Corpus Christi Caller-Times. June 13, 2016.
Take care not to judge in this troubled time
The Bible verse "for whatever one sows, that will he also reap" offered an unintended lesson about the risk of rushing to judgment in the aftermath of Sunday's Orlando massacre. We will go into further detail about the grief caused by the verse here in Texas. But first, consider carefully these known facts about Sunday's attack in which 50 people died and 53 were wounded:
Killer Omar Mateen's wife left him in 2009 after four short months of marriage because he was abusive and mentally unstable. Her family had to rescue her from him. He was a steroid abuser who liked guns and knew how to use them. Co-workers couldn't stand to be around him because he kept up a constant barrage of crazy talk about killing people. He was homophobic. One of the last things his father remembers him saying was that he was disgusted to have seen two men kissing. The nightclub he targeted was known as the hottest gay club in town. He was a native-born U.S. citizen of Afghan ethnicity. He pledged allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call during the attack. His ex-wife and his father, in separate interviews, said the attack wasn't about his Muslim religion. The FBI interviewed him in 2013 and 2014 but found nothing to act upon. ISIS, predictably, rejoiced at the attack — but after the fact. No contact or direct ties between Mateen and ISIS have been established. He brought no accomplices into the nightclub and as far as authorities knew as of Monday, he acted alone, armed with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a handgun.
President Obama declared the attack an act of terror and a hate crime. That is a sound judgment of known facts upon which we should agree and unite.
Blaming Obama, blaming Islam, blaming the FBI and Homeland Security, patting oneself on the back for having recommended banning Muslim immigrants, ignoring the distinction between an assault and an assault-style rifle and between automatic and semiautomatic — those are unsound politically opportunistic judgments that divide the nation and dishonor the victims.
One of more resonant responses to the attack was from the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, which urged that all Americans "resist the forces of division and hatred" and "stand against homophobia as well as against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry." It probably come as a surprise to some that there is an alliance of LGBT Muslims. "At moment like this," the group said, "we are doubly affected." We can only imagine — and embrace them and their appeal for humanity.
Resisting the forces of division means also taking the word of our lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, that his tweet Sunday of the aforementioned bible verse was set up in advance and therefore could not have been meant as a comment against the victims. Patrick has been a vocal opponent of gay marriage and a proponent of the North Carolina-style bathroom law, so it was easy to assume the worst about the tweet. But his explanation rings true and should suffice. The tweet was removed quickly, with apology.
Let it be a lesson to Patrick and to those who rushed to judgment against him about reaping what on sows. Out of respect for the victims, this is a time to sow the seeds of unity.
The verse itself is an appeal to our better angels rather than a warning of damnation. Patrick, in his written explanation, included the verse in its entirety for context. We all, regardless of faith or lack thereof, should heed this less-often-quoted part of the verse:
"As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone.
San Antonio Express-News. June 13, 2016.
Congress must be accountable
Of course, the attack in Orlando at a gay dance club was an act of terror. Given that the shooter claimed allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call during the massacre and that the group has claimed responsibility — though the actual ties between it and Omar Mateen are not yet proven — this is an apparent act of radical Islamic terrorism.
Saying that does nothing to diminish the fact that the shooter, according to reports, legally bought the guns used in the attack, which killed 49 and wounded many others. Legally, though, he had been under suspicion twice by the FBI for ties to terrorist groups or individuals. He had even worked as a security guard.
In other words, just because we can sadly lay claim to homegrown jihadists, as in San Bernardino, does not mean that this nation need make it so easy to arm those who would kill us.
It is a point President Barack Obama made Sunday after the shooting. He said that we need to decide what kind of country we are going to be. Unfortunately, he has had to ask this question more than once during his administration, and Congress has not acted to make it more difficult for terrorists to obtain military-style semiautomatic weapons because of lawmakers' excessively strict interpretation of the Second Amendment.
Congress owes the nation some action.
One of the guns used was an AR-15, a semiautomatic long gun that mimics the military's M-16. And though it is, according to initial reports, a semiautomatic, such guns can be as deadly or more deadly, because semiautomatic bursts are often easier to control than automatic fire.
Congress allowed the ban on military-style assault weapons to expire 10 years after its introduction in 1994.
This lack of action is a blot on the nation's character. And given that this particular type of weapon has been too frequently used in such mass shootings, this has been a deadly lack of action.
Making assault weapons more difficult to obtain would not infringe on Americans' right to bear arms for legitimate purposes. Hunting and self-protection do not require weapons designed to produce maximum carnage.
Changes in law enforcement's procedures and communication practices regarding homeland terrorism also should be re-examined in the wake of this tragedy.
We won't hold our breaths waiting for Congress to act now that an AR-15 was used in what is the nation's deadliest mass shooting.
And this should be taken into account when the nation goes to the polls in November. Where does your representative stand on an assault weapons ban? And where do candidates stand on expanded and more stringent background checks? Vote accordingly. But remember Orlando.
Houston Chronicle. June 13, 2016.
Just tired: More and more Americans have had enough of the gun violence
Where is the line? In the wake of the slaughter of dozens of human beings in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday morning, that's the question we feel compelled to ask. It's a question for those among us whose adherence to an absolutist reading of the 2nd Amendment is akin in its holy zeal to a religious belief.
In the mind of the absolutist, where is the line that separates what seems to be acceptable collateral damage and a society-wide crisis that cries out for attention? Apparently, the 2012 slaughter of small children in a Connecticut school is on the collateral-damage side of the line (20 children dead), but what about the mass slaughter in Orlando, the largest mass killing in the United States since 9/11? Does that cross a line?
Does the accumulating number of mass shootings in schools, in movie theaters, on military bases, at places of work and elsewhere cross any kind of line in the mind of those elected officials who presume to represent the interests of their constituents? Would one shooting a week, one shooting a day matter to the Birdwells and the Patricks and the Abbotts? How many mass shootings are too many?
Where is the line between weapons that gun owners need to hunt, collect or protect themselves and weapons so dangerous, so potentially devastating that only law-enforcement or the military should have access to them? Surely, the absolutists recognize some kind of line, since they're not pushing for XM-25 grenade launchers in every home or a railgun that shoots projectiles at seven times the speed of sound. (As far as we know, they're not.)
So why is an assault rifle designed for the military on the acceptable side of the line? Shouldn't it matter that some of the most deadly mass shootings in American history, including Newtown, Conn. (27 people dead), Aurora, Colo. (12 people dead), San Bernardino (14 dead) and now Orlando (at least 49 dead) are the result of the AR-15's deadly efficiency?
Where is the line between sanity and insanity?
In his remarks on Sunday, President Obama called, yet again, for changing gun laws to make it harder to mow down large numbers of people, as the killer did in Orlando. "To do nothing is a decision as well," he said.
There's a growing revulsion in this country at the ease with which people with histories of mental instability or criminal backgrounds or terrorist inclinations can acquire weapons of mass destruction and wreak deadly havoc within minutes. The gun issue, particularly for a call to ban assault weapons, will be part of the presidential campaign, and that's a good sign, a sign that more and more Americans have had enough.
The Dallas Morning News. June 13, 2016.
End the ban on research into gun violence — now
Working in concert, science and government can save lives. A classic case: Federally funded research has shaped policies that have slashed the number of auto fatalities, even as more Americans are driving more miles every year.
More recently, the government has taken steps to curtail an alarming rise of deaths due to prescription opioid overdoses. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new prescribing guidelines for doctors, and ongoing research has led to new proposals for treatment strategies and patient databases.
But federal response to the terrible scourge of gun violence — which are now taking more American lives than car wrecks — has been a resounding silence.
Why? Politics, of course.
Just talking about anything that might remotely be construed as "gun control" is a lethal third rail for U.S. legislators. They're so frightened by the topic that a ban on CDC-funded research into gun violence as a public health issue remains in effect, even as the death toll reaches grim new heights.
It is time for this cowardice to end. If Sunday's slaughter at an Orlando nightclub does not weigh on congressional consciences, we fear nothing ever will.
Last month, attorneys general from 14 states (regrettably, but perhaps predictably, not including Texas) issued a sharp wake-up call. In a letter sent to congressional leaders, the state officials pressed for the repeal of an appropriations rider that has effectively banned study of gun violence by the nation's top public health agency.
This isn't about violating anybody's rights or confiscating anybody's guns. It's about information. It's about choosing scientifically sound research and data over deliberate ignorance in shaping American gun policy.
Every year, the CDC distributes $11 billion to fund research for public health issues — and virtually none of it is helping understand the roots of gun violence or identify strategies that could make us safer without curtailing our rights. As the attorneys general's letter points out, the funding vacuum of nearly two decades' standing has actively dissuaded a new generation of medical and scientific researchers.
They state: "By sidelining the CDC, the U.S. has severely limited progress on data collection and analysis and has discouraged public health professionals from working in this field."
Two U.S. senators from Connecticut, the state permanently scarred by a deranged gunman's slaughter of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, were more blunt in their assessment of their congressional colleagues. Both accused Congress, through its willful inaction, of being complicit in Sunday's appalling massacre in Florida.
This devastation marks a turning point. The leaders elected to safeguard our welfare can take reasonable steps toward creating a scientific, factual information base to use in creating policy.
Or they can remain paralyzed, cowed by fear and emotional ideology. As the president wearily said Sunday, "To actively do nothing is a decision."
It's a decision that embraces chaos. And it endangers us all.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. June 13, 2016.
Extremism and assault rifles are both enemies
Both the right and left of the U.S. political divide should be able to agree on at least one thing about the mass shooting early Sunday morning in Orlando that left 49 innocent people dead and 53 wounded:
It is absolute idiocy that we continue to let this happen.
Set aside for the moment the "thoughts and prayers" for victims and survivors offered up by virtually every political figure who comes near a microphone or issues a press statement. Sympathy is important, but it doesn't steer us toward a solution.
The right, personified by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, holds that the heart of the problem is that we haven't gotten tough enough on "radical Islamic terrorism."
The left has been represented by President Barack Obama in a seemingly endless string of statements following such killings — none with death tolls this high, but all tragic.
On Sunday, Obama said the Orlando killings remind us how easy it is to obtain firearms that can be used to kill a lot of innocent people very quickly.
"We have to decide if that's the kind of country we want to be," Obama said.
And in a news conference on Monday, he addressed issues raised by Trump and other Republicans.
Obama said there is no evidence so far that Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was directed by the Islamic State, but he was inspired by extremist information on the internet — making the entire episode "homegrown extremism."
"And so countering this extremist ideology is increasingly going to be just as important as making sure that we are disrupting more extensive plots engineered from the outside," Obama said.
Perhaps the president's most salient point was that our thinking must not be narrow.
"We have to go after these terrorist organizations and hit them hard. We have to counter extremism," he said. "But we also have to make sure that it is not easy for somebody who decides they want to harm people in this country to be able to obtain weapons to get at them."
Since 2001, the U.S. has shown its willingness to use military might to fight terrorists overseas. Some people have said we must renew that effort and fight harder.
We have not been willing to fight the other side of the battle that Obama describes, to address the issue of easily obtainable weapons such as the Sig Sauer .221 caliber assault rifle that Mateen bought legally on June 4 and used with such deadly effect Sunday morning.
Obviously, this is hard. But we must fight extremism, foreign and domestic, and control access to such terrible weapons or the killing will continue.