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“Not Outright Guilty, But Not Innocent Either”: Republicans Dance Close To Line In Regards To Planned Parenthood

Our question of the day: Who — or what — should take the blame?

The reference is to last week’s act of domestic terrorism at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs. Authorities say three people were killed and nine wounded by Robert Dear, an eccentric, 57-year-old recluse.

After his arrest, he is reported to have muttered something about “No more baby parts,” an apparent reference to a controversial hidden-camera video purporting to prove Planned Parenthood harvests and sells the organs of aborted fetuses for a profit, a charge the organization has strenuously denied.

So who is responsible for this atrocity?

It’s a question asked with numbing frequency in a country where you can pretty much set your watch by the random shootings. Nor are answers ever in short supply. We frequently hear that someone’s rhetoric is at fault.

This happened four years ago when a mentally ill man killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson. Jane Fonda blamed Sarah Palin.

It happened last year, when a deranged man ambushed and executed two police officers in Brooklyn. Erick Erickson, a Fox “News” contributor, blamed President Obama.

So one is hardly surprised, in the wake of this latest shooting, that Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president, blamed the “toxic environment” created by Republican presidential candidates.

Truth is, if you want to blame someone for this shooting, start with the man who pulled the trigger. You might also investigate what roles were played by the mental health system and the legal system that allowed him access to a weapon of mass destruction.

Point being, in the rush to draw the larger moral lesson, one should be wary of absolving the guilty of their crimes, even if only by inference. That said, let us note that Laguens’ criticism is qualitatively different from that leveled by Fonda against Palin or Erickson against Obama. Meaning that it’s not absurd on its face.

After all, while one has a constitutionally guaranteed right to express one’s opinion, one has no such right to threaten or incite violence. There is, in other words, a fundamental difference between saying “Joe is a terrible person” and saying “Somebody should teach Joe a lesson” or “Joe needs to get what’s coming to him.”

Have Republicans crossed that line with regard to Planned Parenthood?

Probably not. But they have danced uncomfortably and undeniably close to it. When you habitually refer to abortion providers as criminals, butchers, Nazis, barbarians, and baby killers, you cannot be surprised if someone sees them as less than human — and acts accordingly. Carry lit matches through dry tinder and every now and again, you will start a fire.

One is reminded of how, years ago, before he himself became a TV cop, rapper and heavy metal singer Ice-T was asked if he thought his songs expressing hatred of police might cause acts of violence against them.

He said no. If somebody aspired to kill cops, he said, “All I did was make him a theme song.” He was right, except that he seemed to think himself morally exonerated by that reasoning.

But if you create an environment where violence against some person or group seems righteous — even if you don’t explicitly call for that violence — are your hands wholly clean when the violence comes? If you give hatred a theme song, what is your responsibility when a disaffected soul starts singing along?

You’ll find no pat answers here — only a question worth pondering for people of conscience in general and the Republican contenders in particular. No, they did not cause this shooting. They are not guilty.

Problem is, they’re not innocent, either.

 

By: Leonard Pitts., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, December 2, 2015

December 3, 2015 Posted by | Domestic Terrorism, Planned Parenthood, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Elected Officials Have Failed To Lead On Gun Regulation”: How Many Must Die In Mass Shootings For Lawmakers To Act?

The alleged perpetrator of yet another mass shooting — this one in a Lafayette, Louisiana movie theater — had been “involuntarily committed” by his family, and reportedly had a history of domestic violence and mental illness. Why was he able to get a handgun? Because elected officials have failed to lead on gun regulation.

At a Thursday night screening of the comedy Trainwreck, the 59-year-old man from Alabama, identified as John Russell Houser, shot and killed 33-year-old Jillian Johnson and 21-year-old Mayci Breaux, and injured nine other people, seven of whom remain hospitalized.

The suspected shooter used a .40 caliber handgun and had an additional magazine, which he used to reload, firing one round to kill himself inside the theater, Lafayette police chief Jim Craft told reporters Friday.

Police found 13 shell casings in the theater, Craft said. State police and FBI agents are also investigating the shooting, according to MSNBC.

Houser was denied a pistol permit in 2006 while he was living in Alabama, the New Orleans Advocate reports. According to The Associated Press:

Court documents from 2008 say family members of the theater shooter petitioned the probate court to have him involuntarily committed “because he was a danger to himself and others.”

A judge issued the order, and John Houser was taken to a hospital in Columbus, Georgia.

The wife and other family members of [Houser] … asked for a temporary protective order in 2008 against the man.

Court documents seeking the order said John Houser, “exhibited extreme erratic behavior and has made ominous as well as disturbing statements.”

The documents said even though he lived in Phenix City, Alabama, he had come to Carroll County, Georgia, where they lived and “perpetrated various acts of family violence.”

Houser “has a history of mental health issues, i.e., manic depression and/or bi-polar disorder,” the filing said.

The filing says Houser’s wife, Kellie Maddox Houser, “has become so worried about the defendant’s volatile mental state that she has removed all guns and/or weapons from their marital residence.”

The protection order was at least temporarily granted.

Law enforcement officials have not yet reported how Houser obtained the handgun used in the theater shooting. But based on the earlier court records, it seems clear Houser should not have been in possession of a firearm.

In a BBC interview earlier this week, President Obama said “his failure to pass ‘common-sense gun safety laws’ in the U.S. is the greatest frustration of his presidency.”

“If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it’s less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands,” the president said.

So, what will it take for U.S. political leaders to pass common-sense gun regulations?

The killing of two women and wounding of nine others in a Louisiana movie theater?

Perhaps the recent shooting of four Marines at a Chattanooga, Tennessee military recruitment office, or the killing of 12 people and injuring of eight at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013?

Maybe, the racially motivated murder of nine parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina church, including a state senator? The South Carolina legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds, a symbolic act to honor those killed by a white supremacist, but gun control was never even up for debate.

How about the 2012 killing of 12 people and injuring of 58 in another movie theater, this one in Colorado? The shooter has been convicted and awaits the sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty, but what has been done to limit future mass shootings?

Surely, the gunning down of 20 children and six adults in an elementary school (after the shooter killed his mother at their home) in Connecticut would spur elected officials to action. President Obama even visited the town and gave an emotional speech appealing for stronger gun regulations. But, no, the 24/7 news cycle, the American people, and Congress moved on.

How about shooting a United States congresswoman, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in the head? That shooter killed six people and injured 12 others. Giffords’ congressional colleagues were still not moved to act. She lived and has become a vocal advocate to prevent gun violence, but no longer in office, she won’t achieve reform by herself.

According to Mother Jones, more than three-quarters of the guns possessed by the killers involved in mass shootings in the United States since 1982 were obtained legally. It’s doubtful common-sense restrictions, background checks, and waiting periods would have allowed all these gun sales to go through.

Nearly 600 Americans have been killed and 500 injured in mass shootings in the last three decades, and “active shooter events have become more common in recent years,” according to The Washington Post.

A U.S. president hasn’t been shot since Ronald Reagan survived an assassination attempt in 1981. Four U.S. presidents have been assassinated while in office in our nation’s history by men with guns.

Even if the commander-in-chief was shot and killed by a person with a gun who shouldn’t have had one — in the 21st century — that would likely still not motivate officials to enact policies that decrease mass shootings by taking guns out of the hands of extremists, those with criminal histories, and those living with mental illness.

The problem is these armed killers may act alone, but they have far too much company when it comes to people with undue access to firearms. If current legislators continue to fail to protect their constituents from the dangers of gun violence, and don’t even pass laws that would limit the potential for mass shootings, then perhaps voters need to find other lawmakers who will.

 

By: Matt Surrusco, The National Memo, July 24, 2015

July 26, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An End To The NRA’s Angry Swagger”: Republicans Who Voted Against Manchin-Toomey Scrambling For Excuses And Political Cover

When the National Rifle Association gathered in Houston last weekend for its annual confab, the theme was “Stand and Fight.” The rhetoric ranged from truculent (“Let them be damned,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said of the group’s adversaries) to weird (Glenn Beck adopting the mantel of Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King for the gun movement). This is what passed for moderation: The group asked a vendor to stop displaying a target-range dummy (they “bleed when you shoot them” the manufacturer advertises) bearing an unmistakable resemblance to a zombie-fied President Obama; the target was still for sale, mind you, just not on display.

The group welcomed a new president, Alabama attorney James Porter who declared the struggle over guns part of a broader “culture war.” And that was tame for Porter, who has called Barack Obama a “fake” president, Attorney General Eric Holder “rabidly un-American” and the Civil War “the war of Northern aggression,” while proclaiming the need for universal arms training so that citizens can resist “tyranny.” That’s the NRA’s public face months after Sandy Hook.

As recently as 1999 – after Columbine – the NRA deployed the slogan “be reasonable,” while supporting universal background checks. But the group and its allies have dropped “reasonable” from their lexicon, assuming a belligerent, swaggering posture while stopping a bill last month to institute … universal background checks.

It was a big week all around for the weapons movement. The world’s first printable, plastic gun was unveiled, holding the promise of every household potentially becoming its own arms manufacturer (the schematics were downloaded 50,000 times on the first alone day but by week’s end the blueprints had been taken offline by order of the State Department). Meanwhile a self-described “revolution czar” named Adam Kokesh announced he would lead a group of gun activists with loaded rifles on a July 4 march from Virginia into Washington, D.C. (where guns are generally illegal). “This will be a nonviolent event, unless the government chooses to make it violent,” he wrote. It would be the cheapest sort of political intimidation but for the possibility of it being the most costly sort.

Gun fanatics seem to fancy themselves as enjoying the kind of political invulnerability that comes from being in synch with an overwhelming majority of the public. They are way off the mark.

It’s true that since the 1994 elections the NRA has possessed (and cultivated) such a reputation. But that was then. The group dropped more than $11 million in the 2012 elections, yet only 0.83 percent was spent on races where it got its desired outcome, according to the Sunlight Foundation. And while gun safety advocates mounted relatively little resistance in recent years (the NRA spent 73 times more on lobbying in the 112th Congress than the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and more than 3,000 times as much on the 2012 elections, notes Sunlight), a new anti-NRA infrastructure has developed. Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, raised $11 million in it first four months of existence, while Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has been running television ads against key senators who helped kill the background check bill.

The NRA has also eased its opponents’ task by taking uncompromising positions (the group voted unanimously last weekend to oppose “any and all new restrictions” on gun ownership). Polls show that overwhelming majorities of Americans, and even of NRA members, favor universal background checks. NRA extremism is creating an exploitable common-sense gap. Giffords and her husband, for example, aren’t talking about handgun bans or (as people like LaPierre fantasize) confiscation – they’re gun owners and Second Amendment supporters themselves.

All of which helps explain why some senators who voted against the background-check bill returned this week from their states sounding more conciliatory on the issue. GOP Sens. Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Jeff Flake of Arizona, for example, have expressed willingness to revisit the bill, while New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte felt compelled to pen an op-ed asserting that she supports some other universal background checks (putting her in favor of checks after she was against them). All of this prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to tell reporters that West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, one of the leading sponsors of the bipartisan background-check bill, “thinks he has a couple of more votes.”

And it belies the NRA’s smug bombast. As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted this week, if the pro-gun forces were as unassailable as they think they are, then these Republicans would defiantly brandish the Second Amendment and be done with it. Instead they’re scrambling for excuses and political cover. That isn’t to say that universal checks will be enacted this year. The Giffords-Bloomberg forces, for example, must still exact measurable ballot box punishment before the NRA’s fearsome reputation is truly neutralized. It will take time.

But time is on their side: A recent study by the Center for American Progress noted that the percentage of households owning guns has declined steadily for three decades. And a steady drop in gun ownership among young Americans specifically has driven this trend. The most vocal gun control opponents are aging and diminishing, in other words.

Future political scholars may mark this moment as when the NRA started the decline from swagger to stagger.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, May 10, 2013

May 11, 2013 Posted by | Background Checks, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Way Forward On Guns”: It Often Takes Defeat To Inspire A Movement To Build The Strength Required For Victory

Victories often contain the seeds of future defeats. So it is — or at least should be — with the Senate’s morally reprehensible rejection of expanded background checks for gun buyers.

The outcome is a test of both an invigorated gun safety movement and a gun lobby that decided to go for broke.

The National Rifle Association assumed that blocking new gun legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre would firmly establish its dominance. Advocates of sane gun regulations would scatter in despair and be torn apart by recriminations.

But there is a flaw in the gun lobbyists’ calculation: Their strategy leaves the initiative entirely in the hands of their opponents. The early evidence is that rage over the cowardly capitulation of so many senators to raw political power is pushing activists against gun violence to redouble their efforts.

What was striking about Wednesday’s vote is that many of the senators who had expressed support for universal background checks after the slaughter at Newtown meekly abandoned their position when the roll was called.

Proponents of the measure, including Mark Kelly, the husband of former representative Gabrielle Giffords, spoke of private meetings in which senators offered no substantive objections to the compromise negotiated by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa). The wobbling legislators simply hinted that politics would not permit them to vote “yes.”

Giffords, the victim of the 2011 mass shooting in Arizona, founded Americans for Responsible Solutions to battle on behalf of gun reforms. She responded to the Senate vote with an op-ed in the New York Times that declared plainly: “I’m furious.” Senators, she said, “looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.”

Giffords’s frustration echoed sentiment all across her side of the debate. In the past, Democrats who support gun safety had reacted benignly to members of their party from rural states who opposed sensible gun measures for expediency’s sake. Not this time. The response to Democrats who opposed background checks — Sens. Max Baucus, Mark Begich, Heidi Heitkamp and Mark Pryor — was indignation.

Begich invited scorn by insulting those who insisted that the Newtown massacre ought to be the last straw.

“It’s dangerous to do any type of policy in an emotional moment,” he said. “Because human emotions then drive the decision. Everyone’s all worked up. That’s not enough.” Describing the reaction to the death of so many children as “emotional” rather than rational should be electorally disqualifying.

But the vote also demonstrated for all to see a Republican Party walking in lock step behind its commanders in the gun lobby. Only four Republicans bravely defied the NRA’s fanatical opposition to a very mild measure: Toomey and Sens. Mark Kirk, John McCain and Susan Collins.

This should send a message to all who keep looking for new signs of Republican moderation.

Republicans who cultivate a reputation for reasonableness — their ranks include, among others, Sens. Johnny Isakson, Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, Kelly Ayotte, Saxby Chambliss, Lisa Murkowski and Rob Portman — could not even vote for a watered-down proposal. This tells us that the GOP has become a coalition of the fearful. In a pinch, the party’s extreme lobbies rule.

This vote also made clear that the right wing is manipulating our system, notably by abusing the filibuster, to impose a political minority’s will on the American majority. Since when is 90 percent of the nation not “the Real America”?

Not only do Americans overwhelmingly endorse background checks; senators representing the vast majority of our people do, too. The “yes” votes Wednesday came from lawmakers representing 63 percent of the population. How can our democracy thrive when a willful minority can keep dictating to the rest of the country?

But the next steps are up to the supporters of gun sanity. They can keep organizing to build on the unprecedented effort that went into this fight — or they can give up. They can challenge the senators who voted “no,” or they can leave them believing that the “safe” vote is always with the NRA. They can bolster senators who cast particularly courageous “yes” votes — among them, Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan — or they can leave them hanging.

The story of reform in America is that it often takes defeats to inspire a movement to build up the strength required for victory. Which way this story goes is up to us.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 21, 2013

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Laughing Hyenas”: Props Of An Extremist Fringe Who Have Completely Lost Their Way And Any Sense Of Decency

The 41 Republican and four Democratic senators who voted to filibuster a bipartisan gun sale background check bill yesterday are rightfully losing friends quickly. After all, the bill they blocked was supported by over 90 percent of voters and 90 percent of gun owners. The backlash appropriately started the moment they voted to filibuster, as Patricia Maisch, a survivor of the 2011 Tucson mass shooting, yelled “Shame on you!” from the Senate balcony and told reporters “They have no soul. They have no compassion for the experiences people have lived through.” They then heard from President Obama, who called it a “shameful day for Washington.” Then, this morning they woke up to a no-holds-barred op-ed from former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, another tenacious survivor of the Tucson shooting, calling for every single one of them to be ousted from their jobs.

But these 45 senators still have friends. And it’s very telling who those friends are. The lobbying group Gun Owners of America immediately sent an email to its supporters praising the filibuster and taunting background check proponents, saying, “Well, guess who’s laughing now?” This is the same group that has claimed that expanded background checks would lead to a genocide against Christians, a Minority Report-style “pre-crime unit”, and even a race war.

Also happy with the filibuster was the National Association For Gun Rights, which called the background checks bill “draconian” and claimed it would lead to “confiscation” by “gun grabbers.”

And, of course, the National Rifle Association — the group that suggested the way to stop future school shootings was to put more guns in schools — was thrilled and “grateful” to the senators who had blocked the bill.

In his speech after the vote yesterday, President Obama said, “The American people are trying to figure out, how can something have 90 percent support and yet not happen?” It can only happen if the other 10 percent has many times more power than you or I. And yesterday, these out-of-touch, extremist groups were celebrating the fact that they still had that power to stop any and all measures to curb gun violence.

Part of the reason that these groups are the ones “laughing now” is that they have the combined support of a wide array of conservative lobbying groups. As a recent People For the American Way report put it:

The NRA is not alone in attempting to prevent effective regulation of guns and promoting reckless policies that leave Americans vulnerable to crime. Its efforts are supported by the same kind of coalition that undermines the nation’s ability to solve a wide range of problems. Corporations, right-wing ideologues, and Religious Right leaders work together to misinform Americans, generate unfounded fears, and prevent passage of broadly supported solutions.

Although there was lots of competition for this dubious distinction, in one of the most offensive comments made by an opponent of efforts to curb gun violence, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky accused President Obama of using the families of massacred Newtown, Connecticut schoolchildren as “props.” Sen. Paul and his colleagues should consider whether it is they themselves who have become the props of an extremist fringe who have completely lost their way and any sense of decency.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post, April 18, 2013

April 20, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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