Category - Gun Violence

Wild West Warfare in Waco

America’s escalating reliance on firearms as a means of settling petty arguments ratcheted up another level this weekend, when at least five biker gangs engaged in an all-out gun battle in Waco, Texas.  The matter at issue: a parking spot.  At least nine bikers were killed, and dozens more injured.

The original antagonists were the Cossacks Motorcycle Club of Texas, and the Bandidos Motorcycle Club, though at least three other motorcycle clubs from the Dallas/Forth Worth area rushed to the scene and participated in the shooting.  The scene of the shootout was a parking lot of a shopping mall in Waco, where the Twin Peaks Restaurant (think Hooters, but with a less suggestive name) serves as a biker hangout.  Management of the restaurant hosts a Bikers Night promotion every Thursday, and local police are so familiar with disputes arising between biker gangs at this restaurant, that they were at hand before Sunday’s shootout began.  In the end, though, the Waco police were unwilling or unable to mobilize their paramilitary forces to stop the shooting, though the police do report that several officers exchanged gunfire with the bikers and may have injured or killed some of them.

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Governor signs law making Utah only state with firing squad

AP, March 23

Salt Lake City – Utah became the only state to allow firing squads for executions Monday when Gov. Gary Herbert signed a law approving the controversial method’s use when no lethal-injection drugs are available.

Herbert has said he finds the firing squad “a little bit gruesome,” but Utah is a capital punishment state and needs a backup execution method in case a shortage of the drugs persists.

“We regret anyone ever commits the heinous crime of aggravated murder to merit the death penalty, and we prefer to use our primary method of lethal injection when such a sentence is issued,” Herbert spokesman Marty Carpenter said. “However, when a jury makes the decision and a judge signs a death warrant, enforcing that lawful decision is the obligation of the executive branch.”

America’s gun-toting guards armed with poor training, little oversight

Center for Investigative Reporting, By Shoshana Walter & Ryan Gabrielson, December 9

  • Lack of consistent regulation and training has put the public – and armed guards – at risk.
  • States have allowed people prohibited by law from owning a gun to work as armed guards.
  • The presence of an armed security guard increases the chance of violence in bank robberies, FBI data shows.
  • Armed guards can work in some states even with restraining orders and domestic violence convictions.
  • In 15 states, a person can become an armed guard without any firearms training.

Armed security guards have become a ubiquitous presence in modern life, projecting an image of safety amid public fears of mass shootings and terrorism. But often, it’s the guards themselves who pose the threat.

Across the U.S., a haphazard system of lax laws, minimal oversight and almost no accountability puts guns in the hands of guards who endanger public safety, a yearlong investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting and CNN has found.

Men and women who have never fired a gun in their lives can set off on patrol in uniform, wearing a badge and carrying a loaded weapon, with only a few hours of training, if any. In 15 states, guards can openly carry guns on the job without any firearms training at all.

The results can be as tragic as they are predictable.

Near Atlanta, a former sheriff’s deputy accused of erratic and threatening behavior at his old job later gunned down an unarmed man at his new job – patrolling an apartment complex. In Arizona, an armed guard prohibited by law from possessing a gun shot a teenager who was helping shoplift food from a convenience store, paralyzing the teen from the waist down.

Federal appeals court spares mentally ill man from execution – for now

Al Jazeera, By Lauren Carasik, December 4

On Wednesday, hours before his scheduled execution, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay for Scott Panetti, 56, amid a national outcry about the legality and morality of killing an inmate with a 35-year history of severe mental illness. Panetti’s guilt is not in doubt. In 1992, he shaved his head, donned military fatigues, grabbed a hunting rifle and shot his wife’s parents in their home as she and their daughter watched in horror.

Panetti’s long history of mental illness is well documented: He was diagnosed with schizophrenia more than a decade before the murders, and he was hospitalized, often involuntarily, more than a dozen times. Panetti’s lawyers maintain he did not have a “rational understanding” of the reasons for his impending execution, as required by a 2007 Supreme Court decision (PDF) on his case. Panetti claimed that the state of Texas wants to execute him for preaching the Gospel to other inmates, not in retribution for the murders he committed. But the state insists Panetti is malingering and clearly understands that the state intended to kill him and why. The planned execution has engendered a divisive debate about the United States’ evolving aversion to the death penalty, especially for those whose are severely impaired by mental illness.

Panetti was sentenced to death in 1995 after a circuslike trial that hardly represented a fair adjudication of his competence and culpability. Beset by paranoia, he dismissed his court-appointed counsel and represented himself. He proceeded to dress in purple cowboy attire and subpoenaed more than 200 witnesses, including Jesus Christ, the Pope and John F. Kennedy. At times, he testified as his alter ego “Sarge” to whom he attributed the murders, recounting the day in disjointed third-person ramblings. His standby counsel at the time characterized the trial as a “judicial farce and a mockery of self-representation.” It is incomprehensible how a judge intimately familiar with Panetti’s mental health history and bizarre conduct would allow him to represent himself in a proceeding to determine his fate.

Since then, Panetti and his attorneys waged a lengthy and circuitous legal battle to reverse the ruling. In August 2013 the conservative 5th Circuit appeared to reason that because he was sane enough to argue that he was mentally unfit for execution, he was not ill enough to be spared lethal injection.

Reporters Arrested!!!

How many exclamation points should be added to the headline above? I sure hope three is enough to reflect the shock of the news that reporters from both The Huffington Post and The Washington Post were arrested last night in Ferguson, Missouri. Worse – they were just doing their job, sitting at a McDonald’s, writing copy, when a SWAT patrol entered and ordered everyone in the restaurant to leave immediately. The reporters were arrested because they refused to give the police their names. Worst of all – one of the reporters had his head slammed into a window, entirely gratuitously, and was given no apology by the police!!!!

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SWAT Teams Claim ‘Corporate’ Exemption From Public Scrutiny

ACLU hits brick wall after issuing public records requests for information about deadly force, incident reports, and more.

Common Dreams, By Sarah Lazare, June 27

Operators of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams comprised of tax payer-funded police and sheriffs in Massachusetts claim they are immune to public records requests about deadly force, incident reports, and more because they are private “corporations.”

In addition to SWAT teams run by individual towns, many of these military-style domestic policing units are operated by regional “law enforcement councils,” which are bankrolled by tax-payer money and comprised of publicly-funded police and sheriffs. According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, approximately 240 of the 351 police departments in Massachusetts belong to these LECs.

Some of these LECs have become incorporated with 501(c)(3) status—a classification they say makes them exempt from public records requests.

Jessie Rossman, staff attorney for the ACLU of Massachusetts, told Common Dreams that her organization issued records requests to “a couple of LECs” to obtain information about their policies for a recent report on the militarization of local police. “We got responses from individuals claiming to speak on behalf of the LECs saying they would not be responding because they do not believe they are subject to public records law,” she explained.

Unaccountable Mercenary SWAT teams… huh.

Looking clearly at right-wing terrorism

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Charles P. Blair, June 9

Five years ago the US Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Environment Threat Analysis Division released an assessment of US far-right extremism. Initially intended for law enforcement and intelligence agencies only, the report—“Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment”—was almost immediately leaked.

The report warned that small cells practicing “leaderless resistance” and “white supremacist lone wolves [posed] the most significant domestic terrorist threat.” Significantly, it highlighted the likelihood of expanded attempts by far-right extremists “to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.” Overall, the report warned of trends similar to “the 1990s when rightwing extremism experienced a resurgence.” That far-right extremist rally reached a violent crescendo with the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.

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One Good Guy With a Gun

We now have an opportunity to meet the “Good Guy” Wayne La Pierre, the Executive Director of the National Rifle Association, is always talking about. You know the La Pierre motto: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is by a good guy with a gun.”

Meet Robert Wilcox, age 31, of Las Vegas, Nevada, a Good Guy with a concealed weapon who happened to be in a Las Vegas Wal-Mart store when Jerad Miller entered the store, heavily armed, and announced that all shoppers who didn’t want to get hurt should leave now. Wilcox did not leave. Instead, he walked up to Miller, intending to shoot and kill him with his concealed weapon. Unknown to Mr. Wilcox, Jerad Miller had an accomplice in the store, his wife Amanda, who saw what was about to happen, and shot Robert Wilcox in the chest, killing him instantly.
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When Does It End? When Will They Ever Learn?

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The DC Navy yard massacre this week has raised a whole raft of questions, everything from mental health issues to calls for more gun control, which of course I see as the larger issue in this and every other case of mass killings by a single gunman.

(A side note: As my good friend Scott Eric Kaufmann puts it, “I feel sorry for them [conservatives]…if it’s a mental health issue, Obamacare could cover it.”)

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Race to the Bottom

Wow. Such a busy news day. So many things I could write about: a royal baby, earthquakes in China, the name “Cheney” back in the news…but I want to focus on the powerful words of our President from Friday:

Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” Obama said, during extensive and deeply personal remarks that lasted for 18 minutes. “And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.”

Obama continued: “And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.”

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