Guns & America

Scott and JJ Shepherd live in a white house at the end of a dirt road in Walden, Colorado, a small town near the Wyoming border.

The picture window above the sink in their kitchen frames a view: black cattle and a barn in the foreground, mountains in the distance, dark and dusted with snow.

Leigh Paterson, KUNC

Scott and JJ Shepherd’s herd in Walden, Colorado.

Heath Druzin / Boise State Public Radio

In most people's minds, machine guns are the province of wars and gangster movies. But for some hobbyists, they're coveted collectors' items – albeit heavily regulated, expensive and hard to come by.


Toy guns have been a popular item on Christmas gift wish lists for decades. Little Ralphie Parker from the 1983 holiday classic A Christmas Story spends most of the movie wishing for a “Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle.”

Many toy guns look more real than toy, however, which has city officials, law enforcement and safety experts across the country urging parents to use extreme caution when purchasing them for children.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced a new federal regulation that reclassifies bump stocks as machine guns, making bump stocks illegal in most cases under the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act.

On an unseasonably warm November day, hunter Cole Cushman loaded his pickup truck with camouflage gear, bright orange hats and a Browning 7 mm rifle for a hunt deep in the Virginia woods.

The autumn and winter months mark deer season for much of the United States, and for Cushman and other hunters across the country, a chance to feed their neighbors through various local hunger-relief programs.

It isn’t every day three women in their seventies walk into a gun store.

Stephanie Nugent is the rookie, a first-time shooter who before today had never held more than a water gun.

Mary Knox is proficient: Two years ago she was “petrified,” but overcame arthritic hands and bought her own pistol for self-defense.

Then there’s Karen Corum, who has long had an interest in shooting and says she has “always been fairly good at it.” She got Knox into the shooting sports and the duo now shoots together almost every week.

The Trump Administration says it will soon place a federal ban on bump stocks, the gun attachments that allow semi-automatic rifles to fire faster. Ten states banned the plastic device after it was used by a gunman in Las Vegas to shoot and kill 58 people in 2017.

Without any enhancement, semi-automatic rifles fire one bullet per trigger pull. Bump stocks harness the gun’s recoil to speed up the rate of fire, allowing the gun to pump out bullets faster.

This year, high-profile incidents like the deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade as well as clusters of suicides among young people in communities all over the country have served as a reminder that suicide is a growing public health issue in the U.S.

Laws that allow people to use deadly force when threatened — without requiring them to first retreat — have been sweeping across the nation for over a decade. Today, depending on your definition, “stand your ground” is law in well over half of American states.

Last year, more than 771 million people passed through airport security nationwide. Among the liquids and wrapped presents Transportation Security Administration agents unearth in passengers’ carry-ons, they’re finding more and more firearms.

From 2015 to 2017, the TSA found at least 9,866 firearms in carry-on baggage at airports nationwide.

Tyler Tiller and his 10-year-old daughter, Taylor, sit perched on a log overlooking a fog-encased forest below. They’re just off a mountainous dirt road in western Oregon. The sun is setting and with it, their last chance to shoot a doe this season.

Neither seems to care much. Their excursions aren’t really about hunting.

Last year’s Black Friday set the single-day record for gun background checks run — 203,086.

When you buy a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer, they’re required to run a background check.

While there is no tally of guns sold in the U.S., there is a daily count of background check requests from the FBI and it’s generally considered the best way to measure gun sales.

If you want to know how a felon buys a gun, think about how a teenager might buy alcohol.

First, find a willing friend or family member, or maybe even a stranger at a liquor store who wants to make a quick buck. Then give this person some cash, tell them your drink of choice, and wait.

If you’re careful, this transaction — called a “straw purchase” — is impossible to detect. Clerks don’t often hassle a person over 21 who walks alone into a liquor store.

Gun violence prevention groups launched a multi-million dollar campaign to elect pro-gun control candidates across the country during this year’s midterms. Those efforts are now associated with key wins that helped Democrats retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives and could shape gun policy in the coming session.

In the aftermath of a mass shooting, a recurring question arises: How did the shooter get the gun?  

In most cases, the perpetrator legally bought the firearms in question.

Of the 105 mass shootings committed in the U.S. since 1982, 78 (or 74 percent) involved firearms obtained by legal means, as shown in this analysis of the mass shooting database created by news organization Mother Jones.

About two weeks out from Election Day, a dozen United Auto Workers and United Steelworkers came out to the small eastern city of Warren, Ohio. They were there to support the Democratic ticket for governor, Richard Cordray and his running mate Betty Sutton.

When Congress passed the 1968 Gun Control Act, it was one of the first attempts by the federal government to address who was too dangerous to buy a firearm. In the 50 years since, our understanding of mental illness has become more nuanced, while federal regulations largely have not.

BSPR

Guns &  America is a collaborative effort among ten pubic broadcasting entities across the country. Boise State Public Radio's Heath Druzin is covering gun issues in the Mountain West and he joins us to discuss the role firearms are playing in political branding.

After a gunman opened fire at a synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday, killing at least 11 and wounding others in what federal prosecutors are calling a hate crime, faith leaders around the country are re-examining security tactics while trying to ensure their religious institutions remain accessible community centers.

About a hundred students at the Emory School of Medicine gathered during lunch earlier this fall, scarfing down their meal before a panel discussion. They came, on their own time, to learn how to talk to their future patients about gun safety. They only had an hour.

There’s a lot of talk about guns in political campaigns this year, much of it focused on regulations aimed at preventing mass shootings. But in states like Idaho, where well over half the population has guns, politicians on all sides are angling to be the most firearms-friendly candidate.

At the signing of the U.S. Gun Control Act on Oct. 22, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson hailed the bill as the first step in disarming “the criminal, and the careless, and the insane.”

States with higher levels of household gun ownership have higher rates of fatal police shootings, according to a study this month from researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Northeastern University.

The study found a 3.6 times higher incident rate for fatal police shootings in the 10 states with the highest firearm availability (population 122 million in the period) versus that in the five states with the lowest firearm availability (population 122 million during the same period).

Just after 9 a.m. EDT on Thursday, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office received a call of an active shooter at a business park in Aberdeen, Maryland.

The alleged shooter was a 26-year-old temporary employee of the Rite Aid distribution center who arrived to work and opened fire, killing three people and injuring several others before turning the gun on herself, according to law enforcement officials.

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