In “Mourning and Mulling” Mr. Blow says as America heals from the tragedy in Aurora, Colo., we will be called to question our values and laws, especially our gun laws. No, Mr. Blow, the NRA loonies will howl that we need MORE guns, because if someone had a gun in the theater they could have “taken out” the gunman. Mr. Nocera has a “Financial Scandal Scorecord.” Have you been keeping up with the latest financial scandals? There’s a lot to sort through. Fraud, money laundering, rate-rigging. He’s got it all. Ms. Collins, in “Guns and the Slog,” says if anyone, gun control advocates know what it’s like to go from one tragedy to the next in order to push for sensible laws. Here’s Mr. Blow:
America is aching.
There are some events that we never grow numb to, things that weigh heavily on our sense of humanity and national psyche.
Early Friday morning, 24-year-old James Holmes, masked and armed, entered a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and opened fire. After things settled, at least 12 people were dead and 59 were left wounded.
It is on days like this that we are reminded of how much more alike than different we are, when we see that tears have no color, when ideologies melt into a common heart broken by sorrow.
But it is also on days like this that the questions invariably come.
They are questions about the shooter. How deep must the hole have been in his life? How untenable was the ache? How cold must the heart have grown? When did he cross the line from malcontent to monster?
But there are also questions for us as a country and as a people. We are called to question our values and our laws, and those obviously include our gun laws.
My own feelings on the matter are complicated.
I grew up in a small town in northern Louisiana — in the sticks. Everyone there seemed to own guns, even the children. My brothers slept beneath a gun rack that hung over their bed. Women carried handguns for protection. Even now, my oldest brother is an amateur gun dealer, buying and selling guns at his local gun shows.
There are parts of America where guns are simply part of the culture, either for hunting and keeping the vermin out of the garden (there are more humane methods of doing this, of course, but some people simply have their ways), or for collecting.
(According to a 2011 Gallup poll, 45 percent of Americans have a gun in their home.)
But, as a child, I also saw how guns could be used in a fit of anger or after a few swigs of liquor. And I have seen the damage they do to the fabric of society in big cities where criminals and cowards alike use them to settle disputes and even scores.
While I hesitate to issue blanket condemnations about gun ownership — my upbringing simply doesn’t support that — common sense would seem to dictate that it is prudent and wise to consider the place of guns in modern societies. It has been some time since we have needed to raise a militia, but senseless violence is all too common. The right to bear arms is constitutional, but the right to be safe even if you don’t bear arms would seem universal. We must ask ourselves the hard question: Can both rights be equally protected and how can they best be balanced?
As Howard Steven Friedman, a statistician and health economist for the United Nations, wrote for The Huffington Post in April:
“America’s homicide rates, incarceration rates and gun ownership rates are all much higher than other wealthy countries. While the data associated with crime is imperfect, these facts all point to the idea that America is more violent than many other wealthy countries.” This is not the way in which we should seek to excel.
There are whole swaths of gun owners who don’t use their guns in a criminal way. But many of the people who use guns to commit murder are also law-abiding until they’re not. (Holmes’s only previous brush with the law seems to have been a 2011 traffic summons.) We shouldn’t simply wait for the bodies to fall to separate the wheat from the chaff.
One step in the right direction would be to reinstate the assault weapons ban. Even coming from a gun culture, I cannot rationalize the sale of assault weapons to everyday citizens. (The Washington Post reported that Holmes had a shotgun, two pistols and an AR-15 assault rifle, all legally purchased.)
But this will be an uphill battle because the National Rifle Association has been extremely effective at promoting its agenda and sowing fears that gun rights are in jeopardy even when they are not. Much of that campaign has been aimed at painting President Obama as an enemy of the Second Amendment, and it has been exceedingly successful.
That 2011 Gallup poll, in a reversal from previous polls, found that most people are now against an assault weapons ban. (In general, the desire for stricter gun control laws has been falling for the last two decades.)
We simply have to take some reasonable steps toward making sure that all our citizens are kept safer — those with guns and those without.
We can’t keep digging graves where common ground should be.
But we will because our politicians are pants-pissing terrified of the NRA. Here’s Mr. Nocera:
Is it my imagination, or does every week bring news of another financial scandal? No, it’s not my imagination.
First up: Peregrine Financial Group. This long-running fraud, which has apparently been going on almost as long as the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, came to light when the firm’s founder and longtime chief executive, Russell Wasendorf Sr., tried to commit suicide a few weeks ago. (He failed.) Helpfully, he left a lengthy note that laid out what he had done. Peregrine, you see, is a commodities broker, and Wasendorf had been stealing the money that customers had on deposit with the firm. As you’ll no doubt recall from the very similar MF Global scandal, where $1.6 billion in supposedly segregated customer funds went missing as the firm careened toward bankruptcy, this is supposed to be the sin of sins for a commodities brokerage. Sinful it may be, but not all that difficult, it would appear.
Peregrine, which is based in Cedar Falls, Iowa, didn’t operate on the kind of scale as MF Global. But what it lacked in heft, it more than made up for in imagination. In his note, Wasendorf said that, over the years, he had used the money, among other things, to build the company’s $18 million headquarters and to “pay Fines and Fees charged by the regulators.” At the point at which the fraud was discovered, the firm was supposed to have more than $200 million on deposit for customers. Instead, it had $5 million.
And where were the regulators? Fooling them was child’s play, he said in his note. Or words to that effect.
Next up: HSBC. Who knew that the British bank was the favored institution of money launderers everywhere? As it turns out, the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee knew. This week, it released a 335-page report and held a scorching daylong hearing, excoriating a half-dozen of the bank’s executives.
Perhaps because we’re bank-scandaled out, this story hasn’t gotten the attention it truly deserves. Unlike, say, the JPMorgan Chase “London whale” scandal — in which the bank’s traders simply made a big, dumb bet — what HSBC did amounts to serious wrongdoing. It was also a recidivist. Twice before, in 2003 and 2007, the bank had been cited by regulators for what The Times described as its “extensive money laundering ways.” Despite the reprimands, it continued to do business with banks that laundered money for drug traffickers and institutions suspected of having ties to terrorists. At the hearing, HSBC’s top compliance executive strayed from his prepared remarks to announce that he would be leaving that post. The others, of course, promised to do better. Don’t they always?
And where were the regulators? “Subcommittee investigators found that the OCC” — that’s the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which is the nation’s primary bank overseer — “had failed to take a single enforcement action against the bank, formal or informal, over the previous six years, despite ample evidence” of money laundering, reads the report.
Let’s now turn to “Liborgate,” where the plot continues to thicken. When last we left this scandal, Barclays had agreed to pay $450 million in fines, and a handful of top officials, including its chief executive, Bob Diamond Jr., had lost their jobs because the bank had been manipulating the London interbank offered rate, a key benchmark for all kinds of loans and derivative transactions. In recent days, however, the story has begun to revolve more and more around … hmmm … the regulators.
It turns out that in 2008, Barclays told the New York Federal Reserve what it was up to. Timothy Geithner, then the president of the New York Fed, sent a note to Mervyn King, the leader of the Bank of England, that suggested that the British regulators “eliminate incentives to misreport.” Nothing of the sort took place, and Barclays continued to lowball its Libor reporting well into 2009. The British Parliament has held a series of hearings with King and other top British regulators of the “what-did-you-know-and-when-did-you-know-it” variety.
Meanwhile, it has become clear since the scandal broke that Libor is a problematic benchmark in any case, because a lot of the unsecured interbank lending it is supposed to represent doesn’t even occur anymore. “It is clear that the Libor system is structurally flawed,” Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, told the Senate this week. Now he tells us.
But, finally, there’s this: On Wednesday, Capital One, the big purveyor of credit cards, agreed to pay $210 million — including reimbursing customers to the tune of $150 million — because one of its vendors had deceptively marketed and sold customers needless add-on products.
Where were the regulators? In this case, it was the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that conducted the investigation and brought the action against the bank. It was the agency’s very first enforcement action.
These days, I guess, that amounts to progress.
And now here’s Ms. Collins:
My favorite American heroes are the ones who went for the long slog, even when their cause appeared to be hopeless to the point of ridiculous. Civil rights activists in the 1950s. Generations’ worth of suffragists who trudged around the country collecting signatures on petitions to give women the right to vote.
Also, anybody who works on gun control.
“We do just seem to slog along, from one tragedy to the next,” said Tom Mauser of Colorado Ceasefire.
The gun control advocates were all working the phones on Friday, holding press conferences, sending out e-mails in the wake of the mass shooting in Colorado. They’re uncomfortably aware that they might appear to be taking political advantage of a national tragedy.
“This is the only time you have the opportunity that people will listen to you,” said Representative Carolyn McCarthy, who has spent her entire legislative career fruitlessly attempting to do something about assault weapons that allow crazy people to easily mow down a flock of victims in a couple of minutes.
There was a brief period of time when gun control was a popular issue, but that was before the National Rifle Association mobilized itself into one of the most powerful lobbying forces in the nation’s history. Now the N.R.A. is so feared and so successful that it’s running out of issues and has to keep inventing new ones, like the right to bear arms in airport lobbies.
The gun control advocates, who used to fight for sensible laws on universal background checks and registration, now devote most of their time to stopping states from making it legal to carry concealed weapons in a kindergarten, or to shoot someone you sort of suspect may intend to hurt you.
Lately, even the most terrible gun tragedies fail to make a political dent. After the Columbine shooting, Coloradans voted overwhelmingly in referendum to close the loophole that allowed people to buy weapons at gun shows without a background check. “The legislature wouldn’t pass it so we took it to the people,” said Mauser. But since then, he said, “most of the time we’re just fighting against awful gun bills.”
One of the terrible things about talking to gun control advocates is that so many of them are relatives of gun violence victims. When I interviewed Mauser over the phone, I had no idea that his son had been killed at Columbine until he broke down briefly when I asked him what brought him to the cause.
Then it was on to Representative McCarthy, who lost her husband to a deranged gunman who shot up a Long Island Rail Road car in which he and their son were riding.
“I was up at 5:30 this morning,” she said, on the day when the Aurora shooting hit the news. “You sit there, you go: ‘Oh, my God! It’s happening again.’ I can visualize myself running to the hospital, standing by my son’s bedside, wondering if he was going to make it through the night. It just throws you back to a place you don’t want to go to.”
In our country, the mass shootings come so frequently that most of them go by virtually unnoticed. Did you catch the one last week in Tuscaloosa? Seventeen people at a bar, hit by a gunman with an assault weapon.
People from most other parts of the industrialized world find the American proliferation of guns shocking, but, really, they have no idea. Even most Americans don’t know that Congress has, in recent years, refused to consider laws that would ban the sale of assault weapons capable of firing 100 bullets without reloading, and declined to allow the attorney general to restrict people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing weapons.
The country is not nearly as crazy as its politicians make it out to be. (A survey by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found 82 percent of N.R.A. members opposed letting people on the terrorist watch list buy guns.) Although it could certainly use a little leadership.
After the latest shooting, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York laced into Barack Obama and Mitt Romney for limiting their post-Aurora remarks to expressions of sympathy for the victims.
“I feel your pain and I’m working on it,” he snorted in an interview. “Romney passed a ban on assault weapons back when he was governor and now he says he’s against it. Of course, he’s done that on almost everything. Obama, when he was elected, said I want to reinstate the ban on assault weapons and he’s never done it.”
But presidential candidates look at this issue and see the same thing other elected officials do: a rich, fierce, loopy lobby on one side, and, on the other, people with petitions, slogging along.
Everybody, including the gun control advocates, knows that nothing will change unless the people decide to do the leading. Eventually, the American voters come around. Just ask the suffragists.