Political MoJo

Obama Announces New Plan to Strengthen Gun Control Legislation Without Congress

| Tue Jan. 5, 2016 12:01 PM EST

President Barack Obama formally unveiled new executive actions on Tuesday aimed at expanding background checks and strengthening existing federal gun control laws in America.

"I want to be absolutely clear at the start, I believe in the second amendment," he said. "It's there written on the paper—it guarantees the right to bear arms. No matter how many times people try to twist my words around—I taught constitutional law, I know a little about this. But I also believe we can find ways to reduce violence consistent with the second amendment."

"I'm not on the ballot again," Obama added. "I'm not looking to score some points."

The president made the announcement flanked by Vice President Joe Biden as well as victims and family members affected by gun violence. Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was shot during a political event outside a supermarket in 2011, was also in the room.

The press conference comes a day after the White House released a memo outlining the president's proposal to reduce gun violence without Congress—a move that has prompted swift backlash from Republican presidential candidates:

"Let's be specific: the president is not circumventing Congress," White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said on Tuesday, ahead of Obama's press conference. "They have made it very clear they are not going to act and the president is doing what is well within his executive authority to do so."

The president also met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday to confirm his plan was constitutionally legal.

In the aftermath of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, the president's initiative to pass a gun reform package was ultimately blocked by a Democratic-controlled Senate. Obama has previously called Congress' failure to act on the issue the "biggest frustration" of his presidency.

"Every time I think about those kids, it makes me mad," Obama said on Tuesday, wiping away tears.

For a detailed look at the president's plan, head to our explainer here.

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Jeb Bush May Seek a Campaign Boost From His "Very Popular" Brother

| Tue Jan. 5, 2016 11:53 AM EST

With Hillary Clinton bringing her husband (and 42nd US president) Bill Clinton on the campaign trail with her in New Hampshire, Jeb Bush may soon follow suit with his presidential kin. The former Florida governor appeared on Fox & Friends Tuesday morning, and host Brian Kilmeade asked whether he would follow Clinton's lead and recruit his brother, former president George W. Bush, to boost his struggling campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

"Yeah," Bush replied, "it is something to consider. 'Cause he is very popular."

At the time of his departure from office, George W. Bush held an approval rating of 22 percent. But as the economic and foreign policy travails of his presidency have faded in the national memory, the elder Bush brother has gained in popularity, with a slim majority of Americans holding a favorable opinion of him as of last summer.

Here’s Obama’s New Plan to Tighten Gun Laws

| Mon Jan. 4, 2016 8:32 PM EST
President Barack Obama meets with law enforcement officials, including Attorney General Loretta Lynch, on Monday.

As expected, President Barack Obama will announce a series of gun-related executive actions Tuesday meant to expand background checks on firearm purchases and step up federal enforcement of existing gun laws.

One executive action would clarify existing law that anyone "engaged in the business of selling firearms"—including at gun shows and online—must be licensed and conduct background checks on gun purchasers. The White House's fact sheet explains:

…it doesn't matter where you conduct your business—from a store, at gun shows, or over the Internet: If you're in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks. Background checks have been shown to keep guns out of the wrong hands, but too many gun sales—particularly online and at gun shows—occur without basic background checks.

But as my colleague Mark Follman wrote Monday, that clarification won't be enough: "Expanding background checks through a broader interpretation of current federal law still won't close the so-called gun show loophole; hundreds of thousands of firearms will continue to be bought and sold with minimal regulation, both online and in person. Only an act of Congress could change that comprehensively."

Other executive actions include:

  • A $500 million investment in mental-health services.
  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tabacco, Firearms, and Explosives will announce a rule requiring background checks for people who purchase weapons through a trust or corporation. (The White House's earlier efforts to close this loophole through executive action hit a roadblock nearly two years ago, when ATF officials delayed publishing the rule after facing opposition from industry groups, including the National Rifle Association.)
  • The White House will request funding for 200 new ATF agents and investigators to enforce existing gun laws.
  • The ATF will require licensed dealers who ship guns to notify law enforcement if their guns are lost or stolen.
  • The FBI will hire more than 230 examiners to process background checks in an overhauled system.

Obama's announcement comes days before he hosts a town hall meeting on guns Thursday night. The move is expected to garner pushback from opponents, especially those in a divided Congress who blocked legislation three years ago to close the so-called gun show loophole. House Speaker Paul Ryan has already warned that the president's actions was a "dangerous level of executive overreach."

"This is not going to solve every violent crime in this country. It's not going to prevent every mass shooting. It's not going to keep every gun out of the hands of a criminal," Obama told reporters on Monday. "It will potentially save lives in this country and spare families the pain of these extraordinary loss."

Hillary Clinton Pledges to "Get to the Bottom" of UFOs and Aliens

| Mon Jan. 4, 2016 3:51 PM EST

The truth is out there for Hillary Clinton.

When Daymond Steer from the Conway Daily Sun recently asked her to weigh in on UFOs—a topic Steer says he broached with Clinton in 2007—the Democratic presidential candidate reportedly promised to "get to the bottom of it" if she were elected to the White House.

"I think we may have been [visited already]," she added. "We don't know for sure."

Clinton's comments are among the rare public statements she's made on UFOs and possible government cover-ups—a familiar subject for both Hillary and Bill Clinton. As Mother Jones has reported, the couple's interest in extraterrestrial activity reaches as far back as the 1990s, when Laurence Rockefeller began lobbying the Clinton administration for the release of government documents relating to UFOs—documents that many say reveal the extent of government research into the phenomena.

Additionally, Clinton's current campaign chairman, John Podesta, a former chief of staff to Bill Clinton and an X-Files fan, has long expressed interest in the topic.

But these statements are Clinton's first remarks on the subject during this campaign. They will likely strengthen her support among voters who happen to be UFO enthusiasts and are not supporting any extraterrestrial candidates in the Republican field.

Why the Heck Is Ben Carson Campaigning in Staten Island?

| Mon Jan. 4, 2016 12:51 PM EST

The New York Republican presidential primary is in 106 days, on April 19. It is the 37th nominating contest, coming more than three months after the first votes are cast in Iowa on February 1. So naturally Ben Carson is campaigning there on Monday night.

This is kind of strange. Carson's campaign is a mess right now. When three of his top aides quit before the New Year, Armstrong Williams, Carson's top advisor, found out about it on Twitter. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, once was at the top of the polls, but his numbers have plummeted in Iowa and elsewhere. Still, he insists he's plowing ahead and remains a contender. If so, what's he doing in Staten Island, while the other candidates rightly focus on Iowa and New Hampshire in the pre-voting homestretch? Some possibilities:

  • The ferry offers a great view of the harbor at a low price.
  • Carson wants to run for mayor of New York and is learning from Harold Ford's mistake.
  • Fresh Kills is a cool name for one of the world's largest garbage dumps.
  • Great pizza.
  • ???

There's no real explanation for this stop. (Has Carson sold every book he can possibly sell in Iowa?) It's the latest sign his campaign—though it collected $23 million in the most recent quarter—cannot be considered a serious effort.

Trump's First TV Ad Embraces His Most Controversial Ideas

| Mon Jan. 4, 2016 12:14 PM EST

A week after promising to open his ample war chest and start spending on television ads, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump unveiled his campaign's first TV advertisement on Monday morning. Trump has previously aired ads on his personal Instagram account, but a mere month before the Iowa caucus, his campaign decided it was time to make the move to the airwaves.

The ad focuses on ISIS and immigration, and doesn't shy away from the more controversial positions Trump has staked out. A voiceover from an ominous narrator promises that Trump will temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country, "quickly cut the head of ISIS and take their oil," and build a wall along the southern border of the United States that Mexico will finance.

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Deadly Missouri Flooding Forces Town Evacuations as Water Continues to Rise

| Wed Dec. 30, 2015 1:13 PM EST

At least 20 people have been killed by severe flooding in Missouri, where several towns along the Mississippi River have been forced to evacuate due to rising floodwaters that are predicted to break records in the next few days. Such catastrophic, widespread flooding hasn't been seen in the region in over two decades.

Earlier this week, Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard. He has warned residents to avoid traveling throughout affected areas. Many who were killed were reportedly driving into flooded zones.

The St. Louis Dispatch reports several major highways have been shut down throughout Missouri. Untreated sewage from a nearby treatment plant was also spotted flowing into the Meramec River. On the other side of the Mississippi, in Illinois, inmates at a state prison were also transferred.

As of Wednesday, federal officials were continuing to monitor 19 levees in the region.

This Chart Shows America Has a Unique Problem With Gun Violence

| Mon Dec. 28, 2015 4:16 PM EST

On Christmas Day, in a bitter reminder that, unlike stores and offices, gun violence in America doesn't stop during the holidays, 27 people were killed and 63 others were injured by firearms, according to the Gun Violence Archive

As the Washington Post's Christopher Ingraham notes, as many people were killed by firearms in the United States on Christmas day this year as in all of Austria, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Estonia, Bermuda, Hong Kong and Iceland combined, in one year. That's 27 people out of nearly 29 million people in a given year, compared to 27 people out of a possible 320 million in one day. Granted, no one was killed from guns in Bermuda, Hong Kong, or Iceland at all, and the fatalities and injuries on Christmas Day in the United States are actually fewer than on a typical day this year. But the comparison is a stark reminder that gun violence in America is a unique health crisis.

Christopher Ingraham/Washington Post

 

Kentucky's New Governor Wastes No Time in Revoking Ex-Felons' Right to Vote

| Mon Dec. 28, 2015 1:41 PM EST

Two weeks before leaving office, the outgoing governor of Kentucky, Democrat Steve Beshear, set up an application process to restore voting rights to the state's ex-felons. Kentucky is one of three states today that permanently disenfranchise everyone with a felony conviction unless the governor expressly restores the right to vote, a system that disproportionately affects African Americans. The most recent data shows that 5.5 percent of Kentucky's voting-age population is disenfranchised due to a past conviction—but for African Americans, the number is 16.7 percent.

Beshear's announcement was expected to give 140,000 disenfranchised ex-felons in Kentucky the right to vote. But only a small number of them were able to take advantage of the new system before Beshear's successor, Republican Matt Bevin, undid it.

Last week, just before Christmas, the governor issued a series of executive orders scrapping the work of his predecessor, including the restoration of ex-felon voting rights. Bevin's stated reason for undoing the executive order was that the former governor did not have the authority to change the rules. "While I have been a vocal supporter of the restoration of rights, for example, it is an issue that must be addressed through the legislature and by the will of the people," said Bevin, a tea party favorite. That's an unusual interpretation of the state constitution, which gives the executive sole power to restore voting rights without any restrictions on how it is done.

The Bevin administration is not shy about claiming executive authority on other matters. On the same day that he ended Beshear's streamlined process for restoring ex-felons' rights, he also ended the requirement that marriage licenses bear the name of the presiding county clerk—a concession to Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

"The requirement that the county clerk’s name appear on marriage licenses is prescribed by Kentucky law and is not subject to unilateral change by the governor," William Sharp, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said last week in response to Bevin's order. "Today, however, a new administration claims to have that authority."

The NBA Just Joined the Gun Control Fight With This Moving Video

| Wed Dec. 23, 2015 2:56 PM EST

Top players from the National Basketball Association have partnered with Everytown for Gun Safety in a new 30-second advertisement urging an end to gun violence in the United States. The New York Times reported that the collaboration is the brainchild of Spike Lee, who first broached the idea to ESPN president John Skipper, who then connected the director with NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

In the video, stars like Steph Curry and Carmelo Anthony are featured along with gun violence survivors and victims' families to discuss how the issue has affected them personally.

"I heard about a shooting involving a three-year-old girl over the summer," Curry says in the clip. "My daughter is that age."

"We know far too many people who have been caught up in gun violence in this country," NBA president of social responsibility Kathleen Behrens told the Times. "And we can do something about it."

The NBA's entry into the gun debate is especially noteworthy given that pro sports leagues tend to avoid weighing in on controversial or political debates. It also comes at the end of another year that witnessed several high-profile mass shootings, including the Charleston rampage inside a historic black church in June and the San Bernardino shooting earlier this month.