ATF Will Hit the Road in a Rolling Ballistic Forensic Lab

The new van is equipped with state-of-the-art forensic equipment to examine the markings left behind on casings expelled from fired guns, which can be matched to a database of crime-scene casings. It will travel to places where law enforcement might not have the resources to analyze ballistic evidence.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives unveiled a state-of-the art mobile forensic lab this week designed to travel around the country to help law enforcement probe cases involving guns, reports the Washington Post.  The new van is the first of its kind and will become part of the agency’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, which allows investigators to examine the markings left behind on casings expelled from fired guns and compare them to a database of other casings found at other crime scenes. The van will go to places where law enforcement might not have the resources to analyze ballistic evidence, said the ATF’s Jim Ferguson.

Like other facilities that analyze ballistic evidence, the van will allow technicians to capture digital images of the unique “fingerprint” that individual guns leave on spent bullets and cartridge cases and compare them to the network of “fingerprints” from other crime scenes. Ferguson said anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 items are entered into the network’s database monthly from 172 sites and 3,500 agencies nationwide, a jump from the roughly 10,000 to 12,000 monthly submissions two years ago.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Parents Charged With Murder; Claimed Toddler Shot Son in AZ

Wendy and Kansas Lavarnia claimed that their 2-year-old son had grabbed a loaded 9-millimeter handgun, pointed it at his 9-year-old brother and pulled the trigger. But the parents have been charged with murder in Phoenix after an investigation suggested that they had taken time to clean up the shooting scene before seeking help.

The New York Times says the story that Wendy Lavarnia told the police on Monday was horrifying: Her 2-year-old son had grabbed a loaded 9-millimeter handgun off a bed while her back was turned, pointed it at his 9-year-old brother and pulled the trigger. At home alone with her four children, she called the police right away. But the police now say that questions abound about the fatal shooting — including who shot the boy and whether it was an accident. On Tuesday, Lavarnia, 28, and her husband, Kansas Lavarnia, 31, were charged with first-degree murder in Phoenix in connection with Landen’s death. He died at a hospital on Tuesday afternoon, a day after he was shot.

Police said the charges are based on the great lengths the authorities believe the Lavarnias took to clean up the scene of the shooting — including the trunk of Mr. Lavarnia’s vehicle — before seeking help. Phoenix Police Sgt. Vincent C. Lewis said the parents’ extensive destruction of evidence had delayed critical and potentially lifesaving care. Lewis said authorities were still investigating who pulled the trigger on the gun that killed Landen, as well as how much time his parents allowed to pass before they called 911. They are also investigating what role, if any, the 2-year-old may have played.

from http://thecrimereport.org

Silencer Industry Seeks to Loosen Federal Regulations

Gun advocates say it’s an issue of protecting shooters’ hearing. Critics say mass shootings show that guns should be loud and their sound recognizable.

As a leading manufacturer and seller of gun silencers — or suppressors, as they’re more accurately called — SilencerCo of Utah wants to quiet guns. Congress may soon help in the effort, NPR reports. Silencers are one of the most heavily regulated products in the gun industry. Lawmakers are pushing legislation that would loosen those long-standing federal regulations, making silencers easier to buy for the general public. The silencer industry, gun-advocacy groups and some shooting-sports groups are backing the legislation, saying that quieter guns preserve and protect shooters’ hearing. The gun accessory, they argue, is unfairly regulated and vilified.

Gun-control groups and congressional Democrats are fighting against the legislation, citing mass shootings and assassinations of police as examples of why guns should be loud and their sound recognizable. Both argue it’s a matter of public safety. There are nearly a million registered silencers owned by people in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Jason Schauble of SilencerCo says they’re largely misunderstood. “Most people know what they see in movies,” he says. “And they see, oh, it’s always a spy, you know, somebody who’s involved in some sort of combat scenario [using them]. And then also, the sound that it makes is very, very quiet compared to what really happens.” A silencer doesn’t silence a gunshot. “It’s essentially a muffler for a gun,” Schauble says.

 

 

from http://thecrimereport.org

Sessions Vows Expansion of Anti-Gun ‘Project Exile’

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he will expand the use of Project Exile, a program to reduce gun violence that FBI Director James Comey helped start in Richmond two decades ago when he was a federal prosecutor there. “We’ve seen a priority that’s slipped away from firearms on the federal level,” Sessions told law enforcement officials. “Firearms prosecutions have gone down. This downward trend is going to end.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he will expand the use of Project Exile, a program to reduce gun violence that FBI Director James Comey helped start in Richmond two decades ago when he was a federal prosecutor there, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. “We’ve seen a priority that’s slipped away from firearms on the federal level,” Sessions said, speaking to law enforcement officials. “Firearms prosecutions have gone down. This downward trend is going to end.” Project Exile is a widely copied program credited with cutting Richmond’s violent crime 20 years ago by shipping firearm violators to far-off federal prisons.

Project Exile’s effectiveness has been questioned and has been criticized by some for disproportionately hitting low-income African Americans. Sessions cited a need to be sensitive but to fight crime where it is found. He said it is people in those communities who plead for help. Sessions praised local police agencies for dramatic crime rate reductions and promised more federal assistance in stopping recent increases in violent offenses and an opioid epidemic. He noted that crime had fallen to historic lows in Richmond and across the U.S. in recent decades. Between 2014 and 2015, the violent crime rate in the U.S. increased by 3 percent, the largest increase since 1991, in what he believes is a trend that needs to be reversed. “I think our police departments are better trained, our prosecutors are better trained, we just know how to fight crime more effectively,” he said. “Hundreds of thousands of people are alive today because of good police work — and because we’ve got a lot of murderers in jail. They’re not going to murder private citizens if they’re in the slammer, I can tell you that.”

from http://thecrimereport.org

FL To Strengthen ‘Stand Your Ground’ Self-Defense Law

Under a change pending in the legislature, the burden of proof would be shifted to prosecutors, and defendants would no longer have to present evidence to prove their claim of self-defense. Instead, prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt — the highest legal standard — that the use of force was not justified.

Florida, well known for its “Stand Your Ground” defense, is poised to alter its law significantly, making it easier for defendants to use it, the New York Times reports. The state legislature is on the verge of passing legislation that would bolster self-defense laws and shift the burden to prosecutors during immunity hearings to show that such laws should not apply. The Senate passed a revised bill yesterday, 23 to 15. The House will take in up in the coming weeks. Gov. Rick Scott, a strong proponent of gun rights, is expected to sign the final measure. “I think of all the people who will be saved because we did this right and put the burden of proof where it belongs,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, an author of the original 2005 Stand Your Ground law. “I’m sorry if that burden seems too heavy. That’s what we do in America. You are innocent until proven guilty.”

Florida became a symbol of strong self-defense laws after George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in 2012 and was acquitted when a jury found he was justified in pulling the trigger. If the new measure is enacted, Florida would become the first state to put the onus on prosecutors at immunity hearings. The burden of proof would be shifted to prosecutors, and defendants would no longer have to present evidence, typically by taking the stand, to prove their claim of self-defense. Instead, prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt — the highest legal standard — that the use of force was not justified.

from http://thecrimereport.org

IL Sentencing Reform Could Save $62M, State Says

Bill favored by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the police department would provide higher sentences for repeat gun felons but it could save the state $62 million over 10 years because the measure also would ease penalties for some drug crimes.

Legislation backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the police department to crack down on repeat gun felons could save the state $62 million over 10 years because the bill also would ease penalties for some drug crimes, reports the Chicago Tribune. The figure was calculated by the Illinois Department of Corrections at the request of senators as they weigh the legislation, which narrowly cleared a committee last week. The proposal would increase the sentencing guidelines for judges deciding punishment for repeat gun felons. Instead of a range of three to 14 years, judges would hand out sentences in the range of seven to 14 years. If judges wanted to depart from that guideline, they would have to explain why.

The measure incorporates changes aimed at lowering the state’s prison population, such as cutting penalties for people caught in possession of 100 grams or more of cocaine, heroin or fentanyl, relaxing the size of “drug free” zones from 1,000 to 500 feet, and requiring prosecutors to prove a connection between a drug crime and the protected area before that can be factored into toughening a sentence. Some Democrats said the tougher gun rules would target minority communities that would be better served with rehabilitation and jobs programs. The prisons agency said the $62 million would be saved as a result of 1,471 fewer offenders. It said the numbers are estimates because “the use of discretion when imposing longer sentences for firearms offenses is difficult to predict.”

from http://thecrimereport.org

NRA Foundation Running Ads Promoting Gorsuch

High Court nominee’s support of gun rights is featured in national ad campaign. The nomination hearing begins next Monday.

Before Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings are set to begin Monday, the National Rifle Association Freedom Action Foundation will air TV ads to highlight the importance of the Supreme Court’s makeup to gun rights, McClatchy Newspapers reports. “Four Supreme Court justices believe you have the right to defend yourselves with a gun. Four do not,” the narrator in the ad begins. “The men and women of the NRA will not let anti-gun elites strip away our rights or our freedom.”

The nearly $1 million ad buy will air across the nation on broadcast, cable and satellite. The ad will run today through March 22. President Trump nominated
Gorsuch to fill the seat vacated by the death of Antonin Scalia. “The Supreme Court played a pivotal role in affirming our Second Amendment rights in its historic Heller and McDonald decisions,” said Chris Cox, president of the NRA foundation. “But it’s critical for Americans to remember that their basic right to keep a gun in their homes for self-defense survived at the court by only one vote. This ad campaign highlights that important reality.” The NRA Freedom Action Foundation praised Trump’s nomination of Gorsuch, 49, who sits on a federal court of appeals that spans Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and parts of Oklahoma. Other special interest groups have aired ads for and against Gorsuch. Senate Democrats have vowed to filibuster Gorsuch’s appointment, requiring the Senate to secure 60 votes to confirm him.

from http://thecrimereport.org

Two Dozen Charged in NYC-VA Gun Trafficking Ring

One defendant was caught boasting about gun trafficking and mocking Virginia’s gun laws. “In Virginia, our laws are so little we can give guns away,” the man says. NYC prosecutor Eric Gonazalez says, “When you hear a trafficker boasting about the weak gun laws in Virginia, it is crystal clear that this needs to be addressed.”

More than 20 defendants were charged with running an interstate gun-trafficking ring that flooded 217 weapons into New York City, the Wall Street Journal reports. The 24 suspects, many tied to the Bloods gang in New York and Virginia, legally bought most of handguns, rifles and Tommy guns in Virginia and transported them to New York City by car or bus, said acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. The suspects sold the 217 guns to one New York undercover officer during an eight-month investigation. The officer paid between $800 and $1,200 for each handgun and $1,800 to $2,200 for assault weapons, with the haul totaling about $220,000.

“These defendants, many of them with violent criminal histories, make money by bringing deadly weapons from Virginia into our communities so they can pay for fancy clothes and jewelry,” Gonzalez said. New York police recorded just under 1,000 shootings in 2016, the fewest in the city since the early 1990s. Still, Gonzalez said most of the shootings in Brooklyn involved guns from out of state. In an audio recording, a defendant is heard boasting about gun trafficking and mocking Virginia’s gun laws to another man. “In Virginia, our laws are so little we can give guns away,” a man is heard saying. “When you hear a trafficker boasting about the weak gun laws in Virginia, it is crystal clear that this needs to be addressed,” Gonzalez said. A spokesman said VA Gov. Terry McAuliffe supports tighter gun regulations, including closing a “gun-show loophole” that allows people deemed unfit to buy guns in stores to purchase weapons at gun shows.

from http://thecrimereport.org

MO Settlement Called Powerful Message to Gun Sellers

Missouri gun store paid woman $2.2 million for selling her mentally ill daughter a gun that was used to kill her father, despite being warned it could happen. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says there are at least 10 similar civil cases pending, including in Florida, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Texas.

Janet Delana of rural Missouri was desperate to stop her mentally ill adult daughter from buying another handgun. She called the police, then the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives, then the FBI, the Washington Post reports. Finally, Delana called the gun shop a few miles from her home that had sold her daughter a black Hi-Point pistol a month earlier when her last disability check had arrived. Now, the next check was coming. Delana told the store her daughter was a paranoid schizophrenic who had tried to kill herself. Her father had taken away the other gun. The daughter never had been identified as a threat to herself or others by a judge or ordered to an extended mental hospital stay, which meant she could pass the background check for her gun. The store sold the woman a gun, and she killed her father.

 

Delana sued the Odessa Gun & Pawn shop for negligence in the 2012 sale and won a Missouri Supreme Court ruling that said nothing in federal law barred Delana’s type of lawsuit. Under state law, the court ruled that dealers can be held liable if they should have known a buyer was dangerous. Last fall, the gun shop agreed to pay Delana $2.2 million. Gun-control advocates say the state court’s decision, combined with Delana’s settlement, are significant victories for those who want to reduce gun violence by changing the financial equation for the firearms industry. The case, brought by the Washington, D.C.-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, provides a legal road map for similar lawsuits. The Brady Center says there are at least 10 other civil cases pending, including in Florida, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Texas. Jonathan Lowy of Brady said the Missouri case sends a “powerful message to the gun industry nationwide, and to the companies that insure them, that if you supply a dangerous person with a gun, you will pay the price.”

from http://thecrimereport.org

Gun Sales Down Sharply Under Trump, Except for Blacks

Donald Trump’s victory removed a sense of urgency to buy that some felt under President Obama, who tried to ban the sale of assault-style weapons. Still, Philip Smith of the National African American Gun Association said his group has seen a recent surge that appears to be driven by fear that the nation’s divisive politics could spiral into violence. “It’s like being racist is cool now,” he said.

Sales of guns and ammunition in the U.S. have dropped precipitously since Election Day, according to FBI statistics, trade groups, gun shop owners and corporate reports, the apparent result of electing a president who has vowed to protect gun rights, the Washington Post reports. That overall decline has been accompanied by some unusual growth: Gun clubs and shops that cater to black and LGBT clients say there has been moe interest in firearms since November among those who fear that racial and gender-based violence could increase during Donald Trump’s presidency. The slowdown in gun purchases, which came at the end of a record sales year, is due in part to promises that Trump and the Republican Congress made to expand gun rights. Firearms enthusiasts and salesmen said Trump’s victory removed a sense of urgency to buy that some felt under President Obama, who tried to ban the sale of assault-style weapons.

from http://thecrimereport.org