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.”


France shooting: 4 dead, several wounded in Strasbourg

French police officers stand guard near the scene of a shooting on December 11, 2018 in Strasbourg, eastern France. (AFP)
Updated 10 min 30 sec ago
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France shooting: 4 dead, several wounded in Strasbourg

  • The shooter was believed to be a 29-year-old from the city who was set to be arrested on Tuesday morning

PARIS: A shooting in the French city of Strasbourg killed four people and wounded 11 others near a world-famous Christmas market Tuesday, sparking a broad lockdown and a search for the suspected gunman, who remained at large.
French prosecutors said a terrorism investigation was opened, though authorities did not announce a motive for the bloodshed. The city is home to the European Parliament, which was locked down after the shooting.
It was unclear if the market — which was the nucleus of an Al-Qaeda-linked plot in 2000 — was targeted. The prefect of the Strasbourg region said the suspect was previously flagged as a possible extremist.
The gunman has been identified and has a criminal record, according to Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.
The death toll, first reported as one, rose to four by late Tuesday, according to two police union officials. One official, Stephane Morisse of union FGP, told The Associated Press the alleged shooter was wounded by soldiers guarding the market.
Gendarmes went to the suspect’s home to arrest him earlier Tuesday, before the attack, but he wasn’t there, Morisse said. They found explosive materials, he said.
French military spokesman Col. Patrik Steiger said the shooter did not aim for the soldiers patrolling in and around the Christmas market, but targeted civilians instead.
Several of the people wounded were in critical condition, the interior minister said.
Witnesses described to the AP hearing gunshots, screams and the shouts of police officers ordering people to stay indoors before the area fell silent and the officers fanned out.
“I heard two or three shots at around 7:55 p.m. (1855 GMT), then I heard screams. I got close to the window. I saw people running. After that I closed the shutters. Then I heard more shots, closer this time,” Yoann Bazard, 27, who lives in central Strasbourg.
“I thought maybe it’s firecrackers,” he said, speaking by phone. “And then, as it got close, it was really shocking. There were a lot of screams. ... There were police or soldiers shouting ‘Get inside!’ and ‘Put your hands on your head.’“
Freelance journalist Camille Belsoeur was at a friend’s apartment when they heard the gunfire, at first mistaking it for firecrackers.
“We opened the window. I saw a soldier firing shots, about 12 to 15 shots,” Belsoeur said,
Other soldiers yelled for people to stay indoors and shouted ‘Go home! Go home!’” to those outside, he said. .
Another witness, Peter Fritz, told the BBC one of the four people killed was a Thai tourist who was shot in the head and didn’t respond to lengthy attempts to revive him.
“We tried our best to resuscitate him. We applied CPR. We dragged him into a restaurant close by,” Fritz said.
He said it took more than 45 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, during which time an emergency doctor advised by telephone “that any further efforts would be futile.”
The victim “is still here in this restaurant but we have abandoned all hope for him,” Fritz said.
France previously endured several high-profile extremist attacks, including the coordinated attacks at multiple Paris locations that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds in November 2015. A 2016 truck attack in Nice killed dozens.
President Emmanuel Macron adjourned a meeting at the presidential palace Tuesday night to monitor the emergency, his office said, indicating the gravity of the attack.
Castaner and the Paris prosecutor, who is in charge of anti-terror probes in France, headed to Strasbourg. The prosecutor’s office said the investigation was being conducted on suspicion of murder and attempted murder in relation with a terrorist enterprise charges, suggesting officials think the alleged shooter may have links to extremists.
In multiple neighborhoods of Strasbourg, the French Interior Ministry urged the public to remain indoors. Local authorities tweeted for the public to “avoid the area of the police station,” which is close to the city’s Christmas market.
Strasbourg’s well-known market is set up around the city’s cathedral during the Christmas season and is a popular gathering place.
French soldiers were on patrol after the shooting. At the scene, police officers, police vehicles and barricades surrounded the sparkling lights of the market.
“Our security and rescue services are mobilized,” Castaner said.
European Parliament spokesman Jaume Duch said that “the European Parliament has been closed and no one can leave until further notice.” It wasn’t immediately clear how many people were inside.
The attack revived memories of a new millennium terror plot targeting Strasbourg’s Christmas market. Ten suspected Islamic militants were convicted and sentenced to prison in December 2004 for their role in a plot to blow up the market on the New Year’s Eve ushering in 2000..
The Algerian and French-Algerian suspects — including an alleged associate of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — went on trial in October on charges they were involved in the foiled plot for the attack.
They were sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to nine years.