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Published: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 10:51:02 -0400


Overcoming Confirmation Bias on Guns

Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400

Confirmation bias is one of the great obstacles to making the practical case for liberty. People see in events what they want to see. I think of the joke about the person who planned to take his hyperactive dog on a train trip and asked his veterinarian for a tranquilizer. The vet mistakenly handed the person a stimulant. On the train he gave the dog the pill, prompting it to run madly up and down the aisle the entire trip. The embarrassed owner said to his seatmate, "Gosh, think what would have happened if I hadn't given the dog the tranquilizer!" We are all subject to this bias. The best we can do is be aware of it and fight to overcome it. When people look at statistics, confirmation bias always looms. It's just too easy to explain any statistical results in terms of what social scientists call one's "priors." But now and again we encounter an example of someone who refuses to let confirmation bias stand in the way of learning the truth. The latest example comes from Leah Libresco, a statistician who used to write at the political data-analysis site FiveThirtyEight. Libresco's example is particularly noteworthy because the issue she was considering was gun violence. If any issue is prone to confirmation bias, this is the one. It is also noteworthy that she published her article at The Washington Post. In "I Used to Think Gun Control Was the Answer. My Research Told Me Otherwise," Libresco begins: Before I started researching gun deaths, gun-control policy used to frustrate me. I wished the National Rifle Association would stop blocking common-sense gun-control reforms such as banning assault weapons, restricting silencers, shrinking magazine sizes and all the other measures that could make guns less deadly. But then she did some analysis, and it changed her mind. For three months she and others at FiveThirtyEight examined the tens of thousands of annual victims of gun violence, prompting her to conclude that "the case for the policies I'd lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence…. As my co-workers and I kept looking at the data, it seemed less and less clear that one broad gun-control restriction could make a big difference." For example, bans on "assault weapons": "It's an invented classification that includes any semi-automatic that has two or more features, such as a bayonet mount, a rocket-propelled grenade-launcher mount, a folding stock or a pistol grip. But guns are modular, and any hobbyist can easily add these features at home, just as if they were snapping together Legos." As for a ban on silencers, which Hillary Clinton thinks would have saved lives in Las Vegas: "they deserve that name only in movies, where they reduce gunfire to a soft puick puick. In real life, silencers limit hearing damage for shooters but don't make gunfire dangerously quiet. An AR-15 with a silencer is about as loud as a jackhammer." Limits on high-capacity magazines? They "were a little more promising, but a practiced shooter could still change magazines so fast as to make the limit meaningless." She says nothing about the cause de jour, bump stocks, which even some gun-rights advocates seem willing to regulate ban. I hope she would realize that even if they were banned, a black market would thrive since the existing supply could not be confiscated and people could make them in their garages. (There's a reason no one's heard of them until now.) She also decided that "the strictly tightened gun laws in Britain and Australia … didn't prove much about what America's policy should be. Neither nation experienced drops in mass shootings or other gun related-crime that could be attributed to their [buybacks and bans. Mass shootings were too rare in Australia for their absence after the buyback program to be clear evidence of progress. And in both Australia and Britain, the gun restrictions had an ambiguous effect on other gun-related crimes or deaths." Part of what opened her eyes was a realization of who the victims are gun violence are. For example, "Two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States every year are suicides[!].[...]

Vegas Mass Shooting—Where Gun Control Meets Reality: Podcast

Wed, 04 Oct 2017 13:45:00 -0400

"Every time there's a mass shooting," says Reason's Jacob Sullum, "people who had already been in favor of gun control talk about how we need more gun control. . . they don't feel a need to really explain how [their particular policy] would have prevented this particular attack." Nick Gillespie speaks with Sullum about the Las Vegas mass shooting, the country's narrative in the wake of tragedies, and why it's so difficult to have a fact-based discussion about guns, violence, and policy. In the course of their conversation they discuss: The pitfalls of fashioning laws based on unforeseen outliers. Why background checks sound good but fall short. Why the "gun show loophole" is a misnomer. Australia's experience with buybacks and confiscation. How "bump stocks" work and their role in the Vegas mass shooting. What constitutionally sound limits can be placed on gun ownership. What the NRA gets wrong. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. This is a rush transcript. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: You're talking from Dallas, which is in Texas, a big state that likes a lot of guns. What is your personal experience with guns? Do you own guns, do you shoot? I mean, you've written so much about it, I'm just curious. Jacob Sullum: Not a whole lot of experience. When I was a kid, my oldest brother used to take me shooting. He had a .22 rifle and a shotgun, and I think at that point his handgun was, he had a revolver. So, that was sort of my introduction, that and in summer camp, actually, we had riflery. I'm not sure they do this anymore, but it was an NRA-sponsored competition at my Jewish day camp in northeastern Pennsylvania. So, riflery and archery sort of went together. And then in college, in order to easily satisfy one of my P.E. credits, I took a riflery course. Gillespie: Oh, that's right, you went to Cornell in upstate New York, and New York state mandates that everyone in colleges and undergrad take physical education, which in itself is kind of an odd artifact of, I don't know what, you know? You were in Israel. You lived in Israel recently for how many, what was it, like, two years? Sullum: Yeah, two years. We just moved back to Dallas. Gillespie: What was the gun culture like there, because Israel is obviously a famously armed society, but it also is kind of progressive and liberal in other ways, which I guess doesn't necessarily match up with the US. But what was the gun culture like in Israel? Sullum: Well, there are guns everywhere. There are 18-year-olds walking around with machine guns, which is a little bit unnerving at first. But even though everyone is issued a machine gun, you know, everybody who is drafted is issued one, and that's basically the whole Jewish population, except for those who get exemptions, so it's routine that people have experience with these guns. They still seem to think Americans are crazy, in the sense of their attachment to guns and the idea that this is an individual right, a human right to self-defense, and that therefore you have the right to arms that are appropriate for self-defense. For them, I'm speaking very broadly, but it seems to be mostly tied up with the idea of national defense, homeland security, preventing Paris attacks, that sort of thing, and there's less a sense of it being a basic right that's enshrined in the constitution, or that sort of thing. But there are people who routinely carry sidearms. You have to be licensed to do it. I know people who do that in Israel, as well as Dallas, but they don't do it in quite the same way as[...]

Trump on Las Vegas Shooting: "An Act of Pure Evil"

Mon, 02 Oct 2017 11:28:00 -0400

President Donald Trump addressed the nation Monday morning about the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas that has left over 50 dead and over 400 wounded. "We are joined together today in sadness shock and grief," said the Ppesident from the diplomatic reception room in the White House. "For the families of the victims, we are praying for you, we are here for you, and we ask God to see you through these dark moment." The president had already issued a tweet early this morning expressing his sympathies for the victims and families of the shooting, something he called in his speech "an act of pure evil." My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 2, 2017 Reason's Eric Boehm has a roundup of things we know so far about the shooting, and the shooter, identified as 64-year-old Mesquite, Nevada, resident Stephen Paddock. The president said very little about any federal efforts being undertaken in regard to the shooting, adding only that the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security were working closely with local law enforcement. CNN is reporting that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with FBI Director Christopher Wray about the shooting this morning, and issued a statement saying that he and the DOJ would "do everything in our power to get justice for you and your loved ones." Trump took time to thank the Las Vegas Metro police, saying their rapid response "shows what true professionalism looks like." The president will visit Las Vegas on Wednesday, where he plans to meet with local law enforcement. The rest of Trump's speech consisted of a call for Americans to come together in the wake of the shooting. "Our unity cannot be shattered by evil. Our bonds cannot be shattered by violence." Vice President Mike Pence weighed in over social media, calling the shooting a "cowardly act of terror" Our hearts and prayers are with the victims & the people of Edmonton & we condemn the cowardly terror attacks that occurred late last night. — Vice President Pence (@VP) October 1, 2017 Nevada's two senators likewise responded to the shooting over social media. Republican Dean Heller called the shooting a "Senseless, horrifying act of violence" and offered condolences to the victims and praise to first responders. Democrat Cortez Matso said much the same, tweeting she will "continue to monitor the situation." Senseless, horrifying act of violence in Las Vegas tonight. Praying for all the victims & those impacted by the tragedy. — Dean Heller (@SenDeanHeller) October 2, 2017 Praying for all those affected by this senseless tragedy. Thank you to all the first responders. I will continue to monitor the situation. — Senator Cortez Masto (@SenCortezMasto) October 2, 2017 Failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also issued remarks over Twitter, in which she said it was time to "put politics aside" and stand up to the National Rifle Association. Our grief isn't enough. We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again. — Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 2, 2017 More information will come out as the investigation proceeds. Reason's Nick Gillespie has some wise words on not jumping to conclusions or politcizing a tragedy while so much is still unknown.[...]

Reality Contradicts Study Linking Movie Guns to Fatal Firearm Accidents

Wed, 27 Sep 2017 14:45:00 -0400

A study reported this week in JAMA Pediatrics found that children who watched a movie excerpt in which characters used firearms were more interested in playing with a handgun than children who watched an expurgated version from which images of firearms had been excised. The researchers think their findings could be important in reducing fatal firearm accidents involving children. Jenny Anderson, who wrote a Quartz story about the study, thinks it tells us something about the roots of gun violence. Here is why they are wrong. In the experiment, Wittenberg University communication researcher Kelly Dillon and Ohio State psychologist Brad Bushman used 20-minute excerpts from two PG-rated movies, National Treasure and The Rocketeer. They randomly assigned 52 pairs of 8-to-12-year-olds to watch either the original scenes or the expurgated, gun-free version, then let the kids play for 20 minutes in a room that contained a disabled handgun in a drawer as well as various toys and games. The subjects were monitored by a video camera and an infrared sensor in the gun that recorded trigger pulls. On average, the subjects who watched movie excerpts featuring firearms held the handgun longer and pulled the trigger more than the subjects who watched the firearm-free versions. The difference in handling time was not statistically significant after Dillon and Bushman adjusted the data to take into account potential confounding variables such as sex, age, aggressiveness, and attitudes toward guns. But the difference in trigger pulls was robust and dramatic. Whether it has any practical significance is another matter. Dillon and Bushman worry that children who see guns in movies will be more likely to play with them in real life, with potentially fatal consequences. The implication is that more guns in the movies kids see will mean more fatal gun accidents. But there is no evidence of such a correlation. To the contrary, unintentional firearm fatalities involving children have been falling for decades even though, according to Dillon and Bushman, "gun violence in movies is increasing, especially in movies that target younger viewers." Dillon and Bushman cite a study that found the depiction of guns in popular PG-13 movies "has more than doubled since 1985" and a follow-up study that found "the amount of gun violence in PG-13 films continued to increase through 2015." During that period, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidental gun deaths involving children 14 or younger fell by 83 percent, from 278 in 1985 to 48 in 2015. Reasonable people may disagree about the best way to make further progress in reducing the number of children accidentally killed by guns. But even if we assume that the behavior observed in the highly artificial conditions of Dillon and Bushman's experiment carries over into the real world, securing guns so that children cannot play with them seems like a much more practical approach than restricting their movie viewing or banning guns from PG-13 films. While Dillon and Bushman focus on accidental deaths, Jenny Anderson worries in her Quartz piece that seeing guns in movies will make kids "more violent." Again, there is no evidence that is happening. Even after increases in 2015 and 2016, the violent crime rate in the United States is much lower today than it was in the mid-1980s, notwithstanding the proliferation of cinematic gun play that worries Anderson. "This research suggests violent media merits our attention," Anderson concludes. "Exhausting as it may be for parents, being overbearing would seem to pay off." No one who disagrees with that sentiment will change his mind after reading this study.[...]

Should You Tell the Cops You Have a Gun?

Sat, 16 Sep 2017 06:00:00 -0400

(image) The fatal shooting of Philando Castile last year by a Minnesota police officer reinvigorated an old debate about how people who are licensed to carry a concealed weapon (CCW) should handle interactions with the cops. The officer, who was acquitted of manslaughter in June, panicked during a traffic stop after Castile, a CCW licensee, told him he was armed.

Some gun owners argue that disclosure is considerate and prudent, while others worry it will escalate a routine traffic stop into a tense, unpleasant, and possibly life-threatening encounter. But virtually everyone agrees it's important to know the relevant legal requirements, which vary from state to state.

In Major Win for 2nd Amendment Advocates, Federal Court Blocks D.C. from Enforcing Conceal-Carry Restriction

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 15:45:00 -0400

Second Amendment advocates scored a significant legal victory today when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit blocked Washington, D.C., from enforcing a law that effectively bars most D.C. residents from lawfully carrying handguns in public. "The Second Amendment," the court declared, "erects some absolute barriers that no gun law may breach." The case was Wrenn v. District of Columbia (consolidated with Grace v. District of Columbia). At issue was a District of Columbia regulation that limited conceal-carry licenses only to those individuals who can demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the chief of police, that they have a "good reason" to carry a handgun in public. According to the District, applicants for a conceal-carry license must show a "special need for self-protection distinguishable from the general community as supported by evidence of specific threats or previous attacks that demonstrate a special danger to the applicant's life." Living or working "in a high crime area shall not by itself establish a good reason." The D.C. Circuit weighed those regulations against the text and history of the Second Amendment and found the regulations to be constitutionally deficient. "At the Second Amendment's core lies the right of responsible citizens to carry firearms for personal self-defense beyond the home, subject to longstanding restrictions," the D.C. Circuit held. "These traditional limits include, for instance, licensing requirements, but not bans on carrying in urban areas like D.C. or bans on carrying absent a special need for self-defense." The court added: "The Amendment's core at a minimum shields the typically situated citizen's ability to carry common arms generally. The District's good-reason law is necessarily a total ban on exercises of that constitutional right for most D.C. residents. That's enough to sink this law under" District of Columbia v. Heller, the 2008 case that struck down D.C.'s total ban on handguns. Today's decision by the D.C. Circuit widens an already gaping split among the federal courts on this issue. According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, "the Second Amendment does not protect in any degree the right to carry concealed firearms in public." By contrast, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit says that "one doesn't need to be a historian to realize that a right to keep and bear arms in the eighteenth century could not rationally have been limited to the home." In Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court did not rule definitively on the scope of the Second Amendment outside the home. In the nine years since that landmark ruling was issued, the Court has declined several ripe opportunities to settle the matter once and for all. In fact, just last month, the Court refused to review the 9th Circuit's dismissal of the right to carry, prompting Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch, to lambast the Court for its "distressing trend" of refusing to hear any such cases and thereby treating "the Second Amendment as a disfavored right." As Thomas put it, "even if other Members of the Court do not agree that the Second Amendment likely protects a right to public carry, the time has come for the Court to answer this important question definitively." That definitive answer apparently won't be coming anytime soon. For now, Second Amendment advocates will have to take heart in victories such as today's win at the D.C. Circuit.[...]

Judge: Campus Carry Doesn’t Hurt Free Speech

Thu, 13 Jul 2017 18:40:00 -0400

Three University of Texas at Austin professors filed a lawsuit claiming that letting people carry firearms on their campus would have a chilling effect on speech. Last week, District Judge Lee Yeakel dismissed the suit claiming the professors could present "no concrete evidence to substantiate their fears" and that their fears rest on "mere conjecture." Although it's certainly refreshing to see professors using First Amendment justifications with such vigor, it's even better that Yeakel dismissed their ludicrous arguments and protected campus carry. In 2015, the Texas legislature strengthened their commitment to gun rights at public universities. Senate Bill 11, which came into effect in August 2016, permitted campus concealed carry in campus buildings within reasonable guidelines. Those guidelines vary from school to school. At UT Austin, guns must stay out of sight, and individuals professors can choose to make "gun-free zones" in their offices, provided they post their rules clearly. Professors Jennifer Lynn Glass (sociology), Lisa Moore (English), and Mia Carter (English) banded together and filed a lawsuit that sought to overturn the new law. One professor argued that the "possibility of the presence of concealed weapons in a classroom impedes my and other professors' ability to create a daring, intellectually active, mutually supportive, and engaged community of thinkers." Their reasoning centered around the idea that students will be unable to speak freely––a First Amendment argument––in an environment where other students are armed. But this logic posits that students will pull guns on each other when they hear ideas they disagree with––an unlikely outcome. Even for controversial topics like abortion and, ironically, gun rights, it would be beyond the scope of reason to expect that a classroom conversation would become so heated that a student's life would be threatened. Judge Yeakel drew on the reasoning in the 1972 free speech case Laird v. Tatum, which said that "Allegations of a subjective 'chill' are not an adequate substitute for a claim of specific present objective harm or a threat of specific future harm." Yeakel then used the precedent of Laird, and lack of specific evidence, as grounds for dismissal: "Here, Plaintiffs ask the court to find standing based on their self-imposed censoring of classroom discussions caused by their fear of the possibility of illegal activity by persons not joined in this lawsuit. Plaintiffs present no concrete evidence to substantiate their fears…" He's right that there's no evidence that this law has caused harm in the way they claim. Unfortunately, Yeakel only addressed a small part of the professors' argument––the speech-related points. They also brought up issues with equal protection and the law's vagueness, so it's likely that this issue won't be fully laid to rest. On one hand, it's good that college professors are recognizing the value of creating environments for free speech to thrive in. On the other, this seems like a thinly veiled political move, and it's unlikely that opponents of campus carry laws will be quelled by this lawsuit's dismissal. Hopefully these professors remain committed to the First Amendment principles they hold so dear whenever they're threatened in a classroom environment. They're certainly right about one thing: exchanging ideas freely is the whole damn point of college.[...]

Blame the Shooter, Not the "Rhetoric"

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 11:25:00 -0400

When it comes to violence aimed at politicians, it turns out that Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is quick to blame "rhetoric" for gun attacks on politicians only when the perpetrator apparently disagrees with his ideology, isn't the only hypocrite and fool. In a house editorial that is stunning in its intellectual laziness and mendacity, The New York Times manages to tie the actions of sniper James Hodgkinson not simply to today's over-the-top #NeverTrump #resistance rhetoric but to...Sarah Palin's fictitious role in the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords and a dozen other people in a Tucson parking lot. Seriously: Was [Hodgkinson's] attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin's political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs. Conservatives and right-wing media were quick on Wednesday to demand forceful condemnation of hate speech and crimes by anti-Trump liberals. They're right. Though there's no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack, liberals should of course hold themselves to the same standard of decency that they ask of the right. Read the whole thing here. Since its original publication, the Times has graciously seen fit to correct itself thus: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that a link existed between political incitement and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. In fact, no such link was established. Where to begin? For starters, only rankly opportunistic insta-commentary by hardcore Democratic partisans—including Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, who wrote "Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin" within hours of the Giffords shooting—drew a connection between Sarah Palin's innocuous fund-raising graphic and the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner. Indeed, it turned out that the madman was not a devotee of Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sarah Palin, Fox News, or other right-wing media. Instead, he consumed a diet heavy on what Jesse Walker calls "New Age paranoia." While the Times sees a "direct" "incitement" between one image from Palin and Loughner, whose online videos and history with law enforcement clearly suggested a fully deranged, psychotic personality, the Paper of Record studiously avoids pointing to Hodgkinson's public allegiance to Bernie Sanders and his violent language toward Donald Trump and the Republican Party (he joined a group that wants to "terminate" the latter). The result is similar to blaming John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas to a virulent climate of "right-wing hate," despite Lee Harvey Oswald's commitments to Cuba, the Soviet Union, and communism. To be fair, right-wingers are pounding the table in the wake of yesterday's shooting, going so far to shout that "Rachel Maddow Has Blood on Her Hands" for calling Trump a Russian agent. Not to be outdone, Fox News' Eric Bolling called for liberals to censor themselves in the name of saving lives: How many innocent people have to die before we realize that words do matter? Crazy people act on the crazy things they hear from politicians and celebrities. Think before you utter those blind, hateful words next time, liberals. Because there are crazy people out there taking your metaphors literally. All of the above assumes that contemporary political speech is both somehow more virulent than ever and responsible for any actual physical violence that happens. In reality, there are no grounds for either belief. In a country where political violence is vanishingly rare, gun violence has declined precipitously despite wider circula[...]

Why Did a Conservative Judge Uphold an Assault Weapons Ban?

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 06:00:00 -0400

In February, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit dealt gun rights advocates a bitter defeat. In Kolbe v. Hogan, it upheld a Maryland law that bans "assault weapons" and detachable large-capacity magazines, holding that the Second Amendment offers no impediment to such prohibitory legislation. Among the judges who joined the 10–4 decision was J. Harvie Wilkinson III, who during the George W. Bush administration was rumored to be on the president's shortlist of Supreme Court candidates.

What led a respected conservative judge to uphold a sweeping gun control law? In addition to joining the majority opinion, Wilkinson filed a separate concurrence in which he explained his thinking. The matter boiled down to the core principle of judicial deference, he wrote: "It is altogether fair to argue that the assault weapons here should be less regulated, but that is for the people of Maryland (and the Virginias and the Carolinas) to decide."

In Wilkinson's view, if the federal courts get in the business of invalidating democratically enacted gun control measures, the end result will be to "empower the judiciary and leave Congress, the Executive, state legislatures, and everyone else on the sidelines." As far as he is concerned, the federal courts "are not impaneled to add indefinitely to the growing list of subjects on which the states of our Union and the citizens of our country no longer have any meaningful say."

It was the classic case for judicial deference: If you don't like what your lawmakers have done, take your complaint to the ballot box, not to the courthouse. For decades, this was a dominant view among legal conservatives. As recently as 20 years ago, Wilkinson's deferential stance would have placed him squarely within the mainstream of conservative legal thought.

But the times are changing. Judicial deference is no longer quite as popular among legal conservatives as it once was, and this particular case helps to illustrate why. After all, doesn't the Second Amendment itself suggest that there are some subjects on which democratic majorities should not have any meaningful say? Doesn't the Constitution place certain rights beyond the reach of lawmakers, and isn't it sometimes the job of federal courts to enforce those constitutional limits and strike down overreaching legislation, even when doing so means acting in an anti-democratic fashion?

As a principled advocate of judicial deference, Wilkinson effectively answers no to such queries. The big question going forward is how many legal conservatives are still willing to take his side.

GOP Lawmakers Attacked in Shooting at Virginia Baseball Practice. Update: Shooter Identified

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 09:04:00 -0400

Update: Law enforcement has identified the shooter James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois, according to The Washington Post and other media outlets. On Twitter, Post reporter Greg Miller notes that Hodgkinson is "an avid letter writer to the local paper in Belleville, many of them critical of GOP economic policy" and that the alleged shooter's social media "amounts to extended screed against Trump." Update: In a statement this morning, President Trump said that the shooter has died from injuries sustained during the firefight. "Authorities are continuing to investigate the crime. And the assailant has now died from his injuries," the president said. Trump's full statement is online here. A shooter opened fire on Republican lawmakers practicing baseball in Alexandria, Virginia, this morning. Among those reportedly hit during the attack was House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, and at least one congressional aide. A lengthy shootout with Capitol Police ensued, and Alexandria police say they have the shooter in custody, but have not released further details. All of the victims are reportedly in stable condition. Witnesses, including Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ken.) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R–Ariz.), described a grisly scene to reporters this morning. "It was a killing field," Paul told CNN. Scalise reportedly dragged himself off the field after being shot in the hip. Republican lawmakers were practicing for the annual bipartisan congressional baseball game at a location they have been practicing at for several years. The attack happened during batting practice. Flake said the shooter "had a rifle of some kind. It was obviously a large gauge rifle" and described the attack as lasting for roughly 10 minutes. Flake estimated that more than 50 shots were fired. Flake also said he assumed that the GOP lawmakers were purposely targeted. "It looks like only one shooter. You gotta assume he knew what he was doing," Flake told CNN. No official statement as to the shooter's motivation has been released. Witnesses have said that at least one member of the security detail was wounded in the attack. "Nobody would have survived without the Capitol Hill Police," Paul said on CNN this morning. "It would have been a massacre without them." Reason's Meredith Bragg was nearby and took the following photos of the crime scene. This story is developing.[...]

Brickbat: Well, Shoot

Mon, 12 Jun 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) In California, Tulelake High School Principal Dean Teig resigned following reports he shot at students with a BB gun at an off-campus celebration for seniors. Some students drenched Teig with water. He left the event and changed his clothes and returned with a BB gun. A police investigation later found no evidence Teig actually tried to shoot anyone.

Colgate University's 'Active Shooter' Situation Was Actually Just a Black Kid with a Glue Gun

Fri, 12 May 2017 16:07:00 -0400

(image) Colgate University officials are in trouble after wrongfully placing the campus under lockdown in response to a student wielding a very serious weapon: a glue gun.

It was a sticky situation.

The student, a person of color, was carrying a glue gun because he had to finish a project for an art class, but someone felt threatened by it and reported him to campus security. Soon after, administrators placed the campus on lockdown—for four hours—and sent a text alert to students warning them that an "active shooter" situation was in progress, according to Heat Street.

That was obviously a mistake. Now security directory Bill Ferguson is on leave while the school investigates whether the mistake was a result of racial bias. Some students think the connection is obvious:

"We spent all night on lockdown fearing for our lives because a young black man was doing an art project," another student wrote on Twitter. "This is racism—this is Colgate."

And Tolu Emokpae, another black student at Colgate, told the New York Daily News that the incident "shows me that I really cannot simply live."

Angel Trazo, a senior at Colgate who does not want to be "complicit regarding the events of last night and today," writes that the incident was "an example of the criminalization of black bodies."

"This is an example of the racist and prejudiced biases that exist at our institution," she wrote.

Is it? Colgate really screwed up here, and it's proper to investigate how this could have happened. Racism is certainly a possible explanation.

But let's not forget that schools are notoriously paranoid about guns. Elementary schools use absurd "zero tolerance" discipline rules to punish anyone caught with a weapon, or a lookalike weapon, or indeed anyone who brings a weapon onto school property, or anything that vaguely resembles a weapon, even accidentally. And colleges and universities are no better: administrators support "gun free zones," even though it seems unlikely that a deranged madman intent on shooting up campus would be thwarted by an unenforced and unmonitored no guns policy.

So it's possible there was more than one kind of irrational, discriminatory fear in play here.

Brickbat: Rumble on the Promenade

Mon, 08 May 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Police in Atlantic City confiscated 62 toy guns for being too realistic. Cops say the guns looked just like real guns except for the orange tips on the ends of the barrels.

Brickbat: Dirty Pictures

Thu, 04 May 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) A photo of the Big Lake High School trap shooting team will appear in the yearbook after all. Officials at the Minnesota school had banned a photo of the team holding its guns because it violated a district policy forbidding the depiction of firearms in the yearbook. After local media picked up the story, thte school system changed the policy to create a specific exemption for the team and its competition firearms.

Drunk Man Assaults R2D2-Style Security Robot and Gets Arrested

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 15:15:00 -0400

(image) While on patrol in the parking lot of its manufacturer, a K5 security robot was assaulted by Jason Sylvain. Sylvain, who was apparently drunk, pushed over the 300-pound R2D2-style robot made by the Knightscope company. Alerted by the robot, two Knightscope employees detained Sylvain until the local police showed up. The K5 robots operate autonomously and provide 360 degree video of the areas they patrol. The robots are equipped with two way audio that allows intercom conversations between the security operations center and a person near the robot. In addition, the robots can broadcast pre-recorded and live audio messages in the areas where they are operating. They also monitor environmental conditions, keep track of license plates, and detect wireless activity. The company promises that the robots will soon offer a gun detection feature.

Going beyond mere gun detection, the Russian FEDOR humanoid robot can now shoot guns. As Futurism reports: FEDOR — short for Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research — is a humanoid robot developed by Android Technics and the Advanced Research Fund in Russia. "Final" does sound a bit ominous. In any case, the FEDOR bot can drive a car, use various tools (including keys), screw in lightbulbs, and even do pushups. It has now added the ability to hold and fire two pistols at the same time to its skill set.

Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted, "Robot FEDOR showed the ability to shoot from both hands. Fine motor skills and decision-making algorithms are still being improved." Rogozin further explained, "Shooting exercises is a method of teaching the robot to set priorities and make instant decisions. We are creating AI, not Terminator." Very reassuring.

Enabling mall security robots to protect themselves by, say, administering a mild electric shock to someone Sylvain is OK, but arming them lethal weapons is, well, premature. On the other hand, I am against banning the development of warbots. See FEDOR in action below.

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