About Us| Issues & Campaigns| Media| Get Involved| New to the Issue?| Donate

September 14, 2007

Amish Teach Valuable Lesson of Forgiveness

We are quickly approaching the one-year anniversary of the tragic shooting that claimed the lives of five young Amish girls on October 2, 2006. Charles Carl Roberts barricaded himself inside an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Shortly thereafter, he shot ten girls, aged seven to 13. The girls were shot "execution style" in the back of the head; five survived. Robert's arsenal included a 9mm handgun, a 12-gauge shotgun, a bolt-action rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

Hidden in the news today was a small story about the aftermath of this tragedy. A charity set up to help families of the victims of the shooting has bequeathed an undisclosed amount of money to Roberts' wife (who has three daughters) at the behest of the Amish community. Even on the day of the shooting, the grandfather of one of the slain girls said, "We must not think evil of this man."

The kind of forgiveness displayed by the Lancaster Amish community is a rarity in our society today. More and more we are taught to seek revenge and to solve our problems with violence. The gun lobby is at the forefront of this "Shoot First" movement, advocating for measures in state legislatures that allow a person to use deadly force as their first line of defense when threatened, rather than as their last. Tied into this campaign is the NRA's support for guns on college campuses and the organization's claim that widespread concealed carry of handguns will lead to less crime. This absurd notion, that more guns make us safer, directly fuels the culture of violence in the United States.

Violence also permeates our entertainment industry. The premise of two recently released movies is solely to glorify revenge-fueled acts of violence as if they were great acts of courage. These movies are "Death Sentence," and "The Brave One," whose taglines read "Protect what's yours," and "How many wrongs to make it right?" respectively. Along with Clive Owens' "Shoot 'Em Up," these revenge stories could easily double as advertisements for Shoot First legislation.

We can all learn a valuable lesson from the Amish community and change our commitment to violence to a commitment to peace. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Forgiveness is not an occasional act: it is an attitude."

May 24, 2007

Another Dangerous Individual, Another Preventable Tragedy

A murderous rampage that occurred last week on May 19, 2007, provides additional evidence that dangerous individuals can easily get their hands on guns in America, no matter what warning signs they've exhibited in the past. And while Jason Hamilton did not garner the national media attention of Seung-Hui Cho after killing three people and himself in Moscow, Idaho, the two cases are eerily similar and make one wonder how many of these shootings the American public is not hearing about.

Hamilton left a Moscow bar last Saturday night and returned home, where he fatally shot his wife in the head. He then drove to the Latah County Courthouse armed with two semiautomatic rifles and fired approximately 125 bullets into the sheriff's dispatch center and vehicles in the parking lot, killing one law enforcement officer and wounding two other officers and a University of Idaho student. Hamilton wasn't done yet. He then moved across the street to the First Presbyterian Church and shot and killed a 62 year-old church sexton. After firing off an additional 60 to 80 rounds from inside the church, Hamilton then turned the gun on himself, taking his life at approximately 1:00 a.m. An M-1 rifle was found in the courthouse parking lot. An AK-47-style rifle was found next to Hamilton's body. A search of Hamilton's house turned up an Aryan Nations flag and other written materials from the white supremacist group.

As in the case of Seung-Hui Cho, local law enforcement were well acquainted with Hamilton.

In December 1992, Hamilton was accused of aggravated assault in Arizona. The charge was dropped to a misdemeanor and he spent two days in jail.

In 1995, Hamilton was accused of cruelty to animals. The charge was dropped to a misdemeanor and Hamilton was given a one-year suspended sentence.

In 1999, Hamilton was charged with unlawful discharge of a firearm at a vehicle or a building. There was no sentence handed down.

On September 10, 2005, Hamilton was arrested for felony strangulation in a case involving a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair. He was convicted of misdemeanor domestic battery and sentenced to 180 days in jail. 90 days were suspended from the sentence after Hamilton agreed to two years probation and mandatory counseling. Another condition was that Hamilton could possess no firearms during this time.

On January 16, 2006, Hamilton was cited for misdemeanor battery for an incident at a local tavern.

On February 16, 2007, Hamilton attempted suicide by overdosing on anti-anxiety medication and was evaluated for involuntary mental health commitment. At this time he told a mental health professional that if he were to really commit suicide, he would take others with him in a mass shooting or bombing. Hamilton was judged not to need involuntary commitment and was released.

On May 15, 2007, just days before the shooting, he was in court again for allegedly violating his probation by failing to continue with his mental health counseling. A follow-up hearing in the case was planned for mid-June.

Despite this extensive and troubling history, law enforcement authorities have indicated that, as far as they're aware, Hamilton legally purchased his guns. Yet Hamilton's misdemeanor domestic violence conviction would have prohibited him from purchasing firearms under federal law. Additionally, the terms of his sentence for that conviction called on him to surrender any firearms he owned to law enforcement authorities. Apparently, however, no effort was ever made to confiscate his guns.

What additional red flags were needed in this case? How can an individual with this type of criminal and mental health history so easily acquire the firepower needed to attack a police station? And why has the national press totally ignored a story that reinforces the lessons of the Virginia Tech tragedy?

Have we already forgotten those lessons? Or has gun "rights" again trumped what should be the most basic freedom for all Americans: public safety.

March 20, 2007

Gun Lobby Lawsuit Denies Self-Determination

We were very disappointed on March 9 when the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit declared D.C.'s handgun ban and firearm storage laws unconstitutional in its ruling in the case of Parker v. District of Columbia. Not only did this decision counteract the democratic will of DC residents, but the majority opinion of the three-judge panel also endorsed the NRA's insurrectionist view of the Second Amendment, a dangerous precedent.

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and the city's attorney general are currently preparing an appeal and, for the moment, the decision of the court has been stayed. The Ed Fund will stand with DC's residents and elected officials in the coming weeks to affirm their right to determine their own public safety laws. If you are a DC resident, or wish to support DC residents in this effort, please click here to learn more about this issue and see how you can get involved.

January 24, 2007

Who's Afraid of The 11 Year-Old Girl?!

Are things really this bad at the National Rifle Association? We knew that they were frustrated after watching their legislative priorities go down in flames in the 109th Congress. We witnessed their paroxysms of fury over the results of the November elections. And we knew that their paranoia had reached all-new heights after reading a draft copy of their disturbing "Freedom in Peril" pamphlet.

But Wayne LaPierre, the Chief Executive Officer of the NRA, publicly attacking an 11 year-old girl?!

Yes, even we were left scratching our heads after reading the January 22 entry in his "What They Didn't Tell You Today" blog.

The object of Wayne's anger? That would be one Kailey Leinz, an elementary school student in Burke, Virginia, who spoke at a press conference at the State Capitol on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Kailey was there to express her support for SB 827, a bill introduced by Senator Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-Fairfax) to close the state's gun show loophole, which allows criminals to buy guns without undergoing background checks.

In his blog, LaPierre mocks Kailey's concern over the issue, inferring that surely her opinion about criminals' free access to guns at 50+ Virginia gun shows a year must be the result of parental brainwashing. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with public safety and security at her school. LaPierre even misquotes a Department of Justice study in claiming that only 2% of crime guns come from gun shows. Actually, the ATF has stated point blank that gun shows are the second leading source of crime guns in the country, behind only corrupt federally licensed dealers. Furthermore, in the study LaPierre mentions, 80% of the felons interviewed indicated they got their gun from "family, friends, a street buy or an illegal source." No effort was made to trace these guns and find out where they were originally bought and how they were subsequently trafficked. It is likely that gun shows were the source of many of these crime guns, but the NRA won't tell you that.

The NRA is never shy about pointing out its enemies, but LaPierre was so unnerved he wouldn't even put Kailey's name in his blog, referring to her simply as "this 11 year-old girl." He should take a lesson in courage from Kailey herself. At the press conference, members of the pistol-packing Virginia Citizens Defense League crowded into the room to intimidate those calling for sensible gun laws. Kailey stood up, looked them in the eye, and never flinched while delivering her eloquent speech.

Way to go, young lady. Oh, and Wayne - if your idea of protecting children is putting more guns in America's grade schools, well, you probably shouldn't be doling out parental advice to anyone.

January 8, 2007

"We Have No Freedom"

The Washington Post ran an interesting article on Friday about the absence of law and order in Mogadishu, Somalia's capital. "Men draped with AK-47s" now walk the avenues of the capital, doing the bidding of local militias and warlords. These militias are a constant threat to the local populace, freely stealing and plundering from their countrymen. They also tightly restrict movement, manning an extensive series of roadblocks in the city that few are brave enough to navigate. The fledgling secular government of Somalia has been unable to establish control and guarantee the safety of their citizens.

In the meantime, frightened Somalis have taken to arming themselves for protection. It has, however, bought them little sense of security. "We are hostages right now," said Somali Mohamed Dere. "We have no freedom."

As we thought about this situation, we realized that in many ways it is the logical extension of the NRA dream for America. A gun in every home, citizens freely carrying these weapons on the streets for self defense, and a central government that is unable to regulate these firearms in any way, shape or form.

The problem, however, is that because everyone is armed and there is no system of justice or law enforcement in place, there is freedom only for those with the biggest (or most) guns at any given moment. And that sounds a lot like anarchy (or mobocracy, perhaps) to us.

We feel this story brings to light "America's First Freedom," the real one without which no others can exist: Public Safety. For a society lacking a functional government that can guarantee the safety and security of its people can guarantee no other individual rights, and is destined only for chaos and violence.