January 22, 2009
'The Disconnect Between the Streets and the Business Suites'
(Baltimore, MD) Juvenile offenders brought from Baltimore detention centers, along with Baltimore PD representatives, school officials, social workers, and leaders from grass-roots organizations, participated in a panel discussion regarding street crime. The five teens, recognizing the mistakes they had made, talked about their intentions to stay on the right path in spite of the violence in their neighborhoods. "But asked whether they felt safe in their neighborhoods, their answers showed just how tenuous staying on the right path can be.
'For me, safe or not safe, it doesn't matter because things can go bad in a second,' said one of the teens, who added that he once made $850 a week on the streets slinging drugs. 'But if I've got [a gun], I'm the man and you can't say nothing to me. If I don't have a [gun], I'll walk around with a knife.' At one point, the panel moderator asked the teens whether any of their family or friends had been killed. 'This year?' one asked...
The teens who spoke to the crowd talked about the lure of the streets and how important the money they earned through criminal activity was to their families. They said they didn't want to become involved in violence, but some said factors in their neighborhoods and the need to be respected were difficult to overcome.
Full story from baltimoresun.com... [Michele Berry]
December 17, 2008
Washington Council Enacts Tough Gun-Control Measure
Nearly six months after the Supreme Court put an end to the District of Columbia’s decades-old ban on handgun possession, the City Council here passed a sweeping new ordinance on Tuesday to regulate gun ownership.
The legislation would require all gun owners to receive five hours of safety training and to register their firearms every three years. In addition, they would have to undergo a criminal background check every six years.
Councilman Phil Mendelson, who helped draft the bill and shepherd it through the Council, called it a “very significant piece of legislation that borrows best practices from other states.”
Opponents said the legislation flew in the face of the Supreme Court ruling in June.
“The D.C. Council continues to try to make it harder and harder for law-abiding citizens to access this freedom,” Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, told The Associated Press.
Since the Supreme Court struck down the district’s handgun ban, the Council had stitched together a series of emergency measures to regulate gun ownership. Those included allowing residents to keep handguns in their homes, but only if they were used for self-defense.
This fall members of Congress sought to pass a bill that would have rolled back some of the temporary restrictions, but it stalled. [Mark Godsey]
December 01, 2008
Plaxico Burress Turns Himself In On Gun Charge
Troubled Giants star Plaxico Burress turned himself into a Manhattan precinct Monday morning where he is expected to be charged after accidentally shooting himself in the right thigh while drinking at a Midtown nightclub.
Walking with no sign of a limp from the bullet wound, Burress stepped out of a black Cadillac Escalade in front of the NYPD's 17th Precinct just after 8 a.m. Wearing dark jeans, a white collared shirt and a black jacket, he stared straight ahead as he walked and ignored shouts from an assembled group of reporters and fans.
His lawyer said the wide receiver would be arraigned at 1 p.m. at Central Booking and would plead not guilty to charges of criminal possession of a weapon.
"He's standing tall," said attorney Benjamin Brafman. "He's a mature adult handling this very well, I think, under the circumstances."
"He...has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from people who I think understand that he's a fundamentally decent man in a difficult situation," Brafman said.
Burress, 31, was partying at the Latin Quarter nightclub with teammates after midnight Saturday when he fumbled with the gun tucked in his waistband, accidentally firing a single round that ripped through his right thigh.
Burress, who signed a $35-million contract extension in the wake of the Super Bowl win, has been a season-long distraction to the Giants and his Big Blue bosses hinted before yesterday's game that the receiver's tenure in the Meadowlands may be coming to an end.
Burress' lawyer stressed that his client can still suit up for the defending champs.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
Gun checks may violate federal law
The Delaware State Police have been conducting secret background checks of some gun owners since 2001, a process known as "superchecks" that may violate federal law.
The checks have resulted in confiscation of weapons, some for legitimate reasons, but have subjected many citizens to a search of mental health records that in most cases police would be unable to access.
In Delaware, when someone attempts to purchase a pistol or rifle, he or she must first sign a consent form authorizing a criminal and mental health check by the state Firearms Transaction Approval Program.
These background checks are initiated when a gun dealer calls the firearms unit seeking approval to sell a weapon.
Employees of FTAP conduct about 10,000 background checks a year using computers that link to criminal and court databases and a mental health database maintained by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services.
Through a request made under the state Freedom of Information Act, The News Journal obtained the results of nearly 4,000 background checks conducted by FTAP from 1998 to 2008 in which gun purchases were denied by state police. The state must destroy records of approved gun purchases within 60 days under a law designed to prevent agencies from compiling lists of gun owners.
The FTAP program was created by lawmakers, and funded by taxpayers, to aid licensed gun dealers, but The News Journal found that more than 10 percent of background checks denied by FTAP were requested by state troopers, not by gun dealers attempting to authorize a legal sale.
None of their superchecks involved gun sales and none of the people checked by state police had signed a written consent form. But all the superchecks, state police said, were gun-related.
Because FTAP checks of legal gun ownership are destroyed, it's impossible to tell from the data how many superchecks state police routinely conduct. A DHSS spokesman said his agency does not keep a record of the number of times FTAP employees have accessed the state's mental health database. [Mark Godsey]
November 28, 2008
A chance for sensible gun laws
WIth the historic election of Barack Obama, the nation finally has an opportunity to enact sensible national gun policy. Obama should look to big cities, especially Boston, for guidance.
Big-city mayors know all too well the devastating impact a failed national gun policy has had on people living in urban America. Most of the 83 Americans who die every day from gun violence live in cities. The average annual US death toll from guns is 34,000 Americans. Comparatively, over the past 30 years, 1,035,000 Americans have died from guns in the United States versus 655,000 US service men and women killed in all foreign wars combined.
In 1999, with active support and funding for cities and the hard work of law enforcement, the United States experienced its lowest violent-crime rate in 30 years. Since George W. Bush took office in 2000, funding for community policing and economic opportunities for the poor have been curtailed and mayors across the country have struggled with the repercussions of a Congress and president unwilling to stand up to the powerful special-interest gun lobby.
Consequently, cutbacks in inner-city programs and law enforcement, comgined with the gun lobby being allowed to dictate gun police, have resulted in unrestricted access to guns and a prohibition on police sharing critical crime-gun trace data even among law enforcement.
No surprise that gun violence has risen steadily over the past eight years. There isn't even a law requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales in 32 states, and criminals and terrorists have been proven to exploit this dangerous loophole in federal law. Is it any wonder why America is the gun violence capital of the world and US urban areas have become war zones? [Mark Godsey]
November 18, 2008
When a Gun Isn't a Gun?
What attorney’s had on their hands was an American double-action revolver that was manufactured between 1880 and 1941.
The problem is that federal code states that the weapon is not a firearm unless it was manufactured after 1896. Without a definitive production date, the gun was inadmissible as evidence.
At the time, the attorneys were trying to charge Lawrence Ray Cook with possession of the weapon.
Omaha police picked up Cook last September after a hit-and-run crash. U.S. attorney Joe Stecher said that Cook left the scene but he flagged down officers later to tell them he caused the crash.
“His testimony was that he swerved to miss two pedestrians and he hit another car. And as he was driving away they threw the revolver in the back of his car through the open window,” Stecher said.
The attorney said that Cook couldn't explain how the revolver got into his pocket.
However, it didn't matter because couldn't prove what Cook had was a gun.
But they proved something else instead.
“Two rounds of live ammunition and an empty casing gave us the ability to prosecute for felony in possession of ammunition,” Stecher said.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
November 11, 2008
What President Obama Can Do to Reduce Gun Violence
President-elect Obama should implement seven tested and proven initiatives that will have an immediate impact on reducing gun related violence, accidents and suicides without affecting the Second Amendment or having any negative impact on responsible and law abiding gun owners.
Of the average 34,000 gun deaths in the US every year approximately 11,000 are homicides, 18,000 are suicides and 5,000 are unintentional accidents. We can change these horrific numbers.
If I were President Obama, one of my first acts would be the immediate implementation the following gun violence prevention initiatives to reduce gun access by children, criminals and terrorists without any undue restrictions on responsible gun owners like myself.
#1 Mandatory criminal background checks for all gun sales
Current Federal law only requires Licensed gun dealers to perform criminal background checks. Consequently in 32 States "private dealers"/individuals can legally sell guns at thousands of annual gun shows, countless flea markets and yard sales, and out of homes, backpacks, car trunks or on street corners without running a background check or asking to see an ID. Only the first gun sale from a "Federally Licensed" gun dealer requires documentation and all "secondary" gun sales are legally allowed to take place without any paperwork or record keeping. As a result, convicted felons and suspected terrorists can and do buy guns simply because there is no background check required or conducted. [Mark Godsey]
November 06, 2008
Do Guns Reduce Crime?
The Supreme Court's ruling this summer that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to bear arms has added fuel to the ongoing national debate about guns. Recently, a panel of six experts took on the proposition "Guns Reduce Crime" in an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate.
The series is based on a program that began in London in 2002. It pits experts on either side of an issue against each other in Oxford-style debates.
At the beginning of the Oct. 28 debate, moderated by John Donvan of ABC News, 13 percent of the audience voted in favor of the motion, while 60 percent voted against; 27 percent were undecided. By the evening's conclusion, those voting in favor of the motion increased to 27 percent. However, 63 percent disagreed that "Guns Reduce Crime," and 10 percent were still undecided. [Mark Godsey]
October 31, 2008
Lost-gun ordinances usually fire blanks
Lose a gun in Cleveland and fail to report it to police and you could face a $250 fine and 30 days in jail. But in the 12 years that ordinance has been on Cleveland's books, only two people have been taken to court for failing to report a lost or stolen gun.
That experience, and those of other cities, suggests that Pittsburgh's proposed ordinance on reporting lost or stolen guns and others cropping up all over the state and nation warrant neither the fear they are engendering in foes, nor the hope they inspire in advocates.
The target for anti-violence advocates is the so-called straw purchaser -- someone with no criminal record who can therefore pass a background check and buy a gun, but then sell it or let it fall into the hands of someone who uses it for crime. When police trace that gun back to the original purchaser, that person often gets off the hook by claiming it was stolen or lost.
"Without a lost-and-stolen gun provision, [investigators] are kind of powerless when they trace the gun back to someone who says it was lost or stolen," said Jana Finder, Western Pennsylvania coordinator of Ceasefire PA, which is pushing the measures. She said they're "targeting the people who [sell guns to criminals] regularly."
Neither Ceasefire PA nor other anti-violence or gun control groups contacted could name a city that has aggressively enforced a lost or stolen gun reporting law.
"It doesn't work anywhere it has been tried," said Rachel Parsons, a Washington, D.C.-based spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association. The group objects to the reporting laws because, she said, those whose guns were stolen "were already victimized, but we are going to criminalize [them] anyway."
Still, the NRA could not point to anyone who was unfairly victimized by existing lost or stolen gun reporting laws.
Cleveland certainly hasn't gone overboard.
"We've had two documented instances in which people have been brought before the court for violating the ordinance," said Martin L. Flask, Cleveland's public safety director. One was in 1996, the other five years later. In four other cases, police charged someone with failing to report, but prosecutors dropped it. [Mark Godsey]
September 18, 2008
Limit on Gun Law Passes; Senate Vote Unlikely
The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly yesterday to legalize semiautomatic rifles in the District and repeal its gun registration laws, but the bill's future appeared in doubt as a prominent senator announced she would try to block it.
The House bill passed 266 to 152, with the support of 85 Democrats. It was the second time in four years that the chamber had voted to overturn most D.C. gun laws. The 2004 measure died in the Senate, and a similar result is likely this time.
Nonetheless, the latest House action may have already had a tangible effect. The District announced Tuesday that it was further easing its gun restrictions to comply with the historic Supreme Court decision in June tossing out the city's 32-year-old handgun ban. House members said they were not impressed because the city had been so slow to act.
The House debate on the D.C. gun bill began Tuesday night and stretched past midnight, with fiery speeches about the city's crime rate and Second Amendment rights. But legislators from both parties charged that the vote was less about D.C. affairs and more about scoring points with constituents and the National Rifle Association, which had called the bill its top priority. [Mark Godsey]
September 09, 2008
Eighth Circuit Rejects Second Amendment Claim
A machine gun and a sawed-off shotgun borne pursuant to membership in an informal militia unaffiliated with the state militia is not activity protected by the Second Amendment, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held Aug. 13 (United States v. Fincher, 8th Cir., Nos. 07-2514 and 07-2888, 8/13/08).
The court also ruled that possession of these weapons is not covered by the individual right to bear arms recognized in District of Columbia v. Heller, 76 U.S.L.W. 4631 (U.S. 2008).
The defendant was convicted of violating federal statutes that prohibit possession of unregistered sawed-off shotguns and machine guns. He maintained, however, that his possession of the weapons was reasonably related to his membership in the Washington County Militia and consequently protected by the Second Amendment.
The defendant helped found the militia in 1994 and attempted several times to obtain the approval of the local law enforcement organizations and the state government. He maintained that the militia was established to assist local sheriff or governmental officials, or to take action on members' own to preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The militia members possessed machine guns, and the defendant testified that his possession of his weapons was needed to ensure the militia could operate militarily at optimal effectiveness during a state of emergency.
The Eighth Circuit was among the courts that had interpreted United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939), as limiting the scope of the Second Amendment to possession of a firearm reasonably related to service in a well-regulated militia. United States v. Hale, 978 F.2d 1016 (8th Cir. 1992) (" 'Technical' membership in a state militia (e.g., membership in an 'unorganized' state militia) or membership in a non-governmental military organization is not sufficient to satisfy the 'reasonable relationship' test").
In Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court said the lower courts' crabbed interpretation of Miller failed to recognize that the Second Amendment codified a pre-existing individual right, recognized under English common law, to keep and carry arms in self-defense. The amendment's prefatory reference to a "well regulated Militia" does not restrict the right to militia-related uses. Accordingly, the court struck down a municipal handgun ban that effectively prohibited an "entire class of 'arms' that is overwhelmingly chosen by American society" for the lawful purpose of self-defense in the home.
Read rest of article here. [Brooks Holland]
August 27, 2008
Lawyers in Supreme Court Gun Case Ask for $3.5 Million in Fees
The lawyers who defeated Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban in the Supreme Court, successfully arguing that Americans have an individual right to arm themselves, want about $3.5 million for their trouble, according to a motion for attorney fees and costs filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The team -- financed by The Cato Institute's Robert Levy and led by civil rights and intellectual property lawyer Alan Gura -- says it clocked at least 3,273 hours in the course of District of Columbia v. Heller, which was filed in February 2003 and concluded in spectacular fashion on June 26, the last day of the high court's cycle. The lawyers anticipate the District will oppose the motion, but they've not received a response, the motion says.
Gura, of Gura & Possessky, Clark Neily III, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, and Levy, the wealthy businessman-turned-lawyer, handled the bulk of the work, tallying 1,661 hours, 808.3 hours, and 595.6 hours, respectively, the motion says. In addition to about $3.5 million in fees, the lawyers asked Judge Emmet Sullivan to reimburse about $13,200 in court costs and travel expenses.
The lawyers called their case "one of the most profound and important victories available under our system of justice" and sought to emphasize the long odds they faced.
"Defendants were represented at the Supreme Court by nine attorneys from three of the nation's largest law firms, and had access to all the legal resources provided by their own vast governmental budgets," the motion says, noting that the D.C. Office of Attorney General has about 340 lawyers and 250 support staff.
The team asked Sullivan to multiply its fees under a provision of Section 1988 that allows for fee enhancement in exceptional cases "where the result is especially important and there is significant professional risk to counsel in pursuing the litigation." That means Gura's 1,661 hours, at a rate of $557 per hour, would be doubled, netting him about $1.9 million.
"If this is not an 'exceptional case' ... we are at a loss to describe what case would qualify," the motion says. [Mark Godsey]
June 30, 2008
Gun Laws and Crime: A Complex Relationship
Lurking behind the Supreme Court’s ruling last week that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms were a series of fascinating, disputed and now in many ways irrelevant questions. Do gun control laws reduce crime? Do they save lives? Is it possible they even cost lives? Justice Stephen G. Breyer, one of the dissenters in the 5-to-4 decision, surveyed a quite substantial body of empirical research on whether gun control laws do any good. Then he wrote: “The upshot is a set of studies and counterstudies that, at most, could leave a judge uncertain about the proper policy conclusion.”
There is no question, of course, that guns figure in countless murders, suicides and accidental deaths. Over the five years ending in 1997, the Justice Department says, there was an average of 36,000 firearms-related deaths a year. (Fifty-one percent were suicides, and 44 percent homicides.) Determining whether particular gun control laws would have, on balance, prevented some of those deaths is difficult. Take Washington, D.C., whose near-total ban on handguns in the home was on the receiving end of last week’s decision.
At the crudest level, as Justice Breyer wrote, violent crime in Washington has increased since the ban took effect in 1976. “Indeed,” he continued, “a comparison with 49 other major cities reveals that the district’s homicide rate is actually substantially higher relative to these other cities than it was before the handgun restriction went into place.”
Those statistics by themselves prove nothing, of course. Factors aside from the gun ban, like demographics, economics and the drug trade, were almost certainly in play. “As students of elementary logic know,” Justice Breyer wrote, “after it does not mean because of it.”
But Gary Kleck, a professor at Florida State University’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, whose work Justice Breyer cited, said there were good reasons for making a definitive judgment.
“We know the D.C. handgun ban didn’t reduce homicide,” [Mark Godsey]