May 02, 2013
By Mike Baker
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- After struggling to sway both state and federal lawmakers, proponents of expanding background checks for gun sales are now exploring whether they will have more success by taking the issue directly to voters.
While advocates generally prefer that new gun laws be passed through the legislative process, especially at the national level, they are also concerned about how much sway the National Rifle Association has with lawmakers.
Washington Rep. Jamie Pedersen, a Democrat who had sponsored unsuccessful legislation on background checks at the state level, said a winning ballot initiative would make a statement with broad implications.
"It's more powerful if the voters do it — as opposed to our doing it," Pedersen said. "And it would make it easier for the Legislature to do even more."
On Monday, proponents of universal background checks in Washington will announce their plan to launch a statewide initiative campaign that would require the collection of some 300,000 signatures, according to a person involved in the initiative planning who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to pre-empt the official announcement.
The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility has scheduled a fundraiser in Seattle at the end of next month and hopes to have a campaign budget in the millions of dollars.
Ballot measures may be an option elsewhere, too. Hildy Saizow, president of Arizonans for Gun Safety, said an initiative is one of the things the group will be considering as it reconsiders strategies. An organizer in Oregon was focused on the Legislature for now but wouldn't rule out a ballot measure in the future if lawmakers fail to pass a proposed bill there.
While advocates have had recent success on background checks in places like Connecticut and Colorado, they've been thwarted in some other states and in Congress. The U.S. Senate rejected a plan to expand background checks earlier this month, although lawmakers in the chamber are still working to gather additional votes.
Brian Malte, director of mobilization at the national nonprofit lobbying group Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said passage through Congress is the ideal in order to have a national solution and so that states with strong gun laws aren't undermined by nearby states with weaker standards. He noted that initiative campaigns are costly endeavors that can drain important, limited resources.
Still, Malte said, the ballot measures are an option to consider.
"At some point, certainly decisions need to be made about what the right time is to say we take it to the people," Malte said.
Brian Judy, a lobbyist who represents the NRA in Washington state, did not return calls seeking comment about the new initiative. He has previously said the NRA would likely oppose such an effort, arguing that the recently proposed laws on background checks would largely impact law-abiding citizens instead of the intended targets such as criminals and the mentally ill.
Gun measures have had mixed results at the ballot. More than 70 percent of Washington state voters rejected a 1997 initiative campaign that would have required handgun owners to pass a safety course. After the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, voters in Colorado and Oregon approved ballot measures the next year to require background checks for buying weapons at gun shows.
Following another massacre in Colorado earlier this year, state lawmakers approved a bill to expand background checks to private transactions and online purchases. A similar expansion plan in Oregon is stalled in the state Senate.
Some states don't see initiatives as a viable option right now. In Missouri, state Rep. Stacey Newman has been pushing for background checks with little success. While she spoke positively about the idea of a ballot initiative, she said there's no serious consideration of it because of the cost and coordination required just to get it on the ballot. Instead, the supporters of background checks in the state are simply working to prevent NRA-supported legislation from passing the state's General Assembly.
"We're continually on defense," she said.
Gun buyers currently must undergo a background check when they purchase a weapon from a federally licensed firearms dealer but can avoid checks in most states by using private purchases, such as at gun shows.
Washington state advocates believe polls show the public is sufficiently on the side of expanding background checks further. An independent Elway Poll conducted two months ago found that 79 percent of registered voters in Washington state supported background checks on all gun sales, including private transactions.
That wasn't enough to shepherd the bill through the Legislature. Even in the state House, which is controlled by Democrats, supporters fell short after an NRA campaign put pressure on some lawmakers. Pedersen had offered concessions through the process, including the option of sending the measure out for a public vote and exemptions for people who already have concealed pistol licenses or law enforcement credentials.
Pedersen said he was working with the initiative organizers on language for the proposal, and he said the Legislature would first have another chance to adopt the measure early next year. If it fails among lawmakers again, the proposal would then automatically go to the ballot, where Pedersen said he welcomed a campaign competing against groups like the NRA.
"I'm not afraid of it at all," Pedersen said. "The public is really with us. It's the right policy. I think it can be useful for further progress."
May 02, 2013
City News Service
Two deputies are suing sheriff's officials, alleging that white supremacist gang inmates are being utilized to assault jail personnel who have fallen into disfavor with supervisors, according to court papers obtained Friday April 26. Deputies Michael Rathbun and James Sexton allege that Sheriff Lee Baca, outgoing Assistant Sheriff Paul Tanaka and others ``use these jail gangs as proxies or agents to retaliate against other (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department) deputies and inmates. Within these inappropriate alliances, the gangs are given certain privileges that are otherwise legally precluded from them.''
The federal complaint, which also names as defendants Lt. Greg Thompson and ``Detective Perkins,'' seeks damages on allegations of retaliation, constitutional violations, malicious prosecution, conspiracy and harassment.
Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the lawsuit filed last week lacks merit. ``We don't believe this is grounded in fact,'' Whitmore said.
``We look forward to telling the whole story, and when the story is told and the complete picture put forth, we believe the department will be vindicated.''
Rathbun and Sexton say they worked in Operation Safe Jails, a unit that uses informants to help prevent gang violence in the jail system, and were supervised by Thompson. The two deputies allege that in August 2011, they were ordered by Baca and Tanaka to ``transfer and hide'' inmate Anthony Brown from the FBI ``in an effort to obstruct a federal investigation.''
The plaintiffs claim their superiors often ordered them ``to engage in activities meant to `keep the FBI out of the jails.'''
Rathbun and Sexton allege that when they reported their concerns to the FBI, they were verbally abused and threatened by members of the sheriff's department who were involved with white supremacist inmates. Sheriff's personnel, ``using jail gangs as their agents, labeled Rathbun and Sexton as `race traitors,' '' the lawsuit states.
May 02, 2013
By MICHELLE FAUL
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African President Jacob Zuma said he found Nelson Mandela "in good shape and in good spirits" Monday, but a video of his encounter with the ailing anti-apartheid icon belies those cheery words, showing him with a vacant look on his face.
It's been more than three weeks since Mandela was released after a 10-day stay in the hospital, the third time in five months that he was hospitalized for a recurring lung infection.
"We saw him, he's looking very good, he's in good shape," Zuma told the South African Broadcasting Corp. on the doorstep of Mandela's Johannesburg home. "We had some conversation with him, shook hands, he smiled, as you can see him, that he's really up and about and stabilized. We're really very happy. We think that he's fine."
But the SABC video shows Mandela in an armchair, his head propped up by a pillow, his legs on a footrest and covered by a blanket, looking grey-skinned and unsmiling with his cheeks showing what appear to be marks from a recently removed oxygen mask.
Zuma jokes and laughs with two officials of the governing African National Congress, some Mandela family members and the former president's medical team while Mandela stares straight ahead, unresponsive. Zuma tries to hold Mandela's hand but, given his lack of response, ends up covering it with his own.
"Smile, smile," Mandela is urged as one of his grandsons grabs a cell phone to take a picture.
Mandela attempts a weak smile but, as the flash goes off, he closes his eyes and purses his lips. Mandela is known to dislike camera flashes, because his eyes are sensitive after years of working in the glare of a limestone quarry when he was imprisoned on Robben Island.
Mandela does not appear to speak during the televised portion of the visit, except for an "Oh," that could have been a gasp for breath, and one word to his doctor.
Monday's video likely will cause more concern for the many South Africans who revere Mandela as the founder of a free South Africa and who were buoyed by the aging icon's release from the hospital and family statements that he is doing as well as can be expected, for a 94-year-old. Mandela's 95th birthday is in July.
Social networks buzzed with criticism after the SABC video was aired Monday night.
"Everyone around him was all smiles but him. It was so hard and painful to see," said a post on Instagram.
"I didn't like seeing that footage ... There was something undignified about the whole affair," wrote one Twitter user.
Another attacked the government: "Mandela is not in good shape, the government have the nerve to lie straight to our faces."
In a string of criticism there was one, mild thumbs-up: "I don't think it was opportunistic of the ANC to publicize their home visit."
Zuma is expected to run for re-election next year and Mandela's name is the biggest drawing card of his ruling African National Congress party.
Mandela's forgiving spirit and belief in racial reconciliation helped hold South Africa together when it came to the brink of civil war before elections in 1994. The Nobel Peace laureate, who was imprisoned for 27 years by the racist white regime, became the first democratically elected president of South Africa that year.
May 02, 2013
By KYLE HIGHTOWER
SANFORD, Florida (AP) — The former neighborhood watch leader charged with fatally shooting a Florida teenager told a judge Tuesday that he agrees with his defense attorneys' decision not to seek an immunity hearing under the state's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law.
Under questioning from Circuit Judge Debra Nelson, George Zimmerman repeatedly said "yes" to a series of questions asking if he was aware he was giving up the right to a hearing before his second-degree murder trial in June. A judge would have sole discretion in an immunity hearing to decide if Zimmerman is exempt from culpability in the shooting. A jury would make the determination in the murder trial.
"After consultation with my counsel, yes, your honor," Zimmerman said.
The judge had set aside two weeks at the end of April for an immunity hearing should Zimmerman want one. Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda had filed a motion asking that Zimmerman make clear his intentions on whether he wanted the hearing.
Zimmerman's defense attorney, Mark O'Mara, told the judge Tuesday there was nothing in the law that required the immunity hearing to take place before Zimmerman's trial and could be requested after prosecutors have presented their case.
"We'd much rather have the jury address the issue of criminal liability or lack thereof," O'Mara said.
Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty, claiming self-defense. Martin was fatally shot in February 2012 during a fight with Zimmerman in a Sanford gated community.
O'Mara also wanted the court to unseal details on a civil settlement Martin's parents received from Zimmerman's homeowner's association. O'Mara contended the settlement could influence the testimony of Martin's parents, if they are called as witnesses.
The judge said defense attorneys and prosecutors could see full copies of the settlement but the public would only be able to see a version from which some information has been removed.
Nelson rejected a request by O'Mara to find fault with prosecutors for what the defense attorney described as violations in providing discovery evidence to them. O'Mara said that prosecutors' failure to disclose evidence in a timely manner had caused his team "hours and hours of work."
The judge said she would hold a hearing after the trial to determine if prosecutors should have to pay for some costs that O'Mara said he incurred because of the alleged discovery problems.