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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 GOP Mental-Health Hypocrisy”: Obstructing The Law That Does More To Advance The Cause Since ‘You-Know-Who’ Became President

So now we’re being treated to the charming spectacle of Republicans, or a few of them anyway, purporting to care about mental-health treatment in the wake of the Washington Navy Yard shooting. How touching. This doesn’t mean, of course, that they care about mental health. They’re just coming up with something to say in the wake of the tragedy that sounds to the willfully credulous like action and that won’t offend the National Rifle Association. Meanwhile, they have devastated mental-health funding since you-know-who became president. And more important than that, they voted against, and are now preparing to vote en bloc to defund or delay, the law that will do more to address mental health and give society at least a chance that future Aaron Alexises will get treatment that could prevent them going on shooting sprees since … well, pretty much since ever.

Alexis bought his weapon in Virginia, a state where anyone this side of Charles Manson can buy virtually any kind of gun he lusts after as long as he’s a resident. Current federal guidelines bar gun sales only to people who have been institutionalized or “adjudicated as a mental defective.” Neither of these narrow criteria applied in Alexis’s case. Not that it would even matter if one had, as The Atlantic noted; the Virginia Tech shooter had been so adjudicated and still was able to purchase his firepower in the commonwealth. (Alexis, being a nonresident, was blocked from purchasing an AR-15).

Alexis was fairly typical of the type of person who stands precious little chance of getting any mental-health treatment in this country. For starters, he was male, young, and black. That’s an unlucky combination of things to be in the United States for millions of people. But hitting that trifecta and being mentally ill on top of it constitutes the holding of a very unfortunate ovarian-lottery ticket. Single mothers, children, and the elderly all qualify for more forms of assistance than men do. Increasingly, there is a place where men like this wind up where they finally might get a little bit of treatment. It’s called jail. Our prisons are full of mentally ill substance abusers who committed crimes.

There are two things society can do about future Aaron Alexises. One, it can do nothing to improve mental-health approaches and let people fester, but even then it can at least take tougher steps to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns. Two, it can try to be a little more proactive about this whole category of illness, which affects nearly 60 million Americans (yep, one in five). On both counts, there is one party in Washington that’s eager to act, and one that is perfectly happy to let crazy people buy guns and perfectly content that we have more and more mentally ill people walking around with no treatment. Any guesses?

You may think I have phrased the above unfairly, but this is what the GOP position amounts to. On tougher background checks for the mentally ill, there were provisions in the Manchin-Toomey background-check bill, the one that nearly every Senate Republican voted against. This week New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte is talking up new legislation. You perhaps have read that “even the NRA” supports toughening mental-illness regulations. That’s nice in theory, but in fact, the Senate is not going to do anything on guns and mental illness right, and the reason it’s not going to do anything is that Harry Reid knows he doesn’t have 60 votes to pass anything, especially with huge votes on a possible government shutdown and the debt limit looming. Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, a physician who isn’t hostile to tighter regulation in this case, acknowledged to The New York Times that “it’s all politics”—which in this case means that no one has the stomach or stones to take another gun-related vote.

They did, however, have the stomach and stones to cast votes over the past few years that have sliced away at funding for mental-health services. Decreased federal grants have forced states to make massive cuts to mental-health services. The National Alliance on Mental Illness referred in 2011 to the “crisis” that has resulted from states’ slashing of mental-health programs. It’s of course mainly Republicans in Congress who pushed for those block-grant cuts. The sequester made things worse. While the sequester doesn’t affect Medicaid, which funds most mental-health services, the non-Medicaid mental-health services have taken a serious hit, including 103,000 fewer treatment admissions in 2013.

And the Republicans will have the stomach and stones to vote very soon here to defund the Affordable Care Act, which, says University of Chicago health-care expert Harold Pollack, “is the most important change to mental-health and substance-abuse policy in decades,” for two reasons. First, the expansion of Medicaid to all citizens with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty line will mean that millions of people will be able to afford mental-health care who simply couldn’t before. And second, the ACA requires that coverage of mental illness and substance abuse be offered by insurers “at parity” to more traditional medical treatments. Up to now, these treatments have been more expensive, less likely to be covered, and so on.

Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee actually supported those particular provisions of the ACA on unanimous voice vote. So by that measure Republicans are “reasonable” on this issue. But final votes on legislation is where the rubber meets the road, and that’s where Republicans have voted and voted and voted—and will clearly continue to vote—to make sure that we have more potential mass murderers walking among us, listening to those voices until they can’t take it anymore and go out and slaughter innocents. It’s a party of nihilism that has no desire to solve any social problem, holding the rest of us hostage to its craziness as the bodies mount.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, September 20, 2013

September 23, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Gun Violence, Mental Health | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Too Complacent About American Bloodbaths”: Reasonable Laws Could Solve Shooting Rampages

Last week’s horror at the Washington Navy Yard barely interrupted the stale political chatter, the dueling poll-tested messages, the sensational reports on the latest celebrity divorce or stint in rehab. While the newest mass shooting did preoccupy reporters for a couple of days, its import — at least judged in headlines and cable hours — quickly faded.

It was just another day of horrifying gun violence in America. The public has grown inured to the death toll, complacent about the destruction. If 20 dead babies at Sandy Hook didn’t move us to act, well, what will? When will the United States recover from this insanity — this sense that we cannot or should not rein in guns?

The “rampage” shooting has become a feature of contemporary culture, a peculiarly American perversion. It occurs in a few other countries, but not with the frequency with which it strikes here. This sort of crime — this kind of atrocity — generally stars an angry and deranged man determined to take out his wrath on strangers before going out in a blaze of glory. And there has been a troubling uptick in bloodbaths like this over the last decade.

The gun lobby would no doubt point out that, overall, gun violence has declined over the last several years. That’s true. As crime of all kinds has decreased, so have murders and assaults with firearms. But the “rampage” mass shooting has become more deadly even as more routine gun violence, the sort associated with monetary gain or personal revenge, has decreased.

Earlier this year, the Congressional Research Service issued a report, “Public Mass Shootings in the United States,” that catalogued 78 mass shootings between 1983 and 2012. They accounted for 547 deaths and an additional 476 injuries. The Washington Post has pointed out that half of the deadliest of those — Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Binghamton, Fort Hood and the Navy Yard — have occurred since 2007.

Experts have begun to focus, appropriately, on missed signals about the mental state of accused shooter Aaron Alexis, who told Rhode Island police officers that he was hearing voices. Certainly, the United States needs to do much better in providing mental health care to every citizen who needs it.

But it would be much more practical to focus on reining in guns. As any therapist would tell you, it’s very difficult to predict which patients may turn to violence. Alexis reportedly saw doctors at the Veterans Administration, but he told them he didn’t present a danger to anyone.

Sensible firearms measures would fill in the gap that our mental health system can’t straddle. Such limits would curb the bloodshed without infringing on the rights of any citizen who wants to hunt wild game or defend his home. Shouldn’t it be at least as difficult to get a firearm as it is for me to get a prescription for a sinus infection?

Take the simple matter of a waiting period. Alexis apparently purchased his pump-action shotgun two days before the massacre. With a few more days, various law enforcement and military entities may have pieced together his arrests for firearms violations and a report of his auditory hallucinations, which was apparently forwarded to naval authorities.

Other sensible measures — including a ban on high-capacity magazines — might not have deterred Alexis, but they would have curbed the violence from other shootings. And they would not infringe on the rights of the average gun owner. The Second Amendment does not espouse unlimited freedom to own the most dangerous firearms on the market.

Is the mass shooter the biggest crime problem remaining in America? By no means. But gun deaths are still a huge public health concern.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. will see more deaths from firearms than from car accidents by 2015.

Since the 1960s, we’ve made a series of law and policy changes that have reduced the carnage on our highways. We’ve done the opposite with firearms as various states have approved laws allowing guns in bars, parks and even churches.

That’s a recipe for more bloody rampages.


By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, September 21, 2013

September 22, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Is America Crazy?”: Just Another Manic Monday

Is America crazy?

Twelve people killed at a secure naval installation virtually on the front porch of the federal government, eight others hurt, the shooter shot to death, and it’s just another manic Monday, another day in the life of a nation under the gun. So yes, maybe it’s time we acknowledged that gorilla in the back seat, time we asked the painfully obvious.

Is America crazy?

You know, don’t you, that Muslims watched this unfold with a prayer on their lips: “Don’t let him be a Muslim. Don’t let him be a Muslim. Please don’t let him be a Muslim.” Because they know — the last 12 years have forcefully taught them — how the actions of a lone madman can be used to tar an entire cause, religion or people.

In the end, almost as if in refutation of our ready-made narratives and practiced outrage, the shooter turns out to be a black Buddhist from Texas. It is a uniquely American amalgam that defies our love of easy, simplistic categories.

As we are thus deprived of ready-made cultural blame, the story will likely fall now into a well-worn groove. Someone will disinter Wayne LaPierre of the NRA from whatever crypt they keep him in between tragedies and he will say what he always does about how this could have been avoided if only more people in this secure military facility had been armed. And we will have the argument we always have about a Constitutional amendment written in an era when muskets were state of the art and citizen militias guarded the frontier. And politicians will say the things they always say and nothing will change.

Is America crazy?, the online version of the old Information Please almanac, maintains a list of school shootings and mass shootings internationally since 1996. Peruse it and one thing leaps out. Though such tragedies have touched places as far-flung as Carmen de Patagones, Argentina, and Erfurt, Germany, the list is absolutely dominated by American towns: Tucson, Memphis, Cold Spring, Red Lake, Tacoma, Jacksonville, Aurora, Oakland, Newtown. No other country even comes close.

In 1968, when Robert Kennedy became the victim of the fifth political assassination in five years, the historian Arthur Schlesinger famously asked a question: “What sort of people are we, we Americans? Today, we are the most frightening people on this planet.”

Forty-five years later, we may or may not still be the most frightening. But we are surely among the most frightened.

Indeed, for all our historical courage, we are in many ways a terrified people. Scared of the face at the window, the rattle at the door, the Other who wants to take our stuff. Scared of the overthrow of one of the most stable governments on earth.

So we arm ourselves to the tune of a reported 300 million guns in a nation of 316 million souls — no other country has more guns per capita. Americans, you see, don’t just like and use guns. We worship guns, mythologize guns, fetishize guns. Cannot conceive of ourselves without guns.

Thus, the idea of restricting access to them threatens something fundamental. Apparently, we’d rather endure these tragedies that repeat themselves that repeat themselves that repeat themselves as if on some diabolical loop, than explore reasonable solutions.

Is that a quantifiable malady, a treatable disorder?

Is America crazy?

Last week, the Des Moines Register reported that the state of Iowa issues gun carry permits to blind people. And people began debating this on grounds of constitutionality and equal access as if the very idea were not absurd on its face.

Is America crazy?

Look at those people fleeing the Navy Yard, look at the Senate on lockdown, look at the blind man packing. Ask yourself:

Does that look like sanity to you?


By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., The National Memo, September 18, 2013

September 19, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Many More Times?”: Probably Many, Many More In The Imaginary America Of Gun Nuts

As our understanding (if that word doesn’t overstate what we can ever comprehend of such events) of yesterday’s shootings at the Washington Navy Yard improves, we’re seeing a depressingly familiar picture: disturbed man with “anger issues” and “gun issues” gets hold of an assault rifle and kills a lot of innocent people.

At this point, it seems Aaron Alexis came onto the military facility with a shotgun and acquired the assault rifle by stealing it, perhaps after killing its licensed user. If we even begin to have a public discussion of the killings as another data point in favor of stronger gun regulation, the gun lobby will make that a big argument, along with D.C.’s almost uniquely strong gun laws and the availability of other culprits in the affair (e.g., lax security for, and excessive dependence on, defense contractors).

Since we’re talking about a military base, the gun lobby will not, at least, be able to use its favorite argument, that a more secure environment in which more people were heavily armed could have prevented the killings.

But before we even head down the trail of talking about gun laws, let’s just acknowledge that this isn’t a matter of convincing Americans we need tighter background checks for gun purchases. According to every imaginable poll, they’re already convinced. It just doesn’t translate into action, in part because the gun lobby and the Second Amendment absolutists have an iron grip on one our two major political parties, and in part because because their power is especially strong in rural areas where strategically situated Democratic representatives haven’t yet been hunted to extinction.

As WaPo editorialized yesterday:

Life does go on, through Columbine in 1999, through Virginia Tech in 2007, through Sandy Hook in 2012. Each atrocity provides a jolt to the nation and then recedes with little effect, until the next unimaginable event occurs, except each time a little more imaginable. Everything was supposed to change after a man with a semiautomatic weapon mowed down 20 elementary school children in their classrooms last December. But for the politicians, nothing changed. Now, another massacre, another roster of funerals. Again, again, again.

So long as a powerful minority of Americans think the individual right to bear arms–any arms–trumps every consideration of public policy, and is the Crown Jewel of the Bill of Rights, and is our bulwark against tyranny–it won’t much matter. Hundreds dead, thousands dead, tens of thousands dead–it’s all irrelevant to what is in effect a religious commitment to the almighty Second Amendment, a golden calf worshipped as the ultimate expression of an illusory personal independence and an imaginary America.

No, rational arguments and conventional politics may never prevail against people who will look you right in the eye and tell you they need to be heavily armed in case it becomes necessary in their view to overthrow the government and impose their will on you. The whole idea here is that their rights trump your arguments, your priorities, your votes, your democratic elections, your duly authorized representatives or law officers. That’s their understanding of a “constitutional” system, and of what makes America “exceptional.” Their guns are an ever-present reminder to the rest of us that we just don’t know what level of taxation or regulation, or which offense to “traditional” culture, will be the trigger for a “patriotic” resurrection. That, perhaps, will keep us in line.

So while it’s important to keep up the fight for sensible firearms laws, no one should be under the illusion that this or the next mass killing is going to make a difference.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 17, 2013

September 18, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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