Christopher Wright Durocher

  • June 19, 2017

    by Christopher Wright Durocher

    Wednesday’s horrific shooting during a practice for members of the GOP congressional baseball team was an unnecessary reminder of the prevalence of gun violence in the U.S. The event was notable for its high-profile victims, including Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), a member of House’s Republican Leadership, but it was otherwise bleakly common—an average of 90 people die from gun violence each day and, by some counts, this was the 195 mass shooting of 2017 (the 196th mass shooting occurred hours later in San Francisco).

    The incident, which left five wounded, including a congressional aide, a lobbyist and two Capitol Police officers, was described by Breitbart with the headline “Man Opens Fire on Congressional Baseball Practice; Good Guy with Gun Shoots Back.” The “good guys with guns” narrative is an all too common trope we hear from the NRA and its allies after a high-profile shooting, particularly mass shootings. In 2012, a week after the Sandy Hook massacre left twenty-six dead, including twenty children, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” Since that time, this trope has been deployed in response to mass shootings to justify expanding gun availability and ownership and reducing or eliminating gun safety regulations. The only problem is that there’s no evidence that it’s true.

    The epidemiology of mass shootings is complicated and anything but straightforward. That said, there are some things we do know. A review of mass shootings between 2000 and 2012 published by the FBI reveals that the median response time for police is three minutes. Admittedly, three minutes is a long time when facing an armed assailant, and with the aid of high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic weapons, shooters are capable of inflicting grievous damage in such a short time. As Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Mich.), a witness to Wednesday’s attack, observed, “He had a rifle that was clearly meant for the job of taking people out, multiple casualties, and he had several rounds and magazines that he kept unloading and reloading.” 

  • May 2, 2017

    by Christopher Wright Durocher

    In his speech at the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) annual meeting last Friday, President Trump reiterated his unwavering support for the organization and its anti-gun violence prevention agenda, promising “to the NRA—I will never let you down!” As Congress considers legislation that would virtually eliminate states’ gun permitting regimes, President Trump’s promise could turn out to be a threat to public safety.

    If there is a bright light in efforts to address gun violence, it is the work that state and local governments have pursued in recent years to enact sensible regulations. In 2016, for example, voters in California, Nevada* and Washington State  approved gun violence prevention ballot measures to, among other things,  expand background checks and enhance mechanisms to remove firearms from those determined to be a danger to themselves or others. Since the 2008 landmark ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, the federal judiciary has also largely upheld the right of states and cities to protect their residents from gun violence through these and other types of regulations, including restrictions on carrying concealed weapons.

    Earlier this year, however, Sen.  John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) introduced legislation that could hamstring these local efforts and undermine states’ ability to determine their own gun policy. Sen. Cornyn’s Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act and its House companion bill would permit anyone allowed to conceal carry in their home state (including residents of states that require no permit for concealed carry) to conceal carry in any state, regardless of that state’s gun laws. The House version of the bill goes one step further and enables residents to circumvent their own state’s conceal carry permitting requirements by allowing them to apply for a permit from another state with less restrictive gun regulations. This would give one state the power to essentially nullify all other states’ conceal carry laws and nationalize the most relaxed permitting requirements.

  • April 26, 2017

    *This piece is part of the ACSblog symposium: The Department of Injustice.

    by Christopher Wright Durocher

    On Monday morning, the Supreme Court declined to review a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld the dismissal of Ricardo Salazar-Limon’s lawsuit against the City of Houston for a police officer’s alleged excessive use of force. Salazar-Limon was partially paralyzed as the result of injuries he sustained when Officer Chris Thompson shot him in the back during a traffic stop, though he was unarmed.

    The Fifth Circuit reasoned that there was no material dispute of fact in the case—the standard that must be met to avoid summary judgment—because Thompson testified during his deposition that he saw Salazar-Limon reach for his waistband, and, as Justice Samuel Alito notes in his concurrence, “Remarkably, Salazar-Limon did not state in his deposition or in an affidavit that he did not reach for his waist.”

    The problem, Justice Sonya Sotomayor explains in her dissent, is that this conclusion “is plainly wrong.”  As she describes it, there is a clear dispute of material fact:

  • January 19, 2017

    by Christopher Wright Durocher

    Last week saw the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division release what amounts to a valedictory report on policing for the Obama era, detailing findings that Chicago Police Department “officers engage in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, that is unreasonable [and] unnecessarily endanger[s] themselves and others and result[s] in unnecessary and avoidable shootings and other uses of force.” Coupled with the announcement of agreements with Chicago and Baltimore to address the constitutional infirmities in their police departments, the release of this investigation highlights the valuable role the federal government has played in uncovering and addressing abusive policing practices, particularly in marginalized communities.

    Since 2009, the Civil Rights Division has investigated twenty-five law enforcement agencies. The most high-profile of these investigations was in Ferguson, Missouri. That investigation revealed a police department and municipal court system so focused on generating revenue that they routinely and flagrantly violated the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and exacerbated racial disparities to the point that almost no member of the city’s African-American community was untouched by the criminal justice system. In fact, ninety-two percent of warrants issued by the Ferguson municipal court were issued for African-Americans, though they make up on sixty-seven percent of the population. They also accounted for eighty-five percent of vehicle stops and ninety-three percent of arrests in Ferguson. Ninety percent of all police use of force was against African-Americans and, in a chilling callback to Civil Rights era imagery, every person bitten by a police dog in Ferguson has been black.

  • December 9, 2016

    by Christopher Wright Durocher

    The optics were stark—12 jurors, six white men, five white women and one black man, sat in judgment of Michael Slager, the white police officer who shot and killed Walter Scott, a black man, in North Charleston, South Carolina. The results were depressingly familiar—a jury unwilling to convict a police officer for unjustified use of force. The question lingers—if prosecutors cannot secure a conviction against a police officer in a case this egregious, can they ever?

    For those who pay attention to the rare cases in which police officers face prosecution for their use of force, the result was eerily similar to the case again University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing. Less than a month ago, Tensing's trial also ended when a predominantly white jury in Ohio—six white men, four white women and two black women—were unable to reach a verdict in his trial for killing Sam DuBose, an unarmed black motorist.

    The disturbing video evidence in the killings of Scott and DuBose, along with the other evidence presented at the trials, make the inability of the juries to reach a guilty verdict difficult to fathom. That is, until you consider who was actually sitting on those juries and what they were being asked to decide. 

    Both juries failed to adequately reflect the racial diversity of the communities from which they were selected. In Slager’s case, his attorney successfully struck seven people of color from the jury pool, leaving only one black juror, even though North Charleston’s population is 47 percent black.  In Tensing’s case, not only was the jury predominantly white, but reports indicate that four jurors agreed with the statement from the juror questionnaire that “Some races and/or ethnic groups tend to be more violent than others.”