Hello, readers. In today’s briefing: The oligarch who funded suspected spy Maria Butina’s activities; the Trader Joe’s shoppers terrorized by a gunman; and the Florida case igniting new furor over “stand your ground.” Their stories and more, below.
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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY
Gun reform advocates have had their most successful state legislative season “in recent history.” So declares the Washington Post after surveying the numbers:
- Across 26 states, 55 measures to tighten gun laws have passed in the last five months.
- Many have received broad bipartisan backing, with 15 Republican governors signing gun restrictions.
- Other victories for the movement lie in what didn’t happen: 14 states considered — but dropped — bills that would expand where people can carry weapons; 10 legislatures debated, but didn’t pass, permitless-carry measures.
The latest on alleged Russian spy — and friend of the NRA — Maria Butina: A Senate source reveals her billionaire funder, the Russian Konstantin Nikolaev, whose net worth totals $1.2 billion and who was spotted at the Trump hotel in Washington during the president’s 2017 inaugural festivities. Reuters adds two more powerful Americans to her known contacts: then-Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, and Nathan Sheets, a former Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, with whom she had separate meetings in 2015. Meanwhile, Butina’s lawyer teases his line of defense to NPR: It involves her cell phone case, which is emblazoned with the famous shirtless-Putin-on-horseback photo.
A gunman held shoppers hostage at Trader Joe’s in Los Angeles. A grocery store manager was fatally shot during a firefight between police and the suspect in the city’s bustling Silver Lake neighborhood. Police were trying to catch Gene Atkins, 28, who had shot his grandmother earlier in the day, then kidnapped his girlfriend, and fired at police during a car chase.
A Seattle police unit is removing guns from the homes of potential school shooters. The legal tool they are deploying is relatively simple: The Regional Firearms Enforcement Unit advises victims — those who feel they’re being targeted by threats of gun violence, usually other students — to file anti-harassment orders against the accused, under which the police can request that the young person making the threats live in a household without firearms, since school shooters often use a parent’s weapons in their attacks. It usually works: Parents have willingly given up their weapons in five of six cases.
The cardiologist who treated former President George H.W. Bush was gunned down while biking to work in Houston on Friday. Mark Hausknecht, 65, was biking near Texas Medical Center when he was passed by another cyclist, who then turned around and fired two shots at the doctor. Hausknecht was able to flag down a passing ambulance but was pronounced dead at the hospital. Bush, 94, released a statement saying he was “deeply saddened” by Hausknecht’s death. Police are searching for a suspect.
ONE LAST THING
Friends and family of a slain Floridian are calling for justice after a sheriff declined to arrest the shooter, citing the state’s “stand your ground” law. Markeis McGlockton, 28, was shot in the chest by Michael Drejka last Thursday afternoon, after the two argued over a handicapped spot in a convenience store parking lot. McGlockton shoved Drejka, who then pulled out his weapon and fired, as McGlockton’s girlfriend and 5-year-old son looked on. At a gathering protesting the decision Sunday night, the president of the local NAACP chapter called the “stand your ground” law “a loophole that enables… premeditated murder.” The state attorney general’s office will make the final decision whether to prosecute Drejka in a case that has revived controversy over a law The Trace has dug into a number of times.
Florida’s self-defense law is particularly robust: Following a change pushed through last year, prosecutors have the burden of proving that a defendant’s claim of a “stand your ground” defense is invalid, rather than the other way around. A law professor told us she feared the shift would “stack the deck…in favor of people shooting other people.”
Legal experts were already critical of ‘stand your ground’ even before Florida made its law more favorable to shooters who claim self-defense. In 2015, the American Bar Association found that states with “stand your ground” laws showed increases in homicides, and that such laws fostered a shoot-first mentality that provides “a low-cost license to kill,” especially when an armed confrontation involves race.
The case that brought ‘stand your ground’ notoriety was, of course, the killing of Trayvon Martin. No state had enacted a law since Martin’s 2012 death until Missouri’s NRA-friendly Legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto to pass a “stand your ground” measure in 2016. In Missouri’s first “stand your ground” case, a college student said he thought the new law empowered him to shoot a robber fleeing with his cell phone. In other states, black lawmakers have since fought the laws’ resurgence, but have been unable to defeat the measures in state capitals where the gun lobby holds sway.