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July 27, 2009

The Insurrectionists are Coming!

Since the election of President Barack Obama in November of last year, there has been a marked increase in the promotion of “insurrectionism” in right wing circles in the United States. The insurrectionist idea holds that the Second Amendment gives individuals the "right," in the words of National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre, "to take whatever measures necessary, including force, to abolish oppressive government." The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has argued that not only does insurrectionism degrade the democratic values and institutions that protect the freedoms that we enjoy as Americans; it also poses a direct threat to the very existence of our constitutional democracy.

Two recent examples provide disturbing evidence of this threat, and demonstrate that many individuals on the fringes of American politics—inspired by gun lobby rhetoric and FOX News commentators—feel that our democratically elected government has already lapsed into “tyranny.”

On two separate occasions in June, Hal Turner, a New Jersey resident and white supremacist blogger/radio host, was arrested for making threats against public officials. Turner first drew the attention of law enforcement by calling for the deaths of two Connecticut state legislators on his blog because they sponsored a bill that would have transferred financial power in Roman Catholic parishes from priests and bishops to lay members. “While filing a lawsuit is quaint and the 'decent' way to handle things,” he wrote, “we at TRN (Turner Radio Network) believe that being decent to a group of tyrannical scumbags is the wrong approach. It's too soft. Thankfully, the Founding Fathers gave us the tools necessary to resolve tyranny: The Second Amendment. TRN advocates Catholics in Connecticut take up arms and put down this tyranny by force ... If any state attorney, police department or court thinks they're going to get uppity with us about this, I suspect we have enough bullets to put them down, too.” Turner was soon arrested on charges of inciting injury.

Then, a few weeks after making bail on this charge, he shifted his attention outside of the tri-state area by asking his audience to kill three Republican-appointed jurists on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. In response to a June 2 decision which upheld handgun restrictions in Chicago pending a review by the Supreme Court, Turner explicitly called for the murder of deciding judges Frank Easterbrook, Richard Posner and William Bauer. Turner wrote on his blog, “Let me be the first to say this plainly: these judges deserve to be killed,” and included photographs, phone numbers, work addresses, and room numbers of the judges, as well as a map of Chicago’s federal courthouse which pointed out its “anti-truck bomb” pylons. A search of his home by the FBI after his arrest revealed that he was in possession of three handguns, one shotgun, and 200 rounds of ammunition (including 150 hollow point bullets). Turner is currently in jail awaiting arraignment in Chicago.

Then there is Katherine Crabill, a Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates in the state’s 99th District. She recently made headlines by calling on Americans to resist the course President Obama has set for the country. Appearing at a “Tea Party” rally on July 15, Crabill quoted a 1775 speech by Patrick Henry and then went further, stating, “We have a chance to fight this battle at the ballot box before we have to resort to the bullet box. But that's the beauty of our Second Amendment right. I am glad for all of us who enjoy the use of firearms for hunting. But make no mistake. That was not the intent of the Founding Fathers. Our Second Amendment right was to guard against tyranny.” This thought is reinforced on Crabill’s campaign website, where she states the Second Amendment “was clearly intended for self defense as well as, and more specifically, to keep the government on notice of an armed citizenry.”

When the video of her remarks made the rounds across the Internet, Crabill told the Washington Post that she would not back down from her defense of the right to use bullets to address government grievances, citing the “domestic terrorism” and “Marxist agenda” of the Obama administration as legitimate threats. She later clarified this statement, stating, “I have no desire to see this country erupt in any kind of violent revolution. I don’t even own a gun.” She now claims her speech was “less a call to arms than a call for conservatives to mobilize for coming elections at all levels.”

This was not Crabill’s first public expression of support for insurrectionism, however. In the mid 1990’s, a time when right-wing extremism was similarly on the rise, she belonged to a militia group known as the New Mexico Citizens Action Association. An April 1995 article by the Washington Times quotes her as saying that the Oklahoma City bombing, in which Timothy McVeigh killed 168 innocent people, “was the work of our government, which will use it as an excuse to aggressively attack the growing militia movement across the country.”

Turner and Crabill are just the latest insurrectionists to make national headlines. From Wichita to Pittsburgh to Oklahoma City and beyond, 2009 has already been marred by real insurrectionist violence and other attacks that were narrowly averted. And with sales of handguns and assault weapons soaring amidst (unsubstantiated) fears of tougher gun laws under President Obama, those who view our current democracy as a “tyranny” are now better armed than ever.

July 13, 2009

McNair Shooting Puts Spotlight on Unregulated Gun Sales

On July 4, former National Football League quarterback Steve McNair was asleep on a couch in his condominium in Nashville, Tennessee, when his life was abruptly taken. 20 year-old Sahel Kazemi—a woman that McNair was having an extramarital affair with—shot him four times at close range with a semiautomatic handgun, killing him. She then sat next to him on the couch and fired one shot into her temple, taking her own life.

Nashville Police report that Kazemi’s life was “spinning out of control” in the days before the shooting. Kazemi’s family has said she believed McNair was in the process of leaving his wife and four sons when they met at her job at Dave & Buster’s several months ago. No divorce papers were ever filed by the McNairs, however. Additionally, Kazemi saw McNair with another woman days before the shooting and became convinced he was seeing her. Kazemi was also concerned about making rent and car payments and had told friends and associates she “was going to end it all.”

Another warning sign came in the early morning hours of July 2, when Kazemi was arrested on a driving under the influence (DUI) charge while driving 54 miles per hour in a 30-mph zone. McNair, who was in the car with her at the time, was not arrested or charged. He bailed Kazemi out of jail the same day.

Hours later, Kazemi purchased the handgun she would use to kill McNair and herself. She did not purchase the handgun at a gun store. Under federal law, the minimum age to purchase a handgun from a federally licensed gun dealer (FFL) is 21. Being 20 years of age, Kazemi would have failed the required background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Instead, she purchased a Bryco-Jennings 9mm handgun through a private sale from Adriam Gilliam, Jr., who she had previously met while trying to sell her car. On the evening of July 2—the same day she was bailed out of jail—Kazemi met Gilliam in the parking lot of Dave & Buster’s to complete the transaction. Because of a loophole in federal law created by the gun lobby, private individuals are permitted to sell guns without conducting background checks on purchasers or maintaining records of sale. Furthermore, private sellers, unlike FFLs, can sell handguns to persons between the ages of 18-20.

The sale by Gilliam was illegal, however, because he is prohibited under federal law from owning or purchasing firearms. In 1993, Gilliam was convicted in Florida of three counts of second-degree murder and attempted armed robbery and sentenced concurrently to 15 and 17 years in prison. Detectives traced the Bryco-Jennings pistol to a pawn shop, Household Pawn, in Nashville, where it was originally sold in 2002. The individual who originally purchased the handgun that year, who has not been identified by authorities, then sold it to Gilliam—a convicted felon—through an unregulated private sale a year and a half ago. The seller committed no crime; because he had no legal duty to perform a background check on Gilliam to verify his criminal history. The sale was cash and carry, $100 and no questions asked.

The death of Steve McNair is the latest in a series of gun-related incidents involving National Football League players. McNair’s involvement with guns and alcohol predated the July 4 tragedy. In 2003, he was arrested and charged with driving under the influence and carrying an illegal handgun. In 2007, he was charged with drunken driving again for letting his intoxicated brother-in-law drive his pickup truck. All the charges were later dropped, and McNair at some point obtained a permit to carry a concealed handgun in Tennessee (law enforcement authorities in Tennessee have no discretion and must issue a permit to anyone who passes a computerized background check).

The McNair shooting is the latest example of how unfettered access to firearms is prioritized over public safety in the United States. Multiple red flags indicated that Sahel Kazemi was a threat to herself and possibly to others. And yet weak federal laws allowed a convicted felon to obtain a handgun through an unregulated private sale; a firearm he would transfer to Kazemi without knowing anything about her; a firearm that she could not have legally purchased at a licensed gun store. Sadly, the Nashville community—and McNair admirers across the nation—are now grieving over a tragedy that was entirely preventable.

July 6, 2009

“Gun violence is…causing America to fall apart.”

Here at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV), we are fortunate to be able to work with talented and passionate interns from across the country. This summer, Marcellas Williams, a student at the César Chávez Public Charter School for Public Policy in Washington, D.C., spent three weeks interning at the Coalition. Marcellas was a great asset to CSGV during his time here and contributed the following blog about his views on gun violence:

Gun violence is slowly but surely causing America to fall apart.

I am an 11th grader living in Ward 8 in Washington, D.C., where there is a high rate of death due to gun violence. I feel as though young people who try to be something in life are often those who die for no apparent reason. Some teenagers in my community try to take the “Fast Money” route and get attention for having flashy accessories. They want the “Lavish Life.” That is where their downfall begins. Many teens believe that selling drugs or being a thug is the easiest way in life, but we refuse to look beyond that and realize that there is a better road to take. It’s sad to say, but I believe that in a way I’m contributing to violence, because I’m the type of person who believes that certain people deserve what they have in store for them.

There are young people who set goals and become experts in their career fields, but we sometimes don’t see that education leads to bigger and better chances in life. That means that even when you’re doing right, you aren’t always going to be rewarded by the outside world. You need to feel a sense of pride and satisfaction for yourself. If you think you deserve recognition, you might go back to your old ways (and figure you’ll get more recognition on the streets).

Statistics show that 97% of the District of Columbia’s crime guns come from outside states. 25% come from Virginia, 25% come from Maryland, and the rest come mainly from states in the Southeast. Traffickers buy the guns in these states and then drive them across the border into D.C. and re-sell them to criminals and youths. Federal gun laws, and the laws in these outside states, are just not strong enough to protect D.C. from gun trafficking. For example, more than 40 states allow individuals to sell guns to others without putting them through a background check! Meanwhile, the District of Columbia still doesn’t have a vote in Congress, which means that our elected officials don’t have any ability to change federal gun laws to make our city safer.

All told, 1,000 people across the world die every day due to gun violence, and until people sit down and take the time to realize that, things will never change. Here in America, we need to put aside our differences and come to an understanding that guns are not the way to solve problems. Living in Southeast Washington, I’ve seen people die for senseless reasons, such as the neighborhood they’re from. I wish the people who are involved in gun violence would realize they are only showing others their ignorance. They need to realize what they've put people’s families through. It’s time to choose education over guns and the “Lavish Life.”

I’ve heard many complaints about gun violence, but when are people going to actually come together and confront those who can change America and our urban communities? The good news is that there are many things we can do to take action collectively. Build a coalition of groups and individuals against violence; organize protests to impact our laws; draft proposals and send them out to D.C. Council Members, Mayor Adrian Fenty, and President Barack Obama; create petitions; get more young people involved, etc. We need to ask legislators the following question: “If you were in my shoes, how would you feel?”

A problem won’t solve itself—it takes people who are willing to help make change in America. We can start to make that change this very second; all we need is involvement from people who are concerned and willing to make a difference.