Rounds

News and notes on guns in America

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[Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

The Daily Bulletin: Wrapping Up a Busy Day for the NRA

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CRISIS AT THE NRA

NEW from THE TRACE: New York Attorney General Letitia James sues to dissolve the NRA. In a civil complaint filed yesterday in state court, the AG’s office details an array of financial misconduct by the National Rifle Association’s CEO Wayne LaPierre; its general counsel, John Frazer; former COO Joshua Powell; and former treasurer Woody Phillips. CNN notes that James’s office began investigating the gun organization in 2019, “after reporting by The Trace alleged that a small group of executives, contractors and vendors affiliated with the group extracted hundreds of millions from the nonprofit’s budget.” Will Van Sant wraps up the news here.

The allegations: “The NRA, at the direction of the individual defendants and with a series of failures of required oversight by its board, has persistently engaged in illegal and unauthorized activities in the conduct and transaction of its business,” the 164-page complaint states. It cites arrangements first uncovered by The Trace’s reporting, in which tens of millions of dollars in expenses by NRA execs were passed through the group’s former marketing firm, Ackerman McQueen. Ackerman would cover the out-of-pocket expenses of LaPierre and other executives, then bill the gun group, which would pay the costs “without written approvals, receipts, or supporting business purpose documentation.” James added that LaPierre and others should have reported those expenses as taxable income and said her complaint was being given to the Internal Revenue Service. She pointed to several examples of LaPierre’s misuse of NRA money, including millions spent on luxury personal travel and securing a retirement contract with the NRA without approval from its board.

The stakes: Besides the dissolution of the NRA, the suit seeks the removal of LaPierre from his CEO post and millions in restitution from the four defendants. James said her investigation is ongoing and that she would refer to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office  any evidence of criminal acts uncovered by the probe.

Double trouble: The D.C. Attorney General’s Office announced its own action against the NRA Foundation, claiming that it used funds to cover wasteful spending by NRA executives. “Charitable organizations function as public trusts — and District law requires them to use their funds to benefit the public, not to support political campaigns, lobbying, or private interests,” said Attorney General Karl Racine.

The NRA’s response. The gun group quickly filed a countersuit, arguing in federal court that James’s action was a violation of its First Amendment rights and part of a coordinated effort by New York officials to destroy it. LaPierre called the  suit against his group “an unconstitutional, premeditated attack” and insisted that the “NRA is well governed, financially solvent, and committed to good governance.”

Opening the war chest. The head of NRA’s lobbying arm, Jason Ouimet, told The Washington Free Beacon that the NRA is planning to pour “tens of millions of dollars” into battleground states during the home stretch of the 2020 elections. The NRA spent more than $50 million in 2016 to help elect Donald Trump, but gun reform groups pulled far ahead during the 2018 midterms. Ouimet said the NRA lost between $10 and $15 million after canceling its annual convention and other fundraising events, but has added over 60,000 new members since June.

Expert reactions:️ What legal observers are saying:

  • “If the allegations are proven correct, it’s probably the worst example of nonprofit mismanagement that anyone has ever seen. What I thought was a reach before [the attorney general pursuing dissolution], I think now would really be the only viable option. Under the circumstances, I don’t know how you could not pursue dissolution. It’s not a situation that’s capable of being corrected.”— Michael West, senior attorney for the New York Council of Nonprofits, to the Trace.
  • “The AG’s complaint alleges substantial and disturbing financial wrongdoing by the NRA’s officers, but corporate dissolution is the most extreme remedy in a case of this kind. It remains to be seen whether that bold prayer for relief can be justified by the extent of the self-dealing and misappropriation.” — Sean Delany, a former director of the Charities Bureau in the Attorney General’s Office, to the Trace.
  • “There are still a lot of single-issue pro-gun voters who will make their voices heard on Election Day. But it seems likely that the NRA will have neither the money nor the focus to lead them. Instead of fighting for its expansive vision of the Second Amendment, it will be too busy trying to save itself.” — Adam Winkler, professor of law at University of California, Los Angeles, writing in The New Republic.

WHAT ELSE TO KNOW TODAY

Two-thirds of people who committed mass shooting attacks last year — defined as three or more casualties — first exhibited behavior that concerned others, according to a new Secret Service report. Nearly half used guns illegally and more than one-third had histories of domestic violence.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Representative Jim Himes, both Democrats from Connecticut, reintroduced a bill that would ban guns for people served with temporary restraining orders and close the so-called boyfriend loophole to extend domestic violence gun bans to dating partners.

The Department of Justice is expanding Operation Legend to Memphis and St. Louis. The Trump administration has sent federal agents to Albuquerque, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Missouri, and Milwaukee as a part of its anti-crime crackdown.

A commission voted to delay a Minneapolis referendum on its City Council’s plan to defund and overhaul the Police Department. 

DATA POINT

The New York attorney general’s complaint against the NRA claims that Wayne LaPierre and other executives drained $64 million from the nonprofit in only three years. [New York AG’s office]

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Top Chicago Police Department officials and the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois stand side-by-side during a press conference about Operation Legend. [Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP]

Daily Bulletin: How ‘Operation Legend’ is Changing Chicago Courts

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

More gun cases and confusion as feds get hands on in Chicago. In late July, as part of Operation Legend, the Trump administration sent 100 federal agents to Chicago to “fight violent crime.” The Chicago Tribune brings us an inside look at how things are playing out. Notably, federal prosecutors are taking on more gun cases — not the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, which brings most firearms-related charges in Chicago. Internal communications show that the shift has sown some confusion. As the State’s Attorney’s Office prepared for the start of Operation Legend, a high-ranking prosecutor announced in an email that federal agents would get the right of first refusal on all new gun cases, sidestepping the office altogether. The plan was later scrapped. State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has said of the federal effort, “We will take help, but with skepticism and only where it is appropriate.”

Compton, California, presses for state, federal probe over alleged misconduct by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. A local restaurant owner described being detained at gunpoint last month and released without explanation. Compton Mayor Aja Brown said officers pulled her over in June and searched her car for drugs before letting her off without a ticket. Those were some of the public recollections this week that echo new whistleblower allegations from a sheriff’s deputy. In a legal filing, he claims that a rogue group of LASD deputies based in Compton regularly set illegal arrest quotas and celebrated after officers shot residents. The city plans to request a civil rights investigation by U.S. Attorney General William Barr and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and is reassessing its $22 million-dollar per year contract with the LASD.

Virginia’s new one-handgun-per-month law caused nearly 60 percent of the state’s background check denials last month. The state’s new purchase limit blocked 1,102 sales of handguns in the state in July, according to the Virginia Firearms Transaction Center. (Felony convictions were responsible for the second-highest number of denials — with just 42.) Many gun dealers in the state attributed the high number to confusion about the law — it applied retroactively to the previous 30 days starting before July 1, not after. Overall, the number of background check denials are up in Virginia— and nationally — as a result of a record-breaking demand for guns.

Gun safety drives voter enthusiasm among Latinx Texans. That’s according to a new poll conducted by gun reform advocacy group Giffords Law Center and the progressive Latino Victory Project. Overall, it found that 57 percent of Latinx voters were “much more” motivated to vote this year than in 2016, and a majority of respondents cited gun reform in an important factor in their decision to vote. Among the reasons for the shift? Respondents said they were more worried about their safety following last year’s racially motivated mass shooting in El Paso, in which the perpetrator targeted the city’s Latinx population.

📺Watch📺: Our reporter Lakeidra Chavis joined a “Chicago Tonight” discussion on WTTW to discuss her recent story about the alarming rise in suicides among Black residents in Cook County.

DATA POINT

45 percent — the percentage of Black Americans who reported a disrespectful interaction with law enforcement in the previous year that want a diminished police presence in their area. By contrast, just 13 percent of those who reported a respectful interaction wanted fewer police. [Gallup]

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New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, left, speaks alongside Mayor Bill de Blasio. [AP Photo/John Minchillo]

Daily Bulletin: An Internal NYC Report Contradicts City Hall’s Narrative on Rising Gun Violence

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

NEW from THE TRACE: Officials pledge to address increase in Black suicides in Chicago. Cook County is on pace to have more Black residents die of suicide than in any year in a decade. In response, local government and public health leaders said yesterday that they are assembling a plan to improve suicide-prevention training for healthcare providers and expand access to behavioral health services. “This is horrifying,” said the Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “It’s not surprising the communities that suffered the most are the ones who also have the least.” Lakeidra Chavis, who was first to flag the spike in suicides, has the follow-up.

An internal New York City report contradicts City Hall’s narrative on rising gun violence. Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD’s top brass have blamed the uptick on lighter punishment for gun crimes brought on by a state bail reform law, a pandemic-related prisoner release, and a court system running below capacity. But a city analysis obtained by The New York Times is full of data that challenges those claims: Just seven of the 1,500 inmates let out of the city’s main jail during the early weeks of the coronavirus outbreak were rearrested on a weapons charge by mid-July. Only 40 of the 2,000 people allowed to await trail from home in pending gun cases last month were rearrested on another weapons offense. And city courts are processing gun cases at roughly the same rate as last year. What has changed? The NYPD’s volume of gun arrests, which dropped to a weekly low of 22 in late June before beginning to climb back up last month.

“A no-win situation:” Distrust for both the police and the defund movement on Minneapolis’ North Side. The majority Black neighborhood is facing a rise in shootings and homicides while also contending with a history of racial disparities in policing. Many residents told The New York Times that they are wary of the city council’s move to significantly reduce and reimagine the Minneapolis Police Department after George Floyd’s killing. “It’s good to have good police. It’s bad to have bad police,” said one woman, capturing the awful conundrum her community faces. Poll numbers capture a similar paradox: In a Pew Research Center survey, Black respondents favored cutting police spending at twice the rate of white respondents — but 55 percent said law enforcement funding should increase or remain at current levels.

Two cases of Black families being apprehended by officers at gunpoint. In Aurora, Colorado, police officers detained a family of four — and handcuffed two children — after mistaking their car for a stolen vehicle. The police chief has launched an internal probe and apologized for the incident. In Washington, D.C., two women said Secret Service agents apprehended them and their young children on the National Mall, The Washington Post reports. One officer alleged that their car was reported stolen, though the women were subsequently released without explanation. The women have demanded an investigation.

St. Louis prosecutor who charged gun-brandishing couple wins primary fight. Kim Gardner, part of the wave of progressive prosecutors elected in 2016, held off her more centrist Democratic challenger. Gardner’s reform agenda has been overshadowed in recent weeks by conservative blowback to the felony charges she brought against Mark and Patricia McCloskey for pointing guns at Black Lives Matter protesters filing past their St. Louis mansion. Gardner, the first Black woman to hold her position, has also faced racist threats.

Tossed: An NRA state affiliate’s challenge to a California gun restriction. The California Pistol and Rifle Association argued the state’s pre-emption law should invalidate the city of Morgan Hill’s ordinance mandating the reporting of lost or stolen guns, which are a significant source of crime weapons. A judge disagreed, saying local governments retain significant powers to regulate firearms within their boundaries. The CPRA pledged to appeal.

Reinstated: A gun dealer’s suit against Maryland’s handgun licensing requirement. A federal appeals court decided that a firearms seller who’s challenged the 2013 law does have standing to make a Second Amendment claim based on its purported loss of business and harm to its customers. The case goes back to the lower court for trial.

DATA POINT

In suburban Cook County, Illinois — excluding Chicago — there have been at least 135 cases since 2005 in which law enforcement officers shot someone. There was no disciplinary action or criminal charges against officers in any of 124 cases that are now closed. [Better Government Association]

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Flowers placed in a bullet hole near the scene of the Dayton shooting. [AJ Mast for The New York Times]

Daily Bulletin: Dayton, One Year On

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

NEW from THE TRACE: How many guns did Americans buy last month? We’re tracking the sales boom. With 2.61 million guns sold, July 2020 was the second-highest month on record, according to estimates based on seasonally adjusted background check data. That figure includes about 1.64 million handguns and 970,000 long guns (rifles and shotguns). The Trace’s firearm sales estimates are derived from data from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, run by the FBI. Be sure to bookmark our new tool here, which will update every month.

A violent year in Chicago continues to take its toll on the city’s young people. On Friday, 17-year-old activist Caleb Reed was shot in Rogers Park. Reed, a member of the young activist group Youth in Chicago Education, had emerged as a leader in the effort to remove Chicago’s police officers from public schools. “We can honor him by continuing the call to end (gun violence) & get students resources for healing,” tweeted the youth anti-violence organization GoodKids MadCity, after Reed died in the hospital on Sunday. Also on Friday, 9-year old Janari Ricks was fatally shot as he played outside with friends. Police arrested a suspect in Ricks’ shooting on Monday. The same evening Reed and Ricks were shot, a “Kids Lives Matter” march on the South Side drew dozens of youth and their families. “No more violence, no more hurt or anything,” said a 12-year-old participant.

A Pennsylvania man shot at a shop owner after refusing to wear a mask. Then he fired on the police who tried to arrest him the next day. The first incident happened on Saturday at a cigar shop in Bethlehem Township. The employee who mandated the face covering was not wounded. When police tried to apprehend the suspect near his home, the man fired on officers with an AK-47 and a handgun. He injured an officer before being wounded in return fire, and was arraigned on 22 charges including attempted homicide. It was the 13th incident we’ve spotted connected to disputes over pandemic-related public health restrictions. See a case missing from our tracker? Please let us know.

The Dayton mass shooting, one year on. In the early hours of August 4, 2019, a gunman killed nine people and injured 17 outside a bar in the Ohio city before being killed by the police. Residents and city leaders are marking the anniversary with virtual vigils and socially distanced commemorations, but described the additional difficulty of the pandemic. “We want to hug each other and to be with each other, and we just cannot do it,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. Meanwhile, the FBI continues to investigate the motivations of the 24-year-old perpetrator.

A federal judge’s video tribute to her son. Last month, a self-proclaimed “anti-feminist” lawyer went to the home of U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas and fatally shot her 20-year-old son and critically wounded her husband. The shooter, who once tried a case before Salas, was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. “Two weeks ago, my life as I knew it changed in an instant, and my family will never be the same,” Salas said. “Now, more than ever, we need to identify a solution that keeps the lives of federal judges private,” she added, describing how such information is readily accessible on the internet.

DATA POINT

72 percent how many of the nation’s 50 largest cities saw double-digit increases in homicides this year, according to a new Wall Street Journal analysis. Though elevated, homicide levels across the country are still near historic lows. [The Wall Street Journal]

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Eddie Bocanegra, an anti-violence leader in Chicago, stands looking down at his phone. [AP Photo/M. Spencer Green]

Daily Bulletin: Breaking Cycles of Violence, With Help From Twitter?

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

Twitter could contain clues for interrupting cycles of community violence. Police departments already surveil social media posts for evidence of crimes or signs of escalating conflicts. In a new paper, three academics lay out a framework for using the platforms to direct trauma therapy and outreach services to young people mourning the loss of a family member or close friend to a shooting or other violent crime. To conduct their study, the researchers used field work on Chicago’s South Side to shape an algorithm that sifts tweets expressing shared grief by underserved, gang-involved youth who are difficult to reach by traditional institutions. “We want to push these methods in ways that are more equitable, less about putting people in prison and more about wrapping our arms around them,” said sociologist Forrest Stuart, one of the authors.

Mourning through artifacts: A new exhibit memorializes victims of the El Paso mass shooting. One year ago today, a 22-year-old gunman targeting Hispanics killed 23 people and injured 22 others at a Walmart. The El Paso Museum of History is marking the anniversary with “Resilience: Remembering August 3,” an exhibit that combines new artwork with hundreds of items left behind at the impromptu memorials made by people paying their respects during the days after the massacre. “It’s a bit macabre, I understand, but it’s really important because it’s one of those things where you hold these pieces of material culture for posterity so we don’t forget,” the curator said. Related: The incoming El Paso district attorney — the city’s first woman to hold the position — believes it is likely still two to three years before the trial of shooting suspect begins.

Report finds some Latino Americans turning to guns for protection. Nearly 70 percent of Latino voters think firearm laws should be stricter, according to Pew data. But CNN found evidence of growing interest among Latinos in owning guns for self-defense in the wake of the El Paso attack and a broader surge in anti-immigrant hate crimes. For the feature, the cable network interviewed a new gun owner in Southern California, a left-learning gun group that says about 10 percent of its members are now Latino, and an El Paso firearms instructor who says demand for his concealed carry classes surged following the mass shooting.

House earmarks another $55 million for federal gun violence research in 2021. That’s $30 million more than the sum Congress approved last year in its first appropriation for gun violence research in two decades. As part of the $1.3 trillion spending package passed by the House late last week, Democratic appropriators have also pledged $10.5 million for community-based violence prevention initiatives and millions for school security, including $1 million for an independent study to review the mental health effects of lockdown drills. The Republican-led Senate has barely begun its appropriations process, so a final budget is likely still months away.

Armed “boogaloo” adherents show up at Texas protests. Earlier this week, The Informant’s Nick Martin unearthed a new website promoting the loose anti-government movement that links pro gun views to a belief in a looming second civil war. The site included calls for the “justifiable use of force” against law enforcement officials and urged followers to show up armed for a Black Lives Matter protest in Austin this weekend. It appears a small group did just that. Saturday’s demonstrations were tense but largely peaceful.

Meanwhile, the motorist who fatally shot an armed Austin protester is claiming self defense. The lawyer for the man, identified as an active-duty sergeant in the Army who worked on the side as a ride-share driver, said his client shot and killed demonstrator Garrett Foster last weekend to “protect his own life” after Foster allegedly raised his assault-style rifle at him. At least one witness told the Statesmen that Foster had kept his rifle pointed to the ground in the moments before the fatal confrontation. No charges have been filed against the shooter and police are still investigating.

DATA POINT

Fewer than 1 percent of the participants in a life-coaching program offered through Oakland, California’s version of the Ceasefire model for violence prevention were rearrested for shootings in 2018. [Mother Jones]

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[AP Photo/Julio Cortez]

Daily Bulletin: Lawyers vs. Militias

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

“It’s a first step toward anarchy”: Legal coalition warns of the unchecked rise of armed groups. Some of the nation’s biggest law firms and Georgetown’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) are partnering to offer pro bono legal services to local governments confronting increasingly active far-right militia groups. The push includes a toolkit for communities concerned about protecting the First Amendment and public safety in the shadow of potential political violence. “It is not for self-appointed armed groups to mediate conflict,” said one local district attorney who has used the legal theory developed by ICAP’s legal director Mary McCord to sue a Nevada militia for unauthorized paramilitary activity at a protest where a shooting occurred. McCord and other coalition members said that their campaign is ultimately ideologically neutral — she warned officials in Louisville, Kentucky, that a rally last weekend organized by a leftist Black militia (which also drew armed counter-protesters from the notorious Three Percenter militia) appeared to violate the state’s ban on private paramilitary activity.

NEW from THE TRACE: An outdated understanding of Chicago gangs could be hampering gun violence prevention. Many city officials blame gang activity for the rising shootings that are threatening years of progress. But Roberto Aspholm, an academic who has extensively studied the structure of gangs in Chicago, says that the prevailing narrative about how they operate misses their evolution — from centralized, cross-neighborhood organizations heavily involved in the drug business, to today’s smaller, independent groups that have relatively fewer economic prospects. “I think people need to think about how we can create a society in which everyone can live a dignified life,” he told Lakeidra Chavis in a Q&A. “The violence that’s taken place is a manifestation of poverty, of despair, of hopelessness.”

Federal crackdown expands to more cities facing higher gun violence. The Department of Justice’s Operation Legend sent agents from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to Kansas City, Missouri, earlier this month and expanded to Chicago and Albuquerque last week. More federal agents are now on their way to Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan echoed the leaders of other cities by saying he welcomed federal officials “so long as they are used in the continuing effort to enforce federal laws on illegal gun trafficking and gang violence” — and not detaining protesters like in Portland, Oregon. From street level, a more critical view: As in Chicago, activists in the next round of targeted cities regard the pending federal surge with skepticism or contempt. “We vehemently oppose Operation Legend,” an organizer with Detroit Will Breathe told The Detroit News while protesting the announcement. “What we need is we need federal dollars for support in our communities, not police.”

Breonna Taylor featured on the September cover of O Magazine. The digital drawing of the 26-year-old EMT, who was killed in Louisville in a no-knock police raid in March, marks the first time that Oprah Winfrey hasn’t graced the front of her own publication since it was launched two decades ago.

🎧 Listen 🎧: Our reporter Lakeidra Chavis joined Reset on WBEZ Chicago to discuss her recent story about the stark rise in suicides among Black residents.

🚨Help a friend🚨: Nick Martin, who partnered with The Trace for our investigation of gun firms marketing to “boogaloo” believers is, running a membership drive for his independent journalism startup, The Informant, which covers extremism in America. You can sign up here.

DATA POINT

Armed demonstrators have confronted protesters rallying against racism in at least 33 states. [Guns & America]

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[Nate Kitch for The Trace]

Daily Bulletin: A New Injection of Private Funding for Gun Violence Research

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

Congressional Dems probe role of ex-gun industry lobbyist in repeal of silencer sales ban. Earlier this month, the Trump administration rescinded a rule preventing exports of silencers to private companies or individuals in other countries. According to The New York Times, the effort was led by a White House official who used to work for the American Suppressor Association, a firearms trade group. House Democrats have now asked the Office of Management and Budget to furnish documents and emails between the official, Michael B. Williams, three gun industry groups, and government officials.

Research collaborative announces new round of gun violence studies. The National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research awarded $7.5 million to 15 projects exploring issues like the effect of ‘gun-free zones’ on gun violence reduction; how officer-involved shootings inform training and de-escalation policies; and how the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown affected birth and pregnancy outcomes of Black mothers. It’s the second round of research projects backed by the collaborative; last summer, it awarded nearly $10 million in grants.

What the data tells us about how Maryland’s red flag law is being used. The law, enacted in October 2018, allows police, family or household members, and some healthcare workers to petition a court to legally disarm gun owners. Temporary orders, which last up to seven days, were granted about 60 percent of the time, according to an analysis of state data by Jake Charles, the executive director of the Duke Center for Firearms Law. Final orders, which last up to a year, were granted in two-thirds of cases. Charles offered two takeaways: The number of hearings for gun removals has remained steady over the last year. And that the data “does not support the notion that judges are rubber-stamping petitions,” a frequent criticism by gun-rights groups.

More gun violence prevention groups call for a repeal of ‘sand your ground’ laws. A new report from Giffords Law Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund argues that the self-defense laws have “been used to justify murderous vigilantism, especially against Black men” in the 27 states that have adopted them. The groups are calling for their repeal. As J. Brian Charles reported in May, the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery prompted several other groups, including Amnesty International and the Community Justice Action Fund, to assemble a multistate repeal push.

Chicago Police official dies by suicide at work. Friends said Dion Boyd, the deputy chief of criminal networks, had been traumatized by the shooting death of an officer under his command in 2018. Boyd is part of a steep rise in suicides among Black residents this year. Police Superintendent David Brown pleaded with officers to “always remember to take care of ourselves and each other. There is no shame in reaching out for help.”

DATA POINT

12 — the number of shootings we’ve identified with a strong connection to pandemic-related public health restrictions like social distancing, mask requirements, and occupancy limits. The most recent took place in a New Orleans convenience store on July 26. [The Trace]

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[Sarah A. Miller/Tyler Morning Telegraph via AP]

Daily Bulletin: Where Armed Militias Have Protesters Canceling Plans

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

Conservative militias are “bringing the threat of lethal force to local politics.” So reports The Washington Post in a deep dive on the emergence of right-wing activists who openly carry guns while guarding businesses and patrolling anti-racism protests, in some cases with the overt or tacit blessing of law enforcement. “They’ve… made people feel like they can’t be safe while standing up for Black lives,” said a demonstrator who squared off with members of the new American Wolf militia in Washington state. Across the Pacific Northwest, the paper adds, a handful of militia members and sympathizers hold local office, are running for state legislatures, or leading Republican gubernatorial primaries. In Utah, protest organizers are canceling events to avoid confrontations with a fast-growing militia. The Guardian shines a light on the Utah Citizens’ Alarm, which formed after a Black Lives Matter protest in Provo and has been appearing at other demonstrations around the state, raising concerns that its shows of force are inhibiting free speech. “Short of more overt threats of violence, we usually protect protesters with guns in the same ways we protect protesters without them,” says a law professor. “But if the express goal of the armed individuals is to intimidate people who might otherwise share their views, that’s especially troubling.” Both The Guardian and Washington Post articles note a countertrend: Black Lives Matter organizers and leftist groups are bringing their own guns to rallies.

What do guns mean to gun owners? Researchers have some new insights. A team from the Boston University School of Public Health analyzed a 2019 survey of more than 2,000 gun owners and found that 60 percent of respondents said they own a firearm for self-defense, a finding echoed in previous surveys. Only 10 percent said guns were “important to my overall identity,” but 62 percent said they felt gun reform advocates want to “eliminate aspects of gun culture.” Seven in 10 said they were reluctant to get involved in gun violence prevention efforts because they felt scapegoated by gun reform advocates. Their article was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine

Expanded mass shootings database fleshes out the characteristics of mass shooters. Last year, the Violence Project — a Justice Department-funded research outfit run by two Twin Cities-based criminologists — launched a tool with data on 170 mass shooters (they define the incidents as four or more people killed). That initial dataset identified several commonalities in mass shooters’ backgrounds, including early childhood trauma, an interest in prior mass shooters, and access to guns. For version 2.0, the scholars factored in additional variables, which yielded these takeaways:

  • Over 80 percent of shooters were in a noticeable state of crisis prior to their rampage; psychosis directly motivated 11 percent of cases
  • 33 percent of perpetrators had a history of domestic violence 
  • A shooter who had spent more time using guns tended to cause more deaths during their rampage

Congress passes a bill calling for study of societal forces — including gun violence — that impact Black men. The bipartisan Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act would have the Department of Justice examine how homicide, gun violence, mass incarceration, police brutality, and other factors have stymied Black mobility. Representative Frederica Wilson, a Democrat, introduced the bill in 2019; Republican Senator Marco Rubio introduced a Senate version later that year. The commission mirrors one they helped enact in Florida in 2006 as state legislators.

After slight dip in weekend shootings, Chicago’s top cop touts “tenuous progress.” At least 57 people were shot between Friday evening and early Monday, the lowest weekend toll this month. Police Superintendent David Brown said the reduction came after the launch of two new units: a 300-officer “community safety team” patrolling violent hotspots on the South and West Sides, and a 250-officer “critical incident response team” to police political protests while beat cops remain in their neighborhoods. “This is not a roving strike force like what CPD has had in the past,” Brown said. “This is a first-of-its kind approach, designed for officers to get to know people and places within each of the unique neighborhoods they serve.”

Remington files for bankruptcy for the second time in as many years. The gunmaker’s Chapter 11 filing was not driven by a slump in gun sales, Second Amendment expert Adam Winkler told The New York Times. “Remington’s problem is mostly a problem of Remington mismanagement and not a reflection of larger trends in the gun world,” he said. The company took on debt and faced skittish investors after one of its rifles was used in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, prompting a lawsuit from victims’ families, some of whom are now pressuring Remington’s creditors to allow their case to proceed despite the bankruptcy.

Police bring attempted murder charges in shooting at Colorado rally. Aurora Police arrested a 23-year-old man alleged to have opened fire after a motorist drove into a crowd during a demonstration honoring police shooting victim Elijah McClain. The bullet missed the car, but hit two protesters.

DATA POINT

Only 27 percent of federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies submitted their data to the FBI for its new report tracking use-of-force incidents in the United States. Participation in the database is voluntary. [FBI]

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Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, arrives to a State of the Union address. [Leah Millis/Pool via AP]

Daily Bulletin: Why the Supreme Court Is Staying Away From Guns

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

A behind-the-scenes peek at Chief Justice John Roberts — and why he could prove a roadblock for gun rights activists. Last month, the Supreme Court declined to hear 10 challenges to state gun laws. A new CNN profile of the chief justice offers a theory as to why: The court’s conservative members are worried that Roberts might be the deciding vote on a gun case, and end up upholding regulations. “Roberts sent enough signals during internal deliberations on firearms restrictions, sources said, to convince fellow conservatives he would not provide a critical fifth vote anytime soon to overturn gun control regulations,” the story reads.

An expert weighs in: “Assuming this reporting accurately conveys Chief Justice Roberts’s views and is not, say, merely strategic leaking meant to pressure or shame him, I think it makes a big Second Amendment case in the near term very unlikely,” Jake Charles, the executive director of the Duke Center for Firearms Law, tells The Trace. “The court doesn’t seem poised to issue a broad ruling that settles the open questions in the field.”

Minneapolis residents experiment with alternatives to policing. A new report in The Wall Street Journal spotlights a group of Black gun owners who are providing security at community events in the city. The group assembled last month in response to looting in several Minneapolis neighborhoods and patrolled the streets to deter illegal activity. While the police approve of the patrols, one local lawmaker worries that “you could very easily create the same things we rally against.” Last week, the Minneapolis City Council, which is trying to balance a desire for wholesale police reform with reducing persistent gun violence, approved a $10 million cut to the Police Department’s $193 million annual budget.

Could a shift away from policing work in the long term? One criminologist thinks so. In an op-ed in The Hill, David Weisburd, a professor at George Mason University, argues that communities can reduce gun violence by increasing trust among neighbors in the hotspots where most violence occurs. Most cities rely on police to address violent disputes, but Weisburg argues that the work could be better served by professionals like social workers, community organizers, and community psychologists. “When residents themselves are able to intervene and prevent minor problems from escalating, the need for policing likely can be reduced,” he writes.

Chicago’s mayor responds to our reporting on an increase in Black suicides. This past weekend, Lakeidra Chavis revealed a steep rise in the number of Black Cook County residents who have taken their own lives through the first half of the year. In a press conference on Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was aware of the “grim” statistics highlighted by our coverage. “This is a very difficult time in our city,” she continued. “There were many, many people before COVID, but certainly since, that are suffering from trauma.” She added that the city’s Public Health Department is doing community outreach with the goal of making Chicago “one of the most trauma-informed cities.”

How many murders have ‘antifa’ members committed in the last 25 years? Zero. That’s according to a new database of politically motivated attacks across the U.S. between 1994 and 2019 compiled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a centrist foreign policy think tank. Despite the Trump administration’s rhetoric about a far-left antifa menace, CSIS identified only one deadly attack involving an anti-fascist — and the perpetrator was the only casualty after police shot him. However, over the same period, attacks staged by right-wing activists killed at least 329 people. Broadly defined left-wing attacks claimed 21 lives.

NYC mayor: “Huge backlog” in court system contributing to more gun violence. Bill de Blasio called on the courts to fully reopen, saying that only half of active gun charges over the last two years — about 2,100 cases — have reached the indictment stage. The mayor sent a letter to the city’s chief judge and five district attorneys urging them to work together to expedite the reopening. According to the NYPD, there’s been a 73 percent increase in shootings in the city through July 26 compared to the same period last year. Eight people, including two teens, were fatally shot on Sunday.

Three of our stories are finalists for Deadline Club awards. The New York City chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists honored our investigation with The New Yorker into self-dealing at the NRA; another partnership with The New Yorker that called attention to thefts from gun stores; and our data-driven feature with BuzzFeed News about the failure of police departments to solve shootings. The winners will be announced on September 14.

DATA POINT

10 percent: The share of use-of-force complaints filed against NYPD officers between 1985 and 2020 that involved a firearm, as listed in a new database. [ProPublica]

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An attendee holds a candle at a vigil for Garrett Foster, who was shot and killed after an altercation with a motorist who allegedly drove into a crowd of demonstrators in Austin, Texas. [Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images]

Daily Bulletin: Guns at Protests Lead to Shots Fired in Three Cities

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

A motorist fatally shot an armed demonstrator during a Black Lives Matter protest in Austin, Texas. Marchers were moving through an intersection in the city’s downtown on Saturday night when a man reportedly aggressively drove his car into the group. One of the protesters, Garrett Foster, was carrying an assault-style rifle and approached the motorist, who shot Foster three times with a handgun. Another protester fired at the driver as he sped away. Both shooters were licensed handgun carriers and were released after questioning, said Austin Police, who continue to investigate the incident. Foster attended the protest with his fiancé, who later returned to the scene to mourn his death with fellow marchers.

Two protesters were shot in Aurora, Colorado, as marchers closed down an interstate. The demonstration in the Denver suburb honored Elijah McClain, who died last August after an encounter with police. Like in Austin, a car attempted to drive through the crowd, officials said, when a protester responded by opening fire. The shots missed the vehicle but struck another protester, who suffered non-life threatening injuries. Police are still searching for the weapon and the shooter. A second protester later showed up at the hospital with a minor bullet wound, police said.

Three people were injured by gunfire at a Louisville, Kentucky, protest that drew opposing militias. The Black NFAC militia organized the march in honor of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot during a no-knock police raid earlier this year. The far-right Three Percenter militia encouraged its members to also show up, but their presence was dwarfed by an estimated 500 NFAC members. During the gathering, three NFAC marchers were struck by what police say was an unintentional discharge by a fellow militia member. The most seriously injured NFAC marcher was treated in the ICU; all are expected to survive. “This is a tragic situation that could have been much worse,” the city’s police chief said.

Chicago street outreach work receives a $5 million injection. The president of the Cook County Board of commissioners announced that the money would go to Metropolitan Family Services, which oversees several of Chicago’s major community-led gun violence prevention initiatives (including a Metropolitan Peace Academy that trains new violence interrupters). Homicides in Cook County are up more than 40 percent year-over-year.

The city is also confronting a steep rise in suicide among Black people. Halfway through 2020, the number of Black residents of Cook County who’ve died by suicide has already surpassed last year’s total, The Trace’s Lakeidra Chavis reported in an article that appeared on the front page of Sunday’s Chicago Sun-Times. “Ignoring the issue until it becomes a crisis has become the method of treatment,” one mental health advocate told her. The city’s underserved neighborhoods have a shortage of publicly funded counseling options, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot has yet to make good on a pledge to reopen city mental health clinics closed by her predecessor, Rahm Emanuel.

ICYMI: The NRA spent members’ money on a covert campaign to keep Wayne LaPierre in power. That’s the story told in an episode of Gangster Capitalism, a podcast that dedicated its second season to an examination of the National Rifle Association’s history and recent turmoil. The Trace’s Will Van Sant recapped the alleged scheme, through which the gun group reportedly arranged to lavish members with free travel and perks so they would campaign to keep LaPierre loyalists on its board of directors.

DATA POINT

In its 2021 budget, the Washington, D.C., City Council redirected $15 million away from the city’s police department toward public safety programs that include violence interruption and a new position that will coordinate the city’s gun violence prevention strategy. [WUSA9]

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[Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

NRA Spent Thousands on Covert Campaign to Keep Wayne LaPierre in Power

For more than two decades, the National Rifle Association has used member money to fund a covert campaign to keep Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and his loyalists in power.

That’s the story told in a recently released episode of Gangster Capitalism, a podcast that dedicated its second season to an examination of the NRA’s history and recent turmoil.

In the episode, NRA instructor and member Dezarae Payne describes how her husband, Paul Payne, from whom she is separated, has since the late 1990s worked secretly to tilt board elections in favor of LaPierre. Paul Payne has been an NRA employee, administrator of the NRA Members’ Councils of California, a state affiliate, and a liaison to LaPierre.

Dezarae Payne told the podcast that every year LaPierre’s office gives Paul Payne the names of NRA board candidates considered allies of the longtime boss of the gun group. Payne then works through the council to lobby NRA members in California to vote for those candidates. Because such a small percentage of members take part in the annual mail ballot election for board seats, Dezarea Payne said, her husband’s electioneering has routinely been critical to victory.

All but one of the NRA’s 76 board members are elected by mail-in ballot, and serve three-year terms. The final board member, who serves a one-year term, is chosen in-person by members at the NRA’s annual convention.

Every year, Dezarea Payne said, her husband solicits volunteers who are flown to the convention to encourage members to back LaPierre’s favored candidate for the one-year term. These volunteers are given free concert and event tickets at the convention, and treated to a lavish dinner with LaPierre and his key aides. Payne said the trip costs the NRA $35,000 to $45,000 and has been a clandestine affair. “You have to be completely loyal to Wayne,” she said of the volunteers, who typically number up to a dozen. “You can’t question what they are doing, you have to be secretive, you can’t tell people what you are doing, who you work for.”

She said that the NRA, meanwhile, has paid Paul Payne $80,000 a year, $36,000 for expenses, plus benefits and has provided him an assistant, who is paid $60,000 annually.

Michael Schwartz, a gun rights advocate from San Diego who used to belong to the members’ councils, confirmed Dezarea Payne’s account. “The attitude from Paul Payne was very strange,” Schwartz said in regard to an NRA convention trip he made at Payne’s urging. “He was treating it like it was some kind of covert military op, which was beyond ridiculous. He had us staying at a hotel that was away from the convention center. We were told not to talk to any NRA employees or any NRA board members. We were told not to tell anybody why we were there.”

Schwartz said he was enthusiastic about the trip at first, then doubts arose. “It did not seem entirely ethical for the NRA to fund volunteers to come help get a board member elected at the direction of an NRA employee,” he said, “it just didn’t seem like the right thing to do.”

The episode ends with Dezarae Payne delivering a message to NRA supporters: “Your money is not getting you a board member that’s representing you. Your activism right now is going to pay for somebody who is rigging the election to keep Wayne in power.”

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Black Lives Matter protesters find a corner near Boise City Hall as they become surrounded by counter-protesters. [AP photo, Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman]

Daily Bulletin: More Armed Confrontations Over Protests and Mask Mandates

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Protest and pandemic disputes lead to more armed confrontations. In Boise, Idaho, police said they disarmed a woman who reportedly pointed a gun at protesters during a Black Lives Matter rally that drew counter-protesters. The city’s police chief called the incident “disheartening” and the department has referred the case to local prosecutors. In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a man is facing felony charges after pulling a gun on a fellow Walmart shopper who told him to cover his face. The armed man was charged with aggravated assault and improper exhibition of a firearm.

As gun background checks surged in March, denied purchasers and delayed screenings ticked up. While the FBI was notching its then-highest month for background checks processed, the share of would-be buyers rejected increased to 1.6 percent, compared to 1.2 percent in February, according to a Freedom of Information Act request of FBI data obtained by Politico. In raw numbers: Nearly 14,000 more people barred from owning guns tried to buy one through the system, versus the prior month total. The share of background checks that took longer than three business days to complete rose to 5.2 percent, up nearly 2 percentage points. But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives did not provide numbers on the question with the most direct implications for public safety: How many of those more than 76,000 screenings led to a prohibited person obtaining a firearm after the sale was allowed to proceed with the background check still pending, as federal law allows.

The NRA’s 2020 convention is officially canceled. Citing COVID-19, the gun group postponed the event set for Nashville, Tennessee, in March, relocating it to a smaller venue in Springfield, Missouri, in September. Earlier this week, the NRA suggested it would push back the event again. But on Thursday, the convention site said the NRA has officially cancelled its 2020 gathering because of travel and health concerns related to the pandemic.

An anti-violence leader on Trump’s federal law enforcement surge. As part of Operation Legend, the Department of Justice will send 100 agents from the FBI, ATF, and Drug Enforcement Agency to help Chicago “fight violent crime.” The Trace asked Eddie Bocanegra, the senior director of READI Chicago, for his perspective on how the push will affect gun violence prevention efforts there: “No matter who is charged with safeguarding our communities, it is imperative that we respect the constitutional rights and personal freedoms of our citizens. But let’s think about the total cost of federal agents or the total cost of police court settlements. What if we took that funding and reinvested it in jobs, health and mental health, housing, and community resources? This is where we really need support — otherwise, we will be back to square one next month. I strongly encourage the administration’s support to bring federal resources into our neighborhoods, but please bring them in the form of community investment and resource development.”

DOJ inspector general to investigate federal agents’ use of force on demonstrators in Portland. A spokesperson said the probe was initiated after a referral from the U.S. Attorney in Oregon, public complaints, and requests for investigations by members of Congress. Last week, the Oregon Attorney General’s Office opened a criminal probe in the case of a demonstrator who reportedly suffered a skull fracture after being struck by a “less-lethal” munition. The Justice Department inspector general’s investigation will also look into recent federal actions against protesters in Washington, D.C.

A federal judge temporarily blocked the release of NYPD misconduct records. Shortly after New York State repealed its controversial law shielding such files, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would release two tranches of tens of thousands of records — one from the New York Police Department and one from the Civilian Complaint Review Board. But a judge sided with the police union, telling the city to withhold releasing any “complaints that are unsubstantiated or unfounded, those in which the officer has been exonerated, those that are pending, non-final.” The injunction bars the New York Civil Liberties Union from disclosing contents of the files, which it obtained through FOIA requests. A followup hearing is set for August 18.

New York firearms instructor convicted for falsifying safety training courses. Dennis Brennan pleaded guilty to two felonies for submitting fraudulent security guard and peace officer training certificates on behalf of students at his Buffalo academy, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced. The state court where Brennan was charged revoked his federal firearms license and ordered him to surrender his guns.

DATA POINT

Permissive concealed carry laws were associated with an 11 percent increase in the rate of firearms homicides, according to a new study using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 1991 to 2016. [Justice Quarterly]