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How Chicago Gets Its Guns

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Mick Dumke reports in ProPublica:

John Thomas set up the deal the way he had arranged nearly two dozen others. A friend said he wanted to buy as many guns as he could, so Thomas got in touch with someone he knew who had guns to sell.

The three of them met in the parking lot of an LA Fitness in south suburban Lansing at noon on Aug. 6, 2014. Larry McIntosh, whom Thomas had met in his South Shore neighborhood, took two semi-automatic rifles and a shotgun from his car and put them in the buyer’s car. He handed over a plastic shopping bag with four handguns.

None of the weapons had been acquired legally — two, in fact, had been reported stolen — and none of the men was a licensed firearms dealer.

Thomas’ friend, Yousef, paid McIntosh $7,200 for the seven guns. He always paid well.

Thomas did little but watch the exchange, but he got his usual broker’s fee of $100 per gun, $700 total. It was “the most money I’ve seen or made,” he recalled — his biggest deal yet.

It was also his last.

Amid Chicago’s ongoing epidemic of gun violence — with nearly 500 people killed in shootings and more than 2,800 wounded this year through September — the availability of guns has been blamed as a root cause and become a defining political and public safety issue.

City police have seized nearly 7,000 illegal firearms so far in 2017 and federal authorities have stepped up efforts to take down dealers.

Still, it’s by no means clear that targeting those like John Thomas makes a real difference.

Most of the guns police seize come from Indiana and other states where firearms laws are more lax, police and researchers have found. After they were purchased legally, most were sold or loaned or stolen. Typically, individuals or small groups are involved in the dealing, not organized trafficking rings, experts say.

Unlike the drug trade — often dominated by powerful cartels or gangs — illegal gun markets operate more like the way teenagers get beer, “where every adult is potentially a source,” said Philip Cook, a researcher at the University of Chicago Crime Lab who’s also a Duke University professor.

Under pressure to respond to the violence, law enforcement has focused on making examples of people caught selling, buying or possessing guns. But authorities acknowledge that these cases do little to stem the flow of guns into the city.

“You are a single salmon swimming upstream at Niagara Falls,” said Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department. “If your policing strategy is to decrease the number of guns in your city, good luck, because there are too many guns out there. It’s better to go after the person with the gun.”

An in-depth examination of Thomas’ case — based on police reports, court records and interviews, including a series of conversations with Thomas — shows how authorities target mostly street-level offenders, sometimes enticing them with outsized payoffs. In this and other cases, critics say their techniques raise questions of whether they are dismantling gun networks or effectively helping to set them up.

“You have this specter of whether it’s creating crime, which is troubling to a lot of people,” said Katharine Tinto, a professor at the University of California Irvine School of Law who has studied the investigative tactics of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “It’s not as if you’re trying to get someone you know is a violent gun offender. You’re going after someone and purposely trying to entice them into doing a felony.”

A Natural Salesman

At 33, John Thomas has a charming smile that sometimes displays his chipped front tooth. His mother’s name, Val, is tattooed on his left forearm — a tribute to her for bringing him into the world, though he said he could never count on her. His daughter’s name, Jataviyona, is tattooed on his right shoulder.

Even as a kid, Thomas was a natural salesman, quick with a hustle.

“That’s my gift, I guess — to sell,” he said.

He grew up in the part of South Shore known as “Terror Town.” A short walk from a popular Lake Michigan beach, it’s long been a mix of middle-class homeowners and lower-income renters, with bungalows, condominiums and multi-unit apartment buildings on tree-lined streets.

By the time Thomas was growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, the neighborhood was struggling. Many white homeowners and merchants had fled after African-Americans moved in. Thousands of people in South Shore and surrounding communities lost their jobs when the nearby steel mills closed. When the crack epidemic hit in the early 1990s, gang violence soared.

Thomas’ father wasn’t around, and his mother struggled with addiction, according to Thomas and a younger sister, Sade Thomas-Adams. With five other siblings, Thomas was raised by an aunt and uncle he considered his parents.

Thomas’ uncle was a pastor, and the family spent a lot of time at church, giving him a lifelong faith. During the week, the kids were told to focus on their studies and come home right after school to avoid the dangers of gangs and drugs. Thomas and some of his siblings chafed at those rules, though, escaping from the house to hang out with friends, drink and smoke marijuana.

“They had their foot in both worlds — the church and the street,” said Thomas-Adams.

Thomas developed his first hustle while in grammar school, he said. He and his friends would offer to help shoppers with their bags and carts outside an Aldi supermarket. He learned he could talk to people and earn tips.

Thomas graduated to other ways of making money. First, he said, he sold baggies of fake marijuana. Eventually, neighborhood dealers set him up with real drugs. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 October 2017 at 6:37 pm

Repeal the Second Amendment

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Bret Stephens, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, is a conservative columnist at the NY Times. Today he writes:

I have never understood the conservative fetish for the Second Amendment.

From a law-and-order standpoint, more guns means more murder. “States with higher rates of gun ownership had disproportionately large numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides,” noted one exhaustive 2013 study in the American Journal of Public Health.

From a personal-safety standpoint, more guns means less safety. The F.B.I. counted a total of 268 “justifiable homicides” by private citizens involving firearms in 2015; that is, felons killed in the course of committing a felony. Yet that same year, there were 489 “unintentional firearms deaths” in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Between 77 and 141 of those killed were children.

From a national-security standpoint, the Amendment’s suggestion that a “well-regulated militia” is “necessary to the security of a free State,” is quaint. The Minutemen that will deter Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un are based in missile silos in Minot, N.D., not farmhouses in Lexington, Mass.

From a personal liberty standpoint, the idea that an armed citizenry is the ultimate check on the ambitions and encroachments of government power is curious. The Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s, the New York draft riots of 1863, the coal miners’ rebellion of 1921, the Brink’s robbery of 1981 — does any serious conservative think of these as great moments in Second Amendment activism?

And now we have the relatively new and now ubiquitous “active shooter” phenomenon, something that remains extremely rare in the rest of the world. Conservatives often say that the right response to these horrors is to do more on the mental-health front. Yet by all accounts Stephen Paddock would not have raised an eyebrow with a mental-health professional before he murdered 58 people in Las Vegas last week.

What might have raised a red flag? I’m not the first pundit to point out that if a “Mohammad Paddock” had purchased dozens of firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition and then checked himself into a suite at the Mandalay Bay with direct views to a nearby music festival, somebody at the local F.B.I. field office would have noticed.

Given all of this, why do liberals keep losing the gun control debate?

Maybe it’s because they argue their case badly and — let’s face it — in bad faith. Democratic politicians routinely profess their fidelity to the Second Amendment — or rather, “a nuanced reading” of it — with all the conviction of Barack Obama’s support for traditional marriage, circa 2008. People recognize lip service for what it is.

Then there are the endless liberal errors of fact. There is no “gun-show loophole” per se; it’s a private-sale loophole, in other words the right to sell your own stuff. The civilian AR-15 is not a true “assault rifle,” and banning such rifles would have little effect on the overall murder rate, since most homicides are committed with handguns. It’s not true that 40 percent of gun owners buy without a background check; the real number is closer to one-fifth.

The National Rifle Association does not have Republican “balls in a money clip,” as Jimmy Kimmel put it the other night. The N.R.A. has donated a paltry $3,533,294 to all current members of Congress since 1998, according to The Washington Post, equivalent to about three months of Kimmel’s salary. The N.R.A. doesn’t need to buy influence: It’s powerful because it’s popular.

Nor will it do to follow the “Australian model” of a gun buyback program, which has shown poor results in the United States and makes little sense in a country awash with hundreds of millions of weapons. Keeping guns out of the hands of mentally ill people is a sensible goal, but due process is still owed to the potentially insane. Background checks for private gun sales are another fine idea, though its effects on homicides will be negligible: guns recovered by police are rarely in the hands of their legal owners, a 2016 study found.

In fact, the more closely one looks at what passes for “common sense” gun laws, the more feckless they appear. Americans who claim to be outraged by gun crimes should want to do something more than tinker at the margins of a legal regime that most of the developed world rightly considers nuts. They should want to change it fundamentally and permanently.

There is only one way to do this: Repeal the Second Amendment.

Repealing the Amendment may seem like political Mission Impossible today, but in the era of same-sex marriage it’s worth recalling that most great causes begin as improbable ones. Gun ownership should never be outlawed, just as it isn’t outlawed in Britain or Australia. But it doesn’t need a blanket Constitutional protection, either. The 46,445 murder victims killed by gunfire in the United States between 2012 and 2016 didn’t need to perish so that gun enthusiasts can go on fantasizing that “Red Dawn” is the fate that soon awaits us.

Donald Trump will likely get one more Supreme Court nomination, or two or three, before he leaves office, guaranteeing a pro-gun court for another generation. Expansive interpretations of the right to bear arms will be the law of the land — until the “right” itself ceases to be.

Some conservatives will insist that . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 October 2017 at 11:23 am

Posted in Government, Guns, Law

House GOP Blocks Vote to Create Bipartisan Select Committee on Gun Violence

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Thoughts and prayers are private responses to massacres of US citizens, but perhaps the House GOP might consider making a more substantial and public response. Or perhaps they simply don’t give a damn. Their actions are certainly consistent with that.

Here’s the statement from the Minority Leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi.

It strikes me as odd that the GOP doesn’t even want to discuss what might be done. They are truly not interested in the safety and welfare of American citizens unless the threat is from foreigners who speak a language other than English or Americans with a darker skin tone.

America has lost the “can-do” spirit.

The text of the statement:

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi issued this statement after House Republicans voted 231 to 189 to block an up-or-down vote on creating a bipartisan Select Committee on Gun Violence, which would be charged with studying and reporting back common sense legislation to address the gun violence epidemic within 60 days:

“The families of the victims of gun violence deserve more than our thoughts and prayers – they deserve real, urgent and long-overdue action to end this crisis.  But just two days after the worst mass shooting in American history, House Republicans refused to even begin a bipartisan, common sense process to address the gun violence epidemic.

“This week, Republicans have refused to strengthen life-saving background checks or to walk away from a radical GOP bill opening the floodgates to silencers and armor-piercing bullets.  Their refusal to allow a vote to create a bipartisan Select Committee on Gun Violence – a basic first step to study and prevent the daily tragedies of gun violence – makes clear that they have no intention of offering a grieving nation anything more than empty words.

“Members of Congress take a solemn oath to protect the American people.  Democrats will never stop fighting to protect American families, and we urge our Republican colleagues to join us to take long overdue action to reduce the horror and heartbreak of gun violence.”

Written by LeisureGuy

4 October 2017 at 4:56 pm

Posted in Congress, Guns

Why We Keep Having The Same Argument About Guns

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In Buzzfeed Anne Heller Petersen has a thoughtful article on what drives the opposing view of gun control:

When eight people were shot at Burnett Chapel Church in Burnett, Tennessee, last week, an Idaho man posted a link to a news story on the shooting. “My church is a ‘Guns Welcome’ church,” he wrote. “I pity the fool who would try something like this there.” This man, a Facebook friend whom I won’t name here, is a proud gun owner; in fact, he moved to Idaho in part because it’s easier to own and carry guns there.

This friend articulated one of the main reasons why the gun control debate remains at an impasse even in the aftermath of dozens of mass shootings, including an attack on Sunday night at a country music festival in Las Vegas that killed more than 50 people and injured hundreds. Specifically: the deeply held belief, among many people in this country, that evil men with guns should be countered with righteous men with guns — or that evil is uncontrollable. It’s the same idea that guides the training of teachers to wield rifles in a rural Idaho town and that allows the concealed carry of firearms on Idaho college campuses. At a public meeting held last week in Idaho, I saw the telling bulge of at least three concealed weapons.

This philosophy is not limited to Idaho: All 50 states permit concealed carry; 23 states allow individual institutions to decide gun laws on their campus; 10 additional states mandate that concealed carry must be allowed (with specific provisions). Most of the laws that permit guns on campus — or reverse bans on concealed carry — were introduced and passed in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. It’s the pro-gun version of gun control: Protect Americans from bad people with guns by allowing more guns to circulate.

Whether or not you believe that philosophy, you can see how fundamentally discordant it is with the liberal belief that restrictions on access to guns — whether banning certain types of guns, mandating waiting periods, preventing certain individuals from obtaining guns, or eliminating public ownership of guns altogether — will decrease mass shootings, accidental shootings, homicides, and even suicides. Data, and comparisons to countries with tighter and/or complete gun control, supports these claims. Thus the declarations that percolate across social media after every mass shooting: “Why does anyone need a gun like this?” “Why do we keep letting this happen, when there’s an obvious solution?”

With each mass shooting — and there have been 273 in 2017 alone — these oppositional philosophies harden. The same conversations, statistics, accusations, videos, memes, and, as Jamilah Lemieux put it on Twitter, “vague chatter about the mentally ill that doesn’t lead to any action other than further stigmatizing the mentally ill,” cycle through the media, then go dormant until the next mass shooting reactivates them.

The impasse remains, at least in part, because these discussions of gun control don’t really address the deeper, seemingly intractable difference between the two sides — one that has everything to do with the way that each conceives of individual agency. Simply put, one side believes in the responsibility of the group to put controls in place that protect its individual members. The other believes, above all else, in the rights of the individual. What we’re nottalking about when we talk about gun control is just how difficult it is to for these viewpoints to meet in conversation.

For those opposed to government-mandated gun control, no limit will actually inhibit an individual who is set on committing violence. To impose any of those strictures, even on people with mental illnesses, would limit the inalienable rights of all citizens — making many answer for the actions of the few. That’s why many gun advocates prefer to be called advocates for or “protectors” of the Second Amendment: Their answer to tragedy isn’t more regulation, but more freedom. (Those in favor of gun control would counter that the first inalienable right outlined by the Declaration of Independence is the right to life, which is impinged upon by those who abuse their access to guns.)

These attitudes align fairly precisely with the two sides of the political spectrum. Liberal ideology supports governmental regulation in the name of the greater good, for higher taxes that pay for social safety nets, for universal health care. Each of those ideas is rooted in the belief that what happens to one of us happens to all of us, and measures should be put in place to ensure the greater good.

On the other side of the ideological spectrum, the conservative stance is rooted in the individual’s ability and right to make decisions for themselves and their families, to decide how to spend the money they earn, to do the right thing, to use guns safely and correctly. One person shouldn’t have to have to pay for others’ mistakes, nor should their liberty be compromised because of the tresspasses of another. These ideas fuel the canny and successful messaging of the NRA, which calls itself “freedom’s safest place” and incites membership by warning that “our rights are under attack like never before.”

One position leans toward socialism, the other toward libertarianism, and our country has been built through compromises on both sides. The agreement that we’ll pay taxes that fund schools even if we don’t have children in them and the reliance on programs like Medicare and Social Security are all undergirded by a persistent belief in the American dream, which suggests that any person, of any race or religion or class or upbringing, can become a thriving member of society if they work hard enough.

The American democratic project survives through détente between left and right, through the election of moderates who seem to reconcile both sides and extremists who balance each other out. It is often troubled, and never without conflict. But it endures, an assurance to voters that their philosophy of the country and their place in it remains intact.

But certain issues — Obamacare and gun control foremost among them — are increasingly treated by many conservatives as warning shots, threats to the integrity of the entire enterprise. Within this logic, a move to curtail gun ownership is a move to curtail liberty, full stop. That’s why so many politicians currently making inroads from the the far right label themselves “liberty-minded”: They have pledged to prevent the first rock from sliding down the slippery slope toward government control. They do more than pledge it — they make it a centerpiece of their campaigns. This then forces their opponents in both primary and general elections to pick a side, which often means reassuring people that they aren’t out to take away anyone’s all-American rights.

In the dozens of states that aren’t solidly blue, to come out for even limited gun control dooms you as a conservative candidate, and severely hobbles a moderate hoping for independent voters. When Montana Democrat Rob Quist ran to replace Ryan Zinke, the newly appointed secretary of the interior, in the House, on a platform that included the registration of assault rifles, he was painted as a gun control fanatic. Montana Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat in a state that voted overwhelmingly for Trump, has repeatedly pledged to “stand up to anyone — Republican or Democrat — who wants to take away Montanans’ gun rights.”

These examples are deeply Montanan, and Montana, like so much of the Mountain West, is a state where guns do have a utilitarian role. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 October 2017 at 11:57 am

Make buying a gun follow same template as getting an abortion

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How about we treat every young man who wants to buy a gun like every woman who wants to get an abortion — mandatory 48-hr waiting period, parental permission, a note from his doctor proving he understands what he’s about to do, a video he has to watch about the effects of gun violence, an ultrasound wand up the ass (just because). Let’s close down all but one gun shop in every state and make him travel hundreds of miles, take time off work, and stay overnight in a strange town to get a gun. Make him walk through a gauntlet of people holding photos of loved ones who were shot to death, people who call him a murderer and beg him not to buy a gun.
It makes more sense to do this with young men and guns than with women and health care, right? I mean, no woman getting an abortion has killed a room full of people in seconds, right?

Original was by Brian Murtagh, and the story of the quotation is here.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 October 2017 at 11:49 am

Posted in Guns, Law

Congress acts—or doesn’t

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Kal Penn notes on Facebook:

Americans killed on 9/11: 2,996

Days it took Congress to authorize war: 3

Americans killed by guns in 2017 so far: 11,652

Days in 2017 so far: 275

Congress will not act. Trump will not act. More Americans will die in mass shootings. As Bill O’Reilly said, that’s just the price you pay for living in the U.S. (He actually said that’s the price you pay for freedom, but of course Australia, Canada, the UK, Germany, Demark, etc., etc., seem to be as free as the U.S. even though mass shootings in those countries are rare.)

Written by LeisureGuy

3 October 2017 at 10:18 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, Guns

Las Vegas, Gun Violence, and the Failing American State

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John Cassidy writes in the New Yorker:

Writing on Twitter on Monday, Matt Bevin, the Republican Governor of Kentucky, said, “To all those political opportunists who are seizing on the tragedy in Las Vegas to call for more gun regs . . . You can’t regulate evil . . .” Perhaps not. But, as countries such as Australia, Britain, and Canada have demonstrated, you can certainly regulate the sale of guns, especially weapons of war, to good effect.
Between 1979 and 1996, Australia had thirteen fatal mass shootings. Since 1996, when the country introduced a law that banned the sale of semiautomatic weapons and launched a buyback program for weapons that had already been sold, there have been no mass shootings. None.
The United States, by contrast, introduced a ban on certain semiautomatic, military-style weapons in 1994—but allowed it to lapse, in 2004. While there is no agreed-upon definition of what constitutes a “mass shooting” and what constitutes merely another deadly entry on the police blotter, there is little doubt that the frequency of large-scale gun atrocities has increased in the past decade.
Between the summers of 2015 and 2016 alone, President Barack Obama responded to seven different deadly shootings. On some of these occasions, he didn’t hide his frustration at the inability of the United States to tackle the problem of gun violence. “America will wrap everyone who’s grieving with our prayers and our love,” he said on October 1, 2015, the day that a student at Umpqua Community College shot and killed nine people. “It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America—next week, or a couple of months from now. . . . We are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses or want to do harm to other people. We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.”
Citing the example of Australia and other countries, such as Britain, that have passed strict gun-control laws, Obama went on, “So we know there are ways to prevent it . . . And each time this happens I’m going to bring this up. Each time this happens I am going to say that we can actually do something about it, but we’re going to have to change our laws. And this is not something I can do by myself. I’ve got to have a Congress, and I’ve got to have state legislatures and governors who are willing to work with me on this.”
Obama didn’t come out and say it explicitly, but he was suggesting that the U.S. government, in its totality, is abandoning one of its basic duties: the protection of its citizenry from readily identifiable threats. And, of course, Obama was right. Of all the ways in which American democracy is showing symptoms of turning into a dysfunctional state, the inability to face down the gun lobby is surely one of the most egregious.
In the statement that Donald Trump read out on Monday morning, in the Diplomatic Room of the White House, he didn’t mention guns, gun laws, or semiautomatic rifles—at least ten of which were reportedly found in the hotel room of the alleged Las Vegas gunman, Stephen Paddock. Trump’s omissions were hardly surprising. Addressing the National Rifle Association in April, the President declared, “the eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to an end,” and added, “You have a true friend and champion in the White House.” In February, the President signed a law that made it easier for people with a history of mental illness to buy guns, including semiautomatic rifles.
At the daily White House briefing on Monday, a reporter asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s press secretary, whether the shooting had “made the President think anything more about pursuing tighter gun laws . . . to prevent massacres like this from happening again.” Sanders replied, “There’s a time and place for political debate. But now is the time to unite as a country.” In response to a follow-up question, Sanders tried a different tack, saying, “One of the things that we don’t want to do is try to create laws that won’t . . . stop these types of things from happening. I think if you look to Chicago, where you had over four thousand victims of gun-related crimes last year, they have the strictest gun laws in the country.”
In response to the tragedy in Las Vegas, Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, ordered the flags over the U.S. Capitol to be flown at half-mast, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, said, “This is a time for national mourning and for prayer.” Neither responded immediately to a call from Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, for the establishment of a bipartisan Select Committee on Gun Violence, which would “study and report back common-sense legislation to help end the crisis.”
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, preparations continued for the passage of the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2017, a carefully misnamed piece of legislation that would make it easier to import assault-style rifles, transport weapons across state lines, and purchase silencers—the sale of which has been strictly restricted since the nineteen-thirties, when they proved popular with gangsters. Last month, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 October 2017 at 9:44 am

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