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The Dark Reason Why Guns are Virtually Guaranteed to be a Major Issue of the 2016 Campaign

After years of ducking presidential-campaign battles over gun laws out of fear of the powerful gun lobby, it appears that Democrats are finally ready to go on the offensive.

Democrats are becoming more and more outspoken about gun violence in the wake of seemingly ever increasing mass shootings, despite the fact that the American public remains as opposed as ever to many gun-control measures.

And the increase in mass shootings has guaranteed that candidates will have to address the issue on the campaign trail, setting it up to become a major issue in the 2016 presidential election.

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, for example, set the tone early in her campaign after a mass shooting at a historically African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. And she has become much more vocal in her calls for stricter gun laws, making it a recurring feature in her stump speeches.

"This is a controversial issue. I am well aware of that. But I think it is the height of irresponsibility not to talk about it," Clinton said this week, according to The Washington Post.

Clinton's increased calls for gun control mirror President Barack Obama's recent shift to refocus on gun laws in the wake of a slew of mass shootings. In addition to the Charleston incident, there have been high-profile mass shootings at military facilities in Tennessee and at a movie theater in Louisiana.

Obama has labeled the failure of Congress to pass new gun laws the biggest frustration of his tenure. He has spoken out multiple times recently on the subject, including after the Charleston shooting that killed nine people.

"I've had to make statements like this too many times," Obama said in a statement from the White House. "At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other developed countries."

This is a major shift from 2008, when both Clinton and Obama were criticized for failing to talk about the issue. During the heat of the 2012 campaign, Obama was reluctant to bring up the topic of guns even after the mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater.

Passing gun-control measures, Democrats have long argued, had helped lead Democrats to overwhelming losses in the 1994 midterms, which swept Republicans into power in Congress.

The new focus, then, is an interesting political calculus — because many signs actually show that Americans' support for gun rights is growing.

A widely cited Pew study published in December showed that support for gun rights has surpassed Americans' support for gun control, though some analysts have pointed out that the phrasing of Pew's question might have led more Americans to appear friendlier to guns.

Gun-rights advocates have also experienced success in state legislatures, beyond helping to block Democrats' federal legislation that would have expanded background checks on gun purchases. In almost three years since the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, 70 of 109 state gun laws have actually loosened restrictions, according to The New York Times.

But gun-safety groups say that below the surface, there is growing support for certain goals.

Citing broad support for background checks and a few legislative wins in the 2014 midterm elections, Everytown — the group cochaired by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — argues that opposition to gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association is much more organized and motivated even than it was in 2008 when Clinton last ran for president.

"Previously, people talked about an intensity gap, that, 'Yeah, everybody agrees, but this isn't anybody's No. 1 issue,' and we've seen that change dramatically in the last few years because of the big events, and the ones that don't make as much news," Erika Soto Lamb, Everytown's communication director, told Business Insider.

Lamb acknowledged that in the past, gun-rights groups have scared lawmakers into silence. Now, she said, high-profile horrific shootings have forced candidates to talk about the dangers of guns more frequently. 

"I worked here in 2012, and I know how hard it was to get the candidates to address gun violence," Lamb said. "The candidates have been talking about guns far more than they did then."

But if increasingly strong rhetoric from Clinton and financial backing from Bloomberg worries gun-advocacy groups, it doesn't show.

Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, gave a reminder that President Bill Clinton himself admitted that threatening gun rights can be a perilous issue politically. 

"Hillary Clinton is repeating the error her husband made in 1994 — pushing for gun-control legislation. He realized his mistake and said so," Pratt told Business Insider.

"Hillary is so ideological that she seems oblivious to the reality of gun-control politics. She seems doomed to repeat her husband's political error."

For their part, Republican candidates aren't backing down and have argued that if more citizens were armed, more mass shootings could be prevented.

That's former Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) line — he railed against "gun free" zones on Sunday, suggesting that a well-trained citizen with a gun could've stopped the Louisiana movie-theater shooting.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) has also embraced this argument.

Following the Connecticut shooting that left 20 children and six others dead in 2012, Huckabee wrote on Facebook that not all victims of shootings want stricter gun laws imposed, pointing to a survivor of a mass shooting who now advocates for more relaxed gun laws.

Other candidates have tried to use shootings to remind voters of where they stand on certain issues. 

That's what former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R) did following the Charleston shooting, claiming that the shooting was part of a larger attack on religious freedom. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), meanwhile, said that even in the wake of a tragedy, government is not the answer.

"There's a sickness in our country. There's something terribly wrong. But it isn't going to be fixed by your government. It's people straying away. It's people not understanding where salvation comes from," Paul said.
But mass shootings, which tend to dominate news cycles, are occurring more and more frequently. 

As Mother Jones points out, the number of days between mass shootings has dropped dramatically in recent years, from 220 between 1995 and 2005 to 99 between 2005 and 2015. 

There are 467 days until Election Day.

By Maxwell Tani,

L.A. City Council Bans Large-capacity Ammunition Magazines

Defying sharp warnings from gun rights groups, Los Angeles thrust itself into the national debate over gun control Tuesday, as city lawmakers voted unanimously to ban the possession of firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

Such magazines have been “the common thread” in almost all the mass shootings that have devastated the country, from Newtown to Virginia Tech to Columbine, said Juliet Leftwich, legal director for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Backers of the plan said it was a small but meaningful step to minimize the bloodshed, by forcing attackers to at least interrupt their rampages to stop and reload.

The National Rifle Assn. and other gun rights groups have threatened to sue over Los Angeles’ new rules, arguing that they violate the 2nd Amendment and are preempted by existing state law.

In reaction, Councilman Paul Krekorian declared before a cheering crowd outside City Hall, “If the NRA wants to sue us over this, bring it on.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti said he was eager to sign the L.A. measure, which passed 12-0 with three council members absent. Even as city officials celebrated the newly passed restrictions, some gun control activists were dismayed to hear about a proposal to exempt retired police officers from the rules — an 11th-hour change sought by the union that represents Los Angeles police.

California law already generally bans the manufacturing of such large-capacity magazines, as well as offering them for sale or bringing them into the state. But state law does not prohibit people from possessing them, which Krekorian and others argued is a “loophole” that jeopardizes public safety.

“People who want to defend their families don’t need a 100-round drum magazine and an automatic weapon to do it,” said Krekorian, who championed the ban at a rally Tuesday outside City Hall. But if someone wanted to do harm, Krekorian added, “imagine what a gunman on this sidewalk could do with that kind of firepower with a crowd like this.”

Los Angeles lawmakers first sought to draft such rules more than two years ago. Survivors of gun violence lamented that it had taken so long for the council to press forward with the ban and urged lawmakers to act. Among them were Ruett and Rhonda Foster, whose 7-year-old son, Evan, was killed 18 years ago when a gunman fired scores of bullets at a local park, peppering their car with more than a dozen shots.

If their attacker could not fire so many bullets before reloading, “Evan might still be here today,” Ruett Foster told the council on Tuesday.

Gun rights groups argued the law violates the rights of citizens to protect themselves. Ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds “are in common use for self defense and they are overwhelmingly chosen for that purpose,” said Anna M. Barvir, an attorney with Michel & Associates, which represents the NRA and the California Rifle & Pistol Assn.

“Indeed, millions are in the hands of good American citizens. As such, they are fully protected by the Constitution,” Barvir said in a statement.

At the Tuesday hearing, the CalGuns Shooting Sports Assn. also raised concerns. “I don’t think it’s going to have any effect on gun violence,” said the association’s director, Chad Cheung, pointing out that people in neighboring cities such as Burbank or Glendale could still possess the magazines.

“Bad people are going to do bad things, and they’ll do it regardless of whatever laws are in place,” Cheung said.

The Los Angeles ordinance is modeled on rules adopted in San Francisco and Sunnyvale that have so far survived legal challenges. Leftwich, from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, assured the council it was on “firm legal ground.” But Barvir, whose firm represents gun rights groups, said the legal battles are not over and clients are considering litigation over the L.A. rules.

The new ordinance gives Angelenos who own such magazines 60 days to remove, surrender or legally sell or transfer them after it goes into effect. Breaking the law would be a misdemeanor. Garcetti has 10 days to sign the measure, which would take effect a little more than a month later.

The Los Angeles rules exempt, among others, police and military gun owners, licensed firearm dealers, and people who obtained guns before January 1, 2000, that can only be used with such magazines. At the Tuesday meeting, Councilman Mitch Englander also proposed an exemption for any retired police officer who holds a valid, current permit to carry a concealed weapon. Englander said in a written statement that the police union “recently requested a balanced approach to protect police officers in this ordinance.”

Peter Repovich, director of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said it was important for police — including retirees — to be prepared to meet any threat to public safety. “They’re additional eyes and ears out there,” Repovich said.

The council voted narrowly to ask city lawyers to draft such an amendment, which is expected to return to the council for debate and a vote next week. Four council members — Paul Koretz, Nury Martinez, David Ryu and Marqueece Harris-Dawson — voted against drafting the amendment. Koretz said he didn’t see “an overwhelming reason” to exempt retired officers, who he said “could occasionally be prone to the same problems we’re trying to avoid.” Eight council members voted in favor, the minimum needed to advance the proposal.

“If the City Council allows this exemption, none of us are going to be happy,” said Women Against Gun Violence Executive Director Margot Bennett.

Exempting retired officers from the rules tugs the left-leaning council between gun control groups staunchly opposed to excluding more Angelenos and the politically muscular police union, which has made more than $34,000 in campaign contributions to city candidates and elected officials since 2010.

The police union has also pushed for retired officers to be exempt from another proposed ordinance that would require Angelenos to lock up handguns or disable them with trigger locks when they are not being used at home, a measure meant to prevent deadly accidents. Repovich said retired officers needed to be able to respond swiftly to threats and had undergone extensive training on handling their weapons.

Krekorian and several other lawmakers have balked at the idea of excluding retired officers from those storage rules, which are expected to come back before lawmakers for a vote next week. However, Krekorian said he supported exempting retired officers from the large-capacity magazine ban because it wouldn’t pose a similar risk to the public.

By Emily Alpert Reyes, Los Angeles Times

4-H Shooting Sports Competition Produces Record Turnout

A record number of people participated in the 4-H shooting sports competition Monday afternoon in the Gayle Hattan Pavilion during the Saunders County Fair.

Eighty-four competitors registered, said Al Rubesh, event coordinator. Although the shooting competitions are always popular, in recent years, numbers have continually risen.

“We have more and more people signing up for this,” Rubesh said.

The competition was split into two sections, BB gun and air rifle. Both categories had three age groups: juniors (8-11), intermediate (12-14) and senior (15-18).

Shooters using BB guns fired at targets from 5 meters away, and participants using air rifles from 10 meters.

Both groups went through a similar scoring process. Competitors in both categories shot at 10 small targets — spread out on one piece of paper — and were rated 1-10 on their precision, one being inaccurate and 10 being a bull's-eye.

The competition was comprised of four, 10-minute rounds, with participants in the BB category performing shots in standing, prone, sitting and kneeling positions.

The maximum amount of points each competitor could receive was 100 per target sheet, and 400 over the four rounds. An additional 25 points could be earned based off of the score each competitor received on a gun-safety test that was required before registering for the event, Rubesh said.

The air rifle group performed one less round, and the majority of air-rifle participants were in the intermediate and senior divisions. The maximum amount of points available for air-rifle was 325.

“It’s run much more like a college event,” he said.

Safety is always of the utmost importance, Rubesh said, and because of this, each person wishing to compete was required to complete a training course in February, which also incorporated shooting training every Monday night.

“That’s our main goal with the competition,” he said. “We want to have fun and keep everybody safe.”

One person enjoying the festivities was Eric Obert, father of Seth and Caleb Obert, both competitors in the BB category.

Both sons have been heavily involved in 4-H. Obert was also involved as a child, and said that his children are carrying on the family tradition of being involved in the variety of activities offered.

Seth, 9, most enjoys the science behind why the gun works the way it does, Obert said. Obert, a civil engineer at JEO Consulting, said that he understands the interest, but noted that it isn’t always the easiest thing to explain.

“It’s really tough explain to a 9-year-old the science behind how all of this works,” he said.

Caleb, 12, enjoys firing the weapon the most. He plans on using his skills to become a better hunter, and follow in the footsteps of Obert, who is an avid bird hunter.

While both Seth and Caleb are involved in other 4-H events, the shooting sports competition is one of their absolute favorites, they said.

Both boys started shooting when they were around 6 years old, Obert said, and noted that they both show a passion for competing in the event.

Watching his sons fire at targets, Obert chimed in that he would have loved to compete in the event himself during his years in 4-H.

“I never had the opportunity to do this competition, I always showed cattle,” he said.

“I’m pretty sure that mom and dad were keeping it a secret from me,” he added with a laugh.

The Saunders County Fair continues through Sunday.

By Sam Pimper, Fremont Tribune