Rounds

News and notes on guns in America

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[Maria Butina/VK]

Daily Bulletin: Russians’ Infiltration of the NRA Had the Kremlin’s Blessing

Good morning, Bulletin readers. New details from a U.S. intel report show that Maria Butina’s courtship of the NRA was known to top Russian officials. A man with a gun held his ex-girlfriend hostage in a New Jersey UPS facility for hours, forcing nearby businesses into lockdown. And a researcher sheds further light on the disparities of gun violence in Chicago.

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

Russians’ infiltration of the NRA had the Kremlin’s blessing, according to an American intelligence report reviewed by The Daily Beast. Alexander Torshin and his protégée, Maria Butina, spent years cultivating ties with top National Rifle Association officials and other American conservative leaders. The Russian government has denied any involvement with the mission, but the report contradicts that claim, showing that Torshin briefed the Kremlin on his efforts to court the NRA and recommended that it participate. Related: Former Trump aide Sam Nunberg says he told Senate Intelligence Committee investigators on Friday that he was aware of Butina’s attempts to use the gun group to get a meeting with Trump during the 2016 campaign.

A pro-gun activist who harassed Parkland kids has been charged with illegal firearm possession. Bryan Melchior of the Utah Gun Exchange shadowed the March For Our Lives bus tour in a Humvee adorned with a replica machine gun and staged counter-protests. Now he faces five felony weapons charges, and may be barred from owning guns. Jennifer Mascia has the story.

The Supreme Court declined to take up a case challenging gun bans for nonviolent felons. The court said Monday that it would not consider Michaels v. Whitaker, which concerned whether bans on gun possession for people with nonviolent felony convictions are constitutional. The case also challenged acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker’s appointment, which was not subject to Senate confirmation.

A bill would allow more agencies to examine policies that reduce gun violence. The proposal introduced by a Texas Congresswoman last week would authorize the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services to carry out gun violence research. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not explicitly banned from studying the issue, senior CDC brass have avoided the topic rather than risk political retribution, and Congress has not given it funding for gun violence studies in 23 years.

A proposed gun rights amendment ran aground in Iowa. The amendment would have added the “right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” to the state’s constitution. The Iowa secretary of state says his office failed to publish notice of the proposal in newspapers before the last election because of a “bureaucratic oversight.” The amendment’s sponsor had hoped to put the final proposal before voters in 2020. The referendum will now be delayed until at least 2022.

Florida school districts are struggling to comply with a state law allowing for armed staff. As part of its post-Parkland public safety legislation, the state implemented a “school guardian program,” which allows for certain school employees to carry weapons. But according to an examination by The Tampa Bay Times, more than a third of the participating school systems are either struggling to recruit staffers to serve as armed “guardians” or have had trouble with the ones they’ve already hired. In one case, a school safety assistant was arrested for pawning a service weapon. In another, a school security deputy exposed students to pepper spray. “The (school) board adopted a program to hire inadequately trained individuals who are not law enforcement officers to carry guns while policing public schools,” a group of parents wrote in a lawsuit challenging one district’s implementation.

A gunman held his ex-girlfriend and another woman hostage at a New Jersey UPS facility. Witnesses say the man stormed in and put a gun to one woman’s head, threatening to kill her. The ensuing hostage situation went on for more than three hours before the suspect was shot and killed. Neither of the hostages was injured. It is unclear whether the man was killed by his own bullet or a police officer’s.

The man who fatally shot a rookie California cop last week was banned from having guns. When he was convicted on a battery case last fall, the 48-year-old agreed to surrender an AR-15 that he owned, and court documents indicated he no longer possessed firearms. Records also show the alleged killer was not the legal owner of two semiautomatic handguns he used in his rampage, and investigators are working to determine how he obtained them.

Police confiscated a gun from an Ohio kindergartner. The officers were acting on a tip that the 6-year-old appeared to have a heavy object in his pants on his way to school on Friday. Police say the boy will not be charged, but they are investigating where he got the weapon.

ONE LAST THING

The gap between Chicago’s lowest- and highest-homicide communities is widening. The Trace has frequently reported on “murder inequality,” which leaves gun violence rates varying even more within American cities than between them. In Chicago, for example, some neighborhoods have homicide rates near zero, while others clock in at almost five times the city’s average.

In a recent study, researchers tracked Chicago’s “homicide gap” —  a measure of the relative difference in homicides among neighborhoods — across three decades. They found that since about 2006, the gap has gotten consistently worse, despite fluctuations in the city’s overall murder count. To address the issue, the study’s authors call for policies to rehabilitate vacant lots, increase the availability of mental health care, and create new jobs in neighborhoods with the highest rates of violence. “Chicagoans want a safer Chicago,” one of the authors wrote. “In order to get there, we also need a more equal Chicago.”