Photos from the April 20 protest, organized in response to February’s deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida, show a crowd of about a dozen teens holding signs that say “#NeverAgain.”
Instead of walking out of school at 10 a.m., as the movement’s organizers suggested, the Santa Fe students gathered in front of the school before its 7:05 a.m. start time “so more people would see us,” sophomore Kyle Harris, 16, told HuffPost.
“I wanted people to know that I will stand up for what I believe,” Harris said.
It was the first time any of the students ― a mix of other sophomores, some juniors and one senior ― protested gun violence at their school, he said.
Police arrested a suspect, reportedlyidentified as 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis, Friday morning shortly after the shooting. Officials say they have detained another “person of interest” and believe both to be Santa Fe students.
Another Santa Fe student who participated in the April 20 protest said members of the group had read a poem by a Parkland survivor, passed around “gun violence fact sheets” and orange ribbons ― the color associated with the gun control movement ― and observed 17 minutes of silence, one minute for each of the Parkland victims.
They then “talked about ways to raise awareness for gun violence, and make your voice heard,” she wrote.
The student declined to comment for this story.
In the hours after the shooting, another student shared the text of a speech she’d originally intended to read during the April 20 protest.
“I am another teenager among the thousands in this country who fear every single day that their hallways are unsafe and that their campuses are, too. At this very school, we were exposed to that same fear. And you never think it will be you… until it is you,” she wrote.
The student continued: “Our country is the only country who believes that an amendment passed hundreds of years ago is still relevant and untouchable. This is coming from a time when a musket was the weapon of choice. The world and its people have changed a lot in those 200 plus years, and we must help to change our government, too.”
She did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
As of Friday afternoon, law enforcement officials said they are still searching for explosive devices around the high school area.
A police officer was among the 10 people injured Friday. Officials have said the majority of people killed were students.
When it comes to addressing gun violence in the U.S., the general consensus seems to be that there’s no consensus. Gun owners and non-gun owners apparently can’t find common ground on policy solutions, which some Americans argue explains why there’s been so little action despite the mass shootings and other routine bloodshed of recent years.
But that explanation might be a bit too simplistic, according to a new study comparing support for gun violence prevention policies among gun owners and non-gun owners. The survey, conducted in January 2017 by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, found that both groups largely approve of the majority of the 24 proposals examined. For most of those policies, the approval gap between gun owners and non-gun owners was in the single digits.
“This signals that we have higher levels of support and higher levels of agreement between gun owners and non-gun owners than is generally understood,” said Colleen Barry, a Johns Hopkins professor and the lead author of the study.
Survey respondents were asked about a number of widely discussed gun measures, such as mandating universal background checks including for private sales of firearms, which are currently exempt under federal law. With support from 85 percent of gun owners and 89 percent of non-gun owners, this was the most popular proposal.
The study revealed broad support for a variety of lesser-known policies as well. The second-most popular measure was suspending the license of any gun dealer unable to account for 20 or more guns in their inventory, which 82 percent of gun owners and 86 percent of non-gun owners backed. Just behind that was a proposal to require concealed-carry licensees to undergo safety and proficiency testing ― 83 percent of gun owners and 85 percent of non-gun owners expressed support.
Large majorities of both groups also approved of so-called red flag laws. These measures give law enforcement additional authority to confiscate weapons from dangerous individuals, often following a petition filed by a family member or police. Four states have passed red flag laws since the Parkland, Florida, shooting in February, meaning nine states now have them on the books. A handful of other states are currently considering similar legislation.
For 23 of the 24 proposals in the study, the majority of respondents came down on the side of greater gun restrictions or regulations. The least popular proposal involved prohibiting individuals convicted of drunk and disorderly conduct from possessing a gun for 10 years.
The most fruitful directions for policy are areas where gun owners and non-gun owners are a little more in agreement. Colleen Barry, Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research
On certain proposals, there were significant gaps between gun owners and non-gun owners.
The two groups were sharply divided on allowing concealed-carry permit holders to bring guns onto school grounds, though neither gave the idea majority support. Forty-three percent of gun owners backed the proposal, compared to 19 percent of non-gun owners.
There was also less agreement on requiring people to lock up firearms in the home when not in use ― 58 percent of gun owners supported the idea versus 79 percent of non-gun owners. The groups were similarly split, 63 percent to 81 percent, on requiring would-be gun owners to first obtain a license from a local law enforcement agency, as they must in Massachusetts.
Some of the most divisive measures were among those most often proposed in public debate. The survey showed large gaps and less overall support for banning the sale of military-style semiautomatic rifles ― 44 percent of gun owners versus 68 percent of non-gun owners ― and banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines ― 41 percent of gun owners versus 67 percent of non-gun owners.
These results could be used to guide decisions about which gun violence prevention measures to pursue, said study author Barry.
“In my mind, the most fruitful directions for policy are areas where gun owners and non-gun owners are a little more in agreement,” she said. “If that’s where policymakers are interested in moving, there are a lot of policies to choose from.”
Barry also noted that research on the effectiveness of a so-called assault weapons ban is somewhat limited, at least when it comes to reducing overall levels of gun violence. While lawmakers may understandably wish to prevent the sort of massacres that have been repeatedly carried out with AR-15s and similar rifles, she suggested they may not want to push that measure to the exclusion of more politically feasible proposals.
“There are potentially lost opportunities to focus more attention and political capital around policies where we do see much higher levels of support overall, but also across the gun owner/non-gun owner divide,” she said.
Although her latest survey was conducted before the Parkland shooting, Barry said she believes that event has likely only reinforced the public opinion trends seen in the 2017 survey, including the divisions on policies like banning assault weapons.
“Folks who are in favor of a stronger regulatory environment may feel even more strongly about that, and folks on the other side who are more concerned about gun rights being restricted in the aftermath of recent events may or may not take a more stringent view,” she said.
The question now is whether lawmakers at the state or federal level will focus on gun violence prevention policies that have wide support among both gun owners and non-gun owners.
There are a few reasons they might not, even in the face of a vigorous push for gun reform following the Parkland shooting. For one, Barry’s study was national in scope, meaning it didn’t gauge public opinion in specific states or local jurisdictions, where gun policy is often decided.
Then there’s the matter of lobbying by interest groups like the National Rifle Association, which hold plenty of political power ― perhaps even more than public opinion alone.
“We’d like to think that members of Congress speak with the voice of their constituencies, but it doesn’t always happen like we hope it does,” said Barry.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) had stern words for the National Rifle Association on Tuesday, responding to the gun group’s new president attacking student survivors of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, for allegedly engaging in “civil terrorism.”
“The NRA is kind of just shy of a terrorist organization,” Schultz told HuffPost. “They have done everything they can to perpetuate the culture of violence that we have in our country with the spread of assault weapons across the nation.”
In an interview with The Washington Times last week, newly elected NRA president Oliver North accused students of Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School of using “intimidation and harassment and lawbreaking” in the anti-gun efforts they launched following the Valentine’s Day massacre that left 17 people dead at their campus.
“They call them activists. That’s what they’re calling themselves. They’re not activists — this is civil terrorism,” North said.
The retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel previously served on the NRA’s board of directors. He is best known for his involvement in the Iran-Contra firearms scandal in the 1980s, in which he was found to have played a key role in the clandestine sale of weapons to Iran, which was under an arms embargo at the time. Funds from those transactions were then funneled to bolster terrorist efforts against Nicaragua’s socialist government.
North was convicted of three felonies related to the scheme, including charges of obstructing a congressional inquiry and destroying evidence. The convictions were later vacated amid concerns that tainted testimony had been used in the case.
Still, Wasserman Schultz said she considered it ironic for someone with North’s past legal troubles to accuse young people of criminal behavior simply for “standing up to make sure that we can keep people safe.”
She also rebuffed North’s contention that the pressure the NRA now faces has “never been seen against a civil rights organization in America,” and is worse than “the terrible days of Jim Crow.”
“The Jim Crow laws actually resulted in the deaths of people standing up for their rights,” said Wasserman Schultz, who headed the Democratic National Committee from 2011-16. “People that are dying as a result of the infection that is the spread of assault weapons thanks to the NRA are being murdered in cold blood without any cessation or interest on the part of the NRA to do anything about it.”
In the months since the mass shooting, several of the students have emerged as the most vocal and visible members of a nationwide gun violence prevention movement that has eagerly positioned itself as a foil to the nation’s largest gun group.
They’ve campaigned for a renewed ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and the closing of a legal loophole to ensure that all firearms transactions are accompanied by a background check. But their enthusiasm has yet to translate into changes to federal gun laws
A number of states, including Wasserman Schultz’s home state of Florida, have pushed forward on their own. In March, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed a legislative package implementing a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases, raising the minimum age to 21 to purchase any firearm and enacting a so-called red flag law giving police more authority to confiscate weapons from dangerous individuals. The NRA opposed the measures.
Despite some signs that the NRA’s stranglehold on gun policy may be loosening, North rejected the idea that the group is “on its heels,” or that the Parkland shooting changed the contours of the national conversation around firearms and gun violence.
Wasserman Schultz said North was “deluding himself and his members” with that claim.
“It’s kind of like a spoiled child stamping their feet on the ground, insisting that something right in front of their face isn’t true,” she said.
Yesterday, I cried watching you and your brother play.
Not “boo hoo” cry, so don’t worry about your old mom. I just shed a few tears that I was sure to wipe before anyone could see. It was an 80-degree day in April. You’d just gotten home from school and were adamant about playing right away. Before snack. Before homework. So you didn’t miss the sun.
Usually, I’d push back, but that day I relented, allowing myself to smile at the big grin that spread across your face as you pulled you and your brother’s bikes from the garage and took off into the street, your feet peddling so fast I thought you might take flight.
Suddenly, I couldn’t believe how long your legs had grown. I remembered those same legs chubby, taking your first wobbly steps around our old apartment in New York.
Now you say things like, “I can walk to school on my own now, Mom” and “Don’t worry about me.” And I laugh at that one because from the moment you left my womb, eyes wide in the delivery room, worry punctuated each and every one of my heartbeats.
And I don’t want to burden you with why mommies worry. Why mommies like me worry. But since I promised to always tell you the truth, sometimes the worry is overwhelming.
I want so deeply to trust the world will help me protect your boyhood and see your humanity.
You’re so charming and full of plans. Like your plan to take your little brothers for pizza when you’re old enough to drive. Daddy and I are not invited, you say, because you want to eat as much as you want without us warning you about tummy aches. You’re going to drive with the windows down and play the “Trolls” soundtrack, hanging your free arm out the window “like a cool guy.” You are filled with so much excitement when you tell me your plans, and it takes everything in me not to plead with you not to go.
Imagining you go, I can only picture your little faces, just big enough to be seen over the dashboard, driving out of my sight and reach. My sweet babies, in grown-up clothes. And when I imagine summoning the strength to kiss you goodbye, I can’t help but think of the last kiss mommies like me gave boys like you before they were taken too soon.
Jordan’s mommy. Tamir’s. Did they say “see you later” with a quick kiss on the cheek? Or did their gazes linger as they watched their sons walk away? Did they close their eyes and make that desperate plea that is familiar to moms like me, for boys like you?
A plea to the universe that their boys would be protected. That they would make it to their destination. That if they were pulled over, they would encounter only well-trained cops. That if they stopped for coffee, they would be welcomed, and not leave in handcuffs, convicted with trepidation and baseless fear. That if they spoke truth, they would be believed.
I want so deeply to trust the world will help me protect your boyhood and see your humanity. Your innocence is so precious to me, and sometimes I feel like Daddy and I are the only ones protecting it.
Just know that I see it, and I believe the good ones do too. I know the stories will be hard to hear. I know they may break your heart, but promise me they will never break your spirit.
The only expectations that matter are your own. Not the teacher who you realized didn’t like boys like you, the stranger at the store who looked fearful of you when you played too close, the mommies who leave the playground when we arrive, or anything you read that predicts scary things for the man you will grow to be.
They don’t matter, and they have never been worthy of your light. I’m convinced it just burns so bright, it blinds their weak eyes. But the strong ones see it. I see it. Your kindness. Your sweetness. Your intellect. Your future.
A future where you are free to explore the complexities of your beautiful humanity, surpassing the predictions of who they think you’ll be. A future where you never feel pulled to shrink or apologize for all of the power that dwells inside of you.
Rather, you rise in it because you are here, that’s never been an accident, and you have every right to be. You have a right to walk with your head held high, as high as it was raised that day in April, when you created the breeze.
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Pennsylvania is creating a new gun violence prevention initiative that will fund programs working to stop shootings in urban communities, where this bloodshed tends to take the largest toll, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced on Tuesday.
At a press event in Philadelphia, Wolf unveiled the $1.5 million Gun Violence Reduction Initiative, which will direct grant money to municipalities seeking to implement violence prevention strategies that have helped make neighborhoods a bit more peaceful. The state opened the application process on Tuesday and will begin awarding grants in July.
In early March, Wolf and state Rep. Jordan Harris (D), who chairs the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, held a listening session with constituents in Philadelphia, where they met with gun violence victims to discuss the problem of daily shootings. Wolf said the event made it clear that the state must invest further in interventions that appear to have produced results in other cities.
“After hearing from this community about the real-world dangers of gun violence, I’m proud to return and deliver funds to help stem the tide of violence,” the governor said in a statement.
Wolf called the grants an “important step toward achieving that goal,” and he has said his administration will continue to show a commitment to combating violence.
Combatting violence in our communities is a top priority for my admin. Yesterday, @RepHarris and I announced the Gun Violence Reduction Initiative that will fund evidence-based programs to reduce gun violence. Many thanks to those who have come together on this important issue. https://t.co/GTxOSrItnl
With the launch of the Gun Violence Reduction Initiative, Pennsylvania becomes just the seventh state to directly fund violence prevention and intervention programs for urban areas.
High-profile mass shootings in affluent, predominantly white communities often dominate the conversation and policy agenda around gun violence. But day-to-day interpersonal violence in cities accounts for the majority of the 13,000 firearm homicides and 60,000 nonfatal shootings that take place across the nation each year.
Those trends are apparent in Pennsylvania, where in 2016 around half of the state’s gun violence incidents took place in Philadelphia County, Harris told HuffPost.
Harris said that with all the attention and resources dedicated treating the opioid epidemic as a public health problem, the government should be willing to take a similar approach to gun violence. He called it “public enemy number one” in the communities he represents.
“When are folks going to see all the black bodies and Hispanic bodies that are dying in the streets of Philadelphia? When are we going to see them as part of the epidemic as well?” he asked.
When people separate the issue of mass shootings from broader discussions of gun violence, it can make it hard to communicate the scope of the problem, Harris added.
“We seem to think one is more important than the other, but the mother who lost her son when he got shot on the corner on her block, she doesn’t feel any less pain than the parent of a kid who was killed in a school,” he said. “There’s no less pain, no less heartache, no less grief.”
California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York have made similar investments in these programs. A number of cities and communities that run these violence prevention efforts have seen substantial declines in shootings and violent crime, according to a recent report by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a national nonprofit founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
Last month, Maryland became the sixth state to take this approach, with the passage of a law that sets aside $5 million over the next year to fund grants to bolster these strategies.
Gun violence prevention and intervention programs tend to follow a few popular models. Some work directly in the community, mediating conflicts and providing outreach and social services to individuals most at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of violence. Others are based out of hospitals and work to provide continuing care to victims to disrupt cycles of violence.
A number of organizations are already doing this sort of work in Philadelphia, often without recognition or the funding they need to be as effective as they can be, said Harris. The Gun Violence Reduction Initiative will free up some resources to help them succeed, he added.
With gun violence costing states hundreds of millions of dollars each year in health care and criminal justice expenses alone, advocates say spending money on prevention actually ends up saving taxpayers money.
“It sounds like this is just a start and I’m hoping that the program will continue to grow,” said Mike McLively, the director of the Urban Gun Violence Initiative at Giffords.
McLively went on to urge gun violence prevention activists in states that aren’t currently funding these programs to reach out to their governors.
“Governors and executives can take the lead in a state and set the agenda and at least create a framework,” he said.
We are Republican, Democratic and independent. We come from the East, South, Midwest and West. We are conservative, progressive and liberal. We are men and women. We include eight members of the Circle of Chiefs, the highest conservation honor of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. We are all different in many ways, but we have important commonalities. We are Americans; we are gun owners; we are hunters; and we support responsible firearm regulation.
Yes, the Second Amendment conveys a right to “keep and bear” firearms. But rights come with responsibilities, and we all have a moral responsibility to address America’s crisis of gun violence.
We avoid the term ”common sense,” understanding the wisdom in Voltaire’s words ― “Common sense is not so common.”
Perhaps nature’s unpredictability, or the predictability that either our abilities or our equipment will fail at the most inopportune moment, have conditioned us to find solace in simplicity. We believe simple and responsible steps can and must be taken to end the cycle of gun violence and tragedy to which we are all witness in today’s America.
We do not need AR-15s or any assault-style weapon to hunt game.
We are at a turning point. There are now 265 million guns in private ownership — more than at any time in our nation’s history, and owned by a smaller proportion of the population than ever. Only about 30 percent of Americans own guns, and about 60 percent live in gun-free households. The long-term trend away from gun ownership will continue. As people who own and use guns respectfully, we feel an urgency to speak up for a simple, sensible approach.
Hunters and hunting are also declining. In 1955, 10 percent of Americans hunted. Today, it’s less than 5 percent. But the positive image of the hunter as a skilled and conscientious “sportsman” is being abused in defense of an out-of-control gun culture.
Most hunters own guns principally to hunt game. We use them safely and respectfully: If someone is injured during their use, it will most likely be a friend or family member, since that is who we hunt with. We don’t buy a lot of guns. We usually have a few favorites, often passed down to us by fathers or grandfathers. The gun industry figured that out decades ago, and switched to creating guns for a different market.
That’s not to say that all hunters are like-minded on the issue of regulating firearms. As our numbers have dwindled, many have found a comforting alliance with Second Amendment radicalism. But we believe this is not representative of most hunters, and certainly not the tradition of the hunter-sportsman.
We do not need AR-15s or any assault-style weapon to hunt game. That’s not to say some people won’t use them to hunt. But they are simply not necessary, and are actually not preferable for legitimate, fair-chase hunting.
We believe that simple, responsible reforms in firearm policy are an urgent necessity. Hunting and hunters should not be seen, or used, as a shield against constructive bipartisan solutions. We see the need and opportunity to frame compromise between the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms and the Fifth Amendment’s right to life and liberty.
Here’s where we would begin:
1. An age minimum of 21 years to purchase any gun;
2. Anyone on the Terrorist Screening Center’s “no-fly list” may not purchase or possess firearms;
3. Anyone on Social Security disability due to mental illness may not purchase or possess firearms;
4. Prohibit new sales of semiautomatic assault or tactical-style weapons;
5. Prohibit new sales of semiautomatic shotguns or rifles (except .22-caliber rim fire) that can hold more than 10 rounds;
6. Prohibit any accessory designed or mechanical modification intended a) to increase the rate at which any firearm may be discharged; or b) to increase the magazine capacity of a semiautomatic rifle beyond 10 rounds (except .22-caliber rim fire);
7. Mandatory and universal background checks for all firearm sales;
8. Prohibit sales of firearms except through registered/licensed dealers (no direct private sales);
9. Enact gun violence restraining order authorities allowing courts to temporarily prohibit a person from purchasing or possessing firearms when a family member, community welfare expert or law enforcement officer presents evidence of a threat; and
These suggestions are simple to implement and enforce. They do limit the rights of honest and law-abiding citizens, but they are responsible limitations that do not infringe the ability of Americans to hunt, shoot, or protect themselves and their families. And in comparison to the 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who have been stripped of all of their rights, and of life and liberty, it is a small price to pay.
There are simple, responsible solutions. No one should use hunters and hunting as an excuse to avoid pursuing them.
Daniel M. Ashe, former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Ted Williams, environmental journalist* Paula Del Giudice, outdoor writer and hunter* Mike Furtman, outdoor writer and photographer, hunter and former gun dealer* Jim Low, former president of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and 13-time recipient of the Izaak Walton League’s Outdoor Ethics Communication Award* Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III, wildlife photographer* Brian Rutledge, conservation leader and naturalist Scott Stouder, outdoor writer, conservationist and lifelong hunter* Dr. Kris Thoemke, outdoor writer, conservationist and hunter* Joel Vance, current member and former president of the Outdoor Writers Association of America* George Harrison, retired nature journalist*
*Member of the Circle of Chiefs, the highest conservation honor of the Outdoor Writers Association of America
Ibra Ake, a writer for FX’s “Atlanta” and the creative director for Childish Gambino, whose real name is Donald Glover, opened up about the viral video in an interview Tuesday with WNYC radio.
“We try to make stuff in a vacuum in a way where we’re not influenced by what was made before us, which usually ― in the media specifically ― comes from a white world and a white infrastructure,” Ake told Tanzina Vega, host of WNYC’s “The Takeaway.”
“This Is America,” which has been viewed more than 50 million times on YouTube since its Saturday debut, has been dissected over and over again by hordes of fans, art critics and activists. Many viewers applauded the video for its powerful commentary on black oppression and gun violence in America.
“We reduced it to a feeling ― a very black feeling, a very violent feeling, but also a very fun feeling,” Ake said of the video, which features Childish Gambino and a crew of schoolchildren Gwara Gwara dancing as the world literally burns in the background.
“If you’re at the club and there’s a shooting outside, you still have to go get food afterwards and you have to compartmentalize that,” Ake said about the video’s vacillation between chaos and joy, violence and dance. “Being marginalized is compartmentalizing trauma to exist in the world. I cant stop being black because of trauma and discrimination. I still have to live life and forge on.”
Being marginalized is compartmentalizing trauma to exist in the world. I cant stop being black because of trauma and discrimination. I still have to live life and forge on. Ibra Ake, “This Is America” producer and “Atlanta” writer
Ake discussed some under-the-radar references, like Childish Gambino’s facial expressions being partially inspired by Jim Carey in 1994′s “The Mask.” He also confirmed some of the more popular theories about references to Jim Crow and the late Fela Kuti, the legendary Nigerian musician whose look and dance moves were heavily incorporated in the video.
″Our goal is to normalize blackness,” Ake said. “This is how we would like to dance, but we have to be aware of the danger and the politics of how we’re perceived and the implications of the history of how we were treated.”
“There’s all this math you’re constantly doing expressing yourself,” he continued. “We’re trying to not have to explain ourselves to others and just exist, and not censor what our existence looks like as people.”
Although Childish Gambino has been called a genius and one of the most important voices of our generation for “This Is America,” some have criticized the video for its depiction of violence against black people.
I just don’t find depictions of graphic trauma/ violence particularly artful, esp in the context of state/ hateful violence against Black people, esp in a short form music video. My PTSD is real, but even if that weren’t a factor, I’m not sure I’d be able to stomach it.
I just don’t find depictions of graphic trauma/ violence particularly artful, esp in the context of state/ hateful violence against Black people, esp in a short form music video. My PTSD is real, but even if that weren’t a factor, I’m not sure I’d be able to stomach it.
“I definitely feel her,” Ake said. “I think that’s just the nature of where we are and we don’t control that. I [know] a lot of people of color who, when we’re seeing a lot of images of violence ― especially against us ― have to take a break and cry in the bathroom and go back to work. That’s just part of life in America.”
A Maryland man who identified himself as an imperial wizard in the Ku Klux Klan was found guilty Tuesday of firing a gun during the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year.
Richard Preston Jr., 53, pleaded no contest in Charlottesville Circuit Court to a charge of firing a weapon within 1,000 feet of a school property, The Washington Post reported. He was seen pointing his gun and then firing at the feet of a black counterprotester, Corey Long, on video taken by a bystander.
Preston had originally planned to argue to a jury that he acted in self-defense because Long ― who was armed with an aerosol can that he had turned into a makeshift flamethrower ― had shot flames in Preston’s direction. Long, who said he was protecting another man when he lit the spray can, is facing his own charges of misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct.
Preston could face up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The violence sparked by the rally led to the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer, who was fatally struck by a car that plowed into the counterprotesters. James Alex Fields Jr., the alleged driver and a self-professed neo-Nazi, has been charged with first-degree murder in her death.
Earlier this month, 23-year-old Jacob Scott Goodwin was found guilty in the beating of a black man at the same rally. Video captured Goodwin and others beating 20-year-old DeAndre Harris in a parking garage. A jury recommended that Goodwin be sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Jan Dizard, 77, a professor emeritus at Amherst College who splits time between western Massachusetts and California, is a registered Democrat and a self-described environmentalist. He’s also a life-long gun owner who patronizes both his local rod and gun club and bird dog association.
Although Dizard acknowledges that he’s “by far the furthest left [politically] of anybody in the club,” being a liberal gun owner hardly makes him a unicorn.
If a left-leaning gun owner seems unusual, it’s in part because there are critical gaps in our nation’s collective understanding about who owns firearms in America and what they use them for.
Dizard stands in contrast to the 87,000 Americans at last weekend’s record-breaking annual NRA conference, where attendees told a HuffPost reporter that the media focuses a disproportionate amount of coverage on gun violence and ignores positive stories about firearms. “They are censoring what the true pulse of the citizenry thinks,” said Brian Lilly, 49, who attended the conference for the first time this year with his 18-year-old son.
Outside of that core pro-NRA group, however, identifying as a gun owner can be politically fraught. In pockets of the country, some owners don’t feel comfortable revealing their status at all. And a dearth of scientific research on guns and gun ownership ― thanks in part to lobbying efforts conducted by the NRA ― contributes to our national ignorance about who owns guns and why.
The best estimates put the number of guns in America at about 300 million, which are owned by an estimated 32 to 42 percent of Americans, according to polls by Pew, Gallup and the General Social Survey. But it’s difficult to find a more precise measure through polling alone, and Congress doesn’t adequately fund peer-reviewed research on the issue.
The lack of research about legal and illegal gun-owner behavior prevents us from scientifically measuring the causes of gun violence, which in turn influences the kind of laws passed to address the 11,000 homicides, 22,000 suicides and tens of thousands of non-fatal shootings that happen in the United States each year. Public health experts believe that many of those 33,000 annual deaths are preventable.
To learn about the more than 90 percent of gun owners who don’t fall into this category, HuffPost conducted its own survey of gun owners, in collaboration with YouGov, to interrogate why the majority of gun owners aren’t members of the NRA. HuffPost also ran an informal, supplemental Twitter poll soliciting gun owners’ rationale for declining NRA membership.
The results complicated the narrative of red-state gun owners on one side and blue-state gun control advocates on the other, and unearthed bits of common ground among gun-owning Americans, including about gun safety.
Among the non-NRA gun owners who participated in the HuffPost/YouGov poll in April, nearly half said they didn’t think NRA membership would benefit them personally. One in four respondents selected the response “I disagree with the NRA’s political beliefs” as a reason they chose not to join. Another 22 percent of respondents said they didn’t feel that the NRA represented people like them (whether that was because they didn’t feel like they fit the demographic profile of a typical NRA member ― Republican, middle-aged, white and male ― or another reason wasn’t clear). Respondents were allowed to select multiple options.
Twenty-three percent of respondents felt that NRA membership, which costs $40 per year or $1,500 for a lifetime membership, was “too expensive” to justify joining the organization. “I’m frugal,” one respondent noted.
Sixteen percent of respondents answered “none of the above” about why they weren’t members, which may reflect gun owners who hold beliefs that mirror those of the NRA, even if they aren’t active members, and those who unintentionally let their memberships lapse.
“I will likely join with the big anti-gun push currently going on,” one respondent wrote.
Twelve percent of respondents said they didn’t want to make it public that they owned a gun, which could mean not wanting to flaunt their gun ownership status or that they worried about the possibility of theft.
Another eight percent said they didn’t know how to go about joining the group.
Some respondents felt protections offered by the Constitution trumped anything the NRA could offer.
“My right to own a gun is protected under the Constitution and I don’t need a lobbyist to tell me this,” was a common sentiment among the seemingly libertarian and constitutionalist gun owners who said they didn’t join clubs or associations on principle, or felt the Second Amendment was a stronger ally to gun owners than the NRA.
Write-ins that didn’t fall into a neat category included, “Guns aren’t that important to me,” “Our whole family is talking about joining,” and a swipe at the NRA’s marketing tactics: “They hounded me for money and sent me flashlights, repeatedly,” one former member wrote.
A number of write-in responses criticized the NRA’s conservative stance on gun safety and close ties to conservative politics. “[The NRA has] many stupid stances; some clips and firearms need to be banned,” wrote one respondent. Others lamented the organization’s political and business ties, noting that the NRA “is the lapdog of the gun and ammunition industries,” and “a branch of the Republican Party.”
Multiple gun owners pinpointed the NRA’s CEO and executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, as the reason they declined to join the organization. LaPierre is well known for using fearmongering tactics to try to convince Americans about the necessity of guns, ranging from potential to highly improbable threats to Americans’ safety, including hurricanes, tornadoes, riots, terrorists, gangs, “lone criminals,” crime, drug gangs, Euro-style debt riots, civil unrest and natural disasters.
LaPierre’s antagonistic rhetoric has earned him enemies in high places. In 1995, former president George H. W. Bush famously published his lifetime NRA member resignation letter in The New York Times after LaPierre, in an NRA fundraising letter, referred to Bush’s federal agents as “jack-booted thugs.”
In today’s political environment, a Republican politician denouncing the NRA seems unthinkable. But the party has shifted significantly to the right since Bush’s letter. The organization, which was founded as a marksmanship group in 1871 by a former New York Times reporter, had evolved into a gun safety and training club by the 1970s, and itself took a hard turn rightward under LaPierre, as many survey respondents noted.
Today’s modern-day lobbying enterprise bears little resemblance to the NRA’s marksmanship and safety roots, and that evolution has succeeded in alienating some of the organization’s moderate and independent former members.
“I was a member when they were a sporting organization,” one gun owner wrote. “Now they are a political lobbying group with which I usually disagree.” Said another: “I was a Life Member from 1967 to 2016, when I resigned due to LaPierre and terrible policies toward gun laws.”
While the HuffPost/YouGov and Twitter polls can’t take the place of broad-scale, peer-reviewed research, the various points of view reflected in them point to a more politically diverse gun owner than is typically represented in the nation’s polarizing gun debate. That issue largely relies on the simplistic narrative that gun owners support Republican candidates and gun rights policies and that non-gun owners support Democratic candidates and gun control policies.
“It is unwise to assume that all gun owners are Republicans,” said Carson Mencken, a professor of sociology at Baylor University. Data from Baylor surveys shows that more than 20 percent of gun owners report being liberal or very liberal, while 50 percent of gun owners are conservative or very conservative, Mencken explained.
Although there’s a sizable cohort of gun owners who fall into the independent, progressive, libertarian, constitutionalist or pro-gun regulation camps, there’s no discernible group representing any or all of them that counterbalances the NRA’s influence on money and politics.
The lack of a countervailing lobbying force amounts to a major gap in the political market, according to Patrick Adler, a researcher at the Martin Prosperity Institute, a think tank at the University of Toronto‘s Rotman School of Management.
In Adler’s mind, there’s room for a gun rights organization for independent and Democratic gun owners. “Can a ‘J Street for guns’ emerge?” he asked, referencing the advocacy group which emerged as a counter to the more right-wing AIPAC lobby. “If it does it might be even more successful than J Street itself.”
Gun policy is complicated. Gun owners who support background checks don’t necessarily support bans on AR-15s, and vice versa. It’s not clear that a unified independent and progressive pro-gun group would represent the interests of its members any better than the NRA supports its own.
Still, there is some indication that the political winds could be changing. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott recently passed a package of firearms restrictions in his pro-gun, liberal state that included raising the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21, enhancing background checks and banning high-capacity magazines and bump stocks.
And while some Vermont-based gun rights advocates spoke out against the governor, other gun owners in Vermont have stepped up to challenge the NRA.
“What put me over the edge was this series of recent tragedies, both in schools and in other areas, and they just never budged,” John Liccardi, a 73-year-old hunter from Rutland, Vermont, who supported renewing a ban on assault-style weapons, including bump stocks, told the New York Times.
Liccardi, who in March penned an op-ed titled “Ashamed of the NRA” for the Vermont-based nonprofit journalism website VTDigger, wasn’t previously involved in the national gun debate in any public way.
“If there ever is going to be any progress in sensible gun ownership and control,” Liccardi explained, “it has to be from the middle ground.”
The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted April 3-4 among U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.
HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.
Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.