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NJ lawmakers push for ‘red flag’ gun law that would disarm at-risk people

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The school shooting in Parkland, Fla., has reignited an outcry for more rigorous gun control. With students across the nation and lawmakers across the aisle demanding action, states like New Jersey and Delaware are looking to implement risk-based gun removal laws, known as an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO), or “red flag” policy.

“It’s time,” said State Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Montclair. “One [death] is too many, but since Sandy Hook, there have been 1,800 individuals who’ve perished in mass shootings.”

While many activists and lawmakers agree that authorities need to keep firearms out of the wrong hands, the two sides are at odds over what regulations would effectively deter violent crime without threatening lawful gun owners’ rights. 

Under the “red flag” policy, families and law enforcement would have the power to petition for temporary suspension of a person’s access to firearms. 

The proposed New Jersey regulation calls for immediate removal of the gun and restricts any further purchases from the individual until a judge who reviews the incident decides the credibility of the claims and determines the length of the restraining order – which can last up to a year. The person can file one petition that year.

In Florida, where Nickolas Cruz is accused of killing 17 people and injuring at least 14 others, no such law exists. According to the Gifford Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, only five states, including Connecticut, Indiana, California, Oregon and Washington have such measure in place. 

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Friends and loved ones mourn the loss of 17 students killed in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14.

 (Fox News)

“No one has the right to use a weapon against others and certainly not themselves, so what this [bill] does is take someone who is in an extreme mental state and allows for authorities to protect them and others in the community,” McKeon said. 

But some say New Jersey’s immediate concerns should focus on strengthening federal laws to require potential gun owners to undergo stronger, more uniformed background checks. 

“This individual [Cruz] should have never had access to a gun,” said MacArthur. “The current backgrounds check system is full of holes, a mishmash of state and federal checks that have been proven ineffective.”

Supporters of the legislation say they are not willing to wait for Congress. 

“I have very little, if any, thought that the Congress will put forth any meaningful legislation,” McKeon said. “They have already discussed arming teachers and implementing armed security at schools.” 

On Monday, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order establishing a statewide “red flag” policy. Though it’s only temporary, Rhode Island’s legislature will consider a bill that would keep the red flag protections in place permanently.

Research conducted by Duke University shows that the red flag legislation, which passed in Connecticut in 1999, was proactive in reducing the state’s suicide-related deaths. But it was obviously not absolute. In 2012, a gunman from Newton, Conn. killed his mother and 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School before killing himself. The weapons he used to kill were given to him by his mother.

Scott Burris, director of the Public Health Law Research Center at Temple University, said lawmakers shouldn’t look at this particular law as a panacea that will end mass violence. Instead, they should view it as a tool to help curve suicide and domestic violence rates. 

“People with mental illness have a higher propensity to commit suicide not mass homicides,” said Burris. “Angry, young men are probably the greatest risk factor for gun violence, and they’ll click off none of the boxes for mental illness.” 

New Jersey lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled state legislature believe the regulation will be approved later this week as part of a broader gun control package. Some of the bills passed the legislature in previous years but were vetoed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who left office on Jan. 16. 

Talia Kirkland is a multimedia reporter based in Philadelphia, Pa.

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CIA reviewing how it handled initial reports of Havana Syndrome symptoms from officers

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WASHINGTON — The CIA’s internal watchdog is conducting a review of how the agency first handled reports that some of its officers suffered the neurological symptoms now known as Havana Syndrome, amid concerns the matter was not taken sufficiently seriously at the highest levels, three sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The CIA’s Office of Inspector General is interviewing people who have experienced symptoms and officials involved in the handling of the issue, the sources say.

The House Intelligence Committee is also conducting its own “deep dive” into the issue, a committee official with direct knowledge said.

“The anomalous health incidents afflicting our personnel around the world are of grave concern,” the committee official said. “There is no higher priority than ensuring the health and safety of those individuals who serve our nation.”

“On a bipartisan basis, the House Intelligence Committee has been speaking with individuals with firsthand knowledge of how these health incidents are being handled and how they were handled in the past,” the official said. “Through that work, we have significant concerns with how some individuals were unable to access needed benefits and medical care. The committee remains focused on ensuring that the government takes all necessary actions to address these issues.”

Some former officers, including Marc Polymeropoulos — who suffered an apparent brain injury during a trip to Moscow in 2017 — have accused the CIA’s management and medical officials during the Trump administration of failing to properly address the growing number of officers who believe they were targeted by what some experts think was a directed energy device or weapon.

Polymeropoulos told NBC News that the approach taken by CIA Director William Burns “has been a complete and most welcome sea change from the previous administration. He has shown compassion for victims, revamped the CIA’s health care response and dedicated additional resources to finding out who is responsible.”

Former CIA Director Gina Haspel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The IG review was first reported by CNN.

The CIA recently appointed a new leader of its task force on Havana Syndrome, a veteran officer who was instrumental in the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden, an official familiar with the matter previously told NBC News.

NBC News reported Tuesday that as many as 200 U.S. officials or family members have reported possible symptoms. About two dozen cases were reported in Vienna alone.



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Tennessee to resume vaccine outreach efforts after ‘pause’ prompted by GOP backlash

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Tennessee’s top health official said Friday that the state is resuming its vaccination advocacy efforts after a “pause” to review marketing materials geared toward teenagers promoting inoculations against Covid-19, an initiative that provoked outrage among conservative politicians.

The scaling back of its vaccination outreach drew national attention when Tennessee’s top vaccination official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, a pediatrician, was fired last week after she said Republican lawmakers disapproved of her promoting Covid vaccines to eligible children.

On Friday, state Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey declined to discuss Fiscus’ departure, but addressed the larger issue with reporters, saying “there was a perception that we were marketing to children, and that totally was against our view of parental authority.”

“The reason we paused is because we wanted to leave no room for interpretation about where we are shooting: We are shooting to get the message to parents,” she said, adding “we strongly believe that parents are the best decision makers when it comes to medical decisions for their children.”

In June, Republican lawmakers rebuked the health department for how it targeted online posts toward children, including a digital graphic that had a photo of a child with a Band-Aid and the words, “Tennesseans 12+ are eligible for vaccines. Give COVID-19 vaccines a shot.”

The Tennessean, citing emails and an internal report, first reported last week that the state would halt all adolescent vaccine outreach, for all diseases. The newspaper also found that the health department had deleted some pro-vaccine posts on Facebook and Twitter and instructed employees to stop all vaccine-related posts aimed at teens before halting vaccine outreach posts altogether — and not only those related to the Covid vaccine.

The series of moves drew condemnation from state Democrats, who also blamed “anti-vaccine lawmakers from the controlling party” for removing Fiscus.

“A well respected member of the public health community was sacrificed in favor of anti-vaccine ideology,” state Sen. Raumesh Akbari, who represents Memphis, said in a statement. “This disgraceful hatchet job is going to endanger the lives of unvaccinated Tennesseans at a time when we have a safe and reliable way to protect our families from this virus.”

In an email to NBC News last week, Department of Health spokesman Bill Christian did not comment specifically on the reports that the state had halted all immunization outreach to minors, but said that the department “wants to remain a trustworthy source of information to help individuals, including parents, make these decisions.”

Fiscus said in an interview on MSNBC last week that her job was to roll out the Covid vaccine “across the state and to make sure that that was done equitably and in a way that any Tennessean who wanted to access that vaccine would be able to get one.” Her husband came forward to say she had received a dog muzzle at work only days before she was ousted.

She also said tension with GOP lawmakers escalated when she publicized a document on Tennessee’s “Mature Minor Doctrine,” a state Supreme Court ruling from 1987 that states Tennesseans ages 14 to 18 may be treated “without parental consent unless the physician believes that the minor is not sufficiently mature to make his or her own health care decisions.”

As the controversy mounted, Piercey had left the state on a vacation to Greece.

She said Friday that there may be “fringe and nuanced” situations in which a Covid vaccine may need to be given to a minor without parental permission, which The Tennessean reported contradicts a claim from Republican lawmakers who said the health commissioner had previously agreed to stop such a practice.

The fight over the vaccination of children in Tennessee comes as Piercey and public health officials have painted a grim picture with the surge in Covid cases and positivity rates — coinciding with much of the rest of the country — and said there’s been a 200 percent increase in Covid cases since July 1. About 97 percent of all hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated, and the state has struggled with a lagging vaccination rate, she added.

“We’re certainly going in the wrong direction for hospitalizations,” Piercey warned.

Antonio Planas contributed.

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Brexit outrage: Boris urged to hit back after Baroness Hoey exposes EU punishment plans

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BREXITEER outrage has erupted after Baroness Kate Hoey exposed attempts by the Republic of Ireland to worsen the ongoing rift between the EU and the UK.

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