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History > 2013 > USA > Gun violence (III)



U.S. Judge Upholds

Most New York Gun Limits


December 31, 2013
The New York Times


A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that New York’s strict new gun laws, including an expanded ban on assault weapons, were constitutional, but struck down a provision forbidding gun owners to load more than seven rounds into a magazine.

The ruling offered a victory to gun control advocates at the end of a year in which efforts to pass new legislation on the federal level suffered a high-profile defeat in Congress, although some new restrictions were approved in state capitals.

The judge, William M. Skretny of Federal District Court in Buffalo, said expanded bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines were legally sound because they served to “further the state’s important interest in public safety.”

The new laws in New York, enacted in January 2013, are among the most restrictive in the country. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, pushed for the state to be the first to take action after the mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn.; gun rights groups accused him of ramming through new gun restrictions they called ill-conceived, poorly understood and unconstitutional.

In a 54-page ruling, Judge Skretny struck down a well-known but troubled portion of the law, which prohibited gun owners from loading more than seven rounds into a magazine. He called the limit “an arbitrary restriction” that violated the Second Amendment.

But, saying that “whether regulating firearms is wise or warranted is not a judicial question; it is a political one,” he found that Mr. Cuomo and lawmakers had acted within their bounds when they drafted the gun laws, and specifically cited the Bushmaster rifle and 30-round magazine used in the Newtown shooting.

“Of course, this is only one incident,” Judge Skretny wrote. “But it is nonetheless illustrative. Studies and data support New York’s view that assault weapons are often used to devastating effect in mass shootings.”

He said that the gun law “applies only to a subset of firearms with characteristics New York State has determined to be particularly dangerous and unnecessary for self-defense; it does not totally disarm New York’s citizens; and it does not meaningfully jeopardize their right to self-defense.”

Even after the Newtown shooting, states passed more legislation in the last year loosening gun laws than tightening them. But gun control advocates, who celebrated the New York measure as a leading success story, said the ruling confirmed their position that the government had the right to pass strict controls on firearms.

“A lot of states can take courage and take heart from this ruling, and maybe even Congress will take notice,” said Leah Gunn Barrett, the executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. “The Second Amendment does not preclude reasonable regulation. It doesn’t mean you can have guns that are extremely dangerous, like assault weapons.”

But the states that have passed new gun restrictions have seen a backlash. In Colorado, where there have been two highly publicized mass shootings — in Aurora and in Columbine — lawmakers voted to expand background checks and limit the capacity of ammunition magazines. The laws prompted recalls of two state senators in September; a third resigned in November rather than face a recall, and some sheriffs have declined to enforce the laws.

And in New York, the laws have damaged Mr. Cuomo’s standing upstate as he prepares to seek re-election in November; in a year-end progress report released on Friday, he only briefly mentioned the gun laws. A spokeswoman for the governor declined to comment on the judge’s ruling.

Thomas H. King, the president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, which was among the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, said opponents of the law would appeal Judge Skretny’s ruling.

“Right from Day 1, I’ve been telling people that this is the first step,” he said. “This is going to the Supreme Court.”

Gun rights groups have responded with outrage to the new laws, holding demonstrations at the Capitol in Albany, denouncing politicians like Mr. Cuomo and questioning the laws’ legality. Some gun owners have said they will refuse to comply with a requirement that people who already own assault weapons register them with the state.

The seven-round limit on magazines, which Mr. Cuomo had highlighted when he signed the law, had run into problems before Tuesday’s ruling.

In March, in response to complaints that seven-round magazines were not available for sale, Mr. Cuomo and leaders of the State Legislature reached an agreement to modify that portion of the law so that 10-round magazines could still be bought.

But they kept the seven-round limit in effect, meaning that gun owners would still be forbidden to load more than seven rounds into a 10-round magazine, except at gun ranges, where they could load the full magazine.

In court papers, the plaintiffs argued that the seven-round limit threatened the ability of New Yorkers to defend themselves, while the state attorney general’s office said there was no evidence to support “fantastical scenarios involving multiple home invaders” that would necessitate a firearm loaded with more than seven rounds.

Judge Skretny sided with the gun owners, writing that the restriction could wind up “pitting the criminal with a fully-loaded magazine against the law-abiding citizen limited to seven rounds.”

    U.S. Judge Upholds Most New York Gun Limits, NYT, 31.12.2013,






Congress’s Temerity on Gun Safety


December 22, 2013
The New York Times


Despite lawmakers’ copious sympathy for the 26 victims of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, all members of Congress were able to manage in the way of gun safety as they left town was renewal of the ban on the manufacture of plastic firearms. This is a type of arcane weapon that figured not at all in the Sandy Hook Elementary School rampage in 2012, nor in the mass shootings featuring adapted weapons of war that have occurred on average every two weeks somewhere in America.

The measure is needed because guns made of plastic could render metal gun detectors ineffective. But it does nothing to control metal guns, and little to confront the awful challenge of Newtown and the nation’s ongoing history of gun carnage. In a politically safe gesture, both the House and the Senate voted by voice so members could duck individual accountability.

The process was a sad reminder of this Congress’s determined avoidance of meaningful laws controlling the lethal (metal) weapons regularly scourging the land.

An analysis of mass killings by USA Today found that the youngsters murdered in Newtown in rapid sprays of rifle fire were not alone. Nearly one-third of the victims of mass killings since 2006 have been children younger than 18 — 363 of them shot dead at an average age of 8 years old.

The grieving parents of Newtown were armed with facts like these when they visited Congress last summer to plead for gun safety. Their ghastly losses repeatedly drew tears from lawmakers but no determined action. Congress’s failure is part of the tragedy of Newtown.

    Congress’s Temerity on Gun Safety, NYT, 22.12.2013,






Sheriffs Refuse

to Enforce Laws on Gun Control


December 15, 2013
The New York Times


GREELEY, Colo. — When Sheriff John Cooke of Weld County explains in speeches why he is not enforcing the state’s new gun laws, he holds up two 30-round magazines. One, he says, he had before July 1, when the law banning the possession, sale or transfer of the large-capacity magazines went into effect. The other, he “maybe” obtained afterward.

He shuffles the magazines, which look identical, and then challenges the audience to tell the difference.

“How is a deputy or an officer supposed to know which is which?” he asks.

Colorado’s package of gun laws, enacted this year after mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., has been hailed as a victory by advocates of gun control. But if Sheriff Cooke and a majority of the other county sheriffs in Colorado offer any indication, the new laws — which mandate background checks for private gun transfers and outlaw magazines over 15 rounds — may prove nearly irrelevant across much of the state’s rural regions.

Some sheriffs, like Sheriff Cooke, are refusing to enforce the laws, saying that they are too vague and violate Second Amendment rights. Many more say that enforcement will be “a very low priority,” as several sheriffs put it. All but seven of the 62 elected sheriffs in Colorado signed on in May to a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the statutes.

The resistance of sheriffs in Colorado is playing out in other states, raising questions about whether tougher rules passed since Newtown will have a muted effect in parts of the American heartland, where gun ownership is common and grass-roots opposition to tighter restrictions is high.

In New York State, where Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed one of the toughest gun law packages in the nation last January, two sheriffs have said publicly they would not enforce the laws — inaction that Mr. Cuomo said would set “a dangerous and frightening precedent.” The sheriffs’ refusal is unlikely to have much effect in the state: According to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, since 2010 sheriffs have filed less than 2 percent of the two most common felony gun charges. The vast majority of charges are filed by the state or local police.

In Liberty County, Fla., a jury in October acquitted a sheriff who had been suspended and charged with misconduct after he released a man arrested by a deputy on charges of carrying a concealed firearm. The sheriff, who was immediately reinstated by the governor, said he was protecting the man’s Second Amendment rights.

And in California, a delegation of sheriffs met with Gov. Jerry Brown this fall to try to persuade him to veto gun bills passed by the Legislature, including measures banning semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines and lead ammunition for hunting (Mr. Brown signed the ammunition bill but vetoed the bill outlawing the rifles).

“Our way of life means nothing to these politicians, and our interests are not being promoted in the legislative halls of Sacramento or Washington, D.C.,” said Jon E. Lopey, the sheriff of Siskiyou County, Calif., one of those who met with Governor Brown. He said enforcing gun laws was not a priority for him, and he added that residents of his rural region near the Oregon border are equally frustrated by regulations imposed by the federal Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.

This year, the new gun laws in Colorado have become political flash points. Two state senators who supported the legislation were recalled in elections in September; a third resigned last month rather than face a recall. Efforts to repeal the statutes are already in the works.

Countering the elected sheriffs are some police chiefs, especially in urban areas, and state officials who say that the laws are not only enforceable but that they are already having an effect. Most gun stores have stopped selling the high-capacity magazines for personal use, although one sheriff acknowledged that some stores continued to sell them illegally. Some people who are selling or otherwise transferring guns privately are seeking background checks.

Eric Brown, a spokesman for Gov. John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado, said, “Particularly on background checks, the numbers show the law is working.” The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has run 3,445 checks on private sales since the law went into effect, he said, and has denied gun sales to 70 people.

A Federal District Court judge last month ruled against a claim in the sheriffs’ lawsuit that one part of the magazine law was unconstitutionally vague. The judge also ruled that while the sheriffs could sue as individuals, they had no standing to sue in their official capacity.

Still, the state’s top law enforcement officials acknowledged that sheriffs had wide discretion in enforcing state laws.

“We’re not in the position of telling sheriffs and chiefs what to do or not to do,” said Lance Clem, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Safety. “We have people calling us all the time, thinking they’ve got an issue with their sheriff, and we tell them we don’t have the authority to intervene.”

Sheriffs who refuse to enforce gun laws around the country are in the minority, though no statistics exist. In Colorado, though, sheriffs like Joe Pelle of Boulder County, who support the laws and have more liberal constituencies that back them, are outnumbered.

“A lot of sheriffs are claiming the Constitution, saying that they’re not going to enforce this because they personally believe it violates the Second Amendment,” Sheriff Pelle said. “But that stance in and of itself violates the Constitution.”

Even Sheriff W. Pete Palmer of Chaffee County, one of the seven sheriffs who declined to join the federal lawsuit because he felt duty-bound to carry out the laws, said he was unlikely to aggressively enforce them. He said enforcement poses “huge practical difficulties,” and besides, he has neither the resources nor the pressure from his constituents to make active enforcement a high priority. Violations of the laws are misdemeanors.

“All law enforcement agencies consider the community standards — what is it that our community wishes us to focus on — and I can tell you our community is not worried one whit about background checks or high-capacity magazines,” he said.

At their extreme, the views of sheriffs who refuse to enforce gun laws echo the stand of Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff and the author of “The County Sheriff: America’s Last Hope.” Mr. Mack has argued that county sheriffs are the ultimate arbiters of what is constitutional and what is not. The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, founded by Mr. Mack, is an organization of sheriffs and other officers who support his views.

“The Supreme Court does not run my office,” Mr. Mack said in an interview. “Just because they allow something doesn’t mean that a good constitutional sheriff is going to do it.” He said that 250 sheriffs from around the country attended the association’s recent convention.

Matthew J. Parlow, a law professor at Marquette University, said that some states, including New York, had laws that allowed the governor in some circumstances to investigate and remove public officials who engaged in egregious misconduct — laws that in theory might allow the removal of sheriffs who failed to enforce state statutes.

But, he said, many governors could be reluctant to use such powers. And in most cases, any penalty for a sheriff who chose not to enforce state law would have to come from voters.

Sheriff Cooke, for his part, said that he was entitled to use discretion in enforcement, especially when he believed the laws were wrong or unenforceable.

“In my oath it says I’ll uphold the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Colorado,” he said, as he posed for campaign photos in his office — he is running for the State Senate in 2014. “It doesn’t say I have to uphold every law passed by the Legislature.”


Jack Healy contributed reporting from Denver.

    Sheriffs Refuse to Enforce Laws on Gun Control, NYT, 15.1.22013,






The Killer Who Supports Gun Control


December 14, 2013
The New York Times


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Killer Who Supports Gun Control, NYT, 14.12.2013,






Assailant Dead

After Shooting at Colorado School


December 13, 2013
The New York Times


CENTENNIAL, Colo. — The student did not try to hide the shotgun he carried into Arapahoe High School at 12:30 p.m. Friday. He sought to confront a teacher, law enforcement officials said, and asked his classmates where he could find him.

The teacher slipped away from the building, but officials said the gunman seriously wounded one student and then died, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Gov. John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado called the episode an “all-too-familiar sequence” in a state that has endured two of the country’s worst mass shootings.

Sheriff Grayson Robinson of Arapahoe County identified the gunman as Karl H. Pierson, 18, and said he acted alone. Officials did not identify the wounded student, who is 15 and was in critical condition last night. Another girl who was taken to the hospital and thought to be wounded was covered in blood from the wounded girl, the sheriff said.

Sheriff Robinson said the teacher had made “the most important tactical decision that could be made” by leaving, trying to draw the gunman out of the school and away from students.

It was unclear why the wounded student had been shot. Sheriff Grayson said initial reports about a confrontation appeared to be inaccurate.

Sheriff Robinson also said that two devices similar to firebombs had been found inside the school.

Law enforcement officials said they had been in contact with the gunman’s family and would spend the next days trying to answer questions about his background, and unravel his reasons for walking into the school and opening fire.

Students said they had been watching a movie in psychology class, talking about their plans for Christmas break or thinking about college application deadlines when the gunshots echoed through the hallway. Some thought they heard books slamming onto the floor. Others knew immediately and dived for cover, huddling together. Some began to cry. Their teachers slammed shut classroom doors to wait for the police.

“Everyone just jumped to the wall,” said Sam Hughes, a senior, who said he heard three shots.

“It was really scary,” said Megan Sheehan, a senior, who also heard three shots. “Everyone just ran into the corner. You’d never think it would happen at your school.”

Within minutes, swarms of police cars, then parents and news reporters, converged on the school of 2,100 students, where administrators boast about the strong test scores and high college attendance rates.

Tactical officers with drawn weapons threaded through the hallways and stood at the fences. Students streamed out of the school and onto the snow-covered track, some of them holding their hands on top of their heads, to be searched by police. Several other schools in the area were locked down. Parents waiting behind police lines dialed and redialed their children.

“You just think you were in an area where it would never happen,” said Dan Sheehan, Megan’s father.

Many students here grew up accustomed to school security procedures after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, about eight miles away. Students said they had long practiced lockdown drills and knew by heart what to do in the event of gunshots.

“They’ve been doing it since we were in elementary school,” said Charlie Kellogg, a senior.


Dan Frosch contributed reporting from Denver.

    Assailant Dead After Shooting at Colorado School, NYT, 13.12.2013,






Official Quits in Backlash

Over Colorado Gun Vote


November 27, 2013
The New York Times


DENVER — A populist backlash against Colorado’s new gun-control laws claimed its third political casualty on Wednesday as a Democratic state senator resigned her seat rather than face a recall vote that could have cost her party control of the chamber.

For Democrats in this swing state, the resignation of the senator, Evie Hudak, was a sign of the growing political cost of their votes last winter to expand background checks and limit the size of ammunition magazines — measures once hailed as breakthrough victories in the effort to respond to mass shootings.

Polls show that voters embrace aspects of the new laws. But the measures have infuriated gun advocates and Republicans, and have become political liabilities in a state where the gun debate is shaped by traditions of hunting and sport-shooting, as well as by the shadows of mass shootings at Columbine High School and the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora.

In September, two prominent gun-control supporters were ousted in recall elections, reducing the Democrats’ edge in the State Senate to one seat. Ms. Hudak, who represents the suburbs northwest of Denver, would have been the third to face a recall vote, and she and state Democrats acknowledged that neither she nor the party’s 18-17 majority was likely to survive it.

“By resigning, I am protecting these important new laws for the good of Colorado,” she wrote in her resignation letter, referring to the slate of gun restrictions, including one she sponsored that seeks to keep guns away from domestic-violence offenders.

Ms. Hudak’s decision averts another potentially humiliating recall vote and allows a panel of county Democrats to choose her temporary successor, ensuring that Republicans cannot immediately take control of the Senate and force vulnerable Democrats into uncomfortable votes to repeal the gun laws or new regulations on rural electricity providers.

But Floyd Ciruli, a political analyst in Denver, said Ms. Hudak’s resignation amounted to a surrender before the fight began and was another sign of trouble for state Democrats. It comes weeks after voters overwhelmingly rejected a $1 billion tax increase to reform Colorado’s schools, a measure championed by Gov. John W. Hickenlooper and other prominent Democrats.

“When you add all that in together and stir in the collapse of the national brand, the congressional Democrats, the president and the Affordable Care Act, it’s close to panic,” Mr. Ciruli said.

In recent weeks, as the recall efforts against Ms. Hudak gained momentum, she discussed her options with supporters and Democratic leaders, according to Morgan Carroll, the incoming Senate president. It quickly became clear that resignation was the least bad choice.

“She really, really struggled with it,” Ms. Carroll said. “She felt this was a necessary sacrifice to protect these things that were so important to her.”

Such tactical surrenders are not uncommon, said Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College in New York who tracks recall elections. There were at least 168 recall elections nationwide last year, he said, and in 26 cases, officials resigned before the vote.

Democrats, gun-control supporters and gay-advocacy groups offered thanks to Ms. Hudak on Wednesday, while her opponents expressed a mix of elation and outrage that she had left office before a vote could take place. A pro-recall Facebook page stamped the word “Coward” on her photograph.

“We all know that this is about control and power and the gun-grabbing, citizen-ignoring Democrats elected to the Colorado State Legislature,” some opponents wrote on the “Recall Hudak Too” website.

In Ms. Hudak’s district, her critics said they were thrilled. For weeks, they have been gathering signatures to force a recall vote, putting up “Recall Hudak” lawn signs and writing blog posts outlining the case against her. Gordon Allison, who helped gather signatures, said that weeks of knocking on doors and chatting with neighbors had paid off.

“This is just a politician who needs to be gone,” he said.

But others felt shortchanged and said they were angry that Ms. Hudak’s successor was likely to share many of her views.

“She walks away, the Democrats get to appoint another Democrat,” said Dave Palm, who has helped circulate petitions and run the pro-recall website. “They saw the writing on the wall.”

Ms. Hudak, 62, a former teacher and member of Colorado’s Board of Education, faced an uphill fight against a passionate opposition in a low-turnout election. She was re-elected in 2012 by 584 votes. Her opponents failed to gather enough valid signatures to force a recall vote in their first effort this spring, but they believed they were within reach this time.

Colorado is one of 19 states that allow recalls of state officials, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Voters can oust officials for any reason if they collect enough signatures and win a special election.

Until this year, no state lawmaker here had been removed in a recall vote. That changed in September, when John Morse, the State Senate president, and Senator Angela Giron lost their seats in an election that was funded heavily by the National Rifle Association and by gun-control advocates like New York’s mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg.

On Wednesday, Ms. Hudak’s supporters gathered at a library to offer words of support and thanks. Her opponents attended, too, offering more criticism. Ms. Hudak did not attend.

    Official Quits in Backlash Over Colorado Gun Vote, NYT, 27.11.2013,






Gun Tragedies Without End


November 15, 2013
The New York Times


The latest woeful lesson in gun mayhem is playing out in Michigan, where a 54-year-old man in Dearborn Heights was charged Friday with second-degree murder in the shotgun slaying of a 19-year-old woman presumed to have knocked on his door in the middle of the night, seeking help after a traffic accident.

The Wayne County prosecutor, Kym Worthy, discounted claims that the man, Theodore Wafer, was within the bounds of the self-defense law, which requires his sensing a grave and imminent threat. There was no sign of forced entry and the victim, Renisha McBride, stood on the porch when she was hit in the face by a shot fired through the locked screen door of Mr. Wafer’s house, the prosecutor said.

Although there is speculation that Ms. McBride, who was black, was a victim of racial profiling by Mr. Wafer, who is white, Ms. Worthy said, “race is not relevant.” Neither was Ms. McBride’s state of intoxication a factor in the charges, the prosecutor added. Police said Mr. Wafer claimed he thought someone was trying to break in and the shooting was accidental after he opened the main front door to investigate. That doesn’t explain why he did not call 911 or why he opened the door with a shotgun in hand.

Whatever the outcome of the case, the tragic death of Ms. McBride was another symptom of a gun culture where private citizens are too often heedless of gun safety.

In a nation armed to the teeth, the wrong circumstances and misunderstandings lead to sudden death and injury in thousands of cases a year. Lawmakers should consider the lives cut short like Ms. McBride’s when they fail to tighten gun safety laws.

    Gun Tragedies Without End, NYT, 15.11.2013,






Murder Charge in a Shooting on Doorstep


November 15, 2013
The New York Times


DETROIT — After a two-week investigation, the prosecutor here charged a white suburban homeowner on Friday with second-degree murder in the killing of an unarmed young black woman. The prosecutor rejected the man’s assertion that he had been acting in self-defense when he opened his front door and fired a shotgun at the woman through a locked screen door, striking her in the face.

The man, Theodore Paul Wafer, who is white and an employee at the Wayne County Airport Authority, entered a not-guilty plea during an arraignment on Friday. Mr. Wafer had told the police that he believed the woman was breaking into his home. The prosecutor, Kym Worthy, said that she found no evidence of an attempted break-in and that the woman, Renisha Marie McBride, 19, had been knocking on the door.

The shooting has ignited an anguished conversation in this largely black city and beyond about why another unarmed black person has been killed and whether the legal system would call anyone to account. It was the third high-profile, racially charged case this year, following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida and the recent police shooting of Jonathan Ferrell in North Carolina after he sought help following a car accident.

Ms. Worthy, who is the Wayne County prosecutor and who herself is black, said, “Race is not relevant.” She based her decision “on the facts and the evidence” and not on public opinion or mounting comparisons to other cases, she said.

Emphasizing that the shooting had not met the provisions of Michigan’s self-defense law, Ms. Worthy said, “There is no duty to retreat in your own home.” But reading from the state code, she said that a person may use deadly force only if “the individual honestly and reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the imminent death of or imminent great bodily harm to himself or herself or to another individual.”

Some, however, said that charges were only a start.

“I think people don’t understand that this stuff is happening all the time,” said the Rev. Charles Williams II, the Detroit leader of the National Action Network. “We’re happy we got a charge in this case — that’s progress — but this whole situation tells us that there is still work to do when it comes to race in America.”

In a courtroom in Dearborn Heights here on Friday afternoon, Mr. Wafer, 54, stood largely silent. Seeking a bond lower than the $250,000 that was ultimately set, his lawyer, Mack Carpenter, told a judge that Mr. Wafer was a longtime Michigan resident who took care of his 81-year-old mother. Mr. Carpenter said Mr. Wafer had the highest possible security clearance at the airport authority where he works. Michigan State Police records show Mr. Wafer has had two driving offenses, decades old.

By the end of the day, Mr. Wafer had posted bond and was to be released, the authorities said. He was placed on administrative leave from his job, an official from the airport authority said.

In addition to murder in the second degree, Mr. Wafer was charged with manslaughter and a weapons violation, connected to using his Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun. The weapon, Ms. Worthy said, appeared to be legally owned by Mr. Wafer. The charges could carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. His lawyer, Mr. Carpenter, said he would offer a strong defense.

Members of Ms. McBride’s family, who say they feel certain race played a role in her death, are hopeful about the prosecutor’s decision to bring charges.

“Renisha can rest now,” said Bernita Spinks, Ms. McBride’s aunt. “It shows that nobody can get away with what he’s done.”

Civil rights leaders here, who had questioned why Mr. Wafer was not arrested immediately after the shooting, said that the charges were as serious as they could have anticipated and had come with relative speed.

“It doesn’t change the fact that a young lady is dead, but the community feels calmer,” said the Rev. W. J. Rideout III of All God’s People Church in Detroit. “There was a thought that this might be pushed under the rug, but it shows that this will not be Trayvon and that people cannot get away with it.”

Charges were brought in Mr. Martin’s death in March 2012, six weeks after he was shot and killed by Mr. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. There were two prosecutors in the case. The first refused to bring charges and recused himself. The second charged Mr. Zimmerman with second-degree murder, but he was acquitted this summer.

The case raised national concerns about laws, like Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute, that offer wide latitude to defendants who say they felt threatened and therefore relied on deadly force.

Even with the charges against Mr. Wafer, much remained unclear about what took place in the early morning of Saturday, Nov. 2, when Ms. McBride was shot. Hours before her death — which was first reported to the police by Mr. Wafer with a 911 call — she had been in a car accident on a west Detroit street, six blocks from Mr. Wafer’s home.

Ms. McBride had hit a parked car and apparently hurt her hand, witnesses said, before leaving the wreck, returning and then leaving again.

An autopsy showed that she was intoxicated and that her blood-alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit for driving, a fact that Ms. Worthy said was irrelevant to the case. Neighbors near the accident said that they had tried to offer Ms. McBride assistance, but that she was unresponsive and disoriented and disappeared into the darkness on foot.

Her family said that they believed her cellphone had run out of power and that she wandered off searching for help.

Ms. Worthy offered few details about what happened to Ms. McBride and where she had been in the hours between the accident, just before 1 a.m., and the 911 call reporting her death shortly before 5 a.m. She suggested that such details would emerge later, as she tried the case in court.

Asked whether Mr. Wafer’s call to 911 had come immediately after the shooting, Ms. Worthy declined to say. According to police documents released on Friday, Mr. Wafer emerged to greet police officers from a side door of his house after the shooting, his hands out to his sides. He directed officers to his gun, which was perched on the floor just inside the front door.

Ms. McBride’s family members said they felt uncertain whether they would ever know exactly what happened to Ms. McBride that night. “If she was just coming to your house, asking for help, why would you do this?” said Ms. Spinks, her aunt. “She was a good girl, a good heart.”


Steven Yaccino contributed reporting from Chicago,

and Susan C. Beachy from New York.

    Murder Charge in a Shooting on Doorstep, NYT, 15.11.2013,






Fatal Shooting of Black Woman

Outside Detroit Stirs Racial Tensions


November 14, 2013
The New York Times


DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. — Shortly before 1 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 2, a young woman, just a year out of high school, crashed the car she was driving along a residential street on Detroit’s west side.

The woman, Renisha Marie McBride, 19, had veered into a parked car. As people emerged from their houses, she appeared disoriented and troubled, some witnesses said, walking off into the darkness before returning for a time, then walking off again. Someone heard her say she wanted to go home.

Several hours later and six blocks away, just outside the Detroit city limits in this mostly white suburb, Ms. McBride, who was black, was dead on the front porch of a stranger’s home, a shotgun blast to her face.

In the days since, the death has stirred long-simmering racial tensions between mostly black Detroit and its whiter suburbs and provoked comparisons to other racially charged cases around the country. Protesters held a vigil outside the house where she died, whose owner has not been publicly identified. The authorities say he thought Ms. McBride, who tests have shown was intoxicated, was trying to break in.

Anguished family members and friends, wearing shirts with messages like “Justice for Nisha,” say they believe that Ms. McBride was merely seeking help at random homes after the crash, and they were troubled that the man who shot her had not been arrested.

And civil rights activists in Detroit have pointedly recalled the cases of Trayvon Martin, the black teenager who was shot last year in a fatal encounter in Florida, and Jonathan Ferrell, a black man who was shot to death by a police officer in Charlotte, N.C., in September when he sought help after a car accident.

The Wayne County prosecutor was expected to announce on Friday whether charges would be brought against the homeowner, but essential details were still lacking to explain how a car accident had led, over a stretch of several hours in the middle of a night, to death on a tiny concrete porch.

Some people here cautioned against presuming that race played a role. Some neighbors of the man, who they said is in his 50s and lives alone in his small house, said the shooting struck them as a tragic accident. Most of all, a long list of questions remained unanswered about events that night, including what actually took place in Ms. McBride’s final moments.

“At the time I didn’t think much of what I was seeing,” said LeDell Hammond, 23, who said he was among a group of neighbors who observed Ms. McBride, seeming dazed, then disappearing, after the car crash along their block of Bramell Street. “But to have this end with that? It’s hard for me to find a way to make it add up.”

In a way, the anger here has become more muted since Kym L. Worthy, the Wayne County prosecutor, made it clear that her office was studying the case. Ms. Worthy, who is black, is widely viewed as a tough, independent prosecutor. She is known, in part, for her prosecution of two white Detroit police officers in the beating death in 1992 of a black motorist, Malice Green, and for pursuing criminal charges in 2008 against Kwame Kilpatrick, then Detroit’s mayor, who would eventually be convicted of federal crimes.

Even Ms. McBride’s family had praise for Ms. Worthy. “There will be justice,” Bernita Spinks, her aunt, said in an interview.

Ms. McBride, who graduated from Southfield High School last year, had once told her sister that she wanted to become a police officer, relatives said, but she had been working for a company that provides temporary workers for light industrial facilities, officials at the company said.

Ms. Spinks remembered her as an average student, a standout soccer player and mostly a loner whose father had spoiled her with several cars since she got her license. “She was a peaceful, kindhearted young lady,” Ms. Spinks said. Family members have said they last spoke with her around 11 p.m. on Nov. 1, shortly before the car accident.

At 12:57 a.m., the Detroit police received a 911 call about a crash. A police spokesman said no police car was sent out because the call was deemed a low priority; no one was reported injured and the driver had left. Along Bramell Street, neighbors described hearing a speeding car and a loud crash, and then seeing a young-looking driver who left, returned, then left again.

At 1:23 a.m., the Detroit police got another 911 call about the accident, the spokesman said, from someone who said that the driver had returned and seemed intoxicated. Mr. Hammond said that at least one neighbor tried to offer Ms. McBride help, but she seemed not to respond. He said he could not see any visible injuries or bleeding. Mainly, he said, she seemed disoriented.

Detroit police officers and an ambulance arrived at 1:37 a.m., the police said, but the woman was gone. By 2:50 a.m., the car was towed and the police left.

Sometime before dawn — and even the timing of the events that followed remain unclear — Ms. McBride was shot in Dearborn Heights, just across Detroit’s border, as she stood on the front porch of a house along Outer Drive, a boulevard-like street of compact homes and trim lawns.

Beyond that, the police in Dearborn Heights, a suburb of about 57,000 people, 86 percent of whom are white, have released few details of the shooting, saying they are awaiting a decision by the prosecutor.

An autopsy showed that Ms. McBride, who was 5-foot-4 and weighed 184 pounds, had a shotgun wound slightly to the left side of her nose. There was no sign that the wound was from close range, the autopsy said. It deemed the death a homicide. Toxicology results showed that her blood alcohol content was nearly 0.218, or almost three times the legal limit for driving.

On a recent afternoon, no one answered the door at the house; the blinds were drawn and a doorbell was visibly broken. The police have said the homeowner believed that she was trying to break in. Cheryl Carpenter, a lawyer for the homeowner, who did not return calls for comment, told The Detroit News, “I’m confident when the evidence comes it will show that my client was justified and acted as a reasonable person would who was in fear for his life.”

But Ms. McBride’s relatives say that they believe her cellphone had run out of power, and that she was knocking on doors in search of help. “If he was scared, all he had to do was call 911,” said Gerald E. Thurswell, a lawyer representing Ms. McBride’s family. “Why would you need a shotgun for an unarmed girl outside your door? And the fact that she was intoxicated makes no difference at all.”

Michigan’s “self-defense” act states that a person may use deadly force if “the individual honestly and reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the imminent death of or imminent great bodily harm to himself of herself or to another individual.”

Legal experts said a criminal case would probably be complicated, in part because few people saw what happened.

“There’s likely only one eyewitness to this because the woman can’t tell her story,” said Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University Law School. “There are things we’re just never going to know.”


Steven Yaccino contributed reporting from Chicago,

and Susan C. Beachy from New York.

    Fatal Shooting of Black Woman Outside Detroit Stirs Racial Tensions,
    NYT, 14.11.2013,






Unlearning Gun Violence


November 11, 2013
The New York Times


In 1995, an epidemiologist named Gary Slutkin returned to the United States from Africa where he had spent the previous decade helping Africans stem the spread of diseases like tuberculosis, AIDS and cholera. “I was exhausted,” he said in a TED Talk earlier this year. “I wanted to come home and take a break.”

Once back in Chicago, however, friends kept telling him about the epidemic of violence in inner-city neighborhoods. As he began to study the problem he came to the view that gun violence in poor neighborhoods did indeed resemble the epidemics he had treated in Africa. Maps that charted gun violence showed clustering — just like maps tracking infectious diseases. The greatest predictor of violence was a prior violent incident, which also mirrors epidemics.

In 2000, he founded CeaseFire (now known as Cure Violence), a Chicago-based organization that treated violence in one such local cluster — in West Garfield, one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city — as a public health problem rather than a criminal justice issue. Shootings dropped dramatically.

Slutkin’s idea has since been replicated in communities across the country, including Crown Heights in Brooklyn, where a program called Save Our Streets, or S.O.S. — an outgrowth of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center — has been up and running since 2010. I spent a recent afternoon there, to see what a public health approach to gun violence looked like.

The center’s director, Amy Ellenbogen, had decided several years earlier to begin focusing on gun violence in the African-American community. It took her three years to get financing — it came from the stimulus — at which point she began to investigate potential models for reducing shootings. When she saw what Slutkin was doing, she got excited: “This made so much sense to us,” she says.

Just as with epidemics, the key is intervention. The first step in combating an epidemic is to find the disease carriers. Save Our Streets hired what it called “outreach” staff — who had once been prone to gun violence themselves — whose job it was to identify the people in the community most likely to commit gun violence. Then they developed a relationship with them, with the goal of dissuading them from using a gun.

A second group of staff members are called “violence interrupters.” They try to mediate when something happens that could cause someone in the neighborhood to shoot someone else. Finally, an S.O.S. staffer has the task of going to the hospital whenever a shooting takes place. His role is to convince both the person who has been shot and his family and friends not to exact revenge with a gun.

When I expressed some mild skepticism that gang members would listen to this kind of counseling, one of the outreach workers quickly replied: “We have influence because we have lived that life.”

There is a second reason the interventions work. “If you are a gang member, your No. 1 fear is getting shot,” says Daniel Webster, the co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. Webster has studied the public health approach in Baltimore. His belief is that programs like S.O.S. are effective because gang members are often looking for reasons not to resort to gun violence. “If you ask gang members to take a vote on whether someone who disrespects someone should be shot, the vast majority would answer no,” Webster said. “But they feel powerless to stop the behavior by themselves.” In Crown Heights, S.O.S. gives them the out they are looking for.

In 2010, the first full year Save Our Streets was in business, the number of shootings in the 40-block area where the program was focused dropped from 28 to 13. An evaluation conducted by the Center for Court Innovation concluded that “the results demonstrate that the initiative had a statistically significant impact on gun violence.”

Jens Ludwig, an economist at the University of Chicago, said that it is difficult to scientifically measure the success of programs like these, but his own experiments have convinced him that interventions can work. He did a controlled study in which one large group of middle and high school students went to a class each week that talked about changing behaviors. Another group didn’t. Although the students who took the class only went, on average, 13 times, they were 44 percent less likely to be arrested.

I’ve long believed that even without legislation, gun violence could be substantially reduced if we could change the behavioral norms. If parents started asking other parents, for instance, if they had a gun in the house — and it was locked away — before allowing a play date. Gary Slutkin and groups like S.O.S. are showing that the same is true in some of the toughest neighborhoods in America. As Ellenbogen put it to me: “Violence is a learned behavior. It can be unlearned.”

    Unlearning Gun Violence, NYT, 11.11.2013,






In Detroit,

Protests of Shooting of Woman

Who Sought Help


November 10, 2013
The New York Times


Civil rights groups protested in Detroit this weekend after a young black woman was shot on the porch of a suburban home earlier this month, as she apparently sought help after she had car trouble.

The woman, Renisha McBride, 19, was fatally shot in the early hours of Nov. 2, the Dearborn Heights police said.

“She was in a car accident,” her uncle Sean McBride, 45, told The New York Times on Sunday. “Her cellphone had died and she went to a house for help. The homeowner said it sounded like she was trying to break in. But how much of a threat can someone be?”

Cheryl A. Carpenter, a lawyer for the homeowner, who has not been named by the authorities, told The Detroit News that she was “confident when the evidence comes it will show that my client was justified and acted as a reasonable person would who was in fear for his life.” Ms. Carpenter did not respond to messages seeking comment late Sunday.

The case comes in the wake of protests that swept the nation this summer when a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted after fatally shooting a black teenager, Trayvon Martin, during an altercation in Sanford, Fla. Mr. Martin had been buying snacks. In September, in Charlotte, N.C., a police officer was charged with voluntary manslaughter after he shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell, 24, a former college football player who had also been seeking help after a car accident.

Ms. McBride’s case has stoked similar outrage, and was the subject of at least two protests and rallies this weekend, said LaToya Henry, of the Detroit branch of the N.A.A.C.P., “because this was a young black woman in a neighborhood that is predominantly white.” The local and national N.A.A.C.P. will await a final report before deciding on further actions, Ms. Henry said.

The investigation into the death is continuing, Maria Miller, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County prosecutor’s office, said on Sunday. The police will present evidence to prosecutors this week, she said, “so we can make a decision on whether to issue charges.”

Rev. W. J. Rideout III, a pastor at All God’s People Church in Detroit who attended a vigil last week at the home where the shooting occurred, said the family was disheartened. “They don’t feel like the justice system has given them justice,” he said.

“He shouldn’t be walking the streets,” he said of the homeowner. ”This sends out a message that it’s O.K. to shoot people.”


Steven Yaccino contributed reporting.

    In Detroit, Protests of Shooting of Woman Who Sought Help,
    NYT, 10.11.2013,






Two Men Shot at Bryant Park Skating Rink


November 10, 2013
The New York Times


Pandemonium broke out in the heart of Manhattan on Saturday when two men were shot on the ice at the popular Bryant Park skating rink just after 11 p.m., the police said.

At least one of the victims was taken away in an ambulance, officials said.

A witness who would not give his name said that he saw one man skate up to another, pull a gun and fire.

Three shots rang out, and some of the more than 50 skaters dropped to the ice. Others huddled in the skate rental tent and some fled screaming, tearing through the holiday shops in Bryant Park wearing only socks on their feet and carrying skates.

Dozens of police officers ran onto the ice, accompanied by paramedics. A young woman with long hair wailed, clutching a metal police barricade just outside the rink.

“My brother just got shot in front of my face!” she moaned as a friend tried to comfort her.

Christopher Guerrero, 19, was on the ice at the time. He said that one of the victims was a friend of his, a young man named Adonis who lived near him on 160th Street.

“I didn’t see no blood,” Mr. Guerrero said. “I asked ‘Are you O.K.?’ and he said, ‘I can’t feel my legs.’ ”

People at the scene said most of the skaters appeared to be teenagers.

The Bryant Park ice rink is Manhattan’s only free skating venue, though skaters have to rent skates if they do not have their own. The rink, which opened Nov. 1 and is a popular destination for tourists, is open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.


Penn Bullock and Christopher Duray contributed reporting.

    Two Men Shot at Bryant Park Skating Rink, NYT, 10.11.2013,






At Los Angeles International Airport,

Two Lives Collide in a Fatal Instant


November 2, 2013
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — One was a troubled 23-year-old, with an assault rifle and an apparent grudge against the government, who witnesses said seemed to be hunting for airport security officials. The other was a 39-year-old father of two who for three years had been a screener of the torrent of passengers who move through the security lines at Los Angeles International Airport.

In a few chaotic minutes on Friday morning, their paths crossed by happenstance, and the security agent, Gerardo I. Hernandez, lay dead. Paul A. Ciancia, identified by the police as the gunman, was critically wounded, shot in the head by officers in pursuit to stop a rampage. All around, the everyday drudgery of passing through security gates turned into terror, passengers running for their lives and abandoning luggage as heavily armed police officers ordered them to hit the floor for safety.

As law enforcement officials sought a motive on Saturday, it became clear that Mr. Ciancia was a drifter who had come to Los Angeles without an apparent job and with a little money, according to friends, and settled with roommates for a time in an apartment complex in Atwater Village, a working-class neighborhood north of downtown Los Angeles that is an enclave for young professionals and artists. One former roommate who did not want to be identified said Saturday that Mr. Ciancia had slept on his couch from late 2012 until February of this year and did not have a job at the time. Then he left.

In court documents filed Saturday, prosecutors brought two federal charges against Mr. Ciancia — murder of a federal officer and the committing of violence at an international airport, both of which can carry a sentence of life without parole or the death penalty. The documents said a handwritten letter found at the scene showed that Mr. Ciancia “made the conscious decision to try to kill” Transportation Security Administration employees.

In a part of the letter, addressing T.S.A. employees, he wrote that he wanted to “instill fear in your traitorous minds.”

There were five gunshot victims. Two of the wounded were T.S.A. agents, and two others were hurt while trying to escape.

Prosecutors said Mr. Ciancia shot Mr. Hernandez several times at point-blank range, went up an escalator, and then, seeing the wounded officer move, returned to fire again. He shot at least two other uniformed T.S.A. employees and one passenger, the documents said. The gun was described as a Smith & Wesson 223 M & P15 rifle.

Mr. Ciancia had assembled a small arsenal. Law enforcement officials said two legal guns registered to him were purchased early this year at The Target Range in Van Nuys, a neighborhood of Los Angeles. The rifle recovered at the airport was also purchased by Mr. Ciancia in the Los Angeles area, according to a senior federal official.

It was a world away from Pennsville, the small town of ranch-style houses in southern New Jersey where he grew up, his father owning an auto body shop nearby. Mr. Ciancia attended a small Catholic boys’ school in nearby Wilmington, Del. Several family friends, neighbors and classmates described him as having been a reserved, quiet boy who, along with his younger brother, Taylor, seemed to be scarred by his mother’s long battle with multiple sclerosis and her death in 2009.

“It was very hard for them,” said Amanda Lawson, 21, a waitress in the Broadway Diner in Pennsville, who graduated from Pennsville Memorial High School in 2010 with Mr. Ciancia’s brother. She described both brothers as “awkward.” “They had some depression issues, and they both got obsessive,” she said on Saturday.

Mr. Ciancia graduated from the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Orlando, Fla., in December 2011, a spokeswoman for the school said. He received a diploma that allowed him to become an entry-level motorcycle technician at a dealership or shop, according to the spokeswoman, Tina Miller.

James Mincey, who told ABC News that he was a former roommate, said he met Mr. Ciancia for lunch a week before Friday’s attack.

“He would always talk about documentaries he would watch about whatever, but there was never any kind of hatred, or any hatred group, or anything like that,” Mr. Mincey told ABC News. “He said he was going back to New Jersey, going to work for his dad, making amends with family problems, and spending the holidays with his family.”

But he had apparently turned against the government, and it seemed clear that Mr. Ciancia knew he was putting himself in a suicidal situation by marching with an assault weapon and 100 rounds of ammunition into the third-busiest airport in the country, officials said. He also sent a text message to his brother that left the family alarmed.

He seemed to have a specific grudge against the T.S.A.; his handwritten note singled out the agency as a symbol of what was wrong with the government, mentioning by name the former head of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, according to a federal official. Bystanders said the gunman had appeared to be targeting T.S.A. agents in particular.

Mr. Ciancia was dropped off at the airport, the F.B.I. said. Officials said he entered the terminal and pulled the rifle out of a bag just before reaching the security screening area in Terminal 3, where he shot Mr. Hernandez. He led airport police officers on a chase deep into the terminal, past several airplane gates.

Ultimately, he was shot by the police and wounded in the head. He remained in critical condition at U.C.L.A. Medical Center, raising questions about whether he would recover enough to explain his actions. The F.B.I. said that he was unresponsive, and that agents had not been able to interview him. Mr. Ciancia did not have an airline ticket, the F.B.I. said.

A half-hour after the shooting, the police arrived at an apartment in Los Angeles to search it because Mr. Ciancia’s family, alarmed about his mental state, had called the police in New Jersey.

The slain agent, Mr. Hernandez, was also a Los Angeles transplant, the youngest in a family of four boys who had emigrated from El Salvador when he was 15. He had worked as a security officer screening passengers and cargo since 2010. He married his wife, the former Ana Machuca, on Valentine’s Day in 1998.

“He was always excited to go to work,” Ms. Hernandez said in a statement she read to reporters outside their home. “He was a joyful person who took pride in his duty for the American public.”

“I’m truly devastated,” she said Ms. Hernandez, who works at Warner Brothers. “We are all heartbroken. We will miss him dearly.”

Kevin Maxwell, a former co-worker, knew Mr. Hernandez, and heard him talk about his teenage son, who played football, and a 6- or 7-year-old daughter.

“He was very optimistic, hardworking,” he said. “He was just there to support his family. He wanted a career, and that was a career for him.”

Mr. Maxwell continued: “When I met him, I realized right away that he was very effective as an officer — he thought well on his feet. He worked, and then he left work and went home to his family. That’s all he wanted to do.”

Mr. Hernandez had recently moved to Porter Ranch, a middle-class suburb at the northern edge of Los Angeles. But the new neighborhood came with its own troubles and was plagued by burglaries.

“He moved in here just over a year ago, and within like a month of moving in here his house had been broken into,” said John Tish, 45, a neighbor. “So him and his brother-in-law came walking down and introduced themselves and let us know that they had been broken into. Let us know to keep our eyes open, told us that he just got here. I’m not sure, I thought he worked for a detention center because he said he was a behavioral specialist or something.” Mr. Tish said his home was robbed a few weeks later.

As Mr. Hernandez lay wounded on Friday, the police at the airport undertook a rescue effort. “They were absolutely committed to try to save that life,” Patrick Gannon, the chief of the Los Angeles Airport Police Department, said at a news conference.

Chief Gannon added that security at the airport would remain tight through the weekend, with officers paying close attention to any cars stopping at curbs in departure or arrival areas. “Our deployment is good,” he said, noting that his agency was the largest airport police department in the country. “But we will remain vigilant.”

As of Saturday, a large blue tarp had been hung above the section of Terminal 3 where Mr. Ciancia confronted T.S.A. officers, and federal agents were combing the area for clues. By Saturday afternoon, most of the airport was returning to normal. Passengers who had been forced to flee, leaving their baggage behind, were told that they could retrieve their belongings, even as the F.B.I. kept the area closed off for investigation.

But one thing was different. Airport officials said they would light up the 100-foot pylons leading to the airport in blue through Sunday in honor of Mr. Hernandez.

“RIP,” airport officials wrote on Twitter.


Reporting was contributed by Noah Gilbert from Los Angeles;

Alan Feuer from New York; Michael S. Schmid

and Matthew L. Wald from Washington;

Bryon MacWilliams from Wilmington, Del.;

and Jon Hurdle from Pennsville, N.J.

    At Los Angeles International Airport, Two Lives Collide in a Fatal Instant,
    NYT, 2.11.2013,






Five Killings in New York

End a Lull in Murders


October 19, 2013
The New York Times


After a seven-day stretch in which no homicides were recorded in New York City, five occurred in 10 hours on Friday and Saturday.

Three killings occurred in the Bronx, and two in Brooklyn. As of Saturday evening, no arrests had been made.

Despite the five homicides, the number of killings this year is down over 25 percent compared with 2012. And last year, the city recorded its lowest annual homicide total, 419, in at least half a century.

The first killing occurred at 6 p.m. on Friday in the South Bronx. Two friends were standing in front of 680 Tinton Avenue near the John Adams Houses when a gunman opened fire, the police said. Tyrek Singleton, 28, of the Bronx was shot in the torso and pronounced dead at Lincoln Medical Center.

His 26-year-old friend, who was not immediately identified, was shot in the leg. He told investigators he did not know the gunman, the police said.

Two and a half hours later, two men were shot in the chest and killed in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the police said. The men were identified as Tevin Beckles, 21, and Randolph Williams, 37, both of Brooklyn. The police said Mr. Williams had 52 arrests, most of them drug-related.

At 2:15 a.m. on Saturday, police officers found Pablo Pagan, 40, dead with a gunshot wound to the head close to his home in the Arthur H. Murphy Houses on Vyse Avenue in the Bronx.

About three miles away and two hours later, police officers discovered Marco Castillo, 24, with a gunshot wound to the chest. Mr. Castillo was pronounced dead at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx.

The police said that Mr. Castillo was walking on Westchester Avenue when two men approached and one started a physical fight with him. When the man began to lose, the other man shot Mr. Castillo in the head and torso.


Emma G. Fitzsimmons contributed reporting.

    Five Killings in New York End a Lull in Murders, NYT, 19.10.2013,






Possible Clues in Fatal Chase,

but No Motive


October 4, 2013
The New York Times


The woman who was shot to death after a taut, high-speed car chase through the streets between the White House and Capitol Hill was still in her car, snagged on the curb of a grass-covered median, when the police fired at her, a Senate official said on Friday.

Terrance W. Gainer, the Senate sergeant-at-arms, who was briefed on aspects of the episode, said the woman, Miriam Carey, was trying to make a U-turn between a United States Capitol Police security booth and some planters in the middle of the street on Constitution Avenue when Capitol Police officers and uniformed Secret Service officers shot at the car with semiautomatic pistols.

Ms. Carey, 34, was a dental hygienist who lived in Stamford, Conn. Law enforcement officials said on Friday that investigators found antipsychotic medications in her apartment, potential clues to her actions. Friends and relatives, while portraying her as harmless, also recounted some bizarre behavior.

After collecting items from the Stamford apartment and interviewing friends and relatives, law enforcement authorities were still trying to understand what prompted her to drive to Washington and what she hoped to accomplish when she tried to force her way onto the White House grounds.

Questions were also being raised about whether she posed enough of a threat during the fast-moving sequence of events that the police needed to shoot her.

Initially, Ms. Carey was thought to have gotten out of the car when she was shot on Thursday afternoon. Early accounts of such events are often inaccurate, however, and on Friday, new details emerged about the shooting and the woman who was killed.

Most police departments discourage or prohibit opening fire on vehicles. With responsibility for safeguarding two of the county’s most significant landmarks, however, the Capitol Police and the Secret Service are particularly attuned to potential terrorist threats.

Car bombs are one concern, as evidenced by the restrictions on vehicles around the Capitol complex, and officials said that by remaining in the car, Ms. Carey might have heightened fears that the car was an explosive threat. No firearms or explosives were found on her or in her car.

Investigators were looking into reports from her boyfriend that she had been delusional and believed that she was a prophet and under electronic surveillance by President Obama.

Another man who knew her, Majestic Steele, who is a neighbor of Ms. Carey’s mother, Idella Carey, said that a few years ago he saw Ms. Carey poised outside her mother’s Brooklyn apartment, clutching a Bible and wailing at the sky. “She was saying, ‘Help me’ and ‘I need you,’ and she was quoting Scripture,” Mr. Steele said. “The way she was speaking, it sounded like she was in trouble.”

In an interview broadcast on Friday night on “Anderson Cooper 360°” on CNN, Amy Carey, one of her sisters, said, “I just know that my sister did experience postpartum depression with psychosis.” But she said her sister had received “treatment and medication and counseling,” and she added, “She didn’t appear to be unstable.”

She and another sister, Valarie Carey, returned to Brooklyn on Friday night. They and the family’s lawyer told a crowd of reporters that their sister had recently been weaned off of her medications, but seemed fine to them. But, they said they felt that she had been unfairly maligned as unstable in news reports.

They also questioned why the Washington police had used deadly force. “Why was my sister shot and killed where her 1-year-old daughter was and she was unarmed?”said Valarie Carey, a former sergeant with the New York Police Department.

“We deserve to know why.”

Her sister had no delusions about meeting Mr. Obama, she added.

As depicted by law enforcement officials, witnesses and video of the chase, the final sequence played out as follows:

Driving a black Infiniti with a young child believed to be her daughter in the back seat, Ms. Carey tried to barrel through a checkpoint outside the White House at 2:12 p.m. She hit an officer who tried to stop her and who rolled over the hood of her car.

She then raced down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol at speeds approaching 80 miles an hour, ignoring red lights and efforts by Secret Service officers to have her pull over. When she seemed boxed in on the western side of the Capitol, officers converged on her with guns drawn. She put her car in reverse and sped off.

In a video of the episode, gunshots can be heard as Ms. Carey raced away. She hit a police car, then hurtled up Constitution Avenue. There, at the security booth, she tried to make the U-turn, heading toward the officers.

They then opened fire. The authorities would not estimate how many rounds were discharged. Mr. Gainer, the sergeant-at-arms, said he believed that five to seven officers had fired.

One officer sustained injuries, which were not life-threatening. The child was not hurt and is in protective custody.

Law enforcement experts outside of Washington said the shooting raised significant issues about the use of deadly force to stop Ms. Carey’s car as it traveled along one of the nation’s best-known routes, Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol.

The investigation into the shooting, which is being led by the Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, may focus on what threat the officers perceived Ms. Carey posed to them, the public and government facilities. The episode occurred just weeks after a mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard and in the midst of a partial government shutdown.

Many police departments, including Washington’s, prohibit officers from firing at moving cars, even when the car is being used in a threatening manner. The Metropolitan Police rules say that no officer shall discharge a firearm “at or from a moving vehicle unless deadly force is being used against the officer or another person,” and it notes, “For purposes of this order, a moving vehicle is not considered deadly force.” It is not clear whether the Secret Service or the Capitol Police have a similar policy.

“The question should be, what was the threat that justified deadly force?” Geoffrey Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina, said. “Was there a way to keep her from getting involved in this incredibly dangerous chase?”

He added: “She had to be stopped. The question is, were there better ways to stop her? I don’t know what the answers are.”

Others who study law enforcement said the rules might legitimately be different for officials in Washington.

Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which recommends that police departments prohibit shooting at cars, said that constraint might not apply to the episode this week.

“The White House and the U.S. Capitol are both considered high risk targets,” Mr. Wexler said. “The people who protect the White House and the people who protect the Capitol are not thinking about your everyday criminal. They are thinking about a terrorist.”

Mr. Gainer, a former chief of the Capitol Police, pointed out that Ms. Carey had tried to breach a barricade at the White House and had fled at a high rate of speed despite being ordered to stop. Such behavior could raise the possibility of a car bomb.

“They did the right thing,” Mr. Gainer said of the officers. “It’s not our typical car chase that starts out with some traffic stop.”

Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, defended the officers in a speech on the Senate floor on Friday. He said the decision to shoot Ms. Carey was “understandable” because the Capitol and the White House were often targets of attacks.

Ms. Carey was one of five daughters who grew up in East New York, Brooklyn, where her mother and other relatives still live. Her sister Franchette, who lives with her mother, said she had seen Ms. Carey during the week and noticed nothing unusual about her behavior.

Michael Brown, 33, a longtime friend, said he saw her on Tuesday evening.

He depicted her as generally friendly but not overly sociable. It was not clear where she had been working recently. Dr. Barry J. Weiss employed her at his periodontics practice in Hamden, Conn., for 15 months, before firing her in August 2012. He said she had not been getting along with fellow employees.

“When we confronted her about certain situations within the office, she had a temper,” Dr. Weiss said.

Ms. Carey did not appear to have any previous criminal history.


Reporting was contributed by Kristin Hussey, Marc Santora,

Michael S. Schmidt, Nate Schweber, Michael D. Shear

and Vivian Yee, and research by Susan Beachy.

    Possible Clues in Fatal Chase, but No Motive, NYT, 4.10.2013,






Guns at School?

If There’s a Will, There Are Ways


September 27, 2013
The New York Times


CLARKSVILLE, Ark. — The slim, black 9-millimeter handguns that the school superintendent David Hopkins selected for his teachers here weigh about a pound and slip easily into a pocket. Sixteen people, including the janitor and a kindergarten teacher, wear them to school every day.

Although state law prohibits guns on campus, Mr. Hopkins found a way around it.

Like rural educators who are quietly doing the same thing in a handful of other states, Mr. Hopkins has formulated a security plan that relies on a patchwork of concealed-weapons laws, special law enforcement regulations and local school board policies to arm teachers.

Without money to hire security guards for the five schools he oversees, giving teachers nearly 60 hours of training and their own guns seemed like the only reasonable, economical way to protect the 2,500 public school students in this small town in the Ozark foothills.

“Realistically, when you look at a person coming to your door right there with a firearm, you’ve got to have a plan,” Mr. Hopkins said. “If you have a better one, tell me.”

After the Newtown, Conn., rampage last December, 33 states considered new legislation aimed at arming teachers and administrators, according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Only 5 enacted laws that expanded the ability for public educators to arm themselves at school.

Still, some teachers and administrators around the country have carried guns for years under state or local laws that impose few restrictions on where concealed weapons can be carried.

“It’s a fairly common practice among the schools that do not have sworn officers,” said Asa Hutchinson, a former congressman and a candidate for governor in Arkansas. He recently led the National Rifle Association’s school safety initiative, which produced a 225-page report that advocated armed security officers or, in some cases, armed teachers in every public school.

Mr. Hutchinson said he recently spoke with a superintendent in Arkansas who had been carrying a firearm for 10 years. The district was among 13 in the state, including Clarksville, that have special permission to use rules designed for private security firms to arm their staff members.

Just before the school year began, the state suspended the practice temporarily after Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued an opinion that school districts could not act as private security companies. This month, however, a state board voted to allow the districts to continue using the law until the legislature reconsiders the issue in two years.

The number of teachers who carry guns in the nation’s 99,000 public schools is impossible to calculate, school security experts, education officials and people on both sides of the gun debate agree. It is likely 10 percent or less, by some estimates, but the number is growing.

“It’s been creeping up on us without a lot of fanfare,” said Bill Bond, a school safety specialist for the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Mr. Bond was the principal of a Paducah, Ky., high school in 1997, when a 14-year-old boy shot and killed three students and wounded five others.

Like many others, Mr. Bond says arming teachers is the wrong approach to preventing school shootings. But some educators, especially in rural districts, have been quietly carrying guns to school for years by making use of permissive state gun laws.

In Georgia and Missouri, guns can be on campus as long as they are in a locked car. In Massachusetts, Louisiana and Nevada, a teacher can carry a gun on campus with written permission from school officials.

Hawaii and New Hampshire do not have any prohibition against weapons on school property for those with concealed-carry permits

And for more than a dozen years in Utah, anyone with a permit to carry a concealed weapon can take a loaded gun to school without even telling the principal.

This year, for the first time, dozens of states have considered more formal approaches to regulating the ways educators may arm themselves. Only a few have moved ahead.

In Kansas, a law that took effect in July allows school districts to select employees with concealed-carry permits to bring guns to school. But Denise Kahler, a spokeswoman for the Kansas State Department of Education, said she was not aware of any districts that were pursuing it.

In Tennessee, where a similar law passed, insurance concerns stopped some districts from arming teachers. Lee Harrell, director of government relations, labor relations and policy for the Tennessee School Boards Association, said this week that he was not aware of any districts that were arming teachers.

The most sweeping new law is in Texas, where the Protection of Texas Children Act went into effect on Sept. 1. Teachers who want to serve as armed school marshals must have a license to carry a concealed weapon, pass a mental health evaluation and be trained specifically to respond when someone with a gun is inside a school shooting students.

The program is still being developed, and unlike the Arkansas effort, teachers would have to keep the guns under lock and key and only one school marshal would be allowed for each 400 students.

Meanwhile, in states where the laws do not prohibit teachers from carrying guns, teachers and other school personnel are seeking private training in increasing numbers.

“I think the number would shock people,” said Jim Irvine, a firearms trainer in Ohio who has taught 168 teachers to carry guns in school since he began a program specifically for educators this year.

Mr. Irvine said he knew of several districts whose teachers and administrators were armed or training to be.

“Our law has always been that it’s up to the individual school district,” he said. “It’s not new, but it’s new in popularity.”

One is the Newcomerstown Exempted Village School District, in rural eastern Ohio, where the school board in June approved a policy that allows employees who have a concealed-weapon permit and specialized training to go to school with a gun.

Part of the strategy is to keep the identities of which teachers have guns under wraps so neither students nor potential attackers will know where the guns are, so Jeff Staggs, the superintendent there, is not talking much about it.

But, he said in a recent interview, “the community feels over all that their kids are safer in the district this school year.”

Still, in Arkansas and other states, the notion of arming teachers is meeting strong resistance.

“The idea that a single relatively untrained teacher is going to bring this person who is heavily armed down is a stretch,” said Mark Glaze, the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “The idea is to keep the guns from the hands of the shooter.”

Those who have spent their lives in the classroom have similar concerns.

“No teacher that I know of could ever receive enough training,” said Steve Gunter, a retired history teacher in Bentonville, Ark.

“If I had a gun in my room with some of these students where I taught? They’d get it from me and shoot me,” he said. “They’d say, ‘Mr. Gunter, you gave me an F? Here’s your F.’ ”


Alan Blinder contributed reporting from Atlanta.

    Guns at School? If There’s a Will, There Are Ways, NYT, 27.9.2013,






One Dies in Shooting

Near Long Island Mall


September 25, 2013
The New York Times


One person was killed and another was seriously wounded in Nassau County on Wednesday after being shot by a gunman who was angered over a business deal gone bad, the authorities said.

The gunman, who fled and set off a manhunt, was identified by the police as Sang Ho Kim, 63, of Fresh Meadows, Queens.

The shooting occurred just after 10 a.m. at a light fixture company on South Street in East Garden City, N.Y., only blocks from the Roosevelt Field mall. Shortly after, there was a strong police response.

Streets were closed, shoppers were screened as they left the mall, schools were locked down, and vehicles were stopped and searched. With a recent bloody terrorist attack on a mall in Kenya and a mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard still in the news, many residents were alarmed when they saw the burst of law enforcement activity.

Steven Skrynecki, the Nassau County police chief, held an afternoon news conference to try to put to rest any fears that the shooting was a prelude to something larger.

“There is nothing to suggest that this individual is on a random shooting rampage,” Chief Skrynecki said.

While the investigation is in its early stages, he said, the police believe that Mr. Kim knew his victims and was angry about a business deal.

“The motive here appears to be work related,” Chief Skrynecki said. After the shooting, he said, Mr. Kim drove off in a white 2008 Honda Pilot. The chief then cautioned, “We believe that this suspect is armed and very dangerous.”

The owner and an employee of the light company, Savenergy, were shot. The police did not immediately release their names, and it was unclear who had died.

A woman who identified herself as Mr. Kim’s wife but who declined to give her name said in a telephone interview that her husband was “victimized” by his boss, the owner of Savenergy. She said her husband and the owner had been good friends for more than a decade through their church.

Sobbing and speaking in Korean, she said her husband was being forced to resign from his job installing LED lights as a contractor for the company. She said he was owed more than $10,000.

“He couldn’t sleep well,” she said. “His chest filled with anger.”

On Wednesday morning, when her husband left their home and headed to the office in Garden City to try to settle the dispute, she said, she became concerned.

“I had a strange feeling,” she said, adding that she called him four times, “and he didn’t pick up the phone.”

In their hunt for the gunman, the police searched the campuses of Nassau Community College and Hofstra University. They were assisted by the New York Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Jasmine Alston, 20, who works at the Macy’s at the Roosevelt Field mall, said that she was let out of the building after her shift ended at 1:45 p.m. but that the mall itself was still closed at that time to people seeking to enter. She said the shutdown was uneventful: no announcements were made, and Macy’s workers learned of the lockdown from customers or colleagues who called from outside. Even after becoming aware, she said, “some people were still shopping.”


Jiha Ham and Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting.

    One Dies in Shooting Near Long Island Mall, NYT, 25.9.2013,






Gunman Said Electronic Brain Attacks

Drove Him to Violence, F.B.I. Says


September 25, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The man who killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard last week left behind electronic documents saying that the government had been attacking his brain for the past three months using “extremely low frequency” electromagnetic waves created by the Navy, and that was the reason he needed to lash out, senior law enforcement officials said on Wednesday.

The documents provide the most detailed explanation to date for what investigators believe motivated the rampage by Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old military contractor and former Navy reservist from Fort Worth who was killed in a shootout with the police at the navy yard.

“Ultra low frequency attack is what I’ve been subject to for the last three months,” Mr. Alexis wrote in one document found by investigators, Valerie Parlave, the assistant director in charge of the F.B.I.’s Washington field office, said at a news conference Wednesday.

“And to be perfectly honest, that is what has driven me to this,” Mr. Alexis wrote.

Mr. Alexis also said “he was prepared to die in the attack and accepted death as the inevitable consequence of his actions,” Ms. Parlave said. It is not clear whether he sent the documents to anyone.

Mr. Alexis’s employer, a computer services company called The Experts, spoke to him on Sept. 13, three days before the shootings, about a “routine performance issue,” Ms. Parlave said. But law enforcement officials said they did not believe that discussion was a motivating factor for the shootings.

The officials also said that they had found no evidence that Mr. Alexis targeted co-workers and that the shootings appeared to be random.

Mr. Alexis had a history of angry outbursts over the last decade, and he had been arrested three times in three states, though he was never prosecuted in any of those episodes. Shortly after the F.B.I.’s news conference, Hewlett-Packard Company, the principal contractor on the computer services work at the navy yard, announced that it had terminated its relationship with The Experts. Mr. Alexis worked at numerous military installations for The Experts over the past year, but had started working at the navy yard just a week before the shootings.

Hewlett-Packard “has lost all confidence in The Experts’ ability to meet its contractual obligations and serve as an H.P. subcontractor,” said Hewlett-Packard’s director of global contingent labor, Henry Dreschler, in a letter to The Experts’ chief executive, Thomas E. Hoshko.

A Hewlett-Packard spokesman, Michael Thacker, declined to comment on the letter. But in an e-mail he said, “Based on what we now know about The Experts’ conduct, including its failure to respond appropriately to Aaron Alexis’ mental health issues and certain incidents recently reported in the press, H.P. has terminated its relationship with The Experts.”

A month before the shootings, Mr. Alexis told the police in Newport, R.I., that he had been hearing voices sent by a “microwave machine.” Logs from the hotel where Mr. Alexis was staying show that officials at The Experts were aware of his “unstable” condition and brought him home. But it is unclear what the company did to address his problems after that.

The Experts said in a statement that a site manager for Hewlett-Packard in Rhode Island had “closely supervised” Mr. Alexis, “including during the events” there. The company said it was “disappointed in H.P.’s decision” because it “had no greater insight into Alexis’s mental health than H.P.”

The Navy has used low frequency electromagnetic waves, or ELF, for submarine communications. But some conspiracy theorists say the government has weaponized the frequencies to monitor and manipulate unsuspecting citizens, Ms. Parlave said. The phrases “my elf weapon,” “end to the torment,” “not what ya’ll say” and “better off this way” were etched into the side of the shotgun that Mr. Alexis used to kill many of the victims, she said.

The authorities also released surveillance videos Wednesday showing Mr. Alexis arriving alone in a car at the navy yard’s parking garage, assembling his shotgun and walking down a hallway, ducking in and out of doorways, before opening fire.

The video, which appears to be edited to exclude images of people being shot, does not show him in the atrium area overlooking the cafeteria where several people were killed as they ate breakfast.

Documents released by the government on Wednesday detail search warrants obtained as part of the investigation. In a backpack Mr. Alexis carried into the navy yard, he had a flash drive, an external hard drive and several compact discs. At his hotel, the authorities found a laptop in his room.

At the Pentagon on Wednesday, Ashton B. Carter, the deputy defense secretary, told reporters that the military had started three reviews of its security procedures in response to the shooting. The reviews will examine potential flaws in base security, background investigations and other areas that could have allowed the navy yard shooting to occur. Mr. Alexis was granted a midlevel security clearance in 2007 while he was a reservist that allowed him to obtain a special card giving him access to military bases for The Experts.

“The bottom line is, we need to know how an employee was able to bring a weapon and ammunition onto a D.O.D. installation and how warning flags were either missed, ignored or not addressed in a timely manner,” Mr. Carter said.


Emmarie Huetteman contributed reporting from Washington,

and Serge F. Kovaleski from New York.

    Gunman Said Electronic Brain Attacks Drove Him to Violence, F.B.I. Says,
    NYT, 25.9.2013,






Honoring Navy Yard Victims,

Obama Asks:

‘Do We Care Enough’ to Change?


September 22, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama on Sunday eulogized the 12 victims of the Navy Yard shooting and lamented what he called a “creeping resignation” in America about the inevitability of gun violence.

In remarks to service members and their families who packed the bleachers in the barracks about two and a half blocks from where the killings took place last week, Mr. Obama vowed that he would not accept inaction after the latest in a string of mass shootings during his presidency.

But the president appeared exasperated with the political system that he leads, admitting that changes in the nation’s gun laws “will not come from Washington, even when tragedy strikes Washington.” He acknowledged that his previous effort to pass new gun laws had failed, but he did not specifically call for a new political battle, saying change would come only when Americans decide they have had enough.

The question is not, he said, “whether as Americans we care in moments of tragedy. Clearly we care. Our hearts are broken again. The question is do we care enough?”

“It ought to be a shock to all of us, as a nation and a people,” he said. “It ought to obsess us. It ought to lead to some sort of transformation.”

In his remarks to about 4,000 people, Mr. Obama called the Navy Yard shooting “unique,” and he remembered by name each of the victims, offering small memories from family members and friends of those who died: a volunteer, a Bible study leader, a Navy architect, a grandmother, a soccer coach, a car lover.

“These are not statistics,” he said. “They are the lives that have been taken from us.”

But he said the Navy Yard shootings were part of a pattern of gun violence that set America apart among advanced nations. Together, he said, they represented a kind of tragedy that has become accepted as “somehow just the way it is.”

Before the ceremony, Mr. Obama and the first lady, Michelle Obama, met privately with family members of the victims.

It has become an all-too-familiar role for Mr. Obama, who has presided over similarly grim services for the victims of shootings in Newtown, Conn.; Tucson; Aurora, Colo.; Oak Creek, Wis.; and Fort Hood, Tex. At each event, the president has sought to find the right balance between the sadness of a nation and the anger of its citizens.

But past memorial services have also served to provide Mr. Obama with the emotional power to fuel his efforts to curb gun violence. During each event, the president has urged the nation to pass laws that would keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and mentally ill people.

That message reached a fever pitch after the service for the 20 children who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, when Mr. Obama declared that it was time for Washington to take action.

“In the coming weeks,” he said at the Newtown memorial, “I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”

That promise led to an effort by the administration to push through aggressive gun restrictions, including an expanded background-check system that would have closed loopholes that allowed guns to be sold without a check. But months later, that effort failed when the Senate could not pass a compromise background-check bill amid fierce opposition from the National Rifle Association and lawmakers who favor gun rights.

The president on Sunday did not specifically pledge to try again, noting that “the politics are difficult, as we saw this spring.” But he sought to reassure supporters of gun control measures that they would be successful, eventually, because of the grief that tragedies like the Navy Yard shooting produce.

“It may not happen tomorrow and it may not happen next week and it may not happen next month,” he said. “But it will happen, because it’s the change we need.

“Our tears are not enough,” he added. “Our words and our prayers are not enough.” If Americans want to honor the 12 men and women who died at the Navy Yard, he said, “we’re going to have to change. We’re going to have to change.”

Mr. Obama quoted from Robert F. Kennedy’s speech in the hours after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. In that speech, the president said, Mr. Kennedy quoted a poet who wrote that “even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart” until later comes “wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

Mr. Obama ended his remarks by urging that “in our grief, let us seek that grace. Let us find that wisdom.”

The United States Navy Band played somber music as the guests quietly filed in ahead of the speakers, who included Vice Adm. William Hilarides, the commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, where the shootings took place.

Also speaking were Vincent Gray, the mayor of Washington; Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations; Ray Mabus, the secretary of the Navy; and Chuck Hagel, the secretary of defense.

Mr. Gray echoed Mr. Obama’s frustration with the refusal to pass new gun laws, saying that “this time it happened within the view of our Capitol dome and I, for one, will not be silent about the fact that the time has come for action.”

Mr. Hagel declared that “together, we will recover.”

The memorial wound down with a reading of the names of the 12 people who were killed at the Navy Yard, and then a long, sad rendition of taps.

    Honoring Navy Yard Victims, Obama Asks: ‘Do We Care Enough’ to Change?,
    NYT, 22.9.2013,





State Law

Prevented Sale of Assault Rifle

to Suspect Last Week, Officials Say


September 17, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The suspect in the killing of 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday test-fired an AR-15 assault rifle at a Virginia gun store last week but was stopped from buying one because state law there prohibits the sale of such weapons to out-of-state buyers, according to two senior law enforcement officials.

Instead, the suspect, Aaron Alexis of Texas, bought a law-enforcement-style shotgun — an 870 Remington pump-action — and used it on Monday as he rampaged through the navy yard, said the officials, who requested anonymity because the investigation was continuing.

“The gun was broken in half, and he had it in a bag,” one official said of the Remington. “He went inside the building and assembled it in a bathroom.”

The gunman then perched himself above an atrium where he fired down on people who had been eating breakfast, officials said, adding that he used shotgun shells that had roughly a dozen large ball-bearing-like shots in them, increasing their lethal nature.

“When he discharged, the pieces of lead would spread the farther they went,” the one official said. “It is similar to weapons used in bird shooting but on a more serious scale. These were not bullets but many small pieces of lead flying through the air.”

After firing down on people, the gunman began to search for more people to shoot, and as he searched, he was confronted by a security guard near an exit, according to the officials. The gunman shot the guard and took his semiautomatic handgun, then headed back to the atrium.

“He runs back upstairs and cranks off more rounds with the handgun and then heads to another stairwell, where he confronts a worker there and shoots him,” the official said.

The gunman is believed to have shot the Navy employee, who worked in maintenance, with the pistol near another exit.

On Saturday, Mr. Alexis bought the Remington shotgun and ammunition at the gun store and range in Lorton, Va., Sharpshooters Small Arms Range, where he also rented a rifle and practiced with it, according to a lawyer for the store.

The lawyer, J. Michael Slocum, said in an e-mail that Mr. Alexis bought a Remington 870 Express 12-gauge shotgun and about two boxes of ammunition, or about 24 shells. The purchases were approved after the store owner conducted the required federal background check, Mr. Slocum said.

“After the terrible and tragic events at the Navy Yard, the Sharpshooters was visited by federal law enforcement authorities, who reviewed the Range’s records, including video and other materials,” Mr. Slocum wrote. “So far as is known, Mr. Alexis visited the Range only once, and he has had no other contact with the Range.”

The Virginia State Police said Tuesday that Mr. Alexis had passed all state and local background checks to buy the shotgun.

Despite statements on Monday from senior law enforcement officials — which were widely reported in the news media, including in The New York Times — that an AR-15 had been found at the scene, no such gun has been found. The authorities say they do not believe the gunman used one.

Federal officials said that there was some initial confusion at the scene about which firearms had been used and that it was hours before investigators were able to analyze video from the scene.

It is unclear whether Mr. Alexis’s psychiatric issues ever progressed to the point that he was involuntarily committed to a mental health institution, or legally determined to be mentally ill or incompetent, either of which would have barred him from buying a gun.

If neither applied — and most people who are treated for mental illness never get to that point — then his situation would be similar to other gunmen, like Jared L. Loughner, who killed 6 people and wounded 13, including former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson in 2011, and James E. Holmes, who killed 12 people and wounded dozens in a Colorado movie theater last year.

Mental health experts point out that the vast majority of people with mental illness are never violent. On the other hand, studies have found an increased risk for violence among those with serious mental illness, including schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.


Mike McIntire and Michael Luo contributed from New York.

    State Law Prevented Sale of Assault Riflle to Suspect Last Week,
    Officials Say, NYT, 17.9.2013,






Suspect’s Past

Fell Just Short of Raising Alarm


September 17, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — A month before a murderous rampage at the Washington Navy Yard, Aaron Alexis called the police in Rhode Island to complain that he had changed hotels three times because he was being pursued by people keeping him awake by sending vibrations through the walls.

When officers came to his hotel room early on Aug. 7, Mr. Alexis told them that a person he had argued with at an airport in Virginia “has sent three people to follow him” and that they were harassing him with a microwave machine, according to a Newport, R.I., police report. Mr. Alexis said he had heard “voices speaking to him through the wall, flooring and ceiling,” the report said.

Mr. Alexis told the police he was a Navy contractor, and then twice that month he sought treatment from the Veterans Affairs Department for psychiatric issues, according to a senior law enforcement official. But it did not raise a red flag that might have prevented him from entering the military base in Washington where, the authorities say, he killed 12 people on Monday.

The episode in Rhode Island adds to a growing list of questions about how Mr. Alexis, who had a history of infractions as a Navy reservist, mental health problems and run-ins with the police over gun violence, gained and kept a security clearance from the Defense Department that gave him access to military bases, including the navy yard, where he was shot to death by the police.

Time and again, Mr. Alexis’s behavior fell below a level that would have brought a serious response, like a less-than-honorable discharge from the military or involuntary commitment to a mental institution, experts and officials said.

But the sheer number of episodes raises questions about the government’s system for vetting people for security clearances, including the thousands of contractors who help run the nation’s military and security system work. Though the cases are different, the access granted Mr. Alexis, a former Navy reservist who as an independent contractor serviced Navy computers, raises questions similar to those raised about another outside government contractor, Edward J. Snowden, who leaked national intelligence secrets.

“These two incidents combined suggest to me a very flawed system for granting security clearances,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who called for a Congressional investigation into the granting of security clearances to government contractors. “Who knows how many other Snowdens and Aaron Alexises are out there?”

On Tuesday, President Obama ordered the White House budget office to conduct a governmentwide review of policies for security clearances for contractors and employees in federal agencies. In an interview with Noticias Telemundo, the president said the nation did not have a “firm enough background check system.” He also called once again for Congress to enact legislation to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those with mental illness.

“I do get concerned that this becomes a ritual that we go through every three, four months, where we have these horrific mass shootings,” he said.

Senior Pentagon officials also said that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel intended to review physical security and access at all Defense Department installations around the world.

Many planets aligned to place Mr. Alexis, 34, at the start of the workday in the navy yard with a Remington pump-action shotgun, firing down from a balcony, the police said, and killing the employees, all civilians.

As an honorably discharged veteran, he cleared a basic hurdle to receive a Defense Department security pass. Despite his being investigated by police departments in Seattle and Fort Worth, for firing a gun in anger, no charges were filed that would have shown up in his F.B.I. fingerprint file. Despite mental health issues — he twice went to Veterans Affairs hospitals last month seeking treatment for insomnia — he was never committed and so was legally able in Virginia to buy the weapon the police said he used in the shootings.

“The system didn’t pick up the red flags because the red flags in this case had not been fed into the system,” one Pentagon official said. “Perhaps we need to look at the ‘filters,’ and whether some sorts of behaviors and incidents, even if they do not rise to the level of punishment, should nonetheless be part of the files for review.”

Law enforcement officials on Tuesday provided new details about the shooting. They said that in addition to the shotgun Mr. Alexis was carrying, he used a .45-caliber handgun that he may have picked up once inside the Navy base.

The Washington police chief, Cathy Lanier, said that officers armed with AR-15s were at the scene within two minutes of the first 911 call. But some reported to the wrong building because callers had misidentified the building. Chief Lanier said the entire shooting episode lasted at least 30 minutes.

The gunman was identified by an F.B.I. agent holding a machine to the fingers of the dead body. Within seconds, it identified Mr. Alexis from fingerprints on file because of his military service.

In the search for more information — and especially the unanswered question of motive — federal and local authorities have interviewed hundreds of people and are poring through the contents of Mr. Alexis’s Yahoo e-mail account.

Mr. Alexis had shown a “pattern of misbehavior” during his four years as a reservist, according to Navy officials. That pattern caused some of his commanders to consider giving him a general discharge — one level below honorable, which could have derailed his security clearance.

Instead, Mr. Alexis received an honorable discharge from the military in January 2011, after he had applied for an early discharge under the Navy’s “early enlisted transition program.” A major reason, officials said, was that his misbehavior in the Navy was not violent. It included insubordination, traffic violations and being absent without leave — two days he spent in jail after a fight in a bar in DeKalb County, Ga.

Mr. Alexis was also twice investigated by other police departments in shooting episodes — once for firing through his ceiling in Fort Worth, Tex., and another time for shooting out a car’s tires in Seattle, during what he described as an anger-fueled blackout.

Mr. Alexis, who worked for an independent contractor called the Experts, worked on half a dozen military bases from North Carolina to Rhode Island this year, said the company’s chief executive, Thomas E. Hoshko. If he had known of the police reports about Mr. Alexis that have surfaced in the news, “we would have never looked at him,” Mr. Hoshko said.

In any event, it was the responsibility of the Defense Department to grant Mr. Alexis his security credential allowing him onto bases, known as a Common Access Card. Pentagon officials said the Navy was responsible for his clearance, using a check of F.B.I. records and another database with the Office of Personnel Management.

Mr. Alexis left the Experts to attend school in January 2013, Mr. Hoshko said, but returned in July, when he again passed a drug test and a background check and received a secret clearance from the Defense Department.

Mr. Alexis’s clearance was a midlevel designation required for many military jobs, officials said. A secret clearance does not require as extensive a background investigation as a top-secret clearance, can be completed in one to three months and is good for 10 years. Among the factors that can disqualify someone are conviction for a felony, illegal drug use and financial problems.

Mr. Alexis’s father told the police after the Seattle shooting in 2004 that his son suffered post-traumatic stress symptoms after volunteering in the rescue after the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Colleagues who worked with Mr. Alexis at that time in a computer support center at Manhattan Borough Community College, near ground zero, did not recall him volunteering or mentioning Sept. 11.

One co-worker, Barry R. Williams, said Mr. Alexis had held onto grudges. “Some small thing would happen, something so small I couldn’t even remember the details, but two, three weeks later he’d still be bringing it up, be upset about it,” Mr. Williams said.

In White Settlement, Tex., the Fort Worth suburb where Mr. Alexis lived in recent years when he was not traveling for work, he told a friend, Melinda Downs, that he had post-traumatic stress disorder, and that it caused him to be withdrawn and suffer from insomnia. He once went three days without sleep, said Ms. Downs, who owns a barber shop.

After the police in Newport responded to Mr. Alexis’ call for help on Aug. 7, a sergeant who reviewed the report, Frank C. Rosa Jr., contacted the Newport naval base police and faxed a copy of Mr. Alexis’s wild statements. It is unclear whether the account made it up the chain of command.

On Aug. 23, Mr. Alexis went to Veterans Affairs hospitals in Providence, where he had been working as a contractor, complaining of insomnia but did not say that he was hearing voices, according to a senior federal official. Mr. Alexis said he could not sleep for more than a few hours. Doctors there prescribed him an antidepressant pill commonly prescribed for insomnia, Trazodone, the official said.

Five days later, Mr. Alexis went to a Veterans Affairs hospital in Washington, where he had traveled to work on a job at the Navy Yard. Mr. Alexis, who had not been given many Trazodone pills in Providence, said to the medical personnel in Washington that he was still having trouble sleeping and the doctors prescribed him more Trazodone, said the official.

In that meeting, Mr. Alexis told the medical personnel that he was not using drugs, did not have suicidal thoughts, was not depressed or particularly anxious, and was not having nightmares, the official said.


Reporting was contributed by Manny Fernandez

and Lauren D’Avolio from Fort Worth, Carl Hulse,

Sarah Maslin Nir and Thom Shanker from Washington,

Kirk Johnson from Seattle, and Erica Goode,

Timothy Williams, Ariel Kaminer and Nate Schweber

from New York.

    Suspect’s Past Fell Just Short of Raising Alarm, NYT, 17.9.2013,






Suspect in Shooting

Had Interest in Thai Culture,

and Problems With the Law


September 16, 2013
The New York Times



HOUSTON — Aaron Alexis, 34, the man killed by police officers and identified as the gunman in the deadly rampage at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, served his country as a Navy reservist, had an abiding interest in Buddhism and Thai culture, and had problems with the law, records and interviews show.

In 2004, according to a Seattle police report, Mr. Alexis walked out of his grandmother’s home one morning, pulled a .45-caliber pistol from his waistband and fired three rounds at a construction worker’s car, two at the rear tires and one into the air.

A construction manager told the police he thought Mr. Alexis was frustrated with the parking situation outside the work site. But Mr. Alexis told the police that he had had an anger-fueled blackout and could not remember firing the weapon until about an hour after the episode. He said he was in New York during the Sept. 11 attacks, and described to a detective “how those events had disturbed him,” according to the detective’s report. His father told investigators that Mr. Alexis had problems associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, and had been an “active participant” in rescue attempts on Sept. 11. Mr. Alexis’s father could not be reached for comment Monday.

Anthony Little, Mr. Alexis’s brother-in-law, told reporters Monday in Brooklyn that it had been five years since his wife, Naomi Alexis, had spoken to her brother. “No one saw it coming, no one knew anything, so all of this is just shocking,” he said.

Law enforcement officials said the motive behind the navy yard shooting remained unclear.

Mr. Alexis was born in Queens in 1979 and was representative of the borough’s diversity. He was African-American, grew up in a part of Queens that was home to South Asians, Hispanics and Orthodox Jews, and embraced all things Thai while living in Fort Worth. He worked as a waiter at a Thai restaurant, studied the language and regularly chanted and meditated at Buddhist temples.

From 2007 to 2011, Mr. Alexis was a full-time reservist in the Navy, serving as an aviation electricians’ mate and achieving the rank of petty officer third class. For much of that time, from February 2008 to January 2011, when he left the service, he was assigned to the Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 46, in Fort Worth, Navy officials said. His specialty was fixing electrical systems on airplanes.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said on CNN that Mr. Alexis was in “the ready reserve,” meaning he did not have day-to-day contact with the Navy, but, if called upon, “he would be one of the ones mobilized.” Mr. Alexis was awarded the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, two standard military honors, but there were indications that he struggled in the Navy.

During his time in the service, he exhibited “a pattern of misbehavior,” Navy officials said, though they declined to elaborate. Upon leaving, he became a Navy contractor. At the time of the shooting, Mr. Alexis worked for a company affiliated with Hewlett-Packard that serviced the Navy’s Internet system, Hewlett-Packard said in a statement. He had been living for weeks in a long-term-stay hotel with colleagues to work on the Navy Yard project, according to a government official.

In 2010, Mr. Alexis was arrested in Fort Worth for discharging a firearm. At the time, Mr. Alexis had been living in an apartment complex called Orion at Oak Hill. His upstairs neighbor called the police after she heard a pop, saw dust fly and noticed holes in her floor and ceiling. She told the police that Mr. Alexis had confronted her in the parking lot about making too much noise, and she felt threatened by him, according to the Fort Worth police report.

Mr. Alexis later told an officer that he had been cleaning his gun while cooking, and that the gun had accidentally discharged. The officer asked him why he did not call the police or check on the resident above him, and he replied that he did not think the bullet went through because he could not see any light through the hole, according to the report. The officer noted that the gun was taken apart and covered in oil.

James Rotter, the father of the woman in the apartment, said the shot came through close to where his daughter had been sitting. She moved out after the episode, and a lawyer advised the family not to press charges.

“How could you prove he did it on purpose when he claimed he was cleaning his gun?” Mr. Rotter said.

In recent years, Mr. Alexis dated a Thai woman and began showing up regularly at Wat Busayadhammavanara, a Buddhist Temple in White Settlement, Tex., a Fort Worth suburb. He had Thai friends, adored Thai food and said he always felt drawn to the culture, said Pat Pundisto, a member of the temple answering the phone there on Monday. He was a regular at Sunday services, intoning Buddhist chants and staying to meditate afterward. On celebrations like the Thai New Year in April, he helped out, serving guests dressed in ceremonial Thai garb the temple provided.

At the temple, he met Nutpisit Suthamtewakul, who went on to open the Happy Bowl Thai restaurant in White Settlement in 2011, said the restaurant owner’s cousin, Naree Wilton, 51, in a phone interview. Mr. Alexis helped out at the restaurant in exchange for food and a room in Mr. Suthamtewakul’s house.

There, he played computer games “at the nighttime and all day,” Ms. Wilton said, on one of three computers he kept in his room, driving up the house’s electricity bills. After he got a job fixing computers, the family asked him to help out with utility bills. He rarely paid and borrowed money often, Ms. Wilton said, complaining that his computer company was withholding pay.


Reporting was contributed by Joseph Goldstein, Erica Goode,

Nate Schweber and Vivian Yee from New York;

Sarah Maslin Nir from Washington;

and Lauren D’Avolio from Fort Worth.

    Suspect in Shooting Had Interest in Thai Culture, and Problems With the Law,
    NYT, 16.9.2013,






Gunman and 12 Victims Killed

in Shooting at D.C. Navy Yard


September 16, 2013
The New York Times



WASHINGTON — A former Navy reservist killed at least 12 people on Monday in a mass shooting at a secure military facility that led the authorities to lock down part of the nation’s capital — even after the gunman was killed — in a hunt for two other armed men spotted by video cameras, officials said.

But by Monday evening, the federal authorities said they believed the shooting was the act of a lone gunman, identified as Aaron Alexis, 34, who was working for a military subcontractor.

The chaos at the facility, the Washington Navy Yard, started just after 8 a.m. Civilian employees described a scene of confusion as shots erupted through the hallways of the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, on the banks of the Anacostia River a few miles from the White House and about a half-mile from the Capitol.

“I heard three gunshots, pow, pow, pow, straight in a row,” said Patricia Ward, a logistics management specialist from Woodbridge, Va., who was in the cafeteria on the first floor when the shooting started. “About three seconds later, there were four more gunshots, and all of the people in the cafeteria were panicking, trying to figure out which way we were going to run out.”

Police officers who swarmed the military facility exchanged fire with Mr. Alexis, 34, a former naval reservist in Fort Worth. Police officers shot Mr. Alexis to death, law enforcement officials said, but not before a dozen people were killed and several others, including a city police officer, were wounded and taken to local hospitals.

Officials said Mr. Alexis was able to drive a rental car onto the base using his access as a contractor and shot an officer and one other person outside Building 197, the Sea Systems Command headquarters. Inside, Mr. Alexis made his way to a floor overlooking an atrium and took aim at employees eating breakfast below.

“He was shooting down from above the people,” one law enforcement official said. “That is where he does most of his damage.”

The names of seven of the victims were released late Monday: Michael Arnold, 59; Sylvia Frasier, 53; Kathy Gaarde, 62; John Roger Johnson, 73; Frank Kohler, 50; Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46; and Vishnu Pandit, 61. Officials said names of the other victims would be released after their families had been contacted. All of the victims were believed to be civilians or contractors. No active duty military personnel were killed, said Chief Cathy L. Lanier of Washington.

One victim was shot in the left temple and was pronounced dead within a minute of arriving at George Washington University Hospital. “This injury was not survivable by any stretch,” a hospital official told reporters. “The patient was dead on the way to the hospital.”

Eight people were injured. Three of them were shot, including Officer Scott Williams of the Washington police. The others suffered injuries from falls or complained of chest pains. Officer Williams, who served in the canine unit, underwent several hours of surgery for gunshot wounds to his legs. A second victim suffered a gunshot wound to her shoulder. A bullet grazed a third victim’s head but did not penetrate her skull, according to doctors at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

Three weapons were found on Mr. Alexis: an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun and a semiautomatic pistol, a senior law enforcement officer said. It was unclear whether he had brought all the guns with him, another law enforcement official said, or if he had taken one or more of them from his victims.

Officials said they were still searching for a motive as they asked the public for help by posting pictures of Mr. Alexis on the F.B.I. Web site. The agency is treating the shooting as a criminal investigation, not one related to terrorism.

Navy officials said late Monday that Mr. Alexis had worked as a contractor in information technology. A spokesman for Hewlett-Packard said Mr. Alexis had been an employee of a company called The Experts, a subcontractor on an HP Enterprise Services contract.

Navy officials said Mr. Alexis was given a general discharge in 2011 after exhibiting a “pattern of misbehavior,” which officials declined to detail. The year before, Mr. Alexis was arrested in Fort Worth for discharging a firearm after an upstairs neighbor said he had confronted her in the parking lot about making too much noise, according to a Fort Worth police report.

The police in Seattle, where Mr. Alexis once lived, said Monday that they had arrested him in 2004 for shooting the tires of another man’s vehicle in what Mr. Alexis later described to detectives as an anger-fueled “blackout.”

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Congressional delegate from the District of Columbia, called the episode “an attack on our city.”

“It’s an attack on our country,” she added.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray called it a “long, tragic day.” President Obama praised the victims of the shooting as patriots.

The tension in the city was heightened for much of the day as the police said they were unsure whether Mr. Alexis had acted alone. Officials said surveillance video of people fleeing the scene of the shooting showed two armed men dressed in different military uniforms and wielding guns. For hours, the police said they believed that there might have been three gunmen and that two of them were on the loose in the city.

The reports of multiple suspects generated confusion across Washington as the authorities offered conflicting messages about any continuing danger. Officials did not move to secure the city, leaving the city’s subway system to operate normally. But out of an “abundance of caution,” Terrance W. Gainer, the Senate sergeant-at-arms, put the Senate complex into lockdown after 3 p.m. The Senate had recessed in the early afternoon.

Around the same time, the Washington Nationals postponed a game against the division-leading Atlanta Braves, which had been scheduled for 7 p.m. at Nationals Park, next to the navy yard. The Nationals’ Web site said “Postponed: Tragedy” and notified fans that the teams would play a doubleheader on Tuesday instead.

The city was further shaken Monday evening when someone tossed firecrackers over the fence at the White House, causing loud bangs and prompting a swift and aggressive response from Secret Service agents, who tackled a man in white shorts and a T-shirt on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The morning was drizzly at the navy yard, which sits at one end of the 11th Street Bridge, a major thoroughfare bringing traffic into the city from Maryland.

Within minutes of the first reports of shots, hundreds of police officers and naval officers surrounded the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, where about 3,000 service members, civilians and contractors work on the Navy’s fleet. Military helicopters circled the facility as police vehicles and other emergency vehicles rushed to the scene. A helicopter lowered a basket to the roof of one of the buildings and appeared to be taking away victims.

The navy yard is protected by a high wall, but someone with official access could have driven a car into the parking lot without having the trunk inspected.

Navy yard employees evacuated from the building described a chaotic situation as an individual armed with a rifle roamed the hallways shooting at people.

Cmdr. Tim Jirus said he was on the fourth floor when he heard gunshots and saw people start running through the office. The commander said he was at the back of the building when a man approached him, asking about the shooting. Moments later, the man was shot in the head.

“We had a conversation for about a minute,” Commander Jirus said.

Asked how he escaped when the man next to him was shot, he said: “Luck. Grace of God. Whatever you want to call it.”


Reporting was contributed by Abby Goodnough,

Emmarie Huetteman, Thom Shanker, Sarah Maslin Nir

and Joseph Goldstein from Washington,

and William K. Rashbaum from New York.

    Gunman and 12 Victims Killed in Shooting at D.C. Navy Yard, NYT, 16.9.2013,






The Limits of Nullification


September 3, 2013
The New York Times



BILTMORE LAKE, N.C. — ON Sept. 11, anti-gun-control legislators in the Missouri General Assembly are likely to pass a bill, over the governor’s veto, that renders almost all federal gun laws void in the state, and even makes it a crime for federal agents to enforce them.

Missouri is only the latest state to push back against federal gun laws. In Montana, the Firearms Freedom Act, passed in 2009, purports to exempt any gun manufactured and kept within the state from federal regulations; despite a federal appellate court decision last month invalidating the statute, it has served as a model for new or pending laws in more than a half-dozen states.

But while states are not powerless in the face of federal law, there are limits to what they can do to prevent enforcement of constitutionally valid regulation.

The bills are based on the theory of nullification, which has its roots in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and holds that the federal government exists by the will of the states, and that states therefore have the right to decide which federal laws are constitutionally valid within their borders.

When it comes to gun control, the claims of nullification advocates are threefold: no state is required to enforce federal gun regulations, states may prevent federal officials from enforcing laws declared by the state to be unconstitutional, and some federal gun restrictions are in fact unconstitutional — either because they violate the Second Amendment (says Missouri) or are outside the scope of the federal government’s power to regulate commerce (says Montana).

On the first point, the nullifiers are correct: in a 1997 decision, Printz v. United States, the Supreme Court held that “the Federal Government may not compel the States to enact or administer a federal regulatory program.” That case involved the Brady Act of 1993, which established a national system for background checks and commanded state law enforcement officials to conduct them.

Of course, background checks are still required in every state. That’s because federal officials are authorized to enforce their own laws, even if they cannot compel the states to do so. Thus, on the second point, the nullifiers are wrong: states cannot impede federal enforcement of a federal law merely because the state deems it unconstitutional. That is up to the federal courts.

Yes, state legislatures or governors can assert that a federal law offends the Constitution. But as James Madison wrote in his Report of 1800, such declarations are “expressions of opinion” for “exciting reflection. The expositions of the judiciary, on the other hand, are carried into immediate effect.” In assessing constitutionality, our system of governance recognizes one Supreme Court, not 50 individual states.

Strangely, if nullification proponents had their way, Chicago’s gun ban, which the Supreme Court invalidated in 2010, might still be in effect. Moreover, if the court had not held in 1960 that nullification “is illegal defiance of constitutional authority,” many public schools might have remained segregated.

That brings us to the third point: whether the Constitution holds that federal gun laws are unconstitutional. If it does, then states would be justified in preventing enforcement. But despite pleas from the gun rights community, the Supreme Court has not gone that far.

Indeed, when the Court overturned Washington’s handgun ban in its 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller — in which I was co-counsel to the plaintiff, Dick Heller — Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion, was careful to note that the right to keep and bear arms is not absolute.

He wrote that his opinion did not “cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications” — like background checks — “on the commercial sale of arms.”

Subsequent cases will determine which regulations are allowable. But until the courts say otherwise, federal gun laws are presumptively consistent with Second Amendment rights.

What about Montana’s argument that federal restrictions on guns made and transported entirely within the state exceed Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce? Over protests from some libertarian activists, myself included, the Supreme Court has consistently expanded the federal government’s power to regulate commerce to cover any economic act that, in the aggregate, could have a substantial effect on interstate commerce — even if the act is not strictly commercial and is wholly within one state.

Meanwhile, nullification battles extend beyond gun laws. Nearly two dozen states have condoned medical marijuana use in defiance of federal restrictions. Washington and Colorado have even legalized recreational marijuana use. At least 23 states have considered bills that nullify the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

I fully support those who see risks in the expansion of federal power, particularly when it comes to intrusions on basic rights like gun ownership. However, to defend those rights, we can’t begin by flouting the very document that inspires that fight in the first place: the Constitution.


Robert A. Levy is the chairman of the Cato Institute.

    The Limits of Nullification, NYT, 3.9.2013,






National Gun Debate

Hits Close to Home

in Colorado Recall Vote


September 2, 2013
The New York Times



COLORADO SPRINGS — Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and the billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad have each donated hundreds of thousands of dollars. The National Rifle Association is buying political advertisements. New York’s junior senator sent a fund-raising e-mail. And the election has attracted news coverage from as far away as Sweden.

All this over a homegrown campaign to oust two Democratic state senators who provided crucial support for a package of strict new state gun control laws. As the recall elections — the first of their kind in Colorado’s history — draw closer, the race has swelled from a local scuffle into a proxy battle in the nation’s wrenching fight over gun control.

Over all, both sides have dedicated about $2 million to the campaigns, most of it in support of the two senators: John Morse, the president of the Colorado Senate, and Angela Giron, who represents the Southern Colorado city of Pueblo. That might not seem large compared with the multimillion-dollar governors’ races that can be commonplace across the country these days. But the money and the attention have transformed an off-year campaign that started with homemade signs and volunteers collecting signatures in grocery store parking lots.

Voters say they are being bombarded with telephone calls and pamphlets, radio and television commercials. Each day seems to bring a new procedural battle: over the language on the recall ballot, how the vote will be conducted or which candidates will appear as possible replacements. Mr. Morse, who represents Colorado Springs, and Ms. Giron each have one Republican challenger on the ballot.

Mr. Bloomberg, who has bankrolled other gun-control supporters across the country, recently contributed $350,000 to fight the recall efforts. Mr. Broad gave $250,000. Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, has stepped in on behalf of Ms. Giron, in particular, enlisting support through her Off the Sidelines political action committee.

Mr. Bloomberg “has said he is going to support officials across the country who are willing to stand up to the N.R.A. and Washington gun lobby to support sane gun laws that will keep guns out of the hands of criminals,” Marc La Vorgna, a spokesman for the mayor, said in an e-mail. “These two senators did that.”

The N.R.A. has also jumped into the Sept. 10 race, contributing nearly $109,000 for mailings and radio, cable and online ads, according to campaign finance records.

The influx of money has allowed each side to claim that its opponents are being manipulated by outside interests. One advertisement by the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners said Mr. Morse was taking “marching orders” from the “billionaire playboy” Mr. Bloomberg. A fund-raising e-mail from Senator Gillibrand called the election “a wrongful recall by the N.R.A.”

Colorado’s vote is being watched closely around the nation as a litmus test of how voters respond to new gun measures in a swing state with an ingrained culture of hunting, sport shooting and gun ownership.

“There’s symbolic importance to both sides,” said Eric Sondermann, a political analyst in Denver. “If they’re recalled, it would be interpreted as a rejection of the gun control agenda, a rejection of what Colorado passed. If these two prevail, then maybe that’s one more nick in the armor of the N.R.A. and the gun advocates.”

To Democrats, the recall offers a chance to defend what they have called sensible and moderate gun regulations: specifically, requiring background checks on private gun sales and limiting ammunition magazines to 15 rounds. To firearms advocates, the vote is a way to demonstrate the political consequences of supporting gun control.

“The peasants have grabbed ahold of their pitchforks and torches,” said Dudley Brown, the executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.

The passions on display in the recall effort also represent a widening rift in the state’s identity, some analysts say, between the Colorado of F-150s, hunting trips and rural towns, and the Colorado of Subarus, ski passes and downtown lofts.

This year, with Democrats’ controlling the legislature and governor’s mansion, they not only passed new gun control laws, but also laws allowing people living in the country illegally to pay in-state tuition, creating new green-energy requirements for rural electric cooperatives and approving civil unions for same-sex couples.

In Northern Colorado, some counties are so frustrated with the state’s trajectory that they will vote this fall on whether to secede and form their own state.

“A decision needs to be made in this state,” said Jon Caldara, the president of the Independence Institute, a libertarian research group in Colorado. “Are we going to be an urban-centric state where urbanites choose what happens, or will this be a state like Colorado has traditionally been, where we have the liberty and freedom for different communities to do different things?”

Still a Quinnipiac University poll last month found that while a majority of Colorado voters opposed the package of new gun laws, they also disliked the recall. The survey of 1,184 registered Colorado voters found that, by double-digit margins, they thought neither Ms. Giron nor Mr. Morse should be removed. By a nearly 30-point margin, those surveyed opposed the idea of the recall, saying disappointed voters should wait until the next regular election.

“Recall elections are left for someone who’s done something criminal or unethical,” said Jackie Haines-Bobbitt, a retired teacher in Colorado Springs, who calls herself a “hard-core Democrat.” “This is a huge waste of money. That’s not how the system works.”

The poll did not specifically survey the two recall districts in Colorado Springs and Pueblo. In those two, the outcome of the races is anyone’s guess.

Ms. Giron’s district leans Democratic. Mr. Morse’s is more evenly divided, making him more vulnerable.

With the outcome likely to be decided by a few thousand people in each Senate district, the campaigns are trying to reach every voter they can, making phone calls and going door to door. Both sides are optimistic, but say the result is likely to hinge on who can turn out more supporters.

“We have a very good chance of winning this recall,” said Tamra Farah, coordinator of the campaign to recall Mr. Morse.

Each afternoon, Mr. Morse sets out with a clipboard, ballot applications and pamphlets, to ring doorbells here in Colorado Springs and make the case why he should not be voted out of office. He guessed he had knocked on 1,200 to 1,500 doors in total.

“This is what does it,” he said. “Yeah, there are TV commercials and mail pieces. But nothing takes the place of showing up at someone’s door and having a conversation.”

Mr. Morse threaded his way through a neighborhood where he once attended Divine Redeemer Catholic School, delivering a pitch about the recall and gun control with the well-worn familiarity of a touring stage actor.

“Hi,” he said, as another door opened. “I’m State Senator John Morse.”

His roster of addresses consisted of supporters and undecided voters, so he got mostly hugs and handshakes. But as he wandered down Dale Street, a gray-haired man hustled out of his backyard, trowel in hand, to confront Mr. Morse. He accused Mr. Morse of jamming through the gun control laws and of silencing the opposition during the emotional debate over gun control after the mass shootings in Aurora and in Newtown, Conn.

After a few heated minutes, the man, who declined to give his name, walked back inside, past a bright green lawn sign that read, “Recall Morse.”

    National Gun Debate Hits Close to Home in Colorado Recall Vote, NYT, 2.9.2103,






Gun Bill in Missouri

Would Test Limits in Nullifying U.S. Law


August 28, 2013
The New York Times



JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Unless a handful of wavering Democrats change their minds, the Republican-controlled Missouri legislature is expected to enact a statute next month nullifying all federal gun laws in the state and making it a crime for federal agents to enforce them here. A Missourian arrested under federal firearm statutes would even be able to sue the arresting officer.

The law amounts to the most far-reaching states’ rights endeavor in the country, the far edge of a growing movement known as “nullification” in which a state defies federal power.

The Missouri Republican Party thinks linking guns to nullification works well, said Matt Wills, the party’s director of communications, thanks in part to the push by President Obama for tougher gun laws. “It’s probably one of the best states’ rights issues that the country’s got going right now,” he said.

The measure was vetoed last month by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, as unconstitutional. But when the legislature gathers again on Sept. 11, it will seek to override his veto, even though most experts say the courts will strike down the measure. Nearly every Republican and a dozen Democrats appear likely to vote for the override.

Richard G. Callahan, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, is concerned. He cited a recent joint operation of federal, state and local law enforcement officials that led to 159 arrests and the seizing of 267 weapons, and noted that the measure “would have outlawed such operations, and would have made criminals out of the law enforcement officers.”

In a letter explaining his veto, Mr. Nixon said the federal government’s supremacy over the states’ “is as logically sound as it is legally well established.” He said that another provision of the measure, which makes it a crime to publish the name of any gun owner, violates the First Amendment and could make a crime out of local newspapers’ traditional publication of “photos of proud young Missourians who harvest their first turkey or deer.”

But the votes for the measure were overwhelming. In the House, all but one of the 109 Republicans voted for the bill, joined by 11 Democrats. In the Senate, all 24 Republicans supported it, along with 2 Democrats. Overriding the governor’s veto would require 23 votes in the Senate and 109 in the House, where at least one Democrat would have to come on board.

The National Rifle Association, which has praised Mr. Nixon in the past for signing pro-gun legislation, has been silent about the new bill. Repeated calls to the organization were not returned.

Historically used by civil rights opponents, nullification has bloomed in recent years around a host of other issues, broadly including medical marijuana by liberals and the new health care law by conservatives.

State Representative T. J. McKenna, a Democrat from Festus, voted for the bill despite saying it was unconstitutional and raised a firestorm of protest against himself. “If you just Google my name, it’s all over the place about what a big coward I am,” he said with consternation, and “how big of a ‘craven’ I was. I had to look that up.”

The voters in his largely rural district have voiced overwhelming support for the bill, he said. “I can’t be Mr. Liberal, St. Louis wannabe,” he said. “What am I supposed to do? Just go against all my constituents?”

As for the veto override vote, he said, “I don’t know how I’m going to vote yet.”

State Representative Doug Funderburk, a Republican from St. Peters and the author of the bill, said he expected to have more than enough votes when the veto override came up for consideration.

Adam Winkler, a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles, who follows nullification efforts nationally, said that nearly two dozen states had passed medical marijuana laws in defiance of federal restrictions. Richard Cauchi, who tracks such health legislation for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said: “Since January 2011, at least 23 states have considered bills seeking to nullify the health care law; as of mid-2013 only one state, North Dakota, had a signed law. Its language states, however, that the nullification provisions ‘likely are not authorized by the United States Constitution.’ ”

What distinguishes the Missouri gun measure from the marijuana initiatives is its attempt to actually block federal enforcement by setting criminal penalties for federal agents, and prohibiting state officials from cooperating with federal efforts. That crosses the constitutional line, said Robert A. Levy, chairman of the libertarian Cato Institute’s board of directors — a state cannot frustrate the federal government’s attempts to enforce its laws.

Mr. Levy, whose organization has taken a leading role in fighting for gun rights, said, “With the exception of a few really radical self-proclaimed constitutional authorities, state nullification of federal law is not on the radar scope.”

Still, other states have passed gun laws that challenge federal power; a recent wave began with a Firearms Freedom Act in Montana that exempts from federal regulations guns manufactured there that have not left the state.

Gary Marbut, a gun rights advocate in Montana who wrote the Firearms Freedom Act, said that such laws were “a vehicle to challenge commerce clause power,” the constitutional provision that has historically granted broad authority to Washington to regulate activities that have an impact on interstate commerce. His measure has served as a model that is spreading to other states. Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down Montana’s law, calling it “pre-empted and invalid.”

A law passed this year in Kansas has also been compared to the Missouri law. But Kris W. Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, disagreed, saying it had been drafted “very carefully to ensure that there would be no situation where a state official would be trying to arrest a federal official.”

In Missouri, State Representative Jacob Hummel, a St. Louis Democrat and the minority floor leader, said that he was working to get Democrats who voted for the bill to vote against overriding the veto. “I think some cooler heads will prevail in the end,” he said, “but we will see.”

Taking up legislative time to vote for unconstitutional bills that are destined to end up failing in the courts is “a waste of taxpayers’ money,” Mr. Hummel said, adding that more and more, the legislature passes largely symbolic resolutions directed at Congress.

“We’re elected to serve the citizens of the state of Missouri, at the state level,” he said. “We were not elected to tell the federal government what to do — that’s why we have Congressional elections.”

The lone Republican opponent of the bill in the House, State Representative Jay Barnes, said, “Our Constitution is not some cheap Chinese buffet where we get to pick the parts we like and ignore the rest.” He added, “Two centuries of constitutional jurisprudence shows that this bill is plainly unconstitutional, and I’m not going to violate my oath of office.”

Mr. Funderburk, the bill’s author, clearly disagrees. And, he said, Missouri is only the beginning. “I’ve got five different states that want a copy” of the bill, he said.

    Gun Bill in Missouri Would Test Limits in Nullifying U.S. Law, NYT, 28.8.2013,






Witnesses Relive Horror

of Fort Hood Attack


August 10, 2013
The New York Times



KILLEEN, Tex. — Sgt. First Class Maria Guerra crouched down on the floor of her office, put her back to the double doors and propped her feet on her desk, using her body to block the doors from swinging open. She told the two women she shared the office with to stay down and not stand up. She could hear screams beyond the doors.

The gunman was walking their way.

Inside a Fort Hood courtroom here last week, the terror and mayhem of one of the deadliest shootings at an Army base in American military history slowly and painfully unfolded.

It has been nearly four years since Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire inside a medical processing building on the base on Nov. 5, 2009, killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 others. But the testimony of the 44 witnesses called by Army prosecutors since the start of the military trial on Tuesday has provided the first public account of not only the chaos and panic in the building, but also the lengths to which Major Hasan went to ensure that he killed and wounded as many soldiers as possible.

Witnesses said that after wounding soldiers once or twice, he shot them again as they lay on the floor or crouched behind partitions. Some he shot in the back. Staff Sgt. Alonzo M. Lunsford Jr., the first victim who testified Tuesday, told of being shot at as he lay bleeding outside and was being given first aid. In his semiautomatic handgun, Major Hasan used 10-round magazine extensions that allowed him to shoot 30 rounds at a time instead of just 20. Two laser sights under the barrel helped him target soldiers in uniform and avoid civilians in scrubs or street clothes.

Sergeant Guerra, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the building, had been walking to her office shortly after 1 p.m. that day. A number of soldiers sitting in folding chairs waiting to be seen in Station 13 looked bored and tired. The sergeant — a tough, short woman who could out-cuss anyone in the building — joked with them to keep them alert. Staff Sgt. Shawn Manning sat there, sending text messages to his wife.

It had been a routine but busy afternoon inside the building, referred to at the trial by its official designation, Building 42003. The building was a compact cluster of offices, cubicles and workstations, where soldiers deploying overseas or returning from duty were sent to get immunizations and other shots and make sure their medical records were in order. In Army jargon, the site was known as the medical S.R.P., or Soldier Readiness Processing Center.

After joking with the soldiers, Sergeant Guerra returned to her office and had just sat down at her desk to eat lunch when she heard someone yell. Then she heard pop, pop, pop.

A man in fatigues was firing into Station 13, she testified. He was dropping his magazines and reloading in a matter of seconds. He fired at soldiers trying to run out the back door. He fired at a man who went toward him holding a chair over his head. Moments later, she was able to see who the gunman was: Major Hasan, who she remembered had been in the building before.

Crouched in her office blocking the doors, she listened intently. Her office-mates were hiding behind their desks. The gunshots told her how close he was to them. “I hear, ‘Run, run,’ ” Sergeant Guerra testified. “I hear, ‘Move, move.’ ” And she heard a woman’s voice: “Please don’t, please don’t, my baby, my baby.”

The woman was Pvt. Francheska Velez, 21, known as Checka by her friends, who was returning home from Iraq because she was pregnant with her first child. Private Velez was one of the 13 victims who died. All but one of them were uniformed soldiers. All were unarmed. Some carried their medical records in their hands. One of them was found seated upright in his chair in Station 13 — “white as a sheet, as if he hadn’t even moved,” recalled one of Sergeant Guerra’s office-mates, Sgt. Monique Archuletta.

When Sergeant Guerra finally opened her office door because the gunman never came in and the sound of the gunfire indicated that he had gone outside, she thought someone had turned off the lights. Building 42003 was dark. It was the cloud of gun smoke.

“I can taste it,” Sergeant Guerra said of the smoke, “and I can see it.”

The soldiers said in court that at first, they thought the gunshots were blanks or part of a training exercise. Some of them had been shot at before by enemies overseas, but even after they watched one of their own pull out a weapon and start firing, they refused to believe it. Capt. Brandy Mason, who was seated in Station 13 and testified Friday, thought Major Hasan was firing a paintball gun. Even after he shot her in her upper thigh, she continued to believe it was a training exercise.

Sergeant Manning watched Major Hasan shoot from a right-to-left motion, “firing as fast as he can acquire targets,” he said Friday. He was first shot in the chest. After he went down, he was shot in the thigh as he tried to crawl away. Then he was shot a third, fourth, fifth and sixth time.

Sergeant Manning and the other witnesses testified inside a wood-paneled courtroom. A jury of 13 Army officers listened, and members of the victims’ families sat in the gallery behind the prosecution, steps from where Major Hasan sat in his wheelchair, paralyzed from gunshots the police fired to subdue him. He is representing himself, and he admitted to the jury during his opening statement that he was the gunman.

Despite the gripping testimony, the court sessions proceeded for the most part with the detached emotions and button-down decorum of a court-martial. Though some of the soldiers who testified still have bullets in their bodies, though some of them spoke of the friends who were killed by Major Hasan and though all of them could see Major Hasan dressed in Army fatigues with an American flag patch on his right sleeve, there has been no outburst directed at him. One witness used an expletive to refer to his appearance — he is bearded and much thinner now — for which the judge sharply rebuked prosecutors.

Major Hasan has been courteous and nonconfrontational with witnesses, declining to cross-examine any of them. He has objected only twice during witnesses’ testimony.

One of those objections came on Thursday, after Sergeant Guerra said she heard the woman plead for her baby. She was asked what she heard next. She said she heard shots. A prosecutor asked her if she ever heard that voice again, and Sergeant Guerra replied no.

Major Hasan objected and asked the judge to remind her that she was under oath. The judge did so, and she continued with her testimony. It was unclear what Major Hasan was disputing. Other witnesses have testified about hearing Private Velez make the same plea for her baby.

A number of witnesses have identified Major Hasan as the gunman. Some of them took a few seconds to build up the courage to stare at him and point at him; others did it quickly and without emotion. Asked if she recognized the shooter in the courtroom, Sergeant Guerra leaned forward and pointed, her eyes zeroing in on Major Hasan’s and her voice, if but for a moment, booming.

“That person sitting right there,” she said.

    Witnesses Relive Horror of Fort Hood Attack, NYT, 10.8.2013,






3 Shot Dead at Pa. Town Meeting;

Shooter Tackled


August 5, 2013
The New York Times


A gunman blasted shots through the wall of a Pennsylvania municipal building during a meeting on Monday and then barged into the meeting room and killed three people before being tackled by a local official and possibly another person and shot with his own gun, a witness said.

State police in Lehighton confirmed the three deaths and said the gunman, identified as 59-year-old Rockne Newell, had an ongoing dispute with township officials over the possible condemnation of his unkempt property. They said about 15 to 18 residents and town officials were at the meeting place, a short drive from Newell's property, when the gunfire erupted.

The shooting, which injured at least two other people, happened shortly before 7:30 p.m. during Ross Township's monthly meeting, Monroe County emergency management director Guy Miller said. The gunman, who appeared to be "shooting randomly," was captured and was treated at a hospital, he said.

Two people died at the scene, and a third person died after being flown to a hospital. Police confirmed that at least one of the dead was a township official but declined to give additional details. A fourth person, a woman, was in surgery with undisclosed injuries.

Investigators said Newell began shooting as he approached the building and continued as he walked into and through it. He then went back out to his vehicle in the parking lot, retrieved a handgun and went back into the building, firing more shots, police said.

Pocono Record reporter Chris Reber said he was at the township building when a man armed with a long gun with a scope shot through a wall into the meeting place, in a rural area of northeastern Pennsylvania about 85 miles north of Philadelphia.

"The thing that got my attention: plaster flying out, blowing out through the walls. Witnesses would later tell me they saw pictures exploding away from the walls," Reber said in a first-person account told to his editors Marta Gouger and Chris Mele. "I heard more than 10 shots."

He said he crawled out to a hallway, exited the building and took cover behind a vehicle.

"The gunman was this guy wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt," he said. "I saw him go back out to his car, a silver Impala, and get another gun.

"It wasn't real to me until I went back inside and saw people bleeding."

A local official at the meeting grabbed the shooter and subdued him, Reber said.

"(West End Open Space Commission executive director) Bernie Kozen bear-hugged the gunman and took him down," Reber said. "He shot the shooter with his own gun."

State police said they believed two people may have subdued the gunman, who was shot in one of his legs.

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, who represents the state's 17th District, said he was "appalled at the atrocities that claimed the lives of innocent citizens in Ross Township." He said he had heard about what Kozen did to prevent more bloodshed.

"Mr. Kozen is a true hero tonight," Cartwright said in an emailed statement.

Kozen's wife, reached by telephone at their home Monday night, said he wasn't there and she was unsure when he'd be back.

Newell had been in a long-running dispute with township officials over the dilapidated condition of his property, state police Capt. Edward Hoke said. The township supervisors voted in February 2012 to take legal action against Newell for violating zoning and sewer regulations, according to meeting minutes posted online.

The ramshackle property includes an old camper in the front yard filled with wooden pallets, pieces of what appear to be old railroad ties and trash. A garage leans and appears close to collapse, and a propane tank sits inside an old dog house.

State police, who guarded the property early Tuesday, were awaiting a search warrant so they could enter it.

In June, the Pocono Record wrote a story about what it said was an 18-year fight between the township and Newell over his property.

Monroe County Court in August 2012 sided with the township and ordered Newell to vacate and never again occupy or use the property unless he had the permits to do so. The report said Newell had been living out of a car and in abandoned buildings since being ordered to vacate.

Newell told the newspaper he was unemployed for years after an injury from a crash and had nowhere else to go.

"They have no right to kick me off my property," he told the newspaper. "They call my property an eyesore. When I bought it, it was one of only three properties on the entire road that didn't have what they call junk."

Newell was in police custody after being treated at the hospital Monday night and couldn't be reached for comment, and there was no telephone number listed for his property.

Ross Township has about 5,500 residents. According to its website, the board of supervisors meets at 7 p.m. on the first Monday of each month.


Associated Press writer Michael Rubinkam

and photographer Chris Post contributed to this report.

    3 Shot Dead at Pa. Town Meeting; Shooter Tackled, NYT, 5.8.2013,






Victims to Again Face Gunman

in Fort Hood Trial


August 4, 2013
The New York Times


KILLEEN, Tex. — Staff Sgt. Alonzo M. Lunsford Jr. usually worked in the back of the Soldier Readiness Processing Center, giving smallpox shots to deploying and returning troops at the Fort Hood Army base here. But on Nov. 5, 2009, he was standing at the counter at the building’s entrance after 1 p.m., so that his colleagues could take a lunch break.

A soldier whom Sergeant Lunsford recognized, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, walked in front of him. Moments later, Sergeant Lunsford said, Major Hasan twice shouted “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” and opened fire.

In a matter of minutes, 100 rounds were fired, 13 people were fatally wounded and more than 30 others were injured. Sergeant Lunsford, who was unarmed, was shot once in the head and six times in the body. He had played dead, and then tried to exit the building, but Major Hasan followed him outside and shot him in the back, he said.

It is not unusual for victims to face their assailants in court, as Sergeant Lunsford will do on Tuesday, when he testifies on the first day of Major Hasan’s military trial. What is extraordinary is that Major Hasan, seated behind the defense table in a Fort Hood courtroom, may be the one questioning Sergeant Lunsford during cross-examination.

Major Hasan is representing himself, one of many elements of his long-delayed court-martial that legal experts say will make it one of the most unpredictable and significant military trials in recent history.

“I will be cross-examined by the man who shot me,” said Sergeant Lunsford, 46, who retired from the Army and remains blind in his left eye. “You can imagine all the emotions that are going to be coming up.”

Nearly four years after the attack, Major Hasan — bearded, paralyzed after he was shot by the police and thinner than he was in 2009 — will be wheeled into a courthouse a few miles from the readiness center to face 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. He claimed to have been trying to protect Taliban leaders from soldiers deploying to Afghanistan, and in his statements both in and out of the courtroom, he has acknowledged being the gunman.

Because of the magnitude of the crime, experts in military law said the only case they could compare it to was the 1971 court-martial of First Lt. William L. Calley Jr., the only soldier convicted in the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, in which hundreds of Vietnamese civilians were killed by American troops.

“I can’t think of a single act of military criminal misconduct since My Lai that was so grave,” said Geoffrey S. Corn, a former Army prosecutor who is a professor at the South Texas College of Law. “It’s kind of faded a little bit. We have Newtown and the Colorado shooting and the more recent tragedies. But when the evidence of what happened in that building becomes more public, it’s very heartbreaking stuff.”

The Army has spent more than $5 million on the case, surrounding the outside of the courthouse with giant sand-packed barriers that protect against explosions and transporting Major Hasan for hearings by helicopter from the nearby Bell County Jail, where he is being held at Army expense.

The Army has also paid for his military defense lawyers, paralegals and experts as well as the rental costs for a trailer next to the courthouse that one lawyer called “the Hasan hut,” where he works under tight security.

The accommodations underscore the Army’s methodical pursuit of its goal — to persuade a jury of 13 Army officers to find Major Hasan guilty and sentence him to death, while minimizing any issues that could overturn a death sentence on appeal. Major Hasan had offered to plead guilty, but prosecutors refused him.

Acceptance of a guilty plea would have taken the death penalty off the table, because military law prohibits defendants in capital punishment cases from pleading guilty. The judge, Col. Tara A. Osborn, also refused to accept his offer to plead guilty, citing the military law.

If the jury sentences Major Hasan to death, the verdict will present a crucial test of the military’s death penalty system, which has been criticized as ineffectual and faulty, with appellate courts overturning or commuting several death sentences over procedural errors. No American soldier has been executed since 1961, when John A. Bennett, an Army private convicted of the rape and attempted murder of an 11-year-old Austrian girl, was hanged at Fort Leavenworth.

One Fort Hood soldier has been on death row for 24 years, Pvt. Dwight J. Loving, who was sentenced to death in April 1989 for robbing and murdering two taxicab drivers. Military executions require presidential approval, and no president has authorized Private Loving’s death.

Legal experts said it would be 10 or 15 years before Major Hasan’s appeals were exhausted, but that unlike in Private Loving’s case, the president in office would face public and political pressure to order his execution.

“You can really make a pretty strong case for the fact that the military really does not have a death penalty system,” said Victor M. Hansen, a retired Army defense lawyer and a professor at New England Law, Boston.

“What we have instead is a death row system, where we will go through the court-martial process and all the phases of appeal, and these individuals will languish forever on death row,” he said. “If there’s any case in the last 30 years that might change that, it’s definitely the Hasan case.”

But John P. Galligan, Major Hasan’s former defense lawyer, said the Army had erred in pursuing the death penalty. “I honestly don’t believe that Nidal Hasan will ever be executed,” said Mr. Galligan, who continues to meet with Major Hasan.

“The people that are clamoring for closure are not going to find it, because of the procedure the Army has chosen in this case,” he said. “Do you believe that the people affected by the killings in the Loving case have found closure?”

Major Hasan is the only defendant in modern times to represent himself in a military capital-punishment case. The judge has forbidden him to present evidence of his claim that he was protecting the Taliban because she ruled it had no legal merit, although he can testify to his own motivations should he take the stand. She also said that when Army prosecutors give their opening statements, they cannot use e-mails exchanged before the attack between Major Hasan and Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric who was killed in 2011 in a C.I.A. drone strike in Yemen.

As a result, it remains unclear how much the trial, which is expected to last weeks, will explore his radical Islamic beliefs. On Friday, Colonel Osborn allowed prosecutors to introduce as evidence the searches Major Hasan did on the Taliban and jihad before the shooting, but she has not yet ruled on whether they can use other evidence, including his academic presentations in which he justified suicide bombing.

Victims and their lawyers have criticized Pentagon officials for describing the attack as an episode of workplace violence and not an act of terrorism, and they worry that the trial will avoid labeling Major Hasan as they see him — a homegrown terrorist. “It seems that the way this is proceeding, any hint that this was an act of terror will not be allowed, and that to me is preposterous,” said Neal M. Sher, one of the lawyers representing victims and their families in a lawsuit accusing Pentagon and federal officials of knowing Major Hasan was a security threat and failing to act before the attack.

Victims and their families say they have been denied combat-related medical benefits and Purple Hearts, and several of the prosecution’s witnesses, including Sergeant Lunsford, are plaintiffs in the lawsuit and have criticized the way the Army has treated them. Sergeant Lunsford said the Army garnished his pay during the time he spent in a military post-traumatic stress disorder program and refused to cover an operation to remove the bullet still lodged in his back.

“We don’t get passes the way Major Hasan got passes,” said Sergeant Lunsford, now a high school basketball coach in Fayetteville, N.C. “Each one of us has gotten a raw deal somewhere down the line.”

    Victims to Again Face Gunman in Fort Hood Trial, NYT, 4.8.2013,






Teenager Is Shot and Killed by Officer

on Foot Patrol in the Bronx


August 4, 2013
The New York Times


Just after 3 a.m. on Sunday, the pop of gunshots cut through the air. Two rookie police officers — barely a month out of the Police Academy, and now on foot patrol in the Bronx — hurried toward the sound.

They headed east on East 151st Street to find a chase unfolding, one person running down the middle of the street, another following with a handgun. The officers ordered the second figure to drop his gun. Instead, another shot rang out.

One of the officers fired a single shot. The bullet struck the gunman in his lower left jaw, killing him.

The suspect, Shaaliver Douse, was believed to be part of a youth gang on East 169th Street called the Nine. He lived at a nearby housing project, and court records showed he had been caught with a gun at least once before; his last brush with the law involved his arrest on a charge of attempted murder, after a rival gang member was shot in May. All this, the police said, at age 14.

The shooting of Shaaliver appeared to fall within the guidelines for using deadly force, police officials said. Nonetheless, the shooting seemed to frame the uneasy confluence of issues that the Police Department constantly grapples with in high-crime neighborhoods like Shaaliver’s: the youth gangs that still run roughshod over parts of the Bronx; the prevalence of illegal guns on the streets; and the waves of rookie officers sent in to patrol those streets each year.

It also served to stir resentment of the police among some in Shaaliver’s neighborhood, including the boy’s aunt, Quwana Barcene, 35, who compared her nephew to Trayvon Martin in Florida.

“Him, Trayvon Martin, it’s never going to end,” she said. “A child. Fourteen years old. Fourteen years old. Gone. Shot in the head. By police.”

At a news conference Sunday, Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly acknowledged that Shaaliver had been the youngest person he could recall being shot by the New York police. He offered condolences to the teenager’s mother for the death of “her son of just 14 years of age,” he said.

“Regardless of the circumstances,” he said, “this is a crushing blow to any parent.”

But the circumstances justified the shooting, he said, showing a pair of videos. In the first, a figure who Mr. Kelly said was Shaaliver can be seen approaching a group of several men, including one who Mr. Kelly said was Shaaliver’s target.

Shaaliver can be seen raising a weapon and firing three shots, Mr. Kelly said; the group then scatters. A second video, taken around the corner, showed the next moment: the target running fast around the corner in the middle of the street, a bullet flying past him and slamming into a wall on the far side in a puff of smoke. Mr. Kelly said that after the teenager was ordered to drop his gun, he fired again, though it was unclear whether he was aiming for the fleeing man or the officers.

“I think they did what we would expect officers of any experience level to do,” Mr. Kelly said, noting that officers were trained to “shoot to stop,” not simply to wound. He said the shooting officer, who is white, is 26; his partner, who is black, is 27. Shaaliver was black.

The officers had been assigned to the Bronx as part of the Police Department’s Operation Impact, which matches rookie officers with more seasoned ones to patrol areas with especially high crime rates. City officials have credited the program with helping to reduce crime. But it has long drawn suspicion from civil liberties groups, who say flooding crime-ridden areas with officers has also swelled the number of unwarranted police stops, breeding suspicion and antagonism in some communities.

At Shaaliver’s housing project, the Gouverneur Morris II Houses, his friends gathered to support his parents. “This is unreal, how the police get away with murder,” his aunt, Ms. Barcene, said. “They get away with murder.”

A gun had been confiscated from the teenager in the past year: He was arrested on a charge of criminal possession of a weapon in October. He pleaded not guilty and had another court date scheduled for later this month, according to Bronx court records. He had also been charged with attempted murder in May, when a 15-year-old member of the Lyman Place crew was shot in the shoulder. Those charges were dropped after the victim and a witness stopped cooperating, a city official said on Sunday.

Investigators are now looking into the possibility that Shaaliver had been chasing another member of a rival gang on Sunday, the official said.

He was to start his sophomore year at Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical High School in the South Bronx in the fall, his aunt said. An only child, he had been raised mainly by his mother, though he saw his father often. And lately, his mother said, he was less wayward. She had told a neighbor, Cynthia Blount, 49, that she was thinking of moving them away from the neighborhood’s negative influences.

"She said he started becoming good,” Ms. Blount said. “I don’t know what happened. And now this happened.”


Michaelle Bond contributed reporting.

    Teenager Is Shot and Killed by Officer on Foot Patrol in the Bronx, NYT, 4.8.2013,






6 Shot Dead by Neighbor

at Building Near Miami


July 27, 2013
The New York Times


HIALEAH, Fla. — A gunman shot and killed six of his neighbors and held two other people hostage during an eight-hour standoff before a police SWAT team raided an apartment and fatally shot him early Saturday morning, law enforcement officials said.

The two hostages were rescued unharmed.

The gunman, identified as Pedro Vargas, 43, lived in the apartment complex northwest of downtown Miami with his mother, according to neighbors. They said Mr. Vargas had been embroiled in a dispute with the building’s managers, a husband-and-wife team who were among the dead.

The police said the episode began around 6:30 p.m. Friday when Mr. Vargas set fire to his apartment and began roaming the complex, shooting at his neighbors. By the time the authorities realized they were facing something more than a fire and police officers responded, the six victims were probably already dead, a police spokesman said.

“Vargas ran throughout the building, firing shots at random in a very irrational fashion,” Detective Carl Zogby of the Hialeah Police Department told reporters.

The gunman eluded the police for several hours inside the apartment complex, occasionally exchanging gunfire with SWAT members, before barricading himself in the apartment of a couple on the fourth floor, Mr. Zogby said.

“No one seems to know why he acted the way he acted,” said Mr. Zogby, whose officers recovered a 9-millimeter pistol that Mr. Vargas had apparently used.

“He still had plenty of live rounds of ammunition,” Mr. Zogby said. “This could have been a much greater tragedy.”

All but one of the six victims lived in the apartment complex, a series of beige and yellow structures in a predominantly Cuban residential neighborhood lined with oak trees. A man who lived across the street was killed as he arrived home with his two children. They were not injured.

In all, four men and three women were killed, including the gunman, who had been holding the two hostages, a Pakistani couple, according to neighbors, in the evacuated 96-unit apartment building when negotiations with a SWAT team broke down.

The dead included a 17-year-old girl, identified by The Associated Press as Priscila Perez. The police said the other victims were the property managers, Italo Pisciotti, 79, and his wife, Camira Pisciotti, 69; the neighbor from across the street, Carlos Javier Gavilanes, 33; Patricio Simono, 64; and Merly S. Niebles, 51. The gunman’s mother was not present when he set fire to the apartment, the police said.

Shamira Pisciotti, the managers’ daughter, told WFOR-TV, the CBS affiliate in Miami, that there had been a complaint of some sort and that her parents had gone to check it out. “I heard about 15 to 20 shots, and so I went outside, and my neighbors were screaming that my parents have been shot,” Ms. Pisciotti told the television station. Neighbors said they saw her crying shortly after the shooting erupted.

Other residents of the apartment complex said the barrage of gunfire had startled them from the peaceful dinnertime activities of a Friday evening.

“I’m used to seeing gunfire on TV,” said Pedro Failde, 81, who lives in the building east of where the shootings occurred. “But this was something else — boom, boom. It sounded like 10 shots from an AK-47. I got away from the window very quickly.”

Mr. Failde’s companion, Elizabeth Villalobos, described the whole experience as “terrible.” Another resident, Juan Carlos Arteaga, 51, said the shootings “sounded like a war.” He led a reporter to a landing outside the gunman’s apartment, where a charred doorway bore signs of the fire Mr. Vargas had apparently set.

On a nearby landing, someone had set up a small shrine to the dead, with three candles in a glass, heart-shaped ashtray, surrounded by red roses.


Lizette Alvarez contributed reporting from Miami.

    6 Shot Dead by Neighbor at Building Near Miami, NYT, 27.7.2013,






Gunman Among 7 Dead

After Florida Hostage Standoff


July 27, 2013
The New York Times


HIALEAH, Fla. — Police say the gunman who killed six people and took two others hostage before a SWAT team fatally shot him was a 43-year-old resident of the South Florida apartment complex.

Police spokesman Carl Zogby has identified the man as Pedro Vargas.

Zogby says the incident began when Vargas set his apartment on fire Friday evening. The building managers noticed smoke and ran to his apartment, and Zogby said he shot and killed the couple when they arrived.

Zogby says Vargas ran back into his burning apartment and fired 10 to 20 shots into the street from a balcony, killing a third victim.

Police say Vargas eventually barricaded himself in an apartment where he took the hostages.

Zogby says the whole incident lasted eight hours, with the hostages held at gunpoint for about three.

    Gunman Among 7 Dead After Florida Hostage Standoff, NYT, 27.7.2013,






Double Murder Seen

as Part of Man’s Quest

to Kill Sex Offenders


July 26, 2013
The New York Times


When Charles Parker registered as a sex offender in the small upstate town of Jonesville, S.C., he became a prospect on another man’s kill list, the authorities say.

Mr. Parker, 59, died this week at his home, shot in the neck and chest and then stabbed. His wife was also shot and stabbed.

Sheriff’s officials believe that the double murder in Jonesville, a one-square-mile town of about 900 residents, was not the byproduct of a botched drug deal or a home invasion. Rather, they suspect that Mr. Parker’s death was intended as the opening phase of a man’s quest to purge sex offenders from Union County.

“He went through our sex offender registry,” said Sheriff David H. Taylor, “and individually picked out targets.”

After the suspect, Jeremy Moody, 30, was arrested on Wednesday, he acknowledged to the authorities that he had planned to kill again on Thursday. And he said that he had explained to Mr. Parker why he had been targeted.

“I’m not here to rob you,” investigators say Mr. Moody told Mr. Parker. “I’m here to kill you because you’re a child molester.”

Mr. Parker had been convicted of sex offenses, but not child molesting.

Mr. Moody, a resident of nearby Lockhart, had long been a subject of monitoring by law enforcement officials, who followed his postings on social media Web sites before losing track of his online presence about a year ago.

Sheriff Taylor declined to elaborate on what specifically prompted his agency’s concerns about Mr. Moody, who has a criminal record and the word “skinhead” tattooed across his neck.

“We’ve never thought of him as possibly being a serial killer, but he is someone who we have been watching for the last several years,” Sheriff Taylor said. “We’re in the South, and it isn’t often you see people running around here with ‘skinhead’ tattooed under their neck.”

Whether Mr. Moody has formal ties to white supremacist groups remains a focus of the investigation. Both the Parkers were white.

The authorities have not ruled out the possibility that Mr. Moody played a role in other crimes, and investigators have asked officials in neighboring counties to review whether their files contain any unsolved murders in which the victims were sex offenders.

Mr. Moody and his wife, Christine, have both been charged with two counts of murder in connection with the Jonesville killings, although her role appears to have been limited.

“I don’t know if she originally knew that was what they were going there for, but she went in the house behind him while he had a gun in his hand,” Sheriff Taylor said. “She knew they weren’t there for lunch.”

The murders have shaken Union County, the site of the well-known 1994 killings of two children by their mother, Susan Smith. It is otherwise a place largely without serious crime.

“You hate hearing anything like that,” said Grady Carson, an employee at a hardware store where the Parkers shopped. “We’ve all done something in our past, and nobody wants someone to show up with a gun and play God.”

Jack Levin, a criminologist who is co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University, said it was likely that Mr. Moody possessed a common trait among killers.

“Serial killers often attempt to justify their killing sprees, and they usually do it by dehumanizing their victims,” Dr. Levin said.

But the case in South Carolina is otherwise odd, he said.

“It’s very unusual that someone would set out to kill large numbers of sex offenders.”

Mr. Moody is not the first person accused of targeting sex offenders. As recently as last month, a California jury convicted a 36-year-old man of killing a neighbor who was a sex offender, and a Washington State man was sentenced in 2012 to life in prison for a pair of similar killings.

    Double Murder Seen as Part of Man’s Quest to Kill Sex Offenders, NYT, 26.7.2013,






President Obama’s Anguish


July 19, 2013
The New York Times


President Obama did something Friday that he hardly ever does — and no other president could ever have done. He addressed the racial fault lines in the country by laying bare his personal anguish and experience in an effort to help white Americans understand why African-Americans reacted with frustration and anger to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Mr. Obama’s comments during a surprise appearance at the White House press briefing crystallized the dissonance around this case. In the narrow confines of the trial, all talk of race was excluded, and the “stand your ground” element in Florida’s self-defense law was not invoked by Mr. Zimmerman’s lawyers. But in the broader, more profound and more troubling context of Mr. Martin’s death, race and Florida’s lax gun laws are inextricably interwoven.

On the first, Mr. Obama said: “The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments.” The jurors, he added, “were properly instructed that in a case such as this reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict.”

But on the broader context, Mr. Obama eloquently rebutted those — like Representative Andy Harris, a Republican, with his dismissive “get over it” remark on Tuesday — who said that the verdict should have ended discussion of the case, especially talk about race and gun laws.

“Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” Mr. Obama said, adding that “it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

He said there are “very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store” or “the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.”

“That,” he said, “includes me.”

Mr. Obama said African-Americans are also acutely aware that “there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws.”

He said it would be naïve not to recognize that young African-American men are “disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence.” But using those statistics “to then see sons treated differently causes pain,” he said.

Mr. Obama called on the Justice Department to work with local and state law enforcement to reduce mistrust in the policing system, including ending racial profiling. He also called for an examination of state and local laws to see whether they “are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case.”

Mr. Obama raised questions about the message that “stand your ground” laws send, telling a citizen that he “potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation.”

Mr. Obama noted that Mr. Zimmerman did not invoke that defense. But he said it was still relevant. In one of the most powerful parts of his remarks, he said: “I’d just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?”

If the answer is “at least ambiguous,” Mr. Obama said, “we might want to examine those kinds of laws.”

Mr. Obama said Americans needed to give African-American boys “the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them.”

He said he was not talking about “some grand, new federal program” or even a national “conversation on race,” which he said often ends up being “stilted and politicized” and reaffirms pre-existing positions.

In a way, Mr. Obama began that conversation with these remarks, while speaking directly to African-Americans who have longed to hear him identify with their frustrations and their anger.

It is a great thing for this country to have a president who could do what Mr. Obama did on Friday. It is sad that we still need him to do it.

    President Obama’s Anguish, NYT, 19.7.2013,






A Violent Weekend in Chicago

Despite a Recent Trend

of Decreasing Homicides


July 8, 2013
The New York Times


CHICAGO — Amid the flash and bang of fireworks, gunshots from 47 separate shootings echoed through this city over the extended Fourth of July weekend, killing 11 and wounding dozens more, including a 5-year-old boy. The events were a sober reminder to residents that despite a drop in homicides this year, gaining control over gun violence in Chicago will be a long road, and the political pressure it has put on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first term is far from over.

“It’s a day-by-day, minute-by-minute crime,” Garry F. McCarthy, the Chicago police superintendent, said at a news conference on Monday. “Yes, we’re seeing great response to our efforts to build a deeper partnership with the communities and the residents that we serve, but we know there’s more work to be done.”

Homicides in Chicago drew national attention last year after a spike in gun violence and gang activity contributed to more than 500 deaths, exceeding the level of bloodshed in the country’s two larger cities, New York and Los Angeles. But the city has been encouraged by a 24 percent reduction in shootings so far this year (from 1,193 to 909) and 28 percent reduction in homicides (from 276 to 200) — an improvement officials attribute partly to an increased police presence, with as many as 400 officers a day patrolling the most dangerous areas. The police say the violence is mostly gang related and in a small number of neighborhoods on the city’s South and West Sides.

In the first week of July, the police say, there were 65 shootings across the city, down from 76 over the same period in 2012. Sixteen people were killed last week, the same as in 2012. In New York City, where homicides are also down this year, there were 38 shootings and seven fatalities last week.

Early July, in particular, is typically a tough time for Chicago violence, said Roseanna Ander, the executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

“It’s a holiday weekend, you’ve got people out drinking, the weather is nice,” she said. “That is a challenging confluence of factors to be working against.”

Ms. Ander added, “I don’t think this necessarily tells us what the rest of the summer is going to be like, but it does serve as a reminder that this is a very complicated problem.”

In a statement released Monday, Mr. Emanuel said, “Any amount of violence is unacceptable.” Noting that new policing strategies and increased summer programs for children have helped address the problem, he added, “Our work will continue until all residents share the same level of safety.”

Some experts point to colder spring months as a contributing factor to this year’s decline in gun violence.

Among the victims shot in the 80-degree weather last weekend, one person was killed and seven were wounded on Saturday after someone fired an assault weapon from a moving minivan on the West Side. The police said the attack was gang related.

Early Friday, a 5-year-old boy was shot while walking home with his family after a Fourth of July party. Around 1 a.m., the family stopped to talk to some friends in a park on the city’s South Side when someone fired into the crowd, striking the boy, Jaden Donald, in front of his three older siblings.

“They were only in the park for a few minutes,” said the Rev. Dan Willis, the family’s pastor. One bullet pierced his leg, another damaged his kidney, spleen and pancreas, he said. Jaden was still in a hospital Monday — stable, but unconscious and on a ventilator.

The police said two others were wounded in the park shooting. A suspect, Darryl Chambers, 24, a gang member, has been charged with three counts of attempted murder and aggregated battery with a firearm.

Already, state and city officials have used the rash of violence to renew calls for tougher gun laws and increased community involvement in addressing violence in Chicago.

Gov. Pat Quinn joined a community “walk against violence” on the South Side on Saturday and visited a church on the West Side on Sunday as he tried to gain support for amendments he made to a concealed carry law that passed both chambers in May. He wants a limit of one gun and one 10-cartridge ammunition magazine per person, among other changes. But lawmakers are expected to override his veto in a special session on Tuesday.

At the news conference Monday, Mr. McCarthy also called for harsher sentences for people caught carrying a gun illegally. He said a three-year minimum sentence would have stopped five of the gunmen last week, including Mr. Chambers, who had been arrested in 2011 and was given probation.

“Folks, it’s absolutely unacceptable,” Mr. McCarthy said. “The examples go on and on.”

    A Violent Weekend in Chicago Despite a Recent Trend of Decreasing Homicides,
    NYT, 8.7.2013,






Schools Seeking to Arm Employees

Hit Hurdle on Insurance


July 7, 2013
The New York Times


As more schools consider arming their employees, some districts are encountering a daunting economic hurdle: insurance carriers threatening to raise their premiums or revoke coverage entirely.

During legislative sessions this year, seven states enacted laws permitting teachers or administrators to carry guns in schools. Three of the measures — in Kansas, South Dakota and Tennessee — took effect last week.

But already, EMC Insurance Companies, the liability insurance provider for about 90 percent of Kansas school districts, has sent a letter to its agents saying that schools permitting employees to carry concealed handguns would be declined coverage.

“We are making this underwriting decision simply to protect the financial security of our company,” the letter said.

In northeast Indiana, Douglas A. Harp, the sheriff of Noble County, offered to deputize teachers to carry handguns in their classrooms less than a week after 26 children and educators were killed in a school shooting in Newtown, Conn. A community member donated $27,000 in firearms to the effort. School officials from three districts seemed ready to sign off. But the plan fell apart after an insurer refused to provide workers’ compensation to schools with gun-carrying staff members.

The Oregon School Boards Association, which manages liability coverage for all but a handful of the state’s school districts, recently announced a new pricing structure that would make districts pay an extra $2,500 annual premium for every staff member carrying a weapon on the job.

Scott Whitman, an administrator at the Jackson County school district in southern Oregon, where a committee is looking at arming school staff members next year, said costs would be a factor in the decision. With 10 buildings, the expense of arming and training more than one staff member at each school would easily exceed $50,000 a year.

“Pretty much every last bit of our money is budgeted,” he said, adding, “To me, that could be quite an impediment to putting this forward.”

Increasing the number of firearms in classrooms across the country has been the cornerstone of the National Rifle Association’s response to the Newtown massacre and the legislative fights over proposed gun laws that followed it. In April, the gun-rights group released a report that called for armed police officers, security guards or staff members in every American school.

More than 30 state legislatures introduced bills that permit staff members to carry guns in public or private schools this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Supporters say training teachers to carry guns would better protect students and, if anything, should put insurance companies more at ease. But worries remain about who could be sued if a gun-related accident occurred on school property, giving way to business realities for some insurance providers, which include both commercial carriers and nonprofit cooperatives.

“Some are saying this is so high risk we’re not going to touch it,” said Kenneth S. Trump, the president of National School Safety and Security Services, which discourages districts from implementing concealed carry policies. “Others may say this is so high risk that you’re going to pay through the nose.”

Few districts in the nation currently allow teachers to carry firearms in K-12 schools; those that do are often in rural areas where it could take a while for first responders to arrive. It is still too soon to tell whether that number will rise as more states consider laws, as many administrators have started discussing the matter with parents and school lawyers only in the past six months.

Jenny Emery, head of the Association of Governmental Risk Pools, said none of her members plan to withhold coverage like EMC. But many are strongly recommending other security alternatives, she said, noting that cooperatives provide some form of risk financing to about 80 percent of public entities across the country.

“I haven’t seen evidence yet that suggests people are determining that arming teachers is a recommended way to manage risk,” she said. “Far from it.”

Still, insurers in some states said they were unsure how to approach the subject when the time comes.

Days after the new law took effect in Tennessee last week, the state’s largest K-12 insurance provider, Tennessee Risk Management Trust, had not reached a conclusion about whether the price of its coverage would increase if employees carried guns.

Firearm training rules for teachers in South Dakota, which passed its law in March, have not yet been approved, in part delaying serious talks between districts and their underwriters. “Because it’s not something the schools are considering, the issue really hasn’t become full blown yet,” said Wade Pogany, the executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. “I think it will eventually.”

After the Kansas law passed in April, more than a dozen school administrators across the state were mulling a move to arm their staffs, according to David Shriver, who oversees insurance programs at the Kansas Association of School Boards. He stopped getting calls about it as soon as EMC made its policy clear, he said.

“If there’s no insurance available,” he added, “it’s difficult to do anything.”

In an e-mail statement, Mick Lovell, vice president for business development at EMC, said the company, which is based in Des Moines, was upholding its long-held guidelines that school security should be provided only by qualified law enforcement officers

For three Kansas community colleges, which were insured by EMC but decided to allow concealed carry on their campuses under the new law, the search for another insurance provider was easier than expected.

Dan Barwick, the president of Independence Community College, said his college and two others recently signed a joint insurance plan with another company at a rate that he expected would save the group about $2 million over the next decade. Advocates for arming teachers point to the colleges as evidence that some insurance providers are willing to stomach the risk, should K-12 schools in Kansas decide to shop around

“What will happen is the market will take care of this,” said Forrest Knox, a Kansas state senator who helped pass the concealed carry legislation. “Other companies are going to do the dollars and cents.”

That theory is certainly true in states like Texas, where strong tort protections have made it easier for about 30 districts to arm their employees this year. Dubravka Romano, who oversees a cooperative that insures about half of the state’s 1,035 districts, said schools there were not charged extra for having guns on campus.

One such district, Harrold Independent, has switched insurance providers twice since it started arming employees in 2007, saving around $5,000 a year with each move.

David Thweatt, the superintendent, would not disclose how many armed employees patrol school hallways, but he said fears of increased liability were overblown. There have been no gun-related accidents or injuries at Harrold schools since the policy started, he said.

“The only time we’ve had to use a firearm,” he said, “was to shoot at a wild pig.”

    Schools Seeking to Arm Employees Hit Hurdle on Insurance, NYT, 7.7.2013,






Make Gun Companies Pay Blood Money


June 23, 2013
The New York Times


GUN manufacturers have gone to great lengths to avoid any moral responsibility or legal accountability for the social costs of gun violence — the deaths and injuries of innocent victims, families torn apart, public resources spent on gun-related crime and medical expenses incurred.

But there is a simple and direct way to make them accountable for the harm their products cause. For every gun sold, those who manufacture or import it should pay a tax. The money should then be used to create a compensation fund for innocent victims of gun violence.

This proposal is based on a fundamentally conservative principle — that those who cause injury should be made to “internalize” the cost of their activity by paying for it. Now, gun manufacturers and sellers are mostly protected from lawsuits by federal law.

As it happens, a model for this approach already exists. Under the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, those injured by vaccines are eligible for compensation from a fund financed by an excise tax on the sale of every dose of vaccine. In creating this no-fault system in the 1980s, Congress sought to provide care for those injured by vaccines while protecting manufacturers from undue litigation.

Vaccines are essential for public health but inevitably cause harm to a small number of people. Since all of us benefit from a vaccinated population, the compensation program spreads the costs when things go wrong to everyone who received a vaccination, rather than leaving the injured and their families to bear the cost. It also avoids the time, expense and inefficiencies of litigation, and dispenses with the need to prove fault. The compensation fund thus ensures that vaccine manufacturers will remain in the market rather than being forced out by the prospect of huge legal judgments against them.

Guns, of course, are not essential for public health. But Congress has made painfully clear that it values the largely unfettered ownership of guns and their manufacture — despite the social costs of the violence that results when guns work as designed. For that reason, it makes sense to tax gun manufacturers directly. The result would be that those who derive a benefit from guns — for hunting, target practice, self-defense or simply for collecting — would shoulder some of the social costs of their choice as manufacturers pass along the cost of the tax to them.

Such a tax might also exert at least some economic pressure on manufacturers to market especially lethal guns less aggressively, or to implement safer gun technologies, like “smart guns” that could be used only by the registered owner. Right now, they have no such incentive — they’re immune from most lawsuits, and guns are expressly exempt from regulation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is supposed to protect the public from unreasonable risks from consumer products. (Thus, the commission can ban lawn darts or cork guns, but not real firearms.)

Since safer guns would mean fewer compensable injuries or deaths, the tax should be adjustable, rising when injuries and deaths increase, and falling when they decrease. The tax rate could also be adjusted to reflect the relative lethality of guns. Those guns that are most often used to kill or maim the largest number of people could be taxed at a higher rate, while guns used primarily for hunting or sport that are much less often involved in fatalities or injuries would be taxed at a lower rate.

Gun makers know that their products are lethal, and sometimes used illegally. They know that some of their dealers’ sales practices contribute to guns’ falling into criminal hands. They know that each year a significant number of innocent people will be killed or maimed by the use of guns. But quite often, the shooters themselves cannot be held fully or even partially accountable, financially, because they are unknown, destitute or dead.

A serious discussion will be required about the amount of compensation, and whether victims’ family members would also be entitled to recover from the fund. These important conversations about eligibility and amounts are common to all compensation funds. Just as these questions have been and will be tackled for these other funds, they can be thoughtfully and carefully worked out for this one.

Some of the victims of recent mass shootings — including the massacres at Aurora, Colo., Newtown, Conn., and Virginia Tech, as well as those who survived the 9/11 attack — have recently banded together to ask Congress to enact a National Compassion Fund, to make sure that charitable donations get to their victims rather than being swallowed up in administrative costs.

That’s a good idea, but it is not enough. Gun manufacturers should pony up. A national tax on the sale of guns is the way to do that.


Lucinda M. Finley is a professor of trial

and appellate advocacy, and vice provost for faculty affairs,

at SUNY Buffalo Law School.

John G. Culhane is a professor of law

at Widener University and director of its Health Law Institute.

    Make Gun Companies Pay Blood Money, NYT, 23.6.2013,






Let Shooting Victims Sue


June 23, 2013
The New York Times


A BASIC function of law in a civilized society is to allocate the costs of harm to those who caused it. In the case of a gang shooting or terrorist attack, penalties are imposed on the gang member or terrorist. But what of the person who sold them their weapons?

In 2004, relatives of eight people shot in the Washington-area sniper attacks received $2.5 million dollars from the maker and seller of the rifle used in those shootings. That was a matter of simple justice. But the gun lobby had no use for that kind of justice. They went to work and, the next year, Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, severely reducing the legal liability of gun manufacturers, distributors and dealers for reckless acts that send guns to the black market. The National Rifle Association called it “the most significant piece of pro-gun legislation in 20 years.”

This kind of legislation encourages arms dealers to turn a blind eye to the lethal consequences of what they peddle, and rewards their breathtaking irresponsibility.

An executive at one top gun company admitted that it didn’t try to learn whether the dealers who sold its firearms were involved in the black market. “I don’t even know what a gun trafficker is,” he said in a court deposition reviewed by The New York Times.

The 2005 law is just one example of Congressional actions that have reduced gun-industry liability and gutted consumer protections. The result of all this legislation, as Jonathan E. Lowy, director of the legal action project at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, has noted, is that a defective BB gun can be recalled, but not a real gun with a similar defect.

What is at stake? According to the most recent data, between 30 and 40 percent of gun acquisitions take place without any background check. Many of these transactions happen online, at gun shows and in private homes. Each of those guns represents a potential danger to the public. Following the elementary-school massacre in Newtown, Conn., in December, there was overwhelming support to end unsupervised gun sales. The N.R.A. fought back and, as everyone knows, won.

More tragedy will result. A mountain of research has proved this danger. One study examined the consequence of Missouri’s foolish decision to repeal a state law requiring residents to obtain a gun permit before purchasing a gun. A result of repealing the law? Without background checks, more guns fell into the hands of criminals, and the homicide rate in Missouri spiked 25 percent, even as violence declined across the United States.

And while gun violence touches every segment of society, it does not do so uniformly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-Americans are 70 percent more likely to be killed by gun violence than are whites — though black-on-black violence rarely makes headlines. One wonders whether our nation’s legislators would be equally comfortable excluding the gun lobby from liability if more of them had to raise their children on the South Side of Chicago or in other inner-city neighborhoods plagued by gun violence.

There is a basic principle of law that imposes liability when someone’s unreasonable act results in foreseeable harm to someone else. It is a wise and ancient rule, as fundamental as the principle that my right to swing my fist stops somewhere short of your nose.

In a 1999 case, Jack B. Weinstein, a federal judge in Manhattan, wisely articulated that principle as it should apply to handgun makers. “The duty of manufacturers of a uniquely hazardous product,” he wrote, is to “take reasonable steps” that would “reduce the possibility” that firearms would “fall into the hands of those likely to misuse them.” That basic principle was gutted when Congress caved to the gun lobby and passed the 2005 immunity law.

The 2005 law also deprived New York and other states of their right to protect, or at least compensate, their citizenry by imposing civil liability on those manufacturers and dealers who failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the abuse and illegal trafficking of their weapons.

While the nation continues to debate the issue of background checks — a cause to which Gabrielle Giffords, the former representative from Arizona who was grievously wounded in a mass shooting in 2011, has dedicated herself — Congress should act decisively to restore responsibility and end this unique legal protection for the gun industry. Until it does so, there will be no incentive for the industry to act reasonably.

Decades ago, the tobacco industry hired doctors to plug the health benefits of cigarettes, and the auto industry claimed that seat belts were an unnecessary extravagance. The results were an epidemic of deaths, followed by civil law suits, followed by industry reform.

Today, smoking is down and cars are safer. In part, we have the market to thank. When these industries acted irresponsibly, basic principles of civil liability placed the costs of illness and accident where they belonged. Once their bottom line was affected, even the most myopic executives had to take notice.

I believe that with rights come responsibilities. By immunizing the gun industry from basic principles of legal liability, Congress kept the rights and repealed the responsibilities.

The Second Amendment right to bear arms is an important right. But the contours of that right must not extend to those who look away as their guns enter the hands of criminals and the mentally unstable. Congress should immediately repeal the 2005 gun immunity law, and let free-market incentives encourage responsible behavior by the gun industry.


Robert M. Morgenthau

was the Manhattan district attorney from 1975 to 2009.

    Let Shooting Victims Sue, NYT, 23.6.2013,






In Decision to Enter Home Near Hofstra,

a Life-or-Death Calculation


May 19, 2013
The New York Times


When a Nassau County police officer confronted a gunman holding a college student hostage in her home on Friday night, he was forced, in an instant, to make a life-or-death calculation: Open fire and risk hitting the hostage, or hesitate and risk losing the hostage and being killed himself.

The officer’s decision to fire, killing the gunman along with the student, will be parsed in the coming weeks as the authorities continue an investigation into the episode, which unfolded after the police interrupted a home invasion in Uniondale, N.Y., near Hofstra University.

While questions remain, enough details have emerged to paint a picture of a police operation that in the course of a few minutes spiraled out of control.

Officers who arrived first on the scene believed that they were confronting an armed robber but knew nothing about the hostages, the police said. That gap in knowledge was critical, experts said, possibly leading to missteps that inflamed an already dangerous situation and ultimately led to tragedy.

Most critical, experts said, was the decision by the officer who ultimately opened fire to enter the home in the first place.

That decision quite likely eliminated the opportunity to negotiate with the gunman, said Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former New York City police officer. In any hostage crisis, he said, the first step for the police is to create a situation in which officers are in control.

“You arrive, secure the location and you really essentially buy time if you can; you call for negotiators,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

“The lack of time is an enemy, the lack of floor knowledge is an enemy and it greatly increases the chances of a bad outcome.”

Only minutes elapsed from the time the police were summoned to the home on California Avenue about 2:30 a.m. Friday until the shots were fired. Hostage negotiators were summoned, but they did not reach the scene in time, said Deputy Inspector Kenneth Lack, of the Nassau County Police.

“The first time they knew there were hostages was when the officers were already in the house,” Inspector Lack said, citing details from a preliminary investigation.

Once inside the house, the officers had few options. One took up position outside the front door, while the other stayed inside on the ground floor by a staircase, the police said.

On the upper level was the gunman, Dalton Smith, 30, a Hempstead resident with an extensive criminal record who was wanted for a parole violation. With him were the college student, Andrea Rebello, 21, and a male resident of the home. Ms. Rebello’s twin sister, Jessica, and another female resident had escaped unharmed.

At one point, Mr. Smith pushed the male hostage down the stairs, before grabbing Ms. Rebello in a headlock, slowly moving down the stairs and heading toward the back door. It is not clear when Mr. Smith noticed the police officer inside the house.

After threatening to kill Ms. Rebello, Mr. Smith pointed his 9-millimeter pistol at the officer, a 12-year veteran of the force who has not yet been identified. The officer fired, hitting Mr. Smith seven times and killing him. The eighth bullet hit Ms. Rebello in the head. Questions remain about whether the officer should have opened fire given the likelihood of hitting the hostage. The police have refused to discuss whether the officer followed police protocol.

A former firearms trainer for the New York Police Department, who asked for anonymity because he maintained close ties with active-duty officers, said a situation like this one — an armed gunman pointing a weapon in proximity to a victim — was “the worst-case nightmare for cops.”

He said such situations required a balance between protecting the victim and the officers themselves.

“I would hate to be in that situation myself,” the former trainer said, “but the bottom line is if a police officer believes that his death or the death of a civilian is imminent, he is absolutely justified in utilizing deadly force.”

Yet for Ms. Rebello’s family, news that she died from a police bullet compounded the agony of their loss.

“It’s worse,” Henry Santos, Ms. Rebello’s godfather, said at the family home in Tarrytown, N.Y., on Sunday morning. He called it “a second shock.”

Ms. Rebello’s parents have yet to comment publicly about her death. A handwritten sign posted by the family’s front door Sunday morning read: “Please respect the family’s privacy. We are in a state of grief, thank you, but we are not talking.”

A spokesman for the Nassau County district attorney, Kathleen M. Rice, said on Sunday evening that “the D.A.’s office reviews the facts and circumstances of every police-involved shooting.”

At Hofstra on Sunday, moments of silence for Ms. Rebello were held at the opening of four commencement ceremonies. Graduates wore white ribbons on their robes in her memory.

“I want to express our community’s collective grief and our sorrow over the senseless and tragic death of a very young member of the Hofstra family,” Stuart Rabinowitz, the university’s president, said at a ceremony for undergraduates.

Senator Charles E. Schumer called Ms. Rebello’s death “heartbreaking” and wondered aloud why Mr. Smith, who was paroled in February, had been freed from prison, in light of a criminal record that included multiple arrests as well as convictions for armed robbery and assault.

“The robber who ended up causing her death, causing the whole encounter, was obviously a repeat offender, and I have real questions as to why this robber was allowed to roam the streets, armed, preying on innocent college students,” Mr. Schumer said at a news conference.


Alan Feuer, Randy Leonard and Angela Macropoulos

contributed reporting.

    In Decision to Enter Home Near Hofstra, a Life-or-Death Calculation,
    NYT, 19.5.2013,






Gunshots on Warm Spring Evenings


May 16, 2013
The New York Times


NEWARK — A FEW Saturdays ago, at the early evening hour when children linger outside to wring the last fun they can from the day, a series of gunshots split the air near the corner of Chadwick and Avon Avenues. Everyone scattered. After the cops arrived and taped off the intersection and determined that no one at the scene had been hit, the street slowly stirred back to life.

The kids re-emerged. So did their parents. Little girls did circles on pink bicycles in the driveway of a Newark Housing Authority town house complex. Someone turned up the radio of a parked car. With the cops commandeering the street, Chadwick and Avon was suddenly, temporarily, one of the safest spots in town.

I happened to pull up with my wife and daughter just as the police had reopened the street to traffic. We were there to see Thaiquan Scott, 36, whose five children included some of the girls in the driveway. I’d spent a long time following Thaiquan and writing about him as he struggled to make a better life for his family, to protect his kids from the streets he once ran as a low-level drug dealer. He looked grim.

“What happened?” I asked.

“You know what happened,” Thaiquan replied.

I stared at him. “Eight shots,” he said. “Maybe 10.”

Thaiquan saw me look at his daughters. “What can I do?” he said. “I got to let them play. They don’t go far.”

My heart ached for him. I’ve spent many years reporting on Newark, and I consider myself pretty well acquainted with the havoc that gun violence wreaks on a community. But it’s not just about blood and mayhem. The effects include a gradual acclimatization to violence that makes it seem O.K. to let your kids play 100 yards from the spot where someone just squeezed off a few rounds. It twists your perspective. Alters your perception of danger.

Nearly a decade ago, when I first became a crime reporter in Newark, I didn’t know much about gun violence or what caused it, let alone the debate over bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. I’d never touched a gun, never known anyone who had been shot. I was clueless and grossly unprepared for what lay ahead of me.

I set out with the naïve goal of writing about every shooting in the city and was immediately overwhelmed. There was more than one a day, on average, and the best I could do in most cases was write a “brief” — a couple of paragraphs, including the barest of details from the police, and maybe a quote from a witness or loved one — and move on.

Within weeks, I was exhausted and despairing. I questioned why I was bothering to do it at all. When I returned home each night, I wondered if the victims or their families would pick up the next day’s paper looking for information, and how they’d react when they found so little.

One thing that particularly surprised me was how relatively few people died of their wounds. My first year on the beat, more than 80 percent of all shooting victims lived. That turned out to be a fairly typical rate for Newark and the rest of the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 84,149 people died in shootings in the United States from 2004 to 2010. During that time, another 350,157 people were injured in shootings but survived.

I’ve met a lot of those broken people. In a place like Newark, even after a historic drop in the crime rate, they weren’t hard to find. I interviewed a teenage girl with a slug lodged near her heart and a 7-year-old boy hit in the leg while he played on his porch. I know a hot-dog vendor who was shot in the gut by robbers and a grandmother struck by an errant bullet leaving church. One of my dearest friends is a man who got involved in a love triangle and paid for it with a gunshot that paralyzed him from the belly down.

I’ve talked to kids who have seen someone get shot; many of them are afraid to go outside, while others act as if it doesn’t bother them at all. I’ve met their neighbors, who live in a constant state of fear and mistrust. I’ve spent many hours with their suffering parents, people like Thaiquan, who desperately want their children to ride bikes on a warm spring Saturday evening without having to think about ducking and running.

Those stories don’t attract anywhere near the attention that murders receive. But I often think about them when there’s a mass shooting somewhere like Newtown, Conn., or Aurora, Colo., or Oak Creek, Wis., towns previously relatively untouched by gun violence. These unspeakable bursts of evil shred lives, families and communities, and the nation rightfully fixates on their grief and healing.

But for every one of those victimized towns, there are dozens of American cities where, every year, many more people are shot than in any single gun rampage. In those places — Newark, or New Orleans, where around 20 people were wounded last weekend when a gunman opened fire on a Mother’s Day parade — there is no definable healing process, because the violence never really stops. The number of dead, and the much larger number of those who return home with grievous injuries, grows every year. So does a deeper emotional trauma borne by their dispossessed communities.

It’s become so ingrained in the life of certain neighborhoods that even its victims, those who are most at risk, have little choice but to learn to live with it.

Police tape shouldn’t be a sign that it’s O.K. to go back outside and play.


Jonathan Schuppe, an NBC reporter

and former staff writer for The Star-Ledger,

is the author of “A Chance to Win: Boyhood, Baseball

and the Struggle for Redemption in the Inner City.”

    Gunshots on Warm Spring Evenings, NYT, 16.5.2013,





Is the N.R.A. Un-American?


May 13, 2013
9:00 pm
The New York Times


The more militant members of the N.R.A. and most of its leaders may be un-American.

By “militant” I don’t mean those who wish to protect recreational shooting and hunting; nor do I mean those who, like Justice Antonin Scalia, believe that there is a constitutional right to defend one’s home and family with firearms. These are respectable positions (although I am deeply unpersuaded by the second). I mean those who read the Second Amendment as proclaiming the right of citizens to resist the tyranny of their own government, that is, of the government that issued and ratified the Constitution in the first place.

The reason this view may be un-American is that it sets itself against one of the cornerstones of democracy — the orderly transfer of power. A transfer of power is orderly when it is effected by procedural rules that are indifferent to the partisan, ideological affiliations of either the party exiting power or the party taking power. A transfer is disorderly when it is effected by rebellion, invasion, military coup or any other use of force.

Those who are engaged in a disorderly transfer believe that their actions are inspired by the highest of motives — the desire to set right what has gone terribly wrong. Somehow the forces of evil have gained the levers of power, and unless they are dislodged, the values necessary to the sustaining of everything we cherish will be overwhelmed. Violence is ugly, but if tyranny is to be defeated, it may be necessary. Given tyranny’s resilience and its tendency to fill any available political space, we must always be ready; the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

This is a familiar story; indeed it is the story — or at least one story — of the American Revolution, and that is why it is the story Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the N.R.A., told to a Senate committee in January: “Senator, I think without any doubt, if you look at why our Founding Fathers put [the Second Amendment] there, they had lived under the tyranny of King George and they wanted to make sure that these free people in this new country would never be subjugated again and have to live under tyranny.”

In 1990, Fred Romero, an N.R.A. field representative, put the case as clearly as possible: “The Second Amendment is not there to protect the interests of hunters, sport shooters and casual plinkers.” Rather, the “Second Amendment is … literally a loaded gun in the hands of the people held to the heads of government.” In response to statements like this (and there are many of them), President Obama recently said in a speech in Denver: “The government’s us. These officials are elected by you.” Or, in other words, how can the people’s enemy be the representatives elected by the people?

The N.R.A. militants have an answer. The purpose of the American Revolution was to secure the freedom of individuals and that means a minimally intrusive government. Representatives elected to safeguard that freedom may become intoxicated by their power and act in ways that restrict rather than enhance individual choice. At that point it is the people’s right and duty to rise against them. Measures limiting gun ownership are a sure sign that government is moving in the direction of central control and tyranny.

But who gets to decide that tyranny is imminent, and by what measure is the imminence of tyranny determined? That question was debated on patch.com by posters responding to a story about Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson, who had called the tyranny argument of LaPierre and others “creepy” and “scary.” A commenter posting under the name Sanchez explained that “Tyranny consists of many things we have experienced the last 4 years, the firearm issue the latest in the line of them.” The point was echoed and amplified by another commenter, William Gill: “The second amendment is the only one that can assure the protection of your other rights which are being attacked almost daily by the current administration.” (In short, the Obama administration = tyranny.) A commenter posting as Steve responded, “It’s not ‘Tyranny’ just because you were outvoted. That’s Democracy.”

Steve is standing up for the orderly transfer of power and saying that we don’t call it tyranny when the other guy’s ideas have carried the political day. But he is met immediately by two responses from other commenters. First, “Steve, you’re assuming that the voting process was above board! Let’s face it, this election in November was by no means above board.” That is, the election results did not reflect majority will but some form of corrupt manipulation. (Those conspiring to overthrow government cite a conspiracy theory as their justification.)

The second response cuts deeper: “We live in a Republic Steve … majority rules is a problem indeed” (Buck Harmon). Harmon is invoking the familiar distinction between a democracy and a republic. In a democracy the majority determines what the law is and could, at least theoretically, take away the rights of individuals for the sake of the “public good.” In a republic, majority will is held in check by constitutional guarantees that forbid legislation encroaching on individual rights even if 51 percent or 95 percent of the population favors it. (For example, Congress shall pass no law abridging the freedom of expression.)

It follows from this distinction that a government elected by the majority can begin to think it can do anything it wants to, can begin to act as if we lived in a democracy rather than in a republic, and when that happens, or is in danger of happening, there is what the former Senate candidate Sharron Angle called a “Second Amendment remedy.” Asked, in 2010, “Do we have enemies of the country in the halls of Congress?”, Angle replied, “Certainly people who pass these kinds of policies — Obamacare, cap and trade, stimulus, bailout.” Off with their heads, either metaphorically, or in sufficiently dire circumstances, literally.

So for Angle and others, that’s the shape of tyranny — legislation that, in their judgment, abridges constitutionally protected rights. Sanchez explains: “We are all to decide what tyranny is. Just as we decide what law we obey or not.” This antinomian declaration — our inner light will tell us when and when not to obey — flies in the face of another commonplace of democracy: ours is a government of laws not men (a declaration found in the 1780 Constitution of Massachusetts). A government of men is one in which laws issue from the will and desires of those who happen to be in authority. In a government of laws the preferences of men (and women), even those holding high office, are checked by the impersonal requirements of an impersonal law.

Another version of the commonplace is, no man is above the law. The opposite view was famously declared by Richard Nixon when he said, “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” N.R.A. militants like Sanchez and Angle are, in effect, an army of little Richard Nixons, deciding what laws to obey, and deciding too when lawmakers have failed to obey the law as they see it. Unlike Nixon, they don’t have an F.B.I., a Treasury Department and a standing army; but they do have the Second Amendment and the right, or so they claim, to take arms against a government they have judged to be wayward.

In the same thread quoted earlier, C. P. takes the logic to its conclusion: “Secession is near. Can’t wait. Which by the way is Constitutional.” It’s constitutional, in this view, because a government in the act of eroding constitutional values is itself unconstitutional and has become a tyranny. Therefore to oppose it by whatever means available, including force, is not to undermine constitutionality, but to affirm it. It is in this spirit that John Wilkes Booth cried “Sic semper tyrannis” (“thus always to tyrants”) just after he shot Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Booth’s modern successors are saying that a house in the hands of tyrants does not deserve to stand and they are ready to bring it down with their constitutionally protected guns.

As Police Chief Johnson said, this is creepy and scary, but is it — to return to my original musings — un-American? Yes and no. On the one hand, nothing can be more American than throwing off the shackles of a government that has overstepped its bounds and disregarded the rights of its citizens. That’s how it all began. (“No taxation without representation.”) But on the other hand, the American tradition of accepting the results of elections — even when they bring with them policies you believe to be misguided at best and disastrous at worst — is in danger of being undermined when groups of armed people decide that the present leadership is infected by unpatriotic, socialist ideas and must be resisted at all costs.

A government founded in a revolutionary moment is always vulnerable to a determination by a zealous minority that its revolutionary ideals have been compromised by itself. When that happens, each side will engage in its favored rhetoric, one proclaiming, watch out, they’re coming for our guns, the other warning that militant right-wing nuts are preparing themselves for armed insurrection. One side will cry “tyranny”; the other will reply, “You guys are crazy.” And both will claim the title of true American. That’s where we are.

    Is the N.R.A. Un-American?, NYT, 13.5.2013,






2 Killings and 2 Guns, Unattended


May 3, 2013
The New York Times


On the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2012, Greg Imhoff — a big, friendly 61-year-old construction superintendent from Madison, Wis., who had moved to Florida with his partner, Shari Telvick — went to check on the home of a neighbor.

The neighbor, Richard Detlor, was a friend, someone Imhoff had known back in Madison, where the Detlors still lived for part of the year. Whenever the Detlors went back to Wisconsin, Imhoff would look in on their house, something he did for many of his neighbors.

It is impossible to know whether, on that August afternoon, Imhoff ever saw the stranger in the house with the .22 caliber revolver; all we know for sure is that Imhoff was shot in the head. When Telvick and a friend found him that evening, he was lying in a pool of blood, dead.

The killer turned out to be a man named Billy Ray Retherford, who was on the lam after killing a woman two weeks earlier and was hiding in the Detlors’ empty home. The next day, Retherford was killed in a shootout with the police. He was using the same .22 handgun.

The gun, however, was not his. It belonged to Richard Detlor, who, according to the police report, had left it, loaded, in the nightstand by his bed before departing for Wisconsin several months earlier.

When Imhoff’s murder was brought to my attention recently, I was stunned that a supposedly “responsible gun owner” would leave a loaded gun in a house that was empty for months at a time. Yes, the odds of someone breaking into the house and using the gun were small, but they weren’t zero. That the Detlors didn’t take the simple precaution of unloading their gun and locking it up struck me as incredibly negligent.

Not surprisingly, that’s how Shari Telvick sees it, too. “I think the Detlors had a responsibility to secure their weapon,” she told me when I spoke to her earlier this week. “I think they should be held accountable.” But when she talked to a lawyer, she discovered, to her dismay, that leaving a loaded gun in an empty house doesn’t violate Florida law. As Arthur Hayhoe, the executive director of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, explained to me, “Safe storage laws in Florida only apply if a minor lives in the house. If it’s adults, you can do whatever you want.” (He added, “In Florida, there are more laws to protect guns than people.”)

For all the protestations by gun owners that most are responsible with their weapons, I have been struck by how many killings take place because people do careless, stupid things. In the gun report that my assistant, Jennifer Mascia, and I compile on my blog, I see daily examples of children accidentally shooting other children with a gun found in the house.

Just the other day, in Burkesville, Ky., a 5-year-old boy shot and killed his 2-year-old sister with a small rifle that had been given to him as a present. Who gives a 5-year-old a gun? (The rifle is called a Crickett; incredibly, it is marketed specifically to children.) Who leaves the room where their children are playing without checking whether the rifle in the corner is loaded? For that matter, who puts a shotgun within such easy reach of a child?

Gary White, the county coroner, was quick to say that no charges would be brought because it was an accident — and, after all, “accidents happen.” But it was a completely preventable accident. When a passenger dies in a car accident that is the result of negligence, there are usually serious legal consequences for the driver. If we really want to reduce gun violence, there must be consequences for negligent gun owners, too. The entire culture of gun ownership has to begin emphasizing safety in a way it doesn’t now. It is as important as universal background checks, or limits on magazine rounds.

Shari Telvick couldn’t live in Florida after Imhoff’s death. “It was unbearable to be in that house without him,” she said. She remains devastated. Two months after Imhoff died, she told me, his first grandchild was born.

Telvick had never been friendly with the Detlors, and she made it clear that she didn’t want to see them. But she’s been surprised, she said, that they’ve never reached out to Greg’s children, whom they’ve known for years.

I decided to call the Detlors. The woman who answered refused to put Richard Detlor on the phone.

“Do you think he is sorry?” I asked. “Sorry for what?” she said, before hanging up on me.

A few days later, I called again. The same woman picked up. This time, she said, “We are as much victims as anyone else in this.”

Then, once again, she hung up the phone.

    2 Killings and 2 Guns, Unattended, NYT, 3.5.2013,






Tom Knapp,

Crowd-Pleasing Sure Shot,

Dies at 62


May 3, 2013
The New York Times


Tom Knapp, an exhibition shotgun virtuoso who broke world records by picking off flocks of airborne clay targets with the flair of a western movie hero and dazzled crowds with his effortless precision shattering of golf balls, radishes, aspirin and other flying targets, died on April 26 in Rochester, Minn. He was 62.

The cause was pulmonary fibrosis, his wife, Colleen, said.

Mr. Knapp, who was familiar to viewers of “Sharpshooters” on the History Channel and “Shooting Stars” on Discovery, mastered many kinds of long guns but was known mainly for his bravura with a pump-action 12-gauge shotgun.

A highlight videotape from 2007 (seen by more than three million viewers on YouTube) shows him firing his pump-action weapon from the hip, from behind his back and from over his head, each time hitting his airborne targets. In one scene, he hurls his shotgun into the air, flings a clay target skyward behind him, pivots, catches his gun and fires, leaving an orange puff of dust where the plummeting target had been.

From 1993 to 2004, Mr. Knapp made and broke his own records for the number of hand-thrown clay targets struck in a single round and for speed in doing so. His last record — 10 airborne targets hit (or “dusted,” in shooting-speak) in 2.2 seconds, each struck with a separate round — was set at an exhibition in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Oct. 10, 2004.

Mr. Knapp, whose exhibitions were sponsored by firearms manufacturers, was widely considered one of the most accomplished heirs to an American tradition defined in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows by Annie Oakley and A. H. Bogardus. Mr. Knapp said he had been inspired by trick shooters of the next generation, most notably Herb Parsons, a showman who toured the country from the 1930s through the ’50s and often worked in Hollywood as a trick-shot stand-in for stars like Jimmy Stewart in “Winchester ’73” (1950), which involves a shooting contest.

“Parsons was probably the greatest of the modern era — and in my book, after him, Tom Knapp comes a very close second,” said Warren Newman, curator at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo., a site of trick-shooting exhibitions. “What these two fellows did was always so much more than just shooting.”

He added: “What they did was amaze people, put on a real show. They were outstanding professionals.”

Thomas Knapp was born on Sept. 30, 1950, in Maple Plain, Minn., the youngest of five children of Howard and Virginia Knapp. His father gave him his first gun, a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun, when he was 9. At 10, he saw a televised performance by Mr. Parsons, who was famous for snap-shooting tricks like tossing three marbles into the air and shattering them with three shots. It set the direction of his life.

“From that day on,” he told Field and Stream magazine in 2007, “I dreamed about making a living with a shotgun.”

Serving as sponsors, gun and ammunition manufacturers like Winchester Olin, Federal Cartridge, Benelli USA and CZ-USA made it possible in the early ’90s for Mr. Knapp to leave his job with the Hennepin County, Minn., parks department after 25 years and tour full time.

Besides his wife, his survivors include two stepchildren, Christopher and Alison; four stepgrandchildren; and a brother, John.

Colleen Knapp said that before becoming ill, her husband performed steadily for almost 20 years, appearing for audiences in the United States and Europe. He inserted safety messages in the patter between tricks, she said, especially if children were in the audience.

“Do not try this; I am a trained professional,” Mr. Knapp said at one exhibition; he then tossed tomatoes and lettuce and blasted them out of the air. Next came a parade of targets of diminishing size — radishes, marbles, chalk cubes — ending with one of his trademark stunt targets, an aspirin.

“I been thinking about this aspirin here for a little while,” he said, holding it up between thumb and forefinger and shaking his head with practiced humbleness. “No guarantees,” he said, flinging it toward the sun.

He missed on the first shot. The second shot left a tiny cloud in the air, like dandelion fluff.

    Tom Knapp, Crowd-Pleasing Sure Shot, Dies at 62, NYT, 3.5.2013,




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