In the minutes and hours after a teenage gunman killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, politicians began what has become something of a grim ritual following mass shootings: they offered “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families.
The response, as it has in the past, drew fierce criticism from Democrats and supporters of stricter gun control legislation, who view the condolences as woefully inadequate as mass shootings become more frequent and more lethal.
Partisanship and the power of the gun lobby has helped derail several recent attempts in Congress to pass measures that would impose restrictions on the sale of firearms. And on Wednesday, in the wake of yet another mass shooting, Republican congressman who oppose gun control legislation while accepting millions from the gun lobby found themselves in the glare of the public eye.
On Wednesday (Feb. 14), Bess Kalb, a writer for the late night television show Jimmy Kimmel Live! responded to lawmakers offering prayers by tweeting the amount of contributions they received from the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The New York Daily News joined the criticism, tweeting politicians’ campaign donations from gun rights groups and their grade from the NRA.
The NRA is a powerful force in Washington, claiming a grassroots membership of nearly 5 million Americans. The group is responsible for a lion’s share of contributions from gun lobbyists – and the money has gone disproportionately to Republicans.
Record election spending
The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics estimated that during the 2016 election, the NRA and its affiliates spent a record $54 million to secure Republican control of the White House and Congress, including at least $30.3 million to help elect Donald Trump.
But experts have caution that the relationship between contributions from pro-gun groups and Congress’ reticence to change the nation’s gun laws is complicated at best. The NRA accounts for just a fraction of the contributions lawmakers receive, and the group doesn’t crack the top 50 in terms of spending to the lobby the federal government.
As students mourned their friends in Parkland, those frustrated by Congressional inaction trained their fire on Republicans who had received money from the NRA and the gun lobby and demanded they do more than offer “thoughts and prayers”.
Direct contributions and ‘outside spending’
On Thursday (Feb. 15), House Speaker Paul Ryan incurred liberal wrath when he told a local radio station:“I think we need to pray, and our hearts go out to these victims. And I think, as public-policy makers, we don’t just knee jerk before we even have all the facts and the data.”
According to the center, Ryan has received $49,650 in direct contributions from the NRA during his nearly two decades in Congress. The figure represents only a fraction of the money spent on the candidate and does not account for “outside spending” that benefits the candidate such as campaign ads and other lobbying efforts.
Among other Republicans who were chastised for offering sentiments include senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Rob Portman of Ohio and Ted Cruz of Texas.
Marco Rubio (@marcorubio)
Just spoke to Broward School Superintendent. Today is that terrible day you pray never comes.
February 14, 2018
Though Rubio has only received $4,950 from the NRA, the number vastly underestimates the amount the group has spent on efforts boosting his candidacy. In 2016, the NRA funnelled more than $1m into efforts to re-elect the senator in Florida. And according to an estimate in the New York Times, Rubio ranks among the top 10 beneficiaries of the NRA in the Senate.
Rob Portman (@senrobportman)
Heartbreaking news out of Florida. Jane and I send our prayers to the school, the community, and the victims of this tragedy.
February 14, 2018
Portman has received $29,455 from the NRA during his career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. However, the NRA spent $731,400 in outside money to help Portman win re-election. And the Times tally, which takes into account outside spending over the course of his career, found that Portman also ranks among the top 10 career recipients of NRA funding.
Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz)
Heidi and my prayers are with the victims and families of those affected by today’s senseless shooting in Florida. As always, we are grateful to the first responders who answered the call for help and quickly apprehended the attacker. https://t.co/gcH1IXwKsX
February 14, 2018
Cruz received $11,900 directly from the NRA. But the organization spent $65,000 supporting Cruz during his 2012 Senate race.
When the NRA Supported Gun Control
By Arica L. Coleman
July 29, 2016
On May 20, 2000, the legendary actor and president of the National Rifle Association Charlton Heston stood before the podium at the organization’s 129th annual convention with a banner raised behind him featuring the America flag and the words “Vote Freedom.” As he concluded his address, Heston picked up a replica of a flintlock rifle, raised it over his head and declared, in his own dramatic fashion, that anyone who wanted to take his gun would have to pry it “from my cold, dead hands.”
This iconic moment has come to define the NRA, which is now America’s leading pro-gun advocacy group. As the group frames things in a new ad campaign, gun-control laws and politicians who support them are seen as an unconstitutional intrusion on the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
The NRA’s opposition to gun control, however, is only a few decades, according to Adam Winkler author of the book Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America. “Historically,” writes Winkler, “the leadership of the NRA was more open-minded about gun control than someone familiar with the modern NRA might imagine.”
Not only did the NRA support gun control for much of the 20th century, its leadership in fact lobbied for and co-authored gun control legislation.
When the NRA was founded by two Union Civil War veterans and a former New York Times reporter in 1871, its purpose was to help improve the marksmanship of urban northerners whose inferiority to the superior marksmanship of their rural southern counterparts was believed to have prolonged the war. During this time, the Second Amendment was not the association’s central platform. Displayed at the NRA’s national headquarters was its motto, “Firearms Safety Education, Marksmanship Training, Shooting for Recreation.” The association was granted a charter and received $25,000 from New York State to purchase a firing range. It also maintained a longstanding relationship with the U.S. military, receiving surplus guns and sponsorships for shooting contest.
In the 1920s, the National Revolver Association, the arm of the NRA responsible for handgun training, proposed regulations later adopted by nine states, requiring a permit to carry a concealed weapon, five years additional prison time if the gun was used in a crime, a ban on gun sales to non-citizens, a one day waiting period between the purchase and receipt of a gun, and that records of gun sales be made available to police.
The 1930s crime spree of the Prohibition era, which still summons images of outlaws outfitted with machine guns, prompted President Franklin Roosevelt to make gun control a feature of the New Deal. The NRA assisted Roosevelt in drafting the 1934 National Firearms Act and the 1938 Gun Control Act, the first federal gun control laws. These laws placed heavy taxes and regulation requirements on firearms that were associated with crime, such as machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and silencers. Gun sellers and owners were required to register with the federal government and felons were banned from owning weapons. Not only was the legislation unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court in 1939, but Karl T. Frederick, the president of the NRA, testified before Congress stating, “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”
For the next 30 years, the NRA continued to support gun control. By the late 1960s a shift in the NRA platform was on the horizon.
On Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. He shot the president with an Italian military surplus rifle purchased from a NRA mail-order advertisement. NRA Executive Vice-President Franklin Orth agreed at a congressional hearing that mail-order sales should be banned stating, “We do think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.” The NRA also supported California’s Mulford Act of 1967, which had banned carrying loaded weapons in public in response to the Black Panther Party’s impromptu march on the State Capitol to protest gun control legislation on May 2, 1967.
The summer riots of 1967 and assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 prompted Congress to reenact a version of the FDR-era gun control laws as the Gun Control Act of 1968. The act updated the law to include minimum age and serial number requirements, and extended the gun ban to include the mentally ill and drug addicts. In addition, it restricted the shipping of guns across state lines to collectors and federally licensed dealers and certain types of bullets could only be purchased with a show of ID. The NRA, however, blocked the most stringent part of the legislation, which mandated a national registry of all guns and a license for all gun carriers. In an interview in American Rifleman, Franklin Orth stated that despite portions of the law appearing “unduly restrictive, the measure as a whole appears to be one that the sportsmen of America can live with.”
A shift in the NRA’s platform occurred when in 1971 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, during a house raid, shot and paralyzed longtime NRA member Kenyon Ballew suspected of stockpiling illegal weapons. The NRA swiftly condemned the federal government. As Winkler points out, following the incident NRA board member and editor of New Hampshire’s Manchester Union Leader William Loeb referred to the federal agents as “Treasury Gestapo”; the association soon appropriated the language of the Panthers insisting that the Second Amendment protected individual gun rights.
For much of the 20th century, the NRA had lobbied and co-authored legislation that was similar to the modern legislative measures the association now characterizes as unconstitutional. But by the 1970s the NRA came to view attempts to enact gun-control laws as threats to the Second Amendment, a viewpoint strongly articulated at last week’s Republican National Convention by current NRA leader Chris Cox. Today’s NRA could be summed up with words uttered by the Black Panther Party 40 years earlier: “the gun is the only thing that will free us—gain us our liberation.”
Arica L. Coleman is the author of That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia and chair of the Committee on the Status of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American (ALANA) Historians and ALANA Histories at the Organization of American Historians.
Did the Kremlin Give Money to the National Rifle Association to Help Trump?
A report by McClatchy revealed that the FBI is looking into whether a Russian banker with Kremlin ties funneled money through the NRA during the 2016 election.
By Bethania Palma
16 February 2018
Even as the NRA has attacked the American news media with incendiary videos stoking hostility, the news media has been reporting on apparent links between the NRA and the Kremlin — most recently revealing a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into whether a Kremlin-linked banker used the gun lobby organization to help the Trump campaign.
According to an 18 January 2018 McClatchy D.C. Bureau report, the FBI is investigating allegations that Alexander Torshin, an official at the Central Bank of the Russia and life member of the NRA, funneled money through the gun lobby group to the Trump campaign. The reporting was based on interviews with two unnamed sources familiar with the matter, but who requested their names be withheld because it involves classified and confidential information:
FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said.
It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.
It’s unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s campaign, has been heating up.
Torshin is a key figure in ongoing congressional and Special Counsel-led investigations into allegations of collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign. In November 2017, The New York Times reported that Torshin tried to arrange a “backdoor” meeting between Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin (the Times has been singled out by the NRA in multiple incendiary propaganda videos). According to The New York Times report:
Mr. Torshin’s proposal is explained in a May 2016 email from Rick Clay, an advocate for conservative Christian causes, to Rick Dearborn, a Trump campaign aide. Mr. Clay was organizing a dinner in Louisville, Ky., honoring wounded veterans, and Mr. Trump was scheduled to be in the city for the National Rifle Association’s annual convention. In the email to Mr. Dearborn, Mr. Clay said he hoped that Mr. Trump would attend the dinner, and he also included details about the overture from Mr. Torshin.
The email said that the dinner would be a chance for Mr. Trump to meet Mr. Torshin, who is a life member of the National Rifle Association in the United States and a vocal advocate for gun rights in Russia, according to three people who have seen the email.
Although that meeting ultimately did not take place, Torshin did meet with Trump’s eldest son at the NRA convention, NBC News reported:
However, Torshin was seated with the candidate’s son, Donald Trump Jr., during a private dinner on the sidelines of a May 2016 NRA event during the convention in Louisville, according to an account Torshin gave to Bloomberg. Congressional investigators have no clear explanation for how that came to be, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Alan Futerfas, lawyer for Donald Trump Jr., confirmed to NBC News that his client spoke with Torshin at the dinner, but he said the men were not sitting together.
“Donald J. Trump Jr. was attending an NRA convention and having dinner when an acquaintance asked him to say hello to Torshin and made an introduction,” Futerfas said. “They made small talk for a few minutes and went back to their separate meals. That is the extent of their communication or contact.”
Spanish anti-corruption officials have identified Torshin as a “godfather” in the Russian mafia — something Torshin has denied.
The disclosure is the latest example of a senior Russian official seeking to make high-level contacts with the Trump campaign.
McClatchy added that the NRA spent record amounts of money supporting candidates in the 2016, most of which went to the Trump campaign:
The extent to which the FBI has evidence of money flowing from Torshin to the NRA, or of the NRA’s participation in the transfer of funds, could not be learned.
However, the NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Trump – triple what the group devoted to backing Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race. Most of that was money was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors.
Two people with close connections to the powerful gun lobby said its total election spending actually approached or exceeded $70 million. The reporting gap could be explained by the fact that independent groups are not required to reveal how much they spend on Internet ads or field operations, including get-out-the-vote efforts.
During an August 2017 interview by congressional investigators of Glenn Simpson, founder of Fusion GPS — which is the research firm for whom a former British spy created a now infamous collection of memoranda that has come to be known as the Trump-Russia dossier — said the NRA has been “infiltrated” by Russia:
It appears the Russians, you know, infiltrated the NRA, and there is more than one explanation for why. But I would say broadly speaking, it appears that the Russian operation was designed to infiltrate conservative organizations. And they targeted various conservative organizations, religious and otherwise, and they seem to have made a very concerted effort to get in with the NRA.
And so there is a Russian banker-slash-Duma member-slash-Mafia leader named Alexander Torshin who is a life member of the NRA. And we spent a lot of time investigating Mr. Torshin. And he is well known to Spanish law enforcement for money laundering activity and you have probably seen the press articles. And I think the Spanish files on him should be available to you. And he, as you know, was supposed to have a meeting with President Trump after the inauguration. And somebody noticed that there had been some stories about him that weren’t pretty good.
Stone, Peter, and Gordon, Greg. “FBI Investigating Whether Russian Money Went to NRA to Help Trump.” McClatchy. 18 January 2018.
Apuzza, Matt, et al. “Top Russian Official Tried to Broker ‘Backdoor’ Meeting Between Trump and Putin.” The New York Times. 17 November 2017.
Rotella, Sebastian. “Russian Politician Who Reportedly Sent Millions to NRA Has Long History in Spain.” ProPublica. 19 January 2018.
Glum, Julia. “Who Is Alexander Torshin? Russian Banker Linked With Putin Talked With Donald Trump Jr. at 2016 Dinner.” Newsweek. 18 November 2017.
FACT CHECK: Did President Trump Revoke Gun Background Checks for Mentally Ill People?
In February 2017, President Trump repealed an Obama-era regulation that would have made it easier to block the sale of firearms to people with certain mental illnesses.
How Many School Shootings Have Taken Place So Far in 2018?
The difficulty of agreeing on a common definition of “school shooting” shows just how many different types of firearm incidents occur on school grounds.
Trump signs order loosening gun restrictions
By Associated Press
Politics Feb 28, 2017
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has signed a resolution blocking an Obama-era rule that would have prevented an estimated 75,000 people with mental disorders from buying guns.
The rule was part of former President Barack Obama’s push to strengthen the federal background check system in the wake of the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut shooting.
It required the Social Security Administration to send in the names of beneficiaries with mental impairments who also need a third-party to manage their benefits.
But lawmakers, the National Rifle Association and even the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the rule, saying it unfairly stigmatized the disabled and infringed on their constitutional right to bear arms.
Also: Trump administration freezes Obama rule on water protection
Trump’s sons opened a private hunting preserve in upstate New York and neighbors say it sounds like ‘a war zone’
February 14, 2018
Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are enthusiastic hunters, although that does not explain why their 171-acre private hunting preserve in Wingdale, New York, sounds “like you’re in a war zone,” as one neighbor put it to The Associated Press.
It’s not just the regular deer hunting rifle fire residents are used to, though. Neighbors say they hear the deafening sounds of target practice as well as exploding targets and gunfire ringing out from a wooden tower on the property. “It’s bad,” said another neighbor. “It shakes the windows.”
The Trumps bought the property anonymously in 2013 after unsuccessfully attempting to get a discount by arguing it was haunted. The brothers used a limited liability company to scoop up the land, although paperwork traces back to Trump Jr. and Eric Trump directly.
Jeffrey Ferraro, who is listed as the LLC’s organizer and manages the land, told one neighbor who complained about the noise that his partners “have the Secret Service coming, and they shoot, too.” When confronted by the AP, Ferraro said: “Guns make noise. That’s all I can tell you.”
— The Week UK
Chris Christie says the Russia probe shows no Trump campaign collusion ‘to this point’
February 18, 2018
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Sunday offered a qualified defense of President Trump’s claim that he has been vindicated by the evidence revealed in federal investigations of Russian election meddling.
Friday’s indictment of Russian nationals and entities by Special Counsel Robert Mueller “proves there’s no collusion to this point,” Christie said on ABC’s This Week. “There’s no collusion in terms of the Facebook ads, the other social media activity.”
“Director Mueller made it very clear in the indictment that any participation by anybody — whether it was in the Trump campaign or the [Bernie] Sanders campaign, which they said was also being assisted by this effort by Russia — that all of that was done unwittingly,” Christie continued. “No one participated in a knowing fashion. Now, we have to see where [Mueller] goes next, but certainly at this point, there is no allegation by Director Mueller and his team of collusion.”
— The Week UK
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff says Trump ‘claims vindication anytime someone sneezes’
February 18, 2018
President Trump posted a pair of tweets Sunday morning aimed at Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), whom he dubbed “Liddle’ [sic] Adam Schiff, the leakin’ monster of no control.” The president was pleased with Schiff’s Friday statement that Russian meddling in U.S. politics should have been addressed sooner and more forcefully by the Obama administration. However, he also suggested Schiff’s true motive was excusing Hillary Clinton’s election loss.
Later Sunday, on CNN’s State of the Union, Schiff hit back. Friday’s indictment of Russian nationals “ought to put to rest for anyone, including the president who continues to call this a ‘witch hunt,’ that the evidence is now overwhelming and unequivocal and we need to move to protect ourselves from Russian interference in elections that are coming up,” Schiff said.
Asked whether he concurs with Trump’s frequent claim that his campaign has been proven innocent of collusion with Russian election meddling, Schiff disagreed. “No, of course not,” he said. “This is a president who claims vindication anytime someone sneezes.”
— The Week UK
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Vernon B Wells
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“Trump Administration Waives Punishment For Convicted Banks, Including Deutsche — Which Trump Owes Millions.”
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Vernon B Wells http://www.ibtimes.com/…/trump-administration-waives…
Trump Administration Waives Punishment For Convicted Banks,…
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Election Security in All 50 States Defending America’s Elections
By Danielle Root, Liz Kennedy, Michael Sozan, and Jerry Parshall Posted on February 12, 2018
Center for American Progress
Introduction and summary
In 2016, America’s elections were targeted by a foreign nation-state intent on infiltrating and manipulating our electoral system. On September 22, 2017, it was reported that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notified 21 states that were targeted by hackers during the 2016 election. Among those states notified by DHS were: Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington. Arizona, California, Iowa, Texas, and Wisconsin were also among those states originally contacted by DHS. However, those states have denied that their election systems were attacked. Ultimately, hackers only reportedly succeeded in breaching the voter registration system of one state: Illinois. And while DHS did not name those responsible for the attempted hacks, many believe the culprits can be traced back to Russia. Experts have warned that a future attack on our election infrastructure, by Russia or other malicious actors, is all but guaranteed.
Free and fair elections are a central pillar of our democracy. Through them, Americans make choices about the country’s future—what policies will be enacted and who will represent their interests in the states, Congress, and beyond. The right of Americans to choose their own political destiny is in danger of being overtaken by foreign nation-states bent on shifting the balance of power in their favor and undermining American’s confidence in election results. In our democracy, every vote counts, as evidenced by the race for Virginia’s House of Delegate’s 94th District, which was decided by lottery after being tied. That contest illustrates the inherent worth and power behind each vote as well as the necessity of protecting elections from tampering on even the smallest scale. Every vote must count, and every vote must be counted as cast.
Election security is not a partisan issue. As aptly noted by the chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), “Russian activities during the 2016 election may have been aimed at one party’s candidate, but … in 2018 and 2020, it could be aimed at anyone, at home or abroad.”
Whether testing is conducted close to the election, but with enough time to allow for effective remediation. Testing should be carried out close enough to an election to ensure that the machines are in a similar condition to Election Day as they were at the time of testing, but with enough time for election officials to reprogram or replace voting machines that exhibit problems during testing.
About the authors
Danielle Root is the voting rights manager for Democracy and Government at the Center for American Progress.
Liz Kennedy is the senior director of Democracy and Government Reform at the Center.
Michael Sozan is a senior fellow at the Center, where he focuses on democracy and government reform.
Jerry Parshall is a manager of State and Local Government Affairs at the Center.