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One Man is Crowdfunding an End to Gun Violence

NationSwell   |   July 17, 2015   12:10 PM ET

When Ian Johnstone was just 10 years old, his father was shot during a random robbery attempt in San Francisco. The perpetrators were a group of teenagers who had been using drugs; the 16-year-old shooter fired once into the elder Johnstone's back, instantly paralyzing him. A week later, his dad died in the hospital from complications

"You can't help but feel frustrated and jaded and powerless about the issue," says Johnstone.

Those feelings returned to the forefront of his mind in late 2013 after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. While working in the tech industry, the idea of crowdfunding gun buyback programs came up while he was speaking with a group of friends. Instead of relying on funds from cities or grants, money raised to finance buybacks could come from private online donations -- often from people in the very communities most affected by gun violence.

From this conversation, Gun By Gun was born. In less than two years, the organization has crowdsourced more than $80,000, using the money to collect more than 750 guns in four cities over the course of five campaigns.

McKinney TX: The Best Place to Live for Whom?

Dr. Tiffany D. Sanders   |   July 17, 2015   10:46 AM ET

The incident in McKinney, TX where a police officer manhandled a 14-year-old black girl and drew his weapon on unarmed black teens is very disturbing. What's ironic is that McKinney was voted last year as the best place to live. But for whom? Middle class whites who are oblivious to their white privilege and who don't have to worry about the police drawing their weapons on their children. Or for blacks who appear to be treated like second-class citizens because of the color of the skin.

Police officers are professionals who are there to serve and protect, and not to escalate tenuous situations with erratic behavior. Clearly this cop, Eric Casebolt, was out of control, running off emotions, throwing children to the ground while cursing at the remaining telling them to go home. He doesn't deserve to be police officer

Mr. Casebolt blamed his behavior on two suicide calls that he responded to earlier that day. Understand this, if you can't handle the heat, get out of the kitchen! Many of us have high-pressure positions but we cannot use that as a lame excuse for manhandling and drawing guns on teens. We must use appropriate coping skills to stay calm or excuse ourselves from doing said work, if we feel we cannot manage ourselves or our emotions enough to be level headed and rationale in a time of need.

I was pleased, yet terribly disappointed to hear that the officer resigned from the force with a "heavy heart." What about the racing, scared, panic stricken teens' hearts - were you considering that when you did your barrel role?

Mr. Casebolt you owe these teens and their parents a sincere apology. As I stated you don't deserve to be an officer for the McKinney force, but somewhere in the future, you will likely get another police position in the best place to live, small town America and resurrect your career. This infamous act will be forgotten, and your pension will be intact. Lucky you.

Turns Out Obama Wasn't Targeting Porn, Guns, Gambling And Payday Loans After All

Zach Carter   |   July 9, 2015   12:18 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- A Justice Department investigation has cleared its consumer protection lawyers of Republican charges they engaged in a multi-agency conspiracy to shut down industries disfavored by the Obama administration, including online pornography and payday lending.

The internal probe, launched in response to concerns raised by congressional Republicans, found “no evidence” DOJ lawyers intentionally targeted credit repair companies, online gambling-related operations, pornography, or online tobacco and firearms sales, according to the report. The report did find, however, that Justice Department lawyers may not have believed online payday lending was a universally noble trade that always operated in the best interests of low-income clients.

The report was requested by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), who, with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), has led the GOP charge against a Justice Department program known as Operation Choke Point. The department said the operation aimed to prevent fraudsters from accessing the banking system, but Republicans tarred it with far more sinister motivations.

A January 2014 report from Issa's Government Oversight Committee accused the program of attempting to shut down the payday lending industry (neglecting to mention that payday lending is illegal in many states, and riddled with fraud in states where it is legal). The GOP accusations snowballed from there, with charges the Obama administration was attacking gun dealers and tobacco sales, in an under-the-table crusade to crush companies that liberals don't like.

Porn stars, condom companies and other firms that had experienced inexplicable trouble with their banks began suspecting Operation Choke Point was to blame.

Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) once suggested that Obama might try to use the program to illegally ban "maybe too big of a soft drink." Luetkemeyer introduced legislation to stifle Operation Choke Point, which would have dramatically curtailed the government's ability to detect and prosecute money laundering.

Outraged conservatives never explained why they thought the Obama administration wanted to do away with porn and condoms.

The Justice Department report takes the air out of those conspiracy theories. The DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility "concluded that Department of Justice attorneys involved in Operation Choke Point did not engage in professional misconduct," says the report, provided to members of Congress this week. "OPR's inquiry further determined that Civil Division employees did not improperly target lawful participants."

While the report found no serious misconduct, it notes DOJ attorneys may have viewed online payday lending with disdain. Internet payday lending, according to the report, was “not a focus” of Operation Choke Point when it was initiated, and became a topic of interest after the operation was underway.

"Some of the congressional and industry concerns relating to Internet payday lending was understandable," the report reads. "Some memoranda from the Civil Division's Consumer Protection Branch (CPB) discussed and at times seemed to disparage payday lending practices … Some emails also corroborated that certain attorneys in the CPB working on Operation Choke Point may have viewed Internet payday lending in a negative light. Nonetheless, the relatively few Operation Choke Point subpoenas related to Internet payday lending were well supported by facts showing that the targets of the subpoenas allegedly were involved in mass-market fraud schemes."

If DOJ attorneys held low opinions about Internet payday lenders, they had a good deal of company. State regulators and even brick-and-mortar payday loan shops have complained about online entities fleecing borrowers and giving the broader payday industry -- which already had plenty of challenges -- a bad name.

The report notes that some Internet payday loan providers “engage in practices that are abusive and fraudulent” and says “32 percent of online borrowers report that money was withdrawn from their bank accounts without authorization.”

In one instance, the report says, a memo circulated by DOJ attorneys shouldn’t have referred to Internet payday lending as “predatory.” Another memo shouldn’t have referred to moves by many Internet payday lenders to get out of the business and decisions by several banks to look more closely at the businesses as a “significant accomplishment,” investigators said. And a DOJ attorney shouldn’t have referred to payday lenders losing their banking relationships as a “collateral benefit” of the operation, according to the report.

DOJ has filed three Operation Choke Point prosecutions -- all against banks it says ignored indications they were processing fraudulent payments. In some cases, it appeared that firms were simply pillaging money from consumer bank accounts without authorization. Anti-money laundering law has long barred banks from allowing illegal money to flow through the banking system, and requires banks to keep tabs on customers. Federal courts have signed off on settlements in all three Choke Point cases.

Read the full report here.

Testing Trump's Theory on Guns in France and the U.S.A.

John A. Tures   |   July 8, 2015   10:15 AM ET

When Americans reacted in horror to the shootings at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris by a pair of Islamic terrorists, it didn't take long for the weapon of choice to become part of the debate. Presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted "If the people so violently shot down in Paris had guns, at least they would have had a fighting chance. Isn't it interesting that the tragedy in Paris too place in one of the toughest gun control countries in the world? Remember, when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns!"

As France experienced another series of terror attacks in Lyon and Grenoble, it's worth examining whether France should have gun policies as strict as those in America, or not.

Trump's hypothesis claims there is a positive relationship: as the gun restrictions increase, the number of firearm-related homicides should also increase. Similarly, as gun restrictions decrease, the number of gun-related deaths should also decline.

According to Adam Taylor with the Washington Post:

French gun laws date back to April 18, 1939, though they have been amended a number of times since. They are certainly tough: There is no right to bear arms for the French, and to own a gun, you need a hunting or sporting license, which needs to be repeatedly renewed and requires a psychological evaluation.

So Trump's contention that France has tougher gun laws than the U.S.A. is supported.

And the crimes for illegal gun possession carry a stiff sentence. According to Philip Alpers, Amelie Rosseti and Marcus Wilson "In France, the maximum penalty for unlawful possession of a firearm is seven years [in] prison and a fine."

Do those tough gun laws translate to fewer gun homicides, especially in contrast to the looser restrictions on guns in the United States? That appears to be the case. France had 127 firearm homicides in 2010, down from 214 in 1997. The United States had 11,078 gun-related fatalities in 2010, higher than in 1998 when there were 9,257 such killings.

Of course, France is smaller in size and has a smaller population that the United States. What if the two were compared in terms of ratios of firearm deaths? Alpers, Rossetti and Wilson note that the number of gun deaths in France was 0.2 per 100,000 in 2010. That's even down from a higher statistic of 0.44 per 100,000 several years earlier. That compares unfavorably to the 2.8 per 100,000 deaths by firearms found in the United States in 2010. While numbers like 0.2 and 3.59 sound small, that means Americans experience 17.95 times as many gun-related killings as do the French, as a ratio of the population of the two countries.

As Taylor points out, "Mass shootings are relatively rare, when compared to the United States. While the Charlie Hebdo attack was horrific, it was also an anomaly." So Trump's hypothesis is not supported. There are far more homicides related to firearms in the United States than in France.

2015-07-08-1436364825-3647486-0321141252.jpg
Anti-gun sign at a college in Alabama. Photo taken by the author.

But the French believe they can do more. More than a decade ago, a young Frenchman, Maxime Brunerie, with ties to neo-Nazis, tried to kill his President. In response, "France's government proposed strengthening gun control laws and putting more restrictions on arms," wrote The Orlando Sentinel. And Taylor notes that attacks by another terrorist in Toulouse and Montauban brought out a similar outcry for more restrictions on guns. Why?

What seems to be the problem for France? Clearly, the country has far fewer gun deaths than in America, in terms of overall numbers and as a percentage of the population. But the problem seems to involve law enforcement, not just the laws themselves. Taylor contends that the police who arrived on the scene were outgunned by the terrorists. Further assistance did not arrive until much later.

And where the terrorists got their guns may be the source of France's lingering gun problem and vulnerability to such attacks. Taylor cites several sources that contend the Charlie Hebdo killers were wielding Kalashnikov rifles, allowed in France only under extreme circumstances. Such guns have illegally trickled into France from East Europe and possibly beyond, creating an illegal market for such weapons, including AK-47s. "The number of illegal guns is thought to be at least twice the number of legal guns in the country" Taylor writes.

Perhaps Switzerland has the solution. Their murder rate is comparable to that of France, according to Alpers, Rossetti and Wilson, with only 15 gun-related deaths and 0.19 per 100,000 residents. And they have the third highest gun ownership rate, trailing only the United States and Switzerland, according to the UN's Small Arms Survey. Those numbers are supported by data from Alpers, Rossetti and Wilson.

According to Varvel a Swiss student from Brigham Young University "explained that at age 19, every male citizen in Switzerland is required to begin mandatory military service. Once they begin training, they are each issued a SIG SG 550 fully automatic assault rifle," and 50 bullets.

Yet that same student supported the recent executive actions by the current administration, including background checks and banning fully automatic assault weapons. "I don't believe the Founding Fathers wanted such lackadaisical control of guns," he claimed. "Perhaps they envisioned something more like what Switzerland has done."

There's no way to determine if a better armed police or citizen bearing arms could have stopped the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Evidence does show that France has been able to keep a much lower gun homicide rate than America has, but will remain vulnerable to terrorism without a greater ability to crack down on illegal guns in the system, or more citizens trained in responsible gun ownership as seen in Switzerland.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.

Boehner and Company Once Again Block Gun Violence Research With NRA Talking Point

Mike Weisser   |   July 6, 2015    3:58 PM ET

"Listen, the CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect the public health. I'm sorry, but a gun is not a disease. And guns don't kill people; people do. And when people use weapons in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual, not blame the action on some weapon. Listen, there are hundreds of millions of weapons in America. They're there. And they're going to be there. They're protected under the Second Amendment."

And who said that? Not Wayne-o of the NRA, not that bunch from Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, and certainly not one of the five SCOTUS justices who decided back in 2008 that the 2nd Amendment gave Americans the Constitutional right to own guns. It was, in fact, stated last Thursday by John Boehner, Speaker of the House, to explain why he and his colleagues voted against CDC-funded gun research for the 38th time since the CDC was first defunded back in 1998.

Now you can accuse John Boehner of lots of things, but being an expert on Constitutional law isn't one of them. So when he makes a comment about what the Constitution protects and doesn't protect, at best you have to take it with a grain of salt, at worst there's a good chance that he's dead wrong. In the case of what he said about the 2nd Amendment, it's not so much that he's right or wrong; it's more that he's just mouthing what he's been told to say by whichever friendly NRA lobbyist told him to say it. And in this respect he's saying what he and his colleagues have been saying ever since the NRA decided to use the 'guns don't kill people' slogan as an unofficial tag-line on bumper stickers and other promotions, even though the phrase has been floating around popular culture since nobody knows when.

I happen to be writing a book on the 2nd Amendment at the moment, so I have read Scalia's majority opinion more times than I can count. But in light of Boehner's comment, I went back to the text once again, just to make sure that I hadn't missed something or misunderstood what Scalia actually said. Because the fact that the SCOTUS decided that guns are "protected" doesn't explain exactly what the 2nd Amendment actually protects, and for that explanation we have to go back and refer to the 2008 Heller decision again. And here's exactly what it says: "In sum, we hold that the District's ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense."

Now it turns out that in 2013, the last year for which we have complete data according to the FBI, 281 Americans were justifiably killed by other Americans, of whom 223 were killed with guns. Most of these killings occurred during the commission of another crime, usually but not always an assault. Which is exactly what the 2nd Amendment protects, namely, the justifiable use of a gun for self-defense. Now if someone would like to explain to me how the Constitution protects the 11,000 murders, 20,000 suicides and the 60,000 assaults that occur each year with guns, I'm all ears.

In 1980, only 11 percent of all motorists wore seatbelts, but by 2000 mandatory seatbelt laws probably saved upwards of 10,000 lives every year. This remarkable change in driving habits and safety laws occurred because of safety research conducted by the CDC. Did you ever hear the AAA say that "cars don't kill people, people kill people?" Nobody would ever say something so stupid or dumb. But John Boehner gets away with it every time he and his colleagues cave in to pressure from the NRA and vote to defund CDC research on guns. Of course we all know that gun research is just a smokescreen for taking away all our guns. Ever notice how CDC research got rid of all those cars?

Guns and the Godly

Lawrence Wittner   |   July 2, 2015   12:13 PM ET

Where do American Christians stand on guns and gun-related violence?

Christianity is a religion that professes love and peace. Admittedly, the Christian Bible's frequent depiction of Christ ("The Prince of Peace") as rejecting violence seems contradicted by his remark that he had come not to bring peace, but a sword. But this statement can be interpreted as meaning that his preaching would cause religious divisions in society, rather than that he approved of the spread of weapons and war. Also, of course, Christians are supposed to revere the Ten Commandments, which include the injunction: "Thou shalt not kill." Not surprisingly, then, during the first three centuries of the Christian church, it was staunchly pacifist. And even thereafter, Christianity has often emphasized turning the other check and loving one's enemies. So you would expect that, by a wide margin, American Christians -- and particularly Protestants, who emphasize their return to early Christianity -- would reject the plague of guns and gun violence that has engulfed the United States.

But you would be wrong.

According to the polls, white evangelical Protestants are the U.S. religious group most likely to have access to guns, with 57 percent of them living in homes with one or more person owning such weapons. The runners-up are the less numerous white mainline Protestants, 55 percent of whom have one or more gun owners in their households. By contrast, only 31 percent of Catholics fall into this category, while Jews appear even less likely to live among people packing guns.

The divergence in attitudes toward gun control is even more striking. According to an August 2012 survey done by the Public Religion Research Institute, only 35 percent of white evangelical Protestants and 42 percent of white mainline Protestants favored the passage of stricter gun control laws, as compared to 62 percent of Catholics and 60 percent of people without religious affiliation. In 2013, after additional gun massacres, another opinion survey by the same non-partisan organization found that white evangelical Protestants continued to constitute the religious group least likely to support stricter gun control laws, with only 38 percent in favor and 59 percent opposed. By contrast, the passage of stricter gun control laws was favored by African American Protestants (76 percent), Catholics (67 percent), the religiously unaffiliated (60 percent), and, for a change, white mainline Protestants (57 percent). Although Jews were apparently not polled on these issues, there were numerous indications that they also supported gun control by a wide margin.

How should this white Protestant (and particularly white evangelical Protestant) fondness for gun ownership and hostility to gun control be explained? After all, there should be something disturbing to people committed to love and peace about the fact that, among all economically-developed countries, the United States has by far the highest rate of gun-related murders in the world -- indeed, about 20 times the average for the next 30 countries on the list. Also, 87 percent of white evangelical Protestants describe themselves as "pro-life."

The embrace of guns by many white Protestants is bolstered by a number of arguments linked to their religious assumptions. One contention is that the United States was established by God and, therefore, the Second Amendment to the Constitution (which they allege guarantees individual gun ownership) is sacred. Another is that depriving people of "self-defense" deprives them of a God-given right. In addition, they tend to believe that corrupt, un-Christian values, rather than the easy availability of guns, lie behind the frequency of gun massacres.

Mike Huckabee, who has a strong appeal to white Protestants, particularly of the evangelical variety, often draws upon these themes. "We don't have a crime problem, or a gun problem, or even a violence problem," he said on Fox News after one massacre. "We have a sin problem. And since we've ordered God out of our schools and communities . . . we really shouldn't act so surprised when all hell breaks loose."

If gun murders simply reflect a turning away from God, though, it's hard to understand why gun violence is so much more prevalent in the United States than in other economically developed countries. Americans, after all, are much more religious than people in other developed nations. According to a 2009 Gallup poll conducted in 114 countries, 65 percent of respondents in the United States said that religion played an important role in their daily lives. By contrast, only 30 percent said that in France, 27 percent in Britain, 24 percent in Japan, 19 percent in Denmark, and 17 percent in Sweden. Similarly, the murder rate in the American South -- where the white Protestant Bible Belt is located -- has long been the highest in the United States.

A more satisfactory explanation for the unusually high rate of U.S. gun murders and massacres might lie in the fact that other countries have strict gun control laws that have limited gun ownership and use. And this, in turn, might result from the fact that they do not labor under the burden of a predominantly evangelical white Protestantism, committed to gun-owners' "rights" at all costs.

Given the size of this constituency in American life, as well as its disproportionate influence in American politics, gun killings -- which claim some 30,000 American lives each year -- are unlikely to taper off soon. Indeed, racists, religious fanatics, the mentally ill, criminals, police, and, yes, average Americans will continue to gun down their neighbors with great frequency year after year. As Sarah Palin, an evangelical Protestant, told her enthusiastic followers: "We say keep your change, we'll keep our God, our guns, our constitution."

Lawrence Wittner (www.lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, What's Going On at UAardvark?

  |   July 1, 2015    4:23 PM ET

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Standing before a packed courtroom last week, convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev addressed the victims of the terrorist attack and owned up to his actions:

“I am guilty … if there’s any lingering doubt about that, let there be no more. I did do it along with my brother … ”

“I prayed for Allah to bestow his mercy upon the deceased, those affected in the bombing, and their families.”

What the Movement for Marriage Equality Can Teach Gun Sense Advocates

Mike Weisser   |   June 29, 2015    3:24 PM ET

The day after the SCOTUS announced Obergefell vs. Hodges, which legalizes same-sex marriage in all 50 states, Shannon Watts was to speak at the national PTA convention in Charlotte, NC. And if you don't think these two events aren't connected in a way that tells us a lot about the future of guns and gun violence, then think again.

The linkage happens to do with the fact that opposition to gay marriage and support of the 2nd Amendment usually go hand in hand. For that matter, support of gay marriage and opposition to the 2nd Amendment also link together in most public-opinion polling and fundraising efforts that accompany political campaigns. With a few exceptions, political liberals never bother to use a mailing list from the NRA; political conservatives wouldn't get caught dead sending out appeals via any of the pro-gay groups.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not expecting the anti-gay culture or the gun culture to change overnight. And the response of the various Republican presidential candidates to yesterday's decision made it clear that law of the land or no law of the land, conservative audiences will continue to be provoked by opposition to gay rights. But when Shannon gets up in front of the national PTAs, she says what she always says, that the battle against gun violence won't be won overnight. And her precedent in this respect will be the fact that less than 20 years ago, coming out of the closet as gay was still big news. I'm not saying it will take another 20 years for Congress to pass some sensible gun-control legislation or for the NRA to get real about gun safety and stop peddling the nonsense about how armed citizens protect us from crime. What I am saying is that you can't jump into the gun debate and assume that things will change overnight.

Actually, the PTA organization first began talking about guns back in 1999, which was almost a decade after then-Senator Joe Biden introduced the Gun-Free School Zones Act that was signed into law by then-President George H. W Bush. The law has gone through numerous iterations since then, but it basically imposes requirements on every school district which receives federal aid to set up and monitor a program to keep schools as gun-free zones. And despite the stupid notion that gun-free zones are less safe, legal efforts to allow teachers and students to bring guns even onto college campuses haven't gotten all that far. Currently the PTA position on guns goes far beyond whether they should be allowed in schools. Among other things, it calls for restrictions on internet gun sales, waiting periods, safety locks to prevent juveniles from accidentally discharging guns -- Shannon should feel right at home.

But the real importance of her appearance at the PTA convention is not so much the fact that what the Moms and Everytown organizations promote in terms of guns and gun safety aligns with the PTA position on guns which nobody's going to read anyway. What's really important is that she's at the meeting, talking to Moms, Dads, teachers, school administrators and others about guns. What I have always liked about Shannon and the gals is that they get out there to meet and talk to Mr. and Mrs. Average American who, thanks to Friday's SCOTUS ruling, will increasingly be the same sex.

Back in April, the Moms held a rally at the NRA meeting in Nashville, and the pro-gun noisemakers like Breitbart immediately assured their followers that the rally was of no consequence because only a few hundred people were outside the convention hall. I've been going to NRA meetings since 1980, and this was the first time that anyone other than some crazy guy with a 'Jesus Saves' poster ever walked outside at all. Want to talk to average Americans about guns? I don't notice Wayne-o talking to the PTA.

Daydream Believer

  |   June 27, 2015    8:36 AM ET

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A Few Confederate Flags Down, But Thousands of Trappings Remain

Robert Klitzman, M.D.   |   June 26, 2015   10:38 AM ET

No portrait in any house had ever shocked me more. I recently drove through Mississippi, and stopped in a town known for its extensive pre-Civil War architecture. Plantation houses still stood with tiny outbuildings that guides called "the servants' quarters," but in fact housed slaves.

A local woman invited us into her home for cocktails. "I want to show you Southern Hospitality," she said. She had lived on the West Coast, and seemed open-minded. But a tall life-sized portrait hung prominently above her living room mantel -- a young man in a Confederate Uniform and with a sword.

"That's quite a portrait," I exclaimed, shocked.

"Oh, that's my son." she said proudly.

"But he's wearing a Confederate uniform!"

"Yes, that's what the young people wear at the ball every year." She seemed to feel that it was just for fun, so was ok.

But as we sat down, the painting loomed high over us, dominating the room and the house.

The next day, we visited the home of William Faulkner -- one of my heroes. An African-American student from the University of Mississippi, which owns the house, showed us around. He mentioned that his nearby high school has two separate proms every year -- one black, one white.

Two years ago, the students elected a black homecoming queen. An outcry erupted, and the school decided that she could remain the homecoming queen that year, but that the following year, a white one would have to be chosen.

"That's horrible," I said.

"That's just the way things are," he explained very matter-of-factly. "We know the rules. We don't date your daughters or go to your church on Sunday."

"Why don't you move elsewhere?"

"I don't know where I'd go. This is where I grew up."

Calls for removing the Confederate flag at the South Carolina state capitol and elsewhere, following Dylann Roof's horrific shooting of innocent African-Americans in their church, should certainly be applauded.

But the problems are much deeper. Underlying attitudes also need to change.

Removing the flags could help heal tensions at the moment, but ultimately be empty gestures. Flags are weighty symbols, but also mere pieces of cloth. We also all need to alter what lurks beneath. Racism persists in manifold subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

A few years ago, I visited a court room in rural Virginia -- near Manassas, where the Civil War battles of Bill Run were fought.

The judge sat on a raised platform, and above him hung a single portrait -- that of Robert E. Lee in a Confederate uniform. Lee was an extraordinary man, but in this white dominated area, standing high above the judge, his portrait sent a powerful message.

Some Southerners say they still want to fly the Confederate flag because it represents part of their history. They feel comfortable with their moral beliefs, arguing that these come from the Bible. But the New and Old Testaments also teach justice, charity and love. Not all past behaviors should necessarily be respected or upheld. Morally wrong past behaviors should not be sources of pride simply because they are historical.

Such symbols foster harms. Racial violence and police brutality against blacks, and discrimination continue. MIssissippi and South Carolina have among the states with worst health, educational and poverty in the country; and in these states, these disadvantages disproportionately affect African-Americans.

Thousands of Confederate flags still fly today from not only state capitols and schools, homes. Even if they were all removed, Confederate garb remains. Even if the uniforms were eliminated, images of Lee would probably endure.

Hence, we need to recognize and address these deeper attitudes inside us all.

Removal of the flag from state offices and license plates should be only the beginning, not the end. We need to work to be less placid in accepting inequalities that persist against various groups -- not only African- Americans, but women, gays and lesbians and others.

We should be careful that the response to Dylann Roof does not stop with a few flags alone.

Scalia's Dissent: A Direct Attack on American Democracy Itself

David Ropeik   |   June 26, 2015   12:00 AM ET

In the middle of the celebration of the Supreme Court decision establishing same-gender marriage is an ominous attack on democracy itself from one of the highest constitutionally sworn officers in America, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. His dissent (in the full decision all dissents) is a direct call for Americans to abandon their trust in and support for the institution of the Supreme Court and indeed in American democracy itself.

Scalia's message is frightening anti-government rhetoric so harsh and polarizing that it is potentially far more damaging to America than anything in the gay marriage ruling he laments.
Scalia's dissent says, "I write separately to call attention to this Court's threat to American democracy." And why does he think that threat exists? Because,

It is of overwhelming importance... who it is that rules me. Today's decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.
Buried beneath the mummeries and straining-to-be-memorable passages of the opinion is a candid and startling assertion: No matter what it was the People ratified (in states that passed bans on gay marriage), the Fourteenth Amendment protects those rights that the Judiciary, in its 'reasoned judgment,' thinks the Fourteenth Amendment ought to protect.

In other words, Justice Scalia is unhappy that the Supreme Court gets to make the final call. He is rejecting the very right of the Supreme Court on which he sits to adjudicate disputes where the answer requires interpretation of the Constitution, (which is of course precisely what the Court did when it interpreted the 2nd Amendment to enshrine the personal right to own guns, an opinion Scalia wrote), a role that has proven to be a cornerstone of American democracy. Because he is upset by this ruling, Justice Scalia directly rejects the authority of the Court itself.

But he goes further in undermining public trust in the court.

"And to allow the policy question of same-sex marriage to be considered and resolved by a select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine is to violate a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation," he writes. Outrageously, he calls the ruling "a judicial putsch."

What incendiary rhetoric. The definition of the word putsch, as a man as erudite as Justice Scalia knows is "a violent attempt to overthrow a government."

Scalia's language is so harsh and divisively tribal that it could be a tract from a right wing anti-government radical group.

... the Federal Judiciary, which consists of only nine men and women, all of them successful lawyers, is hardly a cross section of America. Take, for example, this court, which consist of only nine men and women, successful lawyers who studied at Harvard of Yale law School. Four of the nine are natives of New York City. Eight of them grew up in east- and west-coast States. Only one hails from the vast expanse in-between. Not a single Southwesterner or even, to tell the truth, a genuine Westerner (California does not count.) Not a single Evangelical Christian (a group that comprises about one-quarter of Americans) or even a Protestant of any denomination. ... to allow the policy question of same-sex marriage to be considered and resolved by a select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine is to violate a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation.

What a poisonous, polarizing misinterpretation of the very role of the judiciary as defined by the Constitution Scalia so solemnly invokes. The judiciary was never intended to be the representative part of democracy. Scalia knows that. His ideological anger at today's decision clouds his reason into saying things that are laughable in a high school civics class.

Scalia charges that,

this practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanies (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, (Scalia's majority decision interpreting the Constitution's 2nd Amendment right to own guns is laced with the same language he here laments.) robs the People of the most important liberty they asserts in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1775: the freedom to govern themselve
A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.

What an astoundingly, nearly treasonous thing to suggest for a justice of the Supreme Court Scalia believes issues like gay marriage should be determined by the people, at the state level.

... win or lose advocates of both sides continued pressing their cases, secure in the knowledge that an electoral loss can later be negated by an electoral win. That is exactly how our system of government is supposed to work.

Well no, Mr. Supreme Court Justice Scalia, that is patently not true. You and your colleagues serve on the very institution American democracy has always relied on to resolve conflicts that arise when the electorate in one state sees things one way and another state's electorate sees the issue another way, or when a state law tramples on rights covered by the overarching federal law of the Constitution which you so solemnly invoke. Your selective view of which branch of government gets the final say is not just the argument of the side that lost. Coming from a person in your position, such an argument is poisonous, harmful, and breeds mistrust in both the Supreme Court you serve and government itself.

If you have any doubt left that Scalia is proposing that today's decision should undermine trust in the court, he closes by noting that the Judicial Branch of government has no real power in the Constitution to enforce its rulings. The courts power ultimately rests entirely on the public's acceptance of their role to be our final interpreters of law.

With each decision of ours that takes from the People a question properly left to them -- with each decision that is unabashedly based not on law, but on the "reasoned judgment" of a bare majority of this Court -- we move one step closer to being reminded of our impotence.

Far more than today's decision itself, Justice Scalia's ideological, angry attack on the very standing of the Supreme Court to make such rulings dramatically moves the court in that direction. His language does America great harm.

Unfinished Projects

J Henry Fair   |   June 25, 2015    6:04 PM ET

We all have unfinished projects.

One of mine is the documentation of the churches and music of people of color in Charleston.

I grew up in what was then a virtually unknown town on the South Carolina coast. The racial divide was so omniscient that it was invisible to someone growing up in it.

My other mother, our maid, was the most gentle and prescient woman I have known, and remains one of my most important socializers.

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Anna Canty

I started on my project sporadically, going in and enjoying the music and photographing some of the people, and, though it was years ago, specifically remember going to Emmanuel, as it is a larger church with a full congregation, or at least it was at the time. The music was, for lack of a better term, rockin'.

There are so many debts that this nation and the world owe to the people that were brought to these shores against their will to face a lifetime of slavery. My gratitude is for the music. One could argue that we owe all of modern American music to these people brought here against their will.

The woman who came out to greet the uncertain 18-year-old white boy standing at the door of Emmanuel Baptist Church was gracious and invited me to please come in and join them. What followed was a transformative experience as a stranger was welcomed into a different world, one of close community, with music as an integral part of spirituality, religion, and family.

Another uncertain boy walked into the same church last week. I wonder if he was greeted by someone as gracious and generous as I was. Instead of music with a call and response, which builds such a wonderful sense of belonging, his father gave him a gun for his birthday in hopes that it would engender maturity and responsibility.

This country is founded on this idea that liberty is dependent on the right of individuals to own guns. Arguments about the intent of the founding fathers and the exact meaning of the constitution are brandished frequently, and usually by groups trying to prevent change. But it's fairly certain that the founding fathers did not intend a world in which regular massacres of innocent citizens by unstable teenagers wielding guns became the norm.

Our problem is simple, and the answer equally so: limit the number of guns, and you limit the number of killings. Especially those types of guns that are most designed for mass killing or concealability.

But what a wonderful irony if, contrary to the intent of our deranged shooter, this horrible incident in my hometown led to productive national dialogs about weapons and race in our country? Then maybe their deaths would not be in vain.

Comedian Shoots Down 2nd Amendment With Humor

Laura Goldman   |   June 25, 2015    2:08 PM ET

Politicians as diverse as President Obama and Senator Toomey have struggled to put into words the reasons we gun safety laws make sense. Australian comedian Jim Jeffries ignites the gun control debate in a way the killing of 20 children at Sandy Hook elementary school or the shooting of a sitting congresswoman did not. His hilarious, but easy to understand arguments slays the second amendment during his current FreeDumb tour. In a sense, he brings a drone to a gun fight.

One of the more effective arguments for gun rights is that they are needed for protection of oneself or family. This argument persists despite statistics showing that guns are predominately used in criminal homicides not for protection. A study by the Violence Policy Center, via the Washington Post, shows guns between 2008 and 2012 were used in 42,419 criminal homicides and only 1,108 justifiable homicides -- defined as the killing of a felon during the commission of a felony by a private citizen.

Jim Jeffries decimates the guns are needed for protection argument with such good humor it may even silence the NRA. His comedy act does something dry statistics can't.

"The main one is that I need it for protection. I need it to protect me. I need to protect my family," said Jeffries. "Really? Is that why they are called assault rifles? Is it? I have never heard of these fuckin protection rifles you speak of."

The talented comedian used a horrific burglary that happened to him and his girlfriend to show gun ownership rarely protects you against violence.

I had a break in in Manchester, England where I was tied up. I had my head cut. They threatened to rape my girlfriend. They came through the window with a machete and hammer. Americans always go, Imagine if you had a gun. Alright, I was naked at the time. I wasn't wearing my holster. I was staring at the window waiting for machetes to come through. What world do you live in where you are waiting constantly fuckin' ready?"

The Australian understands our constitution and knows our history better than most Americans. He pointed out during the act that the arguments to keep the second amendment were similar to those proffered by Southerners to keep slavery.

Jeffries said, "You can not change the second amendment. I am like yes you can. It is called an amendment. If you can't change something called an amendment...See, many of you need a thesaurus. If you don't know what a thesaurus, get a dictionary and work your way forward. Don't think your constitution is set in stone. You have changed things before. You used to have prohibition in there. Right? Then people were like hey who likes getting fucked up. I like getting fucked up too. Let's get that one out. You used to have this other thing in America called slavery."

Jeffries will be appearing at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, Pennsylvania. With 10 people shot at a block party last weekend in Philadelphia, I hope politicians and gun safety advocates come to the show to learn how to shoot down the arguments of gun rights advocates. And laugh a little.


Partners in Crime

Jonathan Schmock   |   June 24, 2015    4:48 PM ET

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