June 24, 2022

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

As Congress moves closer (so they say) to agreeing on modest gun reforms, the U.S. Supreme Court made it easier for people to carry guns in public with a ruling in the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen case.

The net effect of the 6-3 ruling is that the state and local governments will have significantly less ability to restrict guns outside the home.

The court’s last big decision around gun ownership was about the right to own and keep a gun in the home. But this decision said that the right extends outside the home as well.

New York put the burden on the gun owner to prove why they needed to carry a gun in public. As the court ruling put it, “The State of New York makes it a crime to possess a firearm without a license, whether inside or outside the home. An individual who wants to carry a firearm outside his home may obtain an unrestricted license to ‘have and carry’ a concealed ‘pistol or revolver’ if he can prove that ‘proper cause exists’ for doing so.”

But the court ruled that as a right, the burden is on the state to prove why the owner should be denied that right.

States that have laws similar to New York’s will immediately have to reconsider their restrictions. California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey all have laws similar to the one the court overturned.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority and made these points, which Second Amendment supporters will warmly embrace as an unquestionable right to own a gun inside and outside the home:

Nothing in the Second Amendment’s text draws a home/public distinction with respect to the right to keep and bear arms, and the definition of “bear” naturally encompasses public carry. Moreover, the Second Amendment guarantees an “individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation,” and confrontation can surely take place outside the home.

The burden then falls on respondents to show that New York’s proper-cause requirement is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. To do so, respondents appeal to a variety of historical sources from the late 1200s to the early 1900s. But when it comes to interpreting the Constitution, not all history is created equal. “Constitutional rights are enshrined with the scope they were understood to have when the people adopted them.”

The Second Amendment was adopted in 1791; the Fourteenth in 1868. Historical evidence that long predates or postdates either time may not illuminate the scope of the right. With these principles in mind, the Court concludes that respondents have failed to meet their burden to identify an American tradition justifying New York’s proper-cause requirement.

New York argued that there is a lot of historical context for local governments to restrict gun ownership. But Justice Thomas wrote that any such restrictions come with a burden of proof that carrying a gun poses a societal threat, which is what gun rights groups have argued for decades:

In sum, the historical evidence from antebellum America does demonstrate that the manner of public carry was subject to reasonable regulation, but none of these limitations on the right to bear arms operated to prevent law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from carrying arms in public for that purpose

Justice Thomas referred to the right to carry a gun in public as the “enduring American tradition permitting public carry.” Then he punctuated the decision:

The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not “a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.” The exercise of other constitutional rights does not require individuals to demonstrate to government officers some special need. The Second Amendment right to carry arms in public for self defense is no different. New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms in public.

CNN summarized what all of this means for state and local gun laws:

The New York decision will also likely affect what happens next in a California case, where the state’s prohibition on keeping people under the age of 21 from purchasing certain semi-automatic weapons was struck down by a conservative-leaning 9th Circuit panel.

It also may have implications for the federal gun safety package Congress is poised to pass, if and when those modest gun safety measures are challenged in court.

And a whole host of long-existing laws might be confronted with new lawsuits bolstered by the conservative justices’ new, less generous test. The New York law had been in place for more than 100 years before the Supreme Court struck it down.

Should we move polling places out of schools to protect children?

A man walks out of a voting booth during the New Hampshire Primary at Parker-Varney Elementary School, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The Washington Post raised an interesting question about whether schools should rethink allowing voters to enter school buildings to vote, as is the common practice all over the country. Given the national concern over school security, maybe it is time to discontinue that practice.

The Post reports:

Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, which consults with schools on safety plans, said public schools are frequently used as voting locations across the country, including in the District.

Safety concerns started to emerge after the Columbine High school shooting in 1999, he said, and it is now common for school districts to cancel classes for Election Day, often holding planning days for teachers so children are not in the building.

But, he said, it gets more complicated when counties and cities use schools as early voting sites for extended periods and officials cannot guard voting locations as they would school buildings on a typical day. Having police officers in voting locations, for instance, could be perceived as voter intimidation.

Trump said he is not aware of safety issues that have occurred inside schools on voting days but that it presents “one more potential opportunity that you may be opening up access to someone who may have ill intentions.”

“There is not a lot of logic to it,” he said. “We are going to fortify our schools, spend millions of dollars on it, to make sure that strangers do not have access to school, except for two to three days when anyone can get it in while school is in session.” Trump offers some safety suggestions, including restricting one part of the school that ideally has its own entrance for voting.

Most county health officials are not prepared for the July 16 9-8-8 emergency mental health hotline rollout

Two years ago, Congress approved a national 9-8-8 hotline for mental health help similar to other three-digit emergency hotlines. But with the July 16 deadline less than a month away, a new Rand survey finds most U.S. cities and counties are nowhere near ready to launch the systems.

Rand said, “The three-digit number will supersede the current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which has grown from about 50,000 calls in 2005 to more than 2.4 million in 2020.” The system that is about to launch still lacks specialized support for homeless populations and callers with needs related to LGBTQ issues, and few have specialized care to offer children and teens.

The Rand survey found big holes in the system that is about to launch:

About 85 percent reported that there was a mental health emergency response hotline or call center operating in their jurisdiction, although fewer than one-half of those hotlines were reported as part of the Lifeline network that will field 988 calls—meaning that callers from those jurisdictions may reach a Lifeline call center that is unfamiliar with local resources.

Among those jurisdictions with hotlines, a majority (55 percent) contained staff specifically trained to interact with children and adolescents, but a minority had training to interact with other special populations, such as individuals experiencing homelessness (46 percent) or LGBTQ individuals (45 percent).

Although a large majority of hotlines supported phone-based communication, fewer than half supported text/SMS, and fewer yet supported online chat. Researchers say that with particularly high rates of suicide observed among adolescents and young adults, interfaces like online chat and SMS have become increasingly important.

“Although mandated at a national level, the launch of 988 will require substantial effort on the part of state and local agencies to ensure sufficient capacity to handle these calls and connect callers with local mental health emergency services if needed,” said Stephanie Brooks Holliday, a coleader of the project and a RAND behavioral scientist. “Our findings show much more work needs to be done.”

CNN reports:

Bob Gebbia, the CEO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, told CNN that a “big concern is that the demands might outstrip the capacity very quickly and these centers will be overwhelmed.”

“When that happens, then calls get dropped, waiting times go up, and the individuals who are on the other end and struggling don’t get the connection they need,” Gebbia said.

Bug threatens 13% of one city’s trees after two decades of damage elsewhere

In this Oct. 26, 2011, file photo, forester Jeff Wiegert of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation points out the markings left from emerald ash borer larvae on an ash tree in Saugerties, N.Y., at the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

The first emerald ash borer beetle was spotted in Detroit in 2002. Now, two decades later, it has chewed its way across the country and threatens more than one out of 10 trees in the city of Dallas. The bug attacks ash trees.

The Arbor Day Foundation estimates, “The emerald ash borer has destroyed 40 million ash trees in Michigan alone and tens of millions throughout other states and Canada. Small trees can die as soon as one to two years after infestation, while larger infested trees can survive for three to four years.”

The Arbor Day Foundation explains the backstory of this pest:

Originally from Asia, the emerald ash borer (EAB) was first discovered in the Detroit area in 2002. It is believed to have entered the country on wooden packing materials from China. The bright metallic-green beetle may be smaller than a dime, but it is capable of taking down ash trees thousands of times its size. Adults are typically ½ inch long and ⅛ inch wide. Eggs are extremely small—approximately 1/25 inch—and are reddish-brown in color. Larvae are white, flat-headed borers with distinct segmentation.

Adults usually emerge in mid- to late-May from infestations to the trees during the previous year (earlier if the weather is warm), with females laying their eggs shortly after. The larvae bore into the ash tree and feed under the bark, leaving tracks visible underneath. The feeding disrupts the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients, resulting in dieback and bark splitting.

Arborists say the beetles are 99% lethal to all untreated ash trees. The treatment process involves injecting trees with a chemical that kills the ash beetle and other insects eating the trees.

On the map below, the green represents where you can find ash trees in the U.S. The red dots are where the beetles have been detected. As you can see, attempts to quarantine and control the invasion have not worked.

(The Conversation)

Ash trees have a lot of value beyond providing shade. The Conversation explains:

Before this invasive pest appeared on the scene, ash trees were particularly popular for residential developments, representing 20-40% of planted trees in some Midwestern communities. Emerald ash borers have killed tens of millions of U.S. trees with an estimated replacement cost of US$10-25 billion.

Ash wood is also popular for lumber used in furniture, sports equipment and paper, among many other products. The ash timber industry produces over 100 million board feet annually, valued at over $25 billion.

Another vitamin study that vitamin believers will ignore

Count my wife as one who gulps down a handful of vitamins every morning. To keep her happy-ish, I do too, even with some occasional protest. New research from Northwestern University says the benefits are mostly in your mind. The Northwestern study is really a study of studies and found:

Based on a systematic review of 84 studies, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) new guidelines state there was “insufficient evidence” that taking multivitamins, paired supplements or single supplements can help prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer in otherwise healthy, non-pregnant adults.

Individuals who have a vitamin deficiency can still benefit from taking dietary supplements, such as calcium and vitamin D, which have been shown to prevent fractures and maybe falls in older adults.

The CDC says six out of 10 Americans take vitamins and spend $50 billion a year on the supplements.

We’ll be back Monday with a new edition of Covering COVID-19. Are you subscribed? Sign up here to get it delivered right to your inbox.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
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

More News

Back to News