TIME Crime

What Walmart’s Decision on Semi-Automatic Rifles Means for the Gun Control Debate

The retailer has strict regulations on the sale of guns

Walmart announced this week that it would stop selling so-called modern sporting rifles at its stores, including the AR-15, a semi-automatic firearm akin to those used in some of the country’s worst mass shootings in the last few years.

The nation’s largest retailer says it’s essentially replacing rifles like the AR-15 with hunting rifles and sportsman shotguns, giving customers roughly the same number of firearm choices as before. But some gun experts see Walmart’s move as a harbinger that the retailer could eventually decide to get out of the gun business altogether—which could have unexpected implications for the gun control movement, since Walmart has stricter policies on gun sales than most firearm retailers in the country.

“I think the day is coming when it’s going to difficult to buy a firearm from Walmart,” said John Roman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute.

While Walmart doesn’t release gun sales figures, it’s likely one of the country’s biggest gun sellers, if not the biggest. Roman said that without Walmart and its restrictions on gun sales, more buyers could be forced to the secondary market, where private sellers often don’t require background checks and don’t have gun sales policies that go beyond what is required by law.

“It’s an interesting conundrum for people who worry about the number of guns,” Roman said. “In the final analysis, Walmart’s decision [to stop selling modern sporting rifles] is good for society, but it’s not as simple as it looks, because if somebody buys these guns at Walmart and goes through a formal background check, it’s really unlikely that they’ll use them in a crime.”

In 2008, Walmart put in place stringent requirements on all gun transactions, including detailed recording of firearm sales, alerts when a gun bought from the retailer is used in a crime and expanded background checks for employees handling guns. The retailer also requires full approval from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which goes beyond the federally mandated minimum waiting requirement of three days to approve a sale. Many other retailers sell firearms after the waiting period is up even if there’s been no determination from NICS on the buyer’s criminal background.

The reason Walmart decided to stop carrying modern sporting rifles, including the AR-15, is because demand for those guns has been waning, a spokesperson said.

“This was something our customers weren’t really buying,” Walmart spokesperson Kory Lundberg said.

It’s unclear if demand for firearms like the AR-15, which was used in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., is declining nationally. One of the few estimates on how many guns might be in the U.S. comes from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which found that from 2011 to 2013, the total number of firearms produced and available spiked. The number of rifles and shotguns produced in the U.S. jumped from about 3.2 million in 2011 to 5.2 million in 2013.

Michael Bazinet, a spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, says that Supreme Court cases upholding gun rights, as well as an expansion of concealed carry laws and more women taking up target shooting, have actually led to increased demand for guns across the board.

However, Roman believes Walmart is correct that interest in rifles and semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 may be decreasing, so the company has recognized that it’s not in its economic interest to continue selling them.

“The business case is the trade-off between people who don’t want to shop at Walmart because they’re available and those who buy these guns every two or three years,” Roman said. “For Walmart, that makes this an easy case.”

While Walmart wouldn’t provide gun sales figures, sales of semi-automatic rifles, which are only available at less than a third of Walmart’s stores, are likely a tiny percentage of the retailer’s bottom line, and more than half of all Walmarts sell no firearms at all.

Lundberg, Walmart’s spokesperson, says that the retailer will remove the rifles from its shelves within the next couple weeks. The ones that remain unsold will be returned to the suppliers.

TIME Crime

Los Angeles Police to Launch Largest Body Cam Program in U.S.

County of Los Angeles Sheriff's Lt. Chris Marks poses wearing the Taser Axon Flex, on-officer camera system attached to glasses in Monterey Park on Sept. 17, 2014.
Jay L. Clendenin—Los Angeles Times/Getty Images County of Los Angeles Sheriff's Lt. Chris Marks poses wearing the Taser Axon Flex, on-officer camera system attached to glasses in Monterey Park on Sept. 17, 2014.

The first of 7,000 cams will be deployed next week

The Los Angeles Police Department will begin rolling out body cameras next month, the first stage of a program that will eventually become the largest in the U.S.

The LAPD, which has been studying the technology for two years, will begin introducing the first batch of a total of 7,000 cameras next week, according to the LA Times. The first 860 cameras, paid for by private donations of around $1.5 million, will be gradually deployed over the next month. The program will make the police department the biggest law enforcement agency to widely adopt the technology.

About 7,000 police agencies currently use body cameras around the U.S., with many adopting them over the last year as a means of providing transparency and accountability as scrutiny of police tactics and the use of force has increased. Body cameras have routinely been a topic of discussion among protesters concerned about police misconduct.

While many welcome the growing use of body cameras by police departments, the ACLU says it’s opposed to it in Los Angeles, as LAPD policy states that the department will only release recordings publicly if they’re involved in court proceedings.

TIME weather

This Graphic Shows How Hurricane Katrina Changed New Orleans

How one of the nation's deadliest storms left an American city a different place

Correction appended

On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, after gaining strength in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Within days the city’s levees collapsed, tens of thousands were left stranded in their homes, and thousands more sought shelter at the city’s Superdome, where conditions rapidly deteriorated. Almost 2,000 people died in the storm, and hundreds of thousands were forced to relocate, some permanently.

Ten years on, New Orleans is a city still recovering, a place where the storm’s path still leaves a scar. The costliest hurricane on record dramatically changed the city’s demographics, neighborhoods, and economy. Below, this graphic helps illustrate how one of the nation’s deadliest hurricanes forever altered an American city.

Katrina3

Correction: This graphic originally misstated the costs of various hurricanes. They are in the billions of dollars.

Read next: New Orleans, Here & Now

TIME Crime

Baltimore Murders Pass 2014 Total With Four Months Still to Go

A member of the Baltimore Police Department removes crime scene tape from a corner where a victim of a shooting was discovered in Baltimore on July 30, 2015.
Patrick Semansky—AP A member of the Baltimore Police Department removes crime scene tape from a corner where a victim of a shooting was discovered in Baltimore on July 30, 2015.

Crime rates since Freddie Gray incident echoes 1990s levels

The number of murders in Baltimore hit 212 on Thursday, overtaking the number of homicides recorded in 2014 with over a third of the year left to go.

A 28-year-old man hospitalized after being shot in the chest died Thursday. He was shot Wednesday night on the West side of Baltimore, near where another man was shot and killed the day before.

Baltimore is now experiencing almost a homicide a day, a murder rate that is reminiscent of 1990s crime levels when the city regularly saw upwards of 300 murders a year.

The city has seen a significant spike in crime since the April death of Freddie Gray in police custody. The 25-year-old’s death set off a series of protests around Baltimore, leading to a state of emergency and National Guard troops entering the city to keep the peace. Six officers were later indicted in the incident.

Following Gray’s death, arrests by Baltimore police plunged. According to the Baltimore Sun, there were 2,630 arrests per month from January to April with only 1,557 in May, the first month after Gray’s arrest and the ensuing protests. The Sun says that the number of arrests per month in 2015 is 2,381, down from 3,281 last year.

Representatives of the city’s police union along with criminal justice experts say that many Baltimore police have been hesitant to use force and arrest potential criminals after the six officers allegedly involved in Gray’s death were arrested, fearing potential legal repercussions. Criminals also may feel emboldened following this spring’s riots, in which some police held back from using force.

TIME Race

Why a Black Lives Matter Activist’s Race Is Under Scrutiny

Shaun King

Shaun King denies claims he lied about race

The race of a prominent Black Lives Matter activist has been thrown into question, after photos and documents posted by conservative websites appear to show that he is white and not mixed race.

Shaun King, who built a large online following during the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Mo. following the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, has long claimed to be of mixed race, saying his mother is white and his father is black. King, 35, writes frequently for various online publications including Justice Together, which advocates for an end to police brutality against minorities. He also attended Morehouse College, a historically black school.

But rumors have circulated on conservative websites that King is actually not mixed race but white. In the last few weeks, a conservative blogger, Vicki Pate, published what she said was King’s birth certificate showing his father as Jeffrey Wayne King, a white man. Pate’s website, Re-NewsIt!, also published photos purportedly showing King’s father. On Wednesday, the story was picked up by Breitbart, a leading conservative news site.

King did not respond to TIME’s request for an interview but on his Twitter account, he vehemently denied the accusations in more than 30 tweets:

The conservative website The Blaze has also questioned King’s account of an incident in March 1995 in which King says he was beaten by a mob of “rednecks,” which he has described as a hate crime. Documents published by The Blaze describe the incident as involving just one other person rather than group and that King’s injuries were minor. Officers also marked his race as white at the time.

According to the New York Times, the officer said he marked King as white based on his appearance and his mother, who is white.

Along with being a writer for the Daily Kos, King has also written for the Guardian, The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.

Earlier this summer, NAACP chapter president and civil rights advocate Rachel Dolezal admitted to lying about her race and publicly posing as a black woman. She later resigned from the NAACP after it was revealed that her parents were both white.

Update:

In a post Thursday on the Daily Kos, King wrote that the man listed as his father on his birth certificate is not actually his biological father. “My actual biological father is a light-skinned black man,” King wrote.

Read more: Black Lives Matter Activist Says Man on Birth Certificate Isn’t His Biological Father

TIME Crime

Everything We Know About the Sandra Bland Case

Dashcam video shows confrontation with officer

A Texas prosecutor on Thursday cited as-yet-unreleased autopsy findings to confirm that Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old woman who was arrested in a routine traffic stop and later died in police custody, had died by her own hand.

Warren Diepraam, a Waller County prosecutor, told reporters Thursday that the only evidence “consistent with a violent struggle” were abrasions to her hands from handcuffs, likely sustained during her arrest.

A voice-mail message discovered Wednesday along with new information about the Illinois woman’s mental state had earlier raised even more questions about the puzzling circumstances surrounding her death.

In a voice-mail message obtained by ABC News, Bland said she was at a “loss for words honestly at this whole process” following her arrest for failing to signal a lane change on July 10 in Prairie View, Texas. Forms filled out by Bland from jail were released by officials, in which she said she had attempted suicide within the last year but did not feel suicidal. She was not placed on suicide watch inside the jail.

Family members have disputed the initial claims that Sandra Bland, a black Chicago-area woman who had recently relocated to Texas, hanged herself in her cell, claiming that she showed no signs of suicidal intentions. Here, a quick guide to what is known about the case so far:

Why was Bland arrested?
On July 10, the civil rights advocate originally from Naperville, Ill., was pulled over in Prairie View, Texas, for not signaling a lane change. The Texas Department of Public Safety says Bland was “argumentative and uncooperative” during the stop. A Texas trooper claimed that she had swung her elbows and kicked him in the shins. She was ordered out of the car, arrested, and charged with assaulting a public servant. In a video taken by a bystander, Bland can be heard saying that officers “slammed her head into the ground.”

In a news conference held Tuesday, Texas State Senator Royce West said that Bland “did not deserve to be put in custody.”

What does the police dashcam video show?
On Tuesday, authorities released a 52-minute recording taken from a patrol car showing an argument and physical confrontation between Bland and Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia, who asked Bland to put out her cigarette but refused. According to the video, Encinia appears to threaten to use his Taser on Bland for being uncooperative, saying “I will light you up.”

The original version of the video appeared to have some continuity issues, suggesting that it may have been edited before it was released. The Texas Department of Public Safety denied it had been intentionally re-edited, but released a second, complete version within hours with no material changes.

Does this video clear up any of the circumstances surrounding her death?
No. After her arrest, Bland was taken to the Waller County Sheriff’s Office jail and held for three days. Around 9 a.m. on July 13, she was found dead in her cell.

What do the police say happened?
Officials say Bland hanged herself with a plastic garbage bag, and security camera video released Monday appears to back up their account; the footage shows paramedics rushing to the hallway outside Bland’s jail cell but seems to show no activity outside the cell in the 90 minutes before. A Waller County prosecutor, citing preliminary autopsy results, said her death was suicide by hanging.

“It has not been determined that there have been any criminal activities or any criminal charges by any party at this time,” Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said in a press conference Thursday.

What does Bland’s family say?
That police may have been involved in her death, and that Bland had not been in a suicidal frame of mind. Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis says that the investigation, which is being led by the Texas Rangers and the FBI, is being treated as if it were a murder case. “Ms. Bland’s family does make valid points,” Mathis said in a news conference Monday, according to the Washington Post. “She did have a lot of things going on in her life for good.”

A lawyer for Bland’s family says there is “no evidence” that Bland previously attempted suicide. Her sister, Sharon Cooper, confirmed Thursday to ABC News that Bland had a miscarriage in May 2014 but had not been treated for or diagnosed with depression.

“I think everybody has lows and highs and I think that, you know, she was having maybe a bad day that day,” Cooper told ABC News, referring to the day of her arrest.

Bland had recently moved to Texas for a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. However, video has surfaced of Bland claiming to suffer from depression. She also posted videos speaking out against police brutality.

What has happened to the arresting officer?
Encinia, the state trooper, has been removed from his patrol and placed on desk duty. On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that a criminal investigation into Encinia’s actions had been opened by Mathis, the Texas district attorney.

What has the autopsy shown?
In a news conference Thursday, Diepraam said that preliminary autopsy results found that Bland’s body did not show any defensive injuries, which would have been signs of foul play. Officials say there were consistent markings around her neck but no damage to her trachea or esophagus, which also could indicate a homicide. Diepraam also confirmed that marijuana was found in Bland’s system.

Read next: Sandra Bland’s Friend Haunted by Missed Voicemail

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TIME Crime

U.S. Cities See a Wave of Homicides

Violence Baltimore police
Karl Merton—Baltimore Sun/Getty Images Madison Street is blocked by police due to a barricade situation on May 20, 2015 in Baltimore.

Some cite local problems; others blame a "Ferguson effect"

For a number of cities around the country, the summer of 2015 is beginning to look like the end of the years-long decline in violent crime.

Baltimore, Chicago, Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York City, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., among others, have all seen significant increases in their murder rates through the first half of 2015.

Homicides in St. Louis, for example, are up almost 60% from last year while robberies are up 40%. In Washington, D.C., 73 people have been killed so far this year, up from 62 last year, an 18% jump. In Milwaukee, murders have doubled since last year, while in nearby Chicago homicides have jumped almost 20%.

It’s unclear what’s driving the increase across multiple cities, as some cities are dealing with localized issues that may not apply when looking at the rising crime rates elsewhere. St. Louis police say that judges have been too lenient against criminals who have had histories of illegal gun possession and prosecutors haven’t aggressively pursued murder charges.

In Milwaukee, officials say they’re dealing with lax gun laws in the state, while Chicago officials blame criminals who are buying guns in states like Wisconsin and Indiana–two states with fewer firearm restrictions–and using them in criminal acts in the city.

Criminologists warn that the recent spikes could merely be an anomaly, a sort of reversion to the mean after years of declining crime rates. But there could be something else going on, what some officials have called a “Ferguson effect,” in which criminals who are angry over police-involved shootings like that of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed by a white police officer in August, have felt emboldened to commit increased acts of violence.

TIME Crime

Baltimore Mayor Replaces Police Commissioner

Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Anthony Batts listens as Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis speaks at a news conference, in Baltimore on April 30, 2015.
Patrick Semansky—AP Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Anthony Batts listens as Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis speaks at a news conference, in Baltimore on April 30, 2015.

The announcement follows calls for the top cop's resignation

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake replaced the city’s police commissioner Wednesday after officials called for his resignation in the wake of a report by the city’s police union criticizing his handling of riots in April.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, the mayor’s office said it had replaced Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts with Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.

The announcement came the same day that the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police released a report highly critical of Batts’s handling of unrest in the city following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old unarmed black man who died in police custody.

Batts was appointed police commissioner in September 2012 and previously served as chief of police in Oakland, Calif.

TIME Crime

Sheriffs Are Lonely Holdouts as Police Body Cameras Grow in Use

Deputies-Body Cameras
Nick Ut—AP A body camera is displayed at a news conference at the Sheriff's Headquarters in the Monterey Park section of Los Angeles on Sept. 22, 2014.

Some cite costs, others question their effectiveness

In Illinois, only four of the state’s 102 sheriffs have adopted body cameras. In Florida, just two of its 66 sheriffs have implemented them. And in other states across the country, many other sheriffs are hesitating before outfitting their officers with a technology that other departments and police chiefs are widely embracing.

As law enforcement agencies increasingly purchase body cameras as a way to build trust with the citizens they police—and provide transparency following several recent high-profile police-related deaths—sheriffs are emerging as one of the lone hold-outs. More than 7,000 of the 18,000 police departments around the U.S., which includes sheriffs’ departments, have adopted cameras, but only a fraction of the 3,000 sheriffs agencies have done so.

Vievu, a body camera manufacturer that counts more than 4,000 police agencies as clients, says only 100 of its customers are sheriffs, while TASER International, which includes 3,000 police department clients, says only about 360 are sheriffs. Cost is the main issue for many, especially for those who maintain a small force with a handful of officers. In states where public records are easily obtained, privacy issues are a concern. Some are waiting for their legislatures to decide on statewide body cam policies, while others have simply come out wholly opposed to their effectiveness.

Sheriffs generally serve a broader constituency than police chiefs, and often reside over rural areas that don’t have the same demographics or internal patterns of racial segregation as the big metropolitan areas that have tended to adopt cameras in lock-step. And because they’re directly elected, sheriffs don’t have to answer to a mayor or city council members, who may be feeling political pressure from the community to adopt cameras.

“They’re far more difficult to influence, far less pressured because they can always make an appeal directly to the public, whereas a police chief can’t do that,” says Dennis Kearney, a John Jay School of Criminal Justice professor. “They can resist better than a police chief can, and they’re going to feel probably a good deal more support and less criticism from the populations they serve because they’re elected.”

Sheriff Ricky Adam of Hancock County, Miss., says the costs associated with the cameras and the storage required to keep hours of video data are too much for his department, which includes just 50 deputies.

“We haven’t been able to buy a new patrol car going on four years,” Adam says. “I don’t know how I possibly have the money to spend on cameras.”

Many Illinois sheriffs are waiting to see whether Gov. Bruce Rauner will sign legislation to clarify the state’s dual-party law, which requires two-party consent for any recording. Greg Sullivan, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs Association, says his organization has been working with lawmakers to determine when a suspect can be recorded, whether it can be done without verbal consent, and whether the cameras can be turned on and off while officers are on patrol.

Similarly, sheriffs in Florida have had to grapple with the state’s public records laws, often considered the most transparent in the country. In May, the governor signed into law a measure that would exempt body camera footage from public records requests involving recordings inside someone’s home, in a hospital or at the location of a medical emergency.

A number of sheriffs have simply decided the cameras aren’t necessary. Late last year, Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner in South Carolina wrote a public letter saying video would catch “good people on their worst days” and invade their privacy. It would also “unnecessarily expose investigative crime scene techniques,” he said, while citizens would be more reluctant to speak with deputies about problems if they’re on camera.

“Our sheriffs are very independent thinkers,” says John Thompson, deputy executive director of the National Sheriffs Association. “They don’t have to answer to any one individual.”

While TASER’s Smith says only a small part of their business is from sheriffs, he’s seen a recent uptick in interest thanks to what he believes is heightened focus on body cams and public pressure. And Thompson says a number of sheriffs he’s talked to are interested in adopting them, but many are waiting for more data to show their effectiveness.

“The majority who I’ve spoken to, they say it’s a good idea and they’re going to look into it,” Thompson says. “But we can’t get into this knee-jerk reaction that everybody has to have them. Not one shoe fits all.”

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