Welcome to Common Gunsense

I hope this blog will provoke some thoughtful reflection about the issue of guns and gun violence. I am passionate about the issue and would love to change some misperceptions and the culture of gun violence in America by sharing with readers words, photos, videos and clips from articles to promote common sense about gun issues. Many of you will agree with me- some will not. I am only one person but one among many who think it's time to do something about this national problem. The views expressed by me in this blog do not represent any group with which I am associated but are rather my own personal opinions and thoughts.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The last few days in gun world

A lot is going on in the world of guns and gun violence. Particularly in the last week or so. Let's take a look at what's been going on.

I already wrote about the shooting at LAX airport. More information is coming out about the gun used and where the shooter got the gun. It appears in early reporting that it was a legally purchased assault rifle that, had Governor Brown vetoed a recent bill to ban these types of rifles, would be unavailable for sale. We need to have good information about the guns used in these shootings. Guns matter. Most especially guns designed to kill a lot of people at one time, as was the gun used by the LAX airport shooter. This report from the Violence Policy Center contains a lot of information about assault type rifles, commonly used in many of our recent shootings. From the report:
However, in California an ammunition magazine is not considered to be detachable if a “tool” is required to remove it from the weapon. The “bullet button” is a release button for the ammunition magazine that can be activated with the tip of a bullet. With the tip of the bullet replacing the use of a finger in activating the release, the button can be pushed and the detachable ammunition magazine removed and replaced in seconds. Compared to the release process for a standard detachable ammunition magazine it is a distinction without a difference.  
Legislation passed by the California legislature banning the sale of semiautomatic centerfire rifles capable of accepting a detachable ammunition magazine would have addressed the “bullet button” issue and ended the gun industry’s ability to circumvent the intent of California’s assault weapons ban. The legislation was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown on October 11, 2013. 
According to news reports, the Smith & Wesson assault rifle used by Ciancia was legally purchased in California from a federally licensed firearms dealer, the Target Range Gun Store in Van Nuys. It has not been reported whether it was a “bullet button” assault rifle or not. 
More information will likely be forthcoming about this gun. But meanwhile, there is a lot of information in the above Violence Policy Center report about the terminology used by the gun rights advocates and by the gun violence prevention advocates. In the end, a gun is a gun. Does it matter if we call the rifle used in the LAX shooting, the Aurora Theater shooting, the Sandy Hook shooting and all of the others, a "modern sporting rifle" or an "assault rifle"? Lives were lost needlessly. The cynical attempt by the gun lobbyists to change what we call guns to make them acceptable is just plain ludicrous. I say we call these guns what they are- military style assault rifles. That was their original purpose. That was what the gun industry called them until they got the idea that the public really doesn't like assault type rifles being used to shoot children and others in regular shootings. We know about the damage they are capable of inflicting on human bodies. It's time for us to stop equivocating about our serious national public health and safety crisis and deal with the causes and effects using the facts.

The facts are that Americans are shooting other Americans with such regular frequency in public places and in homes that is becoming a national daily tragedy. What will we do about this? Nothing? Or will we stop letting the fear and paranoid rhetoric of the gun rights extremists lead the national conversation? It's time for a change and for some common sense about guns and gun violence prevention. For that's what this is about- saving lives. The gun rights crowd would like us to think that more guns and more guns in public places is the answer. They throw in the idea that any gun law, unless it's the one they like, will affect their rights to own guns. This is not true, of course, because the laws proposed are reasonable laws supported by even their own gun owning and NRA member friends. Those folks understand that their rights come with responsibilities and that Americans have a right to be free from the gun violence that is devastating communities everywhere. The facts show that the corporate gun lobby reasoning is faulty and it has led us to reject common sense laws in favor of looser laws. We are not safer as a result. Just look at what's happening on a weekly basis.

A South Carolina mass shooting barely made a blip on the national news radar. Six people died in a typical murder/suicide. Common in America but not other countries. This is avoidable and senseless.

Joe Nocera of the New York Times wrote his weekly Weekend Gun Report last week-end, including the shooting at LAX. By my count, ( this was not easy to do and I think I got it mostly right) there were 58 shooting deaths and 104 shooting injuries over the last week-end. They took place in 34 different states and some states had multiple incidents. The shootings were child shooting accidents, domestic shootings, gang shootings, suicides, murder/suicides, street fights, shootings in cars and homes and even an accidental shooting right here in my home town at a shooting range.

A New Jersey area 20 year old brought what appears to be an AK-47 type rifle to a shopping mall and started firing his gun. In the end, he shot and killed himself. He stole his gun from his own brother. Luckily for all, no other shoppers or employees were shot on this young man's way to his own suicide by gun. But this is a scene that we can all understand because it is happening a lot in our country. We get the young man dressed in black with a rifle shooting up airports, movie theaters, schools and shopping malls. It is becoming an American tradition. Though no one was hurt besides the shooter, this incident occupied law enforcement and terrorized shoppers and store employees for hours before the body of the shooter was found:
Mr. Shoop was found with a firearm that was modified to look like an AK-47 assault rifle, Mr. Molinelli said.
“It was a lawful weapon that was owned by his brother,” he said. The authorities said they believed Mr. Shoop stole the gun before heading to the mall.
Mr. Shoop fired at least six shots, the authorities said, and although no bystanders were injured he caused widespread panic.
“Thousands of people began to run out of the mall,” Mr. Molinelli said. “At least 400 patrons were locked into whatever store they were in at the time.”
Officials said the mall would be closed on Tuesday.
The resources required to deal with this matter are costly. If others had been shot and injured or killed, more would have been expended, costing taxpayers in actual dollars and friends and relatives of victims in grief and emotional trauma.

As it turns out, gun violence costs America a lot of money. $16 billion dollars in 8 years time to cover the costs of gun injuries should be eye opening. Since 2008, when this research into the costs ended in this study, there have been many many more shootings and mass shootings. The pain, grief, cost, inconvenience, emotional and physical scars and long-lasting affect of living with gun injuries is just not worth the controversial politics of gun policy. It should not be controversial to want to save lives, to save money, to save families from grief and long-term suffering, to keep our children safe and to prevent the daily devastation of gun violence. We must be better than this.


It needs to be said that we have a serious problem when people who shouldn't have guns have easy access to them anyway. New information about the gun used at the New Jersey mall by a suicidal young man points to serious problems with our country's gun culture and gun laws. From the article:
A conflicted portrait emerged of Shoop on Tuesday. A well-liked and hardworking young man, he also had a history of minor run-ins with police. Authorities said he never should have had access to the gun that he calmly carried into the state’s largest shopping mall, striking fear into hundreds who remained trapped inside for hours.
Shoop tried to steal the same rifle once before, on Jan. 1, resulting in a fight that led to simple-assault charges against his brother and the confiscation of the gun, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said. The charges were dropped and the gun was ordered returned in September when Kevin Shoop assured authorities that he would keep it secured, Molinelli said.
The prosecutor said it appeared that the gun was not locked up Monday, “at least securely enough,” when Richard Shoop took it from the house.
Hours later, the rifle became an instrument of terror, leading to a massive manhunt while hundreds of patrons and employees at the mall were locked down for hours. Shoop, dressed in black and wearing a motorcycle helmet, looked people in the eyes as he strutted through a main concourse of the mall, telling people not to worry, that they were not his target. (...) 
The gun used in the shooting had been returned to Kevin Shoop by Superior Court Judge Donald R. Venezia because he had no criminal convictions or restraining orders, Molinelli said. Richard Shoop testified in court that he was not a victim of domestic violence and was not afraid of his brother, Molinelli said.
Molinelli said the judge had not had much choice.
“There are but a limited set of circumstances whereby a court can order the gun not to be released,” he said. “Unfortunately, none of those reasons focus on what the gun might ultimately be used for such as what occurred last night.”
Kevin Shoop said Tuesday night that when he recently got his gun back from police, a lock designed to keep the gun from firing was broken. He then stored the weapon in a case in his closet.
This bears repeating. "Authorities said he never should have had access to the gun......."



  1. By saying that nothing you propose would "will affect their rights to own guns," are you disavowing that you and your organization wish to ban any guns? What about magazines? Does that include both current possession and future purchases? For example, if I am prohibited from buying a new rifle, then I would view that as affecting my right to own guns. Do you agree?

  2. Dear Mr. Ralston- " For example, if I am prohibited from buying a new rifle, then I would view that as affecting my right to own guns." Your rights are not unfettered. Just read Justice Scalia's writings in the Heller decision. Scalia clearly said that there are some types of guns that can be regulated. Do you think you have a right to own a tank or a nuclear bomb under the second amendment? Those are arms. We have regulated such things. We have also regulated machine guns so registration is required and a hefty fee to buy one is in place. I'm sure you have plenty of guns for hunting and self defense. No one is going to take those from you. But if new regulations on the sale of certain kinds of guns should ever pass in this country, your rights will not be infringed. Several states have bans on certain kinds of assault type weapons and high capacity magazines. Those bans or regulations are not unconstitutional. A California Appeals Court recently upheld their ban on the sale and possession of certain kinds of assault type rifles. http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/10/23/2819911/california-appeals-court-upholds-assault-rifle-ban/

    1. First, thank you for admitting that at a minimum you want to ban the sale or purchase of new examples of some types of firearms. Second, your reference to nuclear weapons and machine guns is a straw-man argument. Those arguments are fallacious, so you may want to avoid them in the future. Third, the constitutionality of the bans and restrictions you are referencing is still to be decided, as the Supreme Court has not revisited the Second Amendment since McDonald. (I'm a lawyer, by the way.) Considering that Heller said the 2A applies to firearms "in common use for lawful purposes," and semi-automatic rifles and magazines holding more than some arbitrary number of rounds are certainly in common use for lawful purposes. The AR-15, for example, has been the best-selling rifle in the United States for years, and magazines of all sizes have been in wide use for a century.

    2. Very few court challenges have gone anywhere after Heller, as I'm sure you know since you say you are a lawyer- http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/19/us/gun-plans-dont-conflict-with-justices-08-ruling.html

      Gun laws are constitutional.

  3. Very good, Mr. Ralston I see you are a lawyer who happens to specialise in health care law.

    But, my learned colleague should be aware that merely saying that you are a lawyer is not sufficient authority to give your opinion weight: especially since your field of expertise is not related to either constitutional or criminal law.

    Under what authority would you use to back up your opinion? Section III of the Heller decision?

    I believe you would be out of luck since that section states:

    Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose... For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues... Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should 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.

    We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time.” 307 U. S., at 179. We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons.”

    It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like—may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause. But as we have said, the conception of the militia at the time of the Second Amendment ’s ratification was the body of all citizens capable of military service, who would bring the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty. It may well be true today that a militia, to be as effective as militias in the 18th century, would require sophisticated arms that are highly unusual in society at large. Indeed, it may be true that no amount of small arms could be useful against modern-day bombers and tanks. But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right.

    Additionally, the Heller decision held that registration and background checks did not offend the Second Amendment:

    In sum, we hold that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment , as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense. Assuming that Heller is not disqualified from the exercise of Second Amendment rights, the District must permit him to register his handgun and must issue him a license to carry it in the home.

  4. I would also add that Justice Alito pointed out in the McDonald decision:

    It is important to keep in mind that Heller, while striking down a law that prohibited the possession of handguns in the home, recognized that the right to keep and bear arms is not “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” 554 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 54). We made it clear in Heller that our holding did not cast doubt on such longstanding regulatory measures as “prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill,” “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.” Id., at ___–___ (slip op., at 54–55). We repeat those assurances here. Despite municipal respondents’ doomsday proclamations, incorporation does not imperil every law regulating firearms.

    BTW, The Heller decision did not kill off the Civic right interpretation of the Second amendment, as Justice Stevens's dissent followed that theory.

    So, I hate to break it to you, my learned friend, but despite the belief that the Heller and McDonald would somehow expand the "Second Amendment right", the courts have not been too willing to make it legal to own weapons of mass destruction (heavy, dripping sarcasm).

    1. You are also making a straw-man argument. I have never said Heller or McDonald made it “legal to own weapons of mass destruction.” They both said the Second Amendment applies to arms in common use for lawful purposes. I recognize that several courts have concluded that so-called “assault weapons” are not included in that class. Whether those holdings are ultimately correct is likely something that will be determined by the Supreme Court. Those of us who are familiar with the appellate process know that intermediate appellate courts often come to opposite conclusions on the same question, with the final word coming from the ultimate court with jurisdiction. That some intermediate courts have held semi-automatic rifles can be banned does not mean the question has been settled, and that some gun laws have been upheld does not mean that all of them will be. If I say that some automobiles are painted red, does that mean that one can assume that all automobiles are painted red? Obviously not. The same fallacy applies to the conclusion that “all gun laws are constitutional” on the basis that some of them have been upheld. It would be equally fallacious for me to claim that none of them are constitutional on the basis that some of them (e.g., the gun bans in question in Heller and McDonald) have been struck down. Some laws are; some laws are not.

      Also, I specialize in commercial and appellate litigation. The site you referenced is not something under my control, and it has incorrectly described my practice for years now. If I may ask, what is your legal specialty?

    2. Seems to me that analogy of the red car is a straw man argument. All we have to go on is what has actually happened regarding appeals to gun laws. So far, the appeals have not worked for the most part.

    3. Heller was cited for the successful challenge to Illinois's ban on carry permits. This has resulted in the state passing a shall issue permit system and will likely result in thousands more citizens having more choices in how to defend themselves.

      "In a 2-1 decision (Williams dissenting), the Court reversed both District Courts' decisions and orders. Judge Posner, writing for the majority, notes that while the Heller and McDonald decisions did say that the need for self-defense is most acute inside the home, that doesn't mean it is not also acute outside the home. "Confrontations are not limited to the home".[4] The distinct use of the words "keep" and "bear" in the text of the Second Amendment, the Court reasoned, implied the right to carry outside one's home, as in historical context, the meaning of the word did not limit it to the home and it would be awkward to attempt to assign that connotation to documents of the time period."

    4. Every once in a while the gun rights folks win a case. Not nearly as often as the gun violence prevention side has won.Here is just one more of many. http://blogs.findlaw.com/decided/2013/02/nra-loses-appeal-over-njs-1-gun-per-month-restriction.html

      I don't intend to go "tit for tat" with you Mark as you love to do. The NRA is not winning many cases. And that is a fact. Don't send me any more.

  5. "Mr. Shoop was found with a firearm that was modified to look like an AK-47 assault rifle, Mr. Molinelli said."

    "The incomplete identification of the gun Shoop apparently used to take his own life at Garden State Plaza early today raises several questions, including whether it merely looked like an assault weapon, or legally qualified as one under New Jersey law, which strictly limits who can and can't own the firearm."


    So it might not be a real assault rifle. It is still a scary event, and it looks to me like he was trolling for a policeman to help kill himself.

    1. I believe I addressed that in my post, Mark.

  6. Another Appeals Court found that an AWB in DC was constitutional. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-10-04/washington-d-c-assault-weapons-ban-constitutional-appeals-court-rules.html

    "D.C.’s ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines doesn’t violate the constitutional rights of residents in the U.S. capital, a federal appeals court ruled.
    The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington today also upheld registration requirements for handguns put in place after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2008 ended the city’s almost total ban on firearms. The three-judge panel ordered a lower court to further review other aspects of Washington’s gun control law, such as its limits on multiple purchases.
    “The District has carried its burden of showing a substantial relationship between the prohibition of both semi- automatic rifles and magazines holding more than 10 rounds, and the objectives of protecting police officers and controlling crime,” Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote in the 2-1 ruling."