Tag Archives: Second Amendment

Trump suggests ‘2nd Amendment people’ might shoot Clinton

Donald Trump suggested on Aug. 9 that “Second Amendment people” might shoot Hillary Clinton if she becomes president.

The GOP nominee was speaking at a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina, and falsely claimed that Clinton, the Democratic nominee, wants to “essentially abolish the Second Amendment.”

Trump said, “By the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

Clinton’s campaign quickly responded.

“This is simple — what Trump is saying is dangerous,” said Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook. “A person seeking to be the president of the United States should not suggest violence in any way.”

The Trump campaign said the candidate was simply celebrating the “amazing spirit” of Second Amendment supporters and not making any threats.

But the AP reported that Catherine Milhoan, a spokeswoman for the Secret Service, said, “We are aware of his comments.”

A few weeks ago, a Trump campaign adviser on veterans’ issues said, “Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.”

That comment also caught the attention of the Secret Service, which is investigating.

Twitter lighted up even as Trump was still speaking at the North Carolina rally.

The NRA tweeted: “.@RealDonaldTrump is right. If @HillaryClinton gets to pick her anti-#2A #SCOTUS judges, there’s nothing we can do. #NeverHillary. But there IS something we will do on #ElectionDay: Show up and vote for the #2A! #DefendtheSecond #NeverHillary.”

Bernie King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., tweeted: “As the daughter of a leader who was assassinated, I find #Trump‘s comments distasteful, disturbing, dangerous. His words don’t #LiveUp. #MLK.”

On the web …

An interesting read at The New York Times about the hostility and threats of violence at Trump rallies.

Republicans vow to obstruct anyone Obama nominates to fill Scalia’s seat

Antonin Scalia, who was considered one of most conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, died Friday night while staying at a hunting resort in the Big Bend area of Texas. The caustic firebrand complained about feeling ill the night before he was found unresponsive in his room.

The cause of death was not immediately known.

Scalia was part of a 5-4 conservative majority — with one of the five, Anthony Kennedy, sometimes voting with liberals on the court. In a tie vote, the lower court opinion prevails.

Scalia’s death leaves a 4–4 split between liberal and conservative justices on the bench, which means many important decisions will be tied. An even split between conservatives and liberals on the Supreme Court will leave nearly an entire year in which many major upcoming decisions, including cases involving abortion, affirmative action and immigration policy, will be resolved by lower courts

After offering his condolences to Scalia’s family and paying tribute to him as a “towering figure,” President Barack Obama vowed to nominate a successor to Scalia “in due time.”

Republican congressional leaders, hoping to win the White House next year, fired back that they would refuse to approve anyone Obama nominates — a ploy in which they are well versed. They insist no nomination should be made until the next president takes office, which is nearly 11 months away.

Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate’s top Democrat, said it would be “unprecedented in recent history” for the court to have a vacancy for so long a time.

The Supreme Court will now become a major issue in this year’s presidential race.

Dozens of federal positions remain unfilled due to Republican obstructionism, including the nomination of Eric Fanning to be the next secretary of the Army. The Senate refuses to approve Fanning due to his sexual orientation. He’s stepped down from his post as acting secretary because of the political turmoil.

Last year, Sen. Marco Rubio, R–Fla., scuttled Obama’s nomination of Judge Darrin Gayles, an out gay black state court judge, to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Scalia, who was selected in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, seemed to have a mission to move the court to the right. He was a strict constructionist who adhered to legal“originalism,”which he called “textualism.” In other words, judges had a duty to give the same meaning to the words and concepts as they were understood by the Founding Fathers. Because same-sex marriage was not mentioned in the Constitution, written over 200 years ago, Scalia believed that the issue was not a Constitutional one.

A challenge to a Washington, D.C., gun ban gave Scalia the opportunity to display his devotion to textualism. In a 5–4 decision that split the court’s conservatives and liberals, he wrote that an examination of English and colonial history made it exceedingly clear that the Second Amendment protected Americans’ right to have guns, at the very least in their homes and for self-defense. The dissenters, also claiming fidelity to history, said the amendment was meant to ensure that states could raise militias to confront a too-powerful federal government if necessary.

But Scalia rejected that view. “Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem. That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct,” Scalia wrote.

Scalia carried his rifle in a case on the New York City subways. Decades later, he taught the Upper West Sider Kagan how to shoot a gun and the two went together on excursions hunting animals.

Scalia was a strong supporter of privacy in cases involving police searches and defendants’ rights. But, a devoted Roman Catholic, he also voted consistently to let states outlaw abortions, to allow a closer relationship between government and religion, to permit executions and to limit lawsuits.

In 2002, however, he surprised SCOTUS observers by opposing the court’s decision to outlaw executing the mentally disabled, despite the church’s rejection of the death penalty. The framers of the Constitution didn’t think capital punishment was unconstitutional and neither did he, he said, adding that judges who follow the philosophy that capital punishment is morally wrong should resign.

A longtime law professor before becoming a judge, Scalia frequently spoke at law schools and to other groups. Later in his tenure, he also spoke at length in on-the-record interviews, often to promote a book.

He betrayed no uncertainty about some of the most contentious legal issues of the day.

“The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state,” Scalia said during a talk that preceded a book signing at the American Enterprise Institute in 2012.

Scalia was in the court’s majority in the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, which effectively decided the presidential election for Republican George W. Bush. “Get over it,” Scalia would famously say at speaking engagements in the ensuing years whenever the topic arose.

The justice relished a good fight. In 2004, when an environmental group asked him to step aside from a case involving Vice President Dick Cheney after reports that Scalia and Cheney hunted ducks together, the justice responded with a 21-page memorandum explaining his intention to hear the case. He said “the nation is in deeper trouble than I had imagined,” if people thought a duck-hunting trip could sway his vote.

Two years later, The Boston Herald reported that Scalia employed an obscene hand gesture while leaving a church in response to another question about his impartiality. Scalia penned a scathing letter to the newspaper, taking issue with the characterization. He explained that the gesture —the extended fingers of one hand moving slowly back and forth under the raised chin — was dismissive, not obscene.

“From watching too many episodes of The Sopranos, your staff seems to have acquired the belief that any Sicilian gesture is obscene,” he said.

A smoker of cigarettes and pipes, Scalia enjoyed baseball, poker, hunting and playing the piano. He was an enthusiastic singer at court Christmas parties and other musical gatherings.

Born in New Jersey, he was the only child of an Italian immigrant father who was a professor of Romance languages and a mother who taught elementary school. He attended public schools, graduated first in his class at Georgetown University and won high honors at the Harvard University Law School. He taught law and served in Republican administrations before Reagan made him an appeals court judge in Washington in 1982. Scalia and his wife Maureen had nine children.

Scalia’s impact on the court was muted by his seeming disregard for moderating his views to help build consensus.

The friendship between Scalia and Ginsburg inspired the opera Scalia/Ginsburg by composer Derrick Wang. The two once appeared on stage as extras in a performance art the Washington Opera.

In one aria, the Scalia character rages about justices who see the Constitution evolving with society.

The operatic Scalia fumes: “The justices are blind. How can they spout this? The Constitution says absolutely nothing about this.”

The real-life Scalia certainly agreed.

Obama: NRA pushed ‘conspiracy’ theory that ‘somebody’s going to come grab your guns’

President Barack Obama mocked conspiracy theorists and tore into the National Rifle Association for pushing “imaginary fiction,” as he described his plans to tighten gun control rules as modest first steps toward tackling gun violence in America.

In a prime-time, televised town hall meeting last week, Obama fielded tough questions from high-profile gun control opponents and supporters alike, often answering with sympathy and without confrontation as he tried to reassure Americans there is a middle ground on a fiercely divisive issue.

The town hall featured several well-known figures in the gun debate. Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in 2011, stood as her husband, Mark Kelly, asked Obama about confiscation theories. Taya Kyle, whose late husband was depicted in the film American Sniper, asked the president about why he doesn’t highlight falling murder rates. Cleo Pendleton, whose daughter was shot and killed near Obama’s Chicago home, asked about his proposals to stop gun trafficking across state lines.

Kimberly Corban, an NRA supporter, told Obama she’d been raped by an intruder and now feels that owning a gun “seems like my basic responsibility as a parent … I refuse to let that happen again.”

Obama didn’t hold back when asked by CNN moderator Anderson Cooper about the notion that the federal government — and Obama in particular — wants to seize all firearms as a precursor to imposing martial law. He blamed that notion on the NRA and like-minded groups that convince its members that “somebody’s going to come grab your guns.”

“Yes, that is a conspiracy,” Obama said. “I’m only going to be here for another year. When would I have started on this enterprise?” Obama defended his support for the constitutional right to gun ownership while arguing it was consistent with his efforts to curb mass shootings. He said the NRA refused to acknowledge the government’s responsibility to make legal products safer, citing seatbelts and child-proof medicine bottles as examples.

Taking the stage at George Mason University, Obama accused the NRA of refusing to participate in the town hall despite having its headquarters nearby.

“Since this is a main reason they exist, you’d think that they’d be prepared to have a debate with the president,” Obama said.

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said beforehand that the group saw “no reason to participate in a public relations spectacle orchestrated by the White House.” Several NRA members were in the audience for the event, which was organized and hosted by CNN. And the NRA pushed back on Twitter in real time, noting at one point “none of the president’s orders would have stopped any of the recent mass shootings.”

The White House has sought to portray the NRA, the nation’s largest gun group, as possessing a disproportionate influence over lawmakers that has prevented new gun laws despite polls that show broad U.S. support for measures like universal background checks. Last year, following a series of mass shootings, Obama pledged to “politicize” the issue in an attempt to level the playing field for gun control supporters.

The American Firearms Retailers Association, another lobby group that represents gun dealers, did participate in the forum. Asked how business had been since Obama took office, Kris Jacob, vice president of the group, replied: “It’s been busy.”

“There’s a very serious concern in this country about personal security,” he added.

Obama’s actions on guns have drawn major attention in the presidential campaign, with the Democratic candidates backing Obama and the Republicans unanimously voicing opposition. Donald Trump, addressing a rally in Vermont just as Obama was holding the town hall, said he would eliminate gun-free zones in schools on his first day if elected to the White House.

“You know what a gun-free zone is for a sicko? That’s bait,” Trump told the crowd.

Obama’s broadside against the NRA came two days after his unveiling of a package of executive actions aimed at keeping guns from people who shouldn’t have them. The centerpiece is new federal guidance that seeks to clarify who is “in the business” of selling firearms, triggering a requirement to get a license and conduct background checks on all prospective buyers.

The plan has drawn intense criticism from gun rights groups that have accused the president of trampling on the Second Amendment and railroading Congress by taking action on his own without new laws. Just after his 2012 re-election, Obama pushed hard for a bipartisan gun control bill that collapsed in the Senate, ending any realistic prospects for a legislative solution in the near term.

Ahead of the town hall, Obama put political candidates on notice that he would refuse to support or campaign for anyone who “does not support common-sense gun reform” — including Democrats.

All the candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination support stricter gun laws, so Obama’s declaration in a New York Times op-ed isn’t likely to have an impact on the race to replace him. Instead, it appeared aimed at Democratic congressional candidates from competitive districts who might want Obama’s support on the campaign trail this year.

Obama announces executive action to reduce gun violence Jan. 5: The fact sheet

On Jan. 5, in the East Room of the White House, President Barack Obama announced new executive actions to reduce gun violence.

Here’s the fact sheet provided on Jan. 4 by the White House’s Office of the Press Secretary:

Gun violence has taken a heartbreaking toll on too many communities across the country. Over the past decade in America, more than 100,000 people have been killed as a result of gun violence — and millions more have been the victim of assaults, robberies, and other crimes involving a gun. Many of these crimes were committed by people who never should have been able to purchase a gun in the first place.

Over the same period, hundreds of thousands of other people in our communities committed suicide with a gun and nearly half a million people suffered other gun injuries. Hundreds of law enforcement officers have been shot to death protecting their communities. And too many children are killed or injured by firearms every year, often by accident. The vast majority of Americans — including the vast majority of gun owners — believe we must take sensible steps to address these horrible tragedies. 

The president and vice president are committed to using every tool at the administration’s disposal to reduce gun violence. Some of the gaps in our country’s gun laws can only be fixed through legislation, which is why the President continues to call on Congress to pass the kind of commonsense gun safety reforms supported by a majority of the American people.

And while Congress has repeatedly failed to take action and pass laws that would expand background checks and reduce gun violence, today, building on the significant steps that have already been taken over the past several years, the administration is announcing a series of commonsense executive actions designed to:

1. Keep guns out of the wrong hands through background checks.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is making clear that it doesn’t matter where you conduct your business—from a store, at gun shows, or over the Internet: If you’re in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks.

ATF is finalizing a rule to require background checks for people trying to buy some of the most dangerous weapons and other items through a trust, corporation, or other legal entity.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch has sent a letter to States highlighting the importance of receiving complete criminal history.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is overhauling the background check system to make it more effective and efficient. The envisioned improvements include processing background checks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and improving notification of local authorities when certain prohibited persons unlawfully attempt to buy a gun. The FBI will hire more than 230 additional examiners and other staff to help process these background checks.

2. Make our communities safer from gun violence.

The Attorney General convened a call with U.S. Attorneys around the country to direct federal prosecutors to continue to focus on smart and effective enforcement of our gun laws.

The President’s FY2017 budget will include funding for 200 new ATF agents and investigators to help enforce our gun laws.
ATF has established an Internet Investigation Center to track illegal online firearms trafficking and is dedicating $4 million and additional personnel to enhance the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network.

ATF is finalizing a rule to ensure that dealers who ship firearms notify law enforcement if their guns are lost or stolen in transit.

The Attorney General issued a memo encouraging every U.S. Attorney’s Office to renew domestic violence outreach efforts.

3. Increase mental health treatment and reporting to the background check system.
The Administration is proposing a new $500 million investment to increase access to mental health care.

The Social Security Administration has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.

The Department of Health and Human Services is finalizing a rule to remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing

States from reporting relevant information about people prohibited from possessing a gun for specific mental health reasons.

4. Shape the future of gun safety technology.

The President has directed the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology.

The President has also directed the departments to review the availability of smart gun technology on a regular basis, and to explore potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety.
Congress should support the President’s request for resources for 200 new ATF agents and investigators to help enforce our gun laws, as well as a new $500 million investment to address mental health issues.

Because we all must do our part to keep our communities safe, the Administration is also calling on States and local governments to do all they can to keep guns out of the wrong hands and reduce gun violence. It is also calling on private-sector leaders to follow the lead of other businesses that have taken voluntary steps to make it harder for dangerous individuals to get their hands on a gun. In the coming weeks, the Administration will engage with manufacturers, retailers, and other private-sector leaders to explore what more they can do.

New Actions by the Federal Government

Keeping Guns Out of the Wrong Hands Through Background Checks

The most important thing we can do to prevent gun violence is to make sure those who would commit violent acts cannot get a firearm in the first place. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which was created by Congress to prevent guns from being sold to prohibited individuals, is a critical tool in achieving that goal. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the background check system has prevented more than 2 million guns from getting into the wrong hands. We know that making the system more efficient, and ensuring that it has all appropriate records about prohibited purchasers, will help enhance public safety. Today, the Administration is announcing the following executive actions to ensure that all gun dealers are licensed and run background checks, and to strengthen the background check system itself:

Clarify that it doesn’t matter where you conduct your business—from a store, at gun shows, or over th Internet: If you’re in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks.

Background checks have been shown to keep guns out of the wrong hands, but too many gun sales—particularly online and at gun shows—occur without basic background checks. Today, the Administration took action to ensure that anyone who is “engaged in the business” of selling firearms is licensed and conducts background checks on their customers. Consistent with court rulings on this issue, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has clarified the following principles:

A person can be engaged in the business of dealing in firearms regardless of the location in which firearm transactions are conducted. For example, a person can be engaged in the business of dealing in firearms even if the person only conducts firearm transactions at gun shows or through the Internet. Those engaged in the business of dealing in firearms who utilize the Internet or other technologies must obtain a license, just as a dealer whose business is run out of a traditional brick-and-mortar store.Quantity and frequency of sales are relevant indicators. There is no specific threshold number of firearms purchased or sold that triggers the licensure requirement. But it is important to note that even a few transactions, when combined with other evidence, can be sufficient to establish that a person is “engaged in the business.” For example, courts have upheld convictions for dealing without a license when as few as two firearms were sold or when only one or two transactions took place, when other factors also were present.

There are criminal penalties for failing to comply with these requirements. A person who willfully engages in the business of dealing in firearms without the required license is subject to criminal prosecution and can be sentenced up to five years in prison and fined up to $250,000. Dealers are also subject to penalties for failing to conduct background checks before completing a sale.

Require background checks for people trying to buy some of the most dangerous weapons and other items through a trust or corporation.

The National Firearms Act imposes restrictions on sales of some of the most dangerous weapons, such as machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. But because of outdated regulations, individuals have been able to avoid the background check requirement by applying to acquire these firearms and other items through trusts, corporations, and other legal entities. In fact, the number of these applications has increased significantly over the years—from fewer than 900 applications in the year 2000 to more than 90,000 applications in 2014. ATF is finalizing a rule that makes clear that people will no longer be able to avoid background checks by buying NFA guns and other items through a trust or corporation.
Ensure States are providing records to the background check system, and work cooperatively with jurisdictions to improve reporting. Congress has prohibited specific categories of people from buying guns—from convicted felons to users of illegal drugs to individuals convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. In the wake of the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, Congress also created incentives for States to make as many relevant records as possible accessible to NICS. Over the past three years, States have increased the number of records they make accessible by nearly 70 percent. To further encourage this reporting, the Attorney General has written a letter to States highlighting the importance of receiving complete criminal history records and criminal dispositions, information on persons disqualified for mental health reasons, and qualifying crimes of domestic violence. The Administration will begin a new dialogue with States to ensure the background check system is as robust as possible, which is a public safety imperative.

Make the background check system more efficient and effective.

In 2015, NICS received more than 22.2 million background check requests, an average of more than 63,000 per day. By law, a gun dealer can complete a sale to a customer if the background check comes back clean or has taken more than three days to complete. But features of the current system, which was built in the 1990s, are outdated. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will take the following steps to ensure NICS operates more efficiently and effectively to keep guns out of the wrong hands:

FBI will hire more than 230 additional NICS examiners and other staff members to assist with processing mandatory background checks. This new hiring will begin immediately and increase the existing workforce by 50 percent. This will reduce the strain on the NICS system and improve its ability to identify dangerous people who are prohibited from buying a gun before the transfer of a firearm is completed.

FBI has partnered with the U.S. Digital Service (USDS) to modernize NICS. Although NICS has been routinely upgraded since its launch in 1998, the FBI is committed to making the system more efficient and effective, so that as many background checks as possible are fully processed within the three-day period before a dealer can legally sell a gun even if a background check is not complete. The improvements envisioned by FBI and USDS include processing background checks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to improve overall response time and improving notification of local authorities when certain prohibited persons unlawfully attempt to purchase a firearm.

Making Our Communities Safer from Gun Violence

In order to improve public safety, we need to do more to ensure smart and effective enforcement of our gun laws and make sure that criminals and other prohibited persons cannot get their hands on lost or stolen weapons. The Administration is therefore taking the following actions:
Ensure smart and effective enforcement of our gun laws.

In a call earlier today, the Attorney General discussed the importance of today’s announcements and directed the Nation’s 93 U.S. Attorneys across the country to continue to focus their resources—as they have for the past several years under the Department’s Smart on Crime initiative—on the most impactful cases, including those targeting violent offenders, illegal firearms traffickers, and dangerous individuals who bypass the background check system to acquire weapons illegally. During the call, the Attorney General also emphasized ongoing initiatives to assist communities in combating violent crime, including ATF’s efforts to target the “worst of the worst” gun crimes. These efforts will also complement the following actions announced today:

The President’s budget for FY2017 will include funding for 200 new ATF agents and investigators who can help enforce our gun laws, including the measures announced today. Strategic and impactful enforcement will help take violent criminals off the street, deter other unlawful activity, and prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands
ATF is dedicating $4 million and additional personnel to enhance the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN). The NIBIN database includes ballistic evidence that can be used by analysts and investigators to link violent crimes across jurisdictions and to track down shooters who prey on our communities. In February 2016, ATF is standing up the National NIBIN Correlation and Training Center—which will ultimately provide NIBIN matching services at one national location, rather than requiring local police departments to do that work themselves. The Center will provide consistent and capable correlation services, making connections between ballistic crime scene evidence and crime guns locally, regionally, and nationally. These enhancements will support ATF’s crime gun intelligence and enforcement efforts, particularly in communities most affected by violent crime.
ATF has established an Internet Investigations Center (IIC) staffed with federal agents, legal counsel, and investigators to track illegal online firearms trafficking and to provide actionable intelligence to agents in the field. The IIC has already identified a number of significant traffickers operating over the Internet. This work has led to prosecutions against individuals or groups using the “dark net” to traffic guns to criminals or attempting to buy firearms illegally online.
Ensure that dealers notify law enforcement about the theft or loss of their guns. Under current law, federal firearms dealers and other licensees must report when a gun from their inventory has been lost or stolen. The regulations are ambiguous, however, about who has this responsibility when a gun is lost or stolen in transit. Many lost and stolen guns end up being used in crimes. Over the past five years, an average of 1,333 guns recovered in criminal investigations each year were traced back to a licensee that claimed it never received the gun even though it was never reported lost or stolen either. Today, ATF issued a final rule clarifying that the licensee shipping a gun is responsible for notifying law enforcement upon discovery that it was lost or stolen in transit.

Issue a memo directing every U.S. Attorney’s Office to renew domestic violence outreach efforts.

In the event of an emergency, victims of domestic violence should call 911 or otherwise contact state or local law enforcement officials, who have a broader range of options for responding to these crimes. To provide an additional resource for state, local, and tribal law enforcement and community groups focused on domestic violence, the Attorney General is issuing a memo directing U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country to engage in renewed efforts to coordinate with these groups to help combat domestic violence and to prevent prohibited persons from obtaining firearms.
Increase Mental Health Treatment and Reporting to the Background Check System
The Administration is committed to improving care for Americans experiencing mental health issues. In the last seven years, our country has made extraordinary progress in expanding mental health coverage for millions of Americans. This includes the Affordable Care Act’s end to insurance company discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, required coverage of mental health and substance use disorder services in the individual and small group markets, and an expansion of mental health and substance use disorder parity policies, all of which are estimated to help more than 60 million Americans. About 13.5 million more Americans have gained Medicaid coverage since October 2013, significantly improving access to mental health care. And thanks to more than $100 million in funding from the Affordable Care Act, community health centers have expanded behavioral health services for nearly 900,000 people nationwide over the past two years. We must continue to remove the stigma around mental illness and its treatment—and make sure that these individuals and their families know they are not alone. While individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, incidents of violence continue to highlight a crisis in America’s mental health system. In addition to helping people get the treatment they need, we must make sure we keep guns out of the hands of those who are prohibited by law from having them. Today, the Administration is announcing the following steps to help achieve these goals:

Dedicate significant new resources to increase access to mental health care.

Despite our recent significant gains, less than half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need. To address this, the Administration is proposing a new $500 million investment to help engage individuals with serious mental illness in care, improve access to care by increasing service capacity and the behavioral health workforce, and ensure that behavioral health care systems work for everyone. This effort would increase access to mental health services to protect the health of children and communities, prevent suicide, and promote mental health as a top priority.

Include information from the Social Security Administration in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm.

Current law prohibits individuals from buying a gun if, because of a mental health issue, they are either a danger to themselves or others or are unable to manage their own affairs. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to ensure that appropriate information in its records is reported to NICS. The reporting that SSA, in consultation with the Department of Justice, is expected to require will cover appropriate records of the approximately 75,000 people each year who have a documented mental health issue, receive disability benefits, and are unable to manage those benefits because of their mental impairment, or who have been found by a state or federal court to be legally incompetent. The rulemaking will also provide a mechanism for people to seek relief from the federal prohibition on possessing a firearm for reasons related to mental health.
Remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing States from reporting relevant information to the background check system. 

Although States generally report criminal history information to NICS, many continue to report little information about individuals who are prohibited by Federal law from possessing or receiving a gun for specific mental health reasons. Some State officials raised concerns about whether such reporting would be precluded by the Privacy Rule issued under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Today, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule expressly permitting certain HIPAA covered entities to provide to the NICS limited demographic and other necessary information about these individuals.

Shaping the Future of Gun Safety Technology

Tens of thousands of people are injured or killed by firearms every year—in many cases by guns that were sold legally but then stolen, misused, or discharged accidentally. Developing and promoting technology that would help prevent these tragedies is an urgent priority. America has done this in many other areas—from making cars safer to improving the tablets and phones we use every day. We know that researchers and engineers are already exploring ideas for improving gun safety and the tracing of lost or stolen guns. Millions of dollars have already been invested to support research into concepts that range from fingerprint scanners to radio-frequency identification to microstamping technology.

As the single largest purchaser of firearms in the country, the Federal Government has a unique opportunity to advance this research and ensure that smart gun technology becomes a reality—and it is possible to do so in a way that makes the public safer and is consistent with the Second Amendment. Today, the President is taking action to further this work in the following way:

Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security to take two important steps to promote smart gun technology.

Increase research and development efforts. The Presidential Memorandum directs the departments to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology that would reduce the frequency of accidental discharge or unauthorized use of firearms, and improve the tracing of lost or stolen guns. Within 90 days, these agencies must prepare a report outlining a research-and-development strategy designed to expedite the real-world deployment of such technology for use in practice.

Promote the use and acquisition of new technology. The Presidential Memorandum also directs the departments to review the availability of smart gun technology on a regular basis, and to explore potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety. In connection with these efforts, the departments will consult with other agencies that acquire firearms and take appropriate steps to consider whether including such technology in specifications for acquisition of firearms would be consistent with operational needs.

Editorial: The realities of free speech

The horrific massacre of journalists in Paris on Jan. 7 demonstrates what happens when the freedoms of speech and religion collide with extremism. The French collision involved Muslim radicals, but, here in the United States, we have a growing movement of right-wing extremists who need to understand the First Amendment guarantees provided by the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. 

The First Amendment does not guarantee unfettered rights to either the freedom of speech or religion. It simply prohibits the government from interfering with the lawful exercise of those freedoms.

Over the holidays, we ran an outside writer’s opinion piece at www.wisconsingazette.com that called for overturning the Second Amendment. Almost immediately, we received hundreds of shocking, profanity-laced comments threatening violence against the author and us. Many commenters attempted to publish the author’s address and phone number. Some called for his murder.

When we deleted dozens of those comments, we were accused of violating the responders’ rights to free speech. Nowhere does the Constitution say that any publication is obligated to publish content that it finds offensive, and a government that forced us to do so would be in violation of our freedom of the press. 

In this issue of WiG, we have a story (page 12) about an anti-gay student at Marquette University who claims that his free speech was violated when the teaching assistant of an ethics class refused his request to initiate a class discussion about the immorality of same-sex marriage. 

The First Amendment does not permit students to hijack classrooms and turn them into forums for their controversial religious views. Just because the government does not prevent individuals from speaking their thoughts does not mean that everyone else has to publish them, give them a soapbox or even listen to them.

Similarly, the First Amendment’s guarantee of free religion does not mean that everyone is obligated to bow to everyone else’s religious views. In fact, it means the opposite.

As marriage equality gradually becomes the law of the land, we see county clerks refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples — all in the name of “freedom of religion.”

But in conferring on individuals the right to practice any religion they choose, the Constitution does not say they can silence or discriminate against people who hold different beliefs. In fact, it would be impossible to guarantee religious freedom if this were the case, because the dominant religion could seek to prevent citizens from practicing other faiths. 

We find it absurd that prohibiting people from engaging in same-sex relationships is the underpinning of a major spiritual belief system. But for a large portion of fundamentalist Christians, condemning other people’s sexual practices is at the core of their faith, and we believe they are entitled by the Constitution to hold that view. They are not entitled, however, to discriminate against fellow citizens whose religions teach otherwise or against people who practice no religion and don’t care how LGBT people conduct their personal lives. 

The jihadists who gunned down 12 people at the offices of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris believed that they were exercising their religion. The paper had repeatedly mocked Islam, and fundamentalist Muslims hold that blasphemy is punishable by death — just as the Roman Catholic Church held for centuries. America’s fundamentalist Christians, some of whom have advocated successfully for making homosexuality a capital crime in other countries, should take a long look in the mirror and think about this incident. So should gun activists who call for Second Amendment critics to be put to death simply for speaking their minds.

While Fox News is using the massacre in France to call for a denunciation of Islam, we are more concerned about the followers of Fox News. They must learn where their rights end and the rights of others begin. 

Pennsylvania law prompts towns to rescind gun-control measures

Just a week after taking effect, a novel state law that makes it easier for pro-gun groups to challenge local firearms measures in court is already sparking change. Nearly two dozen Pennsylvania municipalities have agreed to get rid of their ordinances rather than face litigation.

Joshua Prince, an attorney for four pro-gun groups and several residents, cited the new law in putting nearly 100 Pennsylvania municipalities on notice that they would face legal action unless they rescinded their firearms laws.

At least 22 of those municipalities have already repealed them, or indicated they planned to do so, according to Prince, who specializes in firearms law and is based in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania has long prohibited its municipalities from enforcing firearms ordinances that regulate the ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of guns or ammunition.

Gun-rights groups complained that scores of municipalities ignored the 40-year-old prohibition by passing their own, mainly unchallenged gun measures.

Under the new state law, gun owners no longer have to prove they have been harmed by the local measure to successfully challenge it. Also, membership organizations such as the National Rifle Association can stand in to sue on behalf of any Pennsylvania member.

The challenger can also seek damages.

The cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster have sued to overturn the law, saying the legislation was passed improperly. That lawsuit is pending in Commonwealth Court.

Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, is encouraging municipalities with gun laws to stand pat, at least until the legal challenge is resolved.

“We certainly understand that they feel threatened and concerned. We feel like they have been put in a terrible position by their representatives in Harrisburg,” she said.

Reading City Council signaled last week it intended to repeal laws that ban firing weapons within city limits and require owners to report lost or stolen weapons. Officials said the city could ill afford a legal battle.

“We get ourselves in trouble in terms of trying to circumvent a state law,” said Councilman Jeff Waltman. “We’re not going to solve this with a local gun law anyway.”

The city of Harrisburg plans to defend its ordinances, asserting they comply with state law. The measures ban gunfire anywhere in the city and weapons possession in city parks. There’s also a reporting requirement for lost or stolen weapons.

Harrisburg’s laws are intended to combat gun violence and have the support of the police chief, said Mayor Eric Papenfuse.

“I don’t think it’s the be-all and end-all of public safety, but I think it’s an important tool to have, and it absolutely sends the wrong message to try to rescind those ordinances, especially given the epidemic of gun violence we have in cities like Harrisburg,” he said.

“Papenfuse denounced the new state law as representing ‘a fringe ideological view.'”

Papenfuse denounced the new state law as representing “a fringe ideological view.”

But gun activist Dave Dalton said no municipality has a right to flout Pennsylvania law. He said the law gives gun owners a tool to hold municipalities accountable.

“What gives a town or a city the authority to say, ‘We’re in Pennsylvania, but we don’t care about Pennsylvania law?’ It’s laughable,” said Dalton, founder of American Gun Owners Alliance in the Pocono Mountains, one of the groups represented by Prince.

The local laws have violated gun owners’ rights without making anyone safer, said another of Prince’s clients, Kim Stolfer, founder of Firearms Owners Against Crime.

“I think all of us are pleased it’s a good start, that communities are starting to look at this,” Stolfer said. Before gun groups were given standing to sue, he said, municipal officials “were just going to thumb their nose at a system that wasn’t going to hold them responsible.”

The NRA has not yet contacted any municipality, but said it’s reviewing local ordinances to ensure they comply with Pennsylvania law.

Time is overdue to repeal the Second Amendment

What country fetishizes, lionizes, valorizes, idolizes, and sacralizes guns as much as does our United States? OK, possibly Mozambique — the only country with an AK47 on its flag, but really, it’s long past time to end this obsessive “My Precious” attachment of Americans to instruments of death.

This morning of Dec. 25, 2014, of the nine top stories from US Reuters, six were about shootings — four new ones and two about the national movement against shootings of citizens by police. This pandemic of sick violence, punctuated by mass killings of children, has gone on far, far too long. It is long past time to repeal the stupid Second Amendment.

The fate of the Second Amendment should have been sealed when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that past rulings by their predecessors were wrong, that in fact the amendment that provided for a “well regulated militia” really guaranteed every individual the right to own a gun. Wow. That is an interesting reading of the English language. What the Supremes have done is to not only warp the meaning and make it into twisted law, but to further prohibit states and local governments from declaring their places free of legal guns. The conservative court once again rules against the power of states, a principle that used to be associated with darn liberals who wanted to make sure everyone had the right to vote, for example, even though they weren’t properly white enough. Now when a city or state wants to outlaw firearms, too bad. The conservatives took away their powers and rights in favor of Big Brother.

The only logical path, given the clearly decided role of the Second Amendment, is to repeal it. American people are tired of mass shootings and police shootings and family feud shootings and sibling shootings and accidental toddler shootings and teen suicide by gun (highly popular).We are exhausted by the proliferation of death, of threats, of bloodshed, and by the NRA/gun industry moral garbage spewing forth every time someone challenges the ubiquity of guns.

Repeal the Stupid Second Amendment. Surround it, grab it, bring it in the back room, pull down the shades, and end it. OK, petition for it, get it on the ballot, and get it done by enough of the US populace, by enough people in enough states, to get it consigned to the dustbin of history.

Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and teaches in the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University in Oregon.


Target asks customers to leave firearms at home

The retail giant Target on July 2 asked customers to not bring firearms to its stores.

The announcement made on a company blog was from interim CEO John Mulligan, who has been the focus of a petition drive coordinated by a grassroots group of moms opposed to people carrying guns in a store where adult shoppers often are accompanied by children.

Mulligan’s statement said:

“The leadership team has been weighing a complex issue, and I want to be sure everyone understands our thoughts and ultimate decision.

“As you’ve likely seen in the media, there has been a debate about whether guests in communities that permit ‘open carry’ should be allowed to bring firearms into Target stores. Our approach has always been to follow local laws, and of course, we will continue to do so. But starting today we will also respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target — even in communities where it is permitted by law.

“We’ve listened carefully to the nuances of this debate and respect the protected rights of everyone involved. In return, we are asking for help in fulfilling our goal to create an atmosphere that is safe and inviting for our guests and team members.

“This is a complicated issue, but it boils down to a simple belief: Bringing firearms to Target creates an environment that is at odds with the family-friendly shopping and work experience we strive to create.”

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which collected nearly 400,000 signatures on a petition, applauded Target’s decision. The group said it “introduced the campaign after gun extremists carrying loaded assault rifles frequently gathered in Target stores to demonstrate in support of open carry laws.”

Editor’s note: This story is developing.


Gun-rights advocates oppose Madison bus ban

Gun-rights advocates say they’re preparing a court challenge to  Metro Transit’s weapons ban on Madison, Wis., buses, claiming the policy violates the state’s concealed-carry law.

But city officials say they’re confident the policy banning “weapons of any kind” is legal and in the best interest of passengers.

Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Carry Inc. said it plans to file a lawsuit in the next few weeks, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. President Nik Clark said the policy infringes on a person’s right to carry, especially for those who rely on public transportation or live in a high-crime area.

“Madison has a gun law stricter than state law,” Clark said. “If we are successful in Madison, other transit systems in the state will follow suit and adjust their policies.”

Clark said his organization wanted to challenge the city’s policy for some time but had to wait until it heard from someone with a concealed-carry license who’d been prohibited from bringing a gun on a bus. That happened last month, he said.

The lawsuit is based on a state law that Gov. Scott Walker signed in July 2011. It allows people to apply for a license that lets them to carry a concealed gun and carry a gun openly in a school zone, and Clark said anyone who has a license should be able to carry a gun, concealed or in the open, on city buses as well.

Madison officials don’t think so, noting that the policy predated the concealed-carry law.

“We don’t want guns on buses just like we don’t let people bring gasoline on buses,” City Attorney Michael May said.

Metro instructs its drivers to calmly ask anyone trying to board to bus with a gun to comply with the policy, transit spokesman Mick Rusch said. If the person doesn’t comply, the driver is instructed to contact a supervisor, who can call police.

“It’s in the best interest of our passengers,” he said. “We have a lot of items we don’t allow on buses in the interest of safety.”

Clark wrote to Metro last month asking it to review the policy and threatening litigation. Metro Transit general manager Chuck Kamp wrote back saying officials did reconsider the policy but concluded there was nothing in the new law that compelled a change.

May said the city’s position is consistent with a state Department of Justice memo from this summer that says private and public entities may restrict transport of weapons. He said the language covers private cab and bus companies.

Starbucks ad brews gun-control debate

Starbucks has always set itself apart by taking strong positions on progressive political issues. Now that reputation has landed the company in the middle of the heated national debate over gun laws.

On Thursday, the Seattle-based company ran full-page ads in major newspapers telling customers that guns are no longer welcome in its cafes. But Starbucks is stopping short of an outright ban, exposing the fine line it needs to walk on a highly divisive issue.

“We are not pro-gun or anti-gun,” CEO Howard Schultz said in an interview, noting that customers will still be served if they choose to a carry gun.

The move comes as the company finds itself at the center of a fight it didn’t start. In recent months, gun control advocates have been pressuring Starbucks to ban firearms, while supporters of gun rights have celebrated the company’s decision to defer to local laws. About a month ago, Starbucks shut down a store in Newtown, Conn., early to avoid a demonstration by gun rights advocates. They had planned to stage a “Starbucks Appreciation Day,” bringing their firearms and turning the company into an unwitting supporter of gun rights.

Support for guns runs counter to the Starbucks image. The warm feeling Starbucks customers get when they’re sipping lattes doesn’t always come from the coffee. For some, part of the brand’s attraction is the company’s liberal-leaning support of issues such as gay marriage and environmental preservation.

But with more than $13 billion in annual revenue and about 7,000 company-owned stores across the country -in red states and blue – Starbucks is being forced to tread carefully with its special blend of politics and commerce.

Many states allow people to carry licensed guns in some way, but some businesses exercise their right to ban firearms. They can do so because their locations are considered private property. Starbucks isn’t the only company that doesn’t ban guns, but it has become a target for gun control advocates, in part because of its corporate image.

“This is a coffee company that has championed progressive issues,” said Shannon Watts, founder of the gun reform group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “They’ve positioned themselves about being about the human spirit – that was so at odds with this policy that allowed guns inside their stores.”

Starbucks’ mission statement is to “inspire and nurture the human spirit” and over the years, it has taken strong positions on a number of thorny issues. Earlier this year, the company banned smoking within 25 feet of its stores, wherever its leases allowed. The idea was to extend its no-smoking policy to the outdoor seating areas, regardless of state laws on the matter.

At the company’s annual meeting in March, a shareholder stood to criticize Starbucks’ support of marriage equality. Schultz told the man it was a free country and that he could sell his shares.

Starbucks has also been vocal about its health care benefits for workers. And the company says it only does business with coffee farmers who pay workers decent wages and farm in an environmentally friendly way.

Such stances explain why Moms Demand Action, which was founded the day after the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., has been urging Starbucks to ban guns with its “Skip Starbucks Saturdays.”

In turn, gun rights advocates have been galvanized by the company’s decision to defer to local laws and staged the “Starbucks Appreciation Days.”

Schultz said the events mischaracterized the company’s stance on the issue and the demonstrations “have made our customers uncomfortable.”

He said he hopes people will honor the request not to bring in guns but says the company will nevertheless serve those who do.

“We will not ask you to leave,” he said.

The Seattle-based company’s ad campaign included major national newspapers including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and USA Today. The ad contained a letter from Schultiz that pointed to recent activities by both gun rights and gun control advocates at its stores, saying that it has been “thrust unwillingly” into the middle of the national debate over firearms.

As for the “Starbucks Appreciation Days” being staged by gun rights advocates, it stressed: “To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores.”

But the letter noted that Starbucks is standing by its position that the matter should ultimately be left to lawmakers. Schultz also said he doesn’t want to put workers in the position of having to confront armed customers by banning guns. The AP was provided a picture of a memo to Starbucks employees on Tuesday. The document instructs workers not to confront customers or ask them to leave solely for carrying a weapon.

Phillip Hofmeister, president of gun rights group Michigan Open Carry Inc., said he respects the right of private businesses such as Starbucks to determine its own gun policies. But he noted that the message was confusing.

“They’re trying to make people like myself feel unwelcome but it’s not an outright ban,” said Hofmeister, who said he has been carrying a gun in public where permitted for the past several years.

Even if there’s no ban, Hofmeister said he won’t patronize a business where he didn’t feel welcome.

Several companies do not allow firearms in their stores, including Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Whole Foods. Representatives for those two companies said there haven’t been any problems with enforcing their gun bans.