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“Growing Numb To Mass Violence”: We Need To End The Sound Of Silence In Congress

What if we had a mass shooting and nobody noticed?

That gloomy thought came to mind as I listened to the unsettling sound of silence that followed the September 16 Navy Yard shooting in the nation’s capital that killed 12 people, plus the shooter.

Three days later it came to mind again as a shooting spree in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood made national news. Thirteen were injured, including a 3-year-old boy who was shot in the face. Four people have been charged in the reportedly gang-related incident.

President Obama eloquently expressed the grief, outrage and frustration that every decent American should feel about “yet another mass shooting” at the Navy Yard.

But overall reaction to the workplace slaughter by a reportedly deranged gunman was sadly and noticeably subdued compared to the national outrage that reignited the national gun debate following the massacre of 20 children and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut.

That’s because after all the anguish, debate and proposed legislation that emerged from the Newtown tragedy, the legislation was voted down in the Senate and everyone returned to other matters — like House Republicans voting uselessly to repeal Obamacare more than 40 times. Opposition to even modest measures was too strong, especially from rural centers of pro-gun culture.

If even the massacre of children and the shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, could not move Congress to pass new gun safety measures, it’s no wonder that the energy for gun safety seems to have drained out of Capitol Hill.

But that doesn’t mean that we Americans can’t do anything but wring our hands over the continuing carnage. As even mass shootings lose their ability to shock us, both sides of the gun debate need to face a bracing reality: The gun violence problem is not only local and it’s not only about guns.

Those points were urgently expressed by New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu and Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter in a joint speech in Washington last Thursday. They called for a new “surge” in attention and national action to the “virus” of gun-related violence.

Calls for national action are hardly new, but I was encouraged by the mayors’ refusal to be, as Landrieu put it, bogged down by the “seemingly mind-numbing debate about gun control.”

Instead they emphasized remedies everyone should be able to agree on. They included more cops on the street, as in a stronger COPS program — Community Oriented Policing Services — passed by Congress under President Bill Clinton; stronger cooperation with the federal government to target criminals with illegal guns and stronger measures against straw purchases and interstate gun traffickers.

Yet the two mayors also called for more personal responsibility and engagement by parents, pastors, coaches and neighbors. “Babies having babies just doesn’t work,” Landrieu said.

I’ve heard Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who reportedly left some scheduled meetings with members of Obama’s cabinet in Washington early after hearing of the mass shooting back home, express a similar agenda in his slogan: “Policing, prevention, penalties and parenting.”

Bottom line: A problem as complex as urban violence must be pushed back the same way it emerged: in every sector of community and political life.

But first we have to care. Citing the number of black men killed by homicide in his city in 2012, Nutter observed: “If the Ku Klux Klan came to Philadelphia and killed 236 black men, the city would be on lockdown.”

The same would be true if “international terrorists killed 236 Philadelphians of any race,” he said. “And, yet, 236 African-American men murdered in one city — not one word. No hearings on the Hill, no investigations … nothing but silence.”

We need to end the sound of silence. It was easier to take national political action in the ’90s. The economy was doing well and Congress was not as fiercely divided as it is today. But, as the two mayors said in Washington, we should not be more willing to pay for safe streets in Afghanistan than to make our streets safer at home.


By: Clarence Page, The National Memo, Featured Post, October 2, 2013

October 3, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Status Quo Is Unacceptable”: It’s Time To End The Imposed Ignorance Of Guns And The Harm They Do

A revealing thing happened in the grief-filled days that followed the massacre of helpless children and their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Virtually every conversation about gun control, about any possible remedy for gun violence, hit a roadblock. We just didn’t know a lot about the guns circulating in America.

How many guns are in the U.S.? We don’t have reliable figures.

Is there a connection between gun violence and the depictions of violence in video games and movies? Studies on that issue are few and inconclusive.

Just how do guns wind up in the hands of the mentally ill or the criminally minded? To answer that, we’d have to do a better job of tracking guns used in crimes.

This national ignorance is the cover under which the gun lobby hides. Its denialism and simplistic wishful thinking — the solution to mass shootings is more “good guys with a gun” — thrives and holds sway because we have failed to study the problem and base our policy decisions on a sound basis: evidence.

Things may be about to change. A new report pushes us one step closer to treating gun violence as a public health issue. If allowed to gain traction, this change in attitude will have huge consequences.

The report was issued by a panel of experts called together under executive order by President Obama after Newtown killings. The Institute of Medicine and National Research Council assembled the panel and has set priorities to focus research.

Obama is asking for $10 million in the 2014 budget to fund research. Time will tell if Congress has the backbone to follow through. It has folded before.

Money for such research was halted in the mid-1990s under pressure by the National Rifle Association. Ever since, we’ve been stumbling along as a nation, racking up more than a quarter-million deaths by gunfire in the last decade alone.

Because we haven’t gathered a great deal of data on how guns are used in America — for self-defense, in crime, in suicides — we have permitted all sorts of magical thinking.

Hence, some have argued that the solution to mass shootings is to get rid of “gun-free zones,” which (they reason) create easy targets for killers to seek. Then there’s the argument that simply giving children more education about gun safety will lessen their chances of playing with a weapon. What does the evidence say? Well, studies conflict. More and better research would help assess policy proposals.

The president’s panel has selected five areas for focus: the characteristics of gun violence, risk and protective factors, prevention and other interventions, gun safety technology, and the influence of video games and other media.

The aim is not to take guns away from people. It’s about making gun ownership and use safer. It’s about respecting the lethal nature of the weapons enough to reduce accidents, suicides and gun use by the untrained and criminals.

The report took pains to address the fear of creating any sort of national database for gun ownership, a favorite bugbear of gun-control critics. It notes that “anonymized data should be used to protect civil liberties.”

In fact, more and better information could decrease the gulf between those who see gun ownership as an absolute and integral American right and those who regard guns as a serious public health problem. The two points of view need not be mutually exclusive.

Think about the great benefits to American society that have come from efforts to change attitudes about road safety, as well as improvements to roadway design. Countless lives have been saved by a process that began after the federal government began thoroughly studying car wrecks.

By understanding better how people were being injured, both government and industry could make sensible changes. Some key changes were instituted by law, such as speed limits and seat belt usage. Some were safety design changes initiated by manufacturers. After all, protecting the car’s “precious cargo” is a great selling proposition.

Wouldn’t the same argument appeal to a responsible gun owner? This model is less likely to be used by a child or stolen and used by a criminal due to biometrics.

We didn’t confiscate people’s cars. We simply mitigated the injury and loss of life they caused.

As the debate about funding research into firearms goes forward, note which organizations and politicians fight mightily against it. It will speak volumes.

The status quo is unacceptable. And those who fight research and understanding will be telling us that they are satisfied with the way things stand.


By: Mary Sanchez, The National Memo, June 24, 2013

June 25, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Conveniently We Forget”: Chuck Grassley Called On Democrats Not To “Use” Newtown Deaths

Histrionics broke out at a Senate immigration hearing this morning when Senator Patrick Leahy called on Republicans not to use the Boston bombings as a weapon in the immigration debate. “Last week, opponents began to exploit the Boston Marathon bombing,” Leahy said. “I urge restraint in that regard.”

Perhaps the most prominent Republican official to have drawn a link between the bombings and the immigration reform proposal is Senator Chuck Grassley. And so, at today’s hearing, Grassley offered some curious pushback to Leahy that tells us a lot about how some conservatives are approaching both debates. Yes, Grassley actually said this:

“When you proposed gun legislation, we did not accuse you of using the Newtown killings as an excuse,” Grassley said. “I think we’re taking advantage of an opportunity when once in 25 years we deal with immigration to make sure every base is covered.”

Really? Here’s what Grassley himself said back on January 30th, over a month after the shootings:

Although Newtown and Tucson are terrible tragedies, the deaths in Newtown should not be used to put forward every gun control measure that has been floating around for years.

What’s more, Senator Rand Paul and other Republicans have accused the Obama administration of using the families as “props” in the push for gun control.

To be clear, if conservatives want to seize on the Boston bombings to make a political argument about immigration reform, that’s not necessarily something we should automatically condemn, as some Dems are doing. As Jonathan Bernstein notes, we should respond to events with politics. Politics are everywhere and they are inescapable. If major, consequential, nationally riveting events aren’t supposed to trigger debate over how we should organize ourselves and solve our problems, what should trigger it?

For the reasons I outlined this morning, I don’t believe the Boston bombings tell us anything all that relevant about how we should approach immigration reform policy. But pointing that out isn’t the same as claiming there’s anything inherently wrong or inappropriate about trying to apply an event such as the Boston bombings to the current policy debate. Substantively rebutting the argument that the bombings tell us something about how we should approach the argument over the path to citizenship is not the same as condemning the act of making that argument.

Now, it’s true that in pointing to major events to justify a political argument, one can cross the line from legit policy argument into demagoguery. For the record, I don’t think Grassley has done that yet. He merely said the bombings should be part of the discussion as we seek to determine what’s wrong with our current immigration system. That’s not the same as claiming, as others have, that the Boston bombings show that we should end the immigration reform debate entirely.

Similarly, Obama and Democrats said the Newtown shootings should be part of a broader discussion over how to respond to, and reduce, gun violence.

Grassley, however, only seems to believe this is appropriate in the case where he thinks it will help his cause.


By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, April 22, 2013

April 24, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Democracy Works No More”: Irrational And Insane Republican Filibuster Kills Background-Check Compromise

Almost exactly four months after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, the Senate took up a bipartisan compromise on firearm background checks — the heart of the larger effort to reduce gun violence. It was a watered-down compromise written by two conservative senators, but it enjoyed the support of a majority of the Senate and the overwhelming support of the American public.

And yet, this afternoon, it died at the hands of a Republican filibuster anyway.

As the dust settled, a 54-member majority supported the Manchin/Toomey amendment, while 46 opposed it. Because of Republican obstructionist tactics, proponents needed a 60-vote supermajority and came up far short. (Technically, it would have been 55-45, but Majority Leader Harry Reid had to switch his vote for procedural reasons.)

A woman in the Senate gallery shouted “shame on you” at the members below, but she, like the Newtown families, Gabrielle Giffords, and 90% of the country were ignored.

The vote fell largely along partisan lines, but not completely. Four Republicans — Sens. Collins, Kirk, McCain, and Toomey — broke ranks and supported expanded background checks, while four red-state Democrats — Sens. Baucus, Begich, Heitkamp, and Pryor — sided with the NRA. Three of the four Dems face challenging re-election campaigns in 2014.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), one of Congress’ staunchest supporters of gun-safety measures, has been absent from the Senate for several weeks with a serious ailment, but made it to the floor today anyway, in case his vote was needed. Indeed, Lautenberg cast a vote from a wheelchair this afternoon.

Given the numbers, the Democratic defections give the opposition a bipartisan veneer, but they were ultimately inconsequential — even if every member of the Democratic caucus voted together, the background-checks measure still would have lost given the scope of the opposition from the Republican minority.

There is a larger indictment to keep in mind. A filibuster killed a popular and worthwhile proposal today, but that’s not all that happened.

Watching the vote, I was reminded of something President Obama recently said while traveling the country to generate support for his gun-safety agenda.

“Ninety percent of Americans support universal background checks. Think about that. How often do 90 percent of Americans agree on anything? … And yet, there is only one thing that can stand in the way of change that just about everybody agrees on, and that’s politics in Washington. You would think that with those numbers Congress would rush to make this happen. That’s what you would think. If our democracy is working the way it’s supposed to, and 90 percent of the American people agree on something, in the wake of a tragedy you’d think this would not be a heavy lift.

“And yet, some folks back in Washington are already floating the idea that they may use political stunts to prevent votes on any of these reforms. Think about that. They’re not just saying they’ll vote ‘no’ on ideas that almost all Americans support. They’re saying they’ll do everything they can to even prevent any votes on these provisions. They’re saying your opinion doesn’t matter. And that’s not right.”

That’s true; it’s not right. But thanks to the way our political system currently works, it happened anyway.

Think about this: everything was in place for success. This one simple idea — close the gun-show loophole and apply background checks to online sales — had all of the pieces lined up in its favor. The White House invested considerable energy in giving the proposal the best possible chance to prevail; the American mainstream strongly endorsed it; the memory of national tragedy still weighed heavily on everyone’s minds; and the only meaningful organization lobbying against it has become a national laughingstock.

“If our democracy is working the way it’s supposed to,” the bipartisan compromise should have passed while barely breaking a sweat.

Is it not time, then, to look anew at whether our democracy has stopped working the way it’s supposed to?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 17, 2013

April 18, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Senate | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Newtown’s Call To Reason”: Our Freedom As Americans Does Not Rest On The Existence Of An Armed Citizenry

The heroic and inspiring role played by the families of the Sandy Hook massacre’s victims should not be used to create what would be a dangerously misleading narrative about how they changed the politics of guns.

The importance of last Thursday’s 68 to 31 vote in the Senate to proceed with debate on a bill to curb gun violence cannot be understated, and the testimonies from the citizens of Newtown, Conn., were vital to that victory.

To say this is not to deny that many fights loom ahead. This was a vote to debate, not to pass, a bill — and the House of Representatives could prove an even larger obstacle to change than the Senate. We should not be blind to the skill of the weapon manufacturers’ lobby at the art of undercutting legislation through subtle amendments.

And this legislative round is unlikely to lead to all the reforms that President Obama proposed or that the country needs. It will be vital in the coming weeks to battle for additional measures beyond the background checks deal negotiated between Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), notably a ban on high-capacity magazines.

But make no mistake: The nation’s reaction to the killings in Newtown and the persistence of the advocates of sane firearms laws, including the families, have fundamentally altered the balance of power on guns. This is why 16 Republican senators joined nearly all Democrats in refusing to shut down the debate on a bill before it even started. It’s why abject timidity on the issue has been replaced by a grim determination.

The misunderstanding of why this happened, however, could set back the cause in the long run unless it is dispelled.

Because the accounts from the Sandy Hook families have been so moving and so wrenching, it is common to say that a gun bill is being carried along “on a wave of emotion.” There is nothing wrong with honest emotion, but the implication is that we are acting on guns in a way we would not act if our judgments were based on pure reason or a careful look at the evidence.

This has it exactly backward.

The truth is that the Newtown slaughter has finally moved the gun debate away from irrational emotions, ridiculous assumptions, manipulative rhetoric — and, on the part of politicians, debilitating terror at the alleged electoral reach of those who see any new gun regulations as a step into totalitarianism. These bills are being taken seriously precisely because we are finally putting emotion aside. We are riding a wave of reason.

Reason tells us that those who embrace the old slogan that “guns don’t kill people, people do” should support background checks because their very purpose is to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people, including criminals and those with deep psychological disturbances. Reason tells us that mass killers will kill fewer people if they cannot buy large magazines and have to keep reloading their weapons. Reason tells us that our freedom as Americans does not rest on the existence of an armed citizenry.

Who is really playing on emotions in this debate? Consider this gem from the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre: “Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to face — not just maybe. It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival.” The only thing the gun lobby has to sell is fear itself.

Sandy Hook snapped us back to a state of awareness about just how bizarre our gun debate has been. Sandy Hook’s courageous witnesses have reminded us of just how costly this irrationality has been. It matters that we understand the need to stay focused on the reasonable, the rational and the practical.

Gun reform is not a “cultural issue,” however often political commentators like to say it is. It has nothing to do with disrespect for rural ways of life — and bless Manchin, a West Virginian to his core, for beginning to break the back of this exploitative justification for paralysis in the face of needless death. Manchin’s profoundly human and humane response to his meeting with Newtown families showed that the only cultural issue here is how to beat back the culture of violence.

This effort cannot end with one burst of legislating. The commitment and the organizing unleashed on a vicious day in December cannot abate. Our discussion of guns finally reflects a sober national maturity. We cannot return to childish evasion.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 14, 2013

April 16, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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