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December 15, 2008

Forgot Something?

Today’s “Ordinary People” blog features two stories that involve curious episodes of memory loss.

The first story involves a concealed carry permit holder who was shopping at a Wal-Mart in Steubenville, Ohio, on December 3. When he departed the store that day, he had his purchases in hand, but not his firearm. His .40 caliber Glock handgun was left sitting in his shopping cart, conveniently marked down for a five-finger discount.

Authorities are now searching for a “man driving a red Dodge Ram pickup truck” who apparently found the gun later in the day and drove off with it. Hardly comforting, but better than the real possibility of a child finding the gun at the popular family store… Apparently, this permit holder forgot not just his gun, but one of the National Rifle Association’s cardinal rules of gun safety: “Store guns so they are not accessible to unauthorized persons.”

Our second tale comes from the state of Tennessee, where authorities recently reported that 200 hundred state residents who have permits to carry concealed handguns might have their permits revoked or suspended because they have active restraining orders against them. Apparently, several counties in the state were failing to inform the Tennessee Department of Safety of such orders of protection. The Department of Safety did not realize this oversight through their own investigation-they were alerted to it by a Nashville television station.

Restraining orders are typically issued to protect spouses in abusive relationships. Charlotte Boatwright, President of the Coalition Against Domestic and Community Violence of Greater Chattanooga, commented, “We do know that there is a direct correlation between having weapons available in the home and lethality.”

Hopefully, the Tennessee Department of Safety will act quickly to revoke the permits of the 200 individuals in question. Public safety will also be better served if they remember in the future to audit their permit holder database to screen out potentially dangerous individuals who are prohibited under state statue from carrying concealed weapons.

December 1, 2008

"I blew her away."

Richard Peters’ cavalier attitude towards the safe handing and storage of firearms caused a tragedy on November 16 in Marysville, Washington, when he shot and killed his six-year-old daughter while cleaning a firearm.

That night, Peters asked his daughter, Stormy, to retrieve a Colt Double Eagle .45-caliber handgun from a nightstand in his bedroom. The accident occurred when Peters removed the magazine from the weapon to prepare it for cleaning and pulled the trigger. Peters, who was apparently unaware that a live round was in the chamber, told detectives responding to the accident, “I blew her away.” He is being held in lieu of $250,000 bail while under investigation for first-degree manslaughter.

Peters, who is a concealed carry permit holder, told investigators that prior to the fatal shooting he drank up to five double shots of vodka and believed that he would have been too intoxicated to drive a car. He also revealed to investigators that he regularly allowed all three of his children (ages 3, 6 and 8) to handle his firearms, including the .45-caliber handgun with a “hair trigger” involved in the fatal accident. Child Protective Services took custody of Peters’ two surviving children and investigators have recovered a “large” number of firearms from his residence.

The fatal shooting wasn’t Peters’ only accident involving a firearm. As recently as November 1, he accidentally discharged a shotgun that was handed to him while shooting pumpkins. Thankfully, no one was harmed in that incident.

Peters told deputies responding to the shooting of his daughter that he was "very proficient" with firearms. His pattern of irresponsible behavior, however, demonstrates that nothing could be further from the truth. Peters broke almost every rule in the book related to gun safety. He handled firearms while drinking alcohol. He pulled the trigger on a gun on multiple occasions without inspecting the weapon’s chamber to make sure it was clear of ammunition. He allowed his children—one as young as three years old—to handle firearms without direct adult supervision. He even violated the cardinal rule of gun safety—ALWAYS KEEP A FIREARM POINTED IN A SAFE DIRECTION.

Rather than being an unpreventable or unexpected tragedy, the death of Peters’ daughter was foreshadowed by his reckless attitude towards guns.

October 27, 2008

Cowboy Up

On September 19, Gerald Deaguiar risked his own life as well as the lives of other motorists as he raced his 2007 silver Jaguar at speeds of up to 90 mph against a motorcyclist. To make matters worse, Deaguiar was drunk and carrying two handguns, one on each hip. A Florida Highway Patrol trooper arrested Deaguiar and gave him a breathalyzer test at the Hernando County Jail. Deaguiar registered a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .309—almost four times the legal limit. He was so drunk that he had to be hospitalized before being taken to jail.

After posting $1,250 bail, Deaguiar was released early the next morning. He has since been charged with driving while intoxicated, racing, and possessing a firearm while intoxicated.

Deaguiar holds a concealed carry permit that was issued by the state of Georgia. The state of Florida has a reciprocity agreement with Georgia, meaning that anyone who possesses a valid concealed carry permit in that state may carry a concealed weapon in Florida. Florida has an extremely liberal reciprocity policy that recognizes concealed carry permits from 33 other states.

An individual in Georgia only has to pay $15 dollars, show a photo ID, and submit to a basic background check to receive a concealed carry permit valid for five years. Applicants are not required to demonstrate proficiency with a handgun or knowledge of firearm safety as there is no written test or training requirement. Florida’s requirements aren’t much tougher. Florida prohibits applicants from obtaining a permit if they have two or more drunk driving convictions in the previous three years (one, apparently, is fine). The Sunshine State also requires applicants to take a two-hour firearm safety course or present evidence of military service.

There is no word yet on whether Deaguiar’s concealed carry permit will be suspended or revoked due to his criminal behavior.

Commentators are increasingly comparing America’s liberal concealed carry policies to the frontier days of the “Wild, Wild West.” In this case, such a comparison seems particularly apt. Deaguiar acted as the quintessential “Wild West” gunslinger—as if he were The Man With No Name in “A Fistful of Dollars,” riding through town with a pistol on each hip after taking shots of whiskey at the saloon. Armed, drunk and dangerous, he displayed a reckless disregard for public safety that belied the gun lobby’s best arguments about “law-abiding” behavior and responsibility.

September 29, 2008

Road Rage

On August 5 in Pembroke Pines, Florida, a quiet morning erupted in tragedy when Special Agent Donald Pettit was shot and killed in the parking lot of a post office by James Patrick Wonder. Pettit, who was employed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was traveling along a Florida highway with his 12-year-old daughter when an incident of road rage led to a needless death.

For miles, Pettit and Wonder participated in an aggressive game of “chicken,” cutting off each other’s cars, slamming on brakes, and cursing heavily. When Wonder pulled over into the parking lot of a local post office, Pettit followed him.

The two men exited their cars and an argument ensued. Wonder, a concealed carry permit holder in the state of Florida, then drew his handgun and shot Pettit, who was unarmed, in the back of the head. While Pettit’s daughter looked on in horror, Wonder went back to his vehicle and fled the scene, leaving the federal agent to die.

Wonder attempted to elude police by dying his hair and driving in a rental car, but after a massive 24-hour manhunt, he was apprehended by authorities at a dialysis clinic thanks to an anonymous tip. “We told you we would get you,” said Pembroke Pines Deputy Chief Mike Segarra to a cheering crowd of law enforcement officers at a press conference later that evening. Police recovered several handguns from Wonder’s home, including the weapon they believe was used to shoot Pettit.

While Wonder was initially charged with premeditated murder and held without bond, on August 28, a Broward County grand jury indicted him on a lesser charge, manslaughter. Wonder then posted $10,000 bond and was released from jail. He now faces a maximum of 15 years imprisonment. Had he been charged with premeditated murder, Wonder could have received life in prison or the death penalty.

Frank Maister, an attorney for Wonder, expressed disappointment that the grand jury chose to indict his client. He also indicated he will argue his client acted in self-defense. He might have a strong case due to a Florida law that lowered the standard for using deadly force in public places. Previously, Florida law required citizens to retreat from a situation in which they felt threatened if they could do so safely. Florida’s 2005 “Shoot First” statute, however, changed the law so that, “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any…place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

Clearly, both Wonder and Pettit were at fault that day for allowing their road rage to escalate into dangerous behavior, and Pettit was wrong for following Wonder into a parking lot and confronting him. Beyond that, however, we are left with several important questions… Why didn’t Wonder call the police or drive to a police station if he was being followed by Pettit? If he was being actively attacked by Pettit, then why was Wonder uninjured, and why was the fatal bullet wound in the back of Pettit’s head? Most importantly, why would a man who acted legitimately in self-defense flee a crime scene (leaving a child to deal with her dead father) and attempt to evade police capture by ditching his car and disguising his appearance?

No matter what answers we eventually find, the sad fact is that no one had to die that day. The presence of a handgun during a moment of passion turned what should have been a shouting match or at worst a scuffle into a fatality that has left a family “destroyed.”

September 8, 2008

"I had fun."

On July 17, Randal Rushing, 25, turned a quiet family home in Scranton, Pennsylvania into a slaughterhouse. At approximately 4:30 AM that morning, Rushing—who rented basement room in the house—went on a killing spree, using a handgun to order his victims into submission and then bludgeoning and stabbing them to death with carpentry hammers and knives. When all was said and done, three people lay dead: Justin Berrios, 21; Dustin Hintz, 22; and Leslie Collier, 16. Collier’s body was so badly beaten that police could not tell exactly how he was killed. Authorities believe that Rushing’s rampage was triggered by jealousy regarding a girl he was dating who also lived in the house.

Police apprehended Rushing at a friend’s apartment the next morning, where he was found playing Playstation in blood-soaked boots. As police led Rushing out of the house, he blew reporters a kiss and told them, “I had fun.” The office of the Lackawanna County District Attorney is currently deciding whether to pursue the death penalty against him.

Rushing had a permit to carry a concealed handgun in Pennsylvania. His permit application had been approved in less than 24 hours in February 2007, despite the fact that he listed the address of a homeless shelter as his home address and provided two references whose names were illegible. The sheriff who issued the permit, Barry Stankus, claimed that he “followed all the guidelines established by the Pennsylvania Crimes Code and utilized the [Pennsylvania Instant Check System] established by the Pennsylvania State Police.”

Stankus’ successor as sheriff, Michael Savokinas, was of a different opinion. He described Stankus’ office as a “one-stop shop” for permits and, stating the obvious, noted, “we should have called the [references].”

Rushing had no criminal record, but even outside the problems with his written application for the permit, there were obvious red flags in his background. His attorney, Paul Ackourey, has stated that Rushing “has some serious emotional and mental health problems that will be explored.” State Police also indicated that Rushing had “made overt threats” at T.J. Maxx, where he worked. Despite the fact that Pennsylvania is a “shall-issue state, pursuant to statute local law enforcement can deny a concealed carry permit to an individual who is “not of sound mind” or who “has a character and reputation indicating the applicant would be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety” (among other reasons). Law enforcement is allowed 45 days to carry out an investigation on an applicant.

When claiming that concealed carry permit holders are the most law-abiding citizens in the country, the gun lobby will frequently point to the “rigorous” vetting they go through in order to obtain their permits. This case, however—and others detailed in our “Ordinary People” series—reveal that the screening process in many instances is not even cursory, much less rigorous. For example, Pennsylvania does not even require permit holders to undergo firearm safety training before carrying a handgun in public.

Several other important questions are raised by the Rushing case… Did Sheriff Stankus issue permits to other individuals who posed a threat to public safety during his tenure? Has the state of Pennsylvania implemented any monitoring or oversight procedures to determine if there are similar permitting problems in other counties?

An independent audit of the permitting process is also certainly justified. That is impossible, however, because Pennsylvania has enacted a National Rifle Association-drafted law that prohibits the public from accessing information on concealed carry permit holders.

One thing is clear—when it comes to individuals carrying handguns in public, it is time for Pennsylvania to start putting the safety of its citizens ahead of the interests of the gun lobby.

August 18, 2008

"Reasonable Belief"

On July 9, a confrontation between an Indiana resident and a homeless man led to tragic violence in Salt Lake City, Utah. That day, Michael James Mays—who had a history of substance abuse problems—was seen pacing across the street from Mama’s Southern Plantation restaurant while talking on a cell phone. He then turned towards restaurant patron George Harrison, who was sitting outside Mama’s with a group of people, and approached him while shouting expletives. Harrison—who said that Mays lifted his shirt up and reached for his waistband—pulled out a concealed handgun and fired once at Mays, killing him. Police later determined that Mays had been unarmed.

Harrison is a concealed carry permit holder in the state of Indiana. Individuals who hold a valid concealed carry permit in any other state may freely carry concealed handguns while in Utah due to a reciprocity law.

The District Attorney’s office has exonerated Harrison and spokesperson Alicia Cook has stated, “We believe this incident falls within the parameters of self-defense and that the shooting was justified.” Oddly, Cook was also quoted in the same statement as saying, “You cannot use lethal force to respond to a fistfight.” Utah law allows the use of lethal force for self-defense when an individual “reasonably believes” that it is necessary “to prevent death or serious bodily injury.” Additionally, the law contains “Shoot First” language that removes an individual’s duty to retreat from a situation if possible before using deadly force.

What makes Cook’s statement puzzling is that Harrison fired his gun without the situation even escalating to the level of a fistfight. Yet the District Attorney’s office has found that Harrison was justified in his actions because he believed that Mays had a gun, without making any visual confirmation of the fact.

Mays’ son told the media, “If they do have a weapon, they should like pull out the gun and point it at them and say ‘freeze,' like cops would do. The guy who shot him is very immature...he needs to be ashamed of himself.” Numerous other relatives and friends said that they never knew Mays to be a violent person.

Responding to the District Attorney’s decision to not press charges, Mays’ first wife, Holly Mays, said, “I totally think it was unjustifiable … at least they could have written [Harrison] a ticket, something. I think now people think you can basically open fire in a residential area and say, 'I did it in self-defense.'” Family members are considering a civil lawsuit.

While it was wrong of Mays to confront Harrison, the situation should not have resulted in a fatal shooting. Without the introduction of a firearm into the confrontation by Harrison, the outcome could have ranged from a verbal confrontation to a fistfight. Even given the presence of a handgun, Harrison could have simply brandished his weapon until police arrived, or attempted to move away from Mays. In the end, he chose none of these options, shooting Mays without even giving a verbal warning. The result was an unnecessary death—or, as Steve Gunn from the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah put it, a "sadness, for both the victim and the shooter, because the shooter is going to have to bear that burden for the rest of his life.

July 28, 2008

A Case of "Self-Defense"

At 1:56 a.m. on the morning of July 13, Officer Joshua Miktarian of Twinsburg, Ohio, pulled over Ashford Thompson on suspicion of drunken driving. Dispatch tapes reveal that 90 seconds after making the stop, Officer Miktarian radioed for assistance and then failed to respond to the questions of the dispatcher and his fellow officers. During these critical moments, Thompson used a Kel-Tec P11 handgun to fatally shoot Miktarian four times in the head at close range. The location of two recovered bullets suggest that Thompson continued to fire even after Miktarian had fallen to the ground. Officer Miktarian never had a chance to draw his own weapon, which remained in his holster as he was flown to emergency medical care.

Thompson fled the scene and was later found with a handcuff on one wrist at a relative’s home, where he was arrested without further incident. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty—Thompson is facing charges including aggravated murder, resisting arrest and tampering with evidence.

Thompson possessed a concealed carry permit in the state of Ohio and had no criminal record whatsoever. His defense attorney, Larry Zukerman, has argued that he acted in self-defense, but refused to offer any additional details. Prosecutor David Maistros has responded by saying, “He’s Mr. Thompson’s lawyer and he has a job to do. But self-defense? I’d find that laughable.” Added Twinsburg Officer Tom Austin: “Just because you have the right to carry a gun, it doesn’t give you the right to slaughter somebody.”

Sergeant Darren Senft from nearby Warrensville Heights commented on the dangers that law enforcement officers face in pulling over armed drivers: “When you’re making a traffic stop, you have no idea who this person is. There are so many unknowns.” The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reports that 20% of fatal police officer shootings occur during traffic stops.

Friends and family remembered Josh Miktarian as a man who “brought laughter everywhere he went.” He leaves behind a wife (who is also a police officer) and a three month-old daughter. At a candlelight vigil conducted in his memory, Cindy Steele, wife of a local police officer, told the gathered mourners, “Look around you…We are good, caring people here…people who value human life.” Just a day earlier, Ashford Thompson made it apparent how little he valued human life by stealing Officer Miktarian away from his friends and family. As an individual licensed to carry a concealed handgun, Thompson was obliged to act responsibly with his firearm. Instead, he used it to needlessly kill a man who had dedicated his life to serving and protecting his community.

June 30, 2008

The "Hidden" Handgun

On June 9, in Columbia, South Carolina, a family’s shopping trip turned into a nightmare when a child found her grandmother’s hidden handgun. The young girl, who is four years old, was riding in a shopping cart when she reached inside of her grandmother’s purse, pulled out a loaded small-caliber handgun, and shot herself in the chest. Luckily, the bullet missed her major organs. She is now recovering after intense surgery and will be released from the hospital soon.

The grandmother, Donna Hutto Williamson, a South Carolina magistrate, possessed a license to carry a concealed weapon in the state. Chief Magistrate Rodger Emerson Edmonds noted that it is common for magistrates to carry guns for protection: "Sometimes some of the judges have to make deposits at the banks. The other reason is for self preservation to protect yourself because there are some crazies out there."

Williamson had been shopping with her granddaughter at Sam’s Club. South Carolina law allows those with concealed carry permits to bring handguns into privately-owned businesses unless they post signs prohibiting firearms on their premises. Sam’s Club posts no such signs at their retail outlets.

It is clear from all reports that Williamson is a well-respected individual in her community. Her case demonstrates that even law-abiding gun owners are subject to the distractions of everyday life, which can sometimes lead to serious lapses in judgment. No one plans on accidents. Williamson believed that her gun would protect her if she was attacked by an armed criminal. In the end, however, it was her gun that ended up nearly killing her loved one.

Thankfully, her granddaughter survived the gunshot, but Williamson is still facing possible charges, including child endangerment and unlawful neglect of a child. Hopefully, this unfortunate incident will be a lesson to others—guns should always be stored away securely so that they are totally inaccessible to children.

June 16, 2008

Folk Villain

On May 24, thousands of people gathered to listen to music and dance at the Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle, Washington. Among the crowd was a 22 year-old man from Snohomish County named Clinton C. Grainger, who brought with him a Glock 19 handgun concealed in an ankle holster. Reports indicate that a fight began when Grainger gave a man at the festival a confrontational look as he walked by. The man said he thought he recognized Grainger and asked his name. Instead of answering, Grainger pushed the man in the chest and went for the gun in his ankle holster, firing the sidearm once. The bullet passed through the man’s nasal cavity, penetrated another person’s wrist and finally lodged in a third person’s leg. Miraculously, none of these three victims were critically injured, and all are currently recovering.

It seems odd that someone attending a peaceful music festival would feel the need to carry a gun on his person. But since that day, local law enforcement officials have discovered a number of startling facts about Grainger.

Since he was 18 years old, Grainger had been enrolled in a treatment program for drug addiction. He also struggled with mental illness, and was taking prescribed medication for anxiety and schizophrenia. Additionally, Grainger had a record of juvenile convictions for misdemeanor theft and possession of stolen property.

Despite these issues, Grainger was granted a permit to carry a concealed weapon by the state of Washington in 2007. Washington is a “shall-issue” state, meaning that local law enforcement officials must issue a concealed carry permit to any applicant who meets a basic set of qualifications and passes a computerized instant background check. Under federal law, those with felony convictions or domestic violence-related misdemeanor convictions are prohibited from possessing or purchasing firearms. The state of Washington also prohibits those convicted of “any crime of violence.” Grainger’s convictions, however, were for non-violent juvenile misdemeanor offenses, so they were not flagged when his background check was run.

Nor did Grainger’s diagnosis of schizophrenia prevent him from passing his background check. Federal law prohibits the possession or purchase of firearms by those who have been adjudicated as a “mental defective” or who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution—neither of which conditions applied to Grainger’s case. Grainger also avoided disqualification for his drug addiction by claiming on his background check form that he was not “an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana, or any depressant, stimulant or narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.”

In the wake of recent tragedies at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, many Americans are undoubtedly wondering why it is still so easy for individuals with histories of mental illness to purchase firearms and even obtain permits to carry concealed handguns. One thing is certain: Grainger would not have been able to obtain a concealed carry permit in a “may-issue” state, where local law enforcement is given the discretion to withhold a permit from an applicant who might pose a threat to themselves or others, regardless of whether they pass an instant background check.

In response to the shooting at the Folklife Festival, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has signed an executive order requiring the city to come up with a plan to prohibit visitors from bringing firearms into city facilities. Mayor Nickels deserves praise for this important step to improve public safety—however, in order to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals, we must ensure that individuals are thoroughly screened before they are allowed to purchase and carry firearms.

June 2, 2008

A Child's Party, A Family's Nightmare

Normally, a child’s birthday party is a time for celebration and joy. In Rhode Island, on May 18, however, one boy’s party turned deadly when a neighborhood dispute escalated into violence.

On that day, James Pagano, a local firefighter, was hosting a birthday party for his young son. During the course of the party, a ball that Pagano’s son and other children were playing with struck a car owned by a neighbor, Nicolas Gianquitti. An argument between Pagano and Gianquitti ensued and the men began to scuffle. Witnesses reported that Gianquitti then fired several shots from a handgun at Pagano, who was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly thereafter. There was confusion as to whether Gianquitti left his house armed, or if he returned inside to retrieve the handgun before shooting Pagano. Gianquitti has been charged with murder and is being held without bail.

Cranston Fire Chief James Gumbley told the media that Pagano, the father of two young children, was well-liked and respected by his co-workers. One neighbor described him as a “great guy, really family-oriented.” A friend called him the most stand-up, reliable friend you could ever know.”

Gianquitti, who served as a Providence police officer for six months during the early 1990s, legally owned the murder weapon and had been licensed to carry a concealed handgun in Rhode Island for fifteen years. From most accounts, he did not get along with his neighbors in Cranston. A former neighbor said that Gianquitti would often complain about balls “banging his cars.” In 2006, he filed a formal complaint with Cranston police about neighborhood kids going on his property. Adriana Pagano, James’ wife, filed her own complaint and was concerned that Gianquitti watched her children play from inside his house. Another neighbor described Gianquitti as “weird” and said that her parents told her younger brother to stay away from the man.

Despite the problems Gianquitti had with his neighbors, there was no indication that he was prone to violence. Before the shooting, Gianquitti possessed a clean criminal record and was legally permitted to carry a concealed handgun. Nor were Gianquitti’s issues with his property or neighbors unique, as many communities experience such conflicts and disagreements.

In almost all cases, however, such conflicts are resolved peacefully—through our legal system if necessary—but without violence. Had a gun not been present, Gianquitti and Pagano’s scuffle probably would have resulted in a simple fistfight. Bodies and egos might have been temporarily bruised and perhaps law enforcement would have been called in to mediate. Instead, Gianquitti’s gunfire has left James Pagano dead and a wife and two young children without the man they love the most. Gianquitti himself now faces a criminal charge that could land him in prison for the rest of his life.

Over kids on a lawn? A scuff mark or dent on a car? Whatever stress or anger Gianquitti was dealing with at the moment, surely it was not worth this.

May 19, 2008

Tragedy in Stafford County

To the outside world, the Stafford, Virginia family of Aaron Jackson, LaTasha Thomas and their two children “seemed happy.” In reality, that was anything but the case. On May 5, Jackson used a semiautomatic AK-47 assault rifle to kill Thomas, before using a handgun to kill his children (ages 2 ½ and 1 ½) and himself.

Police responding to the crime scene at the family’s trailer discovered the bodies of the four victims, as well as six handguns, the AK-47 assault rifle, numerous boxes of ammunition, a sword, and a machete. The kitchen counter top in the trailer was crowded with empty liquor bottles. Jackson, 24, was discovered wearing a bulletproof vest.

Jackson and Thomas had been having relationship problems, and in the days before the shooting Thomas told others she wished to move out of the mobile home the couple shared. Jackson had begun a relationship with another woman, Ashley Price, with whom he shared an appetite for both alcohol and cocaine.

Jackson did not have a significant criminal record, however, and had been involved in no reported incidents of domestic violence. According to Jackson’s sister, his primary source of stress was financial in nature: "He was obviously upset—stuff wasn't going to well—everybody was having problems with money." Despite these issues, many who knew the family were baffled by the murder-suicide. One neighbor commented, “I sold them ice cream just the other day. They got SpongeBob ice cream.”

Authorities reported that Jackson possessed a concealed carry permit in the state of Virginia. “He carrie[d] a gun with a holster underneath him,” said Price, who stated that Jackson felt the need to protect himself in case he was ever attacked in public.

Ultimately, Jackson’s guns would provide him no protection. There was nothing extraordinary about his relationship issues, struggles with substance abuse, or financial problems—such stresses are experienced every day in our country by gun owners and non-gun owners alike. Regrettably, though, Jackson’s guns provided a permanent solution to temporary problems—allowing him to quickly and easily take not only his own life, but also the lives of those he loved, before cooler heads could prevail.

April 9, 2008

Lack of Protection

Marc Kidby was a 30 year-old Ohio University employee who was deeply troubled by a pending divorce. A gun owner and concealed carry permit holder, Kidby became the subject of a domestic violence protection order that was filed by his wife on February 11. At that point, Kibdy’s concealed carry permit should have been suspended by the Athen County sheriff’s office in Ohio. Kibdy was also required by law to surrender his guns to authorities.

He did not surrender them, and the sheriff’s office failed to suspend his permit. A deputy with the office stated that he knew of “no case where anyone thought [Kidby] was a threat to others.” Kidby’s wife, however, had said in her petition for the protection order that he had threatened to kill both her and their two year-old daughter.

Moreover, it was abundantly clear Kidby was a threat to himself. He had threatened to jump off tall buildings, was admitted to a mental health hospital at one point, and talked of “suicide by cop.”

Sadly, on April 1, Kidby took his own life with a .38-caliber handgun he owned. An opportunity to avert tragedy had been missed.

Kidby’s struggles with depression and loss were far from unique, and his unfortunate death is a reminder that guns purchased for self-defense can sometimes become a threat to those they are meant to protect. As researcher Dr. Garen Wintemute recently noted, living in a home where there are guns increases the risk of homicide by 40 to 170% and the risk of suicide by 90 to 460%.

This case also highlights the tremendous importance of clarifying and enforcing court-ordered removal laws "to actively engage the criminal justice system in the process of removing firearms from individuals who are violent toward their intimate partners.” Regrettably, one recent study that examined state laws in this area reported “an urgent need for progress.” We can and should do better.

March 28, 2008

A Match Made in Hell

This month's "Ordinary People" entry involves the unlikely duo of David Downs, a middle-class home owner from Levittown, Pennsylvania; and Sean Hagins, a crack dealer from Trenton, New Jersey. Downs had a nasty crack habit, and when Hagins saw him roll up for a purchase one day in a pick-up adorned with Pennsylvania tags and an NRA bumper sticker, he had an idea. As an ex-felon prevented from buying firearms, he wanted to know if Downs would be willing to buy guns for him in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, handguns can be bought at a gun store in a matter of minutes. In New Jersey, the process can take weeks, even months. It was a match made in heaven—or hell, depending upon your perspective.

After the deal was struck, Downs, a concealed carry permit holder, bought scores of guns over the counter at established gun stores in Pennsylvania, easily passing the required computerized background checks. He failed to note that he was addicted to a controlled substance on the required sales form (which would have prohibited him under federal law from buying guns), but nothing came up in his criminal record and no one questioned him about it. These guns later ended up on crime scenes across Trenton. The owner of one of the stores that sold Downs the guns, commenting on the instant background check system that screens gun buyers, stated, “Maybe there should be a little more than that.”

At CSGV, we certainly agree. In New Jersey and certain other states, those purchasing handguns must obtain a permit through the police. This process involves fingerprinting and a background investigation by law enforcement. Such a process could have turned up evidence of Downs’ drug addiction. Given the flaws in our background check system (many disqualifying records have yet to be transmitted to the federal database), tighter screening makes a lot of sense and is the best way to catch questionable—and sadly, commonplace—activity that might fall through the cracks of a computer check.

February 13, 2008

10 Items or Fewer…Strictly Enforced

“Shop till you drop” almost took on new meaning after a tense confrontation at a Winn-Dixie grocery store in Miramar, Florida, last Thanksgiving Eve. Frustrated at having to wait in a long checkout line, Miramar City Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman drew a concealed handgun and pushed it into the side of 18-year-old Lazavius Hudson, who Salesman claimed had too many items in his cart.

A video captured by surveillance cameras at the store
shows Salesman, a concealed carry permit holder in the state, brandishing his .45 caliber handgun after a brief verbal confrontation with Hudson. After pulling his gun, Salesman is reported to have taunted the other customers in the store, saying, “they can call the police.” He apparently was confident that he would not go to jail for the offense and told police that he pulled the gun because he felt threatened.

Salesman has since been charged with aggravated assault with a firearm and removed from the city council by Florida Governor Charlie Crist. Although Salesman by all objective standards was not under any real threat at the Winn-Dixie, his claim to police that he “felt threatened” may allow him to cite a new Florida law in his defense at his upcoming trial.

Florida’s “Shoot First” statute, which became law in 2005, eliminates the duty to retreat from a threat and allows residents to use deadly force anywhere they are legally permitted to be to stop the commission of a “forcible felony.” Any felony that involves the threat or use of physical violence against an individual is included under the auspices of the law. Individuals need not meet some reasonable standard of fear of such a threat to their safety, but rather must only subjectively affirm that they felt threatened. The burden of proof in these cases falls upon the prosecution, who must prove a defendant’s state of mind wasn’t one in which he/she felt threatened.

Fortunately, Hudson was not physically harmed and will be able to testify in the case and go on with his life. We regret to say that Florida’s Shoot First law has already led to several shootings that resulted in the deaths of unarmed civilians. We believe that every citizen, innocent or guilty, has the right to a fair trial by jury where there is an objective standard as to what constitutes “reasonable force.” By enacting a Shoot First law, the Sunshine State has chosen the path of vigilantism over that of reason and allowed momentary bouts of hubris to determine the course of lives. For this reason, future Fitzroy Salesmans will undoubtedly feel emboldened.