Blog Posts by Liz Goodwin

  • Biden urges gun legislation in speech 10 miles from Sandy Hook

    Vice President Joe Biden urged lawmakers to have the "courage" to pass legislation addressing gun violence on Thursday at a conference in Connecticut just 10 miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School, scene of the Dec. 14 mass shooting.

    "We have an obligation to act," Biden said of America's politicians, after meeting with two parents of children who were murdered at Sandy Hook. "You all should know there is a moral price to be paid for inaction."

    Biden said a "consensus" is forming around closing loopholes that allow some gun buyers to evade background checks, banning high-capacity magazines and banning some semi-automatic weapons. The vice president also said additional funding should be provided to put more law enforcement officers on the streets and to make mental health services more widely available.

    Biden specifically targeted the AR-15 rifle in his speech, mocking those who argue it's a self-defense or recreational weapon and thus should not be banned. "There are plenty of ways you can protect yourself and recreate without an AR-15," Biden said. He later expressed disbelief at the idea that banning a 100-round drum, such as was used in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting last summer, would infringe upon anyone's Second Amendment rights.

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  • State, local politicians attempt to preempt federal gun laws

    A customer shops for a gun at Freddie Bear Sports in Illinois on Jan. 19. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

    They say the best defense is a good offense.

    As the president and some congressional Democrats urge federal action on gun violence, lawmakers in at least five states have introduced legislation to preemptively outlaw any federal bans on high-capacity magazines or certain semi-automatic rifles. Some of the proposed laws even go a step further, making it a state crime for any government official to enforce these hypothetical federal gun laws.

    Bills introduced in Texas, Wyoming, Tennessee, Alabama and Missouri over the past month would declare void any federal laws banning high-capacity magazines or certain weapons. The Texas bill, for instance, introduced by Rep. John Otto of Dayton, says any federal attempts to tax, limit the magazine size of, or ban any weapon "infringes upon Texans' right to bear arms" and is thus "invalid" in the state. Any government employee who enforces such laws is committing a misdemeanor crime, the bill says.

    These state laws would most likely be unenforceable, as federal gun control laws would preempt state laws. It would be up to the courts to decide whether gun control bills infringed on constitutional rights.

    Proposals to ban certain types of semi-automatic weapons, limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, and close loopholes that allow some gun buyers to evade criminal background checks are floating around Congress, but it's unclear if any will pass. President Barack Obama urged politicians in his State of the Union address to vote on the measures, saying victims of gun violence "deserve a vote."

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  • Obama’s backup immigration reform bill: 13-year max for citizenship

    President Barack Obama talks about immigration reform at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas on Jan 29. (John Gurzinski/Getty Images)

    Illegal immigrants would face a maximum of a 13-year wait to become citizens if the Obama administration's version of immigration reform passed, according to a leaked draft of the bill obtained by the Miami Herald.

    The unfinished bill, first published by USA Today over the weekend, was drafted as a backup plan in case Congress fails to vote on legislation, according to White House chief of staff Denis McDonough on Sunday. Under the plan, undocumented immigrants would have to pay a fine, enroll in a Department of Education-approved English and U.S. civics course (or prove their English skills are already up to par) and pass a background check to gain permanent legal immigration status.

    Once approved, immigrants would have to wait either eight years or until current legal immigration backlogs are cleared (whichever comes first) before gaining permanent legal status, commonly referred to as a green card. Once immigrants gain green cards, they must wait five years before applying for

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  • New photos, details emerge of Newtown mass shooter Adam Lanza

    Accused Newtown shooter Adam Lanza was spending more time alone in the months leading up to the mass shooting as his mother, Nancy Lanza, attempted to encourage him to be independent despite his mental disabilities, a Hartford Courant/Frontline investigation has found. In a new documentary called "Raising Adam Lanza," which airs Tuesday night on PBS, reporters from the Courant attempt to retrace the steps taken by Nancy and Adam in the years leading up to the shooting, complicating the picture that has occasionally appeared in the media of Nancy as a gun obsessed mother who was in denial about her son's mental challenges.

    Adam is believed to have shot his mother four times in the head as she slept on Dec. 14 before shooting his way into Sandy Hook Elementary, where he attended school as a child, and killing 20 children and six women. He then took his own life.

    Frontline and The Hartford Courant provided Yahoo News with several previously unpublished childhood and teenage photos of Adam Lanza they uncovered in their investigation.

    The 20-year-old had been spending more time alone in his mother's $500,000 home in the affluent Connecticut suburb in the months leading up the shooting, Courant reporters Alaine Griffin and Josh Kovner found. Adam's social world gradually began shrinking after he left Newtown High School at the age of 16 to enroll in a nearby college, where he made As and Bs before withdrawing there, as well. Since 2010, Adam had not attended school.

    Between 2010 and 2012, Nancy took Adam to nearby gun ranges to practice shooting. Nancy purchased four firearms, including the Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle Adam is believed to have used in the attack, during the same period. Her friends say Nancy used target practice as a way to bond with her withdrawn son. Police also uncovered thousands of dollars worth of violent video games in the Lanzas' home. Police believe Adam may have been inspired by the video games he played in the attack, since he changed the magazines of his weapons more frequently than was necessary, Frontline reported. Late Sunday, the Courant also reported that Adam may have felt that he was in direct competition with Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, based on news articles about Breivik's 2011 crime they found in the Lanzas' home.

    In the months before the attack, Nancy took frequent trips and left Adam at home unsupervised--including on one trip this past Thanksgiving--in an attempt to make him more independent.

    Her friends say Nancy is the forgotten 27th victim that day.

    "She's been described as some sort of gun nut or survivalist and this other misconception that she was a bad mother," her friend John Bergquist told Frontline. But he said her life "revolved around caring for Adam."

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  • NRA goes on offensive over high-capacity magazine ban

    The same week President Barack Obama used his State of the Union to warn Congress that the victims of gun violence "deserve a vote" on gun legislation, the National Rifle Association has gone on the offensive against attempts to ban high-capacity magazines that carry more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

    The NRA, the nation's largest gun rights lobby, released an ad on Thursday that suggested banning high-capacity magazines will turn the country into a crime-ridden nightmare where only the wealthy are protected from murderers and thieves.

    The ad points out that Secret Service and other law enforcement officers will not be barred from using the high-capacity magazines, while criminals would still be able to purchase them on the black market. "It's just the rest of us, the law-abiding people, who will have to defend our families with limited-capacity magazines," a narrator intones. "Welcome to Barack Obama's middle class."

    High-capacity magazines and some semi-automatic weapons were banned for 10 years under a law signed by President Bill Clinton. It expired in 2004.

    Meanwhile, the NRA's vice president, Wayne LaPierre, wrote an op-ed in the Daily Caller on Thursday warning that gun owners must "stand and fight" against any attempts at gun control. “Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to facenot just maybe. It's not paranoia to buy a gun. It's survival. It's responsible behavior, and it's time we encourage law-abiding Americans to do just that," he wrote.

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  • On Valentine’s Day, Illinois state Senate passes gay marriage bill

    A gay pride and an American flag hang from a shoulder bag during a gay rights demonstration. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)The Illinois state Senate passed a bill allowing gay couples to marry in a largely party-line vote this Valentine's Day.

    The bill is expected to face a steeper climb in the House, according to the Chicago Tribune, but if politicians approve it there, Illinois could become the 10th state to allow same-sex nuptials. (Democrats control both the state House and Senate.) Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, has said he will sign the bill into law if it passes.

    The bill was approved 34-21 on Thursday afternoon, with only one Republican voting to support the bill.

    Same-sex marriage experienced its first successes at the ballot box in November, when voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington all approved allowing the practice in referendums and initiatives. Until then, same-sex marriage had been voted down every time it was put on the ballot, which has resulted in more than two dozen states specifically banning the practice. Public support has rapidly shifted on the issue, with some national

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  • Business-labor talks still stuck on guest-worker disagreement

    Flanked by labor leaders, National Council of la Raza President Janet Murguia speaks to the press after a meeting with President Barack Obama on immigration reform. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

    Negotiations between unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over a proposed temporary-worker program to be part of immigration reform have hit some "bumps in the road" but are still ongoing, a top labor official said on Wednesday.

    Leaders from the pro-business chamber and two of the country's largest labor groups—the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO—have been tasked with hashing out an agreement over such a program, to be included in the Senate's immigration reform bill.

    Temporary workers would fill seasonal jobs—anything from fruit picking to working as a housekeeper in a resort that's open for only part of the year—that business groups say are hard to fill with American workers. Unions helped kill the last immigration reform effort in 2007 over the inclusion of a guest-worker program, which they worried would reduce wages and compromise the influence of organized labor by providing employers with cheaper, nonunion workers.

    Several Senate Republicans who favor

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  • Former Westboro protester apologizes to mother of slain soldier

    A former member of the Westboro Baptist Church–a fringe group based in Topeka, Kan., that pickets soldiers' funerals–apologized to the mother of a 21-year-old soldier killed in Afghanistan on a talk show on Wednesday.

    Libby Phelps Alvarez, the former Westboro member, apologized to Sherry and Randy Wyatt for picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers like their son on "Anderson Live" on Wednesday. Alvarez is the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the group's founder, and has recently left the group. (Other members of the shrinking group have recently publicly defected as well.)

    "I just feel sad ... and I'm sorry," Alvarez said. "I thought I was doing the right thing ... but I was just hurting people."

    Westboro protesters set up picket lines outside funerals, holding signs that say soldiers are killed in action as a punishment for the existence of homosexuality. The Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the Westboro group has a First Amendment right to protest at the funerals.

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  • Lindsey Graham: Guest-worker program could be roadblock

    (Left to right): Senators John McCain, Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham at the State of the Union address. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

    Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Wednesday that creating a future source of temporary, low-skilled workers will most likely face more debate in Congress than any other part of an immigration reform bill.

    "If I had to bet where this thing is going to run into a roadblock, it's not going to be at pathway to citizenship," Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said at Wednesday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration. "Here's the friction point: Temporary workers are needed in the future."

    Graham is one of eight senators who released a broad bipartisan blueprint for immigration reform last month. It proposes a gradual path to citizenship for most of the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants and would create a temporary guest-worker program so that employers have a future source of legal, low-skilled workers. Both provisions have attracted controversy in past attempts at reform: Some Republicans argue that legalization is "amnesty" that would encourage future illegal immigration while Democrats have traditionally been wary of guest-worker programs, arguing that employers will abuse the cheap source of labor.

    Labor unions and business groups are currently negotiating over what a guest-worker program in immigration reform should look like.

    Another potential flash point that came up in the Senate hearing was the Senate plan's emphasis on border security before citizenship, which differs from President Barack Obama's immigration blueprint. The senators do not want any of the nation's undocumented immigrants to receive permanent legal status until after the border has been certified as "secure" by a panel of experts and politicians.

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  • Alan Aleman, face of Obama’s immigration reform effort, gets State of Union invite

    Alan Aleman (Latin Chamber of Commerce)Alan Aleman has had a whirlwind few weeks.

    Late last month, President Barack Obama told Aleman's life story in his speech urging Congress to pass an immigration reform bill. Then, just last week, Aleman got a call from the White House inviting him to be one of first lady Michelle Obama's guests at the State of the Union Tuesday night.

    "They asked me if I wanted to go. I was like, 'Yeah!'" he said, laughing. "It’s a huge opportunity."

    Aleman, 20, is one of three young people attending the State of the Union brought to the country illegally by their parents as children. Two others, Julieta Garibay and Gabino Sanchez, were invited by Democratic lawmakers.

    Aleman, a biology student at the College of Southern Nevada, was one of the first people in the country to receive deferred action. That program, announced by Obama last summer, gives young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children relief from deportation and a two-year work permit.

    Ahead of the president's speech urging immigration reform, the Obama administration asked local immigrants rights groups in Las Vegas to nominate a deferred-action recipient to be featured in the speech. The groups picked Aleman, who found out just a few days before the speech that he would star in it. Obama talked about Aleman's desire to join the Air Force and become a doctor to remind the audience that immigration reform affects people, not just laws. "All he wants is the opportunity to do his part to build a better America," Obama said of Aleman.

    After the speech, Aleman shook the president's hand.

    "I said, 'Thank you for getting the work permit.' He said, 'Keep [up] the hard work,'" Aleman said.

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