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In Florida, Lawmakers Fight To Kill ‘Gun-Free’ Zones

Florida lawmakers convene this week in Tallahassee, an event traditionally kicked off by a barrage of wacko gun legislation.

This year, some of it actually stands a chance of passing.

The worst by far is a bill filed in both the House and Senate that would eliminate all “gun-free” zones in the state. If passed, persons with concealed-weapons permits would be able to carry firearms to pro sports events, bars, police stations, K-12 public schools, public colleges and universities, courthouses, polling places, government meetings, seaports, and airport passenger terminals.

To single out just one of the many pathways to random bloodshed, Republican lawmakers seem determined to make handguns accessible wherever mass quantities of alcohol are being consumed.

What would normally be a sloppy fistfight in the stands at a Dolphins game could literally be a .45-caliber shootout next season. And if you think campus keg parties aren’t lively enough, throw a couple of loaded Glocks into the mix.

Polls show widespread opposition to abolishing gun-free zones, a view shared by college officials, business leaders, and many in law enforcement.

But the politicians pushing for more firearms in public are serving a higher master: the NRA.

Its unabashed darling in the Senate is mild-mannered Dennis Baxley, who is, fittingly, an undertaker by trade. His Ocala funeral parlor could see an uptick in business if guns are allowed in bars.

On the House side, Speaker Richard Corcoran insists criminals and mass shooters are attracted to gun-free zones because they know civilians there won’t be armed. Lawmakers say the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando and the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport might have been prevented if the victims had been carrying weapons.

This Charles Bronson fantasy is avidly promoted by the NRA. It relies on the false premise that anyone with a concealed-weapons permit is both calm enough and skilled enough to fire a handgun in crowded mayhem and actually hit the right person.

The airport mass shooting, committed by an unhinged legal gun owner, took less than 90 seconds. The victims, some on their way to meet a cruise ship, had just gotten off a Delta flight.

Even if any of them had brought a weapon, it would have been packed inside their checked luggage, as was the shooter’s semiautomatic Walther. The killing was over before many of the bags landed on the carousel.

So much for the Bronson scenario.

It took an army of cops to bring down the Pulse shooter (another licensed gun owner), yet we’re supposed to believe he could have been taken out by a single armed club patron, pointing a handgun in dimly lit clamor at a fast-moving assailant firing an assault rifle.

Well, maybe in the movies.

NRA-backed lawmakers won key committee assignments in the new Legislature, which means that several of this session’s bad gun laws have a better-than-usual chance of passing.

One such bill, opposed by prosecutors, makes it easier for shooters to claim a Stand Your Ground defense. It resurfaces now, as a retired Tampa police captain is on trial for fatally shooting a man during a confrontation in a movie theater.

The victim was armed with a bag of popcorn and a cell phone.

Even if the state’s gun-free zones are abolished, companies and private business owners can’t legally be required to allow customers with weapons on their property. Never fear — one GOP senator has a devious compliance tactic.

Sen. Greg Steube of Bradenton, a favorite pet of the NRA, has filed a bill aimed to punish the many retailers, restaurants, nightclubs, theme parks, movie theaters and other businesses that prohibit firearms. Among the big names potentially affected would be Disney, Costco, and Whole Foods.

Steube’s measure would allow anyone holding a concealed-weapons permit to sue a gun-banning establishment if he or she gets shot, or otherwise assaulted, on the premises. The legal claim would be that they could have protected themselves had they been armed.

It’s a tort lawyer’s dream. If your drunken stepbrother sneaks a stolen pistol into a bar and shoots you in the ass, you get to sue the bar because you were deprived of the chance to shoot him first.

That scenario fits Will Ferrell better than Charles Bronson, but it’s closer to reality than the NRA can ever admit.

Orlando Nightclub Victims’ Families Sue Twitter, Google, And Facebook

(Reuters) – The families of three men killed at Orlando’s Pulse gay nightclub have sued Twitter Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc in federal court, accusing the companies of providing “material support” to the self-radicalized gunman.

The gunman, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people and wounded 53 in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State militant group before police fatally shot him after the June attack, officials said.

The lawsuit was filed on Monday in Detroit federal court by the families of Tevin Crosby, Javier Jorge-Reyes and Juan Ramon Guerrero, who were killed during the massacre.

Similar lawsuits in the past have faced an uphill fight because of strong protections in U.S. federal law for the technology industry.

The three families claim Twitter, Google’s YouTube and Facebook “provided the terrorist group ISIS with accounts they use to spread extremist propaganda, raise funds and attract new recruits.”

The suit alleges the “material support has been instrumental to the rise of ISIS and has enabled it to carry out or cause to be carried out, numerous terrorist attacks.”

Facebook said on Tuesday there is no place on its service for groups that engage in or support terrorism, and that it takes swift action to remove that content when it is reported.

“We are committed to providing a service where people feel safe when using Facebook,” it said in a statement. “We sympathize with the victims and their families.”

Twitter declined to comment. In August, the company said it had suspended 360,000 accounts since mid-2015 for violating policies related to promotion of terrorism.

Representatives of Google could not immediately be reached.

The three companies plus Microsoft Corp said this month they would coordinate more to remove extremist content, sharing digital “fingerprints” with each other.

Technology companies are protected from many lawsuits under Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, which says website operators are not liable for content posted by others.

Monday’s lawsuit claims that the companies create unique content by combining ISIS postings with advertisements to target the viewer. It also says they share revenue with ISIS for its content and profit from ISIS postings through advertising revenue.

The families in the case in Michigan, where one of the victims is from, are seeking damages and for the court to rule that the sites have violated the Anti-Terrorism Act in the United States.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and David Ingram in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Andrew Hay)

IMAGE: A person rubs an “#Orlando United” sticker on the sign pole outside Pulse nightclub following the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, U.S., June 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

French Paradox: Terror Attacks Continue As ISIS Loses Ground

In the hours after the horrendous attack on French revelers and tourists in Nice — celebrating Bastille Day in homage to liberty, equality, and fraternity — supporters of the so-called Islamic State declared revenge for the reported killing of an ISIS commander known as “Omar the Chechen.” Indeed, several of their top commanders have been eliminated in recent months, even as they continue to see their forces driven from cities and towns across Iraq and Syria. As this episode indicates, however, the terror group continues to possess the capacity to inflict mayhem in the West even as its “caliphate” begins to disintegrate.

President Obama warned about this paradox last month, when he reviewed the state of the war against ISIS following the shootings in Orlando, Florida. The “lone wolf” terrorists who perpetrate such atrocities are very difficult to detect, and impossible to deter in every case. And it is not yet clear what connection or support the terror group provided to the perpetrator of this latest atrocity in France, who reportedly was heavily armed. But cowardly terror against Western and Mideast civilians is increasingly the only way that ISIS can demonstrate power to its followers and its funders.

What media coverage of the terror strikes tends to obscure is that the strategy pursued by Obama is gradually destroying ISIS, as its thugs surrender one city after another. Starting with the battle for Kobani early last year, when the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, bolstered by American air power evicted the genocidal gangs, the tide of battle seems to have turned decisively against ISIS on the ground, in places like Haditha, Fallujah, and in due course Mosul, where “Omar” is believed to have met his end. To date, ISIS has lost at least 50 percent of the territory occupied since its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the establishment of their “caliphate” in 2013.

Naturally, Obama receives no credit for the successful prosecution of this struggle from the Republicans, including their presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump, who constantly blather about how we are “losing” and complain that the president doesn’t show sufficient hostility to Muslims and Islam. These brilliant strategists have very little to offer regarding policy or planning, but emit plenty of loud advice about the proper rhetoric.

For months, they insisted that Obama had to denounce “radical Islam,” as if that would magically disable the enemy; now Trump has announced that we must “declare war” against ISIS, presumably because he doesn’t understand that our forces are deployed and conducting thousands of airstrikes. (It is all too easy to imagine the Trump campaign coming up with this pointless sound following the tragic news from Nice.)

Still clowning for a position in Trump’s cabinet, Newt Gingrich came up with a fresh stroke of GOP genius, urging that we subject every Muslim American to “testing” on the subject of Islamic law; those who endorse shariah, he said, would be summarily “deported.” So the former Speaker casually suggests that we trash the First Amendment and our tradition of religious freedom, a legal and moral impossibility.

What Gingrich proposed is also a very stupid way to combat terrorism, which it would undoubtedly exacerbate. It would please the kind of bigots that he has always courted, but it would only isolate and alienate the Muslim community, whose assistance in uprooting jihadi networks and identifying suspects is essential. Like his new idol Trump, Newt is just another “useful idiot” of ISIS, helping them to stage a holy war between Islam and the West even as their prospects decline.

And ISIS is declining, by its own admission, although its propaganda apparatus and militant cells maintain the capacity to strike on at least three continents by managing or merely inspiring attacks. Destroying its bases and choking off its revenue sources in the cities it once held will eventually degrade its capacity to murder the innocent, whether in Paris, Nice, or Baghdad. But that will take time.

Meanwhile, if the Republicans actually want to hinder terrorists, they might consider confirming Adam Szubin, the president’s highly qualified nominee for Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, whose nomination they have stalled since his appointment in April 2015. They might even consider legislation to tighten access to military assault weapons and explosives, which terrorists can so easily obtain in this country.

But of course, they will do none of those things. They’re all about talk, mostly inane and destructive, not action. It is the vilified but resolute Obama who has acted and — no thanks to his blustering political opponents — may yet see the “caliphate” extirpated before he leaves office. For the enemies of civilization, that will represent at least the beginning of the end.

 

Photo: Iraqi counterterrorism forces gesture in Falluja, Iraq, June 26, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

A Question For Voters: End Gun Deaths, Or End Televised Gun Deaths?

Update: This article has been corrected to reflect that participation in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System is required by law, either through a state’s own infrastructure or through the FBI. 

When House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office announced on Thursday that the he would allow for a vote on gun control this week, liberals’ ears were understandably perked.

Well, there are lots of caveats. Politico reports that Ryan favors Republican Sen. John Cornyn’s proposal, which was already defeated by partisan vote in the Senate two weeks ago, alongside every other gun control effort.

The Cornyn amendment specifies that anyone on a terror watch list, or anyone removed from a watch list within the previous five years, will be delayed from buying a gun for at most 72 hours while the Justice Department makes a case for whether or not they are a real terrorist threat.

Organizations and individuals across the political spectrum have justifiable concerns about the terror watch list.

The ACLU, in a letter to senators ahead of the original Senate vote on Cornyn’s measure, pointed out that

“an internal August 2013 government document … shows that Dearborn, Michigan — home to the country’s largest concentration of Arab Americans — was second only to New York City in the number of people on the government’s “known or suspected terrorist” watchlist [sic]. This was despite the fact that, as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan noted at the time, not a single person from Dearborn had ever been prosecuted for terrorism.”

John Richardson, who runs the pro-gun rights No Lawyers – Only Guns and Money blog, brought up similar due process concerns for gun activists:
“[W]hat is to say that someone like [militia movement leader and gun advocate] Mike Vanderboegh was not put on the list as a domestic terrorist for his Second Amendment activism at the recommendation of the BATFE [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms], the BLM [Bureau of Land Management], or even the SPLC [Southern Poverty Law Center]. Heck, for all we know it could be all gun rights bloggers, podcasters, or Facebook commenters just because Loretta Lynch doesn’t like us.

All sorts of people end up on the government’s radar who pose no threat of terrorist gun violence.The Intercept reported last summer that Black Lives Matter activists had been tracked by the government since protests began in Ferguson, months after the movement started.

And the shooting at the Pulse gay night club proved that the FBI and others aren’t necessarily that great at maintaining this list: Mateen was on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database in 2013 and then again in 2014, when he was questioned about possible ties to extremist groups. But the bureau took him off the list after no concrete ties to extremist leaders emerged. Indeed, language in Cornyn’s amendment specifying anyone who has been on the list within the past five years reads like a post-facto answer to the Orlando massacre.

The fact is, it’s a nearly impossible task to prevent terrorism (that’s why its terrifying), and the terror watch list — the very same that Democrats furiously denounced in the Bush years for the scores of innocent Americans on their rolls — won’t change that.

Here’s another problem with debating an anti-terrorism measure meant to address gun violence: Terrorism accounts for a tiny, tiny percentage of gun deaths. And if that point sounds familiar, it’s because the president had to remind journalists of the reality of gun crime after — in the wake of the San Bernadino attack — Americans once again demanded their government somehow solve terrorism, as if we haven’t been trying for 15 years.

To the extent that banning people on an arbitrary terrorist watch list from buying guns temporarily will prevent terrorism — which, as history has borne out, it will not — it won’t do a lot to end our gun death epidemic.

According to an analysis from FiveThirtyEight of FBI and Government Accountability Office numbers, of the 192,956,397 gun transactions on which there is data available between 2004 and 2016, 2,477 transactions were flagged for terrorism concerns after a review in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Of those, 212 sales were prevented due to terrorism concerns.

It’s possible that those prevented sales did prevent mass casualty attacks from taking place. It would also have been very possible that those 212 prevented sales were followed up, days afterwards, with the purchase of the same firearm at a gun show, over the internet, or from a friend.

But to engineer a gun violence program around counterterrorism ignores what terrorism is: An attempt to use violence to bring attention to a political cause.

In the case of the Islamic State, its leaders want to fuel an eschatological battle between their extremist brand of Islam and the rest of the world. To hear some politicians talk about ISIS, and about the existential threat they pose to America (they don’t pose one), their use of terrorism has been successful: We’re prepared for a new world war.

And perhaps limiting suspected terrorist access to guns would prevent that cause any further publicity in the form of mass shootings.

But what the second piece of gun legislation House Democrats demanded in their post-Orlando sit-in?

Universal background checks — including in private sales and at gun shows — are supported by experts as a reliable way to decrease gun deaths of all kinds, including suicides, which make up the majority of gun deaths in America.

Do you live in a state with more political will to stop gun deaths? Go one step further and demand “permit-to-purchase” laws, so that anyone who wants to buy a gun has to apply and receive a permit before buying a weapon. As NPR reported earlier this year:

Two recent studies provide evidence that background checks can significantly curb gun violence. In one, researchers found that a 1995 Connecticut law requiring gun buyers to get permits (which themselves required background checks) was associated with a 40 percent decline in gun homicides and a 15 percent drop in suicides. Similarly, when researchers studied Missouri’s 2007 repeal of its permit-to-purchase law, they found an associated increase in gun homicides by 23 percent, as well as a 16-percent increase in suicides.

But these cases are old, and studying the effects of legislation in the real world requires a careful consideration of all of the variables at play. This points to perhaps the best thing we can do to truly understand and address our gun death epidemic: We need to fund gun studies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are today banned from funding any research which might “advocate or promote gun control.” That’s a ridiculously partisan rule, for a public health agency. And without the ability to study guns on a wider and more systematic scale, we won’t know the plethora of ways we could make a dent in all the ways guns brutally interrupt the lives of Americans: In cases of domestic violence, in neighborhood arguments, road rage, armed crime, drug and gang violence, and suicide, and yes, terrorism (but mostly the other stuff).

The causes for all of these deaths are as varied as their individual circumstances. We can be sure, though, that while preventing possible terrorists from buying guns for 72 hours might put some dent in the amount of televised mass shootings in America, it won’t change the fundamental facts: Most shootings have nothing to do with terrorism, and most gun deaths don’t make the news.

Photo: File Photo: NRA gun enthusiasts view Sig Sauer rifles at the National Rifle Association’s annual meetings & exhibits show in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. on May 21, 2016.   REUTERS/John Sommers II