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May 26, 2009

“One should ask, what do guns have to do with credit cards?”

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives gave final approval to a dangerous, non-germane amendment that was attached to the "Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights Act of 2009" by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). The amendment, drafted by the National Rifle Association (NRA), would allow individuals to carry loaded semiautomatic handguns, assault rifles and shotguns into America’s National Parks as long as the firearm is in compliance with state law. The House approved the amendment by a vote of 279-147 (with 105 Democrats voting for it). The amendment had previously passed in the Senate by a vote of 67-29 (with 27 Democrats voting for it).

The Coburn Amendment would override a regulation that was enacted by the Reagan Administration that requires visitors to keep guns stored and unloaded when traveling through National Park lands. It has been opposed by every living and former director of the National Park Service, ranger organizations, retired superintendents, and environmental groups. In a joint statement issued by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, the Association of National Park Rangers, and the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, NPCA Executive Vice President Theresa Pierno said of Congress and President Barack Obama: “By not taking a stand to prevent this change, they have sacrificed public safety and national park resources in favor of the political agenda of the National Rifle Association.” The amendment would create an enforcement nightmare for park rangers attempting to enforce gun laws in National Parks that straddle several different states.

Senator Coburn’s amendment is even more extreme than a last-minute rule issued by the Bush Administration that would have allowed individuals to carry concealed handguns in National Parks. The Bush administration moved forward with the rule despite the fact that 73% of the 140,000 people who voiced their opinions during a public comment period opposed it. In March of this year, the United States District Court issued an injunction against the implementation of the Bush rule. Judge Colleen Kollar-Ketally found that the Bush administration’s rulemaking process was “astoundingly flawed” because they “abdicated their [National Environmental Policy Act] obligations” and “ignored substantial information in the administrative record concerning environmental impacts.” Senator Coburn has also purposely avoided the environmental review process set up to protect the Parks.

Senator Coburn says his amendment “is about protecting every American’s Second Amendment rights” and he claims, “Whether it is meth labs hidden amid lush forests or car prowls at trailheads, park rangers and forest officers are seeing an increasing amount of criminal behavior.”

The senator is apparently not familiar with the Supreme Court’s June 2008 decision in the controversial Second Amendment case of District of Columbia v. Heller. Writing for the five conservative justices in the majority in the ruling, Justice Antonin Scalia stated:

Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

Senator Coburn also wildly exaggerated the threat of violence in our National Parks. The truth is—like other gun free zones—they are some of the safest places in the United States. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, there were only 1.65 violent crimes per 100,000 National Park visitors in 2006. That can be contrasted with an overall national violent crime rate of 469.2 victims per 100,000 citizens in 2005.

The legislation has now moved to President Barack Obama’s desk. Concerned citizens can contact the White House at (202) 456-1111 to urge President Obama to veto H.R. 627 and demand a clean bill from Congress minus the Coburn Amendment. It was just last year that the president publicly stated, "I am not in favor of concealed weapons. I think that creates a potential atmosphere where more innocent people could (get shot during) altercations." Americans should hold him to his word and indicate that the safety of their families is not a political commodity to be sacrificed.

For additional information, read this statement from CSGV Executive Director Josh Horwitz and see NPCA’s “Keep Parks Safe” webpage.

May 11, 2009

“The academic environment is sacred…and students need to feel safe.”

Here at Bullet Counter Points we like to highlight the exceptional work that everyday Americans are doing to prevent gun violence in their communities. Today we focus on a young man who is determined to keep America’s college campuses safe.

On April 16—the second anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting tragedy—approximately 300 students staged a “walk-out” of their classes at the University of Texas to protest a bill in the state legislature that would allow students and faculty to carry concealed weapons on campus. The students made their way to the Texas Capitol building, where they chanted in protest and rang a bell 32 times for the victims lost at Virginia Tech.

At the head of the marching students was John Woods, a Campus Leader with the group Students for Gun Free Schools (SGFS) who organized the demonstration. John is currently a graduate student at the University of Texas, but was directly affected by the shootings at Virginia Tech. He was an undergraduate at the college on April 16, 2007, and lost his girlfriend and a number of other close friends that day.

“I didn't have a choice about becoming involved,” John says. “When the shootings happened at Virginia Tech, there was no purpose to them. The people I cared about—they didn't die defending their country or their beliefs. They died for nothing.”

“I needed for there to be a purpose,” he recalls, “so I started looking at prevention. Texas lawmakers, however, started using the Virginia Tech tragedy to market concealed carry on campus. ‘The death toll could have been reduced,’ they said. From talking to survivors, though, I knew this was extremely unlikely. I knew that what the authors of the concealed carry legislation were claiming was a Hollywood fantasy.”

John resolved to organize on campus to fight HB 1893, a bill sponsored by state Rep. Joe Driver (R-Garland), who claims that allowing students to carry concealed weapons on campus would help to prevent another Virginia Tech. John was already active in Student Government at the University of Texas and found out about the organization Students for Gun Free Schools. He quickly signed up as an SGFS Campus Leader.

“I organized the walk-out because I had been to a number of offices in the Capitol where they seemed completely shocked that students were against the bill,” says John. “We hoped the walk-out and rally would show them, in a very visible way, that students did not want guns on campus.” He is now organizing students to come back to the Capitol on May 11 when the Texas House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on HB 1893.

When John talks about “prevention,” he has something specific in mind: “I think gun laws in this country utterly lack common sense. Specifically, I think background checks [on gun purchasers] need to be universal.”

John also stresses that our nation’s college campuses are some of the safest places in the country, far safer than the communities that surround them. “When someone says guns on campus make faculty and students safer,” he says, “I tell them campuses are already about as safe as they can be. I tell them to talk to the survivors of the Virginia Tech shooting, who are experts on the issue. I also point out that the lack of guns on campus enables police to respond extraordinarily quickly to a crime, particularly in an active shooter situation.”

“I think it's important to note that guns are dangerous in certain circumstances. They're not allowed in football games or athletic events or in the gallery of the Texas Capitol. Why not? They can’t be carried by private citizens onto airplanes, even though the gun lobby would have us believe someone could stop a hijacking with one in the right place at the right time. Why not? And why is campus different?”

With the gun lobby pushing to force universities to allow guns on campus, John says now is the time for others to get involved. “To other students, I would say this: Get existing leaders on campus involved. Student government organizations are always looking for ways to get things done so they can say to students, ‘Look, we accomplish things for you.’ Hold them to it—show them that this issue is important. Recruit volunteers from among them. Or run for a position yourself if you have to.”

John also emphasizes public education about loopholes in our current gun laws. “Most people don't think about it,” he says. “When they do, they end up wanting common sense gun laws.” John makes reference to another bill in the Texas state legislature that would make Texas (for the first time) forward mental health information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to prevent deranged individuals from acquiring guns through licensed firearms dealers.

Ultimately, John sees irony in his current activism. “My precise stance on guns on campus is much like [National Rifle Association CEO] Wayne LaPierre's ten years ago,” he notes. “Schools should have absolutely zero tolerance for weapons of any kind, except in the hands of law enforcement. The academic environment is sacred, and more importantly, it's safe, and students need to feel safe.”

May 4, 2009

"The WAR wWIL start on the stepes of the Oklahoma State Capitol."

Last month, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence Executive Director Josh Horwitz examined the background of Pittsburgh cop killer Richard Poplawski in a blog at the Huffington Post. That piece, entitled “Insurrectionism Goes ‘Mainstream,’” noted that Poplawski feared "the Obama gun ban that’s on its way" and a tyrannical federal government. In the words of Poplawski’s best friend, “if anyone tried to take his firearms, he was gonna' stand by what his forefathers told him to do." Most disturbing was the revelation that Poplawski’s insurrectionist views were nurtured by several “mainstream” media commentators, political figures, and even jurists.

Now comes the news that another insurrectionist attack might have been narrowly averted on the day that blog was posted. On April 15, Daniel Knight Hayden, 52, was arrested by FBI agents after he stated on Twitter that he was going to turn the Oklahoma City “Tea Party” into a bloodbath. Four days earlier, he had tweeted a string of violent, threatening messages:

7:59 pm
The WAR wWIL start on the stepes of the Oklahoma State Capitol. I will cast the first stone. In the meantime, I await the police.

8:01 pm
START THE KILLING NOW! I am wiling to be the FIRST DEATH! I Await the police. They will kill me in my home.

8:06 pm
After I am killed on the Capitol Steps like a REAL man, the rest of you will REMEMBER ME!!!

8:17 pm
I really don’ give a shit anymore. Send the cops around. I will cut their heads off the heads and throw the on the State Capitol steps.

On the day of the Tea Party, he encouraged people to attend the event (“BE THERE! We need warm bodies.”) and issued this final tweet:

12:49 am
Locked AND loaded for the Oklahoma State Capitol. Let's see what happens.

Hayden even openly referred to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, writing “THE KILILNG HAS ALREADRDY STARTED BEGINIING WITH 168 Oklahoma on 4/1995! KILL THEM BACK!!!” Like McVeigh, Hayden believes that the U.S. Constitution (and the Second Amendment specifically) gives him the right to shoot and kill federal, state and local officials if/when our government becomes “tyrannical.” In a February 19 post on the “Jack Blood—Uncovering the News Behind the News” Forum, Hayden wrote the following:

The only thing that is keeping the New World Order from destroying this nation is the presence of over 100,000,000 guns in civilian hands. When guns are outlawed, only criminals will have guns.Since we are already criminals in the eyes of the New World Order, and they intend to enslave us all, and to kill those of us who will NOT submit to their slavery, I say to IGNORE gun "laws" and keep your guns (AND ammo) handy. You only have three options:

1) Submit to total spectrum domination i.e. total enslavement.
2) Be rounded up and sent to a FEMA camp where you will be killed.
3) Die at the hands of the New World Order oppressors by taking as many of them with you as you can.

I recommend option number three and to keep your powder dry.

Hayden talked openly about the “tyranny of the New World Order” and posted an image on his MySpace Page that depicts Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung with the caption, “MASS-MURDERERS AGREE: GUN CONTROL WORKS.” He was obsessed with delusions about being persecuted by the police and the courts, regularly photographed Oklahoma City police cars, and had “begun to think of killing people” as early as June 2003.

Like Richard Poplawski, Hayden was a big fan of conspiracy theorist/online talk show host Alex Jones, who openly supports—and even markets—insurrection. On Twitter, Hayden urged followers, in the wake of his attack, “no matter WHAT happens, to post it on the internet IMMEDIATELY, AND send it to Alex Jones!!!!!!!!!!!!” He was also a supporter of Oath Keepers, a “new patriotic organization” composed of “mostly current, and former military, police and emergency-service personnel” whose “Orders We Will Not Obey” blog includes the following statement:

We will NOT obey any order to disarm the American people ... We affirm that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to preserve the military power of the people so that they will, in the last resort, have effective final recourse to arms and to the God of Hosts in the face of tyranny. Accordingly, we oppose any and all further infringements on the right of the people to keep and bear arms.

Hayden was arraigned on April 16 and has been released to a halfway house pending trial. There is no word yet on what firearms (or other armaments) were found in his home when he was arrested, or on the extent to which he had planned his attack. Whatever the case, the people of Oklahoma City were well served by law enforcement officials in their state, who acted quickly and decisively in response to this threat.

In light of this latest incident, we hope the nation’s attention will now turn to the threat of insurrectionism and the fact that this dangerous philosophy has been endorsed not only by the National Rifle Association, but also by the Conservative Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.