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Monday
Jul232012

Obama Meets with Victims, Families in Aurora, Colorado

SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages(AURORA, Colo.) -- As the nation tries to piece together what drove the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, President Obama traveled to the town of Aurora, Colo., on Sunday to console the wounded and the loved ones of those lost in Friday’s movie theater tragedy.

After more than two and a half hours of private meetings with the distraught victims, he emerged, red-eyed, to quote scripture.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,” the president said in a hallway of University of Colorado Hospital, quoting from Revelation 21:4.  “Neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more.  For the former things have passed away.”

Obama told assembled press of his mindset when he approaches families who have lost their own.

“I come to them not so much as a president, but as a father and husband,” he said.  “And I think that the reason these stories have such an impact on us is because we can all understand what it would be to have somebody we love taken from us.  What it would be like.”

Those who met with the president held conversations “filled with memory,” he said.

“It was an opportunity for families to describe how wonderful their brother, or their son or daughter, was and the lives that they have touched,” he said.

Admitting that words were inadequate in these situations, Obama said he tried to assure them that the world had them in their prayers.

Twelve were killed when a gunman unloaded four weapons’ full of ammunition into a packed midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, the new Batman movie.  Police say the suspect, James Holmes, wounded an additional 58 in the chaos, most of them through gunfire.  The high number of casualties has made it the largest such incident in the country’s record.

[CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE 12 PEOPLE WHO DIED]

Remarking on national attention to “the perpetrator of this evil act,” the president said he was sure his memory would fade away after feeling the “full impact” of justice.

“What will be remembered, are the good people who were impacted by this tragedy,” Obama said.

Five minutes away from the theater, the university hospital received 23 of those injured in the attack.  Ten remained as of the president’s visit, with seven in critical condition.

The president met with some of those remaining patients in the intensive care ward.  Two young women in particular stood out in his mind -- Allie Young, 19, and best friend Stephanie Davies.

Young, according to the president, was seated very closely to the gunman when he threw canisters of smoke or tear gas into the crowd.  Jumping out of her seat to warn the moviegoers, she was instantly shot in the neck, rupturing an artery.

“Apparently as she dropped down to the floor, Stephanie -- 21 years old -- had the presence to drop down with her, pull her out the aisle, place her fingers over where Allie had been wounded, and apply pressure the entire time while the gunman was still shooting,” Obama said.  “Allie told Stephanie she needed to run.”

Davies refused, said the president, and the young woman instead dialed 9-1-1 with her other hand.  She remained with her friend until authorities arrived and then helped move her across two parking lots to awaiting ambulances.

“They represent what’s best of us, and they assure us that out of this darkness a brighter day is going to come,” the president said.

Obama spent about three hours total in Colorado after his plane touched down at Buckley Air Force Base, which itself was affected by the tragedy.  The base lost two service members: airman Staff Sgt. Jesse Childress, 29, and Petty Officer 3rd Class John Larimer, 27.

The president also met with local officials in Aurora, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, Mayor Steve Hogan, and police chief Daniel Oates, who accompanied him to the hospital.

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Monday
Jul232012

Texas Highway Accident Kills 14

Texas Department of Public Safety(GOLIAD, Texas) -- A highway accident just north of Corpus Christi, Texas, left 14 people dead and 9 injured when a pickup truck carrying 23 people ran off the highway and struck two trees.

A white 2000 Ford pickup was heading north on U.S. 59 near the small town of Goliad late Sunday night carrying 23 people inside the truck's cab and bed when it veered off of the right side of the highway and crashed into two large trees, Gerald Bryant of the Texas Department of Public Safety said.

"This is the most people I've seen in any passenger vehicle, and I've been an officer for 38 years," Bryant told ABC News.

Six of those killed were still inside the truck when emergency crews arrived to find the severely damaged vehicle, Bryant said. Of those who died, 11 were men and three were female.

The Border Patrol is now assisting with the investigation, Bryant said.

"It's unknown whether or not the victims were illegal," he said.

At least 11 people were air-lifted to several different hospitals, including a Corpus Christi hospital, ABC News affiliate KZTV reported. One person died while being transported to the emergency room.

Many of the passengers were thrown from the truck, with one found about 50 or 60 feet away, and the jaws of life had to be used to get some people out of the truck's cab, according to KZTV.

Men, women and children were reportedly in truck when it crashed.

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Monday
Jul232012

Parents of Missing Iowa Cousins Remain 'Hopeful'

8-year-old Elizabeth Collins (L) and her cousin, 10-year-old Lyric Cook (R). (ABC News)(NEW YORK) -- Despite a fruitless 10-day search for two missing Iowa cousins, the parents of one of the girls, 8-year old Elizabeth Collins, have not lost hope, bolstered by authorities' saying they believe the children are still alive.

"They told us they do have a couple of leads and that is it. Anything is hopeful," Heather Collins told ABC News' Robin Roberts Monday in an exclusive interview on Good Morning America.

Elizabeth and her 10-year old cousin, Lyric Cook, vanished on July 13, but authorities made a surprising announcement this weekend.

"We believe these girls are alive," FBI spokesperson Sandy Breault said on Saturday.

Investigators want to hear from anyone who might have been near the trail where the girls' bikes were found the day they disappeared.

"Even if you think you don't have any information that's important to this case, investigators want to talk with you," Breault said Sunday.  "Don't assume we know what you know."

Investigators for the first time said they are pursuing people of interest in the case.  But they said they are not receiving full cooperation from all the family members.

After initially cooperating and taking polygraph tests, Cook's parents, Misty and Dan Morrissey, elected not to allow police to interrogate them any further, stating that the decision came on advice from their attorney.  They have been convicted of felony drug charges in recent years and served time behind bars.

Tammy Brousseau, the girls' aunt, told ABC News that something in the Morrisseys' past might have played a role in their disappearance.

"I can't rule that out, you know," she said.  "I want every stone unturned."

Heather Collins said Monday she wants the focus to be on the missing girls, not her sister's past, but she understands the need for investigators to look at other issues as well.

"When they don't have full cooperation, their focus has to be on other issues rather than on the girls being found home.  That's our main concern.  That's our main focus -- is bringing the girls home.  And that's all we want," she said.  "They don't need other distractions.  They have enough to worry about and they don't need other distractions."

Elizabeth and Lyric disappeared after leaving for a bike ride around noon on July 13.  Their bikes were soon found by Meyers Lake.  Authorities called in an FBI dive team late last week that searched the lake and determined that the girls were not in it, prompting them to call the case an abduction.

Now, as the small town desperately waits for answers, the parents hope this nightmare will soon come to an end with their girls back home.  Both Heather Collins and her husband, Drew, urged whoever has the cousins to let them go.

"Take them somewhere safe," she said.  "Take them to a gas station, Target.  Just take them anywhere so that they know how to get a hold of somebody to get a hold the police or their parents so that they can get home safe and bring them back.  We miss them dearly."

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Monday
Jul232012

Colorado Movie Theater Shooting: Suspect to Appear in Court

University of Colorado Denver/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(AURORA, Colo.) -- Prosecutors are considering pursuing a death penalty case against James Holmes, the alleged gunman accused of a movie theater rampage in Aurora, Colo., last Friday that left 12 dead and 58 wounded.

A decision on charging Holmes, 24, with capital murder has not yet been made, but Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers told reporters on Monday that she is talking with victims and their family members about it.

There are currently only four people on Colorado's death row, and only one person has been executed in that state since 1976.  Nevertheless, experts expect prosecutors to seek the death penalty when Holmes is formally charged later this week.

Holmes is expected in court Monday for a preliminary hearing.

Members of the Aurora community are anxiously awaiting the hearing, which will mark the first time Holmes will been seen in public since his arrest following the deadly rampage at a midnight screening of the The Dark Knight Rises on July 20.

"He has harmed so many people," Police Chief Daniel Oates told ABC News.  "Not only the victims, but all of their extended families.  So I think it will be very hard."

Oates also said that Holmes' parents have remained silent.

"They're not talking to us right now," he said.  "Maybe that will change, but right now they are not talking to us."

The suspect will be brought to court from his jail cell at Arapahoe County Jail through an underground tunnel.

The court appearance is expected to be brief and will start the clock on the 72-hour deadline for the district attorney to file formal charges at an arraignment where Holmes will enter his plea.

The police chief told ABC News that his team is getting significant help from the FBI's behavioral analysts in trying to figure out what could have changed Holmes from a promising young student to a suspect in one of the largest mass shootings in U.S. history.

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Monday
Jul232012

Colorado Shooting Suspect Was Turned Away from Gun Range

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(AURORA, Colo.) -- James Holmes, the man who allegedly killed 12 people and wounded 58 at a packed screening of the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, applied to join a Colorado gun range last month, but was rejected by the owner, who found him "creepy."

Glenn Rotkovich, who owns the Lead Valley Range in Byers, Colo., told ABC News that Holmes applied for membership about a month ago via email, but when Rotkovich called him to follow up, he said he got a "bizarre," Batman-inspired voicemail message.

He told his staff not to allow Holmes into the club if he showed up for an orientation.

The gun range owner's reaction adds to a growing portrait of the 24-year-old accused of carrying out the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, and who police say rigged his apartment with dozens of explosive devices set to go off when the door was opened.

The search of Holmes' apartment yielded a computer and a variety of Batman paraphernalia, including a poster and a mask, more evidence of his apparent obsession with the comic book hero.

Investigators also found 10 gallons of gasoline, which were removed from the apartment and detonated at a remote site.

Holmes is currently in custody at Arapahoe County Jail.

Some recently released inmates from the jail said Holmes is not likely to get a warm welcome from the other prisoners.

"They're paying really close attention to keeping him separate," Steven Phillips, who was recently released from there, told ABC News.  "He's in red, he's in chains, his arms are chained up in like a jacket.  When he came in, they said he had a bullet proof vest on over his clothes so somebody wouldn't stab him."

Phillips heard that Holmes is being kept in 23-hour lockdown, one of the most protected types of confinement.  He is given one hour outside his cell per day to shower and use the phone.

Jacob Wesson, also recently released from Arapahoe County Jail, said that because Holmes allegedly killed children, if he was kept with other inmates, they would hurt him.

"He wouldn't last," Wesson said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jul232012

Penn State Takes Down Paterno Statue, Prepares for NCAA Sanctions

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images(STATE COLLEGE, Pa.) -- The statue of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was removed from outside the university’s football stadium on Sunday, just hours before the NCAA said it would announce its punishment for the school over the reported cover-up of child sexual abuse by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Workers erected a blue tarp to keep cameras from recording the removal of the statue of the iconic coach whose image was shattered by investigators’ allegations that he was involved in covering up the abuse.

The NCAA said on Sunday it was preparing to announce “corrective and punitive measures” against Penn State.  ESPN has learned those penalties will be significant, including the loss of bowl appearances and several scholarships, which could be more damaging than a full one-year suspension of the football program.

Early Sunday morning, workers put up a tarp-covered fence around the statue of the famed football coach.  Plastic sheeting and blankets were wrapped around the likeness of Paterno.  Then came the sound of jackhammers ripping apart the base so a forklift could carry the statue away as the university deals with the stain of scandal.  

Not everyone was happy, but University President Rodney Ericson said in a statement that leaving the statue would be, “a recurring wound … an obstacle to healing … a lightning rod of controversy.”

The Penn State library will continue to carry Paterno’s name.

Revelations in a report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh show that Paterno had been told, even before the statue was erected, that his defensive coordinator, Sandusky, was sexually abusing boys.

On Monday morning, NCAA President Mark Emmert will announce sanctions against Penn State.  ESPN College Football Reporter Joe Schad says the penalties will be extraordinary.

“He (Emmert) wants everybody to understand that in extraordinary situations such as this, that an egregious failure to action took place, that he will step up, that he will make a decision that lets people understand that Penn State’s situation can never happen again,” Schad said.

This is a unique situation because NCAA bylaws don’t cover what happened at Penn State.  So, Schad said, Emmert went to the board of trustees of the NCAA for authority to levy penalties.  Emmert, according to Schad, “found a way to do something that they felt needed to be done, to do something that they felt would create at least some semblance of justice in a situation that was so horrific.”

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Monday
Jul232012

Colorado Shooting Survivors Try to Heal

Jamie Rohrs hugs Deidra Brooks. (Christina Ng/ABC News)(AURORA, Colo.) -- In the wake of a deadly shooting rampage that has devastated Aurora, Colo., and shocked the nation, the shooting's survivors are starting to try to put the pieces of their lives back together.

At a small church in Commerce City, about 10 miles outside of Aurora, the family of Jarell Brooks invited the family of Patricia Legarreta to join them at the New Life Worship Center, where Brooks' father is the pastor.

Legarreta was attending the sold-out midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises at a mall in Aurora on Friday with her fiance, 4-year-old daughter and infant son when suspected gunman James Holmes allegedly opened fire on the packed movie theater, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others. 

When Brooks, 19, saw Legarreta struggling to get herself and her children out of the theater, he helped guide them to the door and got shot in the leg in the process.

Brooks and Legarreta were reunited for the first time on Good Morning America Saturday and their families came together again at church on Sunday.

Legarreta attended the church service with her fiancé Jamie Rohrs, her children and her mother.  Brooks did not attend because of his injured leg, but his parents, Pastor Jeffrey Brooks and Deidra Brooks, led the service.

"I don't know how long it'll take for the hurt and pain to end," Jeffrey Brooks said to the congregation of about 40 people.  "But what I do know is if you put your trust in God, everything will be alright."

"I'm glad New Life is not planning a funeral this morning," he said.  "It could have been worse."

The floor of the small church shook from the soulful music, jumping, cheering and dancing.

Legarreta and her family were brought to the front of the church to be introduced and Rohrs was overcome with emotion when Deidra Brooks gave him a tight hug.

"We'll be here for you," Pastor Brooks told the family.  "You don't get much closer than that."

Deidra Brooks told that family and the congregation that they should disregard the online criticism about why the family took such young children to a movie showing and to believe that God had a plan for the family.

"It felt really good to just hear encouraging words from the pastor and it's a blessing just to be able to praise God," a choked up Rohrs told ABC News after the service.

Deidra Brooks said her son is in pain, both mentally and physically.

"Emotionally, he's at a point where he tries to make jokes ... but he's not sleeping well," she told ABC News.  "He doesn't want to watch any of the news stuff.  He hasn't watched TV at all."

She said her son no longer wants to play his video games, especially games that involve combat.

"I'm still concerned about him.  I want him to be able to come out of the house," Brooks said.  She is planning to set her son up with a counselor or therapist to help him.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jul232012

FBI Says Family of Missing Iowa Girls Not Cooperating

8-year-old Elizabeth Collins (L) and her cousin, 10-year-old Lyric Cook (R). (ABC News)(EVANSDALE, Iowa) -- Law enforcement officials who have spent the past 10 days searching for a pair of missing cousins in Iowa say some family members are not being completely cooperative and are now under close scrutiny.

"Law enforcement has not received total cooperation from all family and close friends.  We feel there's someone out there that has pertinent information about the girls' whereabouts," FBI spokeswoman Sandy Breault said.

Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook, who are cousins, were last seen on July 13, riding their bikes near a lake in Evansdale, Iowa.  Authorities reclassified the case as an abuduction on Friday, and the FBI said they believe the girls are still alive.  A $50,000 reward is now being offered for information that would lead to their being found.

Cook's parents, Misty and Dan Morrissey, say they're taking legal advice, and will no longer allow police to interrogate them.  Both have past convictions for felony drug offenses and spent time behind bars.  Misty served four years in federal prison.

Some of their relatives acknowledge that the couple's troubled past could have played a role in the girls' disappearance.

"I can't rule that out, you know," Tammy Brousseau, the girls' aunt, told ABC News on Thursday.  "I want every stone unturned."

In the past week, investigators have questioned both Misty and Dan Morrisey several times.  Brousseau said Dan Morrisey at one point left a police interview because he felt he was being treated like a suspect.

"I can see Dan becoming very defensive after he's being told, you know, 'You killed your daughter and niece.  You know you did.  We have proof.  We have evidence that you did this,'" Brousseau said.

Brousseau said the Morrisseys, who are separated, have a violent past that even involves a restraining order.

"At one point Dan had assaulted Misty and that's where the no-contact order came into place," she said.

On Wednesday night, investigators went to a nearby hotel where Misty and Dan Morrisey were staying, but Dan claimed he was tired and wanted to go to sleep.  The following morning, Misty took a urine analysis and a polygraph test.  However, Brousseau said the pair had been advised by their attorney not to speak any further to police or the media or submit to any more polygraph tests.

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Sunday
Jul222012

ABC News Exclusive: First Video of Colorado Shooting Suspect James Holmes Emerges

ABC News(AURORA, Colo.) -- Federal authorities and local police on Sunday are scouring James Holmes' apartment for evidence as a newly released video gives some insight into the man who allegedly killed 12 people and injured 58 people at a packed screening of the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises."

Overnight, ABC News obtained exclusive video and photos of Holmes. The video was recorded six years ago when Holmes was 18.

[WATCH THE VIDEO HERE]

In the video, he is standing among his peers at a science camp held at Miramar College in San Diego talking about "temporal illusions."

"Over the course of the summer I've been working with a temporal illusion. It's an illusion that allows you to change the past," Holmes said in the video.

He appears slightly nervous speaking to the group but also extremely intelligent.

This is how he was explaining his mentor's shared interest in fantasy versus reality in the video:

"He also studies subjective experience, which is what takes places inside the mind as opposed to the external world. I've carried on his work in dealing with subjective experience."

By most accounts, Holmes lived the life of a normal teen – with a particular interest in science.

This was how he was introduced at the seminar: "His goals are to become a researcher and to make scientific discoveries. In personal life, he enjoys playing soccer and strategy games and his dream is to own a slurpee machine."

Though Holmes was apparently a gifted scientist who had received a federal grant to work on his Ph.D. at one of the most competitive neuroscience programs in the country, he was a loner who -- oddly for a young scientist -- seemed to have no Internet presence.

Officials Saturday said they now have "evidence of calculation and deliberation," in the way he allegedly planned and prepared for the shooting, beginning to buy weapons and ammunition two months ago.

Holmes is originally from San Diego, where he once reportedly worked as a camp counselor for underprivileged children. He was an honors student at Westview High School, but did not walk in his graduation ceremony.

Holmes, 24, is currently in custody for Friday's massacre in Aurora, Colo.

Dressed in full riot gear, Holmes allegedly entered from an emergency exit in the front right corner of the theater before releasing something that witnesses identify as tear gas or a smoke bomb. From there, he allegedly sprayed the sold-out theater with a storm of bullets, injuring and killing both adults and children.

Overnight, new pictures have emerged of several explosions in a Colorado field where investigators took chemical materials recovered from Holmes' apartment.

Crews reportedly transported the materials by dump truck to the field so that they could be ignited -- and determined if they were in fact explosives.

Federal authorities and local police have now pulled all of the potential explosives from Holmes' apartment after gaining entry and eliminating potentially explosive traps Saturday.

The apartment, about 800 square feet, contained several trip wires rigged to trigger explosions.

Scattered throughout the living room were 30 explosive devices - including jars with chemicals and 30 shells with explosive powder - similar to large fireworks.

Bomb squads carefully neutralized the two main threats at the entrance of his apartment using a "water shot" and remote-controlled robot.

Oates said the suspect's intentions were clear.

"What we're seeing here is some evidence of calculation and deliberation," Oates said. Holmes was an honors student and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. He was enrolled in the graduate program in neuroscience until he voluntarily withdrew from the program in June.

He was one of six recipients of a Neuroscience Training Grant from the National Institutes of Health, which funds pre-thesis Ph.D. students in the neuroscience program at the Anschutz Medical Campus.

According to the university, the focus of the program is on "training outstanding neuroscientists and academicians who will make significant contributions to neurobiology."

He reportedly failed a preliminary exam before pulling out of the program, according to ABC News' Denver affiliate KMGH-TV. It is unclear if the exam was related to his decision to leave the program.

KMGH was told that even if Holmes did fail the exam, he would not have been kicked out of the program because students have an opportunity to improve their grades with an oral exam.

"I don't know any of that and I don't know that we have any of that information on him," Anschutz Medical Campus spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery told ABCNews.com.

The university said Holmes gave no reason for asking to withdraw from the program.

Last year, Holmes applied to the University of Arizona, according to statement by the school, but was rejected, KPHO-TV in Phoenix reported.

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Sunday
Jul222012

Movie Theater Shooting Prompts Gun Control Debate

AbleStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The worst mass shooting in U.S. history has sparked a renewed debate about gun control laws in the country.

James Holmes, a 24 year old student at the University of Colorado Medical School was detained Friday following the shooting of 70 people inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. Twelve people were killed in the attack, which was carried out with an assault rifle, a shotgun and a pair of Glock pistols at the midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Not much is yet known about Holmes, but investigations into the weapons he owns show that he purchased them legally. He purchased the four guns at local shops, and bought more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition on the Internet in the past 60 days, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said.

“All the ammunition he possessed, he possessed legally, all the weapons he possessed, he possessed legally, all the clips he possessed, he possessed legally,” Oates said. As far as investigators know now, Holmes had a clean background, with the exception of a single traffic ticket.

The right to bear arms is a constitutionally protected right in America, and in Colorado, the laws aren’t very strict. Background checks are required for purchases at gun shows, under an initiative voted into law after the Columbine shootings in 2000. However, there is no ban on assault weapons or high capacity ammunition clips. Registration and gun owner licenses aren’t required, and background checks for online sales aren’t required.

Advocates of increased gun control laws point to events like this one as evidence that the nation needs to adopt stricter laws about who can buy firearms, and what firearms they can buy.

New York City Mayor Bloomberg has been an outspoken advocate of stronger gun control rules as a chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. On his radio show Friday, Bloomberg called on top politicians to make their stance on gun laws clear.

“Maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they’re going to do,” Bloomberg said. “Because this is obviously a problem across the country.”

Polls indicate most Americans favor stricter gun laws, but the issue hasn’t been rated as a highly important political one, because of conflicting sentiments about how to respond. Many people think stricter enforcement of existing laws is preferable to creating new laws, and that the availability of guns is not itself the primary cause of gun violence.

In the past, attitudes toward gun laws haven’t changed in response to gun crimes like the Aurora movie theater shooting.

Still, gun sales are climbing, and few politicians are willing to work towards strengthening gun laws.

This debate isn’t a new one for the community surrounding Aurora. Columbine, where 13 years ago two students opened fire on their high school classmates, killing 13, is just a short drive from Aurora.

Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel was killed at Columbine, became a gun control advocate following his son’s death.

“It makes me angry. It makes me angry for America when other countries are looking at us saying, ‘are you nuts?’” Mauser told ABC News’ Clayton Sandell. “When you have magazines that can hold 30, 50, 100 rounds, that makes it easy for people like [the Aurora movie theater shooter].”

According to the latest numbers of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, there are 123,000 licensed firearms dealers in the United States, meaning there are roughly as many gun dealers as there are gas stations.

Between 2006 and 2010 more than 47,000 people were killed in the United States by firearms, according to ATF reports.

Pro-gun rights advocates argue that gun ownership is a protected right, and that law-abiding gun owners shouldn’t be punished because of those who break the law.

“You can’t stop selling guns. If you’re going to be in an armed country, you’re just going to have to deal with the occasional fruit loop,” gun owner Andrew Wright told Sandell. “That’s the way it goes. It’s unfortunate, it really is.”

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