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

January 31, 2008

Boy Killer Back in the News

Next month will mark the ten-year anniversary of the tragic Jonesboro shootings. On March 24, 1998, two boys, Mitchell Johnson (13 years old) and Andrew Golden (11 years old), pulled a fire alarm in their rural Arkansas school. Using four guns stolen from Golden’s grandfather, the two then opened fire on their classmates and teachers as they filed out of the building. In just over four minutes, Johnson and Golden killed five and wounded 10 others.

At the subsequent trial, Johnson and Golden were each convicted of five counts of murder and sentenced to confinement until age 21. Upon their release, Johnson and Golden’s records were adjudicated. With their convictions expunged, the two acquired the ability to legally purchase and possess firearms.

Soon thereafter, on New Year’s Day 2007, Johnson, now 23, was pulled over and found to be in possession of a loaded 9mm handgun, a 20-gauge shotgun, and ¾ of an ounce of marijuana. In his company was Justin Trammell, age 22, who was convicted six years earlier of murdering his father with a crossbow in Benton County, Arkansas. The silver 9mm Lorein pistol in the car was a gift that Johnson had received to practice “target shooting.” Because his earlier criminal record had been wiped out, authorities decided to charge Johnson with one felony count of possession of a firearm while either a user or addicted to a controlled substance.

U.S. Attorney Bob Balfe, who prosecuted the case, stated: "We strongly believe Mitchell Johnson is a person who shouldn't have a gun, especially when he's using controlled substances." He added, "We wanted the victims in the previous case to understand that we in law enforcement know who he is, we're taking that into account, and we're going to do everything we can to keep our community safe."

Although we applaud the federal government for taking steps to prevent gun violence by aggressively prosecuting a gun-wielding ex-convict, we have some questions regarding Johnson’s case…

Why did Arkansas not have a law on the books in 1998 to charge juveniles as adults in capital murder cases? That law has since been changed, but was there no other legal recourse available at that time to prohibit Johnson and Golden from purchasing and owning firearms in the future?

Why would any family member/friend of Johnson think it would be a good idea to give him a 9mm handgun as a Christmas present?

Why did it take over a year for someone to tip the police off about Johnson’s involvement with drugs and guns?

We sincerely hope that this is the last time these two young men will make national headlines—for their sake, and for the sake of the surviving family members of the Jonesboro victims.

January 3, 2008

Crisis, Anyone?

A former lobbyist with the National Rifle Association, Richard Feldman, recently published a book (Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist) in which he reveals that the organization has purposely manufactured crises over the years to stoke fear in its membership and generate fundraising dollars. NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, who is bankrolled to the tune of approximately $1 million a year in salary and benefits, long ago realized that a terrified NRA membership is a generous one, and there’s no better Boogeyman than the old myth that the government is preparing to confiscate all private firearms.

A recent story from the Associated Press demonstrates just how hollow the Confiscation Myth really is. The NRA’s latest scheme involves Hurricane Katrina. In the wake of the devastation caused by the storm, most Americans immediately asked “How can I help?” and donations to assist those affected by the storm poured in in record numbers. The NRA, however, saw an opportunity to buffer their own coffers. Pointing a finger at the New Orleans Police Department, they accused law enforcement officials of engaging in widespread confiscation of private firearms in the storm’s aftermath, claiming that New Orleans residents were disarmed and left “at the mercy of roving gangs, home invaders, and other criminals.” The organization got Congress to pass a law prohibiting the confiscation of firearms from law-abiding citizens during future states of emergency and then filed a federal lawsuit against Mayor Ray Nagin and Police Superintendent Warren Riley.

The NRA had found their latest, treasured crisis and the fearmongering was in full swing. Consider this appeal from the organization’s leaked “Freedom in Peril” pamphlet for high-dollar donors:

“In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, for the first time in American history, New Orleans and other government officials ordered law enforcement officers to go door to door to confiscate firearms from law-abiding citizens at gunpoint … Katrina became the proving ground for what American gun owners have always predicted. The day came when government bureaucrats threw the Bill of Rights out the window and declared freedom to be whatever they say it is.”

The problem with all this? Despite their assertion that more than 1,000 private firearms were seized, the NRA has only been able to locate about 75 individuals who claim their gun(s) were confiscated. Desperate to substantiate their lawsuit, the organization has hired private investigators to find others whose firearms might have been seized by the New Orleans police. They have even asked for a delay in the lawsuit’s trial date because these folks just aren’t turning up.

And maybe that’s the point. New Orleans law enforcement officials have stated all along that they only took guns that had been stolen or found in abandoned homes. Katrina was a natural disaster that displaced thousands of residents in the area. New Orleans police officers were undoubtedly acting in the interest of public safety in collecting abandoned firearms that could have easily been retrieved by looters and criminals. They should be saluted for their heroic work in dangerous conditions, not vilified.

With egg on their face, the NRA recently took down a website devoted to the pending lawsuit, www.givethemback.com. Perhaps it should be relaunched under a new name, www.helpusfindthem.com.