Tag Archives: weapons

Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger: Military must pursue alternatives to burning munitions

With President Barack Obama’s signature on the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, a nationwide grassroots campaign to ensure the safe disposal of conventional munitions stockpile secured a key victory.

The amendment, written by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., will benefit hundreds of communities across the country where open air burning of hazardous waste is routinely conducted by the Departments of Defense and Energy, according to a news release.

“I have been working on cleaning up the Badger Army Ammunition Plant since I first entered Congress, so I was proud to fight for this reform to help other communities facing similar challenges,” Baldwin said, according to the release. “This provision will assist the military in using safer and more environmentally-friendly technologies to properly dispose of munitions to ensure that other sites are not contaminated the way that the Badger site was.”

“I was proud to support and help shepherd through the Senate, the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act which includes a provision important to Madison County and the Blue Grass Army Depot community allowing the Army to use cost-competitive technologies to safely and efficiently dispose of stockpiles of legacy conventional munitions,” added U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The new act requires the Secretary of the Army to enter into an arrangement with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to conduct a study of the alternatives to the current practice of open burning the conventional munitions stockpile of the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Department of Defense manages conventional ammunition that includes items ranging from small arms cartridges to rockets, mortars, and artillery to tactical missiles.

As of February 2015, the stockpile of conventional ammunition awaiting demilitarization and disposal was approximately 529,373 tons.

By fiscal year 2020, the stockpile is expected to more than double, making the proper management and disposal of such large quantities of explosive materiel critical. 

“Open burning and detonation of munitions causes the uncontrolled dispersion of toxic heavy metals including chromium and lead, energetic compounds, perchlorate, nitrogen oxides and other munitions-related contaminants to the environment,” said Laura Olah, executive director of Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger in Wisconsin and an organizer with the Cease Fire Campaign – a national grassroots coalition of 60 environmental, labor, veterans and social justice organizations calling for safer alternatives. 

Sites like the Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee are currently permitted to open burn as much as 1,250,000 pounds net explosive waste per year — ignoring a 2012 Army Corps of Engineers study that concluded there are cutting-edge technologies that could be successfully deployed at Holston to replace open burning.

“There are over 100 hazardous chemicals released from open burning waste explosives and explosives-contaminated construction demolition debris that can be toxic and carcinogenic,” cautioned Connie & Mark Toohey with Volunteers for Environmental Health and Justice and residents living downwind of Holston. “Dioxins are highly toxic and cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system and can interfere with hormones.”

Also, for more than 60 years, the U. S. military used the offshore Island of Vieques, Puerto Rico for training exercises with live bombing, experimental use of conventional and non-conventional weapons, testing with napalm, agent orange, uranium and open burning and open detonation (OB/OD),” said Myrna Pagan with Vidas Viequenses Valen. “For over 10 years now there is a process of cleanup and restoration underway where OB/OD continues to contaminate this small island.”

“OB/OD is a dangerous, toxic and outdated method that feeds a health crisis of alarming rates of cancer and other catastrophic diseases,” Myrna added.  “Our little children, our teen agers have more than three times the probability of dying from cancer than their peers in the rest of Puerto Rico. We citizens depend on responsible action from the government to protect our rights to good health in a safe environment. We deserve the use of reliable, alternative, advanced technologies to repair this disaster.”

The National Academy of Sciences study is due to Congress in 18 months. 

Trump: U.S. must ‘greatly strengthen’ nuclear capability

President-elect Donald Trump this week abruptly called for the United States to “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability” until the rest of the world “comes to its senses” regarding nuclear weapons.

The statement was made on Trump’s Twitter account and did not expand on the actions he wants the United States to take or on the issues he sees around the world.

The comments came one day after meeting with incoming White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Trump’s transition website says he “recognizes the uniquely catastrophic threats posed by nuclear weapons and cyberattacks,” adding that he will modernize the nuclear arsenal “to ensure it continues to be an effective deterrent.”

Beyond that, he has offered few specifics, either as a candidate or during the transition.

During the campaign, Hillary Clinton repeatedly cast the Republican as too erratic and unpredictable to have control of the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

Ten former nuclear missile launch operators also wrote that Trump lacks the temperament, judgment and diplomatic skill to avoid nuclear war.

Trump was at his private estate in South Florida, where he was meeting with advisers and interviewing potential Cabinet nominees.

He is also building out his White House staff, announcing that campaign manager Kellyanne Conway would join him in the West Wing as a counselor.

Conway, a longtime Republican pollster, is widely credited with helping guide Trump to his electoral college victory. She also is a frequent guest on television “news” programs.

The president-elect had spent part of the week discussing national security issues, including the deadly attack on a Christmas market in Germany. He called the violence an “attack on humanity” and appeared to suggest a willingness to move ahead with his campaign pledge to temporarily ban Muslim immigrants from coming to the United States.

Trump proposed the Muslim ban during the GOP primary campaign, drawing sharp criticism from both parties.

During the general election, he shifted his rhetoric to focus on temporarily halting immigration from an unspecified list of countries with ties to terrorism, though he did not disavow the Muslim ban, which is still prominently displayed on his campaign website.

The president-elect, when asked this week if the attack in Berlin would cause him to evaluate the proposed ban or a possible registry of Muslims in the United States, said, “You know my plans. All along, I’ve been proven to be right, 100 percent correct.”

A transition spokesman said later that Trump’s plans “might upset those with their heads stuck in the politically correct sand.”

“President-elect Trump has been clear that we will suspend admission of those from countries with high terrorism rates and apply a strict vetting procedure for those seeking entry in order to protect American lives,” spokesman Jason Miller said.

But transition officials did not comment on whether Trump could also push for the overarching ban on Muslims.

Trump, who addressed journalists Wednesday for less than two minutes outside his palatial South Florida estate, said he had not spoken to President Barack Obama since the attack.

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.

Public support, pleas from grieving family fail to move Wisconsin on gun background checks

By Alexandra Arriaga

On a Sunday afternoon nearly four years ago, Elvin Daniel was in his garden when he got a call from police: His sister, Zina Haughton, had been shot at work.

Zina’s abusive husband, Radcliffe Haughton, used a semiautomatic handgun that he bought from a man in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in Germantown the day before the shooting. He killed Zina Haughton, Maelyn Lind and Cary Robuck and wounded four others at the Azana Salon & Spa in the Milwaukee suburb of Brookfield. He then used the weapon to kill himself.

Zina Daniel Haughton, 42, left behind two daughters, ages 20 and 13.

Daniel, who owns a gun, said he was shocked that his late brother-in-law was able to buy a firearm despite a judge’s order prohibiting Radcliffe Haughton from possessing a gun.

“We started to find out that people actually can get guns without a background check,” said Daniel, who lives in Illinois, where all gun purchasers must pass a background check. “As naive as I was back then, I thought because I go through a background check, everybody did. So we start to find out about all these loopholes that we have in our laws.”

Since his sister’s death, Daniel has pushed lawmakers to expand criminal background checks beyond licensed dealers to private sellers, such as those who advertise on Armslist. That is where Haughton found the seller of the gun he used in the mass shooting.

“I mean, the day before that (shooting), I was one of those that says, ‘You know what, leave me and my guns alone,’” Daniel said. “I still feel that, but I believe that everybody should go through a background check when they buy a gun to keep guns out of (the hands of) people that shouldn’t have them.”

Zina Haughton’s daughter, Yasmeen Daniel, was at the salon and saw her mother shot to death. Her stepfather also tried to shoot at her, but Daniel was saved when Lind stepped in front of her.

She is now suing Armslist, charging the website facilitated the illegal gun purchase that led to her mother’s death. Armslist has asked a Milwaukee County Circuit judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that under Wisconsin law, the company cannot be held liable for the actions of people who advertise on its site.

Eighteen states plus the District of Columbia have expanded background checks beyond federal law to include at least some private sales. Two more states — Nevada and Maine — have expanded background checks on the ballot this fall.

Background checks proven, popular

A Marquette Law School Poll this year found 85 percent of registered voters in Wisconsin, including 84 percent who have guns in their homes, say they support closing the private-sale loophole. A CNN poll in June showed 92 percent of respondents nationwide favored expanded background checks.

Officials in Milwaukee are working with community leaders and nonprofit groups on a plan to reduce gun violence. A top recommendation: Expand criminal background checks to private gun sales. (That initiative is partially funded by The Joyce Foundation, which also provides funding for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s coverage of gun violence prevention issues.)

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said expanding background checks to private sellers would not cure all of Milwaukee’s violence, but it would be a step.

“Background checks for private party gun sales would add another layer of oversight that may help keep guns out of the hands of those prohibited from possessing guns,” Flynn said in an email.

But Republicans who run Wisconsin state government have blocked attempts to require background checks on purchases from private sellers. That position is shared by the National Rifle Association, the nation’s most powerful gun lobby, which spent $3.6 million to support Republicans and conservative candidates in Wisconsin between 2008 and 2014, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

A 1997 study estimated that 40 percent of U.S. guns are obtained outside of federally licensed gun stores. Updated research from Harvard University and Northeastern University includes soon-to-be published findings that roughly one-third of gun acquisitions today occur outside of such licensed dealers.

Expanding background checks to private sales is the “most promising” strategy to prevent gun violence, said Ted Alcorn, research director for Everytown for Gun Safety, the nation’s largest gun violence prevention advocacy organization. The group, which began as Mayors Against Illegal Guns, is bankrolled by Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and gun-control advocate. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett helped co-found the organization.

Firearm violence includes two elements, Alcorn said: a gun and a person who poses a high risk of causing harm with it. Background checks act as a gatekeeper, he said, preventing individuals at risk of harming others from accessing guns.

“Criminologists and law enforcement officers say this is … the biggest weakness with the gun laws that we currently have in place because it leaves an open door for prohibited people like convicted felons and domestic abusers to buy firearms without a background check, no questions asked,” Alcorn said.

Dr. Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California-Davis, has studied various policies for more than 30 years and agrees universal background checks are among the most effective at preventing gun violence.

Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, also has studied background checks. Webster and his fellow researchers found that Connecticut saw a 40 percent drop in the firearm homicide rate over a decade after universal background checks were enacted. In contrast, when Missouri repealed such a law in 2007, firearm homicide rates rose 23 percent, Webster has found.

The permit-to-purchase laws implemented in Connecticut and repealed in Missouri require buyers to pass background checks and get a license from a state or local police agency to buy a firearm. Some states require a permit for all firearms and some only for handguns. In some states, permit holders must first go through safety training or an exam.

Another Webster study found levels of illegal gun trafficking were about half in cities where the state required background checks for private handgun sales.

But a University of Pittsburgh study this year discovered that most criminals found ways around laws aimed at keeping guns out of their hands. Researchers traced the origins of 893 firearms recovered by Pittsburgh police in 2008. The study found 79 percent of perpetrators were not the legal owner of the firearm used in the crime — bolstering the gun-rights argument that laws do not stop criminals who want guns. Pennsylvania requires background checks for all handgun purchases.

NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen said these types of laws are tantamount to “criminalization of the private transfer of firearms.”

“These gun control laws criminalize the commonplace practices of law-abiding gun owners,” Mortensen said in a written statement. “By imposing government mandates and fees they cost law-abiding gun owners time, money and freedom.”

Mortensen cited work by economist John Lott, Jr. In his 2016 book, “The War on Guns, Arming Yourself Against Gun Control Lies,” Lott writes that data from all 50 states from 1977 to 2005 shows murders were 49 percent higher and robberies were 75 percent higher in states with expanded background checks.

Lott is founder and president of Crime Prevention Research Center, a Colorado nonprofit that studies the relationship between gun policy and public safety. The center says it receives no funding from the NRA.

Lott’s influential studies have been disputed by some academics for faulty statistical analysis and allegedly fabricated research. And he has acknowledged posing as “Mary Rosh,” a former student, in posts praising his own teaching and research. Lott has likewise criticized Webster’s research, accusing him of cherry-picking in the study of Missouri’s repealed law.

Republicans mum on checks

In emotional testimony before a U.S. Senate committee in 2014, Elvin Daniel described himself as “a Republican, an avid hunter (and) a gun owner” who is “a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, and an NRA member.” Nevertheless, he urged the senators to pass universal background checks and make some “good come out of (Zina’s) death.”

“It is heartbreaking to know that our weak gun laws continue to allow dangerous abusers to buy guns without a background check,” he said.

The argument failed to sway any Republican senators. Two years later, on June 20 after a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at an Orlando, Florida nightclub, a Senate filibuster and vote resulted in a 56-44 largely party-line vote against expanded background checks. Wisconsin’s Republican Sen. Ron Johnson voted no; Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin voted yes.

On June 23, House Democrats staged a sit-in to try to force a vote on a measure to expand background checks and another that would have prohibited people on no-fly lists, including the Orlando shooter, from buying guns. Republican Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin blocked that effort, calling it a “publicity stunt.”

In Wisconsin — where an epidemic of gun violence fueled by illegally obtained firearms is raging in Milwaukee — lawmakers have avoided voting on background checks. Bills introduced by Democrats to expand background checks in recent sessions have died without a hearing.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker has said he opposes expanding background checks. In a written response to questions from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said Wisconsin already requires background checks; he did not address the issue of private sales, which require no such scrutiny.

Other top Republicans are mum on why the Legislature has declined to consider expanding background checks.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Email and phone messages sent to Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety, also were not returned. He told Wisconsin Public Radio in 2015 that he opposed the Democrats’ bill but gave no explanation.

‘Don’t ask, don’t, tell’ for guns

Wintemute said there are “two systems of gun commerce in the United States”: Sales by licensed retailers that require background checks, paperwork and a permanent record; and transactions between two private individuals requiring no screening or record keeping.

Wintemute has seen the systems in action during his visits to gun shows in Wisconsin and elsewhere. He calls it “Don’t ask, don’t tell” for guns.

“I’ve watched people go up and negotiate the purchase of the gun from a vendor at a gun show, not realizing that they’re talking to a licensed dealer,” Wintemute said. “And just as the negotiation is concluding, out comes the paperwork. And the buyer says, ‘Wait, you’re a dealer?’ And the seller says ‘Yes,’ and the buyer just laughs and walks away and goes and finds a private party to buy from.”

At the Badger Military Collectible Show at the Waukesha Expo Center Aug. 5, some licensed dealers told a reporter that they have witnessed the same thing. At this show, old military uniforms, medals and vintage firearms were sold next to tables with newer handguns and rifles. Licensed dealers were vocal in their thoughts on expanding background checks to private sales, but several unlicensed sellers declined interview requests.

Marty Brunner, who goes by the nickname “Machine Gun” Marty, is a licensed gun manufacturer and dealer. “NRA4 EVER” is tattooed across the knuckles of both his hands.

Brunner believes purchasers go to private dealers because “they have something to hide.”

He also believes private vendors are more likely to sell “hot guns” previously used in crimes.

Said Brunner: “They don’t want the government to know they have a gun.”

Tom Hardell, owner of Tom’s Military Arms & Guns, said he “definitely” supports universal background checks. Hardell, who mostly sells handguns, said he has turned down a lot of buyers after running a background check. Many of them, he said, are “gang bangers.”

“It hurts me as a business, and it hurts Milwaukee because that’s where the guns are coming (from),” Hardell said.

Ron Martin, a licensed dealer who travels across Wisconsin selling hunting rifles, said implementing background checks for everyone could “level the playing field” between licensed and unlicensed firearm sellers.

Martin is not sure expanding background checks would help to reduce firearm violence, however.

“You could put all the laws you want, but the last I checked criminals don’t abide by laws,” Martin said. “They don’t buy guns — they steal them.”

Former gang member: Guns easy to get

But Rico, a former gang member and admitted criminal from Madison, told a reporter that he bought his guns, finding it easy to amass numerous high-powered weapons after he failed a background check by a licensed dealer. While Rico has bought some of his guns “on the street,” he also purchased weapons at gun shows. He asked that his full formal name not to be used because he described committing crimes that could subject him to prosecution.

The 27-year-old estimated that he owns more than 20 guns — all of them bought without passing a background check.

“To be honest, I lost count. I got many. I got assault rifles, I mean, just regular hand pistols, they could be 9-millimeter Berettas, mini-AKs, ARs,” Rico said, listing a variety of semi-automatic weapons. He photographed many of them at the request of a reporter.

He bought several firearms without a background check at a Black River Falls gun show. He used the same terminology as Wintemute to describe private transactions: “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

It is possible that Rico could qualify to buy a gun after undergoing a background check. He was charged with a felony in 2009 — possession with intent to deliver marijuana — but the case was dropped for lack of evidence. Rico believes he could have fought the background check denial. He chose not to.

“I might as well buy it from a third party where they don’t do background checks, like gun shows, private sales,” Rico said, saying such transactions are similar to “people who’re just selling them … on the street.”

He said universal background checks would not keep criminals from getting guns.

During his years in the gang, Rico said he used guns for intimidation and robbery — even a shootout. Rico acknowledged using firearms to rob people at ATM machines.

“I mean, the more crime you did … the more elite, the more alpha you were,” he explained.

He described one incident in Milwaukee about 10 years ago in which two cars approached his group on the street. Somebody said something in Spanish that provoked his group. At least 15 shots were traded in a matter of moments, he said.

Rico said he has quit the gang life. He went back to school, and now works in an office as a tech specialist. He has turned in his gangster attire for gym gear; he hopes to become a certified trainer.

One remnant of his old lifestyle stayed.

“I kept the firearms,” Rico said.

Lawsuit targets Armslist

For several years before her death, Zina Haughton had been physically abused by her husband. When the violence escalated in October 2012, she got a restraining order and moved out of the couple’s Brown Deer home, testifying that his threats “terrorize my every waking moment.”

The court granted her protection, prohibiting him from approaching Zina Haughton for four years and from possessing firearms, a ban that would have lasted until October 2016.

If Radcliffe Haughton had attempted to buy from a licensed dealer, he would have been blocked by a background check, and police would have been alerted to his attempt to illegally acquire a gun, according to the lawsuit filed by Yasmeen Daniel with help from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Instead, he visited Armslist.com.

The lawsuit argued that Haughton’s “extreme urgency, lack of discernment, and preference for a high-capacity magazine” should have alerted Armslist proprietors.

Without any screening or background check, Radcliffe Haughton purchased a FNP-40 semi-automatic handgun for $500 from a private seller in a McDonald’s parking lot.

The complaint argues Armslist proprietors designed the site to exploit the loophole to allow private sellers to cater to prohibited purchasers. It notes that the website has been traced to several incidents in which prohibited purchasers used firearms in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Websites including eBay, Amazon and Craigslist have banned private gun sales. The complaint argues that Armslist strategically fills the online void left for private gun sales “to enable the sale of firearms to prohibited and otherwise dangerous people.”

The lawsuit also alleges such transactions circumvent other safeguards, including federal restrictions on interstate transfers of guns, state waiting periods and state-specific assault weapon bans.

Armslist attorney Eric Van Schyndle did not respond to several messages seeking comment. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Glenn Yamahiro has scheduled a Nov. 1 hearing to decide whether to dismiss the case. In 2014, Armslist defeated a similar lawsuit in Illinois. 

Background checks stall in Wisconsin

State Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd, D-Milwaukee, and state Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, co-sponsored a bill again in the most recent legislative session to implement universal background checks. Berceau called it a “common sense” step to reduce gun violence.

“It seems really obvious to me that if you are a person who knows that you can’t pass a background check, you’re going to buy from one of these private sellers, and that is indeed what’s going on,” Berceau said.

Under the bill, all firearm transactions would have to go through a licensed dealer, and buyers would have to pass a background check, with certain exceptions. Gifts between family members, for example, would be exempt.

As a representative from Milwaukee, where gun violence spiked in 2015, Harris Dodd called the legislation a “no-brainer.” Milwaukee had 119 gun-related homicides and 633 nonfatal shootings in 2015, according to the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission — the highest in at least 10 years. The Center has reported that such crimes cost individuals and the state of Wisconsin billions a year in medical bills, police and prosecutorial costs, lost lives and stunted futures.

Of the known suspects in the 2015 gun homicides in Milwaukee, 69 percent — or 66 suspects — were legally prohibited from possessing a firearm at the time of the crime, according to the commission.

Milwaukee’s lobbyist, Jennifer Gonda, said universal background checks are a key part of the city’s legislative agenda. But she is not optimistic any of the city’s priorities to reduce gun violence will pass the current Legislature.

“We didn’t make much headway with the Democrats and … we’re making less with the Republicans,” Gonda said. “In some ways, it feels like we’re spinning our wheels a little bit.”

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a member of the NRA, has opposed universal background checks and other gun regulations. Clarke, a Democrat who spoke at the Republican National Convention, has advised residents to arm themselves to stay safe.

“Universal background checks and limiting magazine capacity are offered as reasonable approaches to reducing violence” but are “technical fixes” that mostly “frustrate the overwhelming number of law-abiding American gun owners,” Clarke wrote in an opinion piece for CNN in 2014.

Elvin Daniel said some steps toward reducing gun violence in Wisconsin have been taken. He appeared with Walker in 2014 when the governor signed a law requiring people served with restraining orders to surrender their firearms.

But for now, universal background checks — which Daniel believes would have prevented the Azana Spa mass shooting that claimed three lives including his sister’s — remain out of reach. He is reminded of that every day by the purple bracelet that reads “For the love of Zina” on his wrist.

“Had he gone through a background check, he wouldn’t have been able to buy a gun,” Daniel said. “Chances are, Zina would still be with us right now.”

***

Background checks, dealer licensing requirements in Wisconsin explained

The federal Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which took effect in 1994, required licensed dealers to subject buyers of handguns to a background check before a sale is made. The law was extended to shotguns and rifles in 1998.

Who is prohibited from purchasing a firearm?

Under state and federal law, people prohibited from buying guns include anyone who is:

  • Underage: Minimum age to purchase a firearm in Wisconsin is 18. To buy a handgun through a licensed dealer, the federal minimum age is 21.
  • Convicted or charged with a felony or another crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year or found delinquent as a juvenile after April 21, 1994 for a comparable crime;
  • A fugitive from justice;
  • An unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance or ordered to alcoholism treatment;
  • Adjudicated as “a mental defective,” including anyone found to be insane, incompetent to stand trial, appointed a guardian or determined to be a danger to himself or others;
  • Committed to a mental institution;
  • An immigrant without legal status;
  • Dishonorably discharged from the military;
  • Has renounced his or her U.S. citizenship;
  • Is subject to a court order restraining him or her from harassing, stalking or physically threatening an intimate partner or family member;
  • Has been convicted of a misdemeanor for domestic violence.

What is the procedure for a background check?

For long gun purchases, buyers from a licensed dealer must fill out Form 4473, which asks about drug use, criminal history and mental health history. The dealer calls into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, triggering an FBI search of several databases for potential prohibitions. The process happens within minutes.

Wisconsin is a point-of-contact state, meaning handgun dealers must contact the Wisconsin Department of Justice to conduct a background check to sell a handgun. Wisconsin’s DOJ is required to complete the check within five days.

Which sellers must be federally licensed?

Federal Firearm Licensees (FFLs) are individuals “engaged in the business” of selling guns. Applicants must go through a background check, safety training and testing to ensure they know how to handle weapons and are knowledgeable about firearms laws. Sellers who make “occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby” are not required to be licensed.

What is the private seller ‘loophole’?

There are no background check or record keeping requirements for private, unlicensed sellers. A private party may sell a firearm to a prohibited purchaser without committing a crime, unless the seller knows or has “reasonable cause to believe” the buyer is prohibited. It is still always illegal for a prohibited purchaser to buy a firearm.

— Alexandra Arriaga

 

Dee J. Hall and Coburn Dukehart of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and Wisconsin Public Radio reporter Bridgit Bowden contributed to this report. It was produced in collaboration with Precious Lives, a two-year project investigating the problem of gun violence among young people, its causes and potential solutions in the Milwaukee area and statewide. Other partners in the project are 371 Productions, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee Public Radio 89.7 WUWM and The Voice 860 AM WNOV. Coverage by the Center (www.WisconsinWatch.org) of gun violence prevention issues is supported by The Joyce Foundation. The nonprofit Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

 

Donald Trump is backtracking on guns-in-clubs statement

Donald Trump is backtracking from his contention that victims of the Orlando massacre should have been allowed to carry arms into the nightclub where they were attacked — a stance even the NRA says is untenable.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee tweeted on June 20 that he was “obviously talking about additional guards or employees” of the Orlando, Florida, nightclub where the attack happened when he spoke about the value of having more people armed to challenge the gunman.

That’s not what Trump said previously.

A day after the attack, he told radio host Howie Carr: “It’s too bad that some of the young people that were killed over the weekend didn’t have guns, you know, attached to their hips, frankly, and you know where bullets could have flown in the opposite direction, Howie. It would have been a much different deal. I mean, it sounded like there were no guns. They had a security guard. Other than that there were no guns in the room. Had people been able to fire back, it would have been a much different outcome.”

Trump had repeated his suggestion at rallies across the country last week. In Atlanta he said the carnage would have been lessened if “some of those great people that were in that club that night had guns strapped to their waist or strapped to their ankle.”

His statements were a step too far for the National Rifle Association, a powerful lobby for armed self-defense and broad permissions to carry weapons. “No one thinks that people should go into a nightclub drinking and carrying firearms,” the NRA’s chief lobbyist, Chris Cox, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. ‘’That defies common sense. It also defies the law.”

The NRA dustup came as the Senate prepared to vote Monday on expanded gun background checks and proposals to keep people on a government terrorism watch list or other suspected terrorists from buying guns. But prospects for any significant change in gun laws were dim.

The Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, was added to a government watch list of people known or suspected of being involved in terrorist activities in 2013, when he was investigated for inflammatory statements to co-workers. But he was pulled from that database when that investigation was closed 10 months later.

Trump made the case on the weekend that the U.S. should consider profiling Muslims inside the country as a terrorism-fighting tool, the latest example of his backing positions that could single out a group based on its religion.

“We really have to look at profiling,” Trump told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” ‘’It’s not the worst thing to do.”

Trump’s proposal runs counter to Justice Department policy, which prohibits profiling on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity and national origin. That profiling ban applies not only to federal agents but also to local law enforcement officers who participate in federal task forces.

Trump’s increasing embrace of policies that could isolate Muslims in America is extraordinary for a candidate assured of his party’s presidential nomination. The proposals have been roundly criticized by many Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan. Civil libertarians, Muslims and others also have strongly disagreed, arguing that profiling is unconstitutional and often constitutes unlawful discrimination based on race, religion and other factors.

Trump’s statements are consistent with his long-expressed views on how to stop terrorism in the United States, most notably a freeze on the entry of foreign Muslims in the U.S. But he’s intensified his approach since Mateen carried out the worst mass shooting in modern American history on June 12. Forty-nine people were killed in the attack.

DIVIDED AMERICA: Gun views fractious even as fewer bear arms

Look anywhere in this nation born of a bloody revolution of musket fire and you’re likely to find sharp disagreement over guns.

Democrats war with Republicans. Small towns are pitted against cities. Women and men are at odds, as are blacks and whites and old and young. North clashes with South, East with West.

“The current gun debate is more polarized and sour than any time before in American history,” said Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA and author of the 2011 book, Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.

Still numb from the latest mass shooting, in Orlando, it’s easy to imagine that guns have always divided us this way.

But a close look at survey data over decades shows they haven’t.

There was a time when most citizens favored banning handguns, the chief gun lobbyists supported firearm restrictions and courts hadn’t yet interpreted the Second Amendment as guaranteeing a personal right to bear arms for self-defense at home.

Today, in a country of hundreds of millions of guns, public opinion and interpretation of the law have shifted so much that outright gun bans are unthinkable. It’s true that large segments of the public have expressed support for some aspects of gun regulation — but when Americans have been asked to say which is more important, gun control or gun rights, they trend toward the latter.

That shift has come, perhaps surprisingly, as fewer Americans today choose to keep a gun in their home. The General Social Survey by NORC at the University of Chicago — one of the foremost authorities on gun ownership — found 31 percent of households had guns in 2014, down from a high of 50.4 percent in 1977.

“Institutions have repeated, ‘More guns, less crime. More guns, less crime,’ over and over again for almost 40 years, and it’s hard to turn that belief around in any easy way,” said Joan Burbick, an emeritus professor at Washington State University who wrote Gun Show Nation: Gun Culture and American Democracy and who owns a gun for hobby shooting.

Among the longest-existing measures of public gun sentiment is a Gallup poll question asking whether there should be a law banning handguns except by police and other authorized people. When it was first asked, in July 1959, 60 percent of respondents approved of such a measure.

By last October, 27 percent agreed.

Many point to a single date as crucial in the societal shift: May 21, 1977, when a contingent of National Rifle Association members staged a revolt that remade the group’s leadership, scuttled plans for a retreat from politics and sealed a rightward, hard-line shift. It led to a fundamental remaking of the NRA, which had come to accept some gun laws, including the Gun Control Act of 1968.

“That was the moment, in one evening, when the gun debate in America radically changed,” said Winkler.

The gun lobby’s increasingly powerful voice found receptive ears among a public left uneasy by civil rights battles, assassinations and growing urban lawlessness. Over time, statehouses and Congress bowed to the influence of the NRA and its allies. And in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court finally declared Americans have the right to a gun for self-defense.

“What they (gun rights advocates) did is a classic example of how you make constitutional change: They realized they needed to win in the court of public opinion before you could win in the court of law,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University and author of The Second Amendment: A Biography.

The NRA did not respond to an interview request.

But data from the GSS and the Pew Research Center offers a sketch of what the gun-owning populace looks like today: Overwhelmingly white and male, concentrated in rural areas, and more often identifying with or leaning toward the Republican Party.

They also have higher incomes and are more likely to vote.

Though polarization appears in broad questions on gun rights, far more consensus emerges on individual proposals.

A Pew poll released last August showed:

  • 85 percent of people support background checks for purchases at gun shows and in private sales.
  • 79 percent support laws to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns.
  • 70 percent approve of a federal database to track gun sales.
  • 57 percent favor a ban on assault weapons.

“The fact is it’s not divisive. The things that we’re advocating in the American public, when you’re talking about keeping guns out of dangerous hands, we all agree,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “The only place where this is truly a controversial issue is, tragically and disgracefully, in Congress and in our statehouses across the country.”

Republicans demand right to carry firearms at convention

About 32,000 people so far have signed a Change.org petition to allow guns at the Republican National Convention in the name of safety.  Ohio is an open carry state, but the Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention is being held in July,  is a gun-free zone.

Petition signers contend the ban on firearms will make them “sitting ducks, utterly helpless against evil-doers and criminals.”

“Cleveland, Ohio, is consistently ranked as one of the top ten most dangerous cities in America,” the petition says. “By forcing attendees to leave their firearms at home, the RNC and Quicken Loans Arena are putting tens of thousands of people at risk both inside and outside of the convention site.”

That argument has become ubiquitous among members of the National Rifle Association, anti-government militants and gun owners who feel unsafe without weapons. The same argument was made prior to the 2012 RNC in Tampa, but the Secret Service stepped in and banned firearms.

Critics say that Trump and his angry followers present the greatest danger to the RNC. His appearances are often marked with violence toward protesters, blacks, Muslims and others whom Trump rails against from the podium. He encourages his followers to create mayhem.

Protesters effectively shut down a recently scheduled Trump appearance in Chicago by surrounding the area where he was scheduled to speak.

The petition notes that: “All three remaining Republican candidates have spoken out on the issue and are unified in their opposition to Barack HUSSEIN (sic) Obama’s ‘gun-free zones.’”

Petitioners include quotes supporting the universal right to carry firearms from each of the three remaining political candidates (below):

Donald Trump said “I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools — you have — and on military bases on my first day. It gets signed my first day … you know what a gun-free zone is to a sicko? That’s bait.” (Jan. 8. 2016)

Ted Cruz has accurately pointed out “shooting after shooting after shooting happens in so called gun-free zones.” He continued, “look, if you’re a lunatic ain’t nothing better then having a bunch of targets you know that are going to be unarmed.” (Dec. 4, 2015)

And Ohio Governor John Kasich has been a leader in this movement to eliminate deadly “gun-free zones” starting with his brave decision to fight the Democrats and end “gun-free zones” at National Guard facilities in Ohio. (Dec. 18, 2015)

The signers also claim that carrying firearms is a “God-given” right:

“We are all too familiar with the mass carnage that can occur when citizens are denied their basic God-given rights to carry handguns or assault weapons in public. EVERY AMERICAN HAS THE RIGHT TO PROTECT AND DEFEND THEIR FAMILY (sic). With this irresponsible and hypocritical act of selecting a ‘gun-free zone’ for the convention, the RNC has placed its members, delegates, candidates and all US citizens in grave danger.

“We must take a stand. We cannot allow the national nominating convention of the party of Lincoln and Reagan to be hijacked by weakness and political correctness. The policies of the Quicken Loans Arena do not supersede the rights given to us by our Creator in the U.S. Constitution (sic).”

DNR: no drinking on state shooting ranges

Liquor, automatic weapons and exploding targets would be forbidden at Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources shooting ranges.

The DNR owns eight ranges in Wisconsin and operates about half of them; local clubs operate the others in partnership with the agency. No uniform rules apply, though the agency has been working since 2013 to develop some, said Keith Warnke, the DNR’s shooting sports coordinator.

DNR officials plan to present a wide-ranging package of regulations to their board next month that would prohibit the possession and consumption of alcohol on the ranges as well as prohibit shooters from using fully automatic weapons and tracer ammunition. Incendiary, exploding and breakable targets would be banned, although clay trap targets would be allowed. Shooters would have to unload their weapons when they’re off the firing line.

Warnke said the rules were spurred by a desire for consistency rather than any specific problems. Most of the regulations mirror rules at private ranges and gun clubs, he said.

“There’s no supervision at most of these DNR-owned ranges,” Warnke said. “We wanted to have a few basic safety rules to ensure that everyone using the range is as safe as can be.”

Gun advocates have given the rules a lukewarm reception, especially the drinking prohibition and the unloading mandate.

Jeff Nass is the executive director of Wisconsin Firearm Owners, Ranges, Clubs and Educators, the National Rifle Association’s state chapter. He said the DNR’s rules reflect private club regulations and generally should help keep ranges safer.

He said he doesn’t like banning automatic weapons, although he acknowledged that such weapons are so expensive few people own them.

Drinking ban at shooting ranges

The bigger issue is the drinking ban, he said: Would someone who comes to the range with alcohol in their car be violating the regulations? People already can’t legally fire a gun if they’re drunk, he said, so there’s no need to impose a broad ban on possession and consumption. “I’m not aware of another constitutional right you lose when you have a beer,” he said.

Nik Clark, chairman and president of gun rights group Wisconsin Carry, Inc., believes the alcohol ban would be tantamount to discrimination. People can drive with alcohol in their systems as long as they’re not intoxicated, he said, so shooters should be allowed to drink as long as they maintain control of themselves.

“Wisconsin’s a drinking state and all of a sudden when guns are around we can’t have alcohol?” he said.

Warnke noted that ranges across Wisconsin typically ban alcohol.

Clark agreed that banning incendiary targets and targets that shatter should make the ranges safer and reduce litter. But he questioned whether the rule on keeping guns unloaded when off the firing line can legally apply to concealed carry permit holders. People might need to protect themselves from “lunatics” who might go on a shooting spree at the range or wild animals such as coyotes, he argued.

“People should be able to have their self-defense firearm on them and loaded whenever they want and wherever they want,” he said.

Warnke couldn’t speak on how the unloading requirement would affect concealed carry permit holders legally, and DNR spokesman George Althoff didn’t immediately respond to an email asking him to address the question.

It’s unclear how much of a fight the advocacy groups might put up ahead of the April 13 board meeting. Nass said he didn’t anticipate his group would offer much pushback. Clark said his organization is focused on its lawsuit challenging a Madison rule banning concealed weapons on city buses and hasn’t designated any resources toward the range rules.

Workers required to have weapons at offices

The decision by the owner of a small insurance company to require his employees to carry weapons at the office has sparked a debate: Would having a gun on the job make you safer or is it inviting violence into the workplace?

Lance Toland said his three offices, based at small airports in Georgia, haven’t had problems with crime but “anyone can slip in these days if they want to. I don’t have a social agenda here. I have a safety agenda.”

When a longtime employee, a National Rifle Association-certified instructor who’s been the company’s unofficial security officer announced her retirement, Toland wanted to ensure the remaining employees were safe. He now requires each of them to get a concealed-carry permit, footing the $65 bill, and undergo training. He issues a Taurus revolver known as “The Judge” to each of them. The firearm holds five rounds, .410 shells that cast a spray of pellets like a shotgun.

“It is a weapon, and it is a lethal weapon,” said Toland, whose company specializes in aviation insurance. “When a perpetrator comes into the home or the office, they have started a fire. And this is a fire extinguisher.”

100-percent armed

No employee balked at the mandate, he said. “They all embraced it 100 percent, and they said, you know, I’m tired of being afraid,” Toland said.

An employer’s legal standing to impose such a requirement depends on several factors, foremost whether the business is high risk, a convenience store or taxi company, for example, said Carin Burford, a labor lawyer in Birmingham, Alabama.

Workplace and weapons

More than 400 people on average are killed in the workplace each year, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Just last week, a gunman with a criminal record who had just been served with an order to stay away from his former girlfriend began a shooting spree, eventually landing at the lawn mower parts factory where he worked. Authorities say he killed three people and wounded 14 others before a police officer shot and killed him.

About half of U.S. states have laws allowing people to keep firearms in their cars at work. There are companies that allow employees to bring firearms to the office. But it’s rare to hear of an employer making it a requirement.

Kevin Michalowski, executive editor of Concealed Carry Magazine, said he hasn’t heard of any companies issuing a mandate, but he’s increasingly hearing from companies, churches and schools seeking training so they’re prepared to deal with a workplace shooting.

He said while workplace shootings don’t happen every day, when they do happen, people should have the ability to protect themselves — particularly before police are able to respond.

“The gun-free-zone sign isn’t going to stop anyone. In fact, it makes people more vulnerable,” said Michalowski, who is a part-time officer in Wisconsin for a county sheriff’s department and a rural police department. “The good people who could stop things are disarmed.”

One person who isn’t convinced is Charles G. Ehrlich, an attorney in California. He was working for the Pettit & Martin law firm in California on July 1, 1993, when Gian Luigi Ferri, a failed entrepreneur and former client of the firm, arrived at the high-rise office building with multiple weapons, killing eight people and injuring six before killing himself.

Ehrlich was lucky. A meeting he was attending went long, and he didn’t end up down the hall in a conference room that was Ferri’s first target. “I heard the shouting and the noise” but had just moments earlier left the floor.

“It’s not like it is on TV or at the movies where the good guy just shoots the bad guy,” said Ehrlich, the former president of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “It’s very difficult to shoot a gun accurately, even when you’re not under pressure.”

Ehrlich also worries about the pressure cooker that exists in many workplaces — and that arming more employees might actually lead to more workplace shootings.

“Conceivably, someone who was well-trained — an ex-Green Beret or something like that — could’ve run down the hall, pulled out a weapon and fired a shot,” he said of the shooting at the firm. “But would he have prevented anyone from being killed? No. Unlike John Wayne who is always faster than the other guy, this guy got off the elevator and just started shooting.”

Playing in the back of Toland’s mind was something personal: A beloved uncle who had adopted him as a child was killed in 1979 during a nighttime robbery at the convenience store where he worked. Three men robbed him of less than $100. It was the first day he hadn’t brought a firearm to the store.

Andrea Van Buren, an agent with Toland’s firm for the past two months, was already comfortable with firearms. She carried a Glock nearly every day for the past decade and practices at a range every week.

When she hears about workplace shootings elsewhere, among her first thoughts is: “I’m glad it’s not happening here and then the second part is, it could happen here, and then I think, at least I’m prepared,” she said. “It’s sad. It’s heartbreaking.”

The revolver Toland is providing his employees isn’t exactly ideal for concealment. It weighs two pounds and is more than 9 inches long. By contrast, a Beretta Nano 9mm handgun is more than a third lighter and measures less than 6 inches. Van Buren said she’s not bothered by the impracticality. “I liken it to, I have an office computer and I have an office gun.”

She understands that not everyone wants to work for a company that requires having a weapon. “Gun ownership isn’t for everybody. It’s a huge responsibility,” she said. “If you’re carrying, you’ve got to be willing to use it.”

Gun safety legislation introduced in Madison

State Rep. Lisa Subeck this week introduced four bills intended to keep guns out of the hands of children and those who intend to use them for harm.

“As gun violence presents a significant public health and safety crisis, it is imperative that take action to keep our communities safe,” Subeck, a Democrat from Madison, said in a news release. “The Safe Storage for Gun Safety package of legislation offers common sense measures to keep guns out of the hands of our children and out of the hands of dangerous individuals.”

LRB-4399 would require reporting of lost or stolen firearms within 24 hours of discovering the loss or theft. The legislation would enable law enforcement to trace guns more effective, according to the legislator’s office.

LRB-4400 would require that at the time of sale or transfer of a firearm, the seller provide the individual receiving the gun with a secure lockable container or trigger lock for the firearm.

LRB-4412 would require a gun owner to store firearms in a locked container or have a locking device engaged if a person who cannot legally possess a firearm lives in the residence.

LRB-4423 would require a gun owner to store firearms in a locked container or have a locking device engaged if there is a child living in the residence or if a child is present in the home.