Tag Archives: sandy hook

Newtown families’ lawsuit against gun maker dismissed

A judge has dismissed a wrongful-death lawsuit by Newtown, Connecticut, families against the maker of the rifle used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre.

The judge cited an embattled federal law that shields gun manufacturers from most lawsuits over criminal use of their products.

State Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis granted a motion by Remington Arms to strike the lawsuit by the families of nine children and adults killed and a teacher who survived the Dec. 14, 2012, school attack, in which a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators with a Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle made by Remington.

The families were seeking to hold Remington accountable for selling what their lawyers called a semi-automatic rifle that is too dangerous for the public because it was designed as a military killing machine. Their lawyer vowed an immediate appeal of the ruling.

The judge agreed with attorneys for Madison, North Carolina-based Remington that the lawsuit should be dismissed under the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which was passed by Congress in 2005 and shields gun makers from liability when their firearms are used in crimes.

Advocates for gun control and against gun violence have criticized the law as special protection for gun makers.

It became an issue in the presidential campaign this year when Hillary Clinton, now the Democratic nominee, criticized then-challenger Bernie Sanders for his support of the law in 2005.

Sanders, a Vermont U.S. senator, is now backing a bill to repeal the law.

Lawyers for Remington said Congress passed the act after determining such lawsuits were an abuse of the legal system.

But the families’ attorneys argued the lawsuit was allowed under an exception in the federal law that allows litigation against companies that know, or should know, that their weapons are likely to be used in a way that risks injury to others, and the judge disagreed.

“While the families are obviously disappointed with the judge’s decision, this is not the end of the fight,” said Joshua Koskoff, a lawyer for the families. “We will appeal this decision immediately and continue our work to help prevent the next Sandy Hook from happening.”

Jonathan Whitcomb, an attorney for Remington Arms, declined to comment.

The company recently had been fighting to keep internal documents requested by the families from public view. The judge issued an order in August allowing certain documents containing trade secrets and other information to be kept from public view, but she said the order did not apply to all other documents in the case.

Besides Remington, other defendants in the lawsuit include firearms distributor Camfour and Riverview Gun Sales, the now-closed East Windsor store where the Newtown gunman’s mother legally bought the Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle used in the shooting.

Gunman Adam Lanza, who was 20 years old, shot his mother to death at their Newtown home before driving to the school, where he killed 26 other people. He killed himself as police arrived.

Dems bring gun control to center stage

With moments of silence, shared embraces, many tears and heartfelt speeches, Democrats brought gun control into the spotlight at their convention in Philadelphia.

The Democratic National Convention is taking place at the Wells Fargo Center through July 28. Delegates assembled in the arena the first three nights heard from advocates of gun control.

They also heard from survivors of gun violence and relatives who lost sons, daughters, mothers, fathers and friends to gun violence in America.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who staged a filibuster earlier this summer to demand action on gun control, remembered the day he went to Sandy Hook Elementary School in his home state.

President Barack Obama also remembered that day.

As did Erica Smegielski. Her mother Dawn, a teacher and principal, was murdered in the massacre at the school.

“I’m here for those lives cut short, in a school, or a movie theater, in a church, at work, in their neighborhoods or homes — because those voices should never be silenced,” she said. “I am here alone — without my mother — while too many politicians cower behind the gun lobby instead of standing with American families.”


Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey talked about gun violence and what the proliferation of assault weapons means for citizens and the law enforcement officers who pledge to protect them.

“I’m here to say we need more than grieving,” Ramsey said. “To protect our law enforcement and to serve those heroes who have fallen, we need commonsense measures to reduce gun violence. Police need these commonsense measures. And a leader who will fight for them.”

Actress Angela Bassett spoke about the violence.

Director Lee Daniels spoke about the violence.

Felicia Sanders and Polly Sheppard, two of the three survivors of the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, spoke about gun violence and hate.

Sanders said, “My son’s last words were, ‘We mean you no harm.’ Tywanza. My hero. Two days later, I forgave the shooter who murdered him. Hate destroys those who harbor it, and I refused to let hate destroy me.

“Still, I have to ask: How was he able to purchase the gun he used to kill so many? After that fateful day, Hillary Clinton called on lawmakers to close the Charleston loophole. Because of that loophole, even though the shooter had an arrest record, when it didn’t surface and three days had passed, he could still buy that gun.”

Astronaut Mark Kelly spoke about his support for gun control reform, as did his wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, a survivor of a mass shooting.

Jesse Jackson addressed the issue.

And so did Christine Leinonen, the mother of Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, who was killed in the massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June.

She stood at the podium with Brandon Wolf and Jose Arraigada, survivors of the shooting that took 49 lives and left 53 wounded.

At times during the emotional address, they helped keep her standing.

From the stage, Leinonen could look out at delegates, some of them draped waving U.S. flags, some draped in rainbow flags and many waving signs reading, “Love trumps hate.”

Leinonen said her son supported Hillary Clinton and that’s why she decided to speak at the convention.

She told delegates that at the time of her son’s birth, she was employed as a state trooper and she remembered that hospital staff stowed her off-duty gun in a safe as a precaution.

“I didn’t argue,” Leinonen said. “I know common sense gun policies save lives.”

“Where was that common sense the day he died?” the mother said, referring to the killing of her son by a gunman armed with an assault rifle.

All this was on July 27, the third night of the convention. Others spoke about gun violence and gun control on July 26 and July 25.

Delegates and Philadelphians, who sometimes waited in long lines for seats in the upper deck of the arena, responded with standing ovations and moments of silence.

“I think there’s a stark difference on this issue between Republicans and Democrats,” said Philadelphia convention-goer Jerome Rivera. “You saw last week Republicans encouraging people to go to their convention concealing and carrying. What did they have to be afraid of at their convention? Other gun-toting Republicans.”


At the podium

Remarks by Gabby Giffords to the Democratic National Convention on July 27:

Hello, fellow Democrats! What a crowd! It’s great to be here today. We have important work ahead of us. Work that will determine the future of our country. Are you ready? I’m ready.

I have a passion for helping people. I always have. So does Hillary Clinton. Hillary is tough. Hillary is courageous.She will fight to make our families safer. In the White House, she will stand up to the gun lobby. That’s why I’m voting for Hillary!

I know what hate and division can do to our communities. Let’s stand up for responsibility. Together we can make sure that respect, hard work, and progress win in November.

In Congress, I learned an important lesson: Strong women get things done!  Let’s work together to make Hillary our president. I’m with Her! And I know you are too.

Speaking is difficult for me. But come January, I want to say these two words: “Madam President.”


At the podium

Remarks by Erica Smegielski to the DNC on July 27:

I shouldn’t be here tonight. I don’t want to be here tonight.

I should be home, like so many Americans watching on TV with my mother, as we nominate the first woman to be President of the United States.

But, my mom was murdered. So I’m here.

I’m here for the mothers and daughters who are planning weddings, so that you get to watch your daughter walk down the aisle.

I’m here for those lives cut short, in a school, or a movie theater, in a church, at work, in their neighborhoods or homes — because those voices should never be silenced.

I am here alone — without my mother — while too many politicians cower behind the gun lobby instead of standing with American families.

We don’t need another Charleston, or San Bernardino, or Dallas, or countless other acts of everyday gun violence that don’t make the headlines.

We don’t need our teachers or principals going to work in fear.

What we need is another mother who is willing to do what is right — whose bravery can live up in equal measure to my mom’s.

We need to elect Hillary Clinton as the 45th President of the United States of America so that no other daughter ever has to say: I would give every day I have left for just one more day with my mom.



Murphy ends filibuster, Senate Republicans agree to votes on gun measures

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy ended a blockade of the Senate after nearly 15 hours, saying Republicans agreed to hold votes on measures to expand background checks and prevent people on U.S. terrorism watch lists from buying guns.

Democrats stalled Senate proceedings on June 15 and into June 16 in a bid to push for tougher gun control legislation following the massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and spoke on the Senate floor through out the night.

Republicans, who currently have a 54-person majority in the Senate, have over the years blocked gun control measures, saying they step on Americans’ right to bear arms as guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.

“When we began there was no commitment, no plan to debate these measures,” Murphy, of Connecticut, said during the 15th hour of the filibuster early on Thursday.

He said Democrats were given a commitment by the Senate’s Republican leadership that votes would be allowed on two measures on preventing gun sales to people on terrorism watch lists and expanding background checks.

“No guarantee that those amendments pass but we’ll have some time to … prevail upon members to take these measures and turn them into law,” Murphy said.

With Republicans and the National Rifle Association gun lobby under pressure to respond to the massacre, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would meet with the NRA to discuss ways to block people on terrorism watch or no-fly lists from buying guns.

The Senate had began discussions on legislation to ban firearm sales to the hundreds of thousands of people on U.S. terrorism watch lists. The Orlando gunman, who carried out the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, had been on such a list.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged senators on June 15 to offer ideas on how to prevent another attack like the one in Orlando.

Late on June 15, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said negotiations “were little more than a smokescreen by Republicans trying to give themselves political cover while they continue to march in lock-step with the NRA’s extreme positions.”

If Congress was to pass a gun control measure, it would mark the first time in more than 20 years that lawmakers agreed on how to address the hot-button issue. A ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, such as the one used in Orlando, had gone into effect in 1994 and expired 10 years later.

Sandy Hook survivors can sue gun maker

Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis said that a 2005 federal law protecting gun manufacturers from lawsuits does not prevent lawyers for the victims’ families from arguing that the semi-automatic rifle is a military weapon that should not have been sold to civilians.

Adam Lanza, 20, killed 20 first-grade students and six educators on Dec. 14, 2012 with a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle that his mother had bought legally. Lanza killed his mother Nancy Lanza at their Newtown home with a different gun before going to the school a few miles away, and then killed himself as police arrived.

The families of nine children and adults killed at the Newtown school and a teacher who survived the attack are suing Remington Arms, the parent company of Bushmaster Firearms, the gun maker that produced the weapon used in the slayings.

Lawyers for Remington Arms sought to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the federal law shields a gun maker from most lawsuits over criminal use of their products. They said Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act after determining such lawsuits were an abuse of the legal system.

Judge Bellis ruled Thursday that argument would be best made in a motion later in the process and is not grounds to dismiss the lawsuit.

Lawyers for Remington did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Joshua Koskoff, a lawyer for the families, argues there is an exception in the federal law that allows litigation against companies that know, or should know, that their weapons are likely to be used in a way that risks injury to others.

“We are thrilled that the gun companies’ motion to dismiss was denied,” he said. “The families look forward to continuing their fight in court.”

Debate over the 2005 law has resurfaced in this year’s presidential campaign. In last night’s Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton slammed Bernie Sanders for supporting the law, which gave immunity to gun makers but not other industries.

FBI studies dramatic increase in mass shootings

The number of shootings in which a gunman wounds or kills multiple people has increased dramatically in recent years, with the majority of attacks in the last decade occurring at a business or a school, according to an FBI report released Sept. 25.

The study focused on 160 “active shooter incidents” between 2000 and 2013. Those are typically defined as cases in which a gunman in an attack shoots or attempts to shoot people in a populated area.

The goal of the report, which excluded shootings that are gang and drug related, was to compile accurate data about the attacks and to help local police prepare for or respond to similar killings in the future, federal law enforcement officials said.

“These incidents, the large majority of them, are over in minutes. So it’s going to have to be a teaching and training of the best tactics, techniques and procedures to our state and local partners,” said James F. Yacone, an FBI assistant director who oversees crisis response and was involved in the report.

According to the report, an average of six shooting incidents occurred in the first seven years that were studied. That average rose to more than 16 per year in the last seven years of the study. That period included the 2012 shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, as well as last year’s massacre at the Washington Navy Yard in which a gunman killed 12 people before dying in a police shootout.

The majority of the shootings occurred either at a business or a school, university or other education facility, according to the study, conducted in conjunction with Texas State University. Other shootings have occurred in open spaces, on military properties, and in houses of worship and health care facilities.

A total of more than 1,000 people were either killed or wounded in the shootings. In about one-quarter of the cases, the shooter committed suicide before the police arrived. The gunman acted alone in all but two of the cases. The shooters were female in at least six of the incidents.

Not all of the cases studied involved deaths or even injuries. In one 2006 case in Joplin, Missouri, a 13-year-old boy brought a rifle and handgun into a middle school, but his rifle jammed after he fired one shot. The principal then escorted the boy out of school and turned him over to the police.

Law enforcement officials who specialize in behavioral analysis say the motives of gunmen vary but many have a real, or perceived, personally held grievance that they feel mandates an act of violence. Though it’s hard to say why the number of shootings has increased, officials say they believe many shooters are inspired by past killings and the resulting notoriety.

“The copycat phenomenon is real,” said Andre Simons of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. “As more and more notable and tragic events occur, we think we’re seeing more compromised, marginalized individuals who are seeking inspiration from those past attacks.”

Beyond studying the shootings, the FBI has promoted better training for local law enforcement, invariably the first responders.

Ignoring polls, Walker bows to ‘NRA masters’

Gov. Scott Walker said his administration would not push for more extensive background checks for gun owners in Wisconsin, despite recent polls showing overwhelming public support for the concept both in the state and nationally.

A Marquette University Law School poll released in March found that 81 percent of Wisconsinites favor background checks for people who purchase firearms at gun shows or from private residents, while only 18 percent oppose them. The response numbers were almost identical for people who own guns and those who don’t. The level of support was also nearly the same among men and women, as well as among residents in all parts of the state.

About 54 percent of Wisconsinites also said they favor banning military-style assault weapons, while 43 percent opposed such a ban.

Support for gun control reform seems to have spiked following the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December. Mass shootings last year at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek and at the Azana Salon and Spa in Brookfield brought the growing problem of gun violence closer to home.

Walker has received extensive funding from the National Rifle Association, which vehemently opposes all background checks, including those designed to prevent convicts and people with a history of mental illness from buying guns, ammunition and explosives.

The NRA provided $815,000 in independent campaign support for Walker’s recall race last year, and the NRA Political Victory Fund gave $10,000 directly to his campaign. The latter was the single largest contribution made by the political action committee in 2012, according to the National Institute on State Money in Politics.

Walker maintains an A-plus rating with the NRA, and he was a featured speaker at the group’s national convention last year. The group has praised Walker for signing laws allowing Wisconsin residents to carry concealed weapons and providing legal protection to homeowners who shoot and kill intruders on their property. Both actions are high on the NRA’s priority list.

Gun control advocates in some states had hoped reform would come from a federal measure to require background checks for people purchasing guns and ammunition over the Internet and at gun shows. The proposal was the most serious attempt at gun-control reform in the past 20 years.

But the U.S. Senate nixed the proposal last month, and it faced likely defeat in the House, where tea party adherents largely control the agenda.

The proposal needed 60 votes to clear the Senate but received only 55. Forty-two Senators, including four Democrats, voted no. Wisconsin’s Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin voted for the bill, but Republican Sen. Ron Johnson voted against it.

Wisconsin currently requires people who purchase guns from federally licensed dealers to undergo background checks, but the state doesn’t regulate private transactions. Democrats have introduced a bill in the Legislature calling for universal background checks, which would make it illegal to buy or sell most firearms in the state without a background check.

But Walker said the issue should be left to the federal government to regulate, not individual states.

State Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, said Walker and Republican legislative leaders who have refused to act on the bill he introduced were showing a “failure of leadership.”

“They need to listen to people around the country, and certainly people in this state, who overwhelmingly feel that having background checks is important to have when you transfer guns,” Richards said.

The NRA has registered its opposition to Richards’ gun background check bill in Wisconsin. The measure appears all but dead in the Legislature given Walker’s position and opposition from Republican leaders.

The bill has generated support from Elvin Daniel, whose sister Zina Haughton was among seven people shot in an attack by her husband at the Azana spa in Brookfield last October. Haughton’s husband bought the handgun from a private owner just days before the shooting and after she was granted a restraining order against him.

Backers of the Democrats’ bill, including Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, argue a universal background check law may have prevented his purchase of the gun.

But Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, has called the Democrats’ bill an unnecessary political stunt that would deny gun owners’ constitutional rights. Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the bill is going nowhere.

Walker’s mental health

In announcing his opposition to any form of gun control, Walker said he would direct efforts to curb gun-related violence by providing better mental health care. Walker has proposed adding about $29 million in funding for mental health programs in the state, including community-based care for adults and children with severe mental illness.

The spending plan also would establish an Office of Children’s Mental Health.

“For us that’s really where we’re going to put our focal point on,” Walker said. “The bigger issue seems to be treating chronic, untreated mental illness.”

Progressive leaders in Wisconsin say they’re puzzled by Walker’s sudden interest in mental health services. which took a serious hit when he refused to extend BadgerCare to about 175,000 Wisconsin residents. The program provides health care services to the working poor, but Walker chose to cut its rolls rather than take federal dollars attached to President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which the governor rejects on ideological grounds.  Despite the objections of business and health care organizations in the state, Walker turned down $66 million in federal health dollars – dollars that Wisconsin taxpayers help to pay for.

Walker also distanced himself from health care reform by rejecting calls from Wisconsin’s medical and busineess leaders to create state-based insurance exchanges,

“There’s no question more funding for mental health services in Wisconsin is a good thing. But there’s also no question, based on his abysmal record, that Gov. Walker is not doing it out of concern for Wisconsinites struggling with mental health issues, but rather to advance his presidential ambitions and serve his National Rifle Association masters,” said One Wisconsin Now deputy director Mike Browne.

Democratic state Rep. Sandy Pasch, a former mental health nurse, said she’s pleased the governor is giving some attention to mental health, but she objects to the way he’s positioning it as a gun violence issue.

“One of the primary reasons people don’t seek mental health care is due to the stigma attached to it, and now the governor is linking it with gun violence in a very public way,” Pasch said. “If he wanted to link (the two), it should be in the context that people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.”

Pasch also questioned whether the amount of funding requested by the governor is even enough to compensate for the loss of access to care resulting from Walker’s BadgerCare  cuts. She said that $12.5 million included in his $29 million mental health budget proposal is designated for people who are already incarcerated for crimes but are too unstable to stand trial.

“That money is just for Mendota (Mental Health Institute’s) forensic unit for people who have been arrested and may have a mental heath problem,” Pasch said. The new funding will get them out of jail and into the institute, where they can be brought up to a competency level to participate in their defense, she explained.

Pasch said the remaining money in the mental health budget would have to be divided among 72 counties, many of which lack mental health care providers and suffer from a scarcity of primary care physicians. For instance, the entire state north of  Wausau has only one or two child psychologists, Pasch said.

“It looks like the governor’s doing something, but it’s a misguided effort,” she concluded. “He needs to deal with guns and he needs to deal with mental health.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Ignoring critics, NRA doubles down

The United States virtually belongs to Wall Street, Big Oil, Big Pharma and a handful of other special interests – including the National Rifle Association. The rest of us merely live in it.

The NRA’s wealth does not come from hunters but rather from the producers of weapons and ammunition. That industry is expected to rack up $11.7 billion in sales and $993 million in profits this year, according to analysts at IBIS World. An increasing percentage of those profits are from semi-automatic weapons produced for combat, according to industry analysts.

With their vastly disproportionate influence, the NRA and its cronies create policies and laws that benefit their interests while harming the rest of us. Indeed, if an elected official from a non-safe legislative district dares to put public safety before the arms industry’s bottom line, the NRA can simply eliminate him or her. Money buys a lot of political advertising. Even President Obama is terrified of the NRA.

Demonstrating the arrogance of their power, NRA officials waited a week before responding to the unthinkable Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, in which Adam Lanza allegedly used an assault weapon to riddle the bodies of 6-year-olds and 7-year-olds.

When the NRA’s CEO Wayne LaPierre did finally address the massacre, he used the opportunity to hawk gun sales by calling for the arming of school officials. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he advised.

But if LaPierre’s advice had any merit, then America would be the safest nation on earth – because it is the best armed. A November Congressional Research Service report found that, as of 2009, there were about 310 million firearms in the United States, including 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles and 86 million shotguns. At least 1.5 million of those weapons are automatics and semi-automatics designed for warfare.

Yet the United States has by far the highest incidence of gun-related deaths in the industrialized world, and the 10th highest incidence rate overall – ranking just 1 percent less deadly than Mexico in deaths by firearms.

Even more reprehensible than the NRA’s reaction to the Connecticut massacre was the pandering response of politicians hoping to curry the group’s favor. Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is a prime example.

A perennial aspirant for higher office, Van Hollen made a preemptive defensive strike against any prospective efforts to reform gun-control laws in the state. “It’s a bad idea to have quick, knee-jerk reactions,” he said, apparently unaware of the irony.

Van Hollen wasn’t really worried – he was merely genuflecting. The NRA and gun-makers spent $815,660 to help Walker defeat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the June recall election, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. That’s why concealed-carry was at the top of Walker’s legislative agenda, and that’s why Wisconsin will never have gun-control reform as long as Walker and the GOP maintain their greedy grip on Madison.

Web security firm vows to donate money received from Westboro Church to charity

Shortly after the gay-obsessed Westboro Baptist Church announced that its members would picket the funerals of victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., the hackers collective Anonymous went to work. The group claimed to have successfully filed a death certificate for Shirley Phelps-Roper, the church’s spokesperson and to have updated Phelps-Roper’s desktop to gay porn.

Anonymous also posted the personal contact information and the location of the church’s primary organizers via Twitter.  As a result, Twitter suspended one of the primary accounts associated with Anonymous, @YourAnonNews, as well as Phelps-Roper’s Twitter account, which had been taken over by Anonymous.

In a video released on Dec. 18, Anonymous warns Westboro of its impending downfall and vows to “dismantle the church.”

“Your downfall is underway,” says a voice in the video. “Since your one-dimensional thought protocol will conform not to any modern logic, we will not debate, argue, or attempt to reason with you.” 

But Black Lotus, a Web security firm, went to the aid of the infamous “God Hates Fags” church, providing the group with attack protection. The firm, however, has vowed to donate all money received for its services from Westboro to charity.

“It is important to avoid setting a precedent that information should be suppressed merely because of its content,” said Black Lotus CEO Jeffrey Lyon in a statement that was published by  www.globalpost.com. “Regardless, Black Lotus is a human organization with our own set of standards and principles and in support of such we will donate all WBC revenue, and then some, to ensure that our relationship with WBC is on a zero revenue basis.”

Westboro Baptist Church, which is led by the fiery hell-and-damnation preacher Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kan., blames gays for the shootings at the elementary school, along with every other atrocity experienced by the United States and its citizens.

Around world, massacres have spurred gun control

If there’s anywhere that understands the pain of Newtown, Conn., it’s Dunblane, Scotland, the town whose grief became a catalyst for changes to Britain’s gun laws.

In March 1996, a 43-year-old man named Thomas Hamilton walked into a primary school in this central Scotland town of 8,000 people and shot to death 16 kindergarten-age children and their teacher with four legally held handguns. In the weeks that followed, people in the town formed the Snowdrop campaign – named for the first flower of spring – to press for a ban on handguns. Within weeks, it had collected 750,000 signatures. By the next year, the ban had become law.

It is a familiar pattern around the world – from Britain to Australia, grief at mass shootings has been followed by swift political action to tighten gun laws.

Many in the United States are calling for that to happen there, too, after the shooting of 20 children as young as six at a school in Newtown, Conn. Many other Americans are adamant the laws should not change.

In Dunblane, residents have been gathering at the town’s massacre memorial to sign a book of condolence – but are loath to advise grieving Americans what to do.

“It is not for us to tell the U.S. about gun control. That is for the people there,” said Terence O’Brien, a member of the Dunblane community council. “What happened here was similar in many respects, but the wider culture is different.”

When it comes to guns, the United States is exceptional. The United States has the highest civilian gun ownership rate in the world, with 89 guns per 100 people, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey.

Gun advocates, including the powerful lobby group the National Rifle Association, have blocked attempts to toughen U.S. gun laws in the wake of previous mass shootings. Gun supporters say that the right to bear arms, enshrined in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, makes firearms ownership a civil rights issue, rather than simply an issue of public safety.

Supporters of gun control often cite Australia’s dramatic response to a 1996 shooting spree in the southern state of Tasmania that killed 35 people.

The slaughter sparked outrage across the country and within 12 days federal and state governments had agreed to impose strict new gun laws, including a ban on semi-automatic rifles like the Colt AR-15 used by the Tasmania killer. The Connecticut killer used a similar, rapid-firing weapon.

Gun ownership was restricted to people with genuine need or sporting shooters with gun club membership. Some 700,000 guns were bought back and destroyed by the federal government from owners who no longer qualified to possess them.

The changes were unpopular with politicians from rural areas with high numbers of hunters and farmers. But, as in Britain after Dunblane, the strength of public opinion swayed politicians from both government and opposition parties.

Gun laws also were strengthened in Canada after the 1989 slaying of 14 female engineering students in Montreal by a woman-hating gunman, and in Germany after a 19-year-old expelled student killed 16 people, including 12 teachers, in Erfurt in 2002.

Even gun-loving Finland – with 45 firearms for every 100 people – tightened its laws after two school shootings in 2007 and 2008, raising the minimum age for firearms ownership and giving police greater powers to make background checks on individuals applying for a gun license.

Did it work? In Australia’s case, the change appears dramatic. There were a dozen mass shootings with at least five deaths in the country between 1981 and the Tasmania massacre; there have been none in the 16 years since.

Studies have tracked a reduction in gun deaths in Australia since the 1996 reforms, particularly in suicides. The journal Injury Prevention reported in 2006 that the risk of dying by gunshot had halved in Australia in a decade.

In 2010 in Australia, there were 0.1 gun murders per 100,000 people, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, less than half the rate of a decade earlier. In the United States the murder rate was more than 30 times higher, at 3.2 per 100,000.

The connection looks simple – countries with tighter gun laws and fewer guns have lower levels of gun crime.

But experts say it is not quite so straightforward.

“The irony in the U.K. is that in the four years from 1998 when handguns were fully banned, gun crime continued to rise,” said Peter Squires, a professor of criminology at the University of Brighton. “We were in a phase in the 1990s when street gangs were becoming the new urban disorder … and we were hit by a whole new problem of converted and replica and reactivated guns.”

In the long run, Squire thinks the change in law did make a difference. Gun crime in Britain has been falling since its peak in 2002 – a decline also seen in other Western countries – and there are now only a few dozen firearms homicides each year.

But, he said, “for the first four years it played into the classic NRA script that gun control has failed.”

The U.S. gun lobby sometimes cites peaceful, alpine Switzerland as an example of a country that has many privately owned guns and little violent crime.

Like the United States, it has a strong gun culture and with plentiful shooting clubs – but also a mass citizen militia. Members of the part-time militia, in which most men serve, are allowed to keep their weapons at home, and the country of less than 8 million people owns at least 2.3 million weapons, many stashed under beds and in cupboards.

But while Swiss homes contain guns, but little ammunition, which is largely kept under lock and key at local military depots. Most adult gun users have military training.

And Switzerland went through its own soul-searching after a man named Friedrich Leibacher went on the rampage in the regional parliament in the wealthy northern Swiss city of Zug in September 2001. He killed 14 people and himself, apparently over a grudge against a local official.

The massacre, along with a campaign to reduce Switzerland’s high level of gun suicide, led to a referendum last year. It proposed that military-issued firearms must be locked in secure army depots and would have banned the sale of fully automatic weapons and pump-action rifles.

Voters decisively rejected it.

Those who believe tighter gun laws are necessary acknowledge they are no panacea. Norway has strict gun controls, but Anders Behring Breivik shot 69 people dead in July 2011 with a pistol and a rifle he acquired legally by joining a  shooting club and taking a hunting course.

But gun control advocates say the alternative is worse.

“There is no act of Parliament, no act of Congress, that can guarantee there’ll never be a massacre,” former British Cabinet minister Jack Straw, who as home secretary brought in the country’s handgun ban in 1997, said Sunday. “However, the more you tighten the law, the more you reduce the risk.”

Gay rights group responds to school shooting


The nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group on Dec. 14 responded to the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said, “The entire HRC family mourns today’s horrific tragedy in Newtown. We extend condolences, thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims as well as to the entire state of Connecticut which is still reeling from this senseless act violence. We note with sadness that it was less than a week since two innocent lives were lost at a mall in Oregon, and we offer our well-wishes and support to law enforcement officials investigating these truly heinous crimes.”

The Associated Press was reporting that 28 people were killed at the elementary school, including the gunman, and one person died at another scene. The dead at the school include 20 children.

The news service said the gunman blasted his way through the building as young students hid in classrooms while their teachers and classmates were shot.

The gunman killed himself.