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July 16, 2013

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The Staff of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

November 20, 2012

"I'm starting to see why plp go on killin sprees"

On August 31, 2012, 23-year-old Terence Tyler checked in for the overnight shift at the Pathmark Super Center in Old Bridge, New Jersey. His co-workers noticed that he was acting "very angry," and before long, he simply walked out and left work altogether.

But he would come back shortly, armed with three firearms. Tyler then opened fire, killing two of his co-workers, Cristina LoBrutto, age 18, and Bryan Breen, age 24, before taking his own life with a gunshot.

Between June 2010 and November 2011, Tyler purchased the weapons used in the shooting legally: a shotgun, a .45-caliber handgun, and a WASR-10, which is similar to an AK-47 assault weapon. Those purchases likely occurred in California, before Tyler moved to New Jersey.

Sometimes after gruesome shootings, profilers of the killers in question will suggest that "no one could have seen it coming." But that certainly wasn't the case with Terence Tyler.

Tyler had served in the U.S. Marines for four years before being honorably discharged in 2010 for medical reasons. That reason was "major depression." This depression was well known to Tyler's family, and began after the death of his mother in 2007.

And then there was Tyler's Twitter account, through which he posted the following public messages (most recent at top, going chronologically backwards as you scroll down):

June 7, 2012

"It's no surprise to me this happened. We could see this coming."

On May 30, 2012, Ian Stawicki walked into Cafe Racer in Seattle, Washington at approximately 11:00 AM. The staff there recognized him immediately. They had kicked him out of the establishment on several previous occasions "for being drunk and picking fights with bar musicians." "He was a real loud mouth. Just super negative. Swearing and cussing real loud ... He was consistently not all there," remembered the owner of Cafe Racer. This time, they asked him to leave again. Stawicki, 40, began to walk toward the door, but suddenly pulled out one of two handguns he was concealing, shooting his first victim in the back of the head. He then approached the bar and began to shoot other patrons, execution-style. A deputy chief with the Seattle Police, who reviewed store video of the shootings, said he'd "never seen [anything] more horrific, callous and cold." Stawicki would shoot five people before taking a hat off one of his victims and leaving. Four of them died: Joe Albanese, 52; Drew Keriakedes, 49; Kimberly Layfield, 38; and Donald Largen, 57. Only Leonard Meuse, 46, would survive his injuries.

But Stawicki wasn't done. Fleeing the cafe, he confronted Gloria Leonidas, a 52-year-old married mother of two, and beat her physically before shooting her in the head, killing her. He then stole her SUV and, according to a 911 caller, ran over her with it. As he sped away, he gave the finger to those who came to Leonidas' aid.

Shortly after 4:00 PM, police finally found Stawicki on the street in West Seattle. As they approached him, Stawicki knelt on the ground and shot himself in the head. He was dead. It was over.

Shortly after the shooting it was revealed that Stawicki had obtained a concealed handgun permit in the state of Washington in August 2010 and legally purchased at least six handguns. This was despite a lengthy history of violence that included the following:

* A 2010 arrest for fourth-degree assault after he told his brother he "was blind" because of him and then began punching him in front of their mother. Andrew Stawicki would stop talking to Ian after the incident, but prosecutors dropped the charges after the family showed little interest in moving forward with the case.

* A 2008 arrest for domestic violence interference when he followed his girlfriend home from work and became enraged that she stopped off to visit a female friend instead of proceeding straight home. Stawicki returned to the home they shared and "destroyed every single thing in the home" that belonged to his girlfriend. When she returned home and tried to call the police, he punched her in the face and took her phone. When she retrieved her phone and escaped outside to her vehicle, Stawicki hid from police in the bushes outside the home and buried his .45-caliber handgun in a hole to hide it. An officer at the scene found a Miller Beer can among the debris in the home "with a small, neat, round hole through it." Stawicki was issued a no-contact order that prevented him from coming within 500 feet of his girlfriend. The felony charges, however, were dismissed after his girlfriend suddenly recanted her story two months later.

* A 1989 arrest for unlawfully carrying a weapon (a switchblade knife) in public.

In addition, Stawicki's family made it clear that he had long suffered from mental illness. Walter Stawicki said of his son, "I recognized the patterns. I saw him as being manic-depressive." "He was really angry toward everything," his brother said. Ian Stawicki also suffered from delusions. He told his girlfriend he was married and the father of six. He told others he was a member of a CIA death squad. But the family never pushed to have him committed because they never heard him threaten to hurt himself.

The family did, however, attempt to have Stawicki's concealed handgun permit revoked. When they contacted law enforcement, however, "the response to [them] was, there's nothing we can do, he's not a threat to himself or others, or we haven't had a report of it, or we haven't had to pick him up—call us when it's worse."

Law enforcement wasn't simply being indifferent to the family's plight. They were powerless to act. The "Shall Issue" permitting law in Washington, written by the National Rifle Association (NRA), prevents the state from denying a concealed handgun permit to anyone who meets a basic set of criteria. And because Ian Stawicki had never been involuntarily committed nor convicted of a felony or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, he met those criteria. After the shooting, Stawicki's brother would say, "It's no surprise to me this happened. We could see this coming." But it didn't matter. The discretion that law enforcement should have had to protect public safety in such clear cases had been stripped by the NRA and their allies in the Washington state legislature.

Stawicki now becomes at least the 20th concealed handgun permit holder to have committed a mass shooting since May 2007. Meanwhile, the NRA pushes to weaken laws governing the carrying of guns in public even further. Their new preferred method is to do away with permitting, screening and training requirements for gun carriers altogether. Four states have adopted this approach so far (Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming) and the results were seen when another severely mentally ill mass shooter, Jared Loughner, freely carried a gun to a supermarket parking lot to meet his Congresswoman in January 2011.

Meanwhile, the survivors of gun violence are left behind to pick up the pieces. "There are some people who should not own a gun," said Nina Schumacher, the niece of one of the victims killed by Stawicki. "It can be a devastating thing." Linda Albanese, whose brother was gunned down in Cafe Racer, was even more blunt. "This maniac had possession of guns and killed my brother. It's wrong," she said.

April 3, 2012

“Landon was one of the good guys.”

When talking about the role of guns in our society, pro-gun activists frequently like to categorize themselves and other Americans into two neat little groups: “good guys” and “bad guys.” They see themselves as “sheep herders,” protecting the unarmed and ignorant “sheep” (that would be us) from the “wolves” out there (meaning criminals and other dangerous individuals). The problem is that real life isn’t so black and white, as a recent case involving one of their own so gruesomely demonstrates.

On March 21, 2012, NRA certified firearms instructor/concealed handgun permit holder/former Red Cliff Rifle Club president/former Marine Landon Jorgensen shot and killed his 25-year-old girlfriend, Adria Jordan Parker, and her five-year-old daughter, Eliza Kate Parker, in cold blood in Central, Utah. He then took his own life. One neighbor stated he often heard yelling and screaming coming from the house, but police never visited the home before the murders.

Members of the ConcealedCarryForum.com message board that Jorgensen had frequented were in utter shock that the 24-year-old would murder a woman and a child. Forum owner Nathan Collier wrote, “i want need to see the case file on the incident with landon. with so much assumption pointing to guilt, i just cannot accept that landon would be capable of doing these things based on what i knew of him. i dont trust a small police department with no real forensic capability to get to the bottom of this.” He went on to suggest that Jorgensen’s girlfriend was responsible for the murders, claiming, “at the risk of starting a bunch of conspiracy theories, im more inclined to believe that landon walked in on something...perhaps the young girls father was there trying to take her and thats why landon was driving so fast to get home. perhaps it got ugly and the man shot everybody and made it look like landon did it. perhaps it was the girlfriend who landon told me had stopped taking her medication for depression about a month ago.” After a few days of reflection, Collier would scrub his website of these “theories” and simply state, “Prior to this incident Landon was one of the good guys.”

On the one hand, you could see how Collier might feel that way. At his blog, “Guns, Freedom, and Politics: One Young Man’s Perspective,” Jorgensen pitched himself as an all-American boy, writing. “I'm a regular guy in my own right. I love this country and I want to get it back to the way it was when our founding fathers were alive. I am a USMC veteran and was medically discharged for my back issues. When I was discharged I immediately got into being a firearms instructor. My passion is to teach people the correct way to use firearms so that they can be both safe and fun. My goal in life is to own a gun store with shooting range attached.” And just two years earlier, Jorgensen had been posting messages to ConcealedCarryForum.com about protecting women from violence, such as: “If I were the father of a girl, regardless of age (unless she's way too young) I'd for damn sure be training them on how to defend themselves. The only thing that restraining orders are good for is the prosecuting attorney in a murder case, such as this. It's a shame that women like [a female murder victim] don't realize what a handgun and some good training can do for them.”

On the other hand, Collier and other contributors at ConcealedCarryForum.com were willfully ignorant of a litany of disturbing and violent comments that Jorgensen had posted on the site in the years leading up to the murder-suicide.

For example, less than a month before the shooting, Jorgensen referenced Adria on the forum, writing, “you show me a woman not on meds, and ill show you a woman that needs to be.” On other occasions his misogyny was more prominent. When one forum user asked about carrying a concealed handgun on a date, he posted, “If it's a military girl I'd be more worried about STDs and pregnancy than what she thinks about your ccw habits. I know a lot of female marines that were either contagious with something nasty or they were pregnant, or they were lesbians. Either way just let her know that you carry off base and if she isn't cool with that then tell her to pound sand.” In a May 2010 post discussing how he inherited the two firearms that his father used to commit suicide, Jorgensen called his mother “psychotic.” At his blog, he wrote, “My soon to be ex-mother-in-law, a strong democrat, (whom has no sense of what our forefathers did for us) has said some of the most outrageous things that I've ever heard in my life. When the health care bill was passed earlier this year I was talking to her about it because of the 'unconstitutionality' of it. I simply said ‘this can't ever go into effect because of how unconstitutional it is’ to which her reply was ‘throw the constitution out of this. We have to figure out a way to fix our health care system.’ At that point I told her that since she wants to throw the constitution out of it, that I was going to seize her First Amendment rights to the freedom of speech. It shut her up real quick, to say the least.” While he frequently used the forum to accuse gun violence prevention activists of being advocates for rape, it was clear that Jorgensen himself harbored a tremendous amount of anger towards the women in his life.

Jorgensen's hatred for women also surfaced during his performances as an aspiring stand-up comedian. A November 2011 video reveals that Jorgensen's "humor" came entirely at the expense of women. During his act, he said, “I’ve been dating a lot lately. Yay for dating. If I’m gonna spend $40 bucks I might as well go down to Vegas and get a whore. At least you’re guaranteed sex.” Turning to his job he said, “They kicked me out of the security department because when I was working the graveyard at the hospital this big girl—I mean I’m big, she’s huge—she comes in at midnight and she is like ‘Is there where I go to get a rape kit done?’ and I was like ‘Who would rape you?’” He continued, “I did get a girl pregnant about three weeks ago. And she lets me know, she’s like ‘But I also need to let you know that I have cancer and I am going to die in six months,’ and I’m like, ‘There’s another $400 I just saved.’” Jorgensen then talked about playing with the six-year-old son of a woman he was dating. He said, “We were playing one day and he was like, ‘I can’t believe you’re losing to a six-year-old,’ and I was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m f---ing your mom. Shut up. Call your real dad.’” Describing how he dances with women, he stated, “I go up behind a girl that’s dancing all sexy. I’ll be like ‘What’s up’ you know. You just don’t really say anything, you’re like having sex with this person with clothes on and you’re not saying anything. It’s kinda weird. So you’re like ‘What’s up’ you know. Three or four songs go by and you want to go up to kiss her and she’s like ‘I don’t kiss’ and I’m like ‘Bitch I just had sex with you for 20 minutes and you’re not going to kiss me on the mouth, what are you a prostitute?’” He concluded, “That Ludacris song, it’s like ‘Shake what your mommy gave you.’ I’m pretty sure she didn’t f---ing give you three baby daddies and four STDs.”

Nor were women the sole target of his anger. He listed his favorite book as “Arguing With Idiots” by conservative radio host Glenn Beck. Complaining about the high cost of a gun, Jorgensen wrote, “Really stinks like muslim's [excrement] and there's nothing that you can do about it.” Like other members of the forum, Jorgensen also enjoyed playing out violent self-defense fantasies. In one, he imagined “killing the gay serial rapist that broke into your home.” In another, he stated, “I would not hesitate to pull the trigger on someone that was the size of an adult, but even if it was a 12 year old that was only 4’11’’ and 90 lbs soaking wet, if he’s a threat, then he’s a threat, and will be eliminated.”

Jorgensen also fantasized about murder. In one threatening comment about the the staff of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, he wrote, “I've always said that someone should attack members of the Brady Campaign with a knife, a baseball bat, and a tire iron so that they can forget about guns being banned and focus on the real weapons that are available almost anywhere you go.” Discussing a Brady Center event where journalist Helen Thomas presented an award, he added, “The only good that could've came from that is if she croaked right there behind the podium. Actually, the only thing that would've been better is if a mass shooter came in and opened up on all those sheep.” In a separate thread, he mentioned Colin Goddard, a Brady Campaign employee and survivor of the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, stating, “I could care less if he was shot four times. Maybe he should've been armed and stopped the threat.”

This was one of their “good guys”?

At other times, Jorgensen’s paranoia was on full display. He was a proponent of carrying a gun at all times, even while inside his own home. Some of the places he wrote about carrying included the gym and the public high school that he graduated from. Jorgensen also wrote that he only used handicapped stalls in public restrooms so that no one could reach over and grab his gun. Responding to a shooting at a federal courthouse, he wrote, “Too bad that we can't carry at federal buildings. I guarantee this would've ended in a lot less than 43 shots if a civilian sheepdog were present. Thanks for disarming the good guys Uncle Sam.” When forum members mentioned locations where guns are prohibited, Jorgensen became enraged. One user wrote that carrying a weapon is prohibited in banks in North Carolina, leading Jorgensen to respond, “That’s because NC is full of faggots.” When another poster wrote about private businesses in Utah posting signs prohibiting the carrying of firearms, Jorgensen advocated violating their policy, writing, “if you remain concealed anyway, how will they ever know?” Jorgensen even refused to go to gun shows because of the requirement for attendees to unload their firearms before entering.

Finally, Jorgensen was a big fan of the organization that made sure he could legally purchase firearms and carry them in public despite his mental health issues: “While many of you may not agree with what the NRA does as a whole, many fail to understand the importance of what they have done for us,” he wrote at his blog. “Since 1871 they have been the leaders in securing our Second Amendment freedoms.” Jorgensen was a proud Life Member of the NRA.

Jorgensen spent his whole life ensuring that he would have a gun ready when he encountered a “bad guy”. But in the end, it was the violence-obsessed Jorgensen who became the “bad guy. This “wolf” was not an intruder or someone committing a random act of violence in public. Adria and Eliza Parker were brutally killed at the hands of someone they knew, as is the case in two-thirds of all homicides in the U.S.

One wonders if the pro-gun activists at ConcealedCarryForum.com understand this fact. And if they appreciate the damage that can be done by engaging in violent fantasies about crudely stereotyped “enemies.” Certainly the forum’s contributors have the firepower to turn bouts of depression or mental illness into bloodbaths. We can only hope that caution and restraint will govern their rhetoric in the wake of this tragedy.

March 22, 2012

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with the law."

"We saw a parade of hypotheticals by those who opposed this ... What's important is the message it sends, and that's, 'Don't attack me.'" - NRA Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer, March 12, 2005

With the entire nation outraged about the February 26, 2012 murder of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida by concealed handgun permit holder George Zimmerman, 28, the gun lobby is finally breaking its silence on the tragedy. It has been well chronicled that the National Rifle Association's "Stand Your Ground" law in Florida has played a central role in the controversial decisions made by the Sanford Police Department in the case.

The "Stand Your Ground" law eliminates the longstanding common law duty to retreat from a conflict if one can do so safely. It also allows an individual to meet force with lethal force—thereby escalating a simple fistfight into a firefight. Finally, it grants immunity from both criminal prosecution and civil action to those deemed to have acted in "self-defense" under its liberal terms. Protected by these provisions, Zimmerman has yet to be arrested and still has both his handgun and his concealed handgun permit in hand. And it took nearly a month, a petition with more than a half-million signatures, national media attention, and Department of Justice intervention for the State Attorney's office to convene a grand jury in Seminole County to investigate the case.

Those responsible for the law, however, fail to see a problem.

The NRA's Marion Hammer, who was the primary lobbyist for the "Stand Your Ground" bill in Florida, told the Palm Beach Post that calls for the arrest of George Zimmerman are premature, stating, "For law enforcement to rush to judgment just because they are being stampeded by emotionalism would be a violation of law. This law is not about one incident. It's about protecting the right of law-abiding people to protect themselves when they are attacked. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the law." Responding to comments by Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott, who said, "If there's something wrong with the law that's in place, I think it's important we address it," Hammer added, "If the governor wants to waste time looking at it he can knock himself out."

She was right about one thing. It's not about one incident. The Stand Your Ground defense has been used in at least 93 cases in the past five years in Florida (these are just the confrontations that made the newspapers). In 57 of them, those who used force were either not charged with a crime or the charges were dropped by prosecutors or dismissed by a judge before trial. Seven other defendants were acquitted.

All in all, Hammer's comments were not surprising given that she justified the law years earlier by stating, "Through time, in this country, what I like to call bleeding heart criminal coddlers want you to give a criminal an even break, so that when you're attacked, you're supposed to turn around and run, rather than standing your ground and protecting yourself and your family and your property."

Concerned citizens with different opinions about the "Stand Your Ground" law can contact Marion Hammer at her office at (850) 222-9518.

The legislator who sponsored the "Stand Your Ground" bill for the NRA in the state legislature has also weighed in on the Trayvon Martin tragedy. While admitting that his law "has been used by [George Zimmerman] to pardon his actions," Republican Florida Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) vigorously defended the law in a March 21st editorial for FoxNews.com, arguing that it "does not seem to be applicable to the tragedy that happened in Sanford." In doing so, he stated that "there is no duty to retreat when an individual is attacked on their property," but failed to acknowledge that this duty is removed in public as well.

Explaining why he sponsored the law in the first place, Baxley said the "catalytic event" was an incident in which a Panhandle man shot and killed a man breaking into his RV. But not only was this man not convicted of any crime, prosecutors didn't even bring charges against him.

Outside of his editorial piece, Baxley's tone has been decidedly different. He told the Palm Beach Post, "Invariably when there's any adverse incident, it's open season for anti-gun factions to disseminate this idea that there's something wrong with 'Stand Your Ground.' There's nothing in 'Stand Your Ground' that authorizes anyone to pursue and confront an individual. That's the problem in this case. Let them do a bill about that." To Baxley, the law continues to be "good public policy."

Rep. Baxley can be contacted at (352) 732-1313 or (850) 488-0335. His Twitter account is @dennisbaxley.

Meanwhile, the NRA continues to push and promote "Stand Your Ground" laws across the country. As Media Matters recently chronicled, since Trayvon Martin's death the NRA has continued to actively lobby for "Stand Your Ground" laws in Iowa, Alaska, and Minnesota, among other states.

In truth, the NRA has long experience with unnecessary "self-defense" shootings, including ones in which minority youth are the victims. The man who seized control of the NRA during the 1977 "Cincinnati Revolution," Harlon Carter, and turned it into a no-compromise, far right wing organization focused on rolling back existing gun laws, was involved in such an incident.

On March 3, 1931, Carter, who was 17, shot and killed 15-year-old Ramón Casiano. After returning home from school that day, Carter was told by his mother that there were three Hispanic youths loitering near their family’s property. Carter left his house, shotgun in tow, to confront the alleged loiterers. After finding Casiano and his two companions, Carter pointed his shotgun at them and ordered them to come with him. Casiano refused and pulled out a knife and asked Carter if he would like to fight. Carter then pointed the shotgun at Casiano’s chest. Casiano pushed the gun aside and asked Carter not to shoot while taking a step back. He was then shot and killed. Carter claimed self-defense, but the presiding judge instructed the jury, “There is no evidence that defendant had any lawful authority to require deceased to go to his house for questioning, and if defendant was trying to make deceased go there for that purpose at the time of the killing, he was acting without authority of law, and the law of self-defense does not apply.” Carter was convicted of murder without malice aforethought (a crime similar to second-degree murder) and sentenced to three years in prison. Subsequently, Carter successfully appealed his conviction with the appeals court, holding that the trial court failed “to submit to the jury appropriate instructions upon the law of self-defense.” When the shooting incident was reported in media in 1981, Carter initially denied that he had killed Casiano before falsely claiming that the shooting took place on his property.

Sadly, all these years later, the NRA has made sure the Harlon Carters of America are still getting away with it far too often.

March 14, 2012

“These a**holes... They always get away.”

On February 26th, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was an invited guest staying with his stepmother in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. During halftime of the NBA all-star game that evening, Martin walked to a local convenience store to get some snacks. Little did he know he was being followed by George Zimmerman, 28, the self-appointed “captain” of the neighborhood watch program. Zimmerman, who is white, had been tailing the young African-American in his car because he felt Martin was “a suspicious person.” At some point, Zimmerman called 911. He told a dispatcher, "This guy looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something," and said that he was going to detain Martin because “These a**holes... They always get away.” The dispatcher told Zimmerman that a unit was being dispatched to the scene and asked Zimmerman to refrain from approaching Martin.

Zimmerman ignored this direction. He got out of his car and pursued Martin between two rows of townhouses. A fistfight broke out. When police arrived on the scene minutes later, they found Martin dying face down in the grass. In his hands were a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. He had been shot in the chest by Zimmerman, a concealed handgun permit holder who was armed that night, with a 9mm pistol.

If Zimmerman saw anything “suspicious” that night beyond an African-American walking through a gated community in a hooded sweatshirt, he never said. He was detained by the police, but after he claimed he acted in self-defense in killing the unarmed Martin (who he outweighed by 20 pounds), Zimmerman was released without charge. Martin’s family and their attorney were told by Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee that Zimmerman avoided arrest because he had a “squeaky clean” criminal record.

That statement was fraudulent. It has since been revealed that Zimmerman was arrested in 2005 for resisting arrest with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer. The case was dismissed after Zimmerman attended a pre-trial diversion program and a deal was made with his attorney to get the case dropped. In addition, police have fielded complaints from members of Zimmerman’s gated community about his aggressive conduct in the neighborhood. According to Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump, “[The Sanford Police Department] just lied to the family. They just couldn’t see why [Zimmerman] would do anything wrong or be violent. But not only do you know the guy killed this kid, because he admitted to it, you knew that he has a propensity for violence because of his past record.”

Martin, on the other hand, was squeaky clean. An avid sports fan and horseback rider, he dreamed of attending college and becoming an aviation mechanic. His family still recalls the boy’s heroics at age nine, when he dragged his father from a burning kitchen. After the shooting, his father described his son as “a dear friend.”

The reluctance of the Sanford Police Department to arrest Zimmerman probably has something to do with Florida’s outrageous “Stand Your Ground” law. The law removes the duty of individuals to retreat from a confrontation and allows them to use deadly force if they reasonably believe that it is necessary to prevent death or “great bodily harm.” “Stand Your Ground” legislation was enacted in 2005 after being championed in the Florida state legislature by National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer. In support of the law, Hammer said, “Through time, in this country, what I like to call bleeding heart criminal coddlers want you to give a criminal an even break, so that when you're attacked, you're supposed to turn around and run, rather than standing your ground and protecting yourself and your family and your property.” But critics in Florida’s legal community dubbed it the “Shoot First” law and said that it “encourages people to stand their ground ... when they could just as easily walk away.” It has also been pointed out that the law “give[s] citizens more rights to use deadly force than we give police officers, and with less review.” A report by the South Florida Sun Sentinel vindicated these complaints, concluding, “several...accused murderers have successfully used [Florida’s] 2005 ‘Stand Your Ground’ law to prove they were the real victims.”

Three things are obvious to everyone: 1) Trayvon Martin was not a criminal; 2) George Zimmerman was not protecting either his property or family on the evening of February 26th, and; 3) Not only could Zimmerman have walked away that night; he actively sought out this conflict when told not to do so by law enforcement. No civilian gun-toter has a right to stand above the rule of law and serve as another human being’s judge, jury and executioner.

As of today, George Zimmerman remains a free man, with carte blanche to carry a loaded gun in public. Meanwhile, Trayvon’s family continues to mourn. "That was my baby, my youngest son," his mother Sybrina Fulton told ABC News. "He meant a lot to me, I don't think the police department really understands that ... I need justice for my family, I just want justice for my son."

If you’d like to help the Martin family, please do so by signing this online petition that calls on Florida’s 18th District State's Attorney to prosecute George Zimmerman for this murder.

[Audio clips of 911 calls made on the night of the murder can be heard here.]

August 1, 2011

Michigan's Rubber Stamp

Ten years after Michigan made it easier for residents to obtain concealed handgun permits, an investigation by the Center for Statistical Consultation and Research (CSCAR) has revealed numerous problems regarding the implementation of the law. Of particular concern is the inconsistent manner in which permit applicants and permit holders are screened for public safety.

Michigan’s “Shall-Issue” concealed carry law went into effect on July 1, 2001. It established “gun boards” in each of Michigan’s 83 counties “to issue, deny, revoke, or suspend a license to carry a concealed pistol.” The boards are required to issue a concealed handgun permit to any applicant who is at least 21 years of age, completes an eight-hour safety course (with three hours on the firing range), and meets a basic set of criteria in terms of criminal and mental health background.

Michigan residents are having few problems in meeting these criteria. The CSCAR investigation found that “the number of permit holders [in Michigan] is skyrocketing,” with more than 270,000 Michiganders holding permits today—twice as many as just five years ago.

The problems lie in the oversight of the permitting system. Each year, gun boards are supposed to submit a report to state police detailing permit applications (issued, pending and denied) and detailing any criminal charges against existing permit holders. But since the law was enacted, 43 of Michigan’s 83 counties have yet to file a single report. This has prohibited the Michigan State Police from discharging their duty to provide a complete annual report with these statistics to the state legislature. For example, during one recent year in Genessee County, the following incidents went unreported to the State Police: “a fatal shooting, a federal drug indictment, reckless use of a firearm and 61 other crimes.”

Other serious problems with the permitting system have been identified. Permits are given to applicants before criminal and/or mental health disqualifications expire; permit holders are mistakenly given exemptions to carry handguns in sensitive gun-free zones; and permits that have been properly denied are suddenly approved without any clear reason.

The CSCAR investigation has revealed several alarming cases in which concealed handgun permit holders committed horrific acts of gun violence:

This blatant abuse of the law should have lawmakers worried. But when former state Senator Mike Green (R-Mayville)—the original sponsor of Michigan’s “Shall-Issue” law—was told some of the non-reporting counties are from his area, he responded, “I’m glad you told me that. I know those guys,” and laughed.

Prosecutors in Michigan have taken a different tone. Juris Kaps, a prosecutor in Van Buren County, refused to sit on his gun board, saying, “I have a lot of things to do and I’ve got better things to do than be a rubber stamp.” Kaps expressed concern about “the absence of a true check on [an applicant’s] mental health” and didn’t want to “get into a situation where [his] stamp of approval is on someone who is mentally deranged.”

We are constantly told by the National Rifle Association and its gun lobby partners that concealed handgun permit holders are the most “law-abiding citizens” in America. It’s now abundantly clear that such a guarantee holds little or no weight in Michigan.

May 9, 2011

Portrait of a "Responsible Citizen"

By now, most Americans are familiar with the extreme controversy that surrounds fundamentalist Christian pastor Terry Jones. What few realized until very recently is that Jones has been authorized to carry a loaded gun in 35 states across the country.

Rev. Jones runs the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. He first made national headlines in July 2010 when he announced plans to burn 200 copies of the Quran—the Muslim holy book—on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. “We must send a send a clear message to radical Islam,” Jones explained. “We will not be controlled by their fear, we will not be dominated. We feel it is time for America to be America.” He punctuated this message by posting signs along the church’s property that shouted, “ISLAM IS OF THE DEVIL.”

Jones was aware of how offensive the book burning would be. "We are definitely probably insulting all Muslims," he stated. "The fact that we offend them is the lesser of two evils."

It wasn’t long before a massive public outcry erupted that cut across party and ideological lines. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin called Jones’ plans “mean-spirited religious intolerance” and an “unnecessary provocation.” More alarmingly, General David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO Commander in Afghanistan, warned that “images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan—and around the world—to inflame public opinion and incite violence.”

Jones, under intense pressure, cancelled his event, but only temporarily. On March 20, 2011, he supervised the burning of a single Quran at his Dove World Outreach Center following an “Islam trial.” In a video, Jones can be heard commenting, “It actually burns very good."

The burning did not go unnoticed in the Middle East. On April 1, approximately 2,000 protesters gathered outside the United Nations office in the northern Afghanistan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Violence erupted when protesters grabbed guns from UN guards and opened fire on them. The compound was stormed and when the smoke cleared 12 people lay dead, including seven UN workers.

Jones was sanguine in response. “We must hold these countries and people accountable for what they have done as well as for any excuses they may use to promote their terrorist activities,” he said. The Pentagon saw it differently, speaking of the “tragic, deadly consequences” of Jones’ actions.

Just three weeks later, on April 21, Jones was endangering lives again, this time in Southfield, Michigan. The fundamentalist pastor was in town to appear on the Detroit FOX channel’s "Let it Rip” show. After his interview, Jones was escorted by police to his vehicle with his assistant pastor, Wayne Sapp (it was Sapp who physically burned the Quran on March 20).

When Jones got in the passenger seat of the car he accidentally fired a .40-caliber handgun into the floor of the vehicle. Officers who examined the car found another handgun belonging to Sapp under the driver’s seat. The two men were detained for a short period of time, during which the Southfield Police learned that both Jones and Sapp hold concealed handgun permits in Florida (because of a reciprocity agreement, Florida permit holders can carry their weapons in Michigan). But then, with little explanation, police returned both handguns to the men and allowed them to go on their way without filing any charges. This was despite the fact that, when asked about the discharge of the gun, Jones replied, “I have actually no explanation, no excuse.”

Jones was then free to proceed with a publicly-announced plan to arm himself and his followers during an upcoming Good Friday demonstration in the heavily Muslim Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Michigan—an event which necessitated the involvement of riot police.

Florida is a “shall-issue” state, meaning the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services must issue a concealed handgun permit to any applicant who passes an instant computerized background check and takes a single, 3-hour training course. The permit is accepted in 34 other states and applicants are not required to be Florida residents in order to apply for one. The Florida permit has become popular with individuals of questionable character who cannot obtain permits in their own homes states. Plenty of unsavory characters in Florida are acquiring permits as well, whether it’s Rev. Jones, outlaw motorcycle gang members or individuals with extensive criminal backgrounds.

In commenting about Florida’s concealed handgun permit holders, longtime National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer remarked, “What other group has a better record of responsible citizenship?”

We can think of a few...

April 4, 2011

Designated Shooters

The January shooting massacre in Tucson reminded America of how easy it is for mentally unstable individuals to legally purchase firearms. With states across the country beginning to liberalize their laws to allow the carrying of firearms in bars at the behest of the National Rifle Association (NRA), it is pertinent to ask who is hanging around in your neighborhood pub, as a recent incident from Ohio demonstrates.

On March 16 at approximately 2:00 a.m., the Summit County Sheriff’s Office in Akron, Ohio got a strange 911 call. A local gas station employee reported a man who was claiming that he was being chased by an individual with a gun.

When officers arrived at the station, however, they discovered a different situation. The man in question, 25-year-old Joseph Deitch, was present, but no pursuer could be found. According to a report filed by sheriff’s deputies: “Deitch was found to have an empty holster in his waistband and ammunition on his person ... Deitch appeared unstable and it was determined that no other subject with a gun was involved. He indicated that he had given several guns to a friend earlier in the evening. Other guns and a large amount of ammunition were discovered in the parking lot inside Deitch’s vehicle.”

Deputies also discovered that Deitch has a permit to carry a concealed handgun in Ohio.

The Summit County Sheriff’s Office soon received a call from the friend that Deitch had referred to. It turns out the he and Deitch had been at Brubaker’s Pub (about three miles from the gas station) earlier in the evening, and the friend had witnessed Deitch “make threats to shoot patrons of the bar.” Thankfully, Deitch left the bar before acting on these threats. His friend confirmed that he did indeed take possession of several of Deitch’s firearms as they departed the pub and went their separate ways.

Deputies’ next stop was the house where Deitch lives with his mother. At this location, additional firearms were found. All told, “10 handguns, shotguns, and assault rifles” were tagged and taken into evidence. At the conclusion of the investigation, Deitch was arrested on charges of aggravated menacing and booked into the Summit County Jail. More charges could be pending as the investigation continues.

Ohio is a “shall-issue” state where law enforcement has no discretion whatsoever in the issuance of concealed handgun permits. They must issue a permit to any individual who passes a computerized background check and undergoes the required 12 hours of training, including two hours shooting on a shooting range. Only permit holders who fail to renew their permits within six years need to retake this class—otherwise, it’s good for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, the background check for permit holders offers little in the way of mental health screening. Applicants who have been adjudicated by a court as a mental incompetent or involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution are disqualified from obtaining permits in Ohio. If Deitch fell under either of these two narrow categories (most individuals with mental health issues do not), his records were not found in any database.

On a positive note, under current Ohio law it is illegal for anyone to possess a firearm on the premises of a location that has a liquor license (it is unclear at this point if Deitch and his friend actually brought their guns inside Brubaker’s Pub). But that could change soon.

HB 45, which would allow Ohio’s concealed handgun permit holders to bring loaded guns into bars, was passed by a state House committee on March 16, the same day that Joseph Deitch threatened the lives of patrons in Brubaker’s Pub. Those carrying firearms into bars would be restricted from drinking alcohol, although the legislation does not specify any enforcement mechanism for this provision. Theoretically, a bartender would have to ascertain whether a customer has a gun every time he/she serves a drink. HB 45 would also allow concealed handgun permit holders to transport loaded handguns in their vehicles without having them secured in a holster, case, bag, or box.

Guns in bars legislation has not won any accolades with Ohio law enforcement. Cleveland Police Department Detective Stephen Loomis stated, “I have spent a career dealing with problems in bars, nightclubs, entertainment-district restaurants and men's clubs, and I can tell you without doubt or hesitation the introduction of firearms...will result in the senseless loss of human life … We're going to go from bar fights with bottles and fists to someone who pulls a gun and starts shooting the place up."

Mark Drum of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio added that he is concerned that the idea of a “designated driver would be replaced with a designated shooter.”

The Ohio House is likely to vote on HB 45 this week. The Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence has issued an Action Alert encouraging Ohio residents to contact their state representatives to tell them to vote ‘No.’ For those who aren’t eager to share a drink (or meal) with the likes of Joseph Deitch and similar “law-abiding citizens,” your call can’t come too soon.

February 21, 2011

“How do you shoot someone eight times in self-defense?”

On February 10, National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C. and declared, “Throughout history, one simple truth rings as loud and clear as a bell—the presence of a gun in the hand of a good person makes us all safer.” But a recent tragedy from Florida suggest that perhaps an earlier LaPierre quote—“The guys with the guns make the rules”—more accurately reflects the reality of contemporary America, in a “might makes right” kind of way.

On November 24, 2010, Thomas Baker, a 28-year-old resident of Town ‘n’ Country, Florida, decided to go for a jog. It wasn’t your typical run, however. Baker headed out at approximately 1:00 AM with $950 in cash and a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun.

18-year-old Carlos Mustelier and his 16-year-old friend saw Baker as they headed to a Beverage King in the neighborhood. Mustelier told his friend he was going to rob Baker. After leaving the store, which was closed, they saw Baker passing them again. “I'm going to bam him. I'm gonna knock him out,” Mustelier announced.

The two teens, clad in dark-hooded sweatshirts, confronted Baker. Mustelier closed in and punched Baker in the face, cutting his lip. "You wanna play games? You wanna play games?" Baker said to Mustelier. He immediately pulled out his handgun, centered his laser sight on Mustelier’s chest, and fired eight hollow-point bullets at point-blank range at the unarmed teen. Four bullets hit Mustelier: one in the chest, one in the buttocks, and two in the back. He was dead by the time paramedics arrived (Mustelier’s friend John Martinez rushed to the scene but was unable to revive him). Mustelier’s 16-year-old friend ran for his life, returning later when police arrived. Authorities searched both teens and found no weapons of any kind. Both had clean criminal records.

Detectives interviewed Baker and asked him, "When you go running at night in the neighborhood, do you normally arm yourself with a firearm?" "I always have it on me, unless I'm going to the courthouse,” Baker replied. As for the $950, Baker told detectives he was unemployed and made money fixing friends’ cars. He had just done some work for a friend and that’s why he had that amount of money in his pocket, he claimed. Finally, Baker said he shot Mustelier in self-defense because he thought the teen had a gun on him.

The story worked. Florida prosecutors determined that no charges will be filed against Baker.

The reason for that is Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” (aka “Shoot First”) law, which was drafted by the NRA and enacted in 2005. The law eliminates the common law duty to use every reasonable means available to retreat prior to using deadly force, which the Florida Supreme Court had legitimized by explaining, “Human life is precious, and deadly combat should be avoided if at all possible when imminent danger to oneself can be avoided.” The “Stand Your Ground” law states that any individual who is in a place where he/she has a legal right to be, and who is “not engaged in an unlawful activity...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.” Individuals using lethal force in this manner are immune from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits.

The law has been invoked in at least 93 cases in Florida involving 65 deaths, a recent St. Petersburg Times review found. "Whether it's trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn't want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house, you're encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn't be used,” says Miami Police Chief John Timoney. The numbers bear that out—“Justifiable homicides” in Florida have increased from 43 the year the law was enacted to 105 in 2009.

The NRA couldn’t be happier with the results, calling its law “common-sense.” To the NRA, Thomas Baker was another “Armed Citizen” to be celebrated, and that is exactly what the lobby did, proudly announcing on the NRA News Twitter feed: “Florida: Jogger won't be charged in fatal Town 'N Country shooting.”

The family and friends who loved Carlos Mustelier feel differently. Vasilisa Akishina, a classmate and friend of Mustelier, laid flowers at the intersection where he was killed and reminisced about how, "he always made everybody smile." “He was just so generous with everything,” she recalled. Some speculated that there might have been an ulterior motive in the shooting, and referred to an earlier altercation Mustelier had with Baker's younger brother. But perhaps Dianela Gonzaez, Mustelier’s sister, summed up the absurdity of the incident best: "I know that he thought my brother had a gun. But I mean, it was eight shots fired. How do you shoot someone eight times in self-defense? That makes no sense."

No one should paint Carlos Mustelier as a hero in this incident—he was wrong to confront and attack Baker that night. On the flip side, Baker is no hero either. It’s hard to pinpoint the definition of “Looking for Trouble,” but leaving one’s house after midnight with $950 in cash and a loaded handgun must be close. And to fire repeatedly on an unarmed teenager—including three times in the back after he had turned to flee—is murder plain and simple, no matter what the NRA-drafted law in Florida now calls it.

What should have been a fistfight became a tragedy. A young man with his entire life ahead of him has been taken from his loved ones prematurely and unnecessarily. To the NRA, this is “good law” and “good order.” To those of us with a conscience who believe in the notion of a civilized society, it is anathema, and we must stand against it.