In New York, Gun Owners Balk At New Handgun Database

The Gun Owners of America – which has been described as a more extreme version of the NRA – recruited members for its New York chapter at the Albany Gun Show.

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Lauren Rosenthal/NCPR

This week marked the official deadline for more than 370,000 handgun owners in the state of New York to register those guns with state police. New York is trying to use that information to build a comprehensive record of gun owners — something only one other state has done. The database that California started in 2007 has gotten mixed reviews.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has said he wants to make sure that people who can’t legally own guns – those with criminal convictions, serious mental health issues, or active restraining orders — aren’t somehow falling through the cracks and holding onto their firearms.

Anyone who took out a handgun license in New York before 2013 — the year the state passed a landmark gun control law — had to contact state police by Jan. 31 or risk criminal charges. That’s caused a real backlash, particularly among rural gun owners, who don’t entirely trust their state’s intentions.

A commonsense plan?

The Albany Gun Show is a winter fixture in upstate New York. On the show’s opening day in mid-January, Tom King, president of the NRA-affiliated New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, posted up beyond all the folding tables stacked with rifles and holsters.

King said he spent hours and hours answering a question that seemed to be on everyone’s mind. “People are saying, ‘Do I have to register or don’t I have to register?’ So yeah,” King said. “There is a lot of confusion.”

The confusion, he said, is about why the state of New York wants information for its new handgun database. It’s actually been on the books since 2013.

In the months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, several states adopted tougher gun control measures. New York passed a law known as the SAFE Act, which banned most assault weapons. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he wanted to go even further.

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“We’ll have for the first time a statewide handgun database that will allow the state, allow local officials to check periodically,” Cuomo said. The plan lawmakers approved calls for detailed information on hundreds of thousands of legally licensed handgun owners and their weapons – down to make, model and serial numbers. Some of that information was already available on gun permit applications filed at county clerk’s offices across the state, but it was often outdated or incomplete.

State police will build a database they can check against criminal records, alerts filed by mental health professionals, and restraining orders. Only law enforcement can see the information, not the public.

Cuomo described it as a system based on commonsense. “You don’t want criminals and people who are mentally ill to have guns,” he said. Once the law passed, state police began collecting information from every person who applied for a new handgun permit.

“You can’t make them criminals.”

The SAFE Act has been popular in urban areas, according to polling data. But some rural gun owners have resisted from the beginning. As the first big handgun registration deadline approached this winter, for people who got their guns prior to 2013, the pushback grew more intense.

Talk radio host Bill Robinson has lashed out at the state on “The Second Amendment Radio Show,” which he hosts for a small station near Rochester. “The government shouldn’t have master lists of us gun owners and the specific guns we have,” Robinson said on a recent episode. “They don’t need it!”

A lot of gun owners are angry. While they can agree that so-called “bad guys” shouldn’t have access to weapons, some fear that New York is trying to turn them into those bad guys. It goes back to the penalties associated with this registration process. The SAFE Act says failure to register handguns is a felony offense — and gun permits are automatically revoked.

“You just can’t do that to people that live in your state, that are lawful gun owners,” Tom King said. “You can’t make them, overnight, criminals.”

King is most worried about those who had handguns before the 2013 law went into effect, but all handgun owners will have to check back in every five years.

No response from 81,000 gun owners

As of the deadline, more than 81,000 people – or 20 percent of affected handgun owners in New York – haven’t responded to the state’s request. But New York State Police spokesman Beau Duffy argues that concern about this gun database has been overblown. He said felony charges are off the table for now. “We’re not going to take criminal enforcement action, particularly with those people who were unaware of this re-certification process,” Duffy said.

The next big question is how this registry is going to be used and who’s going to follow up with gun owners. Laura Cutilletta, legal director for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, believes it could be a game-changer for police.

Ray Kosorek, center, sells a raffle ticket to Shawn Latour, left, at the Gun Owners of America booth inside the Albany Gun Show in January. The Gun Owners of America is a hard-line gun rights group that only recently expanded to New York State. Kosorek says they’re hoping to dismantle the state’s gun control laws in court.

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Lauren Rosenthal/NCPR

“This kind of tool seems like something law enforcement would really welcome and would make a priority if they can,” Cutilletta said. “Because to know who is determined to be dangerous already and has a gun — I mean, what better information could you give law enforcement than something like that?”

But Cutilletta doesn’t think these systems will start popping up nationwide. They’re too expensive, she said. New York set aside $28 million for its database, and California tucked away $24 million.

Instead, Cutilletta said, she and other gun control advocates are pushing for new kinds of restraining orders – called “extreme risk protection orders.” They allow families and police to take their concerns to court and request permission from a judge to take guns away from people who could potentially do harm.

California, Washington and Oregon have already passed legislation allowing these protection orders. New York’s lawmakers are considering a similar bill this year.

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Whale Hello: Orcas Can Imitate Human Speech, Researchers Find

A female orca named Wikie swims with a calf in 2011 at Marineland in Antibes, France. Wikie was the central animal in a study, published Wednesday, about orcas’ ability to imitate human speech.

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Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images

Say hello to an orca, and it might say hello back — or at least try to.

An international team of researchers, working with two orcas at an aquarium in France, have found that the killer whales were able to replicate the sounds of human speech, including words like “hello” and “bye bye,” as well as series of sounds like “ah ah.”

The orcas could also imitate a human blowing a raspberry, or copy the sound of another orca, scientists say.

You can hear the result in a video published by The Guardian, pulling from the scientists’ data.

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The research — published Wednesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B — has implications beyond aquarium settings. It suggests that whales could be learning vocal patterns from each other in the wild.

That fits the observations of researchers in the field, who found groups of whales with “vocal dialects that are often referred to as traditions or cultures,” the researchers write. “Our results lend support to the hypothesis that the vocal variants observed in natural populations of this species can be socially learned by imitation.”

“We are interested in the possibility that other species also have cultural processes,” the study’s lead author, José Zamorano-Abramson, told The New York Times.

Luke Rendell, an orca researcher not involved in this study noted to the Times that it was “somewhat ironic” that research on captive killer whales reinforces a key argument against keeping the animals in aquariums: Namely, that they appear to have cultural communities in the wild. Rendell praised the work overall, and noted that it involved orcas that were born in captivity, not captured.

Specifically, the researchers worked with an orca named Wikie who had already been trained to copy behaviors: A trainer would make a specific gesture, and Wikie knew she was supposed to copy whatever another orca had just done.

For this study, the trainers used that motion after noises instead of actions. They started by presenting her with sounds she already knew how to make on command, like a noisy breath, or a high-pitched peeping sound.

Then they introduced “novel sounds” she’d never been trained to make before. Some of them were orca sounds, which Wikie would copy either from her calf, Moana, or from a recording. She might hear a squeak like a creaky door, a wolf-whistle-esque siren, or a noise like an elephant call — sounds she had never been heard to make on her own.

Then there were the human sounds: “Ah ah,” “hello,” “bye bye,” “Amy,” “one-two” and “one-two-three.”

Those were definitelynew to Wikie. But she gave it a shot. She caught on to “hello” and “one-two-three” on her first attempt, although some of the others took far longer.

To be clear, the sounds are still killer whale noises; they aren’t as recognizable as, say, a parrot imitating human speech. But the researchers compared audio spectograms of the original and imitation sounds, and and tested the audio on human listeners who had to separate random pairings and matched pairings. They concluded Wikie had made were “recognizable copies,” albeit not “perfect copies.”

The research involved orcas interacting with trainers, making noises in the air instead of in the water — a very different environment than what orcas in the wild would find as they hear each other vocalize and, perhaps, learn “dialects” from each other. But that’s a strength, not a weakness, the scientists argue.

“We wanted to see how flexible a killer whale can be in copying sounds,” co-author Josep Call toldThe Guardian. “We thought what would be really convincing is to present them with something that is not in their repertoire – and in this case ‘hello’ [is] not what a killer whale would say.”

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Discovery In India Suggests An Early Global Spread Of Stone Age Technology

Middle Palaeolithic artifacts recently excavated from Attirampakkam, an archaeological site in present-day southern India. The artifacts suggest the technique used to make them spread across the world long before researchers previously thought.

Sharma Centre for Heritage Education, India/Nature

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Sharma Centre for Heritage Education, India/Nature

Somewhere around 300,000 years ago, our human ancestors in parts of Africa began to make small, sharp tools, using stone flakes that they created using a technique called Levallois.

The technology, named after a suburb of Paris where tools made this way were first discovered, was a profound upgrade from the bigger, less-refined tools of the previous era, and marks the Middle Stone Age in Africa and the Middle Paleolithic era in Europe and western Asia.

Neanderthals in Europe also used these tools around the same time. And scientists have thought that the technology spread to other parts of the globe much later — after modern humans moved out of Africa.

But scientists in India recently discovered thousands of stone tools made with Levallois technique, dating back to 385,000 years ago. These latest findings, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, suggest the Levallois technique spread across the world long before researchers previously thought.

The Indian team uncovered these tools at one of India’s best known archaeological sites — Attirampakkam, which is located near the present-day city of Chennai in southern India.

“It has a very, very long history of occupation of different prehistoric cultures in this one site,” says Shanti Pappu, an archaeologist at the Sharma Centre for Heritage Education in Chennai and one of the lead authors of the new study.

The oldest artifacts from the site — big hand axes and cleavers — date back all the way to 1.5 million years ago, and are associated with the older Acheulian culture of the Early Stone Age.

The more recent tools, which date between 385,000 to 172,000 years ago, are small and clearly made with Levallois technique; it relies on first creating a starter stone in the shape of a turtle shell, then hitting that preformed stone to create a flake with sharp edges.

The flakes were used as knives and scrapers, scientists say; the technique gave the toolmakers more control over the size and shape of the tool.

“It’s a very specific technology, very clearly identifiable and very similar to what you see in Africa,” says Pappu.

The more than 7,000 artifacts discovered at the site run counter to what’s been the prevailing theory about when the technology first reached the region.

“It was believed that this particular cultural or behavioral package perhaps came to India about 125,000 years ago, by modern humans dispersing out of Africa,” says Pappu. Another hypothesis suggested that the technology came even later to India, around 70,000 years ago.

“The findings of this paper clearly knock those ideas out of the water,” says paleoanthropologist Rick Potts, the head of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, who wasn’t involved in the study. “It has to be earlier.”

“This is a marvelous discovery,” says Michael Petraglia, at the Max Planck Institute for The Science of Human History, who also had no role in the recent research. “It fills a very important gap in our knowledge of cultural history of humans in South Asia between 400,000 to 175,000 years ago.”

The team in India found no human or hominin fossils at the site, which makes it hard to know what ancestral human species lived here and made these tools.

“It’s a whodunit, and we don’t have the answer,” Potts says.

The authors think it could have been modern humans, Homo sapiens, who moved out of Africa much earlier than currently believed, and brought this technology with them.

Or, they say, a more ancestral hominin might have developed the technology independently in India.

Petraglia thinks it’s the latter, since there’s no fossil evidence anywhere in India suggesting that modern humans arrived there earlier. However, fossil evidence does hint, he says, that a more ancestral human species — Homo heidelbergensis — lived on the subcontinent and used some of the older Acheulian technologies.

And, given that the Acheulian and Levallois technologies partially overlap at this site, “I see that as continuity in the archaeological record of India, rather than as an external influence,” says Petraglia.

“It looks like the Neanderthals of Europe and the near East, as well as the ancestors of Homo sapiens in Africa developed this … Levallois technique independently of one another,” says Potts. It might have developed independently in South Asia as well. “We’re familiar in history of independent inventions of things like the calendar in different parts of the world.”

Potts says what excites him most about the new finding is that it places India prominently on the map of human innovation and toolmaking.

“It raises a question that all archaeologists should be asking right now,” he says. “What else was going on in India and how prominent was it in the story of human origins?”

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Truck Driver Plows Over Peru's 2,000-Year-Old Nazca Lines, Leaving 'Deep Scars'

Peruvian authorities are pursuing charges against a truck driver who damaged the ancient lines at Nazca on Saturday. Here, an aerial view of the geoglyph known as the Guarango Tree at the site in 2014.

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A semi-truck driver ignored warning signs and drove over Peru’s famous Nazca Lines on Saturday, causing significant damage to the UNESCO World Heritage site.

The driver, identified as 40-year-old Jainer Jesús Flores Vigo, was detained and released, according to newspaper Peru21.

#COMUNICADO: Ministerio de Cultura denuncia penalmente a chofer de camión que ingresó a la Pampa de Nasca: https://t.co/SlcJeyYgMm#PrensaCulturapic.twitter.com/rdMf26Eo8r

— Ministerio Cultura (@MinCulturaPe) January 29, 2018

The lines were scratched into the ground approximately 2,000 years ago, and depict animals, plants, imaginary creatures and geometric figures miles long. Nazca’s lines and geoglyphs stretch across an area of about 280 square miles.

A magistrate concluded that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to indicate the driver acted with intent, Peru21 reports. Peru’s Public Minister announced that Nazca’s prosecutor’s office was appealing the judge’s decision. The ministry had sought nine months of preventive detention and a $1,550 fine while the investigation continues, according to the newspaper.

The truck left “deep scars” across a 50 x 100 meter area, the culture ministry said, affecting the surface of the ancient site and damaging three of the geoglyphs.

Argentine newspaper Clarínreports that the driver said he didn’t know the area because he had never traveled there before, and that he left the road due to a mechanical problem. The newspaper speculated that the driver actually drove off the Pan-American Highway to avoid paying a toll.

UNESCO says the Nazca site is “the most outstanding group of geoglyphs anywhere in the world and are unmatched in its extent, magnitude, quantity, size, diversity and ancient tradition to any similar work in the world.”

This isn’t the first time people have damaged the site. In 2014, Greenpeace activists left footprints as they planted a message there in advance of UN climate talks in Lima.

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Chicago Cubs Co-Owner Todd Ricketts Named New RNC Finance Chairman

Then-President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with Todd Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, after they met in Bedminster, N.J., during the transition in November 2016.

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The Republican National Committee has named Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts its new finance chairman days after its former fundraising chief, real estate and casino magnate Steve Wynn, stepped down amid allegations of sexual assault.

“His incredible leadership and proven track record of results will continue to grow support for our party and ensure we have the resources needed to deliver Republican victories in 2018 and beyond,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said of Ricketts.

“I have wanted to be helpful to President Trump and the Republican Party since our successful 2016 elections,” Ricketts added in a statement.

Ricketts had been nominated by Trump last year to be the deputy commerce secretar but withdrew after determining he couldn’t untangle his family’s business interests from potential conflicts of interest.

Ricketts comes from a family with deep roots in conservative politics. His father, who founded TD Ameritrade, and mother have been major GOP donors. His brother, Pete, is currently the Republican governor of Nebraska.

Ricketts and his family actually opposed Trump during the presidential primaries, first supporting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and then Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. The family later funded an anti-Trump PAC in hopes of stopping him from winning the Republican nomination, prompting a threatening tweet from Trump in 2016.

I hear the Rickets family, who own the Chicago Cubs, are secretly spending $’s against me. They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 22, 2016

Once Trump became the Republican nominee, the Ricketts family supported him. And on Wednesday, Trump praised the selection of Ricketts.

“Todd will be a great addition to the Republican National Committee, and I couldn’t be happier he is lending his tremendous leadership to our party,” the president said.

Wynn, the previous RNC fundraising chairman, stepped down over the weekend after a report from the Wall Street Journal that he had pressured a manicurist who worked at his Las Vegas hotel to have sex with him, which was part of a “decades-long pattern” of sexual indiscretions.

Wynn, a close friend of Trump’s, has denied the allegations.

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National Book Awards Add Category Honoring Works In Translation

Books!

For the first time in more than two decades, the National Book Foundation is adding a new category to its annual slate of literary prizes: the National Book Award for Translated Literature. The new prize announced Wednesday will recognize a work of either fiction or nonfiction translated into English and published in the U.S.

Executive Director Lisa Lucas described the move, which was approved unanimously by the foundation’s board of directors, as a bid to transcend traditional boundaries and broaden the awards’ scope for the sake of American readers.

“We are a nation of immigrants, and we should never stop seeking connection and insight from the myriad cultures that consistently influence and inspire us,” she said in a statement.

“We want American readers to deeply value an inclusive, big-picture point of view, and the National Book Award for Translated Literature is part of a commitment to that principle. The addition of this award lends crucial visibility to works that have the power to touch us as American readers in search of broadened perspective.”

It also expands a stable of prizes that for more than 20 years has numbered just four: fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people’s literature. The latter was added in 1996.

That said, as The New York Times points out, this is far from the first time the National Book Awards dabbled in a little — or a lot — of variety since their founding in 1950. At various points, the prestigious award has recognized genres as diverse as contemporary affairs, philosophy and religion, westerns, and mysteries — including separate honors for both paperback and hardcover.

In fact, the National Book Awards used to recognize excellence in translation for a span of roughly 15 years before cutting off the prize after 1983.

Only after a short-lived experiment in the 1980s, when the prizes were briefly renamed the “American Book Awards” and had the number of categories vastly expanded, did the National Book Awards return in their modern iteration to honor just fiction and nonfiction. Poetry, like young people’s literature, was worked back into the fold later.

The new approach, which looks a little farther beyond the borders of the English-speaking world, comes just a few years after the Man Booker Prize — the premier literary award given out in the U.K. — made a big step of its own toward greater inclusion: Since 2014, the Man Booker has been open to authors beyond the Commonwealth, the confines by which it used to be defined.

As for the new National Book Awards category, the foundation says it’s intended to honor both author and translator. The inaugural winner will be announced at a ceremony in New York City on Nov. 14.

“We now have the opportunity to recognize exceptional books that are written anywhere in the world,” David Steinberger, chairman of the foundation’s board of directors, said in a statement, “and to encourage new voices and perspectives to become part of our national discourse.”

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Critics Of President Trump Say He's Highlighting The MS13 Gang For Political Purposes

The parents of two teenage girls from Long Island, who were killed by alleged members of the MS-13 street gang, were in the audience for last night’s State of the Union address. The White House says their stories show why the U.S. needs tougher immigration laws. But critics say the administration is deliberately demonizing immigrants, who are far more likely to the be the gang’s victims than its members.

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