November 28, 2022

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President Biden says he wants to ban assault weapons, which is not likely to happen. But earlier this year he did get congressional help to encourage states to expand their red flag laws. But 

laws are only effective if they are enforced. A dozen and a half states and the District of Columbia passed red flag laws, or extreme risk protection orders, that would allow judges to order the confiscation of firearms from people considered to be dangerous to themselves or others. But journalists should more aggressively investigate when and how the laws are being used or ignored and question the accepted belief that they prevent shootings.

(Everytown for Gun Safety)

The Association of Health Care Journalists recently held a summit, Reporting on Violence as a Public Health Care Issue, and invited Veronica Pear, an assistant professor at the University of California-Davis who’s studied red flag laws. Her research found that none of the people who were considered to be potentially harmful to themselves and were put under restraining orders later went on to take their own life. To put it simply, the court order may have prevented self-harm. But there is not enough research, the professor said, to say that such orders prevent the dangerous person from killing others.

A Duke University study of Connecticut’s first-in-the-nation red flag law in 1999 estimated that for every 10 to 20 surrender orders a life from a potential suicide was saved.

The Associated Press recently was able to calculate the number of times red flag laws might have been used but weren’t.

  • In Chicago, there have been 8,500 shootings resulting in 1,800 deaths since 2020. And, the AP said, red flag laws were used there just four times.
  • In New Mexico, there have been 600 gun homicides since 2020 and red flag laws were used eight times.
  • In Massachusetts where there have been around 300 fatal shootings since 2020, officials used red flag laws 12 times. 

AP reported:

An Associated Press analysis found many U.S. states barely use the red flag laws touted as the most powerful tool to stop gun violence before it happens, a trend blamed on a lack of awareness of the laws and resistance by some authorities to enforce them even as shootings and gun deaths soar.

AP found such laws in 19 states and the District of Columbia were used to remove firearms from people 15,049 times since 2020, fewer than 10 per 100,000 adult residents. Experts called that woefully low and not nearly enough to make a dent in gun violence, considering the millions of firearms in circulation and countless potential warning signs law enforcement officers encounter from gun owners every day.

AP found that some places in Florida, Illinois and California aggressively use red flag protection orders while others in the same state avoid them and, in some states, politicians and sheriffs work against such laws:

Florida led with 5,800 such orders, or 34 per 100,000 adult residents, but that is due mostly to aggressive enforcement in a few counties that don’t include Miami-Dade and others with more gun killings. More than a quarter of Illinois’ slim 154 orders came from one suburban county that makes up just 7 percent of the state’s population. California had 3,197 orders but was working through a backlog of three times that number of people barred from owning guns under a variety of measures who had not yet surrendered them.

And a national movement among politicians and sheriffs that has declared nearly 2,000 counties as “Second Amendment Sanctuaries,” opposing laws that infringe on gun rights, may have affected red flag enforcement in several states. In Colorado, 37 counties that consider themselves “sanctuaries” issued just 45 surrender orders in the two years through last year, a fifth fewer than non-sanctuary counties did per resident. New Mexico and Nevada reported only about 20 orders combined.

Opponents of red flag laws usually argue that they deny a person the right to due process, in that the judge may rule to seize a person’s weapon before a full hearing on the matter. Usually, when that issue comes up in legal challenges, the courts rule the law is constitutional. Everytown for Gun Safety responds:

Judges may enter an emergency short-term order after family or law enforcement gives evidence that the person poses an immediate risk to themselves or others. After notifying the person, the judge must hold a hearing within a short period of time before entering a final order. The person asking for the order must prove that the other person poses a serious risk to themselves or others. That person can challenge any evidence and make their case as to why an order should not be issued. And even orders entered after a full hearing have a limited duration, generally up to one year, and can only be extended if the court holds another hearing. Case law shows that Extreme Risk laws have and will continue to withstand due process challenges: an appeals court in Florida recently upheld Florida’s law in the face of a constitutional due process challenge.

Randy Dotinga wrote for AHCJ:

How can reporters examine red flag laws? One strategy is to request public documents and see whether the law is being deployed. 

If your local community isn’t taking advantage of a statewide red flag law, why not? According to Pear, widespread use of the law often hinges on whether someone in power — such as a local elected prosecutor — champions its use and works with law enforcement and judges on procedures. 

Reporters can also explore who’s being targeted by the laws and why. “At this point, I have personally read more than 1,000 of these cases,” Shannon Frattaroli, a professor who’s studied firearm violence at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said. The evidence supporting the removal of firearms, she added, is “compelling.”

Reporters could also look for signs of racial disparities. There were signs in the California data that Blacks and Hispanics were more likely than Whites to be arrested when red-flag restraining orders were served, Pear said. But the gap shrunk when researchers only looked at targets who threatened harm to others. 

Researchers say people they interviewed often don’t know anything about red flag laws so they do not know how to try to get a court order to disarm a person who might be about to cause harm.

(Everytown for Gun Safety)

Why the newest federal crime statistics are unreliable: 10 states missing lots of data

Ten states failed miserably at collecting and reporting their 2021 crime data. Almost none of Florida’s law enforcement agencies (2 out of 757) reported their crime data and California and Pennsylvania were not much better. 


The FBI is trying to replace its outdated crime reporting system with a much more detailed understanding of crime trends nationwide. But with some of the most populous states’ data missing, the national crime report becomes less useful. The states have known for years that they needed to move to a new data reporting system and the federal government supplied millions of dollars in grants to help the transition. Axios points out that unless states require local departments to report their data in a reliable format, we may miss significant crime trends for years while politicians can make unchallenged claims about crime trends.

Federal protection for same-sex and cross-race marriage likely to pass soon

Congress is back in session today and it will be a race to finish some key legislation before the year and the end of the Democrats’ House majority.

The House of Representatives will, in all likelihood, take up and pass the Respect for Marriage Act within the next couple of weeks. The effort to get the bill to a vote was championed by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat who was the first openly gay woman elected to Congress.

Don’t mistake the Respect for Marriage Act for the Defense of Marriage Act. The Defense of Marriage Act denied federal benefits to same-sex couples. And the Respect for Marriage Act reverses that statute. The push to confirm legalized same-sex marriage took on a new urgency after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggested this summer that the court should reconsider its decision in a 2015 case called Obergefell v. Hodges, which established the right of same-sex couples to marry.

The Respect for Marriage Act does not require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry. But The Respect for Marriage Act would require that people be considered married in any state as long as the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed. 

The official summary of the bill the Senate approved says:

This bill provides statutory authority for same-sex and interracial marriages.

Specifically, the bill repeals and replaces provisions that define, for purposes of federal law, marriage as between a man and a woman and spouse as a person of the opposite sex with provisions that recognize any marriage that is valid under state law. (The Supreme Court held that the current provisions were unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor in 2013.)

The bill also repeals and replaces provisions that do not require states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states with provisions that prohibit the denial of full faith and credit or any right or claim relating to out-of-state marriages on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin. (The Supreme Court held that state laws barring same-sex marriages were unconstitutional in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015; the Court held that state laws barring interracial marriages were unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia in 1967.) The bill allows the Department of Justice to bring a civil action and establishes a private right of action for violations

Slate points to the four major effects of this bill. I am editing their four points. but you can get the full effect here

First, the RFMA does not only protect marriages, but also any “right or claim arising from such a marriage.” The single most important right “arising from” marriage is the right of parentage over children produced within a marriage. Thus, the law requires states to honor same-sex couples’ parentage over their own children, whether their kids are adopted or conceived with the help of a donor. 

Second, the Senate amended the RFMA to include protections for religious liberty. None of these additions would have any meaningful effect. One clarifies that “nonprofit religious organizations” are not compelled, under federal law, to provide goods, services, or facilities “for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.” This provision merely reflects the status quo. It does not preempt state civil rights laws that might bar a commercial nonprofit (think the Salvation Army) from discriminating against gay people. Nor does it implicate the ongoing debate about ordinary businesses’ right to discriminate against LGBTQ customers under the First Amendment. (The Supreme Court may soon give businesses and nonprofits a right to discriminate, rendering this provision irrelevant, anyway.)

Third, the Senate version of the bill does not require the federal government to recognize marriages between more than two people (that is, polygamy). 

Finally, the bill applies equally to same-sex marriages and interracial marriages. Since no states have expressed interest in reviving anti-miscegenation laws, this component is also largely symbolic. 

Boing-Boing pointed out this seeming contradiction.
Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) voted against advancing the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill providing Federal protection for same-sex and interracial marriage. Thing is, McConnell’s wife is Elaine Chao, former US Secretary for Transportation, who is Asian.

Japanese World Cup fans astonish everyone by picking up their trash

One moment Japanese World Cup soccer fans were singing and cheering their team and the next moment they were filling blue plastic trash bags with cups and food wrappers strewn around the stadium. Videos are flying around social media and lots of words are being written about this act of common decency that is not at all common. The New York Times asked the celebrants about the cleanup:

In Japan, tidiness, particularly in public spaces, is widely accepted as a virtue. Japanese people at the game said such habits were taught at home and reinforced at schools, where students from a young age are expected to clean up their classrooms and school facilities on a regular basis.

The cleaning of shared areas, like stadiums, becomes something of an individual responsibility, and there are often not armies of workers hired to do it.

“For Japanese people, this is just a normal thing to do,” said Hajime Moriyasu, the coach of the Japanese team. “When you leave a place, you have to leave it cleaner than it was before.”

The team also left the locker room looking spotless. And the team left a thank you note. FIFA officials were so impressed they posted a photo.

The decency campaign may be spreading. The Tunisian team also has been seen cleaning up the stadium.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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