There was talk on the cruise ship about the Boston bombing and the vote in the Senate against the background check bill. Most passengers were Americans and Canadians with some folks from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Dubai, Puerto Rico and a few other places. To a person among those who spoke to me about the issue of the background check vote, there was unanimous support for stronger gun laws. There were people of all political persuasions and, in fact, probably more conservative folks than liberal as far as I could tell. But when it came to gun laws, they all favored more strict laws and were upset with the Senate vote. The Canadians kept close track of this vote and were well versed in U.S. politics, even knowing that over 90% of Americans support stronger gun laws. Viewing the issue from afar gave some perspective as to how the rest of the world views us concerning our gun laws. They think we are absolutely doing the wrong thing and can only wonder how this could be happening.
CNN International kept us very informed about the man hunt in Boston, running live coverage as it happened. We were able to watch some of it from our hotel room in Prague because of the time difference. It was horrifying to see this happening in America from afar. Certainly we are all relieved that the two young men who bombed the Boston Marathon onlookers were apprehended. But it left us all with a lot to think and talk about. Fareed Zakaria addressed the problem of terrorism post 9/11 on his recent show and the how America has handled terrorism potential and also dealing with Muslim immigrants:
Since 9/11, foreign-inspired terrorism has claimed about two dozen lives in the United States. (Meanwhile, more than 100,000 have been killed in gun homicides and more than 400,000 in motor-vehicle accidents.) One crucial reason the number of terrorism deaths is so low is that America does not have large pools of alienated immigrants. Polls repeatedly have shown that Muslim immigrants to the United States embrace core American values. The American assimilation machine continues to function well.Good point. Americans die, on average, at the rate of 80 a day from gunshot injuries in homicides, suicides and accidental shootings. This is just not happening everywhere else. Terror attacks have taken few lives after 9/11 in America. More people were killed in one day on 12/14 at Sandy Hook elementary school than the total number of people who have died from terror attacks since 9/11. And what are we doing about that? Not much. We have some things to learn from Europeans. Here, for example, from Germany and Canada ( from the above article):
The United States can learn from European efforts to integrate Muslims. Historically, assimilation has worked better in the United States, but European countries are dealing with a much more complex, larger problem. Their Muslim populations are much greater — 5 percent of the population in Germany and 7.5 percent in France, compared with 0.8 percent in the United States, according to Pew calculations — and the immigrants often come from places close by and can easily maintain ties to their birth countries.
The lesson from Europe appears to be: Embrace Muslim communities. That’s a conclusion U.S. law enforcement agencies would confirm. The better the relationship with local Muslim groups, the more likely they are to provide useful information about potential jihadis.
An attack — apparently inspired but also perhaps directed by al-Qaeda — was foiled recently in Canada for just this reason. An imam in Toronto noticed one of his congregants behaving strangely and reported the behavior to the police, who followed up and arrested the man before he could execute his plan. Before briefing reporters on their collaboration, Canada’s top counterterrorism authorities invited Toronto’s Islamic leaders to a meeting and thanked them for their help. “But for the Muslim community’s intervention, we may not have had the success,” said the official, according to one lawyer invited to the meeting.
Rather than ostracize or embarrass Muslims in the wake of Boston, the smarter move would be even greater outreach — so that the next time someone began to act strangely, community leaders would pick up the phone and call their friends in the police.But here in America, those on the terror watch list can buy guns legally in America. Do you think that is a good idea? From this article from Rachel Maddow:
"I think, anyone who's on the Terrorist Watch List should not lose their Second Amendment right without the ability to challenge that determination," Graham replied.
It's a legal oddity that doesn't get talked about much: if you're an American on the federal Terrorist Watch List, you can't buy an airplane ticket, and you're likely to have quite a bit of trouble at the border, but you can still buy an assault rifle. Graham sees no need to change this.
In fairness, I should note that the senator wasn't explicitly endorsing letting terrorists buy firearms, so much as he was raising doubts about the accuracy of the watch list, but the practical effect is the same -- those on the list can't get buy a seat on a plane, but they can buy an arsenal. As Salon explained, "Currently, the federal government can only prevent a firearm sale for 11 reasons -- suspected ties to terrorism, or even suspicion that a gun would be used in an attack, are not one of them."Would stronger gun laws have helped to alert authorities to the 2 young men who terrorized the Boston area with guns and bombs? Here is an interesting article written by Emeritus Professor Robert Toplin from North Carolina, Wilmington, University, giving a perspective that must be considered:
We may never achieve a clear understanding of the thinking and motivation of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But we can recognize that the tragedy in Boston might have been averted. If strong requirements for background checks on gun purchases had been in place, the FBI and other law enforcement officials would likely become alarmed. Violence that paralyzed a great American city might not have occurred.
We cannot be certain that law enforcement authorities would have taken preemptive action, but evidence about the role of guns in this case and their lax regulation in the United States should give us pause.There is much more in this article worth considering about American gun laws. Not doing anything about our loose laws after this incident is ludicrous. Yet, our Congress is not likely to act because they seem to be more afraid of the NRA lobbyists than they are of terror attacks in our country. It's time for that to stop. We all know about the problems of the terror watch list with mistaken names on the list and the difficult of removing a name from the list. But in the interest of public safety, surely we can come to some compromise so we can stop the next terror attack. It is interesting to note that Professor Toplin finds a relationship between the Boston terrorists and other American mass shooters. From the article:
If we don't make some connections between our loose gun laws and potential terror attacks and future mass shootings, we are making a mistake. Looking closely at all options after Sandy Hook and after the Boston terror attacks will serve to make us safer. We know that strong gun laws work. I have shown that in my previous posts about the countries I visited. There is a connection between strong gun laws and few gun deaths. It only makes common sense to pursue reasonable changes to our laws to protect us all from the carnage of gunshots in our communities. Not doing so would be irresponsible. There is also now, at long last, a connection between voting against gun background checks and approval ratings of the politicians who voted for and against the background check bill:In many other cases of mass shootings in modern U.S. history two conditions, above all, were common: the killers were psychologically and socially maladjusted, and possession of guns enabled them to vent their tensions in lethal ways. Among the most notable recent examples were shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 (13 deaths), at Virginia Tech in 2007 (32 deaths and many wounded), at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009 (12 dead soldiers, one dead civilian, and about 20 wounded), at Casas Adobes, Arizona in 2011 (6 killed and 18 wounded, including U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords), at a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012 (12 killed, 58 injured), and at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut in 2012 (20 children dead and 6 adults).We may never achieve a clear understanding of the thinking and motivation of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But we can recognize that the tragedy in Boston might have been averted. If strong requirements for background checks on gun purchases had been in place, the FBI and other law enforcement officials would likely become alarmed. Violence that paralyzed a great American city might not have occurred.
Lawmakers will need to adjust their previous thinking about votes on gun violence prevention measures. The American public is watching and holding them accountable for their votes:
Before Sandy Hook, it was much easier for a lawmaker to hide behind the NRA rhetoric and influence. Not any more. Things are changing in America. The majority wants change. We simply must make the connections between our gun laws and the daily carnage, the continued mass shootings, the accidental shootings, homicides, suicides and the American gun culture that has fostered such daily occurrences, or we leave ourselves vulnerable to more of them. That is just plain unacceptable.These results show broader support for the underlying concept of background checks for gun sales, as measured in a question asking if respondents would vote in a national referendum for such a measure, than for the idea of Congress passing a law that would enact such provisions. The reasons for this difference are not entirely clear, although open-ended questioning shows that opponents of the Senate vote justify their position by giving a number of reasons that go beyond the simple concept of the law itself.It is also possible that reminding respondents of the Senate's failure to pass the measure could give more weight, authority, or legitimacy to a position opposing the measure than just theoretically talking about the basic idea of expanded background checks.Still, one bottom-line conclusion from these results is clear: A significant majority of Americans would have preferred that the Senate had passed the measure expanding background checks for gun purchases when it voted on April 17.
And what else happened when we were gone? Joe Nocera, in his New York Times "The Gun Report" has continued to write about daily gun deaths. It should be alarming. Is it? After listing the latest shootings, Nocera writes this:
According to Slate’s gun-death tracker, an estimated 3,700 people have died as a result of gun violence in America since the Newtown massacre on December 14, 2012.This would not happen in other civilized countries not at war. No one writes a column about Kid Shootings or accidental shootings (Ohh Shoot) in the countries I visited. In my own state, there was an accidental gun discharge at a gun show. That doesn't appear to happen in European countries where the culture makes it all very different. There are some gun shows in Europe but some differences, according to this article:
The most glaring difference I saw is that Europeans don’t shoot as much as Americans. At a show in the States, there would have been several large ammo dealers set up, and lots of individual tables would have various small lots of ammo. Here in Ciney, it was very rare to find ammunition for sale, and much of it was blank or gallery training ammo. Belgium in particular is simple a very crownded place, and there isn’t the room for shooting ranges like we have.The gun culture is different in Europe and perhaps was affected by countries that suffered from two horrendous wars and many occupied by the Russians after World War II. We were made aware of what all of that meant to the citizens of the 5 countries we visited on our trip. But in America, we have people writing such blogs and columns because of the need to change the laws and the culture of violence that exists in our country. And you would never see anything like this happening in one of the countries we visited.
Good grief. This is absolutely insane. There is no reason for anybody to walk around their neighborhood with a rifle openly displayed. Had that happened in one of the countries we visited, there would have been a different result. But in America, it's O.K. for someone to do this! This, after 2 young men held the city of Boston hostage with guns, ammunition and bombs. How does anyone know that this young man won't do something with that gun? Why would you want your children playing outside when a young man is walking around with a rifle strapped to his shoulder? What's the point? Is there a point? This is why American gun laws have to change. This is nonsense and potentially dangerous behavior and totally unnecessary. Yes, we know the young man has rights. But come on. With rights come responsibilities. Displaying weapons openly is threatening and provocative. We don't need gun rights extremists to be this brazen to make a point. We get it. You love your guns. You are paranoid about going anywhere without your gun. You believe, in error, that your guns or your rights will be taken from you if reasonable gun laws are passed. You are belligerent and seem to live in constant fear. Plus you must think you are being "cute" and need the attention caused when you do something like this. Pathetic. We all have rights to feel safe in our neighborhoods and this does not make people feel safe. It just goes against all common sense. Enough is enough. Let's get to work and make reasonable changes so we can safe from the devastation caused by gun violence all over our beloved country.Some neighbors in a north Charlotte neighborhood said they are worried about a 19-year-old who walks around with a rifle strapped to his back.WCNC reported John Schultz also wears a bullet-proof vest, carries ammunition and has a knife in a holster during his walks.Schultz walks through Walnut Creek, which is off Sunset Road. He said his walks are for exercise and picking up garbage.Schultz said he is not a threat to anyone and the gun is his grandfather’s 303 British Enfield from WWII.But some neighbors said they fear he is an incident of vigilante justice waiting to happen.Neighbor Vanessa Aidara said the rifle scares her and her children enough that they won’t play in the yard.“He could be good without the rifle,” Aidara said. “The rifle is what scares everybody because why do you need a rifle to pick up trash, get a trash bag.”Schultz said he has spotted peeping toms and potential burglars in backyards while on his walks.“I won’t brandish a firearm or anything, I won’t chase somebody around. I will ask them to stop,” Schultz said.
I find that I must already update this post because I read Joe Nocera's newest Gun Report in the New York Times. Here is his opening statement from his latest article:
And then he goes on to list the many many shootings that occurred just last week-end alone in America. What kind of a country allows this to continue when there is an opportunity to change it?Jennifer and I made a decision a few weeks ago to stop writing a Saturday gun report and instead do a weekend roundup. One thing we’ve since discovered is that there are so many shootings on the weekends that it is hard to keep track of them all. It also makes for very discouraging reading, as you can see.Still, it is important, we believe, that we aggregate these examples of gun violence so that Americans can see, broadly, the severity of the problem. As awful as Newtown was—and it was truly awful—more people die every weekend from gun violence that were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary. Here is this weekend’s report.