President Donald Trump, who promised to visit families of those slain in the Parkland, Florida, school massacre three months ago, has failed to contact some of those families.
BuzzFeed reported Tuesday that it had spoken with the families of eight of the 17 people gunned down in the Feb. 14 mass shooting. Of those, seven families said Trump had failed to contact them. Only one — the family of 18-year-old Meadow Pollack — said they had been contacted. Meadow’s father, Andrew Pollack, met with Trump at a White House listening session in February and said Trump’s administration had been “very helpful” to his family.
Trump said in an address to the nation two days after the killing that he was “making plans to visit Parkland to meet with families and local officials.” He did call or meet with several survivors, as well as with families of victims, according to earlier reports. It’s unclear how many families those efforts included.
Some relatives of those who were killed expressed disappointment and anger at the president’s silence.
“He just completely ignored us and it’s really shitty,” Debra Hixon, whose husband, wrestling coach Chris Hixon, was shot to death protecting students from the gunman, told BuzzFeed of Trump’s failure to include her family in discussions about gun reform. “I would have loved to have been asked to the table.”
“Our entire nation was filled with shock and grief by the monstrous attack on a high school in Parkland, Florida,” Trump said at the NRA event. “We mourn for the victims and their families.”
Philip Schentrup, who lost his 16-year-old daughter Carmen, wrote on Twitter that he was “surprised” by Trump’s comments, since his family “never heard from him, Pence, or his staff since Carmen’s murder.”
Trump said, “Our hearts break for every American who has suffered the horrors of this school shooting.” Surprising since I’ve never heard from him, Pence, or his staff since Carmen’s murder. Received heartfelt outpouring from thousands of other Americans. They make America strong
Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime died in the massacre, told BuzzFeed he felt Trump used the families’ grief for his own political gain.
“To me, in his position, it would have been the right thing to do, but no one’s obligated,” Guttenberg said. “However, don’t use my daughter’s life for a political moment, and that’s what he did, and that pisses me off.”
Families of Parkland victims have spoken in the past about Trump’s failure to contact them.
“I received no correspondence whatsoever. I received nothing from the White House,” Linda Beigel Schulman, whose son, geography teacher Scott Biegel, was killed trying to save students’ lives, told New York magazine last month. “I got a beautiful letter from Marco Rubio. I’ve gotten letters from other congressmen. But no, nothing from the president.”
Manuel Oliver, whose 17-year-old son Joaquin was killed, suggested it wouldn’t be difficult for Trump to pay the families a visit.
“Any weekend that you come to Mar-A-Lago, you can come and visit us,” Oliver told BuzzFeed, referring to Trump. Oliver noted that his home is 35 minutes from Trump’s resort.
Trump’s shunning of Parkland victims has drawn criticism on Twitter this week, with one person calling the president’s inaction “a horrible, awful new low.”
These Families Of Parkland Shooting Victims Are Still Waiting To Hear From @realDonaldTrump.
NEWTON, Mass. ― A thirtysomething man sought to buy a rifle here last September, and if he had been living in almost any other part of the country, he could have done so easily.
His record was free of arrests, involuntary psychiatric commitments or anything else that might automatically disqualify him from owning firearms under federal law. He could have walked into a gun store, filled out a form and walked out with a weapon in less than an hour.
But he couldn’t do that in Massachusetts because the state requires would-be buyers to get a permit first. That means going through a much longer process and undergoing a lot more scrutiny.
Each applicant must complete a four-hour gun safety course, get character references from two people, and show up at the local police department for fingerprinting and a one-on-one interview with a specially designated officer. Police must also do some work on their own, searching department records for information that wouldn’t show up on the official background check.
If the police come to believe an applicant is a possible threat to public safety, they can refuse to grant the permit. And that is what happened in the case of this man from Newton.
Police records showed eight visits to his home from 2008 to 2012, each time in response to calls from family members concerned about his behavior. On one occasion, according to the police account, the man had punched a picture frame and lacerated his hand; another time, he had been wielding a knife and threatening to commit suicide. Officers took the man into protective custody after three of the visits, the reports said, and at nearly all of them he was intoxicated.
This December, following a procedure that Massachusetts law lays out, Newton’s chief filed a five-page memo with a state district court. It summarized the incident reports, one by one, and concluded that the man “had exhibited or engaged in behavior that could potentially create a risk to public safety.”
The man, who declined to comment for this article and whose name HuffPost is not publishing, challenged the police decision in court, as the law allows applicants to do. A written filing stated that he has completed treatment for alcohol addiction, as a physician independently confirmed. It also said that he has a steady job and noted that there have been no incidents since 2012.
It’s crazy that some states just give out these guns with very few requirements. William Evans, Boston Police Commissioner
A district judge considered the argument and, a few weeks later, upheld the police department’s decision. The man from Newton is now appealing that decision. But whether or not he ultimately gets his permit, his story illustrates just how aggressively Massachusetts regulates gun ownership. No other state requires a permit for any kind of gun purchase while also giving police some discretion to deny those permits.
The combination could help explain why the state’s mortality rate from firearms incidents is relatively low, according to some experts who have studied these types of laws. That makes the Massachusetts permit system a potential model for legislation in other states, or even the country as a whole, at a time when the massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, has put gun violence back on the political agenda.
But replicating the Massachusetts program would require persuading or overcoming resistance from gun rights advocates, starting with the members of the National Rifle Association who are meeting in Dallas this weekend. They are convinced that permit systems like the one in Massachusetts do little to deter violence, while doing a lot to undermine the Second Amendment.
Tight Gun Regulations Are A Massachusetts Tradition
Massachusetts has required that gun owners get permits since 1968, although initially the state approved permits automatically for anybody without major crime convictions or other disqualifying factors. In the parlance of gun control, it was a “shall issue” system rather than a “may issue” system, in which officials or law enforcement would have had leeway to deny licenses in certain circumstances.
That changed in 1998, when state lawmakers gave police broad discretion to withhold handgun licenses for people who were, in the police department’s judgment, “unsuitable.” In 2014, following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Massachusetts lawmakers, led by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, strengthened its gun laws yet again, expanding police discretion so that it applied to rifles and shotguns, too.
The permit process for rifles and shotguns is slightly different than the process for handguns, but they lead to the same basic result: Today, police can deny ownership of any kind of firearm, subject to court review. That made Massachusetts unique. The other two states with police discretion over ownership, New Jersey and New York, apply that method only to handguns.
The 2014 law also clarified, somewhat, when and how police in Massachusetts should use their discretion. By law, the police can restrict a license or deny one outright anytime they have credible evidence that somebody may pose a threat to public safety.
The “credible” part is supposed to keep the police from acting arbitrarily; police actually have to file papers with a local court justifying denials. The “may” part is supposed to make it clear that the police can limit or withhold a license anytime they believe a mere threat exists. They don’t have to wait until they are certain or even nearly certain an applicant would use a gun for crime or self-harm.
One way to think of the system is that it places the burden of proof for denying a license on the police while making it clear that the proof does not have to be overwhelming. And, although the state still does not specify exactly what constitutes a threat and what doesn’t, that’s precisely the sort of judgment call best left to city and town officials, supporters of the law say.
“Gun violence is usually local, among people who know each other,” John Rosenthal, co-founder of the organization Stop Handgun Violence and a longtime advocate for tighter gun laws, said in an interview with HuffPost. “Who better than the local police chief to issue renewable licenses and be able to have that discretion every six years?”
Many experts agree. “Local police chiefs typically know more about the people in their community than does a national computer,” David Hemenway, a well-respected gun violence researcher at Harvard, told The Trace.
In Small Towns And Big Cities, Police Look For The Same Things
Even with the new system in place, the vast majority of people who apply for licenses get them, according to a 2017 evaluation that a panel of experts conducted for the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. But 1 to 3 percent do not, depending on the year, the panel determined.
That number doesn’t account for the people who don’t even try to get licenses, because they know police would not grant them. And even among those residents who get licenses, many will have restrictions on how they may use their guns. They might not have freedom to carry a firearm outside the home, for example, except for transporting it to firing ranges or hunting grounds. (This is one way in the Massachusetts practice is more typical. Many states give the police discretion over who gets to carry a gun outside of the home.)
In general, police from rural parts of Massachusetts are a lot less likely to issue restrictions than the departments in cities and surrounding suburbs, according to a compilation of 2016 statistics by Commonwealth Second Amendment, which advocates for gun rights. Police say such differentials are largely a byproduct of the very different way departments operate depending on the size and closeness of their communities.
The ones who get our attention are the ones we’ve had to see before, to come to their houses, with incidents that don’t rise up to arrests but tell us, ‘Hey, something is not right here.’ Lu-Ann Czapala, Ware Police Department
“Most people we know one way or another ― it’s a neighbor, or a neighbor’s friend or co-worker, or somebody you deal with on the job,” Lu-Ann Czapala, the firearms officer in Ware, said during an interview at the city’s headquarters. Ware, a former mill town in the rural area between Worcester and Springfield, has a population just shy of 10,000. “Very few people who come in and apply have anything in their background that would cause a problem.”
That’s not to say it never happens. “The ones who get our attention,” Czapala said, “are the ones we’ve had to see before, to come to their houses, with incidents that don’t rise up to arrests but tell us, ‘Hey, something is not right here. Gee, we’ve been to this house so many times.’”
And, in that respect, the process is quite similar to Newton’s. The big difference is that George McManus, the lieutenant who handles firearms permits there, may have to investigate applicants ― by, for example, calling neighbors or family. That’s because, in a city whose population is just under 90,000, McManus is less likely than Czapala to know the applicant personally.
McManus said investigating incident reports is especially important for revealing histories of domestic violence, because even repeated visits can result in no formal charges and, thus, no automatic disqualifications for gun ownership even under the unusually tight standards Massachusetts has in place.
It’s not surprising he would say that. In a 2013 survey, Massachusetts police departments said incidents of domestic violence were among the most likely reasons for them to restrict or deny a license, or to suspend one they had approved.
At the same time, McManus said, police officers work hard to distinguish between “somebody arrested for disorderly conduct when he was in college, on a Friday night, 15 years ago, versus somebody who has a record of being involved with domestic situations with his significant other.”
McManus, who has been handling Newton’s permits for two years, says that is one reason every license rejection during his tenure has held up in court. “That goes to show that the chief does put a lot of thought into his denials,” McManus said.
What The Evidence Shows ― And Doesn’t Show
Gun homicides and suicides still happen in Massachusetts, in part because people without licenses still manage to get guns. But gun violence happens a lot less frequently than it does in most states.
Adjusted for age and population, the gun fatality rate in Massachusetts for 2016 was the lowest in the U.S. And that’s how it’s been for most of the last 30 years, although sometimes another state, like Hawaii, ends up with a slightly lower rate.
Just how much that low rate has to do with the state’s gun laws is a matter of ongoing debate, even among experts. Pretty much any legitimate study is going to rely on assumptions that will be open to valid criticism; separating out cause and effect can be virtually impossible. But the available research provides a good reason to think Massachusetts laws in general and the permit system in particular have made violence less likely.
Some of the most widely cited work, by Daniel Webster of Johns Hopkins University, has focused on two states that have had similar, albeit weaker, permit schemes: Missouri, which got rid of its license program a decade ago, and Connecticut, which added one in the 1990s. Using a variety of methods designed to estimate what might have happened if those states hadn’t changed their laws, Webster and his colleagues concluded that getting rid of gun licenses in Missouri led to more gun violence, while introducing licenses in Connecticut led to less.
Additional research, including a study the Journal of Urban Health published last month, has shown that gun crimes in states with permit schemes tend to involve guns that criminals obtained more easily elsewhere.
That suggests the laws are at the very least forcing would-be perpetrators to change their behavior. It also suggests permit systems could have a bigger effect on violence if more states had them.
Police officials in Massachusetts make that argument all the time. “It’s crazy that some states just give out these guns with very few requirements,” William Evans, commissioner of the Boston police and a champion of tighter gun laws, said in an interview.
“We have tough gun laws here, and to me it makes a difference,” Evans said. “But if we had them nationally, if other states had universal background checks and strong licensing like our state does, there would be less violence.”
It’s Not Clear How A Court Challenge Would Go
The other big question about the Massachusetts system is the constitutional one. The Supreme Court, in a controversial 2008 ruling known as D.C. v. Heller, upheld the government’s ability to regulate firearm possession and usage. But it also recognized, for the first time, a constitutional right to gun ownership.
To Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League and outspoken critic of Massachusetts regulations, the state’s licensing system clearly infringes on that right. “We always have to be careful about how much authority we give to law enforcement,” Wallace said. “Their jobs ― God bless them ― is to enforce the law, not decide on somebody’s civil rights.”
Jason Guida, an attorney and former state firearms official who now represents people appealing license denials, has a similar view. “Once we go down the road of giving police discretion, we are not just stepping on the other side of that line, we are jumping over it and dancing.”
We always have to be careful about how much authority we give to law enforcement. Their jobs ― God bless them ― is to enforce the law, not decide on somebody’s civil rights. Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League in Massachusetts
Guida represents that man from Newton who is appealing his license denial, and he thinks the case is an example of how the law gives police too much authority. When the man wrote a letter requesting the gun permit, he addressed his history with police head-on, Guida noted. The incidents all occurred during a difficult period in his life, the man wrote, and since that time he has stayed dry, gotten a steady job and even done volunteer work at a local food bank. He also promised to use the gun lawfully, saying he wanted it only for bird hunting and target practice.
“Most of my clients have never been convicted, never even been charged with a crime, but a chief has decided that they are not safe with firearms,” Guida said. “That’s the rub right here, how Massachusetts may have gone beyond what the Second Amendment allows.”
Supporters of the Massachusetts law see things differently. Public safety is a constitutionally permissible reason for restricting gun ownership, they say, and local police are ideally situated to make that call, at least initially.
“In the context of gun rights, where the Supreme Court has said limitations based on public safety principles are appropriate, we want law enforcement to make those decisions, because they are the ones on the ground, who see the behavior,” Hannah Shearer, a staff attorney at the Giffords Law Center, said.
Most of my clients have never been convicted, never even been charged with a crime, but a chief has decided that they are not safe with firearms.” Jason Guida, an attorney who represents applicants appealing license denials
There is also the appeals process, which can serve as a safeguard for constitutional rights. Although police discretion over gun ownership can be “constitutionally problematic,” says Adam Winkler, a UCLA constitutional law professor, “if more than 90 percent of applicants are getting permits, there is an appeals process in place and government has to provide actual evidence that’s reviewed by a neutral arbiter, that seems to me a system that the courts might uphold.”
“No right is absolute ― Heller makes that clear,” Winkler, who is the author of the book Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America, added. “If the question is ‘Should there be enough discretion to target certain behaviors that fall short of criminal conviction but are highly probative of danger from firearms?’ a court is likely to say that kind of review is acceptable.”
What’s Coming Next In Washington ― And In Massachusetts
In Washington, a handful of lawmakers have held up the Massachusetts system as a prototype for the rest of the country. One of them is the state’s junior Democratic senator, Ed Markey, who has sponsored a bill that would give states strong financial incentives to introduce their own licensing programs.
“The involvement of police chiefs in the licensing process is key,” Markey said at a news conference in March, when he formally unveiled the proposal. “We can’t overstate that enough.” Democratic lawmakers from other states with their own variations on permit systems, including Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey, have introduced similar measures.
Those lawmakers have a lot of work to do. Gun violence is getting more political attention than at any time since 2013, and the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings, which not coincidentally is the last time Congress came close to passing meaningful gun legislation. And if the odds of enacting significant new measures now are long, they will improve if supporters of tighter gun laws win more seats in Congress, starting with this year’s midterm elections.
We want law enforcement to make those decisions, because they are the ones on the ground, who see the behavior. Hannah Shearer, staff attorney at the Giffords Law Center
But most of the focus so far has been on banning assault-style weapons or extending background checks to private sales, the two ideas that have gotten the most attention in the past. Although many experts believe these measures can also help, there’s reason to think that they would work best in combination with a full-fledged permit system that involved police discretion.
State lawmakers in Massachusetts appear to agree. The state already has a ban on many assault-style weapons, and it already applies its laws to all sales, not just those that licensed dealers make. That’s actually one reason advocates think a permit system could win over some gun rights advocates. It spares private dealers the administrative hassle of performing background checks; all they have to do is check for the state-issued permit.
Now many of the same lawmakers responsible for the 2014 law are looking to build on it. They are pushing for a “red flag” law in which family members could ask judges to issue emergency restraining orders when they fear a loved one is about to commit an act of violence. These orders would automatically suspend any existing gun licenses and allow police to seize weapons.
Although this would be a separate policy from the permitting system, the underlying impulse is the same: to identify people likely to hurt themselves or others and keep guns out of their hands before it happens.
“Anyone who hasn’t received the extensive training provided to law enforcement officers will likely be mentally unprepared to take a life, especially the life of a student assailant,” Mo Canady, the executive director of the National Association for School Resource Officers, said in a statement.
Claim: Chicago’s strict gun laws are evidence that gun control doesn’t work.
“We all know what’s going on in Chicago, but Chicago has the toughest gun laws in our country,” Trump said Friday.
Trump and others in the pro-gun crowd have long held up crime rates in Chicago as evidence that gun control doesn’t work. Although both Illinois and its largest city do have strong gun laws, Chicago is a short drive from both Wisconsin and Indiana, where laws are significantly weaker. Studies have found that most of the guns used in crimes in Chicago come from out of state, with many coming from much farther away.
Claim: The Bataclan massacre might’ve been prevented if more Parisians had guns.
“Paris, France, has the toughest gun laws in the world,” said Trump, going on to explain how a small group of terrorists armed with AK-47s “brutally killed” more than 130 people in the French capital in 2015.
“If one employee or just one patron had a gun … the terrorists would have fled or been shot, and it would’ve been a whole different story.”
This is another of Trump’s favorite talking points, which he’s been using since the November 2015 Bataclan massacre.
Putting aside for a second the absolute chaos that might have ensued if an arena full of armed concertgoers had decided to open fire on their assailants in the pitch dark, Trump is also leaving out some broader context.
With its strong gun laws, the overall firearm death rate in France is about one-quarter of what it is in the U.S. Although violent crime is not unheard of in Paris, the city experiences just a fraction of the homicides that an American city of a comparable population does. Gun homicides also appear to be primarily an issue among rival criminal gangs.
Claim: Criminals will use knives if they can’t use guns ― just look at London.
“I recently read a story that in London, which has unbelievably tough gun laws, a once very prestigious hospital right in the middle, is like a war zone for horrible stabbing wounds,” said Trump. “Yes, that’s right, they don’t have guns, they have knives, and instead there’s blood all over the floors of this hospital.”
We’re not really sure what Trump’s point is here. If he’s noting that all violence is not gun violence, then sure. But the fact that Londoners are making it to hospitals to receive care is significant. Knives tend to be less lethal than guns, and it’s far easier to injure or kill larger numbers of people, often indiscriminately or unintentionally, by shooting than it is by stabbing.
A recent study in the U.S. found that more gunshot victims are dying before reaching the emergency room than they were a decade ago, even as trauma care has improved. One theory for this trend is an increasing “intensity” of violence, suggesting people may be getting shot more times, at closer range, with higher-caliber rounds, or simply while farther from the nearest hospital.
There’s no saying how much worse the problem would be in London if it were as easy to get a gun there as it is in the U.S.
President Donald Trump did his best to explain why the U.S. needs lax gun control laws by re-enacting the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris during a speech Friday before the National Rifle Association.
“So let’s talk about guns, shall we?” Trump said to the NRA crowd in Dallas. France has strict gun control laws, the president said, and that’s why terrorists were able to kill 130 people and injure hundreds more on Nov. 13 three years ago.
“We all remember more than 130 people,” Trump said of the attacks. “Two hundred and fifty people had horrible, horrible wounds. I mean, they never mention that, but they died in a restaurant and various other close-proximity places.”
In case people have forgotten the carnage of that day, Trump then used finger guns to really drive his point home.
“They took their time and gunned them down one-by-one,” Trump claimed about the terrorists’ shooting style. “Boom. Come over here. Boom. Come over here. Boom.”
Trump also brought up the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead earlier this year. He called for the arming of teachers as a way to prevent more such tragedies. Meanwhile, guns were banned at the NRA event because the Secret Service thinks that’s a better way to protect the president.
The worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history ― last October in Las Vegas when 58 people were killed and more than 800 more were injured ― did not come up in Trump’s remarks. The culprit was a U.S. citizen who was able to stockpile an arsenal of guns and ammo that he then unleashed on a music festival crowd from a high position at the Mandalay Bay Hotel.
The millions of Americans affected by gun violence ― not to mention the Parisians who were slaughtered in 2015 ― deserve more empathy than Trump showed on Friday. But few should be surprised by his lack of it.
The measure, the Public Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2018, was designed to address urban violence, an issue that gets relatively little attention in the U.S. gun debate — it’s the mass shootings like Newtown, Las Vegas and Parkland that make the headlines — despite accounting for most of the 13,000 firearm homicides and 60,000 nonfatal shootings that take place across the nation each year.
The bill sets aside $5 million in the coming year to fund grants for programs that have been effective at making violence-stricken neighborhoods more peaceful.
Maryland is now one of just six states funding gun violence prevention and intervention programs. California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York have been making modest investments for a number of years, and data suggest it has paid off in target cities, with 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.).
The sponsor of the Maryland legislation, Democratic Delelegate Brooke Lierman, said she felt compelled to act amid a murder epidemic in Baltimore, which saw more than 1,000 homicides from 2015 to 2017.
“What’s happening in Baltimore is a tragedy, as is what’s happening in other areas of the country where we are seeing homicide after homicide, death after death, day in and day out,” she told HuffPost. “Every dollar that we spend to prevent those deaths is definitely a dollar worth spending.”
Baltimore has already seen success with a prevention model called Cure Violence, a public health strategy that addresses the causes of violence. Case workers provide street outreach to those at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of gun violence and mediate conflicts before they boil over. Neighborhoods that have adopted the program have seen far fewer shootings, with some recording periods of more than a year without a homicide, Lierman said.
Anti-violence advocates say contributing to these programs makes financial sense. Gun violence costs the U.S. an estimated $229 billion each year, according to a 2012 study that measured direct spending on law enforcement, criminal justice and health care as well as indirect costs like lost wages and the effects of shootings on victims’ quality of life.
Taxpayers often end up picking up a substantial portion of the tab for this violence. Many shooting victims don’t have private health insurance, and it’s expensive to prosecute and imprison perpetrators.
Previous studies have calculated that taxpayers shoulder an average of $464,000 in costs for each gun homicide and as much as $40,000 for each nonfatal shooting. In Maryland, gun violence costs taxpayers approximately $294 million every year, according to an estimate by Giffords based on those studies.
Supporters of this type of state-level initiative recognize that the problem of daily gun violence tends to be confined to cities, often to specific neighborhoods. But for people outside those areas, ignoring the issue comes at a cost too.
“Even if you live in a suburban neighborhood where gun violence isn’t affecting you day to day, you are directly paying for the gun violence in nearby cities,” said Mike McLively, the director of the Urban Gun Violence Initiative at Giffords. “If you can’t get on board for moral reasons, you should at least be able to get on board for economic reasons.”
But the fact that there has been so little support for and attention paid to prevention programs reveals a lot about the gun debate. Urban communities, particularly communities of color, face a shockingly disproportionate share of gun violence in the U.S.
Of the 13,000 victims of gun homicides in 2015, over 8,500 were men of color, according to the Giffords report. Black men account for nearly half of firearm homicide victims each year but make up only 6 percent of the population. This phenomenon, known as murder inequality, is one of the many racial disparities that plague urban neighborhoods in the form of poverty, lack of employment opportunity and disinvestment in education and social services.
Despite those figures, the mass shootings in affluent, predominantly white communities like Newtown, Connecticut, and Parkland, Florida, most frequently drive the conversation as well as the ensuing policy agenda on gun violence.
With those isolated tragedies in mind, it makes sense that some people support tightening gun laws and restricting access to certain weapons as a response. In communities like Newtown, where there hasn’t been a murder since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, according to federal data, and Parkland, which hadn’t seen a gun homicide for at least a decade before the February shooting, a mass shooting may be residents’ only experience with gun violence.
There is disagreement over how effective certain popular gun control proposals would be at preventing mass shootings. But it seems unlikely that a measure like banning bump stocks would do much to stem the routine bloodshed in cities, where most lives are being lost.
This doesn’t mean state lawmakers shouldn’t continue to advocate for stronger gun laws as part of a comprehensive approach to preventing violence, said Lierman, who supported the complete package of firearms legislation in Maryland. But in states where gun politics is more contentious, she said, a plan like hers could give legislators a way to make a dent in violence without having to wade into a debate about gun control.
“It has absolutely nothing to do with taking away guns, and it should be exactly the kind of initiative that everybody, including gun enthusiasts, can support,” she said. “It is all about creating programs to stop gun violence.”
At a committee hearing for Lierman’s bill in February, pro-gun-rights lobbyists found reasons to oppose the effort.
The NRA would be “more comfortable if there were language included that recognizes the individual right to keep and bear arms,” a representative for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action said during testimony. She said the organization couldn’t commit to supporting the bill even if it were amended in that manner.
John Jocelyn of the NRA-affiliated Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore criticized the legislation for placing too much focus on the issue of violence with firearms and not enough on issues like “rebuilding families.”
“The program in itself can’t succeed unless we address the foundation issues to begin with,” he said. He went on to encourage lawmakers to reintroduce the bill in a future session, when they could “address the entire massive problem we face.”
They were the lone opposing voices.
“I was disappointed but not surprised,” said Lierman. “The NRA has apparently decided it needs to oppose anything that has to do with decreasing gun violence.”
When the students of Parkland, Florida, first made headlines, the media was widely criticized for promoting the stories of white students affected by violence over those of students of color. Since then, young activists have made very well-meaning attempts to widen the conversation to include the way gun violence manifests in communities of color.
Those efforts while noble, have unfortunately only aided in further narrowing the conversation and separating communities along party and color lines. Simply put, it lacks real intersectionality. We’re experiencing a complex conversation about violence that race alone can’t explain. There are many other factors that make gun violence a problem for everyone of every background.
We know that women are affected by gun violence in all its forms. By reframing the conversation around women, in full recognition of our multiple and intersecting identities, the full scope of the problem of gun violence can be seen and intersectional advocacy can be pursued.
We need a closer inspection into what solutions actually make women and people of color safe.
Intimate partner violence affects women of all races, religions, ages and abilities. That violence is five times more likely to kill us if our intimate partner has access to a gun. An astounding 4.5 million women in America reported that an intimate partner threatened them with a gun ― these are the women that lived. And yet even though this issue affects all women, the state often punishes black and brown women for being the victims of violence.
Marissa Alexander, the Florida mother who fired a warning shot into the air to scare off her abusive husband, spent almost six years under state supervision―the same state where George Zimmerman walked free under Stand Your Ground laws after shooting Trayvon Martin. In Detroit, pregnant mother Siwatu-Salama Ra sits in jail awaiting sentencing for merely brandishing a registered firearm to defend herself, her mother and her 2-year-old daughter from an attack.
Mothers of black and brown children also have to face the very real fear that their children will not be safe from those sworn to protect and serve. The police shoot and kill almost 1,000 people a year, and the majority of those are people of color. Although white men commit most acts of mass gun violence, children of color bear the burden of those crimes with the over-policing of urban schools. The presence of police in schools has not made students safer, but it has increased arrests for students of color and video footage has also shown shocking brutality from law enforcement officers inside of schools towards students of color. One such viral video shows a teenage black girl in South Carolina being tackled and flipped upside down while sitting in her desk, simply for not putting her phone away when instructed.
Of course, gun violence homicides within communities of color are a problem that should be taken seriously. Firearm violence is eight times more likely to kill Black Americans than those who are white, and homicide by gun is the second leading cause of death among young Latinos.
All of this is why we need a closer inspection into what solutions actually make women and people of color safe and not increase their potential to be victimized.
Diversity within advocacy groups are a requirement for real change.
The communities that are well-known for being plagued by gun violence are also the places where people of color are creating innovative methods of conflict resolution and violence intervention. Those programs need to be funded not only to save Chicago’s Southside or East New York but to expand development as the solutions on a broader scale.
We need full transparency to prevent the co-opting of the stories of people of color. We’ve seen how organizations use the traumatic experiences of black and brown people as tools for fundraising while rarely using those funds for or in support of the minority communities that experience trauma daily. Organizations who claim to be doing the work must be held accountable, making sure that serious investments are also going into a diverse set of communities.
This is why diversity within advocacy groups is a requirement for real change. We have to create meaningful space for a wide range of stakeholders to be included in addressing and creating solutions that will help make all of our communities safer and not just a privileged few.
Just like the problem is intersectional, so too are the solutions to strengthen and protect our communities. We need to encourage our elected representatives to say no to more police in schools, which has not made students any safer. We must elect into office new candidates who aren’t afraid to reframe gun violence as a public health crisis.
Funding priorities should look like effective violence intervention and prevention programs and more support for women who experience intimate partner violence. Only when the decision-making tables are truly reflective of the many communities that make up America will our policy solutions be truly reflective of the many manifestations of this terrible problem.
Carmen Perez is the executive director of The Gathering for Justice and National Co-Chair of Women’s March and Jamira Burley is a social justice advocate and community engagement consultant.
The Tennessee Waffle House where a gunman armed with an AR-15 killed four people has reopened, with all restaurant sales going to the victims’ families.
On Wednesday, the company announced its Antioch Waffle House location in southeast Nashville would reopen, with 100 percent of sales going to the families for the next month.
During the early Sunday shooting, Waffle House customer James Shaw Jr. took quick action to disarm the gunman and prevented the loss of more life. The gunman was captured by police on Monday.
Workers from Atlanta made the trip to Antioch to help get the Waffle House opened Wednesday at 9 a.m. Waffle House officials said they want to create a memorial or plaque for the Antioch store in the near future.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed into law on Tuesday an array of bills ushering in one of the most comprehensive packages of gun-violence legislation passed by any state this year.
The legislation includes a ban on bump stocks and other similar devices that allow semi-automatic firearms to simulate automatic fire. Another bill expands law enforcement’s ability to confiscate guns from individuals labeled an “extreme risk,” a measure known as a “red flag” law.
Both of those measures have garnered support in a number of states following deadly mass shootings in Las Vegas last year and Parkland, Florida, in February, but Maryland is one of the first to put both on the books.
The Las Vegas gunman had outfitted bump stocks to a dozen semi-automatic rifles, allowing him spray over 1,100 rounds into a crowd of concertgoers over the course of his 10-minute onslaught, killing 58 and injuring hundreds more.
The Parkland shooter was known to local police as a gun owner with violent tendencies, but because he hadn’t been convicted or even charged with a crime, law enforcement had no authority to confiscate his weapons before the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in which 17 people died.
Red flag laws, also known as gun violence restraining orders, allow family members or law enforcement personnel to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from individuals deemed to be dangers to themselves or to others.
In the signing ceremony, Hogan hailed the new laws as “common sense bipartisan measures that will keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and those with criminal backgrounds.”
Hogan also signed a bill to provide at least $5 million for public health and community-based gun-violence prevention programs. And other measures will strengthen an existing restriction on the purchase or possession of firearms by individuals convicted of domestic violence and revamp the appeals process for certain handgun permitting decisions.
In the Republican wave that marked the 2014 elections, Hogan was one of the surprise winners in a heavily Democratic state (Hillary Clinton carried Maryland in 2016 presidential race by more than 26 percentage points). He is seeking a second term this November.
The new laws build upon previous legislation that had already made Maryland’s gun statutes some of the nation’s strongest. In 2013, the state enacted a ban on semi-automatic rifles such as AR-15s and AK-47s, often referred to as assault weapons, as well as high-capacity ammunition magazines.
The slate of laws will address gun violence in a variety of forms, said Jen Pauliukonis, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence.
Pauliukonis said a bump stock ban is necessary to try to prevent the type of mass slaughter seen in Las Vegas, but she acknowledged that such a measure would do little to address the sort of shootings that take place across Maryland each day. She said the “broad spectrum” nature of the gun bills suggests lawmakers were eager to look beyond the issue of mass shootings. And she said she believes the red flag law will be particularly valuable.
“It can stop those high-profile mass shootings, it can stop school shootings, it can stop interpersonal gun violence on the streets and it can stop gun suicides,” she said of the legislative package.
She added that suicides using firearms account for “two-thirds of all gun deaths that occur in this country; there are over 22,000 gun suicides every year.”
The investment in community-based organizations and public health initiatives that already exist to stem gun violence also marks a different direction for Maryland. Only five other states have established this sort of fund, which is designed to give a financial injection to evidence-based services that address the root causes of gun violence.
Some programs may work to identify at-risk youth and provide a path for them off the streets, or deploy mediators who can work to de-escalate violence before it erupts. Other programs are based in hospitals and provide continuing care to gun violence victims to prevent them from engaging in revenge violence or being re-victimized once they’re discharged.
It can be hard to get official support for this sort of approach, even though the data suggests it can be effective, said Mike McLively, director of the Urban Gun Violence Initiative at the Giffords Law Center, a gun violence prevention group launched by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.)
“When states are thinking about the problem of gun violence, they’re usually thinking about law enforcement,” he said. “They think of this as a crime problem and really the main solution that comes to policymakers’ minds is investing more in law enforcement.”
A recent study by Giffords’ group calculated that about 1,672 shootings occur in Maryland each year, many of which are nonfatal. Together, they result in a direct measurable cost of over $1.3 billion.
This bloodshed disproportionately affects communities of color based in a few urban areas, Baltimore and Prince George’s County. With those trends often ignored in the media or by policymakers claiming to be interested in putting forth solutions to gun violence, advocates say this sort of effort is long overdue.
“It speaks to the underlying issue of which lives matter and where we’re going to put our resources,” Pauliukonis said.
Travis Reinking, the 29-year-old suspected of killing four people Sunday in a shooting at a Waffle House in Nashville, Tennessee, is in police custody.
Reinking was arrested Monday about a mile and a half from the Waffle House, the Metro Nashville Police Department announced in a tweet, ending a manhunt that began shortly after the shooting early Sunday.
Reinking, who is from Morton, Illinois, is suspected of opening fire in the restaurant with an AR-15. He faces multiple counts of criminal homicide.
Police say Reinking arrived at the restaurant at 3:19 a.m. on Sunday with the rifle and at least two magazines of ammunition, wearing only a green jacket. James Shaw Jr., a 29-year-old diner, has been hailed as a hero for tackling and disarming the shooter.
“I was just trying to get myself out. I saw the opportunity and pretty much took it,” Shaw, who suffered a minor gunshot wound to his arm, told The Tennessean.
The gunman took the jacket off after the shooting, and fled the scene on foot in the nude.
Police have identified the four people killed as Taurean Sanderlin, 29; Joe Perez, 20; Akilah DaSilva, 23; and DeEbony Groves, 21. Two others, Shanita Waggoner, 21, and Sharita Henderson, 24, were wounded in the incident.
Nashville police Chief Steve Anderson said authorities suspect Reinking has mental health issues. Reinking was arrested last June after he allegedly tried to cross a security barrier near the White House in order to meet President Donald Trump, authorities say. Following that incident, officials forced Reinking to surrender his firearms and turned the weapons over to his father. Reinking’s father gave the guns back to him, officials said.
In 2016, Illinois police officers were called to a CVS parking lot where Reinking was threatening to kill himself, per police reports obtained by ABC 7 Chicago and WKRN.
During the encounter, deputies said, Reinking claimed the singer Taylor Swift had been stalking and harassing him. He said he believed Swift had hacked his phone and Netflix account, and that she’d asked him to meet at a Dairy Queen, according to ABC 7.
Reinking moved to the Nashville area in fall 2017, according to CNN. A motive for the shooting is not yet known.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.