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“The End Of The Democratic Party’s Silent Era On Guns”: Has President Obama Broken The Political Stalemate On Guns?

On Thursday night, for the first time since he rolled out his plan to expand background checks for guns, President Barack Obama publicly faced his critics—some of them, that is. His audience of several dozen at a CNN-hosted town hall included a mother and rape survivor, a shooting-range owner, and an Arizona sheriff, all of whom questioned Obama’s approach to the gun-violence epidemic. The only voice missing was the one that has long overshadowed these debates—the National Rifle Association. NRA officials declined their CNN invitation, preferring the comfort of Fox News to what they labeled a “public relations spectacle.”

Obama was ready to pounce on the NRA’s absence; he looked most at ease during the hour-plus event whenever he was attacking and counterpointing the group. Early on, host Anderson Cooper asked the president about the NRA’s absence. “Since this is a main reason they exist, you’d think that they’d be prepared to have a debate with the president,” he said, pointing out (pointedly) that their headquarters was just “right down the street.”

Only a few minutes in, Obama had already shed the last of his overly cautious image on guns. And he’d begun to give Democratic candidates in 2016 an object lesson in how to talk about gun control—and its fiercest foes.

For most of his time in office, Obama has mostly treaded carefully on the issue, calling on Congress to take action after each round of national mourning for a mass shooting rather than tapping into his own (albeit limited) presidential powers to take action. As a candidate, he was similarly cautious. Finally, at the Virginia town hall, Obama proved he has outgrown any fear of the gun lobby.

Democratic candidates, presidential and otherwise, have long been silent and defensive on gun control, fearing that gun owners’ distrust, stoked by NRA spending, would cost them elections. That thinking dates back at least to 1994, when Democrats lost Congress and the defeat was partly chalked up to backlash from the recently passed assault-weapons ban. The conventional wisdom only solidified when Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee in 2000, costing Democrats the White House—another loss blamed, with scant evidence, on the Democratic candidate’s support for the assault-weapons ban and other forms of gun control.

It took roughly 20 years, but Obama has finally marked the end of the Democratic Party’s silent era on guns. His executive actions and last night’s forum mark the start—a strong one—to 2016, a year in which Democrats may finally learn to talk straight about the NRA and make combatting gun violence an issue they use to win votes, rather than shrink from.

Obama may not have convinced any of his NRA opponents that all he wants are modest measures, but he doesn’t need to. The NRA’s base won’t move, no matter what Democrats do or don’t do. But the vast majority of Americans already agree with the president on sensible background checks. Some 90 percent support background checks for guns, and in a poll before the town hall, CNN found that 67 percent of Americans support Obama’s recent executive actions.

Yet when asked about the likely effectiveness of his actions, the polls flip, showing nearly one in six think they won’t reduce gun deaths. It’s those sympathetic-but-skeptical Americans who Obama addressed most effectively on Thursday, giving us a preview of how the next Democratic presidential nominee will likely frame the party’s message on guns. “The goal here is just to make progress,” he said—incremental, but life-saving, progress.

Obama has given Democrats a template for how to navigate the gun-control issue in 2016. In his final year of office, he’s come out in front on gun violence, experimenting with the right message and providing his fellow Democrats with some political cover by taking the flak for it. He offered a roadmap on Thursday to the two Democratic presidential frontrunners—and candidates down-ballot as well—on how to campaign for gun reform.

First, he was (mostly) up-front about his own experience with guns. In the past, Obama has sometimes done his version of the compulsory “Democratic candidate goes hunting” photo-op, referencing his passion for hunting and skeet shooting (to be fair, he did mention it in passing on Thursday). But gun owners (along with everyone else) have long known enough to dismiss that as pandering. Obama’s far more effective moments at the forum came when he spoke about his other experience with guns, including Chicago’s gun violence, which has taken victims just blocks from his home.

Second, he knew who he was trying to convince: people who are already concerned about gun violence, but aren’t convinced that new regulations are really going to help. He turned to gun owners in the audience more than once, explaining that people “less responsible” than them shouldn’t be able to get a gun without a background check. And he came back again and again to his broader argument: “There’s nothing else in our lives that we purchase where we don’t try to make it a little safer if we can,” he said, comparing the gun industry to cars, toys, and medicine that have become safer with regulation.

Finally, Obama knew his enemy, and called the NRA out for its spin. At one point, Cooper asked him if it’s fair to call the idea he wants to take everybody’s guns a conspiracy, since “a lot of people really believe this deeply.” Obama—so visibly frustrated he mixed up Anderson Cooper’s name—cut in: “I’m sorry, Cooper. Yes, it is fair to call it a conspiracy. What are you saying? Are you suggesting that the notion that we are creating a plot to take everybody’s guns away so that we can impose martial law is a conspiracy? Yes, that is a conspiracy!”

It’s too soon, of course, to know if Obama’s approach will prove politically popular or just manage to embolden the NRA’s base—probably both. But Democrats appear more and more inclined to stop tiptoeing around the issue and the NRA. Hillary Clinton proposed an almost-identical plan to Obama’s executive actions last fall, a promising sign she’d continue Obama’s march if she becomes the nominee. Bernie Sanders also recently embraced Obama’s actions. If this year’s Democratic nominee pushes further ideas for using executive powers to make incremental progress on gun control—and calls out the NRA and its arguments with anything near the force that Obama showed on Thursday—then we’ll know the stalemate on guns in electoral politics has finally broken.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, January 8, 2015

January 9, 2016 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Control, Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Real Threat Trump Poses To Hillary—And Us”: Spending Time On Endless, Pointless & Corrosive Questions

Donald Trump says Ted Cruz may not be eligible to be president, and what happens? It dominates the news cycle for three days. Going on four.

See a pattern here? You should. A few months ago people used to ask, “What impact is Donald Trump having on the race”? Now we know very clearly exactly what it is. He takes over the news cycle. He says something about one of his rivals—or occasionally about an issue, although it’s always un-substantive and full of untrue assertions—and it sucks all the other oxygen out of the room. The rivals have to answer Trump, and the cable shows do panel after panel on whether what Trump said is true, whether it even matters whether it’s true, how so-and-so handled the response, and how it’s going to change the polls.

It’s happened over and over again. In fact it’s happened pretty much nonstop. Trump says Jeb is “low-energy”; Jeb has to prove he’s high energy. He hammers Marco Rubio for this, Chris Christie for that, and now Cruz. In a nutshell, this is the campaign, at least the campaign that those of us who aren’t in Iowa or New Hampshire see.

The effect has been to turn the campaign into a vacuous, reality TV dick-swinging competition. And bad as that is, the effect has been far worse when Trump makes one of his assertions about the country or world. He says these things about the world that are either just false or crazy, and everybody has to spend three days explaining why it’s false or crazy. He saw “thousands and thousands” of American Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9-11 attacks. That was eventually debunked. But it took nearly a week. And by the way, it hasn’t been debunked everywhere; certain web sites on the right spent days if not weeks defending Trump.

This is the real Trump Effect: He forces us to spend an endless series of three-day cycles debating at best pointless or at worst toxic and corrosive questions. That week we had to spend proving that American Muslims didn’t celebrate 9-11 wasn’t just a stupid and wasted week. It was a hatefest week that pulled an entire country in reverse, unlancing boils, raising temperatures. It was the same, more or less, when he said what a great guy Vladimir Putin was.

No. These are things we know. Putin is not a great guy. He’s a thug, just like you, Donald. We may not know for a fact that he’s had journalists killed, but a lot of anti-Putin journalists have died mysteriously. American Muslims did not cheer 9/11, bub. The government of Mexico is not “sending” rapists. And on and on and on.

But this is our level of discourse with Trump in the race. I’ll grant him that it’s a skill, of a kind. He says things in a hot-button way, a way we’re not accustomed to hearing from most politicians, certainly most presidential candidates, who usually strive for some simulacrum of dignity. It’s catnip, especially for cable news. He gets ratings. Every night all the shows get their figures on how each individual segment did in the crucial 25-49 demographic. Undoubtedly, the Trump-Cruz segments right now are doing better than the North Korea segments. And in any event, it’s not like the media can just totally ignore the demagogic claims of the Republican front-runner.

What a way to elect a president. The process has been corrupt enough. The billions of dollars spent by the rich, the dishonest attack ads, the stupid emphasis on things like who we’d supposedly rather have a beer with.

But now, we’re really going down the sinkhole, and Trump is leading us. Republican primary contests lately have not exactly been flower gardens of new policy ideas, as candidates in 2012 and this year basically just compete against each other to see who can offer up the most irresponsible tax cut and who can sound toughest on immigrants and moochers and terrorists. But there are a few ideas out there, and a few interesting differences. We hear about them a little, but then Trump comes along and says something and he smothers everything.

And yes, it can get worse. Imagine Trump as the GOP nominee. Imagine a general election run like this. General elections, underneath all the spumes of nonsense, actually are contests of ideas. There were clear and important policy differences between Barack Obama and John McCain, and between Obama and Mitt Romney, and they had to talk about them.

There will be clear and important policy differences between Trump and Hillary Clinton, but the difference is we’re not likely to have a real debate about them. Instead, we’re going to have more of this. Clinton is going to give some normal and slightly over-earnest speech about paid family leave. Important thing. And Trump will respond…not by stating his counter-position, but by saying something about how women want to be paid to sit at home and watch soap operas, and we’ll spend three days on it. And of course he’ll issue an endless stream of false or over-the-top statements about Whitewater and Vince Foster and, as he’s promised, Bill’s sex life.

And the campaign will just be that, over and over and over. Trump says crazy thing A. Cable shows salivate. A few responsible outlets read by 4 percent of the population point out that what Trump said isn’t true. Clinton spends three days repeating that. Upshot: Much of America is left with the impression, because Trump will be attacking and Clinton will be responding, and in TV land that’s what mostly matters, that it’s probably true. And then he’ll say crazy thing B, and then crazy thing C…

There is no force that can stop it. Well, maybe the Clinton campaign. They’ll sure need to figure out how, if Trump’s the nominee. I don’t think he can beat her, barring really bizarro circumstances or developments, but it’s not her losing I’m most worried about. It’s us.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 8, 2015

January 9, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Denying Extremists Another Recruiting Opportunity”: Kid Gloves For Homegrown Extremists Are Part Of A Strategy

Soon after a bunch of white guys with guns holed up at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in protest against the federal government, wags took to social media to deride them.

“Y’all Qaeda,” “YeeHawdists” and “Vanilla ISIS” are some of the clever put-downs circulating on Twitter.

Critics also decried what they perceive as a double standard in the seeming lack of response from law enforcement. If the gun-toting men were black or Muslim, went the typical argument, they would have incurred the full, militarized wrath of law enforcement.

So it might appear, but if you think law enforcement agencies are being deferential out of fear, you couldn’t be more wrong. Be very grateful that federal officials know exactly whom they are dealing with: troublemakers just itching for an excuse to claim that the federal government provoked them first.

As of this writing, things are still calm at the wildlife refuge, nearly 30 miles from the nearest town. But this bunch has itchy trigger fingers and enough conspiracy-addled emotion to take their standoff to the next level of danger.

In this desolate location, these guys are more likely a danger to each other than to the local population — although they have irked nearby residents and the Burns Paiute Tribe, who deem the siege a desecration of sacred land.

Ammon Bundy — the son of the Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who had his own standoff with federal agents in 2014 over $1 million in unpaid grazing fees — and the other men occupying the wildlife refuge splintered off from a protest of several hundred people, a gathering that drew Oregonians concerned about longstanding issues with rules for land overseen by U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Bundy is from Arizona. How’d he wind up in Oregon? He smelled an opportunity for the limelight.

Bundy calls his Oregon crew Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, and it includes his brother and an Arizona man, Jon Ritzheimer, who has gained renown of late for staging armed anti-Muslim protests.

The presence of Ritzheimer and other idiosyncratic “patriots” led the Daily Beast to dub the occupation Wingnut Woodstock. These anti-government activists have come out of the woodwork at a time when some Americans have become hyper-focused on Islamic terrorists, Syrian refugees and other perceived threats to the nation.

Indeed, America faces multiple threats, including homegrown extremists. This month, Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization reviled by extremists, issued a report noting that the number of militia groups in the U.S. leapt to 276 from 202 in 2014.

In October, the Justice Department announced a new office to focus entirely on homegrown extremists. In doing so, the department acknowledged that it had taken its eye off the ball domestically, consumed as it has been with threats of overseas terrorists since 9/11.

Law enforcement authorities closer to the street haven’t been as easily distracted. A June survey by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University found that police were highly aware of the homegrown threat. Surveying nearly 400 departments, it found that 74 percent were more concerned about anti-government extremists than the possibility of an attack inspired by or actually the work of al-Qaida or the Islamic State.

A colleague of mine, Kansas City Star reporter Judy L. Thomas, has spent decades chronicling such movements. She has written extensively on Posse Comitatus, Christian identity groups, white nationalists, militias and now the growth of the sovereign citizen movement, loose networks that see the government as dangerously corrupt and out of control.

Part of the problem, Thomas said, is that we don’t have a consistent definition of domestic terrorism. And the term is sometimes abused for political gain. It can be difficult to determine who is a mere conspiracy theorist with an arsenal and who is likely actually to act out his revolutionary fantasies violently.

The homegrown extremist groups often see themselves as soldier-saviors of America, armed and ready to do battle with the evil federal government that is taking away constitutional rights. Thomas’ sources, including past federal agents, say that much was learned after Waco, where more than 75 people died, as well as in other encounters with militia members. Authorities prefer methods to defuse rather than spark confrontation. That will surely save lives, in Oregon and elsewhere. And it will, one hopes, deny extremists another recruiting opportunity.

Ritzheimer said this in a widely viewed video he posted online from Oregon: “I am 100 percent willing to lay my life down to fight against tyranny in this country.” Authorities are taking him at his word — and not giving him his chance for martyrdom.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, January 8, 2015

January 9, 2016 Posted by | Anti-Government, Domestic Terrorism, Homegrown Extremists | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Dipping His Toes Into Ugly Waters”: Christie; Americans Have A President ‘Who We Don’t Know’

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) delivered a widely noticed speech in September 2011, condemning President Obama in a fairly specific way. “We continue to wait and hope that our president will finally stop being a bystander in the Oval Office,” the governor said. “We hope that he will shake off the paralysis that has made it impossible for him to take on the really big things.”

Even at the time, the rhetoric was bizarre, since Obama has spent his entire presidency taking on “really big things,” and more often than not, succeeding. But this week, Christie revised his entire perspective on the president, complaining Obama acts “as if he is a king, as if he is a dictator.”

I’ve long been amazed at the degree to which conservatives have contradictory complaints about the president, and this is emblematic of the pattern. Obama can be a hapless bystander, doing too little, or he can be a tyrannical dictator, doing too much, but he can’t be both.

On Monday, Christie went a little further. The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe noted this gem from the scandal-plagued governor:

“We have a guy in the Oval Office who we don’t know. He’s been serving us for seven years and we don’t know him.”

I suppose the obvious question for Christie is, “What do you mean ‘we’?” After all of these years, some of us have gotten to know and understand this president quite well. After a two-year national campaign in 2007 and 2008, an autobiography, and seven years of intense scrutiny in the White House in which his every move was analyzed from every direction, it’s hard to imagine the public knowing a stranger better than we know Barack Obama. There is no mystery about who this “guy” is.

But that’s probably not where the governor is going with this.

The New Republic’s Jeet Heer noted the other day that Christie isn’t being literal, so much as he’s “pandering to GOP mythology.”

[Christie’s comments] partially echo long-held Republican complaints that Obama hasn’t been properly vetted. But they also play into the large set of tropes about Obama being alien, mysterious, un-American. As is his wont, Donald Trump proclaimed these themes more loudly when he suggested that Obama might have an ulterior motive (cough, cough, secret Muslim) for the deal he negotiated with Iran. “It’s almost like there has to be something else going on,” Trump said in a speech on Saturday night.

Like many of the other Republican candidates, Christie is trying to play the role of the thinking man’s Trump, and making a fool of himself in the process.

Agreed. When Christie tells Republican audience Americans don’t “know” the president, he’s dipping his toes into ugly waters. The governor must know better, and it’s a shame he appears to see this as necessary for his presidential ambitions.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 8, 2016

January 9, 2016 Posted by | Chris Christie, Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , | 4 Comments

“The Guns We Don’t Talk About”: The One On The Nightstand Whose Most Likely Victim Is Yourself Or Someone You Love

It was a good day to die.

In early September 2003, I spent the morning shuffling my children off to school, used our last 10 dollars to put gas in the tank, folded a basket of laundry, and tidied up the tiny motel room we lived in. And then, I went to my car and pulled the small, .22 caliber revolver from the locked glove compartment.

I sat in the dimly lit room—for minutes or hours, I do not know—surrounded by the remains of my life, haunted by a broken marriage that was nearly 10 years gone, a failed business, a pile of overdue utility bills, and a string of eviction notices. We were living, if you could call it that, on $150 a week in child support and a few hundred dollars each month in food stamps. What was left of our furniture was in storage, paid for by our church benevolent fund. There had been two flat tires, but no job interviews that week. The weekly motel rent was due again and there wasn’t a dime left on my credit card to cover it.

I placed my gun on the bed and kneeled down on the carpet to pray. I listed my complaints and my failings. “Father, help me.”

I remember feeling tired when I turned on my old desktop computer, logged in to AOL, and started to type out what I intended to be a final message to family and a few close friends. “I want to thank you,” I started.

I sat there a while longer, realizing there was nothing I really wanted to say, until an instant message popped up on the screen.

“Hi, Mom! How are you?”

“Hey, Katie Lady…”

“I’m in the computer lab and guess what?”

“What is it sweetie?”

“I won the election!”

“That’s great, honey.”

“I’ll see you after school!”

“See you then…”

Tonight, as the country continues a national conversation on gun control, I am thinking about my old gun. I purchased it and two others over the years. They were handguns, bought legally, as a means of personal protection.

Each year, there are some 30,000 victims of gun violence in the U.S. Nearly half of those deaths come at the hands of another. Whether it is the Bushmaster that cuts down a classroom of schoolchildren, an assault-style weapon used to carry out a massacre in a church basement or a movie theater, or one of the thousands of cheap, illegal handguns that flood our streets, gun violence continues to capture national headlines. When we talk about gun control, invariably we are talking about those guns.

We don’t talk about the gun in the nightstand. We don’t talk about the one in the lockbox in the top of a bedroom closet. We don’t talk about the one, like mine, secured in the glove compartment of a car.

And even when we do discuss mental health as a factor, we rarely—if ever—mention the nearly 15,000 Americans who commit suicide each year. When we talk about expanding access to mental health care, we mean for the mass shooter who wipes out an entire kindergarten class. We mean for the loner who walks into a movie theater and shoots indiscriminately into the darkness. We mean for the man who targets a Planned Parenthood clinic.

We don’t mean the uninsured, unemployed, single mother battling depression, who begs the heavens for a reprieve.

The president has proposed a myriad of solutions, including expanded background checks. Taken together, his planned executive actions may work to dampen the tide of guns. Closing the so-called gun show loophole may hamper a straw-purchaser’s ability to buy firearms in a state like Indiana and later sell them on the streets of Chicago.

I lost my father and two brothers to gun violence and all were killed with illegal handguns that were used in other crimes. Growing up, it was all too easy to get a gun in our neighborhood in East St. Louis. Placing reasonable restrictions on the most dangerous consumer product on the market isn’t a violation of the Second Amendment. It’s common sense.

However, in this country, suicides outnumber homicides almost two to one. We should not forget that when an individual owns a gun they are more likely to kill themselves and/or someone they love. Survival rates among those who attempt suicide by other means, such as a pill overdose or hanging, are higher than for those who use a gun. It is no accident that states where guns are most prevalent also report higher suicide rates. According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, people who live in homes with firearms are two to three times more likely to be murder victims or commit suicide.

We can debate the notion that more “good guys with guns” is the answer to violent crime or if the cast of solutions proposed by the president will make a difference in practice. There are no easy answers. But we should try everything within the confines of the Constitution if it will make it harder for criminals to stockpile guns. We should impose more meaningful barriers to high-capacity magazines and rapid-fire weaponry, if it means curtailing a mass shooter’s ability to slaughter and maim. If it means more children will be safe walking to school in America, that people can enjoy a prayer service at church or join their family for a night at the movies, we should do it. Maybe, as Chicago’s Father Pfleger suggested during tonight’s town hall on CNN, we should “title” guns like we title cars.

Tonight’s broadcast focused almost solely on the potential for homicide, with little or no conversation about the thousands of people who take their own lives each year. But, make no mistake: A self-inflicted gunshot wound is an act of violence.

My oldest daughter Katie was in the eighth grade the day I decided to die and I know that her message saved my life. That year, she would go on to be valedictorian of her graduating class and give an incredible speech at the ceremony. Today, she is an Ivy League alum, an extraordinary schoolteacher, and expecting her first child this fall.

When we talk about gun violence we almost always focus on the criminal aspects, and forget the public health questions. We forget that there are thousands of gunshot victims who die by their own hand. The president briefly broached the topic, saying that while the majority of young homicide victims are black or Latino, the overwhelming majority of suicides by young people are white. If we are to truly host a national conversation about gun violence and commit ourselves to real solutions, we cannot forget the people who die alone in the dark. They rarely make the news and, like tonight, too little attention is paid to their pain.

I am grateful for this life, thankful for my children who are now taking the world on their own terms. I cannot wait to hold my second grandchild. Too many Americans will miss moments like these.

We can do something about that.

 

By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, January 8, 2016

January 9, 2016 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns, Suicide | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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