TIME Crime

Colorado Movie Theater Shooter’s Parents Plead for His Life

"He is not a monster. He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness," James Holmes' parents said

The parents of the man accused of killing 12 people when he opened fire in a Colorado movie theater in 2012 are pleading that their mentally ill son be spared the death penalty.

In a letter published Friday in the Denver Post, Robert and Arlene Holmes argued that their son James has a “serious mental illness” and should be either imprisoned for the rest of his life or placed in an institution for the mentally ill, but not executed. “We have read postings on the Internet that have likened him to a monster,” the couple wrote. “He is not a monster. He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness.

“We believe that the death penalty is morally wrong, especially when the condemned is mentally ill,” the added.

After multiple delays, jury selection for Holmes’ trial is scheduled in January. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

TIME Accident

Dog Accidentally Shoots Man in Wyoming

He remains hospitalized but his injury is not life-threatening

This is a case of shooting the arm that feeds you: A Wyoming man was hospitalized on Monday after he was apparently shot by his dog.

Richard L. Fipps had gotten out of his truck to remove snow chains and ordered his dog to go into the back, where the gun was lying, according to Big Horn Mountain Radio. He was accidentally shot in the left arm after the dog stepped on a loaded rifle that had its safety off, or caused movement that triggered it to fire, a sheriff told the Huffington Post.

Fipps remains in the hospital but his condition is not life-threatening. Calls to the sheriff’s officer were not immediately returned.

[The Huffington Post]

TIME Guns

Families of Newtown Shooting Victims Sue Gunmaker

Family members who have lost loved ones to gun violence, including those from Newtown, Conn., gather with members of Congress during a press conference four days before the second anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Washington on Dec. 10, 2014.
Family members who have lost loved ones to gun violence, including those from Newtown, Conn., gather with members of Congress during a press conference four days before the second anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Washington on Dec. 10, 2014. Win McNamee—Getty Images

The lawsuit asserts that the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle should not have been made publicly available

(HARTFORD, Conn.) — A law firm representing the families of nine of the 26 people killed and a teacher injured at the Sandy Hook Elementary School says it has filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer, distributor and seller of the rifle used in the shooting.

The negligence and wrongful death lawsuit asserts that the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle should not have been made publicly available because it is a military weapon unsuited for civilian use.

In addition to Bushmaster, the families have named Camfour, a firearm distributor, and Riverview Gun Sales, the store where the Bushmaster rifle was purchased in 2010. Messages seeking comment from the defendants were not immediately returned.

The 40-page complaint was filed in superior court in Bridgeport.

TIME Guns

Texas Considers Allowing Open Carry of Handguns

NRA Gathers In Houston For 2013 Annual Meeting
Vintage handguns are displayed during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston on May 5, 2013. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

"If open carry is good enough for Massachusetts, it's good enough for the state of Texas"

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Long depicted as the rootin’-tootin’ capital of American gun culture, Texas is one of the few states with an outright ban on the open carry of handguns.

That could change in 2015, with the Republican-dominated Legislature and Gov.-elect Greg Abbott expected to push for expanded gun rights.

“If open carry is good enough for Massachusetts, it’s good enough for the state of Texas,” Abbott said the day after his election last month.

And if Texas, which allows concealed handguns, embraces open carry — rolling back a 140-year ban — it would be the largest state to have done so.

Open carry drew wide support in the 2014 statewide election, and at least six bills have already been filed for the upcoming session, which starts in January. Abbott has already pledged to sign one into law if sent to his desk.

Coni Ross, a 63-year-old rancher in Blanco, carries a handgun in her purse for personal protection and said she’d like the option to carry it openly on her belt if she could. She already does when she’s on her ranch and feels comfortable with her gun by her side.

“In one-and-a-half seconds, a man can run 25 feet with a knife in his hands and stab you before you get your gun out,” Ross said. “If your weapon is concealed you’re dead.”

Most of the country already allows some form of open carry of handguns, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a California-based group advocating gun control legislation.

But Texas, California, Florida, New York, Illinois and South Carolina, which make up more than a third of the U.S. population and include six of its seven largest population centers, do not.

Large urban areas have traditionally had the strictest controls on weapons in public because of concerns over guns in crowds and crime control, said UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, author of “Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America.” He said it’s “pretty surprising” that Texas still has an open carry ban that dates to the 1870s.

“We’ve been regulating guns in the interest of public safety, even in places like Texas, since the founding,” Winkler said. “The battle over open carry of guns in public remains one of the most heated in the gun debate today.”

Of the states that ban open carry, Texas easily has the most gun-friendly reputation.

From manufacturers to dealers, Texas has the most federal firearms license holders in the country. It has few restrictions on gun ownership, and Gov. Rick Perry and state lawmakers have actively lobbied gun makers to move to the state.

Texas allows the public display of long guns, such as rifles and shotguns, and open carry advocates have staged high-profile rallies at the Alamo and state Capitol. Concealed handguns are allowed inside the Capitol, where license holders can bypass metal detectors.

But Texas still insists handguns be kept out of sight.

Texas first banned the carrying of handguns “when the carpet-bagger government was very anxious about former Confederates and recently freed slaves carrying firearms,” state Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said.

Overturning a century of law proved difficult, and a concealed weapons law failed several times until it finally passed in 1995 when Patterson, then a state senator, led the charge. Texas now has about 811,000 concealed handgun license holders, nearly equal the population of San Francisco.

Even among gun supporters in Texas, the idea of open carry was considered too radical when the concealed carry law passed. Since then, the Legislature has expanded gun rights incrementally. It made the licensing of concealed handguns easier and, during the last three sessions, held heated debates over concealed handguns on college campuses. Open carry backers believe these debates helped rally support to their cause and that an open carry law will pass.

Open carry opponents, such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety in America, say carrying guns on the street is less about gun rights than intimidation.

“There is no way to know … if that person is a threat to moms and our children,” said Claire Elizabeth, who heads the group’s Texas chapter.

Despite the early momentum, there are no guarantees open carry will pass. Bills to allow concealed handguns on college campus appeared to have widespread support in 2009, 2011 and 2013, but were derailed by objections from universities and law enforcement.

Most of the open carry bills already filed for the upcoming session would still require a license. One, by Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, would eliminate the licensing requirement for concealed or open carry.

“The idea is we’re going to return our Second Amendment rights,” Stickland said. “I can’t imagine what the citizens would do if they had to take a class or pay a fee to use their First Amendment rights.”

TIME Guns

American Support of Guns Has Grown in Wake of Shootings, Survey Finds

A convention goer handles a Ruger 1911 model semi-automatic pistol during the142nd annual National Rifle Association convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center on May 4, 2013 in Houston.
A convention goer handles a Ruger 1911 model semi-automatic pistol during the142nd annual National Rifle Association convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center on May 4, 2013 in Houston. Karen Bleier—AFP/Getty Images

52% of Americans consider gun rights more important than gun control

Americans’ opinions on gun rights have shifted further into the “pro” column since the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which is approaching its second anniversary this month, according to new data from the Pew Research Center.

About 52% of Americans said it’s more important to protect gun rights than it is to control who owns them, the survey finds. Just 46% said the latter is most important, marking a significant shift since 1993, when 57% of those surveyed felt controlling gun ownership should be the priority. In January 2013, about a month after the shooting that left 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School dead, support for gun control was at 51%.

The survey revealed an even greater shift in opinion among surveyed Americans of color. In December 2012, only 29% of black Americans said gun ownership does more to protect people from being victims of crimes, while 53% said it further risks one’s safety. This year, 51% said guns protect and only 41% felt they put safety at risk. The change among white Americans was far less dramatic.

Pew’s survey of 1,507 adults was conducted from Dec. 3-7. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

TIME Crime

Officer in Tamir Rice Shooting Death Said to Have Handgun Performance Issues

According to a 2012 letter from a previous police department

The police officer in Cleveland who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in November had a poor history of handling guns, according to a new report.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that a 2012 letter from Deputy Chief Jim Polak, of the Independence Police Department where officer Tim Loehmann previously worked, labeled his performance as “dismal” and claimed he was “distracted” and “weepy” during handgun training. “I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct the deficiencies,” Polak added in the letter included in the officer’s personnel file, which suggested the department and officer separate.

Loehmann shot and killed Rice on Nov. 22 less than two seconds after he and another officer arrived at a park, where police had been alerted of someone thought to have a gun. Rice was found to be in possession of a fake gun.

Read more at the Cleveland Plain Dealer

MONEY deals

6 Black Friday Deals So Crazy You Won’t Believe They’re Real

dogs with "adopt me" signs
Jim McKinley—Alamy

Black Friday deals on TVs, tablets, toys, clothing, and jewelry come as no surprise. But how about Black Friday promotions featuring guns, giveaways of cats and dogs, and the requirement to strip down to your underwear?

Here are a half-dozen downright bizarre Black Friday deals:

Free Cats & Dogs
At least one Humane Society (in Oregon) is waiving the usual $50 adoption fee on cats now through December 1. In addition to free cat adoptions, the shelter is knocking $50 off normal dog adoption fees, which generally run $100 to $350. Other humane societies around the country are hosting Black Friday pet deals such as free dogs if they’re black and at least six months old (Kansas) and a promotion of $5 to adopt a cat 5+ years old and 50% off the adoption of rabbits, guinea pigs, and other small animals (in Massachusetts).

Buy a Car, Get It Free If It Snows on Christmas
A car dealership in Chicago has a sales pitch that’s tempting for those who like to gamble—and that could wind up being extremely costly for its promoters. The deal is that all customers who buy a new Buick or GMC automobile at the dealership on Friday or Saturday will get full refunds on their purchases if it snows six or more inches on Christmas. The dealership is calling the promo its “White Friday” sale.

Guns & Ammo
It may not be what your family expects to find under the tree or stuffed in stockings on Christmas morning, but guns have come to be hot sellers on Black Friday and throughout the holiday shopping season. Last year, the number of FBI background checks conducted for each firearm purchase on Black Friday was nearly triple that of a typical sales day. Why are guns hot sellers during this period? Largely for the same reasons that so many other items are hot sellers right about now—because stores have big promotions to attract customers. Walmart is discounting all firearms by 20% for its Black Friday sale, while gun enthusiast websites are filled with firearm and accessory deals—weapons, targets, ammunition, and more—from a wide range of retailers around the country.

Wait Outside in Your Underwear, Get Free Clothes
Among the many early Black Friday sales that have popped up this week, probably the strangest took place on Tuesday at Desigual in San Francisco: As the Consumerist pointed out, the first 100 shoppers waiting outside the store wearing nothing but their underwear received free tops and bottoms from the Barcelona-based fashion retailer.

Buy a Car, Get a TV
The first ten customers to buy new cars at a Toyota dealership in Missouri received free flat-screen TVs thrown into the deal on Black Friday. What’s more, the first ten people in the door at the dealership on Friday were handed $25 gift cards for ham—no car purchase required.

Loans and Online Bank Accounts
Everyone else feels comfortable glomming onto Black Friday for sales and marketing purposes, so why not financial institutions as well? The Utah Community Credit Union, for instance, is advertising “BLACK FRIDAY DOORBUSTERS!” in the form of auto, home equity, and personal loans with supposedly great terms. Capital One 360, meanwhile, is hosting a Black Friday Sale, with bonuses like $100 for new savings and checking accounts and, depending on how much you invest, $150 to $1,250 bonuses for those opening a new online trading account or IRA.

Bear in the mind that even if these offers are truly good deals, taking out a loan or opening a new bank account is certainly not something you decide impulsively because of some flashy promotion. For that matter, no one should go adopting a pet or buying a gun on an impulse either.

TIME Crime

Toy Guns Create Deadly Problems for Police

This undated photo provided by the family's attorney shows Tamir Rice, 12.
This undated photo provided by the family's attorney shows Tamir Rice, 12 AP

A 12-year-old was killed by Cleveland police after they mistook his novelty gun for a real one in a public park

It’s a tragic story that is all too familiar. This one began on Nov. 22, when a 12-year-old boy named Tamir Rice was playing in a Cleveland park and waving what appeared to be a weapon. Someone called the police and reported that “a guy with a gun was pointing it at people,” but noted that the gun was “probably fake.” According to local news reports, some of that information may not have been passed on to the officers who were dispatched to the scene, who had been told to respond to “a male with a gun threatening people.”

Here’s what happened next, according to the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

They responded and saw the boy pick up what they thought was a black gun, tuck it in his waistband and take a few steps.

Officers drew their weapons and told the boy to raise his hands. Instead, he lifted his shirt and reached for the handle of the gun sticking out of his waistband. He pulled out the gun, and the officer opened fire, shooting twice, hitting him at least once in the abdomen.

Rice died from the officers’ shots. It turns out what he had in his waistband was a BB-type novelty gun with the orange safety cap removed. The Cleveland police department, which said the toy was “indistinguishable” from a real gun, according to the New York Times, is investigating the shooting. The officers who responded have been put on administrative leave.

Rice’s death is the most recent example of what can happen when police mistake a play weapon for a real firearm. Last year, police officers in Santa Rosa, Calif. fatally shot a 13-year-old named Andy Lopez while he walking to a friend’s house — carrying what appeared to be an AK-47 assault rifle, but which was actually an airsoft gun that didn’t have the legally required orange marker. Lopez’ death, which led to several protests months after his death, helped gather support for a new law that changed how airsoft and BB guns are regulated in California, requiring that their entire exterior surface be painted a bright color or feature salient fluorescent strips.

On Sunday, an Ohio lawmaker announced that she would introduce similar legislation in the wake of Rice’s death. “With Saturday’s deadly shooting of a 12-year-old in Cleveland, it is becoming crystal clear that we need this law in Ohio,” State Representative Alicia Reece said in a press release, “to prevent future deadly confrontations with someone who clearly presents little to no immediate threat or danger.”

Rice’s death comes just months after a 22-year-old was fatally shot in an Ohio Walmart when police mistook an air rifle he was holding for a deadly weapon. In 2012, Texas police fatally shot an eighth-grader who had a pellet gun that resembled a Glock. The year before, Miami police shot and killed a 57-year old man who had a realistic replica gun after getting 9-1-1 calls about the ostensible weapon.

The federal government doesn’t keep ongoing statistics on the trend but, in a 1990 paper funded by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, police reported they had used or threatened to use force “in a confrontation where an imitation gun had been mistaken for a real firearm,” at a rate of about 200 incidents per year. The paper’s authors suggested this number was “significantly underreported.”

A series of toy gun-related deaths in the late 80s helped pass the federal amendment, sponsored by Republican Senator Bob Dole, requiring all toy, “look-alike” or imitation firearms to have a bright orange plug or other salient marking. But manufacturers don’t always adhere to required standards and, as in Rice’s case, markings can be altered or removed. Part of the appeal of imitation guns for some buyers, too, is that they look and feel like the real thing. “Best part about this rifle is the recoil felt when firing the gun,” reads the description of one product on an airsoft company website. “Each shot is accompanied by a satisfying solid jolt.”

California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Imitation Firearm Safety Act in September. “A toy should look like a toy and not a lethal weapon,” said State Senator Noreen Evans, a joint-author of the legislation who represents the Santa Rosa area. “Currently these copycat toys are manufactured to be virtually indistinguishable from real firearms. Toys should not get a child killed.” After news of Rice’s death over the weekend, another one of the bill’s authors, State Senator Kevin de Leon, said that he hopes other states follow suit: “The two recent tragedies in Ohio are unfortunate examples of a trend we will continue to see unless we change our laws to make imitation guns distinguishable from real firearms.”

Law enforcement officials stress that kids or adults who have imitation firearms may not grasp how much danger the play guns can put them in when members of the public or authorities see them. “We’re not trained to shoot people in the leg,” Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association President Jeff Follmer told the Northeast Ohio Media Group. “If we pull that trigger, we feel our lives are in danger.”

Speaking to TIME after Lopez’ death, a former federal law enforcement officer said police often have to make decisions based on first impressions. “In a stressful situation where it’s a question of using deadly force, you are not going to be able to get close enough to give a detailed inspection,” says Jim Yurgealitis, a former agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives, who worked the streets of Baltimore for more than a decade. “Officers have to make a decision in milliseconds and everybody can second guess it.”

TIME Crime

12-Year-Old Fatally Shot by Police Who Mistook Replica Gun for Real One

The boy died at the hospital after officers shot him on a playground

A 12-year-old boy who was shot by police after they mistook his replica airsoft gun for a real gun died Sunday, police said.

Officers responded on Saturday afternoon to a call about someone waving around a gun at a Cleveland playground, Cleveland.com reports. The caller told police that gun was likely not real and that the person was “probably a juvenile,” but those comments were never relayed to the officers who responded.

“There is a guy with a pistol, it’s probably fake, but he’s pointing it at everyone,” the caller says in a recording of the 911 call released by police, USA Today reports.

Police reportedly fired two shots; the boy was hit in the torso and underwent surgery on Saturday. A hospital spokesperson confirmed Sunday that the boy had since died.

The police department said in a statement that an orange marker that typically appears on toy guns to distinguish them from real guns was missing. Two police officers have been placed on administrative leave, NBC reports.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating along with the Cleveland police.

[Cleveland]

TIME India

Indian Holy Man Arrested Following Clashes at Ashram

Supporters of Satguru Rampalji Maharaj, a self-styled "godman" take shelter under placards as they are hit by a police water cannon during a protest outside the ashram of Rampal in Hisar
Supporters of Sant Rampal, a self-styled "god-man," take shelter under placards as they are hit by a police water cannon during a protest outside their ashram in Hisar in the northern Indian state of Haryana on Nov. 18, 2014 Stringer India—Reuters

The spiritual leader was taken into custody late Wednesday after a weeklong conflict

A self-proclaimed Indian spiritual guru was arrested Wednesday, putting an end to his protracted efforts to evade the police during which six people died and nearly 200 were injured.

Sixty-three-year-old Sant Rampal was taken into police custody late Wednesday night at his 12-acre ashram near Hisar in the north Indian state of Haryana, the BBC reported.

Rampal, who has ignored 43 court summonses since 2010 citing ill health, was taken to the nearby district of Panchkula and medically examined before being locked up. “We have examined him and his condition, including his blood pressure, is stable,” one of the doctors told the Times of India.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court canceled the religious leader’s bail in a previous murder case on Thursday morning, the Times reported.

Rampal is accused of inciting his followers to open fire on a village in 2006, an incident in which one man died.

A weeklong effort by local police to apprehend him reached a climax on Tuesday, when thousands of his supporters reportedly attacked police surrounding the ashram with acid, petrol bombs and guns while Rampal remained holed up inside.

Four women were found dead at the ashram on Wednesday as thousands of supporters fled the premises, while another woman and an 18-month-old child died later at a hospital.

The “god-man” expressed remorse for the casualties, but denied allegations that he used his followers as a line of defense. “I am sorry about the deaths of my followers, but I didn’t use any as a human shield,” news channel NDTV quoted him as saying at the hospital.

Rampal, who has been charged with sedition along with several supporters, appeared in court Thursday afternoon and was remanded to judicial custody until Nov. 28.

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