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Chiang urges CalSTRS to divest from gun maker

California Treasurer John Chiang is concerned that the state’s teachers’ pension system still has investments managed by a firm that hasn’t kept its promise to sell off its firearm-manufacturing holdings.

This all started with the December, 2012 schoolhouse massacre in Newtown, Conn., in which a Bushmaster AR-15-type semi-automatic rifle – which fit California’s definition of an assault weapon – was used to kill 20 children and six adults. Bushmaster – along with Remington, Marlin and several other firearm brands – belongs to the Freedom Group, which in turn is owned by Cerberus Capital Management.

Bushmaster XM15

Soon after the Newtown shooting, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) issued a statement expressing concern that Cerberus – which manages some private equity funds in which CalSTRS is invested – owned Freedom Group. But Cerberus had just announced that it intended to sell Freedom Group, so CalSTRS was satisfied.

Yet Cerberus still owns Freedom Group today.

“Two years ago, I was proud to support the effort of CalSTRS to divest from assault weapon manufacturers,” Chiang wrote this week CalSTRS investment committee chairwoman Sharon Hendricks. “I am frustrated that two years have passed and the Freedom Group remains in their portfolio, indirectly financed by the pension contributions of California teachers.”

Chiang acknowledged the pension fund is obliged to find sound investments, but “it must consider how those investments may be used to finance business interests that run counter to the beliefs of CalSTRS and its members.”

“We rightly determined that there is significant risk in investing in the Freedom Group, a business that manufactures weapons that are susceptible to sanctions, regulations, and actions that could be detrimental to the fund,” he wrote, urging the CalSTRS board to do whatever is necessary to fully divest from the Freedom Group.

Chiang also asked that Cerberus’ leadership attend the CalSTRS board meeting this Friday “to explain why the Freedom Group remains in its portfolio despite agreeing to remove it more than two years ago. It is vital that Cerberus understand the strong desire of CalSTRS, its Board, and teachers in California, that none of its funds be used to fund the manufacturing of weapons used to commit such terrible atrocities.”

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Lawmakers remember Newtown in varied ways

Tomorrow marks one year since the Newtown school shooting massacre, and as the nation considers what has and hasn’t happened as a result, Bay Area lawmakers are observing the awful anniversary in various ways.

Nancy PelosiHouse Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, will speak at a Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America event Saturday morning at St. Vincent de Paul Church in San Francisco. She’ll be joined there by families of victims of gun violence.

“It’s hard to believe that an entire year has passed since that horrific day – yet it’s even harder to believe that, despite so many promises of action, too many in Congress have advocated only inaction in the fight to prevent gun violence,” Pelosi said Friday. “In the wake this solemn anniversary, that must change. Indeed, our most lasting memorial to the victims of Newtown would be to enact a comprehensive agenda to prevent gun violence, starting with the bipartisan, King-Thompson legislation to expand background checks.”

Rep. Mike Thompson – co-author of that background-check bill and Pelosi’s appointed point man on gun violence issues – joined congresswomen Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn.; Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.; and Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-DC, in an “act of kindness” Friday to mark the anniversary.

Mike ThompsonOfficials in Newtown have urged those who wish to honor the memory of the victims to engage in acts of kindness, and so the four House members helped prepare meals at Martha’s Table, a Washington, D.C, nonprofit that provides healthy meals and education rpograms to nearly 300 children, plus meals and groceries to hundreds of homeless and low-income people.

Thompson, D-Napa, and H.R. 1565 co-author Pete King, R-N.Y., issued a statement Friday noting that in the year since Newtown “more than 10,000 people have been killed by someone using a gun and Congress has done nothing to reduce gun violence. That is unacceptable.

“Congress needs to act, and we should start by passing our bipartisan background check bill so that criminals, terrorists, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill do not have easy access to guns,” the lawmakers wrote. “187 of our colleagues have co-authored this legislation and more have said they’d vote for it if the bill was brought to the floor. It’s time to get this bill passed and signed into law.”

honda.jpgAnd Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, will speak Saturday at a gun buyback event at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in San Jose, organized by a coalition of South Bay civic organizations. People will be able to anonymously exchange handguns for up to $200 in gift cards; Assemblywoman Nora Campos, San Jose Police Chief Larry Esquivel, City Councilman Xavier Campos, Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen, and Father Jon Pedigo of Our Lady of Guadalupe also are scheduled to speak.

Honda on Friday called the buyback “a concrete step to get as many dangerous weapons off the streets at possible.”

“It has been one year since the tragic events at Newtown, and we will always remember those who are no longer with us. It is important to not only protect young children, however, but all of our citizens, and I will continue to fight for real change to our gun laws,” Honda said Friday, saying he has worked to increase funding for background checks and tried to block efforts to make it harder for police to track criminals using illegal guns. “Reducing needless gun violence is one of the key moral causes of our time.”

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Gun control groups say California is still tops

Eight states including California enacted major gun-control laws in the year since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., two big gun-control groups reported Monday.

Robyn Thomas“We really see this as a turning point on this issue,” Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told reporters on a conference call Monday morning. “This year after Newtown, we got calls from 30 different states interested in introducing legislation. … That was an absolute watershed change from years past.”

The scorecard report put out by the Law Center and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence ranks all states based on 30 policy approaches to regulating guns and ammunition. States received points for having effective laws in each policy area, with stronger laws receiving more points. A letter grade (A to F) indicates the overall strength or weakness of a state’s gun laws.

California received an A- and continues to top the list of states with the nation’s strongest gun laws. But Connecticut jumped from ranking 4th to 2nd and is joined by New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and Maryland at the top of the list of states with strong gun laws, all of which also passed new legislation in 2013. States ranking at the bottom with the weakest gun laws include Arizona, Alaska, Wyoming, and South Dakota – many of which also have some of the highest gun death rates in the country.

Dan Gross“We think the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed moment,” Brady Campaign president Dan Gross said on the conference call. But watershed moments like this are only catalysts, he said: Ultimately laws don’t change unless people rise up and demand it. “Many states have listened to the will of the American people, state lawmakers have represented their constituents, while Congress has not.”

Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said some of the new state laws were substantial. Five states – Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Colorado and Illinois – tightened their background check laws to include private sales. Four states – Illinois, New York, Maryland and Delaware – required owners to quickly report the loss or theft of their firearms. Three states – Connecticut, Maryland and New York – passed laws regulating ammunition sales with record keeping and/or background checks. Four states – California, Connecticut, New York and Maryland – beefed up their assault weapons laws in some way. And five states – California, New York, Connecticut, Colorado and Maryland – strengthened existing laws or added new ones dealing with ammunition magazines.

“To see this many states do this many substantive changes… is really quite amazing,” Cutilletta said.
While the states’ progress is encouraging, “we can’t have a patchwork system,” Gross said. “Now it’s time for Congress to follow the lead of these states.

But even though polls show the bipartisan legislation to expand background checks is supported by nine out of 10 Americans including four out of five gun owners, Gross said, getting such a bill through Congress requires reassuring lawmakers that passing it is in their political best interest. “If we can’t do that, we will not succeed in 2014.”

Gun_Rights_vs_Gun_Control_yearlylobying-01The Sunlight Foundation reported Monday that gun-control groups as of June 30 reported spending five times as much on federal lobbying in 2013 as they did in 2012 – about $1.6 million. Yet gun-rights groups still outspent by more than 7 to 1, sinking $12.2 million into the fight.

“The months following Sandy Hook saw not only an increase in the quantity of lobbying over gun control but in the nature of the lobbying,” writes Nancy Watzman of the Sunlight Reporting Group. “Much of the increased lobbying spending by gun control groups at the federal level went to hire lions of the Washington lobbyist establishment, big names who have gone through the revolving door from Congress and the executive branch.”

“Their typical clients are Fortune 500 companies and major trade associations, as opposed to clients with an ideological bent,” Watzman wrote. “For most, this was the first time they reported signing on to the gun issue. In this, the gun control groups were mirroring their opposition: The NRA has long hired outside lobbyists to supplement its staff. Overall, gun control groups reported hiring some three dozen lobbyists at eight lobbying firms. For the vast majority, it was the first time they reported lobbying on behalf of a gun control group.”

Gross said his group, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and many other groups and individuals are in this for the long haul; he noted that it took six votes over seven years to pass the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act of 1993. “It doesn’t happen overnight.”

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House Dems urge vote on background checks

Democrats took to the House floor today to commemorate the six-month anniversary of the schoolhouse massacre in Newtown, Conn., and to try to jump-start the seemingly moribund effort to get a background-check bill through Congress.

The Senate rejected the bill in April, and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, doesn’t seem likely to bring it to a vote. That didn’t stop Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, from trying to shame him into it today.

And from Rep. Mike Thomspon, D-Napa, who has been House Democrats’ point man on gun violence issues:

Read a transcript of Thompson’s remarks, after the jump…
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Dispelling a Newtown massacre myth – again

As I’ve spent the last few months reporting on gun policy, one myth has kept cropping up – from an adamant gun-range manager in Shasta County to countless snarky emails I’ve received – to which some gun-rights advocates insist on clinging despite all evidence to the contrary: That Newtown shooter Adam Lanza used handguns, not a semi-automatic rifle considered by many to be an “assault weapon,” in his horrific rampage.

I noted here in January that the myth began with a video clip from NBC’s Today show which reported that Lanza had taken four handguns into the school but left the rifle in his car. That video is wrong; it was based on unnamed sources and aired as the news was still breaking on Dec. 15, the day after the shooting, before authorities had briefed the media on what weapons were actually used. The correct information was released later that day. But this video clip has been reposted so many times since – with or without the knowledge that it’s dead wrong – that Connecticut State Police felt compelled to re-issue the correct information in January.

Today there’s a new statement from Stephen J. Sedensky III, State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury, who’s been heading the investigation:

(T)the shooter went to Sandy Hook Elementary school where he shot his way into the building and killed 20 children and 6 adults with a Bushmaster .223 caliber model XM15 rifle. The Bushmaster was loaded with a 30-round capacity magazine. Fourteen rounds were in the magazine when the Bushmaster was recovered by police. There was one round in the chamber.

The shooter took his own life with a single shot from a Glock 10 mm handgun. He also had a loaded 9mm Sig Sauer P226 handgun on his person. Recovered from the person of the shooter, in addition to more ammunition for the handguns, were three, 30-round magazines for the Bushmaster, each containing 30 rounds. Located in the area of the shootings were six additional 30-round magazines containing 0, 0, 0, 10, 11, and 13 live rounds respectively. One-hundred-and-fifty-four spent .223 casings were recovered from the scene.

It is currently estimated that the time from when the shooter shot his way into the school until he took his own life was less than five minutes.

The police found a loaded 12-gauge shotgun in the passenger compartment of the car the shooter drove to the school. The shotgun was moved by police from the passenger compartment of the car to the trunk for safekeeping.

Lest anyone engage in baseless accusations that Sedensky is peddling partisan propaganda, it looks to me as if every one of the Connecticut Criminal Justice Commission members who appointed him to his job are Republican appointees themselves.

Bushmaster XM15

Not that it matters all that much – torn apart by bullets is torn apart by bullets, no matter what kind of gun fired those bullets. But I do believe it’s impossible to have a serious discussion on gun policy unless everyone accepts the facts. These are the facts.

Sedensky also today released search-warrant information which describes items taken from Lanza’s home and car. See the search-warrant documents here:

Adam Lanza Search Warrants

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Answering some reader e-mails on gun control

Having done a ton of reporting on gun control in the past month, I’ve noticed an increase in the amount of mail I get from readers – some thoughtful and constructive, but mostly angry rants.

So where better to address some of it than here?

First, let me dispel a few myths. Many people have angrily urged me to “get my facts straight” and stop reporting that Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster .223-caliber semi-automatic rifle to kill 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn. The fact is: It’s true.

Yes, I’ve seen the video clip from NBC’s Today show which reported that Lanza had taken four handguns into the school but left the rifle in his car. That video is wrong; it was based on unnamed sources and aired Dec. 15, the day after the shooting, before authorities had briefed the media on what weapons were actually used. The correct information was released later that day. But this video clip has been reposted so many times since – with or without the knowledge that it’s dead wrong – that Connecticut State Police felt compelled to re-issue the correct information a few weeks ago.

Also, a few people have e-mailed me suggesting that Lanza, or Lanza alone, wasn’t responsible for the shooting. I’ve seen no credible evidence anywhere to suggest otherwise, and I have no patience for unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

Now, on to some specifics. In response to my article in today’s editions about background checks, one reader noted that I “failed to mention that the government only prosecutes a small fraction of the people denied firearm purchases because of background checks. …We need to enforce the laws we have already.”

Actually, it’s not a federal crime for your background check to result in a denial – it’s a federal crime to lie about the information you submit for the background check, and Vice President Joe Biden did say the government lacks resources to go after those who do, even though it’s punishable by up to 10 years behind bars.

I agree that more efforts to punish those who are caught lying would be great, and that’s a very good topic for a future story; this story, however, was first and foremost about background checks keeping guns out of the hands of people who are legally prohibited from owning them. If they were caught lying, they didn’t get the guns and so the system worked at least that much.

I’ll dissect one of the more radical rants I’ve received, after the jump….
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