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“Guns Are Out Of Control”: Some Extremists Fire Guns And Other Extremists Promote Guns

Over the last two decades, Canada has had eight mass shootings. Just so far this month, the United States has already had 20.

Canada has a much smaller population, of course, and the criteria researchers used for each country are slightly different, but that still says something important about public safety.

Could it be, as Donald Trump suggests, that the peril comes from admitting Muslims? On the contrary, Canadians are safe despite having been far more hospitable to Muslim refugees: Canada has admitted more than 27,000 Syrian refugees since November, some 10 times the number the United States has.

More broadly, Canada’s population is 3.2 percent Muslim, while the United States is about 1 percent Muslim — yet Canada doesn’t have massacres like the one we just experienced at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., or the one in December in San Bernardino, Calif. So perhaps the problem isn’t so much Muslims out of control but guns out of control.

Look, I grew up on a farm with guns. One morning when I was 10, we awoke at dawn to hear our chickens squawking frantically and saw a fox trotting away with one of our hens in its mouth. My dad grabbed his .308 rifle, opened the window and fired twice. The fox was unhurt but dropped its breakfast and fled. The hen picked herself up, shook her feathers indignantly and walked back to the barn. So in the right context, guns have their uses.

The problem is that we make no serious effort to keep firearms out of the hands of violent people. A few data points:

■ More Americans have died from guns, including suicides, since just 1970 than died in all the wars in U.S. history going back to the American Revolution.

■ The Civil War marks by far the most savage period of warfare in American history. But more Americans are now killed from guns annually, again including suicides, than were killed by guns on average each year during the Civil War (when many of the deaths were from disease, not guns).

■ In the United States, more preschoolers up through age 4 are shot dead each year than police officers are.

Canada has put in place measures that make it more difficult for a dangerous person to acquire a gun, with a focus not so much on banning weapons entirely (the AR-15 is available after undergoing safety training and a screening) as on limiting who can obtain one. In the United States, we lack even universal background checks, and new Harvard research to be published soon found that 40 percent of gun transfers didn’t even involve a background check.

We can’t prevent every gun death any more than we can prevent every car accident, and the challenge is particularly acute with homegrown terrorists like the one in Orlando. But experts estimate that a serious effort to reduce gun violence might reduce the toll by one-third, which would be more than 10,000 lives saved a year.

The Orlando killer would have been legally barred from buying lawn darts, because they were banned as unsafe. He would have been unable to drive a car that didn’t pass a safety inspection or that lacked insurance. He couldn’t have purchased a black water gun without an orange tip — because that would have been too dangerous.

But it’s not too dangerous to allow the sale of an assault rifle without even a background check?

If we’re trying to prevent carnage like that of Orlando, we need to be vigilant not only about infiltration by the Islamic State, and not only about American citizens poisoned into committing acts of terrorism. We also need to be vigilant about National Rifle Association-type extremism that allows guns to be sold without background checks.

It’s staggering that Congress doesn’t see a problem with allowing people on terror watch lists to buy guns: In each of the last three years, more than 200 people on the terror watch list have been allowed to purchase guns. We empower ISIS when we permit acolytes like the Orlando killer, investigated repeatedly as a terrorist threat, to buy a Sig Sauer MCX and a Glock 17 handgun on consecutive days.

A great majority of Muslims are peaceful, and it’s unfair to blame Islam for terrorist attacks like the one in Orlando. But it is important to hold accountable Gulf states like Saudi Arabia that are wellsprings of religious zealotry, intolerance and fanaticism. We should also hold accountable our own political figures who exploit tragic events to sow bigotry. And, yes, that means Donald Trump.

When Trump scapegoats Muslims, that also damages our own security by bolstering the us-versus-them narrative of ISIS. The lesson of history is that extremists on one side invariably empower extremists on the other.

So by all means, Muslims around the world should stand up to their fanatics sowing hatred and intolerance — and we Americans should stand up to our own extremist doing just the same.

 

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, June 16, 2016

June 20, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association, Public Safety | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Quiet Times Seem No More”: Orlando Is Why We Need Surveillance

The FBI had the Orlando gunman under watch — twice — and, after much consideration, decided to stop following him. Was this a mistake? Obviously, tragically so.

But in this massive lost opportunity to prevent a slaughter dwells a positive sign for our ability to stop future attacks. Law enforcement at least had its eye on him. Scarier would have been that it had never heard of Omar Mateen.

Protests against government surveillance programs tend to grow in the quiet stretches between terrorist outrages. Absence of immediate fear is when the critics can best downplay the stakes — that even one miscreant can kill large numbers, and with weapons far deadlier than assault rifles.

It’s when privacy advocates have the most success portraying surveillance programs as highly personal invasions of ordinary folks’ privacy. Actually, there’s nothing very personal in the National Security Agency’s collection of our communications metadata. Basically, computers rummage through zillions of emails and such in search of patterns to flag. The humans following leads have zero interest in your complaints about Obamacare, as some foes of the surveillance programs have ludicrously claimed.

In the Orlando case, co-workers had alerted the authorities to Mateen’s radical rantings. The FBI put him on a terrorist watchlist, monitoring him for months. He was taken off when investigators concluded he was just mouthing off. The FBI had reason to probe him again, but again he was turned loose.

That was a failure, but a failure highlighting a weakness in the surveillance laws. The FBI dropped the case because the standard for showing probable cause — evidence of a crime or intent to commit one — is too high for needle-in-haystack terrorism investigations.

(Note that a local sheriff was able to use Mateen’s ravings as reason to have him removed from security guard duty at the St. Lucie County Courthouse in Fort Pierce, Florida.)

The bureau clearly erred in expecting a real terrorist to be informed. That Mateen had expressed sympathy for both al-Qaida and the Islamic State — groups in conflict with each other — was apparently seen as a sign that the man wasn’t seriously engaged in their politics.

Perhaps not, but he seriously approved of their bloody activities. That should have spelled danger, especially when added to his history of mental instability and spousal abuse and possible sexual confusion (an apparently new consideration).

But the FBI has been dealing with thousands of cases of potential homegrown terrorists not unlike Mateen. It must also consider that expressing support for a terrorist organization is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.

We need a new standard for potential terrorists inspired by online jihadist propaganda. Meanwhile, the public should back law enforcement’s stance on encryption. Recall the FBI’s battle to force Apple to unlock the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, the San Bernardino gunman.

Privacy advocates have harshly rapped President Obama for defending the government surveillance programs he himself once criticized. There’s a simple difference between them and him (and then and now): Obama receives the daily threat reports, and they don’t.

Government surveillance programs do need rules. Court review is important. But it simply isn’t true that public safety can be maintained in the age of lone-wolf terrorism without considerable surveillance. And the risks advocates ask us to take on in the name of privacy should be addressed honestly.

The parade of major terrorist attacks — Paris, San Bernardino, Brussels and now Orlando — has sped up. The more horror the less the public cares about reining in surveillance activities. Defenders of privacy should recognize this reality and more carefully choose their battles. The quiet times seem no more.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, June 16, 2016

June 17, 2016 Posted by | Mass Shootings, National Security, Terrorism | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Not-Very-Subtle Attack”: GOP’s Official SOTU Response Helps Obama Undermine Trump

At the beginning of her pre-recorded “response” to the State of the Union address, Nikki Haley echoed the president’s evocation of his 2008 campaign themes by taking up the old 2008 Republican theme of Obama being just a good speech-maker with no substance. Near the end she briskly went through the Republican critique of Obama and the standard GOP agenda of tax-cutting and Obamacare-repealing and defense-spending increases, etc. But in between these bookends, she did something very different.

The emotional and structural heart of Haley’s speech was a not-very-subtle attack on Donald Trump as a “siren voice” of intolerance:

During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.

No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.

That was clear enough. But Haley doubled down by making the saga of the Charleston massacre earlier this year — not coincidentally the beginning of her best moment in office when she squashed conservative resistance to the removal of the Confederate flag from state property — an allegory of the kind of tensions Trump is exploiting.

What happened after the tragedy is worth pausing to think about.

Our state was struck with shock, pain, and fear. But our people would not allow hate to win. We didn’t have violence, we had vigils. We didn’t have riots, we had hugs.

We didn’t turn against each other’s race or religion. We turned toward God, and to the values that have long made our country the freest and greatest in the world.

We removed a symbol that was being used to divide us, and we found a strength that united us against a domestic terrorist and the hate that filled him.

There’s an important lesson in this. In many parts of society today, whether in popular culture, academia, the media, or politics, there’s a tendency to falsely equate noise with results.

Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume. When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference.

Not much doubt who she was talking about.

So Haley delivered the Republican Establishment’s message to and about Trump as much as any message to and about Obama. By doing so, she is presumably doing their will, and will store up treasure in heaven politically. But will it make her more or less viable as a possible vice-presidential nominee in 2016? That obviously depends on the identity of the person at the top of the ticket. But if I were Donald Trump and had any leverage over the GOP at the end of this nominating contest, I’d make sure Nikki Haley is buried at the Republican Convention in some pre-prime-time, five-minute speech slot, preferably confined to talking about the Tenth Amendment or something. She’s only 43, so maybe she’s shooting for a spot on the ticket — perhaps even the top spot — in 2024 or 2028.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 12, 2015

January 13, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Nikki Haley, State of the Union | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Police Abuse Is A Form Of Terror”: State Violence Versus Community Violence

Writing about the wave of deadly encounters — many caught on video — between unarmed black people and police officers often draws a particular criticism from a particular subset of readers.

It is some variation of this:

“Why are you not writing about the real problem — black-on-black crime? Young black men are far more likely to be killed by another young black man than by the police. Why do people not seem to protest when those young people are killed? Where is the media coverage of those deaths?”

This to me has always felt like a deflection, a juxtaposition meant to use one problem to drown out another.

Statistically, the sentiment is correct: Black people are more likely to be killed by other black people. But white people are also more likely to be killed by other white people. The truth is that murders and other violent crimes are often crimes of intimacy and access. People tend to kill people they know.

The argument suggests that police killings are relatively rare and therefore exotic, and distract from more mundane and widespread community violence. I view it differently: as state violence versus community violence.

People are often able to understand and contextualize community violence and, therefore, better understand how to avoid it. A parent can say to a child: Don’t run with that crowd, or hang out on that corner or get involved with that set of activities.

A recent study by scholars at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale found that homicides cluster and overwhelmingly involve a tiny group of people who not only share social connections but are also already involved in the criminal justice system.

We as adults can decide whether or not to have guns in the home. According to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, having a gun may increase the chances of being the victim of homicide. We can report violent family members.

And people with the means and inclination can decide to move away from high-poverty, high-crime neighborhoods.

These measures are not 100 percent effective, but they can produce some measure of protection and provide individual citizens with some degree of personal agency.

State violence, as epitomized in these cases by what people view as police abuses, conversely, has produced a specific feeling of terror, one that is inescapable and unavoidable.

The difference in people’s reactions to these different kinds of killings isn’t about an exaltation — or exploitation — of some deaths above others for political purposes, but rather a collective outrage that the people charged with protecting your life could become a threat to it. It is a reaction to the puncturing of an illusion, the implosion of an idea. How can I be safe in America if I can’t be safe in my body? It is a confrontation with a most discomforting concept: that there is no amount of righteous behavior, no neighborhood right enough, to produce sufficient security.

It produces a particular kind of terror, a feeling of nakedness and vulnerability, a fear that makes people furious at the very idea of having to be afraid.

The reaction to police killings is to my mind not completely dissimilar to people’s reaction to other forms of terrorism.

The very ubiquity of police officers and the power they possess means that the questionable killing in which they are involved creates a terror that rolls in like a fog, filling every low place. It produces ambient, radiant fear. It is the lurking unpredictability of it. It is the any- and everywhere-ness of it.

The black community’s response to this form of domestic terror has not been so different from America’s reaction to foreign terror.

The think tank New America found in June that 26 people were killed by jihadist attacks in the United States since 9/11 — compared with 48 deaths from “right wing attacks.” And yet, we have spent unending blood and treasure to combat Islamist terrorism in those years. Furthermore, according to Gallup, half of all Americans still feel somewhat or very worried that they or someone in their family will become a victim of terrorism.

In one of the two Republican debates last week, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina seemed to be itching for yet another antiterrorism war, saying at one point: “I would take the fight to these guys, whatever it took, as long as it took.”

Whatever, however, long. This is not only Graham’s position, it’s the position of a large segment of the population.

Responding to New America’s tally, Fareed Zakaria wrote in The Washington Post in July:

“Americans have accepted an unprecedented expansion of government powers and invasions of their privacy to prevent such attacks. Since 9/11, 74 people have been killed in the United States by terrorists, according to the think tank New America. In that same period, more than 150,000 Americans have been killed in gun homicides, and we have done … nothing.”

And yet, we don’t ask “Why aren’t you, America, focusing on the real problem: Americans killing other Americans?”

Is the “real problem” question reserved only for the black people? Are black people not allowed to begin a righteous crusade?

One could argue that America’s overwhelming response to the terror threat is precisely what has kept the number of people killed in this country as a result of terror so low. But, if so, shouldn’t black Americans, similarly, have the right to exercise tremendous resistance to reduce the number of black people killed after interactions with the police?

How is it that we can understand an extreme reaction by Americans as a whole to a threat of terror but demonstrate a staggering lack of that understanding when black people in America do the same?

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 12, 2015

August 16, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Police Abuse, Police Violence | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Inevitable Unhinged Danger And Terror”: Coming Next To The South Carolina Statehouse Grounds; The Klan

On July 18, the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan—“The Largest Klan in America!” according to the group’s website—are holding a rally on the South Carolina statehouse grounds to protest the removal of the Confederate battle flag.

The group is protesting “the Confederate flag being took down for all the wrong reasons,” says James Spears, the Great Titan of the Pelham, North Carolina chapter of the KKK. “It’s part of white people’s culture.” One does wonder what Spears thinks the right reasons would be.

Despite the KKK’s abhorrent beliefs, it has a right to assembly and hold a rally on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds because groups cannot be excluded because of their ideology, according to Brian Gaines of the South Carolina Budget and Control Board, which oversees reservations.

Yet the KKK is not solely a group of white individuals in hooded cloaks who spew a vile ideology of hatred of African Americans and other non-whites (it’s pretty anti-Semitic, too). It is a group that has repeatedly inflicted physical terror for generations upon those it hates. The concern is not primarily its ideology of hatred and white supremacy, but the fascist terrorism it inflicts upon those it despises.

As an African-American male I have learned to accept that some people just will not like me or may judge me negatively because of the color of my skin. This is an unpleasant part of life. You cannot remove all the bigots and racists from the world. We all have an equal right to live, but what must always be considered unacceptable is inflicting physical violence and terror upon those you hate.

The KKK is far more than a hate group, and its racist propaganda extends beyond hate speech and into what is known as dangerous speech—a form of hate speech that clearly seeks or at least has the clear potential to incite violence.

Susan Beseech, the director of the Dangerous Speech Project, in her paper, “Countering Dangerous Speech: New Ideas of Genocide Prevention,” (PDF) writes that “by teaching people to view other human beings as less than human and as mortal threats, thought leaders can make atrocities seem acceptable—and even necessary, as a form of collective self-defense.”

When Spears was asked about his thoughts on Dylann Roof’s terrorist attack on Emanuel AME Church that killed nine African-American worshipers, he said, “I feel sorry for the boy because of his age and I think he picked the wrong target. A better target for him would have been these gang-bangers, running around rapping, raping, and stealing.”

According to Spears, the problem was not the killing of African Americans, but Roof’s decision to kill African Americans in a way that would draw so much unwanted attention. Roof could have easily chosen to kill black “gang-bangers” and much of this hassle could have been avoided, according to a Great Titan of the KKK.

And before Roof began his killing spree he said to one of his victims, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country and you have to go.”

There should be no ambiguity that Roof and the KKK not only use a dehumanizing hate speech that presents African Americans as mortal threats to “white culture,” but also feel justified in using force to create terror within the black community.

The danger posed by this ilk is more than theoretical or emotional.

Internationally, the discussion regarding dangerous speech and possible legislative applications has progressed much further than in America. The catalyst for the conversational shift from loathing but allowing hate speech to exploring ways to prevent dangerous speech has begun due to acknowledgement of the impacts of leaders of mass social movements in Rwanda, Srebrenica, and other mass atrocities disseminating ideologies of hatred to spur their followers to act, cow bystanders into passivity, and justify their crimes.

In America, the KKK is the embodiment of this threat. Yet disturbingly, the group’s continuing presence in our society, and its primary targets of abuse—African Americans, who have historically been legally dehumanized by the state—results in America being less alarmed by the Klan’s presence despite knowing about the terror it and like-minded individuals inflict.

According to a recent report (PDF) by Alabama’s Equal Justice Initiative, 3,960 African Americans were lynched from 1877 to 1950 in 12 states, all in the South. Additionally, despite the magnitude of this report it would be incredibly difficult to record all the other killings and injuries that the KKK and other racist gangs have inflicted upon African Americans. The numbers reach into the hundreds of thousands by most estimates.

To many Americans, the KKK seems to be a relic of the past, but a reduction in terror is not a removal of danger. In April, three Florida Klansmen were arrested for plotting to kill an African American man. And since the Charleston shooting on June 17, African-American churches have been set ablaze at a rate reminiscent of the 1960s and prior. None of these has specifically been connected to the Klan, but Klansmen and church-torchers slink out of the same fetid swamps.

In response to the race-driven attacks inflicted upon African Americans, some people feel inclined to deflect blame or present non-sequitur statistics such as crime in black communities to downplay the impact of these actions, while also dehumanizing black Americans.

This perpetuates a vicious cycle of abuse toward black Americans, as the rest of society finds illogical justifications for ignoring terrorism.

Eventually, as a society we will have to accept that black lives matter even if that results in a dismantling of notions of white supremacy. Anything else is a tacit endorsement of a society that condones dehumanizing propaganda and the inevitable unhinged danger and terror that will befall certain segments of society.

In less than a month, the largest chapter of the KKK will hold a rally on government property to express its disapproval of the removal of a flag that represented a treasonous American faction. To many Americans the rally will represent bigotry, racism, and hatred that we would like to move beyond. To African Americans it will represent a continued terror that condones and encourages the killing and maiming of black life, the burning of black churches, and various other forms of intimidation.

An unwillingness to recognize this danger and explore solutions can no longer be the status quo of American society.

 

By: Barrett Holmes Pitner, The Daily Beast, July 6, 2015

July 8, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Ku Klux Klan, South Carolina | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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