The gunman accused of opening fire inside a Virginia hookah lounge, killing one and wounding four others, was arrested late Saturday night. Jamel Flint, 24, was taken into custody “without incident” in Roanoke, Virginia, about 40 miles east of Blacksburg, according to the Blacksburg Police Department. He’ll face six charges, including murder in the first degree for the death of 18-year-old Isiah Robinson, four counts of attempted murder in the first degree and one count of use of a firearm while committing or attempting to commit murder. The Melody Hookah Lounge, just off the Virginia Tech cam...
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As we celebrated Independence Day, there was no independence from the scourge of gun violence and the toll it is taking on the American psyche. The shooter who attacked a parade in Highland Park, Illinois, killing six people and wounding at least 38 others, used a "high-powered rifle," according to authorities. Survivors report a rain of bullets at the height of the attack.
This attack is bound to renew calls for more "red flag" laws that would help identify and disarm emotionally or mentally unstable persons who are making threats of gun violence or praising mass murderers. But would the Highland Park shooter's online record of participating in "death fetish" culture sites and making art featuring mass killing have been enough for a judge to order seizure of his guns? The Guardian reports that just one Reddit website featuring gruesome death videos has more than 400,000 subscribers, most of whom will never shoot anyone. Red flag laws may help, but they seem likely either to cast too wide a net or to miss key individuals, given that mental health is not a strong predictor of becoming a mass shooter.
With more than 22,000 deaths by gun reported by July 4 this year, it is not surprising that people are looking for quick solutions. After the execution of 19 elementary schoolers in Texas and a hospital shooting in Oklahoma in May, there were shootings at a graduation party and a nightclub during the first weekend in June. Then an armed man was arrested at the home of a Supreme Court justice.
The outcry was even enough to motivate some Republican senators — enough for the 60 votes needed to surmount a filibuster and pass a new gun control law. But don't get your hopes up. The Senate bill, now signed into law, does not include renewing the assault weapons ban that, for a decade, lowered deaths in mass shootings, and would have prevented many more in the years since the Senate declined to renew it in 2004. Nor does it expand background checks to all gun show sales. It does increase checks on buyers under age 21, but will not prevent them from buying high-capacity magazines.
You will recall that the Uvalde shooter bought two semiautomatic rifles and more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition, and the Highland Park shooter clearly also had large magazines. Deaths almost triple when shooters use high-capacity magazines. The House passed a better bill that would ban high-capacity magazines and currently untraceable "ghost guns," as well as requiring secure storage at home. The law we need should also require smart gun technology — a fingerprint or eye-scan lock — that makes handguns fireable only by their owners.
Instead, the "Safer Communities Act" now in effect throws money at the problem by funding more programs to help emotionally disturbed youth and to encourage every state to implement its own "red flag" procedures. That's a far cry from a unified national standard to stop highly unstable people from buying powerful weapons (New York's new law could be used as such a standard). As things stand, even a person flagged for severe mental disturbances in one state may be able to visit another state, a gun show or a website to buy an assault rifle with a magazine that holds 80 or more armor-piercing bullets.
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This new law may create a false sense of hope, but will do little to reduce the 316 "routine" shootings that take place on average every day in this country, including around 74 in suicide attempts and another 91 in accidental shootings. This problem is driven by the fact that there are so many guns in American households that someone in a psychic meltdown can easily get hold of one. Gun sales tripled during the pandemic, and there is more than one private firearm per person in America, far more than in any other nation. In 2021 alone, 19.9 million guns were sold in the U.S., amounting to more than $1,1 billion in gross profits. Even if we assume half of that went to guns for hunting sports (which is unlikely), it is still a shocking figure.
Like every crisis, this one produces new markets. In particular, beyond funeral homes and gun manufacturers, opportunities in security are booming. The number of law enforcement officers in this country has increased over 27% in just nine years since its low during the last big recession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 14% increase in the number of private security guard jobs during this decade. We can expect towns and cities to spend more on police protection for parades and public events. For example, one report shows that, in nominal dollars, Seattle's expenses on police for large events almost doubled from 2010 to 2016.
That is essentially the NRA's alternative to gun control: continuing to add armed security personnel without end. But this alleged solution to gun violence is a mirage that recedes as you try to approach it. The NRA wants more armed personnel not only at schools and churches, but also at bars, arts and music festivals, supermarkets, movie theaters, schools, parades,and workplaces where the mass shootings that uniquely plague America keep happening. A security detail will be needed for every federal judge, but also for their family members — potentially more than 3,000 new federal security officers. Eventually the same will hold for all 535 members of Congress and Cabinet members, plus an increasing number of state officials as well.
How expensive that will be is rarely even discussed, but in fact the economic costs entailed by this approach are staggering. Imagine how angry Americans would be if their state doubled sales taxes on every product and service. The NRA's "armed guards everywhere" approach might entail at least that much.
After every school, movie theater, county fair, mall and nightclub has its own elite military unit at your expense, shooters will move on to farmers markets, dog runs, ski resorts and ice rinks. No amount of armed officers will ever be enough.
A "resource officer" with a handgun was never a familiar figure in school for most of us who are now adults. As one study noted, "in 1975, only 1% of schools reported having police officers on site, but by 2018, approximately 58% of schools had at least one sworn law enforcement official present during the school week" at an annual cost of many billions of dollars — even though, as the Journal of the American Medical Association reported in 2021, there is little evidence that they deter school shootings. This is hardly a sign of progress.
The NRA's approach would require at least two or three officers with expensive training at every school building, because the presence of a single officer does not stop school shootings – as we saw in Parkland, Florida, and again in Uvalde, Texas. An average school district might need at least 24 SWAT-style security experts, whose salary, benefits and equipment would cost at least $2.5 million a year, at a conservative estimate). Such a midsize district could have hired perhaps 15 to 20 excellent teachers for that sum. And even then, two police officers in a school under attack might feel too outgunned to storm the shooter's apparent location.
The target options will also expand. Every office, every government official's home street and every floor of every hospital will need at least two guards with assault rifles and armor. After every school, cinema, county fair, mall and nightclub, every large holiday party or summer concert has its own elite militia unit at your expense — all priced into everything you buy — the shooters will move on to farmer's markets, ski resorts, dog parks, rush hour traffic jams, ice rinks, you name it. No number of armed officers in the world will be enough, but their presence everywhere will create the numbing, tourism-killing sense of living in a war zone.
The law passed by the Senate will not stop our slide down this slippery slope. We will eventually see armed guards and vigilantes — including armed teachers, armed bus drivers, armed supermarket managers and so on — at cross purposes in mass shooting events, mistaking each other for the active shooter. How many innocent civilians will get caught in the crossfire during shootouts in ordinary public spaces as we "harden our targets" according to the NRA's insane dictates? And how many more children will accidentally get shot at home because of all these newly armed ordinary civilians? An estimated 4.3 million kids already live in homes with one or more loaded and unlocked guns.
In areas where violent crime is perceived to be high, we are also likely to see more ordinary civilians carrying guns, ostensibly for self-protection, now that the Supreme Court has made it much easier to get concealed carry permits by striking down a New York law. Everytown USA reports that direct and indirect costs of gun violence now top $280 billion a year. A study in Mother Jones gave a figure of $229 billion in 2015 dollars. Yet such calculations don't usually even begin to add up the likely costs of all these additional security guards.
For comparison, $280 billion is more than all state spending on Medicaid and all federal spending on Veterans Affairs. It's more than 10 times the total amount of spending on Pell Grants, the main federal aid program for college expenses. After another decade, the money we spend on hordes of armed guards, health care for the injured, life insurance for the murdered, counseling for children traumatized by shootings, prisons for gun crime convicts, and other effects of the gun glut could equal half our entire national defense budget (which itself equals the combined defense budgets of the next seven nations). No other advanced democratic society would even consider sacrificing so much just to subsidize one destructive industry.
When we start keeping our kids away from Fourth of July parades, we are allowing politicians like Ted Cruz, subsidiaries of the NRA, to destroy the fabric of our society.
There is another insidious and less obvious social cost of the gun glut: more isolation. Already parents have moved more than a million students out of public schools during the COVID pandemic, and one-third of American adults say that fear of shootings keeps them and their kids from going to certain events and venues. As shootings increase, more parents will decide to homeschool their kids or keep them from participating in sports, shopping with friends or visiting beaches and rock concerts. When we start keeping our kids away from Fourth of July parades, we are allowing politicians like Ted Cruz, who are fully-owned subsidiaries of the NRA, to destroy the social fabric of our society.
In sum, the NRA plan is an arms-race spiral with no logical end. Because officers with handguns are not enough, we will need armor-piercing weapons to stop mass shooters. The armor will get stronger and so will the guns and bullets, with the weapons industry cashing in at every iteration cycle. It's a bit like a web programmer who attacks your computer with viruses and then sells you antivirus software: Their goal is to direct attention away from the root of the problem.
That root, once again, is the vast number of guns in this society, including assault rifles, and their ready availability in most states. This is the main difference between the U.S. and other developed democratic nations, where most mentally ill people, suicidal people or those on a rampage of hate cannot easily get hold of a powerful firearm when their crisis arrives.
To really fix the problem, we have to reduce the fears of neighbors cultivated by mass media, which drive gun sales. The sense that others around you are arming up also triggers second-order fears. Americans feel the need to own a gun because the enormous number in circulation make it far more likely that a criminal here will use a gun while committing a crime. There is no technological substitute for deep social trust, as sociologists researching "social capital" have found. The proliferation of guns erodes that trust like the strongest acid, and produces a defeatist sense that mass shootings are "inevitable."
That point also helps explain what's wrong with the NRA's main arguments against new gun laws. Against red flag laws, supporters of our disastrous status quo say they depend on family members, school officials or mental health professionals to report dangerous individuals; but as we saw in the Buffalo shooting, such people often face counter-pressures not to report. Against limits on magazines and armor-piercing semiautomatic guns (or "assault rifles"), they say that there is already an "immense stock" of them on hand, so a ban will do little. Against gun-show checks, they cite mass shooters who passed background checks.
Sadly, these arguments are largely correct: even the House bills would only reduce, not stop, the carnage from rising numbers of mass shootings. But that doesn't mean that "resistance is futile" and we should give up. These objections only show that, in addition to such stronger laws, we must reject the spiraling addiction to powerful weapons and armed guards in our society, which fuels potential shooters' sense that this is a quick route to fame. The only sane course is to reject the whole arms race that is so self-defeating for all of us.
We could start by adding steep federal taxes on sales of all guns other than standard hunting rifles, which would recapture at least some of the costs in medical insurance, lost productivity and life insurance that are being imposed on us. For semiautomatics, the tax could be 1,000%, as one Virginia lawmaker recently proposed. Then we could end the immunity from civil liability lawsuits that gun manufacturers enjoy.
Of course, none of this is possible while the filibuster curse endures. More fundamentally, we need a cultural shift, or even a crusade: We have to start heaping scorn on "gun culture," and making everyone understand its appalling and ever-increasing social costs. We need to reverse the idea that masculine image and status come from AK-47s and instead project the message that this kind of posturing is immature and weak: You don't need a gun to be a real man, or have a confident and powerful identity. That requires a society-wide effort to counter the NRA's lies, starting with discussions in our homes and extending to mass advertising campaigns. It eventually worked with the tobacco peddlers, and we can set ourselves free from our addiction to guns too.
After the Highland Park mass shooting, Americans are once again asking how the alleged shooter was able to fly under the radar while posting videos of mass shootings or school shootings.
Speaking on the MSNBC panel Tuesday, former FBI investigator Peter Strzok explained how all of the details that should foretell a mass shooter ultimately end up flying below the radar.
"If you look at social media, and if you look at the type of personality that manifests this sort of behavior, I think there is far more material than there are federal law enforcement officers, state and local law enforcement officers who are able to review that," he explained. "And the second thing is I don't know given the First Amendment as a society we want that level of invasive governmental look into what people are or are not doing online."
The problem with all of it, however, is that it's doing nothing more than treating the symptoms of a deadly cancer in the American population.
"The fact of the matter is we have made — nobody should be surprised and nobody should think it is hard to do something that this suspect did," Strzok continued. "We have made it easier in the United States to buy a weapon than it is to go to your local animal shelter and adopt a pet. The fact is that he, like many of these other folks we're seeing, these sort of socially alienated 18, 19, 22-year-old awkward white males go into gun shops, lawfully buy, again, not handguns, not a musket, but a weapon designed starting in the Vietnam War to be a weapon of war. [They] buy that legally, and in some cases, then turn around, some with planning, some without and are able to do it."
He explained he isn't surprised when people look at social media or YouTube videos and see a pattern of violence. There are cases where police even investigated the stability of a person who turned into a mass shooter. The Parkland shooter who killed 17 people was firing off guns in his backyard. Neighbors complained and there were red flag laws in place, but everything was ignored.
"I wouldn't be surprised to find out more, but I don't think focusing on that we can have as many red flag laws as we want," Strzok said. "We can augment mental health programs as much as we want, but at the end of the day, all that is doing is treating the symptoms. The root issue here is the ready access to guns and in particular, the ready access to assault weapons that were designed to be used on a bat battlefield to kill as many people as possible."
See the full conversation below:
Ex-FBI agent explains how a mass shooter can show up on law enforcement radar www.youtube.com
Frustration with America's failing institutions could give the GOP a critical boost going into the 2022 midterm election, according to a new analysis published by The Washington Post.
"If you feel like everything is out of control and nothing is working, you’re not alone. It’s also exactly how the Republican Party would like you to feel — whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat or an independent," Paul Waldman wrote. "Gallup has released new data showing that people’s faith in almost every institution in American life — the government, the media, the medical system, the police, organized religion and many others — has not only declined over the past year but in some cases is now lower than at any time since they began asking questions about such confidence over four decades ago."
The poll also showed a sharp drop in patriotism among young Americans.
"Smart Republicans know this is great for them and their electoral prospects," Waldman wrote. "Republicans benefit from a general sense that things don’t work. Their worldview is built around the idea that each of us is on our own and out for ourselves. Lost your job? Too bad, it was probably your fault, and don’t go asking the government for help. You got sick? Bad luck, but don’t expect the medical system to help. You can’t trust the police and it’s a chaotic world out there? You’d better buy some guns."
He noted the frustration with Democratic leaders who have "offered little in the way of a pragmatic plan to restore abortion rights" and noted that implicit in their message to vote harder is "The only way to address this problem is through the government institutions that seem to be failing you."
The lack of fight from Democratic leaders could harm the party in the midterms.
"And if Democratic voters lose their faith, they demobilize, seeing no point in voting or participating. Which is exactly what Republicans want them to do," Waldman wrote. "Perhaps Democrats can convince their base that voting out of pure anger (especially at the Supreme Court) is worthwhile. But right now the party’s leaders don’t really seem to be trying. Meanwhile, the pandemic lingers on, the effects of climate change grow ever more miserable, inflation hasn’t turned around, mass shootings are an almost daily occurrence, and there don’t seem to be any trustworthy institutions to turn to."
That dynamic was on display in a story published by CNN on Tuesday under the headline, "After string of Supreme Court setbacks, Democrats wonder whether Biden White House is capable of urgency moment demands."
"Debra Messing was fed up. The former 'Will & Grace” star was among dozens of celebrity Democratic supporters and activists who joined a call with White House aides last Monday to discuss the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade," Edward-Isaac Dovere reported. "Messing said she’d gotten Joe Biden elected and wanted to know why she was being asked to do anything at all, yelling that there didn’t even seem a point to voting."
He noted Democrats still haven't released a plan. Biden is currently overseas.
"I'm having a meeting with a group of governors when I get home on Friday. And I'll have announcements to make then," Biden said on Tuesday.
"Democrats worry the lack of decisions and authority are deepening their own midterm problems and feeding a sense that the President couldn’t truly handle the extra complications of a run for reelection in 2024 – and along the way, reinforcing narratives that he’s an old man not fit for the moment," Dovere warned. "The President who campaigned on putting America back together again after four years of deep divisions appears to have stopped trying, supporters say."
The frustration has been boiling over on social media. Slate legal expert Mark Joseph Stern described the White House's response as "feckless and torpid and pathetic."