Thursday April 11, 2013

Senate background check deal gives new momentum to gun control, but major fight still ahead

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Conservative senators from both parties announced their support for expanding background checks for gun buyers Wednesday, giving a burst of momentum to advocates of stronger restrictions. But big questions remain about whether President Barack Obama can push significant gun controls through Congress.

The compromise between Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., boosted the chances that the Senate will agree to broaden required background checks, a step gun control groups laud as an effective way to keep weapons from criminals and the mentally ill. The senators are among the most conservative members of their parties, both have received "A" ratings from the National Rifle Association, and their endorsements could make it easier for hesitant colleagues to back the effort.

Gun control advocates still face opposition from many Republican senators and resistance from moderate Democrats, including several facing re-election next year in GOP-leaning states. In the Republican-run House, leaders have shown little enthusiasm for Obama’s ideas, making that chamber an even higher hurdle.

Under the agreement the two senators announced at the Capitol, background checks would be expanded to all for-profit transactions including sales at gun shows and online, with records kept by licensed gun-dealers who would handle the paperwork. Exempted would be noncommercial transactions such as between relatives. Currently, the system applies only to sales by the country’s 55,000 federally licensed firearms dealers.

The agreement also contains provisions expanding firearms rights, and that concerns gun control supporters. Some restrictions on transporting guns across state lines would be eased, sellers would be shielded from lawsuits if the buyer passed a check but later used a firearm in a crime and gun dealers could conduct business in states where they don’t live.

As world awaits North Korea missile test, calm Pyongyang residents say ‘We will win war’

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) -- As the world braced for a provocative missile launch by North Korea, with newscasts worldwide playing up tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the center of the storm was strangely calm.

The focus in Pyongyang on Wednesday was less on preparing for war and more on beautifying the capital ahead of the nation’s biggest holiday: the April 15 birthday of the nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung. Soldiers put down their rifles to blanket the barren ground with sod and students picked up shovels to help plant trees.

But the impoverished, tightly controlled nation that has historically used major holidays to draw the world’s attention by showing off its military power could well mark the occasion by testing a missile designed to strike U.S. military installations in Japan and Guam.

South Korea’s foreign minister said the prospect of a medium-range missile launch is "considerably high."

North Korean officials have not announced plans to launch a missile in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions barring Pyongyang from nuclear and missile activity.

Senate plan would strengthen border security, make employers verify workers’ status

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Bipartisan immigration legislation being written in the Senate would require surveillance of 100 percent of the U.S. border with Mexico and apprehension of 90 percent of people trying to cross the border in certain high-risk areas, a person familiar with the proposals said Wednesday.

People living here illegally could begin to get green cards in 10 years, but only if a new southern border security plan is in place, employers have adopted mandatory electronic verification of their workers’ legal status and a new electronic exit system is operating at airports and seaports.

The person provided the information on condition of anonymity because the deliberations were private.

The contours of the tough new border security plans emerged as senators moved closer to unveiling sweeping legislation within days that would put some 11 million immigrants living here illegally on a path to citizenship and allow tens of thousands of high- and low-skilled workers into the country on new visa programs, in addition to securing the border.

Lawmakers and aides said all the major elements were complete, or close to. A final deal was near on a new visa for agriculture workers. There were small details to be dealt with on visas for high-tech workers, but Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said it wasn’t enough to hold up the bill.

Ga gunman holding 4 firefighters shot dead; hostages injured but OK; SWAT officer hit

SUWANEE, Ga. (AP) -- Authorities say a gunman holding four firefighters in suburban Atlanta has been shot dead by SWAT members and that all the hostages are slightly injured but should be OK.

Gwinnett County Police Cpl. Edwin Ritter said Wednesday evening that a SWAT officer has been shot in the hand.

Minutes before the police announcement, one big explosion followed by several smaller ones or gunshots were heard in the Suwanee neighborhood about 35 miles northeast of Atlanta.

Police and fire officials say five firefighters responded to what seemed like a routine medical call in Suwanee and were eventually taken hostage by an unidentified suspect inside the house. They say one was let go to move the fire truck.

Ex-Rep. Weiner says he may run for New York mayor; will voters forgive sexting scandal?

NEW YORK (AP) -- A bold comeback attempt or the height of chutzpah?

In what could be the start of one of the most intriguing second acts in American politics, Anthony Weiner, the congressman who tweeted himself out of a job two years ago with a photo of his bulging underpants, is considering jumping into the New York City mayor’s race.

The Brooklyn Democrat said in a New York Times Magazine story posted online Wednesday that he realizes he would be an underdog, but he wants to "ask people to give me a second chance."

"I do recognize, to some degree, it’s now or maybe never for me," Weiner, 48, said in a long and highly personal profile that he clearly hoped would be the start of his rehabilitation.

But are voters ready to forgive? Will they at least stop giggling long enough to hear what he has to say?

Maine hermit, suspect in more
than 1,000 burglaries, caught
after 27 years living in the wild

ROME, Maine (AP) -- A man who lived like a hermit for decades in a makeshift camp in the woods and may be responsible for more than 1,000 burglaries for food and other staples has been caught in a surveillance trap at a camp he treated as a "Walmart," authorities said Wednesday.

Christopher Knight, 47, was arrested last week when he tripped a surveillance sensor set up by a game warden while stealing food from a camp for people with special needs in Rome, a town of about 1,000 whose population swells with the arrival of summer residents.

Authorities on Tuesday found the campsite where they believed Knight, known as the North Pond Hermit in local lore, has lived for 27 years.

Some residents say they’ve been aware of the hermit for years, often in connection with break-ins that have occurred. He was so well known to some summer cottage owners that they left food out for him so he wouldn’t break in during the colder months, state Trooper Diane Vance said.

But others were hardly aware of the hermit living within their midst without detection since 1986.

Doctors use brain scans to ‘see’ and measure pain and tell whether medicine is relieving it

In a provocative new study, scientists reported Wednesday that they were able to "see" pain on brain scans and, for the first time, measure its intensity and tell whether a drug was relieving it. Though the research is in its early stages, it opens the door to a host of possibilities.

Scans might be used someday to tell when pain is hurting a baby, someone with dementia or a paralyzed person unable to talk. They might lead to new, less addictive pain medicines. They might even help verify claims for disability.

"Many people suffer from chronic pain and they’re not always believed. We see this as a way to confirm or corroborate pain if there is a doubt," said Tor Wager, a neuroscientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

He led the research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. So far it is only on pain felt through the skin -- heat applied to an arm. More study needs to be done on more common kinds of pain, such as headaches, bad backs and pain from disease.

Independent experts say the research shows a way to measure objectively what is now one of life’s most subjective experiences.

Entertainer Flavor Flav facing felony trial in domestic violence knife case in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Entertainer Flavor Flav is facing a trial on felony charges that he threatened his longtime girlfriend’s 17-year-old son with a butcher knife during a family argument.

The 54-year-old former rap and reality TV star, whose legal name is William Jonathan Drayton Jr., didn’t testify during a Wednesday evidence hearing in Las Vegas Justice Court.

But the teen did. He pointed from the witness stand toward Drayton at the defendant’s table, identified him as the man wearing a clock around his neck, and told Justice of the Peace Melanie Andress-Tobiasson that Drayton chased him to a bedroom and stabbed the knife through the door during the argument early Oct. 17.

The teen quoted the obscenity he says Drayton used as the rapper threatened to kill him. Drayton was standing 2 feet away with the knife still in his hand, the boy said.

The Associated Press is not reporting the boy’s name because he is a juvenile.

Prosecutor in Jodi Arias murder trial says victim was ‘extremely afraid’ of defendant

PHOENIX (AP) -- The prosecutor in Jodi Arias’ murder trial is working to show the victim was afraid of Arias before his death.

Prosecutor Juan Martinez has been questioning a defense witness who says Arias suffered domestic abuse by her lover.

Psychotherapist Alyce LaViolette (la-VY’-oh-let) says she did not view Arias as a stalker, as the victim indicated to another woman.

LaViolette later noted how Travis Alexander may have made such comments, but he did so while continuing to invite Arias over sex. She explained that was not the behavior of a man who feared for his life.

Arias faces a possible death sentence if convicted of first-degree murder in Alexander’s 2008 killing. Prosecutors say she planned the attack. Arias says it was self-defense.