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Student "lie-in" at the White House to demand new gun safety laws

Photo by Lorie Shaull is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

America's deadly scroll of mass murders doesn't have a pause button:

•April 15: Eight dead in Indianapolis.

•April 13: Six dead in Allen, Texas.

•April 7: Six dead in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

•March 31: Four dead in Orange, California.

•March 28: Five dead in Essex, Maryland.

•March 22: Ten dead in Boulder, Colorado.

•March 16: Eight dead in Atlanta.

We are stuck on this deadly loop because Republicans categorically refuse to pass common sense gun safety initiatives that enjoy overwhelmingly public support. That's it — that's the only Beltway story that matters in terms of the habitual mass murders that plague America in a way they haunt no other country on the planet.

Yet after each numbing gun rampage, the press glosses over the GOP's radical obstruction. The media have absorbed as fact that a small number of Republican senators can hold the country hostage to assault weapon mass murders, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. The unspoken point from the press is there is no legislative fix — that's a narrative that lets Republicans off the hook.

"When does it become urgent?" lamented a CNN anchor on Friday, in the wake of the Indianapolis workplace slaughter, just moments after a CNN reporter suggested all gun reform bills remain in "limbo," which represents a very passive way to cover this ongoing American nightmare.

Republicans and their blind allegiance to the NRA exacerbate this crisis by blocking gun reform laws while simultaneously loosening ownership restrictions and helping to flood the country with firearms. Yet how many "Republicans Still Oppose All Gun Reform In Wake of Mass Murders" headlines have you read in the last month? I haven't seen any. But I have seen lots of coverage about how "Congress" can't pass gun laws, how there's "gridlock," and even how the lack of meaningful new gun laws might be the fault of Democrats.

In a Politico article about President Joe Biden urging new gun reform legislation last week, this was the entirety of the role Republicans play [emphasis added]: "The legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, which Democrats hold by the slimmest possible majority and would need 10 Republicans to get on board. Democrat-backed efforts to enact gun reform legislation have failed in recent years."

Why have gun reform bills "failed in recent years"? Politico doesn't mention the GOP's radical obstruction. Meanwhile, in this CNN article about why gun laws don't get passed, the word "Republican" is never even mentioned.

Even when the media do address the issue of Republicans and gun reform, they botch the story. "I wrote an article three years ago, explaining why Republicans were unlikely to change their minds and why there was little backlash to them opposing a measure that some polls indicate is supported by more than 80% of Americans," CNN's Harry Enten posted last week. Left unsaid was the fact that a key reason Republicans don't face a "backlash" is because the press routinely portray GOP's obstruction as mere "gridlock," or "Washington" being unable to pass laws.

Enten's analysis stressed that Republicans haven't moved on the specific issue of gun reform because polling suggests they don't have to. What he conveniently omitted was the fact that Republicans oppose Biden on everything. Just like Republicans opposed Obama on everything. The press for years has refused to tell that simple truth about today's GOP.

The New York Times recently asked "Is Biden Missing His Chance on Guns?," as if the Democrats were the reason bills don't get signed into law. In the wake of the Indianapolis massacre — that city's third mass shooting this year — U.S. News announced, "After Shootings, Even Democrats Pose a Barrier to Gun Control Legislation." The Both Sides article included zero evidence that Democrats are blocking gun safety bills.

Following the latest mass murder last week, the Times again framed the issue as being about Biden's lack of action, stressing that he "rejected calls to appoint a gun "czar" to more forcefully confront the crisis." The Times also reported gun legislation fails because of "apparent gridlock." This is exactly how Republicans want the gun reform debate to be covered.

Blaming Democrats for the GOP's concrete obstruction isn't new. The Beltway press did the same thing to President Barack Obama, when his administration made a major push to pass a background check bill after 20 first graders were massacred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT in late 2012. Even after Democrats whittled the bill down to a fraction of its original intent in order to win enough Republican votes to break the filibuster, the GOP refused to pass the bill.

Incredibly, the pundit class then blamed Obama: If only he had acted sooner, or proposed other legislation, or talked more often to Republicans, or not held public events in support of new gun laws. If Obama had just done everything differently, pundits suggested, he would've been able to win substantial Republican support and been able to easily secure passage of new gun safety legislation. Democrats were criticized for getting "cocky" during the legislative process, missing "their window" following the school massacre in Newtown, CT., and for "grasping at straws."

Following the Sandy Hook mass murder, Republicans for months blocked every conceivable Democratic proposal, and the pundits blamed…Democrats. Nearly ten years later we know there's nothing Democrats can do in terms of cajoling, because Republicans mindlessly oppose addressing gun safety no matter how many Americans die.

By the way, how radical of a shift is today's GOP behavior on guns? Note that in 1999,31 Senate Republicans voted in favor of mandating background checks at gun shows. And in 1994, 42 House Republicans voted for the Crime Bill, which included a ban on assault weapons. But all of that context gets left out of gun reform coverage today, as the press pretends Republicans have always been uniformly opposed to new laws to protect citizens.

There's a mass murder crisis in this country, and the press needs to tell the truth about the GOP and its role.

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Black Lives Matter protest outside the White House

Photo by Koshu Kunii on Unsplash

Driving has gotten much less dangerous over time, thanks to new safety features in cars, better highway design and a decline in drunk driving. But that's no solace to motorists who face dangers of a different kind — not when they are driving, but when they are stopped on the side of the road.

Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old African American, was fatally shot by a police officer in Minnesota after being pulled over for an expired license tag. In Virginia, Caron Nazario, a Black and Latino Army officer, was pepper-sprayed after being stopped for lacking a rear license plate — though a temporary plate was affixed to his rear window.

Jenoah Donald, a 30-year-old Black man, was fatally shot by a Kentucky sheriff's deputy who had pulled him over for a broken taillight. And it's impossible to forget Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old African American, who died in 2015 in a Texas jail after being stopped for failing to signal — and was arrested for refusing to put out her cigarette.

A lot of factors figure in these deadly incidents. Police commonly have a tendency to target Black and Hispanic drivers for minor traffic offenses, and some cops are overly aggressive or inept in dealing with these motorists. Curing such failings has proven to be a difficult task.

But one solution is hiding in plain sight. None of the violence visited upon people during police traffic stops would have occurred if there had been no police traffic stop. Instead of focusing entirely on restraining cops in these situations, we should try to keep them out of these situations.

Life was different until vehicular infractions became the province of police officers. "Before the 20th century, the average American seldom came under police scrutiny," writes Columbia law professor Sarah Seo, author of Policing the Open Road: How Cars Transformed American Freedom. "Ironically, the rise of the automobile — that embodiment of personal freedom — vastly expanded the police's powers over everybody who drove or rode in a car." Cops pull over 50,000 cars every day, 20 million per year.

Someone has to take responsibility for administering traffic laws. But there is no compelling reason for armed police to confront individuals over petty errors and trivial transgressions. It creates unnecessary hazards for cops and for those they stop.

It also invites discrimination. Various studies indicate that cops are more likely to stop Black and Hispanic drivers than white ones and more likely to search their cars — even though they are more likely to find contraband with white drivers.

In a 2013 Gallup Poll, 24% of Black men aged 18 to 34 said they had been unfairly treated by police in the last 30 days. The New York Times reported that Philando Castile, who was shot to death by a cop in Minnesota in 2016, was pulled over 49 times in 13 years — typically for minor infractions.

Contrary to myth, traffic enforcement is not a good method of catching crooks and curbing crime. In Chicago, these stops yield contraband in only 1 in 555 cases.

A 2018 study of Nashville, Tennessee, by the Policing Project at the New York University School of Law found: "Traffic stops do not appear to have a significant impact on long-term crime trends. As the number of traffic stops declined between 2012 and 2017, crime rates remained quite flat." And, "Traffic stops also do not appear to have any effect on crime in the short-term."

Unpleasant experiences breed distrust and hostility toward cops among African Americans and Hispanics. The simplest way to prevent such incidents is to remove police from the picture whenever possible.

New York Attorney General Letitia James recently proposed that New York City police cease making routine traffic stops. "Armed police officers are not needed for traffic enforcement," her report concluded, "particularly when the underlying conduct in question is not criminal, such as a broken taillight, speeding, or not wearing a seatbelt."

More use of speed and red-light cameras could greatly reduce the incidence of police-driver encounters, while promoting road safety. Unarmed traffic monitors could document minor violations by photo or video and mail citations to offenders; they could also make stops when necessary. Cops could be reserved for instances of dangerous driving.

In every traffic stop, the driver and the police officer face the risk of being killed, and too often, the risk becomes a reality. Why not take both out of the line of fire?

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.