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How Defective Guns Became the Only Product That Can’t Be Recalled

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Michael Smith and Polly Gosendz report in Bloomberg BusinessWeek:

Thomas “Bud” Brown makes his way out the back door and stops a few steps to the right, raising a trembling arm, pointing at something. It’s where he found his boy slumped against the cold back wall of the house around 7:15 a.m. on the last day of 2016, bleeding out.

Brown is telling the story now, about how he was sitting in his chair in the living room when he heard the shot. His son Jarred, 28, had just picked up Bud’s Taurus PT-145 Millennium Pro pistol and headed out to do some shooting near the house in Griffin, Ga., with his best friend, Tyler Haney. Bud figured Jarred had fired at something for the fun of it, like he did sometimes. “I was thinking I’d better go out there and tell him to be careful or something,” Bud, 54, says, his voice trailing off. But what he’d heard was the pistol going off without anyone pulling the trigger, sending a .45-caliber slug through Jarred’s femoral artery. “Oh shit, my leg, my leg,” Jarred yelled, loud enough for his father to hear. Haney, 26, rushed into the house in a panic, pleading for help. When Bud got out there, the pistol was still in the holster, tucked into Jarred’s waistband.

The rest is a blur for Bud. His wife, Sonie, recalls running out of the house in her nightgown. She’d grown close to Jarred since he moved into their home a year or so earlier, taking him to the stables to feed her two horses, cooking for him, and just talking with him. And now Jarred was on the ground, his father kneeling over him, applying pressure to the wound. Sonie wrapped Jarred’s belt around his leg as a tourniquet. It was hard to tell how bad the bleeding was because Jarred was wearing thick waterproof hunting pants. Sonie worked on Jarred, alternating between chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth, using the training she’d gotten during a career as a Georgia state parole and probation officer. Haney paced back and forth until Sonie ordered him to call 911. “Jarred was trying to say something, but then the words wouldn’t come out, and he stared,” Sonie says. By the time paramedics got there, she knew her stepson was gone. “I wasn’t going to say anything, because Bud was so torn up, but I knew,” she recalls today. “I can still taste the cigarettes on his breath.”

In the days after his son’s death, Brown couldn’t get his head around how that Taurus pistol went off. He’d spent his career in law enforcement, first as a Spalding County Sheriff’s Department deputy, then as a cop in Jackson, a little town nearby, and finally with a Drug Enforcement Administration task force in Macon. (He retired 10 years ago before having surgery to remove a softball-size cancerous tumor from his esophagus.) For years, Brown was a police shooting instructor. He started teaching Jarred how to shoot with a .22 rifle when he was 7 and drilled safety into his head on hunting trips and at the shooting range.

Sonie also knows guns, down to the .38 revolver she’s licensed to use and carry in her purse for work as a probation officer. Sonie and Bud have 12 firearms in their small brick home—seven rifles and five handguns—and Bud is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. The Browns refused to accept that Jarred had accidentally shot himself. “Jarred knew his way around guns and safety better than I did,” Bud says. “He never would have done anything that would have made that gun go off.”

Those doubts were gnawing at Haney, too. He watched Jarred come out of the house with the Taurus safely in a holster and swears his best friend didn’t touch the pistol when it fired. “I knew there was something wrong with that gun,” Haney says. “So I Googled it.” He found a curious announcement on Taurus’s website: The company was offering to fix or replace nine of its handguns. The pistol that killed his friend was on the list.

Haney kept Googling. He learned that the repair-or-replace offer was the result of the 2016 settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought by Chris Carter, a deputy in the Scott County, Iowa, sheriff’s department, against Brazilian gunmaker Forjas Taurus SA and two of its Florida-based units. In July 2013, Carter’s suit claimed, he was running down a suspected drug dealer when his Taurus PT-140 Millennium Pro pistol fell out of the holster at his hip, hit the ground, and fired, sending a slug into a nearby car. The suit further asserted that because of defects of design and manufacturing, nine different models of Taurus handguns can fire unintentionally when bumped or dropped or when the safety is on and the trigger is pulled. Taurus agreed to repair or buy back, for as much as $200, any of those models owned by people in the U.S. and its territories—an estimated 955,796 guns, according to the settlement. (The cut-off date for the offer was Feb. 6.) The company denied any negligence, wrongdoing, or defects in its firearms and also denied that its offer to fix its guns was a recall.

Haney sat Jarred’s dad and stepmother down in their living room to show them what he’d found. Sonie took down the name and number of Todd Wheeles, a state trooper turned lawyer in Birmingham, Ala., who’s handled 16 lawsuits against Taurus, including the class action in Iowa.

Two days later, Wheeles and another Birmingham lawyer, David Selby, were sitting at the Browns’ kitchen table. Wheeles showed them how the Taurus gun that killed Jarred would fire, even with the safety on. “In about 10 seconds he showed us three different ways that gun could go off on its own,” Sonie says.

Bud couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He’d never heard of any problem with Taurus guns. He never saw a notice at the pawnshop where he paid $250 for the gun that killed Jarred or at Walmart when he bought his ammunition. Before the kitchen table meeting was over, the Browns had hired Wheeles and Selby to sue Taurus for negligence and manufacturing defects. “I couldn’t believe that no one had warned us that those guns were bad,” Bud says. “Why didn’t Taurus warn us? Why did the government let them sell those guns?”

The simple answer is that no government entity has the power to police defective firearms or ammunition in America—or even force gunmakers to warn consumers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission can order the recall and repair of thousands of things, from toasters to teddy bears. If a defective car needs fixing, the U.S. Department of Transportation can make it happen. The Food and Drug Administration deals with food, drugs, and cosmetics. Only one product is beyond the government’s reach when it comes to defects and safety: firearms. Not even the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can get defective guns off the market. If a gunmaker chooses to ignore a safety concern, there’s no one to stop it.

To understand how firearms makers escaped government oversight of the safety of their pistols, revolvers, and rifles, you need to go back to 1972, when Congress created the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Four years earlier, . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2018 at 2:17 pm

The insanity of Pizzagate, discussed by John Podesta

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Pizzagate in all its glory reveals what the threatening ideological infection the US harbors: a large number of angry people who are unable to connect with reality. That is a dangerous situation, particularly since the movement is directly encouraged by many on the Right, including some elected officials (beyond Trump, I mean). Andy Kroll reports in Rolling Stone:

John Podesta has given it a lot of thought and believes the best way to deal with the trolls is to ignore them. His wife, Mary, however, takes a different approach. When angry people call their home in the middle of the night, she has a conversation with them.

“She sits on the phone and talks to them, which is disconcerting actually to most of the people who are calling just to leave a nasty message on your voicemail,” Podesta says. “When somebody actually engages them and says, ‘Why are you doing this?’ they fold pretty quickly. But she has more patience for that than I do.”

Podesta is easily forgiven for having little time for his tormentors. Since 2016, he has been the victim of a deranged and viral conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate. The theory — which has its roots in the emails stolen from his personal account by Russian hackers and dumped online by WikiLeaks — claimed that Podesta was a pedophile and that he, Hillary Clinton and a Washington, D.C., restaurateur named James Alefantis ran a child sex-trafficking ring from the basement of Alefantis’ pizzeria, Comet Ping Pong.

On its face, Pizzagate was insane, with zero basis in reality. Yet in the frenzied days after Donald Trump’s election, it caught fire on social media platforms including Twitter, YouTube, Reddit and 4Chan, metastasizing into a story so twisted and bizarre that it radicalized online trolls and traumatized others who, through no fault of their own, had gotten sucked into the conspiracy.

Two years ago this month, Pizzagate reached its grim apex when a 28-year-old man stormed into Comet Ping Pong with a revolver and an AR-15 on a mission to save the “children.” Edgar Maddison Welch had binge-watched YouTube videos about Pizzagate and tried to recruit friends for his rescue mission. “Raiding a pedo ring, possibly sacraficing [sic] the lives of a few for the lives of many,” he texted one friend a few days before he got in his Prius and drove from his home in North Carolina to Washington. Customers and employees fled the restaurant as Welch fired several rounds into a locked closet full of computer gear, searching for the infamous child sex dungeon in Comet’s basement, which he never found — not least because the pizzeria doesn’t even have a basement. No one was hurt, and Welch surrendered to the police, hands on his head, in broad daylight in the street outside of Comet. He was later sentenced to four years in federal prison.

Even after the arrest, Pizzagate lived on. The day after Welch stalked into Comet, Michael Flynn, Jr., the son of Trump’s first national security adviser, tweeted: “Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story.” An Economist/YouGov poll in late December 2016 found that 46 percent of Trump voters and 17 percent of Clinton voters thought Pizzagate was real. A few months later, a small rally of Pizzagate believers took place outside the White House. Protesters have stood outside Comet carrying blown-up photos of Alefantis’ god-daughter taken from his social media accounts. Strangers online have threatened to torture, rape and kill him.

“I’ve been through a lot of Washington shit in my life,” Alefantis tells Rolling Stone. He grew up in D.C., and dated David Brock, the notorious conservative journalist turned Clinton loyalist, for 10 years. “This is not my first time at the rodeo,” he says. “I had never seen this volume of specific, directed attacks.”

In the two years since the shooting, our understanding of online conspiracy theories has grown, of how they take root and the people who believe and spread those theories. But what about the victims? What is it like to be on the receiving end? How do you fight back against a plainly false allegation that changes your life?

***

For four decades John Podesta has worked at the highest levels of American politics: campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton’s historic 2016 presidential run, chief of staff to President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, counselor to President Obama and adviser to senators and congressmen. But nothing could prepare him for Pizzagate.

Speaking about the conspiracy theory and its impact on his life for the first time, Podesta tells Rolling Stone that he learned about it the old-fashioned way: from the news. As Clinton campaign chair, he had spent the final month of the 2016 race locked in hand-to-hand combat with reporters about the contents of his personal emails, which WikiLeaks was releasing in periodic batches to damage Clinton’s chances. He didn’t have time to reflect on the hack, let alone notice the conspiracy theories bubbling up about him on websites like Reddit and 4Chan.

Searching for evidence of illegality or anything sinister in Podesta’s hacked emails, wannabe online sleuths decided that mentions of “pizza” were code for child pornography. An anonymous 4chan user posted a list of other supposed code words to search for in Podesta’s emails — “pasta” meant little boy, “ice cream” meant male prostitute, “sauce” meant orgy. Soon, the hashtag #Pizzagate appeared and spread like wildfire on social media.

Podesta claims he wasn’t overly concerned about his emails getting released: their contents, he now says, were “relatively much ado about nothing.” It wasn’t until after the election that he realized those emails had become fuel for a horrific conspiracy theory. In his career, he says he had never been on the receiving end of something like Pizzagate. “It’s painful and crazy,” he says. “I’m pretty grizzled. One big difference is you’ve got somebody sitting in the Oval Office stoking the conspiracy. That’s pretty different than what I’ve experienced in my years in politics.”

Podesta was only one strain of the conspiracy. Another thread formed around Alefantis and Comet Ping Pong. It appears to have begun with a 2008 email included in the WikiLeaks dump in which Alefantis asked Podesta if he would give a speech at an Obama fundraiser at Comet. From there, the trolls began mining every detail they could find about Alefantis and Comet, quickly concocting a parallel theory that said Alefantis, Podesta and Clinton ran a child sex-trafficking ring. Self-styled investigators claimed that symbols on Comet’s iconic sign (which had previously been used by a D.C. liquor store that had since closed) were linked to satanic rituals. They said a photo of an empty walk-in refrigerator was evidence of a secret kill room.

One day in November 2016, roughly a month before Welch’s attack, one of Alefantis’ young employees told him that a wild theory called Pizzagate was blowing up on Reddit. “What’s Reddit?” he asked.

Alefantis is a self-taught chef who never graduated from college and a self-made restaurateur well-known around Washington. (GQ named him one of D.C.’s 50 most powerful people in 2012.) He opened Comet more than a decade ago to be “a place of play and interaction,” as he puts it, where families could eat pizza and play ping pong and engage in real, substantive conversations with one another.

Alefantis told his staff that this Pizzagate thing would blow over after the election. Then Trump won, and the threats got worse. Violent messages poured into Comet’s Instagram and Facebook accounts, some of which Alefantis shared with Rolling Stone:

I will kill you personally

I truly hope someone blows your brains all over comet pizza

Are you scared yet? You should be motherfucker because were [sic] coming for you

You need to be raped killed and tortured like you do to children u sick fuck .. ur days of freedom are numbers u evil douche

The home addresses and phone numbers of Alefantis and his employees were published online. Comet would receive 150 menacing calls in a single day, Alefantis says, so he unplugged the phone. People reviewed Comet on Yelp and said there were chopped-up baby parts in their food.

As the threats became more violent, Alefantis repeatedly contacted the D.C. police and the FBI. He estimates he called the bureau three or four times and described a situation that, he admits, sounded insane. The FBI largely told him to call the police. “They were essentially like, ‘If you get a specific threat, let us know. Thank you, goodbye.’” When he asked what qualified as a specific threat, the FBI said, “A date and time when they’re going to come.” He says the local police visited Comet on multiple occasions but there was zero specific action taken by the police or the FBI as the threats escalated in the weeks after the election. (The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.)

At the same time the Pizzagaters barraged Comet, they attacked Alefantis personally. Strangers filmed his house and questioned his neighbors, he says. Any person or organization connected to him also got sucked in. A non-profit art gallery whose board he chaired received angry calls. Any trace of Alefantis’ life found in public records or social media — an old home address, an event he had attended — was used against him.

He came to see Pizzagate as a real-life video game played by the theory’s true believers. “These are people at home who want to investigate, and basically anything that’s available online is fair game to them,” Alefantis says. Sometimes, when he responded to the people making the threats, they would veer off into unexpected territory. “Some of those messages to me were, ‘How much do you pay your employees? Do you have health care?’” When he told them he did in fact offer health care, some responded, “Will you hire me?”

But the onslaught proved too much for him to handle on his own. Through a friend, he got in touch with Mike Gottlieb, a partner at the firm Boies Schiller Flexner. (David Boies, one of the firm’s founders, is the renowned litigator who has faced criticism for his work on behalf of Harvey Weinstein and the fraudulent blood-testing company Theranos.) Alefantis and Gottlieb met on a Friday in early December 2016, and Gottlieb agreed to take on Alefantis as a client. That Sunday, Welch walked into the restaurant, guns in tow. (Welch did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.)

Alefantis wasn’t at Comet but rushed over when he heard about the gunman. The neighborhood was a crime scene: there were SWAT officers and yellow tape everywhere, and police had evacuated Comet’s employees to a fire station down the street. The workers at Buck’s Fishing and Camping, another restaurant Alefantis owned on the same block as Comet, were locked inside for their safety, as were the other people who worked at nearby businesses. “I really hope that all these people fanning the flames of this conspiracy theory would take a moment to contemplate what has gone on today and maybe to stop,” Alefantis, still in shock, told reporters later that day.

At the urging of his new legal and P.R. team, Alefantis reopened Comet on Dec. 6th, two days after the attack. A long line of customers waited to get in, and he stood at the front door to personally welcome them. He recalls seeing one of his best friends from high school in line with her young kids. Months later, Alefantis and the friend talked about that day. “She said, ‘The look on your face was Don’t come here,’” he recalls. “I asked her, ‘How did you feel?’ She was like, ‘I did not want to go there. It was so terrifying for me.’” But her kids wanted to go and so she took them. “That trauma exists,” he says, “not just for me, but for a whole community of people.”

***

After Comet was back up and running, Alefantis and his lawyers set out to stop the spread of Pizzagate. “For me, at some point, I was like: My name is totally destroyed,” Alefantis says. “I just didn’t want anyone to come shoot us up again.”

The response from the social media companies ranged from helpful to utterly dismissive, Alefantis recalls. Even before he’d hired lawyers, Alefantis had gotten Yelp to suspend Comet’s page after his staff had reported the abusive reviews. Facebook was responsive to Comet’s complaints. YouTube, however, refused to so much as acknowledge its role in amplifying Pizzagate, saying they were just a platform, that they weren’t an arbiter of truth and falsity and told Alefantis to get back in touch if and when he could get a court order finding the videos that promoted Pizzagate to be defamatory.

“YouTube is a platform committed to allowing a wide range of free expression, but it is not and never has been anything goes,” a YouTube spokesperson tells Rolling Stone, adding that in the first half of 2018 the company removed more than 17 million individual videos that violated its policies.

The traditional crisis communications playbook proved useless. Media interviews and op-eds did nothing to quiet the conspiracists and, if anything, emboldened them. Alefantis’ lawyers and P.R. team booked him onto then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly’s show a few weeks after the attack. It didn’t help: Alefantis answered all of Kelly’s questions, but the interview just became more fodder. “We thought it was possible to show and tell the facts — to make sure that people could see with their own eyes that the crazy conspiracies were just false,” says Molly Levinson, a communications strategist who advised Alefantis. “But we quickly learned that in these kinds of situations any attention is bad attention, any public conversation becomes twisted and contorted and most likely has more of a negative than positive effect.”

The only real strategy, Alefantis realized, was a legal strategy. He would have to get aggressive with the loudest proponents of Pizzagate, people like Alex Jones, host of InfoWars, who had run multiple broadcasts with titles like “Pizzagate Is Real” and “Pizzagate: The Bigger Picture.”

Gradually, in the months after the gunman showed up, Jones and others seemed to bow to legal pressure and backed away from Pizzagate. On March 24th, 2017, Jones published online and read on-air a lengthy statement in which he apologized to Alefantis, announced that he had removed past broadcasts about Pizzagate and admitted that those stories were based on “an incorrect narrative.” Neither Alefantis nor his lawyers would further comment on any interactions with Jones or on any possible settlement.

Podesta says he considered litigation as well. But suing the Pizzagaters would be extremely difficult given that he was a major public figure. He pushed back against the trolls on Twitter, but that didn’t make much difference, either. He found that the best course of action was doing nothing. “If I really spent my life trying to figure out what those people were saying, it would drive me nuts,” he says. “The only rational reaction to that is to deal with it when there’s something serious and right in front of you, but for the most part to try to ignore it.”

***

This past September, Alefantis traveled to New York City to attend a therapy session with his ex-boyfriend. Alefantis and his ex had broken up as Pizzagate was raging, but they had decided to see a therapist together. During their session, Alefantis assured his ex that, almost two years later, the nightmare had passed. “Things have moved on,” he recalls saying. “You’re safe. Everyone’s fine. It’s all over.”

After their session, they headed for the subway. A stranger approached Alefantis on the street and began taking pictures in his face and screaming at him.

“I’m going to my kid’s school right now!” the stranger said, apparently fearing for his child’s safety.

“Don’t engage, James,” his ex told him.

“Go call the police,” Alefantis said to the man, “and get the fuck away from me.”

Alefantis walked his ex to the subway station. The stranger followed Alefantis on foot before eventually leaving. “The guy’s basically chasing after me through the streets of New York,” he recalls. “He’s a Pizzagater. He recognized me. It still happens.”

Today, Alefantis says business at Comet is back to pre-Pizzagate levels. The angry phone calls and violent online threats have mostly subsided. You can still find plenty of disturbing tweets if you search for #Pizzagate or #CometPingPong on social media. But the worst of it appears to be over. Alefantis says he thinks the trolls just moved on to other things.

A restaurant in a smaller city, owned by someone with fewer connections, would’ve closed, he says. But the community of customers Alefantis had built up over the years rallied around him. Three brief phone calls and he had a meeting with one of the best attorneys in the country. “If this had been someone else or someone else’s restaurant, without 10 years of hard work and support behind us, without my understanding of how absurd the world can be and how difficult these things are, other people would have been taken down,” he says.

But the trauma remains. . .

Continue reading.

The US is becoming a bad place.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2018 at 8:38 am

The role of PTSD in mass shootings: Let’s separate myth from reality

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Deborah Netburn reports in the LA Times:

Just hours after former Marine Ian David Long killed himself and 12 other people at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks on Wednesday night, observers speculated that post-traumatic stress disorder played a role in the tragedy.
The Ventura County sheriff alluded to it. One of Long’s former roommates in Reseda mentioned it. Even the president of the United States said it.

But psychology experts say it is premature to suggest that Long suffered from PTSD — or that it could have prompted him to open fire in a bar packed with young adults.

“Unless someone comes forward and says this man was experiencing PTSD or being treated for PTSD, there is no reason to think he had PTSD,” said Lisa Jaycox, a behavioral scientist and clinical psychologist at the Rand Corp. in Washington, D.C., who studies how people to react to violence.

Jaycox’s previous work has shown that even among veterans who have seen combat, fewer than 1 in 5 suffer from PTSD. She also said violent behavior is not a common symptom of the disorder.

Jaycox spoke with the Los Angeles Times about myths and facts about PTSD.

Do we know for certain that the Thousand Oaks shooter suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder?

No. We know he did see combat in Afghanistan, but it’s a small portion of people who develop post-traumatic stress disorder after an experience like that.

In my own work, when we looked at people who had recently been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, about 14% of them suffered from PTSD. It’s not the norm.

Whenever a mass shooter has a military background, people are quick to blame it on PTSD. Does that make sense?

No. There are about 20 symptoms associated with the disorder. One of them is anger and irritability, but that is not the predominant picture of post-traumatic stress disorder. Most people who have PTSD are not violent.

What might be more pertinent here is that military personnel who have violent outbursts may be more likely than other people to own a gun privately and to be highly trained with firearms.

What exactly is post-traumatic stress disorder?

I think of it as a very human reaction to a traumatic event, and then an inability to recover.

In the wake of a mass shooting I’m sure everyone who was there will be thinking about it constantly in the days and weeks afterwards — dreaming about it, having difficulty focusing on work or relationships. But if those symptoms persist for more than a month, then that is classified as PTSD.

What are some other symptoms?

They cluster in four areas. Re-experiencing the trauma, so flashbacks, nightmares, recurrent thoughts. Then there is arousal, which includes irritability, difficulty concentrating and difficulty sleeping.

Another set of symptoms have to do with withdrawal and numbing — feeling disconnected from people and emotionally blunted. And finally, avoiding things that might remind you of the trauma — not wanting to talk about it and avoiding certain people and places.

Do most people with PTSD develop it as a result of military service?

No. It’s much more common to be exposed to it through community violence, sexual violence or sexual assault.

We’ve done work in the Los Angeles County school system that shows one-third of kids who have been exposed to community violence suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Most of these kids are flying completely under the radar. It’s the 7th-grade girl sitting quietly at her desk or the 8th-grade boy playing basketball. They are not shooting people.

Are people with PTSD more likely to commit mass shootings?

I would say no, but I don’t think there is great data on that because these events are so rare. But again, there is not a high likelihood of being violent when you have PTSD.

When we think of PTSD, we mostly think about military men. Why? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 November 2018 at 11:24 am

Shootings happen only when guns are present. America’s easy access to guns is enabling all these mass shootings

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German Lopez reports in Vox:

It’s been a horrible few months for mass shootings.

There’s the Thousand Oaks, California, bar shooting on Wednesday. There was the Tallahassee, Florida, yoga studio shooting last week. There was the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting late last month. There was the Florence County, South Carolina, shooting in which police officers were shot in October. There was the downtown Cincinnati shooting in September.

There were also a bunch of mass shootings that didn’t get much attention. The Gun Violence Archive considers events in which four or more people, excluding the shooter, were shot (but not always killed) in the same time period and place as mass shootings. By this count, there have been 311 mass shootings in 2018, resulting in 314 killed and 1,270 wounded. That’s almost a mass shooting a day.

After these horrific events, politicians and pundits will latch onto all sorts of explanations for why these keep happening: It’s mental illness. It’s misogyny. It’s anti-Semitism. It’s some other form of extremism or hate.

In individual shootings, these all of course can play a role. But when you want to explain why America sees so many of these mass shootings in general, none of these factors in individual shootings give a satisfying answer. Only one thing does: America’s easy access to guns.

America does not have a monopoly on mental health issues, bigots, or extremists. What is unique about the US is that it makes it so easy for people with these issues to obtain a gun.

America’s gun problem

It comes down to two basic problems.

First, America has uniquely weak gun laws. Other developed nations at the very least require one or more background checks and almost always something more rigorous beyond that to get a gun, from specific training courses to rules for locking up firearms to more arduous licensing requirements to specific justifications, besides self-defense, for owning a gun.

In the US, even a background check isn’t a total requirement; the current federal law is riddled with loopholes and snared by poor enforcement, so there are many ways around even a basic background check. There are simply very few barriers, if any, to getting a gun in the US.

Second, the US has a ton of guns. It has far more than not just other developed nations, but any other country period. Estimated for 2017, the number of civilian-owned firearms in the US was 120.5 guns per 100 residents, meaning there were more firearms than people. The world’s second-ranked country was Yemen, a quasi-failed state torn by civil war, where there were 52.8 guns per 100 residents, according to an analysis from the Small Arms Survey [see chart above – LG]

Both of these factors come together to make it uniquely easy for someone with any violent intent to find a firearm, allowing them to carry out a horrific shooting.

This is borne out in the statistics. The US has nearly six times the gun homicide rate of Canada, more than seven times that of Sweden, and nearly 16 times that of Germany, according to United Nations data for 2012 compiled by the Guardian. (These gun deaths are a big reason America has a much higher overall homicide rate, which includes non-gun deaths, than other developed nations.)

The research, compiled by the Harvard School of Public Health’s Injury Control Research Center, is also pretty clear: After controlling for variables such as socioeconomic factors and other crime, places with more guns have more gun deaths. Researchers have found this to be true not just with homicides, but also with suicides (which in recent years were around 60 percent of US gun deaths), domestic violence, and violence against police.

As a breakthrough analysis by UC Berkeley’s Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins in the 1990s found, it’s not even that the US has more crime than other developed countries. This chart, based on data from Jeffrey Swanson at Duke University, shows that the US is not an outlier when it comes to overall crime:

Instead, the US appears to have more lethal violence — and that’s driven in large part by the prevalence of guns.

“A series of specific comparisons of the death rates from property crime and assault in New York City and London show how enormous differences in death risk can be explained even while general patterns are similar,” Zimring and Hawkins wrote. “A preference for crimes of personal force and the willingness and ability to use guns in robbery make similar levels of property crime 54 times as deadly in New York City as in London.”

This is in many ways intuitive: People of every country get into arguments and fights with friends, family, and peers. But in the US, it’s much more likely that someone will get angry at an argument and be able to pull out a gun and kill someone.

Researchers have found that stricter gun laws could help. A 2016 review of 130 studies in 10 countries, published in Epidemiologic Reviews, found that new legal restrictions on owning and purchasing guns tended to be followed by a drop in gun violence — a strong indicator that restricting access to guns can save lives. A review of the US evidence by RAND also linked some gun control measures, including background checks, to reduced injuries and deaths.

That doesn’t mean that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 November 2018 at 8:54 am

U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism. Now They Don’t Know How to Stop It.

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Janet Reitman reports in the NY Times:

The first indication to Lt. Dan Stout that law enforcement’s handling of white supremacy was broken came in September 2017, as he was sitting in an emergency-operations center in Gainesville, Fla., preparing for the onslaught of Hurricane Irma and watching what felt like his thousandth YouTube video of the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va. Jesus Christ, he thought, studying the footage in which crowds of angry men, who had gathered to attend or protest the Unite the Right rally, set upon one another with sticks and flagpole spears and flame throwers and God knows what else. A black man held an aerosol can, igniting the spray, and in retaliation, a white man picked up his gun, pointed it toward the black man and fired it at the ground. The Virginia state troopers, inexplicably, stood by and watched. Stout fixated on this image, wondering what kind of organizational failure had led to the debacle. He had one month to ensure that the same thing didn’t happen in Gainesville.

Before that August, Stout, a 24-year veteran of the Gainesville police force, had never heard of Richard Spencer and knew next to nothing about his self-declared alt-right movement, or of their “anti-fascist” archnemesis known as Antifa. Then, on the Monday after deadly violence in Charlottesville, in which a protester was killed when a driver plowed his car into the crowd, Stout learned to his horror that Spencer was planning a speech at the University of Florida. He spent weeks frantically trying to get up to speed, scouring far-right and anti-fascist websites and videos, each click driving him further into despair. Aside from the few white nationalists who had been identified by the media or on Twitter, Stout had no clue who most of these people were, and neither, it seemed, did anyone else in law enforcement.

There were no current intelligence reports he could find on the alt-right, the sometimes-violent fringe movement that embraces white nationalism and a range of racist positions. The state police couldn’t offer much insight. Things were equally bleak at the federal level. Whatever the F.B.I. knew (which wasn’t a lot, Stout suspected), they weren’t sharing. The Department of Homeland Security, which produced regular intelligence and threat assessments for local law enforcement, had only scant material on white supremacists, all of it vague and ultimately not much help. Local politicians, including the governor, were also in the dark. This is like a Bermuda Triangle of intelligence, Stout thought, incredulous. He reached out to their state partners. “So you’re telling us that there’s nothing? No names we can plug into the automatic license-plate readers? No players with a propensity for violence? No one you have in the system? Nothing?’’

One of those coming to Gainesville was William Fears, a 31-year-old from Houston. Fears, who online went by variations of the handle Antagonizer, was one of the most dedicated foot soldiers of the alt-right. Countless YouTube videos had captured his progress over the past year as he made his way from protest to protest across several states, flinging Nazi salutes, setting off smoke bombs and, from time to time, attacking people. Fears was also a felon. He had spent six years in prison for aggravated kidnapping in a case involving his ex-girlfriend, and now he had an active warrant for his arrest, after his new girlfriend accused him of assault less than two weeks earlier. On Oct. 18, the night before the event, Fears and a few others from Houston’s white-nationalist scene got in Fears’s silver Jeep Patriot for the 14-hour drive. Fears’s friend Tyler TenBrink, who pleaded guilty to assault in 2014, posted video from their trip on his Facebook page. There were four men, two of them felons, and two nine-millimeter handguns. “Texans always carry,” Fears said later.

Gainesville would be Spencer’s first major public appearance since the violence of the Unite the Right rally two months before, and the city, a progressive enclave in the heart of deep-red north Florida, was on edge. Anticipating chaos, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency — prompting Spencer to tweet out an image of his head making its way across the Atlantic toward Florida: “Hurricane Spencer.” A few days before the event, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement sent out a small, bound “threat book” of about 20 or so figures, most of them openly affiliated with Spencer or with anti-fascist groups, which Stout knew from his own research meant they weren’t the people to worry about. Anonymous online chatter on sites like 4chan, meanwhile, described armed right-wing militants coming to Gainesville to test Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Stout envisioned 20 white supremacists with long guns. We’re screwed, he thought.

By the morning of Oct. 19, a fortress of security, costing the University of Florida and police forces roughly half a million dollars, had been built around the western edge of the 2,000-acre campus and the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, where Spencer and his entourage arrived that afternoon. More than 1,100 state troopers and local cops stood on alert, with another 500 on standby. There were officers posted on rooftops. Police helicopters buzzed the skies. The Florida National Guard had been activated off-site, and a line of armored vehicles sat in reserve. Hundreds of journalists from around the United States and abroad were in attendance, anticipating another Charlottesville.

Some 2,500 protesters had descended on the small area cordoned off for the event, where they confronted a handful of white supremacists, most of them Spencer groupies like Fears and his friends. “Basically, I’m just fed up with the fact that I’m cisgendered, I’m a white male and I lean right, toward the Republican side, and I get demonized,” Colton Fears, Will’s 28-year-old brother, who was wearing an SS pin, told HuffPost. TenBrink, also 28, told The Washington Post that he had come to support Spencer because after Charlottesville, where he was seen and photographed, he had been threatened by the “radical left.” He seemed agitated by the thousands of protesters. “This is a mess,” he told The Gainesville Sun. “It appears that the only answer left is violence, and nobody wants that.”

But Will Fears told reporters he came to Gainesville to intimidate the protesters. “It’s always been socially acceptable to punch a Nazi, to attack people if they have right-wing political leanings,” he said. “We’re starting to push back.” He went on: “We want to show our teeth a little bit because, you know, we’re not to be taken lightly.”

The Spencer speech turned out to be a bust, thanks to an audience so determined to drown him out that at one point they erupted in a chant of “Orange! Blue! Orange! Blue!” as if at a Gators football game. Afterward, the crowd left the auditorium and flooded back onto Hull Road, the long avenue leading toward the center of campus. Thousands of protesters surrounded the small group of Spencer acolytes. TenBrink, a sinewy young man wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, was particularly overwhelmed and jumped a barricade to escape the angry crowd. The police put him in handcuffs and escorted him into a parking garage. Then, for reasons that remain unclear, they uncuffed TenBrink and walked him out of the garage and toward the parking lot, and let him go. Neither TenBrink nor his friends were in the threat book.

There are several versions of what happened after TenBrink was released. It was about 5:15 p.m. The Texans drove down Archer Avenue, the broad street bordering the south edge of campus, about a mile from the secured area. A group of protesters were sitting at a bus stop. The men in the Jeep started shouting “Heil Hitler!” according to the police report and several witness statements. “Do you know my friend Heil? Heil Hitler? Get it?” The men started throwing Nazi salutes.

One of the protesters had come to Gainesville armed with a retractable baton. When the Texans began to harass them, he grabbed his baton and struck a window of the S.U.V. “My life and the lives of those around me was at risk,” he told the police. Will Fears jumped out. “I’m about to beat this dude up with his own fricking expandable baton,” he later recalled.

Suddenly, witnesses said, a man later identified as TenBrink jumped from the vehicle holding a handgun. “Shoot them!” the Texans were heard yelling. TenBrink pointed the gun at the protester.

White supremacists and other far-right extremists have killed far more people since Sept. 11, 2001, than any other category of domestic extremist. The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism has reported that 71 percent of the extremist-related fatalities in the United States between 2008 and 2017 were committed by members of the far right or white-supremacist movements. Islamic extremists were responsible for just 26 percent. Data compiled by the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database shows that the number of terror-related incidents has more than tripled in the United States since 2013, and the number of those killed has quadrupled. In 2017, there were 65 incidents totaling 95 deaths. In a recent analysis of the data by the news site Quartz, roughly 60 percent of those incidents were driven by racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, antigovernment or other right-wing ideologies. Left-wing ideologies, like radical environmentalism, were responsible for 11 attacks. Muslim extremists committed just seven attacks.

These statistics belie the strident rhetoric around “foreign-born” terrorists that the Trump administration has used to drive its anti-immigration agenda. They also raise questions about the United States’ counterterrorism strategy, which for nearly two decades has been focused almost exclusively on American and foreign-born jihadists, overshadowing right-wing extremism as a legitimate national-security threat. According to a recent report by the nonpartisan Stimson Center, between 2002 and 2017, the United States spent $2.8 trillion — 16 percent of the overall federal budget — on counterterrorism. Terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists killed 100 people in the United States during that time. Between 2008 and 2017, domestic extremists killed 387 in the United States, according to the 2018 Anti-Defamation League report.

“We’re actually seeing all the same phenomena of what was happening with groups like ISIS, same tactics, but no one talks about it because it’s far-right extremism,” says the national-security strategist P. W. Singer, a senior fellow at the New America think tank. During the first year of the Trump administration, Singer and several other analysts met with a group of senior administration officials about building a counterterrorism strategy that encompassed a wider range of threats. “They only wanted to talk about Muslim extremism,” he says. But even before the Trump administration, he says, “we willingly turned the other way on white supremacy because there were real political costs to talking about white supremacy.”> . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 November 2018 at 4:04 pm

An American President Bends to the Demands of Terror

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Vann Newkirk III writes in the Atlantic:

On Saturday morning, during Shabbat services, a gunman walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and opened fire. The investigation is ongoing, and early reports are often imprecise. But it appears that the suspect, a white male named Robert Bowers, killed and wounded multiple people and inflicted life-threatening injuries on police officers before being taken into custody. He reportedly shouted “All Jews must die” before shooting.

Later that morning, President Donald Trump responded. “Something has to be done,” he told reporters as he boarded Air Force One on his way to Indiana. The president denied that America’s gun laws had anything to do with this act of gun violence. He suggested that the victims would have averted disaster by arming themselves. “If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better,” Trump said. With that, he expressed a position common in his responses to violence over the past two years: that the only way to combat terror is to yield to it.

Trump continues to argue that his casual bigotry and xenophobia, his exhortations of extralegal measures against political opponents, and his delegitimization of the media are inconsequential to the violence. Instead, Trumpism demands that violence be solved by local militarization: increased security at schools, the arming of teachers, and now, the adoption of guns in places intended quite literally to be sanctuaries from the scourges of the world. Taken altogether, what Trumpism seems to intend is the creation—or perhaps the expansion—of the machinery of a police state.Violence has dominated the national conversation over the past week. Days before the Pittsburgh shooting, a gunman killed two black shoppers at a Kroger supermarket in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, just after he’d been seen unsuccessfully attempting to enter a nearby black church. On Friday, federal law-enforcement authorities arrested Cesar Sayoc, the suspect allegedly responsible for sending more than a dozen possible explosive packages to CNN and to Democratic Party leaders. A van belonging to him was plastered with pro-Trump propaganda, and a Twitter account apparently belonging to him brimmed with conspiracy theories, explicit threats of violence, anti-Semitism, and racism.

On Friday, in the very same speech in which Trump first addressed Sayoc’s arrest, he also laughed along to a chant from supporters to lock up George Soros, the liberal billionaire activist and philanthropist, who’d been one of Sayoc’s alleged targets. At a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, later that evening, despite a vow that “political violence must never, ever be allowed in America, and I will do everything in my power to stop it,” the president also repeated claims that he was a “nationalist,” derided “globalists,” and attacked the media. The very next day, the president suggested that armed guards should be stationed outside places of worship and that gun laws couldn’t prevent a mass shooting.

In facing what appears to be a rising tide of violence—a tide that Trump himself elevates and encourages—the prescription of arms merely capitulates to the demands of that bloodshed. The purpose of political violence and terrorism is not necessarily to eliminate or even always to create body counts, but to disempower people, to spread the contagion of fear, to splinter communities into self-preserving bunkers, and to invalidate the very idea that a common destiny is even possible. Mandates to arm people accelerate this process. They inherently promote the idea that society cannot reduce the global level of harm, and promote the authoritarian impulses of people seeking order. Historically, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and racism have been the three prongs of political violence that have destroyed democracies and brought along authoritarianism the quickest. Historically, police societies have been their companions, as opposed to their antagonists.

The gun-violence discourse will rage on.  . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 October 2018 at 1:23 pm

The Worst of Our Country—And the Best

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James Fallows writes in the Atlantic:

Every society contains its monsters: people damaged or disturbed enough, or misdirected enough, to inflict cruelty on others. A central purpose of society—its families, its schools, its civic and faith organizations, its official and unofficial political leadership—is precisely to encourage the good, and buffer and limit the bad, in what is always the wide range of human possibility.

Thus the harshest condemnation of leaders and organizations is for those who do the reverse: egging on the worst in human instincts, which often come out as abuse of the weak and the other.

Of the weak: adults against children, rich against poor, men against women, the able-bodied against the  infirm, those with power against those without.

Of the other: In American history, the main and cruelest axis has been white against black and native inhabitants under pressure of colonizers, but there are many more. In Western history, notoriously, it has often been gentile against Jew. In Rwanda, in Cambodia, in Armenia, in Indonesia and Malaysia when ethnic Chinese were massacred there, in western China where non-Chinese minorities are under stress—in these and too many other charnel houses, outsiders, and history, reserve their harshest verdicts for those who could have made things better, and instead did nothing, or made things worse.

And now we have what appears to be the bloodiest act of anti-Semitic hate-violence in American history. My point for now is not to assess what factors or circumstances made this possible or egged it on. I will say that previous presidents have found it their duty to speak to the nation as a whole at times of cruelty or tragedy. In recent times this ranges from Ronald Reagan after the Challenger disaster, to Bill Clinton after the Oklahoma City mass killing, to George W. Bush in his speech to Congress after the 9/11 attacks, to Barack Obama after the Charleston church shooting.

Donald Trump has never once, in his life, spoken in that vein—as bearer of the whole nation’s grief, as champion of its faith and resolve—so there is no reason to expect that he could do so now. America has usually had someone in that role before. If presidents didn’t naturally possess that register in their discourse, they learned the bearing and language that was expected of them. Harry Truman did so, after he unexpectedly became the leader of the post–World War II world. George W. Bush did, in his early remarks after 9/11. Even Lyndon B. Johnson, who fit no model of a natural orator, recognized what the country needed from him after history-changing assassinations: of the Kennedy brothers, Jack and Bobby, and of Martin Luther King Jr. Like his predecessors, he recognized what was expected of him, and tried his best.

Donald Trump cannot and will not do any of this, and the absence of such a voice in national leadership is palpable. It is as if George Wallace had been president when King was killed—or Theodore Bilbo, or Strom Thurmond. All of those figures, though, would have probably had a clearer awareness of what a president was supposed to do.

The worst of humanity is cruelty to the weak, and the other. The best is compassion for just those groups. This theme runs through all of the world’s faiths — the Torah and the Talmud, the Bible, the Koran, and their Asian counterparts all emphasize the obligation of kindness to the stranger. In practice, America has fallen grossly short of that ideal. But in concept, an openhearted inclusiveness is the idea of America: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

What is a group that exemplifies these ideals? The best of religious traditions, the best of American aspirations, the best of human possibility? One excellent example is hias—a group that started out as a relief-and-resettlement agency for Jewish refugees from Europe in the late 1800s, and has become a tribune for refugees, the persecuted, and the desperate from around the world. Its motto and mission statement now is:

         Welcome the stranger

         Protect the refugee.

Its site says:

We understand better than anyone that hatred, bigotry, and xenophobia must be expressly prohibited in domestic and international law and that the right of persecuted people to seek and enjoy refugee status must be maintained. And because the right to refuge is a universal human right, hias is now dedicated to providing welcome, safety, and freedom to refugees of all faiths and ethnicities from all over the world.

Starting in the 2000s, hias expanded our resettlement work to include assistance to non-Jewish refugees, meaning we became involved in the aftermath of conflicts from Afghanistan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Hungary, Iran, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Tunisia, Vietnam, and the successor states to the former Soviet Union. We began to work in countries where refugees fled to identify those in immediate danger to bring them to safety. We realized that there were many refugees who would not be resettled and that it was important for us to help.

Why mention hias right now? Because its Jewish background (and centrality in the family history of many Jews in America) and its current work in trying to deal with this era’s tired, poor, and desperate were apparently part of the motive that led Saturday’s murderer to gun down people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2018 at 7:23 pm

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