Biden, NRA clash over gun control proposals; VP to send Obama his recommendations by Tuesday
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Despite fresh opposition from the National Rifle Association, the Obama administration is assembling proposals to curb gun violence that would include a ban on sales of assault weapons, limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines and universal background checks for gun buyers.
Sketching out details of the plan Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden said he would give President Barack Obama a set of recommendations by next Tuesday. The NRA, one of the pro-gun groups that met with Biden during the day, rejected the effort to limit ammunition and dug in on its opposition to an assault weapons ban, which Obama has previously said he will propose to Congress.
"The vice president made it clear, made it explicitly clear, that the president had already made up his mind on those issues," NRA president David Keene said following the meeting. "We made it clear that we disagree with them."
Opposition from the well-funded and politically powerful NRA underscores the challenges that await the White House if it seeks congressional approval for limiting guns and ammunition and greatly expanding background checks. Obama can use his executive powers to act alone on some gun measures, but his options on the proposals opposed by the NRA are limited without Congress' cooperation.
Obama has pushed reducing gun violence to the top of his domestic agenda following last month's massacre of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school. The president put Biden in charge of an administration-wide task force and set a late January deadline for proposals.
Judge: Evidence sufficient for Colorado theater shooting suspect to face trial on all counts
DENVER (AP) -- A judge ruled late Thursday that there's enough evidence for James Holmes to face trial on charges that he killed 12 people and injured 70 others in a Colorado movie theater last summer.
Judge William Sylvester said prosecutors have established probable cause to proceed with all 166 felony counts they filed against him, including first-degree murder after deliberation, first-degree murder with extreme indifference and attempted murder. He ordered that Holmes continue to be held without bail.
Holmes is due to be arraigned Friday, but his defense attorneys filed papers Thursday afternoon saying he's not ready to enter a plea. Sylvester noted Holmes' attorneys will likely ask in court Friday that the arraignment be delayed.
Defense attorneys did not explain why they are not ready for arraignment. Their filing also objected to media requests to bring cameras into the courtroom. Other than during his brief initial appearance in July, cameras have been barred from court during Holmes' case.
Sylvester's ruling came after a three-day hearing earlier this week, in which prosecutors laid out their case against Holmes, 25.
10 Things to Know for Friday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday:
1. WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS TO DO ABOUT GUNS
A consensus is emerging to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and tighten background checks.
US flu season strikes early and, in many places, hard; hospitals are swamped with the feverish
NEW YORK (AP) -- From the Rocky Mountains to New England, hospitals are swamped with people with flu symptoms. Some medical centers are turning away visitors or making them wear face masks, and one Pennsylvania hospital set up a tent outside its ER to deal with the feverish patients.
Flu season in the U.S. has struck early and, in many places, hard.
While flu normally doesn't blanket the country until late January or February, it is already widespread in more than 40 states, with about 30 of them reporting some major hot spots. On Thursday, health officials blamed the flu for the deaths of 20 children so far.
Whether this will be considered a bad season by the time it has run its course in the spring remains to be seen.
"Those of us with gray hair have seen worse," said Dr. William Schaffner, a flu expert at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Mali Islamists clash with military for first time in nearly a year, take key town
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) -- The Islamists who rule northern Mali clashed with government forces for the first time in nearly a year, seizing a strategic city Thursday as the al-Qaida-linked militants pushed toward the government line of control in the center of the troubled country.
The capture of the city of Konna marks a dangerous escalation in the Islamists' confrontation with the Malian government, which is based hundreds of miles (kilometers) to the south in the capital, Bamako.
The fighting in central Mali also comes amid speculation that a regional military intervention to oust the extremists may not come until September at the earliest.
Malian President Dioncounda Traore asked France, Mali's former colonial power, for help to counter the advance of the extremists.
France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said Traore sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a similar letter to French President Francois Hollande seeking assistance from France. Araud said Hollande will respond to the letter on Friday.
Sheriff: Calif. high school student planned attack on classmates; teacher talked him down
TAFT, Calif. (AP) -- A 16-year-old student armed with a shotgun walked into a rural California high school on Thursday, shot one student and fired at others and missed before a teacher and another staff member talked him into surrendering, officials said.
The teen victim was in critical but stable condition, and the suspect, whose pockets were stuffed with ammunition, was still being interrogated, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said at a news conference Thursday evening.
The suspect used a shotgun that belonged to his brother and went to bed Wednesday night with a plan to shoot two fellow students, Youngblood said.
Surveillance video shows the alleged shooter trying to conceal the gun as he nervously entered Taft Union High School through a side entrance after school had started Thursday morning.
When the shots were fired, teacher Ryan Heber tried to get the more than two dozen students out a back door and engaged the shooter in conversation to distract him, Youngblood said. Campus supervisor Kim Lee Fields responded to a call of shots fired and also began talking to the teen.
Locals say shifting sea ice frees trapped killer whales in northern Canada, but fears continue
MONTREAL (AP) -- About a dozen killer whales trapped under sea ice appeared to be free after the ice shifted, village officials in Canada's remote north said Thursday, while residents who feared they would get stuck elsewhere hired a plane to track them down.
The whales' predicament in the frigid waters of Hudson Bay made international headlines, and locals had been planning a rescue operation with chainsaws and drills before the mammals slipped away.
Tommy Palliser said two hunters from remote Inukjuak village reported that the waters had opened up around the area where the cornered whales had been bobbing frantically for air around a single, truck-sized hole in the ice. Officials said shifting winds might have pushed the ice away.
"It's certainly good news -- that's good news for the whales," said Palliser, a business adviser with the regional government.
But fears remained that the whales might have been trapped elsewhere by the ever-moving ice. Some villagers were skeptical the killer whales had escaped harm, so the community hired an airplane to scan the region Thursday for signs of the pod.
Bombings kill 115 people in Pakistan, including 81 in sectarian attack on billiards hall
QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) -- A series of bombings killed 115 people across Pakistan on Thursday, including 81 who died in twin blasts on a bustling billiards hall in a Shiite area of the southwestern city of Quetta.
Pakistan's minority Shiite Muslims have increasingly been targeted by radical Sunnis who consider them heretics, and a militant Sunni group claimed responsibility for Thursday's deadliest attack -- sending a suicide bomber into the packed pool hall and then detonating a car bomb five minutes later.
It was one of the deadliest days in recent years for a country that is no stranger to violence from radical Islamists, militant separatists and criminal gangs.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned Thursday's multiple attacks and the ongoing terrorist violence in Pakistan, saying "these heinous acts cannot be justified by any cause" and calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Violence has been especially intense in southwest Baluchistan province, where Quetta is the capital and the country's largest concentration of Shiites live. Many are ethnic Hazara who migrated from neighboring Afghanistan.
Remember that big asteroid that could hit Earth in 2036? Astronomers say never mind
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Upon further review, a big scary-sounding asteroid is no longer even a remote threat to smash into Earth in about 20 years, NASA says.
Astronomers got a much better look at the asteroid when it whizzed by Earth on Wednesday from a relative safe 9 million miles away. They recalculated the space rock's trajectory and determined it wasn't on a path to hit Earth on April 13, 2036 as once feared possible.
At more than 1,060 feet wide, the rock called Apophis could do significant damage to a local area if it hit and perhaps even cause a tsunami. But it was not large enough to trigger worldwide extinctions. One prominent theory that explains the extinctions of dinosaurs and other species 65 million years ago says a six-mile-wide meteorite hit Earth and spewed vast amounts of dust into the air, cooling and darkening the planet.
About nine years ago, when astronomers first saw Apophis (uh-PAH'-fihs), they thought there was a 2.7 percent chance that it would smack into our planet. Later, they lowered the chances to an even more unlikely 1 in 250,000.
Now it's never mind.
Indiana boy abducted by grandparents in 1994 found living under different name in Minnesota
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- An Indiana woman whose young son was abducted 19 years ago was screaming and "jumping up and down" after learning he was living in Minnesota under a different name, her husband said Thursday shortly after police announced they had found him.
Richard Wayne Landers Jr. was just 5 years old when he and his paternal grandparents, who were upset over custody arrangements, disappeared from Wolcottville, a town about 30 miles north of Fort Wayne.
Indiana State Police said the now 24-year-old Landers was found in Long Prairie, Minn., thanks in part to his Social Security number. His grandparents were living under aliases in a nearby town and confirmed his identity, investigators said.
Police declined to say whether the grandparents would face charges, citing the ongoing investigation.
Landers' mother, Lisa Harter, was "jumping up and down for joy" when investigators told her a few days ago that her son had been found, her husband Richard Harter told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.