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News and notes on guns in America

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Daily Bulletin: Poll Finds a Surge of Gun Reform Voters

Hello, readers. In today’s briefing: More red flag laws are advancing through state legislatures. Police shut down another Facebook-enabled illegal gun scheme. Plus, a new explainer from The Trace looks at the origins of an overlooked federal law that makes it harder for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to shut down gun dealers.

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

Gun reform voters are on the rise. About a quarter of voters in a new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal say that the gun issue is a major factor in their midterm vote. But in contrast to past election cycles, most of those voters are Democrats, signaling that it may be gun reform, not the Second Amendment, that is mobilizing voters.

New Jersey lawmakers passed a half dozen gun bills. The six measures include a red flag bill, improvements to the state’s concealed-carry permitting system, a requirement for background checks for private gun sales, and bans on ghost guns, high-capacity magazines, and armor-piercing ammunition. Governor Phil Murphy is expected to sign all of them into law.

The Massachusetts Senate also passed a red flag bill. The legislation would allow courts to authorize police to temporarily remove weapons from at-risk gun owners. Five other red flag bills have been signed into law this year. The bills pending gubernatorial approval in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Illinois (where red flag legislation passed last week) would make it eight for 2018.

Facebook posts helped deliver guns to gangs. On Wednesday, law enforcement agents busted a gun-trafficking ring selling guns purchased in Virginia to men in Brooklyn who police say used them to violently enforce their gang’s turf. The weapons transfers were organized over Facebook. The social network has been the center of multiple gun schemes as it struggles to enforce its policy against gun sales on its platform.

A CDC report on suicide encourages reducing access to “lethal means.” The report found that in nearly every state, suicides increased between 1999 and 2016. In nearly half of those deaths, firearms were used. The Centers for Disease Control report does not explicitly discuss gun reform as a preventative measure.

Where a concealed-carry class now comes with suicide education lessons. The chair of one of Utah’s most powerful pro-gun groups has teamed up with public health researchers at Harvard to add a suicide education module to the state’s popular one-day concealed-carry permit classes. From The Trace archives: Then editorial fellow, now staff reporter Elizabeth Van Brocklin on a related suicide-prevention program that’s gained traction in gun stores in dozens of states.

An ATF agent was shot during an undercover operation. The federal law enforcement agent was critically wounded in an ambush shooting while working a case in Gary, Indiana. Officials say he is expected to recover.

“Stand your ground” laws don’t make us safer, writes a leading authority on gun politics. In a blog post summarizing multiple studies on the effects of the laws, which authorize the use of lethal force in self-defense, Robert J. Spitzer concludes that the laws are not only ineffective but dangerous. Such laws lead to “unnecessary violent confrontations and deaths,” he writes. One recent example: This week, a Florida state attorney announced he would not charge a man who killed another driver in a road rage incident. “Stand your ground eliminated a need to retreat when you’re in a place other than your home,” he explained. And one from the archives: In 2016, The Trace’s Mike Spies wrote about a St. Louis man who gunned down a 13-year-old boy who stole change out of the man’s car. Because Missouri has a “stand your ground” law, he avoided prison.

A Michigan Republican wants to improve reporting of failed background checks. State Senator Rick Jones introduced legislation this week that would alert law enforcement when a prohibited person tries to purchase a gun. Jones said the reforms, one of a few gun-related bills he announced, are in response to a murder-suicide in the state carried out by a man with a domestic violence restraining order against him. For an overview of so-called Lie and Try laws, see this feature from Trace contributor Kate Masters. Here’s a story we did on a 2017 Washington State law that goes an extra step, requiring law enforcement to notify victims when their abusers attempt to purchase a weapon. And a partnership with three Florida TV stations about a so-far unsuccessful push to close a loophole there that has allowed thousands of people banned from guns to get away with lying during their background checks.

Two 8-year-olds shot their brothers. On Monday, an 8-year-old boy in Chicago unintentionally shot his 5-year-old brother with a gun he found under a mattress. The owner, the boys’ 21-year-old uncle, was charged with child endangerment and allowing a minor access to a firearm, police say. And on Wednesday evening, another 8-year-old boy unintentionally shot and killed his 9-year-old brother with a pellet gun. Their parents were present at the Greenville, Mississippi, home when the crime took place.

NEW FROM THE TRACE 

How ‘the law that saved gun rights’ gutted ATF oversight of firearm dealers. A report from the New York Times earlier this week exposed how gun stores that repeatedly violate the law, including by selling guns to prohibited persons, often avoid serious penalties and get to stay in business. Experts say that’s because when it comes to revoking a gun dealer’s license, investigators and prosecutors have to meet an unusually high standard of evidence.

That standard originated with the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, a little-known gun law with lasting consequences. In a new Trace explainer, Alex Yablon unpacks the legislation, which one longtime scholar of the gun debate recalls as “an Empire Strikes Back moment” for the National Rifle Association.