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Leaked documents show police knew the real threat at protests was not “Antifa” but far-right extremists

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It’s unfortunate but true that many police departments were untrustworthy. Ryan Deveraux reports in the Intercept:

AS PROTESTS AGAINST police violence spread to every state in the U.S. and dramatic images flooded in from cities across the country, President Donald Trump and his attorney general spun an ominous story of opportunistic leftists exploiting a national trauma to sow chaos and disorder. They were the anti-fascists known as “antifa,” and according to the administration they were domestic terrorists who would be policed accordingly.

But while the White House beat the drum for a crackdown on a leaderless movement on the left, law enforcement offices across the country were sharing detailed reports of far-right extremists seeking to attack the protesters and police during the country’s historic demonstrations, a trove of newly leaked documents reveals.

Among the steady stream of threats from the far-right were repeated encounters between law enforcement and heavily armed adherents of the so-called boogaloo movement, which welcomes armed confrontation with cops as means to trigger civil war. With much of the U.S. policing apparatus on the hunt for antifa instigators, those violent aspirations appear to have materialized in a string of targeted attacks in California that left a federal protective services officer and a sheriff’s deputy dead and several other law enforcement officials wounded.

The cache of law enforcement materials was recently hacked and posted online under the title “BlueLeaks,” providing an unprecedented look at the communications between state, local, and federal law enforcement in the face of the nationwide protests. In an analysis of nearly 300 documents that reference “antifa,” The Intercept found repeated instances of antifa and left-wing protesting activities cast in cartoonishly grim terms alongside more substantive reports of lethal right-wing violence and threats that have received scant mention from top Trump administration officials.

“Throughout the documents you see counterterrorism agencies using extremism so broadly as to mean virtually anything that encompasses dissent,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, told The Intercept. “There are instances in which people engaging in white supremacist violence get the benefit of the doubt as potential lone offenders, while people of color and those who dissent against government injustice are smeared as threats with guilt by association.”

Michael German, a former FBI agent specializing in domestic terrorism and current fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, said the materials were rife with examples of law enforcement intelligence being politicized in ways that endangered both protesters and police alike. “Terrorism is distinguished from other violence by its political nature and, as a result, counterterrorism is often highly politicized as well,” German told The Intercept. “Here we’re seeing where this politicization of counterterrorism is being reflected in intelligence documents that are going out and are intended to inform state and local law enforcement on the ground.” He added: “Overall, what you see is a strange sensationalization of the antifa threats — and that doesn’t exist when looking at the boogaloo documents.”

German argued that the impulse to paint both sides of the political spectrum with the same brush, despite the fact that only the far right is actively killing people, is among the most dangerous features of modern American law enforcement. In his review of the documents produced in response to the recent protests, German said purported “threats” from antifa were routinely overblown, often framed vandalism as terrorism and were typically absent of concrete evidence of serious criminal activity.

“It’s chatter, it’s ‘intelligence reporting suggests,’” he said. On June 2, for example, the Department of Homeland Security circulated a tweet to law enforcement agencies across the country reporting that antifa was stashing bricks to “fuel protests.” The intelligence made its way to a law enforcement fusion center in Maine. Last week, Mainer magazine tracked down the original source of the tweet: a far-right, pro-Trump biker who goes by the name “the Wolfman,” who claimed that Facebook kept deleting his brick-planting evidence “because they are BLM supporters.”

Even if antifa were staging bricks, German said, “you have these heavily armed groups right there, who have a much more direct and lengthy history of violence than anything antifa or anarchist-involved does.” Unlike the information circulated about antifa, much of the intelligence reporting in the BlueLeaks documents regarding threats from the far right is tightly focused on specific events, German noted. “That’s the way it should be,” he said. Far-right extremists have been targeting and killing law enforcement, not to mention members of the general public, for generations, German explained, and in fact, the government’s own documents show that those ideas were percolating in extremist corners of the right at the same time that Trump and U.S. Attorney General William Barr were preparing to crack down on the left.

While antifa has been a right-wing boogeyman for years, the administration’s rhetoric ramped up in late May, with Trump tweeting that he would designate the movement as a terrorist organization. Barr followed the tweet with a Department of Justice statement reporting that federal investigators would work to “identify criminal organizers and instigators” who were “hijacking” the protests, and warning that “the violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly.”

In the weeks since Barr’s statement was issued, The Intercept has published accounts of FBI agents in multiple states targeting individuals with a perceived relationship to antifa for interviews and potential informant work. Meanwhile, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, an official fundraising arm of the president, has been running campaign ads urging donors to send money to show support for the administration’s antifa enforcement campaign.

Yet the leaked materials show that on May 29, two days before Trump tweeted that antifa would be labeled a terrorist organization and Barr issued his DOJ statement, the president’s own DHS analysts issued an open source intelligence report detailing how a white supremacist channel on Telegram, an encrypted messaging service, was encouraging followers to capitalize on the unrest by targeting the police with Molotov cocktails and firearms.

“The use of firearms greatly influences the scale and intensity of these events,” a source in the group, titled “National Accelerationist Revival,” wrote on May 27, advising followers to break police lines “with cocktails, chainsaws, and firearms.” At the time, DHS reported, the group included more than 3,400 subscribers. “Looting and shoplifting are both cool and whites should be doing it way more,” the source went on. “When the laws no longer benefit you, break them for personal gain. If you don’t feel like buying something, steal it. If you don’t feel like driving slow, drive fast. If you don’t like someone, hurt them.”

“We ought to revel in the destruction of the police state,” they wrote. “It is just as necessary to break down the police state and the system of control as it is to spread racial hatred.”

In a separate document disseminated the following day, DHS warned its workforce that the nation’s “period of darkness” would soon worsen, as “violent protest movements” grew. Domestic extremists would capitalize on the unrest to “take over government facilities and attack law enforcement,” DHS predicted, with protests following police killings of civilians “posing a high risk of escalating to both premeditated and random attacks targeting law enforcement officers nationwide.” The document went on to describe how “users of a white supremacist extremist Telegram channel attempted to incite followers to engage in violence and start the ‘boogaloo’ — a term used by some violent extremists to refer to the start of a second Civil War — by shooting in a crowd.”

Among the developments cited in the bulletin was the May 29 assassination of a federal court security guard in Oakland. The alleged perpetrator would later be identified as Steven Carrillo, a 32-year-old sergeant in an elite Air Force security unit. According to authorities, Carrillo would go on to ambush and kill a sheriff’s deputy and wound several others in a second targeted attack days later. In court filings last month, the FBI reported that the airman had a ballistics vest bearing a boogaloo patch. Following a shootout with police, Carrillo reportedly used his own blood to scrawl phrases associated with the movement on the hood of a vehicle he had carjacked.

In the run-up to the initial attack, federal authorities said Carrillo made several comments in a Facebook group with his accused accomplices arguing that the protests were an ideal opportunity to kill law enforcement — whom he referred to as “soup bois,” a reference to the “alphabet soup” of law enforcement titles — and kick off a broader nationwide conflagration. “Go to the riots and support our own cause,” Carrillo reportedly wrote on the morning of the attacks. “Show them the real targets. Use their anger to fuel our fire. Think outside the box. We have mobs of angry people to use to our advantage.”

At approximately 9:44 p.m, Carrillo and his accused partner, Robert Alvin Justus Jr., rolled up in a white van outside the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building. The side door of the vehicle slid open and Carrillo opened fire. Fifty-three-year-old David Patrick Underwood was shot dead. His partner was wounded. “Did you see how they fucking fell?” Justus would later recall Carrillo exclaiming, as the van took off into the night.

While Carrillo was on the run in California, the FBI’s Minneapolis office circulated uncorroborated “online discussions” between unidentified individuals indicating that “Antifa wanted to ‘massacre’ National Guard personnel at the Minnesota State Capitol” in an unprecedented vehicle-born explosive attack. In the June 1 report, the bureau’s Minneapolis office noted that the intelligence coming in was based on photos of National Guard vehicles that did not appear to come from Minnesota, that it was the product of an outside office, and that “given current circumstances in the Twin Cities, the FBI Minneapolis Field Office cautions that the source may have potentially provided intelligence to influence recipients.”

That same morning, Trump tweeted a quote from “Fox and Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade: “I don’t see any indication that there were any white supremist [sic] groups mixing in. This is an ANTIFA Organization. It seems that the first time we saw it in a major way was Occupy Wall Street. It’s the same mindset.” The president endorsed Kilmeade’s assessment, writing in all caps, “TRUE!” Later in the day, Trump appeared in the Rose Garden of the White House to announce that he would mobilize military forces to quash “the violence and restore security and safety in America.” The president was quick to point out the role of “professional anarchists, violent mobs … arsonists, looters, criminals, rider rioters, Antifa, and others” in creating unrest. “A federal officer in California, an African American enforcement hero, was shot and killed,” he said, referring to Underwood and the targeted attack in Oakland.

Trump made no mention of groups on the far right. Behind the scenes, however, DHS was acknowledging “media reports” indicating “that neo-Nazi, and other paramilitary far-right groups, are calling for terror attacks during the ongoing unrest throughout the United States.”

“A series of Telegram accounts linked to a wider network of paramilitary far-right extremists have indicated that ongoing disturbances are spreading America’s police forces thin, making this the ideal time to strike with a strategic attack,” the agency reported in a round-up of intelligence reports coming in from around the country, published the following morning. “One account, with thousands of followers and links to several neo-Nazi terror groups like The Base and the Nordic Resistance Movement, called for attacks on critical infrastructure.” The agency noted that Twitter had recently removed a fake antifa account “created by a known white supremacist group” that had issued a call to violence.

“Although the account only had a few hundred followers, it is an example of white supremacists seeking to inflame tensions in the United States,” DHS reported.

According to a distribution list at the bottom of the report, the document was shared with the White House Situation Room, DHS headquarters, federal interagency operations centers, and state and local partners. The Intercept sent detailed lists of questions regarding documents in the BlueLeaks trove to the White House, the Department of Justice, and DHS. None responded. The FBI referred The Intercept to an interview director Christopher Wray gave to Fox News in a late June, in which he appeared to distance the bureau from the more strident antifa rhetoric of Barr and Trump. “Our efforts are focused on identifying, investigating, and disrupting individuals that are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activity,” the bureau said in a statement. “We are not focused on peaceful protests.“

An Antifa Obsession

Despite the apparent stream of intelligence indicating that the far right was looking to use the protests as cover to attack law enforcement and create disorder, the FBI, by June 2, was still uncertain whether the attack in Oakland was linked to the demonstrations. “At this time, the FBI is unable to determine if this incident is related to the civil unrest in the Oakland area,” the bureau noted in a lengthy situation report. Carrillo’s arrest was still four days away.

On the heels of Barr’s antifa statement, the FBI noted that its field offices had been “encouraged to canvass sources for intelligence associated with violent or illegal extremist activity.” The bureau added that “any attempts by law enforcement to arrest individuals” openly carrying guns at protests, as well as increased use of the National Guard, was likely to draw more anti-government militias into the streets. The 16-page FBI report did not mention the boogaloo movement nor any of the many other domestic extremist groups of the American far right, by name. It did, however, highlight antifa and anarchists more than a half dozen times.

n Newark, New Jersey, police and FBI investigators had identified “a probable ‘Antifa’ related individual,” who was arrested for possessing a knife, a hatchet, and a jar of gasoline. Though the man’s charge was unclear, the FBI reported that it had “obtained one of his Facebook posts which contained a video of him at the riots inciting others to steal from the stores while he stood guard.” With the man having described himself as “anti-government and anti-authority,” the FBI reported that its Newark office “believes this profile is consistent with ‘Antifa.’” While agents were investigating the man in Newark, the FBI’s field office in Spokane, Washington, was looking into an “antifa group” reportedly headed through Idaho and on to Minneapolis. In Denver, meanwhile, the FBI was investigating the alleged transfer of “riot supplies” to “antifa members,” and in Philadelphia, authorities were “attempting to confirm if any of the individuals arrested by Philadelphia Police Department have ‘Antifa’ affiliations.”

The portrait the FBI painted of the country was chaotic, with nearly three dozen FBI SWAT teams in various stages of deployment nationwide. The report noted “multiple officer related shootings” in the 12 hours preceding its dissemination, including the killing of a police officer in Las Vegas and an “assailant” who allegedly fired on police officers and a National Guard patrol in Kentucky. Nearly 200 pistols and rifles had been stolen from locations in San Francisco and Albuquerque, New Mexico, the FBI reported; it was unclear by whom.

While a variety of groups had been linked to the unrest, the FBI noted that “much of the violence and vandalism is perpetrated by opportunistic, individual actors acting without specific direction.” Nonetheless, the bureau would “continue to aggressively … seek to corroborate whether or not there is in fact an organized effort to incite violence by either known criminal groups or domestic violent extremists,” which apparently included running down “uncorroborated intelligence about alleged participation of Venezuelan and Nicaraguan socialist groups.” According to the report, with more than 4,000 arrests across the country, the FBI had tagged nearly 200 incidents as “riot related threats” and was in the process of investigating 40 “cases associated with violent protests.”

With Trump hyping antifa hysteria in Washington, D.C., reports of lurking leftists began cropping around the country. In Colorado, a Denver resident reported that they had followed a “suspicious person” into their apartment complex who looked to be attempting to set the building on fire. “Fairly certain he was a member of an Antifa like group,” the resident wrote, adding that there were “two Antifa safe houses on our block.” “I know this because they have been walking past our house telling us they can offer shelter, food, supplies, etc. also they have been hiding on our stoop when Swat drives by and they keep discussing their plans and where they are going. They have a central phone # they are calling to get updates and where they need to go to,” the resident said. “Please nip this shit in the ass. This is the second time in two days we had someone attempt to burn down our apartment building/neighboring buildings. Get these terrorists out of our city please!”

. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2020 at 9:11 am

A new favorite rifle: Steyr ACR

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You know that I like the Steyr AUG (which I first saw in La Femme Nikita), but the Steyr ACR gives it a run for the money.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2020 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Guns, Video

More on the wonderful HK G11 assault rifle

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Including why it was not adopted:

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2020 at 1:09 pm

Posted in Government, Guns, Military, Video

The plague of feral pigs

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David Gilbert reports in Vice:

A woman in Texas was found dead outside the home of an elderly couple she cared for after being attacked by a group of feral hogs on Sunday morning.

The victim, 59-year-old Christine Rollins, arrived at work in the rural southeast Texan town of Anahuac around 6 a.m. on Sunday when it was still dark. The 84-year-old homeowner found Rollins’ body lying in the front yard when he looked outside after she didn’t arrive at their door for work.

Police were called and initially considered the possibility that Rollins had died of a medical condition before her body was discovered by the feral hogs.

However, an autopsy Monday confirmed the cause of death as loss of blood “due to feral hog assault,” Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne told reporters during a news conference.

“It looks like she got out of her car and locked it,” Hawthorne said. “[She] was probably trying to make her way to the front door when, it appears, these animals must have come along.”

The medical examination found that Rollins was attacked by “multiple hogs” based on the various size of the bites on her body.

“There is no question in the medical examiner’s mind that this was feral hogs that caused her death,” Hawthorne said, adding: “In my 35 years, I will tell you it’s one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.”

Feral hogs have taken over some pasture land around the home, Hawthorne said, adding that they are a problem throughout Chambers County. Attacks on humans, however, are extremely rare.

Feral hogs are one of the most destructive invasive species in the U.S. and have long been a problem for Texas farmers.

The hogs cause roughly $1.5 billion in damage each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tearing up crops and property, eating endangered species, and spreading diseases to livestock and humans.

Continue reading.

A “group” of pigs isn’t quite right. You would not say a “group” of lions or a “group” of cattle — it would be a pride of lions and a herd of cattle. For pigs, you could use drift, drove, team, passel, parcel, or sounder (see Animal Collective Nouns).

In any case, I support the extermination effort and see the video below changed my mind on one thing: the utility of a semi-automatic hunting rifle. I have in past said that hunting rifles properly should be bolt-action because the idea of hunting is the carefully aimed shot — but I was thinking of hunting the old way, tracking and then stalking the animal and firing when the animal is still. Helicopter hunting is not like that, and a semiautomatic hunting rifle is clearly required.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2019 at 12:27 pm

Nearly All Mass Shooters Since 1966 Have Had 4 Things in Common

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David Noriega and Tess Owen report in Vice:

The stereotype of a mass shooter is a white male with a history of mental illness or domestic violence. While that may be anecdotally true, the largest single study of mass shooters ever funded by the U.S. government has found that nearly all mass shooters have four specific things in common.

A new Department of Justice-funded study of all mass shootings — killings of four or more people in a public place — since 1966 found that the shooters typically have an experience with childhood trauma, a personal crisis or specific grievance, and a “script” or examples that validate their feelings or provide a roadmap. And then there’s the fourth thing: access to a firearm.

The root cause of mass shootings is an intensely partisan debate, with one side blaming mental health and the others blaming guns. Researchers hope that the findings in the study could usher in a more holistic and evidence-based approach to the issue — and provide opportunities for policy action.

“Data is data,” said Jillian Peterson, a psychologist at Hamline University and co-author of the study. “Data isn’t political. Our hope is that it pushes these conversations further.”

The study, compiled by the Violence Project, a nonpartisan think tank dedicated to reducing violence in society, was published Tuesday and is the most comprehensive and detailed database of mass shooters to date, coded to 100 different variables. Its release comes less than a week after a teenage boy killed two students at his high school in Santa Clarita, California, before fatally shooting himself in the head.

The researchers used the FBI’s definition of a “mass murder” — four or more people killed, excluding the perpetrator — and applied it to shootings in one public place. The dataset stretches back to August 1, 1966, when a former Marine opened fire from an observation deck at the University of Texas, killing 15 people. It wasn’t the first mass shooting in the U.S., but researchers chose it as a starting point because it was the first to be substantively covered on radio and TV.

The database delivers a number of arresting findings. Mass shootings are becoming much more frequent and deadly: Of the 167 incidents the researchers logged in that 53-year period, 20% have occurred in the last five years, and half since 2000.

They’re also increasingly motivated by racial, religious, or misogynist hatred, particularly the ones that occurred in the past five years.

And in an era when tightening gun laws, including background checks, is a national political issue, the study found that more than half of all mass shooters in the database obtained their guns legally.

But researchers said they were particularly struck by how many mass shooters displayed symptoms of being in some sort of crisis prior to the shooting. “Those are opportunities for prevention,” said Peterson.

5 profiles of mass shooters

Experts have long cautioned that there is no single profile for a mass shooter. But the Violence Project researchers found some personal characteristics often align with certain types of locations targeted by shooters, and created five general categories:

  • K-12 shooters: White males, typically students or former students of the school, with a history of trauma. Most are suicidal, plan their crime extensively, and make others aware of their plans at some point before the shooting. They use multiple guns that they typically steal from a family member.
  • College and university shooters: Non-white males who are current students of the university, are suicidal, and have a history of violence and childhood trauma. They typically use legally obtained handguns and leave behind some sort of manifesto.
  • Workplace shooters: Fortysomething males without a specific racial profile. Most are employees of their targeted location, often a blue-collar job site, and have some grievance against the workplace. They use legally purchased handguns and assault rifles.
  • Place of worship shooters: White males in their 40s, typically motivated by hate or domestic violence that spills out into public. Their crimes typically involve little planning.
  • Shooters at a commercial location (such as a store or restaurant): White men in their 30s with a violent history and criminal record. They typically have no connection to the targeted location and use a single, legally obtained firearm. About a third show evidence of a “thought disorder,” a term for a mental health condition, like schizophrenia, that results in disorganized thinking, paranoia, or delusions.

Hate on the rise

The study shows that the number of shooters who are motivated by racism, religious hate, and misogyny have increased since the 1960s — most dramatically in the last five years.

Since 2015, hate-fueled shootings targeting black churchgoers in Charleston, Jews at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, women at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, and Latinos at a Walmart in El Paso, have dominated national headlines and added another layer of complexity to the problem of mass violence in America.

READ: A Marine used a neo-Nazi site to recruit for a “racial holy war.”

Between 1966 and 2000, there were 75 mass shootings. Of those, 9% were motivated by racism, 1% by religious hatred, and 7% by misogyny. Of the 32 mass shootings that have occurred in the U.S. just since 2015, 18% were motivated by racism, 15% by religious hatred, and 21% by misogyny.

The increase in ideologically motivated mass shootings has coincided with the emergence of a newly emboldened far right, who’ve forged national and even international alliances of hate online. The sharp rise in misogyny-inspired shootings also squares with the rise of the “Incels,” short for “involuntarily celibate,” an online subculture comprised of angry young men who deeply resent and blame women for their isolation.

Mental health is a factor — but rarely the cause

Two-thirds of the mass shooters in the database had a documented history of mental health problems. While this seems high, researchers point out that roughly 50% of Americans have experienced some kind of mental health problem at some point in their lives.

Moreover, the percentage of shooters whose crimes were directly motivated by the symptoms of a mental disorder (such as delusions or hallucinations caused by psychosis) is much smaller: roughly 16%. That is a smaller percentage than shooters motivated by hate, a workplace grievance, or an interpersonal conflict.

“If someone has a mental health history, I think we’ve gotten in the habit of blaming that for their actions,” said Peterson. “But someone can have, say, depression, and it’s not like everything they do is driven by that.”

READ: Trump blamed “mentally ill monsters” for Dayton and El Paso massacres.

That said, the study found strong links between suicidal motivations and mass shootings. Nearly 70% of shooters were suicidal before or during the shooting, and the numbers are even higher for school shooters.

These findings could have powerful implications for . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2019 at 1:01 pm

Atatiana Jefferson was a victim of law-and-order rhetoric

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Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

Last Saturday, a neighbor in Fort Worth called the city’s non-emergency line because he was concerned about his neighbors, 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson and her 8-year-old nephew. It was the middle of the night, but her front door was open. The dispatcher sent police officers, who appear to have treated the call as a reported burglary. While searching the perimeter of the house, Officer Aaron Dean saw a figure in the window. Without announcing himself, he yelled “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” Two seconds later, he fired his gun, killing Jefferson in her own home.

The Fort Worth Police Department released a photo of a gun they claimed to have found in Jefferson’s house, a clear attempt to head off criticism. As of yet, there’s no indication that Jefferson was holding the gun when she was shot. And, of course, even if she had been, there’s nothing illegal about having a gun in your home in Texas. If Jefferson had been holding it, it was likely because she saw men with flashlights prowling around outside her home.

In June, just a few months before Jefferson’s death, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit refused to dismiss a lawsuit against another Fort Worth police officer. In that case, the police were responding to a burglary call, but went to the wrong house. When homeowner Jerry Waller saw activity outside his house, he grabbed a gun and went out to see what was going on — and then ran into a Fort Worth police officer. According to police, the officer ordered Waller to drop his gun. He put it down on a car, but then reached for it again, at which time the officer fatally shot him. The police narrative makes little sense. Waller was on his own property, and did nothing wrong. It’s hard to fathom why he would knowingly try to kill a police officer. The police narrative also doesn’t quite fit the wound patterns on Waller’s hands, which appear to be inconsistent with someone holding a gun.

No reasonable person would suggest that either of these officers started their shifts intending to kill someone. Nor would any reasonable person suggest that then-Dallas police officer Amber Guyger went home from work intending to kill Botham Jean. You can say the same for the Southaven, Miss., police who responded to the wrong house, then shot and killed Ismael Lopez in his own home. Or for the Florida officers who shot and killed Andrew Scott, also after responding to the wrong house. Same for the officers who killed David HooksJason Wescott and Andrew Finch. And those who killed Terence CrutcherPhilando Castille and Stephon Clark.

In fact, if we could somehow read the minds of all the officers involved in these cases, I wouldn’t be surprised if we learned that all of them sincerely feared for their safety. The problem is that not one of them was actually in any danger. Nor were the countless officers who shot someone (usually a black male) after claiming to have seen a suspect reaching for his waistband — only to discover the suspect was unarmed. There have even been cases in which a police officer shot a fellow undercover officer, then claimed to have sincerely feared for his safety.

The law permits the police officers to use lethal force if they have a reasonable fear for their safety or for the safety of others. Courts have consistently held that, when considering the potential liability of a police shooting, we should consider only the facts known to the officer at the time. That’s understandable. We can’t hold police officers accountable for information they didn’t have.

But reasonable isn’t the same thing as legitimate or accurate. And if police officers are seeing threats where there clearly are none, it makes sense to start asking why.

This is where the rhetoric of police groups and their supporters comes in. Law enforcement advocates such as the National Rifle Association, police unions, conservative politicians and, of course, President Trump regularly tell us there’s a “war on cops.” They describe police work with words usually reserved for the battlefield. They fuel the mistaken belief that relatively rare incidents such as roadside ambushes are common. They equate criticism and oversight of police with violence. And they cite small increases in the number of police fatalities year to year with percentages without providing the proper context — that violence against law enforcement has dropped to the point where even small increases look large when expressed as percentages.

One could argue that some of this would be harmless if its only effect was an excess of caution — if it made police officers more careful, led to more spending on gear like bulletproof vests, or caused more cooperation with police to solve violent crimes. But deaths such as Atatiana Jefferson’s show that the effects of such demagoguery are far more pernicious. We tell officers they can use lethal force when their fear is reasonable, but we then define “reasonable” down by falsely telling them that present-day America is a war zone, that protest and criticism is violence, that danger lurks around every corner. It creates a false reality where almost any use of force seems reasonable. This is a problem for everyone, but it’s compounded for black people, given the ample evidence that people of all races tend to disproportionately fear and see criminality in blacks — especially black men.

The NRA, in particular, has amplified the “war on cops” rhetoric, likely because it counts a lot of law enforcement officers among its members. But, as the cases above illustrate, legal gun owners should be more worried about this than anyone. An armed populace patrolled by hair-trigger police officers is a recipe for tragedy — and it’s all the worse if those officers have been conditioned to see threats where none exist. We’re all human. We will all make mistakes. Police officers will be sent to the wrong house. Some people will have mental-health crises. Someone will mistake the police officers outside his home for criminal intruders. Such incidents shouldn’t end in death. They too often do.

The “war on cops” rhetoric perverts the mental calculations officers make in these volatile moments by weighting them toward violence. When you’re inundated with messages that you’re perpetually under attack, every gesture starts to look furtive, every twitch looks like a killer reaching for his waistband. And when officers make these sorts of mistakes, we tend to reward them for their courage, which only reinforces the “shoot first” state of mind.

But often, courage is holding your fire. Courage is absorbing the risk of waiting an extra moment or two to gather more information before making a decision that may well save yourself but could also do irreparable harm to an innocent person. Courage is taking the extra seconds to learn that the “gun” you feared is actually a toy, or a cellphone, or a video-game controller. Or that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2019 at 11:49 am

The curse of interesting times

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 September 2019 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Guns, Politics

How to get a politician’s attention on gun control

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James Hohmann writes in the Washington Post:

THE BIG IDEA: When the National Rifle Association endorsed Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) for a ninth term last fall, the group noted that he’s consistently maintained an “A” rating and has been “solidly pro-gun.” Literature sent to members emphasized Turner’s opposition to expanding background checks and banning assault weapons, as well as his past vote to immunize gun manufacturers from liability and to force all states, regardless of their own laws, to recognize concealed carry permits issued anywhere else.

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, Turner’s daughter and a family friend had just entered the Tumbleweed Connection bar in Dayton when a gunman opened fire across the street.Nine people were killed, and 27 were injured. The congressman’s daughter ran home, as he prayed for her and the community.

On Tuesday afternoon, Turner announced that he’s had a change of heart on gun control. He said he would vote for an assault weapons ban, limits on the size of gun magazines and for a federal “red flag” law that would make it easier to “quickly identify people who are dangerous” so their firearms can be taken away.

“The carnage these military style weapons are able to produce when available to the wrong people is intolerable,” Turner said in a statement. “I understand not every shooting can be prevented or stopped from these measures, but I do believe these steps are essential. … This tragedy must become a catalyst for a broader national conversation about what we can do to stop these mass shootings.”

Why didn’t Turner think it was a “catalyst” for change when other people’s children had to run for their lives in cities that weren’t in his congressional district? It’s been 20 years since Columbine, with increasingly frequent and deadly mass shootings in places like Orlando, Las Vegas, Blacksburg, Va., Newtown, Conn., and Charleston, S.C.

A spokeswoman said Turner was not available for an interview and declined to answer follow-up questions from Colby Itkowitz, including whether the congressman regrets his votes in February against two bills that would strengthen background checks.

— Turner is not alone: He joins a sizable group of conservatives who were outspoken opponents of gun control until the issue hit close to home. Only then did they stand up to the powerful gun lobby. Consider these three examples:

Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) received the NRA’s support and contributions when he got elected to Congress in 2016. A little over a year after he took office, one of the congressman’s personal friends was among the 17 people massacred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where he had formerly lived. Aaron Feis was the assistant football coach, and he died while heroically ushering students to safety. Mast has said he decided during Feis’s funeral to call for a ban on “assault or tactical” firearms and for requiring background checks on all gun purchases, including online and private sales.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) also had an A-rating from the NRA. As a candidate for that office in 2016, he campaigned against background checks on private gun sales, talked about the safe full of guns he kept in his home and touted his votes against new gun laws in the state legislature. Then, two days after the Parkland shooting, police in Fair Haven, Vt., arrested a teenager for allegedly plotting to shoot up Fair Haven Union High School.

Authorities had been tipped off about a threatening Facebook message. When police searched his car, they found a shotgun, 17 rounds of ammunition and four books about school shootings. They also found a diary entitled, “The Journal of an Active Shooter,” according to court documents. In an interview, the young man allegedly told police that he wanted to “exceed the body count from the Virginia Tech shooting,” which had left 32 dead, “and that he had chosen his ammunition accordingly.”

“As I processed this information, I was shocked,” Scott explained in April 2018. “Just 24 hours before — even in the aftermath of Parkland — I thought, as the safest state in the nation, Vermont was immune to this type of violence. … Sitting there, I realized, only by the grace of God did we avert a horrific outcome.”

That caused the lifelong gun owner to “do some soul searching” and, just two months later, sign into law a trio of bills that banned the possession and sale of magazines holding more than 10 rounds for a long gun and 15 for a handgun. To ensure background checks on private gun sales, Scott also required that nearly all guns be bought and sold through a licensed firearm dealer, and he increased the minimum age to purchase weapons.

“I was wrong. And that’s not always easy to admit,” he said at the signing ceremony, as opponents of gun control chanted “Traitor!” and “BS!” while carrying signs that blared “Not My Governor” outside the State House.

The most famous example is Ronald Reagan. On the 10th anniversary of being shot, the former president wrote an op-ed endorsing the Brady Bill. The legislation was named for his White House press secretary, James Brady, who was wounded in the assassination attempt. Reagan pushed back on the NRA’s arguments against background checks. “This level of violence must be stopped,” the former president wrote in the New York Times. Nancy Reagan, who had been deeply traumatized by seeing her husband in the hospital and remained good friends with Brady’s wife Sarah, played a starring rolein her husband’s evolution.

Then, in 1994, Reagan teamed up with his old rival Gerald Ford — who had been lucky to avoid getting shot during two assassination attempts during his presidency — to endorse the assault weapons ban. “While we recognize that assault-weapon legislation will not stop all assault-weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals,” Reagan and Ford, along with Jimmy Carter, wrote in an op-ed for the Boston Globe. The bill passed the House by two votes, and multiple lawmakers cited personal lobbying from Reagan to explain why they had changed their earlier positions.

— It’s understandable that personal experience shapes people’s worldviews as much as anything else. But it can be problematic. When a crack epidemic was killing young black men in urban centers in the 1980s, white lawmakers from rural areas championed tough-on-crime policies that put junkies and dealers alike behind bars for long sentences. When the opioid epidemic came to their communities and started killing their neighbors and the children of their friends, many of these same politicians demanded a more compassionate approach that focused on treatment, not incarceration. That’s not a coincidence.

— There are exceptions, of course. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) has remained a stalwart opponent of new gun laws since getting shot during a congressional baseball team practice.

— Reality check: The assault weapons ban and limits on magazine size that Turner endorsed yesterday appear dead on arrival so long as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is majority leader. Red flag laws are more likely to get through, but even that’s not assured to get 60 votes — unless there’s a sustained push from the president.

Supporters of universal background checks for gun purchases face a daunting reality in their demand for a snap Senate roll call: They don’t have the votes; not even close,” Paul Kane reports from the Capitol. “Just two Republican senators — Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.) and Susan Collins (Maine) — are on record in support of expanding background-check laws, specifically through a bill Toomey drafted with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). That bill, written after the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, contained several concessions designed to win support from Senate Republicans, such as allowing interstate sales of handguns among gun dealers. Now, quite a few Senate Democrats view the Manchin-Toomey bill as insufficient to deal with the mass violence that has grown worse since that failed 2013 effort. They are demanding a vote on the House version of the legislation, approved in February, which drops those concessions to conservatives.”

— There are additional examples of prominent conservatives who do not hold public office embracing gun control after experiencing mass shootings. Caleb Keeter, the lead guitarist of the Josh Abbott Band, performed at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas a few hours before a gunman killed 58 people and wounded 546 more in 2017. “I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was,” Keeter wrote afterward. “We actually have members of our crew with [concealed handgun licenses] and legal firearms on the bus. They were useless.”

The Texas-based musician continued: “Writing my parents and the love of my life a goodbye last night and a living will because I felt like I wasn’t going to live through the night was enough for me to realize that this is completely and totally out of hand. … We need gun control RIGHT. NOW. My biggest regret is that I stubbornly didn’t realize it until my brothers on the road and myself were threatened by it.”

— Breaking overnight: Documents indicate that the NRA planned to purchase a luxury mansion in the Dallas area last year for the use of chief executive Wayne LaPierre. Carol D. Leonnig and Beth Reinhard scoop: “The discussions about the roughly $6 million purchase, which was not completed, are now under scrutiny by New York investigators. The transaction was slated to be made through a corporate entity that received a wire of tens of thousands of dollars from the NRA in 2018. … The New York attorney general’s office is now examining the plan for an NRA-financed mansion as part of its ongoing investigation into the gun lobby’s tax-exempt status. … One property that was considered, according to a person familiar with the plans, was a 10,000-square-foot French country estate with lakefront and golf course views. The four-bedroom, nine-bath home in a gated golf course community northwest of Dallas resembles a French chateau, with a stately boxwood-lined drive, a formal courtyard, vaulted ceilings and an antique marble fireplace. …

The discussions … in 2018 came as the NRA was in deepening financial trouble: The nonprofit was on track to run a deficit for a third year in a row, had cut back dramatically on its core mission of gun safety and legislative work and frozen its employee pension plan. … The origins of the idea to buy the mansion, its proposed purpose and the reason the deal never went through are now being fiercely disputed by the NRA and its longtime ad firm, Ackerman McQueen, which are locked in a bitter legal fight. … Ackerman McQueen said LaPierre had sought the ad firm’s assistance with the real estate transaction, a proposal it said alarmed company officials. … For their part, NRA officials said that the real estate purchase was suggested in early 2018 by Ackerman McQueen as an investment that would be managed by the ad firm’s top executives — and that it was ultimately rejected by top NRA leaders. …

Leaked documents show that the NRA paid $542,000 for private jet trips for LaPierre, including a trip to the Bahamas with his wife after the Sandy Hook shooting and an array of Italian designer suits as well as the rent for a summer intern’s apartment. The expenses were first paid by Ackerman McQueen, which then billed the NRA as part of its multimillion-dollar annual contract. … LaPierre received a salary of $1.37 million for his role as executive vice president in 2017, plus an additional $67,289 in compensation, according to the NRA’s latest tax filing.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2019 at 11:38 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP, Guns

What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? The number of guns per capita.

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Max Fisher and Josh Keller report in the NY Times:

When the world looks at the United States, it sees a land of exceptions: a time-tested if noisy democracy, a crusader in foreign policy, an exporter of beloved music and film.

But there is one quirk that consistently puzzles America’s fans and critics alike. Why, they ask, does it experience so many mass shootings?

Perhaps, some speculate, it is because American society is unusually violent. Or its racial divisions have frayed the bonds of society. Or its citizens lack proper mental care under a health care system that draws frequent derision abroad.

These explanations share one thing in common: Though seemingly sensible, all have been debunked by research on shootings elsewhere in the world. Instead, an ever-growing body of research consistently reaches the same conclusion.

The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.

The top-line numbers suggest a correlation that, on further investigation, grows only clearer.

Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.

Adjusted for population, only Yemen has a higher rate of mass shootings among countries with more than 10 million people — a distinction Mr. Lankford urged to avoid outliers. Yemen has the world’s second-highest rate of gun ownership after the United States.

Worldwide, Mr. Lankford found, a country’s rate of gun ownership correlated with the odds it would experience a mass shooting. This relationship held even when he excluded the United States, indicating that it could not be explained by some other factor particular to his home country. And it held when he controlled for homicide rates, suggesting that mass shootings were better explained by a society’s access to guns than by its baseline level of violence.

If mental health made the difference, then data would show that Americans have more mental health problems than do people in other countries with fewer mass shootings. But the mental health care spending rate in the United States, the number of mental health professionals per capita and the rate of severe mental disorders are all in line with those of other wealthy countries.

A 2015 study estimated that only 4 percent of American gun deaths could be attributed to mental health issues. And Mr. Lankford, in an email, said countries with high suicide rates tended to have low rates of mass shootings — the opposite of what you would expect if mental health problems correlated with mass shootings.

Whether a population plays more or fewer video games also appears to have no impact. Americans are no more likely to play video games than people in any other developed country.

Racial diversity or other factors associated with social cohesion also show little correlation with gun deaths. Among European countries, there is little association between immigration or other diversity metrics and the rates of gun murders or mass shootings.

America’s gun homicide rate was 33 per million people in 2009, far exceeding the average among developed countries. In Canada and Britain, it was 5 per million and 0.7 per million, respectively, which also corresponds with differences in gun ownership.

Americans sometimes see this as an expression of deeper problems with crime, a notion ingrained, in part, by a series of films portraying urban gang violence in the early 1990s. But the United States is not actually more prone to crime than other developed countries, according to a landmark 1999 study by Franklin E. Zimring and Gordon Hawkins of the University of California, Berkeley.

Rather, they found, in data that has since been repeatedly confirmed, that American crime is simply more lethal. A New Yorker is just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner, for instance, but the New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed in the process.

They concluded that the discrepancy, like so many other anomalies of American violence, came down to guns.

More gun ownership corresponds with more gun murders across virtually every axis: among developed countries, among American states, among American towns and cities and when controlling for crime rates. And gun control legislation tends to reduce gun murders, according to a recent analysis of 130 studies from 10 countries.

This suggests that the guns themselves cause the violence. . .

Continue reading. Charts at the link. And there’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2019 at 7:25 am

Posted in Daily life, Guns, Law, Science

‘Shoot them!’: Trump laughs off a supporter’s demand for violence against migrants

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Antonia Noori Farzan reports in the Washington Post:

A roar rose from the crowd of thousands of Trump supporters in Panama City Beach on Wednesday night, as President Trump noted yet again that Border Patrol agents can’t use weapons to deter migrants. “How do you stop these people?” he asked.

“Shoot them!” someone yelled from the crowd, according to reporters on the scene and attendees.

The audience cheered. Supporters seated behind Trump and clad in white baseball caps bearing the letters “USA” laughed and applauded.

“That’s only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement,” Trump replied, smiling and shaking his head. “Only in the Panhandle.”

Though Trump didn’t explicitly endorse the suggestion to shoot migrants, his joking response raised concerns that he was tacitly encouraging extrajudicial killings and brutality against asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants. The president has long been accused of endorsing acts of violence through his incendiary rhetoric and allusions to the potential for violence at his rallies, a charge that members of his administration deny.

Reached for comment by The Washington Post on Trump’s reaction at the Florida rally, Matt Wolking, deputy communications director for the Trump campaign, pointed to a response he had given to many critics on Twitter. The president, he noted in his tweet, had specifically said that Border Patrol wouldn’t use firearms to stop migrants from entering the country.

The incendiary remark from the crowd came as Trump, standing before about 7,000 people who had gathered at an outdoor amphitheater in the hurricane-damaged Gulf Coast town, railed against what he described as an “invasion” of migrants attempting to enter the United States. Often, he claimed, “two or three” border agents will contend with the arrival of “hundreds and hundreds of people.”

“And don’t forget, we don’t let them and we can’t let them use weapons,” Trump said of the border agents. “We can’t. Other countries do. We can’t. I would never do that. But how do you stop these people?”

The fans seated directly behind Trump wore serious, perturbed frowns, which were quickly replaced by broad grins after the shouted suggestion that the solution involved firearms. Uproarious laughter rippled across the room as audience members whistled and offered a round of applause

To critics, Trump’s failure to outright condemn the idea of shooting migrants amounted to a “tacit endorsement” of the sentiment. Many pointed out that such rhetoric was especially concerning in light of the fact that an armed militia group, the United Constitutional Patriots, had been searching the borderlands for undocumented migrants and detaining them against their will.

Last month, after the group’s leader, Larry Mitchell Hopkins, was arrested on charges of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, the FBI said that the 69-year-old claimed militia members were training to assassinate former president Barack Obama, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and prominent Democratic donor George Soros.

One member of that militia had also questioned why the group wasn’t killing migrants, according to a police report first obtained by left-leaning news outlet The Young Turks.

“Why are we just apprehending them and not lining them up and shooting them?” Armando Delgado Gonzalez allegedly asked another member during a patrol in April. “We have to go back to Hitler days and put them all in a gas chamber.”

Gonzalez denied making those comments in an interview with BuzzFeed News, though a third member of the group confirmed that the exchange had taken place and told BuzzFeed that the militia had filed a police report because the remarks were a “red flag.” . . .

Continue reading.

And this report includes the video.

This is beyond “disturbing.” This is frightening, especially in the immediate aftermath of the El Paso mass shooting with 20 killed from an anti-immigrant zealot (and now 9 killed in an Ohio mass shooting).

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2019 at 6:59 am

The late Justice John Paul Stevens: “The Supreme Court’s Worst Decision of My Tenure”

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His article appeared in the May issue of the Atlantic, and it was adapted from The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years, by John Paul Stevens. The article begins:

District of Columbia v. Heller, which recognized an individual right to possess a firearm under the Constitution, is unquestionably the most clearly incorrect decision that the Supreme Court announced during my tenure on the bench.

The text of the Second Amendment unambiguously explains its purpose: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” When it was adopted, the country was concerned that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several states.

Throughout most of American history there was no federal objection to laws regulating the civilian use of firearms. When I joined the Supreme Court in 1975, both state and federal judges accepted the Court’s unanimous decision in United States v. Miller as having established that the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms was possessed only by members of the militia and applied only to weapons used by the militia. In that case, the Court upheld the indictment of a man who possessed a short-barreled shotgun, writing, “In the absence of any evidence that the possession or use of a ‘shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length’ has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument.”

Colonial history contains many examples of firearm regulations in urban areas that imposed obstacles to their use for protection of the home. Boston, Philadelphia, and New York—the three largest cities in America at that time—all imposed restrictions on the firing of guns in the city limits. Boston enacted a law in 1746 prohibiting the “discharge” of any gun or pistol that was later revived in 1778; Philadelphia prohibited firing a gun or setting off fireworks without a governor’s special license; and New York banned the firing of guns for three days surrounding New Year’s Day. Those and other cities also regulated the storage of gunpowder. Boston’s gunpowder law imposed a 10-pound fine on any person who took any loaded firearm into any dwelling house or barn within the town. Most, if not all, of those regulations would violate the Second Amendment as it was construed in the 5–4 decision that Justice Antonin Scalia announced in Helleron June 26, 2008.

Until Heller, the invalidity of Second Amendment–based objections to firearms regulations had been uncontroversial. The first two federal laws directly restricting the civilian use and possession of firearms—the 1927 act prohibiting mail delivery of handguns and the 1934 act prohibiting the possession of sawed-off shotguns and machine guns—were enacted over minor Second Amendment objections that were dismissed by the vast majority of legislators participating in the debates. After reviewing many of the same sources that are discussed at greater length by Scalia in his majority opinion in Heller, the Miller Court unanimously concluded that the Second Amendment did not apply to the possession of a firearm that did not have “some relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.” And in 1980, in a footnote to an opinion upholding a conviction for receipt of a firearm, the Court effectively affirmed Miller, writing: “[T]he Second Amendment guarantees no right to keep and bear a firearm that does not have ‘some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.’”

So well settled was the issue that, speaking on the PBS NewsHour in 1991, the retired Chief Justice Warren Burger described the National Rifle Association’s lobbying in support of an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment in these terms: “One of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

Even if the lobbyists who oppose gun-control regulation actually do endorse the dubious proposition that the Second Amendment was intended to limit the federal power to regulate the civilian use of handguns—that Burger incorrectly accused them of “fraud”—I find it incredible that policy makers in a democratic society have failed to impose more effective regulations on the ownership and use of firearms than they have.

And even if there were some merit to the legal arguments advanced in the Hellercase, all could foresee the negative consequences of the decision, which should have provided my colleagues with the justification needed to apply stare decisis to Miller. At a minimum, it should have given them greater pause before announcing such a radical change in the law that would greatly tie the hands of state and national lawmakers endeavoring to find solutions to the gun problem in America. Their twin failure—first, the misreading of the intended meaning of the Second Amendment, and second, the failure to respect settled precedent—represents the worst self-inflicted wound in the Court’s history.

It also represents my greatest disappointment as a member of the Court. After the oral argument and despite the narrow vote at our conference about the case, I continued to think it possible to persuade either Justice Anthony Kennedy or Justice Clarence Thomas to change his vote. During the drafting process, I had frequent conversations with Kennedy, as well as occasional discussions with Thomas, about historical issues, because I thought each of them had an open mind about the case. In those discussions—particularly those with Kennedy—I now realize that I failed to emphasize sufficiently the human aspects of the issue as providing unanswerable support for the stare decisis argument for affirmance. After all, Kennedy had been one of the three decisive votes that had saved Roe v. Wade from being overruled in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Before the argument, I had decided that stare decisis provided a correct and sufficient basis for upholding the challenged gun regulation, but I nonetheless asked my especially competent law clerk, Kate Shaw, to make a thorough study of the merits of the argument that an independent review of the historical materials would lead to the same result. I wanted that specific study to help me decide which argument to feature in my dissent, which I planned to complete and circulate before Scalia completed his opinion for the majority. Shaw convinced me that Miller had been correctly decided; accordingly, I decided to feature both arguments in my dissent, which we were able to circulate on April 28, 2008, five weeks before Scalia circulated the majority opinion on June 2, 2008. In the cover memorandum for my probable dissent, I wrote:

The enclosed memorandum explains the basis for my firm belief that the Second Amendment does not impose any limit whatsoever on the power of the federal government to regulate the non-military use or possession of firearms. I have decided to take the unusual step of circulating the initial draft of a probable dissent before [Scalia] circulates his majority because I fear the members of the majority have not yet adequately considered the unusual importance of their decision.

While I think a fair reading of history provides overwhelming support for Warren Burger’s view of the merits, even if we assume that the present majority is correct, I submit that they have not given adequate consideration to the certain impact of their proposed decision on this Court’s role in preserving the rule of law. We have profound differences over our role in areas of the law such as the Eighth Amendment and substantive due process, but I believe we all agree that there are areas of policy-making in which judges have a special obligation to let the democratic process run the show …

What has happened that could possibly justify such a massive change in the law? The text of the amendment has not changed. The history leading up to the adoption of the amendment has not changed … There has been a change in the views of some law professors, but I assume there are also some professors out there who think Congress does not have the authority to authorize a national bank, or to regulate small firms engaged in the production of goods for sale in other states, or to enact a graduated income tax. In my judgment, none of the arguments advanced by respondents or their numerous amici justify judicial entry into a quintessential area of policy-making in which there is no special need or justification for judicial supervision.

This is not a case in which either side of the policy debate can be characterized as an “insular minority” in need of special protection from the judiciary. On the contrary, there is a special risk that the action of the judiciary will be perceived as the product of policy arguments advanced by an unusually powerful political force. Because there is still time to avoid a serious and totally unnecessary self-inflicted wound, I urge each of the members of the majority to give careful consideration to the impact of this decision on the future of this institution when weighing the strength of the arguments I have set forth in what I hope will not be a dissent.

In the end, of course, beating Scalia to the punch did not change the result, but I do think it forced him to significantly revise his opinion to respond to the points I raised in my dissent. And although I failed to persuade Kennedy to change his vote, I think our talks may have contributed to his insisting on some important changes before signing on to the Court’s opinion.

That’s cold comfort. I have written in other contexts that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2019 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, Guns, Law, Politics

In the light of Virginia Beach, an interesting passage in a long read on gun ownership

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Gregory Gibson has a long piece in the NY Times that I think is definitely worth reading. Gibson is the father of one of the students shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School and author of Gone Boy: A Father’s Search for the Truth in His Son’s Murder. He has thought at length about guns and gun ownership, and the piece is about his decision to buy a gun and really learn about shooting—and he has a concealed-carry permit.

Read the whole thing, by all means. I quote one passage that struck me. It’s about a remark by Dave Grossman, who is former military who has studied combat and how men react. Long ago, S.L.A. Marshall wrote a book Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command in which he discusses how difficult it is to get soldiers in battle to fire to kill the enemy. As he points, civilization has conditioned people so that most finding killing another person repugnant. That includes soldiers, who will fire over the heads of the enemy forces, or fire blindly, and avoid attempting deliberately to taking a life.

He recounted how during the Korean War, a person, possibly dead, was seen floating down the river from the enemy position. One or two soldiers fired at it, just in case the enemy still was alive. Then someone shouted, “It’s a log!” whereupon all the soldiers trained live fire on it. They apparently liked shooting, just not at people.

So Marshall suggested that the Army must change its training methods. Rather than focusing on marksmanship, the Army must deliberately train soldiers to fire directly at the enemy as a reflex, without thought. Pop-up targets on obstacle courses became popular, so that the stimulus (the image of an enemy person) immediately activated a reflex (shoot him).

Grossman continued Marshall’s studies, and Grossman wrote On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Grossman also observed the reluctance to kill, and he pointed out that men were more likely to aim fire to kill the enemy in a crew-operated weapon, where each man is observed by his crewmate (heavy machine gun, for example, or a sniper/spotter team). And I believe it was Grossman who talked about simulations to continue to exercise the kill reflex so that it could be engaged without thought.

Both books are worth reading. Here’s the passage from Gibson’s article:

Eventually, inevitably, I encountered the writings of Dave Grossman, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, pioneer researcher and scholar in the field of Killology (his designation, not mine, and a perfect example of his sometimes-tin ear). He is the author of “On Killing” and “On Combat” and is perhaps best known for an idea he discusses in those books that divides everyone into three distinct groups.

“If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep,” he has written. “If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath — a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path.”

It seemed corny and unscientific to me. But if, as an actual sheepdog might, you see the world in black and white, its humorless piety, self-righteous rectitude and complete absence of subtlety would seem appealing.

In fairness, Colonel Grossman has done groundbreaking work delving into the psychology and physiology of killing. One of the starting points of his study is the observation that although we have little difficulty bombing whole nations into the Stone Age, we are hard-wired against killing one another face to face. Was that the source of my yips? I was, after all, training to shoot people at close range.

There was another aspect, laid out in exquisite detail by Colonel Grossman, to this business of up-close-and-personal killing. When one is under the extreme stress of having to do so, the forebrain stops giving orders and yields to the hypothalamus, the stress control center. Bladder and colon involuntarily empty, and the autonomic nervous system kicks in. The adrenal glands release potentially damaging levels of cortisol, adrenaline and other hormones. Blood pressure and respiration spike. Time seems to slow; nausea, auditory exclusion, tunnel vision and even temporary physical paralysis may ensue. Jerry never told us about any of that!

Post-Grossman I have a very different scenario of what takes place in my fantasy library in 1992. Professional trainers are largely in agreement that there’s really no predicting how a person will react in a combat situation. No matter how diligently Betsy DeVos and I might have prepared, we’d be in the midst of a giant mess.

That was it for me. I airlifted myself out of there.

HAPPILY, I DIDN’T DIE OF PERITONITIS in a hospital in southern Chile. I wound up in a house of worship in northern New England. In the preface to “On Combat,” Colonel Grossman wrote that he spends nearly 300 days a year traveling the country evangelizing the sheepdog mind-set. According to the Sheepdog Seminar website, he was coming soon to a church near Bangor, Me. I decided to go up there and hear what they had to say about the idea of people with guns keeping people safe from people with guns. One foot in front of the other. . .

Colonel Grossman joined us on the second day of the seminar. He was fit and wiry, constantly in motion, delivering his pitch, very much the military man, punctuating his utterances with “Do you understand?” — as much a command as a question. He had a growly way of speaking and a rhythmic vocal tic, a sort of grunt or “umph” that reminded me of a sheepdog’s affirmative “Ruff!” It pleased me to imagine that after decades of researching, formulating and evangelizing the sheepdog mind-set, Dave Grossman had become one.

He gave a brief pitch for his many books that pertained to the matter at hand. “Why Mommy Carries a Gun” is one title that stuck in my mind. Then he told us what he had learned from training soldiers, from desensitizing them to their natural aversion to killing up close. The terrible news he brought us on this day was that our national video game addiction was creating a generation of killers.

Guns had always been present in our society, he said, but there had been no multiple homicides by a juvenile in schools until the 1970s. Guns didn’t change; we changed. He talked the pioneering work of Dr. James McGee, a co-author of the groundbreaking “Classroom Avenger” study on school shooters. According to Dr. McGee, the one thing these young killers had in common was that they were loners, and, in Colonel Grossman’s telling, immersed themselves in “sicko movies and video games.” He described video games as a form of “pathological play” that rewarded the player for causing death. Colonel Grossman’s take on the research got more dire: Violent visual imagery actually changed the brains of players. Video games were digital crack. The media were taking no responsibility for the content they put out there. The mental health of an entire generation was a stake.

It was a chilling performance. I thought of my 7-year-old grandson, hunched over his tablet, keeping the world safe from zombies.

It struck me, in reading this, that the hours and hours children and young adolescents spend in playing first-person shooter games such as “Grand Theft Auto” is, in effect, training them to shoot by reflex, to kill automatically and without thought. It seems similar to the way the military was able to remove from new recruits their reluctance to kill. And it seems to have worked.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2019 at 4:13 pm

F.B.I. Was Told That Militia in New Mexico Planned to Kill Obama and Clinton

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The US seems to be in a state that in a person is called a “nervous breakdown.” Simon Romero reports in the NY Times:

The imprisoned leader of a right-wing militia that detained migrant families in New Mexico first came under the scrutiny of federal authorities in 2017, after the F.B.I. received reports that his group was “training” to assassinate Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Soros, according to documents unsealed Monday in federal court.

The militia leader, Larry Mitchell Hopkins, 69, appeared in Federal District Court on Monday after his arrest over the weekend on a charge of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition.

The arrest followed a series of videos posted by Mr. Hopkins’s group, which calls itself the United Constitutional Patriots, showing men in camouflage circling and detaining hundreds of migrants in the desert near Sunland Park, N.M., and then handing the migrants over to Border Patrol.

The heavily armed militia’s actions have ignited debate over whether its members broke kidnapping laws and effectively acted as a paramilitary force supporting the Border Patrol. Militia members argue that they were assisting the authorities to patrol remote areas of the border and carrying out “verbal citizen’s arrests.”

In an affidavit, David S. Gabriel, an F.B.I. special agent, said the bureau was made aware of the activities of Mr. Hopkins after receiving reports in October 2017 of “alleged militia extremist activity” in northwestern New Mexico.

Mr. Gabriel said that the following month, two F.B.I. agents went to a trailer park in Flora Vista, N.M., where Mr. Hopkins was living at the time. With Mr. Hopkins’s consent, the agents entered the home and saw about 10 firearms in plain view, in what Mr. Hopkins referred to as his office.

Mr. Hopkins, who has also used the name Johnny Horton Jr., told the agents that the guns belonged to Fay Sanders Murphy, whom he described to agents as his common-law wife, according to the affidavit. The agents collected at least nine firearms from the home as evidence, including a 12-gauge shotgun and various handguns.

The court affidavit gave few details about the report the F.B.I. received stating that the United Constitutional Patriots “were training to assassinate George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama because of these individuals’ support of Antifa.” The term Antifa refers to left-wing activists who have clashed with right-wing groups in cities across the country.

Mr. Hopkins’s lawyer, Kelly O’Connell, disputed the reports about assassination plans. “My client told me that is not true,” Mr. O’Connell said.

He also questioned the timing of the arrest. “My question is, why now?” Mr. O’Connell said, noting that the weapons were found in his home in 2017. He suggested that pressure from prominent Democrats in New Mexico may have prompted the F.B.I. to take action.

Mr. Hopkins has faced weapons-related charges before, according to court documents. He was convicted of two felonies in Oregon in 2006: criminal impersonation of a peace officer and felony possession of a firearm. And he pleaded guilty in 1996 in Michigan to possession of a loaded firearm, and was sentenced to 16 months to two years in prison.

Mr. O’Connell said Mr. Hopkins planned to plead not guilty to the latest charge.

After the 2017 search of Mr. Hopkins’s residence in New Mexico, F.B.I. agents contacted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and determined that none of the firearms collected from the home was manufactured in New Mexico, opening the door to possible additional charges of transporting the weapons in interstate commerce, a federal offense.

Mr. O’Connell, who was the host of a conservative radio talk show program in New Mexico until 2017, declined to say who was paying Mr. Hopkins’s legal fees. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2019 at 4:06 pm

Ugly: Secrecy, Self-Dealing, and Greed at the N.R.A.

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Mike Spies writes in the New Yorker:

This winter, members of the National Rifle Association—elk hunters in Montana, skeet shooters in upstate New York, concealed-carry enthusiasts in Jacksonville—might have noticed a desperate tone in the organization’s fund-raising efforts. In a letter from early March, Wayne LaPierre, the N.R.A.’s top executive, warned that liberal regulators were threatening to destroy the organization. “We’re facing an attack that’s unprecedented not just in the history of the N.R.A. but in the entire history of our country,” he wrote. “The Second Amendment cannot survive without the N.R.A., and the N.R.A. cannot survive without your help right now.”

LaPierre is right that the N.R.A. is troubled; in recent years, it has run annual deficits of as much as forty million dollars. It is not unusual for nonprofits to ask prospective donors to help forestall disaster. What is unusual is the extent to which such warnings have become the central activity of the N.R.A. Even as the association has reduced spending on its avowed core mission—gun education, safety, and training—to less than ten per cent of its total budget, it has substantially increased its spending on messaging. The N.R.A. is now mainly a media company, promoting a life style built around loving guns and hating anyone who might take them away.

On NRATV, the organization’s programming network, the popular host Grant Stinchfield might appear in a “Socialist Tears” T-shirt, taking a sledgehammer to a television set cycling through liberal news shows. The platform’s Twitter account circulates videos of the spokesperson Dana Loesch, a former Breitbart News editor who has said that mainstream journalists are “the rat bastards of the earth” and deserve to be “curb-stomped.” Over menacing images of masked rioters, she asserts that the only way to stop the left is to “fight its violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.” A lawyer and activist called Colion Noir, whose real name is Collins Idehen, Jr., also has a large following. After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, Noir appeared in a video chiding “all the kids from Parkland getting ready to use your First Amendment to attack everyone else’s Second Amendment.”

Loesch and Noir have become the primary public faces of the N.R.A.; at events, enormous banners feature their images alongside those of LaPierre and Chris Cox, the organization’s top lobbyist. But Loesch and Noir are not technically employed by the N.R.A. Instead, they are paid by Ackerman McQueen, a public-relations firm based in Oklahoma. In at least one year, Loesch earned close to a million dollars, according to a source who has seen her contract.

For more than three decades, Ackerman has shaped the N.R.A.’s public identity, helping to build it from a niche activist organization into a ubiquitous presence in American popular culture. Ackerman produces the N.R.A. magazine America’s 1st Freedom and has devised its most successful ad campaigns, including one called “I’m the N.R.A.,” for which it recruited gun owners, including the actor Tom Selleck and the basketball star Karl Malone, to pose with their weapons. More recently, Ackerman produced a series called “Freedom’s Safest Place,” in which conservative icons inveigh against liberals and terrorists. In a segment from 2016, the country-music star Charlie Daniels warns the “ayatollahs of Iran” that they may be acquainted with “our fresh-faced flower-child President,” but they “haven’t met the heartland—or the people who will defend this nation with their bloody, calloused bare hands.”

The N.R.A. and Ackerman have become so intertwined that it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Top officials and staff move freely between the two organizations; Oliver North, the former Iran-Contra operative, who now serves as the N.R.A.’s president, is paid roughly a million dollars a year through Ackerman, according to two N.R.A. sources. But this relationship, which in many ways has built the contemporary N.R.A., seems also to be largely responsible for the N.R.A.’s dire financial state. According to interviews and to documents that I obtained—federal tax forms, charity records, contracts, corporate filings, and internal communications—a small group of N.R.A. executives, contractors, and venders has extracted hundreds of millions of dollars from the nonprofit’s budget, through gratuitous payments, sweetheart deals, and opaque financial arrangements. Memos created by a senior N.R.A. employee describe a workplace distinguished by secrecy, self-dealing, and greed, whose leaders have encouraged disastrous business ventures and questionable partnerships, and have marginalized those who object. “Management has subordinated its judgment to the vendors,” the documents allege. “Trust in the top has eroded.”

In response to a description of my reporting, Bill Brewer, a lawyer who represents the N.R.A., said that the organization “has serious concerns about the accuracy of this reporting and The New Yorker’s sources. Of course, we cannot comment on privileged communications or personnel matters.”

Marc Owens, who served for ten years as the head of the Internal Revenue Service division that oversees tax-exempt enterprises, recently reviewed these records. “The litany of red flags is just extraordinary,” he said. “The materials reflect one of the broadest arrays of likely transgressions that I’ve ever seen. There is a tremendous range of what appears to be the misuse of assets for the benefit of certain venders and people in control.” Owens added, “Those facts, if confirmed, could lead to the revocation of the N.R.A.’s tax-exempt status”—without which the organization could likely not survive.

In its early days, the N.R.A. was more interested in shooting than in politics. It was founded by two former Union Army officers, who returned from the Civil War dismayed at having been outshot by their Confederate counterparts and hoping to inspire a culture of marksmanship in the North. For more than a century, the N.R.A.’s primary concerns were hunting, firearms education, and gun safety. Then, in 1977, a decade after the Federal Gun Control Act restricted firearms sales, activist board members seized control of the group and transformed it into an advocacy organization for gun owners’ rights. Officials knew that this new mission would require a more sophisticated approach to public relations. An N.R.A. executive suggested hiring Ackerman McQueen, which was run by a personal friend.

Later that year, Wayne LaPierre began working for the N.R.A., as a lobbyist. LaPierre, a former Democratic legislative aide with little experience handling guns, was not obviously suited to a role as a firebrand. People who have spent time around him describe him as “mild,” “reserved,” “awkward,” and even “meek.” Still, he rose through the organization, and he built a close relationship with Ackerman. In a deposition concerning a federal-election case, the firm’s then C.E.O., Angus McQueen, said, “I speak to Wayne almost every day. There are exceptions, because I take vacations and he takes vacations. Although he has no reluctance to interrupt mine.”

In 1991, LaPierre became executive vice-president, the N.R.A.’s top position. He is, by many accounts, reticent about public appearances. According to a story that circulates among staffers, he was once dispatched to appear on a Sunday news show after a school shooting. When a producer entered the greenroom to bring him on set, LaPierre, fretting over talking points, was hiding behind a curtain, with only his wingtips visible. Nonetheless, he appears in videos and makes speeches, often choreographed by Ackerman, that present him as a ferocious critic of the political left. At the N.R.A.’s annual meetings, he disparages “élites” who “long to turn America into some European-style socialist state.” Last year, he told the crowd, “We’re standing at the edge of fear, staring into the abyss of the demise of our country and its freedom we care about most.” He added, “This coming election is a guarantee of our worst nightmares if we don’t win.” A former N.R.A. staffer told me, “The agency created the Wayne cult of personality.”

Established in the early seventies, Ackerman McQueen is a family business. It has about two hundred and twenty-five employees, and offices in Oklahoma City, Dallas, Alexandria, and Colorado Springs. In the past, the company has worked with other national clients, such as the Six Flags amusement parks, but now its roster seems to consist mainly of the N.R.A. and a modest set of regional accounts, including some Oklahoma-based casinos and the Chickasaw Nation. “Most of the agency’s efforts go toward servicing the N.R.A.,” a former senior employee at Ackerman told me. Tax filings for 2017, the most recent year for which records are available, show that the N.R.A. paid Ackerman McQueen and its affiliates more than forty million dollars that year. (Bill Powers, Ackerman’s executive vice-president for public relations, broadly disputed the facts of this article, saying, “It’s like an old Soviet disinformation campaign—you take a little bit of truth and wrap it around a bunch of that things aren’t true.” He declined to point to specific inaccuracies.)

Ackerman McQueen provides the N.R.A. with public-relations work, marketing, branding, corporate communications, event planning, Web design, social-media engagement, and digital-content production. It wields great influence over the N.R.A.’s initiatives and is involved with nearly all of the group’s divisions, with the exception of its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, where, according to former employees, Ackerman’s messaging sometimes undermines the group’s efforts. In 2012, after a gunman murdered twenty children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, LaPierre argued that the best way to prevent such atrocities was to install armed police officers in schools. When President Barack Obama criticized this reasoning, Ackerman responded with an ad noting that Obama’s children received Secret Service protection. An ominous voice-over asked, “Are the President’s kids more important than yours?” At the time, N.R.A. lobbyists were negotiating with federal lawmakers over potential regulations. The organization maintained friendly relations with several Democratic legislators, including Mary Landrieu, a senator from Louisiana. According to a former staffer, the ad caused Landrieu and others to “freak out,” nearly ending those relationships. “Ackerman never cleared that ad with us,” the former staffer recalled. “We had no oversight over Ackerman McQueen.” (Landrieu could not be reached for comment.)

Many N.R.A. employees have long suspected Ackerman of inflating the cost of the services it provides, but its relationships with executives remain strong. For instance, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2019 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Business, Guns

Rapper Nipsey Hussle killed in shooting, and something he said

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From an article in the LA Times:

Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, was from South L.A. and had talked in the past about his early life in a street gang. He was a well-known community organizer who most recently was involved in the new Destination Crenshaw arts project.

He told The Times in 2018 that he had managed to develop a love of music and technology.

“I grew up in gang culture,” he said. “We dealt with death, with murder. It was like living in a war zone, where people die on these blocks and everybody is a little bit immune to it. I guess they call it post-traumatic stress, when you have people that have been at war for such a long time. I think L.A. suffers from that because it’s not normal yet we embrace it like it is after a while.”

In a 2014 interview with YouTube channel Vlad TV, Hussle confirmed that he had joined the Rollin’ 60s, a notorious Crips gang clique, as a teen. . .

Read the whole thing.

I find it interesting and likely that those living under near-wartime conditions will fall prey to PTSD, and they go untreated and unremarked. As he says, LA suffers from it.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2019 at 5:39 pm

Nice example of scum: NRA officer enlisted a Sandy Hook truther to sow doubt about Parkland shooting, emails show

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Isaac Stanley-Becker reports in the Washington Post:

In the week after a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., killing 17 students and staff members and renewing calls for gun control, the National Rifle Association fell silent.

But the day after the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting, an NRA training coordinator based at the group’s headquarters in Fairfax, Va., sprang into action behind the scenes. He sought information countering the official version of the grisly, and familiar, events, which involved a lone gunman and a legally purchased firearm.

For support, he turned to Wolfgang Halbig, a conspiracy theorist intent on proving that the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 26 students and staff members dead in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, was a hoax.

“You have included me with a lot of Information since the Sandy Hook Incident and I do appreciate it very much,” the NRA coordinator, Mark Richardson, wrote on Feb. 15, 2018, according to emails published by HuffPost on Wednesday. “Concerning what happened in Florida yesterday, I have been asking the question and no one else seems to be asking it.”

He pushed the deluded idea that the gunman, a former student at the school, had not acted alone, posing questions about how he had gained entry and where he had kept his equipment.

“To pull the fire alarm, he had to already be inside. Correct?” he wrote. “When my Children were in school the only way into the school was through the front door and past the main office.”

As with Sandy Hook, Richardson observed, “There is so much more to this story. He was not alone.”

Halbig, a former Florida state trooper and school administrator, replied the following day, inviting Richardson to call him to discuss the incident.

The subject line of his emailed response included, in all caps, the name Avielle Richman, one of the 20 students killed in Newtown. For years, Halbig has accused Richman’s parents of falsifying the first-grade girl’s death, writing on his website that their intention was “to steal money from hard-working Americans.”

Jeremy Richman, her father, a neuroscientist who had founded the Avielle Foundation in his daughter’s name, died in an apparent suicide on Monday, following the apparent suicides of two teenage survivors of the Parkland shooting.

The deaths returned the nation’s focus to the two communities, which have been besieged by online abuse and threats stoked by conspiracy theories that depict the victims as “crisis actors.”

But the correspondence shows how an officer of the NRA saw these theories as potentially useful to his cause. The inquiry, sent from Richardson’s work email, was evidence of the curious handshake in which the gun-rights organization has found itself with the most extreme purveyors of Internet falsehoods.

“The NRA literally drives conspiracies about school shootings to fear monger gun owners to buy more guns,” David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland shooting who has become a prominent advocate for gun control, wrote on Twitter.

Richardson didn’t return an email seeking comment. He defended himself to HuffPost, saying he was posing a “legitimate question” about how the shooter had entered the school. The NRA didn’t immediately return a request for comment. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2019 at 8:51 am

This seems insane to me: Indiana Teachers Say They Were Mock Executed With a Pellet Gun During a School-Shooter Drill

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Sarah Jones writes in New York:

For educators, school-shooter drills have become a grim ritual. But teachers at Meadowlawn Elementary School in Monticello, Indiana, say one recent drill went much too far. As reported by the Indianapolis Star, law-enforcement officers lined teachers up and then shot them execution-style with an airsoft rifle. Pellets left bloody welts and caused panic; teachers had not been warned that officers would use a training weapon during the drill. “They told us, ‘This is what happens if you just cower and do nothing,’” one anonymous teacher told the Star. “They shot all of us across our backs. I was hit four times. It hurt so bad.”

White County Sheriff Bill Brooks, whose department conducted the training, says that his officers stopped using the rifle after they were “made aware that one teacher was upset.” But multiple teachers complained to the Star, and the state’s largest teachers union, the Indiana State Teachers Association, has asked legislators to amend a pending school-safety bill so that it would prohibit safety-drill instructors from launching projectiles at teachers. During a Wednesday hearing, ISTA members vividly described hearing screams from shot teachers:

Brooks opposes the amendment. “We don’t need legislation in White County,” he told the Star. “We’re just not going to do it.” But Keith Gambill, the vice-president of ISTA and a music teacher based in Evansville, Indiana, told New York on Thursday that the union remains committed to legislative change anyway. “We want employees and students to be in a safe environment even if there has to be a training,” he said. “But the training should not involve shooting a projectile.” Gambill said the union had not received reports of similar incidents at other schools.

But while the Meadowlawn case is unusual, it has a legible genealogy. The sheriff’s intransigence, the drill’s traumatic conclusion, even the simple existence of the drill, all stem from the same basic reality — America refuses to pass any meaningful gun-control legislation. There’s no point, legislators say. Mass shooters are evil, and no law can strip evil from the hearts of men. And so mass shootings become symptoms of something other than legislative malpractice. They become sins, or “a random force of nature,” as the writer Patrick Blanchfield once put it. We can’t prevent mass shootings, this logic insists, so we can only prepare for them. As Blanchfield noted, the proliferation of gun violence has spawned a lucrative cottage industry — bulletproof whiteboards and bulletproof backpacks and training programs that script extreme school-shooting drills.

There are multiple reasons for this state of affairs. Liberals look at New Zealand, which banned military-grade guns within ten days of the Christchurch shootings, and draw up a short list of reasons to explain why they acted, and we do not: American gun culture, the particularities of our legislative system. But our intransigence is not just about our political system or some buried nostalgia for a mythical cowboy past: it is also about money. Guns make certain people very rich — people like gun manufacturers and gun lobbyists, though they aren’t the only beneficiaries of America’s reluctance to restrict its firearms.

The White County Sheriff’s Department shot teachers during an exercise designed by the for-profit ALICE Training Institute. The Ohio-based, for-profit organization did not return emailed requests for comment before press time, but its website is instructive. Though there’s no evidence that it has encouraged law-enforcement officials to assault teachers with pellet guns during trainings, it does promote a proactive response to active shooters. Each letter in its name corresponds to a different step in its safety protocol. “ALERT is when . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2019 at 3:35 pm

How to Talk About the New Zealand Massacre: More Sunlight, Less Oxygen

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Evan Osnos writes in the New Yorker:

Even more than its predecessors, the massacre in New Zealand feels like the confluence of strands of our times: on March 15th, a gunman with an AR-15 killed forty-nine people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, the worst massacre in New Zealand’s history. It was a poisonously global moment: the attacker broadcast the massacre live on Facebook, and he posted a so-called manifesto to Twitter, regurgitating neo-Nazi in-jokes and immigration-conspiracy theories about “birth rates” and “white genocide.” His particulars merit little more attention than that.

By now, we know to restrain our instinct to recirculate, and perversely glamourize, the details. We know to deprive the virulent corners of modern life of the “oxygen of amplification,” in the words of Whitney Phillips, of the Data & Society Research Institute, who is the author of a valuable report on the interplay between extremists, technology, and journalism. In a list of best practices, Phillips reminds reporters to treat violent language and memes as “inherently contagious” and to avoid highlighting “objectively false” ideas unless they are prominently undermined.

It is good advice, but it can also be misused. As news spread of the gunman’s motives, Donald Trump, Jr., who is not known for his powers of restraint, expressed a sudden desire not to give the “NZ shooter what he wants.” He tweeted, “Don’t speak his name don’t show the footage. Seems that most agree on that. The questions is can the media do what’s right and pass up the ratings they’ll get by doing the opposite? I fear we all know the answer unfortunately.”

Don, Jr.,’s newfound sympathy for decorum most likely owes less to a nuanced theory of violence and publicity than to the shameful reality that the New Zealand killer hailed his father, President Donald Trump, as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” In the Oval Office, a few hours later, the President was asked if he considers white nationalism a rising threat. “I don’t, really,” he said. “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.” Trump called the incident “a terrible thing.” He was speaking, not incidentally, during a ceremony in which he vetoed an attempt to block his use of emergency funds to build a border wall. He complained, as ever, about an “invasion” of illegal immigrants.

The New Zealand killer takes his place in the cracked pantheon of violent, Trump-admiring extremists: beside the gunman at the Tree of Life synagogue, in Pittsburgh, who blamed Jews for resettling refugees and immigrants, whom Trump vilifies as the center of his politics; beside the van-dweller in Miami who found purpose amid the throngs of Trump rallies and set about sending pipe bombs to George Soros, journalists, and Democrats. The New Zealand killer did not exact his violence in America, but he would be at home in our statistics: in the past decade, seventy-three per cent of all American extremist-related killings have come from the right wing, compared to twenty-three per cent from Salafi jihadism and three per cent from the left wing, according to the Soufan Center, which studies global security.

Pointing out those patterns does not feed oxygen to the sources; it subjects them to the disinfecting power of sunlight. We can only have an honest analysis of the sources of this violence if we understand how it grows and spreads. That applies not only to the role of journalism but also to the role of technology. Whenever a killer relies, as he did in this case, on the Internet to amplify the effects of his terror, some inevitably defend social media as no better and no worse than the humanity that uses it. Don’t blame the hammer, we are told; blame the hand. At best, that is a deflection. One does not have to be a Luddite to believe that the worst of social media is not a mirror image of us; it is a grotesque distortion, a funhouse mirror that bulges and squeezes and disfigures us in ways that mock our humanity instead of reinforcing it.

Once again, Facebook finds itself scrambling to explain how it will prevent its creations from being used for harm. When I interviewed a range of Facebook executives last year, several of them touted the use of artificial intelligence and human moderators to prevent the misuse of Facebook Live. Alex Schultz, a longtime Facebook staffer, told me that, to detect instances of suicide or murder on Facebook Live, the company created a system that looks for sudden spikes in attention—“by number of people viewing, by the rate at which those impressions are going up, by the percentage of sad reactions versus likes, by the number of people saying, ‘Oh, my God’ down in the comments.” He said, “Then you need artificial intelligence to be able to read those comments, to get the signal out so you can rank it.” In this case, the rampage was broadcast by a head-mounted camera for a hideous seventeen minutes. It stopped only after Facebook was alerted by New Zealand police. In a statement, Mia Garlick, of Facebook New Zealand, said, “Our hearts go out to the victims, their families and the community affected by this horrendous act. New Zealand Police alerted us to a video on Facebook shortly after the livestream commenced and we quickly removed both the shooter’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and thevideo.”

By then, archives of the video were everywhere. Carole Cadwalladr, an investigative reporter at the Observertweeted, “I may have reached my moment of total despair. The full video is all over YouTube. All over Facebook.” She pointed to a version that had been watched twenty-three thousand times on Facebook in one hour. “And 1000s out there,” she wrote.

For Facebook, the New Zealand massacre is a gruesome measure of the social-media platform’s power and its limitations. The attack struck just as the company is attempting to refashion itself to focus on small-scale, encrypted conversations. But that new focus will expand alongside the main news feed of public conversation; it will not replace the public forum. And so the peril remains. The company did not create the root cause—what the scholar Thomas Rid calls a “violent transnational neo-fascist ideology”—but the technology has multiplied its force to a degree that is almost beyond measure.

To allow the killer to monopolize the final image of this moment would be a mistake. Instead, it is worth pausing to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2019 at 5:33 pm

The Tragedy of Baltimore

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Alec MacGillis reports in ProPublica:

On April 27, 2015, Shantay Guy was driving her 13-year-old son home across Baltimore from a doctor’s appointment when something — a rock, a brick, she wasn’t sure what — hit her car. Her phone was turned off, so she had not realized that protests and violence had broken out in the city that afternoon, following the funeral of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man who drew national attention eight days earlier when he died after suffering injuries in police custody.

As she saw what was happening — fires being set, young people and police officers converging on the nearby vortex of the disorder — she pushed her son, Brandon, down in his seat and sped home. “Mom, are we home yet?” Brandon asked when they pulled up at their house just inside the city line, where they lived with Guy’s husband, her grown daughter and her husband’s late-teenage son, brother and sister-in-law.

“Yeah,” she told him.

“You’re still holding my head down,” he said.

Guy grew up in an impoverished, highly segregated part of West Baltimore near what was now the focal point of the street clashes, but she had long since climbed into a different stratum of the city’s society; she was working as an information-technology project manager for T. Rowe Price, the Baltimore-based mutual-fund giant. Seeing her old neighborhood erupt changed her life. After long discussions with her husband, who manages the office of a local trucking company, she quit her job and went to work for a community mediation organization. “It just felt like it was the work I was supposed to be doing,” she said.

In Baltimore, you can tell a lot about the politics of the person you’re talking with by the word he or she uses to describe the events of April 27, 2015. Some people, and most media outlets, call them the “riots”; some the “unrest.” Guy was among those who always referred to them as the “uprising,” a word that connoted something justifiable and positive: the first step, however tumultuous, toward a freer and fairer city. Policing in Baltimore, Guy and many other residents believed, was broken, with officers serving as an occupying army in enemy territory — harassing African-American residents without cause, breeding distrust and hostility.

In 2016, the United States Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division concurred, releasing a report accusing the city’s Police Department of racial discrimination and excessive force. The city agreed to a “consent decree” with the federal government, a set of policing reforms that would be enforced by a federal judge. When an independent monitoring team was selected to oversee the decree, Guy was hired as its community liaison. This was where she wanted to be: at the forefront of the effort to make her city a better place.

But in the years that followed, Baltimore, by most standards, became a worse place. In 2017, it recorded 342 murders — its highest per-capita rate ever, more than double Chicago’s, far higher than any other city of 500,000 or more residents and, astonishingly, a larger absolute number of killings than in New York, a city 14 times as populous. Other elected officials, from the governor to the mayor to the state’s attorney, struggled to respond to the rise in disorder, leaving residents with the unsettling feeling that there was no one in charge. With every passing year, it was getting harder to see what gains, exactly, were delivered by the uprising.

One night last October, after Guy and her husband, Da’mon, had gone to bed, Da’mon’s brother banged on the bedroom door. “Yo, yo, get up!” he shouted.

It was around 11:30 p.m. Da’mon’s 21-year-old son, Da’mon Jr., whom Shantay had helped raise, would ordinarily have been home by then, after his bus ride across town from his evening shift working as a supply coordinator at Johns Hopkins Hospital. But he was nowhere to be seen. Da’mon Sr. rushed to the door and asked what was going on.

“Dame’s been shot,” his brother said.


Four months later, I met Guy and Da’mon Jr. at a cafe near my office in the center of the city. Da’mon had recently been released after spending 47 days in the hospital, with 20 surgical procedures. His inferior vena cava, which carries blood from the lower body to the heart, no longer functioned; he had to rely on collateral veins instead. He was trying to go back to work, but swelling in his legs and shortness of breath were making it hard.

Da’mon told me he had no idea who was behind the shooting, which he surmised was either an attempted robbery or a gang initiation. It was unnerving, he said, knowing the shooter was still out there somewhere. “I don’t like it when cars slow down to me or people are staring at me too long at stop signs,” he said. “Any one of y’all could be that person. You never know.”

But Guy, somehow, had come through the experience even more committed to the cause she had signed on for. “Our city needs restoration,” she told me.

t takes remarkable fortitude to remain an optimist about Baltimore today. I have lived in the city for 11 of the past 18 years, and for the last few I have struggled to describe its unraveling to friends and colleagues elsewhere. If you live in, say, New York or Boston, you are familiar with a certain story of urban America. Several decades ago, disorder and dysfunction were common across American cities. Then came the great urban rebirth: a wave of reinvestment coupled with a plunge in crime rates that has left many major cities to enjoy a sort of post-fear existence.

Until 2015, Baltimore seemed to be enjoying its own, more modest version of this upswing. Though it is often lumped in with Rust Belt economic casualties like Cleveland, St. Louis and Detroit, Baltimore in fact fared better than these postindustrial peers. Because of the Johns Hopkins biomedical empire, the city’s busy port and its proximity to Washington, metro Baltimore enjoyed higher levels of wealth and income — including among its black population — than many former manufacturing hubs.

The city still had its ills — its blight, suburban flight, segregation, drugs, racial inequality, concentrated poverty. But as recently as 2014, Baltimore’s population, which is 63 percent African-American, was increasing, up slightly to 623,000 after decades of decline. Office buildings downtown were being converted to apartments, and a new business-and-residential district was rising east of the Inner Harbor. The city was even attracting those ultimate imprimaturs of urban revival, a couple of food halls.

The subsequent regression has been swift and demoralizing. Redevelopment continues in some parts of town, but nearly four years after Freddie Gray’s death, the surge in crime has once again become the context of daily life in the city, as it was in the early 1990s. I have grown accustomed to scanning the briefs column in The Baltimore Sun in the morning for news of the latest homicides; to taking note of the location of the latest killings as I drive around town for my baseball coaching and volunteering obligations. In 2017, the church I attend started naming the victims of the violence at Sunday services and hanging a purple ribbon for each on a long cord outside. By year’s end, the ribbons crowded for space, like shirts on a tenement clothesline.

The violence and disorder have fed broader setbacks. Gov. Larry Hogan canceled a $2.9 billion rail transit line for West Baltimore, defending the disinvestment in the troubled neighborhood partly by noting that the state had spent $14 million responding to the riots. Target closed its store in West Baltimore, a blow to a part of town short of retail options. The civic compact has so frayed that one acquaintance admitted to me recently that he had stopped waiting at red lights when driving late at night. Why should he, he argued, when he saw young men on dirt bikes flying through intersections while police officers sat in cruisers doing nothing?

Explaining all this to people outside Baltimore is difficult, not only because the experience is alien to those even in cities just up or down the interstate from us (though a handful of cities elsewhere, like Chicago and St. Louis, have experienced their own waves of recent violence, albeit less dramatically than Baltimore). It’s also because the national political discourse lacks a vocabulary for the city’s ills. On right-wing talk radio, one of the few sectors of the media to take much interest in Baltimore’s crime surge, there are old tropes of urban mayhem — Trump’s “American carnage.” Typically lacking from these schadenfreude-laced discussions is any sense of the historical forces and societal abandonment that the city has for decades struggled to overcome.

On the left, in contrast, Baltimore’s recent woes have been largely overlooked, partly because they present a challenge to those who start from the assumption that policing is inherently suspect. The national progressive story of Baltimore during this era of criminal-justice reform has been the story of the police excesses that led to Gray’s death and the uprising, not the surge of violence that has overtaken the city ever since. As a result, Baltimore has been left mostly on its own to contend with what has been happening, which has amounted to nothing less than a failure of order and governance the likes of which few American cities have seen in years.


To understand how things in Baltimore have gotten so bad, you need to first understand how, not so long ago, they got better.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 March 2019 at 8:05 am

Active-Shooter Drills Are Tragically Misguided

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Erika Christakis writes in the Atlantic:

At 10:21 a.m. on december 6, Lake Brantley High School, in Florida, initiated a “code red” lockdown. “This is not a drill,” a voice announced over the PA system. At the same moment, teachers received a text message warning of an active shooter on campus. Fearful students took shelter in classrooms. Many sobbed hysterically, others vomited or fainted, and some sent farewell notes to parents. A later announcement prompted a stampede in the cafeteria, as students fled the building and jumped over fences to escape. Parents flooded 911 with frantic calls.

Later it was revealed, to the fury of parents, teachers, and students, that in fact this was a drill, the most realistic in a series of drills that the students of Lake Brantley, like students across the country, have lately endured. In the year since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last February, efforts to prepare the nation’s students for gunfire have intensified. Educators and safety experts have urged students to deploy such unlikely self-defense tools as hockey pucks, rocks, flip-flops, and canned food. More commonly, preparations include lockdown drills in which students sit in darkened classrooms with the shades pulled. Sometimes a teacher or a police officer plays the role of a shooter, moving through the hallway and attempting to open doors as children practice staying silent and still.

These drills aren’t limited to the older grades. Around the country, young children are being taught to run in zigzag patterns so as to evade bullets. I’ve heard of kindergartens where words like barricade are added to the vocabulary list, as 5- and 6-year-olds are instructed to stack chairs and desks “like a fort” should they need to keep a gunman at bay. In one Massachusetts kindergarten classroom hangs a poster with lockdown instructions that can be sung to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”: Lockdown, Lockdown, Lock the door / Shut the lights off, Say no more. Beside the text are picture cues—a key locking a door; a person holding up a finger to hush the class; a switch being flipped to turn off the lights. The alarm and confusion of younger students is hardly assuaged by the implausible excuses some teachers offer—for instance, that they are practicing what to do if a wild bear enters the classroom, or that they are having an extra-quiet “quiet time.”

In the 2015–16 school year, 95 percent of public schools ran lockdown drills, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics. And that’s to say nothing of actual (rather than practice) lockdowns, which a school will implement in the event of a security concern—a threat that very well may turn out to be a hoax, perhaps, or the sound of gunfire in the neighborhood. A recent analysis by The Washington Post found that during the 2017–18 school year, more than 4.1 million students experienced at least one lockdown or lockdown drill, including some 220,000 students in kindergarten or preschool.

In one sense, the impulse driving these preparations is understandable. The prospect of mass murder in a classroom is intolerable, and good-faith proposals for preventing school shootings should be treated with respect. But the current mode of instead preparing kids for such events is likely to be psychologically damaging. See, for instance, the parting letter a 12-year-old boy wrote his parents during a lockdown at a school in Charlotte, North Carolina, following what turned out to be a bogus threat: “I am so sorry for anything I have done, the trouble I have caused,” he scribbled. “Right now I’m scared to death. I need a warm soft hug … I hope that you are going to be okay with me gone.”

As James Hamblin wrote for The Atlantic last February, there is precious little evidence that the current approach is effective:

Studies of whether active-shooter drills actually prevent harm are all but impossible. Case studies are difficult to parse. In Parkland, for example, the site of the recent shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, had an active-shooter drill just [a] month [before the massacre]. The shooter had been through such drills. Purposely countering them may have been a reasonthat, as he was beginning his rampage, the shooter pulled a fire alarm.

Moreover, the scale of preparedness efforts is out of proportion to the risk. Deaths from shootings on school grounds remain extremely rare compared with those resulting from accidental injury, which is the leading cause of death for children and teenagers. In 2016, there were 787 accidental deaths (a category that includes fatalities due to drowning, fires, falls, and car crashes) among American children ages 5 to 9—a small number, considering that there are more than 20 million children in this group. Cancer was the next-most-common cause of death, followed by congenital anomalies. Homicide of alltypes came in fourth. To give these numbers yet more context: The Washington Post has identified fewer than 150 people (children and adults) who have been shot to death in America’s schools since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, in Colorado. Not 150 people a year, but 150 in nearly two decades.

Preparing our children for profoundly unlikely events would be one thing if that preparation had no downside. But in this case, our efforts may exact a high price. Time and resources spent on drills and structural upgrades to school facilities could otherwise be devoted to, say, a better science program or hiring more experienced teachers. Much more worrying: School-preparedness culture itself may be instilling in millions of children a distorted and foreboding view of their future. It’s also encouraging adults to view children as associates in a shared mission to reduce gun violence, a problem whose real solutions, in fact, lie at some remove from the schoolyard.

We’ve been down this road before. In an escalating set of preparations for nuclear holocaust during the 1950s, the “duck and cover” campaign trained children nationwide to huddle under their desk in the case of a nuclear blast. Some students in New York City were even issued dog tags, to be worn every day, to help parents identify their bodies. Assessments of this period suggest that such measures contributed to pervasive fear among children, 60 percent of whom reported having nightmares about nuclear war.

Decades later, a new generation of disaster-preparedness policies—this time geared toward guns rather than nuclear weapons—appear to be stoking fear once again. A 2018 survey by the Pew Research Foundation determined that, despite the rarity of such events, 57 percent of American teenagers worry about a shooting at their school. This comes at a time when children are already suffering from sharply rising rates of anxiety, self-mutilation, and suicide. According to a landmark study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, 32 percent of 13-to-18-year-olds have anxiety disorders, and 22 percent suffer from mental disorders that cause severe impairment or distress. Among those suffering from anxiety, the median age of onset is 6.

Active-shooter drills reflect a broad societal misunderstanding of childhood, one that features two competing images of the child: the defenseless innocent and the powerful mini-adult. On the one hand, we view children as incredibly vulnerable—to hurt feelings, to non-rubberized playground surfaces, to disappointing report cards. This view is pervasive, and its consequences are now well understood: It robs children of their agency and impedes their development, and too often prevents them from testing themselves either physically or socially, from taking moderate risks and learning from them, from developing resilience.

But on the other hand, we demand preternatural maturity from our children. We tell them that with hockey pucks and soup cans and deep reservoirs of courage, they are capable of defeating an evil that has resisted the more prosaic energies of law-enforcement officers, legislators, school superintendents, and mental-health professionals. We ask them to manage not the everyday risks that they are capable of managing—or should, for their own good, manage—but rather the problems they almost by definition cannot.

This second notion of the child stems from what I call adultification, or the tendency to imagine that children experience things the way adults do. Adultification comes in many forms, from the relatively benign (dressing kids like little adults, in high heels or ironic punk-rock T-shirts) to the damaging (the high-stakes testing culture creeping into kindergartens). We also find adultification in the expectation that kids conform to adult schedules—young children today are subjected to more daily transitions than were previous generations of children, thanks to the dictates of work and child-care hours and the shift from free play to more programmed activities at school and at home.

Similarly, we expect children to match adults’ capacity to hurry or to be still for long periods of time; when they fail, we are likely to punish or medicate them. Examples abound: an epidemic of preschool expulsions, the reduction in school recess, the extraordinary pathologizing of childhood’s natural rhythms. ADHD diagnoses, which have spiked in recent years, are much more common among children who narrowly make the age cutoff for their grade than among children born just a week or so later, who must start kindergarten the following year and thus end up being the oldest in their class; this raises the question of whether we are labeling as disordered children who are merely acting their age. The same question might be asked of newer diagnoses such as sluggish cognitive tempo and sensory processing disorder. These trends are all of a piece; we’re expecting schoolchildren to act like small adults.

Adultification is a result of a mind-set that ignores just how taxing childhood is. Being small and powerless is inherently stressful. This is true even when nothing especially bad is going on. Yet for many children, especially bad things are going on. Nearly half of American children have experienced at least one  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

These children will in time become adults. I wonder what sort of adults they will be.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2019 at 4:21 pm

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