Political MoJo

Did Colorado's Open Carry Law Delay Police Response to a Mass Shooter?

| Mon Nov. 2, 2015 9:46 PM EST
A crime scene in Colorado Springs on October 31.

Details are continuing to emerge about a gun rampage that took place in the streets of Colorado Springs on Saturday morning, in which 33-year-old Noah Harpham shot three people to death before police killed him in a shootout. On Monday, a troubling detail came to light in a Denver Post report suggesting that police may have had a chance to intervene before the slaughter began—but that a police dispatcher may have reacted without urgency to a 911 call about Harpham because of Colorado's open carry law:

Witnesses watched in horror as Harpham picked his victims off. One of them, the bicyclist, pleaded for his life before being killed.

"I heard the (young man) say, 'Don't shoot me! Don't shoot me!' " Naomi Bettis, a neighbor who witnessed the killing, said Monday.

Bettis said she recognized the gunman as her neighbor—whom she didn't know by name—and that before the initial slaying she saw him roaming outside with a rifle. She called 911 to report the man, but a dispatcher explained that Colorado has an open carry law that allows public handling of firearms.

"He did have a distraught look on his face," Bettis said. "It looked like he had a rough couple days or so."

It's unclear how much time lapsed between Bettis' 911 call and when the rampage began, but according to The Gazette the initial police response didn't come until after the carnage was in progress:

The first reports of a shooting came about 8:45 a.m. as Colorado Springs police were called to the 200 block of Prospect Street after multiple calls about gunshots, El Paso County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jacqueline Kirby and Colorado Springs police spokeswoman Lt. Catherine Buckley said. Authorities said the shooter was killed after opening fire on police officers.

By then, Harpham had killed the bicyclist, 35-year-old Andrew Alan Myers, and two women at a nearby location, 42-year-old Jennifer Michelle Vasquez, and 34-year-old Christina Rose Baccus-Gallela. (Similarly, the Denver Post reported: "Officers were first called on reports of a 'possible shooting' at 230 North Prospect Street—a townhouse-like building—where they found the bicyclist dead and a fire burning, the dispatch archives show.") [Update: A Colorado Springs PD official responds to Mother Jones here about Bettis' 911 call.]

Proponents of open carry laws argue that the ability for citizens to take firearms with them in public isn't just a right but makes communities safer. We don't yet know, but the law allowing guns to be carried on display in Colorado may have just done the opposite.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The State Deptartment Just Released an Email Showing How Hillary Clinton Learned to Use Emoji—and It’s Awwwww

| Fri Oct. 30, 2015 3:47 PM EDT

The State Department published more Hillary Clinton emails Friday afternoon from her time as secretary of state, adding an additional 7,000 pages to the public record, and marking the halfway point in the department's release plan, according to ABC News.

Paige Lavender, senior politics editor at the Huffington Post, tweeted this genuinely adorable gem from the new collection, featuring an exchange between "H" and her senior adviser Phillipe Reines:

:) :) :)

Ben Carson Unveils a Bold Plan to Combat Rising Sea Levels

| Thu Oct. 29, 2015 1:04 PM EDT

Dr. Ben Carson, the Republican presidential front-runner, tried out a new response on Thursday to critics who say he lacks the experience to be president:

If nothing else, it's good to see Carson has a plan to cope with rising sea levels.

While You Were Watching Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders Just Called for Legalizing Weed

| Thu Oct. 29, 2015 11:34 AM EDT

You may have missed Bernie Sanders' town hall at Virginia's George Mason University on Wednesday as the GOP presidential contenders duked it out in Boulder, Colorado. But he made some news. Sanders called for the full decriminalization of marijuana at the federal level, a move that would allow states to regulate the drug the same way they handle alcohol or tobacco. "Right now marijuana is listed by the federal government as a schedule-one drug, meaning that it is considered to be as dangerous as heroin," Sanders said. "That is absurd."

Sanders, while touting the possible civic benefits of decriminalization (such as providing a funding stream, through taxation, for treatment of more dangerous substances such as opioids) took pains to frame legalization as a matter of racial justice:

Let us be clear, as is the case in many other areas, that there is a racial component to this situation. Although about the same proportion of blacks and whites use marijuana, a black person is almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records because of marijuana use. That is wrong. That has got to change…A criminal record could include not only time in jail, but a criminal record makes it harder for a person to get a job, harder for a person to get public benefits, harder for a person to even get housing. A criminal record stays with a person for his or her entire life.

The legalization he proposed would also eliminate one of the roadblocks to decriminalization in places such as Washington state or Colorado, by allowing marijuana distributors to use the banking system like any other business.

There's a New Speaker of the House and It's Paul Ryan

| Thu Oct. 29, 2015 9:53 AM EDT

Republicans overwhelmingly elected Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as the 54th speaker of the House on Thursday morning. After a tumultuous month that began with the aborted candidacy of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Ryan, the House GOP's budget guru and 2012 vice presidential nominee, received 236 votes from his caucus. Just nine Republicans voted for his challenger, Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida.

Donald Trump Says He Was Misquoted on His Own Website

| Wed Oct. 28, 2015 8:47 PM EDT

Things got testy at Wednesday's GOP presidential debate when CNBC's Becky Quick asked Donald Trump about his criticism of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (who supports expanding the number of visas offered to highly skilled workers). The GOP front-runner, running on a staunchly anti-immigration platform, didn't just play dumb—he went on the attack. Trump alleged that the Zuckerberg story had been fabricated by the media. When Quick followed up with the actual quote from Trump, he again denied having ever said it.

But there was a problem—as she noted after the commercial break, Quick's source was his own campaign website:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Here's Donald Trump's Epic Throwdown With John Kasich

| Wed Oct. 28, 2015 8:20 PM EDT

It didn't take long for Wednesday's Republican presidential debate to devolve into an angry back-and-forth between rival candidates. And for once, it was actually kind of substantive.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich spent his first moments on camera attacking what he considered to be his party's drift toward the fringe. Although he didn't mention candidates by name, he hammered Donald Trump's proposal for mass deportation of undocumented residents; Ben Carson's decision to base his tax rate on biblical tithing; and many of the other candidates' support for throwing millions of people off the insurance rolls.

Trump didn't take that sitting down. He sniped back, noting that Kasich worked at the investment banking firm Lehmann Brothers prior to the company's collapse in the 2008 financial crisis. Then they fought over what, exactly, Kasich's role at the company was. (He was a managing director of the investment banking division.)

Hillary Clinton Tells Stephen Colbert: I Would Let Big Banks Fail

| Wed Oct. 28, 2015 8:25 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton appeared on the Late Show on Tuesday night, where she and host Stephen Colbert started out by discussing watching "bad TV" with husband Bill—House of Cards and the Good Wife are among the couple's favorites—and whether it's fun to run for president of the United States.

"Some days it really is fun," Clinton said. "Some days it's just very hard work. You do so many events, you do kind of lose track of where you are. But most days something happens during the day that really makes you feel like 'Yes, I know why I'm doing this, I am so committed.'"

But it wasn't all softball questions. After weighing in on topics like the middle class and Bernie Sanders—responses Colbert jokingly hit back as a "cheap trick" to say things people like—Clinton was then directly asked how she would handle an economic situation like the 2007 financial crisis and whether she'd let big banks fail.

The Democratic presidential candidate answered emphatically, "Yes, yes, yes, yes."

No, Mental Illness Is Not the Main Cause of Mass Shootings in America

| Tue Oct. 27, 2015 4:44 PM EDT

A Washington Post-ABC News poll on gun violence published Monday included a stark finding: "By a more than 2-to-1 margin, more people say mass shootings reflect problems identifying and treating people with mental health problems rather than inadequate gun control laws." Sixty-three percent of respondents blamed a deficient mental health care system as the prime reason for America's incessant gun massacres, while 23 percent pointed to weak gun regulations.

What's most troubling about these results and the question that prompted them is that they perpetuate a dangerous stigmatization. The vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent. I wrote about this in my recent Mother Jones cover story on threat assessment, a growing strategy for stopping mass shooters that relies on collaboration between mental health and law enforcement experts:

We know that many mass shooters are young white men with acute mental health issues. The problem is, such broad traits do little to help threat assessment teams identify who will actually attack. Legions of young men love violent movies or first-person shooter games, get angry about school, jobs, or relationships, and suffer from mental health afflictions. The number who seek to commit mass murder is tiny. Decades of research have shown that the link between mental disorders and violent behavior is small and not useful for predicting violent acts. (People with severe mental disorders are in fact far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.)

Then there is the role of guns. As a top forensic psychologist described it to me at a recent summit of more than 700 threat assessment professionals in Southern California, "One of the first things you focus on with this process is access to weapons." Guns obviously are no more a sole cause of mass shootings than schizophrenia or suicidal depression are. But their role in such crimes is self-evident:

Possession of a firearm, of course, is not a meaningful predictor of targeted violence. But at the conference in Disneyland, virtually everyone I spoke with agreed that guns make these crimes a lot easier to commit—and a lot more lethal. "There are so many firearms out there, you just assume everybody has one," Scalora says. "It's safer to assume that than the opposite." The presence of more than 300 million guns in the United States—and the lack of political will to regulate their sale or use more effectively—is a stark reality with which threat assessment experts must contend, and why many believe their approach may be the best hope for combating what has become a painfully normal American problem.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll furthered a misleading stereotype about a broad population of Americans by presenting a false choice between mental health and gun policy. The chart above shows that only 10 percent of respondents recognized that solving mass shootings is more complicated than checking one box or the other. Any solution deeply involves both, and a whole lot more.

Aid Group Bombed for the Second Time in Three Weeks

| Tue Oct. 27, 2015 12:42 PM EDT
Yemenis protest against Saudi-led airstrikes in their country.

For the second time in three weeks, a hospital belonging to the international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders has been bombed by warplanes.

The latest attack occurred on Monday night in Yemen, where aircraft from a coalition led by Saudi Arabia attacked a hospital belonging to the aid group, which is also known as Médecins Sans Frontières. While the group said patients and staff were in the hospital at the time of the attack, they did not report any deaths. The Saudi-led coalition has been bombing Yemen for seven months in a campaign against the Houthis, a Shiite rebel group that currently holds power in the country. But Doctors Without Borders says the Saudis were aware of the hospital's location. "We provided [the coalition] with all of our GPS coordinates about two weeks ago,” Hassan Boucenine, Doctors Without Borders' Yemen director, said to Reuters.

That mirrors the attack that took place three weeks ago, when an American AC-130 gunship destroyed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing at least 30 people. The group said the US military had been given the coordinates of the hospital and should have known its location. American officials at first said they didn't know they had fired on a medical facility. "The hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility," said Gen. John Campbell, the US military commander in Afghanistan. But more recent reports claim American special operations soldiers knew the building was a hospital but believed the Taliban were using it as a base. The decision to attack the hospital anyway may mean the strike was a war crime under international law.

Boucenine did not shy away from using that language to describe the Saudi strike last night. "It could be a mistake, but the fact of the matter is it's a war crime," he told Reuters. "There’s no reason to target a hospital."

The strike is only a small part of destruction caused by the Saudi-led air campaign, which the United Nations says is responsible for most of the approximately 2,000 civilian deaths in Yemen that have occurred since strikes began in March. The bombings have also leveled historic parts of Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, which had survived years of civil war and rebellion since the Arab Spring revolts hit Yemen in 2011.