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Published: Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Thu, 20 Oct 2016 15:13:04 -0400


Brickbat: Coming for Your Guns

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has been working with local law enforcement agencies to scan the tags on cars of people attending gun shows in Southern California. ICE then compared those tags to those on cars crossing the Mexican border in an effort to catch gun smugglers.

AR-15: Have It Your Way

Sat, 01 Oct 2016 06:00:00 -0400


Oregon Judge Says He Would 'Eliminate All' Guns

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 17:15:00 -0400

(image) An Oregon magistrate had a few choice words when sentencing defendant Marcell Lee Daniel Jr. for the 2014 shooting of a Portland man. Judge Kenneth Walker took several moments during a hearing Wednesday to condemn not just the perpetrator, but also the type of weapon he used to kill his victim.

After briefly conceding that the law allows Americans to own firearms, Walker proceeded to deliver a scathing indictment of gun ownership, according to The Oregonian. "If I could," he said to the courtroom, "I would take all the guns in America, put them on big barges, and dump them in the ocean."

But he didn't really mean that all guns should be eliminated, right? In fact, he quickly qualified his remarks by adding that "no one would have guns—not police, not security. We should eliminate all of them." Oh.

Walker went on to say that the 11,000 homicides and 20,000 suicides that that involve guns in America could be prevented if gun ownership were abolished, noting that in Australia, where authorities "rounded up all the guns ... they don't have nearly the death that we do here in this country."

Similar arguments in favor of gun control have been advanced before, and Reason has responded to them here, here, and here.

The judge wasn't simply interested in pointing out the negative effects of guns on society, however. Instead, he denied there was any possible rationale for owning firearms, period. "There's no defense to guns." he said. "There is no reason to have them."

Walker is certainly entitled to his opinion; the First Amendment guarantees the individual right to freedom of speech, after all. Of course, the Second Amendment protects the individual right to gun ownership.

As a judge tasked with upholding the Constitution, it seems ill-advised to openly call for the elimination of rights protected by the Constitution while acting in his official capacity. It's hard not to wonder how Walker would react if people started calling for the elimination of the Sixth Amendment—you know, the one ensuring people's right to a trial by jury.

Tennessee Department of Health Admits It Was Wrong About Reported Huge Rise in Accidental Gun Deaths

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 21:20:00 -0400

Accidental gun deaths in Tennessee, it was reported in various places a couple of weeks back, had zoomed horrifically from 19 in 2013 to 105 in 2014.

A representative report from TV station WTOC:

Tennessee leads the country in accidental shooting deaths.

The Volunteer State ranked ninth in 2013 for deadly accidental shootings. Officials say 19 people died that year.

In 2014, the number jumped to 105.

"This idea of shooting first and asking questions later unfortunately sometimes has fatal consequences," said Beth Joslin Roth with Safe Tennessee Project, a grassroots organization dedicated to addressing the epidemic of gun-related injuries and gun violence in Tennessee.

The numbers have fluctuated some over the years, but Joslin Roth said the jump between 2013 and 2014 is unprecedented.


Unprecedented indeed, and totally not true as it turns out.

Tennessee now admits they made a mistake in counting, and a very big one. 2014's accidental gun death numbers were in fact the lowest, by far, the state has seen this century, at 5. The next lowest was 2008's 17.

From the Tennessee Department of Health, posted last Thursday:

After manually reviewing death certificates, TDH reports five people died from accidental gunshot wounds in the state in 2014. In an additional eight cases, the manner of death was left blank or marked as pending on the death certificate but no follow-up death certificate was sent to the department; however, a review of the autopsies for those cases indicated none of those eight were accidental deaths. Incorrect data provided earlier indicated the number of accidental gunshot deaths had dramatically escalated from 19 in 2013 to 105 in 2014.

"We regret any confusion that may have arisen when data errors affected the number of deaths attributed to the accidental discharge of firearms in our state," said TDH Deputy Commissioner for Population Health Michael Warren, MD, MPH.

Three of the four stories I linked to above with the original frightening report, including the one quoted from, have not yet been corrected as of time of this posting.

As I've written before when it comes to crummy gun data or analysis, generally once a lot of people have read the original headline making a frightening claim regarding guns, the "public policy" work important to those who want to gin up anxiety about guns or optimism about gun laws has already been done, no matter later revelations, adjustments, critiques, or re-evaluations.

Hat tip: Matt Schonert

The Haunted House That Guns Built

Sun, 25 Sep 2016 06:00:00 -0400

The Gunning of America: Business and the Making of American Gun Culture, by Pamela Haag, Basic Books, 528 pages, $29.99 Sarah Winchester was the widow of William Winchester, and William's father Oliver was the pater familias of the Winchester gun company. Oliver died in December 1880, and William succumbed to tuberculosis four months later. Two months after that, Sarah's mother died. By mid-1881, Sarah was essentially alone. But she also held 48 percent of the stock for the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. And the stock paid dividends, between 21 and 79 percent of profits every year from 1869 to 1914. Upon William's death, his wealthy widow got on a train in New Haven and went west until she couldn't go further. She ended up in San Jose, then a burgeoning town still feeling the aftereffects of the gold rush. She bought some land and began building a house—and kept building, and building, and building. When she died in 1922, the house was still under construction: a confusing, ad hoc, and immense mansion of 160 rooms filled with inscrutable architectural choices. Doors open onto walls; staircases go nowhere; halls wind back and forth; rooms are built within rooms. The whole disorienting, labyrinthine mess is now dubbed the Winchester Mystery House. Why did Sarah build it? Well, there's the legend and there's the truth. Here's the legend: Distraught by the deaths of the people closest to her, Sarah became heavily involved with spiritualism. A medium told her the family was cursed by everyone who had been killed by Winchester guns, and that she should go west to build a house for the spirits. If construction ever stopped, the medium said, Sarah would die as well. The house is built in a convoluted fashion in order to throw off the spirits, who apparently were easily confused by switchback hallways and oddly placed doors. The truth? No one knows. Sarah left no journals, she was obsessively reclusive, and very few records exist. But for Pamela Haag, the legend in some sense is the truth. In The Gunning of America, her contentious and aggravating but still ultimately interesting book, the Yale-educated historian traces the stories of American "gun capitalists," most prominently the Winchester family, and the businesses they built. "We hear a great deal about gun owners, but what do we know about their makers?" she asks. Haag tells Sarah's story because "Oliver Winchester produced the rifles that contributed to many a gun legend; and, through her creation, Sarah became a counter-legend to the gun legends.…Oliver's mad ambition and Sarah's mad conscience belong to the same story and culture." More bluntly, she tells the legend because it fits her narrative. Haag believes that companies like Winchester did not merely manufacture guns but manufactured the demand for them; if this created a crisis of conscience for Sarah, Haag feels, so should it now for the nation. Although Haag often papers over the factual lacunae in Sarah's tale with words like "may have" and "perhaps" and "probably," she doesn't always do so. Readers have to be astute to differentiate between solid facts and Haag's guesswork, as during a bizarre multi-page foray into what Sarah's visit to a Boston medium "may have" looked like. And even when she includes such caveats, she can really lay it on: "Sarah may have heard the cogs of justice click into place. The spirits had exacted retribution against Sarah—and the Winchester name—by taking Will's life, and Annie's, and the lives of all her babies, to atone for those killed by their rifles." She should have added, "or at least that's what some unsubstantiated and biased sources say." Hundreds of passages could have used a similar disclaimer. Haag's book is not an anti-gun diatribe. But from the outset, she confesses that guns are foreign to her; she admits to having never owned or shot a gun when she began working on the book, and many of her word choices—a reference to America's "intractable gun[...]

Female Gun Ownership Up in America, While Male Gun Ownership Continues to Shrink

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 14:35:00 -0400

Women with guns make up a bigger share of the arms-owning American population than they did two decades ago, according to a recent national survey. The change is more reflective of a decline in male gun ownership than a huge increase in female gun owners, although the percent of U.S. women who owned guns in 2015 was up three percent over 1994. Handguns have been the fastest-growing category of gun ownership overall, with an estimated 111 million American handgun owners in 2015. Researchers found that handguns accounted for 42 percent of all guns reported in the survey. In 1994, handguns accounted for just 34 percent of all guns. The study, conducted in 2015 by Harvard and Northeastern University researchers and released to British newspaper The Guardian, found that while the estimated total number of guns in the U.S. is up—265 million in 2015, from 192 million in 1994—the proportion of Americans who own them has gone down. In the (nationally representative, online) survey of nearly 4,000 U.S. adults, 22 percent of respondents owned at least one gun, down from 25 percent in a national '94 phone survey. In 1994, an estimated 42 percent of American men owned at least one gun; in 2015, it was just 32 percent of men. Over the same period, the number of female gun owners changed from 9 percent to 12 percent—but researchers say the shift is not necessarily meaningful. Since the 1980s, U.S. women's gun ownership rates have fluctuated between 9 and 14 percent. Still, "the new survey provides support for the National Rifle Association's assertion that the total number of female gun owners has grown in recent years, even if the percentage of women owning guns has not increased substantially," said The Guardian. Handgun growth has been driven by an increase in female owners, it reported, with women surveyed more likely than men to say they owned a gun for self-defense. Lead study author and Harvard School of Public Health researcher Deborah Azrael told the paper that American gun ownership is driven by "increasing fearfulness." In Azrael's research, U.S. women were more likely to own a handgun (5 percent) or both a handgun and a rifle or shotgun (5 percent) than they were to own a non-handgun alone (2 percent). Men, meanwhile, were most likely to own both a handgun and a rifle or shotgun (18 percent) and least likely to own only a handgun (7 percent). A few other interesting findings: Military service was the strongest predictor of gun ownership, with 44 percent of verterans surveyed saying they owned a gun. People making more than $100,000 annually were the most likely to say they owned guns (making up 25 percent of all the gun owners in the survey), while those making less than $25,000 were the least likely(13 percent). A quarter of whites, 16 percent of Hispanics, and 14 percent of blacks surveyed said they owned a gun. Young adults were the least likely to report gun ownership. Just 13 percent of 18- to 29-year-old respondents said they owned guns, compared to 21 percent of 30- to 44-year-olds, 24 percent of 45- to 59-year-olds, and 25 percent of those age 60 and up. More than half of the guns reported were owned by just 3 percent of respondents It's hard to be quite clear what to make of some of these without seeing the actual study, which was released exclusively to the Guardian, but you can find a few more details here. According to the government's General Social Survey, individual gun ownership in the U.S. fell from 28 percent in 1980 to 22 percent in 2014. Pew Research Center has tracked American gun ownership since 1993, when it found 45 percent of U.S. households reported having a gun. In 2013, Pew found that 33 percent of households had a gun.[...]

In 3D-Printed Gun Case, Federal Court Permits Speech Censorship in the Name of Alleged National Security

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 12:35:00 -0400

Defense Distributed's blueprints for 3d-printed guns will remain offline and censored for now. Well, actually, they're probably not offline and you can find them if you know where to look. But a federal appeals court panel has rejected an attempt by the company to stop the State Department's order censoring the company itself from hosting its blueprints online. Reason's Brian Doherty has been extensively covering Cody Wilson and Defense Distributed's fight against the State Department's unusual tactics in enforcing weapon export laws. Technically the company isn't exporting any weapons. It is providing information that allows people anywhere in the world to use 3d-printers to create the pieces that make a gun. The State Department's demand that Defense Distributed not host the files then is clearly censorship. But is such censorship legal? Several members of Congress had submitted an amicus brief saying that the State Department had drastically overstepped its bounds by interpreting federal law as allowing them to censor online information. But for now, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals declined a request for an injunction to stop the State Department's censorship demands. It has ruled that the alleged harms the State Department claims will occur if the information is made available outweighs the temporary harms faced by Defense Distributed for being censored: The fact that national security might be permanently harmed while Plaintiffs-Appellants' constitutional rights might be temporarily harmed strongly supports our conclusion that the district court did not abuse its discretion in weighing the balance in favor of national defense and national security. That is an awful lot of heavy lifting that "might" is doing, and an awful lot of judicial deference. There is a footnote explaining further that the potential for harm to national security involves not just the existing files but potentially future files that provide for even more weapon production outside the control of the federal government. Note that this ruling does not address whether it believes Defense Distributed arguments are legitimate. This is not a ruling about the underlying case. The panel is just going to defer to the Department of State for now while the underlying arguments are fought over. Not all three judges agreed. Judge Edith Jones dissented, saying the panel had failed to take the issues of prior restraint and censorship seriously, pointing out that the State Department had never previously sought to block information presented on the Internet. She also argues that the court had failed to analyze the case with the right level of judicial scrutiny. She warns: Undoubtedly, the denial of a temporary injunction in this case will encourage the State Department to threaten and harass publishers of similar non-classified information. There is also little certainty that the government will confine its censorship to Internet publication. Yet my colleagues in the majority seem deaf to this imminent threat to protected speech. More precisely, they are willing to overlook it with a rote incantation of national security, an incantation belied by the facts here and nearly forty years of contrary Executive Branch pronouncements. Jones' dissent is actually much longer than the majority ruling and delves heavily into regulations and precedents. She concludes: By refusing to address the plaintiffs' likelihood of success on the merits and relying solely on the Government's vague invocation of national security interests, the majority leave in place a preliminary injunction that degrades First Amendment protections and implicitly sanctions the State Department's tenuous and aggressive invasion of citizens' rights. The majority's nondecision here encourages case-by-case adjudication of prepublication review "requests" by the State Department that will chill the free exchange of ideas about whatever USM[...]

Brickbat: Messing with Texas

Thu, 01 Sep 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) After Waller County officials received a letter from gun rights activist Terry Holcomb telling them they were violating state law by banning firearms from the courthouse, they immediately changed their policies to comply with the law. Just kidding. They sued Holcomb for $100,000. Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis says the county doesn't really intend to collect that money if it wins. He says he just wants a court to rule on whether the county has a right to ban firearms from the courthouse.

Tampa SWAT Team Attempts to Serve Drug Warrant, Unarmed Man Shot and Killed

Wed, 31 Aug 2016 17:30:00 -0400

(image) SWAT teams, which were created for hostage situations, terror attacks, and other exceptionally dangerous environments, are by a wide margin mostly used to serve warrants for drugs.

Such was the case in the Tampa, Florida area yesterday morning, when a SWAT team attempted to serve a warrant on a house following a "month-long investigation" into Levonia Riggins, who had a long rap sheet of petty non-violent drug crimes, as well as for burglary and grand theft. Bay News 9 reports, "Officials said the SWAT team was called in because of Riggins' criminal record and reports that he owned guns."

According to the Tampa Bay Times, when officers attempted to execute the search warrant, all the occupants exited the house save for Riggins, who was reportedly commanded to leave several times.

After the SWAT team entered the house, Deputy Caleb Johnson found Riggins in a bedroom. A police spokesperson said in a news release that "Johnson perceived Riggins as an immediate threat and fired one shot, striking Riggins."

Riggins later died at Tampa General Hospital. Johnson has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into the shooting.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office later released a statement which noted, "While the investigation is ongoing it does appear at this time that Riggins was unarmed."

The Times reports that a Riggins family friend "said they believe investigators confiscated about 2 grams of marijuana from Riggins' body." The Sheriff's Office has yet to comment on the amount of drugs they recovered as a result of the raid.

Texas Students Arm Themselves With Dildos to Protest Guns on Campus

Mon, 15 Aug 2016 13:25:00 -0400

(image) Students at the University of Texas-Austin plan to protest the permission of guns on campus by loading their backpacks with large dildos. The "Cocks Not Glocks: Campus (DILDO) Carry," scheduled for August 24, was organized in opposition to a 2015 state law saying gun-owners over 21-years-old with concealed-carry permits need not ditch their arms when they step into a campus building. It took effect August 1, 2016.

"The State of Texas has decided that it is not at all obnoxious to allow deadly concealed weapons in classrooms," states the Cocks Not Glocks website. But "it does have strict rules about free sexual expression, to protect your innocence. You would receive a citation for taking a dildo to class before you would get in trouble for taking a gun to class."

The group is referring to a Texas obscenity statute that says "no person or organization will distribute or display on the campus any writing or visual image, or engage in any public performance, that is obscene." And, indeed, Texas law specifies that obscene devives include "a dildo or artificial vagina." It's not clear, however, that any student has ever actually been arrested for carrying a dildo; Google turns up no such tale.

In any event, banning dildos on campus is silly. But so is preventing people from exercising other legally-protected freedoms—like carrying a gun—just because they're near some hallowed halls of learning. Whither the calls for cocks and glocks?

For their part, pro-open carry students are planning a counter-protest to next week's Cocks Not Glocks event. A Facebook invite for the counter-protest asks "liberty-minded students" to "bring pro-2A clothing, flags, signs, etc."

On August 4, Students for Concealed Carry sent a letter to the Texas attorney general asking for relief from the University of Texas (UT) Austin and UT-San Antonio's decision to allow individual professors to institute no-gun policies for their own offices.

Legalizing Guns on the 50th Anniversary of the Texas Tower Shooting Actually Makes Perfect Sense

Mon, 01 Aug 2016 20:10:00 -0400

(image) A Texas law that affirms the right of students and faculty to carry guns on public university campuses went into effect today. Much has been made of the significance of the date, given that the University of Texas tower shooting—one of the most infamous school massacres in history—occurred exactly 50 years ago.

Opponents of gun rights say this law—which was approved by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, over the near-unanimous objections of university officials across the state—is a grim reminder of America's dark obsession with firearms, and one that will make universities less safe. After all, it was exactly 50 years ago to the day when a 25-year-old former marine, Charles Whitman, carted a cache of rifles, shotguns, and pistols to the top of the UT-Austin tower, and opened fire on the innocent people below. He killed 17 and wounded 30 others. (He had murdered his wife and mother before beginning the massacre.)

Student Claire Wilson James was the first person he shot from the tower on August 1, 1966. She survived, though she lost the baby she was carrying, and also her boyfriend, who was shot and killed soon after. James is still alive today, and has no love for guns.

"I just hope they get guns off this campus and get rid of open carry and let the police have the guns if somebody has to have them," she said recently, according to The Guardian.

The amount of pain, terror, and tragedy that James endured is simply astonishing. She's a very brave person, and I don't think anyone could begrudge her her opinions about guns.

But it seems to me that the example of the tower shooting does not present a particularly compelling case against legal guns. On the contrary, it's one of the most obvious cases of good guys with guns stopping bad guys with guns.

Whitman's massacre lasted 96 minutes. But after the first 20 minutes, he was severely constrained in his ability to hit his targets. That's because people started shooting back at him: police and civilians. Gunfire from down below meant that Whitman had to spend more time hiding and less time aiming.

Ultimately, law enforcement officer Ramiro Martinez stormed the tower and killed Whitman. He wasn't alone, though—he was accompanied by an armed civilian. Martinez, in fact, later wrote in his autobiography that civilians played a vital role in bringing an end to the massacre.

"I was and am still upset that more recognition has not been given to the citizens who pulled out their hunting rifles and returned the sniper's fire," he wrote, according to The Washington Times. "The City of Austin and the State of Texas should be forever thankful and grateful to them because of the many lives they saved that day."

Mass shootings at universities are blessedly rare, and I wouldn't argue that concealed carry will actually make campus safer. But letting people carry guns certainly seems like it was a boon to safety, rather than a hindrance, at UT-Austin on August 1, 1966. Prohibiting concealed carry is not much of a deterrence to people like Whitman, who are already intent upon committing murder.

"Open Carry" Panic Regarding Cleveland's GOP Convention Proved Groundless

Wed, 27 Jul 2016 15:59:00 -0400

Remember when everyone was all panicked over the fact that people would legally be able to open-carry weapons in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention? Which got various police and public officials to discuss unilaterally abrogating citizens rights with no legal pretext? (Daniel Payne wrote about what a bad idea that was.)


That was in the wake of various police in Dallas and around the nation claiming that open carry in Texas, because of a fantasized and non-existent situation in which "everyone starts shooting," was something that should be curbed? When the only real problem it created even in the chaos of the Dallas police shooting was for black open-carrier Mark Hughes, who the Dallas police publicly fingered as a suspect just for being legally in public with his weapon, although he was not involved in any way? (I wrote about that.)

As Brett Decker explains in USA Today, all that worry over open carry was pointless.

Major news organizations across the country cautioned that the sky was falling because of legal gun carriers, with many editorials illogically tying law-abiding citizens to future mass murder...

All the panicked warnings amounted to a big misfire. Chief Williams later admitted that open-carry wasn't a problem, noting that "nobody's been arrested or has challenged the things we asked them to do." ....

There were legitimate safety concerns surrounding the convention, but not related to law-abiding citizens packing heat. The acceleration of terrorist attacks on soft targets globally....provided more justification for those downtown to be able to protect themselves, not less. That events turned out calmer than expected can at least partly be attributed to the deterrent effect that is common when would-be criminals know their potential victims might be armed and able to protect themselves.

As with most political and media panics over weapons and our right to own or carry them, the actual problem proved either nonexistent, as in this case, or at least wildly overestimated.

Sure, Police Can Get Confused Seeing People Open Carrying Weapons in the Midst of a Mass Shooting. That's Not a Good Reason to Rethink the Legality of "Open Carry."

Tue, 12 Jul 2016 18:01:00 -0400

Dallas Police Chief David Brown told reporters yesterday that "it's increasingly challenging when people have AR-15s slung over their shoulder and they're in a crowd," he said. "We don't know who the good guy is versus the bad guy when everyone starts shooting." He's talking about Texas' practice of allowing open carrying of legally owned long guns, even without a specific license, which led to more than one person on the scene, well, openly carrying their legally owned weapons.  Brown was being hyperbolic, to be sure; even in the crazy situation during Micah Johnson's violent sniper rampage in Dallas last week, there was no actual situation of "everyone starts shooting." As far as I know, the practice of open carrying has never anywhere led to such a dangerous situation. Still, the sight of openly armed people on a scene when someone is wantonly shooting at police, or anyone, certainly does risk police making a mistake potentially fatal to the open-carrier. (Even though the greatest danger in this case was the police spreading a picture of Mark Hughes, a black man carrying his AR-15, on Twitter as a "suspect" in the event, which he had nothing to do with. They lied to him, he insists, about evidence they had linking him to the shooting when he turned himself in as well.) Dallas had already been home to a deliberate movement for open carry on the part of black citizens, the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, which Elizabeth Nolan Brown and Zach Weissmueller have both reported on for Reason. The Club was unhappy over 70 Dallas police shootings of citizens over the past 10 years. The practice of openly carrying a legally owned weapon is legal to some degree (varying in what is required in terms of licenses, or types of gun, and along other dimensions) in 45 states. Even some gun rights activists, including one NRA staffer in a statement the organization took down when it pissed off too many people, frown on the practice. The argument against it is usually along the lines of: open-carrying is too show-offy and potentially alienating to the cause of widening the rights to carry guns in public.  A. Barton Hinkle has argued against the politeness and probity of open carry at this site. Concealed carry has the extra benefit, some argue, of deterring crime more widely since would-be crooks have no idea who might be carrying. In addition, concealed carrying is less likely to unnerve fellow citizens or police officers. Historically, though, the NRA openly supported laws against open carry in California in the 1960s, laws inspired by the scare put into the establishment by seeing armed Black Panthers in public. Should we be that scared of permitted carriers? You can make your own relative judgments of risk, but even when they were trying their best to scare up scary stats, the best the Violence Policy Center could come up with was about 3 times a year that a licensed gun carrier committed a mass shooting, from likely over 12 million such licensed carriers. The New York Times yesterday tried to build a long "stroking one's chin in deep concern" piece about the alleged second thoughts about open carry that the police's mistakes regarding Mark Hughes should cause us to have. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told the Times, in their words, that "he supported tightening the state's gun laws to restrict the carrying of rifles and shotguns in public" after the Dallas police shooting. The Times later notes: One of the state's most prominent open-carry activists, C. J. Grisham, the founder and president of Open Carry Texas, disputed the extent of the confusion caused by marchers carrying rifles. In videos from the scene, he said, "you can see that police are walking right past people who are open-carrying rifles and it's n[...]

Dallas PD Used a "Bomb Robot" to Neutralize Alleged Cop-Killing Sniper

Fri, 08 Jul 2016 13:12:00 -0400

Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown said at a press conference this morning that the alleged Dallas police-targeting sniper was killed by a bomb placed in the suspect's vicinity by a "bomb robot." The suspect, identified as 25-year-old former Army reservist and Afghanistan veteran Micah Xavier Johnson, was apparently cornered in a parking garage at El Centro College where during hours of negotiations with police he said he had planted a number of explosives around the city and that he "wanted to kill white people."  Chief Brown was quoted in Business Insider as saying that after a prolonged shootout with Johnson, "We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on it for it to detonate where the suspect was. Other options would have exposed our officers to grave danger. The suspect is deceased, as a result of the detonating of the bomb." Brown's wording makes it unclear whether Johnson was killed by the bomb robot detonating an explosive owned by the Dallas PD or whether the robot detonated a device which caused a bomb in Johnson's possession to explode. Either way, this appears to be a new tactic to policing, though commonly used by U.S. forces in Iraq.  Motherboard reports: The sort of ground robots used in those scenarios—and now the one that played out in Dallas—are not autonomous, and are usually used strictly for bomb disposal. These devices have been weaponized, however, as seen with US military bomb bots fitted with machine guns. (The military says the guns are for shooting suspected explosive devices.) In the United States, Remotec bomb disposal robots used by law enforcement have been outfitted with guns that are designed to detonate bombs in a controlled manner. Peter W. Singer, an expert in military technology and robot warfare at the New America Foundation, tweeted that this is the first known incident of a domestic police force using a robot to kill a suspect. Singer tweeted that in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers have strapped claymore mines to the $8,000 MARCbot using duct tape to turn them into jury-rigged killing devices. Singer says all indications are that the Dallas Police Department did something similar in this case—it improvised to turn a surveillance robot into a killing machine. Given that Johnson was clearly unafraid to die and hell-bent on killing police officers, it's understandable that at a certain point the Dallas PD felt their best bet at ending the siege without further carnage was to use a tool which would keep their officers out of harm's way. Still, there are concerns that with more and more automated tools at police's disposal (NPR reported in 2014 that 479 bomb robots were distributed to law enforcement agencies through the Defense Department's 1033 Program), the risk of dehumanizing suspects through the use of such impersonal weaponry grows, as does the risk of mission creep.  When SWAT teams were first introduced, they were intended for extremely rare and high-risk events like hostage situations and terror attacks. Decades later, upwards of 80 percent of SWAT deployments are merely to serve warrants, sometimes using MRAPs and flash-bang grenades, with the reasoning from law enforcement generally focused on an abundance of caution for officers, but not the public.  In 2014, Albuquerque police reportedly directed a bomb robot to deploy "chemical munitions" (perhaps tear gas?) on a "barricaded subject armed with a gun," and in 2015 the California Highway Patrol used a bomb robot to deliver a pizza to a suicidal man, which lead to the man's peaceful surrender. Clearly, advances in technology have reasonably practical uses for law enforcement, but now that the Dallas PD has deployed a ro[...]

Video Shows Alton Sterling Shot and Killed by Baton Rouge Police Despite Being Pinned and On His Back

Wed, 06 Jul 2016 09:32:00 -0400

37-year-old Alton Sterling was shot and killed early Tuesday morning after being shot multiple times to the chest, while being pinned to the ground on his back by two Baton Rouge (La.) police officers.  Police had responded to an anonymous call that a man matching Sterling's description had threatened someone with a gun while standing outside of the Triple S Food Mart.  Cellphone video shot by a bystander was obtained by The Advocate, which shows an officer tackling Sterling to the ground, followed by another officer forcing Sterling onto his back. One officer screams, "he's got a gun!" and the second officer pulls out his gun and holds it inches away from Sterling's chest. Then the sound of multiple gunshots is heard. The bystander holding the camera turns away from the incident at this point and a woman can be heard sobbing and screaming "Oh my God!" The entire exchange takes place in less than 30 seconds.  The body cameras worn by the officers reportedly fell off during the altercation, but apparently police dashcam and store security camera footage of the shooting exists. Sterling was a father of five, known locally as "the CD man." Triple S Food Mart owner Abdullah Muflahi reportedly gave Sterling his blessing to peddle his wares outside the store. Muflahi told CNN he never saw Sterling get into an altercation with anyone and was not aware of any incident where Sterling had pulled a gun on someone, though he says Sterling recently started carrying a weapon after being mugged.   The Advocate reports: "His hand was nowhere (near) his pocket," Muflahi said, adding that Sterling wasn't holding a weapon. After the shooting, an officer reached into Sterling's pocket and retrieved a handgun, Muflahi said. "They were really aggressive with him from the start," Muflahi said about the officers. Sterling appeared to die quickly, Muflahi said. Just after the killing, the officer who fired the bullets cursed, and both officers seemed like they were "freaking out," Muflahi said. The store owner said he heard one of the officers say, "Just leave him." The two officers have been placed on administrative leave, and Baton Rouge Police Department spokesman Cpl. L'Jean McKneely told The Advocate that "We give officers normally a day or so to go home and think about it" before questioning them after a shooting, adding that the stress can cause "tunnel vision" and produce bad information. McKneely says the officers will likely be interviewed Wednesday morning, though the Louisiana Police Bill of Rights allows officers to delay interrogations for up to 30 days.  Louisiana is an open carry state, which allows for anyone over the age of 17 and legally permitted to carry a firearm to possess one in public. It's highly unlikely Sterling would have been permitted to carry a weapon, given his extensive rap sheet which included drug, theft, domestic battery, and weapons charges. The New York Daily News reports family members have said Sterling was on probation at the time of his death and had been living at a transitional shelter where he was known as a "a friendly man who stayed clean." Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who represents Baton Rouge, has called for a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into the shooting. You can watch video of the shooting below (after the jump), but be warned, it is graphic and disturbing.  src="" width="590" height="332" frameborder="0">[...]