Posted: Jul 31, 2012 11:00 AM
Updated: Jul 31, 2012 11:01 AM
The Victoria Advocate. July 29, 2012.
Questions need to be asked, answered
The county line that separates Goliad County and Bee County is 869 miles north of Mexico City and 1,572 miles southwest of Washington, D.C.
This past Sunday, however, a lonely spot between Goliad and Beeville on US Highway 59 became ground zero for the issue of immigration reform between the United States and Mexico.
A pickup truck carrying 23 suspected illegal immigrants blew a tire, careened off the road, and slammed into a tree. Fifteen passengers died as a result, in what one observer called the "the worst single motor vehicle accident I've ever seen."
As the injured continue to recover and first responders to the scene deal with the emotional trauma of such a horrific occurrence, questions beg to be asked.
First, what can be done about the factors that led to the desperate decisions 23 humans made to climb aboard a vehicle designed to carry a fraction of that amount in an attempt to flee circumstances in their home country?
Unfortunately, such desperation is not an isolated event. Just days after last Sunday's tragedy, two other pickups carrying a total of 26 suspected illegal aliens were involved in a less tragic incident in Matagorda County.
We acknowledge that the illegal immigration issue is a complicated one. Economic conditions in Central and South America cause citizens to look to the U.S. as the place to better their stations in life. Narco-terrorists create a violent living environment south of the U.S. border that many feel the need to flee.
Our immigration policy often makes it difficult and time-consuming for law-abiding immigrants to enter our country in a timely manner.
It's true that immigrants who enter our country illegally are violating the law, but can any of us say we wouldn't do the same thing were we in their shoes? The human spirit yearns to be free; most will risk everything to better their lives and the lives of their children.
We call upon state and national leaders to address economic and criminal factors within our borders and beyond that force many to enter our country illegally. Cynics will say that the recent Mexican national elections and the upcoming U.S. presidential election prevent any meaningful progress to be made.
Last week's tragic deaths must be viewed as the sad but powerful impetus needed to overcome any political sluggishness surrounding this issue.
The second question we must ask is this: Are we as a nation doing all that we can to strike at the heart of the human smuggling problem? We believe the ultimate responsibility for this tragedy lies with the "coyotes" and their associates who ply the illegal immigration trade.
It's despicable that these "businessmen" treat human beings as cargo good only for profit and the results of this attitude are often predictably catastrophic.
Immigration reform must have at its heart a strong, shared commitment between the U.S. and Mexico to apprehend and prosecute human traffickers with vigor.
We ache for the families and friends of the people who died in this tragedy.
We suffer for the community of law enforcement and medical personnel who have been scarred as witnesses to this carnage.
We beg for resolution of the core issues that created this heartbreaking calamity.
Houston Chronicle. July 27, 2012.
Mass killings deserve national dialogue
The horrific carnage that erupted at an Aurora, Colo., cinema last week was startling, but at the same time, sadly familiar. We have been there before, many times: just last year, at the Tucson shopping center where six people were killed and Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords almost died; at Fort Hood, Texas, at Columbine, at Virginia Tech ... a numbing, senseless parade of violence.
All of those atrocities gave rise to impassioned debates between proponents of Second Amendment rights and advocates of stricter gun control, with mixed results. But at least there was the sense that these were urgent, fundamental issues, and that we had to address them together, however imperfectly.
But this time, as the country watched and grieved with the families and loved ones of the 12 killed and the 58 wounded at a Batman movie premier, there was little public outcry. Gun control advocates have seen the political consequences of battling the mighty National Rifle Association, and the public's appetite for gun law reform has decreased to all-time lows, according to recent polls.
Both presidential contenders, President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, offered practically identical statements on the shootings, upholding Second Amendment rights and little more, although both are on record as favoring stricter controls in the past.
Obama did, however, revisit the issue Wednesday, in an impassioned speech to the Urban League in New Orleans. He decried not only the Aurora shootings, but the "daily heartbreak" of national gun violence, that claims as many lives every day and a half as were lost in that massacre. And while he talked of working with lawmakers and other groups to "arrive at a consensus around violence reduction," he acknowledged that too often, reform efforts are "defeated by politics and by lobbying."
That is, sadly, the case. In today's hostile political climate, what used to be a middle ground has become a minefield. But that consensus should still be a goal. As Obama noted, many gun owners would agree that "AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not criminals," and that background checks and other safeguards could be revisited to better screen criminals and the mentally unstable.
In fact, mental health issues, which have historically been a significant factor in mass killings, should figure prominently in such discussions. We cannot hope to recognize and treat every deranged potential killer before it is too late, but we can stop defunding essential programs a particularly cruel byproduct of the current budget crisis and can promote a dialogue to heighten awareness, to educate and alert professionals and the public to warning signs.
It has become painfully clear that we cannot rely on our lawmakers to take the lead in finding common ground. But that does not mean we should throw up our hands and do nothing. We'll never know what solutions are possible, what modest options can lead to significant change, unless and until we come together and discuss them.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. July 23, 2012.
Bearing arms and expecting to be safe
In America, is it more important that a 24-year-old be able to buy an AR-15 weapon and unlimited rounds of ammo -- or that a 6-year-old girl be able to go to the movies with her mom and return home safely?
After the midnight-movie shootings in Aurora, Colo., that killed 12 people, including 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan, and injured dozens of others, the answer might seem obvious.
But it's really as complicated as any balancing of rights that are competing for top priority.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, those unalienable rights listed in the Declaration of Independence, surely include a reasonable expectation of safety in public places.
Those who read the Constitution's Second Amendment broadly will just as surely argue that liberty means freedom from undue government interference with gun-ownership rights.
Most often, there's no conflict at all between law-abiding children and adults going about their business and law-abiding folks keeping firearms for self-protection, buying hunting rifles or safely shooting for sport.
But the tension is graphically underscored each time a gunman terrorizes people who are, in fact, minding their own business.
The most high-profile mass homicides are all-too-familiar: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Tucson and now Aurora.
But there are plenty more: In July, at least 17 people were hurt by a man shooting outside a bar in Tuscaloosa, Ala.; four youths were shot in Chicago, including two girls in a park; and three people were killed and two wounded at a soccer tournament near Wilmington, Del., according to a list compiled by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. (bit.ly/Mx9nQg)
The list shows shootings with multiple victims this year at homes in Seattle and Waller, Texas; nightclubs in Houston and Jackson, Tenn.; schools in Oakland and Chardon, Ohio; and a South Florida funeral home.
Plenty of information is available showing that, despite reported violence, gun assaults are going down, but also that gun-violence rates are lower in states with tighter restrictions on gun ownership. (wapo.st/LI3dKO)
It's crucial to use the data rationally, not simply for posturing.
It's distracting to ask whether stricter gun control could have prevented a well-armed lunatic with a well-executed attack plan from slaughtering people in a crowded movie theater.
The harder, but more relevant, debate should be over how to reduce gun violence while protecting individual rights and how to determine what kinds of regulation might prevent other dangerous minds from getting easy access to weapons with which they want to cause harm.
Constitutional rights aren't absolute. At limited times, reasonable restrictions on individual rights are legitimate and necessary to protect more-compelling collective interests of the general public.
That's why lying under oath in court can be punished; use of peyote during a religious ceremony can be banned; and warrantless searches might be justified when someone's life is in danger.
Last fall, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to require registration for anyone buying, selling or transferring 25 pounds of ammonium nitrate. Timothy McVeigh was convicted of using 4,000 pounds of the fertilizer to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people.
Sales weren't barred; the goal is to be alert to suspicious behavior.
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote about the First Amendment in 1919, "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic." (bit.ly/PLlvN0)
Should the Second Amendment allow a man to freely buy weapons, ammunition, body armor or other products, some of which have little purpose other than to cause destruction and panic?
To ask the question is not to answer it, though.
To ask it is to recognize that protecting American rights and freedoms requires an ongoing debate about where one person's freedom ends and another's begins.
San Antonio Express-News. July 26, 2012.
Patterson's water moves welcome
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson's decision to explore the possibility of building a desalination plant north of New Braunfels could be the start of something big.
Patterson recently announced that the School Land Board is examining several tracts of state land along Interstate 35. The land office has hired contractors to study the feasibility of building a plant to clean brackish groundwater for drinking, a news release from his office reported.
"If the water is there, then I think the School Land Board is ready to invest the time and resources needed to deliver an entirely new and drought-resistant source of water for Central Texas," Patterson said.
Rapid growth along the I-35 corridor is increasing demand for water, making the location a perfect spot to conduct such a study.
If the experts say the idea is worth pursuing further, Patterson is considering using the Permanent School Fund to finance the desalination plant, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The state could reap proceeds from selling the water.
This type of creative thinking is welcome as lawmakers use the interim between legislative sessions to study the state's multibillion-dollar water infrastructure needs.
If the initial project takes shape, Patterson said he would like to build others on state-owned property around Texas.
Today, desalinated water is among the most expensive sources, but water prices will inevitably be rising with demand if the state's population growth continues.
Patterson said he thinks desalination is a "common-sense" part of the state's water solution, and the odds are that he is right.
Innovative thinking from officials in the position to act is crucial. Patterson deserves credit for stepping forward on one of the most important issues facing Texas.
Austin American-Statesman. July 26, 2012.
Compelling time to ponder gun limits
In 2008 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the District of Columbia's ban on handguns unconstitutional and declared that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual's right to own guns for self-defense.
But, as Justice Antonin Scalia noted in his opinion for the court's 5-4 majority, rights have limits. The court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller should not be used, Scalia warned, "to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms."
Last week's shooting during a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colo., killed 12 people and wounded 58. Gordon Cowden, 51, of Aurora, formerly of Austin, and Jessica Ghawi, 24, of Denver, formerly of New Braunfels, were among the dead.
The shooting immediately generated calls for gun reforms. Such calls follow every mass shooting.
What doesn't follow anymore what hasn't followed in a very long time is any realistic move toward enacting reform. Increasingly and distressingly, resignation greets calls for gun limits.
We have convinced ourselves that when it comes to gun violence nothing will change, that the gun lobby is too powerful, the public too apathetic. This mantra was heard time and time again after last week's shooting, signaling helpless acceptance that the next massacre is just a matter of time. While condolences were still going out to the victims' families, we were being told the next shooting is inevitable.
Perhaps it is impossible to stop massacres like the one in Aurora. Perhaps inevitably, someone somewhere will open fire in a classroom or a theater or an office or a mall and kill several people. But we must at least try to limit the carnage.
The Supreme Court said in D.C. v. Heller that short of an outright ban, the Constitution leaves cities and states "a variety of tools" for confronting and trying to limit gun violence. Reasonable restrictions exist, even if, in the four years since Heller, no one has been searching to find them. That must change. Political courage must be found.
The list of mass shootings in this country is depressingly long. Yes, horrible shooting massacres happen elsewhere most notoriously last year in Norway but rarely.
Only in the United States are they so common that most are quickly forgotten.
For every Columbine or Virginia Tech or Fort Hood there are a half-dozen shootings that have faded from memory. It happened less than four months ago, but do you remember the April 2 shooting at Oikos University in Oakland, Calif., that killed seven people? Or the April 3, 2009, shooting at a civic center in Binghampton, N.Y., that killed 14? Or the Dec. 5, 2007, shooting at a shopping mall in Omaha, Neb., that killed nine?
There are sensible restrictions on gun ownership that would pass constitutional scrutiny that would fit within the Supreme Court's definition of acceptable "laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." Requiring sellers of ammunition to alert authorities when someone buys hundreds or thousands of rounds of ammunition over a short period of time, as James Holmes, the accused Aurora shooter, reportedly did, is one possibility.
Others range from placing limits on the capacity of magazines in semi-automatic pistols and rifles to conducting background checks on people who buy guns at gun shows, to imposing sharply higher taxes on weapons and ammunition not traditionally used for sport or that are beyond the bounds of common sense self-defense. These are just a few possible reforms that wouldn't threaten the Second Amendment rights of anyone or presage tyranny.
And while these and other measures might not prevent the next Aurora, they would help make it harder for a shooter to acquire the arsenal necessary to kill so many people in such a short period of time. They also, more mundanely but most beneficially, perhaps would reduce the dozens of daily gun deaths in the United States.
The alternative to continue irresponsibly shrugging off America's outsize gun violence as an inevitable risk in a free society is helplessness.
When it comes to guns and our inability to seriously consider, much less impose, reasonable limits on gun ownership, we as a society must regain our courage, and our perspective.