Later On

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Archive for the ‘Guns’ Category

A Hollywood Armorer on the “Rust” Shooting Charges

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In the Atlantic, Caroline Mimbs Nyce interviews a movie armorer on the fatal shooting on the set of Rust. The article begins:

When someone is accidentally shot and killed on a film set, who is responsible: the actor holding the gun, the person who handed it to him, or the professional charged with managing the movie’s weaponry? Last week, New Mexico prosecutors proposed an answer: all three.

The actor Alec Baldwin will be charged with involuntary manslaughter for the fatal shooting of the cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film Rust. Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the film’s armorer—the person who manages the set’s firearms and their related safety protocols—also faces charges. Meanwhile, Assistant Director Dave Halls, the person who reportedly handed Baldwin the gun moments before the incident, has taken a plea deal on a charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon, according to prosecutors.  Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed have denied responsibility for Hutchins’s death.

I spoke with Thomas Pimentel, a Massachusetts-based armorer, twice over the phone about the charges, the state of the armorer position in the movie industry, and whether Hollywood should stop using guns on film sets altogether.

Our conversations have been condensed and edited for clarity. . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2023 at 5:03 pm

The Things You Are Getting Wrong About White Supremacists Is What Allows Them To Grow

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Speaking of denial, Gwen Frisbie-Fulton points out how most Americans practice denial about how widespread the White Supremacist movement is in the US:

Twelve years ago, I packed up a Uhaul and left the home my son was born in. I drove across the country with him in a car seat, singing hours of nursery rhymes to keep him entertained.

I loved that house — a big, collapsing, and beautiful Victorian farmhouse that my friends and I had sunk years of work into to make it a home. I loved that neighborhood; sweet neighbors who would holler at me to join them on their porch or come over late on New Year’s Eve with Jello shots and gossip. I loved that city — a big, heaving post-industrial city with greying art deco buildings from a more prosperous yesteryear. But it was time to go.

There were ten thousand personal reasons why I packed up that house and sold it, but there was also one troublesome thing that had been on my mind. A few years earlier the Vinlanders — a white power hate group — had set up a clubhouse only a few blocks away. They were disruptive, violent, and scary and they were recruiting the neighborhood’s poor white kids who they hoped had no other offers or chances in life. As a young, poor single mom of a white son, I knew he could eventually be a target.

I’ll take a lot of risks, but not that one.


Only days ago, a white mob marched from the White House to the Capitol building in order to break in and disrupt the Electoral College count. Some of the mob had zip ties to, apparently, take hostages. Some had guns and other weapons. Some chanted that they were going to kill the Vice President. Someone erected a platform with a noose. Five people died. The nation remains shocked. How did we get here? We each have asked. This is not us, we each have hoped.

Then, the day after the attack on the Capitol, the Indianapolis Star — the reputable, award-winning paper — ran a run-of-the-mill story including an interview with a man named Brien James. It was reported that James had joined about one hundred other Trump supporters and Proud Boys at the Indiana statehouse to oppose the Electoral College count and he spoke to the Star as the assault was occurring in Washington. The Star then also quoted James again the next day, documenting him as just another voice in this moment in history. It read like a benign human interest story: Some men, who you may or may not agree with politically, holding a protest at the statehouse — as we do and will continue to do in our American democracy.

But I know plenty about Brien James. He was my old neighbor.

Brien James was the founder of the Vinlanders Social Club — he is one of the ones I would see goosestepping outside the local bars in steel-toed boots ready to fight. He was the one who selected my neighborhood as a place for his hate group to target. It is documented that James created the Vinlanders after he was kicked out of the Outlaw Hammerskins for being too violent — he apparently nearly stomped someone to death for refusing to do a Sieg heil in the early 2000s. He later founded the Hoosier State Skinheads. For anyone who doesn’t know or doesn’t remember, “skins” are neo-Nazis. That’s not hyperbole, that’s what they call themselves.

The Vinlander house had a flag pole in the front yard and they flew Nazi and SS flags. They would blare Skrewdriver songs out the windows and sit up on the front porch drinking and glaring at passerbys. My neighbors and I regularly had to paint over swastikas that had been spray-painted on our garages and fences.

In 2007 and just a few blocks from where the Indianapolis Star interviewed James for their story this week, a gang of Vinlanders attacked a Black man in broad daylight, stomping him unconscious in the middle of a downtown street. Three Vinlanders went to prison for that attack. One later confessed to another murder and is serving that sentence, too. Plenty of Indianapolis residents remember the vile beating — when bystanders tried to call the police for help, they were attacked or threatened by the group.

Brien James continued to lead the Vinlanders even after many of his core members were in prison. Two years after the incident in downtown Indianapolis, another Vindlander (who was also a correctional officer) was convicted of murdering his girlfriend and their child and put on death row. Police found Hitler memorabilia all through the man’s house. Later that same year, two more Vinlanders were indicted for murdering a woman because she was dating a Black man.

Both Indianapolis Star articles this week failed to include any context about who Brien James is or about his movement’s extremely violent history. That context has become extremely important as this long legacy of community violence has once again turned into clear political violence and, for the first time in history, has targetted the symbolic center of our democracy — something prophesied in The Turner Diaries, the Bible of the racist right.

We, as a nation and as individuals, are very adept at ignoring white supremacy (it may be the communal skill we have excelled in most). Even though our country experiences white supremacist violence regularly, we still can barely name it when we see it. The FBI confirms that the vast majority of terror attacks in the United States are committed by far-right white supremacists, but we continue to have no national or community plan to stop this.

From Charleston to El Paso, white nationalist terror is often incorrectly described as “lone wolf” incidents, in contrast to the broad brush that we use when we see acts of property destruction or the rare acts of physical violence at Black Lives Matter protests. Seeing white nationalist terror as incidental, organic, or outside of having a sophisticated and strategic radicalization process is not only misguided; it’s very dangerous.

Most white Americans have a good instinct to distance themselves from white nationalism. However, to do so they often use incorrect shorthands and stereotypes to denounce the “other.” Since Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol, I have seen the mob described as anything from “bubbas” to “hicks” to “uneducated trailer trash.” However, just today I saw a CEO, a district court judge’s son, a pharmacist, a mayor, and a woman who flew on a private jet to the rally all be doxxed on Twitter for their participation in the mob. Our rush to distance ourselves from unsavory racists and discounting their intelligence ends up framing the threat incorrectly. And it is allowing the white supremacists to get ahead.

It turns out that Brien James left that old neighborhood just like I did. However, unlike me, he didn’t move to another working-class neighborhood with make-do houses, he moved to the suburbs. Brien James did what lots of Nazis did about a decade ago: He rebranded.

Sure, the neighborhood where the Vinlanders set up and where I lived was a poor, white neighborhood in a decaying industrial city. I am sure that my neighbors and I probably meet most of the stereotypes people have of who is racist in America, at least by physical appearance and income level. But the tiki torches in Charlottesville were overwhelmingly carried by frat boys and orthodontists, and the Capitol was just vandalized by veterans and small business owners in MAGA hats, Phish teeshirts, and Columbia jackets. America needs to come to terms with the idea that some cleaned up Vinlanders might live next to you, too.

One Vinlander, Bryon Widner, who frequented the house in my neighborhood, left the Vinlanders in the late 2000s and had . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more. It seems increasingly as though the US is headed toward an ugly transformation.

Written by Leisureguy

13 January 2023 at 8:11 pm

How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment

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Michael Waldman writes at the Brennan Center for Justice:

“A fraud on the American public.” That’s how former Chief Justice Warren Burger described the idea that the Second Amendment gives an unfettered individual right to a gun. When he spoke these words to PBS in 1990, the rock-ribbed conservative appointed by Richard Nixon was expressing the longtime consensus of historians and judges across the political spectrum.

Twenty-five years later, Burger’s view seems as quaint as a powdered wig. Not only is an individual right to a firearm widely accepted, but increasingly states are also passing laws to legalize carrying weapons on streets, in parks, in bars—even in churches.

Many are startled to learn that the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t rule that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to own a gun until 2008, when District of Columbia v. Heller struck down the capital’s law effectively banning handguns in the home. In fact, every other time the court had ruled previously, it had ruled otherwise. Why such a head-snapping turnaround? Don’t look for answers in dusty law books or the arcane reaches of theory.

So how does legal change happen in America? We’ve seen some remarkably successful drives in recent years—think of the push for marriage equality, or to undo campaign finance laws. Law students might be taught that the court is moved by powerhouse legal arguments or subtle shifts in doctrine. The National Rifle Association’s long crusade to bring its interpretation of the Constitution into the mainstream teaches a different lesson: Constitutional change is the product of public argument and political maneuvering. The pro-gun movement may have started with scholarship, but then it targeted public opinion and shifted the organs of government. By the time the issue reached the Supreme Court, the desired new doctrine fell like a ripe apple from a tree.

* * *

The Second Amendment consists of just one sentence: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Today, scholars debate its bizarre comma placement, trying to make sense of the various clauses, and politicians routinely declare themselves to be its “strong supporters.” But in the grand sweep of American history, this sentence has never been among the most prominent constitutional provisions. In fact, for two centuries it was largely ignored.

The amendment grew out of the political tumult surrounding the drafting of the Constitution, which was done in secret by a group of mostly young men, many of whom had served together in the Continental Army. Having seen the chaos and mob violence that followed the Revolution, these “Federalists” feared the consequences of a weak central authority. They produced a charter that shifted power—at the time in the hands of the states—to a new national government.

“Anti-Federalists” opposed this new Constitution. The foes worried, among other things, that the new government would establish a “standing army” of professional soldiers and would disarm the 13 state militias, made up of part-time citizen-soldiers and revered as bulwarks against tyranny. These militias were the product of a world of civic duty and governmental compulsion utterly alien to us today. Every white man age 16 to 60 was enrolled. He was actually required to own—and bring—a musket or other military weapon.

On June 8, 1789, James Madison—an ardent Federalist who had won election to Congress only after agreeing to push for changes to the newly ratified Constitution—proposed 17 amendments on topics ranging from the size of congressional districts to legislative pay to the right to religious freedom. One addressed the “well regulated militia” and the right “to keep and bear arms.” We don’t really know what he meant by it. At the time, Americans expected to be able to own guns, a legacy of English common law and rights. But the overwhelming use of the phrase “bear arms” in those days referred to military activities. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2023 at 2:43 pm

Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.

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This extract, published in the Washington Post more than a decade ago (on April 27, 2012) was written by two totally establishment figures:

Thomas E. Mann is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This essay is adapted from their book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism,” which will be available Tuesday.

The American Enterprise Institute is a conservative think tank. Brookings Institution is more toward the center.

Here’s the extract:

Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, was recently captured on video asserting that there are “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party. Of course, it’s not unusual for some renegade lawmaker from either side of the aisle to say something outrageous. What made West’s comment — right out of the McCarthyite playbook of the 1950s — so striking was the almost complete lack of condemnation from Republican congressional leaders or other major party figures, including the remaining presidential candidates.

It’s not that the GOP leadership agrees with West; it is that such extreme remarks and views are now taken for granted.

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right. Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate — think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel — are virtually extinct.

The post-McGovern Democratic Party, by contrast, while losing the bulk of its conservative Dixiecrat contingent in the decades after the civil rights revolution, has retained a more diverse base. Since the Clinton presidency, it has hewed to the center-left on issues from welfare reform to fiscal policy. While the Democrats may have moved from their 40-yard line to their 25, the Republicans have gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post.

What happened? Of course, there were . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

And over the past decade, things have gotten even worse, with a direct assault on the US Capital with the goal of overthrowing the government and murdering politicians (Speaker Pelosi and Vice President Pence in particular) and an overt and expressed desire by some Republicans to destroy the US government, possibly by forcing default on the US public debt. In the meantime, the Republican party has focused on taking away or limiting the rights of Americans (voting, abortion, education, healthcare, and so on).

America, I fear, is sailing into a disaster with many if not most citizens (and politicians and journalists) still in denial. George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The pattern of the takeover of a country by a fascist authoritarian rule is well known, and it seems to be underway in the US.

Here’s a minor instance of the processes now underway: New Mexico Democrats’ homes, offices shot at over past month

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2023 at 5:27 pm

The safest place in the world to live is across the ocean: This country ranks most peaceful

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Clare Mulroy has an interesting report in USA Today that offers another data point on US failure to protect its citizens. The report begins:

  • Iceland is the world’s most peaceful country, making it a top option for the safest place to live.
  • The Woodlands, just outside of Houston, Texas, is ranked the best city to live in America.
  • New England states dominate the charts of the safest states to live in the United States.

Choosing a place to live is a carefully crafted, and often difficult decision. Prospective residents take school districts, affordability and weather into consideration for a new city or state. One of the most important factors, particularly for those living alone or with young children, is how safe a certain place is.

As news of mass shootings, climate disasters and outbreaks of war dominate headlines, safety is a priority and a privilege that many take for granted.

So what country ranks as the safest to live in? Where is the safest place in the United States to live? Discover more below. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2023 at 8:11 pm

Warnings of 1/6 attack were ignored for obvious but still unnamed reasons

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Dan Froomkin writes in Press Watch:

The newest GAO report requested by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection adds to a mountain of evidence that federal law enforcement agencies didn’t miss signs of a violent attack on the Capitol, they ignored them.

Why they ignored them remains one of the biggest unanswered questions related to the day’s events.

Actually, it’s worse than an unanswered question, it’s also a largely unasked question. Media coverage of this particular issue has been shockingly weak, and has produced no credible explanation.

It’s a strange blind spot for the reporters who have so assiduously examined seemingly every other factor in the insurrection. My conclusion, after 16 months of trying to get them to pay attention to it, is that they are too squeamish to confront this issue head-on.

They are much more comfortable attributing law enforcement’s disastrous failure to prepare for an assault on the Capitol to “intelligence failures” and “unique breakdowns” in communication than they are confronting the obvious reality: that racism and Trumpism made key officials shrug off the threat presented by white men, while sympathy to their goals and the fear of incurring Trump’s wrath was a further disincentive to taking action. This was in stunning contrast to their overreaction to peaceful Black Lives Matter protests.

Any other explanation defies the reality that Rep. Cori Bush described that very night on MSNBC: “Had it been people who look like me, had it been the same amount of people, but had they been Black and brown, we wouldn’t have made it up those steps… we would have been shot, we would have been tear gassed.”

The truth is worth exposing, acknowledging, and holding people accountable for.

Obviously, it’s a hard story to get at. The responsible parties have every reason to make other excuses. And so far, investigators have not made public the emails or contemporaneous notes and other accounts that would help the public understand who exactly dismissed the abundance of threat reports about violence that day, and how they explained their inaction. [As one reader points out, we also don’t know if any law enforcement leaders were operating under orders from the White House or elsewhere.]

This is not a trivial matter. The successful storming of the Capitol was not . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 December 2022 at 4:29 pm

US police do not want the FBI to know how many the police shoot and kill

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A chart show total shootings each year from 2015 through 2021, and also number reported to the FBI, and that number — always short of total — drops more every year. In 2015, police reported only 452 of 995 shootings to the FBI. By 2021, police reported only 168 of 1047 shootings.

I blogged earlier about the number of times police shoot someone to death in the US vs. in several other countries (the US is No. 1 by an enormous margin — on a per-capita basis, US police kill more than 5 times as many as the next closest country does). 

Apparently, US police are not so keen on having people know about their shooting skill. Their reports to the FBI undercount their kills, and the number not reported has steadily increased.

Andrew Ba Tran, Marisa Iati, and Claire Healy a lengthy and interesting report (gift link, no paywall) in the Washington Post, with many charts and a way to learn your local statistics. The article begins:

Fewer fatal police shootings are recorded by the federal government every year, despite renewed scrutiny of police use of force and millions of dollars spent to encourage local law enforcement to report the data.

Even though federal records indicate that fatal shootings by police have been declining nationwide since 2015, The Washington Post’s Fatal Force database shows the opposite is true: Officers have shot and killed more people every year, reaching a record high in 2021 with 1,047 deaths. The FBI database contains only about one third of the 7,000 fatal police shootings during this time — down from half when The Post first started tracking.

Fatal shootings by officers in at least 2,250 police and sheriffs’ departments are missing from the past seven years of federal records, according to an analysis of the database maintained by The Post, which began tracking the killings in 2015. The excluded data has created a misleading government picture of police use of force, complicating efforts at accountability.

The incomplete data also obscures a racial discrepancy among those killed by police that is larger than the federal data suggests. Black people are fatally shot by police far more often than is evident in the FBI data, The Post has found — at more than double the rate for White people.

Among the missing data: shootings by officers in 440 departments whose local governments received nearly $90 million in federal grants to track and report crime data; and shootings from another 700 departments required by local laws to report the killings to state authorities, but no higher.

In at least 34 states, laws require police to report crime data to the state. But most of the laws are vague about whether police shootings must be included, offering minimal accountability at the state or local level, The Post found. In California, for example, only half of departments’ fatal police shootings appear in the FBI data.

Boston was among the larger departments with missing data: The Post documented 11 fatal shootings by its officers since 2015, but none of those are recorded in the FBI’s records. The Chicago Police Department reported six officer-involved shootings, but The Post logged 45. Police in Boise, Idaho, fatally shot 12 people, whose deaths were not recorded in the FBI database.

“This shows that the data from the FBI, the FBI database, has largely failed,” said Rashawn Ray, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a University of Maryland professor who has testified at state and federal levels about police reform. That some departments have received federal dollars while their shootings are unreported, he said, “speaks to how flawed the system currently is, not just the organizational structure of policing, but also the way that government funding operates. . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall) There’s much more.

I can’t shake the feeling that the US is on a downward spiral.

Written by Leisureguy

6 December 2022 at 1:56 pm

Using guns to kill debate — and democracy

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The use of openly displayed firearms to intimidate and silence is particularly a problem in the US, which has more guns in civilian hands than it has civilians. Mike McIntire reports in the NY Times (no paywall):

Across the country, openly carrying a gun in public is no longer just an exercise in self-defense — increasingly it is a soapbox for elevating one’s voice and, just as often, quieting someone else’s.

This month, armed protesters appeared outside an elections center in Phoenix, hurling baseless accusations that the election for governor had been stolen from the Republican, Kari Lake. In October, Proud Boys with guns joined a rally in Nashville where conservative lawmakers spoke against transgender medical treatments for minors.

In June, armed demonstrations around the United States amounted to nearly one a day. A group led by a former Republican state legislator protested a gay pride event in a public park in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Men with guns interrupted a Juneteenth festival in Franklin, Tenn., handing out fliers claiming that white people were being replaced. Among the others were rallies in support of gun rights in Delaware and abortion rights in Georgia.

Whether at the local library, in a park or on Main Street, most of these incidents happen where Republicans have fought to expand the ability to bear arms in public, a movement bolstered by a recent Supreme Court ruling on the right to carry firearms outside the home. The loosening of limits has occurred as violent political rhetoric rises and the police in some places fear bloodshed among an armed populace on a hair trigger.

But the effects of more guns in public spaces have not been evenly felt. A partisan divide — with Democrats largely eschewing firearms and Republicans embracing them — has warped civic discourse. Deploying the Second Amendment in service of the First has become a way to buttress a policy argument, a sort of silent, if intimidating, bullhorn.

“It’s disappointing we’ve gotten to that state in our country,” said Kevin Thompson, executive director of the Museum of Science & History in Memphis, Tenn., where armed protesters led to the cancellation of an L.G.B.T.Q. event in September. “What I saw was a group of folks who did not want to engage in any sort of dialogue and just wanted to impose their belief.”

A New York Times analysis of more than 700 armed demonstrations found that, at about 77 percent of them, people openly carrying guns represented right-wing views, such as opposition to L.G.B.T.Q. rights and abortion access, hostility to racial justice rallies and support for former President Donald J. Trump’s lie of winning the 2020 election.

The records, from January 2020 to last week, were compiled by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a nonprofit that tracks political violence around the world. The Times also interviewed witnesses to other, smaller-scale incidents not captured by the data, including encounters with armed people at indoor public meetings.

Anti-government militias and right-wing culture warriors like the Proud Boys attended a majority of the protests, the data showed. Violence broke out at more than 100 events and often involved fisticuffs with opposing groups, including left-wing activists such as antifa.

Republican politicians are generally more tolerant of openly armed supporters than are Democrats, who are more likely to be on the opposing side of people with guns, the records suggest. In July, for example, men wearing sidearms confronted Beto O’Rourke, then the Democratic candidate for Texas governor, at a campaign stop in Whitesboro and warned that he was “not welcome in this town.”

Republican officials or candidates appeared at 32 protests where they were on the same side as those with guns.  . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2022 at 4:01 pm

US the only nation in which civilian guns outnumber civilians

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Chart showing number of firearms per 100 residents by country. US, at 120.5, is highest, followed by Yemen (52.8), Montenegro (39.1), Serbia (39.1), and Canada (34.7), Lowest is Luxembourg (18.9).
Via Conrad Hackett.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2022 at 4:36 am

Posted in Daily life, Guns

AOC Calls Out Lauren Boebert For Her ‘Thoughts And Prayers’ Tweet After Colorado LGBTQ+ Club Shooting

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Alan Herrera reports in Comic Sands:

New York Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called out Colorado Republican Representative Lauren Boebert for “elevating anti-LGBTQ hate rhetoric” after Boebert published a tweet in which she offered “prayers” to the victims of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs.

Boebert had earlier called the shooting—which resulted in five deaths and at least 25 injuries—”absolutely awful” and offered “prayers” to the victims and their families, adding:

“This lawless violence needs to end quickly.”

Ocasio-Cortez responded shortly afterward and noted that Boebert’s tweet rings rather hollow considering she has “played a major role in elevating anti-LGBTQ+ hate rhetoric and anti-trans lies.”

Ocasio-Cortez added that Boebert has used her time in Congress to block “even the most common sense gun safety laws,” concluding:

“You don’t get to ‘thoughts and prayers’ your way out of this. Look inward and change.”

Indeed, Boebert is one of the most high-profile anti-LGBTQ+ members of Congress, sharing bigoted opinions about members of the Biden administration and even complaining about the existence of drag bars.

Boebert has previously made headlines for . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 November 2022 at 5:18 pm

Source of the problem

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Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2022 at 4:48 pm

Why Do Americans Own More Guns Per Capita Than Anyone Else?

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In Nautilus Brian Gallagher does a one-question interview (no paywall) with Jennifer Carlson, a 2022 MacArthur Grant-winning sociologist at the University of Arizona and author of the forthcoming book Merchants of the Right: Gun Sellers and the Crisis of American Democracy

Why do Americans own more guns per capita than anyone else?

The legal structure makes it possible. The social structure makes it urgent. If you talk to people who own and carry guns, their number one reason for doing so is for self protection. This is really clear if you walk into a gun store and start talking to people. It’s very clear from the survey data. That’s actually historically new. Even as recently as the 1990s, people were saying hunting was the number one reason they owned guns. That’s not to say protection wasn’t an element before, but that it’s so central to defining what it means to own and carry a gun now is really important.

I write about this in my book Citizen Protectors. The politics of guns became reconfigured under what’s been called the “war on crime,” this central focus on crime as a dominant problem in American society—immigration, poverty, and so on, become a problem of crime. On guns, if you look back to the 1960s, there’s this survey data that I always refer to, and it’s the question of, “Should handguns be banned in the United States?” It’s a litmus test of the place that guns occupy in the American imaginary. Handguns are both the self-defense gun of choice, but also the dominant crime gun. The 1960s were the last time that more people responding to the survey questions said that they supported a ban over opposing a ban.

Now 75 percent of Americans oppose this ban, which gets us to what happened in 2020, which is that part of what has happened under the war on crime is that a lot of resources in the US got invested into the criminal justice system, policing prisons, and what have you. And at the same time social supports, welfare, all sorts of entitlements, got rolled back. You have this moment where you have this social safety net receding. So when we think about, “What is the appeal of guns?” Well, guns are that last remaining safety net for a lot of people. Even gun sellers that I interviewed were like, “Yeah, we know you can’t shoot a virus.” They joked about that. And said, “This is the only guarantee that people have.”

When 2020 happened, it became . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2022 at 11:51 am

Coming Home: Matthew McConaughey and the Uvalde shooting

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Matthew McConaughey was raised in Uvalde, and the school shooting — the massacre — there hit him hard. He wrote a strong article that appeared in Esquire and begins:

Writing this story was hard. It’s personal—for me, but more so for the victims and their families, who have paid the ultimate cost. Which is why I’ve hesitated to write it. Observing from the front lines, then sharing what I saw—it makes me feel a bit like a fraud. Am I trespassing? Sharing sacred secrets that are not my stories to tell? I hope not.

It was 9:00 on a humid night in May, a Tuesday, and I had just finished a full day’s work at a studio in Austin. I checked my phone for the first time since early that morning and found it flooded with emails, texts, and voicemails.

“So sorry.”

“Oh my God, Matthew, it’s so sickening what happened.”

“Baby, I read the news, call me.”

The last message was from my wife, Camila.

I checked my newsfeed. Shit. Not again. Mass shooting. This time in Uvalde, Texas, my hometown. At Robb Elementary, less than a mile from where I went to school and my mom taught kindergarten. Twenty-one confirmed deaths, all but two of them children.

I called Camila. She was in London, where it was three in the morning, but she picked up on the first ring. “We need to go down there,” she said. She wasn’t asking or suggesting. “Yes,” I said, still in shock. “We do.”

With a tragedy this immense, you may not know what to do or how to do it, but the where, the when, and the why are clear. This would be a journey with a one-way ticket. We had no sense of how long we’d go for, nor a plan beyond showing up. But we knew that if we did, purpose would intercept us.

Camila caught the next flight to Texas. Early on Thursday morning, we dropped the kids off with friends, then made our way south.

I was heading home. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 October 2022 at 9:52 am

Politics in the US today: Violence and threats of violence, hatred laced with obscenities

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Given what America is becoming, it is no wonder that many Americans are working on a plan B (gift link, no paywall) — to what country they can go if things get worse. And things are bad. Ashley Fetters Maloy reports in the Washington Post (gift link, no paywall) about how one person has threatened a US Representative in Seattle:

10:38 p.m.

Everyone could hear the men on the street. The car, a black Dodge Challenger with gold rims, sped down the block, just past the congresswoman’s house. Two voices shot through the dark. “HEY, PRAMILA,” the first man shouted. “F— YOUUUUU.” Then came the second: “F— you, c—!”

The neighbors knew the car. It was the same Dodge Challenger they had seen several times that summer. But Pramila Jayapal didn’t know this yet.

She was on the couch, watching the psychological thriller “Mindhunter” with her husband, Steve Williamson. It was July 9 in Arbor Heights, a West Seattle neighborhood laid out in neat sweeps of grass and pavement. They paused the show. Williamson got up and went outside. The items on the porch sat undisturbed: sneakers, turquoise Crocs, a dog leash, two hanging plants swaying in the night air. Then they heard the men again. Security footage picked up what the men said and the sound of heavy-metal music coming from the car. One shouted something about “India,” the country where Jayapal was born. The voices were hard and clear. “F—ing c—,” one of them said.

“Tell Pramila to kill herself — then we’ll stop, motherf—er.” Then came a honk. Then another long “F— YOUUUUU.” On the porch, Williamson waved an index finger and went back inside. The men drove off.

Inside, Jayapal picked up her phone and dialed 911. But when she saw the car leave, she hung up before it could connect. Maybe she should contact the Capitol Police, the D.C. agency that protects members of Congress. She wasn’t sure. Maybe she had been doxed. There had been instances of obscene yelling at the house that summer, this she knew. She had reported those to Capitol Police. But she didn’t know then what dozens of pages of police reports and court filings would later reveal — that one of her visitors that night had been there before, in the same Dodge Challenger. She didn’t know that he had driven by her house between three and seven times since late June, or that the other male voice that night belonged to his adult son, as he would later tell investigators. She didn’t know that from the house across the street, her neighbor had seen the Dodge earlier that same evening, or that down the block, another neighbor had seen it, too, just a week before. She didn’t know that the man in the Dodge had emailed her congressional office back in January, to express his distaste for her political party, and for her, the 56-year-old three-term Democrat from Seattle, the chair of the House Progressive Caucus and a high-profile antagonist to Donald Trump.

“I am a freedom loving nonregistered libertarian who votes in every election no matter how big or small,” the man wrote in his email.

“You, Pramila, are an anti-American s—pit creating Marxist.”

“We are incompatible.”

Jayapal didn’t know that his distaste would mutate into action. When she heard the yelling stop, when the men drove off into the night, she had no idea that one of them would be back a half-hour later to yell some more, and that he’d have a loaded .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol on his hip, later seized by police.

On paper, at least, the whole thing was over in 47 minutes. But the anatomy of political violence is more tangled than the events of a single case. Threats against members of Congress have risen year after year, according to data from the Capitol Police: 9,625 in 2021, up from 3,939 in 2017. Officers logged nearly 2,000 cases in the first three months of this year alone. Among the statistics, there are thousands of stories like Jayapal’s, each one unraveling with its own special complexity in the lives and homes of elected officials. . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall) It’s a lengthy article and it shows what the US has become and the overt threat from the Right.

At the link, you can hear an audio of some of the messages Jayapal receives.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2022 at 12:49 pm

What slavery and racism have to do with American gun ownership

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Maya Srikrishnan writes in the Center for Public Integrity Watchdog:

Gun politics in the U.S. are inextricably linked to race.

Two recent studies have found more evidence that for many white Americans who advocate for gun rights, it isn’t simply about owning and using a tool, but even more about identity and power.

One of the research papers found that the larger the percentage of enslaved people a U.S. county had in 1860, the higher the rate of gun ownership its residents have today.

The second found that white Americans who express high levels of anti-Black sentiments associate gun rights with white people and gun control with Black people, and they are less likely to support gun rights if they believe Black people are exercising those rights more than they are.

“I started thinking about what about race and racism might be particularly important when thinking about gun rights,” said Gerald Higginbotham, a University of Virginia researcher who was the lead author of the second study. “Because in mainstream conversation it isn’t necessarily framed in the terms of race, even though it is much talked about at least in Black communities that I’m a part of.”

Nick Buttrick at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, lead author of the study that found a significant relationship between enslavement rates and modern-day gun ownership, said he had long wondered why the U.S. has a different relationship with guns than most other places in the world.

“In the U.S., the dominant way of thinking of what a gun does is it protects you,” Buttrick said.

Surveys have shown that two-thirds of gun-owning Americans say it’s a way to stay safe, while people in other countries are more likely to believe the presence of a gun adds risk and danger to their lives.

“Why is it that Americans think guns will keep them safe?” Buttrick said. “What is the history of this?”

Two things stood out to Buttrick and his colleagues. Chattel slavery was different here than in other countries. So was the exit from slavery, called Reconstruction in the U.S.

Reconstruction was a time of instability and extreme violence in the South, when whites saw the destruction of the antebellum norms they knew. The chaos and distrust of the government bred an environment where they turned to guns to maintain order, Buttrick said.

He and his co-author found rates of enslavement prior to the Civil War from Census data. They then used a common proxy to determine current gun ownership levels in counties — a figure that isn’t tracked by the U.S. government — by looking at suicides by firearms.

That’s how they found the link between  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

9 September 2022 at 12:23 pm

Oath Keepers members list includes hundreds of law enforcement officers, politicians, military members

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The US has an extremely serious political infection that has metastasized into politics, school boards, local government, law enforcement, and the military. This is a strongly resistant infection with many defenses, such as bad faith arguments and actions, dismissal of facts and research, and demonization of different points of view, with a predilection toward calls for violence (threats against librarians, teachers, school board members, and government officials from local, county, and state offices to Congress and the Executive Branch. January 6 saw an eruption into actual violence, with explicit threats to kill the Vice President and the Speaker of the House.

Alanna Durkin Richer and Michael Kunzelman report at CBS News:

The names of hundreds of U.S. law enforcement officers, elected officials and military members appear on the leaked membership rolls of a far-right extremist group that’s accused of playing a key role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, according to a report released Wednesday.

The Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism pored over more than 38,000 names on leaked Oath Keepers membership lists and identified more than 370 people it believes currently work in law enforcement agencies – including as police chiefs and sheriffs – and more than 100 people who are currently members of the military.

It also identified more than 80 people who were running for or served in public office as of early August. The membership information was compiled into a database published by the transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets.

The data raises fresh concerns about the presence of extremists in law enforcement and the military who are tasked with enforcing laws and protecting the U.S. It’s especially problematic for public servants to be associated with extremists at a time when lies about the 2020 election are fueling threats of violence against lawmakers and institutions.

“Even for those who claimed to have left the organization when it began to employ more aggressive tactics in 2014, it is important to remember that the Oath Keepers have espoused extremism since their founding, and this fact was not enough to deter these individuals from signing up,” the report says.

Appearing in the Oath Keepers’ database doesn’t prove that a person was ever an active member of the group or shares its ideology. Some people on the list contacted by The Associated Press said they were briefly members years ago and are no longer affiliated with the group. Some said they were never dues-paying members.

“Their views are far too extreme for me,” said Shawn Mobley, sheriff of Otero County, Colorado. Mobley told the AP in an email that he distanced himself from the Oath Keepers years ago over concerns about its involvement in the standoff against the federal government at the Bundy Ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada, among other things.

The Oath Keepers, founded in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, is a loosely organized conspiracy theory-fueled group that recruits current and former military, police and first responders. It asks its members to vow to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” promotes the belief that the federal government is out to strip citizens of their civil liberties and paints its followers as defenders against tyranny.

More than two dozen people associated with the Oath Keepers – including Rhodes – have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack. Rhodes and four other Oath Keeper members or associates are heading to trial this month on seditious conspiracy charges for what prosecutors have described as a weekslong plot to keep then-President Donald Trump in power. Rhodes and the other Oath Keepers say they are innocent and that there was no plan to attack the Capitol.

The Oath Keepers has grown quickly along with the wider anti-government movement and used the tools of the internet to spread their message during Barack Obama’s presidency, said Rachel Carroll Rivas, interim deputy director of research with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. But since Jan. 6 and Rhodes’ arrest, the group has struggled to keep members, she said.

That’s partly because Oath Keepers had been . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

7 September 2022 at 10:12 am

Historical prevalence of slavery predicts contemporary American gun ownership

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Nicholas Buttrick and Jessica Mazen authored an interesting study published in PNAS Nexus, Volume 1, Issue 3, July 2022. The abstract:

American gun-owners, uniquely, view firearms as a means of keeping themselves safe from dangers both physical and psychological. We root this belief in the experience of White Southerners during Reconstruction—a moment when a massive upsurge in the availability of firearms co-occurred with a worldview threat from the emancipation and the political empowerment of Black Southerners. We show that the belief-complex formed in this historical moment shapes contemporary gun culture: The prevalence of slavery in a Southern county (measured in 1860) predicts the frequency of firearms in the present day. This relationship holds above and beyond a number of potential covariates, including contemporary crime rates, police spending, degree of racial segregation and inequality, socioeconomic conditions, and voting patterns in the 2016 Presidential election; and is partially mediated by the frequency of people in the county reporting that they generally do not feel safe. This Southern origin of gun culture may help to explain why we find that worries about safety do not predict county-level gun ownership outside of historically slave-owning counties, and why we find that social connection to historically slaveholding counties predicts county-level gun ownership, even outside of the South.

It’s interesting how cultural learning can persist for generations. Their significance statement:

We suggest that the distinctly American belief that guns keep a person safe was partially formed in the backlash to Reconstruction after the American Civil War—a moment when a massive increase in the availability of firearms coincided with a destabilization of White politics in response to the emancipation and empowerment of Black Americans. We show that the historical prevalence of enslavement in a county predicts present-day frequency of firearms, and we show that the relationship between feeling unsafe and county-level firearms ownership is stronger in counties with a history of enslavement. Looking outside the South, we further show that social connection to historically slaveholding counties predicts firearm ownership.

The paper itself begins:


Over 45% of all the civilian-owned weapons in the world are owned by the 5% of the world population that is American (1). Firearm-owners in America are distinct in how they think about their weapons: Over two-thirds report that they own a gun, at least in part, to keep themselves safe (2). Despite these beliefs, studies show that gun ownership doubles the likelihood that someone in the household will die in a violent homicide and triples the likelihood of a death by violent suicide (3), while offering little-to-no protection against assailants (4). These risks are understood by citizens of comparable nations, where people are more likely to think of firearms as dangerous than as safe (56).

Why do so many Americans look to their firearms for safety? According to the Coping Model of Protective Gun Ownership, gun-owners use guns symbolically as an aid to manage psychological threats stemming from their belief that the world is a dangerous place from which society will not protect them (78). American gun-owners are more likely than non-gun-owners to believe that the world is dangerous (9) and that institutions of order, such as government or police, are unable or unwilling to keep them safe (10). These beliefs trigger worries in gun owners concerning their fundamental needs, including their safety (11), their control and self-efficacy (12), and their place in society (13). Guns, in turn, become more salient to owners when core identities are threatened (14). Gun owners use their weapons to defend against all these meaning-threats (15), with owners more likely to believe that a gun keeps them safe (2), keeps them in control (16), and keeps them belonging to important social groups (17).

Where does this culturally unique belief that guns can be an effective coping mechanism come from? The belief that guns keep one safe was not widespread in the American antebellum era, where guns were more often viewed as tools (18). We argue that this changed during the Civil War. The end of the war and the demobilization of over half a million men, with their guns, left America as one of the most heavily armed societies in the world (19). With the destruction of the Southern economy after the war, these guns took on an important role. A contemporaneous estimate, for example, suggested that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

23 August 2022 at 2:19 pm

How the NRA has blocked gun control in the U.S.

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Written by Leisureguy

2 August 2022 at 10:58 am

American gun violence has immense costs beyond the death toll, new studies find

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For decades Republican blocked any government-funded study of the social effects of firearms in the US, presumably because they strongly suspected what such studies would reveal and, in their typical bad-faith attitude, they were determined to prevent the public from knowing what was happening.[

The ukase against studies was recently lifted, and we are now getting an idea of the true toll exacted by widely available firearms. Eric Westervelt reports for NPR:

On one level, it’s almost impossible to put a dollar figure on lives shattered by gun violence or to try to measure the pain of having a loved one killed or seriously injured.

But researchers of two new studies using federal health care and hospital data underscore that the repercussions from firearm deaths and injuries are deeper, wider and far costlier than previously known.

In a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Dr. Zirui Song and colleagues found a four-fold increase in health care spending as a direct result of a non-fatal firearm injury.

Dr. Song, an Associate Professor of Health Care Policy and Medicine at Harvard Medical School, also charts a substantial increase in other health disorders that undermine a person’s health and well-being.

“In the first year after a non-fatal firearm injury, survivors experienced a 40% increase in physical pain or other forms of pain syndromes; a 50% increase in psychiatric disorders; and an 85% increase in substance use disorders,” Dr. Song says, while on break from his rounds at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he practices internal medicine. He adds more research is needed as to exactly why those addiction numbers and other disorders go up so dramatically.

“These results are disturbing and we, as a research team, found them quite striking, as well,” he says. “The ripple effects are quite profound and meaningful for both survivors and family members and, I would argue, clinically and economically substantial.”

And those effects aren’t just on those injured by bullets. The study shows family members of survivors, too, can carry massive physical and mental burdens.

“Family members on average, including parents, siblings and children, experienced a 12% increase in psychiatric disorders,” he says.

The study is based largely on healthcare claims data, not hospital survey or discharge data. Dr. Song says that allows for a more detailed look at spending than previous studies based on other types of data.

“There is really an undercurrent of forgotten survivors whose own health and economic conditions are affected quite profoundly, even though they were lucky enough to survive,” he tells NPR.

And the financial burden for this fallout is mostly landing on the shoulders of taxpayers and employees: Dr. Song’s study shows 96% of the increase in health care spending on firearm injuries is shouldered by Medicare and U.S. employers.

“In direct costs alone, it’s $2.5 billion in healthcare spending in the first year after non-fatal firearm injuries,” he says. “This number is much larger if you include indirect costs of lost wages or productivity.”

A study out this week by Everytown for Gun Safety delves into that larger picture and looks at a wide range of direct and indirect costs from all gun violence in America, fatal as well as gun injuries.

“This epidemic is costing our nation $557 billion annually,” says Sarah Burd-Sharps, research director at the gun control advocacy group. “Looking at . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

21 July 2022 at 10:59 am

The Uvalde shooting video: A 30-year law enforcement officer provides a minute-by-minute breakdown of what happened

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In The Grid, Maggie Severna interviews Frank G. Straub, director of the Center for Targeted Violence Prevention at the National Policing Institute, a nonpartisan research nonprofit, about the video of the Uvalde shooting. The article begins:

A video released this week by the Austin American-Statesman gives an unsettling look into the police response to the May mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The footage — from security cameras inside the school — shows an apparently disorganized group of police idling down the hall from the part of the building the shooter was in for nearly an hour after he opened fire inside the school, while children and teachers were dying in nearby classrooms without medical care. Some of the officers appear to be holding ballistic shields capable of blocking the shooter’s gunfire.

The police actions in the video run counter to standard active shooter training that officers across the country — including the Uvalde police force — receive today, said Frank G. Straub, director of the Center for Targeted Violence Prevention at the National Policing Institute, a nonpartisan research nonprofit. And it was a departure from law enforcement response to other recent mass shootings.

“The sad reality that we have learned over the years since Columbine is that we can’t wait,” said Straub, who has reviewed many videos of mass shootings as part of his work. “The first officers on scene have to go in, have to respond to hearing gun shots, and they have to neutralize the shooter or shooters as quickly as possible. And they do that recognizing that there is great risk to themselves of serious injury or death.”

Several mass shootings in recent years, including those at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and in San Bernardino, California, saw rapid police intervention, Straub said, and the carnage in those cases could have been significantly worse if police didn’t work to quickly stop the shooting and get medical care to victims, he said.

Straub agreed to watch the new footage from inside Robb Elementary School and share his minute-by-minute analysis with Grid. Prior to becoming a researcher, Straub spent three decades in law enforcement in roles that included police chief in Spokane, Washington, and public safety commissioner in White Plains, New York. He holds a Ph.D. in criminal justice and has led studies of several mass shootings.

“It almost had the feel to me, looking at the video, that people didn’t understand that this was real,” Straub told Grid. “It was almost like something you would see during an active shooter drill or a training exercise, more than what you would see when you knew that active shots had been fired and there were people in those classrooms.”

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Grid: The first part of the video shows the gunman crashing his car outside the school and firing a gun at two men who approach the crash. We hear a teacher call 911, and we see the gunman enter the school and go to a classroom. He fires an AR-15 in two classrooms for two-and-a-half minutes. Three minutes after the gunman walked in, police officers enter the school. From a police officer’s perspective, what is going on and what needs to be done at this point?

Frank G. Staub: The officers theoretically know that they got a 911 call from a teacher saying there’s been shots fired and kids are running. I believe 911 calls went out after he crashed the car, so the police are going into this situation knowing there have been shots fired inside and outside of this school when they’re arriving. That’s an important piece of context to this. They probably have no idea how many shots have been fired in the school, but clearly you can see the arriving officers know there’s shooting going on.

I think they do the right thing: The first group of officers who get there immediately advance down the hallway. From what I can see, one of them had a rifle, the other three look like they had handguns. Nobody has vests other than their duty vests, and duty vests typically don’t stop rifle rounds.

Then we see, at four minutes [after the shooter entered the school], there’s gunfire directed at the officers in the hallway. What I don’t know is, what provoked that? Did the shooter hear noises in the hallway and fire out the door? It looks like one of the officers took some type of shrapnel in the face, and they retreat.

What I don’t know is, when they first went down there, did they just stand outside the classroom, or did they try to enter the classroom? We can’t tell. They should’ve made an effort to enter the classroom where they heard gunfire. Why they didn’t, I don’t know. But in theory, they should’ve tried to enter the room. They know the person is in there, they know he’s shooting, so their job is to stop that individual from firing additional shots.

G: How might this situation have looked to those officers? . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

17 July 2022 at 11:27 am

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