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A Glimmer Of Hope In the Struggle For Gun Safety

Late last month, the United States recorded yet another mass shooting. This one took place on a Friday afternoon in Virginia Beach, when a not-so-civil servant mowed down several of his co-workers at a municipal building. The shooter killed 12 people before he was shot dead in a gun battle with police.

That sort of atrocity is now commonplace in this country, too frequent an occurrence to command more than a few days’ attention outside the community in which it occurs. The U.S. has less than five percent of the world’s population, but we account for nearly a third of the world’s mass shootings. Another month, another attack by a deranged gunman in the land of the free and the home of the armed.

But this shooting was followed by something not yet commonplace but becoming more frequent: A few days later, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, called a special session of the legislature to take up gun control measures. That action not only gave urgency to his proposals but also put Northam under the white-hot scrutiny of a disapproving gun lobby — a place that most politicians, especially in purple states such as Virginia, had spent decades avoiding.

Ever so slowly, in fits and starts, the political landscape around the push for sensible gun laws is changing. Finally. The National Rifle Association and its allies are losing their iron grip on Congress and state legislatures around the country. Fewer politicians fear the wrath of the gun lobby.

Credit goes largely to the young activists who took the stage after the February 2018 massacre at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 students and staff dead. Student leaders refused to settle for the “thoughts and prayers” that had become the familiar refuge of elected “leaders” too timid to push for serious gun control measures. The students marched on Washington, staged demonstrations around the country, took to television commentary shows and endured the mockery of right-wing talking heads.

Their efforts — aided by gun control groups such as the Giffords Law Center, named for former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), a mass shooting survivor and gun control activist — have changed the legislative climate. Last year, for the first time in several years, state legislatures around the country passed more gun control measures than pro-firearms proposals pushed by the gun lobby, according to The New York Times.

The students’ activism was also assisted by the NRA’s own self-inflicted meltdown, the result of years of grift and self-enrichment by its leaders. Continually peddling dire warnings of a pending confiscation of firearms by an autocratic government, the NRA has raised hundreds of millions from frightened gun owners persuaded that “jack-booted” government thugs were waiting to seize their weapons. But its principals used much of that money to support lavish lifestyles, and the organization is now struggling financially, according to published reports.

That changed climate has given Northam some room in which to maneuver. As recently as 2007, the Virginia Legislature refused to pass a relatively toothless gun control measure in the wake of a mass shooting that took the lives of 32 people at Virginia Tech. Republicans, assisted by a couple of Democrats, bottled up a bill that would have required mandatory background checks for firearms sales at gun shows. This time, however, Northam may be able to get a bill passed. Noting the shifting landscape, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), who was the state’s governor back then, said Democrats now “run using gun safety as an offensive issue,” rather than trying to hide from it or deflect, as they once did.

That doesn’t mean that we will relinquish our leadership in mass shootings anytime soon. There are more civilian-owned guns than people in the U.S., according to the Small Arms Survey — about 327 million people, about 393 million firearms. We own 42 percent of the world’s guns, enough to guarantee that the havoc will continue for some time.

But thanks to some courageous young Americans, we may have found our way back toward sanity. Their future may be a safer place.

IMAGE: Emma Gonzalez, a student and survivor of the Parkland speaks at the first-ever March for Our Lives to demand stricter gun control laws on March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. Photo by Olivier Douliery/ Abaca(Sipa via AP Images)

On Parkland Anniversary, Trump Tweet Insults Survivors

On Thursday — the one-year anniversary of the gun massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — Trump decided to insult the survivors of the shooting by trying to pretend that guns had nothing to do with the murders of 17 of their classmates and teachers.

Trump is apparently so eager to please the pro-gun extremists at the National Rifle Association (NRA) that he scrubbed a mention of “gun violence” from his official statement about the anniversary of the tragedy, bizarrely replacing it with the phrase “school violence.”

In the original statement released by the White House, Trump said, “Melania and I join all Americans in praying for the continued healing of those in the Parkland community and all communities where lives have been lost to gun violence.”

But when he released a tweet with his statement, the accompanying graphic instead referred to the loss of life “as a result of school violence.”

The change is a slap in the face to the teenage survivors of the Parkland tragedy, who have spent the last year fiercely campaigning for stricter gun laws.

Unfortunately, the insult is also perfectly in line with Trump’s coldhearted and tone-deaf responses to the Parkland shooting and its survivors.

Trump also ignored the subject of gun violence in his initial response to the shooting, which survivors called him out for at the time.

Instead of expressing sympathy for the fallen or anger about the widespread availability of guns, Trump blamed “neighbors and classmates” for not reporting that the shooter “was a big problem.” He also snubbed the families dealing with the fallout of the shooting, choosing to only connect with a family that shared his pro-gun extremist views.

He even used the photo of his hospital visit to a shooting survivor to raise money for his campaign.

Those tasked by Trump’s administration to deal with school shootings also failed the students. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos went to Stoneman Douglas High for a photo op, but then refused to speak with concerned students.

“You came to our school just for publicity and avoided our questions,” wrote student Aly Sheehy, criticizing DeVos.

These slights were among the reasons some of the students cited to explain why they would not attend a White House photo op that had been mounted in response to the tragedy.

Trump is the NRA’s lackey. The extremist gun organization spent $35 million in 2016 to elect Trump, and he and Mike Pence have vowed to be the organization’s allies — even though the NRA is losing money and becoming politically toxic thanks to the Parkland teens’ activism.

The NRA owns Trump — and he acts like it.

Published with permission of The American Independent. 

IMAGE: Donald Trump addresses members of the National Rifle Association at their annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, May 20, 2016. REUTERS/John Sommers II

David Hogg: ‘Nobody Likes To See Us As Kids’

Most of us are more than one thing, but sometimes one thing happens that changes us forever.

David Hogg, a survivor of last year’s Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland, Florida, comes to mind.

He was 17 when, sitting in his AP environmental science class at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he heard a gunshot at 2:30 p.m.

He and his terrified classmates crammed into a small closet as more gunfire erupted. The shooter fired more than 100 rounds from an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, killing 17 people. Fourteen of them were students.

“It was sheer terror,” Hogg told CNN days later.

In that cramped closet, the 17-year-old student journalist pulled out his cellphone and started interviewing classmates closest to him. Their whispered accounts are breathless, their fear palpable.

“I want to show these people exactly what’s going on when these children are facing bullets flying through classrooms and students are dying trying to get an education,” he told CNN. “That’s not OK, and that’s not acceptable, and we need to fix that.”

In that day, in the wake of so much loss, David Hogg the activist was born.

He went home that day, but in the early evening, he rode his bike back to school to talk to reporters still gathered there. Soon, he and other survivors were nationally recognizable. They co-founded the March for Our Lives to push for stronger gun law reform and appeared on the cover of Time magazine. They won the International Children’s Peace Prize. They became targets of right-wing threats and propaganda, too.

On the eve of the anniversary, NPR’s David Greene interviewed Hogg. I found it impossible to listen to him and do anything else at the same time. It was so clear that in many ways, this teenager has left his childhood behind.

His activism has taken him to some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America, where he talks to other victims of gun violence. “I’ve met families that literally eat on the floor in their household so that they don’t get hit by a stray bullet coming in through their window,” he told Greene. “Those are the stories that are not being told.”

Greene mentioned a story in which one of Hogg’s friends described him as more complex than the activist we see “behind the microphone and out there speaking.” Hogg, Greene quoted the friend as saying, “can be a goofball and vulnerable and a jokester.”

“Has this movement forced you to take on a certain persona to make it work, to be a leader?” Greene asked. “Do you take those times to be vulnerable in your private life?”

“Yeah, definitely. Anybody put in my position would act differently,” Hogg said. But “it has to do with how it gets covered. It’s always going to get more media hits that ‘David Hogg says that the NRA benefits off of school shootings because they’re funded by gun manufacturers, whose sales go up after every school shooting’ than me talking about something funny, because … I’m not a comedian, right? And that’s something that you’re really never going to see in the national media — unless, like, you see me riding one of those amazing electric scooters in D.C. going to lobby in Congress.”

For just a moment, Hogg then sounded like any other teenager. “I like surfing a lot. I like watching The Office and cooking with Emma, one of my best friends. Those are the intimate times with friends that you don’t see because nobody likes to see us as kids.”

Hogg’s response answered more than he was asked. He wants to be that kid still, but his activism — along with a year’s worth of strangers’ assumptions and attacks — seems to be forcing him to come to terms with a fame he did not seek. He is learning that leadership is often lonely.

For David Hogg and his fellow survivors, Valentine’s Day will most likely never again be a contrived special date on the calendar. This is true for the rest of us, too, if we choose. “The Parkland tragedy,” we tend to call it. Such a softer heart’s landing than the massacre that it was.

At the end of the interview, Hogg made a request, because of that one thing that has changed who he will be for the rest of his life.

“And please,” he told Greene, “don’t say the shooter’s name or show their face in y’all’s articles.”

There are heroes, and there is unspeakable evil. David Hogg wants us to remember that, too.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

IMAGE: David Hogg (left) and Emma Gonzalez (right) at rally to support firearm safety legislation in Fort Lauderdale, FL, March 27, 2018. 

What If Trump Had To Pass FBI Vetting? Take A Wild Guess

Amid the shock and horror accompanying yet another mass-shooting of school children in Florida, an anonymous White House official exhibited the sheer moral squalor of Trumpism.

“For everyone, [the massacre] was a distraction or a reprieve,” the official said. “A lot of people here felt like it was a reprieve from seven or eight days of just getting pummeled.”

Getting pummeled, that is, about White House aide Rob Porter’s keeping his job for almost a year after FBI investigators warned wife-beating made him vulnerable to blackmail, thus a security risk. Not to mention Chief of Staff John Kelly getting caught in yet another barefaced lie.

Seventeen dead students and teachers. A reprieve, the man said. (Although there are certainly women in this White House capable of saying that.)

Anyway, let’s try a little thought exercise. Let’s pretend that Donald J. Trump himself needed to be vetted for a security clearance by the FBI. Any chance he’d pass muster?

None whatsoever.

Let’s put aside Trump’s suspect entanglement with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin for a moment. What investigators look for in deciding if somebody can be trusted with Top Secret intelligence is evidence of bad character and/or significant vulnerabilities.

Trump’s half-dozen bankruptcies alone might disqualify him. Settling a $25 million fraud lawsuit, as the president did in the Trump University case, would also ruin his chances. Not to mention a long list of business partners, contractors and customers who’d say he refused to pay legitimate debts, violated contracts, or simply walked away. He’s been sued literally thousands of times.

Three wives could be an issue, and a well-publicized history of multiple adulteries. First wife Ivana filed a divorce petition alleging assault and rape, although it was later withdrawn. The list of women publicly accusing Trump of sexual assault has reached 20. Paying hush-money to porn stars and Playboy playmates demonstrates vulnerability to blackmail—an immediate disqualifier.

Never mind Russia; the tabloid newspaper National Inquirer appears to have Trump in its pocket.

So no, on moral grounds alone Donald J. Trump would never be entrusted with the nation’s secrets.

Furthermore, at the risk of getting ahead of myself, what are the odds that the Russians don’t have compromising video of Trump cavorting with Moscow prostitutes? He’s made a show of being too worldly-wise to jump into such a trap, but what if a “top oligarch” told him the women were a gift from Putin?

Bingo!

Flattery gets you everywhere with Trump. Everybody knows that.

Something’s got to explain his obsequious fawning over Putin besides Trump’s dictator-envy. (Pardon indicted former campaign chairman Paul Manafort? In Moscow, he’d take an accidental fall from a hotel balcony. In America, Manafort’s more apt to cop a plea.)

Anyway, it’s always sex or money.

Alas, the United States has no vetting process for political leaders. None of the above facts about the man’s character is in serious dispute, although listing them is certain to infuriate some of this column’s more excitable e-mail correspondents. Not to mention “Boris” and “Natasha,” the Russian trolls I unmasked during the 2016 campaign, provoking scatological insults that might have shocked me if I hadn’t grown up in New Jersey.

So anyway, there he is: the President of the United States, a certifiable low-life who couldn’t pass muster as a White House security guard. If Trump had any sense he’d resign the presidency in the wake of Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians for conspiring to disrupt the 2016 election—possibly saving the Republican Party and sparing himself and the country the melodramatic confrontation that looms ahead.

Truthfully, the man should never have run in the first place. Indeed, Trump appears to have envisioned the presidency as the ultimate reality-TV show, mistaking the national news media for the celebrity tabloids he so easily manipulated back when he’d brag to radio host Howard Stern about his sexual conquests and telephone gossip columnists raving about the wild immorality of Russian women.

Confronting an independent news media and the limitations of the U.S. Constitution, however, has driven Trump clear around the bend. In a bizarre series of tweets over the weekend, the president claimed he’d never described Russian interference in the 2016 election as a “hoax”—although everybody but the most far-gone adepts of the Trump personality cult remembers him doing so countless times. Also as a “witch hunt.”

But Mueller’s Russian indictments are clearly predicate to more damning evidence to come: hacked Democratic emails, WikiLeaks, and Donald, Jr.’s already-documented dalliance with Russian operatives. Heavy shoes appear sure to drop.

Even Trump himself must know it. That’s why he’s in such a panic.

That said, Democrats would be wise to lay off the 9/11 and Pearl Harbor analogies. Let the evidence speak for itself.

Maybe they’re laughing their asses off in Moscow, but when they start laughing in Keokuk and Moscow, Idaho, you’ll know it’s over.