Good Morning Kossacks and Welcome to Morning Open Thread (MOT)

I had another piece written, in the queue and scheduled for today, but I could not publish it- not today.  It would not have gone over well publishing a lighthearted piece when we are, as a nation, grieving.  Instead, I offer you a collection of important editorial and investigative pieces pertaining to our current gun laws or lack thereof.  These articles uncover the gaping holes in the gun laws; the politics, greed and lust for power inherent in all issues we face in this country; vast diversity in the interpretation of the existing laws; overwhelming lack of adequate manpower to enforce laws; and a congress that is so cumbersome and ineffective that they protect the records and data of the very people and companies under investigation from those seeking to enforce the laws intended to protect the innocent.

It is my hope that we, as progressives, can help move this issue from the decades of rhetorical arguments into a single logical argument that will mold the first steps needed to begin an effective change in gun legislation.

On December 7th I clipped an editorial opinion article from my local newspaper, the Florida Times Union which was entitled "Standing ground in 'Gunshine State'".  I have not been able to locate it online in order to link to it, but I will offer a few quotes from the print article I clipped.

(Note: the article was published shortly after the shooting of 17 year old Jordan Russell Davis by 45 year old Michael Dunn when an argument ensued over the loud music playing in the SUV Davis was in while at a gas station in an area of town with a low level of crime)

The more people who are packing heat, the more likely that minor confrontations will turn deadly.

Such killings are all the more likely in Florida, which has issued 900,000 permits to carry concealed weapons, far more than any state.

In 2005, Florida became the first state to pass a Stand Your Ground law, which appears to have intensified the climate that has led to the nickname "Gunshine State."

Could simply imagining a danger turn into a justification for killing?

This comes soon after Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll released the draft report of the Governor's Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection in the wake of outcry over the Trayvon Martin killing by George Zimmerman in Sanford.

Carroll dutifully conducted hearings around the state, but the task force was stacked with proponents of the Stand Your Ground law, and there was never much chance that the group would propose serious changes.

A long line of law enforcement officers and prosecutors opposed the laws before it was enacted and have expressed deep concerns about it since, but their objections have fallen on deaf ears.


The website ProPublica provided this piece on Friday: The Best Reporting on Guns in America.  I am providing the same links and adding a few quotes from each piece.


Battleground America: One nation, under the gun, The New Yorker, April 23, 2012

Ever since the shootings at Columbine High School, in a Denver suburb, in 1999, American schools have been preparing for gunmen.
Although rates of gun ownership, like rates of violent crime, are falling, the power of the gun lobby is not. Since 1980, forty-four states have passed some form of law that allows gun owners to carry concealed weapons outside their homes for personal protection. (Five additional states had these laws before 1980. Illinois is the sole holdout.) A federal ban on the possession, transfer, or manufacture of semiautomatic assault weapons, passed in 1994, was allowed to expire in 2004. In 2005, Florida passed the Stand Your Ground law, an extension of the so-called castle doctrine, exonerating from prosecution citizens who use deadly force when confronted by an assailant, even if they could have retreated safely; Stand Your Ground laws expand that protection outside the home to any place that an individual “has a right to be.” Twenty-four states have passed similar laws.
Gun owners may be more supportive of gun-safety regulations than is the leadership of the N.R.A. According to a 2009 Luntz poll, for instance, requiring mandatory background checks on all purchasers at gun shows is favored not only by eighty-five per cent of gun owners who are not members of the N.R.A. but also by sixty-nine per cent of gun owners who are.
The entire article is a must read for a full understanding of our modern day gun debate which, as the article states, began in 1963 when Lee Harvey Oswald bought a bolt-action rifle -- an Italian military-surplus weapon -- for nineteen dollars and ninety-five cents by ordering it from an ad found in American Rifleman.  Five days later Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy.

Florida "Stand your Ground" law yields some shocking outcomes depending on how law is applied, Tampa Bay Times, June 3, 2012

In the most comprehensive effort of its kind, the Tampa Bay Times has identified nearly 200 "stand your ground'' cases and their outcomes. The Times identified cases through media reports, court records and dozens of interviews with prosecutors and defense attorneys across the state.

Among the findings:

• Those who invoke "stand your ground" to avoid prosecution have been extremely successful. Nearly 70 percent have gone free.

• Defendants claiming "stand your ground" are more likely to prevail if the victim is black. Seventy-three percent of those who killed a black person faced no penalty compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white.

People have had the right to defend themselves from a threat as far back as English common law. The key in Florida and many other states was that they could not use deadly force if it was reasonably possible to retreat.

That changed in 2005 when Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law Florida Statute 776.013. It says a person "has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground'' if he or she thinks deadly force is necessary to prevent death, great bodily harm or commission of a forcible felony like robbery.

"Now it's lawful to stand there like Matt Dillon at high noon, pull the gun and shoot back,'' said Bob Dekle, a University of Florida law professor and former prosecutor in North Florida.

The article further cites examples of inconsistent and unequal treatment of the filing of charges across the state; the wide variety of interpretations of the law by police officers, prosecutors and judges; an outline of questionable cases; the increase in cases; arguments for the law's success; and an emboldening by the citizenry as the claims in cases have increased.

"Stand Your Ground" laws coincide with jump in justifiable-homicide cases,The Washington Post, April 7, 2012

This sharp turn in American law — expanding the right to defend one’s home from attack into a more general right to meet force with force in any public place — began in Florida in 2005 and has spread to more than 30 other states as a result of a campaign by the National Rifle Association and a corporate-backed group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which promotes conservative bills.

Florida has been at the forefront of expanding gun rights for decades, ever since an NRA lobbyist named Marion Hammer, the NRA’s first female president, became a force in the state capitol in Tallahassee.

When she helped write the Stand Your Ground bill and circulated it, some police chiefs and other law enforcement officials warned that the measure would make it hard to convict people of murder — defendants would simply claim self-defense and challenge prosecutors to prove they were lying.

But those concerns were heavily outweighed by lawmakers’ desire to send a message to taxpayers that the justice system would no longer consider suspect those who defend themselves against attack.

Justifiable homicides in Florida have tripled, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement data. Other states have seen similar increases, FBI statistics show.

Felons Finding It Easy to Regain Gun Rights, The New York Times, November 11, 2011

Under federal law, people with felony convictions forfeit their right to bear arms. Yet every year, thousands of felons across the country have those rights reinstated, often with little or no review. In several states, they include people convicted of violent crimes, including first-degree murder and manslaughter, an examination by The New York Times has found.
Margaret C. Love, a pardon lawyer based in Washington, D.C., who has researched gun rights restoration laws, estimated that, depending on the type of crime, in more than half the states felons have a reasonable chance of getting back their gun rights.
One study, published in the American Journal of Public Health in 1999, found that denying handgun purchases to felons cut their risk of committing new gun or violent crimes by 20 to 30 percent. A year earlier, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that handgun purchasers with at least one prior misdemeanor — not even a felony — were more than seven times as likely as those with no criminal history to be charged with new offenses over a 15-year period.

Criminologists studying recidivism have found that felons usually have to stay out of trouble for about a decade before their risk of committing a crime equals that of people with no records. According to Alfred Blumstein, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, for violent offenders, that period is 11 to 15 years; for drug offenders, 10 to 14 years; and for those who have committed property crimes, 8 to 11 years. An important caveat: Professor Blumstein did not look at what happens when felons are given guns.

This companion piece is offered as well:  Some With History of Mental Illness Petition to Get Their Gun Rights Back, The New York Times, July 2, 2011
Most people with mental health issues, of course, will never be violent. But there is widespread consensus among scientists that the increased risk of violence among those with a serious mental illness — schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder — is statistically significant. That risk rises when substance abuse, which is more prevalent among people with mental illness, is also present.

The truth about the Fast and Furious scandal, Fortune,June 27, 2012

A Fortune investigation reveals that the ATF never intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. How the world came to believe just the opposite is a tale of rivalry, murder, and political bloodlust.

How Fast and Furious reached the headlines is a strange and unsettling saga, one that reveals a lot about politics and media today. It's a story that starts with a grudge, specifically Dodson's anger at Voth. After the terrible murder of agent Terry, Dodson made complaints that were then amplified, first by right-wing bloggers, then by CBS. Rep. Issa and other politicians then seized those elements to score points against the Obama administration, which, for its part, has capitulated in an apparent effort to avoid a rhetorical battle over gun control in the run-up to the presidential election. (A Justice Department spokesperson denies this and asserts that the department is not drawing conclusions until the inspector general's report is submitted.)

"Republican senators are whipping up the country into a psychotic frenzy with these reports that are patently false," says Linda Wallace, a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service's criminal investigation unit who was assigned to the Fast and Furious team (and recently retired from the IRS). A self-described gun-rights supporter, Wallace has not been criticized by Issa's committee.

In a follow up piece: Fast and Furious follow up: The ATF and gun stores, Fortune, July 3, 2012

More on the Fortune investigation that revealed that the ATF never intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

Since Fortune published "The Truth about the Fast and Furious Scandal" on June 27, thousands of comments have been posted on Fortune.com either praising or vilifying the article. Among the questions often raised by critics of the article (including Sen. Charles Grassley) concern assertions that the ATF encouraged gun dealers to sell weapons to known traffickers. If the ATF was encouraging such sales, the argument goes, it would be proof that the agency had a policy to allow weapons to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, the core contention in what is known as the Fast and Furious scandal.

In the six months of investigations that led Fortune to conclude that the ATF had no policy to intentionally permit weapons to be trafficked, we examined 2,000 pages of ATF records, Congressional reports and testimony, and interviewed 39 people involved in or knowledgeable about the case. That body of evidence shows the ATF did not have a policy of encouraging gun dealers to sell to traffickers. Until now, the alleged encouragement of gun-dealers has not been a central focus of the Fast and Furious scandal. As a result, we did not address those points in the article. However, given the interest in this question, we thought it was worth taking readers through the evidence on this point.

It should be noted at the outset that the Congressional committee investigating Fast and Furious has never claimed the ATF had any official, written policy to encourage gun dealers to sell to traffickers. No documents, emails, or testimony mentioned in Congressional reports show signs of an agency-wide policy, or even a policy within Phoenix Group VII, the unit that worked on Fast and Furious.

What the allegations in the Congressional hearings and reports boil down to are two specific situations. In one, as we'll see, the allegations are true -- but misleading and incomplete -- and in the second, the evidence is contradictory. It's possible that the Congressional investigators have other evidence, but these two episodes are the only ones that have surfaced to date.


Realco guns tied to 2,500 cimres in D.C. and Maryland, The Washington Post, October 24, 2010

This article features Realco, a gun store which sold 4 times as many guns used in crimes as any other gun store in the area.  An eye opening piece in that the investigation uncovers the legality of these sales.

The Post investigation found that a small percentage of gun stores sells most of the weapons recovered by police in crimes - re-confirming the major finding of studies that came out before federal gun-tracing data were removed from public view by an act of Congress in 2003. For the most part, these sales are legal, but an unknown number involve persons who buy for those who cannot, including convicted felons such as Dixon, in a process known as a "straw purchase." Such sales are illegal for the buyer and the store, if it knowingly allows a straw purchase. But cases are hard to prove. Law enforcement officials rarely prosecute gun stores, deterred by high bureaucratic hurdles, political pressure and laws that make convictions difficult.
The District has no walk-in gun shops but is ringed by more than 100 in Maryland and Virginia. Of the 996 guns successfully traced last year in the city, about one-fourth were tracked back to Maryland dealers, one-fourth to Virginia dealers and the rest to shops nationwide, according to the ATF.
This above piece was part of this larger and more comprehensive piece: The Hidden Life of Guns - A Washington Post Investigation

U.S. Stymied as Guns Flow to Mexican Cartels, The New York Times, April 14, 2009

Sending straw buyers into American stores, cartels have stocked up on semiautomatic AK-47 and AR-15 rifles, converting some to machine guns, investigators in both countries say. They have also bought .50 caliber rifles capable of stopping a car and Belgian pistols able to fire rifle rounds that will penetrate body armor.

Federal agents say about 90 percent of the 12,000 pistols and rifles the Mexican authorities recovered from drug dealers last year and asked to be traced came from dealers in the United States, most of them in Texas and Arizona.

In Texas and Arizona, where most of the guns recovered in Mexico come from, there is even less regulation on private sales. Individuals may sell guns at gun shows or even through classified advertisements without running a criminal background check or even recording the buyer’s name. “If you wanted to create a system that is basically legal but designed to facilitate gun trafficking, you couldn’t have a better system than you have here,” said Tom Diaz, a researcher with the Violence Policy Center in Washington.
Since Congress lifted the ban on assault rifles in 2004, more and more of the weapons recovered in Mexico have been military-style rifles like the AK-47s or the AR-15, the authorities in both countries say.

Some local law enforcement officials argue that the A.T.F., which has about 2,500 special agents watching 78,000 gun dealers nationwide, is overwhelmed.


Special Report: Concealed gun law turns 10 years old, Booth Newspapers (Michigan Live), June 26, 2011

For this report, the newspapers analyzed thousands of state police records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The records are supposed to detail the number of licenses issued and revoked in every county, the number who violate the law, and the judicial outcome. Reporters also interviewed license holders, law enforcement, firearms trainers and state and local record keepers.

The probe found the reports the state has released to the public every year for a decade fall far short of reality, especially on the number of convictions and license revocations. Among the reasons:

Gun boards in more than half the 83 counties broke the law by failing to file their annual reports at least once. One county, Shiawassee, has never complied.

This is not what lawmakers had in mind when they made it easier for residents to obtain concealed handgun permits.
This piece highlights the same problems in North Carolina: More Concealed Guns, and Some Are in The Wrong Hands, The New York Times, December 26, 2011
Across the country, it is easier than ever to carry a handgun in public. Prodded by the gun lobby, most states, including North Carolina, now require only a basic background check, and perhaps a safety class, to obtain a permit.

In state after state, guns are being allowed in places once off-limits, like bars, college campuses and houses of worship. And gun rights advocates are seeking to expand the map still further, pushing federal legislation that would require states to honor other states’ concealed weapons permits. The House approved the bill last month; the Senate is expected to take it up next year.

To assess that claim, The New York Times examined the permit program in North Carolina, one of a dwindling number of states where the identities of permit holders remain public. The review, encompassing the last five years, offers a rare, detailed look at how a liberalized concealed weapons law has played out in one state. And while it does not provide answers, it does raise questions.

More than 2,400 permit holders were convicted of felonies or misdemeanors, excluding traffic-related crimes, over the five-year period, The Times found when it compared databases of recent criminal court cases and licensees. While the figure represents a small percentage of those with permits, more than 200 were convicted of felonies, including at least 10 who committed murder or manslaughter. All but two of the killers used a gun.


Wiped Clean: A Journal Sentinel Watchdog Report - Ineffective rules let gun stores endure,  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 15, 2010

Hobbled by Congress, federal watchdogs rarely revoke the licenses of lawbreaking gun dealers. And when they do, stores can easily beat the system by having a relative, friend or employee pull a fresh license - something that routinely happens across the country, a Journal Sentinel investigation has found.

The newspaper identified more than 50 stores in 20 states over the past six years where such a move was made, wiping the operation's slate clean. The newspaper's review, which involved contacting more than 150 gun dealers, uncovered 34 additional stores with indications a revoked license holder remains connected to a gun-dealing operation.

Congress not only hinders the agency from effectively regulating lawbreaking dealers, it also has made secret nearly all federal records about gun stores, including why licenses are revoked. Congress put the information off-limits in 2003 following widespread news articles about stores such as Badger Outdoors and Popguns being among the top sellers of crime guns in the nation.
Gun dealer licenses revoked and denied This database provided by The Washington Post

I know this is a lot to take in at one sitting, but even skimming the reports provides a reality check like no other.  These reports and stories are not just eye opening, they are alarming.  I would urge each of you to set aside the time to read each of these articles over the last few days of 2012.  Read and reflect on the stories, the facts, and the statistics that have brought us to where we are today - living with a gun control issue that has grown into an out of control monster.

"Evil visited this community today."
              ~ Governor Dannel P. Malloy, Connecticut, December 14, 2012
We are members of the largest and most influential progressive web site in the United States and as such we should be supporting meaningful gun control legislation as well as working together to craft new ideas and actions designed to bring about a positive change.  Let us pledge to put our anger and differences aside in this new year and work together so that never again will we witness another Sandy Hook Elementary type of tragedy.

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