U.S. Supreme Court takes major case on carrying concealed handguns

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court stepped back into the heated debate over gun rights on Monday, agreeing to hear a challenge backed by the National Rifle Association to New York state’s restrictions on people carrying concealed handguns in public in a case that could further undermine firearms control efforts nationally.

The justices took up an appeal by two gun owners and the New York affiliate of the NRA, an influential gun rights group closely aligned with Republicans, of a lower court ruling throwing out their challenge to the restrictions on concealed handguns outside the home.

Lower courts rejected the argument made by the plaintiffs that the restrictions violated the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The lawsuit seeks an unfettered right to carry concealed handguns in public.

The case could lead to the most consequential ruling on the Second Amendment’s scope in more than a decade. The court’s 6-3 conservative majority is seen as sympathetic to an expansive view of Second Amendment rights.

Gun control advocates are concerned that the conservative justices could create a standard for gun control that could imperil existing policies at the state level including expanded criminal background checks for gun buyers and “red flag” laws targeting the firearms of people deemed dangerous by the courts.

A state firearms licensing officer had granted the two gun owners “concealed carry” permits but restricted them to hunting and target practice, prompting the legal challenge.

The U.S. debate over gun control has intensified following a spate of recent mass shootings. A day after an April 15 shooting in Indianapolis in which a gunman killed eight employees at a FedEx facility and then himself, President Joe Biden called U.S. gun violence a “national embarrassment.”

Biden, a long-time gun control advocate, has taken some steps to tighten federal firearms regulations. But major policy changes would require congressional passage. Senate Republicans stand in the way of Democratic-backed gun control measures already passed in the House of Representatives.

The New York case centers on a state law that requires a showing of “proper cause” for carrying concealed handguns. Under it, residents may obtain licenses restricted to hunting and target practice, or if they hold jobs such as a bank messenger or correctional officer.

To carry a concealed handgun without restriction, applicants must convince a firearms licensing officer that they have an actual, rather than speculative, need for self-defense.

The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association and two of its members, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, sued in federal court. The men said they do not face any unique danger but want carry a handgun for self-defense.

‘RIGHT TO DEFEND OURSELVES’

“We’re confident that the court will tell New York and the other states that our Second Amendment right to defend ourselves is fundamental, and doesn’t vanish when we leave our homes,” said Jason Ouimet, executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said her office intends to show that the state’s law complies with the Second Amendment, adding, “We will vigorously defend any challenge to New York state’s gun laws that are intended to protect public safety.”

The Supreme Court in a landmark 2008 ruling recognized for the first time an individual’s right to keep guns at home for self-defense, and in 2010 applied that right to the states. The plaintiffs in the New York case asked for that right to be extended beyond the home.

A ruling invalidating New York’s law could imperil similar laws in other states setting criteria for a concealed-carry license. Seven other states and the District of Columbia impose restrictions that give authorities more discretion to deny concealed firearm permits.

The justices will hear the case during their next term, which begins in October, with a ruling due by the end of June 2022.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court weighs taking up major gun rights case

By Andrew Chung

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday discussed taking up a major new gun rights case involving a National Rifle Association-backed challenge to a New York state law that restricts the ability of residents to carry concealed handguns in public.

It was among the cases on the agenda at the private weekly conference of the justices. There is heightened concern about gun violence in the United States following a pair of mass shootings in a span of a week, one in Georgia and the other in Colorado, that killed a total of 18 people.

Two gun owners and the New York affiliate of the NRA, an influential gun rights group closely aligned with Republicans, are asking the justices to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling throwing out their challenge to a policy that requires a state resident to show “proper cause” to obtain a permit to carry a concealed handgun outside the home.

Lower courts rejected the argument made by plaintiffs that the restrictions violated the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

The Supreme Court is not expected to announce whether it will take action on the appeal until Monday at the earliest.

If the justices do eventually take up the case and hear oral arguments, they would once again step into a swirling debate over gun rights in a nation that has a gun fatality rate consistently higher than other rich countries.

Democratic President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged the Senate to approve two bills passed by the Democratic-led House of Representatives on March 11 that would broaden background checks on gun buyers. Biden also called for a national ban on assault-style weapons, while the White House said he is considering executive actions to address gun violence that would not require the approval of Congress.

Numerous mass shootings in the United States have failed to spur the U.S. Congress to pass gun control legislation sought by Democrats, thanks in large part to opposition from congressional Republicans and the NRA.

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority is seen as holding an expansive view of Second Amendment rights.

The New York case, if accepted, could lead to the most consequential ruling on the scope of the Second Amendment in more than a decade. The court in a landmark 2008 ruling recognized for the first time an individual’s right to keep guns at home for self-defense, and in 2010 applied that right to the states.

The plaintiffs in the New York case are asking for that right to be extended beyond the home. A ruling against New York could force lower courts to cast a skeptical eye on new or existing gun control laws.

Under New York’s law on carrying concealed handguns, a resident may obtain licenses that are restricted to hunting and target practice, or if they hold certain jobs such as a bank messenger or correctional officer. But to carry a concealed handgun without restriction, an applicant must convince a firearms licensing officer of an actual – rather than merely speculative – need for self-defense.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

Potential Trump Supreme Court pick Barrett known for conservative religious views

By Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In considering Amy Coney Barrett for the U.S. Supreme Court, President Donald Trump has turned to a federal appellate judge known for conservative religious views who liberals worry could become instrumental in rolling back abortion rights.

Barrett, if nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate for a lifetime post on the Supreme Court, would replace liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died at age 87 on Friday. Barrett, 48, would give conservatives a 6-3 majority.

A devout Roman Catholic, Barrett is a favorite among religious conservatives. Trump in 2017 appointed Barrett to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the regional appeals courts that are one step below the Supreme Court. On the 7th Circuit, she has voted in favor of one of Trump’s hardline immigration policies and shown support for expansive gun rights.

During her 2017 confirmation hearing for her current post, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein told Barrett, “The dogma lives loudly within you.” Barrett told the senators that her religious faith would not affect her decisions as a judge.

Abortion rights groups have expressed concern that on the Supreme Court she could help overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Although she has not yet ruled directly on abortion as a judge, Barrett on the 7th Circuit twice signaled opposition to rulings that struck down abortion-related restrictions, voting to have those decisions reconsidered.

In 2018, Barrett was among the 7th Circuit judges who sought reconsideration of a decision that invalidated a Republican-backed Indiana law requiring that fetal remains be buried or cremated after an abortion. The Supreme Court in 2019 reinstated the law.

In 2019, Barrett also voted for rehearing of a three-judge panel’s ruling that upheld a challenge to another Republican-backed Indiana abortion law before it went into effect. The measure would require that parents be notified when a girl under 18 is seeking an abortion even in situations in which she has asked a court to provide consent instead of her parents, as was allowed under existing law. The Supreme Court in July tossed out the ruling and ordered the matter to be reconsidered.

In June, Barrett dissented when a three-judge panel ruled in favor of a challenge to Trump’s policy to deny legal permanent residency to certain immigrants deemed likely to require government assistance in the future. In January, the Supreme Court, powered by its conservative majority, allowed the policy to take effect.

Barrett indicated support for gun rights in a 2019 dissent when she objected to the court ruling that a nonviolent felon could be permanently prohibited from possessing a firearm.

“Founding-era legislatures did not strip felons of the right to bear arms simply because of their status as felons,” Barrett wrote.

CONSERVATIVE RECORD

Barrett, born in New Orleans, received her law degree from Notre Dame Law School, a Catholic institution in Indiana.

Barrett’s extensive prior writings about religion, the role of judges and how courts should treat important legal precedents made her a favorite among social conservatives and conservative Christian leaders even before she became a judge.

After serving as a Supreme Court clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia, a stalwart conservative who died in 2016, and working at a couple of law firms, Barrett returned to Notre Dame as a professor until joining the bench.

Through her past writings, some critics have suggested she would be guided by her religious beliefs rather than the law. In a 1998 law journal article she and another author said that Catholic judges who are faithful to their church’s teachings are morally precluded from enforcing the death penalty and should recuse themselves in certain cases.

Abortion rights groups, worried about preserving the 1973 ruling that a woman has a constitutional right to have an abortion, point to a 2003 law journal article in which Barrett argued that courts could be more flexible in overturning prior “errors” in precedent.

Barrett has also spoken publicly about her conviction that life begins at conception, according to a 2013 article in Notre Dame Magazine.

She is married to Jesse Barrett, a lawyer in private practice and a former federal prosecutor in Indiana. They have seven children, two of whom were adopted from Haiti.

Barrett and her family have been members of a Christian religious group called People of Praise, according to other members.

Craig Lent, the group’s overall coordinator, said in 2018 that the organization, which is officially ecumenical but whose membership is mostly Catholic, centers on close Christian bonds and looking out for one another. They also share a preference for charismatic worship, which can involve speaking in tongues.

Certain leadership positions are reserved for men. And while married men receive spiritual and other advice from other male group members, married women depend on their husbands for the same advice, Lent said.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Téa Kvetenadze; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear gun rights cases

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a series of new cases seeking to expand gun rights.

The court rejected a total of 10 different cases that had piled up at the court in recent months. Two justices, conservatives Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, said they would have heard one of the cases, a dispute from New Jersey over that state’s concealed carry gun permits.

In the New Jersey case, the justices left in place a lower court ruling that threw out a lawsuit challenging the state’s law mandating that people who want to carry handguns in public must show they have a special reason before they can get a permit.

Other cases the court declined to take up included challenges to assault weapon bans in Massachusetts and Cook County, Illinois, a jurisdiction that includes Chicago. The court also turned down cases similar to the New Jersey dispute from Massachusetts and Maryland.

The high court’s action comes on the heels of its April 27 decision to dismiss a National Rifle Association-backed challenge to now-repealed New York City restrictions on handgun owners transporting their firearms outside the home.

The move sidestepped a major ruling over the scope of the right to bear arms under the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

The New York case was the first gun rights dispute the court had heard in almost a decade, with gun control activists fearful the court will further expand the right to bear arms.

The decision by the justices not to take up any of the 10 other cases shows that the court, which has a 5-4 conservative majority, remains hesitant about wading into gun rights issues.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Thousands of armed U.S. gun rights activists join peaceful Virginia rally

By Brad Brooks

RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) – More than 22,000 armed gun-rights activists peacefully filled the streets around Virginia’s capitol building on Monday to protest gun-control legislation making its way through the newly Democratic-controlled state legislature.

Despite fears that neo-Nazis or other extremists would piggyback on the Richmond rally to stoke unrest like the violence at a 2017 demonstration by white nationalists in Charlottesville that killed a counter-protester, the Capitol Police reported just one arrest, a 21-year-old woman taken into custody for wearing a bandana over her face after twice being warned that masks were not allowed.

Chants of “USA! USA! USA!” and others praising President Donald Trump reverberated as men and women carrying handguns and rifles squeezed into the streets around the Virginia state capitol, standing shoulder-to-shoulder for three blocks in all directions.

There was a heavy security presence after Governor Ralph Northam banned carrying weapons onto the capitol grounds and the FBI earlier last week arrested three alleged neo-Nazis who it said intended to use the event to spark a race war.

But by 1 p.m. ET, nearly all rally-goers had left the area, with volunteers picking up trash left behind. The Capitol Police estimated the crowd at 22,000 people.

Activists at the rally organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League argued that Virginia was trying to infringe on their right to bear arms, which is protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“What’s going on here, if not stopped, will spread to other states,” said Teri Horne, who had traveled to Virginia from her home in Texas with her Smith & Wesson rifle and .40-caliber handgun. “They will come for our guns in other states if we don’t stop them in Virginia.”

Northam, a Democrat, has vowed to push through new gun control laws and is backing a package of eight bills, including universal background checks, a “red flag” law, a ban on assault-style rifles and a limit of one handgun-a-month purchase. It does not call for confiscating guns currently legally owned.

It is not his first attempt. He called a special legislative session last year after the massacre of 12 people in Virginia Beach, but the Republicans who then controlled the legislature ended that meeting without a vote.

State Democratic leaders and activists believe that move contributed to the November victories that gave them control of both chambers.

A group of 13 student activists from March For Our Lives, a gun-control group, slept inside the capitol building on Sunday night ahead of impromptu meetings with lawmakers to encourage them to pass the legislation.

“A lot of the protesters outside have a really extreme reading of the Second Amendment,” Eve Levenson, a 20-year-old political science student at George Washington University, said in a telephone interview. “What we’re fighting for is common-sense laws that are proven to work and are already effective in other states.”

T-SHIRTS AND TRUMP

Many in the crowds dressed in camouflage or tactical gear. Some browsed vendors’ pro-gun T-shirts and other merchandise, much of it carrying slogans supporting Trump, who has sharply criticized the gun-control proposals.

The president weighed in again on the Virginia situation on Monday.

“The Democrat Party in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia are working hard to take away your 2nd Amendment rights,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “This is just the beginning. Don’t let it happen, VOTE REPUBLICAN in 2020!”

People across the United States were focused on the Virginia gun issue, said Philip Van Cleave, leader of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

“They don’t want us to fail in stopping this,” Van Cleave said on Sunday. “We’ve gotten huge donations from other states.”

“The Virginia election last November was an indictment of guns, and it was not an outlier,” said Christian Heyne, who leads legislative efforts at the gun violence prevention group Brady. “Virginia candidates flipped things on their head when they won because of the gun issue, not despite it.”

The state’s gun owners responded with a movement to create “sanctuary cities” for gun rights, with local government bodies in nearly all 95 counties passing declarations not to enforce new gun laws.

Grayson County Sheriff Richard Vaughan, who is from a sanctuary county, held aloft a banner supporting the Second Amendment on a street in front of the capitol.

“Some of these bills being proposed are just unconstitutional and we will not enforce them,” Vaughan said. “As a sheriff I am the last line of defense between law-abiding gun owners and the politicians who want to take away their rights.”

The sanctuary idea has quickly spread across the United States, with over 200 local governments in 16 states passing such measures.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks; Additional reporting by Jonathan Drake and Julia Harte; Writing by Brad Brooks and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis)

Demonstrators gather as U.S. Supreme Court hears major gun case

Demonstrators gather as U.S. Supreme Court hears major gun case
By Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A legal fight over a New York City handgun ordinance that could give the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority a chance to expand gun rights goes before the nine justices on Monday in one of the most closely watched cases of their current term.

The court is scheduled to hear arguments starting at 10 a.m. (1500 GMT) in a legal challenge backed by the influential National Rifle Association gun rights lobby group to a regulation that had prevented licensed owners from taking their handguns outside the confines of the most-populous U.S. city.

It is the first major gun case to come before the Supreme Court since 2010.

Three local handgun owners and the New York state affiliate of the NRA – a national lobby group closely aligned with President Donald Trump and other Republicans – argued that the regulation violated the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

New York City’s regulation was amended in July to loosen the restrictions at issue in the case, but the Supreme Court opted to proceed with the arguments anyway. The justices have said they will consider during the arguments the city’s contention that the change in the regulation has made the matter moot.

Outside the white marble courthouse, hundreds of gun control supporters held a demonstration and carried signs including some reading, “Why are guns easier to buy than a college education?” “Gun laws save lives” and “2nd Amendment written before assault weapons were invented.”

Maryland resident Christina Young said such laws need to reflect modern society, including mass shootings.

“I have an 11-year-old daughter. I never had to worry about guns in my school when I was a kid,” Young said.

Amid the crowd, one gun rights supporter held high a large sign demanding Second Amendment rights.

Gun control advocates have expressed concern that the court, with a 5-4 conservative majority, could use the legal battle over a now-loosened gun control regulation unique to one city to issue a ruling widening gun rights nationwide.

Such a ruling could jeopardize a variety of firearms restrictions passed in recent years by state and local governments across the country, including expanded background checks and confiscations of weapons from individuals who a court has deemed dangerous, according to these advocates.

The dispute centers on New York City’s handgun “premises” licenses that allowed holders to transport their firearms only to a handful of shooting ranges within the city, and to hunting areas elsewhere in the state during designated hunting seasons.

The plaintiffs filed suit in 2013 after they were told by authorities they could not participate in a shooting competition in New Jersey or bring their guns to a home elsewhere in the state. The Manhattan-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the regulation advanced the city’s interest in protecting public safety and did not violate the Second Amendment.

GUN CONTROL LAWS PROLIFERATE

Gun control is a contentious issue in the United States, which has experienced numerous mass shootings. Since 2013, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted more than 300 gun control laws, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Republican opposition in Congress has been instrumental in thwarting passage of new federal laws.

New York City officials have argued that controlling guns in public takes on particular urgency in the most densely populated urban center in the United States, where the potential for violence, accidents or thefts is heightened.

The regulation dated back to 2001 when New York police tightened handgun transport rules because officers had observed license holders improperly traveling with loaded firearms or with their firearms far from any authorized range.

The city argued that the rule did not prevent training as there are plenty of ranges at which to practice within the city, and individuals could rent firearms at competitions farther afield. The rule also did not prevent homeowners from keeping a separate handgun at a second home outside the city.

The Supreme Court had avoided taking up a major firearms case since 2010, when it extended to state and local regulations a 2008 ruling that recognized for the first time that the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to keep a gun at home for self-defense.

The challengers have said that the history and tradition of the Second Amendment makes clear that the right extends beyond the home. They also are asking the Supreme Court to require lower courts to more strictly review gun curbs, with an eye toward striking them down.

The court’s ruling is due by the end of June.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. chief justice rejects bid to block ‘bump stocks’ gun ban

FILE PHOTO: A bump fire stock that attaches to a semi-automatic rifle to increase the firing rate is seen at Good Guys Gun Shop in Orem, Utah, U.S., October 4, 2017. REUTERS/George Frey/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday rejected a bid by gun rights activists to put on hold a ban by President Donald Trump’s administration on “bump stock” gun attachments that enable semi-automatic weapons to be fired rapidly.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor has not yet acted on another similar request. The ban goes into effect on Tuesday but lower courts have yet to rule on an appeal brought by gun rights activists in Michigan and the U.S. capital.

Trump pledged to ban the devices soon after a gunman used them to shoot and kill 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas in October 2017. The Justice Department on Dec. 18 announced plans to implement the policy.

A Washington-based federal district court judge in February upheld the ban, prompting gun rights advocates to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That court heard oral arguments on Friday but has not yet ruled. The appeals court, however, say that the ban cannot go into effect in relation to the specific individuals and groups challenging it.

The action by Roberts concerned only the Washington case. The challengers in the Washington case include individual gun owners and gun rights groups such as the Firearms Policy Foundation and Florida Carry Inc.

In the Michigan case, a federal district court judge last week ruled in favor of the administration. The challengers include individuals and the gun rights group Gun Owners of America. The Cincinnati, Ohio-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday refused to put the ban on hold pending appeal.

Sotomayor is now weighing an emergency request in that case.

On the day the administration announced plans to put the policy in place, gun rights advocates sued in federal court to challenge it. They have argued that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) lacks the authority to equate bump stocks with machine guns under decades-old law.

One of the laws at the center of the legal dispute was written more than 80 years ago, when Congress restricted access to machine guns during the heyday of American gangsters’ use of “tommy guns.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Report into deadliest U.S. high school shooting calls for arming teachers, more security

Pictures of Joaquin Oliver and Aaron Feis, victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, are seen on a cross placed in a park to commemorate the victims, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Arm teachers, spend more on school security and mental health and train police to be more aggressive when responding to school shootings — those are some of the recommendations in a report into the deadliest U.S. high school shooting released Wednesday.

The 485-page report into the Parkland, Florida school massacre, that left 14 students and three adults dead at the hands of a lone gunman in February 2018, will be studied by Florida Governor Rick Scott, Governor-elect Ron DeSantis and a state commission charged with finding ways to prevent another school shooting massacre.

The report, by the state-appointed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, finds a cascade of errors from law enforcement officers holding back as shots were fired and lax school security that allowed a former student with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle access to the campus.

FILE PHOTO: An empty chair is seen in front of flowers and mementoes placed on a fence to commemorate the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

FILE PHOTO: An empty chair is seen in front of flowers and mementoes placed on a fence to commemorate the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The Parkland shooting has sparked a national debate about school security, gun-rights, and fueled a student-led movement calling for more gun-control, called Never Again MSD, after the school’s initials.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the school safety commission, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that there needs to be a sense of urgency in implementing change in school security.

“When you send your kids to school in the morning, there’s an expectation they’re going to come home alive in the afternoon,” Gualtieri told the newspaper.

He also said he strongly supported the idea of arming some gun-trained teachers.

But not everyone on the 16-member commission agreed with all of its findings.

Commission member Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was killed at Stoneman Douglas, told the Sun Sentinel that she opposes the idea of arming teachers.

“Teachers want to teach,” she told the newspaper. “That’s their expertise. Law enforcement, their expertise is supposed to be to engage the threat.”

The report was critical of a perceived slow response from law enforcement officers who waited outside the school buildings while shots were still being fired.

Other recommendations included more funding for mental health services for students, creating safe areas at schools where students can hide from a potential gunman, locking school perimeter gates while school is in session and requiring law enforcement officers to immediately seek out a shooter instead of hanging back.

The report acknowledges that more money is needed to implement the recommendations.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Michael Perry)

Connecticut school evacuated for bomb threat on sixth anniversary of massacre

FILE PHOTO: The sign for the new Sandy Hook Elementary School at the end of the drive leading to the school is pictured in Newtown, Connecticut, U.S. July 29, 2016. REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin/File Photo

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – A bomb threat prompted the evacuation of a Connecticut elementary school on the site of the deadliest public-school shooting in U.S. history on Friday, the sixth anniversary of the massacre, police said.

Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where 26 children and educators were killed in 2012, received a threatening phone call around 9 a.m. EST, said police Lieutenant Aaron Bahamonde.

“It was a bomb threat over the phone,” Bahamonde said. About 400 people were evacuated, he said. No bomb was found.

Bahamonde said the threat was unrelated to a Thursday incident in which hundreds of schools, businesses and buildings across the United States and Canada receive email bomb threats demanding payment in cryptocurrency. Authorities dismissed those threats as a hoax.

On Dec. 14, 2012, a 21-year-old gunman killed 20 young children and six educators at Sandy Hook before taking his own life. The building where the massacre took place was torn down, and Sandy Hook students now attend classes in a new facility.

The mass shooting inflamed the long-running U.S. debate on gun rights, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The United States has experienced a string of deadly mass shootings since that attack, including one at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in February that left 17 people dead.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

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)