Gun-law push faces slow start in most states
by William M. Welch
One month after the elementary school massacre at Newtown, Conn., more than three-fourths of the states have no plans to weigh new firearms restrictions this year, and six states are considering loosening restrictions, a USA TODAY-Gannett survey of governors and legislators found.
Eleven states are considering new gun laws as legislatures gather at the start of the year. Most of them are in the Northeast and Pacific coast, where some of the strongest gun-control measures are already in place, and in Connecticut and Colorado, scene of horrific mass murders last year. All are blue states that tend to vote for Democrats.
Thirty-nine states are not considering new gun restrictions, in some cases because they say they already have tough controls on the books.
On Monday, Vice President Biden gave President Obama recommendations from his task force on gun violence created in the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown. Obama said he would push for better background checks for gun buyers and limits on the size of ammunition magazines.
Some governors and legislative leaders, particularly in conservative states where support for gun rights is high, say they are focusing on better school-safety or mental-health programs rather than new gun limits.
Eight states, all with Republican governors, are targeting school safety: Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, Texas and South Dakota. At least three of those -- Texas, Virginia and South Dakota -- are weighing proposals for enhancing armed security at schools.
Lawmakers plan to take up mental-health proposals in seven states: Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
At least six states -- Arizona, South Dakota, Kansas, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming -- face proposals to loosen restrictions on guns in line with gun rights advocates such as the National Rifle Association that say more access to weapons as self defense is the solution to gun violence.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, last week called for enacting the “toughest assault-weapon ban in the nation.” It includes a ban on magazines that hold more than 10 bullets, background checks for all private gun sales and tougher penalties for illegally possessing a firearm.
His plan is being warmly received in the state capital, among Democrats, the majority, and Republicans. State Senate Republican Conference leader Dean Selos said GOP lawmakers back limits on magazine size and tougher penalties for illegal guns.
Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper last week called for background checks for all gun purchases.
Connecticut Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy, supports a ban on large-capacity magazines, spokesman Andrew Doba said. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has called for a conversation about guns and violence.
Other states weighing new restrictions: California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon and Rhode Island.
The Third Surge
by Mark Thompson
The number of suicides in the ranks of the U.S. military has more than doubled since 9/11.
According to data released unofficially by the Pentagon on Monday, there were 349 suicides in the U.S. military in 2012, nearly one a day. That's 118% more than 2001's 160 suicides, and marks the Pentagon's highest annual self-inflicted death toll ever.
Three-hundred-and-ten U.S. troops died in Afghanistan in 2012.
One perished in Iraq.
Three-hundred-and-forty-nine died at their own hands, a Pentagon official said Monday.
Seems only fitting. After all, there was a surge of U.S. troops into Iraq in 2007, followed by a surge into Afghanistan in 2010. So a surge in suicides – from 301 in 2011 to 349 last year, a 16% increase – follows a pattern.
We've tried making sense of the U.S. military's suicide scourge since it began spiking northward several years ago. We've written of those who killed themselves , those who killed their families along with themselves, and, last week, veterans who have done so.
Every suicide is unique. But there are common threads. The post-9/11 stress of military life is real, even if some of those in uniform have never been in a war zone. In many cases – certainly those we've written about – war has often led to post-traumatic stress, to depression, and to behavioral problems that can lead to broken relationships. There's a synergy there that can end in suicide. But for everyone who takes his own life (95% of troops who kill themselves are male), there are hundreds facing the same challenges who don't.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has detailed the many factors at play. “Part of this is the impact of over 10 years of war and the stress that's involved in deployment after deployment after deployment after deployment,” he said in November. Suicide in the broader society is up as well, he said, and that is reflected in the Pentagon's rise. “Part of it due to family stress, part of it due to drinking, part of it due to drugs, part of it due to financial stress and there are a whole series of issues that play a role in creating this kind of pressure.” He said he wished there were “a simple silver bullet that could deal with the problem,” but acknowledged there isn't.
The Army's former top psychiatrist senses another dynamic at play. “In recent years, I have seen a real fear on the part of soldiers that if they reveal that there is anything wrong, they will be the ones left behind,” Elspeth Ritchie, a Battleland contributor, said Monday. “Left behind literally, as the rest of the unit deploys. And thus left behind on promotion, and on retention.” That, she says, can push them over the edge.
This latest surge should come as no surprise. In 2010, the Pentagon's own medical monitors said there was “a large, widespread, and growing mental health problem among U.S. military members.” In 2011, military doctors reported that suicidal thoughts had soared among military personnel hospitalized between 2006 and 2010. Last year, Pentagon doctors found that “in 2011 mental disorders accounted for more hospitalizations of U.S. service members than any other major category of diagnoses.” Hospitalizations for mental ailments, they noted, had jumped by more than 50% since 2007.
We wrote about suicide in the military before 9/11. But they were stories because they were so rare. Now they're stories because they are so common.
Villaraigosa speaks in D.C., urging immigration overhaul
The Los Angeles mayor calls for a system that provides a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and whose focus is to 'remove real threats to our borders and inside our country.'
by Richard Simon, Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa delivered a high-profile speech in the nation's capital Monday in support of overhauling immigration laws but sidestepped questions about his future once his mayoral term ends.
"I'm focused on the job I've got and want to finish as strong as I can," he told a National Press Club audience. When asked whether he would serve in the Obama administration after his term ends June 30, he said, "When I'm asked, I'll answer the question.
"The sun may be setting on my administration, but I'm not riding off into the sunset just yet," Villaraigosa said. He is due to return to Washington at the end of the week for a news conference with other mayors calling for tougher gun laws.
On Monday, Villaraigosa called for comprehensive immigration legislation that includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million people who are in the United States unlawfully. Illegal immigrants would have to undergo background checks, show English language skills and American civics knowledge and pay back taxes before they could be processed for legal status under his proposal. The overhaul, he said, should include an effective employment verification system and "smart enforcement."
"We've created an immigration system that is long on enforcement but short on opportunity ... a system that happily capitalizes on the labor of millions of undocumented men and women but then refuses to extend them the basic rights and privileges that most of us take for granted," he said.
"The goal of our immigration enforcement policy should be to remove real threats to our borders and inside our country," Villaraigosa said. "We should deport serious offenders. We should not deport people whose most serious crime is a lack of papers."
He dismissed the notion that it may be too difficult for Congress to tackle the politically hot issue of immigration as it gears up for fights over gun laws and federal spending.
"Washington should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time," he said.
Villaraigosa said he would be speaking to the U.S. Conference of Mayors soon, seeking its support in pressuring Congress to pass comprehensive immigration legislation.
Urging Republicans to support an overhaul of immigration laws, he brought up GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's poor showing among Latino voters, attributing it to the "vitriolic nature of the immigration debate."
"If the Republicans don't go to the center — they continue to be, you know, dominated by the far right — you're going to see them lose more and more," he said.
Villaraigosa also pitched his immigration-overhaul idea as financially smart.
"This doesn't just make moral sense, it makes economic sense," he said. "If we legalize the 11 million undocumented immigrants here in the United States, we'd give an infusion to our economy of $1.5 trillion, a shot in the arm over the next decade. The federal government would see $4.5 billion in more tax revenue in just three years."
Acknowledging the difficulty of the issue, Villaraigosa recalled a massive 2006 immigration rally outside Los Angeles City Hall during which "many on my staff said, 'Don't go out there; don't do it; you've been in office less than a year; your job is to fix potholes; leave immigration to the feds.'
"But when 1 million people march to your front step, they deserve a welcome," he said. "No human being is illegal.... We must enshrine this principle into the heart and soul of the country's immigration policy."
Kristen Williamson of the Federation for American Immigration Reform said the mayor's presentation was nothing new: He "merely reiterated the same tired calls for more immigration from the open borders lobby. His plan to extend amnesty to illegal aliens, continue chain migration and invite more unskilled immigration benefits immigrants while harming American workers and undermining the rule of law.''
Civil rights group want AG to investigate fatal shooting of 15-year-old
by NATALIE SHERMAN
NEW BEDFORD — Police response to seeing a possible gang handshake exchanged by two youths — one of them, Malcolm Gracia, 15, whom they later shot and killed — was outside the bounds of community policing and “not an isolated incident,” ACLU attorney John Reinstein said Monday at a press conference requesting further investigation of the death.
Police fired a Taser and two volleys of shots at Gracia on May 17, killing him after he had stabbed Detective Tyson Barnes multiple times in the chest. Police had started talking to the teen in a so-called “meet and greet,” a community policing tool in which officers engage members of the public in conversation.
“The response to these two young men was aggressive, forceful ... and that is what brought us to the tragic conclusion of the stabbing of the police officer and ultimately to the shooting,” said Reinstein. “The circumstances of that evening and the experience of the New Bedford branch of dealing with the complaints from the community indicates that this was not an isolated incident and that the meet-and-greet program is outside the parameter of what we expect community policing to be.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, NAACP's New England Area Conference, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and the New Bedford NAACP have asked Attorney General Martha Coakley to appoint a judge to further investigate Gracia's death to determine if the second round of shots was necessary.
In their statement, the civil rights organizations said Gracia was already subdued — shot, on one knee and armed only with a knife — when the second round of shots was fired.
They also requested that the attorney general examine the department's firearms training and firearms discharge review procedures and that the civil rights division review the implementation of the Police Department's “meet-and-greet” practice.
“These meet-and-greet or stop-and-frisk-type programs under the guise of community policing and gang intervention and protection begin to trample on the rights of those people who are oftentimes seen as voiceless,” said Rahsaan Hall, the deputy director of the Lawyers Committee. “This is a perfect example here in New Bedford but it is not isolated to New Bedford.”
A spokesman for Coakley said the request is under review.
In July, Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter released a report holding that the encounter was consistent with the Police Department's community policing practice. The report found that the use of force was justified by the violence of the encounter, which was driven by Gracia, a teen with a history of mental illness.
Determining the constitutionality of the stop was beyond his legal authority, Sutter said at the time and repeated Monday.
“Determining the constitutionality of the specific interaction that began this specific encounter was not the role of the District Attorney's Office nor was it required to determine whether the use of lethal force was necessary,” he said in a statement.
“We have full confidence in the conclusions we came to during our investigation into the tragic death of Mr. Gracia,” he added. “We believe that another thorough and objective review of the evidence will also come to similar conclusions as we did.”
At the press conference, members of the community came forward to complain about Police Department treatment.
“I hope that they revise that whole meet-and-greet policy,” said Manny Andrews, 43, of New Bedford.
Mayor Jon Mitchell said Monday night that “The officers of the New Bedford Police Department are well trained in search and seizure methods and those methods are consistent with those in other departments as well as both statutory and constitutional requirements.”
Police Chief David Provencher said he has confidence in his officers' actions that night and in the “meet-and-greet” program and welcomed further scrutiny.
Gracia's mother Linda Gracia, who did not attend the press conference, said later she was pleased the NAACP was pressing forward.
“It was an overkill,” she said. “They could have shot him in the leg or the arm.”