings in treating mental illness and the harmful influence of violent video games and movies may have played a role. But nothing trumps easy access to a gun. It is easier to kill 10 people with a gun than with a knife.

Passing gun-control laws was a major challenge for my coalition partner: the rural, conservative National Party. All of its members held seats in nonurban areas. It was also very hard for the state government of Queensland, in Australia’s northeast, where the National Party was dominant, and where the majority of the population was rural.

The leaders of the National Party, as well as the premier of Queensland, courageously supported my government’s decision, despite the electoral pain it caused them. Within a year, a new populist and conservative political party, the One Nation Party, emerged and took many votes from our coalition in subsequent state and federal elections; one of its key policies was the reversal of the gun laws.

For a time, it seemed that certain states might refuse to enact the ban. But I made clear that my government was willing to hold a nationwide referendum to alter the Australian Constitution and give the federal government constitutional power over guns. Such a referendum would have been expensive and divisive, but it would have passed. And all state governments knew this.

In the end, we won the battle to change gun laws because there was majority support across Australia for banning certain weapons. And today, there is a wide consensus that our 1996 reforms not only reduced the gun-related homicide rate, but also the suicide rate. The Australian Institute of Criminology found that gun-related murders and suicides fell sharply after 1996. The American Journal of Law and Economics found that our gun buyback scheme cut firearm suicides by 74 percent. In the 18 years before the 1996 reforms, Australia suffered 13 gun massacres — each with more than four victims — causing a total of 102 deaths. There has not been a single massacre in that category since 1996.

Few Australians would deny that their country is safer today as a consequence of gun control.


John Howard was prime minister of Australia

from 1996 to 2007.

    I Went After Guns. Obama Can, Too., NYT, 16.1.2013,






Even Defining ‘Assault Rifles’

Is Complicated


January 16, 2013
The New York Times


One obstacle President Obama may face in proposing a new federal ban on assault weapons could lie in the use of the term “assault weapon” itself.

The label, applied to a group of firearms sold on the civilian market, has become so politicized in recent decades that where people stand on the gun issue can often be deduced by whether they use the term.

On Internet forums there is perhaps no more fiercely discussed topic than the question of what constitutes an assault weapon. And some argue that it would be impossible to come up with a definition comprehensive enough to effectively remove the weapons from the market.

Advocates of an assault weapons ban argue that the designation should apply to firearms like those used in the Newtown, Conn., shootings and other recent mass killings — semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines and “military” features like pistol grips, flash suppressors and collapsible or folding stocks.

Such firearms, they contend, were designed for the battlefield, where the goal is to rapidly kill as many enemy soldiers as possible, and they have no place in civilian life.

“When the military switched over to this assault weapon, the whole context changed,” said Tom Diaz, formerly of the Violence Policy Center, whose book about the militarization of civilian firearms, “The Last Gun,” is scheduled for publication in the spring. “The conversation became, ‘Is this the kind of gun you want in the civilian world?’ And we who advocate for regulation say, ‘No, you do not.’ ”

But Second Amendment groups — and many firearm owners — heatedly object to the use of “assault weapon” to describe guns that they say are routinely used in target shooting and hunting. The term, they argue, should be used only for firearms capable of full automatic fire, like those employed by law enforcement and the military. They prefer the term “tactical rifle” or “modern sporting rifle” for the semiautomatic civilian versions.

They argue that any attempt to ban “assault weapons” is misguided because the guns under discussion differ from many other firearms only in their styling.

“The reality is there’s very little difference between any sporting firearm and a so-called assault weapon,” said Steven C. Howard, a lawyer and firearms expert in Lansing, Mich.

The semantics of the assault weapon debate are so fraught that they can trip up even those who oppose a ban.

Phillip Peterson, a gun dealer in Indiana and the author of “Gun Digest Buyer’s Guide to Assault Weapons” (2008), said he had fought with his publishers over the use of the term in the title, knowing that it would only draw the ire of the gun industry.

After the passage of the 1994 federal ban on assault weapons, Mr. Peterson said, the gun industry “moved to shame or ridicule” anyone who used “assault weapon” to describe anything other than firearms capable of full automatic fire.

His instinct proved correct: The National Rifle Association refused to sell the book on its Web site, he said. So in 2010, Mr. Peterson produced another version that contained “90 percent of the same info,” but was retitled “Gun Digest Buyer’s Guide to Tactical Rifles.” That book made it onto the N.R.A. site, he said.

Equally controversial are the definitions for which firearms should qualify as assault weapons. Most assault weapons bans have been primarily aimed at rifles like the AR-15, a semiautomatic version of the military’s M-16 sold on the civilian market, although certain pistols and shotguns have also been included.

The most basic criteria have to do with a firearm’s ability to fire multiple rounds quickly. Because of this, the firearms included under any assault weapons ban are usually semiautomatic, meaning that a new round is automatically reloaded into the chamber but is not fired until the trigger is pulled again. The weapons also have detachable magazines, allowing them to fire 10, 20, 30 rounds or more without the need to insert a new magazine.

After that, however, the definition becomes more difficult. In calling for a renewed ban, Mr. Obama on Wednesday singled out “military style” weapons.

Those could include features like a pistol grip, designed to allow a weapon to be fired from the hip; a collapsible or folding stock, which allows the weapon to be shortened and perhaps concealed; a flash suppressor, which keeps the gun’s user from being blinded by muzzle flashes; a muzzle brake, which helps decrease recoil; and a threaded barrel, which can accept a silencer or a suppressor. Bayonet lugs or grenade launchers are also sometimes included.

But there is disagreement about which features are worrisome enough to include in a ban. And existing state bans differ in how many features they allow.

Advocates for an assault weapons ban argue that the military features were intended to enhance the firearms’ ability to kill.

But many gun owners argue that they are simply “cosmetic.” The owners reel off makes and models of firearms — rifles by Saiga and Remington, for example — that are mechanically identical to the weapons singled out by bans but that do not have pistol grips or other styling features.

Previous attempts to ban these weapons proved problematic. Loopholes in the 1994 federal assault weapons ban rendered it virtually useless, many believe. And even in states with meticulously written bans, manufacturers have managed to find ways to work around the restrictions.

In the end, said George Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, the arguments often come down to language. “No matter what language you use about guns, it’s going to be a problem because it’s not just about guns, it’s about personal identity,” he said.

Yet as Mr. Peterson noted in his buyer’s guide, it was the industry that adopted the term “assault weapon” to describe some types of semiautomatic firearms marketed to civilians.

“Assault rifle” was first used to describe a military weapon, the Sturmgewehr, produced by the Germans in World War II. The Sturmgewehr — literally “storm rifle,” a name chosen by Adolf Hitler — was capable of both semiautomatic and full-automatic fire. It was the progenitor for many modern military rifles.

But the term “assault rifle” was expanded and broadened when gun manufacturers began to sell firearms modeled after the new military rifles to civilians. In 1984, Guns & Ammo advertised a book called “Assault Firearms,” which it said was “full of the hottest hardware available today.”

“The popularly held idea that the term ‘assault weapon’ originated with antigun activists, media or politicians is wrong,” Mr. Peterson wrote. “The term was first adopted by the manufacturers, wholesalers, importers and dealers in the American firearms industry to stimulate sales of certain firearms that did not have an appearance that was familiar to many firearm owners. The manufacturers and gun writers of the day needed a catchy name to identify this new type of gun.”

    Even Defining ‘Assault Rifles’ Is Complicated, NYT, 16.1.2013,






New York Leads on Gun Control


January 15, 2013
The New York Times


The broad gun control bill approved Tuesday by the New York Legislature substantially strengthens the state’s gun control laws and, if vigorously enforced, could make New York one of the toughest places in the country to buy, sell or own dangerous weapons. But the bill also contains troubling provisions involving mental health and public access to important records that should be revisited and reworked.

The bill was muscled through with disturbing speed after days of secret negotiations and a late-night vote Monday by state senators who had barely read the complicated measure before passing it. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed it into law on Tuesday, obviously calculated that it was necessary to move quickly before gun advocates could marshal serious opposition. Even so, Albany’s customarily top-down and largely undemocratic legislative methods were inappropriate for such a complex bill.

The law has several strong provisions. It expands the current ban on assault weapons to include any semiautomatic weapon with a detachable magazine and one military-style feature (instead of two). It limits magazine clips to 7 rounds of ammunition instead of the current 10.

The law will require gun licenses to be renewed every five years; in some counties, a single license can last a lifetime. Background checks will be required at all gun sales, including most private ones, with an exception for immediate members of a gun-owner’s family. There will be a new electronic database for gun permits, and a new registry for ammunition sales that will allow the authorities to track people who are buying cartridges in unusually high volumes.

Some sections of the law, however, were not fully vetted in the rush. One provision asks health care professionals — physicians, psychologists, registered nurses or licensed clinical social workers — to report to local health care officials when they have reason to believe that patients could harm themselves or others. Such a report, after wending its way through other bureaucratic layers, and after crosschecking against a database of gun owners, could eventually authorize police to confiscate firearms owned by a dangerous patient.

The provision would seem to raise significant legal questions. It is not clear who has the final authority to order the seizure, or at what point in the process the gun owner can appeal. The concept would also threaten established norms about doctor-patient relationships.

In addition, the law unwisely restricts public access to gun license records, an overreaction to a suburban newspaper’s recent publication of names and addresses of licensees in Westchester and Rockland Counties. And the law requires safe storage of guns only if the house is being shared with a convicted criminal or someone else not authorized to have a gun license. Safe storage of guns should be a requirement for everyone.

Mr. Cuomo’s law is an important and timely step toward sane gun control. But it needs a few fixes before it can become a national model.

    New York Leads on Gun Control, NYT, 15.1.2013,






Obama Gun Proposal

to Look Beyond Mass Shootings


January 15, 2013
The New York Times


A new federal assault weapons ban and background checks of all gun buyers, which President Obama is expected to propose on Wednesday, might have done little to prevent the massacre in Newtown, Conn., last month. The semiautomatic rifle that Adam Lanza used to shoot 20 schoolchildren and 6 adults complied with Connecticut’s assault weapons ban, the police said, and he did not buy the gun himself.

But another proposal that Mr. Obama is expected to make could well have slowed Mr. Lanza’s rampage: banning high-capacity magazines, like the 30-round magazines that the police said Mr. Lanza used, which have been factors in several other recent mass shootings.

Those shootings, whose victims have included a member of Congress in Arizona, moviegoers in Colorado and first graders in Connecticut, have horrified the country and inspired Washington to embark on the most extensive re-examination of the nation’s gun laws in a generation. But some of the proposals that Mr. Obama is expected to make at the White House on Wednesday, which are likely to include a call for expanded background checks, a ban on assault weapons and limits on high-capacity clips, will be intended not only to prevent high-profile mass shootings, but also to curb the more commonplace gun violence that claims many thousands more lives every year.

“The president has made clear that he intends to take a comprehensive approach,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said Tuesday. Mr. Carney said the proposals were aimed, broadly, at what he called “the scourge of gun violence in this country.”

While semiautomatic rifles were used in several recent mass shootings, including those in Newtown and in Aurora, Colo., where 12 people were killed at a movie theater in July, a vast majority of gun murders in the United States are committed with handguns.

In 2011, 6,220 people were killed by handguns, and 323 by rifles, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. So while the administration is expected to try to restrict some types of assault weapons, it is also focusing on ways to keep more commonly used firearms out of the hands of dangerous criminals and people with mental illness.

Of course, the administration must keep political realities in mind as it drafts its proposals: getting any new gun regulations through Congress, particularly through the Republican-controlled House, is seen as difficult. So the White House must not only weigh the effectiveness of its proposals, but also their political feasibility.

The top priority of many gun control groups is to expand the background checks so that they apply to all buyers. All federally licensed firearms dealers are required to run background checks through the computerized databases that comprise the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. But the requirement does not cover guns that are sold at gun shows and in other private sales, which account for about 40 percent of gun purchases in the country.

Better background checks would have had little effect on several recent mass shootings — both Mr. Lanza, in Connecticut, and Jacob T. Roberts, who opened fire on a mall full of Christmas shoppers a few days earlier in Clackamas, Ore., were using weapons that they did not buy. But gun control groups say that expanded background checks would help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals and people with mental illness, and would go a long way toward increasing public safety and could help prevent mass shootings.

Gun control groups have encouraged the administration to look beyond mass shootings. When the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a leading gun control group, issued its recommendations to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has been developing the administration’s proposals, it urged him to develop ideas that could help curb everyday gun violence as well.

“Every death is a tragedy, whether in a mass shooting that horrifies our entire nation, or one of the 32 gun murders or 90 gun deaths in our communities and homes every day,” it wrote.

With many of the proposals in Washington expected to be somewhat limited in scope, some public health researchers and gun control advocates said it was difficult to know what impact the recommendations might have.

“To have a huge, huge effect, we’re going to need a sea change in not just the laws but social norms,” David Hemenway, the director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.

American civilians have 250 million to 300 million firearms, said Dr. Garen J. Wintemute, the director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis. “Those firearms are not going to go away anytime soon,” he said.

More serious steps — like those taken by Australia, which reacted to a 1996 mass shooting by banning the sale, importation and possession of semiautomatic rifles and by removing 700,000 guns from circulation — are seen as politically untenable. In the 18 years before the new gun laws, there were 13 mass shootings in Australia, and in the decade afterward, there were none, according to a 2006 article in Injury Prevention, a journal.

But expanding background checks in the United States would help disrupt criminal gun markets, a crucial driver of urban gun violence, Dr. Wintemute said. While there has been a debate over how effective background checks have been, Dr. Wintemute pointed to studies of prisoners incarcerated for crimes involving firearms that have found that at least 80 percent of them obtained their guns through private transfers.

“If we eliminate those, I think it’s completely reasonable to expect a substantial drop in crimes related to firearms,” he said.

When a two-day meeting on reducing gun violence wrapped up at Johns Hopkins University on Tuesday afternoon, researchers made some suggestions that have been the subject of relatively little public discussion in Washington.

They called, for example, for expanding the categories of people who are prohibited from buying firearms to include those who have committed violent misdemeanors. And they called for banning not just the sale of high-capacity magazines, but their possession as well.

Other measures being discussed in Washington include strengthening federal laws to combat gun trafficking. Gun control advocates argued that other steps were needed as well, like limiting the number of guns that can be bought by an individual every month.

“If you want to dam the river, you have to address all the channels,” said Josh Horwitz, the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “You’re not going to stop it until you dam the whole river.”

Some people who met with Mr. Biden as he developed his recommendations said that they hoped the final proposals would address gun violence in its many forms.

“I think there was a recognition that we’re not going to stop every mass shooting or gun homicide,” said Hildy Saizow, the president of Arizonans for Gun Safety, who met with Mr. Biden last week.

“But we can go a long way to take action that would result in fewer gun deaths, fewer gun injuries. This is not just a narrow perspective that the task force is addressing, not just mass shootings or school shootings.”


Michael Cooper and Michael Luo reported from New York,

and Michael D. Shear from Washington.

Ray Rivera contributed reporting from New York,

Dan Frosch from Denver and Kirk Johnson from Seattle.

    Obama Gun Proposal to Look Beyond Mass Shootings, NYT, 15.1.2013,






The Moment for Action on Guns


January 14, 2013
The New York Times


The next few weeks represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity to harden the nation’s gun laws and reduce the threat of rapid-fire violence in America. A month after the slaughter of 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn., Vice President Joseph Biden Jr.’s commission is about to present a series of recommendations for new laws, and it is vital that his panel gets it right and that Congress immediately takes action on its report.

Federal laws on guns have been kept so lax, for so long, that the Biden panel could suggest scores of ways to improve public safety. But there are a few policies that clearly have to be in any serious legislative package, the first two of which were endorsed on Monday by President Obama: requiring criminal and mental-health background checks on every gun buyer, including sales from individuals; a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines; a strong statute prohibiting gun trafficking; and an end to the hobbling of the federal agency that enforces gun laws.

The need for background checks on every gun buyer has never been greater, now that the Internet has made it easy for private individuals to buy and sell guns without screening. The reason that both the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Mayors Against Illegal Guns have made universal background checks their top priority is that 40 percent of gun sales now take place privately, including most guns that are later used in crimes.

Requiring background checks at gun shows, parking-lot sales and Web sites would reduce the cash-and-carry anonymity of millions of gun transactions, putting buyers on notice that their sale is being recorded and can be traced. It is largely supported by legitimate gun dealers, who already have to conduct the checks and have long grumbled about competition from those who do not. And it would have no effect on law-abiding buyers who want a hunting rifle or a handgun to keep at home.

Such a law should be supplemented by a presidential order requiring federal and state agencies to contribute to the background check system with criminal and mental health information. Federal prosecutors, who have a dismal record of pursuing charges against those who lie on a gun application, need to enforce the system vigorously.

The assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 should be renewed and tightened, with a special emphasis on prohibiting magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. The millions who already own such weapons — unnecessary for hunting or protection — should be required to register them and submit to a background check to reduce the mass killing that produced this agonized debate.

A new law is needed to crack down on the trafficking of guns that an individual has reason to know will be used in a crime, increasing penalties and making it easier to track corrupt gun dealers. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives needs to have a permanent director, more financing and expanded authority to inspect dealers, and an end to restrictions that keep it from tracking all gun sales and retaining background-check data. Some lawmakers are already talking about focusing on the background checks and bowing to gun lobby’s opposition to an assault weapons ban. That shouldn’t stop the administration and its allies from demanding that all these provisions be passed immediately. With the deaths of Newtown’s children still so fresh, the public will be repulsed by lawmakers who stand aside and do nothing.

    The Moment for Action on Guns, NYT, 14.1.2013,






Obama Willing

to Use Executive Orders on Guns


January 14, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama this week will embrace a comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence that will call for major legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases and lay out 19 separate actions the president could take by invoking the power of his office, lawmakers who were briefed on the plan said Monday.

Lawmakers and other officials said that the president could use a public event as soon as Wednesday to signal his intention to engage in the biggest Congressional fight over guns in nearly two decades, focusing on the heightened background checks and including efforts to ban assault weapons and their high-capacity clips. But given the difficulty of pushing new rules through a bitterly divided Congress, Mr. Obama will also promise to act on his own to reduce gun violence wherever possible.

Actions the president could take on his own are likely to include imposing new limits on guns imported from overseas, compelling federal agencies to improve sharing of mental health records and directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research on gun violence, according to those briefed on the effort.

White House aides believe Mr. Obama can also ratchet up enforcement of existing laws, including tougher prosecution of people who lie on their background checks.

At a news conference on Monday, exactly one month after the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., Mr. Obama said a task force led by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. had “presented me now with a list of sensible, common-sense steps that can be taken to make sure that the kinds of violence we saw at Newtown doesn’t happen again. He added: “My starting point is not to worry about the politics. My starting point is to focus on what makes sense, what works.”

The administration’s strategy reflects the uncertainty of gun politics in America and the desire by White House officials to address the Connecticut shooting while also confronting the broader deficiencies in the country’s criminal justice and mental health systems.

By proposing to use the independent power of his office, Mr. Obama is inviting political attacks by gun owners who have already expressed fear that he will abuse that authority to restrict their rights. Representative Steve Stockman, Republican of Texas, threatened Monday to file articles of impeachment if the president seeks to regulate guns with executive orders. “I will seek to thwart this action by any means necessary,” Mr. Stockman said in a statement.

White House officials and Democratic lawmakers said that there are clear limits to what the president can and cannot do, and that Mr. Obama has no plans to push beyond what he would need Congressional authority to accomplish.

On Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama’s legislative effort will face intense opposition from gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, and the lawmakers they support with millions of dollars at election time and who see gun rights as a defining issue in their districts. But Mr. Obama’s allies see a rare opening for tighter gun rules after Congress has shied away from the politically charged issue for years.

“He’s putting together a pretty comprehensive list of what could be done to make a difference in this area,” said Representative Mike Thompson of California, who is heading a Democratic task force in the House. “There’s some huge, huge holes in the process that are set up to keep communities safe. We need to close those holes.”

Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat of California, said Vice President Biden had informed lawmakers during a two-hour briefing on Monday that there are “19 independent steps that the president can take by executive order.” Ms. Speier said the executive action is part of the “most comprehensive gun safety effort in a generation.”

Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and Mr. Obama’s former chief of staff, joined the debate on Monday and said that the president should “clear the table” by doing whatever he can administratively so small issues do not get in the way of the bigger legislative fights over access to guns.

“Don’t allow a side issue to derail these things,” Mr. Emanuel said during a discussion about gun policy. While many gun control advocates are eager to harness what they believe is a ripe moment in American life for new and robust restrictions on the kinds of guns that were used in Newtown, there is an emerging consensus on Capitol Hill and among gun education groups that improving the system of background check legislation that currently exempts private gun sales and gun shows is the most viable legislative route to pursue.

“The assault-weapons ban is a low priority relative to the other measures the Biden task force is considering,” Matt Bennett, a spokesman for Third Way, a left-leaning research group, said after hearing from Mr. Biden last week. “Political capital in the gun debate only goes so far. We think it should be spent on things that would have the greatest impact on gun violence, like universal background checks and cracking down on gun trafficking.”

Any efforts to get gun legislation through Congress will require an enormous and ceaseless pressure campaign by the administration. Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden are likely to keep up the pressure on lawmakers with public events in the weeks and months ahead, according to those familiar with the White House strategy.

Scores of senators, including many Democrats, will be wary of voting on any effort to curb access to guns or ammunition. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, is a longtime supporter of gun rights. Still, gun legislation is likely to begin in the Senate because the House is controlled by Republicans, many of whom oppose new restrictions on guns.

With fiscal issues continuing to dominate the political calendar for the next several weeks, White House officials and lawmakers say the gun safety effort is likely to be debated in separate pieces of legislation that could be introduced over time. In coming weeks, Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, will reintroduce a measure that would require every gun buyer, with limited exceptions, to undergo a background check and would force states to feed all relevant data into the background check system so those with criminal convictions and the mentally ill could be flagged.

    Obama Willing to Use Executive Orders on Guns, NYT, 14.1.2013,






Newtown Debates School’s Fate

After Shooting


January 13, 2013
The New York Times


NEWTOWN, Conn. — Many people here still remember the huge green footprints that once led up to the front entrance of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Children were told that they had been left by the Jolly Green Giant.

That was one of the many fond memories of the school, memories that connect families and generations. Now, as this community of 27,000 struggles to recover from a mass shooting that killed 20 first graders and six staff members at the school, public officials and residents have begun preparing for the painful decision over what to do with the building.

Residents packed into the auditorium of Newtown High School on Sunday afternoon for the first of what might be several meetings to discuss the school’s future. Opinions varied sharply about whether to reopen the school, renovate it, turn it into a shrine or a park, or raze it.

Stephanie Carson, who has a son who was at the school on Dec. 14, the day of the shooting, said it should be knocked down.

“I cannot ask my son or any of the people at the school to ever walk back into that building, and he has asked to never go back,” she said. “I know that there are children who were there who have said they would like to go back to Sandy Hook. However, the reality is we have to be so careful. Even walking down the halls, the children become so scared at any unusual sound. I don’t see how it would be possible.”

A month after the shooting, Sandy Hook Elementary remains a crime scene. Few have been allowed past the police cars and barricades still guarding the roadway and into the building where Adam Lanza, for reasons still unknown, went on a horrifying killing spree before fatally shooting himself.

Earlier this month, the school’s 400 students began attending a school that had been shuttered in nearby Monroe, Conn. That building was reopened after the hallways and classrooms were remade to resemble the ones they had left behind.

Audra Barth, the mother of a third grader and a first grader at Sandy Hook, was among the parents who said closing the school would further rob children who had already lost so much.

“My children have had everything taken away from them,” she said. Referring to the numerous gifts, including candy, that had been donated since the shooting, she added, “Chocolate is great, but they need their school.”

If there was a unifying theme among parents and others in Sunday’s comments, it was that the children should be kept together, at least for the next several years, and not split apart into separate schools. The concerns, raised by many of the parents who spoke, stemmed from discussions last year — before the shooting — in which school officials proposed closing down an elementary school and shuffling the district. E. Patricia Llodra, Newtown’s first selectwoman, said that proposal was no longer being considered.

Discussions over the school building’s fate seemed to be the latest step in the community’s slow path to recovery, coming after the Public Works Department began picking up the bounty of flowers, teddy bears, paper angels and other tributes that had accumulated on the roadsides around the school.

More meetings will come when the town begins looking at how to honor the victims with a permanent memorial.

Ideas on Sunday included turning the school into a planetarium where children could gaze at the stars and converting it into a center for peace education.

Newtown is the latest in a growing list of communities that have been thrust into making such a choice.

After two students killed 12 other students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado in April 1999, that community ultimately decided to keep that school open. Some $2.6 million, much of it donated, was spent on renovations that included turning the library, where the gunmen ended their rampage, into a glass atrium with a canopy of evergreens and aspens painted on the ceilings.

At Virginia Tech, where 32 people were gunned down by a student in April 2007, the building where 30 of the killings occurred was turned into the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention.

Mergim Bajraliu, 17, a senior at Newtown High School who attended Sandy Hook Elementary and whose sister, a fourth grader, was there the day of the shooting, urged the town to follow the examples of Columbine and Virginia Tech.

“Despite everything that happened to my sister, both her and I have amazing memories of that school,” he said on Sunday, recalling sack races and visits to the nearby firehouse. “I think children in the future deserve the same youthful memories I have.”

    Newtown Debates School’s Fate After Shooting, NYT, 13.1.2013,






Upstate Gun Owners Cast a Cold Eye

on Cuomo Effort


January 13, 2013
The New York Times


TONAWANDA, N.Y. — Harold W. Schroeder’s first gun was his late father’s prized Winchester 12-gauge shotgun, bequeathed to him when he turned 16. In college, Mr. Schroeder and his classmates kept guns in their fraternity house so they could hunt pheasant.

On Friday night, Mr. Schroeder, now 77, gathered with friends at the Mohawk Rifle and Pistol Club, slipping .22-caliber rounds, one after another, into the magazine for his Smith & Wesson Model 41 pistol. He fixed his eyes on a quarter-sized bull’s-eye hanging 50 feet away and pulled the trigger.

Mr. Schroeder, known to all as Budd, is an accomplished shooter; for decades he has been a regular at pistol competitions in western New York. And for just as long, he has devoted himself to protecting gun rights in New York State, joining a grass-roots organization in 1966 to fight measures proposed in the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and fighting gun control laws ever since.

Now, in the aftermath of last month’s massacre of first graders in Newtown, Conn., Mr. Schroeder is pleading with lawmakers, in what he acknowledges is an uphill battle, to block what his group has deemed the biggest threat to New York gun owners since the 1960s. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, propelled into action by recent mass shootings, has proposed what he says would be the nation’s toughest package of gun laws, including an expanded ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The Legislature appears prepared to go along, perhaps as soon as this week. Aides to Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, and state lawmakers continued to negotiate on Sunday.

Mr. Schroeder’s efforts are emblematic of those by gun rights advocates around the country, who are desperately trying to head off what they view as ill-advised restrictions that they do not believe would solve the problem of gun violence. Mr. Schroeder, a retired park superintendent who teaches gun-safety instruction and is a former board member of the National Rifle Association, said that gun owners felt demonized in the wake of the shooting and that they looked upon what happened in Newtown in the same way as those who had never fired a gun.

“I’m every bit as angry as they are,” he said. “It’s an atrocity that these things happen — I mean, a real atrocity. But somewhere along the way the system broke down. Now, this kid obviously had mental problems, but it wasn’t brought to the attention of people who could help him or put him away.”

Mr. Schroeder is more than 250 miles and a world away from the State Capitol, but he has been meeting with lawmakers from western New York, many of whom he has known for years, in an effort to persuade them to stand firm against Mr. Cuomo’s proposals. He writes a weekly political column for two local newspapers that emphasizes the Second Amendment.

He is chairman of the board of directors of the Shooters Committee on Political Education, or SCOPE, which has about 3,000 members and 200 affiliated gun clubs across the state. The group is one element of the loose coalition of groups and individuals that make up the gun lobby in Albany — there are also the professional lobbyists who represent gun manufacturers; the N.R.A. and its state affiliate, the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association; and bloggers, talk show hosts and local groups all trying to influence the debate. And there are sympathetic lawmakers, many of them from rural parts of the state.

“Downstate, we’re a bunch of criminals,” Mr. Schroeder said. “Upstate, it’s a different story.”

Mr. Schroeder traces the movement back to the fight over the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, enacted after the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

“Ever since that bill passed, which was supposed to be the be-and-end-all of gun control, that was just the tip of the iceberg,” Mr. Schroeder said. “And from there on we’ve been doing the fight ever since.”

Every legislative session brings a new fight: he has battled year after year with the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, whose chamber has passed numerous new gun controls, and clashed bitterly with Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, who won a package of gun laws in 2000 (and, Mr. Schroeder said, “sold out the gun owners for a 15-minute press conference.”)

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a pro-gun governor in our lifetimes,” he said. Mr. Schroeder used his first Winchester shotgun for bird hunting. An uncle gave him a .22-caliber rifle, perfect for shooting rats at a nearby railroad dump. In college, he joined the Army Reserve as a bandsman, playing the alto saxophone, and was later called into active duty and sent to Fort Bragg, N.C., where he made the pistol team. (“It saved me from digging foxholes,” he said.) Some of Mr. Schroeder’s concerns are practical: he says New York already has enough restrictions on guns, and pulls out a plastic binder containing Article 265 of the State Penal Law, on firearms and dangerous weapons, to demonstrate how voluminous the existing laws already are. Some concerns are more philosophical: he argues that an expanded ban on assault weapons is simply a wrongheaded approach to reducing violence.

He said Mr. Cuomo and others were using the Newtown violence to push measures that would take them toward a goal they held long before any recent mass shootings — banning guns altogether. He also said upstanding, taxpaying, legal gun owners were being punished for the actions of a few madmen. “It’s like saying you shouldn’t have any politicians because we got a couple of crooks we caught,” he said.

He also argued on constitutional grounds, recalling the American colonists who resisted the British at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. He says of the Second Amendment, “The sole purpose of that was to prevent a dystopic government from taking over the population.” He added, “Sometimes you get accused of being paranoid, but if you watch history, no republic or democracy has ever gone to a totalitarian form of government without first disarming the populace.”

Mr. Schroeder’s fellow gun enthusiasts at the pistol club, located near Buffalo, shared his outrage over the proposals, but were pessimistic about stopping them.

They said politicians needed to focus on keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill; making sure that people who have illegal guns and use them to commit crimes are properly punished; and improving security in schools. They said Mr. Cuomo’s proposal to ban more guns would not address the problem.

“It would outlaw most of the guns we shoot,” said Frank Bialy, a retired chemist who used to coach a high school rifle team. “What’s so frustrating is the people who are here obeying the law are the ones who pay all the prices when these crazy things happen.”

    Upstate Gun Owners Cast a Cold Eye on Cuomo Effort, NYT, 13.1.2013,






Despite Protests,

Gun Show in Upstate New York Goes On


January 12, 2013
The New York Times


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — The line to enter the Saratoga Arms Fair at the City Center here had never been so long, and David Petronis, its organizer, said he had never shaken so many hands in one morning.

“I appreciate you opening this show, not giving into the pressure,” a man told him as he clasped Mr. Petronis’s hand in the echoing convention hall, where hundreds of dealers of guns, ammunition, hunting equipment, war memorabilia and antiques were behind tables, talking up their wares.

Mr. Petronis grinned back. He had not had any intention of giving in, not when a resident recently started a petition to shut down the gun show he had put on in Saratoga Springs four times a year since 1984. Not when several dozen people showed up at a City Council meeting two weeks ago to speak out against his event — too soon after the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., they said, and too close by. Not when reporters began calling and his name appeared in newspapers as far west as Las Vegas.

And not on Saturday, the first day of the show, when thousands of attendees, three protests and a counterprotest made Saratoga Springs — more known for its racetrack and mineral springs — the latest American city to play host to the national debate over gun control.

The dispute has made for outstanding business. The deaths last month of 20 schoolchildren and 6 adults in Newtown prompted politicians to propose additional gun-control legislation. Since then, Mr. Petronis’s shop in Mechanicville, N.Y., called Hudson River Trading Company, has sold out of assault-type weapons, said his wife, Cathy, the store’s co-owner. On Saturday, a line of mostly male attendees stretched out the doors and around nearly two blocks.

For Mr. and Ms. Petronis, the attention amounts to free advertising. “The more people to the event, the more dealers are happy,” he said. “I’ll be answering my Web mail for months.”

The show had not attracted so many people before, City Center staff members said. And it had never attracted so many protests. As traffic snarled and parking spots filled outside the convention center, about two dozen members of the newly formed Saratogians for Gun Safety held up 26 painted wooden angels, copies of those a Connecticut artist planted in Newtown after the Dec. 14 shootings.

The group’s members say they oppose the use of the City Center, which is run by a public authority, to support sales of firearms. And there is the matter of sensitivity, they added: other towns in Connecticut and New York have canceled gun shows, with some officials saying they are concerned weapons would be sold that could someday be used in a mass shooting.

“Newtown just happened a few weeks ago,” said Deirdre Ladd, 46, one of the protest’s organizers. “There are lots of similarities between Newtown and Saratoga, but the difference is that Saratoga has a gun show four times a year.”

Many in the area would say that is a difference to be proud of. Owning a gun or two, or even a dozen, is not uncommon, especially in the nearby Adirondack Mountains. Hunting, skeet shooting and target shooting are popular hobbies.

The protests had left more than a few gun-show attendees feeling beleaguered. Second Amendment advocates handed out fliers to reporters and gathered in small groups, talking anxiously of the state and federal gun-control legislations that many feared were soon coming. “I don’t have enough angels to represent genocide by tyranny,” read one of the signs in the pro-gun camp opposite the angel holders, attracting honks and waves from passing drivers.

“I feel we’re kind of persecuted,” said Sean Garvey, 60, the president of Dunham’s Bay Fish and Game Club nearby, who has been coming to the Saratoga show for 20 years. He sighed and added: “Gun owners are blamed for certain things. We’ve been under attack for a long time, and we’ve been framed for things.”

Donald Fangboner, 70, a retired police officer from Lake George, N.Y., said he had come not just to browse, but also to lend his support.

“I want to see a free America, and if we lose this, it’s over,” he said, patting an anti-Cuomo button on his chest. (Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently vowed to enact the country’s “toughest gun assault weapon ban” in New York.)

A concession Mr. Petronis made was to bar dealers from selling military-style assault rifles similar to those used in recent mass shootings.

Mark Baker, the City Center’s president, said that while he and other center officials were sensitive to the concerns of residents who said holding the gun show was inappropriate, they also wanted to honor the center’s contract with the Petronises. The arms fair, which runs both days this weekend, is also “a significant piece of economic activity for this weekend,” he said.

But he said the City Center authority would review future contracts, including that of the gun show, which, like all other organizations that exhibit at the center, must renew its contract yearly. The officials are also keeping an eye on proposed gun legislation in Albany and in Washington, which could affect the types of weapons that are sold in gun shows or how the sales are conducted.

Anticipating a larger crowd than usual, center officials brought in additional security guards, and the Saratoga police stood near the protest area. But as the day wore on, an uneasy truce appeared to hold.

“Our goal is not to confront them, and I believe theirs is not to confront us,” said Mike Winn, 52, as he hoisted a wooden angel into the air.

    Despite Protests, Gun Show in Upstate New York Goes On, NYT, 12.1.2013,






Sales of Guns Soar in U.S.

as Nation Weighs Tougher Limits


January 11, 2013
The New York Times


As Washington focuses on what Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will propose next week to curb gun violence, gun and ammunition sales are spiking in the rest of the country as people rush to expand their arsenals in advance of any restrictions that might be imposed.

People were crowded five deep at the tiny counter of a gun shop near Atlanta, where a pastor from Knoxville, Tenn., was among the customers who showed up in person after the store’s Web site halted sales because of low inventory. Emptying gun cases and bare shelves gave a picked-over feel to gun stores in many states. High-capacity magazines, which some state and federal officials want to ban or restrict, were selling briskly across the country: one Iowa dealer said that 30-round magazines were fetching five times what they sold for just weeks ago.

Gun dealers and buyers alike said that the rapid growth in gun sales — which began climbing significantly after President Obama’s re-election and soared after the Dec. 14 shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn., prompted him to call for new gun laws — shows little sign of abating.

December set a record for the criminal background checks performed before many gun purchases, a strong indication of a big increase in sales, according to an analysis of federal data by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry trade group. Adjusting the federal data to try to weed out background checks that were unrelated to firearms sales, the group reported that 2.2 million background checks were performed last month, an increase of 58.6 percent over the same period in 2011. Some gun dealers said in interviews that they had never seen such demand.

“If I had 1,000 AR-15s I could sell them in a week,” said Jack Smith, an independent gun dealer in Des Moines, referring to the popular style of semiautomatic rifle that drew national attention after Adam Lanza used one to kill 20 children and 6 adults at a Newtown school. “When I close, they beat on the glass to be let in,” Mr. Smith said of his customers. “They’ll wave money at me.”

Mr. Smith said many people were stocking up on high-capacity magazines in anticipation that they might be banned. Two weeks ago, he said, a 30-round rifle magazine was $12, but it now fetches $60. Popular online retailers were out of many 20- and 30-round rifle magazines.

In Washington, Mr. Biden said the task force he leads is “shooting for Tuesday” to make its recommendations to President Obama about preventing gun violence. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the nation’s leading gun control groups, said its top priority was to close the loopholes that currently allow 40 percent of gun sales to be made without background checks.

Some groups that support gun control urged the White House not to focus too much energy on an assault weapons ban, which they said could be hard to persuade Congress to pass. Officials at Third Way, a left-leaning research group in Washington, urged the president to save his political capital for higher-priority goals like universal background checks and cracking down on gun trafficking.

Outside Greta’s Guns, a gun store in Simi Valley, Calif., about an hour northwest of downtown Los Angeles, several customers said that they opposed any assault weapons ban, but would support more thorough background checks.

George Gray, 60, who said that he already owned “more arms than arms to bear them,” said that he was in favor of more background checks. “If you own a weapon, you should be stable,” said Mr. Gray, who said he had come from Los Angeles to buy a gun for his daughter. “You should be accountable for your actions. I don’t mind stricter background checks. What we’ve done with the mental health in this country — these people used to get care and were in facilities. And in most of these instances, it’s been people with mental problems.”

Some customers at Greta’s said that they wanted to buy guns before any new gun control measures made it more difficult. Bob Davis, 64, said that he wanted a new pistol. “They want to take guns out of citizens’ hands,” he said. “So as a consequence I ordered a gun. And they’re not going to be able to get me a gun for like six months, because of the backlog. They can’t make guns fast enough.”

The gun industry expected a surge in sales even before the Newtown shooting. Gun sales rose after President Obama was first elected in 2008, and many manufacturers expected an increase in gun sales in the event of his re-election. “We believe the continued economic uncertainty and the outcome of the 2012 presidential election is likely to continue to spur both firearms and ammunition sales,” the Freedom Group, which owns Bushmaster, the company that makes the rifle used in Newtown, wrote in a financial report on the quarter that ended Sept. 30.

The possibility that the federal assault weapons ban — which lasted from 1994 to 2004 — might be reinstated was enough to spur sales of semiautomatic rifles with military-style features.

Dale Raby, who manages one of two Gus’s Guns shops in Green Bay, Wis., said his inventory of guns and ammunition was almost cleaned out, and that most of the interest was in AR-15-style rifles.

“I had almost fistfights over the remaining inventory of that type gun,” he said.

Joel Alioto, 44, an Iraq war veteran who lives in the area, said he recently sold an AR-15 rifle at a gun show for $1,700, more than three times what he had paid for it. “I think the shooting in Connecticut was a terrible thing,” said Mr. Alioto, who is unemployed. “But before the shooting the gun was worth 500 bucks. I don’t think I did anything wrong. I wanted to get my teeth done, get a computer and pay for my first year of Bible college.”

Brad Williamson, one of the owners of Quint’s Sporting Goods in Saraland, Ala., said the waiting lists for some products are double what they normally are — especially for guns that are mentioned in the gun control debate. “Whenever there’s a blip on the news about a particular model, the next day people want to come in wanting whatever they named,” he said. “When Biden makes his recommendation next week, you’re going to see another surge.”

At Georgia Arms in Villa Rica, Ga., west of Atlanta, the ammunition business was brisk, with dozens of the yellow bins that usually held ammunition empty. The Rev. Laurence Hesser, a pastor at Memorial United Methodist Church near Knoxville, stopped by because he had been unable to buy ammunition on the shop’s Web site, which halted sales because inventory was so low.

He likened the current run on ammunition to the rush to buy Twinkies last year after its maker, Hostess Brands, announced it was closing. “It’s the same thing,” he said. “When you are threatened with the possibility that you are going to lose something, you get a bunch of it.”


Reporting was contributed by Kim Severson in Villa Rica, Ga.;

Trip Gabriel in New York;

Ian Lovett in Simi Valley, Calif.;

Campbell Robertson in New Orleans;

and Michael D. Shear in Washington.

    Sales of Guns Soar in U.S. as Nation Weighs Tougher Limits, NYT, 11.1.2013,






Lawmaker Seeks Public Reply on Guns


January 11, 2013
The New York Times


SANTA ROSA, Calif. — A California congressman leading a House Democratic task force on gun violence wrapped up a series of heated and packed town hall meetings on gun control here Thursday night, providing a glimpse into how the debate is resonating beyond Washington after last month’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Representative Mike Thompson, the congressman, who was recently appointed by Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, to seek new curbs on guns, said he would use information gleaned from three meetings this week in his district north of San Francisco to issue a set of recommendations early next month. His efforts join those by the White House and by politicians in states from New York to California to draft a legislative response to the mass killing even as the National Rifle Association and other gun rights supporters gather their forces.

More than 200 people jammed into an auditorium at a government building here, spilling into the hallways and speaking for three hours. Just a few hours earlier, in Taft, a central California town, a 16-year-old high school student was arrested after entering a classroom armed with a shotgun and shooting another student, though not fatally.

At the meetings, which were held in a heavily Democratic part of California, the state with the nation’s strictest gun regulations, advocates of gun rights clearly outnumbered supporters of stricter regulations. Many had responded to calls by the N.R.A. to attend the meetings and hewed to the organization’s talking points, trying to steer the debate to what they say is the real source of violence in America: mental health problems, a lack of personal responsibility, and violent video games and the news media.

This week’s meetings ran smoothly and were generally free of the shouting and chaos that marked the town hall meetings surrounding the nation’s last polarizing debate, over health care in 2009.

Still, gun rights supporters sometimes drowned out advocates of stricter regulations. Several warned of a coming civil war and said they were “willing to fight.” There were a few tense moments that Mr. Thompson — a Purple Heart recipient in the Vietnam War, a gun owner and hunter — defused.

“Look, I have 30 seconds. I’ll do what I want, O.K.? You work for me; I pay your salary,” said one gun rights supporter to cries of “yeah!” from the audience as he stood before the congressman.

“I’ll give you a buck and a half and pay you back right now,” the congressman told the man.

Mr. Thompson, a Democrat and a member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, supports banning the kind of assault weapons used in the Connecticut shootings. But he cautioned that there is “no one bill that could be passed, no magic wand.” While he described Sandy Hook as “the worst gun tragedy” in his lifetime, he added that hundreds of Americans “have been killed with firearms” in the four weeks since the massacre.

On Thursday, gun rights advocates here rejected any attempts to restrict access to high-powered guns. Echoing statements by the N.R.A., they stressed that the roots of the violence lay elsewhere, particularly in the lack of mental health care.

A man from Santa Rosa strongly endorsed the N.R.A.’s call to arm school guards. “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he said to both applause and boos from the audience.

Like the N.R.A., other speakers blamed violent video games and the news media. “Every time you get somebody killing 10 people, somebody wants to kill 20 people,” one man said. “Get the media to quit naming the names.”

Still, other self-identified gun owners expressed an openness to restrictions on assault weapons.

“I know from personal experience that the N.R.A. does not speak for all gun owners,” one woman said. “The N.R.A. is mostly a lobbying organization and represents gun manufacturers, and is mostly motivated by profit. The time is now.”

A man who described himself as a hunter and a former member of the N.R.A. said: “If you need more than three rounds when you’re hunting, you need to spend some time at the range before going out.”

Several speakers accused “a tyrannical government” of trying to take away their guns, each time to loud applause. “It’s like you’re being controlled by a foreign operation or something, you’re voting for somebody other than the American people here,” one man told the congressman.

“Don’t give that man a gun,” said a man in the audience.

Another responded immediately, “He can have mine!"

Supporters of greater gun control sometimes had a hard time making their points.

“There is not a tyrannical government trying to take away your guns,” one man said. “Everybody needs to be respectful here and give everybody a chance to speak.”

One woman, voicing support for a ban on assault weapons, said that gun rights supporters were trying to shift the debate away from guns. “I hear a lot about personal responsibility,” she said. “But what’s really being said is: ‘Trust no one but ourselves and our assault weapons. Every man for himself.’ That’s not a community. That can’t raise our children to be healthy. That’s an insane asylum.”

    Lawmaker Seeks Public Reply on Guns, NYT, 11.1.2013,






How to Shoot a Gun


January 11, 2013
The New York Times



It was the middle of the workday — a bright, chilly Wednesday afternoon in Lexington, Ky. — but Bud’s Gun Shop was crowded. Why was I surprised? The combination of President Obama’s re-election and the Newtown massacre has caused gun proponents to stock up, fearing, against all available evidence, that the federal government was about to crack down on gun ownership. As I opened the door, I felt like a teenager about to buy a condom.

My plan was to shoot a gun, something I had never done before. I thought it would help me understand why gun owners are so passionate about their deadly possessions.

The daughter of a local friend, Don McNay, offered to accompany me. Gena Bigler is the chief financial officer of her father’s financial firm, a personal finance columnist and the mother of two. Gena, Don said, is “very liberal in all her politics, except pro-gun.” Just like his wife, his ex-wife and many other women in Kentucky, he added.

Bud’s Gun Shop was cavernous, with scarcely a square inch of wall space that didn’t have a gun on it. As we headed for the shooting range, I asked Gena why she liked guns. “In the Old West,” she said, “the gun was the great equalizer. I think for women that is still the case.” The first time she shot a gun, she told me, she was 8.

“Let’s start easy,” Gena said as we approached the shooting range. At the counter, Dave, a retired policeman who served as the “range officer,” brought out a Ruger Mark .22 semiautomatic handgun. It was a gun that a newbie like me could handle, he gently suggested. A box of bullets in hand, we headed out to the shooting range.

The target was a bright green human silhouette. Gena and I took turns shooting. It took awhile, but once I got the hang of it, I stopped worrying about the shape of the target and focused on hitting it. The .22 made small bullet holes. Gena told me that when she used to shoot in the woods, you could see the enormous damage guns could do to a tree. “I think children need to be better educated about guns,” she said, “so they’ll understand better what a gun can do.”

We next moved to a .45 semiautomatic handgun. “Do you want one that shoots really well, or do you want one you can hide?” asked Dave. He gave us a Kimber. Its manufacturer describes Kimbers as “no compromise, purpose-built pistols.” Certainly from my point of view, it was more difficult to ignore its purpose than with the .22. The bullets made much bigger holes, fire often came out of the barrel, and it had a big kick. It was meant to kill people.

The gallery was filling up. I saw two women shooting handguns, three young men sharing an assault weapon and a man who needed crutches taking target practice. The only noise you could hear was the pop, pop, pop of guns being fired.

Finally, Gena and I rented a Kriss Vector, a shiny black assault weapon. The man who handed it to us called it a “P.D.W.” — or personal defense weapon. “This gun is made for something like the Secret Service,” he added. Dave looked at the gun and smiled wryly. “Blast away,” he said. The gun had a 30-bullet magazine, which I emptied as quickly as my trigger finger would allow. It took, literally, seconds.

Using the assault weapon was a frightening experience. Even Gena thought so. “I don’t see why anybody would need a gun like that,” she said. But when I asked her whether such guns should be outlawed, she didn’t hesitate: “That’s the beginning of the slippery slope.”

Did I discover on Wednesday afternoon why shooting a gun appeals to so many people? Not really. But I did get a glimpse of why it will be so difficult to change America’s gun culture. You can say until you’re blue in the face that a gun owner or his family is far more likely to be hurt or killed by that gun than an intruder. But people like Gena — decent, honorable citizens who grew up around guns — will never believe it. They will always think of guns as the great equalizer. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, Kentucky, which has some of the least restrictive gun laws on the books, has no intention of tightening its laws after Newtown.

A few days later, I called Bud’s Gun Shop to ask Dave what he thought about the renewed effort to regulate guns. In his calm, unflustered way, he said he thought the problem was mental health care, not guns. “People have rights,” he said.

In the background, I could hear the pop, pop, pop of guns going off in the shooting range.

    How to Shoot a Gun, NYT, 11.1.2013,






Makers of Violent Video Games

Marshal Support to Fend Off Regulation


January 11, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — With the Newtown, Conn., massacre spurring concern over violent video games, makers of popular games like Call of Duty and Mortal Kombat are rallying Congressional support to try to fend off their biggest regulatory threat in two decades.

The $60 billion industry is facing intense political pressure from an unlikely alliance of critics who say that violent imagery in video games has contributed to a culture of violence. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. met with industry executives on Friday to discuss the concerns, highlighting the issue’s prominence.

No clear link has emerged between the Connecticut rampage and the gunman Adam Lanza’s interest in video games. Even so, the industry’s detractors want to see a federal study on the impact of violent gaming, as well as cigarette-style warning labels and other measures to curb the games’ graphic imagery.

“Connecticut has changed things,” Representative Frank R. Wolf, a Virginia Republican and a frequent critic of what he terms the shocking violence of games, said in an interview. “I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re going to do something.”

Gun laws have been the Obama administration’s central focus in considering responses to the shootings. But a violent media culture is being scrutinized, too, alongside mental health laws and policies.

“The stool has three legs, and this is one of them,” Mr. Wolf said of violent video games.

Studies on the impact of gaming violence offer conflicting evidence. But science aside, public rhetoric has clearly shifted since the shootings, with politicians and even the National Rifle Association — normally a fan of shooting games — quick to blame video games and Hollywood movies for inuring children to violence.

“I don’t let games like Call of Duty in my house,” Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said this week on MSNBC. “You cannot tell me that a kid sitting in a basement for hours playing Call of Duty and killing people over and over and over again does not desensitize that child to the real-life effects of violence.”

Residents in Southington, Conn., 30 miles northeast of Newtown, went so far as to organize a rally to destroy violent games. (The event was canceled this week.) Mr. Biden, meeting with some of the industry’s biggest manufacturers and retailers, withheld judgment on whether graphic games fuel violence. But he added quickly, “You all know the judgment other people have made.”

Industry executives are steeling for a political battle, and they have strong support from Congress as well as from the courts.

Industry representatives have already spoken with more than a dozen lawmakers’ offices since the shootings, urging them to resist threatened regulations. They say video games are a harmless, legally protected diversion already well regulated by the industry itself through ratings that restricting some games to “mature” audiences.

With game makers on the defensive, they have begun pulling together scientific research, legal opinions and marketing studies to make their case to federal officials.

“This has been litigated all the way to the Supreme Court,” Michael Gallagher, chief executive of the industry’s main lobbying arm, said in an interview, referring to a 2011 ruling that rejected a California ban on selling violent games to minors on First Amendment grounds.

Twenty years ago, with graphic video games still a nascent technology, manufacturers faced similar threats of a crackdown over violent games. Even Captain Kangaroo — Bob Keeshan — lobbied for stricter oversight. The industry, heading off government action, responded at that time by creating the ratings labels, similar to movie ratings, that are ubiquitous on store shelves today.

This time, with a more formidable presence in Washington, the industry is not so willing to discuss voluntary concessions.

Game makers have spent more than $20 million since 2008 on federal lobbying, and millions more on campaign donations.

Mr. Gallagher’s group, the Entertainment Software Association, has five outside lobbying firms to push its interests in Washington. And the industry has enjoyed not only a hands-off approach from Congress, which has rejected past efforts to toughen regulations, but also tax breaks that have spurred sharp growth.

Game makers even have their own bipartisan Congressional caucus, with 39 lawmakers joining to keep the industry competitive.

One of those lawmakers, Representative Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, suggested that the focus on violent video games is misplaced. He called the games “a healthy form of education and entertainment for our family” and said ratings made it easy to keep inappropriate games from his children.

“We find it harder, though, to shield our children from the relentless, in-your-face glorification of violence promoted on our TV screens and in the movies,” he added. “It’s everywhere, and you can’t seem to find the remote fast enough.”

Executives cite 2009 research by the Federal Trade Commission crediting game makers for going further than any other media group to shield children from inappropriate material. Major retailers like GameStop consistently refused to sell “mature” rated games to minors, the commission found, and game makers usually did not market them to children.

The industry’s biggest political asset may be the 2011 ruling by the Supreme Court that found restrictions on the sale of video games to be unconstitutional.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, wrote that evidence linking games to violence was unpersuasive and that games had the same legal protection as violent literary classics like Grimm’s Fairy Tales or “Snow White.”

The scientific record is mixed.

Some researchers have found that games bring out real-life aggression, making players less empathetic. But other studies say the linkage is exaggerated and that game-playing does not predict bullying or delinquency.

The authorities have linked some past attacks, directly or indirectly, to the gunman’s fascination with violent games.

In the 2011 rampage in Norway that killed 77 people, for example, the gunman played Call of Duty six hours a day to practice shooting. In the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, which killed 12 people, the two teenage gunmen were said to have been obsessed with a game called Doom, featuring bloodshed and explosions.

There have been reports that Mr. Lanza, 20, the Newtown gunman who killed himself after his rampage, liked World of Warcraft and other violent games, as do many young men. James E. Holmes, 25, who is accused in last summer’s massacre at a theater in Aurora, Col., was a fan of the same game.

But the authorities in Connecticut and Colorado have not established a direct link between those attacks and the gunmen’s interest in those games.


Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.

    Makers of Violent Video Games Marshal Support to Fend Off Regulation, 11.1.2013,






Gun Control Group Urges

Expanded Background Checks


January 11, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the nation’s leading gun control groups, said on Friday that it wanted the White House to focus its attention on expanded background checks for gun buyers as part of a broad push to reduce gun violence in the wake of the school attack in Connecticut last month.

The group made the recommendations this week to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and plans to release them publicly Friday afternoon. The Times obtained a copy of the document, which stresses that “closing the massive hole in the background check” system is the group’s top policy priority.

“Calling it a ‘gun show loophole’ trivializes the problem,” the document provided to Mr. Biden says. “Universal background checks on all gun sales would have a clear positive impact on public safety, and is also clearly compatible with the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns.”

Dan Gross, the group’s president, said he and other advocates still feel strongly about the need to limit the availability of military-style assault weapons. The group said in its recommendations to Mr. Biden that any proposals should find ways to “limit the availability of military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition that are designed for mass killing.”

But Mr. Gross said that the group does not want a debate that focuses primarily on a possible ban of assault weapons.

“We’re not rating any solution as bigger or more important than the other. But it’s vitally important that the conversation be broader than just an assault ban,” Mr. Gross said. “Background checks clearly stake out a middle ground that can save lives.

An even stronger message comes from Third Way, a left-leaning research group in Washington D.C., that has long advocated for stronger gun control laws. Matt Bennett, the vice president for public affairs at Third Way, said Friday that President Obama should not get into a knock-down fight with the National Rifle Association over an assault-weapons ban.

“The assault-weapons ban is a low priority relative to the other measures the Biden Task Force is considering,” Mr. Bennett said. “Political capital in the gun debate only goes so far. We think it should be spent on things that would have the greatest impact on gun violence, like universal background checks and cracking down on gun trafficking.”

The caution about the politics of fighting for an assault-weapons ban from some advocacy groups comes as Mr. Biden signaled his interest in focusing on other parts of the gun debate. In public comments Friday, Mr. Biden did not mention the idea of a gun ban.

The White House says President Obama still supports a ban on assault weapons and fully intends to propose and fight for one as part of a broader package of changes. But they acknowledge that the political fight will be difficult, especially in the Republican-controlled House.

Some advocacy organizations are still pushing for a sustained effort to revive the assault-weapons ban, which was initially imposed in 1994 and expired a decade later. But Mr. Bennett said his group was concerned that a prolonged and difficult fight with the N.R.A. over such a ban would make it more difficult to achieve the other parts of the plan.

“While they won’t admit it, the N.R.A. probably wants the A.W.B. fight,” Mr. Bennett said, “because it will dominate the debate, drive away some moderate members of Congress, and put the focus on a gun ban, rather than their outrageous and indefensible opposition to background checks, a modern gun trafficking law, and the use of gun violence data by law enforcement.”

    Gun Control Group Urges Expanded Background Checks, NYT, 11.1.2013,






Tough Path Seen by Obama

on Ban of Assault Arms


January 10, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — While President Obama pledged to crack down on access to what he called “weapons of war” in the aftermath of last month’s schoolhouse massacre, the White House has calculated that a ban on military-style assault weapons will be exceedingly difficult to pass through Congress and is focusing on other measures it deems more politically achievable.

As a task force led by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. readies recommendations on reducing gun violence for delivery to the president next week, White House officials say a new ban will be an element of whatever final package is proposed. But given the entrenched opposition from gun rights groups and their advocates on Capitol Hill, the White House is trying to avoid making its passage the sole definition of success and is emphasizing other new gun rules that could conceivably win bipartisan support and reduce gun deaths.

During a day of White House meetings on the issue on Thursday, including one with the National Rifle Association, Mr. Biden focused publicly on universal background checks for gun purchases and the need for more federal research on gun violence. In 15 minutes of public remarks, Mr. Biden made no mention of curbing the production and sale of assault weapons, even though he was a prime author of such a law that passed in 1994 and expired 10 years later. Both he and the president say they strongly support an assault weapons ban.

But Mr. Biden noted that his former colleagues in the Senate have long been “pretty universally opposed to any restrictions on gun ownership or what type of weapons can be purchased.” He said they now seem more open to limits on the purchase of high-capacity magazines.

A spokesman for Mr. Obama said later in the afternoon that the vice president’s remarks merely reflect a desire for a broad approach to gun violence.

“President Obama has been clear that Congress should reinstate the assault weapons ban and that avoiding this issue just because it’s been politically difficult in the past is not an option,” said Matt Lehrich, the spokesman. “He’s also stressed that no single piece of legislation alone can solve this problem, which is why he has asked Vice President Biden to explore a wide array of proposals on topics ranging from gun laws to mental health to school safety.”

The calculation on the assault weapons ban underscores the complicated politics of guns on Capitol Hill despite public outrage after a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December. While the shootings prompted some pro-gun lawmakers to endorse limits on assault weapons, Republicans who control the House Judiciary Committee still oppose such limits.

A statement by the N.R.A. after Thursday’s meeting underscored the political challenges. The group accused the White House of having an “agenda to attack the Second Amendment,” and said it would go to the halls of Congress in its efforts to stop gun restrictions.

“We will now take our commitment and meaningful contributions to members of Congress of both parties who are interested in having an honest conversation about what works — and what does not,” the statement said.

The calibrated public focus by Mr. Biden also reflects a tension within the administration and Democratic circles, with some gun control advocates pressing for a robust effort on the assault weapon ban and others leery of being caught in a losing cause at the expense of other measures with more chances of success. While Mr. Biden has included Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, and other cabinet officials in his working group, officials said the process is being driven by the White House.

In addition to limits on high-capacity magazines and expanded background checks, Mr. Biden’s group is looking at ways of keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and cracking down on sales that are already illegal. One possibility is tougher laws against straw purchasing with longer prison terms for those who buy guns for others. Some officials would like to expand mandatory minimum sentences for gun law violations, but the White House in general does not like such sentences. Mr. Biden’s group is also considering seeking additional money to enforce existing laws.

Mr. Biden’s comment this week about taking executive action was seized on by some opponents as evidence that the president wanted to unilaterally restrict gun sales to legal buyers. But officials said executive action refers to limited measures like directing more attention and resources to pursuing violations of existing gun laws and studying gun violence.

The ammunition limit has drawn attention from Democrats in Congress, both because they think it might be easier to pass and because it might have more impact than an assault weapon ban. To pass the last assault weapon ban through a Democratic Congress more amenable to gun control, Mr. Biden had to accept compromises that allowed many guns to be sold.

The White House effort is coming even as some governors are seeking state legislation that would limit the availability of guns and ammunition. In Colorado, Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, called on Thursday for universal background checks on all gun sales in his state.

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has made gun control efforts a centerpiece of his next year in office, pledging to pass a tough new assault weapons ban in his state, limits on large-capacity magazines and measures to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

Mr. Obama’s push for new federal action is the first serious one in many years. Mr. Biden held several meetings Thursday with representatives of hunting and wildlife groups, advocates of gun ownership, and officials with the entertainment industry. At the start of the meetings, Mr. Biden said he would give Mr. Obama his recommendations on Tuesday, though they may not be made public until later.

In their own closed-door meetings with the vice president on Wednesday, gun control advocates emphasized their belief that measures other than the assault weapons ban could be even more effective in preventing the kinds of recent massacres that have captured public and political attention, several participants said.

“There’s a natural gravity that happens toward the ban in the wake of tragedies,” said Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, who attended the meeting. “But it’s very important to point out that background checks could have an even bigger impact.”

    Tough Path Seen by Obama on Ban of Assault Arms, NYT, 10.1.2013,






Reframing the Gun Debate


January 9, 2013
The New York Times


This time things are different.

This time, nearly a month after the horrible mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., the public attention hasn’t ricocheted to the next story. On the contrary, sorrow has hardened into resolve.

This time, something can and must be done. And it looks as if something will.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that:

“The White House is weighing a far broader and more comprehensive approach to curbing the nation’s gun violence than simply reinstating an expired ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition, according to multiple people involved in the administration’s discussions.”

According to The Post’s sources, this could include measures “that would require universal background checks for firearm buyers, track the movement and sale of weapons through a national database, strengthen mental health checks, and stiffen penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to minors.”

And in addition to whatever legislative package the president may push, Vice President Joe Biden made clear Wednesday that the president wouldn’t shy away from using executive action.

“The president is going to act,” Biden said, according to CNN. “Executive orders, executive action, can be taken.”

So, as we move into this season of change on gun policy, let’s take a moment to better frame the debate.

First, let’s fix some of the terminology: stop calling groups like the National Rifle Association a “gun rights” group. These are anti-regulation, pro-proliferation groups. They prey on public fears — of the “bad guys with guns,” of a Second Amendment rollback, of an ever imminent apocalypse — while helping gun makers line their pockets.

(Sturm, Ruger & Company’s stock has gone up more than 500 percent since President Obama was first elected, and Smith & Wesson’s stock is up more than 200 percent.)

And the gun makers return the favor. According to a 2011 report by the Violence Policy Center, a group advocating stronger gun regulations:

“Since 2005, corporations — gun related and other — have contributed between $19.8 million and $52.6 million to the NRA as detailed in its Ring of Freedom corporate giving program.”

The report continued:

“The vast majority of funds — 74 percent — contributed to the NRA from ‘corporate partners’ are members of the firearms industry: companies involved in the manufacture or sale of firearms or shooting-related products. Contributions to the NRA from the firearms industry since 2005 total between $14.7 million and $38.9 million.”

Groups like the N.R.A. aren’t as much about rights as wrongs. The money being churned is soaked in blood and marked by madness.

Second, more reasonable people of good conscience and good faith, including responsible gun owners, need to talk openly, honestly and forcefully about the need for additional, reasonable regulations.

There is power in speaking up. We know the face of unfettered gun proliferation. Now it’s time to see more faces of regulation and restraint.

Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal joined those ranks on Tuesday when he said on MSNBC:

“I spent a career carrying typically either an M16, and later an M4 carbine. And an M4 carbine fires a .223 caliber round, which is 5.56 millimeters, at about 3,000 feet per second. When it hits a human body, the effects are devastating. It’s designed to do that. And that’s what our soldiers ought to carry. I personally don’t think there’s any need for that kind of weaponry on the street and particularly around the schools in America. I believe that we’ve got to take a serious look. I understand everybody’s desire to have whatever they want, but we’ve got to protect our children, we’ve got to protect our police, we’ve got to protect our population. And I think we’ve got to take a very mature look at that.”

A “mature look” indeed. And that comes from a real soldier, not just someone who wants to feel like one.

Third, we must be clear that we are not talking about prohibition and confiscation but about de-escalation — in both the volume and lethal efficiency — and accountability.

No one is talking about forbidding law-abiding, mentally sound citizens to purchase nonmilitary-style weapons that don’t hold more bullets than we have digits.

The point is to ensure that we don’t sell military weapons with extended clips to the public and that the guns we do sell are purchased only by responsible people. And, once the guns are purchased, we need to ensure that they all remain in responsible hands. One place to start is to require background checks of all purchases and to track the guns, not just for the life of the purchaser, but for the life of the gun.

Last, we must understand that whatever we do now is not necessarily the whole of the solution but a step in the right direction on a long walk back from a precipice. Our search for solutions must be dynamic because the gun industry is wily and our quandary is epic.

We don’t want to pass the point where society is so saturated with the most dangerous kinds of weaponry that people feel compelled to arm themselves or be left vulnerable, if indeed we haven’t already passed that point.

According to The Associated Press, a small Utah town is making a “gun in every home a priority.” The A.P. reported:

“Spring City Councilman Neil Sorensen first proposed an ordinance requiring a gun in every household in the town of 1,000. The rest of the council scoffed at making it a requirement, but they unanimously agreed to move forward with an ordinance ‘recommending’ the idea. The council also approved funding to offer concealed firearms training Friday to the 20 teachers and administrators at the local elementary school.”

That is not where we want to be as a country.

    Reframing the Gun Debate, NYT, 9.1.2013,






New York Is Moving Quickly to Enact

Tough Curbs on Guns


January 9, 2013
The New York Times


New York State is nearing agreement on a proposal to put what would be some of the nation’s strictest gun-control laws into effect, including what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vowed on Wednesday would be an ironclad ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, and new measures to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and mentally ill people.

Lawmakers in Albany, seeking to send a message to the nation that the recent mass shootings demand swift action, say they hope to vote on the package of legislation as soon as next week.

The Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, told reporters on Wednesday that Mr. Cuomo and legislative leaders were “95 percent” of the way toward an agreement. Senate Republicans, considered the only possible obstacle to the governor’s proposal, indicated they did not intend to block a deal.

“When you hear about these issues all across the nation, whether it’s in the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., or Columbine, something needs to happen — something transformative,” said Senator Timothy M. Kennedy, a Democrat from Buffalo.

The dash to enact new gun controls made New York the first flash point in the battles over firearm restrictions that are expected to consume several state capitals this year.

But the debate also raged elsewhere on Wednesday, from Denver, where supporters of gun rights rallied to oppose weapon restrictions in the new legislative session, to Connecticut, whose governor, Dannel P. Malloy, in an emotional speech to lawmakers — he lost his composure talking about the mass killings at a Newtown elementary school last month — said, “More guns are not the answer.”

At the White House, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. met with gun-control advocates and said the Obama administration planned both to pass legislation and to use executive orders to try to reduce gun violence. “The president and I are determined to take action,” Mr. Biden said. “This is not an exercise in photo opportunities.”

Mr. Cuomo’s aides said the proposed legislation in New York would expand the definition of what is considered an assault weapon to match California’s law, currently the most restrictive in the nation. But the overall package would go further, they said, by limiting detachable ammunition magazines to 7 rounds from the current 10, and requiring background checks for purchases of ammunition, not just weapons.

Limiting magazines to seven rounds would give New York the toughest restrictions in the nation. Only around half a dozen states currently limit the size of magazines, and most of them allow magazines that contain up to 10 rounds, according to a survey by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which advocates gun control. The New York law would also close a loophole that has thwarted enforcement of limits on the size of magazines.

Even as Mr. Cuomo detailed his plans, gun-rights groups mobilized to oppose the new restrictions.

“We fully expect that New York state’s gun owners will be completely engaged in this debate and N.R.A. will be there to lead them,” said Chris W. Cox, the chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, which has donated more money to state politicians in New York than anywhere else, much of it to Senate Republicans.

And immediately afterward, Budd Schroeder, the chairman of the Shooters Committee on Political Education, a New York gun-rights group, said he planned to meet with every state senator he knew to ask them to stand up to the governor.

“The legislators are going to be getting a lot of phone calls in their district offices,” Mr. Schroeder said. “How is taking away my rights to own any type of firearm I choose going to change the attitude of a criminal?”

Yet Mr. Schroeder’s group, on its Web site, acknowledged the challenging terrain. “We can say with certainty,” it warned, “that anything short of overwhelming our legislators with calls, e-mails and letters, we have virtually no chance.”

Mr. Cuomo’s initiative drew praise from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has made gun control his signature cause. “I was particularly struck by his passionate leadership on gun violence,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement. “New York State has led the nation with strong, common-sense gun laws, and the governor’s new proposals will build on that tradition.”

Mr. Cuomo is a possible 2016 presidential contender who is seeking to elevate his stature among Democrats base nationally, after a much-praised victory on same-sex marriage in his first year in office. His push for enhanced gun control even drew praise from Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, in a letter that otherwise criticized Mr. Cuomo’s support for abortion rights.

Mr. Cuomo had already stirred up anxiety among gun rights groups by saying in a radio interview in December that “confiscation could be an option” for existing assault weapons.

But on Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo backed away from that statement. “This is not about taking away people’s guns,” he said in his State of the State address. “It is about ending the unnecessary risk of high-capacity assault rifles. That’s what this is about.”

The expectation from Senator Dean G. Skelos, the Republican leader, and his aides that the gun-control legislation would come to the Senate floor for a vote is significant; Senate Republicans have consistently rebuffed efforts by Democrats to pass more restrictive gun laws.

But Republicans now have partial control of the chamber because of a coalition they recently established to share power with a group of dissident Democrats who favor more gun control. And Democrats believe that Republican leaders would rather accept a deal than jeopardize their warm relationship with Mr. Cuomo or risk a public relations backlash.

Many Senate Republicans sought re-election in part by touting their bond with the governor, who remains popular with Republican voters as well as with Democrats; Mr. Cuomo, recognizing the extent of his political power, has vowed to travel the state blaming Senate Republicans if they do not back his efforts for gun control.

The gun-control debate had already flared up in other ways in New York State since the shootings last month in Newtown and in Webster, N.Y., where two firefighters were killed. A newspaper’s publication of a map showing the names and addresses of gun owners in suburban Westchester and Rockland Counties set off a wave of threats against and harassment of the paper’s employees.

In his State of the State address Wednesday, the governor told lawmakers it was their duty to “stop the madness” of violence.

“Forget the extremists — it’s simple,” Mr. Cuomo said to a crescendo of applause. “No one hunts with an assault rifle. No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer.”


Michael Cooper and Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.

    New York Is Moving Quickly to Enact Tough Curbs on Guns, NYT, 9.1.2013,






Cuomo to Press

for Wider Curbs on Gun Access


January 8, 2013
The New York Times


ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, pushing New York to become the first state to enact major new gun laws in the wake of the massacre in Newtown, Conn., plans on Wednesday to propose one of the country’s most restrictive bans on assault weapons.

New York is one of seven states that already ban at least some assault weapons. But Mr. Cuomo has described the existing law as having “more holes than Swiss cheese,” and he wants to broaden the number of guns and magazines covered by the law while also making it harder for gun makers to tweak their products to get around the ban.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, will outline his proposal in his State of the State address, but even before he speaks, he has incited anxiety among gun owners by acknowledging in a radio interview that “confiscation could be an option” for assault weapons owned by New Yorkers. Since that interview, Mr. Cuomo has not mentioned the idea, and his aides have acknowledged that it would be impractical.

But gun rights groups have seized on the comment, even promoting a petition on the Web site of the White House that declares, “We do not live in Nazi Germany,” and asks the Obama administration to block any effort at confiscation by Mr. Cuomo.

Since the shootings in Newtown, Mr. Cuomo has been trying to negotiate an agreement on gun laws with legislative leaders in Albany — he even contemplated calling them back into special session last month — and the talks continued into Tuesday, as the governor sought an agreement before his speech.

According to people briefed on the talks, the governor is considering not only rewriting the state’s assault weapons ban, but also proposing more expansive use of mental health records in background checks of gun buyers, lower limits on the capacity of magazines sold legally in New York and a new requirement that gun permits be subject to periodic recertification.

New York already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, and the debate over new restrictions here reflects a significant change in the national conversation over guns, as states and the federal government grapple with whether and how to limit the possession of weapons that have been used in multiple mass killings in recent years.

Mr. Cuomo, a shotgun owner, has long spoken in favor of tougher gun control but has not used his considerable political muscle to make the issue a priority over his two years as governor. Now, citing the recent killings, he is seeking to strike a deal that could be used as a model in other statehouses.

“I think what the nation is saying now after Connecticut, what people in New York are saying is ‘Do something, please,’ ” Mr. Cuomo told reporters recently.

New York’s existing assault weapons ban was approved in the aftermath of another mass shooting, at Columbine High School in 1999. The next year, Gov. George E. Pataki surprised his fellow Republicans by pushing through the Legislature a package of tough new gun laws, including the measure to outlaw assault weapons. But many high-powered rifles now in production are exempt from the ban because, advocacy groups say, manufacturers have altered their products to circumvent the law.

“This is a singular moment in the history of the gun control movement,” said Richard M. Aborn, the president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City. “The governor has the opportunity to set the high-water mark and continue New York’s leadership position in having the most effective gun control laws in the country.”

The state’s District Attorneys Association sent a letter to the governor and legislative leaders on Tuesday calling for, among other things, the elimination of a grandfather clause that allows some high-capacity magazines. And nearly 100 lawmakers have endorsed a set of proposals that includes limiting handgun purchases to one per month, requiring a new form of ballistics identification and putting in place universal background checks.

But Mr. Cuomo faces a complicated political landscape in Albany. The Assembly is controlled by Democrats who are eager for more gun restrictions, while the Senate this year is to be controlled by an unusual coalition of Republicans, who have largely resisted new gun laws, and dissident Democrats, who support more gun control. Mr. Cuomo, during his first half of his term, assiduously courted Senate Republicans, even persuading them to allow the vote that legalized same-sex marriage, but he has indicated that he is now willing to challenge the Republicans over the gun issue.

On Saturday, after the Senate Republicans called for stiffening penalties for violations of existing gun laws, but not tightening the assault weapons ban, Mr. Cuomo’s spokesman said the Republican proposal “insults the common sense of New Yorkers.”

Gun rights advocates argue that Mr. Cuomo is wrong to focus his attention on assault weapons; of 769 homicides in New York State in 2011, only five were committed with rifles of any kind, according to the State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

“This issue is not about guns, and the reason they are pushing the gun issue is because it’s much easier for them to say, ‘Look what we did; we’re going to make people safer in New York. We passed more gun laws,’ ” said Thomas H. King, the president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association. Mr. King, echoing the recommendation of the National Rifle Association, said that instead of banning certain guns, New York should require armed security at all schools.

Senator Catharine Young, Republican of Olean, in western New York, said she had been receiving calls from constituents who were worried about what action the Legislature might take.

“The vast majority of people who own firearms in my district are law-abiding and extremely responsible,” Ms. Young said. “They aren’t the problem; it’s illegal guns and untreated mental illness that are the problems.”

Cracking down on high-powered weapons has long been a priority for many urban Democrats in the Legislature; to draw attention to the issue, one senator even went to a gun shop near Albany to buy ammunition for an AK-47 while the transaction was recorded with a hidden camera.

“A lot of people look at this as a battle between people who want to take away all the guns and people who want to have no restrictions on guns; but most members of the public and most members of the Legislature understand that reasonable restrictions on guns make sense,” said Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat. Last weekend, he said, brought another reminder of the urgency at hand: a 16-year-old from Mr. Kavanagh’s district was shot dead on Friday.

    Cuomo to Press for Wider Curbs on Gun Access, NYT, 8.1.2013,






The Bid to Stop Gun Trafficking


January 7, 2013
The New York Times


Instructed by President Obama to find ways to curb gun violence after the Connecticut school massacre, a working group led by Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. appears ready to recommend a package of proposals that go beyond reinstating the expired ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Mr. Obama has already expressed support for a bill being prepared by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, that would provide a more effective ban on military-style assault weapons than the law that lapsed in 2004. The Biden task force, according to a report in The Washington Post, is considering a broader range of other measures backed by key law enforcement leaders and by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group started by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York.

These measures include making background checks universal for all gun buyers, creating a national database to track the movement and sale of firearms, expanding mental health checks, and increasing penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving guns to minors.

Even this sensible list could be enlarged and improved. Notably missing is a concerted crackdown on illegal gun trafficking. The task force’s final recommendations, which are due to be released by the end of the month, should include a measure to stem the illegal gun trade and make it easier for law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute gun traffickers and the straw buyers and rogue dealers who enable them.

A strong starting point is a measure first proposed four years ago by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, which she is about to reintroduce in the new Congress.

The Gun Trafficking Prevention Act would create, for the first time, a separate criminal offense for gun trafficking. It would also toughen penalties at every point in the trafficking chain — from straw buyers who purchase a gun for someone else to evade required record-keeping and background checks, to corrupt gun dealers who supply illegal weapons to the kingpins running the trafficking rings. Study after study has shown that a tiny minority of bad gun dealers are responsible for selling a huge number of the guns traced to crimes.

The measure would give the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives new authority to impose civil penalties and special restrictions, like increased inspections and inventory checks, on “high-risk” gun dealers suspected of assisting traffickers. Finally, it would authorize the addition of hundreds of new agents and other personnel for the underfinanced bureau to allow for more frequent inspections of all gun stores.

    The Bid to Stop Gun Trafficking, NYT, 7.1.2013,






Bloomberg Takes on the N.R.A.


January 7, 2013
The New York Times


TO: Michael Bloomberg

FROM: Joe Nocera

RE: Your Next Act

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

This time next year, as you’re keenly aware, you will no longer be the mayor of New York. We all know how much you love the job, and how much you’ll miss it. No question about it: though you have had your critics (including, at times, me), you’ve been a very good mayor.

They say that you’re thinking a lot these days about what to do next. When you step down you’ll be 71, and plenty vital enough to do something significant. And of course, with a net worth of $20 billion or so, you certainly have the financial wherewithal to affect the issues that are important to you. You showed it in the last election, ginning up a super PAC and spending around $10 million on a handful of elections across the country where you thought your money could make a difference. Even though you got into the game late, you won more than you lost.

I know you have lots of interests, but after listening to you these past few weeks — ever since the horrible massacre in Newtown, Conn. — I am hoping you will direct your postmayoral energies to one issue: gun control. There is, quite simply, no one else in America who has a better chance of moving the country toward a saner gun policy than you. It is an effort worthy of your talents, and your money.

First, there is your obvious passion for the issue. They say it was your experience as mayor that sensitized you to the issue — and how could it not, with the funerals you’ve had to attend, and the mothers of murdered children you’ve had to console? Since the Newtown tragedy, no other high-profile politician has been as forceful in condemning gun violence and demanding “immediate action” in Congress. Millions of Americans — indeed, a majority of them — agree with you. They are looking for somebody to lead the charge against the National Rifle Association.

Second, though your message has been blunt, your tactics have been politically shrewd. In 2006, you started a new organization to fight gun violence: Mayors Against Illegal Guns. You thought that mayors had the credibility to reframe the issue as one of crime control, rather than gun control. Mayors Against Illegal Guns now has more than 800 mayors, and nearly one million “active supporters.” It has lobbyists in Washington and elsewhere, and has had success resisting recent N.R.A. legislative initiatives. Its short-term agenda — ban assault weapons, require background checks for all gun sales, make gun trafficking a federal crime, and so on — is a good, sensible place to start regulating guns.

Third — and let’s not be coy here — you’re rich. The N.R.A. has an annual budget that is reported to be $300 million. In 2011, the combined budgets of all the groups trying to prevent gun violence came to around $16 million. The best-known of those groups, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, has seen its support and its funding dwindle in recent years. Meanwhile, the N.R.A. and its allies have done a brilliant job at pushing through laws that make it nearly impossible to prevent gun violence. There are more than 200 members of Congress who regularly get a perfect score from the N.R.A. It is going to take money to change that because money is what Congress responds to.

To be honest, Mr. Mayor, I wish you could start tomorrow. With each passing day, the urgency that accompanied the Newtown shooting slips further away. President Obama, who seems absolutely terrified to take on the gun lobby, didn’t even mention guns when asked about his second-term priorities. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, has said that the first months of the new Congressional session will be devoted to the issue of federal spending. Guns, he said, will just have to wait.

In recent years, even in states that experienced horrific mass killings, gun laws have only become looser. In Virginia, the State Legislature repealed a law that barred people from buying more than one handgun a month, and passed a law “to allow permit holders to carry concealed and loaded weapons into bars and restaurants,” according to ProPublica. That same article reported that in Texas, two years after the Fort Hood shooting, legislators “gave gun carriers greater freedom to take their weapons to more places.”

The only two gun bills President Obama has signed were laws that expanded gun rights. “The country needs his leadership,” you said of Obama after he announced that Vice President Joe Biden was going to lead a panel making a new effort to reduce gun violence.

With all due respect, sir, what the country needs is your leadership on this issue. The sooner the better.

    Bloomberg Takes on the N.R.A., NYT, 7.1.2013,






After Pinpointing Gun Owners,

Paper Is a Target


January 6, 2013
The New York Times


WHITE PLAINS — Local newspapers across the country look for stories that will bring them national attention, but The Journal News, a daily nestled in a wooded office park in a suburb north of New York, may have gotten more than it bargained for.

Two weeks ago, the paper published the names and addresses of handgun permit holders — a total of 33,614 — in two suburban counties, Westchester and Rockland, and put maps of their locations online. The maps, which appeared with the article “The Gun Owner Next Door: What You Don’t Know About the Weapons in Your Neighborhood,” received more than one million views on the Web site of The Journal News — more than twice as many as the paper’s previous record, about a councilman who had two boys arrested for running a cupcake stand.

But the article, which left gun owners feeling vulnerable to harassment or break-ins, also drew outrage from across the country. Calls and e-mails grew so threatening that the paper’s president and publisher, Janet Hasson, hired armed guards to monitor the newspaper’s headquarters in White Plains and its bureau in West Nyack, N.Y.

Personal information about editors and writers at the paper has been posted online, including their home addresses and information about where their children attended school; some reporters have received notes saying they would be shot on the way to their cars; bloggers have encouraged people to steal credit card information of Journal News employees; and two packages containing white powder have been sent to the newsroom and a third to a reporter’s home (all were tested by the police and proved to be harmless).

“As journalists, we are prepared for criticism,” Ms. Hasson said, as she sat in her meticulously tended office and described the ways her 225 employees have been harassed since the article was published. “But in the U.S., journalists should not be threatened.” She has paid for staff members who do not feel safe in their homes to stay at hotels, offered guards to walk employees to their cars, encouraged employees to change their home telephone numbers and has been coordinating with the local police.

The decision to report and publish the data, taken from publicly available records, happened within a week of the school massacre in nearby Newtown, Conn. On Dec. 17, Dwight R. Worley, a tax reporter, returned from trying to interview the families of victims in Newtown with an idea to obtain and publish local gun permit data. He discussed his idea with his immediate editor, Kathy Moore, who in turn talked to her bosses, according to CynDee Royle, the paper’s editor.

Mr. Worley started putting out requests for public information that Monday, receiving the data from Westchester County that day and from Rockland County three days later. All the editors involved said there were not any formal meetings about the article, although it came up at several regular news meetings. Ms. Royle, who had been at The Journal News in 2006 when the newspaper published similar data, without mapping it or providing street numbers, said that editors discussed publishing the data in at least three meetings.

Ms. Hasson said Ms. Royle told her that an article with gun permit data would be published on Sunday, Dec. 23. While Ms. Hasson had not been at the paper in 2006, she knew there had been some controversy then. She made sure to be available on Dec. 23 by e-mail, and accessible to the staff if any problems came up. A spokesman for Gannett, which owns The Journal News, said it was never informed about the coming article.

“We’ve run this content before,” Ms. Hasson said. “I supported it, and I supported the publishing of the info.”

By Dec. 26, employees had begun receiving threatening calls and e-mails, and by the next day, reporters not involved in the article were being threatened. The reaction did not stop at the local paper: Gracia C. Martore, the chief executive of Gannett, also received threatening messages.

Many of the threats, Ms. Hasson said, were coming from across the country, and not from the paper’s own community. But local gun owners and supporters are encouraging an advertiser boycott of The Journal News. Scott Sommavilla, president of the 35,000-member Westchester County Firearm Owners Association, said 44,000 people had downloaded a list of advertisers from his group’s Web site. But he emphasized that his association would never encourage any personal threats. Appealing to advertisers, he said, is the best way for gun owners to express their disapproval of the article.

“They’re really upset about it,” Mr. Sommavilla said. “They’re afraid for their families.”

The paper’s decision has drawn criticism from journalists who question whether The Journal News should have provided more context and whether it was useful to publish individual names and addresses. Journalists with specialties in computer-assisted reporting have argued that just because public data has become more readily available in recent years does not mean that it should be published raw. In ways, they argued, it would have been more productive to publish data by ZIP code or block.

“The Journal News, I personally think, should have rethought the idea as actually going so far to identify actual addresses,” said Steve Doig, a professor with an expertise in data journalism at Arizona State. “This particular database ought to remain a public record. Just because it’s available and public record doesn’t mean we have to make it so readily available.”

Mr. Worley disagrees. “The people have as much of a right to know who owns guns in their communities as gun owners have to own weapons,” he said.

Mr. Doig pointed out that the recent publication of gun information by other papers has made access to this public information more difficult because legislators started blocking the data immediately. “The backlash, very typically from this, is for legislators to try to close up the access to this type of data.”

Mr. Worley said he had received mainly taunting phone calls sprinkled in with callers who said “you should die.” He found broken glass outside of his home and would not say how much time he was spending there right now. But he said he had largely been supported by the newsroom.

The Journal News’s features editor, Mary Dolan, said that while she was not involved with the publication of the article, her home address and phone numbers were published online in retaliation. She has had to disconnect her phone and has “taken my social media presence and just put it on the shelf for a while.” She has also received angry phone calls from former neighbors in Westchester whose gun information was published.

She said she was especially concerned about the part-time staff members who write up wedding anniversary and church potluck announcements who have been harassed. But she supports the paper for its decision.

“It sparked a conversation that needed to occur in this country, and it revealed tactics that will be employed when gun owners feel their rights are threatened,” she said.

Putnam County has refused to release similar data, but Ms. Hasson said she would continue to press for it. She would not say whether the paper had lost any of its advertisers. According to the Alliance for Audited Media, The Journal News, like many newspapers nationwide, has had sharp declines in circulation. Its total circulation from Monday through Friday fell from 111,536 in September 2007 to 68,850 in September 2012.

At the same time, Ms. Hasson has been trying to calm the nerves of her family after photographs of the home she is renting and references to her adult children were put online.

“They are concerned about my safety,” she said about her children. “But they are very supportive.”

    After Pinpointing Gun Owners, Paper Is a Target, NYT, 6.1.2013,






Gunman and Three Others Killed

After Standoff in Aurora, Colo.


January 5, 2013
The New York Times


Four people, including a gunman who was suspected of taking hostages inside a house in Aurora, Colo, died Saturday after a standoff with the police, the authorities said.

The episode began about 3 a.m. when shots were heard on East Ithaca Place, about 16 miles southeast of downtown Denver, said Sgt. Cassidee Carlson, a spokeswoman for the Aurora Police Department.

A woman who had escaped from the house told officers that shots had been fired and “that she observed three people inside the home who appeared lifeless as she was leaving,” according to a statement released by the police on Saturday afternoon.

About 50 officers, including members of a SWAT unit and hostage negotiators were called, Ms. Carlson said. When attempts to talk to the man by telephone and over a bullhorn were unsuccessful, the police statement said, officers moved in using an armored vehicle around 8 a.m., which was fired upon.

The police were unable to force the gunman out of the house using gas, Sgt. Carlson said, and about an hour later, officers shot him to death after he appeared in a second-floor window, she said.

Inside, the police said they also found the bodies of a woman and two other men. Sgt. Carlson did not identify the victims or the gunman, and said investigators did not know what set off the episode.

In July, 12 people were killed and 58 wounded in a shooting at an Aurora movie theater during midnight screening of the Batman sequel “The Dark Knight Rises.” The gunman, wearing what the police described as ballistic gear, used an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun and a handgun in the shooting, the police said.

James Eagan Holmes, 24, was arrested outside the theater and has been charged in the killings. Prosecutors are scheduled to present their case against Mr. Holmes at a preliminary hearing on Monday that is expected to be attended by many of the survivors and family members of those who died.

Bob Broom, a member of the Aurora City Council, said memories of the movie theater shootings were still fresh but that life in the city had begun to resume its normal rhythms. He said he did not believe the shooting on Saturday shooting would reopen those wounds because it appeared to have been an act of domestic violence.

“When the theater shooting first happened, there was incredible grief,” said Mr. Broom, who said he lives in the subdivision where the shooting on Saturday took place. “But time heals. And it has healed in this situation.”

Barb Helzer, co-owner of the Rock Restaurant and Bar, said she tensed up when she heard news of the shooting on Saturday. “My whole staff, even the young staff, who normally don’t pay attention, we all said, ‘Oh my God, there’s been another shooting,’ ” she said.

Ms. Helzer says she has friends whose Aurora businesses have struggled since the summer. Others will not go to the movies.

“It is all still a recent reality here. We’re still nervous,” Ms. Helzer said. “You find yourself looking at people differently. We’re careful when we ask people to leave the bar. You don’t take things for granted anymore.”

The theater where the shootings took place, the Century 16, is scheduled to reopen on Jan. 17. The theater’s operator, Cinemark, has been criticized for sending out invitations for the reopening to relatives of those who were killed.

Parents, grandparents, cousins and a widow of 9 of the 12 people killed said they were asked to attend an “evening of remembrance” followed by a movie on Jan. 17, according to an open letter to Cinemark published by The Denver Post.

In the letter, many of the relatives said the company had never offered its condolences and had refused to meet with them without the company’s lawyers being present.

“Our family members will never be on this earth with us again, and a movie ticket and some token words from people who didn’t care enough to reach out to us, nor respond when we reached out to them to talk, is appalling,” the letter said.

The families, some of whom have sued Cinemark, described the invitation as a “thinly veiled publicity ploy” and called for a boycott of the theater. Cinemark did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Saturday.


Dan Frosch contributed reporting from Albuquerque, N.M.

    Gunman and Three Others Killed After Standoff in Aurora, Colo., NYT, 5.1.2013,






3 Officers Are Wounded in 2 Shootings;

a Gunman Is Killed


January 3, 2013
The New York Times


Three New York City police officers were shot Thursday night in two separate encounters, including one at a Brooklyn subway station that left a gunman dead.

In that shooting, just after 7:30 p.m., two plainclothes transit officers, Michael Levay, 27, and Lukasz Kozicki, 32, saw a man moving between cars on the Brooklyn-bound N train at Fort Hamilton Parkway subway station in Brooklyn, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said at a news conference late Thursday.

The officers approached the man, removed their shields from under their bulletproof vests, explained that moving between the cars was not allowed, and asked him to accompany them off the train, Mr. Kelly said. He moved as if to comply, the police said, but pulled a gun and shot Officer Kozicki once in each thigh and in the groin, and Officer Levay once in the back.

Officer Levay, whose vest prevented serious injury, according to Paul J. Browne, the chief police spokesman, returned fire with seven bullets, killing the man. The gunman, whose name was not immediately released, landed with his feet on the platform and his body on the train, the police said. He had at least five previous arrests, including one for “assault with a knife,” Mr. Browne said. Both officers were in stable condition Thursday night at Lutheran Medical Center. One bystander received a graze wound to the leg, the police said.

Earlier, around 6:30 p.m., four men, one with a gun, approached a car dealership on Boston Road in the Allerton section of the Bronx owned by the family of Officer Juan Pichardo, 34, and announced a robbery, the police said.

Mr. Pichardo, who was off duty, and another employee were held at gunpoint while one of the men ransacked the premises, the police said. Mr. Pichardo rushed at his assailant and was shot in the lower leg, the police said, but despite the wound, he and the employee subdued the gunman. The gunman and three accomplices, two waiting in a car outside, were later arrested, the authorities said. Officer Pichardo was taken to Jacobi Medical Center. His wounds were not considered life-threatening.

The shootings of the three police officers underscored a violent first few days of the new year, prompting officers working the late shift Thursday night at Police Headquarters to shake their heads.

“In recent weeks we’ve heard that what stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on Thursday night at the news conference, held at Lutheran Medical Center. “But sometimes the good guys get shot.” Mr. Bloomberg renewed his call for stronger gun restrictions.

The shootings fanned an already boiling debate about gun control. The gun used to shoot the off-duty officer in the Bronx was reported stolen in North Carolina in late December; the subway assailant’s gun had been purchased in Pennsylvania in 2011.

Thursday’s attacks followed two other police-involved shootings so far this year. In one of those, on Wednesday, an officer shot and seriously injured a 40-year-old man who was wielding a pair of scissors and threatening a woman in a Brooklyn apartment.

In 2012, the police said, 11 New York City police officers were shot while on duty, and one while off duty. None of the shootings were fatal. In 2011, three officers were shot, and one died.

“This is another reminder of how hard we have to work on a nationwide level to keep illegal guns out of New York City,” Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, said on Thursday night.

The exchange of gunfire in Brooklyn was the latest in a series of deadly encounters at subway stations. In December, two men were pushed to their deaths underneath subway trains. Suspects have been arrested in both cases.


Christopher Maag and Angela Macropoulos contributed reporting.

    3 Officers Are Wounded in 2 Shootings; a Gunman Is Killed, NYT, 3.1.2012,






How to Get a New Assault-Weapons Ban

Through Congress


January 2, 2013
The New York Times



CALLING the massacre in Newtown, Conn., “the worst day of my presidency,” President Obama recently told NBC’s David Gregory: “My response is, something has to work. And it is not enough for us to say, ‘This is too hard, so we’re not going to try.’ ”

Almost 20 years ago, Senator Dianne Feinstein and other lawmakers took the same approach to build a bipartisan majority in Congress, tortuously, vote by vote, for legislation banning the future manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

As Senator Feinstein’s counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1993, I worked with her to get the assault weapons bill to President Bill Clinton’s desk. But the legislation expired in 2004 and hasn’t been renewed. Understanding what worked then is the key to doing it again in the new Congress, as Senator Feinstein has vowed to do.

Then, as now, legislation was the product of spectacular violence. On July 1, 1993, a man carrying two semiautomatic pistols equipped with high-capacity ammunition magazines and “hellfire” triggers, and another pistol, strolled off an elevator in a San Francisco building. He entered the offices of a law firm and killed eight people and injured six others before taking his own life. In the wake of that horror, Senator Feinstein asked me to review earlier bills by two other Democratic senators at the time, Dennis DeConcini of Arizona and Howard M. Metzenbaum of Ohio, and blend them with her own proposals to create meaningful new legislation that could pass Congress.

The law that resulted is best known for regulating certain semiautomatic weapons and large ammunition magazines, but it’s worth remembering that its official name was the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act.

That title wasn’t a euphemism: the law needed support from lawmakers who had viewed prior legislative efforts as toothless, as well as those who feared that a ban on assault weapons could lead to the confiscation of guns used for hunting and target shooting.

The bill had three main components. The first was a list of well-known, deeply feared guns that were banned by name (like Uzis). The second banned the future manufacture and sale of any new semiautomatic weapon with a detachable magazine and more than two of several assault-style features (like a forward handgrip). The third and most critical section was Appendix A, which listed every single hunting rifle and shotgun in use at the time — there were hundreds — that didn’t run afoul of the features test in the second component. Those firearms were unequivocally exempted from the bill.

At the time, gun-control advocates resisted the incorporation of Appendix A. But the idea behind it was and remains crucial to making any meaningful changes in America’s gun laws. They must gain the support of gun owners, most of whom are heartsick over senseless carnage.

By explicitly protecting hundreds of popular sporting guns, the bill enabled senators and representatives to push back against the tide of protests — many of them generated by the National Rifle Association — at town hall-style meetings in their states and districts. They could show their constituents that their ordinary hunting rifles and shotguns were protected in Appendix A or that their guns could be added to it, if need be. Proponents of the legislation distributed blue booklets describing all three parts of the bill, including pictures of the assault weapons banned by name and the full list of guns protected by Appendix A.

The nation’s principal law enforcement organizations, whose leaders testified and lobbied aggressively for the bill, also made great use of the booklets and Appendix A. In fact, it was a survey showing overwhelming support for an assault-weapons ban from police chiefs in and around his Congressional district that persuaded Representative Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee at the time, to support the bill. His surprise yes vote offset the no vote of the committee’s conservative chairman, Representative Jack Brooks, a Texas Democrat, so that the bill could move to the floor of the House.

The existence of Appendix A also made it possible for Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Colorado Democrat and longtime N.R.A. member — coupled with his own reaction to a torrent of gun-lobby phone calls — to commit to supporting Senator Feinstein’s bill if it was essential. That moment came when a motion to table, or effectively kill, the bill came before the Senate. Although the motion would have failed with a tie vote of 50 to 50, Senator Feinstein asked Senator Campbell for his vote to show that a majority of senators supported the bill. He honored his commitment, and the motion to table failed, 49 to 51, paving the way for the ultimate passage of the bill by a vote of 57 to 43.

Following the Newtown tragedy, inaction is not an option, morally or politically. President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. (who championed the original assault-weapons ban when he served in the Senate) are on the right track with their plan to present legislation before the new Congress.

Preventing another slaughter will require not just new gun regulations, but also education, mental health care, greater access by law enforcement agencies to mental health records and assistance for parents, while respecting the whole Bill of Rights.

But the lesson from nearly two decades ago remains clear. If any meaningful change is to come, legislators must again devise a bill that both regulates assault weapons and respects and protects gun owners.

If we want to reimpose a permanent assault-weapons ban and restrict high capacity ammunition magazines, let’s include a new list of exempted rifles and shotguns used for recreational shooting in a new Appendix A (updated annually) and actively solicit input from the shooting community to make it work.

If we want to require background checks for all private sales at gun shows, let’s cap the cost so that private sales aren’t prohibitively expensive. Better yet, when we do this, let’s find an efficient way to allow individual sellers to directly use the same F.B.I.-managed background check system they must now pay federally licensed gun dealers to access for them.

If, once and for all, we want to revoke the de facto exemption from consumer product safety regulation that, thanks to the N.R.A., guns have historically enjoyed, let’s bring them under the jurisdiction of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and require gun makers to build state-of-the-art gunlock technology (like palm- or fingerprint-recognition sensors) into every handgun or rifle. But then let’s also relieve gun owners of the burden of identifying and complying with a patchwork of different state laws covering the transport of firearms and permit, under federal law, the transport of any lawfully owned gun across state lines if it’s unloaded and locked in the trunk of a car, in a childproof case.

Finally, if only because it’s the fair thing to do, let’s require states and localities to process gun registration and other applications by law-abiding gun owners within a reasonable period of time, and with firm deadlines.

We need comprehensive proposals that can gain wide support. As always, the resulting legislation won’t be perfect. For example, just as in 1993, it’s unlikely that a new bill would address assault weapons that people already lawfully own — like the one Adam Lanza took from his mother before he killed her, 20 first graders, six educators and himself. We’ll have to address that problem with publicly and privately sponsored buyback programs and other approaches. But once enacted, a comprehensive bill would, over time, make “grandfathered” weapons and ammunition magazines more expensive, harder to find and harder to repair. If such a compromise kept the wrong gun out of the wrong hands just once, I’d take it, any day.


Adam Eisgrau, a lobbyist and communications consultant,

was Senator Dianne Feinstein’s counsel

for the Senate Judiciary Committee

from 1993 to 1995 and worked for the Brady Campaign,

a gun-control organization,

after the Columbine shooting in 1999.

    How to Get a New Assault-Weapons Ban Through Congress, NYT, 2.1.2013,






Who Pays for the Right to Bear Arms?


January 1, 2013
The New York Times



IN the days following the Newtown massacre the nation’s newspapers were filled with heart-wrenching pictures of the innocent victims. The slaughter was unimaginably shocking. But the broader tragedy of gun violence is felt mostly not in leafy suburbs, but in America’s inner cities.

The right to bear arms typically invokes the romantic image of a cowboy toting a rifle on the plains. In modern-day America, though, the more realistic picture is that of a young black man gunned down in his prime in a dark alley. When we celebrate gun rights, we all too often ignore their disproportionate racial burdens. Any effort to address gun violence must focus on the inner city.

Last year Chicago had some 500 homicides, 87 percent of them gun-related. In the city’s public schools, 319 students were shot in the 2011-12 school year, 24 of them fatally. African-Americans are 33 percent of the Chicago population, but about 70 percent of the murder victims.

The same is true in other cities. In 2011, 80 percent of the 324 people killed in Philadelphia were killed by guns, and three-quarters of the victims were black.

Racial disparities in gun violence far outstrip those in almost any other area of life. Black unemployment is double that for whites, as is black infant mortality. But young black men die of gun homicide at a rate eight times that of young white men. Could it be that the laxity of the nation’s gun laws is tolerated because its deadly costs are borne by the segregated black and Latino populations of North Philadelphia and Chicago’s South Side?

The history of gun regulation is inextricably interwoven with race. Some of the nation’s most stringent gun laws emerged in the South after the Civil War, as Southern whites feared what newly freed slaves might do if armed. At the same time, Northerners saw the freed slaves’ right to bear arms as critical to protecting them from the Ku Klux Klan.

In the 1960s, Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party made the gun a central symbol of black power, claiming that “the gun is the only thing that will free us.” On May 2, 1967, taking advantage of California’s lax gun laws, several Panthers marched through the State Capitol in Sacramento carrying raised and loaded weapons, generating widespread news coverage.

The police could do nothing, as the Panthers broke no laws. But three months later, Gov. Ronald Reagan signed into law one of the strictest gun control laws in the country.

The urban riots of the late 1960s — combined with rising crime rates and a string of high-profile assassinations — spurred Congress to pass federal gun control laws, banning interstate commerce in guns except for federally licensed dealers and collectors; prohibiting sales to felons, the mentally ill, substance abusers and minors; and expanding licensing requirements.

These laws contain large loopholes, however, and are plainly inadequate to deal with the increased number and lethality of modern weapons. But as long as gun violence largely targets young black men in urban ghettos, the nation seems indifferent. At Newtown, the often all-too-invisible costs of the right to bear arms were made starkly visible — precisely because these weren’t the usual victims. The nation took note, and President Obama has promised reform, though he has not yet made a specific proposal.

Gun rights defenders argue that gun laws don’t reduce violence, noting that many cities with high gun violence already have strict gun laws. But this ignores the ease with which urban residents can evade local laws by obtaining guns from dealers outside their cities or states. Effective gun regulation requires a nationally coordinated response.

A cynic might propose resurrecting the Black Panthers to heighten white anxiety as the swiftest route to breaking the logjam on gun reform. I hope we are better than that. If the nation were to view the everyday tragedies that befall young black and Latino men in the inner cities with the same sympathy that it has shown for the Newtown victims, there would be a groundswell of support not just for gun law reform, but for much broader measures.

If we are to reduce the inequitable costs of gun rights, it’s not enough to tighten licensing requirements, expand background checks to private gun sales or ban assault weapons. In addition to such national measures, meaningful reform must include initiatives directed to where gun violence is worst: the inner cities. Aggressive interventions by police and social workers focused on gang gun violence, coupled with economic investment, better schools and more after-school and job training programs, are all necessary if we are to reduce the violence that gun rights entail.

To tweak the National Rifle Association’s refrain, “guns don’t kill people; indifference to poverty kills people.” We can’t in good conscience keep making young black men pay the cost of our right to bear arms.

David Cole is a professor of constitutional law and criminal justice at the Georgetown University Law Center.

    Who Pays for the Right to Bear Arms?, NYT, 1.1.2013,






At the E.R.,

Bearing Witness to Gun Violence


January 1, 2013
The New York Times


THERE is an unspoken rule in medicine: we do not tell tales out of school.

As an emergency room physician, an Army veteran who was deployed to a combat support hospital in Baghdad in 2005, and a biomedical researcher in the field of cardiac-arrest resuscitation, I have been and am, on a daily basis, a witness to grave misfortune. Ordinarily, though, except for medical purposes, I will not discuss what I have seen.

Last week a colleague asked me to make an exception. The father of two young children, he was moved by the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., to ask his professional circle to reconsider our silence. I am an expectant father, and his words resonated with me. They reminded me that we doctors are at the front lines of the scourge of gun violence, and that to remain silent as this threat to public health continues unabated would be no different than for an oncologist or a cardiologist to stay mum on the dangers of smoking.

The doctor’s balance between discretion and education is complex. But the news from Newtown, and my colleague’s request, convinced me that we have reached the threshold. I can no longer stay silent.

Here is just some of what I have seen over the years. In Baghdad, I saw a 5-year-old girl who was shot in the head while in her car seat. Her father, who knew she was dying before I said it, wept in my arms, as bits of her body clung to his shirt.

Much of the gun violence I have seen, though, I have seen on home soil, here in the United States. There was a 9-year-old girl, shot in the chest by an assault rifle during a “drive-by” gang shooting, in a botched retaliation for a shooting earlier that day. She was baffled, and in pain, with a gaping hole under her collarbone.

I have also seen an 8-year-old who found a shotgun in the closet while playing with a friend. The two boys pointed the weapon at each other a number of times before the gun accidentally discharged. The 8-year-old arrived in my emergency department with most of his face blown off. Miraculously, he survived.

Another child I will never forget was a 13-year-old who was shot twice in the abdomen by an older boy who mistook him for one of a group that had bullied and berated him a week earlier. Slick with sweat and barely conscious, he groaned and turned to look at me. Soon after, he died in the operating room. His mother arrived minutes later, wide-eyed and breathless.

I do not know exactly what measures should be taken to reduce gun violence like this. But I know that most homicides and suicides in America are carried out with guns. Research suggests that homes with a gun are two to three times more likely to experience a firearm death than homes without guns, and that members of the household are 18 times more likely to be the victim than intruders.

I know that in 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, nearly 400 American children (age 14 and under) were killed with a firearm and nearly 1,000 were injured. That means that this week we can expect 26 more children to be injured or killed with a firearm.

Emergency rooms are themselves volatile environments, not immune to violence. Over the last decade, a quarter of gun crimes in American E.R.’s were committed with guns wrested from armed guards.

I have sworn an oath to heal and to protect humans. Guns, invented to maim and destroy, are my natural enemy.

Sally Cox, a school nurse in Newtown, told Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes” that when state troopers led her out of the school after the mass shooting they instructed her to cover her eyes. This was humane, and right. But some of us see every day what no one should, ever. If the carnage remains undiscussed, we risk complacency about an American epidemic — one that is profoundly difficult, but necessary, to watch, and to confront. That is why I bear witness.


David H. Newman is the director of clinical research

in the department of emergency medicine

at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

    At the E.R., Bearing Witness to Gun Violence, NYT, 1.1.2013,




home Up