Warning of ‘serious threats’ Virginia governor bans weapons at gun-rights rally

(Reuters) – Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on Wednesday said he would ban all firearms and other weapons around the state capitol building this weekend, ahead of a major gun-rights demonstration expected to draw thousands of people.

Northam, who is leading the push for stronger gun laws in his state, said he wants to avoid a repeat of violence that erupted at a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, when a march by white nationalists erupted and led to the death of a counterprotester.

Gun-rights advocates, including militia groups and ultraconservative activists, are planning a “Lobby Day” rally on Monday, seeking to block gun control legislation backed by Northam, a Democrat, whose party recently won majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

“We’re seeing threats of violence. We’re seeing threats of armed confrontation and assault on our capitol,” Northam said. “These are considered credible, serious threats from our law enforcement agencies.”

Several measures – including universal background checks and “red flag” laws – that would toughen gun laws in the state are quickly making their way through the Senate and House, and could be passed before the end of the month.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League, which is organizing the rally, hopes that a large turnout by gun-rights proponents, most of whom will be openly carrying weapons as allowed by state law, will persuade lawmakers not to back the measures, according to materials posted online by the group.

“A substantial crowd will be here in Richmond,” State Police Superintendent Colonel Gary Settle told reporters on Wednesday. “We’re talking several thousands of people.”

Everyone attending Monday’s rally will be required to enter through a security checkpoint, authorities said.

Last week, Virginia lawmakers approved a new gun policy prohibiting firearms inside the Capitol and a nearby office building. But they did not extend the ban to Capitol Square, the public space outside that includes monuments to prominent Virginians and the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, additional reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Scott Malone, Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Bronx man, battling own legal woes, brings gun rights case to U.S. Supreme Court

Bronx man, battling own legal woes, brings gun rights case to U.S. Supreme Court
By Andrew Chung

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Two weeks before Efrain Alvarez and his attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their challenge to a New York City regulation that limited where licensed handgun owners could transport their weapons, police officers showed up at his Bronx apartment and took away all his firearms.

The officers walked past the bullet-making equipment in his cluttered entranceway and past the trophy deer head hanging on his living room wall. From two imposing steel vaults in the back bedroom, they confiscated around 45 firearms, including five handguns.

“I’m still numb about it,” the 64-year-old retired city bus driver said of the August 2018 seizure. “It’s my lifelong collection.”

The officers arrested Alvarez, and he was charged with filing a false police report over a claim that one of his handguns had been stolen, a misdemeanor. As a result, Alvarez said, the very handgun license whose transport restrictions he is challenging has been suspended for the second time this decade.

The legal battle over the New York measure is the biggest gun rights case at the Supreme Court since 2010, with the justices set to hear arguments next Monday. The challenge is backed by the National Rifle Association, an influential gun rights lobby group closely aligned with Republicans including President Donald Trump, a fellow New Yorker.

The regulation restricted transport of handguns by licensed owners to shooting ranges within city limits but allowed hunting during designated seasons. The lawsuit claims the measure violated the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

After the regulation was amended in July to allow for transporting handguns outside New York City, city officials unsuccessfully asked the Supreme Court to drop the matter and cancel the arguments, asserting that the case was moot.

The state’s NRA affiliate, the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, filed the lawsuit in 2013 with Alvarez and two other gun owners as plaintiffs, after authorities told the men that the regulation prevented them from participating at a shooting competition in New Jersey or bringing their guns to second homes elsewhere in the state.

Alvarez said he joined the suit because he thought it was ridiculous that he could own a handgun but not travel to compete with it.

In the lawsuit, he and the two other gun owners are described as “law-abiding residents of New York City.” Alvarez does not think his own legal troubles make it awkward or inappropriate for him to challenge the regulation.

“My suspension has nothing to do with my fight in court,” Alvarez said in an interview.

Alvarez also said he accepted a deal last week offered by the Bronx district attorney’s office to drop the charge in six months if he is not arrested again.

Asked about Alvarez’s arrest and license suspension, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Brian Stapleton, said it was the first he had heard of it.

“It has no impact on this case whatsoever,” Stapleton said.

Describing himself as a supporter of gun control measures like strong background checks, Alvarez said he hopes the ruling in his case does not undermine other firearms restrictions.

“If a bad apple grabs a gun and he does something stupid, it kind of falls on me because I’m part of what’s going on. So it would kind of hit a sore spot,” added Alvarez, who said he admires the NRA but disagrees with some of its policies.

SUPREME COURT PRECEDENT

The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court after a lower court found that the regulation did not violate the Second Amendment and advanced the city’s interest in protecting public safety.

The Supreme Court in 2008 found for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep a gun in the home for self-defense. In 2010, the court extended that right to state and local laws as well. But the justices have avoided ruling in a major firearms case since then, leaving open questions such as whether that right extends outside the home.

“I hope that they clarify that the right to posses a firearm outside the home is as important and fundamental as the right to possess one inside the home,” Stapleton said.

Gun control advocates fear that the conservative-majority Supreme Court could use the case to expand gun rights and threaten a wide array of gun control measures nationwide such as expanded background checks and “red flag” laws targeting the firearms of people deemed dangerous by the courts.

“I don’t think there’s any question that, if given the opportunity, the NRA and its allies will try to re-challenge laws that have already been upheld and certainly challenge any new laws,” said Eric Tirschwell, managing director of litigation at Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control lobby group that receives funding from Democratic presidential candidate and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Born and raised in New York, Alvarez is affable and blunt. He has been a gun enthusiast since serving in the U.S. National Guard decades ago. He said he became an avid hunter and started competitive shooting, winning several awards.

His hobby extends to making bullets, reloading spent casings in a mini-workshop that fills the vestibule of his Bronx apartment. He polishes the casings, melts the lead, pours the molds and sets the bullet heads with a pull of the press.

Alvarez’s August 2018 arrest came after police said he falsely reported a .38 caliber revolver had been stolen by two men he claimed had fooled him by posing as police officers. The saga led police to suspend his handgun license and confiscate his firearms, he said. The New York Police Department declined to discuss Alvarez’s case.

“Everybody who owns a firearm in New York City should have the right to take that firearm to his property, and out of the city to go shooting,” Alvarez’s said. “We’re not looking for anything else as far as I’m concerned.”

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

Florida teachers can arm themselves under new gun bill

FILE PHOTO: A selection of Glock pistols are seen for sale at the Pony Express Firearms shop in Parker, Colorado December 7, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – Florida’s legislature on Wednesday passed a bill allowing teachers to carry guns in the classroom, expanding a program launched after the deadly high school shooting in Parkland with the aim of preventing another such massacre.

Florida’s House of Representatives voted 65 to 47 to pass the bill after hours of debate over two days in which the Republican majority thwarted Democratic efforts to amend, stall or kill the measure. Florida’s Senate approved it 22 to 17 last week.

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law, enabling school districts wishing to take part in the voluntary Guardian program to arm those teachers who pass a 144-hour training course.

On Feb. 14, 2018, a former student armed with a semiautomatic rifle opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and wounding 17 others.

President Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association have argued an armed teacher could provide the best defense against a shooter bent on mass murder.

Opponents questioned whether the solution to gun violence should be the presence of even more guns and warned of the danger of a teacher misfiring during a crisis or police mistaking an armed teacher for the assailant.

Passage marks a victory for gun-rights advocates, who were on the defensive a year ago when Parkland students inspired nationwide protests in favor of gun control.

After the Parkland shooting, Florida lawmakers rushed through legislation that required schools to place at least one armed staff member or law-enforcement officer at each campus.

The law also imposed a three-day waiting period for gun purchases and raised the age limit for buying rifles from 18 to 21 – remarkable measures in a gun-friendly state.

Although last year’s law allowed some school personnel to carry weapons, guns were still banned from the classroom.

Backers of arming classroom teachers revived the issue this year, arguing that school shootings often erupt too quickly for law enforcement to respond.

In anticipation of passage, school employees in 40 of Florida’s 67 counties already enrolled in or planned to take the 144-hour course, a spokesman for the Speaker of the House said. Some counties have resolved not to participate in the Guardian program.

Florida’s gun-control advocates had made stopping the proposal a top priority, among them Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense, which is funded by billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; additional reporting by Steve Gorman)

New Zealand votes to amend gun laws after Christchurch attack

Flowers and a New Zealand national flag are seen at a memorial as tributes to victims of the mosque attacks near Linwood mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Lawmakers in New Zealand voted almost unanimously on Wednesday to change gun laws, less than a month after its worst peacetime mass shooting, in which 50 people were killed in attacks on two mosques in Christchurch.

Parliament passed the gun reform bill, the first substantial changes to New Zealand’s gun laws in decades, by 119 to 1. It must now receive royal assent from the governor general to become law.

“There have been very few occasions when I have seen parliament come together in this way, and I can’t imagine circumstances when it is more necessary,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in presenting the legislation.

Ardern banned the sale of all military style semi-automatics (MSSA) and assault rifles just six days after the March 15 shooting, and announced plans to tighten gun laws.

A lone gunman used semi-automatic guns in the Christchurch mosque attacks, killing 50 people as they attended Friday prayers.

Authorities have charged Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, with 50 counts of murder following the attacks.

The new curbs bar the circulation and use of most semi-automatic firearms, parts that convert firearms into semi-automatic firearms, magazines over a certain capacity, and some shotguns.

Existing gun laws had provided for a standard A-category gun license covering semi-automatics limited to seven shots.

The bill grants an amnesty until Sept. 30 for people to surrender prohibited items. More than 300 weapons had already been handed in, police minister Stuart Nash told parliament.

The government has begun work on a second arms amendment bill it hopes to introduce in June, he said, adding that the measure would tackle issues regarding a gun registry, among others.

The government has faced criticism from some quarters for rushing through the bill. Wednesday’s dissenting vote came from David Seymour, leader of the small free-market ACT Party, who questioned why the measure was being rushed through.

Ardern said majority lawmakers believe such guns had no place in New Zealand.

“We are ultimately here because 50 people died and they do not have a voice,” she added. “We, in this house, are their voice and today we have used that voice wisely.”

Since last month’s shooting, New Zealand has tightened security and canceled several events in Auckland, its largest city, intended to commemorate ANZAC Day on April 25.

“There is no information about a specific threat to ANZAC events,” police official Karyn Malthus, said in a statement. “However it’s important that the public be safe, and feel safe, at events in the current environment.”

In 1996, neighboring Australia banned semi-automatic weapons and launched a gun buyback after the Port Arthur massacre that killed 35 people.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

‘I am forever haunted:’ Parkland mourns a year after shooting

Cheryl Rothenberg embraces her daughters Emma and Sophia as they view a memorial on the one year anniversary of the shooting which claimed 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 14, 2019. Sophia is a student at the school and Emma is a recent graduate. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

By Zachary Fagenson

PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – One year after the Valentine’s Day massacre inside a Florida school, students and families leading a nationwide push for school and gun safety paused on Thursday to mark the anniversary of the deadliest U.S. high school shooting.

School buses brought only a handful of students to a shortened class day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student with an assault gun killed 17 people on Feb. 14, 2018.

A moment of silence and community service activities took place at local schools, with the city of Parkland set to host an evening vigil at a park where a similar event the day after the shooting showcased angry grief and spurred calls for action.

Leaders of March for Our Lives, a national student movement formed in the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy to fight gun violence, said on Twitter that they were “going dark” for four days.

“During that time, if past trends continue, around 400 people in the U.S. will likely be shot to death,” they said.

From Washington to Florida’s state capital Tallahassee, elected leaders from both parties vowed to keep working to prevent another catastrophe. Republican President Donald Trump said on Twitter that the anniversary was a time to “recommit to ensuring the safety of all Americans, especially our nation’s children.”

Gun violence represents an epidemic that claimed the lives of nearly 40,000 Americans in 2017. Of those deaths, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in December that 60 percent were self-inflicted.

“Why have we not been able to stop this from happening?” asked Jared Moskowitz, a former Democratic state legislator from the Parkland area, now heading the Florida Division of Emergency Management. He spoke alongside a 35-foot memorial to the shooting victims erected at a public arts display in Coral Springs, near Parkland.

A former student, Nikolas Cruz, is accused of opening fire with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle inside a freshman classroom building. He has offered to plead guilty if prosecutors do not seek the death penalty, but no such agreement has been reached.

Many families of the dead and many student activists prefer not to mention his name.

Students who did not want to attend school on Thursday were excused. Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie noted that many struggle with post-traumatic stress.

“For some it is almost as if the incident occurred yesterday. It’s raw and fresh for people,” he told reporters outside the high school, which was guarded by police officers.

For parent Fred Guttenberg, the year since the shooting already has seen his first Father’s Day, birthday and other emotional milestones without his 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, who was killed in a school hallway.

On the one-year mark of Jaime’s death, he was going to visit her at the cemetery. In a social media post, he noted that one year ago he had sent two children to school – and only one came home.

“I am forever haunted by my memory of that morning, rushing my kids out the door rather than getting one last minute. Did I say I love you?” he said on Twitter.

(Additional reporting and writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)

Police seek motive in shooting at Florida video game contest

Police officers cordon off a street outside The Jacksonville Landing after a shooting during a video game tournament in Jacksonville, Florida August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joey Roulette

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Reuters) – Police on Monday were trying to determine why a gunman opened fire at a Jacksonville, Florida, video game tournament, killing two people and injuring 11 others before fatally shooting himself.

The Sunday shooting immediately became an issue in Florida primary elections set for Tuesday when voters choose candidates for governor and the U.S. House of Representatives. Some Democrats called for stricter gun laws while other candidates canceled events.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office identified the shooter as David Katz, 24, of Baltimore, and said they found his body near those of his two alleged victims at The Landing, a popular riverside shopping and dining location. The shooting broke out during a regional qualifier for the Madden 19 online football game tournament at the GLHF Game Bar and witnesses told local media Katz was angry because he lost the tournament.

It was not clear if Katz knew his victims.

Local media identified the dead victims as Eli Clayton, 22, of Woodland Hills, California, and Taylor Robertson, 27, of Ballard, West Virginia. Both had been competitors in the tournament, local media reported, citing family of the victims.

Robertson, a husband and father, won the tournament last year and Katz won it the year before, the Miami Herald reported, citing family and friends posting on the Internet.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s office said nine people were wounded by gunfire and at least two others were injured while fleeing the scene. Officials did not respond to calls seeking updated information on Monday.

Taylor Poindexter speaks to reporters after witnessing a gunman open fire on gamers participating in a video game tournament outside The Jacksonville Landing in Jacksonville, Florida August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joey Roulette

Taylor Poindexter speaks to reporters after witnessing a gunman open fire on gamers participating in a video game tournament outside The Jacksonville Landing in Jacksonville, Florida August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joey Roulette

FLORIDA HISTORY OF SHOOTINGS

Six months ago 17 students and educators were gunned down at a high school in Parkland, Florida, an incident that inflamed the United States’ long-running debate over gun rights.

In 2016 a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in the second-deadliest shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history.

The Sunday attack drew immediate statements from two Democratic candidates for governor – former U.S. Representative Gwen Graham and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

“We need to end these mass shootings – and the only way to do that is to vote out the politicians complicit in this cycle of death,” Graham said on Sunday on Twitter. Levine sounded a similar note, saying, “It’s time for new leaders.”

Graham and Levine are seeking the office currently held by Republican Governor Rick Scott, who in turn is challenging Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson.

The leading contenders for the Republican nomination for governor, U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis and state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, canceled campaign events and urged cooperation with law enforcement.

The bar was livestreaming the gaming competition when the gunfire started, according to video shared on social media. In the video, players can be seen reacting to the shots and cries can be heard before the footage cuts off.

Taylor Poindexter and her boyfriend, Marquis Williams, who had traveled from Chicago to attend the tournament, fled when the gunfire erupted. She said she saw Katz take aim at his victims.

“We did see him, two hands on the gun, walking back, just popping rounds,” Poindexter told reporters. “I was scared for my life and my boyfriend’s.”

Another gamer, Chris “Dubby” McFarland, was hospitalized after a bullet grazed his head. “I feel fine, just a scratch on my head. Traumatized and devastated,” he wrote on Twitter.

Jacksonville Memorial Hospital is treating three people wounded in the attack, said spokesman Peter Moberg. All were listed in good condition and one was expected to be discharged later on Monday, he said.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette in Jacksonville Fla., Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gina Cherelus in New York; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Alison Williams and Bill Trott)

Unlikely pair could usher ‘right to carry’ gun law case to U.S. Supreme Court

George Young holds a framed photo of his late daughter Tim Young in Hilo, Hawaii, U.S., July 30, 2018. Picture taken July 30, 2018. Courtesy Lynn Viale/Handout via REUTERS

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – George Young is a Vietnam War veteran who sued the state of Hawaii three times on his own without a lawyer for the right to carry a handgun and lost each time.

Alan Beck is an independent lawyer who took on Young’s appeal for free.

Last month, the duo won a major victory for gun rights when an appeals court found Hawaii’s restrictive handgun law unconstitutional, a ruling that could lead to a landmark decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on the right to bear arms in public. And they did so without the help of the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) gun lobby.

“I went around the state of Hawaii and contacted about 17 attorneys and all of them turned me down. They said I would only lose,” said Young, 68. “I want to see it through to the end, which is the U.S. Supreme Court.”

U.S gun-control advocates favor strict laws like Hawaii’s, blaming lax gun laws for excessive gun violence and deadly mass shootings in the United States. The NRA and other gun-rights advocates oppose laws that restrict the constitutional right to bear arms and want the high court to take up a new case, hoping it will expand gun rights outside the home.

The Supreme Court has not taken on a major gun-rights case since a pair of cases in 2008 and 2010 in which the court established that the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep a gun at home.

Hawaii allows only people who work in security or who can demonstrate to law enforcement officials that they have an “exceptional case” to carry weapons, concealed or openly.

After he left the Army, Young carried a firearm for 17 years as an airport security guard but lost that right after he retired. He failed to convince the County of Hawaii’s police chief he deserved a permit, so he sued, saying his constitutional right to bear arms was violated.

He filed suits in 2008, 2010 and 2012 to challenge the denials, losing each time.

Lacking the means to hire a lawyer for an appeal, Young would normally have had to depend on a star litigator financed by the NRA or a major law firm to take the case pro bono, or free of cost.

Instead Young paired up with Beck, a solo practitioner who learned of Young’s story and offered to represent him for free.

Beck said he has limited means of his own and that his father has offered to lend him money if needed to keep the case going.

“This covers my pro bono hours for my career. It’s worth it. Sometimes you have to do the right thing,” Beck said.

NO NRA HELP

Based in California but with family ties in Hawaii, Beck said he took Young’s case because he disagreed with the ruling by the U.S. District Court and said Young was denied the leeway that should be afforded to a non-lawyer representing himself.

“I didn’t think he got a fair shake,” Beck said. “We got to know each other very well. I know his family now. I consider him a good friend as well as a client.”

The NRA turned down a request to help with the case, Beck said, declining to elaborate. The NRA was still involved in assisting another lawsuit challenging carry laws when Young filed his suit, which is why the association did not get involved, spokeswoman Amy Hunter said.

On July 24, Young scored his first victory. In a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel of the normally liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found Young has a Second Amendment right to carry a firearm in public. The NRA applauded the ruling.

Hawaii has until Sept. 14 to ask the case to be reheard by the same panel or “en banc” by a larger number of judges.

The state has defended its law by citing the 2008 and 2010 Supreme Court cases, District of Colombia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago. While those rulings were taken as a victory by gun-rights advocates, proponents of gun control say the court also established limits to the Second Amendment.

“Heller was not intended to extend the protections found in the Second Amendment to any area outside the home,” Hawaii said in a 2013 filing in the case.

‘CIRCUIT SPLIT’Some U.S. appeals courts have upheld state laws that greatly restrict gun carry rights while others have struck them down, creating what is known as “circuit split.” The Supreme Court often hears cases in order to resolve such splits, but it requires four out of nine Supreme Court justices to agree to hear a case.

“As a practical matter, there is indeed a circuit split,” said Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor.

George Young and his late daughter Tim Young in Hilo, Hawaii, U.S., in May 2006. Picture taken in May 2006. Courtesy George M. Young/Handout via REUTERS

George Young and his late daughter Tim Young in Hilo, Hawaii, U.S., in May 2006. Picture was taken in May 2006. Courtesy George M. Young/Handout via REUTERS

Young, who is part native Hawaiian and part descendant of Japanese plantation workers, became passionate about the issue while teaching his late daughter Tim, who died in a car accident in 2004 at age 21, about the Constitution.

“She was my pet. Of my three children she was the one to follow me everywhere,” Young said.

One day, as they discussed the Constitution, Young was startled when she told him he could not carry a handgun in Hawaii, so he began his quest.

“I made the promise that they cannot take your Second Amendment away,” Young said. “So to prove it to her, that’s when I started.”

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Frances Kerry)

Protests for and against gun ownership expected at NRA meeting in Dallas

A cap and shirt are displayed at the booth for the National Rifle Association (NRA) at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Lisa Maria Garza

DALLAS (Reuters) – Police are bracing for a significant amount of protests for and against guns during the National Rifle Association’s meeting in Dallas this weekend following a spate of mass shootings, pro gun-control marches, and November’s congressional elections sharpening an always volatile debate.

An estimated 80,000 gun-lovers will be in the city for the NRA’s annual convention. President Donald Trump is expected to address the NRA leadership on Friday, the first day of the three-day meeting, and Vice President Mike Pence also is scheduled to attend the convention.

The powerful gun lobby, which boasts 5 million members, faces an invigorated gun-control movement this year that has sought to curb the NRA’s influence since a man shot dead 17 people at a Florida high school on Feb. 14.

Dallas police were hoping for the “highest level of decorum and civility” from the demonstrations, which will include a “die-in” protest outside the convention hall on Friday, when Trump is due to speak.

“We will not tolerate property destruction. We will not tolerate violent behavior,” Dallas Police Assistant Chief Paul Stokes said at a news conference on Wednesday.

The gun debate in America shifted after a 19-year-old former student used a semiautomatic rifle to kill 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Students who survived became national figures by calling for gun control legislation and a check on the NRA’s influence. Florida quickly passed a law raising the legal age for buying rifles and imposing a three-day waiting period on gun sales while also allowing the arming of some school employees.

Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway had even urged the NRA to find another city for its annual meeting. Caraway is calling on the NRA to discuss strategies that will curb gun violence.

“In Dallas, gun violence survivors, students and activists are laser-focused on harnessing the momentum from the recent March for Our Lives events to push for gun safety and create lasting policy reform,” said Cassidy Geoghegan, a spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety, one of the leading U.S. gun control groups.

Guns are banned from Friday’s leadership forum because of U.S. Secret Service protocol for protecting the president but elsewhere attendees will be able to carry weapons throughout “15 acres of guns and gear” exhibits at the convention center.

Across the street from the center, a coalition of six local gun rights groups plan to hold a counterprotest on Saturday that they expect to draw several hundred people. Participants are encouraged to openly carry sidearms, instead of rifles and body armor, in an effort to appear more approachable.

“Gun control supporters have gone largely unchallenged in the protest arena as of late,” the counterprotest’s organizers wrote on Facebook. “It is time to stand up peacefully and show the media that Gun Rights matter to Texans and that we are not just the fringe.”

Bipartisan support is increasing in favor of stronger gun regulations, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll in March. Fifty-four percent of Americans support stricter gun control policies such as background checks on gun purchasers and banning so-called assault rifles.

(Reporting Lisa Maria Garza; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Grant McCool and Bill Trott)

Waffle House shooting shows pitfalls in patchwork of U.S. gun laws

FILE PHOTO: Metro Davidson County Police inspect the scene of a fatal shooting at a Waffle House restaurant near Nashville, Tennessee, U.S., April 22, 2018. REUTERS/Harrison McClary

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – When Travis Reinking’s semi-automatic rifle was confiscated after his attempt to enter the White House last year, he simply moved from Illinois to nearby Tennessee where signs of mental illness are no bar to gun ownership.

How and when Reinking’s father returned the AR-15-style weapon and other firearms to his 29-year-old son, accused of shooting dead four people and wounding four at a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee remain unclear.

Confusing as well are the myriad of U.S. state gun laws that can make it difficult to stop crimes like Sunday’s mass shooting.

The U.S. federal system leaves it up to states to set most gun laws. Less than half of U.S. states require background checks before private sales, and only a small number require “universal checks” for all purchases, including at gun shows.

Virginia has improved mental health reporting after a 2007 college campus massacre but has no laws requiring firearms to be registered. Alaska, with the highest state rate of gun deaths per capita, does not allow firearms to be registered. Most states let residents carry firearms in public, and all states permit the carrying of concealed weapons in some form.

The assault on Sunday is the latest mass killing to stoke a fierce debate that pits gun control proponents against gun rights advocates who defend constitutional rights to own guns.

The debate has sharpened since the Feb. 14 shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. That massacre prompted an upsurge of teenage gun control activism, including a nationwide student walkout on April 20, two days before the Nashville shooting.

The discussion has aired demands for national laws that would provide uniformity, including regulations on the transport of guns from state to state, as with the Reinking case.

“We need to have national laws that protect against these over-the-border kinds of transfers,” said Illinois state Representative Kathleen Willis, a Democrat who is sponsoring “red flag” legislation to let family members request the seizure of firearms from relatives facing mental health problems.

MENTAL ILLNESS

The variety of ways that gun laws address mental illness has prompted concern. A study by Mother Jones magazine showed that in 62 mass shootings between 1982 and 2012, 38 of the shooters displayed signs of mental health problems before the killings.

Reinking himself has a troubled past. He believed that pop singer Taylor Swift was stalking him and threatened to kill himself, according to police records.

The National Rifle Association, the country’s most powerful gun-rights lobbying organization, says it supports legislation to ensure records of those judged mentally incompetent or “involuntarily committed to mental institutions” be made available for use in firearms transfer background checks.

“The NRA will support any reasonable step to fix America’s broken mental health system without intruding on the constitutional rights of Americans,” the group says on its website.

That support stops short of legislation like Willis’ red flag bill with its “insinuation that gun ownership makes you a danger to yourself or others,” the group said last month.

Illinois is unusual in giving law enforcement the right to revoke a gun license and take away guns from persons if their mental health appears to pose a danger. In Tennessee, like most states, police can only seize guns if a person is involuntarily committed to a mental health facility and judged a danger. Even then, the owner can keep their firearms.

In Reinking’s case, Illinois state police revoked his gun license, and his firearms were transferred to his father after U.S. Secret Service agents arrested him last year for being in a restricted area near the White House.

Authorities have not disclosed whether his father gave him back his guns in Illinois, where it would likely be a crime, or in Tennessee, where it would not.

The U.S. Congress has not passed any substantive national gun laws since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, due in large part to opposition from gun-rights groups.

Yet some gun-control advocates see steady movement towards uniform gun laws through actions at the state level.

“Our movement is chipping away and convincing lawmakers that they should be voting for public safety,” said Jonas Oransky deputy legal director of gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.

For example, after the Waffle House shooting, Tennessee lawmakers drafted legislation to make it illegal to buy or possess a gun if a person had been subject to “suspension, revocation or confiscation” in another state.

For Illinois lawmaker Willis, it is too little too late.

“All the red flags were there. They followed all the gun laws in Illinois,” she said. “Until we have national laws to restrict this, it’s not going to stop.”

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Cynthia Osterman)

Americans want armed school guards and tighter gun laws: Reuters/ poll

Instructors work with participants on proper gun handling during a firearms training class at the PMAA Gun Range in Salt Lake City, Utah, July 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhar

By Maria Caspani

(Reuters) – A majority of Americans, including Republicans, Democrats and gun owners want stricter laws on gun ownership and armed guards in schools, according to a Reuters/Ipsos national poll taken in early March.

Hundreds of thousands of students and their families are expected to march in cities across the United States on Saturday to demand stricter gun control, part of the response to a mass shooting at a Florida high school in February.

The following are some of the main findings of the poll:

GUNS IN SCHOOLS

About 75 percent of adults say they want armed security guards in school, with some 53 percent in favor of publicly funding gun classes for teachers and school personnel and 45 percent saying school staff should be encouraged to carry a weapon.

BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR GUN CONTROL

A majority of Democrats and Republican voters support stricter gun laws, including 91 percent on both sides who say anyone with a history of mental illness should be banned from owning a gun. Eighty-four percent of Republicans believe people on the “no-fly” list should also be banned from gun ownership and 83 percent are in favor of expanding background checks. A majority of Republicans also say that assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips should be outlaw

GUN OWNERS ARE MORE LIKELY TO VOTE

Gun owners are more politically active than others, the poll found. They are more likely to be registered to vote, and they express more interest in voting in November’s midterm elections, when one third of U.S. Senate seats and all the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will be decided.

Fifty percent of gun owners said they are certain to vote compared to 41 percent of people who do not own a gun.

GUN CONTROL IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE ECONOMY

Gun control is on a par with the economy as a top issue that will motivate U.S. voters in November, the poll found.

GUN OWNERS STILL APPROVE OF THE NRA

One in four adults say they own a gun and a majority of gun owners say they own more than one gun.

Nearly 60 percent of gun owners say that the National Rifle Association gun rights advocacy group is either doing “the right amount of work” or it “doesn’t do enough” to promote the interests of gun owners. About 30 percent say the NRA is “too aggressive” in promoting gun rights, according to the poll.

Separately, about 38 percent of gun owners also say they would like to vote in November for a congressional candidate who would oppose U.S. President Donald Trump and 39 percent say the country is on the wrong track.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll of 2,389 U.S. adults was conducted between March 5-7 and has an overall credibility interval of 4-5 percent.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in NEW YORK; Editing by Leela de Kretser and Grant McCool)