Rounds

News and notes on guns in America

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People wait in line for early voting in Virginia. [AP Photo/Andrew Harnik]

Daily Bulletin: Preventing Armed Intimidation at the Polls

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Preventing armed intimidation at the polls. The 2020 campaigns are playing out against the backdrop of rising militia activity and dozens of documented cases of armed groups appearing at protests. In a new report, the advocacy groups Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and Guns Down America are urging state officials to take action to ensure that armed individuals can’t intimidate voters at polling places — particularly after cases in swing states in 2016 and 2018. “You’re already starting to see vociferous protests at early polling places,” Joshua Horwitz, the head of the CSGV, told The Trace. “I have no doubt that there will be guns added to that mix.” Five battleground states — Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin — lack laws that explicitly prevent gun carrying at voting stations. How states can ensure the safety of polling places: The groups are calling on states to ban guns at polling locations — a long shot with just 40 days until election day. Short of that, there are other options:

  • In states like North Carolina and Virginia, local city councils have authority to ban firearms in the public buildings that often serve as polling stations
  • Most states have anti-harassment, voter intimidation, and brandishing laws that could be used to prevent or police intimidation with guns
  • State laws banning unauthorized paramilitary and militia activities can also be invoked to stop armed people from attempting to patrol and police voting locations, as a new legal guide from Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection points out

Above all, Horwitz and Guns Down executive director Igor Volsky want state election officials to “offer absolutely clear guidance” to poll workers about what their laws say. As Volsky told The Trace: “If there is armed intimidation, Number One: Who do you call? Number Two: Who deals with the individual or group and asks them to leave? Number Three: What do you do if voters who may be in line to vote see this kind of armed intimidation?” — Chip Brownlee, editorial fellow 

Leaked messages show far-right groups discussing violence at protests. The Guardian and Bellingcat obtained chat logs of the Patriot Coalition of Oregon, an online pro-Trump, pro-police network, where members traded tactics and lobbed threats ahead of several recent rallies in Portland, Oregon. Another right-wing demonstration is planned for tomorrow, but its status is uncertain after city officials denied a permit. Per Bellingcat, “More than anything, the chats catalog the rapid radicalization of Patriot Coalition’s membership, many of whom express a willingness to kill their perceived left-wing enemies.” The broader risk: FBI Director Christopher Wray testified this week that domestic violent extremism was America’s biggest internal threat, while acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf zeroed in on white supremacy as “the most lethal and persistent” danger.

NRA-backed state bill would ban any future gun store closures. During the first several months of the pandemic, some states closed down gun stores after classifying them as nonessential businesses under lockdown orders. A number of their governors later buckled to gun industry pressure and reversed course; in other states, gun dealers simply flouted restrictions. Ohio’s gun stores never closed, the Republican-controlled state Senate just passed a measure that would take those public health and safety decisions out of officials’ hands altogether and prevent shuttering gun stores under future emergency orders.

Many police forces grew less diverse, even as some larger departments made gains. The New York Times crunched data showing that more than two-thirds of police departments with at least 100 officers became whiter than their communities from 2007 to 2016. But many of the nation’s largest departments became more diverse, often fueled by gains in Asian and Hispanic recruits as forces struggled to retain Black officers, the Times found. Some research has found that more diverse police forces boost trust in nonwhite neighborhoods, but the effect that has on officer shootings and use of force is contested. Other scholarship “shows that the race of the police chief, or upper management, does matter in terms of decreasing police killings,” one expert told the Times. Black and Hispanic chiefs and supervisors were far more likely in cities with populations above 250,000.

Rising gun violence in America’s murder capital is falling hard on children. In St. Louis, which currently has the nation’s highest homicide rate, shootings have led to record numbers of kids being treated this year at the area’s two leading children’s hospitals — 180 people under the age of 20 in total. “When you have to walk into a room and talk with a child going through this, it hits you different,” a social worker told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Brutal echoes: “When you have so many kids being killed, especially young people under 13, that’s everybody’s responsibility,” an anti-violence leader told Block Club Chicago about that city’s young gun violence victims.

DATA POINT

61 percent of survey respondents said crime was a major problem in the United States. But the same poll found that only 13 percent said crime was a major problem in their area. [The New York Times]

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Protesters chant near police in Louisville on September 23. [AP Photo/Darron Cummings]

Daily Bulletin: No Officers Charged Over Breonna Taylor’s Death

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NEW from THE TRACE: In a virtual classroom, how do you care for kids threatened by gun violence? In Philadelphia, educators are trying to address a specific challenge of shifting schooling online: When students aren’t spending time in classrooms, it’s harder to keep them safe. “When a kid comes through the door, you know something’s off,” said Edwin Desamour, the dean of a North Philadelphia middle school. “We can do preventive things before this kid explodes. A lot of times, the kids won’t initiate the contact, you have to recognize it and reach out. But online, it’s hard to capture those things.” With absenteeism having spiked in many urban districts after schools went remote, experts worry about what will happen in a city that’s already seen more shootings than all of 2019. Read the rest of J.Brian Charles’s story here.

A Kentucky grand jury indicted one officer involved in the Breonna Taylor case — but none over her death. Six months after the fatal shooting in Louisville, former officer Brett Hankinson is the only one of three officers who fired shots during the no-knock raid who will face criminal charges. He was indicted on three counts of wanton endangerment for firing his gun into neighboring apartments. The Louisville Police Department fired Hankinson this summer. The state’s attorney general said the other officers were legally justified in Taylor’s shooting because her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, had first opened fire. (Walker said he thought they were intruders and prosecutors dropped charges against him.) Last week, Louisville agreed to pay Taylor’s family $12 million and institute a series of police reforms. Protests erupt after the decision: Thousands of demonstrators gathered in cities across the country to voice their anger at the charges and call for officers to be held to account for Taylor’s death. “I’m heartbroken,” one Louisville man told the Courier-Journal. “This is not a justice system if it’s not for everybody.” Officers shot: Amid the demonstrations in Louisville, two officers were wounded Wednesday night; they were expected to recover, officials said. Police said they had a suspect in custody, but offered few other details.

When officers use fatal force, GPAs go down. New research from Harvard adds evidence to the knock-on effects of social trauma in communities experiencing persistent violence — in this case from the police. Researcher Desmond Ang looked at more than 500 police killings in Los Angeles County between 2002 and 2015, and examined whether those incidents influenced the academic performance of students who lived nearby. His takeaway? “I find that exposure to police violence leads to persistent decreases in GPA, increased incidence of emotional disturbance and lower rates of high school completion and college enrollment.” Ang observed that the effects were entirely driven by Hispanic and Black students in response to police killings of other minorities. The study also found that fatal use of force by police against unarmed individuals had roughly two times the negative effect than those where a victim had a firearm or other weapon.

New York’s largest health system to start asking ER patients about gun access. Hospitals operated by Northwell Health will add a question to their intake questionnaires that asks whether patients have a gun in the home. The addition, made possible by a $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, is meant to identify those at a heightened risk of firearm injury and connect them with intervention specialists. “We’ve seen a significantly higher number of firearm injuries compared to last year,” said Dr. Chethan Sathya, who is leading the study. “This is a chance to understand the underlying issues, and counsel on gun safety.”

A white supremacist was sentenced to 25 years for an infamous hate crime shooting. In 2018, Brandon Higgs shot and wounded Elvis Smith near Baltimore after an altercation in which Higgs told Smith to “go back to Africa.” As Higgs was awaiting trial, it came to light that he had also been involved in a private neo-Nazi chat group and another one for people who planned to attend a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. “He’s got a long time to think about the shit he did,” Smith told HuffPost reporter Christopher Mathias after Wednesday’s sentencing. “So I’m happy.”

DATA POINT

~60,000 — the number of annual no-knock and quick-knock raids in the United States, according to one estimate. [Mother Jones]

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[Sean McKeag/The Citizens' Voice via AP]

Daily Bulletin: Body Cams Are Politically Popular. And Possibly Ineffective

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Body cams: Politically popular. Widely adopted. Questionably effective. A recent survey found 91 percent support for requiring police officers to wear cameras that record their actions during stops, and many police departments have been open to adopting the policies — one estimate calculated that close to half of law enforcement agencies across the country have them. But a meta review of 30 studies published earlier this month showed why the technology is no panacea, “Body cameras do not have clear or consistent effects on officers’ use of force, arrests, or other activities.” Another new study pointed out a further breakdown between promise and reality. “BWCs [body-worn cameras] can’t increase transparency if agencies don’t release footage of critical incidents,” wrote Justin Nix, a co-author of the research. “Ironically, then, BWCs reduce transparency if agencies have them but fail to release footage of critical incidents quickly.” The scholars found that political considerations colored which footage got released and which were withheld from the public. What now? The authors found that only a minority of the police leaders they surveyed supported the universal release of body camera footage. Establishing consistent standards may require action by lawmakers. “If BWC footage is to increase accountability…the impetus for moving beyond case-by-case decision-making will have to come from outside of policing, most likely from legislators.”

Defund the police? Most big cities increased their budgets this year. The reform framework has catalyzed activists and drawn the ire of a Trump administration that says it may withdraw federal funds from cities that shrink their police departments. But a Bloomberg CityLab analysis shows that 34 of the largest 50 American cities with finalized 2021 budgets have actually opted to boost police spending or keep it level as a percentage of discretionary spending.

  • In some places, the added dollars are going to changes like deescalation training.
  • And, yes, body cameras.

“These are systems that have been around forever, and they’re all intertwined, and so trying to dismantle that is the process that’s going on right now,” said one expert on equity in law enforcement. “What you hear is the pain of wanting that to happen immediately.”

Louisville, Kentucky, girds for a decision in Breonna Taylor investigation. The city’s mayor announced a state of emergency and police closed down parts of downtown in an attempt to constrain protests ahead of a possible announcement in the state attorney general’s criminal inquiry of the officers involved in the fatal police shooting. (Neither the AG’s office nor city leaders offered a specific timetable for a decision.) “This is certainly an over-response to the local protests that have been happening in our community,” the head of a local nonprofit told The Associated Press. Meanwhile: “As homicides soar to record numbers, Louisville still lacks a firm plan to stop the violence,” reports The Courier Journal.

He was shot in Kenosha. Then the threats began. Gaige Grosskreutz was the lone survivor of last month’s triple shooting by a 17-year-old during citywide protests and unrest. He told USA Today about the online harassment that he and his loved ones have received from white supremacists. “That’s the thing that affects me,” he said, “seeing the people that I care about be upset for me, scared for me. I just don’t understand the need to target people who weren’t even there.”

Salt Lake City releases video footage of police shooting of boy with autism. The incident made national headlines after a mother called 911 about her 13-year old suffering a mental crisis, and police ended up shooting him nearly a dozen times; he remains hospitalized. In the footage, the mother is seen telling the responding officers that she wanted her son hospitalized, but that the arrival of officers had also “triggered” her son. Before the violent conclusion, the officers can be see debating whether to approach the boy and worrying that it might end with a shooting.

DATA POINT

Fewer than one-third of crime victims reported getting any kind of recovery assistance, according to a recent national survey. [Alliance for Safety and Justice]

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Police in Portland use tear gas to disperse protesters on September 5. [AP/Noah Berger]

Daily Bulletin: The Feds Say ‘Anarchy,’ the Data Suggests It’s More Complicated

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DOJ threatens to cut off federal funding from cities permitting “anarchy, violence, and destruction.” In a memo published on Monday, Attorney General William Barr listed three jurisdictions that he said had “permitted violence and destruction of property to persist”: New York City, Seattle and Portland, Oregon. Barr warned that the cities could lose out on federal funds if they don’t adjust law enforcement policies to the Trump administration’s liking. He added that other cities could be added to the list, and said efforts to defund police departments or “unreasonably” refuse federal assistance were among the criteria. Mayors of the three cities said the threat was unconstitutional. Putting the violence in context: Several American cities are seeing spikes in gun violence in 2020. But experts quickly denounced Barr’s move as political. “Things are worse than two years ago, yes, but still better than the low-crime 2010s almost across the board,” tweeted criminologist John Pfaff about the rates in New York City. “But, of course, this is about political retribution.” Separately, crime and data expert Jeff Asher pulled data from 50 cities and projected their per-capita murder rates for 2020, should current levels of violence hold. He found that New York, Portland, and Seattle don’t scratch the top 30:

[Jeff Asher]
New York, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon, are marked by red arrows. St. Louis, which is projected to record its most homicides on record, is at the far left.

San Diego gun violence restraining orders triple amid heightened suicide risk. From March 1 through the end of August, the office of City Attorney Mara Elliott sought 43 orders to remove guns for people deemed to be at a high risk of self harm; the same period in 2019 saw 16 orders. “Our GVRO trends illustrate the impact COVID is having on the mental health of San Diegans,” she said. “We urge residents to seek help if they are in crisis and to monitor the welfare of their family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.” As The Trace reported last year, Elliott has become a national leader in aggressively using gun violence restraining orders and says the tool has been effective at preventing suicides and mass shootings.

The NRA on Merrick Garland: “Keeping him off the court was critical for gun rights.” During the annual Gun Rights Policy Conference over the weekend, Jason Ouimet — the head of the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm — used a brief prerecorded message to emphasize the gun group’s success in seating scores of its allies on the federal bench. In a message recorded shortly before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he also underscored the NRA’s efforts in helping prevent a vote on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the high court after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in 2016. Why that could matter now. Should President Trump and his allies prevail in appointing Ginsburg’s replacement, the court’s new alignment could well mean that future pro-gun cases clear the hurdle that has prevented other gun rights petitions from receiving a ruling, as Olivia Li writes here.

Armed, Black, and fighting for racial justice. The Minnesota Freedom Fighters formed after a local NAACP chapter called on residents on Minneapolis’s North side to help protect neighborhoods in the aftermath of protests over George Floyd’s death. Members of the Freedom Fighters tell The Los Angeles Times about their work to de-escalate situations in their communities in order to avoid confrontations with the police. “Our objective is not to be the police, but the bridge to link the police and the community together,” reads the group’s mission statement.

Nebraska bar owner charged with manslaughter in shooting death of protester dies by suicide. Jake Gardner fatally shot James Scurlock in early June amid protests over police brutality this May. A county attorney initially declined to charge Gardner, saying he acted in self-defense, but a grand jury last week charged him with four felonies after a special prosecutor took up the case and argued that Gardner’s emails and text messages undermined his claims. Gardner died in Oregon over the weekend, his attorney revealed.

DATA POINT

94 percent — how many of the 50 children shot in Florida’s Leon County over the last decade were Black. [The Tallahassee Democrat]

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Flowers are left in front of the U.S. Supreme Court for the death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. [mpi34/MediaPunch /IPX]

Daily Bulletin: Guns and the Court After RBG

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Guns and the Court after RBG. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vacancy leaves an already right-leaning court with a five-to-three conservative majority. From abortion to voting rights, it’s difficult to overstate the impact of her passing on American jurisprudence. Second Amendment law, too, could change dramatically.

  • A thunderbolt, then mostly silence: The Supreme Court upended centuries of precedent when it ruled 12 years ago in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Constitution establishes an individual right to bear arms, subject to some common-sense restrictions. In the decade-plus since, advocates for further expanding gun rights have been frustrated with the court’s unwillingness to hear more challenges to state and local gun laws, and Ginsburg was a part of that resistance. But pro-gun litigators have increasingly pressed the high court to take their cases; in this past term alone, the Supreme Court denied 10 Second Amendment petitions.
  • Two questions arise. Will RBG’s successor be more willing to hear gun cases? And if so, how will she or he rule? It’s not clear whether President Trump will succeed in installing a conservative justice. But if he does, that person will undoubtedly be inclined to expand Second Amendment rights. Trump’s rumored top pick, Amy Coney Barrett of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, has been critical of universally banning felons from owning firearms, indicating a very expansive view of gun rights. Duke law scholar Joseph Blocher told The Trace, “If Justice Ginsburg is replaced by a conservative originalist, then there’s likely a solid five-Justice majority that could confidently accept a gun rights case knowing that it will control the result.”
  • The gun laws on the line. There’s no shortage of cases on issues like carrying guns in public space and assault weapons bans swirling around lower courts. But Blocher added that some justices want to change the way Second Amendment cases get decided by blessing existing firearms restrictions only if history — not current public safety interests — supports them. Such a shift “would be a huge change in doctrine” that could expand gun rights, he said.
  • A roadblock for a President Biden? Even if Trump loses the election, the possibility of six conservative justices could check Democratic gun reform ambitions. Blocher says that Biden’s policy plans, which include a ban on online weapon sales and tighter regulation of high-powered weapons, don’t raise Second Amendment concerns as the legal doctrine stands today. But he said that could change along with the composition of the court.

As for RBG’s own interpretation of the 2nd Amendment: She thought it was out of step with the needs of the modern United States. “I view the Second Amendment as rooted in the time totally allied to the need to support a militia,” she said in a 2013 interview. “The Second Amendment is outdated in the sense that its function has become obsolete.” — Olivia Li, Trace contributor

The NRA’s political fundraising enjoys a windfall, but its election spending remains comparatively low. The $1.7 million that the National Rifle Association’ss Political Victory Fund collected in August was nearly $250,000 more than March 2016, its best month during that cycle. The gun group has spent $9.7 million in federal races this election season, according to our tracker. That’s less than the $18.6 million the NRA spent during the same time period in 2016. All told, the NRA spent more than $50 million to power Trump to victory that year.

ICYMI: The NRA and the Trump campaign appear to be flouting election laws. Again. A 30-second anti-Biden ad from the NRA aired thousands of times in five swing states during a two-week period in late August and early September. During the same stretch, ads for Trump’s reelection campaign effectively dropped off the same stations’ airwaves. In Federal Communication Commission filings, the firms placing the ads for the NRA and Trump campaign look like separate entities, but our new investigation with The Daily Beast indicates that they may be one and the same. Ex-officials say the evidence warrants an investigation into potential campaign finance violations. Deja vu: The Trace reported that the NRA and the Trump campaign appeared to have coordinated ad campaigns during the 2016 election.

A mass shooting in Rochester, New York, left two dead, 14 others injured. Police believe several shooters opened fire at a backyard party where more than 100 people gathered early Saturday morning. The two persons killed had both just graduated from high school last year. The injured victims — who all sustained non-life-threatening wounds — were between the ages of 17 and 23. The city is still reeling from the March death of Daniel Prude while in police custody, which led to the suspension of seven officers and the firing of its police chief.

DATA POINT

The United States has 40 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns, while comprising just 4 percent of the global population. [Guns and America]

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[AP/Morry Gash]

Daily Bulletin: The Racial Disparities in Homicide Reporting

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Researchers have quantified the news coverage gaps for homicide victims in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Scholars from the University of Chicago and Stanford analyzed more than 2,200 news articles about homicides in Chicago in 2016. Their findings put numbers to complaints that racial justice activists have long made:

  • Victims killed in majority-Black neighborhoods received less coverage than those in white areas
  • When the media did report on victims in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, the articles were less likely to depict those who’d been killed as multifaceted, complex people

Forrest Stuart, one of the paper’s co-authors, amplified the study results in a series of tweets. “We discovered that articles about White victims are much longer than those about Black and Brown folks, and use more humanizing language,” he wrote. “One of the more interesting and important findings is that neighborhood really matters,” perhaps even more than the individual victim’s race.

Senate Dems seek to boot the NRA Foundation from federal charity program. Government workers give tens of millions of dollars each year to nonprofits through the annual Combined Federal Campaign. Senator Bob Menendez and 13 Senate Democratic colleagues are asking the head of the Office of Personnel Management — which oversees the program — to remove the National Rifle Association Foundation from the list of nonprofits who’ll benefit from this year’s donation drive in light of lawsuits by the attorneys general of Washington, D.C., and New York alleging pervasive financial improprieties at the gun group. “In short, the allegations raised by the attorneys general contradict OPM’s goal of demonstrating a commitment to public service, and if true, violate federal regulations,” the letter reads. By one estimate, the federal charity campaign raised nearly $500,000 for the NRA Foundation from 2014 to 2018.

A police shooting almost killed her when she was 15 years old. She aches for those who never get to tell their story. “I never want to feel what that officer — whose face was so full of hate — felt,” Pamela Ferrell says in a moving Washington Post profile of her life since a Rhode Island police officer shot her at point blank range in 1975. As a victim of police violence from before the era of cell phone cameras, she’s now dedicated to exposing the structures that for generations allowed law enforcement to distort public understanding of officers’ use of force. “There is a system in place that lies — a system that tells only the police’s story,” Ferrell says. “I survived. Someone who doesn’t survive doesn’t get to tell their story.”

Days after officials reject banning firearms in the Michigan Capitol, hundreds of gun carriers demonstrated outside the complex. Yesterday’s open carry rally in Lansing was planned weeks ago, reports Michigan Live, but its timing was potent: On Monday, after delaying a decision for months, the commission with oversight of the state Capitol voted down a pair of proposals that would have banned guns in the building. State Democrats — and a few Republicans — have clamored for the prohibition since an April protest against coronavirus restrictions saw armed demonstrators throng the legislative chamber. Commission members are continuing to discuss options with lawmakers.

A peaceful protester in Portland, Oregon, who was critically injured by an “impact munition” is back in the hospital. In July, a federal officer fired a rubber bullet that struck Donavan La Bella in the face, causing extensive skull damage. He’s had persistent complications and needed numerous surgeries. “This poor kid can’t catch a break. He just wants to get out of there and heal up,” his mother told The Oregonian. A probe of the shooting by the Justice Department’s inspector general is ongoing.

A Florida deputy who was fired after the Parkland shooting will be reinstated. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office dismissed Josh Stambaugh for alleged inaction during the February 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. It was the second time in four months that a deputy fired for their response to the shooting was rehired after a state arbitrator ruled that the department had missed legal deadlines.

DATA POINT

Domestic violence homicides rose by 36 percent in Wisconsin last year, and experts say the number is likely to increase again in 2020. Yesterday, The Trace profiled one Wisconsin woman terrified of what will happen when her abuser — who obtained a gun during the pandemic — gets out of prison. [The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

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Police and emergency personnel work at the scene of a shooting at a backyard party in Fresno, California, on November 17, 2019. [Larry Valenzuela/The Fresno Bee via AP]

Daily Bulletin: An Innovative Anti-Violence Program Expands in California

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NEW from THE TRACE: Fearing COVID chaos, her abuser got a gun. Now she’s the one who is terrified. For years, Michelle Jankowski was in an abusive relationship with her ex-boyfriend, Charles Dickson. Fearing unrest during the pandemic, he got a gun from a friend. In June, Charles threatened to kill Michelle at gunpoint. He was arrested, but he’s been charged only with misdemeanors, and Michelle lives in fear that authorities will release him. “However long he’s in jail is the length I have left to live,” she said. In the meantime, Michelle is struggling to make her children feel safe when she doesn’t feel safe herself. You can read Ann Givens’ harrowing and important profile here.

Homicides are sharply up this year, but crime declined in 2019 and remains near record lows. Yesterday, we highlighted preliminary figures from the FBI showing an uptick in homicides so far this year, while most other crimes dropped. A separate look at crime trends through last year broadens the picture. Unlike FBI figures, the annual National Crime Victimization Survey includes crimes that weren’t reported to police. According to the survey, the rate of violent victimization between 2018-2019:

  • Declined by 15 percent, reversing a four-year increase
  • Declined by 20 percent in urban areas; 27 percent among women; 29 percent among Black Americans; and 22 percent among white Americans
  • Overall, the rate of people reporting violent crimes is about two-thirds lower than it was in 1993.

Gun Violence Archive just recorded the 450th mass shooting of 2020. A shooting in Baker, Louisiana, that left four people wounded held the undesirable distinction and keeps this year’s mass shootings total far above the same point last year. As my colleagues reported recently: 2020 is on pace to have the highest total of mass shootings since GVA started keeping track seven years ago. And, as they showed, while some mass shootings grab big headlines and media attention, the majority happen in relative obscurity and disproportionately affect majority-Black neighborhoods.

After a long road, Fresno, California, secures funding for an innovative anti-violence program. Advance Peace provides resources — like education, job training, and counseling — to young men most at risk of being a perpetrator or victim of gun violence. It also has a unique and controversial element: Participants receive a monthly stipend for staying with the program — and out of trouble.  As The Trace’s J. Brian Charles documented last December, Fresno City Council members authorized funding for the program in July 2019, only to have Republican Mayor Lee Brand veto the proposal, citing a lack of evidence that it works. Activists continued their lobbying, buoyed by fresh research showing the model’s effectiveness. This summer, Brand relented and the city announced its support. With the announcement of a new state grant, advocates are targeting an early 2021 launch date.

A white Nebraska bar owner said he fatally shot a Black protester in self-defense. A grand jury just charged him. Jake Gardner, 38, fatally shot James Scurlock, 22, in early June amid protests in Omaha in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd. Scurlock’s death further galvanized local demonstrations. A county DA declined to bring charges in the case but supported the creation of the grand jury that has now charged Gardner with four felonies, including manslaughter. Prosecutors say an exhaustive review of the bar owner’s texts and emails contradicted his self-defense claim.

DATA POINT

More than 220,000 — the number of American handgun exports between March and July this year, close to three times the number during the same period last year. The firearms were valued at more than $90 million. [Global arms trade expert John Lindsay Poland]

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[GIANRIGO MARLETTA/AFP/Getty Images]

Daily Bulletin: FBI Finds Homicides Up 15% During First Half of 2020

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Preliminary FBI data adds to evidence of sharp rise in homicides during the first half of 2020. The numbers show a 15 percent year-to-date increase, according to the bureau’s Uniform Crime Report. Aggravated assaults were also up, but most categories of crime — including robberies and property crimes — were down. The findings echo The Trace’s reporting earlier in the pandemic, which found that gun violence was a glaring exception to declining crime during stay-at-home orders. Crime analyst Jeff Asher parsed the FBI numbers and concluded that they matched the trend lines that emerged from his own analysis of a sample of big cities. An incomplete picture: The Crime Report notes that more than 6,000 police departments have not yet provided statistics, so the numbers are subject to change.

Louisville, Kentucky, pledges police reforms as part of Breonna Taylor settlement. The city will pay Taylor’s family $12 million while promising to implement several new policies, including a requirement that police commanders approve all search warrant applications and a system to flag officers with disciplinary records — as one of the responding officers in Taylor’s raid reportedly had. An activist who worked with Taylor’s family told The New York Times, “In the past, it was monetary or nothing, and usually the city would fight you for years.” TBD: One of protesters’ key demands — the arrest of the three officers involved in Taylor’s death — is unresolved pending an inquiry by Kentucky’s attorney general. Our friends at The Marshall Project explained how the state’s self-defense law and the wide deference afforded to police gives officers a shield that would make a conviction difficult.

An 11-year-old gun violence activist was fatally shot in upstate New York. At a vigil, residents in Troy remembered Ayshawn Davis for being the youngest person at a recent protest against community violence. “His smile was intoxicating in itself, and you could look in his eyes and see that he had determination,” one mourner said.

A top Trump health spokesperson apologized to staff after warning of armed insurrection. In comments reported yesterday, Michael Caputo baselessly said that left-wing squads were gearing up for violence should President Trump be re-elected. Politico cited sources suggesting that Caputo might soon seek medical leave.

🎉 We won a Deadline Club award.🎉 This year’s Les Payne Award for coverage on communities of color went to “Free to Shoot Again,” our 2019 investigation with BuzzFeed News about the large number of shooting cases that regularly go unsolved.

DATA POINT

The share of Chicago homicide victims who were 18 or younger has fallen more than 30 percent since 1990. [Institute for Policy Research]

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On the left, Trump administration official Michael Caputo. [AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite]

Daily Bulletin: A Trump Official’s Ominous — And Unfounded — Election Warning

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

Top Trump aide says without evidence that armed, left-wing hit squads are preparing for post-election insurrection. During a live Q&A on his Facebook page, Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, warned that armed leftists would carry out an insurrection should President Donald Trump be re-elected to the White House. “The shooting will begin,” he said. “The drills that you’ve seen are nothing. If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.” The rant came after he accused scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of “sedition” amid reports that Caputo himself had interfered with the agency’s pandemic reports.

Fact-check: How serious is the left-wing threat? Not nearly as critical as Caputo suggests. New research from the Network Contagion Institute found that there has been a steady increase in violent left-wing memes — with some evidence linking online chatter to rioting and property destruction at protests. But the reality is still a far cry from the rhetoric of the Trump administration, which according to former officials and a recent whistleblower has played up the menace from the left while minimizing the threat from the right. The Network Contagion Institute itself notes that far more violence has emanated from right in recent months, and several extremism experts who discussed the research with The Washington Post said armed violence was a bigger right-wing threat.

Elected officials pushed disinformation that led to armed checkpoints in Oregon. Yesterday, we highlighted news reports about rumors of ideologically motivated arsonists that led residents to set up armed checkpoints and delay fire evacuations. The Guardian offers new reporting to flesh out the picture by showing how some local officials used private Facebook groups to encourage the now-discredited conspiracy theories. “You think no one is lighting fires and trying to burn down towns and hurt people, wake up,” said one county commissioner who had previously blamed the fires on antifa groups.

A fatal police shooting in Pennsylvania leads to community anger — and calls for better mental health responses. On Sunday, police in Lancaster fatally shot Ricardo Munoz, 27, after responding to his sister’s 911 call about his behavior at home. Footage of the shooting, captured on body cam, shows Munoz emerging from a house after the police arrive. He proceeds to run after the officer while holding what appears to be a knife. As the officer retreats, he turns around and shoots Munoz within seconds. Protests erupted around the city, with the police using tear gas to disperse crowds. Mayor Danene Sorace said the shooting demonstrated an urgent need for better de-escalation tactics by law enforcement, as well as increased state funding for mental health care and other services that have been hampered by state budget cuts. “It’s clear beyond a doubt that we lack the tools, the resources, the expertise and the capacity to do this on our own here in the City of Lancaster,” she said. The City Council president echoed her calls and said the county must overhaul “how we do 911 dispatch.”

Demonstrators who walked by gun-toting St. Louis couple receive trespassing citations. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department cited nine people for protesting in an upscale, gated neighborhood in July. The city counselor’s office is reviewing the charges. Last month, the city attorney brought felony charges against Mark and Patricia McCloskey for unlawful use of a weapon. Since making news, the couple has become a cause celebre of the right and appeared at this year’s Republican National Convention.

DATA POINT

45 — how many people were shot in Baltimore last week, 11 of them fatally. The Washington Post notes that, while the city saw a decline in shootings deaths during the pandemic, violence has surged since Labor Day. [The Washington Post]

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A sign spotted near Molalla, Oregon, on September 13, 2020. [Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)]

Daily Bulletin: Fires Rage. Misinformation Swirls. Out Come the Guns.

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

Armed vigilantism makes its way into the forest fire crisis. As West Coast conflagrations spread, false rumors circulated in Oregon late last week that left-wing agitators were to blame for starting some of the blazes. The disinformation added to the danger on the ground in Corbett and Molalla as people with guns set up checkpoints and hunted for a pair of independent journalists mistaken for antifa activists. The New York Times reports that rumors of arsonists and looters had convinced some residents to defy evacuation orders in order to protect their homes as the fires advanced. “What is happening to the world and to Oregon?” summed up a local historian about a tumultuous season of fire and fury.

An ambush shooting critically injured two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies. The officers were shot multiple times as they sat in their patrol car in Compton on Saturday night. The shooting was caught on surveillance video and police were still looking for a suspect. Community tensions —  already elevated after a recent fatal police shooting by LASD officers — boiled over outside the hospital where the officers were taken as a handful of protesters arrived and taunted the police; one officer raised his gun in response. At the scene, a reporter was “arrested while doing her job.” LASD officers charged KPCC/LAist journalist Josie Huang with obstructing a peace officer and detained her for hours after she filmed the hospital standoff. A department spokesperson claimed Huang didn’t have proper credentials, but Huang can be heard identifying herself as a reporter. “This is at least the second time that a journalist of color from this news organization was mistreated and injured while reporting on civil protests,” the Society of Professional Journalists said in a statement. In July, a riot officer struck KPCC/LAist journalist Adolfo Guzman-Lopez with a rubber bullet.

Florida’s Stand Your Ground law shielded a counter-protester who pulled a gun. As we flagged last month, police in Tallahassee declined to charge the man who brandished his firearm during a Black Lives Matter protest. The state attorney said his hands were tied because of the state’s expansive self-defense law. An organizer of the anti-racism protests sees a double-standard, noting that demonstrators have been arrested for impeding traffic after a march on the state’s historic Capitol building spilled into the street.

Solutions watch: County where Daniel Prude was killed expands mental health co-responder program. Prude’s death while in police custody in Rochester, New York, underscored the dangers of having armed police officers respond to mental health calls. Now, Monroe County has announced $360,000 to make mental health professionals available 24/7. As The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle notes, the disturbance that led to Prude’s death had happened after hours. In our weekly newsletter, we looked at other cities experimenting with having mental health professionals and other service providers respond to more 911 calls. (If you don’t get our weekly briefing, or would prefer to change your subscription settings, you can always do so here.)

A witness to the police killing of a suspected shooter in Portland, Oregon, says his account was incorrectly reported. Michael Forest Reinoehl, wanted for the fatal shooting of a right-wing protester earlier this month, was shot and killed during a police raid. Chad Smith, who was at the scene, told The Olympian that Reinoehl was armed at the time of the encounter and fired upon officers. But Smith now tells Vice his narrative was misconstrued: He isn’t sure if Reinoehl pulled a gun at all. That disclosure follows the account of another witness who came forward last week to say he didn’t see Reinoehl armed when officers fatally shot him.

DATA POINT

23 states* have restrictions on civilians bringing firearms into state capitol buildings. Later today, a state commission in Michigan resumes debate on whether to ban guns in the Capitol there. [Giffords]

*Several other states have gun restrictions inside meetings of the state legislature, but not blanket capitol building bans.

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[Shutterstock]

Daily Bulletin: New Research on Guns and Suicide Risks

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WHAT TO KNOW THIS WEEK

New research on the risks of firearms for groups with elevated suicide rates. Yesterday, we highlighted a federal grant to improve gun safety efforts targeted at young people. A new analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data by Everytown for Gun Safety fleshes out the underlying risk:

  • From 2008 to 2019, the rate of gun suicides among Americans aged 10 to 24 increased by 56 percent.
  • Firearm suicides had increased the most among Asian and Pacific Islander (179 percent) and Black youth (83 percent). [Everytown provides grants to The Trace through its nonpolitical arm. Here’s our list of major donors and our policy on editorial independence.] 

Another study provides deeper understanding of gun ownership among LGBT people, who die by suicide at higher rates. A team from the University of California, Davis, found that 16 percent of LGBT Californians own guns, which is below the statewide gun ownership rate. The most common reason given — their own protection — was above the mean. “Efforts to prevent firearm injury, particularly among LGBT owners, will likely need to address suicide risk associated with ownership and self-protection as a primary driver of ownership,” the researchers write. [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.]

NEW from THE TRACE: Are cities willing to cut police spending to invest in community violence prevention? In a commentary piece, two violence prevention leaders make the case for a public health approach to preventing violence that includes money for street outreach, neighborhood revitalization, and jobs programs. With city budgets strained across the country, they say funding will have to shift from massive police budgets to interventions backed by solid evidence. “The truth is, it costs less to prevent violence than to respond to it after the fact,” write Anthony Smith, the executive director at Cities United, and Rachel Davis, the executive director of the Prevention Institute.

Trump appointees downplayed threats from the right while hyping the antifa menace. Among the myriad allegations from a whistleblower complaint by Brian Murphy, a former Department of Homeland Security official: Acting DHS Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli instructed him to alter an intelligence report so that the threat of domestic white supremacist groups appeared “less severe.” At the same time, Cucccinell and acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf asked him to modify intelligence analyses to “ensure that they matched up” with President Trump’s public pronouncements on antifa and anarchist groups. Murphy, who was later reassigned, says he refused both requests. Democratic House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has requested Murphy’s testimony.

  • Not helping: The Facebook echo chamber. Megan Squire, a researcher at Elon University who tracks disinformation and the far-right, crunched the numbers on which posts referencing “antifa” have reached the most people on the social network during the last 30 days. The leaderboard was mostly “dominated by right-wing and far-right-wing media.” The highest performing antifa post from a mainstream or nononservative news source: an article from The Washington Post, at 46th place.

Witness claims officers killed the Portland, Oregon, shooting suspect without prior warning. Michael Forest Reinoehl, the suspect in the fatal shooting of a right-wing protester during a Trump truck rally earlier this month, was shot and killed during a police raid last week. Federal authorities and two witnesses at the scene said Reinoehl was armed at the time of the encounter. But a third witness told The Oregonian he never saw Reinoehl armed, and that officers did not identify themselves ahead of time or try to arrest him first.

A Black licensed gun carrier on why he leaves his gun at home. “It has become clear to me that open carry and concealed carry are white privileges — permit or not,” writes combat veteran and gun instructor Justin McFarlin in USA Today. He says he hasn’t carried in four years: “Despite having a license: I am afraid of being killed by police if I carry a gun in public.

DATA POINT

According to the New York Police Department, the 160 gun arrests officers made last week represented a 25-year high. [NBC New York]

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Chicago police officers investigate a shooting at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in April. [Joshua Lott for The Trace]

Daily Bulletin: Chicago’s Homicide Rise Holds Steady Since Launch of Fed Crackdown

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NEW FROM THE TRACE

Portland, Oregon’s high-stakes experiment to shrink the role of police in fighting gun violence. Amid protests after police killing of George Floyd, the City Council — led by its lone Black member — disbanded a controversial gun violence task force as a part of a broader series of policing reforms. But two months later, as gun violence has surged, demands for reform that reached a fever pitch earlier this summer have met new opposition. While protesters say police cuts are not deep enough, some advocates say the changes leave gun violence victims vulnerable. Royal Harris, a community activist and former gang member, worries what might come next next. “We tear shit up without a plan,” he told Trace contributor Casey Parks. “That’s radical to white people in Portland. But Black and Brown men will disproportionately suffer.”

Former NRA exec: Wayne LaPierre sees himself as the “Jesus Christ of the Second Amendment.” That’s one of the many anecdotes in the new tell-all book by Joshua Powell, a former chief of staff to LaPierre. The book is a thorough indictment of the National Rifle Association and its leader, who is likened to a con man. “Wayne abandoned the advocacy of the Second Amendment years ago and became exactly what he himself had once railed against in countless speeches and commercials — the elite, the Establishment, lost in a made-up dystopian world that he had created and sold to our members,” Powell writes. Will Van Sant has more. Meanwhile, the NRA’s 2020 letter grades are out. Every election, the group grades hundreds of candidates running for federal office. A lone Democratic House candidate and zero Democratic Senate candidates received “A” grades from the NRA this year, while 92 percent flunked. As Daniel Nass reports, that’s a dramatic shift from 2010, when more than a quarter of Democrats received top marks.

WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

Doctors are often seen as trusted messengers on gun safety. $3.6M in federal dollars aims to ensure their voices are heard. Announced during National Suicide Prevention Week, the funding comes from the National Institute of Mental Health and will be used to study how to better implement an existing program that has pediatric primary care doctors counsel young patients on safe storage and provide parents with free gun locks. “We know that safe gun storage will result in saved lives of young people, and there’s an underused resource which can help provide information on firearm safety — pediatric primary care doctors,” said principal investigator Rinad Beidas, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania.

Eyeing armed protests, two Virginia cities enact gun bans in public areas. Charlottesville on Wednesday banned guns on city property and at permitted events, following a similar move by Richmond earlier in the week. Both cities are intimately familiar with armed protests: Charlottesville was home to the “United the Right” rally in 2017 that drew far-right marchers, while the capital hosted a January gun-rights rally that included many armed groups and saw militia members march on its streets last month.

DATA POINT

52 percent — the current year-to-date rise in homicides and shootings in Chicago. The increase has held steady since late July, when the Department of Justice launched its crime-fighting Operation Legend that Attorney General William Barr hailed as having dramatically curbed violence in the city. [WTTW]