News and notes on guns in America

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[Tony Fischer/Flickr]

Daily Bulletin: 20 Republican-led State Legislatures Strengthened Gun Laws in 2018

Good morning, Bulletin readers. In today’s briefing: Numbers show that 2018 was the most productive year in memory for gun safety measures at the state level. And a recommendation by the panel studying the Parkland shooting shows that the fight over the direction of gun laws is far from over.

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State legislatures passed 69 gun violence prevention laws this year, versus nine that relaxed restrictions. The numbers come from an annual report by the gun reform group Giffords, an advance copy of which was provided to The New York Times. “Red flag” laws and curbs on bump stocks were the most popular, as you might imagine, but the surge in new safety measures includes many bills that address everyday shootings: States passed 11 laws aimed at reducing gun access for domestic abusers, and nine addressing urban gun violence.

NEW from The Trace and Mother Jones: Maria Butina admitted to engaging in a conspiracy against the United States The alleged Russian spy said in federal court on December 13 that she acted under the direction of a Russian official, identified as Alexander Torshin, a Kremlin-linked banker and National Rifle Association life member. Butina has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Refresher: Butina made no secret of her friendship with NRA executives, which she documented on her social media channels.

Today is the sixth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting. To honor the lives of the 20 children and six adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 12, 2012, groups gathered for a vigil last week on Capitol Hill. The ceremony drew family members of victims from shootings across the country, including the Charleston church massacre. More than 90 local vigils are planned for this weekend in cities across the country.

After police thwarted a school shooting in Indiana, the teen gunman died by suicide. After receiving a tip that a 14-year-old boy was planning to shoot up a middle school, local law enforcement intervened, exchanging gunfire with him before he killed himself on December 13. No other students were injured in the shooting.

The panel investigating the Parkland shooting is recommending arming teachers. The group voted 13-to-1 on December 12 in favor of training teachers be allowed to carry concealed weapons, saying armed guards or police officers aren’t sufficient for preventing another massacre. The father of a 14-year-old who died in the February attack cast the lone vote against the motion, saying that arming teachers would “create a host of problems.” Related: The incoming Republican governor of Florida staffed a new public safety panel with Parkland parents and survivors. But only one of them supports stricter gun laws.

The Justice Department made a rare prosecution for lying on a gun background check application. A 32-year-old New York resident was given time served after an investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found that he knowingly made a false statement to a licensed dealer when purchasing a gun. The ATF hasn’t usually gone after such offenders. As The Trace has reported, as many as 160,000 people are denied a gun purchase each year because they failed a check, but few are punished for their crime. Earlier this year, the Justice Department said it planned to pursue more “lie-and-try” cases.

Federal law enforcement agencies spent at least $38 million on guns in the past decade, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office. The 20 agencies reviewed by the GAO also spent at least $325 million on ammunition and $1.14 billion on tactical equipment, adding up to $1.5 billion in total between 2010 and 2017. The report also found discrepancies between reported data and publicly available data for some agencies.

Colorado’s outgoing attorney general is establishing a mass tragedy victims fund. Before leaving office, the Republican attorney general of Colorado — a state that’s suffered several major mass shootings — set aside $1 million from consumer fraud settlements to start a fund for victims and survivors of terrorist attacks and gun rampages.

A man shot a sleeping baby while taking a selfie with his gun. Police in Oklahoma say that when the man’s gun discharged, the bullet went through the wall and into the next-door apartment, hitting an infant. The child is expected to survive. No arrests have been made.

A transgender woman was fatally shot by a pastor in Detroit. Prosecutors say they will present evidence that 36-year-old Kelly Stough’s gender identity was a motivating factor in her killing. So far this year, there have been at least 24 transgender people killed nationwide, 18 of whom were killed with a gun. Of the transgender victims who were shot, almost all were people of color.


A fund named for an ER doctor who was fatally shot by her ex-fiancé has raised $40,000 to support gun violence research. After Dr. Tamera O’Neal was killed along with two others at her workplace last month in Chicago, a fundraiser was set up to help her family pay for funeral costs. Within 21 hours, the campaign was fully funded. Organizers decided to put the excess funds toward the Dr. Tamara O’Neal Memorial Research Fund, which will support researching gun violence in relation to intimate partner violence and women of color. “It’s important to do research and to honor a fallen sister, since we’re not going to get funding from the federal government anytime soon,” one of the researchers behind the fund said.

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[Charleston Rifle Club]

Daily Bulletin: South Carolina Gun Club Loses Support After Refusing First Black Member

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Congressional investigators are signaling that they plan to dial up their NRA-Russia investigation as a key figure heads to court today. Proposed state reforms look to stop the cycle of violence and prevent suicides. And a California official is sharing details on how her city uses red flag laws to disarm potential shooters.

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NEW from The Trace and Mother Jones: The House Intelligence Committee will investigate whether Russian money went to NRA to help Trump. The inquiry appears set to ramp up when Democrats take control of the chamber next year. Under the outgoing Republican majority, efforts to get to the bottom of any ties between the National Rifle Association and Russia had been sidelined. Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are also looking into whether Vladimir Putin’s government boosted the 2016 campaign of Donald Trump via the gun group. The NRA has responded that any money from Russians was limited to membership dues. Says a Senate source: “We don’t believe them.” The 30-year-old Russian woman at the center of the intrigue, Maria Butina, is now cooperating with federal investigators. She has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges and is scheduled to appear at a hearing today.

The Parkland shooting commission condemns the local sheriff’s office in a new report. The draft report released Wednesday by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission recommends an internal review of the performance of the seven Broward County sheriff’s deputies who failed to act after they showed up at the school and heard gunshots. The commission also cites deficiencies in school security and recommends an overhaul of safety measures in all Florida districts. The report, a final version of which will go to the state Legislature in January, does not recommend any changes to gun laws.

Legislation in New Jersey would expand services to shooting victims in hospitals. The package introduced in the state Assembly would require certain hospitals in communities with high levels of violence to provide additional services, including mental health counseling, with the aim of breaking the cycle of violence. “Many hospitals see a ‘revolving door’ of gunshot injuries, as patients who have been shot are at a very high risk of being violently re-injured and committing violent acts themselves,” said the lawmaker who introduced the measure.

Pittsburgh leaders want to increase funding for gun violence prevention. The measure introduced in the City Council on Wednesday would put $500,000 toward city’s Group Violence Initiative, which uses a grassroots approach to stopping shootings. The initiative has already shown promise, one council member said. “On the news, all you hear about is the kid that’s been shot. You don’t hear about all the lives we’ve saved.”

A South Carolina gun club has lost support after it refused to accept a black member. Two local organizations have severed ties with the Charleston Rifle Club after the group denied a black man’s application in October. Around the same time that Melvin Brown was rejected, 13 white men were accepted into the group. Brown, a Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan, would have become the club’s first black member.

New York City busts a multi-state gun-trafficking ring. Two gunrunners are facing prison time for bringing guns from states with lax regulations to New York City streets. Between March 2015 and April 2016, one of the men sold 80 weapons to an undercover detective. Both men were convicted on charges of criminal sale of a firearm and conspiracy, prosecutors announced this week. 

A 2-year-old in Missouri shot his brother and himself while looking for snacks. Police say the toddler was hunting for something to eat in his father’s backpack when he found a gun instead. He fired the weapon (as children frequently do), sending a bullet through his own elbow and then into his 7-year-old brother’s head. Both boys were taken to the hospital and are expected to survive.

A 23-year-old man in Vermont killed himself with a gun he bought hours earlier. His mother says the man became upset and walked into a gun shop at 11:02 a.m. By 11:26 a.m., the shop had completed a background check, run his credit card, and handed over a firearm. He was dead by 4 p.m. that afternoon. In his obituary, his family included a plea for new legislation that would create a state waiting period for gun purchases. Lawmakers say they’ve begun to hear from more constituents since the obituary was published.


In San Diego, prosecutors are using gun violence restraining orders to prevent potential tragedies. Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVROs) — also known as red flag laws — allow law enforcement, and sometimes family members and other concerned parties, to petition a judge to remove guns from individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others. Since Parkland, red flag legislation has been enacted in eight states across the country. But passing laws is just a first step. While research on the laws is sparse, available data show that local police departments have been slow to employ the orders.

San Diego is an exception. Back in March, Alex Yablon wrote about the city’s push to issue more GVROs. In an op-ed for CALmatters, San Diego City Attorney Maria W. Elliott shared examples of how her office is putting the law to use. They include:

  • Confiscating seven guns, including three AR-15s, from a man who told his wife he was suicidal, then assaulted his elderly father when he tried to take the guns away. 
  • Restricting gun ownership for a student who killed small animals on campus and posted violent and racist threats on social media, along with images of him shooting an AK-47. 
  • Removing three guns from a man believed to be in the early stages of dementia after he threatened to shoot his wife and a neighbor because he erroneously believed they were having an affair. 
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[AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File]

Daily Bulletin: Chicago Police May Seize 10,000 Crime Guns This Year

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Today we bring you a story from new contributor Casey Parks, who spent months reporting the saga of a Mississippi family that had its faith in firearms shaken by a blast that killed one young brother and sent the other to prison. You can find a link to her feature, co-published with Mississippi Today, below, along with a sweep of the latest developments of note.

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NEW from THE TRACE: He testified against his son, but now blames the gun. The Stringers were a family for whom hunting and shooting were a way of life. Firearms put food on their table. After one of Roger Stringer’s sons was killed by a shot from his other boy’s Remington model 700 rifle, Roger helped the prosecution win a manslaughter verdict. Guns don’t fire themselves, he thought. Except some do. And when Roger Stringer discovered that, he dedicated himself to warning other gun owners, while fighting in court to clear his surviving son’s record and hold Remington accountable for failing to take steps that could have saved lives. Casey Parks has the story. It’s one you won’t soon forget.

Senate Democrats may approve a resolution blocking a “dark money” policy. The resolution would overturn a Treasury Department change that allows donors to political nonprofit groups like the National Rifle Association to remain anonymous. Traditional charities that take tax-exempt funding still have to disclose their financial supporters.

The Capital Gazette staff is honored among Time magazine’s People of the Year. The staff of the Maryland newsroom, where five people were fatally shot in June, were honored alongside four other journalists, whom the magazine is calling “The Guardians.” Paul W. Gillespie, a photographer at The Capital Gazettetweeted that he was “humbled” by the recognition, but added: “How I wish none of it happened and my five @capgaznews family members were still here with us.”

And the conspiracy theories circulated about Parkland survivors were named “lie of the year.” The debunkers at PolitiFact declared the attempts to take down the Parkland students the most significant falsehood of 2018: “In another year of lament about the lack of truth in politics, the attacks against Parkland’s students stand out because of their sheer vitriol.”

Newly released documents reveal details about the Sandy Hook shooter’s mental state. More than 1,000 pages of documents obtained by The Hartford Courant from the Connecticut State Police illustrate the gunman’s increasing isolation, obsessive behavior, and scorn for others in the years leading up to the massacre. The Courant is facing backlash for its decision to publish the documents. “You guys absolutely suck for releasing this now,” tweeted Nelba Márquez-Greene, whose 6-year-old daughter was killed in the attack, the sixth anniversary of which is Friday. The newspaper’s editorial board said it released the trove because “it helps us identify and understand red flags that could be part of a prevention formula for future mass shootings.”

Families of shooting victims are pushing for a safe storage bill in Oregon. A bill in the state Legislature would require gun owners to lock up their guns. Among those advocating for the measure are family members of people killed at the Clackamas Town Center mall shooting six years ago. The gunman used a weapon he stole from a friend’s house, where it was stored unlocked. From The Trace archives: Earlier this year, Brian Freskos wrote about efforts in Oregon to pass a ballot initiative mandating safe storage requirements. “There’s no appetite by some of the legislative leadership to bring gun bills forward unless the gun violence prevention advocates make it so difficult for them they can’t ignore it,” said one man whose brother was killed in the mall shooting.

After the Santa Fe High School shooting, many students never returned. Enrollment in the Texas school district where 10 people were killed in a shooting in May has dropped by more than 4 percent this year. And the former principal at Columbine High School in Colorado said 20 percent of the student body there didn’t return after the 1999 massacre. “We did have students who were given the opportunity by our school district to go to other schools,” he said. “A lot of kids were homeschooled because coming back to the building traumatized them.”

A Tennessee man fatally shot his two dogs. The 31-year-old is facing animal cruelty charges after police say he shot and killed the two pets in his backyard on Sunday. An animal cruelty conviction doesn’t strip a person of the legal right to own a gun. But several states hope to change that, as research suggests animal abusers are more likely to commit violent crimes against people.

A 3-year-old shot his baby sister in a New Mexico motel room. Police say a woman and her boyfriend were in the motel shower in Gallup on Saturday night when the toddler found the gun and unintentionally fired it, shooting the 8-month-old girl in the face. She was taken to the hospital in critical condition.


Chicago police may seize 10,000 guns this year. That’s up from a whopping 7,932 last year, and far more than police collect in more populous New York or Los Angeles. Sharen Cohen, a reporter for the Associated Press, spoke with residents of the city’s Auburn-Gresham neighborhood to document the tolls of the weapons that flood Chicago from states with looser laws. They told her that, with illegal guns so easy to come by, the threat of violence is part of the calculus of everyday life. It determines when they go outside, which streets they walk down, and even whether a ferris wheel operator will rent a ride for a community festival. “I tell people all the time we don’t have post-traumatic stress. We have PRESENT-traumatic stress,” said a local priest. “We’re still in the war.”

Daily Bulletin: Ohio Resident Arrested for Planning Synagogue Massacre

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Nearly 40,000 people were killed by guns in the United States in 2017, bringing the country’s gun death rate to its highest level in more than two decades. Maria Butina, the Russian national accused of befriending top National Rifle Association officials in an effort to push the Kremlin’s agenda in the U.S., is reportedly set to plead guilty today. And two Ohio residents were arrested for planning gun massacres.

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NEW from THE TRACE: The U.S. gun death rate hit a 20-year high in 2017. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s WONDER public health database, 39,773 people died from gunshot wounds last year. That works out to a gun death rate of 12.0 per 100,000 people — higher than the rate of death from car accidents, once the leading cause of fatal injury. The last time the gun death rate reached similar heights was in 1996, according to another CDC database that tracks injuries. Last year’s increase was driven by a steady rise in firearm suicides. Alex Yablon and Daniel Nass have more here.

Maria Butina is going to enter a guilty plea today, court filings suggest. The Russian gun rights activist, who is accused of infiltrating the NRA and other conservative American organizations, is planning to rescind the not-guilty plea she entered upon her arrest in July, according to news reports. It is not yet clear what charges she will plead guilty to.

The FBI says two Ohio residents were planning mass shooting rampages. Authorities say Damon Joseph, 21, spent months plotting a mass shooting at a Toledo-area synagogue on behalf of ISIS. He was arrested on Friday after receiving two AR-15s from an undercover agent. Elizabeth Lecron, 23, was arrested on Monday after the FBI said she bought bomb-making materials. Lecron apparently also told undercover agents she planned to shoot up a Toledo bar, and her social media posts reveal that she idolized the Columbine and Charleston church gunmen.

A prominent NRATV personality lost his show amid downsizing at the digital network. Sources told the Daily Beast that Dan Bongino’s “We Stand,” which launched just last year, won’t be on the schedule in 2019. Bongino, a former Secret Service agent whose divisive program was a favorite of President Trump’s, says the decision not to renew was his, not the network’s. Last month we reported that several staffers at NRATV were laid off following reports of cost-cutting within the organization.

The attorney general of Washington State is angry that a task force omitted firearm restrictions from its list of school safety recommendations. Bob Ferguson said he agreed with the 25 recommendations, which include expanding student mental health services. But he said he’s frustrated that the task force failed to embrace a restriction on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, which “make dangerous individuals more dangerous,” he wrote in a dissent. From The Trace Archives: Experts explain why a ban on high-capacity magazines may be the most effective way to lessen the carnage in mass shootings.

A campaign volunteer was shot in the leg while canvassing for a local politician in Chicago. Maxwell Omowale Justice, 32, was handing out flyers and trying to get signatures in support of a candidate for alderman in the city’s West Englewood neighborhood on Sunday when gunfire erupted. He was livestreaming to Facebook at the time.

Parents are demanding answers after an unannounced active shooter drill sparked panic at a Florida high school. On Thursday morning, an intercom announcement and a phone alert indicated that there was an active shooter on the campus of Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, a suburb of Orlando. Thirty minutes later, teachers were told it was just a drill, but panicked students were in such a rush to flee the campus that some of them were trampled, and worried parents flocked to the school demanding to know if their children were safe.

A Boston woman lost three sons to gun violence in the space of six months. Niva Scott, a mother of five, lost her youngest son, 28, in a drug-related shooting in November. Another son, 34, flew in for his brother’s funeral, only to be fatally shot during a home invasion. Scott’s oldest son, 38, was killed by a stray bullet in March. “If these children really knew, I mean it’s so quick to pull the trigger, and they destroy whole family,” Scott told a local news outlet.


Our profile of a powerful NRA lobbyist is featured among the year’s best nonprofit reporting. The Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), which is comprised of nearly 200 nonprofit newsrooms, released its annual list of “rigorous public service journalism that elevates diverse voices, informs communities, and holds the powerful accountable.” Mike Spies’s February profile of Marion Hammer, one of the 10 stories in the gun violence and criminal justice category, was singled out for its impact: “Days after the story was co-published with the New Yorker, more than 60 Florida Republicans broke with the NRA to pass an unprecedented gun safety package,” INN noted.

U.S. Gun Death Rate Hit 20-Year High in 2017, CDC Data Shows

Nearly 40,000 people were killed by guns in the United States in 2017, according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The total brings the country’s gun death rate to its highest point in more than two decades.

The CDC’s WONDER public health database shows that 39,773 people died from firearms last year. That works out to a gun death rate of 12.0 per 100,000 people — higher than the rate of death from car accidents of 11.5 per 100,000 people, once the leading cause of fatal injury.

The last time the gun death rate reached similar heights was in 1996, according to data from the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS), another CDC database.

The increase in the gun death rate, at least in 2017, was driven by suicides. Sixty percent of gun deaths last year were self-inflicted. While the rate of gun homicides has fluctuated over the last decade, the rate of gun suicides has steadily increased.

The surge in firearm suicide was not spread evenly among states, according to an analysis by the Educational Fund To Stop Gun Violence. Places with higher rates of gun ownership saw the biggest increases in the gun suicide rate. In Kansas, the rate of gun suicides ballooned 65 percent from 2008 to 2017. Vermont, West Virginia, and Missouri all saw their firearm suicide rates increase by nearly 60 percent over that same period.

Eight states had decreases in their gun suicide rates from 2008 to 2017. New York, Nevada, Mississippi, Maryland, Hawaii, Connecticut, California and Alaska each experienced a fall in the firearm suicide rate between 1 and 8 percent over that 10-year period.

The overwhelming majority of Americans who ended their lives with guns last year were white (91 percent) and male (87 percent).

Watchdog Groups File FEC Complaint Over NRA Coordination With Trump Campaign

Following reporting by The Trace, the Campaign Legal Center and Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence filed a complaint on Friday with the Federal Election Commission calling for an investigation into the National Rifle Association’s apparently illegal coordination with the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.

The Trace investigation, which was published in partnership with Mother Jones, reviewed more than 1,000 pages of documents from the FEC and the Federal Communications Commission, and found evidence that the gun group and the Trump campaign employed the same operation — at times, the exact same people — to craft and execute their advertising strategies for the 2016 election. In some cases, the ads placed by Red Eagle Media, a firm hired by the NRA, and American Media & Advocacy Group, a firm hired by the Trump campaign, were mirror images of each other, and slated to run during the same TV shows.

That’s because they were authorized by the same person: Jon Ferrell, the chief financial officer of a major conservative media consulting firm called National Media Research, Planning and Placement, which is closely connected to both Red Eagle Media and American Media & Advocacy Group. In fact, the firms are so intertwined that experts — including a former FEC chair — told The Trace that the arrangement is a glaring violation of campaign finance laws.

The Trace identified a total of four current or former National Media employees who are named in FCC filings as representing both the Trump campaign and the NRA during the final stretch of the 2016 election.

The report prompted Campaign Legal Center, an election watchdog, and Giffords Law Center, the legal arm of Gabby Giffords’s gun reform group, to file the complaint on Friday. “If the same people buying ads for the Trump campaign are also placing the NRA’s pro-Trump ads, then the NRA’s spending is not at all independent,” said Brendan Fischer, director of the federal reform program at Campaign Legal Center, in a statement. The CLC previously filed two FEC complaints against the NRA in the fall after The Trace reported that the gun group appeared to be funneling much of its 2018 election spending through a possible shell company that’s identical to a firm used by GOP Senate candidates.

“The NRA and Trump campaign might claim that their media buyers established firewalls,” Fischer said, referring to the agreements campaign vendors employ to comply with laws against sharing information. “But it is impossible for an employee to create a firewall in his or her brain.”

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[Tim Boyle/Bloomberg]

Daily Bulletin: People Wildly Overestimate How Many Americans Own Guns

Good morning, Bulletin readers. What’s your best guess for how many Americans own guns? As a regular Trace reader, you might be at an advantage, but if your answer is off, you won’t be alone, as new research shows. Details on that study and more in your Monday news roundup.

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People vastly overestimate how many gun owners there are in the United States, a new study finds. Two political scientists at the University of Kansas analyzed survey results that asked adults to make a “best guess” about the percentage of Americans that own guns. A full three quarters of respondents overestimated in their answers, with the most common guess being 50 percent. The government is barred from keeping count of gun owners, but academic research pegs the rate at less than 25 percent. According to the Kansas researchers, overestimating the number of gun owners can affect people’s political actions: If gun owners perceive themselves to be a larger share of the population, they may be “empowered” to more aggressively advocate for gun-rights policies.

This has been the worst year on record for gun violence in American schools. That’s according to data collected by the Naval Postgraduate School, which has built a record of gun violence in schools since 1970. Its data includes any incident in which a firearm is brandished or fired for any reason, even if it doesn’t result in casualties. So far this year, there have been 94 such incidents. The previous high was 59, set in 2006.

The Air Force missed at least four opportunities to put the Sutherland Springs shooter on a “do not buy” list. Though the military had already admitted that it did not submit former serviceman Devin Kelley’s court-martial conviction for domestic assault to the FBI, a damning new report from the Pentagon’s inspector general reveals the full extent of its failure. Had that information been submitted to the databases swept during a background check, it should have prevented him from buying the weapons he used to kill 26 people at a church in Texas.

At least two Florida residents received gun permits they didn’t even apply for, according to an audit of the state’s licensing authority. In today’s second example of a government audit revealing a problem to be even worse than we knew, the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has released a report on the extent of the breakdown in its system for granting concealed-carry permits. The Democrat elected to take over the department last month has promised a further analysis of the permit-issuing process.

A Virginia deer hunter was accidentally killed when his partner’s gun mistakenly went off. Investigators believe something got caught in the second man’s trigger guard as he carried the gun on his shoulder. The victim was 69. Meanwhile: On Saturday, a 19-year-old in New Jersey was clearing his gun’s chamber when the weapon went off, killing his 15-year-old friend who was standing in front of him. The shooter initially fled but later turned himself in to police. He faces involuntary manslaughter charges.


“I am the ‘good guy with a gun.’ I’m just like you.” The New York Times asked black gun owners to share their experiences of carrying a weapon in America after the Thanksgiving night shooting of a black man in an Alabama mall by police, who mistakenly believed he was the assailant. The gun owners who responded to the paper’s call describe the pervasive skepticism they face from all corners — whether they are confronted by a fellow liberal, a police officer at a traffic stop, or another member of the gun community.

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[The New York Times]

Daily Bulletin: The U.S. Murder Rate Is On Pace For a Notable Decrease This Year

Happy Friday, Bulletin readers. To report his latest investigation into the National Rifle Association, Mike Spies dug through more than 1,000 FCC and FEC documents. The story those records reveal leads your end-of-week briefing.

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NEW from THE TRACE: Documents point to illegal campaign coordination between the Trump campaign and the NRA. Trump’s campaign and the gun group employed the same operation — at times, even the exact same people — to craft and execute their television advertising blitzes at the height of the 2016 presidential election. Experts say the apparent coordination is the most glaring they’ve ever seen. “This is very strong evidence, if not proof, of illegal coordination,” a former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission said when presented with Mike Spies’s reporting. Read the story here.

Newly empowered House Democrats are targeting a rule allowing guns in the Capitol. A decades-old Capitol Hill regulation allows members of Congress to keep guns in their office and carry them around the grounds. Now House Democrats want to do away with it. “Our political climate is too volatile,” said Representative Jared Huffman of California, who is spearheading the effort.

The mayor of Pittsburgh is urging other mayors to adopt local gun ordinances. Five weeks after a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, Mayor Bill Peduto emailed dozens of his counterparts across the country and urged them to introduce local gun legislation — even if it attracts lawsuits from gun rights groups. Days after the attack, Pittsburgh leaders vowed to pass local gun laws despite NRA-backed state pre-emption statutes.

Ohio lawmakers removed the “stand your ground” provision from a self-defense bill. The measure, which in previous versions would have eliminated the “duty to retreat” in self-defense shootings, now focuses on shifting the burden of proof in such cases to the prosecution. Democrats unsuccessfully tried to add a “red flag” provision to the measure, which will now move through the state House. From The Trace archives: When Florida added similar terms to its self-defense law last year, a law professor told us she feared the shift would lead to more bloodshed: “It’s essentially stacking the deck repeatedly in favor of people shooting other people.”

The family of a school shooting survivor is suing the shooter’s parents. The lawsuit filed last month alleges that the couple failed to properly store the weapon used by their 13-year-old son to shoot Ella Whistler seven times at Noblesville West Middle School in Indiana in May. According to the lawsuit, the eighth-grader still has multiple bullets lodged in her body and will almost certainly never recover fully.

The group behind Washington State’s successful gun initiative is looking ahead to 2019. Following the passage of gun control legislation I-1639, which created new requirements for safe gun storage and age limits for purchasing assault-style rifles, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility is hoping to expand on its success in the coming year. The advocacy group’s 2019 legislative agenda includes limiting open carry, restricting access to high-capacity magazines, and expanding extreme risk protection orders to include “hate-based threats.”

The NRA removed an image of “The Bean” from one of its ads, following a copyright infringement lawsuit from the artist Anish Kapoor earlier this year. “I am disgusted to see my work — in truth the sculpture of the people of Chicago — used by the NRA to promote their vile message,” he said.

A man who escaped from prison was shot by an armed homeowner. After escaping from a South Carolina prison on Tuesday, the man kicked in the door of a nearby home where a woman was sleeping alone. When she woke up, police say, the woman shot the escaped felon once in the head, killing him. The sheriff, Rick Clark, said he told the woman he was “proud” of her: “This is the shining example of what this lady did, took the time to get her [concealed weapons permit] and set herself up to be able to protect herself and not be harmed, killed or raped or whatever.”


The U.S. murder rate is on pace for a notable decrease this year, based on preliminary homicide data from a set of large cities. Numbers from the sample cities show the murder rate down about 7 percent on average in 2018 compared to this time last year, when the homicide rate held steady after a large jump from 2014 to 2016. From that city-level data, crime analyst Jeff Asher projects murders to fall about 4.5 percent nationally, which would be the largest single-year drop in five years. What’s behind the drop? No one is sure, but theories include better crime-fighting technology, more community intervention —and even colder weather.

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Daily Bulletin: Newly Empowered House Democrats Will Push for Universal Background Checks in 2019

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.

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Daily Bulletin: Black Alabama Gun Owner Was Shot Three Times From Behind By Cop

Good morning, Bulletin readers. In today’s roundup: Calls for comity in the gun debate from a corporate suite and a Republican legislative office, a gun scare at a North Carolina school, and an FYI from the feds to gun dealers and law enforcement on the forthcoming rule change on bump stocks.

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Police arrested an armed man in a school cafeteria. Police are trying to figure out how the man was able to enter a North Carolina high school on Monday with a backpack filled with bullets and two handguns, which he pointed at officers before he was detained.

Law enforcement agencies and gun shops are getting a heads up on the bump stock ban. A Minnesota TV news team obtained a copy of a memo circulated by the Department of Justice laying out new details about an upcoming reclassification of devices that allow semiautomatic weapons to approximate machine guns. According to the memo, anyone with a bump stock will be required to discard, destroy, or surrender it within 90 days of the rule going into effect.

Five dozen Dick’s Sporting Goods employees resigned over its post-Parkland limits on gun sales. The departures were among a total workforce in the tens of thousands. Ed Stack, the company’s CEO, offered a window into the internal fallout during a Wall Street Journal panel. Stack said he would be willing to hire back an ex-worker who quit in protest, then went on Fox News to talk about it. “It’s OK to have differing views, as long as you can have a rational, cerebral conversation about it,” he said.

The black man killed by police at a mall in Thanksgiving was shot three times in the back, according to an independent autopsy report released Monday. Emantic “E.J.” Bradford, 21, was a gun owner who witnesses say was steering people away from the scene of the shooting. “We believe based on this forensic evidence that this officer should be charged with a crime,” a lawyer representing Bradford’s family said.

A gun-owning Republican legislator will push for a red flag law in Tennessee. Steve Dickerson is a state senator from West Nashville. “As a lifelong Republican, gun owner and avid shooter, I respect and know the importance of the Second Amendment. I also know reducing gun violence in Tennessee will require leadership from people with a variety of backgrounds,” he wrote in an op-ed explaining his intentions.

Gun sales were down in November. The FBI’s background check figures, considered a simple proxy for gun sales, show a dip last month. November’s checks fell by 9.8 percent compared to last year, when Black Friday gun sales set an all-time record. This year, gun sales on the day after Thanksgiving fell by more than 10 percent. 

An NRA instructor in Ohio was arrested for forging concealed carry training certificates. Police say the man issued the documents without actually providing training. Ohio requires gun owners to demonstrate their shooting ability before they can carry a firearm in public. Dozens of other states don’t: As The Trace reported in 2016, in more than half the country, you can carry a concealed gun without proving you know how to shoot one.

A domestic shooting spilled into the entrance of a Kansas hospital. After firing on a man and a woman, police say the gunman chased the victims through Kansas City, Kansas, and into the entrance of the University of Kansas Medical Center, where he shot the man again. He then shot and killed himself. The attack appears to have stemmed from a domestic dispute. Both victims were treated at the hospital. The man was in critical condition, while the woman was expected to survive.


The club no parent wants to join keeps growing. Hundreds of grieving parents across America sent a child to school one day and never saw her or him again because of a bullet. Some of them have formed a bond, and their efforts to comfort each other are the subject of a Time magazine cover story.

“When you lose a child violently and publicly, there’s an outpouring of support at first,” says Sandy Phillips, who lost her daughter Jessi in the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. She says the support of other parents who have had similar experiences can be especially helpful after the attention fades. “Once the vigils are over and the media is gone, that’s when things get really bad. The world moves on, and you don’t.”

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Daily Bulletin: Another City Wants to Do Business Only With ‘Socially Responsible’ Gun Companies

Good morning, Bulletin readers. In today’s roundup: Mike Spies catches wind of a shakeup in the National Rifle Association’s executive ranks as the group pursues cost cuts. Alex Yablon flags court documents showing that a retailer’s age limits for gun shoppers withstood a court challenge. And I’ve got the sweep of other news of note.

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NEW from THE TRACE: The NRA official who has been presiding over budget cuts within the organization has been removed from his post. Josh Powell, the gun group’s executive director of general operations, was “promoted” to a senior strategy role, according to an internal email obtained by The Trace’s Mike Spies. Prior to joining the NRA in 2016, Powell’s career had been marked by business failures and defaulted debts, as Mike and special correspondent John Cook laid out in an investigation this fall. His reassignment comes less than a week after Mike and John reported that the NRA reimbursed Powell for more than $100,000 in personal expenses last year even as it ran a second consecutive eight-figure deficit. Separate reporting by The Wall Street Journal showed that Powell extended the contract of a fund-raising consultant who had recently hired Powell’s wife, part of a pattern of lucrative deals to firms with ties to NRA insiders. Read more about this latest development.

A lawsuit challenging Dick’s Sporting Goods’ age limit for gun purchases has fizzled. Tyler Watson, 20, sued the Dick’s for age discrimination in March after he was denied a gun sale at the retailer, which raised the minimum gun-buying age to 21 following the Parkland massacre. According to state court records, Watson and Dick’s reached a settlement (the terms of which were not revealed), prompting the judge to dismiss the case. Alex Yablon has the story.

Meanwhile, Dick’s may get out of the hunting business. CEO Edward Stack said the company has already removed all hunting gear from 10 of its stores, and that the response so far has been positive. The announcement comes after executives reported a sales dip following its post-Parkland decision to stop selling assault-style rifles and to raise the minimum gun-buying age in its stores.

Five weeks after a shooting that killed 11 people, Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue marked the start of Hanukkah. About 500 people gathered at the synagogue in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Saturday night to mark the start of the eight-day holiday. “We are practicing our Jewish faith publicly and proudly,” said Stephen Cohen, co-president of New Light, one of the congregations that share the space.

A new Florida official vowed to audit the state’s troubled gun licensing program. Nikki Fried, the incoming agriculture commissioner, appeared on local Sunday news shows and said she’s already spoken with agency employees about ways to rectify lapses in the background check review process. Her remarks come as the NRA’s powerful Florida lobbyist wants the agency moved under the purview of a more NRA-friendly official.

An Arizona city will decide whether to join the nascent movement to pressure the gun industry through the power of the municipal purse. The Tucson City Council will consider a proposal today that would compel gun dealers to fill out a six-question survey in order to get lucrative city contracts. In October, the mayor of Toledo, Ohio, said his city — which spends $150,000 a year on police guns — will purchase firearms and ammunition only from “responsible” gun companies.

A high school in Southern California staged an active shooter drill to arrest four students suspected of off-campus crimes. Officials at Montgomery High School in San Diego carried out the ruse on Halloween, a local outlet reports. A drill was originally scheduled for mid-November but moved up at the request of police. A juvenile justice advocate argued that the students should have been arrested at home.

A man in Arizona was mistaken for a burglar and shot after trying to enter the wrong apartment. Police said the man was extremely intoxicated when he tried to enter his neighbor’s apartment in Chandler early Sunday. His injuries are not life-threatening. As The Trace has reported, American gun owners have fired at friends, family members, and emergency responders they mistook for intruders at least 47 times in the last three years.

A 2-year-old boy shot his mother in the back in Louisiana. A 23-year-old woman in Shreveport was seriously injured on Saturday when her 2-year-old found an unsecured handgun in her bedroom and shot her with it. Police urged residents to secure their guns away from children.

A gun case before the Supreme Court could have implications for a defendant in the Trump investigation. SCOTUS on Thursday is scheduled to take up Gamble v. United States, in which an Alabama felon argues that his prosecution by both state and federal attorneys on the same gun possession charge violates constitutional protections against double jeopardy. Experts say the outcome of the case could determine whether state prosecutors can pursue Paul Manafort for tax evasion should the president pardon his former campaign chairman.


Since we profiled her in 2016, a young Chicago anti-gun-violence activist has lost nine more loved ones to shootings. Camiella Williams, 31, is a community organizer at a nonprofit in Chicago who spends her days de-escalating street conflicts and fundraising for trauma counseling for gun violence survivors. She saw her first shooting when she was 10, bought her first gun when she was 11, and dealt some pot as a high schooler. But the shootings of two young girls in her neighborhood when she was pregnant with her first child convinced her that she had to change. To date, she’s lost 33 close friends and relatives to gun violence, she told People last week. When Trace contributor Maya Dukmasova profiled her in 2016, she had already lost two dozen.

Dick’s Settles Court Fight Over Age Limits for Guns

A 20-year-old man named Tyler Watson, who alleged age discrimination after he was denied a gun sale by Dick’s Sporting Goods, has settled his case against the retailer in Oregon’s Jackson County Circuit Court. According to state court records, a judge dismissed the case following the settlement.

Dick’s was one of the first companies to reform its gun policies after the February mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. The gunman, a 19-year-old former student, legally purchased the AR-15 rifle he used in the attack from a gun store. Two weeks after the shooting, Dick’s announced that it would no longer sell any guns to buyers under the age of 21. It also took all military-style semiautomatic rifles off the shelves of its Field & Stream-branded stores. Walmart later adopted a similar age restriction.

The policy provoked immediate backlash. The National Rifle Association said that Dick’s was on a “campaign to alienate gun owners,” a move which it called “irrational.”

The new age restrictions went above and beyond federal law, which allows the sale of long guns to customers over the age of 18 (and the sale of handguns to customers over 21). Some states, including Florida, Hawaii, and Illinois, further limit sales by banning dealers from transferring any guns to people under 21.

In February, Watson attempted to purchase a gun at a Dick’s Field & Stream store in Medford, Oregon. A week later, he tried again at a Walmart. Both outlets denied the sales. Watson quickly filed lawsuits against the retailers, alleging discrimination under a state law that prohibits businesses from imposing their own restrictions on customers based on age, sex, or race. Conservative legal commentator Eugene Volokh of and UCLA wrote that Watson had a strong case, describing the suit as “open and shut for the plaintiff and against Dick’s.”

It’s not clear why Watson settled his legal challenge. Amy Joseph Pedersen, a Portland-based attorney representing Dick’s, declined to comment. Watson’s counsel, Max Whittington, did not respond to repeated emails and phone calls. The court does not have any record of the settlement’s details. Volokh said that makes it difficult to draw conclusions about what the settlement means for the underlying legal issues. “People settle all the time, even when they want to fight. Sometimes for personal reasons,” Volokh said in a phone interview. But “the substance of the suit could still be very strong.”

Nonetheless, it does not appear the settlement resulted in a change to Dick’s policy. Employees at four Dick’s Field & Stream stores across the country, including the one in Medford, said that the age restriction is still in place. Dick’s did not respond to repeated calls and emails to its headquarters.

Watson’s case against Walmart is ongoing, and is scheduled to go to trial in January. By that time, he will have turned 21 and will be able to buy guns at both stores. While the injunctive relief Watson seeks would be moot, he could still pursue damages for a violation of his rights in 2018.