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Firing Florida Atlantic Professor Long Overdue

By Carl Hiaasen, Tribune Content Agency

Florida Atlantic University finally canned the despicable James F. Tracy.

After years of embarrassing nut-ball ravings, the associate communications professor was terminated last week for something else entirely. He’s got a union lawyer, and will probably fight to reclaim his job.

Despite what he might say, Tracy’s travails have nothing to do with the First Amendment. He can still say or write whatever he chooses.

This was about a person on a state university payroll who was behaving abominably, tormenting a family that had already suffered the worst imaginable heartbreak. If such a creature worked for you, you would have fired him a long time ago.

Tracy is most infamous for promoting the screwball theory that the 2012 Newtown, Conn., slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary never happened. He has suggested in blog postings and interviews that the mass shooting was staged by “actors” hired by the Obama administration in order to ignite support for stronger gun regulations.

He has made similar idiotic claims about the recent massacre in San Bernardino, the church shootings in Charleston, S.C., and the Navy Yard murders in Washington. To cement his crackpot credentials, he also questioned whether the Boston Marathon bombing was real.

Some of these views weren’t only presented online, but shared with his students in the classroom. After Tracy’s Newtown comments stoked an uproar, FAU reprimanded him for not making it clear that his ideas didn’t reflect those of the university.

Firing a tenured professor is difficult, and in Tracy’s case FAU didn’t try hard enough. The damage done to its image (and recruiting) is immeasurable, another only-in-Florida saga. It’s one thing to be a Newtown conspiracy freak — the Internet is crawling with these maggots — but Tracy took it farther than most.

When the parents of six-year-old Noah Pozner, who was slain at Sandy Hook, asked the professor to remove their son’s photograph from his crazy blog, Tracy responded with a certified letter.

In it, he asked Lenny and Veronique Pozner for proof that Noah ever lived, and that they were his parents.

Tracy also went after the family on social media. He declared that the Newtown shootings were a “drill” orchestrated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and that nobody was actually killed at the elementary school.

A letter bearing Tracy’s name was posted on a Facebook site saying, “The Pozners, alas, are as phony as the drill itself, and profiting handsomely from the fake death of their son.”

Whether or not you’ve ever lost a child, the cruelty of those words is almost unfathomable.

On Dec. 10 the Sun-Sentinel published an emotional article by the Pozners describing the anguish caused by Tracy’s actions, and questioning why FAU still employed him.

The Pozners said it was obvious Tracy had violated the faculty conduct code, adding, “It matters not if (he) simply refrains from mentioning FAU when defaming murdered Americans and their families.”

The university finally dropped the hammer, effective last Thursday. Tracy wasn’t sacked for harassing the Pozners, but for failing three years in a row to provide a list of his outside jobs and activities.

He’ll probably appeal, basking as he always does in the spotlight. Pathetically, this is as big and important as he’ll ever be.

The First Amendment protects unpopular, even loathsome speech, and Tracy remains free to post, blog, print and drool his warped brand of nonsense. Nobody’s shutting him up.

While universities ought to be tolerant of controversy and welcoming of all viewpoints, they’re not constitutionally obliged to enable vicious crusades. FAU is a state school in Boca Raton, and Tracy’s $65,000 salary package likely came from lottery funds, student tuition and taxpayers like you and me.

Which is only slightly less nauseating to contemplate than his blog.

Twenty-six innocent persons were shot to death by a madman three years ago at Newtown. That’s a fact.

The children, all ages 6 or 7, were Noah Pozner, Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Ana Marquez-Greene, Dylan Hockley, Madeleine F. Hsu, Catherine Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Benjamin Wheeler and Allison Wyatt.

The grownups, many of whom died trying to save the students, were Mary Sherlach, Victoria Soto, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Dawn Hochsprung and Rachel D’Avino.

These were real people, all loved and now gone.

This isn’t a theory. It’s a horrible, indelible truth borne every day by their families, and exploited by execrable trolls such as Tracy.

(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.)

Photo: Florida Atlantic University, via Facebook.

Sandy Hook Families Sue Newtown, Schools, Citing Lax Security

By Dave Altimari, The Hartford Courant (TNS)

At least two families of victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting have filed a lawsuit against the town of Newtown and the school board, alleging lax security on the day 20 first-graders and six adults were shot and killed.

The 66-page lawsuit was given to a state marshal on Dec. 14, the last day under state statutes that legal action could be taken against the community, and recently served at the town clerk’s office.

The plaintiffs are the estates of slain students Noah Pozner and Jesse Lewis. The children’s parents, Leonard Pozner, Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, are the administrators. The families are represented by Norwalk attorney Donald Papcsy, a Sandy Hook resident, who could not be reached for comment Monday.

Adam Lanza shot his way into the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, and opened fire in two classrooms. Lanza entered the school by shooting through the front glass windows and entering near the school offices.

He killed school Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach before entering the classrooms. In one of those classrooms, substitute teacher Lauren Rousseau was unable to lock the door because she did not have a key.

Rousseau was assigned to the class shortly before school was set to open when the regular teacher called in sick. Rousseau tried to hide the students in a small bathroom but Lanza walked into the room and opened fire, killing all but one girl.

The lawsuit alleges that Rousseau “had neither a key to lock the door nor any knowledge of the … safety and security protocols rehearsed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in case an intruder or other dangerous individual gained access to the school.”

The lawsuit also alleges the town was negligent in not having a more secure entrance way to the school because it did not have bulletproof glass on the front windows and for having doors that couldn’t be locked from the inside.

The lawsuit also questions the lack of security in the parking lot area. Lanza parked his car at the curb near the front entrance of the school, less than 100 feet from the entrance.

“We are hopeful that the Town of Newtown’s elected and hired representatives will work with these families, who have already suffered, and continue to suffer, unimaginable loss, to help resolve this matter in the most efficient and constructive way possible,” Papcsy said in a statement. “As residents of the town, we all either have, or are going to have, students in our Sandy Hook schools, and we promote the idea of learning from the past and protecting our children in the future.”

Town Attorney David Grogins acknowledged that the lawsuit has been filed, but declined to comment on it Monday.

The lawsuit names the town, school board and Sandy Hook Principal Kathleen Gombos, who is erroneously referred to as Sandy Gombos. The lawsuit also inaccurately names the school superintendent.

As is standard, the lawsuit seeks more than $15,000 in damages.

The lawsuit is the second one filed since the shooting. The first one against the gun manufacturer, filed at Superior Court in Bridgeport, claims that the Bushmaster AR-15 used by Lanza in the shooting should not be sold to the public because it is a military assault weapon designed for war.

Ten families, including the Pozner and Lewis families, and one of the teachers who was shot and survived are involved in the lawsuit.

That lawsuit will attempt to use what is known as the negligent entrustment exemption. In a negligent entrustment case, a party can be held liable for entrusting a product, in this case the Bushmaster rifle, to another party who then causes harm to a third party.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Newtown Marks Massacre Anniversary With Reflection

New York (AFP) – A deeply scarred U.S. town lowered flags to half mast and urged quiet reflection on the two-year anniversary Sunday of a school massacre that left 20 children and six adults dead.

Officials in traumatized Newtown, Connecticut said a public ceremony would not be held, but instead asked people to mark the fateful day with personal reflection and remembrance.

On December 14, 2012 Adam Lanza shot his mother and then stormed Sandy Hook Elementary School, spraying it with bullets before turning the gun on himself.

The mass shooting horrified the United States and triggered intense debate about America’s controversial gun laws.

Photos of the 20 cherub-faced youngsters cut down before their lives had properly begun circulated on social media Sunday, where condolences and prayers poured in.

School officials said the two years since the “awful” events were characterized by “days of joyful hope, and occasional dips of despair.”

“There is no escape from the realization that we are where we are because of the horrible loss of lives that occurred at the school on that fateful day,” a statement from local officials said.

Several lawmakers in Washington renewed calls for gun-law reform, and shared condolences with the families of those killed.

“The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School is almost unspeakable. Six- and seven-year-old children taken from their families and courageous educators who died protecting the children in their care,” said Senator majority leader Harry Reid.

“I stand with the families of Newtown and the vast majority of Americans who believe there should be background checks that help keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous criminals and the mentally ill.”

Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro remembered the “20 little angels and their six brave educators” that were gunned down, and slammed Congress inaction on gun-law reform.

“The lack of congressional action is shameful, and I will keep fighting until we make badly needed changes, but this anniversary is a time to focus on the families,” she said.

Newtown continues to focus on rebuilding.

A new Sandy Hook Elementary School will open in 2016, and a permanent memorial is being planned.

A photograph of Jessica Redfield Ghawi, killed in the Aurora shooting, sits near the podium during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on December 10, 2014 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb) (Correction: Jessica Redfield Ghawi was originally misidentified in this caption.)

Obama Must Remember Sandy Hook

President Barack Obama has wisely chosen to ignore bipartisan bleating over the lawful use of his executive authority to address pressing issues long championed by the so-called professional left. He has instead decided to flex his muscle, at long last.

He struck a deal with China to reduce greenhouse gases by 30 percent over the coming years; pushed for regulating the internet as a public utility; raised the minimum wage of workers employed by companies with federal contracts; created gender equity rules for like employees; protected as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation; and his Environmental Protection Agency is set to enforce new ozone standards generally, as well as new carbon limits specifically, for some 600 coal-fired electricity plants.

To all that, I say hallelujah.

But I hope Obama, as he checks off items on his progressive to-do list, remembers the 20 children shot to pieces in Newtown, Connecticut, by a deranged young man wielding his dead mother’s semi-automatic rifle. In the wake of that national nightmare, the president vowed to do everything in his power to prevent another massacre of the kind visited upon Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. With 300 million firearms in circulation in the U.S. — most of which are handguns — odds are that another will happen. And soon.

Now that his party has lost control of the Senate, as well as numerous additional seats in the House of Representatives, Obama is free to act alone, and deliver on his promise. More generally, he has the chance to pick a fight with congressional Republicans that’s worth fighting, and he can do it without worrying about his own party getting in the way.

What can he do?

First, forget about the Congress. Come January 3, Republicans will be in charge. But even when they were in the minority, gun legislation usually failed. Consider that Senate Republicans defeated a ban on assault rifles just weeks after Sandy Hook with the help of 15 spineless Democrats. Even if that law had miraculously gotten through the Republican-controlled House, it would have faced certain doom, as the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court believes guns are a God-given right immune to government restriction. And even if the high court had somehow upheld the assault-rifle ban, it wouldn’t have done much good in practice. It might have mitigated the most devastating of mass shootings, but it wouldn’t have stopped the retail death-and-destruction of handguns.

Second, stop talking about guns. Ours is a gun culture animated by rugged individualism, dramatized by Hollywood and policed by the National Rifle Association. Days after Sandy Hook, an NRA spokesman said: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Afterward, state legislatures, most in the south and west, passed laws permitting guns in churches, businesses and schools. Take a moment to ponder that. More guns was the response to 20 murdered six-year-old schoolchildren. That tells you something. It tells you that gun-control arguments in a gun context lose before they begin.

Obama needs to change the context. He can do that by appointing a surgeon general.

Vivek Murthy is a doctor at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital with degrees from Harvard and Yale. He founded Doctors for America, researched AIDS in Africa and hoped, as Obama’s pick for surgeon general, to focus on obesity. Senate Republicans filibustered him last spring, with assistance from five southern and western Democrats, because Murthy threatens the NRA’s control of the gun debate. And he threatens the NRA’s control of the gun debate because he believes guns are not an issue of constitutional liberty or natural law, but an issue of public health and safety. He is right. Eighty people die every day in gun-related deaths, according to one study. The annual total of deaths will surpass vehicular deaths sometime next year.

Remember, the NRA believes the Second Amendment is inviolate, and the Supreme Court has agreed. The debate is over for now — it was indeed over long before the Sandy Hook massacre — and no more room exists even for a mild piece of legislation, like an assault-weapons ban, that might have done a little good but that mostly makes gun-control liberals feel better about themselves. Yet if we remove the debate from a gun context, if we approach our epidemic of gun violence from the point of view of a doctor serving the health and welfare of all Americans — well, that changes things. Or could, if Murthy is given a chance.

By the way, those Democrats who helped block Murthy’s nomination? All but one is gone. They have retired or been defeated by Republican challengers. So, very little prevents Obama from putting Murthy to work with a recess appointment before the new Congress convenes in January. He can do it alone, and he won’t have to worry about spineless Democrats getting in his way.

John Stoehr is managing editor of The Washington Spectator. Follow him on Twitter and Medium.

Photo: President Barack Obama speaks about the economy as Vice President Joe Biden looks on, before he nominates former senior Pentagon official Ashton Carter to replace Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, during an event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)