When police officers in Washington, DC, shot 34-year-old Miriam Carey after she took them on a short, frantic car chase from the White House to the Capitol, the initial consensus was that cops performed heroically, that they saved lives from a gunman who might even have been a terrorist. But the first reports, as is often the case, were wrong. Though the spontaneous hustle for news of Twitter first used the hashtag #capitolshooting, the only shots fired were by the police, and Carey was unarmed—in fact, she never left her car. But even after all of that was public knowledge, the widespread assumption was that the cops and secret service officers were justified in shooting at a woman who was recklessly and aggressively driving toward potential targets for terrorism and who refused to surrender to them.
On Thursday afternoon Carey, a resident of Stamford, Connecticut, drove up to a security barrier around the White House. When the Secret Service approached she turned around quickly, hitting the barrier and then speeding towards the Capitol building. In the course of this chase, two police officers were injured and a cop car crashed into a barrier. When the dust settled, Carey was dead and her now-motherless one-year-old child, in the back seat of the car, was put into protective custody by DC family services.
Now Carey’s two sisters—one of whom is a former New York City cop—are criticizing the cops, claiming they didn’t have to use lethal force on a woman who was probably terrified. There are certainly indications that, in hindsight, Carey was more of a danger to herself than anyone else. She may have suffered from postpartum depression with psychosis—there are reports that medications for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, which she may have stopped taking, were found in her apartment. Carey apparently expressed various paranoid theories to police in December, including her belief that Barack Obama was spying on her. (Carey’s sisters dispute her ex-boyfriend’s claim that she suffered from delusions about communicating with Obama.)
Two weeks ago, a 13-person armed raid consisting of nine Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource (DNR) agents and four sheriff’s deputies served a search warrant on an animal shelter in order to seize and exterminate a contraband baby deer named Giggles. The abandoned fawn had been brought by a concerned family to the St. Francis Society shelter in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and stayed for about two weeks (the plan was to take Giggles to a wildlife reserve, a move that would have happened the day after the raid). But housing wildlife is illegal in Wisconsin due to concerns over diseases, and soon enough two anonymous busybodies called in a tip about the deer. The authorities reacted to the threat by immediately mobilizing (they even used aerial photos to track and confirm the existence of Giggles) and came to the shelter looking “like a SWAT team,” according to a shelter employee.
The law itself may seem cruel to Bambi fans, or coldly sensible to those worried about people keeping potentially disease-carrying wild animals as pets, but the issue isn’t the law so much as the bizarre method of enforcement—instead of taking Giggles to a reserve, the DNR sedated her, put her in a “body bag” and took her elsewhere to be killed.
Local news station WISN interviewed Jennifer Niemeyer, a supervisor for the DNR, who dismissed the idea that the cops should have talked to the shelter before they used force, comparing it to warning drug dealers before a raid. “They don’t call [drug offenders] and ask them to voluntarily surrender their marijuana or whatever drug that they have before they show up,” she said. No, they don’t. But they might start considering it.
Though SWAT-like tactics are most often used in narcotics cases, aggressive police raids (which don’t always involve SWAT teams) are now used more and more frequently for nonviolent lawbreaking. Examples range from FDA feeling the need to go guns-out while fighting the scourge of raw milk, to SWAT teamsostensibly checking liquor licenses at bars and strip clubs before searching employees and patrons for drugs, to a raid targeting Gibson Guitars after the company bought wood that wasn’t finished properly before being exported from India, to IRS agents training with assault rifles. Law enforcement agencies of all stripes can’t seem to get their heads around the notion that while their jobs might sometimes involve using guns and battering rams just like TV cops, they don’t always need to use force. For instance, they could try knocking politely on a door or making a phone call before they raid an animal shelter and kill a baby deer.
GUNS: THE CAUSE OF, AND THE SOLUTION TO, ALL OF LIFE’S PROBLEMS
Yesterday, if you wanted to get into a nasty argument with people you’d never met, your best bet would have been to click on the #LiberalTips2AvoidRape hashtag on Twitter and spend the next halfhour “joking” about women in short dresses getting raped, or making reductive comments about how much conservatives “hate women.”
Are Anti-Gun Murder Squads Killing Pro-Gun Campaigners? Of Course Not, but That Hasn’t Stopped These Conspiracy Theorists
On January 3, the producer of popular gun-loving YouTube channel “FPS Russia" was found dead in Georgia at his business. Keith Ratliff, 32, was discovered with a single bullet in the back of his head. Scattered around him were various weapons, some of which he’d modified himself. Some early articles also suggested Ratliff had been tied to a chair at some point before he was murdered and then found on a rural road, but those reports now seem to be false.
So far, the motive behind this execution is unclear. The police recently ruled out a burglary gone wrong, due to the fact that nothing was stolen from the scene, but—of course—with Ratliff’s line of work, there are now a few far-flung theories sending gun forums into a frenzy, and whispers that this was an arms deal that turned sour.
An example of the insane weapons and dodgy Russian accents on FPS Russia.
As the producer and business partner at FPS Russia, Ratliff reportedly provided the channel’s host (the guy with the corny fake Russian accent) with most of the rare, powerful weapons and explosives they demonstrate to their 500 million viewers. Getting hold of weapons like the Golden Desert Eagle, an AA-12 automatic shotgun, and a 40mm machine gun is something Ratliff prided himself on. Kitty Wandel, a manager at FPS Russia, commented on this a few days ago, saying: “Keith Ratliff has been with the FPS Russia channel for quite some time now, helping us […] to find almost impossible weapons to use in videos.” Ratliff managed to get most of these “almost impossible weapons” using his Federal Firearms License (FFL).
Now, if we look at various videos on the FPS Russia channel—the firing of an explosive crossbow; theassembly of a DRD Paratus-18, which is an assassin-type “suitcase machine gun;” and even the unloading of a rocket launcher—it’s fair to presume that Ratliff obtained these weapons with his “type 10” FFL connections. This type 10 license allows the owner to “manufacture firearms, ammunition, ammunition components, destructive devices, ammunition for destructive devices, and armor piercing ammunition.” It also permits the owner to deal in all the aforementioned items. The money to be made with one of these licenses is incredible if you have the right kind of connections—someone with a type 11 license, for example.
David W Dyson.
I spoke to David W Dyson, firearms consultant and barrister, about the type 11 FFL and FPS Russia’s extensive arsenal of weapons. He told me:
“Regarding the way in which FPS Russia got hold of the weapons, we know that someone with a type 11 FFL could import them.”
The type 11 allows the import of almost any weapon in the US. With these two connections combined, you can effectively set yourself up as an arms dealer who can import a weapon once and then reproduce or modify it to sell on a large scale. Modifying and designing guns was one of Ratliff’s specialities.
“If someone with a type 11 FFL imported the items [FPS Russia’s guns], and if Ratliff had a type 10 FFL, he could simply buy them from the importer,” says Dyson. “Any supplier trading with the US could be a potential source of the weapons. There seems to be quite a few guns that could have originated in the former Soviet Union, but I think a lot could be US produced.”
There is no specific evidence that Keith Ratliff or FPS Russia are involved in any kind of arms dealing—something I did try to contact them about—but considering the way Keith was killed and his very public connection to guns, it’s a clear possibility that can’t be ignored.
Ratliff was also unhappy about the amount of paperwork you have to get through to own a military assault weapon in America. Speaking on a YouTube video titled “Obama Vows to Ban All Magazine Fed Weapons,” he rants on about how it should be illegal for some people to have guns and not others.
With over 270 million guns in America, can anyone win the firearms debate? VICE’s Rocco Castoro examines Florida gun laws to find out.
The original version of this article appeared in the print edition of VICE’s December Hopelessness Issue. It was sent to press two weeks before Friday’s massacre in Newtown, Connecticut—one that ripped the heart straight out of America’s chest. An unfortunately timely piece, it has been updated accordingly.
The almost unfathomable national tragedy that happened on December 14th in Newtown, Connecticut, was the latest and most horrific example in a string of mass shootings that have occurred in the United States over the past 30 years. Unfortunately it took the brutal murder of 20 very young students and six of their caretakers at Sandy Hook Elementary School for Americans to truly attempt to wrap their minds around current firearms laws and reflect on the culture that has created them. And this time there will almost certainly be a massive legislative shift on the national level. How pivotal it will be remains to be seen.
However, what the nation will find—if history is any indicator—is that legal solutions to this dilemma will prove unsuccessful. Even worse, further restrictions on firearms may exacerbate the situation. This is because the information and decision-making process that is needed to responsibly unify firearms laws is inherently flawed from within.
There is a very specific reason that people—heroes, monsters, and especially Americans—like guns. It’s the same reason I like guns. I like shooting down a pockmarked range or sandy berm on a cloudy day. I like the feeling of curved metal behind my fingertip, knowing that the world can be forever changed with a simple pull.
My more sensible friends tell me I am this way because I’m a Floridian. And up until recently, I pretended to disagree. But I can no longer deny that they’ve been right all along. Then again, my most sensible friends were not born in Florida.
Growing up in the Sunshine State, I was brought up around guns and taught to respect their power, ensuring that I accepted the full spectrum of responsibility that comes with owning or even holding a firearm. Many of the people who raised me (with the important exception of my mother) felt that it was their duty to teach me the basics of gun safety, in the same way everyone should know how to fix a flat tire. This does not mean I agree with all or even the majority of American firearms laws. And in order to delve into the minutia of one of the most troubling catch-22s of our time, in mid-November I waded through the swampy backwaters of firearms legislation in my home state, which I hoped would serve as a microcosm for the rest of the nation. I believe it served its purpose.
For starters, to the vehemently antigun among you, to gain some perspective on how we arrived at this seemingly unsolvable problem, I issue this challenge: Put yourself in a place where your life or safety, or that of a loved one, is in grave danger. Then imagine that place is a sunny peninsula made up of hardworking citizens, self-reliant yet senile old folks, self-described “crackers” (google the etymology of that one if you don’t know it already), ultraviolent face-eating felons, disgustingly rich sociopaths, Miami-Dade County, and the creepiest boiled-brain tweaker weirdos on Earth. Welcome to Florida, population 19 million. Based on my years of experience trolling around with, at turns, some of the most interesting, valiant, and despicable residents of the state, I can assure you that many wholly sensible and productive Floridians of all stripes own guns. And yeah, a lot of scumbags have them, too, and they will shoot you without hesitation if they feel so inclined.
Decorated combat veteran and firearms enthusiast Eddie Cacciola stands in front of an American flag signed by fellow Marines who served with him in the first wave of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
One of the good guys is Philadelphia native Eddie Cacciola, a 32-year-old former Marine. Eddie moved to Florida five years ago. Before that, he served as a decorated combat engineer—“like the guys in The Hurt Locker”—during the first wave of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Eddie joined the Marines on September 18th, 2001. He was already considering enlisting, but 9/11 made the decision for him. He quit his dream job of running a motorcycle-racing team and importing MVs, Ducatis, and other high-end exotic bikes to fight in Iraq.
In 2005, Eddie returned from duty to Philadelphia and grew steadily more disenchanted with the War on Terror. “We maybe stuck around too long. People started not appreciating that we were there,” he said as we drove to a local Walmart to buy cheap ammo. “It was kind of a letdown of something that I think started as a good thing.”
Two years after his return to Philadelphia, Eddie moved to Sarasota, Florida, with his then girlfriend, who was from the area. The city’s immaculate white-sand shores include Siesta Beach, rated the top beach in the US in 2011 by “America’s Foremost Beach Expert,” Dr. Beach. It also happens to be my hometown, and I met Eddie through a mutual friend who knew I was planning to write a story from the perspective of responsible and thoughtful gun owners.
Eddie told me that before his time in the Marines he wasn’t much of a “gun person.” He had fired rifles and shotguns at various times while living in Philadelphia, but after his return from Iraq he began to see guns more as tools of life and outlets for recreation. Like many of his fellow Floridians, he believes in the public’s right to carry and bear arms pretty much wherever they choose. But while Eddie supports or is mostly indifferent to many of the state’s gun laws, he does take issue with one.
“In Florida, you can go ahead and buy, sell, and trade anything—as long as it’s not an illegal weapon,” he said. “You can just find somebody or something that you like, work out a deal with him, meet them in a local parking lot, do a third-grade trade with some money and a gun. Nothing else needed.” Alaska, Arizona, and Vermont are similarly lenient when it comes to these types of transactions.
Before my visit, a few weeks prior to the 2012 presidential election, I had asked Eddie whether he’d be willing to coordinate a trip out to the range with some of his shooting buddies. He happily obliged, with one caveat: “Get here quickly, because people are stockpiling. They think Obama might get elected again. If we wait too long it might be much harder to get ammo for certain weapons.”
It was the same story propagated in 2008 following Obama’s victory. Many firearms dealers in Florida and throughout the nation reported a massive uptick in background checks, which went from 11.2 million in 2007 to 12.7 million in 2008—a clear indicator that gun sales were spiking. The stockpiling resulted in an ammo shortage that, by February 2009, left many owners frustrated because dealers simply could not keep up with the demand. That month, the Orlando Sentinel reported that 9-mm and .45-caliber bullets for semiautomatic pistols and .38-caliber bullets for revolvers were becoming scarce, and that clerks at Walmarts in Apopka and Kissimmee had confirmed that the aforementioned types of ammo, along with .22-caliber bullets (one of the most common forms of ammunition), were on back order. Floridians, it seemed, were ready to rock ’n’ roll.
This October, a month before the election, background checks for potential gun purchasers nationwide were up 18.4 percent since the same time last year and, just as in 2008, sales of assault rifles such as the AR-15 and AK-47 increased after Obama’s victory. Many of the gun dealers and owners quoted in the press said they feared Obama would reinstitute the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, one of the most controversial aspects of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act passed under Clinton in September 1994. The ban relied on a convoluted flowchart to determine which sorts of weapons and accessories were to be made illegal for purchase by the general public.
Thanks to sunset provisions, the law expired in 2004. Since then, lawmakers like Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy of New York have unsuccessfully attempted to reinstitute the ban. Studies conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other independent studies found that the ban’s effect on violent crimes had been small if negligible. The Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice released a 2004 assessment of the decade-long ban, stating that if it were to be reinstated at a future date, its “effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement. [Assault weapons] were rarely used in gun crimes even before the ban.” A dissenting study carried out by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence alleged data provided by the ATF showed that the proportion of violent crimes in which assault weapons were used dropped from 4.82 to 1.61 percent during the ban. A spokesperson for the ATF later said that his organization could “in no way vouch for the “validity” of that claim.
While it’s been perfectly legal for the past eight years to buy an AR-15 alongside a $200 aftermarket “bump-fire stock” (which effectively transforms it into a full-auto weapon), gun rights supporters have reason to be fearful of Obama reinstituting some iteration of the Assault Weapons Ban. Obama served as a senator in Illinois, home to what many say are the strictest gun laws in the country. Leading up to his first presidential election, he was cautious but outspoken regarding his opinion that certain types of weapons should not be available to the public. A 2009 Gallup poll reported that as many as 41 percent of Americans believed that Obama, at some point, would “attempt to ban the sale of guns in the United States while he is president”—as in, all guns. And this August, White House spokesperson Jay Carney told reporters that the president fully supported a renewal of the ban.
When prompted with a question about federal firearms laws during the second 2012 presidential debate, Obama said that part of his strategy to curb street violence in America “is seeing if we can get automatic weapons that kill folks in amazing numbers out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.” This sort of reasoning doesn’t seem to take into account the legal rights of responsible gun owners—hardworking and scrappy folks who fully believe that the right to bear arms is inalienable, at least in America. Regardless of whether a new ban happens or not, the hoarding has already begun.
Trying to Report on the Sandy Hook Shooting When No One Has Anything to Say
What do you say about a dead six-year-old?
I went to Newtown, Connecticut on Monday with that question foremost in my mind. Almost every resident I spoke to there reported some kind of connection with the massacre. Caitlyn Hydeck, who sat next to me in a restaurant, said Olivia Engel and Charlotte Bacon, both six, had been students in the local theater program where she works as a dance instructor. “They were just happy little girls,” Hydeck recalled, at a loss to offer any further description. And really, what else could she say? I felt bad for even asking. Olivia was so tiny, andadorable.
When I arrived, TV crews had packed the town center, recording segments with the Honan Funeral Home in the background. One cameraperson wept. Inside, a viewing for Jack Pinto, also six, was underway. Men surrounded his small casket, wailing in grief; as I approached, I realized it was open. I hadn’t been ready for the sight of Jack’s lifeless face, which is now seared in my mind, presumably for life. On the radio that morning, I’d heard he liked swimming and the New York Giants—a woefully inadequate obituary, it would seem. But what more is there to say?
When Barack Obama read aloud the victims’ names on Sunday night at Newtown High School, his utterance of “Olivia” unexpectedly did me in. I worked as a camp counselor for a summer, and there were so many little girls named Olivia. If one had been killed, I wouldn’t have known what to say either, other than that they were happy little girls. As Obama read the names, I was struck by how distinctly American they sounded. This somehow compounded the sorrow: Catherine Hubbard, James Mattioli, Madeline Hsu, Noah Pozner, Ana Marquez-Greene…
At the restaurant, I asked Caitlyn if she had considered the fact that her hometown will henceforth be associated with mass murder of children, in the same way that Littleton, Colorado, is associated with Columbine. She said she’d thought about it some, but didn’t really know what to say. “We’re definitely going to be known for this forever,” she told me, trailing off.