One in Three Gun-owning US Veterans Don’t Store Weapons Safely

A substantial percentage of U.S. military vets store guns loaded and ready to use, according to an American study that could have implications for suicide prevention.

“American veterans have a higher suicide risk than demographically matched U.S. adults and most of their suicides are actually related to firearm injury,” said lead author Dr. Joseph Simonetti of the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Colorado.

“On average, about 20 veterans die every day by suicide and about two-thirds of those suicides are firearm-related,” he told Reuters Health.

Simonetti and colleagues surveyed a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults in 2015, including 1,044 who had served in the military.

About 45 percent of veterans said they owned firearms and one in three of those gun owners reported storing at least one weapon loaded and unlocked.

Only about one in five gun-owning veterans kept all their guns locked and unloaded.

Storing weapons loaded and unlocked was reported by 34 percent of male veterans who own firearms and by 13 percent of female vets who were gun owners, according to the study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Personal beliefs an influence

Respondents’ personal beliefs tended to influence their storage decisions, the authors found. For example, storing a firearm loaded and unlocked was more common among people who said guns were not useful for protection if someone had to take the time to load or unlock them. This group also felt having a gun at home increased safety.

“One of the more interesting findings was that we asked veterans whether or not they agreed having a firearm in the home increases the risk of suicide for household members and only 6 percent agreed that a firearm in the home was a suicide risk    factor,” Simonetti said.

“But … we also asked veteran firearm owners … ‘If somebody in your household is at risk for suicide, what would you do?’ Eighty-two percent reported they would do something to limit firearm access for that household member. In fact, 25 percent said they would remove the gun from the home in that case.”

‘Really great study’

The results “are confirming what I suspected would be the case,” said Rajeev Ramchand, who studies firearm suicide prevention at research firm RAND Corporation in Washington, DC.

“It is now incumbent upon us to develop communication campaigns and strategies to help shift people’s internal perceptions of risks.”

“It’s a really great study because it really gives us a target for focusing on our suicide prevention campaigns,” Ramchand, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health.

The study was funded in part by the department of Veterans Affairs. VA efforts to prevent suicide among former service members include training health care providers to discuss firearm safety and distributing firearm “cable locks,” which can be attached to a gun to block its barrel or the use of ammunition.

Contentious subject

Gun control of any sort is a contentious topic in the U.S. But Simonetti believes both sides of the debate are likely to support safe storage practices.

“Nearly every gun advocacy organization out there including the NRA actually does promote the idea that guns should be stored safely when not in use,” he said. “I (just) don’t think most organizations have outlined exactly what that means.”

Ramchand is optimistic. “For so long we had a dearth of information about firearm storage. So this was a really great study to help us come up with data-driven policies and recommendations,” he said.

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Trump to Address Drugs, Nuclear Weapons in UN Speeches

President Donald Trump will call for global action on the world drug problem, lay out his vision of the U.S. role in the world, and urge a halt to the spread of weapons of mass destruction during next week’s gathering of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters Thursday that Trump’s focus “will be very much on the United States,” its role and the relations it wants to build, and “how we can make the American people proud, and what actions we can show that really live up to that.”

“He is looking forward to talking about foreign policy successes the United States has had over the past year and where we’re going to go from here,” she said. “He wants to talk about protecting U.S. sovereignty,” and “we want to continue to build relationships” with other countries that “share those values.”

‘Call to Action’ on drugs

Haley said Trump would address a high-level event Monday on the Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem, which 124 countries have already signed up to support. She said the U.S. was looking forward to more signatories.

The president will address the assembly’s 193 member nations Tuesday morning.

Haley said Trump would talk about the generosity of the United States. “But he’ll also lay down a marker that while the United States is generous, we’re going to be generous to those who share our values, generous to those who want to work with us, and not those that try and stop the United States or say they hate America, or are counterproductive to what we’re doing,” she said.

She said Trump on Wednesday would chair a Security Council meeting that was expanded from focusing on Iran to nonproliferation, including chemical weapons attacks in Syria and Britain.

Haley predicted, “I’m sure that is going to be the most watched Security Council meeting ever.”

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, chaired two Security Council meetings, one in 2009 focusing on nuclear disarmament and another in 2014 on “foreign terrorist fighters.”

Pompeo on N. Korea

Haley said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would chair a council meeting Thursday to look at North Korea’s progress toward denuclearization — which she called “baby steps” — and the council’s commitments to enforce tough sanctions.

The White House said Trump would hold “pull-aside” meetings with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Maria Fernanda Espinosa, the General Assembly president. He will have longer bilateral meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, French President Emmanuel Macron, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May.

On the social side, Haley said the president and his wife, Melania, would host a reception for all delegates Monday night. Trump will also host a reception Tuesday evening for foreign ministers of the 15 current Security Council member nations and the five countries that will be joining the council Jan. 1.

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Native American Teens Pulled From College Tour Want Changes

An attorney for two Native American brothers pulled from a Colorado State University tour earlier this year has demanded the school make policy changes, saying Thursday that campus officers violated the teens’ constitutional rights by patting them down without any suspicion of a crime.

A letter from American Civil Liberties Union attorney Sarah Hinger calls for the university to revisit its campus police policies and training to avoid another situation like the April 30 encounter, which resulted in the teens’ being “humiliated, scared and literally marginalized.”

Police video shows two officers stopping Thomas Kanewakeron Gray and Lloyd Skanahwati Gray, who were then 19 and 17, respectively, during a group admissions tour and checking their pockets. The brothers from New Mexico had called the school their top choice.

Police said a mother on the tour had called 911, saying she was worried because the Grays were “real quiet” and wore dark clothing.

‘False promises’ of change

“My boys were publicly humiliated and told that their looks alone make them suspicious characters,” mother Lorraine Kahneratokwa Gray said in a statement. “We are all disappointed, not only with CSU’s meager response, but also with their false promises to right this wrong.”

The was one of numerous examples of racial profiling to make headlines this year. 

A Smith College employee called police last month on a black student at the all-girls school in Massachusetts because she appeared “out of place.” The school president announced the hiring of an outside investigator and ordered every employee to undergo mandatory anti-bias training. 

Meanwhile, Colorado State University has taken only “small steps” after promises to change protocols for campus tours, the ACLU said.

A message requesting comment from university spokesman Mike Hooker was not immediately returned.

The school previously said it would refund the money that the teens spent on travel and take steps to prevent a similar situation from happening again, including the use of lanyards or badges to identify tour guests.

University President Tony Frank decried the incident, saying the brothers “wound up frightened and humiliated because another campus visitor was concerned about their clothes and overall demeanor — which appears to have simply been shyness.”

The ACLU wants Frank to order additional campus police training and a review of policies dictating how officers and dispatchers respond to “bias-based” reports on campus.

In an interview, Hinger told The Associated Press that the ACLU is not taking “any avenues off the table” — including possible legal action — should the university not follow through on its requests.

“Although they were never suspected of a crime, the Gray brothers were detained and searched by CSU police officers,” Hinger’s letter said. “In addition to violating their constitutional rights, this experience left the brothers humiliated, frightened and with an understanding that they were unwelcome on the CSU campus.”

‘Paranoid’ caller

Police have not identified the 911 caller, except to say she was a white, 45-year-old mother of another prospective student on the tour. In the call, she acknowledged she might be “completely paranoid” about the teens, whom she guessed were Hispanic.

She said their clothing had “weird symbolism or wording,” which turned out to represent metal bands.

She also said they were disinterested and evasive, adding that they wouldn’t provide their names when asked. The older brother said he had approached the tour guide during a stop in the library to introduce himself and his brother after the two had gotten lost on campus and arrived late.

The brothers, both Mohawk, are originally from upstate New York and are graduates of the Santa Fe Indian School, a New Mexico high school.

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A Year After Hurricane Maria Devastation, Puerto Ricans Working to Move On

One year after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, killing nearly 3,000 people according to one independent study, many are still working to move on from the disaster. Among them are the residents of a small fishing community in the Humacao region, on the Caribbean island’s east coast. But even though electricity hasn’t been fully restored throughout the island since Maria struck, Sept. 20, 2017, Puerto Ricans are open for business. VOA’s Cristina Caicedo Smit has more from San Juan.

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Fate of Supreme Court Nominee Rests With a Divided Senate

The U.S. Senate remains divided over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh has denied an allegation by Christine Blasey Ford that he sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers in the 1980s. Ford and Democrats are seeking an FBI investigation into the alleged assault before she would testify at the Senate Judiciary Committee, while President Donald Trump and Republicans are so far resisting. More on the battle over Kavanaugh’s nomination from VOA national correspondent Jim Malone.

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Proposed Inter-Korean Projects Could Violate UN, US Sanctions

As South Korean President Moon Jae-in meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for their third summit, there is increasing concern that the inter-Korean economic projects Seoul envisions could violate sanctions and fracture the U.S.-South Korean alliance.

“The South Korean government appears to be headed in the direction of, or inclined to violate bans on joint ventures with North Korea, support for trade with North Korea, and infrastructure projects with North Korea, all of which require the permission of the U.N. committee,” said Joshua Stanton, a Washington-based attorney who helped draft the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act that former President Barack Obama signed in February 2016. 

For South Korea to carry out joint economic projects with North Korea, it would need to seek exemptions on sanctions from the U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea.

However, “the mandate of the committee does not include the authority to modify existing terms specified in various resolutions,” said William Newcomb, a former U.S. Treasury official who is on the U.N. Security Council’s Panel of Experts on North Korea.

Disruption of relationship

If South Korea does not ask for exemptions from sanctions, Seoul will face a risk of rupturing its relationship with the U.S., Stanton said.

“It would be an extinction-level event for the U.S.-South Korean alliance,” he said. “This is an absolutely incomprehensible betrayal by a nation that calls itself our ally that Americans have defended with [their] blood and with their money.” 

And if sanctions are willfully violated, Stanton said South Korea would be, “in its own way, a rogue nation.” The roster of rogue nations includes North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Syria and others.

South Korea has been planning several joint economic projects with North Korea since April’s inter-Korean summit. As the U.S. and North Korean relationship has thawed in the aftermath of the Singapore summit held in June between President Donald Trump and Kim, Seoul stepped up its plans, and a third inter-Korean summit began Tuesday in Pyongyang.

Days before Moon and Kim met, however, the U.S. announced new unilateral sanctions against North Korea. On Thursday, Washington targeted North Korea’s China-based company, Yanbian Silver Star Network Technology, its North Korean CEO, Jong Song Hwa, and its Russia-based subsidiary, Volasys Silver Star, which sells IT services and products.

There is also talk of the U.S. using military force to curb North Korea from evading sanctions at sea by monitoring ship-to-ship transfers by coordinating its efforts with countries like Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, France, and the U.K. as well as South Korea.

The projects South Korea has been planning with the North include constructing an inter-Korean railway, which Moon has publicly backed, reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex, and resuming the tours to Mount Kumgang, a landmark of great natural beauty with a special hold on the Korean soul. The tours and the complex appeal to South Korean companies.

Possible sanction violations

Each could violate sanctions that were imposed on North Korea in 2016 in response to its fourth nuclear weapons test and a long-range missile launch.

“In the absence of waivers and exemptions from the United Nations, which the U.S. as one of the Security Council members would have to support, Mount Kumgang and Kaesong would violate sanctions,” said Troy Stangarone, senior director of the Korea Economic Institute, who is a specialist on South Korea trade and North Korea.  

Under U.N. Resolution 2375 issued in September 2017, “forming joint ventures or cooperative entities, new and existing, with DPRK (North Korean) entities or individuals” is prohibited.

Additionally, any products manufactured using North Korean labor, potentially including items fabricated in the Kaesong Industrial Complex, will be banned from U.S. commerce. The Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) adopted in August 2017 stipulates that manufacturers purge any parts made with North Korean labor from their supply chains.

While Moon is expected to attempt to broker a denuclearization deal between the U.S. and North Korea at the summit and continue Seoul’s rapprochement with Pyongyang aimed toward eventual unification, South Korea must make sure that it does not violate sanctions as it pursues inter-Korean projects, Stanton said.

“I don’t think they actually did read the sanctions,” he said. “When you look at Moon Jae-in, he will go out and make all of these promises” and when it’s pointed out that “that there’s a provision that you’re violating here … they will respond by saying it’s not sanctions violation because it’s good for everyone to have peace.”

One of the projects is the construction of a railroad to connect Seoul and Sinuju, the North’s northeastern border near the Chinese city of Dandong, via Pyongyang, eventually linking to Beijing and then venturing toward Europe via the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Siberian railways.

Railway project concerns

William Brown, a former U.S. intelligence official who is currently a professor of North Korean economy at Georgetown University, said for the railroad project to move forward, South Korea would have to finance the construction, which could end up funding the North Korean government. 

“A big railway project wouldn’t work without severe pullback of U.N. sanctions and probably U.S. sanctions as well,” said Brown. 

According to Stanton, providing both public and private financial support to North Korea is banned under U.N. Resolution 2321 adopted in November 2016.

However, plans for the railroad and the other projects are being formulated. Although South Korean officials said they do not expect to make any agreements on joint economic projects, top business leaders from Samsung, LG Group and Hyundai accompanied Moon to the summit.

Since Moon’s first summit with Kim, Hyundai has been developing a task force to prepare for restarting the Mount Kumgang tours and Kaesong factories.

When Mount Kumgang initially opened in 1998, Hyundai Asan had the exclusive right to operate tours. The company agreed to pay Pyongyang a fixed monthly sum, which was subsequently changed to a percentage of monthly profit when the attraction proved less profitable than anticipated, said Bradley Babson, an advisory council member of the Korea Economic Institute of America. 

The tours ended in 2008 after a North Korean guard shot and killed a South Korean tourist.

Resuming the tours under an arrangement similar to the original deal would violate current sanctions. 

Initially, the Kaesong Industrial Complex was mostly financed by the South Korean government and major South Korean companies. The complex that opened in 2004 included factories where South Korean manufacturers could employ inexpensive North Korean workers.

Each North Korean worker was supposed to be paid $70 a month, but they received a fraction of that from their government, Brown said. 

Wages likely diverted

In February 2016 during the administration of Park Geun-hye, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said wages were paid in U.S. dollars to the North Korean government and not directly to the laborers, and most of the money is believed to have been diverted to the North’s Office 39, which is thought to finance Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

The Treasury Department sanctioned Office 39, describing it as “a secretive branch” of the North Korean government that provides critical support to the regime’s leadership “in part through engaging in illicit economic activities and managing slush funds and generating revenues for the leadership.”

Moon, who was elected in May 2017 after Park’s impeachment, revived the “sunshine policy” of building ties with North Korea through aid and exchanges.

In July 2017, Moon’s office said that there was no proof that money from Kaesong funded North Korea’s weapons program. But Stangarone said the money would have indirectly supported the North’s weapons program even if it did not directly finance it. 

“The primary issue,” he said, “is even if North Korea were … to only spend that money on other things rather than nuclear program or its military in general, that funding then frees up other funding they would have had to use and allow them to spend it on those weapons program.”  

 

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Woman Accusing Judge Kavanaugh of Sexual Assault Wants FBI Probe

Lawyers for the woman who is accusing U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault more than 30 years ago says she wants the FBI to investigate her allegation before she testifies publicly.

Kavanaugh denies the charge and will apparently tell his side of the story before the Senate Judiciary Committee next Monday. 

His accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, has also been invited to testify. 

But Ford’s lawyers said in a letter Tuesday to Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley that some of the senators on the committee “appear to have made up their minds” and believe Kavanaugh.

The lawyers also said Ford has become the subject of death threats and harassment, and expressed fears that the committee planned to have her “relive this traumatic and harrowing incident” while testifying at the same table as Kavanaugh and in front of national television cameras.

“Nobody should be subject to threats and intimidation, and Dr. Ford is no exception,” Grassley said in a statement later Tuesday.

The Republican senator said there were no plans to have Ford and Kavanaugh appear at the same time, and that the committee had offered her the opportunity to appear before a private hearing.

He further rejected calls for an FBI investigation, saying the Senate has the information it needs to handle the matter on its own.

“Dr. Ford’s testimony would reflect her personal knowledge and memory of events. Nothing the FBI or any other investigator does would have any bearing on what Dr. Ford tells the committee, so there is no reason for any further delay,” Grassley said.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said Republicans are not taking Ford’s allegations seriously and are rushing into a “completely unfair” hearing.

“We should honor Dr. Blasey Ford’s wishes and delay this hearing. A proper investigation must be completed, witnesses interviewed, evidence reviewed and all sides spoken to. Only then should the chairman set a hearing date,” Feinstein said.

President Donald Trump gave Kavanaugh a ringing new endorsement Tuesday, saying he felt “so badly” that Kavanaugh is facing scrutiny over the allegations.

“This is not a man that deserves this,” Trump said. “I feel terrible for his family.”

The president renewed his criticism of Feinstein for not disclosing the allegations when she first learned of them in July. He accused Democrats of being “lousy politicians, but good obstructionists” in their efforts to derail Kavanaugh’s confirmation to a lifetime appointment on the country’s highest court. 

Feinstein reiterated Tuesday that making the allegations public was not her decision to make, but rather up to Ford to decide if and when we wanted to do so.

Ford, a California psychology professor, told The Washington Post Kavanaugh groped her at a suburban Washington house party when she was 15 and he was 17. 

She said Kavanaugh, “stumbling drunk,” threw her down on a bed, grinding his body against hers and trying to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she was wearing over it. Ford said when she tried to scream, he put his hand over her mouth.

She said she feared Kavanaugh might inadvertently kill her before she managed to flee.

Some Democratic lawmakers have also called for an FBI investigation. The agency conducted background checks six times over the years on Kavanaugh.

But Trump said ahead of his news conference, “I don’t think the FBI should be involved because they don’t want to be involved.” He said senators hearing Ford’s accusations, if she testifies, “will open it up and they will do a very good job” considering Ford’s allegations and Kavanaugh’s denial.

Grassley said the panel plans to call only two witnesses, Ford and Kavanaugh, and not another man, Mark Judge, whom Ford says was in the same bedroom during the alleged attack.

Grassley’s omission of Judge, who has said he has no memory of the alleged attack, and other possible witnesses, drew the ire of Feinstein. 

“It’s impossible to take this process seriously,” Feinstein said.

“What about other witnesses like Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge?” Feinstein said. “What about individuals who were previously told about this incident? What about experts who can speak to the effects of this kind of trauma on a victim? This is another attempt by Republicans to rush this nomination and not fully vet Judge Kavanaugh.”

Republicans, some of whom see the allegations as a stalling tactic by Democrats to thwart Kavanaugh’s confirmation, have been pushing to confirm him before November’s midterm elections, when they could lose their 51-49 majority control of the Senate.

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Senate Hearing on Accusations Against Kavanaugh in Doubt

A Senate panel’s scheduled public hearing next week into allegations U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh assaulted a teenage girl when they were both in high school was thrown into doubt on Tuesday.

Senator Charles Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee considering Kavanaugh’s appointment to a lifetime seat on the country’s highest court, said his staff had reached out several times to Kavanaugh’s accuser, California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, but had yet to hear back that she would appear at Monday’s hearing.

Ford’s attorney said Monday that her client would be open to “a fair proceeding” and testify.

But Grassley told a radio interviewer on Tuesday that Ford’s lack of response so far “kind of raises the question, do they want to come to the public hearing or not.”

Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said the panel plans to call only two witnesses, Ford and Kavanaugh, and not another man, Mark Judge, whom Ford has alleged was in the same bedroom in a house in suburban Washington in 1982 when she alleges that Kavanaugh, “stumbling drunk,” groped her, leaving her fearful for her life.  

Grassley’s omission of Judge, who as well as Kavanaugh, has denied that an attack occurred, and other possible witnesses drew the ire of the Senate panel’s top Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.  “It’s impossible to take this process seriously,” Feinstein said.

“What about other witnesses like Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge?” Feinstein said.  “What about individuals who were previously told about this incident?  What about experts who can speak to the effects of this kind of trauma on a victim?  This is another attempt by Republicans to rush this nomination and not fully vet Judge Kavanaugh.”

One key undecided lawmaker on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Republican Susan Collins of Maine, said she was “very puzzled” by the uncertainty of Ford’s testimony.

“I’ve said from the beginning that these are very serious allegations and she deserves to be heard,” Collins said.  “She is now being given an opportunity to come before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions and I really hope that she doesn’t pass up that opportunity.”

Another undecided senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said, “We have a woman who has come forward, she deserves to be heard, it’s important that her voice and her story is shared.”

But the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, raised doubts about Ford’s account of the three-decade-old incident, saying, “The problem is, Dr. Ford can’t can’t remember when it was, where it was, or how it came to be.”

Republicans on the committee had hoped to hold a vote to move Kavanaugh’s nomination forward to a full Senate vote as early as Thursday of this week.  

President Donald Trump, who picked Kavanaugh, an appellate court judge in Washington, to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, voiced his continuing support.

“I’m very supportive,” Trump told reporters at the White House.  He said he did not think that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has done background checks over the years on Kavanaugh, needs to investigate Ford’s allegations.

“I don’t think the FBI should be involved because they don’t want to be involved,” Trump said.  Trump said senators hearing Ford’s accusations, if she testifies, “will open it up and they will do a very good job” considering Ford’s allegations and Kavanaugh’s adamant denial that he has ever been involved in any attack on a woman.

In an interview with The Washington Post published Sunday, Ford alleged that when she was 15 and Kavanaugh 17 he cornered her in a bedroom at a house party in suburban Washington and groped her as Judge watched.

Ford, now 51, told the newspaper that Kavanaugh threw her down on a bed, grinding his body against hers and trying to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she was wearing over it. Ford said when she tried to scream, he put his hand over her mouth.

Republicans, some of whom see the allegations as a stalling tactic by Democrats to thwart the 53-year-old Kavanaugh’s confirmation, have been pushing to confirm Kavanaugh before November’s midterm elections, when they could lose their 51-49 majority control of the Senate.

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