What to Know Today

NEW from THE TRACE: The right’s favorite gun researcher. Since the 1990s, economist John R. Lott Jr. has provided the empirical backbone for the gun rights movement. Virtually every statistical argument against firearm regulation is based on his research, which reaches two conclusions: Guns make Americans safer, and gun restrictions put them in danger. Lott’s findings and methods have generated scathing criticism from prominent academics, who have questioned his veracity and exposed flaws in his work. But the critiques have not diminished his stature within the gun rights movement, The Trace’s Mike Spies reports. Instead, they have fed the movement’s conspiracy-oriented mentality. In the eyes of adherents, and in the messaging of the gun lobby and trade groups, attempts to discredit Lott are attempts to suppress the truth. Read Spies’s story, a collaboration with The New Yorker, in full here.

In Memphis, where murders have been climbing since 2015, police can’t seem to stop people from being killed. The city was the most violent metro area in the U.S. in 2020, according to FBI data, and it saw a record-breaking 346 murders last year. Memphis’s policing issues are inextricable from the city’s makeup, David A. Graham argues in The Atlantic: Memphis has the second-largest Black population, as measured by percentage, and poverty rate among major U.S. cities, and a long history of racial injustice. It has been home to an eventual KKK grand wizard and numerous lynchings; it was where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Residents told Graham that law enforcement officers chronically over-police minor crimes and under-police violent crimes. One person expressed frustration that she could be pulled over for speeding while gang members go unbothered by police.

Parkland shooter officially sentenced to life in prison without parole. The gunman, who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, was spared the death penalty last month when a jury was unable to unanimously decide to recommend capital punishment. The sentence came down on Wednesday, NPR reports, after families of victims confronted the shooter with emotional testimony over a two-day hearing.

Right-wing gun group email asks for money to figure out “how much firepower we have to unload on gun-grabbing candidates.” The American Firearms Association’s fundraising message keyed in on races in battleground states: Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. The email asked supporters to donate so the group could “drive the final nail into Joe Biden’s gun control agenda,” HuffPost reports. The gun group’s message comes days after a bulletin from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Capitol Police, and the National Counterterrorism Center warned that domestic violent extremism poses a “heightened threat” to the upcoming elections.

FBI arrests two alleged members of Boogaloo movement on firearm charges. An Ohio man, who is also believed to be a member of the Sons of Liberty militia group, has been accused of illegal possession of a machine gun and threatening law enforcement, the Associated Press reports. According to the FBI’s criminal complaint, Axios noted, Aron McKillips said that he wanted to “blow up the IRS” and “kill feds, kill police, kill government officials.” The FBI also arrested Timothy Teagan in Michigan, charging him with violating a federal firearms statute that makes it a crime for drug users to possess guns or ammunition, the Detroit Free Press reports. According to that complaint, agents seized an AR-15 rifle, multiple AR magazines, and dozens of rounds of ammo. 

  • What is Boogaloo? The movement is composed of a loose assortment of doomsday preppers, anti-government extremists, and Second Amendment activists, most of whom are white and right-wing. As The Trace has reported, the beliefs of its supporters run the gamut, but gun rights are the central theme, because firearms are the tools they say they need to fight the civil war they believe is coming. 

Early American lawmakers knew public gun-carrying was intimidating. Roughly a dozen states barred guns at election sites in laws enacted between the 1770s and the start of the 20th century, according to gun politics expert Robert Spitzer. Three quarters of all colonies and later states had laws banning the brandishing and display of guns in public settings. The lawmakers understood that the mere presence of firearms near voting spaces was intimidation, Spitzer writes for The Conversation. Today, only seven states prohibit both open and concealed carrying at the polls. And according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, as the midterms approach, two in five Americans are worried about violence or intimidation at voting sites. 

  • The NRA after Parkland: In 2018, Spitzer sat down with The Trace’s Mike Spies to talk about the NRA’s standing post-Parkland. It’s a prescient interview: “In the short term, I don’t think this impacts the group significantly,” Spitzer told Spies. “But in the long term, it contributes to the NRA’s marginalization as an extremist, zealot group that has become more severed from the larger American public.”

Data Point

44 per 100,000 — the rate of murder in Memphis in 2020. That’s up from 21 per 100,000 in 2015. [The Atlantic]