Good morning, Bulletin readers. In today’s roundup: A longtime GOP operative with ties to the NRA could be the first American to face an espionage charge related to the Russia investigation. Gun violence is cutting down life expectancy, especially for black Americans. And House Democrats signal that they will push for an aggressive universal background check bill.

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House Democrats will prioritize a push for universal background checks. Representative Mike Thompson of California is planning to introduce a bill in Congress that would require a background check for every gun sale. It will include fewer exemptions than past proposals to expand background checks. While the measure is likely to find ample support in the Democratic-controlled House, it faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

Maria Butina’s American boyfriend has been the subject of an espionage investigation. Paul Erickson, a veteran Republican operative and National Rifle Association member with access to the gun group’s leaders, allegedly helped his girlfriend, the accused Russian spy Maria Butina, make inroads with prominent American conservatives. Now it has emerged that Erickson has received a “target letter” informing him that he has also been investigated as an unregistered agent of the Kremlin. If prosecuted, Erickson could be the first American embroiled in the Russia investigation to face an espionage charge. 

Gun violence may be dragging down black life expectancy, according to calculations by Boston University researchers. The scholars analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2000 to 2016 and found that shootings shaved about 4.14 years off the life expectancy of black Americans, compared with 2.23 years for whites.

Texas lawmakers will consider at least 19 gun bills next year. Among them are a red flag bill, a measure to close the so-called gun show loophole, a proposal to require serial numbers for 3D-printed weapons, and a bill that would allow gun owners to openly carry their firearms without a permit. Texas Democrats have been pushing for a red flag bill since the Santa Fe High School shooting earlier this year, but the measure is unlikely to make it past the Republican governor, who has said he opposes it.

A federal appeals court upheld New Jersey’s high-capacity magazine ban. The three-judge panel rejected a gun lobby challenge to the state’s prohibition on magazines holding more than 10 rounds. “New Jersey’s law reasonably fits the State’s interest in public safety and does not unconstitutionally burden the Second Amendment’s right to self-defense in the home,” the judges wrote.

Wisconsin Republicans want to prevent the next governor from banning guns in the Capitol. The measure is among the bills approved by GOP lawmakers in Wisconsin that seek to limit the power of the incoming Democratic governor, Tony Evers. The proposal now awaits the signature of outgoing Republican Governor Scott Walker. From The Trace archives: Skirmishes in state capitols over guns in government buildings are a front in the larger battle over so-called gun-free zones.

Florida’s pension fund is pushing for gun manufacturers to implement safety reforms. The state has joined a coalition of major pension funds and investment companies from several states that have adopted a set of voluntary principles aimed at encouraging gunmakers and retailers to act responsibly.

Two children were shot while playing with a gun in Kansas. Police say the children, ages 2 and 4, found a gun and were playing with it when it fired. Both kids were sent to the hospital with gunshot wounds to their hands. Their mother was taken into custody.  In Florida, a 3-year-old boy was shot while playing with a gun. He was struck in the leg after he and another child got hold of a loaded weapon while unsupervised. His stepmother may face charges. Children are likely to play with a gun if they find one. In one experiment involving more than a dozen 6- to 7-year-olds, all but two kids who “found” a gun that had been placed in a room by the researchers steered clear of the weapon.


Americans want to hear more about heroes, and less about gunmen, after mass shootings, according to a study published earlier this year in American Behavioral Scientist. Researchers surveyed more than 200 people about what types of news coverage interested them after a school shooting and found that most preferred stories about courageous bystanders — like Jason Seaman, the science teacher who was shot while disarming a 13-year-old school shooter in Indiana in May — than about perpetrators or their victims. One of the study’s co-authors said there could be a practical purpose behind the findings: “Interest in the hero-focused story may be interpreted as an information-seeking behavior, as it presumably would provide information about how to stop a mass murderer and avoid future victimization.” 

Separate research has found that unarmed bystanders are better at stopping active shooters than gun carriers — and that firearms provide no advantage in everyday self-defense.