What To Know Today

NEW from THE TRACE: Accusations of cronyism plague the ATF’s gun ballistics program. Six years ago, an internal ATF report issued a dire warning: If a long-standing, sole-source ballistics contract wasn’t opened up, the agency could lose a vitally important tool. That’s not what happened. Instead, the ATF renewed its $85-million contract with Ultra Electronics Forensic Technology for five years — a decision experts say has likely impeded law enforcement’s ability to investigate shootings at a time when gun violence is surging. In the meantime, several former ATF officials, including the agency’s acting director, have gone to work for Ultra Electronics. “This has every appearance of selling government contracts for personal gain,” said Craig Holman of the public accountability watchdog Public Citizen. Read more in Ann Givens’ full investigation, published in partnership with The Daily Beast. Have a tip? You can securely reach us here.

Race has been ever-present in the trial of the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery — just not in the cases made to the jury. As Americans continue to process the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, closing arguments in the trial of Arbery’s killing are scheduled today. Three white men — Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan — are accused of killing the 25-year old Black man after they pursued him with their vehicles. They face a slew of charges, including murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment. Many viewed the killing as an act of racial violence, a perspective bolstered by the fact that a co-defendant allegedly told authorities that the shooter uttered a racial slur after the incident. Beyond that admission, race has come up in a number of ways. Early on, the defense moved to bar several Black people from serving on the jury, and one defense attorney complained that the presence of Black pastors at the trial might influence the jury. (There were ultimately one Black and 11 white jurors.) But by the time both sides rested on Friday, issues of race and racial bias remained conspicuously absent from the cases they presented to the jury. While some legal experts faulted the prosecution for not making the case more explicitly about race, others said it would have been risky to pursue a strategy related to intent since there is already enough evidence to make their case. 

Sixty-two percent of Americans think bringing a gun to a protest is “very inappropriate.” Writing in The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog two days after Rittenhouse’s acquittal, University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor Alexandra Filindra wrote about a nationally representative survey of 1,000 white and 500 Black Americans she conducted this summer. Overall, she found that a similar majority of Black (60 percent) and white Americans (62 percent) found armed protest “very inappropriate,” while 69 percent of women did. There were bigger differences between people with varying political affiliations, with 79 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents finding armed protests “very inappropriate,” compared to 34 percent for Republicans. A chilling effect? Her research suggested the presence of guns at protests was more likely to dissuade certain groups from participating, with 68 percent of women, 68 percent of Democrats, and 54 percent of independents saying they would be “very unlikely” to go to a protest where people were armed, versus 52 percent of men and 48 percent of Republicans.

Another gun link to the Capitol insurrection. On Friday, the Department of Justice announced the arrest of a man from Shelbyville, Indiana, for allegedly carrying a loaded gun onto the Capitol grounds during the events of January 6. Mark Andrew Mazza faces a slew of other charges including civil disorder and assaulting officers. His gun was found on the Capitol grounds, but the DOJ alleged that two days after the insurrection, Mazza had falsely filed a police report in which he claimed to have lost his gun in Ohio. In January, we tracked some of the other gun charges surrounding the riot. In September, Mother Jones shared a fuller account of the people who allegedly came armed.

New Jersey invests $10M to help community-focused nonprofit groups tackle gun violence. The funding, announced late last week by the state’s acting attorney general, is New Jersey’s largest ever outlay for community-focused intervention. “This funding will support victims of crime in rebuilding their lives, while also preventing crime through intervention efforts and other community-based solutions,” the governor said in a statement. 

Data Point

$5 billion — the amount of federal funding for community gun violence prevention contained in a sweeping $2 trillion economic, climate, and public health bill passed by the House on Friday.  The legislation now moves to the Senate, where Democrats are expected to make further changes and must maintain a unified caucus for it to become law. [Build Back Better Act text]