Rounds

News and notes on guns in America

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People wait in a line to enter the gun store in Culver City, Calif. Sunday, March 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Daily Bulletin: Pandemic Gun Purchasers at a Heightened Risk for Suicide

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NEW from THE TRACE: Biden’s options for presidential action on gun violence. With control of the Senate hinging on the double-feature runoff in Georgia and Democrats positioned for a slim majority at best, party officials and advocates — as well as a collection of 85 gun reform organizations — are pressing the incoming Biden-Harris administration to take swift executive branch actions to curb gun violence. As my colleague Chip Brownlee breaks down, Biden, as president,  would have significant power to direct agencies, launch rule-making processes, and appoint leadership around the agenda of strengthening gun restrictions and increasing resources for reducing shootings. Among the possibilities: cracking down on untraceable “ghost guns,” creating an interagency task force, banning the importation of assault weapons, and restructuring the ATF to enforce existing gun laws. You can read Chip’s explainer — which doubles as a scorecard for tracking Biden’s campaign promises on guns — here.

Pandemic gun purchasers are more likely to have had suicidal thoughts. Researchers at Rutgers found that 69 percent of people who bought firearms amid this year’s historic gun sales surge had thought about ending their life, compared to 38 percent for non-gun owners and 37 percent for gun owners who didn’t purchase during the coronavirus crisis. “People who were motivated to purchase firearms during COVID-19 might have been driven by anxiety that leaves them vulnerable to suicidal ideation,” said Mike Anestis, the director of the university’s New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center. The findings appear in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Related: The New York Times is the latest to report on how some gun rights organizations and public health experts have set aside other differences to work together on suicide prevention, an alliance we’ve covered here and here. “We’re not going to crack this nut if we isolate gun owners from the conversation,” one gun reform advocate and military veteran told the paper. Prevalence and patterns: The majority of gun deaths in the United States — about 60 percent — are suicides, and gun suicide rates are highest in states with the largest percentage of firearm ownership. [If you are having thoughts of suicide, help is available 24 hours a day: Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.]

Missouri parents who lost their son to gun violence won $4 million in damages. Alvino and Beverly Crawford secured the judgment against James Samuels, a former Kansas City firefighter who pleaded guilty to trafficking the handgun used to kill the couple’s 29-year-old son, Dwight, in 2016. The parents also sued the handgun’s manufacturer, Jimenez Arms, alleging it illegally supplied Samuels with dozens of weapons, shipping some directly to his house even though he lacked a license to deal in firearms. The action against Jimenez Arms is on hold because the company has filed for bankruptcy, staying pending legal claims against it. In August, in partnership with The Daily Beast, The Trace found that Jimenez Arms was the latest in a long string of cheap handgun manufacturers to use bankruptcy and other legal maneuvers to duck litigation and regulatory scrutiny. — Brian Freskos, staff writer

“A mass shooting that was narrowly averted.” In a court filing, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner argued against bail relief for one of two Virginia men arrested last week on gun charges outside a vote-counting facility in the city. A judge agreed, and is set to hear a motion for the other man’s bail request this Friday. Online evidence suggests the two were influenced by the QAnon conspiracy theory and held other far-right views. Prosecutors allege that the men intended to violently stop the counting of mail ballots that favored president-elect Biden. Lawyers for the accused say they were unfairly targeted for their political views.

How one city is solving more non-fatal shootings. In 2019, Denver police solved just 39 percent of shootings in which the victim survived. So early this year, the department spun off a specialized detective unit that exclusively works nonfatal shootings. Police say the results are promising: After seven months, the new unit has solved 65 percent of cases. “I was hoping for some modest improvement, I just didn’t expect it to be as effective as it’s shown so far,” Police Chief Paul Pazen told The Denver Post. The bigger picture: When law enforcement does not provide justice to shooting victims and their families, it can fuel cycles of retaliatory violence. But in recent years, police departments across the country have increasingly failed to solve both gun homicides and nonfatal shootings, especially when the victim is Black or Hispanic.

DATA POINT

$8 million — the settlement Baltimore is expected to pay to two men who served time in federal prison after members of a Gun Trace Task Force were found to have planted drugs on them in 2010. It’s one of the largest payouts in city history — eclipsing that paid to the family of Freddie Gray in 2015 — and is in addition to the $7 million paid out in 18 different cases related to the infamous gun unit. [The Washington Post]

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Mourners visit the makeshift memorial near the Walmart where 23 people were killed by a gunman last year who allegedly targeted Latinx people. [AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio]

Daily Bulletin: An Alarming Rise in Hate Crimes

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2019 was the deadliest year for hate crimes since the FBI began tracking them. Fifty-one people were killed in bias-motivated attacks last year, according to the bureau’s annual hate crime statistics, more than double the previous high in 2018. Twenty-two of the fatalities came in the August 2019 mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart, where the perpetrator targeted people of Mexican descent. Overall, there were 7,314 reported hate crimes last year, the highest annual total in more than a decade. Caveats: The data — which the FBI has kept since the early 1990s — relies on voluntary reporting by police agencies across the country, and this year the number of departments submitting hate crime data decreased slightly — to about 2,220 agencies out of nearly 15,000. The voluntary reporting system has drawn repeated criticism from crime analysts and civil rights groups. “The total severity of the impact and damage caused by hate crimes cannot be fully measured without complete participation in the FBI’s data collection process,” said Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

Remote learning hasn’t ended active shooter drills. At least 40 states are requiring schools to hold them — even if they’ve moved classes online, The Verge reports. Why? Experts cited legal liability for not continuing training as well as a profit motive for a school security industry worth nearly $3 billion. Students have described the virtual drills in the age of COVID-19 in a number of ways: “Boring,” “awkward,” “nerve-wracking,” and “melancholic.” In August, the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidance saying schools should stop holding realistic active shooter drills that can unnecessarily traumatize children. “Even when people are no longer in schools, we’re still training them to expect school shootings,” said one gun violence researcher.

Facebook didn’t enforce its own call-to-arms policies ahead of the Kenosha shootings: report. Before a 17-year-old shot and killed two protesters in the Wisconsin city in August, a Facebook militia event group called on people to bring weapons to the city. The social media giant later admitted the group was in violation of a policy meant to curb far-right event organizing. But BuzzFeed News reports that Facebook also failed to alert content moderators about another internal policy that barred event pages from encouraging people to bring weapons for the purposes of intimidation or harassment.

Third juror in the Breonna Taylor case speaks out. “I felt like there should’ve been more charges,” she told the Associated Press in her first public interview after two other jurors came forward to dispute the handling of the investigation by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron. In September, a grand jury announced that none of the three responding officers would be indicted for Taylor’s killing during a March raid. (A former officer was charged with first-degree wanton endangerment — for recklessly shooting into neighboring apartments.) The jurors have said prosecutors told them not to consider additional charges in the case because Taylor’s killing was justified as self defense.

A notorious shooting in Vallejo, California, over the summer is part of a long history of police killings in the city. Officers fatally shot Sean Monterrosa, 22, in June after reports that he looted a store and shot at the police. It turned out he was only holding a hammer. A deep-dive in The New Yorker explores the ins and outs of policing in the city of 122,000 where officers have killed 19 people since 2010, a higher rate than any of the country’s largest police agencies outside of St. Louis. It’s part of a trend of a rise in killings by the police in smaller cities across the country, which reporter Shane Bauer attributes in part to the power of local police unions.

DATA POINT

25 percent — how much the state of Illinois could reduce its prison population over the next five years without seeing an attendant rise in crime, according to a new report estimating long-term crime trends alongside criminal justice reforms. [Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation]

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A gun store owner in St. Louis Park, Minnesota in April. [Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via Getty Images]

Daily Bulletin: Support for Stricter Gun Laws Hits Record Low Among Republicans, Gallup Poll Finds

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Support dips for tighter gun laws, but still finds majority approval. Fifty-seven percent of Americans support more restrictions on firearms — down 7 points from last year and the lowest level measured by Gallup pollsters since 2016. Thirty-four percent of respondents want to maintain the status quo, and 9 percent want gun laws to be less strict. Record low support among Republicans (22 percent, down 14 points from last year) helped fuel the overall decline in backing for stronger firearm restrictions. The survey results indicated that the constituency for further relaxing gun laws, however, remains small: Only 16 percent of GOP respondents and 17 percent of gun owners said firearm laws should be less strict.

Trump rallies in Washington D.C. were marked by tension, street brawls, and recovered guns. The Saturday demonstrations in the city’s downtown drew an estimated 10,000 people, many seeking to amplify the president’s false claims of election fraud. (Another common refrain: Hardline gun rights. Some marchers carried signs reading “Come and Take It” and chanted pro-gun slogans.) The attendees — many unmasked — included members of right-wing militia groups like the Oathkeepers and hate groups like the Proud Boys, Patriot Front, and American Guard. A heavy police presence helped to stave off daytime clashes between the rallygoers and a smaller contingent of anti-racism and anti-fascist counter demonstrators. But as darkness set in, some violent confrontations broke out; one person was stabbed, according to the police. Of the 21 people arrested, five were charged with gun offenses and police recovered at least eight firearms, The Washington Post reported—Champe Barton, reporter

Lawyer claiming to represent NRA members asks judge to pause NY AG’s case, bounce gun group’s outside counsel. In a November 11 letter to a New York state judge, Alabama attorney George C. Douglas argued that Attorney General Letitia James of New York is legally obligated to notify National Rifle Association members of her lawsuit seeking to dissolve the gun group before the case can proceed. Douglas also wants NRA lawyer Bill Brewer dismissed from the case because of an array of alleged conflicts, including Brewer’s representation of NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre and the NRA itself in other litigation. Should the court mandate notification of NRA members, Douglas writes, “It is reasonably likely that many NRA members would seek disqualification of the Brewer firm and an order directing the NRA to retain independent counsel in this action before it proceeds.” Douglas’ letter got Judge Joel Cohen’s attention: He has ordered the parties to respond in writing by November 19. — Will Van Sant, staff writer

ICYMI: Ending cycles of violence, with toothpaste and socks. The Trace’s J. Brian Charles profiles David Ross, a licensed social worker in Baltimore at the University of Maryland’s Medical Center Violence Intervention Program. In the VIP model, after shooting victims leave a trauma unit, programs like Ross’s tend to their emotional and social healing, trying to prevent them from falling back into circumstances that could lead to them getting shot again. To encourage survivors to follow through with counseling, Ross and his colleagues eagerly field and fulfill requests for even more basic needs, like toiletries, transit fare, or warm clothes to get through the winter. Says Ross: “It’s a recipe for continuing a meaningful relationship, and that is going to have an impact on… mitigating violence.”

“There’s no war going on, but if you count up the body count… you might think there was.” In a new series, The St. Louis-Dispatch partnered with the Missouri Gun Violence Project to examine dimensions of gun violence in the city, where homicides are on pace to break an annual record. Concentrated violence and deadlier weapons: The paper shines a light on the 20 St. Louis neighborhoods that make up a quarter of homicides in the entire state, despite being home to just 1.5 percent of the population. Separately, gun violence researchers and the police say the growing prevalence of crime guns with large-capacity magazines has made shootings deadlier. Read on: Articles in the series also look at how the twin fires of gun violence and a pandemic are straining the public health system, and promising but underfunded community-led violence interruption models.

DATA POINT

The New York Police Department reduced or rejected recommendations for disciplining officers in 71 percent of 6,900 serious misconduct charges during the last two decades. [The New York Times]

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The White House, nearby Freedom Plaza where protests are expected. [AP Photo/Andrew Harnik]

Daily Bulletin: Washington Girds for Far-Right Protesters

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Pro-Trump rallies in D.C. expected to draw far-right extremists. Fringe personalities, conspiracy theorists, and hate group leaders have promoted the demonstrations — variously billed as “Stop the Steal,” “Million MAGA March,” or “March for Trump” — that are scheduled to kick off in the capital city this Saturday morning. InfoWars host Alex Jones and the leader of the neo-fascist Proud Boys have said they’ll attend; the Southern Poverty Law Center expects militia members and white supremacists to be on hand as well. Anti-fascist and anti-racist groups are planning counter demonstrations nearby. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser warned protesters to leave their guns at home: Open carry is prohibited in the District.

A militia backlash to Virginia’s gun reforms. As Democrats claimed control of the state’s government last year, more than 90 counties passed Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions opposing new gun reforms. The legally unenforceable resolutions did not deter legislators from passing a historic slate of reforms, but as a new CBS documentary explores, the gun rights backlash has fueled expanded militia activity. “Gun Fight” profiles members of one local militia that even gained symbolic recognition from the county government. “[The Second Amendment] is not about hunting. It’s not about self-defense. It’s about shooting tyrants in the face,” said the group’s leader. What’s in a name? As legal experts have pointed out, militias have no authority to operate as law enforcement without explicit state authorization. All 50 states have laws restricting paramilitary activity.

Veterans continue to face elevated suicide risks, latest federal numbers show. More than 6,400 former servicemembers died by suicide in 2018, according to an annual Veterans Administraion report that releases data on a two-year lag. That was three dozen more than in 2017. The rate of suicide among veterans is 1.5 times higher than the general population, and firearms continue to be the most common means — close to 70 percent compared to just under half for the population at large. A bright spot: Suicide rates decreased for veterans who had recently used VA health services. A third rail: In April, the VA released a suicide prevention toolkit — developed in partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Shooting Sports Foundation — to help communities promote safe gun storage, an effort the report references. But a federal bill passed last month to combat veteran suicide omitted a requirement for VA clinicians to counsel patients about gun access after Republicans objected. [If you or someone you know if struggling with mental health, help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Crisis Text Line, and the Veterans Crisis Line.]

More protesters sue Austin, Texas, over police use of “less lethal” rounds. In a pair of federal lawsuits, two men are seeking damages for injuries they sustained when police officers allegedly shot them with beanbag rounds during demonstrations against police violence this summer. At least two other people have sued the city over protest-related incidents. Warnings unheeded: Experts told us in June that less lethal weapons can still kill and were likely to escalate conflict. Blasted by critics, the Austin PD restocked. The city’s police chief vowed to the City Council that his department would never use the rounds again. But in partnership with public radio station KUT, our Alain Stephens unearthed a purchase contract showing that police went on to order thousands more of them.

The new LA County District Attorney pledged to hold officers accountable. That pledge may soon get its first test. Over the summer, sheriff’s deputies in Gardena, California, shot Andres Guardado in the back five times following a chase, according to the coroner’s autopsy. The shooting sparked days of protests and was the kind of incident progressive reformer George Gascón has vowed to prioritize as the county’s chief prosecutor. This week, the local medical examiner called for an independent review of the case, the results of which could factor into Gascón’s decision on whether to charge the two officers.

DATA POINT

Since Election Day, 16 out of 20 of the top-performing Facebook posts with the word “election” have featured misinformation casting doubt on the results in favor of the president. [The Guardian]

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Acting U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn Seth D. DuCharme, who is involved the case, speaks during a press conference. [Photo by Lev Radin/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Image]

Daily Bulletin: Man Arrested Over Threat to Shoot Biden Supporters

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Another alleged threat of political violence against Democrats. A New York man with a cache of firearms was arrested at his home on Tuesday and charged with making numerous violent comments on social media. Following the election, he allegedly said Democrats celebrating Biden’s win should be shot and that he would blow up an FBI building. Federal prosecutors say the man believed that the election results were fraudulent and that he harbored anti-Semitic, far-right, and pro-militia beliefs. “The Department of Justice will not stand idly by when people like the defendant allegedly threaten to kill elected officials, lawful protesters, and law enforcement simply because of animus towards the outcome of an election,” the acting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn said. Context: In recent weeks, prosecutors have charged several people for threatening to kill politicians or federal officials, including President-elect Joe Biden and a federal judge.

Feds ask judge to protect informants who helped stop alleged plot to kidnap Michigan governor. Informants and undercover agents were critical in building the federal case against six men who planned to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat. Now, prosecutors are worried that the identities of the witnesses might get leaked without an order shielding evidence in the case. “Such premature identification might reasonably be expected to lead to witness tampering, intimidation and/or retaliation,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler wrote in a court filing. Eight other people with alleged ties to a militia are facing separate state terrorism charges.

With more than a month left in 2020, big cities are already breaking annual violence records. Even as most categories of crime have fallen since the pandemic, violent crime has exacted a heavy toll on many of the country’s largest cities. This week, a homicide in Milwaukee brought the total there to 169 — breaking the previous all-time record from 1991. Nonfatal shootings are also up 74 percent this year and at their highest level in at least 10 years. A few other cities have already reached similar milestones: Indianapolis broke its own homicide record nearly four weeks ago, as did Kansas City, Missouri.

Florida eyes Stand Your Ground expansion. Critics worry it would encourage vigilantism. The changes to the state self-defense statute are part of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ proposed “anti-mob” legislation that includes increased penalties for people involved in “violent or disorderly assemblies” and cuts state funding for localities that slash police budgets. Stand Your Ground laws eliminate a duty to retreat before someone uses fatal force if they claim self-defense. DeSantis’ proposal would add categories of felonies that would justify fatal force, including “interruption or impairment” of a business and looting. “It allows for vigilantes to justify their actions,” a former state prosecutor told The Miami Herald. “It also allows for death to be the punishment for a property crime.”

DATA POINT

520 — the number of complaints the Chicago Police Department received between May 29 and October 31 for the conduct of officers against demonstrators at racial justice protests. The complaints — so numerous that the civilian police oversight board created a special unit to process them — have led to eight officers being fired so far. [Block Club Chicago]

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Protester holds up a sign saying "Stop The Steal" during a pro-Trump demonstration. [Photo by Ty O'Neil / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images]

Daily Bulletin: Election Misinformation Spreads to a Forgiving New Home

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Peddlers of election fraud myths evade Facebook bans as some flock to a more lenient online home. Last week, the social media giant barred the fast-growing “Stop the Steal” group for working to delegitimize election results and posting violent threats. The slogan has continued to crop up at pro-Trump protests, many of them drawing armed demonstrators. The Washington Post reports that “Stop the Steal”-affiliated groups are evading the platform’s ban by tweaking their names — one calls itself “Nationwide Recount 2020.” Election misinformation is also increasingly migrating to Parler, a social media app that’s become a haven for conservatives and the far right because of few content regulations. According to the Post, Parler now boasts 7.6 million user accounts — compared to 4.5 million last week.

The NRA bet big on Thom Tillis in North Carolina. He just won re-election. Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham conceded in the closely watched Senate race, guaranteeing that party control of the chamber will hinge on two run-off races in Georgia in January. As we reported, gun rights and gun reform groups spent more on the North Carolina matchup than any other Congressional race this cycle (close to $6 million). It was the only race outside the presidential contest where the NRA spent more than $1 million. Tillis has sponsored the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, the National Rifle Association’s top federal legislative priority.

New York City will start sending mental health teams in place of armed officers on some 911 calls. The pilot program, set to launch in February, will target two “high-need” neighborhoods; teams will be made up of mental health professionals and Fire Department EMS. Police will provide backup on calls in which a person is reportedly armed or has demonstrated violent behavior. “We have a lot of details to work through, but I am confident that working together we will ensure a strong health-centered response to what are truly health emergencies,” said an FDNY first deputy commissioner. The effort comes as several high-profile national cases this year have shown the deadly consequences that can result from having officers respond to crisis calls. Cities including Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco have launched similar alternative approaches. In 2019, New York City fielded 170,000 mental health-related 911 calls, the majority of them nonviolent. — Chip Brownlee, investigative fellow.

NEW from THE TRACE: Philadelphia fights a state ban on local gun laws. In late 2019, the city launched its first-ever enforcement action under a decade-old anti-trafficking ordinance, a mandate that Philadelphia’s top prosecutors had long written off as running afoul of a state pre-emption law that restricts municipalities from pursuing their own firearm regulations. The defendant has countered by requesting a permanent injunction blocking the city from enforcing the ordinance, and a hearing in the case is scheduled for tomorrow. The legal battle comes as Philadelphia has endured one of its worst years for homicides, and weeks after the city sued to have the state’s pre-emption law declared unconstitutional. “We have to pass policies to keep illegal guns out of people’s hands, and we can only do that if the legislature grants us the ability,” a member of the City Council told The Trace. Brian Freskos has the story.

A 19-year-old was charged with illegally buying the rifle for the underage Kenosha shooter. The 17-year-old perpetrator killed two people and wounded a third during unrest in August following the police shooting of Jacob Blake. According to records obtained by The Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel, Dominick Black said he acted as the straw purchaser in Wisconsin before transferring the rifle last summer. The shooter, who claims he acted in self-defense, is facing homicide charges.

DATA POINT

There have been more than 1,500 shooting incidents in New York City this year, according to NYPD data. A summertime spike propelled the number to the highest reported level in 15 years. [City of New York]

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Members of the Cure Violence, a violence interruption program highlighted in a new John Jay report, talk to New York City residents. [AP Photo/Seth Wenig]

Daily Bulletin: Reducing Violence Without the Police

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A game plan for reducing violence without the police. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice convened a panel of cross-disciplinary experts to review non-law enforcement strategies for preventing community violence. In a report released on Monday, the panel argues that for decades politicians have overinvested in policing and prisons through a deterrence model that says crime is best prevented by punishing illegal acts. “If deterrence were entirely sufficient to prevent violence and ensure public safety, the United States would undoubtedly enjoy one of the lowest rates of community violence in the world,” the 40-page report reads. As an alternative, the panel offers seven evidence-based strategies for reducing crime, including:

  • Expanding violence interruption and hospital-based intervention programs that target those most at risk of being perpetrators or victims of violence
  • Passing comprehensive gun reform, including limits on access to firearms for those who may commit violence
  • Lessening harmful impacts of the criminal justice system by minimizing prosecution of minor misdemeanors, reducing juvenile detention, and making police departments more transparent
  • Mitigating financial stress by expanding opportunities for formerly incarcerated people, bolstering social welfare spending, and providing low-income families with housing subsidies

“Policymakers usually want programs that work fast, so they rely on law enforcement, but studies of police intervention rarely assess their potential to cause harm,” said panel expert Caterina Gouvis Roman, a criminologist at Temple University. For more details and the full set of recommendations, read the report here.

NEW from THE TRACE: As suicides among Black residents continue to climb, Chicago officials sound the alarm. This summer, my colleague Lakeidra Chavis was the first to report on a rise in suicides among Black residents of Cook County, home to Chicago. The trend has since continued, nearing a 10-year high as of November 8. Now, city officials have issued a public health alert warning that suicides among Black Chicagoans have increased by more than 40 percent in 2020 when compared to a four-year average from 2016 through 2019. The notice also found that Black residents had higher rates of hospitalization for suicide attempts compared to last year, even though overall visits to the emergency department declined during the pandemic. You can read Lakeidra’s follow-up here. [If you or someone you know if struggling with mental health, the following resources are available for free, 24/7: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.]

Militia activity surged in 2020. It (mostly) didn’t translate to local electoral wins. Reporting this year unearthed a small trend of militia-allied candidates for office, primarily in the American West. The Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, an extremism watchdog, tracked how far-right candidates performed in federal, state, and local elections last Tuesday. Of the 10 militia-allied candidates it observed in state and local races, four won office — all of them in Idaho, where militia activity is prevalent.

The Guns & America project is coming to an end. The two-year-long national reporting collaborative involved fellows at 10 public radio stations and yielded more than 500 articles — including a recent series on efforts to solve a gun suicide epidemic in the Mountain West. The project is also behind two recent podcasts — No Compromise, a partnership with NPR about the brothers behind a far-right gun network; and Gun Play, a partnership with KERA that follows a youth theater company as it crafts a play about gun issues.

The market jumped on news of a COVID-19 vaccine. Gun stocks were an exception. The plummeting of the three leading publicly traded firearm companies replicated a pattern from last Wednesday when the prospect of a united Democratic government became more unlikely. Demand for firearms typically spikes after pro-gun reform politicians are elected to office. This year, sales surged amid fears of civil unrest related to the pandemic.

DATA POINT

$750,000 — the bail set for two Virginia men arrested outside a vote-counting center in Philadelphia last week on illegal gun charges. [Philadelphia Inquirer]

As Suicides Among Black Residents Continue to Climb, Chicago Officials Sound the Alarm

Chicago officials have issued a health alert about this year’s stark increase in suicides among Black residents. The uptick comes even as suicide deaths decreased for other racial and ethnic groups. 

The five-page alert, issued by the Chicago Health Alert Network (HAN) on November 5, says that suicides among Black Chicagoans have increased by more than 40 percent in 2020, when compared to a four-year average from 2016–2019. The report also found that Black residents have the highest rates of hospitalizations for suicide attempts. Residents of the city’s South and West Sides, predominantly Black communities with significant barriers to affordable mental health treatment, were hospitalized at elevated rates. 

Officials also found a significant increase in suicides among adults ages 70 and up.

“We know in general that health disparities exist along a Black-White spectrum,” Wilnise Jasmin, the director of behavioral health at the Chicago Department of Public Health, told The Trace. “It’s not surprising that when it comes to suicides, which is another health indicator, that we see such disparities.” 

Jasmin added that Black Chicagoans are disproportionately affected by chronic diseases, homicides, and opioid overdoses. 

The city’s Health Department uses HAN to distribute public information about “urgent” emerging trends to medical and public health officials. The alerts cover a range of developments, from identifying the city’s COVID-19 hotspots to noting upticks in opioid overdoses. 

“In the context of COVID, in the context of civil unrest, one could imagine additional pressures and stress in the lives of Black Chicagoans,” said Matt Richards, a deputy commissioner with the Chicago Department of Public Health.  

The Trace first reported the rise in suicides among Black Chicagoans in July. Using data from the Cook County Medical Examiner, our reporting showed that the county, which includes Chicago, was on pace to record more suicides of Black residents than during any year in the last decade. As of November 8, there have been 83 suicides among Black people in the county, most of which occurred in Chicago. That’s one shy of the total number of suicides recorded in 2017, a 10-year high.

Following The Trace’s reporting, both the city and county pledged to draw up suicide prevention plans to address the crisis. Last month, the city announced an $8-million investment to expand existing mental health services across the city. 

Suicides overall have been increasing in the U.S. over the last two decades, including in Illinois, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency’s surveys during the pandemic have found that stress, anxiety, and suicidal ideation are up, particularly for Black people, Latinos, younger adults, and essential workers. 

Daniel Nass contributed data reporting to this story. 

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Pro-Trump demonstrators carry firearms outside the Pennsylvania State Capitol, in Harrisburg. [AP Photo/Julio Cortez]

Daily Bulletin: Demonstrators, Some Armed, Rally Against Election Results

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Biden has a historic gun reform platform. But will there be room to maneuver in Congress? President-elect Joe Biden will enter office with one of the most ambitious gun reform agendas in American history. But most of his proposals — including a federal ban on the sale of assault weapons, repealing the law that shields gunmakers from most liability suits, and $900 million in funding for community gun violence prevention — require congressional assent. Democrats will retain the House, but control of the Senate hinges on two runoff elections in Georgia. If Republicans keep control of the upper chamber, Biden’s legislative agenda on guns would be in peril. Bypassing Congress to tackle gun violence. The Washington Post reports that Biden’s transition team is already planning to issue a flurry of executive orders on Day One. The president-elect has pledged to use this power for gun policy as well, including a ban on the importation of assault weapons. Last year, we sketched out some of the other potential ways to address shootings through executive orders or the regulatory power of executive agencies.

The latest mode of armed protest: Challenging an election. Across several states over the weekend — including Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, and Pennsylvania — supporters of President Trump gathered to protest the election results and echoed the president’s baseless claims about voter fraud. Many people also brought their guns. HuffPost reporter Chris Mathias filed a must-read dispatch from one such demonstration in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where a heavily armed contingent of the far right was present — including members of the Proud Boys, militias, and white nationalist groups. Police broke up dueling pro-Trump and pro-Biden protests to mitigate the risk of violence.

A tale of two reactions to Biden’s win. “The result of the presidential election is encouraging for the future of gun violence prevention,” said the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Brady, Everytown, and Giffords all released similar statements. Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association tweeted a video of Biden’s campaign trail confrontation with a gun rights supporter, paired with the words, “From our cold dead hands.” ICYMI: What gun policy groups spent. We tracked the 17 congressional races in which groups spent at least $100,000. Overall, the NRA spent $23 million; Everytown and Giffords spent $20.1 million and $2 million, respectively.

“This is what the Second Amendment is for.” Speaking on “60 Minutes,” Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, who is a Republican, said that was one of the many death threats his office received for merely counting votes. Meanwhile, the sight of armed protesters outside vote-counting centers was repeated in several battleground states all week. “The more we see, the more people see it as a normal reaction — even though it’s not,” an extremism expert told the Associated Press.

St. Louis couple sues photographer who captured them pointing guns at protesters. Patricia and Mark McCloskey are facing felony counts of unlawful use of a weapon and tampering with evidence for the June confrontation against Black Lives Matter protesters who marched past their home. In local circuit court, they argue a United Press International photographer was trespassing when he took a now iconic image of the incident. The suit also targeted the wire service and a company that sold T-shirts with the image.

DATA POINT

About 9 in 10 — the share of likely voters who said protests over police violence were a factor in their vote for president. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they supported Biden and 46 percent backed Trump. [The Associated Press via The New York Times]

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Armed supporters of President Donald Trump stand outside of Maricopa County Recorder's Office on Thursday. [AP Photo/Dario Lopez-MIlls]

Daily Bulletin: Misinformation and Guns Mix as the Vote Count Continues

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

Police investigate alleged plot against vote-counting center in Philadelphia. Local law enforcement officials received a tip on Thursday that armed men from Virginia traveling in a Hummer threatened to attack the Philadelphia Convention Center, local ABC station WPVI reports. Election workers there are still counting votes that could soon determine who wins the state and the presidency. Just hours earlier, President Donald Trump held a press conference at the White House where he falsely claimed that “illegal votes” were being counted in battleground states. According to WPVI, police recovered a weapon and two men were taken into custody, though it was unclear how they were connected to the alleged plot. WPVI and two reporters from The Philadelphia Inquirer noted that a Hummer parked downtown believed to be connected to the men had a decal for the far-right conspiracy movement QAnon, as did a hat spotted on the dashboard. A Fox News reporter cited police sources as saying the FBI had taken over the investigation.

Pro-Trump protesters again fan out in cities amid ongoing vote counting. For the second straight day, protesters gathered in Phoenix to echo the president’s unfounded voter fraud claims. In the afternoon, a number of demonstrators came armed with handguns or assault-style rifles. One participant, who showed a New York Times reporter his concealed firearm, noted: “I absolutely believe Donald Trump won Arizona and won the country.” Another man carrying two rifles made clear that his participation was based on his fear of large-scale gun confiscation under a Biden presidency: “I’m here to tell the left there’s no way in hell they’re taking my guns.” On Thursday night, a crowd including boogaloo believers, men with long guns, and the far-right conspiracist Alex Jones assembled outside the Maricopa County election center where votes were being counted. Other demonstrations across the country included a “Stop the Steal” event in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and one in Las Vegas, where protesters — many of them armedcongregated outside the Clark County election headquarters as officials continued tabulating votes.

Facebook banned a group over election disinformation and concerns about inciting violence. The “Stop the Steal” page had attracted over 350,000 members in just one day and was spreading baseless accusations about a Democratic plot to steal the election before Facebook shut it down. “The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group,” Facebook said. A sharp rise in “violence and incitement trends.” That’s what the company has seen in a private tool it uses to track dangerous rhetoric on the site, according to a BuzzFeed News report. An analysis of user search terms and hashtags revealed that dangerous incitement trends have increased 45 percent in the last five days.

While misinformation has been rampant since, intimidation during voting was minimal. Many experts warned about the threat of violence at the polls, but little chaos materialized on Election Day. SeeSay2020, a crowdsourced map of voter suppression incidents, showed fewer than 200 reports of intimidation over the course of early voting through Election Day, a tally consistent with past years. Ominous events that did occur on Tuesday: In North Carolina, an armed man was arrested and charged with an additional count of trespassing for turning up at a voting site three times despite being banned. In Utah, a man was arrested for shooting off his gun and hurling death threats at people attending a pro-Trump rally.

DATA POINT

Nearly 2 million — how many guns were sold in the month before the election. That represents a 67 percent increase from the previous October. [The Trace]

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President Donald Trump supporters rally in Phoenix. on November 4. [AP Photo/Matt York]

Daily Bulletin: Tensions Rise As States Count Votes

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

Trump supporters protest outside ballot-processing center in Phoenix. A crowd of more than 150 people — several of them armed — gathered outside a Maricopa County election office last night to angrily demand that votes be counted amid unfounded rumors of vote tampering in the close presidential race. Workers inside continued counting votes without pause as law enforcement on the scene guarded the building and later escorted election officials to their cars when they departed in the early morning. A local reporter said she and her photographer would file a police report after a demonstrator threatened them. The chaotic scene was one of several election-related protests in cities across the country.

Philadelphia demonstrators call for all votes to be counted, justice for Walter Wallace Jr. Protesters demanding a completed vote count in Pennsylvania and another group marching for the 27-year-old killed by police merged on Wednesday night. The combined rally of hundreds took on a particular resonance as the city released bodycam footage and 911 calls from the day officers shot Wallace as he was suffering from a mental health crisis. His death sparked days of civil unrest and the deployment of the National Guard. “Long live Walter Wallace,” protesters chanted.

Reminder: We’re still tracking several tight congressional races. In all of them, gun rights or gun reform groups spent six figures or more. So far, results have come in for 13 of those races — the latest being the re-election of Democratic Senator Gary Peters in Michigan. Check out our tracker for the latest developments.

The highlights related to gun policy or criminal justice reform you may have missed:

  • Collin Peterson, the last NRA A-rated Democrat, was unseated. He lost his race to a GOP challenger whom the gun group also rated highly. A decade ago, National Rifle Association ratings reflected bipartisan support for the gun group’s agenda. But as we have reported, its endorsements in the 2020 election offered a snapshot of widening political polarization.
  • Lauren Boebert, an upstart gun rights provocateur, won a Colorado House seat. The owner of Shooters Grill in the town of Rifle, where staffers are encouraged to openly carry guns, defeated her Democratic opponent after besting a five-term incumbent in a primary. Boebert catapulted into the national scene on her strident gun rights activism and opposition to pandemic restrictions.
  • Los Angeles County passed a ballot initiative to redirect funds to policing alternatives. It will require at least 10 percent of the county’s general fund be used for social services like housing, jail diversion, and mental health treatment. Separately, George Gascón is well ahead in his effort to unseat chief prosecutor Jackie Lacey. He ran as a criminal justice reformer who has, among other things, pledged to focus on decarceration and reopen officer-involved shooting cases.
  • Georgia DA involved in the Ahmaud Arbery case was defeated. Republican Jackie Johnson lost to Independent Keith Higgins in Brunswick. Johnson was criticized for declining to bring charges against the white father and son who followed and fatally shot Arbery. A state grand jury subsequently indicted the men after a different prosecutor took the case.
  • Philadelphia will have an office for crime victims. Voters approved a measure that will create the office, which will serve victims of gun violence and other crimes. The bill’s sponsor hopes it will launch next year.

Gun stocks tumble as prospect of united Democratic governance dissipates. With a GOP-majority Senate control looking increasingly likely, MarketWatch reports that the failed sweep “assuaged concerns over potential tighter regulations.” As we’ve reported, demand for firearms typically spikes after elections and mass shootings when support for tighter gun restrictions increases.

California’s age limit on gun purchases lives on. A federal judge refused to block a state law that went into effect last year prohibiting the sale of long guns to those under the age of 21. The judge cited the long history of age-based regulations on firearms in the United States and California’s “substantial interest” in public safety in denying an injunction request.

DATA POINT

0 — the number of reported cases of armed conflict related to Election Day.

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A man watches results come in on a screen set up at an election night gathering in Philadelphia. [AP Photo/Michael Perez]

Daily Bulletin: The Counting Continues. Here’s What We Know.

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WHAT TO KNOW THE DAY AFTER

Big spending from gun reform and gun rights groups. We reported that the National Rifle Association spent $23 million on federal races — less than half of the record-shattering total it directed to Donald Trump and a slate of Republicans in 2016. But it’s still one of the largest political underwriters for the GOP this cycle. Part of the decline comes as the group faces mounting legal bills. For the first time, other gun lobbying groups stepped in to fill that void, including Gun Owners of America, which spent around $800,000 this year. On the gun reform side: Everytown and Giffords spent $20.1 million and $2 million respectively. (Everytown provides grants to The Trace through its nonpolitical arm. Here’s our list of major donors and our policy on editorial independence.)

How a number of races we were watching turned out. We tracked the results of 17 congressional races — 10 in the Senate and seven in the House — where gun rights or gun reform groups spent six figures or more. We’re keeping tabs on the results as they come in, and here are five U.S. Senate race highlights based on Associated Press projections:

  • Arizona Senate: Martha McSally (R) vs. Mark Kelly (D)
    Status: Kelly wins
    Spending: NRA: $800K
  • Colorado Senate: Cory Gardner (R) vs. John Hickenlooper (D)
    Status: Hickenlooper wins
    Spending: NRA: $800K; Everytown + Giffords: $1.8M
  • Iowa Senate: Joni Ernst (R) vs. Theresa Greenfield (D)
    Status: Ernst wins
    Spending: NRA: $500K; Everytown: $2.5M
  • North Carolina Senate: Thom Tillis (R) vs. Cal Cunningham (D)
    Status: Tills currently ahead
    Spending: NRA: $1.1M; Everytown + Giffords: $4.6M
  • Georgia Senate: David Perdue (R) vs. Jon Ossoff (D)
    Status: Perdue currently ahead
    Spending: NRA: $700K

Overall, the House is set to remain Democratic, while the GOP-controlled Senate remains close as tallying continues.

How some major police reforms fared. Here’s what happened in several high-profile criminal justice issues up for a vote in dozens of cities:

  • Akron, Ohio: Voters approved a ballot initiative to require the public release of recordings from police body and dash cameras in cases that result in death or serious injury.
  • Los Angeles County: An initiative that would require at least 10 percent of the county’s general fund be used for social services like housing, jail diversion, mental health treatment, and other alternatives to incarceration and police is still too early to call. But the measure currently holds a lead.
  • Philadelphia: Voters approved a ballot measure to prohibit the practice of unconstitutional stop-and-frisk.
  • Portland, Oregon: Voters said yes to a ballot measure to create a new police oversight board with subpoena power and the authority to discipline or fire officers in cases of misconduct.
  • San Francisco: Voters said yes to propositions that would remove a mandatory police staffing level from the city’s charter and to establish a sheriff’s department oversight board.

Fears of Election Day drama spread online, but failed to materialize. I spent the day monitoring the online presence of militias and hate groups, both of whom spread misinformation about turmoil at the polls. As BuzzFeed News noted earlier in the day, right-wing influencers, conservative media outlets, and confused voters shared a handful of videos representing what they considered instances of Democratic-led efforts to steal the election. In reality, the videos showed a small number of isolated incidents which were quickly resolved: A Republican poll-watcher refused, and then granted, entry to a polling site; a political sign removed from the wall of a voting location. The videos were also shared in online message boards for groups like far-right Proud Boys, but ultimately led to no action. — Champe Barton, reporter.

But the day wasn’t entirely without incident by polling places. In North Carolina, an armed Trump supporter and former GOP candidate for the state’s House of Representatives was banned from a polling site in Charlotte after “possibly intimidating other voters.” Police said 36-year-old Justin Dunn was charged with trespassing when he returned. In battleground Pennsylvania, a man going to vote accidentally shot himself with a handgun in a car outside a polling place.

While you were watching returns, the FBI charged more bogaloo boys. Federal authorities arrested a West Virginia man, Timothy Watson, 30, charging him with selling devices designed to convert semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic weapons. He allegedly sold them to Boogaloo adherents, including one accused of fatally shooting law enforcement officers in California.