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FBI report shows thousands of gun sales miss checks

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. (AP) — More gun sales than ever are slipping through the federal background check system — 186,000 last year, a rate of 512 gun sales a day, as states fail to consistently provide thorough, real-time updates on criminal and mental histories to the FBI.

At no time of year is this problem more urgent. This Friday opens the busiest season for gun purchases, when requests for background checks speed up to nearly two a second, testing the limits of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.

The stakes are high: In the U.S., there are already nine guns for every 10 people, and someone is killed with a firearm every 16 minutes. Mass shootings are happening every few weeks.

"We have a perfect storm coming," FBI manager Kimberly Del Greco told The Associated Press during a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the system.

Much of the responsibility for preventing criminals and the mentally ill from buying guns is shouldered by about 500 men and women who run the system from inside the FBI's criminal justice center, a gray office building with concrete walls and mirrored windows just outside Bridgeport, West Virginia.

By federal law, NICS researchers must race against the clock: They have until the end of the third business day following an attempted firearm purchase to determine whether or not a buyer is eligible.

"They won't proceed or deny a transaction unless they are ABSOLUTELY certain the information they have is correct and sufficient to sustain that decision," FBI spokesman Stephen G. Fischer told the AP.

In roughly two percent of the checks handled by the FBI, agents don't get this information in time. If three business days pass without a federal response, buyers can legally get their guns, whether or not the check was completed.

Americans are buying more than twice as many guns a year now as they did when the background checks were first implemented in 1998. And that means more gun sales are effectively beating the system.

The federal government often takes the heat in debates over gun rights, but the FBI says states are largely to blame for this problem. They voluntarily submit records, which are often missing information about mental health rulings or criminal convictions, and aren't always rapidly updated to reflect restraining orders or other urgent reasons to deny a sale.

"We are stewards of the states' records," Del Greco said. "It's really critical that we have accurate information. Sometimes we just don't."

There are more than 48,000 gun retailers in the U.S., from Wal-Mart stores to local pawn shops. Store clerks can use the FBI's online E-Check System, which federal officials say is more efficient. But nearly half the checks are phoned in. Three call centers — in Kentucky, Texas, and Wheeling, W.Va. — take these calls from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. every day but Christmas.

NICS did about 58,000 checks on a typical day last year. That surged to 145,000 on Black Friday 2013. They're bringing in 100 more workers than usual for the post-Thanksgiving rush this year.

The call centers have no access to privileged information about buyers' backgrounds, and make no decisions. They just type in their name, address, birthdate, Social Security Number and other information into the system. On Black Fridays, the work can be grueling: One woman took a call that lasted four hours when a dealer phoned in the maximum 99 checks.

"Rules had to be stretched," recalled Sam Demarco, her supervisor. "We can't transfer calls. Someone had to sit in her seat for her while she went to the bathroom."

In the years since these background checks were required, about 71 percent have found no red flags and produced instant approvals.

But ten factors can disqualify gun purchasers: a felony conviction, an arrest warrant, a documented drug problem or mental illness, undocumented immigration status, a dishonorable military discharge, a renunciation of U.S. citizenship, a restraining order, a history of domestic violence, or an indictment for any crime punishable by longer than one year of prison time.

Any sign that one of these factors could be in a buyer's background produces a red-flag, which sends the check to the FBI researchers to approve, deny or investigate. They scour state records in the federal database, and often call local authorities for more information.

"It takes a lot of effort ... for an examiner to go out and look at court reports, look at judges' documents, try to find a final disposition so we can get back to a gun dealer on whether they can sell that gun or not," Del Greco said. "And we don't always get back to them."

These workers have considerable responsibility, but little independent authority. They must use skill and judgment, balancing the rights of gun owners and the need to keep would-be killers from getting firearms.

Researcher Valerie Sargo said outstanding warrants often come up when they examine a red flag, and that can help police make arrests.

"It makes you feel good that this person is not supposed to have a firearm and you kept it out of their hands," she said.

It also weighs on them when the red flags aren't resolved in time. Tacked to a cubicle wall, a sign reads: "Our policy is to ALWAYS blame the computer."

FBI contractors and employees oversaw more than 9 million checks in the first full year, when the NICS system was established as part of Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1998. By last year, they oversaw more than 21 million. In all, only 1.25 percent of attempted purchases are denied. Denials can be appealed.

People can get guns without background checks in many states by buying weapons at gun shows or from individuals, a loophole the National Rifle Association does not want closed. But even the NRA agrees that the NICS system needs better data.

"Any database is only going to function as well as the information contained within," NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said.

Del Greco doesn't see the states' data improving soon, which only adds to the immense challenge of getting through huge numbers of requisite checks on Black Friday.

___

Associated Press Writer Matt Stroud can be reached through Twitter @mattstroud.

Turkey Trot draws large crowd on Thanksgiving morning

BEAUMONT - Some people exercise to burn off calories from all the turkey they'll eat today, but a large crowd in Beaumont had a different idea-burn calories early by taking part in the annual Turkey Trot.

(Picture of Roy West and group of children)

The 10K run and the 5K run/walk began at 8 a.m. Thanksgiving Day at the Event Centre in downtown Beaumont. The Kid's K Fun Run began at 9:30 a.m.

Chip timing will be used for the 5K and 10K.

The 2014 Triangle Therapeutics Turkey Trot is sponsored by a number of companies and the City of Beaumont.

 

Prominent East Texas businessman Walter Kyles, Sr. dies

JASPER - By Steve W Stewart/KJAS and Rayburn Broadcasting Company

Jasper has lost longtime businessman Walter Kyles, Sr. The man who has been called "One of the finest East Texas logging contractors", died from natural causes on Monday in his Jasper home at the age of 87.

Kyles was a native of the Jamestown Community in Newton County, and later moved to Jasper. For 66 years, since he was just a teenager, he owned and operated Kyles Logging and was a major contractor in the lucrative Deep East Texas timber business, which is the third largest agricultural industry in Texas behind cattle and cotton.

Kyles was known to look much younger than his actual age, and even into his 80’s he was devilishly handsome.

One of fourteen children, Kyles was still just a kid when he started earning money - the hard way - with a crosscut saw. After school every day, he and his brother would cut the timber, and on Saturdays they would use horses to haul the product to mill.

Business was in his blood and in 1948, at the age of 19, he bought his first log truck financed by a railroad employee. His payments on the loan were 40 cents per cord of wood hauled, which is the equivalent of $3.98 in today’s dollars.

He paid the truck off in only six months, and less than a year later he bought his second truck. Six years later he owned four trucks, and by 1964 he had a fleet of 24 trucks.

Those were the good years in East Texas, when timber was king.

Kyles was recognized for his expertise in the timber industry when TexasHistory.com http://TexasHistory.com interviewed him for an article entitled "Working Texas", in which Kyles talked about changes in the way timber is harvested in modern times, which is very different than when he started more than a half-century ago. The article quoted Kyles as saying "Nowadays, we have equipment so that the guys do not have to cut trees down by hand anymore. We have what we call a ‘shearer,’ this shearer will go out and cut the tree and carry this particular tree and lay it down where the shearer’s driver/operator wants it. Then we have skidder drivers, they come by and pick this tree up and they do not have to get off their skidder, they just bring that tree to the landing, and they don’t even have to get off."

Kyles and his employees were also featured in a 1993 article in the Temple-Inland company paper "InTouch". Kyles was quoted as saying "I take pride in this business, and this business provides so much to so many people".

In January of 2007, he was honored by Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church during their Annual Men’s Breakfast, which draws hundreds of attendees each year from across the region.

Later, in 2009, Kyles was nominated to receive one of the very first Pillars of the Community Awards, which was created that year and is now an annual event which honors current and past black residents of the Jasper area who show leadership. Pillars of the Community Director Wretha Rawls-Thomas said on Wednesday that Kyles was, unfortunately, not able to attend that first banquet because he was ill at the time.

Wretha said she has very fond memories of Walter Kyles. She said "My daddy, George Rawls, and Mr. Kyles were very good friends, in fact when we were little kids we always went to his house to play". Wretha went on to say "He was a man of few words, but he always had a beautiful and welcoming smile".

Walter Kyles, Sr. is survived by a son, Walter Kyles, Jr., of Beaumont, and two daughters, Yvonne Kyle Calvit and Martha Conley, both of Houston, along with a grandson, Felix L. Kyle-Ford, of Richmond.

A memorial service will be Friday evening and the funeral service will be Saturday afternoon at Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church.

Chase leads to arrest of teen suspect accused of burglarizing cycle shop

BEAUMONT - From Beaumont Police Department

One juvenile is in custody and officers are searching for at least one other suspect in an overnight burglary attempt.

At about 2:29 a.m., a Patrol Officer responded to a burglar alarm at Leon’s Cycle Shop located in the 4800 block of S. Martin Luther King Blvd. As he arrived, he saw two people inside the closed business. The two men fled the scene and the officer pursued. After a lengthy foot pursuit, the officer located one suspect hiding in the backyard of a house. The apprehended suspect is a 15-year-old Beaumont resident.

After apprehending the suspect, officers checked the business and found that a perimeter fence had been cut and the front doors had been pried open. Evidence found in the business and on the perimeter indicated that the two suspects were in the process of burglarizing the business when they were interrupted by the responding officer.

Officers transported the juvenile suspect to the Minnie Rogers Juvenile Justice Center. Officers have not been able to locate the second suspect. The only description available of the second suspect is that he was a black male.

Lamar University is going to the dogs during finals week

Certified therapy dogs with the local organization Paws 4 Love and rescue dogs from the Humane Society of Southeast Texas will be on campus at the Mary and John Gray Library during the week of finals, December 4-10.

Dogs of all shapes and sizes can be seen, held and snuggled by all students. Therapy dogs will be in a roped area inside the library on the first floor on December 2 from 6-8 p.m.; December 3 and 4 from 4-8 p.m.; and December 5 from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. The Humane Society rescue dogs will be outside the library under the shade tree on December 4, 8, 9 and 10 from 8-10 a.m. and 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. 

Many students had to leave a beloved pet at home when they entered college and may be a little homesick to pet and hold a dog again.

“Our goal is to help students de-stress during finals and bring a smile to their faces,” said Sara Gubala, a member of Paws 4 Love and LU political science instructor. “Research shows petting a dog lowers your blood pressure, provides stress relief, and improves your mood, which is something most students need during finals week.”

Paws 4 Love is a non-profit local chapter of the national organization Intermountain Therapy Animals that strives to bring animal-assisted therapy to schools, nursing homes, hospitals and other locations across the Golden Triangle.

“My favorite part is seeing the excited look on students’ faces when they walk into the library,” Gubala said. “This is the fourth semester that the therapy dogs have come, and I encourage students to come out and have some fun during finals. Even if you’re scared of dogs, these dogs have been trained and they just want to be loved on.”

The Humane Society of Southeast Texas is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of animals and the promotion of animal welfare throughout Southeast Texas.

The Humane Society operates solely on donations and volunteer work and welcomes support from the community. The Humane Society can be contacted at (409) 833-0504 or (409) 722-0605.

For more information, contact Sara Gubala at smgubala@lamar.edu or Karen Nichols at Karen.nichols@lamar.edu.

Harn to honored with Rogers Community Service Award at LU

Monica Harn, associate professor and department chair of the speech and hearing sciences department, will be honored with Lamar University’s 2014 Julie & Ben Rogers Community Service Award at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 3, in the University Reception Center of the Mary and John Gray Library.


Harn said it was a great honor to discover she had been selected for the award.


“I was so pleased to be recognized by the Rogers family,” she said. “People like the Rogers instill a value of service in the community and act as excellent role models. This award is a nice example of the emphasis that this university as well as the community places on service. It proves that not only are we as university employees expected to outreach here, but that we can have a broader impact in the community also.”


Harn said she feels as if the award validates her work of being a speech pathologist.


“Speech pathologists and audiologists are about making the world a better place for their clients,” she said. “Due to the nature of my profession, we are bound by service. With this job, you have the opportunity to give back in a big way. I think this award is an outgrowth of thinking you’re going to do great things in the world. This award demonstrates the passion I have for my job and the passion I have for service.”


Harn credits college for exposing her to a world of service.

“I wish I could say that I’ve always seen the world through the lens of service, but I really discovered the importance of service in college,” she said. “As I was finishing my undergraduate degree in mass communications, I thought about what I was doing and what I wanted to do with my life. After enrolling in college, I started to take courses in the humanities, and my eyes were opened.”

After graduating with her undergraduate degree, Harn began working at a public relations firm until she realized she wanted to pursue a career that was more service-oriented.

“In the 1990s before the Internet, I checked out a book on communication disorders, read it, and thought I’m jumping in,” she said. “I had never heard of the field of speech pathology, but when I met with the people in education and talked about the things that interested me, they suggested that I speak to the chair of speech pathology at LSU. After my first semester of graduate work, I fell in love with it. I haven’t looked back. I’ve loved every moment since then.”

Harn instantly knew she was in the right profession the moment she started working with children.

“At my first clinical rotation I had a group of five children, each who had a disabling condition, that I was responsible for,” she said. “I just sat down in the middle of them and knew I had to do something. From that day on, I was absolutely steadfast.”

A faculty member of Lamar since 2001, Harn said her position meshes three of her passions: teaching, serving and researching.

“By being human we are driven by the desire to participate in a social cultural context and anything that interferes with a person’s ability to be involved in their community interferes with their quality of life,” she said. “Part of our job in this department is to provide people a means to communicate or ways to compensate for disabilities so they can become active contributors in a social cultural context. Overall our goal is to improve quality of life and inherently that means serving both the client and community at large. In this profession, you can make a profound difference where you can really change lives.”

According to Harn, service isn’t something she thinks about but rather something she does.

“For me that’s the point of why you would wake up - to contribute,” she said. “Your life is about doing something, and so if you’re not doing something that enhances the world around you then what is the point of what you’re doing? Personally, I think no matter what you choose to do with your life, you’re going to be giving service. Anything you do benefits others if it is to make a positive change.”

Harn said she believes service is a self-fulfilling activity.

“When you go do something for someone else, then your life becomes what it is meant to be,” she said. “I’ve always found myself in situations where I see a need and think, ‘If I don’t do it, who is going to do it? If not you then who, so why not you?’ I might not be the smartest or the best, but if I don’t get out there and do something then who else do I expect to do it. Maybe you don’t even hear about the impact of your service now, but you know that you put something out there that might have an effect 20 years from now.”

Harn said she comes from a long line of service.

“My grandmother was a public health nurse, and she would drive into the fields and serve people,” she said. “Service was what she did for her life’s work. My mother is a teacher whose profession revolves around service. With such examples, I can’t help but see service everywhere.”

Harn received her bachelor’s degree in mass communication from McNeese State University. She obtained her doctorate in communication sciences and disorders from Louisiana State University.

The Rogers family established the award in 1979 to encourage Lamar University faculty and staff to volunteer their service and talents to the community. The Lamar University Foundation maintains an endowment that provides for the award.

Other 2014 recipients are Melanie Lanuza of Lamar Institute of Technology, Tara Lanphar of Lamar State College-Orange and Cynthia Guidry of Lamar State College-Port Arthur.

Seahawks Dance Team steps out at soccer game

Lamar State College-Port Arthur’s dance and cheer squad, the Seahawks Dance Team, will perform Saturday, December 6, at the Oxford City FC indoor soccer game at Ford Park Arena in Beaumont.

Game time against the Brownsville Barracudas is 7 p.m.

“Performing at Ford Park will be a great way for the dancers to gain exposure throughout the community,” Brooke Ancelet, Seahawks Dance Director, said. “Not only will it help the girls gain experience, but they will be introduced to an entire new set of fans who may not have known otherwise that Lamar State-Port Arthur has a dance team.”

Team members for the Fall 2014 season are Ashleigh Burleigh, Ashley Gallentine, Darnisha Wells, Jessica Buckner and captain Jacqueline Robinson. The Dance Team performs on campus at LSC-PA basketball games, spirit rallies, orientations and other special events.

Tryouts for Spring 2015 were held this past week.

“We are still trying to grow the dance program at Lamar State,” Ancelet said, “so we are thankful for the opportunity to showcase our talent to the public.”

Oxford City FC is a soccer club founded in 1882 in England, with more than 40 teams of all ages and skill levels competing in outdoor and indoor leagues in Europe and North America. This is its first year to field a team in the United States.

The Beaumont team is a member of the Major Arena Soccer League, competing against teams from Texas, Oklahoma and Mexico, among others.

According to the team’s website, additional entertainment at Saturday’s game will be provided by No Remorse, a Metallica tribute band.

 

For more information about the Seahawks Dance Team, contact Ancelet at 409-984-6197. To apply to LSC-PA online, go to www.lamarpa.edu or call Admissions/Advising at 409-984-6186 or Financial Aid at 409-984-6203.

 

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