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“Death Comes From The Gun”: The Tragic Choice We Make About Guns

The common denominator in mass shootings is the use of firearms. Variables such as political ideology, religious fervor and mental illness are motivating factors, but death comes from the gun.

Until our society recognizes that simple truth, the list of place names to which Colorado Springs and San Bernardino were recently added will have no end.

I don’t know which is more obscene, the fact that deadly shooting rampages have become almost routine or the way we so quickly seek to make each incident follow a familiar script.

This process played out Wednesday after 14 victims were gunned down in San Bernardino, Calif. Quickly the speculation began. The carnage happened at an agency that worked with the developmentally disabled — not the kind of public place that terrorists generally choose for attacks. One of the alleged assailants worked for the county health department, which was having a holiday party there, so maybe this was a “disgruntled employee” story line. But there were two shooters, which would be weird in a workplace dispute. And they had Muslim-sounding names. And one of them was described as religiously “devout,” a word often used to imply saintliness in Christians and fanaticism in Muslims. So maybe it was terrorism after all.

But it turns out that one of the alleged shooters was a woman. And that the couple was man and wife. And that before the shooting, they casually dropped their infant off with Grandma, saying they had a doctor’s appointment. Is that what you do when you’re about to kill a bunch of people and then die in a Bonnie-and-Clyde-style shootout with police?

As of this writing, the San Bernardino massacre does not yet conform to one of the politically convenient templates. We’ll make it fit eventually, though. If the motive is deemed to have anything to do with religion, the far right will be able to rail about putting mosques under surveillance and giving the National Security Agency carte blanche to snoop into Americans’ lives. If an office-related grudge was the cause, we can all spend a couple of weeks bemoaning the inadequacy of mental-health services in this country, then do nothing about it.

In the case of the Planned Parenthood mass shooting in Colorado Springs, by contrast, we’ve already retreated to our ideological corners. The accused killer reportedly told police “no more baby parts,” so he must have been inspired by incendiary antiabortion rhetoric. Or else political speech had nothing to do with the atrocity, since the man is clearly deranged.

The truth is surely “all of the above.” What balanced, well-adjusted person is capable of mass murder?

After every incident, someone launches the mental-health discussion but it goes nowhere. Is Congress going to approve some sort of massive new program of screening and treatment? Is the nation ever going back to the days of involuntary commitment? No and no.

Likewise, we can argue to no end about political or religious motivations. I do fear that Muslims will become even more stigmatized, but the Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom is absolute. Similarly, I deplore extreme political rhetoric that might inspire the vulnerable to commit violence — but the truth is that I probably deplore it more if it’s rhetoric I disagree with.

What we ought to do is stick to the facts, and the facts of these mass shootings are the guns.

More than 30,000 people are killed by firearms in this country each year. We are riveted when the victims number in double digits or hostages are taken or the venue is a place such as Planned Parenthood or Sandy Hook Elementary School, but these killing sprees are but a drop in the bucket of blood.

About two-thirds of deaths by gunshot are suicides. (Cue the mental-health discussion.) How many of these people would find other ways to kill themselves if a gun were not at hand? Some, surely, but not all.

Most of the remaining gun deaths are homicides. Other countries have people with mental illness and disgruntled employees and jihadist preachers and political fanatics of every stripe, but no other developed nation has a body count remotely this high. The only difference is that, in the United States, virtually anyone can amass an arsenal of handguns and assault rifles.

As long as there are as many guns in this country as there are people, as long as we don’t meaningfully restrict firearm purchases or keep track of weapons, we will have mass shootings and individual killings and gun suicides. Tragically, this is the choice we make.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 3, 2015

December 7, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unfettered Money: The Enabling Of Campaign “Speech”

When the Supreme Court ruled that money equals speech 35 years ago, it was responding to forces of technology and economics reshaping American politics that made it much more expensive to run a campaign. While ruling that public financing and limits on contributions are valid ways to limit donors’ undue influence, it struck down candidate, campaign and independent spending limits.

Now the court’s conservative majority is again reshaping politics, ruling that what matters most for money and speech is their “fair market” impact. The result will be closer scrutiny of public financing, while enabling even more rampant spending by wealthy candidates.

In the landmark 1976 case of Buckley v. Valeo, the court said that “virtually every means of communicating ideas in today’s mass society requires the expenditure of money,” so restricting campaign spending meant restricting political speech. The First Amendment required that political speech be unfettered, so the same was required for political spending.

But when the court ruled that money equals speech, it didn’t mean, literally, that money is speech. It meant that money enabled speech. A political contribution enabled the symbolic, or indirect, speech of the donor and the actual speech of the candidate — and may the best speech win. The focus was on enabling the speech, not the money.

That changed in 2008 when the conservative majority struck down a federal rule that had tripled the limit on campaign contributions for a candidate outspent by a rich, self-financed opponent. Justice Samuel Alito Jr. wrote that the rule diminished “the effectiveness” of the rich candidate’s spending and of his speech.

In oral argument recently, the court’s conservatives appeared ready to take their next step in restricting campaign finance reform and to strike down Arizona’s public financing mechanism called triggered matching funds. This is one of the most compelling innovations in the country. The state will match for a state-financed candidate what an opponent raises in private contributions up to triple the initial amount of state financing.

To William Maurer, the lawyer opposing the Arizona mechanism, whenever “a privately financed candidate speaks above a certain amount, the government creates real penalties for them to have engaged in unfettered political expression.” That “speaks” was not a slip, but a reinforcement of the money-equals-speech notion.

The fundamental problem, he said, is “the government turning my speech into the vehicle by which my entire political message is undercut,” because the public funds triggered are a penalty that reduces the impact of the privately financed candidate’s spending and speech. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. made clear in the argument that he, too, sees triggered matching public funds as a limit on the privately financed candidate’s speech.

That makes no sense. Arizona’s mechanism means more candidates — not just the wealthy — will be able to run in elections. And that means more political speech, not less. But that view depends on seeing money as enabling speech, not vice versa. Money already has far too much sway everywhere in politics. If the court continues this way, the damage and corruption will be enormous.

By: Editorial, Opinion Pages, The New York Times, April 11,  2011

April 13, 2011 Posted by | Constitution, Corporations, Democracy, Elections, Politics, Supreme Court, Voters | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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