Happy Birthday Amelia Earhart

Today is the 117th birthday of aviatrix Amelia Earhart.

NAME: Amelia Earhart
BIRTH DATE: July 24, 1897
DEATH DATE: c. January 05, 1939
EDUCATION: Hyde Park High School, Columbia University

BEST KNOWN FOR: Amelia Earhart was the first female pilot to fly across the Atlantic and the first person to have flown both oceans. Her mysterious disappearance occurred in 1937.

Amelia Earhart was born on July 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas, in America’s heartland. She spent much of her early childhood in the upper-middle class household of her maternal grandparents. Amelia’s mother, Amelia “Amy” Otis, married a man who showed much promise, but had never been able to break the bonds of alcohol. Edwin Earhart was on a constant search to establish his career and put the family on a firm financial foundation. When the situation got bad, Amy would shuttle Amelia and her sister Muriel to their grandparents’ home. There they sought out adventures, exploring the neighborhood, climbing trees, hunting for rats, and taking breathtaking rides on Amelia’s sled.

Even after the family was reunited when Amelia was 10, Edwin constantly struggled to find and maintain gainful employment. This caused the family to move around, and Amelia attended several different schools. She showed early aptitude in school for science and sports, though it was difficult to do well academically and make friends. In 1915, Amy separated once again from her husband, and moved Amelia and her sister to Chicago to live with friends. While there, Amelia attended Hyde Park High School, where she excelled in chemistry. Her father’s inability to be the provider for the family led Amelia to become independent and not rely on someone else to “take care” of her.

After graduation, Amelia Earhart spent a Christmas vacation visiting her sister in Toronto, Canada. After seeing wounded soldiers returning from World War I, she volunteered as a nurse’s aide for the Red Cross. Earhart came to know many of the wounded who were pilots. She developed a strong admiration for aviators, spending much of her free time watching the Royal Flying Corps practicing at the airfield nearby. In 1919, Earhart enrolled in medical studies at Columbia University. She quit a year later to be with her parents, who had reunited in California.

Amelia Earhart’s public persona presented a gracious, if somewhat shy, woman who displayed remarkable talent and bravery. Yet deep inside, Earhart harbored a burning desire to distinguish herself as different from the rest of the world. She was an intelligent and competent pilot who never panicked or lost her nerve, but she was not a brilliant aviator. Her skills kept pace with aviation during the first decade of the century but, as technology moved forward with sophisticated radio and navigation equipment, Earhart continued to fly by instinct.

She recognized her limitations and continuously worked to improve her skills, but the constant promotion and touring never gave her the time she needed to catch up. Recognizing the power of her celebrity, she strove to be an example of courage, intelligence, and self-reliance. She hoped her influence would help topple negative stereotypes about women, and open doors for them in every field.
Sometime before their marriage, Earhart and Putnam worked on secret plans for a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. By early 1932, they had made their preparations. They announced that on the fifth anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic, Amelia would attempt the same feat. On the morning of May 20, 1932, she took off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, with that day’s copy of the local newspaper to confirm the date of the flight.

Almost immediately, the flight ran into difficulty as she encountered thick clouds and ice on the wings. After about 12 hours the conditions got worse, and the plane began to experience mechanical difficulties. She knew she wasn’t going to make it to Paris as Lindbergh had, so she started looking for a new place to land. She found a pasture just outside the small village of Culmore, in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, and successfully landed. The nearly 15-hour flight established her as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. As a result, Earhart won many honors, including the Gold Medal from the National Geographic Society as presented by President Hoover, the Distinguished Flying Cross from the U.S. Congress, and the Cross of the Knight of the Legion of Honor from the French government.

In 1935, Amelia Earhart joined the faculty at Purdue University as a female career consultant, and technical advisor to the Department of Aeronautics. This partnership helped finance the purchase of a Lockheed Electra L-10E plane. While she would not be the first person to circumnavigate the earth, she decided she would be the first to do it around the equator. She pulled together a top-rated crew of three men: Captain Harry Manning, Fred Noonan, and Paul Mantz. Manning had been the captain of the President Roosevelt, which brought her back from Europe in 1928, and would become Earhart’s first navigator. Noonan had vast experience in both marine and flight navigation, and was to be the second navigator. Mantz, a Hollywood stunt pilot, and was chosen to be Earhart’s technical advisor.

The original plan was to take off from Oakland, California, and fly west to Hawaii. From there, the group would fly across the Pacific Ocean to Australia. Then they would cross the sub-continent of India, on to Africa, then to Florida, and back to California.
On March 17, 1937, they took off from Oakland on the first leg. They experienced some periodic problems flying across the Pacific, and landed in Hawaii for some repairs at the United States Navy’s Field on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. After three days, the Electra began its takeoff, but something went wrong. Earhart lost control, and looped the plane on the runway. How this happened is still the subject of some controversy. Several witnesses, including an Associated Press journalist, said they saw a tire blow. Other sources, including Paul Mantz, indicated it was pilot error. Though no one was seriously hurt, the plane was severely damaged and had to be shipped back to California for extensive repairs.

In the interim, Earhart and Putnam secured additional funding for a new flight. The stress of the delay and the grueling fund-raising appearances left Amelia exhausted. By the time the plane was repaired, weather patterns and global wind changes required alterations to the flight plan. This time Earhart and her crew would fly east. Captain Harry Manning would not join the team, due to previous commitments. Paul Mantz was also absent, reportedly due to a contract dispute.

After flying from Oakland to Miami, Florida, Earhart and Noonan took off on June 1st from Miami with much fanfare and publicity. The plane flew toward Central and South America, turning east for Africa. From there, the plane crossed the Indian Ocean and finally touched down in Lae, New Guinea, on June 29, 1937. About 22,000 miles of the journey had been completed. The remaining 7,000 miles would take place over the Pacific.

In Lae, Earhart contracted dysentery that lasted for days. While she recuperated, several necessary adjustments were made to the plane. Extra amounts of fuel were stowed on board. The parachutes were packed away, for there would be no need for them while flying along the vast and desolate Pacific Ocean.

The flyer’s plan was to head to Howland Island, 2,556 miles away, situated between Hawaii and Australia. A flat sliver of land 6,500 feet long, 1,600 feet wide, and no more than 20 ft. above the ocean waves, the island would be hard to distinguish from the similar looking cloud shapes. To meet this challenge, Earhart and Noonan had an elaborate plan with several contingencies. Celestial navigation would be used to track their route and keep them on course. In case of overcast skies, they had radio communication with a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, Itasca, stationed off Howland Island. They could also use their maps, compass, and the position of the rising sun to make an educated guess in finding their position relative to Howland Island. After aligning themselves with Howland’s correct latitude, they would run north and south looking for the island and the smoke plume to be sent up by the Itasca. They even had emergency plans to ditch the plane if need be, believing the empty fuel tanks would give the plane some buoyancy, as well as time to get into their small inflatable raft to wait for rescue.

Earhart and Noonan set out from Lae on July 2, 1937, at 12:30 PM, heading east toward Howland Island. Though the flyers seemed to have a well thought-out plan, several early decisions led to grave consequences later on. Radio equipment with shorter wavelength frequencies were left behind, presumably to allow more room for fuel canisters. This equipment could broadcast radio signals farther distances. Due to inadequate quantities of high-octane fuel, the Electra carried about 1,000 gallons—50 gallons short of full capacity.
The Electra’s crew ran into difficulty almost from the start. Witnesses to the July 2 take off reported that a radio antenna may have been damaged. It is also believed that due to the extensive overcast conditions, Noonan might have had extreme difficulty with celestial navigation. If that weren’t enough, it was later discovered that the flyers were using maps that may have been inaccurate. According to experts, evidence shows that the charts used by Noonan and Earhart placed Howland Island nearly six miles off its actual position.

These circumstances led to a series of problems that couldn’t be solved. As Earhart and Noonan reached the supposed position of Howland Island, they maneuvered into their north and south tracking route to find the island. They looked for visual and auditory signals from the Itasca, but for various reasons radio communication was very poor that day. There was also confusion between Earhart and the Itasca over which frequencies to use, and a misunderstanding as to the agreed upon check-in time; the flyers were operating on Greenwich Civil Time and the Itasca was operating on the naval time zone, which set their schedules 30 minutes apart.

On the morning of July 3, 1937, at 7:20 AM, Amelia reported her position, placing the Electra on course at 20 miles southwest of the Nukumanu Islands. At 7:42 AM the Itasca picked up this message from the Earhart, “We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.” The ship replied but there was no indication that Earhart heard this. The flyers’ last communication was at 8:43 AM. Though the transmission was marked as “questionable,” it is believed Earhart and Noonan thought they were running along the north, south line. However, Noonan’s chart of Howland’s position was off by five nautical miles. The Itasca released its oil burners in an attempt to signal the flyers, but they apparently did not see it. In all likelihood, their tanks ran out of fuel and they had to ditch at sea.


World AIDS Day

"Stop AIDS" by Keith Haring

“Stop AIDS” by Keith Haring

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the first World AIDS Day.  AIDS has killed more than 25 million people worldwide between 1981 and 2007.  Nearly 1.2 million people are living with HIV in the U.S. and one in five of those are unaware of their infections.  Knowing is everything, make an HIV test part of your routine physical.

It is not a gay disease, it is not an African disease, it is not a junkie disease, it is not a disease that is given to people who behave badly or have unacceptable lifestyles, and it is not God’s punishment. It does not discriminate, it just kills. Some of the most influential people in my life are HIV positive, or I should say most of the most influential people in my life are HIV positive.

"Silence = Death" by Keith Haring

“Silence = Death” by Keith Haring

I have been donating my time, money, and my gently-used items to Lifelong AIDS Alliance in Seattle for years.  Lifelong Aids Alliance does great work for people living with HIV and other chronic illnesses.  There are similar services in every community across the world, find one near you and see what type of donations (canned goods, clothing, time, money) they take and give to them the next time.

  • Here is a link to their donation page:  http://llaa.org/donatenow $54 – Provides one week of fresh meals and groceries for a person living with HIV/AIDS or other chronic illnesses.
  • Visit the Digital AIDS Quilt and create your own panel:  http://www.2015quilt.com/ While you are there, make a pledge to do what you can to help.
  • Tweet/share/re-blog all or any part of this post, increase awareness and involvement with your friends.

I am who I am today because of the amazingly talented, fiercely devoted, and ridiculously hilarious guys that have influenced me to be creatively fearless, to love unapologetically, and to be true to what is important to me.  Every birthday candle I blow out, every coin I throw into a fountain, every time I am required to make a wish, I wish for their health and a cure to be found.

I, along with the world, miss Anthony Perkins, Pedro Zamora, Freddie Mercury, Alvin Ailey, Rudolf Nureyev, Halston, Keith Haring, Herb Ritts, Isaac Asimov, Randy Shilts, Dorian Corey, Leigh Bowery, Robert Mapplethorpe, and many more.

The Global HIV/AIDS Crisis Today

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has become one of the world’s most serious health and development challenges:

  • 33.4 million are currently living with HIV/AIDS.
  • More than 25 million people have died of AIDS worldwide since the first cases were reported in 1981.
  • In 2008, 2 million people died due to HIV/AIDS, and another 2.7 million were newly infected.
  • While cases have been reported in all regions of the world, almost all those living with HIV (97%) reside in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most people living with HIV or at risk for HIV do not have access to prevention, care, and treatment, and there is still no cure.
  • The HIV epidemic not only affects the health of individuals, it impacts households, communities, and the development and economic growth of nations. Many of the countries hardest hit by HIV also suffer from other infectious diseases, food insecurity, and other serious problems.
  • Despite these challenges, there have been successes and promising signs. New global efforts have been mounted to address the epidemic, particularly in the last decade. Prevention has helped to reduce HIV prevalence rates in a small but growing number of countries and new HIV infections are believed to be on the decline. In addition, the number of people with HIV receiving treatment in resource poor countries has increased 10-fold since 2002, reaching an estimated 4 million by 2008.

Happy Birthday RFK

Today is Robert Kennedy’s 88th birthday, had he not died 45 years ago at the age of 43.    Some men accomplish a lifetime of good in just half a lifetime, I believe RFK was one of those men.  Please read/watch/listen to his speech below and let it influence your life, if only for today.


NAME: Robert Kennedy
OCCUPATION: Government Official
BIRTH DATE: November 20, 1925
DEATH DATE: June 06, 1968
EDUCATION: Harvard University, University of Virginia Law School
PLACE OF BIRTH: Brookline, Massachusetts
PLACE OF DEATH: Los Angeles, California
Full Name: Robert Francis Kennedy
Nickname: Bobby Kennedy

Best Known For:  Robert Kennedy was Attorney General during his brother JFK’s administration. He later served as a U.S. Senator and was assassinated during his run for the presidency.

Robert F. Kennedy’s speech on the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. was given on April 4, 1968, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Kennedy, the United States senator from New York, was campaigning to earn the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination when he learned of King’s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. Earlier that day Kennedy had spoken at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend and at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Before boarding a plane to attend campaign rallies in Indianapolis, Kennedy learned that King had been shot. When he arrived, Kennedy was informed that King had died. Despite fears of riots and concerns for his safety, Kennedy went ahead with plans to attend a rally at 17th and Broadway in the heart of Indianapolis’s African-American ghetto. That evening Kennedy addressed the crowd, many of whom had not heard about King’s assassination. Instead of the rousing campaign speech they expected, Kennedy offered brief, impassioned remarks for peace that is considered to be one of the great public addresses of the modern era.

Kennedy was the first to publicly inform the audience of King’s assassination, causing members of the audience to scream and wail in disbelief.  Several of Kennedy’s aides were worried that the delivery of this information would result in a riot. Once the audience quieted down, Kennedy spoke of the threat of disillusion and divisiveness at King’s death and reminded the audience of King’s efforts to “replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.”  Kennedy acknowledged that many in the audience would be filled with anger, especially since the assassin was believed to be a white man. He empathized with the audience by referring to the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, by a white man. The remarks surprised Kennedy aides, who had never heard him speak of his brother’s death in public.  Quoting the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus, whom he had discovered through his brother’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, Kennedy said, “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”  Kennedy then delivered one of his most well-remembered remarks: “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black. To conclude, Kennedy reiterated his belief that the country needed and wanted unity between blacks and whites and encouraged the country to “dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world.”  He finished by asking the audience members to pray for “our country and our people.”  Rather than exploding in anger at the tragic news of King’s death, the crowd dispersed quietly.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening, because I have some — some very sad news for all of you — Could you lower those signs, please? — I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world; and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black — considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with — be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poem, my — my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King — yeah, it’s true — but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love — a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past, but we — and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it’s not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

Thank you very much.

Despite rioting in other major American cities, Indianapolis remained calm that night after Kennedy’s remarks, which is believed to have been in part because of the speech.  In stark contrast to Indianapolis, riots erupted in more than one hundred U.S. cities including Chicago, New York City, Boston, Detroit, Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore, killing 35 and injuring more than 2,500. Across the country, approximately seventy thousand army and National Guard troops were called out to restore order.

Two months later, Robert Kennedy was shot while exiting the ballroom through kitchen of The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.  He died early the next morning

The speech itself has been listed as one of the greatest in American history, ranked 17th by communications scholars in a survey of 20th century American speeches.

Letters of Note: Kiss my ass

In 1970, shortly after being elected Attorney General of Alabama, 29-year-old Bill Baxley reopened the 16th Street Church bombing case — a racially motivated act of terrorism that resulted in the deaths of four African-American girls in 1963 and a fruitless investigation, and which marked a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. Baxley‘s unwavering commitment to the case attracted much hostility, particularly from local Klansmen, and in 1976 he received a threatening letter of protest from white supremacist Edward R. Fields — founder of the “National States’ Rights Party” and “Grand Dragon” of the New Order Knights of the Ku Klux Klan — in which he was accused of reopening the case for tactical reasons.

Bill Baxley’s famously succinct reply, which was typed on his official letterhead, can be seen below.

The next year, a member of the United Klans of America named Robert Chambliss was found guilty of the murders. He remained in prison until his death in 1985.

Full transcript follows.



February 28, 1976

“Dr.” Edward R. Fields
National States Rights Party
P. O. Box 1211
Marietta, Georgia 30061

Dear “Dr.” Fields:

My response to your letter of February 19, 1976, is – kiss my ass.


Attorney General


Dining Out For Life – Fogon Cocina Mexicana


Dining Out For Life returns on Thursday, April 25th, 2013 for its amazing 20th year! When you dine at a participating restaurant on this day, a portion of your bill will be donated to Lifelong AIDS Alliance and the fight against illness and hunger in the greater Seattle/King County/Puget Sound area.

Find participating Seattle restaurants HERE. Dining Out For Life is the perfect excuse to grab dinner with friends and family, plan on lunch with colleagues, or simply grab a coffee on your way to work. If you cannot make it out on the 25th or live in an area that is not participating, you can donate online HERE.

This year, I will be at Fogon Cocina Mexicana, the restaurant owned by some really great friends. This is the first year they are participating and they are generously donating 50% of their proceeds from the event. FIFTY PERCENT! That is absolutely amazing. Eating at Fogon will help 20% more than almost any other restaurant that night. Even if you cannot make it to Fogon on the night of the event, you should swing by for some great Mexican food/drinks the next time you are in the neighborhood. Be sure to thank them for their support.


Here are their details:

Fogon Cocina Mexicana
600 E Pine (Pine and Belmont on Capitol Hill)
Seattle, WA 98122
(206) 320-7777
If you are in a giving mood, please click on over and sponsor my friend Pete as he rides his bike 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles for the AIDS Life Cycle Ride to End AIDS.  You can find out more and donate HERE.

Pray on, Praya

hrc logo

When Polling Turns Against You, Voters Reject You, and the Parties Abandon You, There’s Only One Thing You Can Do to Ban Gay Marriage

Posted by on Mon, Mar 25, 2013 at 11:07 AM


You can pray for the Supreme Court to strike down gay marriage. You can pray the justices will fear the wrath of a vengeful god. You can pray your bigoted little heart out. So that’s what Traditional Values Coalition president Andrea Lafferty, who has spent every other option, begs you to do in a letter:

In Washington this Tuesday, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear a landmark case that could redefine and ultmately abolish marriage as we know it. So I am asking you for one “donation” as we gear up to protect marriage here in Washington.


I know that’s not a normal request. This isn’t a normal time. As you know, the Supreme Court of the United States isn’t a legislative body. No amount of lobbying, no amount of protesting short of millions is going to sway the Justices of the court other than sound argument and conscience—and the impact of prayer. … They need our prayers. Your prayers.

Over the weekend and thru next week, take a moment to lift up this nation and our Supreme Court in prayer. Pray that God will allow them to be open to His word. Pray for wisdom. Pray for fear of the Lord. Pray for the millions who will be impacted by the decision of the Supreme Court. Pray for healing across America. Pray for a restoration of all things to Christ.

Pray for TVC and our mission. Pray to protect marriage.

The letter doesn’t end with a prayer, of course. It ends with a “donate here” button. And weirdly, their donation website isn’t collecting prayers.

The Ultimate Guide To The Gun Safety Debate

When was the last time you went a day without hearing about sore sort of senseless gun violence?  One whole day?  How many people need to be killed before fire arm regulation laws are reviewed?

At this point, the NRA, it’s members, and the politicians that it has purchased should be considered domestic terrorists, holding the United States citizens hostage, paralyzed with fear and tricked into thinking that more guns makes everyone safer.

Use your voice. Say something. Post/tweet/blog/email something. Be involved.  Contact your elected officials and tell them to do their jobs and protect their votes.  If they cannot provide a straight yes or no answer as to where they stand on military style assault rifle and extended magazine clip regulation, let them know you will vote for someone who can.

It is so very sad to me to see people that have had their lives dramatically changed by gun violence trying desperately to change the laws to make sure no one has to go what they have gone through and be ignored and discounted.  They are trying to save lives, they are trying to keep lives from being shattered.  It is disheartening to know that the message can’t be heard over the NRA propaganda scare tactic bullshit.


The Ultimate Guide To The Gun Safety Debate

By Zack Beauchamp on Jan 31, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Since the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the debate over gun violence in the Untied States has begun in earnest. Some common talking points can and should be easily dismissed — the idea that regulating access to guns is always unconstitutional or makes tyranny more likely, to take two examples. But not every argument against expanded gun regulation is ridiculous. There are some, based on the evidence about and history of gun use in the United States, that are worth taking more seriously. You’re likely to hear them a lot over the course of the coming debate. Here’s a list of some of the more commonly made, more serious arguments against gun regulation — and why they fail to effectively make the case against new laws:

“Assault weapon” is a meangingless term. || The last assault weapons ban failed. || Assault weapons don’t kill many people. || Deaths went down after the ban expired. || How can background checks stop killings?
Are background checks unfair? || High-capacity magazines don’t assist in mass killings.
People need high-capacity magazines to defend themselves. || The ban on high-capacity magazines failed.
More guns, less crime. || Why do gun-regulating cities have more crime?



1. “The law’s ban on some so-called assault weapons is nonsensical. All such weaponry terminology means is that they are semi-automatic weapons (which most guns are) with some military-style external features.”

These so-called “external features” not only themselves allow for faster rates of fire and other more lethal uses of the guns, but also serve as effective proxy definitions for the sort of weapons best suited to kill people as efficiently as possible. The definition of “assault weapon” in the new federal ban proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) with respect to semi-automatic rifles and pistols is focused on two kinds of each. The rifles are civilian equivalents of “assault rifles,” the main class of rifle used by modern militaries. “Civilian” versions are distinguished only by their inability to fire either automatically or in bursts without a conversion kit. The pistols have features that make them liable to be converted to full automatic versions (that is, into submachine guns) or otherwise enhance their lethality (e.g., allow for faster rate of fire).

The Feinstein law picks out those sorts of weapons in two ways. First, it bans specific guns (like the AR-15s used by James Holmes in Aurora and Adam Lanza in Newtown) that are particularly deadly. Many of these guns are civilian equivalents of military assault rifles, because — as assault rifle expert C.J. Chivers puts it — these guns were “conjured to form solely for the task of allowing men to more efficiently kill other men” because they are “smaller, lighter in weight, more tactically versatile and require a lighter per-man effective ammunition load than the infantry rifles that preceded them.” The Feinstein provisions, unlike in the 1994 federal ban, specify that “altered facsimiles with the capability of any such weapon thereof” are also banned, so taking out a single screw and calling the weapon something different would not allow manufacturers to skirt the ban. The second provision defines generic features — like barrel shrouds that allow for faster fire or (for pistols) magazines outside the pistol grip — and bans any gun that has more than one of them and a detachable magazine (the old ban allowed a maximum of two features, making it easier to skirt).

These aren’t merely cosmetic features: they’re the ones that mark guns optimized for effective performance in combat-style situations. They also mark guns easily convertible to full automatic fire, like the TEC-9 submachine guns once favored in gang killings. One such kit is fully legal, despite the 1934 National Firearms Act banning the possession of automatic weapons without a permit. The kit produced by the company Slide Fire product allows you to turn your AR or AK series assault rifle into a rapid-fire machine without technically running afoul of the federal definition of “machine gun.”

The notion that assault rifles are similar in caliber to hunting rifles, and hence no more dangerous, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny for similar reasons. As the California Attorney General’s office explains, “Caliber has no bearing on a weapon’s status as a series weapon and should be disregarded when making an identification. For example, upper receiver conversion kits are available to convert almost any AR series weapon into .45 ACP, .40 S&W, 7.62 X 39 mm, 9 mm, 10 mm, or .223 caliber.”

2. “The last assault-weapons ban didn’t work.

There is evidence that the 1994 federal ban saved lives despite a series of loopholes closed in the Feinstein bill and several state bans. Though there isn’t reliable data on the number of people killed by assault weapons in the United States, there is strong evidence from the Mexican border that both California’s assault weapons ban the federal assault weapon ban lowered the homicide rate. The clearest comes in a 2012 academic paper that treated the expiration of the federal assault weapon ban in 2004 as a natural experiment — California still had its assault weapon ban, but Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona didn’t have equivalents. The authors tracked homicides and weapon seizures in the Mexican provinces bordering the states, finding disproportionately lower homicide rates in provinces near California. This difference remained when other potential causes (like police presence) were accounted for, suggesting the federal and California bans had successful kept assault weapons out of the hands of cartels and other criminals. The expiration of the federal law, on this paper’s model, has gotten roughly 239 people killed on the Mexican border per year since 2004. This is consistent with another paper that found “the expiration of the AWB is responsible for at least 16.4 percent of the increase in the homicide rate in Mexico between 2004 and 2008.”

The 1994 ban, according to a Department of Justice review, also appears to have caused the percentage of crimes involving assault weapons in some major US cities to drop from 72 percent to 17 percent.

While it’s true that the same review couldn’t find support for the idea that the Assault Weapons Ban reduced crime in 2004, the authors concluded that there simply hadn’t been enough time or data to come to a strong conclusion. The more recent Mexican studies may have filled this gap.

3. “So-called ‘assault weapons’ are nowhere near the root of the American violence problem.”

The reality is that even a minor percentage decline in fatalities could means hundreds of fewer people killed per year. Estimates about the percentage of crimes involving assault weapons range from two to eight percent. But if the Feinstein law could make a dent in that number, that’s still a big deal. Consider one estimate, based on federal gun trace data, that the original federal assault weapons ban reduced the national percentage of gun crimes involving assault weapons from about five percent to about two percent. Assuming that, because assault weapons are rarer and deadlier and hence more likely to be responsible for homicides, this translated to a one percent decline in the homicide rate. That’s 110 fewer murders per year given the roughly 11,000 Americans killed by gun homicide every year. We can debate whether would-be murderers would simply use other types of guns, and whether they’d be as deadly, but the point is that even a small percentage drop in gun homicides nationwide would be a huge victory.

4. “Violent crime has decreased 17 percent since the assault weapons ban expired..”

This one is just an abuse of statistics — just because violence is declining doesn’t mean it couldn’t be declining faster. It’s true that violent crime as a whole, including gun homicides, has declined over the course of the past decade. This suggests that gun laws aren’t the only factors that determine the crime rate — see Kevin Drum’s fantastic series on lead and crime for a clear explanation of the other causes that might’ve mattered.

Moreover, when you compare different states with different gun laws at the same time, you find states with tighter gun regulations (including assault weapon bans) have significantly lower rates of firearm death. This suggests that, independent of whatever good fortune the United States has seen the past decade, better gun laws could significantly accelerate decline in lives lost to gunfire.


1. “How is this supposed to prevent mass murder?”

First, some mass shooters do have criminal or worrisome mental health records, like James Holmes and Seung-Hui Cho. Both Holmes and Cho bought their weapons legally. Cho even passed a background check despite being ruled “an imminent danger to himself because of mental illness” because of Virginia’s lax standards about what counts as a red flag for purposes of a background check.

Second, there’s another kind of mass murder — the 11,000 gun homicides per year — that improving our background check and inspection system could unequivocally help prevent. One percent of gun dealers sell half of the guns used in crimes nationally, which other evidence indicates have been deterred in the past by stepped-up ATF enforcement. Domestic violence perpetrators, people with substance abuse problems, and individuals convicted of other violent crimes are all more likely to commit firearm crimes, yet they can freely purchase a weapon in a private sale at, say, a gun show, no questions asked. In a finding that should surprise no one, 80 percent of firearms used in crimes appear to have been purchased privately. State and city-level comparisons indicate that “states which do not regulate private gun sales, adopt permit-to-purchase licensing systems, or have gun owner accountability measures, like mandatory reporting of gun thefts, export significantly more guns used by criminals to other states that have constrained the supply of guns for criminals by adopting strict gun sales regulations.”

It’s hard to estimate a specific number of lives that would be saved by requiring background checks on all sales, requiring all states and federal organizations to input criminal and drug records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (they don’t have to, currently), and giving the ATF more power to trace and sting “bad apple” gun dealers and traffickers, but this mountain of evidence suggests that the effect of such measures could be substantial.

2. “Although better enforcement of existing restrictions on gun ownership sounds unobjectionable, it would unjustly deny millions of people the right to armed self-defense.”

Background checks are hardly onerous and likely won’t “unjustly” disqualify that many people. A check usually process very quickly at the point-of-sale and even abnormally long wait times top out around five days. It’s hardly an excessive burden for someone seeking a deadly weapon they’ll then be able to own for life.

But does current federal law unfairly bar certain groups of people from acquiring guns? Currently, only one percent of sales are blocked by background checks, the vast majority of which because the purchaser has committed or been indicted for a felony, is a fugitive from justice, or is a perpetrator of domestic violence. Presumably, both the percentage and absolute number of people denied would go up if the background check system were improved, but the breakdown suggest that only a minute number of (for example) harmless, recreational drug users would have their access to guns restricted because they failed a drug test.

Moreover, it’s critically important that felons be restricted from accessing firearms. The New York Timessurveyed felons and people convicted of “domestic violence misdemeanors” who (as a consequence of state-level, NRA-backed legislation loosening restoration standards) regained their gun rights. It found that 13 percent went on to commit crimes, half of which were felonies. As the Times notes, there’s also evidence that denying handguns to people arrested for or convicted of felonies reduces their likelihood to commit future crimes by 20 to 30 percent.

It is almost certainly true that universal background checks and a more complete database of disqualified persons will lead to less people being able to buy guns legally. Some fraction of them likely wouldn’t commit crimes — your average pot smoker isn’t the violent type. But the misguided excesses of the war on drugs shouldn’t obscure the fact that, right now, domestic abusers, violent felons, gang members, and drug addicts can buy guns with impunity. The evidence is very clear that members of these groups are more likely to commit gun crimes and that improved background checks can limit their ability to do so, saving lives in the process. A minor limitation on a tiny percentage of Americans’ ability to buy guns seems like a trade-off that’s easily worth making in light of America’s gun homicide rate.


1. “High-capacity magazines…require less frequent reloading, but are more likely to jam, and at any rate changing magazines is not difficult even for the untrained.”

There are plenty of large capacity magazines that aren’t more likely to jam that could majorly amplify the death toll in a mass shooting. While it’s true that 100-round magazines are more likely to jam, most high-capacity magazines aren’t nearly that large, and hence can use mechanisms that don’t appreciably increase the risk of jamming. The modern US Army M-16, for example, has a 30-round magazine, as does a standard AK-47 (a gun famous for jamming rarely). And as magazine technology improves, larger magazine sizes become more practicable: as Josh Sugarmann, executive director and founder of the Violence Policy Center, told ThinkProgress, evidence “from gun magazines and industry publications [suggests] the trend is towards higher capacity magazines.”

The Feinstein law, then, bans magazines that hold more than ten bullets for a reason. Suppose a shooter had the same assault weapon, but had four magazines or clips that could hold thirty rather than ten bullets. That shooter would have 80 more bullets, or three times the number, than he would have without the high-capacity magazine ban. Since magazine size doesn’t make much of a difference for how many magazines an individual shooter could carry on their person, limiting access to high-capacity magazines could result in a shooter carrying significantly fewer bullets — and hence being able to fire at significantly fewer people.

2. “Magazine size is more likely to matter for people defending against aggressors.”

Not only is this assertion dubious on its face, but it’s bad justification for making policy given how rare defensive gun use is. Presumably someone who’s attacking a school or a family would have more people to shoot, and hence require more bullets than the people trying to stop just him. But debating the nuances of this very specific hypothetical situation misses the point broader point that it doesn’t make sense to fixate on these extraordinarily uncommon cases.

The often-cited number that guns are used defensively 2.5 million times a year in the United States is mathematically impossible (more on that later). A survey of criminals who had been shot in a Washington, DC jail indicated that, far from being injured by their victims, they had almost all been hit by other criminals. These data suggest, when combined with other evidence, that defensive gun use is quite rare: “to believe fully the claims of millions of self-defense gun uses each year would mean believing that decent law-abiding citizens shot hundreds of thousands of criminals. But the data from emergency departments belie this claim, unless hundreds of thousands of wounded criminals are afraid to seek medical care. But virtually all criminals who have been shot went to the hospital, and can describe in detail what happened there.”

There are at least two other reasons to believe that defensive gun use is rare. First, people very commonly label criminal and/or aggressive behavior as “defensive” when asked in surveys, for somewhat obvious reasons. Second, many crimes, like most sexual assaults, simply aren’t likely to be deterred or stopped by guns.

Defending one’s family is surely a legitimate use for a gun, but the fact that a high-capacity magazine *might* be useful in some subset of these already-exceptional cases isn’t a good reason to permit their widespread ownership if keeping them legal also comes with real, identifiable costs in human lives.

3. “In the latest incarnation of Mrs. Feinstein’s ban, we would see the return of an ammunition limit that had no proven impact on crime while it was in effect from 1994-2004.”

It very likely the ban reduced the supply of high capacity magazines to criminals and a decent chance it prevented unnecessary deaths. While it’s hard to separate the effects of federal and state high-capacity magazine bans on crime from assault weapons bans (they’re generally enacted at the same time), there is excellent evidence that the federal ban on high-capacity magazines ended up restricting access to them. The Washington Posttracked police seizures of high-capacity magazines in Virginia during and after the federal assault weapons ban was in effect. The Post‘s reporters found a steady decline in number of magazines recovered from 1994-2004 (when the law was in effect), but saw the trend halt and then reverse after the ban expired, indicating more criminals were getting high-capacity magazines. One gun expert who was “skeptical” that the federal ban worked said the Post’s evidence changed his mind; its data was “about as clear an example as we could ask for of evidence that the ban was working.”

There is also some old, very tentative evidence that “that victims killed with guns having large-capacity magazines tend to have more bullet wounds than victims killed with other firearms, and that mass murders with assault weapons tend to involve more victims than those with other firearms.” While this evidence is, again, rudimentary, it suggests that a renewed, effective ban on high-capacity magazines might very well save more lives.


1. “More guns, less crime.”

The best evidence we have says the opposite.

The “guns reduce crime” argument gets made in two ways, often together: 1) the presence of more guns deters crime and 2) concealed carry laws allow citizens to stop crime where they encounter it. The two main sources cited for these claims are John Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime, and a series of papers written by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz suggesting that Americans used guns defensively 2.5 million times per year.

The overwhelming consensus among scholars is that Lott, Kleck, and Gertz are wrong. In a blockbuster article after the Newtown shooting, Salon‘s Alex Seitz-Wald reviewed this research in great detail, finding a series of glaring methodological flaws and a wealth of evidence suggesting more guns led, in fact, to more gun death. It’s really worth reading Seitz-Wald’s piece in full, but to summarize a few salient points: Lott has been unable to produce the survey data supporting his major claim about guns and concealed carry reducing crime, while independent reviews of the evidence have come to opposite conclusions. Kleck and Gertz fail to account for the fact that people often falsely self-report as using guns defensively when they’re actually intimidating people a la George Zimmerman and the Kleck-Gertz numbers mathematically require assuming “burglary victims use their guns in self-defense more than 100 percent of the time,” among other problems.

Suffice to say, more guns are not the answer to gun violence.

2. “If gun control works, Chicago ought to be safe.”

This argument is mistaken as a matter of both statistics and law. While a simple glance at rough homicide rates suggests very little difference in crime rates between cities with strict gun laws and those without, the relevant research strongly suggests that ease of acquiring guns legally increases the local gun homicide rate. A 2001 paper by Mark Duggan estimated county-by-county gun ownership, finding that counties with higher rates of gun ownership had higher gun homicide rates. A second paper, which used a different measure of gun ownership, came to a similar conclusion. Both papers found that only gun homicide rates — and a county’s other homicide or broader crime rates — is affected by gun ownership, suggesting that easy access to guns increases gun homicide by getting more guns to more people.

A third, more recent paper goes further, finding that gun ownership increased gun homicides even when you control for levels of urbanization and poverty. That is, cities with more guns, all other things being equal, will have more homicide deaths, as will poorer areas. This points to the basic statistical error in the “what about Chicago?” argument — the question isn’t whether gun regulation is the only or principal determinant of gun homicide rates, it’s whether there’d be more or less gun death in Chicago if Chicago and nearby counties did a better job restricting access to guns. Given that states with tighter gun laws also have less guns (and less gun deaths), it seems the same would hold true (again, if you hold other variables like poverty and overall crime rate constant) on the city-to-city level. Moreover, studies of cities with strong background check and illegal sales enforcement provisions have found clear evidence that imposing these measures lowered the number of guns being diverted to criminals.

There’s another, well-known problem with this conceit — lax federal and state laws make it easy to purchase guns from nearby, underregulated counties or states and bring them into cities. In Chicago, for example, gun sellers will simply set up shop just outside the city limits and sell to traffickers who bring the weapons into the city. That’s one of the key arguments for the sort of federal action being considered today, especially universal background checks at nearby gun shows to prevent this sort of trafficking. A uniform federal standard would make it much harder for criminals to take advantage of state and local variation.