Dec 22: Epidemic of gun violence in the USA

December 22, 2012

[1] A Guide to Mass Shootings in the USA

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map

[2] The Yawning Loophole in the Gun Laws

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/19/opinion/the-yawning-loophole-in-the-gun-laws.html

[3] National Rifle (Selling) Association

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/21/opinion/national-rifle-selling-association.html

[4] The N.R.A. crawls from its Hidey Hole

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/22/opinion/the-nra-crawls-from-its-hidey-hole.html?hp&_r=0

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[1]

A Guide to Mass Shootings in America

As Newtown mourns the latest massacre, see our map of 62 mass shootings in the last 30 years—in which most of the killers got their guns legally.

By Mark Follman, Gavin Aronsen, and Deanna Pan | Fri Jul. 20, 2012 6:32 PM PDT

Update, December 21, 2012: The Associated Press reports [1] that a shooting rampage near Altoona, Pennsylvania, has left four people, including the shooter and two state troopers, dead. If those numbers are confirmed, the incident would add to the victim count for a year that has already seen a record number of lives lost to mass shootings [2]. Reports of the killings came in just as National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre concluded a press conference [3] on the Newtown shooting.

Update, December 14, 2012: This morning a mass shooter killed 27 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Among the fatalities were 20 children, six adults, and the shooter, who also killed his mother at her home. More details here [4]. This guide and map have been updated with data from the Newtown massacre.

It’s perhaps too easy to forget how many times this has happened. The horrific mass murder at a movie theater in Colorado [5] on July 20, another at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin [6] on August 5, another at a manufacturer in Minneapolis [7] on September 27—and now the unthinkable nightmare at a Connecticut elementary school [4] on December 14—are the latest in an epidemic of such gun violence over the last three decades. Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass murders* carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii. We’ve mapped them below, including details on the shooters’ identities, the types of weapons they used, and the number of victims they injured and killed.

Weapons: Of the 142 guns possessed by the killers, more than three quarters were obtained legally. The arsenal included dozens of assault weapons and semiautomatic handguns. (See charts below.) Just as Jeffrey Weise used a .40-caliber Glock to slaughter students in Red Lake, Minnesota, in 2005, so too did James Holmes, along with an AR-15 assault rifle [15], when blasting away at his victims in a darkened movie theater. In Newtown, Connecticut, Adam Lanza wielded two handguns and a .223 Bushmaster semiautomatic assault rifle [16] as he massacred 20 school children and six adults.

The killers: Half of the cases involved school or workplace shootings (12 and 19, respectively); the other 31 cases took place in locations including shopping malls, restaurants, government buildings, and military bases. Forty four of the killers were white males. Only one of them was a woman. (See Goleta, Calif., in 2006.) The average age of the killers was 35, though the youngest among them was a mere 11 years old. (See Jonesboro, Ark., in 1998.) A majority were mentally ill—and displayed signs of it before setting out to kill [12]. Explore the map for further details—we do not consider it to be all-inclusive, but based on the criteria we used to identify mass murders, we believe that we’ve produced the most comprehensive rundown available on this particular type of traumatic violence. (Mass murders represent only a sliver of America’s overall gun violence.) For a timeline listing all the cases on the map, including photos of the killers, jump to
page 2 [17].)

Hover over the dots or use the search box in the top-left corner of the map to go to a specific location. (You’ll need to zoom in to see the Fort Hood shooting, located close to another Texas massacre in 1991, and to see other proximate incidents in Denver, Seattle, and elsewhere.)

We used the following criteria to identify cases of mass murder:

The killings were carried out by a lone shooter. (Except in the case of the Columbine massacre and the Westside Middle School killings, both of which involved two shooters.)
The shootings happened during a single incident and in a public place. (Public, except in the case of a party in Crandon, Wisconsin, and another in Seattle.) Crimes primarily related to armed robbery or gang activity are not included.
The shooter took the lives of at least four people. An FBI crime classification report [21] identifies an individual as a mass murderer—as opposed to a spree killer [22] or a serial killer [23]—if he kills four or more people in a single incident (not including himself), and typically in a single location.
If the shooter died or was hurt from injuries sustained during the incident, he is included in the total victim count. (But we have excluded cases in which there were three fatalities and the shooter also died, per the previous criterion.)
We included six so-called “spree killings”—prominent cases that fit closely with our above criteria for mass murder, but in which the killings occurred in multiple locations over a short period of time.

For more on how we determined the criteria, see our mass shootings explainer [24]. Also: more on the crucial mental illness factor [12], and on the recent barrage of state laws rolling back gun restrictions across the US [25].

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[2]

The Yawning Loophole in the Gun Laws

Pressures from unexpected quarters continued to build on Congress to strengthen the country’s porous gun laws. Pro-gun legislators expressed support for stronger rules. A prominent private equity firm announced that it was divesting itself of the company that makes the Bushmaster rifle, which was used in the mass shooting of 20 children and seven adults in Connecticut on Friday.

Bit by bit, it began to seem possible, at long last, that lawmakers who say they do not want guns to wind up in the hands of criminals, the mentally ill and others who cannot be trusted with them will do the one thing that would be most effective at achieving that goal, and the one thing the gun lobby does not want: requiring background checks for all gun sales.

The Brady gun control law, named for the White House official who was shot during an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, requires licensed gun dealers to screen all prospective gun buyers through a federal database of convicted felons, drug abusers, people with a serious mental illness and others. In addition, the law requires licensed dealers to collect information about buyers that can be used later to trace guns that were used in crimes. From 1994 to 2009, those checks have prevented nearly two million gun sales, according to the Justice Department.

But the law does not cover private sales of guns, including transactions by “occasional sellers” at gun shows and flea markets, in what has become a gaping loophole that has allowed teenagers, ordinary criminals, terrorists, Mexican drug cartels and arms traffickers to have easy access to weapons. For instance, firearms bought at gun shows were used in the Columbine school shooting; they have been found in a shipment of arms supplies to the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah; and they have made their way across the border to Mexico.

But none of those examples have stopped the National Rifle Association and its supporters in Congress from blocking legislation that would require private sellers to run buyers through background checks, which take just a few minutes to process on the telephone. The N.R.A., emboldened by a Supreme Court ruling asserting an individual constitutional right to bear arms, has turned its attention to further broadening the market, lobbying state legislatures to allow concealed weapons in churches, schools and other public places and to restrict the discretion of local police in granting gun permits.

In the case of background checks on private sales, the N.R.A. has argued that checks are not needed because surveys of criminals suggest that just 2 percent of them buy their weapons from gun shows. This is a highly disingenuous argument because criminals most often purchase firearms from relatives, friends and associates. Many of those people, in turn, get their supplies from gun shows and elsewhere, including on the Internet where anybody with a credit card can order semiautomatic weapons for overnight delivery.

Requiring background checks for private sales will obviously not, on its own, keep people like Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who perpetrated the massacre in Newtown, Conn., away from deadly weapons. For starters, only buyers of guns, not members of the families who own them (as was true in his case), are screened against the database known as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Moreover, many state governments and federal agencies have provided incomplete or no records to the system for various logistical, legal and financial reasons. But those flaws and limitations should not be a reason for lawmakers to exempt sales at gun shows, flea markets and at other venues from background checks, which are a simple and effective way to prevent many violent individuals from getting access to guns.

Since the Newtown shootings, the influence and power of the N.R.A. may have diminished as some of its usual allies have distanced themselves from its hard-line position. Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm, said on Tuesday that it would sell its stake in Freedom Group, the maker of the Bushmaster rifle. And a Democratic state lawmaker in California, Kevin de León, introduced a bill that would require people buying ammunition to go through background checks. These are small but promising shoots. It is up to Congress and President Obama to nurture them.

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[3]

National Rifle (Selling) Association

The National Rifle Association is scheduled to hold a news conference on Friday where it says it plans to provide details about its promise of “meaningful contributions” to prevent another a massacre like the one in Newtown, Conn.

We would like to believe that the N.R.A., the most influential opponent of sensible gun-control policies, will do as it says, but we have little faith that it will offer any substantial reforms. The association presents itself as a grass-roots organization, but it has become increasingly clear in recent years that it represents gun makers. Its chief aim has been to help their businesses by increasing the spread of firearms throughout American society.

In recent years, the N.R.A. has aggressively lobbied federal and state governments to dilute or eliminate numerous regulations on gun ownership. And the clearest beneficiary has been the gun industry — sales of firearms and ammunition have grown 5.7 percent a year since 2007, to nearly $12 billion this year, according to IBISWorld, a market research firm. Despite the recession, arms sales have been growing so fast that domestic manufacturers haven’t been able to keep up. Imports of arms have grown 3.6 percent a year in the last five years.

The industry has, in turn, been a big supporter of the N.R.A. It has contributed between $14.7 million and $38.9 million to an N.R.A.-corporate-giving campaign since 2005, according to a report published last year by the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit group that advocates greater gun control. The estimate is based on a study of the N.R.A.’s “Ring of Freedom” program and very likely understates the industry’s total financial support for the association, which does not publicly disclose a comprehensive list of its donors and how much they have given.

Officials from the N.R.A. have repeatedly said their main goal is to protect the Second Amendment rights of rank-and-file members who like to hunt or want guns for protection. But that claim is at odds with surveys that show a majority of N.R.A. members and a majority of American gun owners often support restrictions on gun sales and ownership that the N.R.A. has bitterly fought.

For instance, a 2009 poll commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that 69 percent of N.R.A. members would support requiring all sellers at gun shows to conduct background checks of prospective buyers, which they do not have to do now and which the N.R.A. has steadfastly argued against. If lawful gun owners are willing to subject themselves to background checks, why is the association resisting? Its position appears only to serve the interest of gun makers and dealers who want to increase sales even if it means having dangerous weapons fall into the hands of criminals and violent individuals.

Businesses and special-interest groups often cloak their profit motives in the garb of constitutional rights — think Big Tobacco and its opposition to restrictions on smoking in public places and bold warnings on cigarette packages. The Supreme Court has made clear that the right to bear arms is not absolute and is subject to regulations and controls. Yet the N.R.A. clings to its groundless arguments that tough regulations violate the Second Amendment. Many of those arguments serve no purpose other than to increase the sales of guns and bullets.
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[4]

The N.R.A. Crawls From Its Hidey Hole

Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, would have been better advised to remain wherever he had been hiding after the Newtown, Conn., massacre, rather than appear at a news conference on Friday. No one seriously believed the N.R.A. when it said it would contribute something “meaningful” to the discussion about gun violence. The organization’s very existence is predicated on the nation being torn in half over guns. Still, we were stunned by Mr. LaPierre’s mendacious, delusional, almost deranged rant.

Mr. LaPierre looked wild-eyed at times as he said the killing was the fault of the media, songwriters and singers and the people who listen to them, movie and TV scriptwriters and the people who watch their work, advocates of gun control, video game makers and video game players.

The N.R.A., which devotes itself to destroying compromise on guns, is blameless. So are unscrupulous and unlicensed dealers who sell guns to criminals, and gun makers who bankroll Mr. LaPierre so he can help them peddle ever-more-lethal, ever-more-efficient products, and politicians who kill even modest controls over guns.

His solution to the proliferation of guns, including semiautomatic rifles designed to kill people as quickly as possible, is to put more guns in more places. Mr. LaPierre would put a police officer in every school and compel teachers and principals to become armed guards.

He wants volunteer and professional firefighters, who already risk their lives every day, to be charged with thwarting an assault by a deranged murderer. The same applies to paramedics, security guards, veterans, retired police officers. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Mr. LaPierre said.

We cannot imagine trying to turn the principals and teachers who care for our children every day into an armed mob. And let’s be clear, civilians bristling with guns to prevent the “next Newtown” are an armed mob even with training offered up by Mr. LaPierre. Any town officials or school principals who take up the N.R.A. on that offer should be fired.

Mr. LaPierre said the Newtown killing spree “might” have been averted if the killer had been confronted by an armed security guard. It’s far more likely that there would have been a dead armed security guard — just as there would have been even more carnage if civilians had started firing weapons in the Aurora movie theater.

In the 62 mass-murder cases over 30 years examined recently by the magazine Mother Jones, not one was stopped by an armed civilian. We have known for many years that a sheriff’s deputy was at Columbine High School in 1999 and fired at one of the two killers while 11 of their 13 victims were still alive. He missed four times.

People like Mr. LaPierre want us to believe that civilians can be trained to use lethal force with cold precision in moments of fear and crisis. That requires a willful ignorance about the facts. Police officers know that firing a weapon is a huge risk; that’s why they avoid doing it. In August, New York City police officers opened fire on a gunman outside the Empire State Building. They killed him and wounded nine bystanders.

Mr. LaPierre said the news media call the semiautomatic weapon used in Newtown a machine gun, claim that it’s a military weapon and that it fires the most powerful ammunition available. That’s not true. What is true is that there is a growing call in America for stricter gun control.