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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Guns

By Tina Bellon and Jessica DiNapoli

AUSTIN, Texas/NEW YORK (Reuters) -U.S. companies including Lyft Inc, American Airlines Group Inc and Silicon Laboratories Inc voiced their displeasure on Friday at new Texas laws on abortion, handguns, and voting limitations, a fresh sign of increased efforts by some firms to signal their commitment to social responsibility.

Lyft and Uber Technologies Inc said they will cover all legal fees for the ride-hail companies' drivers sued under a law that puts in place a near-total ban on abortion.

Lyft will also donate $1 million to women's health provider Planned Parenthood, chief executive Logan Green said on Twitter.

"This is an attack on women's access to healthcare and on their right to choose," Green said of the new Texas law.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi tweeted in response to Green's announcement that his company would cover drivers' legal fees in the same way, thanking Green for taking the initiative.

The ban, which took effect Wednesday, leaves enforcement up to individual citizens, enabling them to sue anyone who provides or "aids or abets" an abortion after six weeks. This potentially includes drivers who unknowingly take women to clinics for abortion procedures.

On Wednesday, Tinder-owner Match Group's CEO and rival dating platform Bumble Inc said they were setting up funds to help Texas-based employees seeking abortion care outside the state.

Website hosting service GoDaddy Inc on Friday, meanwhile, shut down a Texas anti-abortion website that allowed people to report suspected abortions.

The reaction to the law change in Texas comes at a time when many companies are seeking to burnish their corporate and environmental governance credentials with consumers.

Companies also reacted to the Texas legislature this week passing the final version of a bill that outlaws drive-through and 24-hour voting locations and gives poll watchers more power, widely seen as restricting voting access.

"We hoped for a different outcome for this legislation, and we're disappointed by this result," an American Airlines spokesperson said in an email.

A spokesperson for Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co, based in Texas, said, "As a global company of 60,000 team members, HPE encourages our team members to engage in the political process where they live and work and make their voices heard through advocacy and at the voting booth."

Meanwhile, a law allowing people to carry concealed handguns without any permit went into effect in Texas on Wednesday.

"Looking at the abortion law, or the gun law, or the voting law, it's a form of vigilante justice, where you're empowering individuals to enforce the law," said Tyson Tuttle, the CEO of Austin-based Silicon Laboratories. "It's been a rough week in Texas and a harbinger of what's to come across the country."

(Reporting by Tina Bellon in Austin, Texas and Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Editing by Richard Chang and Rosalba O'Brien)

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Aviva Okeson-Haberman

Brandon Parigo/U of Missouri-Kansas City

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

My oldest daughter was shot in the head in April while reading in her Kansas City apartment by someone who aimed through her first-floor window. Aviva lived for two more days, kept alive by machines until her brain swelled enough that she could be pronounced brain dead.

I watched as a doctor removed Aviva from the ventilator to see if she could breathe on her own, the final test, and then recorded the rising amount of carbon dioxide in her blood. My daughter was 24 and had her whole life ahead of her — or should have.

NRA-funded Republicans like Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, my senators in Missouri, care more about pimping for the gun industry than the murders of their constituents. They have made our country a killing ground where any of us can be told that their daughter is in a hospital miles away and expected to die.

President Joe Biden asked Congress for only a modest five percent increase in funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Biden has nominated David Chipman to run the agency, a nomination that's in trouble because of opposition from the NRA and other gun groups. Biden has said he wants to ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Anti-gun violence groups would like to see:

Rising Murder Rates

Homicide rates in our country have largely declined since the early 1990s. But those rates rose about 30 percent in large cities in 2020, according to the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice. Kansas City was not included because researchers "were unable to validate incident-level data to published … data," said research specialist Ernesto Lopez.

The national jump in 2020 could eclipse the 1968 record jump of 12.7 percent when final numbers are released. In the first six months of 2021, the number of homicides in large cities rose by 16 percent, or 259 more deaths,compared with 2020.

Researchers Richard Rosenfeld and Thomas Abt wrote that the pandemic, protests and other factors appear to have created a perfect storm in our country to push killings to record levels. Violent crime rates did not increase in other countries.

So far this year, more than 28,000 people have been killed in our country by guns, according to the Gun Violence Archive. More than 43,570 were killed last year. More than half the gun deaths were suicides.

Mass shootings spiked 47 percent in 2020, compared with 2019. Five hundred and thirteen people died in 611 shootings. Another 2,543 were injured. The initial hospital costs of firearm injuries are estimated at more than $1 billion a year.

'Numb to the Numbers'

"We are numb to the numbers," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) at a hearing in March on gun violence. "Unless we are personally touched, it's just another statistic."

When Durbin spoke these words, my daughter was still alive.

I learned Aviva had been shot after receiving a message on Twitter and drove through the rain to reach Truman Medical Center shortly before midnight. There my daughter was intubated and still, unable to see or hear the people crying over her. I learned in a phone call in a parking lot that she was expected to die.

Aviva, an idealistic public radio reporter less than two years out of college, lived in Kansas City's Santa Fe neighborhood, once the home of Walt Disney and baseball great Satchel Paige.

Now liquor stores nearly outnumber neighborhood churches. A Kansas City Star article described sex workers loitering two blocks from a police department building. People living in disadvantaged minority neighborhoods such as Santa Fe are particularly at risk of being shot.

During the pandemic, gun sales have soared. About one fifth of all Americans who bought guns last year were first-time buyers. About 39 percent of American households own guns.

California researchers looked at the increase in gun buys and didn't find a relationship between the excess gun buys and the increase in shootings, except shootings in domestic violence.

Gun company profits soared, too. Smith & Wesson had the most successful fiscal year since it was founded in 1852 by Horace Smith and D.B. Wesson, making more than $252 million in profit. Ammunition manufacturer Ammo Inc. is building a new factory in Wisconsin.

Our country has more firearms than people. Americans make up less than five percent of the world's population, but we own about 45 percent of the world's privately held firearms. Americans are 25 times more likely to be killed by a gun than people in other wealthy countries.

Biden's ATF is trying to regulate ghost guns, so named because criminals can buy kits to make firearms that can't be traced. Almost 24,000 suspected ghost guns were found by police at potential crime scenes from 2016 to 2020, including in 325 homicides or attempted homicides.

Bryan Muehlberger's 15-year-old daughter Gracie Anne, a high school freshman, was killed with a ghost gun in November 2019 at her California school. Another student shot her in the back. The bullet punctured her left lung, and Gracie drowned in her own blood.

"I just remember saying, you know, like, 'Please, no. Don't – don't tell me the bad news please,'" Muehlberger said.

Assault Ban Expired

Since 1994, when President Bill Clinton signed the crime bill that included a 10-year ban on the sale of assault weapons, Congress has not passed any major laws restricting access to weapons. The ban expired in 2004. A study published in April found that 30 mass shootings that killed 339 people and injured 1,139 could have been prevented if the ban had remained.

NRA-funded Republicans are helping the gun industry profit. House Republicans are pressuring the Biden administration to drop its proposed ghost gun rule. Our nation's lawmakers have even blocked the ATF from making a searchable database to trace weapons used in my daughter's killing and other crimes.

Our nation's federal system for tracing guns is so bad that even the online card catalog of a small-town public library is more advanced.

In Texas, where the NRA wanted to reorganize after it filed for bankruptcy, people will be able to carry a gun without a permit or training starting September 1. At least 20 other states, including Missouri, have similar laws.

The NRA spent $16.3 million to try to reelect Trump and $12.2 million across 145 congressional races, helping to reelect Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)

Tillis, who has taken more than $4.4 million from the NRA, ranks fourth among senators receiving NRA campaign donations, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Ernst with more than $3.1 million is seventh; Cornyn, who has accepted almost $79,000, is 35th.

In Missouri, which has an average of 1,074 guns deaths a year, Blunt is a lifetime member of the NRA. He is third among our nation's senators taking cash from the NRA with more than $4.5 million. Blunt, whose son has served on the NRA board, has opposed federal funding to study gun violence and voted against banning gun magazines holding more than 10 bullets.

Hawley, Missouri's junior senator, is one of the politicians named in a lawsuit filed by Giffords, a nonprofit founded by former Congresswoman and gun victim Gabby Giffords, against the Federal Election Commission. The lawsuit said the NRA used a network of shell corporations to illegally coordinate spending millions with the campaigns of Trump, Hawley, and at least five other federal candidates.

Hawley has been in office less than three years, but he is 15th among senators taking NRA cash with almost $1.4 million in donations.