US veterans join forces for gun reform

An AR15 assault rifle. (Joshua Lott/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 08 March 2018
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US veterans join forces for gun reform

WASHINGTON: Dave Baril has served in the US Marine Corps for over 18 years, deployed twice to Iraq, and is a gun owner.
But after a teenager killed 17 people in Florida last month — the deadliest school shooting to hit the country in over five years — he took his personal AR-15 rifle to a local police station and turned it in for destruction.
Baril is one of a group of US military veterans calling for tighter firearms regulations in an effort to reduce gun violence in America, bringing their knowledge of weapons and war — and accompanying credibility — to the contentious debate.
Shootings at a Las Vegas concert last year and at the Parkland, Florida high school “really woke me up the most,” he said.
The 42-year-old said he is “all for the 2nd Amendment” to the US Constitution, which guarantees the right to bear arms.
“But that doesn’t mean that... we should all be driving around in tanks just because... the military has tanks,” he said.
And without changes to current gun laws, Baril believes the current pattern of mass shootings will continue — or get worse.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” he said.
Both the Las Vegas and Parkland shootings were carried out with AR-15-style rifles, which are similar to military-issue M4s but lack a burst-fire mode.
“If I’m gonna say that... we shouldn’t have these things out there, I can’t have one myself and say, ‘Well, I’m special,’” said Baril.
So he decided to turn in his rifle.
After the Parkland shooting, Baril started the Twitter hashtag #VetsForGunReform and asked a few other veterans if it was something they would support.
They said yes, and it has since taken off, becoming a rallying point for like-minded veterans on social media.
“This has really coalesced the group, and the reach that it’s gotten has been incredible,” Kyleanne Hunter, one of the primary Vets for Gun Reform organizers, said of the hashtag.
“Right now, we’re just sort of a little bit of a ragtag group of volunteers who also all have other jobs, and so we’re getting this going as we can,” said Hunter, a former Cobra helicopter pilot who served in the Marines for nearly 12 years, deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and is a gun owner.
“What we really want to focus on right now is amplifying the voices of these students who are driving the movement,” she said, referring to survivors of the Parkland shooting, some of whom have become prominent advocates for tighter firearms laws.
“We volunteered to go into harm’s way, they didn’t, and they shouldn’t have to experience this,” said Hunter.
She and fellow veterans aim to be “a voice of reason” in the debate on gun regulations and “bridge the gap between the left and the right,” she said.
“We’re keeping a close eye on the policy debates that are happening right now and being very deliberate as to how we want to proceed.”
Pete Lucier, who served in the Marines from 2008 to 2013, deployed to Afghanistan and was a marksmanship instructor, said he was once a “pretty strong believer” in the idea of a “good guy with a gun” countering those who would do harm in the US.
Gun violence in America played a role in changing his views, but so did his time at war.
“Seeing the chaos of a real combat environment and the difficulties involved in gunplay and in real combat hedged a lot of my views about what was possible with a gun,” said Lucier.
He no longer owns a gun but still shoots periodically, and said that veterans’ knowledge of firearms is something important they bring to the conversation.
“A lot of us come from homes or backgrounds where we appreciate firearms. We don’t necessarily villainize or demonize people who own guns. We understand guns,” Lucier said.
“Our identity as veterans... informs our position,” he said. “But it’s not in any way trying to be a shield from criticism... or represent veterans as a monolith.”
For Dennis Magnasco, who served in the US Army from 2006 to 2015, deployed to Afghanistan and is a gun owner, the shooting in Las Vegas — where the gunman used a “bump stock” device to drastically increase the rate at which he could rain bullets down on concert-goers — encouraged him to speak out.
“I saw the video of the shooting. When I heard the fire from that rifle with the bump stock on it, it sounded very similar to a machine gun. It sounded like combat,” he said.
“I had this feeling of just, this isn’t right, we’ve gotta make some changes.”
As a medic in an infantry unit, Magnasco treated a wide variety of injuries, which is “something that I carry with me, and something that I remember.”
“When I think about middle school students and high school students in the United States seeing these types of injuries in their schools to their friends, they didn’t sign up for that,” he said.
“That shouldn’t be the way things are.”


Trump’s troubled White House in search of new chief of staff

Updated 21 min 2 sec ago
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Trump’s troubled White House in search of new chief of staff

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump is considering at least four people to serve as his next chief of staff, after plans for an orderly succession for departing John Kelly fell through.
The high-profile hiring search comes at a pivotal time as the Republican president looks to prepare his White House for the twin challenges of securing his re-election and fending off expected congressional investigations once Democrats gain control of the House next year.
Trump’s top pick for the job, Nick Ayers, announced Sunday that he would instead be leaving the White House, surprising even senior staffers who believed the move was a done deal. Trump is now soliciting input on at least four people, including Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Ayers, who is chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, was seen as the favorite for the job when Trump announced Saturday that Kelly would leave around year’s end. But a White House official said Sunday that Trump and Ayers could not reach agreement on Ayers’ length of service and that he would instead assist the president from outside the administration. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive personnel matters.
Ayers confirmed the decision in a tweet Sunday, thanking Trump and Pence for giving him the opportunity to work in the White House.
“I will be departing at the end of the year but will work with the #MAGA team to advance the cause,” he said.
Trump offered his own take on the development: “I am in the process of interviewing some really great people for the position of White House Chief of Staff. Fake News has been saying with certainty it was Nick Ayers, a spectacular person who will always be with our #MAGA agenda. I will be making a decision soon!“
Even senior White House officials were caught off guard Sunday by the news of Ayers’ departure. No obvious successor to Kelly was in sight, and there was some fretting that Trump may not be able to fill the job by the time Kelly leaves.
Ayers and Trump had discussed the job for months, making the breakdown Sunday all the more surprising. Trump said Saturday that he expected to announce a replacement for Kelly in a day or two. But with Ayers no longer waiting in the wings, Trump may now take until the end of the year, according to a person close to the president.
And it remains unclear who wants the job.
Mulvaney, the budget director, was not interested in becoming chief of staff, according to a person close to him who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Mulvaney has been saying for almost two months now that he would be more interested in becoming commerce or treasury secretary if that would be helpful to the president, the person said.
Also among those thought to be in the mix were Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who said in a CBS interview that he hadn’t spoken to anyone at the White House about the job and was “entirely focused” on his position.
The White House official said that, while the president likes Lighthizer, he is reluctant to move him from his current post because of the ongoing high-stakes trade negotiations with China and others.
And a person familiar with Mnuchin’s thinking said he, too, was happy with his work at Treasury and had not sought the job of chief of staff.
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and Trump’s former deputy campaign manager David Bossie were also among the names being floated by some close to the White House Sunday.
Trump’s administration has set records for staff turnover, and he has often struggled to attract experienced political professionals, a challenge that has grown more difficult by the upcoming threat of costly Democratic oversight investigations and an uncertain political environment.
Democrats, who will be assuming control of the House of Representatives next year, are expected to take full advantage of their new subpoena power to investigate everything from the actions of Trump administration officials to the president’s business dealings, flooding the White House with inquiries.
In any administration, the role of White House chief of staff is split between the responsibilities of supervising the White House and managing the man sitting in the Oval Office. Striking that balance in the turbulent times of Trump has bedeviled Kelly and his predecessor, Reince Priebus, and will be the defining challenge for whoever is selected next.
Kelly, whose last day on the job is set to be Jan. 2, had been credited with imposing order on a chaotic West Wing after his arrival in June 2017 from his post as homeland security secretary. But his iron fist also alienated some longtime Trump allies, and over time he grew increasingly isolated.
Trump wants his next chief of staff to hold the job through the 2020 election, the officials said. Ayers, who has young triplets, had long planned to leave the administration at the end of the year and had only agreed to serve in an interim basis through next spring.
Ayers had earned the backing of the president’s influential daughter and son-in-law, White House advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, but was viewed warily by other aides.
Ayers will run a pro-Trump super PAC, according to a person familiar with his plans but not authorized to discuss them by name.
Pence’s deputy chief of staff, Jarrod Agen, is expected to assume Ayers’ role for the vice president.