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Dallas Police Shooting Is Not Start Of Civil War

Alan Singer   |   July 14, 2016    6:02 AM ET

School may be out for the summer, but events continue and teachers are constantly thinking of how to address them when they return to classes in the fall. Racism and racial tension in the United States, their causes and consequences, are not going away. Each police shooting of an unarmed, non-threatening, or mentally ill Black man highlights racial injustice and the victimization of Black people in this country. Teachers have to figure out how to address this, especially as rightwing media and political candidates, seek to place the problem on Black Lives Matter protesters, not police forces or systemic racism.

On July 8, 2016, the day after five Dallas police offers were shot to death by a lone disturbed army veteran the all-caps headline in the New York Post declared "Civil War." The shooter, Micah Johnson, was Black and a social media follower of some extreme Black rights groups. Johnson told the police who captured and killed him that he wanted revenge on White police officers for the murder of Back men. For Post editors, this lone gunman was evidence of an impending Black-White civil war in the United States.

But the Post was not alone in its incendiary claims. Rush Limbaugh used the attack on the Dallas police to brand the entire Black Lives Matter movement a "terrorist group" fighting a nationwide "war on cops." Limbaugh also speculated that Micah Johnson probably voted Democrat and accused the Democratic Party of "seeking to advance their agenda with every one of these unfortunate incidents." The "unfortunate incidents" being the national epidemic of highly publicized killings of Black men by police.

Limbaugh's guest, Heather MacDonald, charged that the Dallas shootings, rather than being the actions of one individual, were actually part of something she calls the "Ferguson effect." MacDonald blames Black Lives Matter protests against police violence for a rise in crime. MacDonald also accused President Obama's sympathy with Black victims of police shootings of leading to the Dallas attack. According to MacDonald, "President Obama lied to the nation last night and he embraced the Black Lives Matter myth that there is a racist war by white officers against black civilians in this country, and we see the results."

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, in an apparent effort to resurrect his defunct political career, joined in the rightwing harangue. In a television interview he accused the Black Lives Matter movement of being "inherently racist" and an unspecified but clearly implied Black "they" of "singing rap songs about killing police officers."

Rightwing "news analysis" was partly fueled by sloppy mainstream reporting and the original police announcement that four snipers positioned rooftops attacked Dallas police officers in a coordinated military-style assault. At a press conference on Thursday night, Dallas Police Chief David Brown announced "We believe that these suspects were . . . working together with rifles, triangulating at elevated positions in different points in the downtown area" and "planned to injure and kill as many law enforcement officers as they could."

Mainstream media contributed to "civil war" fears by focusing on Johnson's virtual reality rather than the actual reality of his life. Too much attention is giving to his Facebook "likes" and not enough to how a troubled man with a history of threatening behavior while in the army was able to legally purchase military-style weapons. Johnson had at least two weapons with him when he attacked Dallas police, a rifle and a handgun. According to a law enforcement official, the rifle was an SKS semi-automatic. Other officials confirmed that Johnson legally bought multiple firearms in the past.

Johnson was able to get his guns because Texas has some of the most permissive gun laws in the United States -- laws that need to be changed. Federally licensed weapons distributors selling guns in Texas are required to conduct background checks, but private sellers are not. There is also no waiting period on purchases. We do not know at this time whether Johnson passed a Texas background check. In addition, in Texas, and unfortunately in most of the United States, legal gun owners can openly carry shotguns and rifles in public. Texas also permits the open carry of handguns. Opponents of gun control argue that the best way to prevent mass killings is to allow more people to carry guns. Apparently their theory did not work in this case.

You would think police officers, concerned with their own safety, would support rigorous gun control laws. But police organizations often lean too far to the right to take a stand protecting their members. In 2013 the Major County Sheriffs Association came out against efforts by President Obama to pressure Congress to pass a ban on assault-style weapons and restrict high-capacity ammunition magazines. A 2013 survey of 15,000 law enforcement officers reported that over 90% opposed a ban on assault rifles. More recently, the largest law enforcement union in California opposed gun regulations proposed by Governor Jerry Brown.

The New York Times reports that part of the problem the Dallas police had responding to the attack by Micah Johnson is that at the Black Lives Matter rally "Twenty to 30 of the marchers showed up with AR-15s and other types of military-style rifles and wore them openly, with the straps slung across their shoulders and backs." After all, this insanity is Texas and open-carry is legal and according to the Times, it is "commonplace."

Despite what the Post, Limbaugh, and MacDonald say, there is no Black war on police in the United States. Between 1990 and 2010, an average of 164 on-duty police officers where killed annually. This number dropped to 114 police deaths in 2013, 133 in 2014, 129 in 2015, and 58 in the first six months of 2016. While any police deaths while on duty are unacceptable, these numbers clearly show there is no ongoing war against police in the United States.

However, there may well be a war by police against young Black men, a war that led to the Black Lives Matters movement and a war now being overshadowed by events in Dallas. According to a report in the British newspaper The Guardian, in 2015, "young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers." A Guardian study found "1,134 deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers" in 2015 alone. Despite being only 2% of the total population, African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 accounted for more than 15% of all deaths caused by police use of deadly force. Overall about 25% of the African Americans in all age groups that were killed by police were unarmed. Almost 250 police involved deaths in 2015 were Black people who were known to be mentally ill. Another 29 were military veterans who might have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Most of the video of police-on-Black violence was taken surreptitiously. The murder of Philando Castile in Minnesota was filmed by his girlfriend who sitting in the car next to him while a police officer shot him four times. Eric Garner's death by police in New York City and Walter Scott's murder by a police officer in South Carolina were filmed by bystanders. Houston Police claimed Alva Braziel pointed a gun at them before they opened fire, but surveillance footage from a nearby gas station shows his hands were in the air when the squad car arrived.

A number of steps are needed to stop police violence against Blacks, including, but not restricted to better training. Police must be required to wear and effectively use video camcorders. If they are not on, not working, or fail to adequately record police actions, the assumption must be police malfeasance until proven otherwise. Police departments should better reflect the communities they are supposed to serve, but they must also actively remove officers with histories of violence against civilians, racist affiliations or patterns of behavior, and officers who are afraid of the people and communities where they are supposed to work. Police officers who cover for other officers should automatically be suspended and subject to dismissal. If someone can't do the job, which means treating all people decently and as innocent until proven guilty, they shouldn't be a cop.

Three excellent commentaries on the police murder of Black men in Louisiana and Minnesota and the killing of Dallas police officers appeared in the New York Times. I strongly recommend them.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow described his fears for his children and for the "country I love." He worries what we are witnessing now "is not a level of stress and strain that a civil society can long endure."

Sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson accuses White America of willful ignorance about conditions faced by Black people in a racist society. For Dyson, "Whiteness is blindness." He wrote: "We, black America, are a nation of nearly 40 million souls inside a nation of more than 320 million people. And I fear now that it is clearer than ever that you, white America, will always struggle to understand us."

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former police officer described his experience as a Black man in uniform who supported protests against police violence. He called for "common-sense gun reform" and denounced the do nothing Republican controlled Congress. He also endorsed community policing and movement away from the militarization of police to build ties between police officers and the communities that they patrol

Common Core reading standards demand that students critically examine text, identify the point of view and purpose of an author, and use evidence to support analysis. A good place to start classes in the fall is deconstructing rightwing propaganda that blames Blacks, Muslims, and immigrants for the problems facing the United States, promotes the idea that there is a Black civil war against police, and minimizes or ignores the extent of racism and police violence in the United States.

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I asked teachers that I work with to respond to the issue raised in this post. Some of their replies are included here. Not surprisingly, some of them are very angry about the events taking place.

Michael Pezone, a Queens, New York high school teacher who works with a large minority student population recommends articles from Chalkbeat where teachers, parents, students, and school administrators discuss having conversations about racism and violence. This fall he plans to involve students in research and dialogues on the whether the NYPD is racist. He wrote: "In addition to involving students in higher-order discussion and writing, I hope to help students perform as journalists, activists, and social scientists. I am toying with the idea of having students design, administer, tabulate, and analyze school wide surveys that elicit information from our largely Black and Latino student body about their experiences with and perceptions of the police. Survey results and analysis would be published in our school magazine, along with student essays that contain supporting evidence, including data from the survey. Because our school is linked to the NYPD, students would write and send letters to Police Commissioner Bratton, inviting him or a representative to visit the school to participate in a round table discussion with students. I also would like to involve as much technology as possible, so student might be required to create videos about the topic that they can stream online and show to the class. I have done this type of project several times. In addition to promoting in depth analysis of an important social studies issue, it addresses ELA skills (essay and letter writing) and math skills (computation, percentages, etc.). Student can complete some or all of the required tasks working in differentiated groups that include at least one good math student, a good writer, and someone with an outgoing personality to take the lead when administering the survey. Most importantly, I hope to create a classroom community wherein all different opinions surrounding this volatile issue may be expressed respectfully and comfortably.

Adeola Tella-Williams formerly taught in Brooklyn, New York and now is a teacher in a suburban school district where the student population is 100% Black and Latino. As she makes clear here, she is also a mother: "I refuse to teach my son that he is not valued. My mother never told me that I was different from "White" people. I was allowed to be human. I always knew who I was and that some people were different, but not in a shameful way. Conversations around the dinner table and in the living room were never really about race. I understood that Slavery happened, colonization happened, that is what I was taught, that it happened. I was brought up to believe that being a Nigerian (Yoruba) was the highest honor and I still believe this. I will bring my son and daughter up to believe the same. But instilling in my children that they are special and honored to be of Nigerian and West Indian background does not negate any other group of people, its just what it is. I am mad as hell about the police shootings. I understand that the world is literally changing because capitalism is under fire, because the lies of the elite are being exposed and because the little guy is beginning to rise up and question the establishment. This is not the first time race has been used to cover up the real issues that plague the United States and the world. We have to be smart enough to beat these people at their own evil game. Boycott! Boycott! Boycott! When the money dries up and we begin to show economic solidarity, then and only then will we as people be respected, and when I say people, I mean all people. To me this is not just an African peoples' issue. Look at what is happening with the EU, NATO, Iraq, China, Greece, France, etc. People are taking to the streets everywhere and the police riot gear looks very much the same anywhere you go. Let's not be fooled. This is an economic issue and we all need to work together to stop the madness."

April Francis is a middle school teacher, but like Adeola, wrote primarily as a parent. April wrote: "This is too overwhelming to discuss for me. It brings me a lot of anxiety and fear. So I really can't express in words how I feel -- being a mother of a black son is a different reality, different set of rules, different level of anxiety than being a mother of a white son in America. I just try to brace myself and prepare him for the worst when he goes out and I hope for the best. But -- to truly understand one must be in the same circumstance. It's like trying to explain to someone who has never been a parent, what parenthood feels like. You can't truly know until you have had a child of your own. In the same way you can't truly know what being a mother of a black son in America feels like until you have a black son in America."

Scott Savaiano teaches social studies in New York City. He wrote; After getting over the shock, horror and disgust I felt over last week's events in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and finally Dallas, my very next reaction was to think "here we go, the right wing is going to start in again on their constant obsession with the phrase 'Black lives matter.'" They did not disappoint. They did not fail to exploit the senseless actions of the Dallas shooter, who clearly had nothing to do with the Black Lives Matter protests that were proceeding peacefully, to attempt yet again to distort the message of the protestors and the movement as a whole. That message being, as the name says, that BLACK LIVES MATTER. The words of Rudy Giuliani, the Sunday after Dallas, are a perfect example of this obsession, as he drones on about how yellow lives matter, blue lives matter, White lives matter, etc. Giuliani's racist tirade reminded of an experience I had almost a year earlier. As a student teacher my very first assignment was a struggling school in a dense and very poor neighborhood in New York City. As a White guy with a graduate degree, I didn't know what to expect before I got there. All of my students were Black and Latino, and they were all young men with an awesome role model in their teacher (a returnee to his own neighborhood to teach), who had molded them into outstanding gentlemen and inspirations for their peers. I spent one day observing, and the second day I was slated to teach my very first high school lesson ever. The students had just gotten back from visiting a local university to hear Dr. Bernice King speak, and several of them started talking to me about how Dr. King had said she wished the movement had been labeled Black Lives Matter Too. The students didn't know how they felt about that. They were also wanted to talk to me about whether the term "all lives matter" was appropriate, or actually racist.

The next day, for my first lesson, which was on voting rights and the Supreme Court's shameful gutting of the Voting Rights Act, I started with a discussion with the students about the meaning of the term racist code. After explaining what it was, we talked about some examples, such as the term "states' rights," which of course has a storied history in terms of disenfranchisement, and generally seems to inevitably be invoked as code for doing something discriminatory or racist. Then we talked about the various "lives matter" iterations, and the class eventually agreed unanimously that straying from the "Black lives matter" language is indeed an example of racist code. After all, it is hard to argue against the idea that all lives matter, but it diverts attention from the reality that Black lives are not valued as highly by American society, and that Black men in particular are much more likely to be shot by the police. So I think when we teach our students about these horrifically tragic events, we have to first and foremost not engage in using racist code by pretending that there is a universal principle that all lives matter, when the clear reality in our society today is all lives do not matter equally.

Saying Black lives matter does not demean other lives; it is not intended to belittle or even "wage war" on the police. It is rather a cry for help from the people who are living in that reality and those who care about them. It is an appeal to the rest of society to become conscious of their experiences -- segregated as we are in 2016 America -- and it is an act of protest. Interestingly, I think it is working because it is changing the conversation in a way that is raising awareness amongst people who maybe weren't trying to fight our racist system, but who do sympathize once they hear of the plight of those suffering from it, at least those who are needlessly gunned down by it.

I think it is working because it gives us teachers a new way to approach talking about this brutality, at least if we stand our ground and keep to the original slogan, the original message, that Black lives matter. I think it is working given the harshness of the right wing reaction to it. If it was not so much like living in the movie Groundhog Day, I could almost find it amusing how truly obsessed they are with just how well the simple phrase "Black Lives Matter" conveys the message, and they cannot stop trying to counteract it by contorting into something else.

I heard an author speaking on NPR today about this, who cogently argued that it is in no way demeaning other lives to say Black Lives Matter. It is not, he reasoned, like we need to be going to HIV-related issue events in order to start screaming "Cancer Matters!" Rather, both issues can share the field, but both need to have their unique messages. This is what we need to support our students in understanding as they grapple with gun violence and police brutality: that the simple words of this historic protest movement are words we must all remain true to, because they are real, and because they are true.

Justin Williams has been an English teacher for sixteen years and a school supervisor for two. He earned a bachelor's degree in English Education while playing American football on a full scholarship at one of the most prestigious programs and universities in the country. He wrote that football is a "violent sport, often compared to fighting in a war by its players. This line-blurring has always and will always be inappropriate, since no one wearing shoulder pads on a football field has ever been mowed down by an opponent carrying an AR-15 rifle. One thing all players learn at the highest levels of high school and college, as well as professionally, is that whether on the practice field or during game day, respect must be earned daily by playing the game the right way. Every play is a test of wills, you versus the player in front of you trying to stop you from succeeding at your job. If you win more struggled than you lose, your team has a chance of winning. The color of your skin doesn't matter, only your ability to perform. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of a dream with which Americans are generally quite familiar --- black people and white people living together in harmony. This happens every day on sports teams throughout our country. It happens much less throughout broader society. After 230 years existing under the Constitution, our United States are still not as united as many of us were taught in elementary school. Why? Intense physical and psychological segregation. We separate ourselves by skin color, ancestry, native language, schools attended, religion, and anything else upon which we can think. We give lip service to pledging allegiance to each other, but too many of us simply do not live what they say. One nation, "indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Really? Americans would do well to pay closer attention to any good team in their local high school. Pay close attention to the lessons you should be learning when you watch some of our young people competing for their school colors, their communities. Note how they work together, more concerned about the team than themselves. Observe the love and respect they have for each other. Note the joy, the passion, the excellence, the hard work. As a nation, right now, we could learn a lot from our children. We should work to ensure the opportunity to play sports is guaranteed to them all, if they wish to. We should instill in them values we like to call American. But if we spend more time allowing ourselves to be the latest generation almost totally separated from each other in our neighborhoods, schools, and places of worship, King's dream will remain a haunting nightmare for those of us interested in getting to the Promised Land. There's work to be done. The game of life is over before we know it. Let's get busy. Please.

Marc Gopin   |   July 13, 2016    9:40 PM ET

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Curtis M. Wong   |   July 13, 2016   11:19 AM ET

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - At a local shooting range, the 23-year-old president of the Salt Lake City chapter of Pink Pistols, a national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender gun club, helps a tattooed member improve his marksmanship.

An openly gay professional bodypiercer, Matt Schlentz said members of the LGBT community feel more at risk of being a victim of a hate crime or violent assault. The mass murder at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, last month, confirmed their concerns.

“Every gay person, every lesbian, every transgender, everybody in-between and every street person, we all know someone who has been the victim of a crime, a hate crime or some type of violent assault,” he said in an interview.

Gun violence has remained in the forefront of national conversation since the Orlando shootings. Last week alone, two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota were killed by police.

Before the Orlando shootings in June, the Pink Pistols, with more than 45 chapters across the United States, had about 1,500 members. The day after the killing spree, its numbers soared to more than 4,000 and have since risen above 8,000.

“Orlando, being the largest mass shooting in American history and pointed at gays, I think it was a huge eye opener for people,” Schlentz said. “The world is not a perfect place, and we need to take safety into our own hands.”

Pink Pistols, which was founded about 20 years ago, promotes the safe, legal use of firearms for self-defense of the LGBT community. There are no fees or forms to fill out, and membership is open to all.

“We teach queers to shoot,” the group says on its website. “Then we teach others that we have done so. Armed queers don’t get bashed.”

Schlentz meets with members at shooting ranges for practices and training. The group also helps members not familiar with weapons to select and buy guns and ammunition.

“Anything you need, that’s what we’re here for,” he said. “We are completely non-profit.”

Schlentz expects membership of Pink Pistols to keep growing and hopes an incident like Orlando will not happen again.

“With a community of LGBT people who are arming themselves,” he said, “I think people are going to think twice, at least a little bit more.”


(Reporting by Jim Urquhart; Writing by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

Matt Fuller   |   July 12, 2016   11:06 AM ET

WASHINGTON ― House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) says he wants to prevent gun deaths in the United States. It’s just that he apparently doesn’t know how to do that.

It’s nearly certain that no legislation will materialize on gun regulation before lawmakers leave Washington for a seven-week break, despite both parties having pushed for votes on the issue.

In short, there’s a renewed sense of urgency on gun control following mass shootings in Orlando, Florida, and Dallas, and Congress is poised do what it does best: nothing.

On Tuesday, Ryan was asked about Dallas Police Chief David Brown saying that open carry laws made law enforcement’s job more difficult during mass shootings. But instead of saying whether Brown’s statement concerned him, Ryan opted to voice his lofty and nebulous goal of “solutions.”

“What we should be focused on right now are solutions,” the speaker said. “I think what we should be focused on is listening to people in communities who have done a good job of merging law enforcement with the communities so that these kinds of problems don’t occur.”

Ryan said Brown had done a commendable job of integrating the police force with the Dallas community, and that there was “a lot for us to learn” from the police chief’s work. But he wasn’t interested in moving on guns anytime soon.

“Right now what we want to do is have a good conversation where we calm things down, and we talk about solutions about how we can better improve our communities and the relationship between law enforcement and community,” Ryan said.

When pressed once more on people carrying AR-15s in public, Ryan simply said, “We’re the federal government; that’s state government.”

Before leaving for the August break, GOP leaders had wanted to pass a package that would force a three-day wait period on people on the watchlist trying to purchase a firearm. But Republican leadership conceded on Monday that nothing was going to happen until at least September ― if ever. Democrats oppose the measure for being too weak, and many conservatives lambast it for violating due process rights.

Democrats, meanwhile, have pressed for measures that would bar people on a terrorist watchlist from purchasing guns and require background checks for people buying firearms at gun shows and on the internet.

House Democrats, who staged a 26-hour sit-in on the House floor after the shooting in Orlando left 49 people dead in a gay nightclub, intend to continue applying pressure this week. Party leaders plan to join the LGBT caucus on the steps of the Capitol on Tuesday evening for a vigil marking the one-month anniversary of the massacre in Orlando. On Thursday, civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) is scheduled to lead the Congressional Black Caucus in a “speak out” on gun violence on the Capitol steps.

Democrats weren’t eager to share other tactics they may use to force a vote on their proposed measures.

“We have many arrows in our quiver,” Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) said. “When they are used, and how we will use them, will be up to us.”

When asked why they haven’t more aggressively pursued a discharge petition, which allows a majority of the House to bypass committee and bring a bill to the floor without cooperation from leadership, Democrats said they’ve tried everything.

Under a discharge petition, Democrats would need 218 signatures to force a vote. So far, they haven’t wooed enough GOP lawmakers to the cause despite a number of Republican members supporting measures similar to those Democrats are pushing.

“We can’t forge their names,” Crowley said.

Democrats put the onus on Republicans to file a discharge petition on a bipartisan bill co-authored by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) that would block people on a more tailored no-fly list from purchasing guns and give the attorney general discretion to allow gun sales to move forward. 

“It’s kind of strange. ... Why would they need to do a discharge petition with their own colleagues when it’s their own bill?” said Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Democratic Caucus.

“When you’re taking breaks for six weeks, and then coming back for three weeks, and then taking a break until the election, it’s really difficult to believe we’re going to get a whole lot done,” Becerra added. 

Ryan seems focused on community policing, rather than addressing gun control regulations. 

“What I think can be helpful is having a dialogue, which we are actually initiating here in the Congress just this week about what are the solutions that we see out there in communities between communities and the police,” Ryan told a Madison, Wisconsin-based NBC affiliate on Monday night.

House GOP leadership announced plans on Tuesday for a congressional working group to address the relationship between police officers nationwide and black Americans

Of course, community policing wouldn’t have stopped the shootings in Dallas or Orlando. By Ryan’s own admission, Dallas is a paradigm for community policing. And while it’s an admirable to want to improve relations between law enforcement and the people it serves, accomplishing that goal will do little to stop mass shootings.

But faced with a Congress seemingly unwilling to do anything on guns, maybe that’s the closest he can get to a “solution.”

The Police Who Killed Alton Sterling And Philando Castile Will Not Be Punished

Justin Cohen   |   July 11, 2016    5:20 PM ET

The last several days have shaken America to its core. We've seen violence by police against citizens, juxtaposed with violence by citizens against police. The sound of gunfire oozes from our streets, our televisions, and our radios. Every interaction we have bubbles with grief, anger, and frustration. Those interactions metastasize over the fact that it is impossible to escape the political nature of violence that involves the use of force by, and against, the state itself.

In the wake of the killing of both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police officers, a familiar refrain began, which we should have avoided: victim blaming. The blaming of victims takes many forms, including the dredging up of irrelevant details of a victim's personal life. The dredgers insist that these details provide justification for the victim's own death, as if there is any past behavior that can justify extrajudicial killings by representatives of the state. Perhaps more disturbing is the argument that, had the victim been more compliant to law enforcement, he would have survived. This argument not only holds men of color to a radically different standard than the ones to which their White peers are held, but also relieves police, agents of the state sworn to protect citizens, of their duty to protect, while leaving those officers unaccountable for unprovoked violence.

After the events in Dallas, I worry that a similar strain of victim blaming might emerge, only this time the dredgers might intend to justify the murder of police officers, most of whom were working to provide a safe space for the peaceful protestors advocating for Black lives. We have an institutionally racist criminal justice system, but that cannot justify indiscriminate violence against individuals in that system. We have a significant problem with police violence, particularly against members of the Black community, but there is no progress or glory found in pursuing bloodshed as vengeance. Neither the color of your skin nor the color of your uniform can justify your death.

What did not change Thursday night is the urgency of protecting, and advocating for, Black lives. The murder of the officers in Dallas is tragic, but their deaths cannot distract us from the chilling fact that our criminal justice system disproportionately punishes people of color in a way that perpetuates racial disparities. Nobody deserves to die, and saying "Black Lives Matter" does not mean that other lives are worth less. "Black Lives Matter" is the rallying cry for an actual movement with goals and political objectives; while not everyone who says "All Lives Matter" intends to derail that conversation, that's what the appropriated counter-phrasing is designed to do.

What did not change Thursday night is that, in not a single case this week, did the presence of a firearm protect anyone. Guns lurked in both the foreground and shadows in each of these public eruptions of violence. A protestor was wrongly identified as a murder suspect because he carried a gun publicly at the Dallas protest. Police died because of the facile access to tactical firearms. Neither Alton Sterling nor Philando Castile were protected by the guns they may or may not have been carrying.

What did not change Thursday night is the fact that race is an important topic of conversation in this country. Using racially explicit language is not an incitement to violence or division. Using racially explicit language -- words like "Black" and "White," in all of their capitalized glory -- is critical to understanding both the history and the present of racial difference in this country. Difference is not division, just as ignorance is not an antidote. The devastating consequence of American racial bias is that, while the people who committed the horrific acts against police undoubtedly will be tried and convicted for their actions, the police who killed Alton Sterling and Philando Castile almost certainly will not be held accountable.

None of those things changed in Dallas. The only two things that changed after the tragedy in Dallas are that more people died senselessly, and that an already tense political climate became even more combustible. The answer is not to back down from demands that Black lives be valued; rather we must reassert that we can declare the full humanity of Black Americans while simultaneously valuing the lives of others.

It's time to give up the guns

Frida Berrigan   |   July 11, 2016    4:44 PM ET

This post was originally published by Waging Nonviolence.

The video filled my Facebook feed Thursday, but I didn't watch it. And then stills from Diamond Sterling's live stream were published at the top of The New York Times tossed on our front walk yesterday morning. I sat outside and read all I could and sobbed. I watched my neighborhood wake up and tried to greet people as though it were just another morning.

I wondered how I could meet a black person's eyes without crying and apologizing. I cringed internally at that mental picture -- how white and blubbery that would be, how pathetic and unwelcome that would be. But maybe that is part of what is necessary. I don't know.

My husband Patrick and I had gone to our church's vigil the night before and sang "This Little Light of Mine" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing." It was lovely. It gathered many people in. The picture on the front page of our local paper showed a group holding our big yellow "Black Lives Matter" banner, chatting and smiling. Confronted with the image of Philando Castile bloodied in the passenger seat of his car, his eyes open but vacant, I found myself wishing our vigil had been more solemn and resolute.

And then we heard about Dallas, about the five police officers shot and killed during a peaceful protest of the police killings of Castile and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. If we lived in Dallas, that's where we would have been, I thought, as I listened to a witness describe how Shetamia Taylor pushed her 15-year-old son to the ground and lay on top of him to shield him from sniper fire. She was shot in the leg, one of two civilians wounded. Taylor was at the march with her four sons, ages 12-17, to peacefully express their outrage. I read about how police officers continued to do their jobs under fire, protecting people using their training to safeguard the innocent even as their colleagues were killed in cold blood.

As I tried to absorb this new wave of horror and carnage, I kept thinking about Diamond's video. "I don't need to see it," I thought. I was pulled over by a police officer a few weeks ago. I was going too fast -- 85, the officer told me. Patrick rooted around in multiple tote bags before producing my wallet. My hands were shaking just a little when I pulled out my ID. Our kids were asleep in the back seat. The officer, an older white man, came back a few minutes later, gave me a warning: "Slow down, ma'am."

"I will, officer, I am sorry. Thank you, sir."

I gritted my teeth and watched the video. "People live this," I told myself. When I was pulled over, I was worried about getting a ticket: full stop. Nothing else. For Philando Castile, a busted taillight was a death sentence. Reynolds had the self possession to press record in the midst of this harrowing experience. I needed to see it. Diamond uses the word "sir" at least a dozen times in her 10 minute video. It is a talisman or evidence of good home training, a reminder to the officer screaming "Fuck" in the background of shared humanity, a handle to pull herself back into "normality," a signal to her daughter that it's going to be OK (even though it will never be OK again). Diamond Sterling's little girl sits in the backseat as gun blasts fill the car, and then separated from her mother during this indelible episode. Heartbreak. Hot anger. She is just a little older than my son Seamus. She is only in the video for a few seconds, her eyes serious and her ear translucent against the Minnesota sky. I hear her voice, her plaintive and then soothing invocation of the word "Mommy."

At intervals throughout the video you can hear someone screaming "Fuck" in the distance. The voice seems to belong to the officer who killed Philando Castile. His freakout is at such odds with Diamond Reynolds' preternatural calm. As I watched the video, I thought: Whoever thinks guns are cool needs to hear the sounds a human being makes when they kill another human being. It is the kind of aftermath of killing that is never celebrated in the movies or police procedurals. It sounded real.

Fear is toxic, and armed fear is lethal. So, how do we get out of it? Where does it end? Without the guns, it is just fear and hatred and racism. Without the guns, we have a chance to listen, to change. As long as there are guns there is killing. Again and again and again. How many people have been killed in the United States since that night in the middle of June when Latin techno was interrupted by gunfire and screams -- when 49 people were killed and another 50 injured at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando? I found the Gun Violence Archive and I started counting. Working backwards, I reached 300 by the first of this month. Orlando happened on June 12. I could not keep counting. We are not at war. Not here, right? We are told all the time that we are fighting terrorists "over there" so we don't have to fight them "here."

In this country we have a lot of ways to push this uncomfortable, brutal truth away: We point out the tragedy of black-on-black violence, we discredit and smear the victims, we nimby it out of existence by moving further and further into segregated enclaves, and we use the language of war. It didn't take long after Dallas for the language of war to obviate racism, dull nuance and ennoble every clumsy effort. The other effect of casting these events as a war -- between Black Lives Matter and "real America," between blacks and whites, between Obama and police officers -- is that it allows for lots of reckless escalation and massive collateral damage.

But, my head went there too. Someone who lived through the Dallas demonstration and sniping called the experience a "little war." How can that be? Ask the people of Dallas who were out to say "Black Lives Matter" and "Stop the killing" if it felt like a war. Ask black people just about anywhere in this country if they feel like they are under siege. Micah Johnson, the man taking aim at the police officers on that hot night, was an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan. He was killed by an armed robot. He was at war.

The same day Philando Castile was killed reaching for his wallet (as directed by a police officer), another 36 people (by my count) were also killed by guns across this nation. After Orlando, Congressional representatives staged a sit in at the Capitol. They were gripped by the need to do something about guns. Today, to honor the five police officers killed in Dallas, to honor Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, let's disarm the combatants and start the peace process. It's time -- past time -- to give up the guns.

Jason Linkins   |   July 11, 2016    3:09 PM ET

This week, Republican delegates are meeting in committee to lay out the 2016 version of their party’s platform document ― a non-binding declaration of #squadgoals that will generate a few days of stories like this one before being largely forgotten. This year’s platform committee has taken dead aim at one of the few successful industries left in America, besides drone warfare and hot takes about Kevin Durant’s free agency decisions. I refer, of course, to pornography.

Yahoo News’ Liz Goodwin reports:

Republican delegates unanimously adopted an amendment to their draft platform Monday morning that called pornography “a public health crisis” and a “public menace” that is destroying lives.


“Pornography, with his harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the life of millions. We encourage states to continue to fight this public menace and pledge our commitment to children’s safety and well being,” the amendment stated.

According to Goodwin, the stronger language, identifying porn as a “public health crisis,” was pushed by a North Carolina delegate named Mary Forrester at the behest of the conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America. This quite a step beyond what the 2012 GOP platform document had to say about pornography, which I can quote in its entirety:

We urge active prosecution against child pornography, which is closely linked to the horrors of human trafficking. Current laws on all forms of pornography and obscenity need to be vigorously enforced.

Whether or not pornography can be considered an “insidious epidemic,” as Forrester argues, I’d wager that it hasn’t really been the most pressing concern for most Americans lately ― nor has it made many headlines. Of course, one public health crisis that has made headlines, and that does have a lot of Americans feeling sick and scared and helpless, is gun violence ― especially in the form of mass shootings, which have surged even as overall gun violence has declined.

How do we reconcile the rise in mass shootings with the larger, more encouraging downturn in gun violence? And would it be possible, perhaps, to address mass shootings from a health policy perspective? Might that possibly be an avenue worth exploring if it means we could prevent even one more life from being brutally abbreviated?

That would seem like an area ripe for public health research. Unfortunately, government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are legally barred from doing it, thanks to this thing called the Dickey Amendment. 

Back in 1993, research funded by the CDC found its way into the public consciousness in the form of a New England Journal of Medicine article titled “Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home.” As the American Psychological Association’s Christine Jamieson notes, “The study found that keeping a gun in the home was strongly and independently associated with an increased risk of homicide.” It also “concluded that rather than confer protection, guns kept in the home are associated with an increase in the risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance.”

You’ll never guess what happened next! Unless you’ve already guessed that the National Rifle Association aggressively lobbied to shut down this kind of research, in which case, congratulations.

Emphasis ours:

The 1993 NEJM article received considerable media attention, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) responded by campaigning for the elimination of the center that had funded the study, the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention. The center itself survived, but Congress included language in the 1996 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Bill (PDF, 2.4MB) for Fiscal Year 1997 that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”  Referred to as the Dickey amendment after its author, former U.S. House Representative Jay Dickey (R-AR), this language did not explicitly ban research on gun violence. However, Congress also took $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget ― the amount the CDC had invested in firearm injury research the previous year ― and earmarked the funds for prevention of traumatic brain injury. Dr. Kellerman stated in a December 2012 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Precisely what was or was not permitted under the clause was unclear. But no federal employee was willing to risk his or her career or the agency’s funding to find out. Extramural support for firearm injury prevention research quickly dried up.”

Flash forward to today, and the former Arkansas representative has, as our own Sam Stein reported, some “regrets”:

Dickey proclaimed victory ― an end, he said at the time, to the CDC’s attempts “to raise emotional sympathy” around gun violence. But the agency spent the subsequent years petrified of doing any research on gun violence, making the costs of the amendment clear even to Dickey himself.

He said the law was over-interpreted. Now, he looks at simple advances in highway safety ― safety barriers, for example ― and wonders what could have been done for guns.

“If we had somehow gotten the research going, we could have somehow found a solution to the gun violence without there being any restrictions on the Second Amendment,” Dickey said. “We could have used that all these years to develop the equivalent of that little small fence.”

In 2013, President Barack Obama attempted to get the CDC back to researching gun violence by executive order. However, the chilling effect of the Dickey Amendment, combined with Congress’ unwillingness to provide dedicated funding, has kept the CDC on the sidelines. Reopening the CDC’s ability to lead research efforts remains a dead letter in the current legislative climate.

And if you thought that maybe the GOP platform committee is just starting with pornography and plans to work its way up to mass shootings ― well, it sure doesn’t seem to be trending in that direction:

Elsewhere in the GOP’s platform document, the committee has approved language in support of “gay conversion therapy,” a quasi-religious bit of pseudo-science premised on the idea that homosexuality can be “cured” by “praying away the gay.” Given that prayer is the same means by which many Republicans typically try to solve the problem of mass slaughter, we can at least give them points for consistency.


Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Racist Police Brutality Is An LGBT Issue

Tony Varona   |   July 11, 2016    1:40 PM ET

The last four weeks have been awash with bullets, blood, and tears in America. From the killing of 49 mostly LGBT Latinos/as at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, to the slaughter of apparently innocent young Black men at the hands of police, to the assassination of five police officers by a deranged sniper at an otherwise peaceful protest in Dallas -- the last month has left us collectively in shock, in despair, and yearning to make sense of it all.

There are some common threads that stitch together all of the recent distressing events into valuable lessons that, if heeded, will pave our path forward.

We need much more sensible regulation of gun possession and use, including the return of the assault weapons ban. We need clearer and more reasonable standards for the application of lethal force by police -- standards that permit the use of deadly force only when absolutely necessary to protect the life of the officer or others nearby. We need more technologically advanced police tools that incapacitate but do not annihilate. And we need consistent and enforceable nationwide training for police serving communities of color.

Our diversity as a nation is our biggest strength, but also at times our biggest challenge. We must learn, as Americans, to understand and appreciate one another better. To bridge our differences with what we share. To eradicate hate with hope and compassion. And, most especially, to recognize that at times we perceive difference and distance where, in reality, there only is unity and shared experience.


In the wake of the suspicious and troubling police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, tweeted: "Just as @NAACP stood w/ us after Orlando, we stand w/ them in demanding accountability for the murders of #AltonSterling & #PhilandoCastile."

This was a strong statement of solidarity with the NAACP coming from the leader of the most visible organization in the nation promoting equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. It was an especially welcome expression of fellowship in light of the American LGBT rights movement's longtime struggle to recognize and embrace the racial, ethnic, and other forms of diversity that helped fuel it since its inception.

As laudable as it was, Mr. Griffin's message still communicated a distance -- a separation -- that does not in reality exist between African Americans and LGBT Americans. We are standing with them "just as" they stood with us? They are Black. We are... what? Not Black? Huh?

Of course, the truth is that there is no such separation. There are countless Black people, including fierce straight allies, in the LGBT movement, and there are many LGBT people in the racial justice movement -- including at the helm of Black Lives Matter and related initiatives. LGBT African Americans abound. The LGBT community reflects the rainbow. The rainbow flag, in fact, is a fitting symbol of our motley movement.

Perhaps recognizing the apparently inadvertent "Black v. LGBT" distancing in his earlier tweet, Mr. Griffin later tweeted, perfectly: "The LGBTQ community is as diverse as the fabric of our nation. And violence aimed at any of us is violence aimed at all of us." Yes.

"Not Isolated Incidents"

The smartphone videos capturing some of the final moments of the lives of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have generated nationwide outrage. The videos themselves, as well as the accounts of witnesses, strongly suggest that the police killings of both men were unjustified. Investigations are underway and the public awaits the full details of both killings, but from the abundant evidence now on public view it appears that neither man posed a threat to the lives of the respective police officers, neither man brandished a weapon, and neither man deserved to die. Worse yet, as President Obama himself recognized on July 7th, "these fatal shootings are not isolated incidents" but "symptomatic of the broader challenges within our criminal justice system, the racial disparities that appear across the system year after year, and the resulting lack of trust that exists between law enforcement and too many of the communities they serve."

The statistics are sobering. A 2015 Guardian study found that the "rate of police-involved deaths" for young African-American males "was five times higher than for white men of the same age." The same report noted that approximately a quarter of the Black people killed by police were not armed (in contrast to only 17 percent of whites). And these are just the extreme cases. Late last year, the University of Chicago's Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture released a study documenting that well over half of African-American young people reported being the target of police harassment or abuse or knowing someone who had been the victim of such racist policing.

The evidence is indisputable that the relationship between the American law enforcement community and African Americans is fundamentally more troubled, and of an entirely different nature, than the relationships between police and the other communities they serve. Whereas many Americans view police as sources of safety, security, and comfort, many African Americans regard police as representing precisely the opposite. Sadly, as shown by the plethora of evidence over so many years, the distrust is not without basis.

Another Symptom of the Same Malaise

African Americans have borne most of the brunt of police brutality. But abusive policing is not alien to the LGBT community generally. LGBT Americans of all races have long been harassed and brutalized by bigoted police. It was police raids like those at L.A.'s Cooper's Donuts in 1959 and the Stonewall Inn in 1969, in fact, that helped accelerate the movement for LGBT rights. At a time when it was against the law to serve alcoholic drinks to gay people, and for gay people to dance -- never mind have sex -- with each other, gay social establishments across the country were easy and frequent targets for police harassment. Not coincidentally, these catalytic events in the LGBT movement occurred in the midst of similarly influential events in the African-American civil rights movement.

Before the Supreme Court invalidated sodomy laws as unconstitutional in its 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision, states were able to criminalize homosexual sex and, as a consequence, gay identity. Many did, leading to the categorical mistreatment of LGBT Americans by police as a "criminal" element, even in those jurisdictions without an enforceable sodomy law on the books.

Police harassment and abuse of LGBT people, but especially Black and Latino/a LGBTs, persists as a prevalent problem. In a March 2015 report, UCLA's Williams Institute concluded that "[d]iscrimination and harassment by law enforcement based on sexual orientation and gender identity is an ongoing and pervasive problem in LGBT communities" and that "such harassment and discrimination is greatest for LGBT people of color, transgender persons and youth."

Even after Lawrence struck them down as categorically unconstitutional, the continuing presence of sodomy laws in many state criminal codes has encouraged homophobic and transphobic police officers to harass and abuse LGBT people across the nation today -- going so far as arresting and subjecting gay and transgender people to expensive, degrading, and pointless legal proceedings.

As Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie and Kay Whitlock document in their book, Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States (Beacon Press, 2012), LGBT Americans have been the victims of abusive policing in many areas of our lives. From "lewd conduct" arrests following police entrapments, to the harassment of gender-nonconforming LGB or transgender people for using the "incorrect" bathroom or wearing "gender-inappropriate" clothing. From abusive policing of transgender women for "walking while trans," to the rape of LGBT sex workers by police officers themselves, and, ultimately, to the killing of trans people at the hands of police - even, in the case of a disabled transgender man, as recently as February 2016.

"Dignity and Respect" for All

So, we are reminded that racist police brutality indeed is an LGBT movement issue, both because many members of our community are Black and brown and because the LGBT community as a whole, too, knows the trauma of abusive policing. In an Op-Ed last year entitled "It's Time for All LGBT People to Care About Police Brutality," Black LGBT activist Samantha Master wrote: "The pursuit of justice is not complete until every human being -- regardless of who they are -- is treated with dignity and respect." She's right. In a separate piece, Esperanza Garcia and Ty Brooks wrote: "It's time for all of us to honor the LGBT community's own rich legacy of protest and resistance against police brutality." I agree.

The young Black men who have died at the hands of police most recently appear not to have been members of the LGBT community. But their deaths hit home to many of us who also have been the targets of prejudiced policing. Racist policing threatens all Americans who have been at the brunt of brutality and bigotry in law enforcement. It is another manifestation of the same disorder -- another symptom of the same malaise.

Racist police brutality threatens all Americans, regardless of race and sexual orientation and gender identity, who depend on a fair and evenhanded police force to keep, promote and model peace. It throws into question the legitimacy of our legal system. It desecrates our social compact. It endangers our very civilization as a people. And we must put an end to it. Together, and now.

Steven Hoffer   |   July 11, 2016   11:01 AM ET

Read More: guns, robbery, theft

A group of burglars used a stolen truck to ram the side of a gun store and loot an arsenal of weapons, according to police in Texas.

The suspects left a gaping hole in the side of Shooter’s Edge Gun Store in Waxahachie on Sunday. A message on the store’s website read as follows:

We are CLOSED until further notice.

At approximately 2:45 AM on July 10th our shop was burglarized and we sustained extensive damage to our building. Due to this we will be closed until further notice.

The shop also posted a pair of images to Facebook showing the damage to the building:

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed that “12 handguns, 3 AR style high powered rifles, 1AK style high powered rifle and 1 shotgun were reported stolen,” according to ABC affiliate WFAA.

Chuck Edge, who owns the store, told the station he was concerned about the incident.

“This was not your law abiding citizen who got a background check so now those weapons are out there,” he said.

Police located the vehicle, but not the stolen firearms, The Dallas Morning News reports.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call Waxahachie police at 469-309-4400.

The Futility Of Violence And Power Of Love, Grief And Remembrance

Jeanne Bishop   |   July 10, 2016   10:57 PM ET

I was walking down a street in England when my phone rang; a voice from across the world was on the other end.

It was a voice I knew well, usually cheery and light. This time, it sounded heavy with emotion. I asked how he was. "Sad," he said. "Why?" I answered, alarmed. "Don't you know what's happened here?" he replied.

I didn't. He told me. A young black man shot to death in St. Paul, stopped on a minor traffic matter and reaching for his driver's license when a police officer fired his gun. Five Dallas police officers shot down in cold blood in revenge, picked off by a sniper who said he wanted to kill white cops.

I could scarcely take in the horrific events he described, one piled on after another -- so far it was from the peaceful street where I stood. As the sun glinted on cobblestoned pavement, he told me of the tragedy upon tragedy.

I hung up and looked around. All that surrounded me was peace: young people whizzing by on bicycles, backpacks on their backs; a white-haired couple with canes, keeping in slow step with one another; a middle-aged man walking a small dog who trotted smartly along the edge of a green park. It seemed so far from the turmoil engulfing my country at that same moment.

Shootings like these fill me with rage and despair. My younger sister, her husband and their unborn baby were shot to death, murdered in their own home by a teenaged intruder with a gun. Thirty-eight caliber bullets fired from a stolen .357 Magnum revolver cut short their lives. After their deaths, I argued and pled and marched, wrote and campaigned and voted, for reasonable gun measures that would help stem the carnage.

And then there was shooting after shooting after shooting. Oak Creek. Newtown. Ferguson. Orlando. Minneapolis. Dallas.

The targets were Sikhs, children, a young black man, LGBT people, another black man, white police officers. What did they have in common, except that their blood ran red when they died? And that they left a gaping hole of grief in the hearts of those who loved them?

What agonizes me as much as anything is that the names of all the victims may have already been forgotten, if they were noticed or remembered in the first place, by anyone other than those closest to them. Will we remember only the killers, and the fear or hatred or madness that drove them to kill?

That is the question answered, for me, by a monument in the place where I grew up: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. When Timothy McVeigh set off the massive explosion that ripped the front off the Murrah Federal Building in my hometown, it was an act of revenge against the federal government, which McVeigh despised. The "collateral damage," as he described it, was 168 lives, including 19 small children playing in the day care center on the second floor.

The memorial starts with photos of that day -- one like September 11, 2001 in New York: glorious and sunny, bright blue sky giving no hint of the darkness that was to come. A recording that captured the sound of the explosion plays. The rooms that follow show the aftermath of the blast: rubble, personal items dug from the debris, the frantic efforts of rescue workers. You read about McVeigh's manifesto of hate, his desire to strike a blow against the federal government for its supposed wrongs.

Toward the end, you enter a room with small displays honoring each of the victims who died. Each has a name, a photo, and a few items belonging to the honored dead. Baby shoes. A medal. A favorite stuffed animal. A graduation photo. Precious things, given by those who survived and loved and remembered them.

On the day I visited, in the center of that room was a box of tissues, set there for visitors who needed it to wipe away tears.

I saw it clearly: At the end, all the hatred and violence and twisted motives of their mass murderer fell away. His lofty goals came to nothing. Nothing was left but love and grief.

Never Mind The Hatred: Ditch The Guns

Celia Wexler   |   July 8, 2016    4:57 PM ET

Hate prompts someone to murder another. But guns give power to that hate, power and scope. Yes, people can and do kill with their bare hands, with knives and clubs, and rope. But it's more difficult, and the number of people you can kill without getting caught is significantly reduced.

The shootings in Dallas make all that clear. Hundreds of people in a peaceful protest against the unjust killings of two black men by police were literally outgunned by one shooter, who may have had a few accomplices, with a powerful rifle and a good aim. He took five lives and injured nine others.

Guns turn thugs into tyrants. They are the problem.

Just ask Australia. I'm not the first person to tout this recent study, but it should be touted over and over again. In 1996, the people of Australia, horrified by one particularly egregious mass killing, weren't cowed by critics who said people were trying to "politicize" a tragedy.

They did something practical and direct: They banned rapid-fire long-guns, including guns that were privately owned at the time. After a phase-in period, if you were caught with a banned gun, you were prosecuted, potentially facing jail time. The government bought the guns back from private owners.

In 2003, the country offered to buy back handguns, and thousands of Australians participated in this program and also voluntarily surrendered other guns that had not been banned. These efforts resulted in Australia ridding itself of one million firearms.

So did Australia turn into a police state, dominated by a crazed autocrat? Hardly. It has a vibrant democracy. Somehow, its citizens have been able to live without the one million guns that were seized or turned in voluntarily.

And since 1996, Australia hasn't had any more mass shootings.

Yes, I am in favor of confiscating all privately held assault rifles and any other gun powerful enough to inflict mass carnage in a short span of time. I will leave it up to the experts to determine where to draw that line.

I also want all guns to be registered, with registration records computerized and part of a permanent national database. Guns should be taxed heavily. Just as we tax cigarettes heavily because they are dangerous and we want to discourage their use.

The time is long past for most of us to reassure "law-abiding gun owners" and hunters that we only want "common-sense" restrictions.

This problem is way beyond that talk, which failed anyway. I agree with Comedy Central's Samantha Bee that gun ownership is not a "right" (unless you happen to be part of a well-regulated militia)- it is not essential to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Guns are the problem. That's what we have to face up to. As Australia did. After one mass shooting. In 1996.

America, We're Better Than This

  |   July 8, 2016    1:44 PM ET

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Republican Bill Would Not Keep Guns Away From Terrorists

Sen. Dianne Feinstein   |   July 6, 2016    6:17 PM ET

This week, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on an NRA-backed bill that would do nothing to actually prevent gun sales to known or suspected terrorists.

Candidly, it's unbelievable and inexcusable that Republicans are finding more ways to block Congress from keeping guns away from these dangerous individuals -- the vast majority of whom are foreign nationals. And it's even more egregious considering 86 percent of Americans support doing so.

First, some background: There are currently 10 categories of individuals blocked from buying guns through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Those categories include felons, those under felony indictment, fugitives from justice, drug users or addicts, those committed to mental institutions or adjudicated as mentally defective, foreign nationals here unlawfully or on non-immigrant visas, those dishonorably discharged from the military and those under a domestic violence restraining order.

One category that cannot be blocked from buying guns is known or suspected terrorists.

Law enforcement investigates and monitors these individuals using the FBI's Terrorist Screening Database, commonly referred to as the terrorist watch list. The watch list is comprised of fewer than 5,000 Americans and more than 900,000 foreign nationals.

According to FBI data compiled by Government Accountability Office, known or suspected terrorists on the watch list who undergo background checks to buy guns pass their checks 91 percent of the time. This means they did not fall into one of the 10 prohibited purchaser categories.

Between February 2004 and December 2015, these individuals passed 2,265 of 2,477 initiated background checks. That means of all known of suspected terrorists who went through a background check to buy a gun, 91 percent of them passed the check and were approved to buy a gun.

These numbers should sound the alarm. Known and suspected terrorists who threaten public safety are able to easily -- and legally -- buy guns.

For example, Khalil Abu-Rayyan was under FBI investigation earlier this year for making "increasingly violent threats" to others about "committing acts of terror and martyrdom."

While under investigation, he purchased a .22 caliber revolver at a sporting goods store in Dearborn Heights, Mich. Later, Abu-Rayyan stated that he plotted an attack against a church.

Fortunately, police confiscated the weapon during a traffic stop. Abu-Rayyan was in possession of drugs and charged for possessing a gun while using a controlled substance.

This case shows the potentially dangerous situations we're talking about.

Under the NRA-backed bill, the gun sale would proceed after 72 hours unless the government wins a court hearing establishing probable cause that the suspected terrorist has committed or intents to commit an act of terrorism.

Before the hearing could occur, the government would need to file an emergency petition, notify the suspected terrorist, allow the suspected terrorist to secure a lawyer and schedule the hearing at a time all parties could be present.

Any lawyer or judge would tell you that it would be impossible to meet this 72-hour deadline.

The unworkable time constraint is not the only serious flaw in this bill.

First, if there is enough evidence to establish probable cause in a judicial hearing, there is enough evidence to arrest an individual, search his/her home and car, seize his/her property and indict the individual.

The Justice Department would not need to pursue a hearing to block a gun a sale if the suspected terrorist could be arrested on terrorism-related charges.

Second, the Justice Department would not risk revealing a covert investigation to suspected terrorists and their lawyers, particularly if classified information would be presented in open court.

The bottom line is this process is designed to fail, preserving the dangerous status quo that allows known or suspected terrorists to easily get their hands on guns.

Republicans claim that this unworkable process is needed to protect due process rights under the Second Amendment, but that is simply not true.

Courts have routinely upheld laws that "keep guns out of the hands of presumptively risky people," even without a conviction or a court hearing before the denial of the gun transfer.

Known or suspected terrorists certainly fall into this category.

House Democrats are calling for a vote on an alternative bill, which was introduced by Republican Congressman Peter King.

It would give the attorney general the authority to block a gun sale to known or suspected terrorists, while protecting due process rights.

It allows an individual who believes they were mistakenly denied a gun to learn the reason for the denial and appeal that decision -- both administratively with the Justice Department and judicially.

The administrative appeals process
is the same process currently in place for anyone who believes they are wrongly denied a gun through the background check system. Gun buyers have used this procedure and suspected terrorists should be no different.

The bottom line is that to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks in this country we need to make it harder for known or suspected terrorists to get their hands on weapons.

Allowing the attorney general to block gun sales to these individuals is a commonsense step that would help protect the public and is consistent with the rule of law.

Most Americans Believe We Should Have Gun Regulation But They Aren't Winning The Debate

  |   July 5, 2016   12:46 PM ET

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