Tuesday, June 14, 2016

On accepting Orlando: "To actively do nothing is a decision"

Quotes of the day:

"We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. To actively do nothing is a decision as well.” - President Obama on the broader issue underlying the Orlando shooting (NY Times report).

"Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over." - British journalist Dan Hodges' tweet on the gun control debate.

Here is the issue, succinctly put, by President Obama.

“This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school or a house of worship or a movie theater or a nightclub,” Mr. Obama said. “We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. To actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

To actively do nothing aids and abets terrorists, home-grown or otherwise. Consider points made by Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog).

In case this isn’t obvious, building and acquiring the materials necessary for a bomb isn’t easy. Hijacking airplanes to use them as missiles has become practically impossible. But getting a gun and killing random innocents has a low barrier to entry. To genuinely believe the issue here “isn’t the weapons they are using” is to willfully ignore every piece of relevant information.

And terrorists know it. And they broadcast the fact.

This point is not lost on the terrorists themselves. The Washington Post reported yesterday, “Terrorist groups have taken note of the widespread availability of assault rifles and other guns in the U.S. In 2011, al-Qaeda encouraged its followers to take advantage of lax guns laws, purchase assault-style weapons and use them to shoot people.”

Speaking in English, an al Qaeda spokesperson said in that 2011 video, “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

To rephrase, what are we waiting for? More shootings?

If our country allows the gun lobby, gun manufacturers, and the NRA to determine our public policy, then America, as a whole, has made institutional decisions. The shootings are the price of acceptance of America Dying.

John Cassidy at the New Yorker recalls an earlier speech by Obama.

Four days after the San Bernardino shootings, President Obama delivered a prime-time address from the Oval Office, in which he said ... “What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon? This is a matter of national security.”

The Republican-controlled Congress ignored these words, just as it had frustrated the Obama Administration’s efforts to strengthen gun laws after the Sandy Hook massacre, which took place in December, 2012. “Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, tweeted in June of last year. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

If Hodges was right and the United States will never take action on gun control, then it is heading toward a future where much of the country is a fortified camp, with stricter rules governing who is allowed in, heavily armed police permanently patrolling urban hubs, more public buildings adopting airport-style security, and many more millions of guns sold, as alarmed citizens seek to protect themselves and their families against a perceived threat.

That is the vision touted by Donald Trump.

This is the low-trust equilibrium that Donald Trump and other supporters of “gun rights” appear to favor. Alternatively, the United States could respond to the deadliest mass shooting in its history by shaking off the straitjacket of the past, disproving the skeptics, and reforming laws that have proved to be a boon to those intent on doing harm. In this scenario, guns (particularly assault weapons) would be much harder to come by; borders would be secure, but not impermeable; heavy security would be focussed on vulnerable locations, rather than everywhere; and the burden of preventing terrorism and other violent attacks would fall on the police, the intelligence agencies, and a vigilant public.

In either of these versions of the United States, sadly, there would probably be more terrorist attacks, some of them carried out by U.S. citizens and inspired from abroad: nobody can disinvent isis, Al Qaeda, or the deadly sectarianism that these groups represent. Even if isis were to be soundly defeated in Iraq and Syria, diminishing its attractiveness to the young and impressionable, there would still be some people who sought to kill in its name. But the two versions of the United States would feel very different to live in: one would be more like other advanced countries; the other would be a nightmare.

Hopefully, the choice is still ours to make.

I'll let John Nichols have the last word. Another moment of silence is not what we need (been there, done that). As Nichols explains, we need moments of action.

If there are haters who aspire to violence, would it not be wise to make it difficult for them to obtain military-style assault weapons? If there are Americans who are targeted because of their race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation, would it not be wise to address hatred by banning discrimination? Would it not be appropriate to stop telling the lie that says equal protection under law is some “special right” accorded by members of the LGBTQ community? And would it not be wonderful if powerful Republicans such as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would recognize that Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin is right when she says: “As we offer our thoughts and prayers, we also must come to terms with the fact that they are not enough.”

“This was not only a horrific attack on the LGBT community, it was an attack on the freedoms we all hold dear,” explained Baldwin, the first openly gay member elected to the Senate. “The question now for America is are we going to come together and stand united against hate, gun violence and terrorism? I understand it may not be easy, but I know we are better than this and it is past time to act together.”

It is right and necessary to speak in times like these of love and solidarity.

It is equally right and necessary to identify the steps that must be taken to express that love and solidarity in practical terms.

If we fail in this, there is a very real risk that we will live in a nightmarish society fashioned by Donald Trump.

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