Blow, Kristof and Collins

In “Reframing the Gun Debate” Mr. Blow says this time, something must be done about gun laws. And it looks as if something will.  From his lips to God’s ear, but I’m not going to get all hopeful.  Mr. Kristof writes “In Defense of  Hagel for Defense” and says Chuck Hagel, with his Vietnam combat experience, would be an excellent defense secretary.  Ms. Collins, in “The Woes of Roe,” says forty years after the Supreme Court handed down the great abortion rights decision, Americans remain permanently uncomfortable with the issue.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

This time things are different.

This time, nearly a month after the horrible mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., the public attention hasn’t ricocheted to the next story. On the contrary, sorrow has hardened into resolve.

This time, something can and must be done. And it looks as if something will.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that:

“The White House is weighing a far broader and more comprehensive approach to curbing the nation’s gun violence than simply reinstating an expired ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition, according to multiple people involved in the administration’s discussions.”

According to The Post’s sources, this could include measures “that would require universal background checks for firearm buyers, track the movement and sale of weapons through a national database, strengthen mental health checks, and stiffen penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to minors.”

And in addition to whatever legislative package the president may push, Vice President Joe Biden made clear Wednesday that the president wouldn’t shy away from using executive action.

“The president is going to act,” Biden said, according to CNN. “Executive orders, executive action, can be taken.”

So, as we move into this season of change on gun policy, let’s take a moment to better frame the debate.

First, let’s fix some of the terminology: stop calling groups like the National Rifle Association a “gun rights” group. These are anti-regulation, pro-proliferation groups. They prey on public fears — of the “bad guys with guns,” of a Second Amendment rollback, of an ever imminent apocalypse — while helping gun makers line their pockets.

(Sturm, Ruger & Company’s stock has gone up more than 500 percent since President Obama was first elected, and Smith & Wesson’s stock is up more than 200 percent.)

And the gun makers return the favor. According to a 2011 report by the Violence Policy Center, a group advocating stronger gun regulations:

“Since 2005, corporations — gun related and other — have contributed between $19.8 million and $52.6 million to the NRA as detailed in its Ring of Freedom corporate giving program.”

The report continued:

“The vast majority of funds — 74 percent — contributed to the NRA from ‘corporate partners’ are members of the firearms industry: companies involved in the manufacture or sale of firearms or shooting-related products. Contributions to the NRA from the firearms industry since 2005 total between $14.7 million and $38.9 million.”

Groups like the N.R.A. aren’t as much about rights as wrongs. The money being churned is soaked in blood and marked by madness.

Second, more reasonable people of good conscience and good faith, including responsible gun owners, need to talk openly, honestly and forcefully about the need for additional, reasonable regulations.

There is power in speaking up. We know the face of unfettered gun proliferation. Now it’s time to see more faces of regulation and restraint.

Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal joined those ranks on Tuesday when he said on MSNBC:

“I spent a career carrying typically either an M16, and later an M4 carbine. And an M4 carbine fires a .223 caliber round, which is 5.56 millimeters, at about 3,000 feet per second. When it hits a human body, the effects are devastating. It’s designed to do that. And that’s what our soldiers ought to carry. I personally don’t think there’s any need for that kind of weaponry on the street and particularly around the schools in America. I believe that we’ve got to take a serious look. I understand everybody’s desire to have whatever they want, but we’ve got to protect our children, we’ve got to protect our police, we’ve got to protect our population. And I think we’ve got to take a very mature look at that.”

A “mature look” indeed. And that comes from a real soldier, not just someone who wants to feel like one.

Third, we must be clear that we are not talking about prohibition and confiscation but about de-escalation — in both the volume and lethal efficiency — and accountability.

No one is talking about forbidding law-abiding, mentally sound citizens to purchase nonmilitary-style weapons that don’t hold more bullets than we have digits.

The point is to ensure that we don’t sell military weapons with extended clips to the public and that the guns we do sell are purchased only by responsible people. And, once the guns are purchased, we need to ensure that they all remain in responsible hands. One place to start is to require background checks of all purchases and to track the guns, not just for the life of the purchaser, but for the life of the gun.

Last, we must understand that whatever we do now is not necessarily the whole of the solution but a step in the right direction on a long walk back from a precipice. Our search for solutions must be dynamic because the gun industry is wily and our quandary is epic.

We don’t want to pass the point where society is so saturated with the most dangerous kinds of weaponry that people feel compelled to arm themselves or be left vulnerable, if indeed we haven’t already passed that point.

According to The Associated Press, a small Utah town is making a “gun in every home a priority.” The A.P. reported:

“Spring City Councilman Neil Sorensen first proposed an ordinance requiring a gun in every household in the town of 1,000. The rest of the council scoffed at making it a requirement, but they unanimously agreed to move forward with an ordinance ‘recommending’ the idea. The council also approved funding to offer concealed firearms training Friday to the 20 teachers and administrators at the local elementary school.”

That is not where we want to be as a country.

Next up is Mr. Kristof:

Critics are pounding President Obama’s choice for defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, as soft on Iran, anti-military and even anti-Semitic. This is a grotesque caricature of a man who would make a terrific defense secretary.

It’s true that Hagel harbors a healthy skepticism about deploying American troops. That’s because he also harbors shrapnel in his chest from Vietnam and appreciates the human costs when Pentagon officials move pins on maps.

In Vietnam, Hagel rescued his unconscious brother (who served in the same unit) from a troop carrier that had hit a mine. The incident left Hagel with blown eardrums, bad burns and an important take-away.

“I’m not a pacifist. I believe in using force, but only after a very careful decision-making process,” Hagel later told Vietnam magazine. “The night Tom and I were medevaced out of that village in April 1968, I told myself: If I ever get out of this and I’m ever in a position to influence policy, I will do everything I can to avoid needless, senseless war.”

How refreshing to imagine decisions about war made by brave doves rather than by chicken hawks.

“Too often in Washington, the issue of intervention becomes an abstraction, a policy debate,” noted Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former senior State Department official. “I like the idea that somebody at the table sees it in terms of people.”

Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser and doyen of serious Republican thinkers on foreign policy, told me: “I think he would be an outstanding secretary of defense.” Scowcroft noted that top officials are sometimes tempted to turn to military force “as a way of cleaning up problems quickly” without appreciating the complexities, while Hagel would be a counterweight who understands the messiness of combat.

That would be useful because America’s biggest foreign policy mistake in this new century has been overdeploying troops. President Obama’s own biggest blunder was tripling the number of American forces in Afghanistan. We have, so far, sunk $640 billion into Afghanistan and more than $800 billion into Iraq — all told, according to my calculation, more than $12,000 per American household.

Imagine if those sums had been spent on, say, early childhood education in America. Or on getting more kids through college. Or on global education: About 1 percent of the total sunk in Iraq and Afghanistan, if instead spent annually on schooling around the world, would allow every child worldwide to complete primary school, ending global illiteracy.

The nastiest and most shameful innuendo about Hagel is that he is anti-Semitic. A Wall Street Journal column suggested as much, and Elliott Abrams, a former George W. Bush administration official, asserted that Hagel “appears to be … an anti-Semite.” I’m standing up for Hagel right now partly because I find this so offensive.

The “evidence” is that Hagel once referred to the term “Jewish lobby” rather than “Israel lobby,” and that he has generally been more willing to criticize Israeli policies than many of America’s feckless politicians.

For starters, “Jewish lobby” is a term that has been widely used: A search of “Jewish lobby” on the Web site of Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, has 27 pages of citations. And Haaretz has criticized Israeli policies much more harshly than Hagel.

Leaders of Jewish organizations themselves have used the term “Jewish lobby.” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, used the term a couple weeks ago.

It’s bullying and name-calling to denounce people as anti-Semitic because they won’t embrace the policies of a far-right Israeli government that regularly shoots itself in the foot. In a world in which anti-Semitism actually does persist, this is devaluing the term so that it becomes simply a glib right-wing insult. Maybe that’s why Jewish Voice for Peace, a liberal American Jewish organization, has announced that its supporters have sent 10,000 e-mails to President Obama in support of Hagel’s nomination.

As for Iran, Hagel will need to sound more hawkish in public to mesh with the administration, and it is useful for Iran to worry about a military strike. But I hope that Hagel, in private, continues to be cautious. Obama has been painting himself in a corner so that if a nuclear deal with Tehran isn’t reached, he would have to order bombings sometime in 2013 or 2014. A skeptic at the Pentagon would be a useful addition to that debate.

As a journalist who spends a good deal of time in the field, I am often alarmed that Washington policy-making can become an echo chamber reinforcing the prejudices of whoever is in charge without giving weight to inconvenient complexities on the ground. With his combat experience, Chuck Hagel would offer not an echo but a thoughtful and independent voice.

But the Swift Boating has already started, and it’s going to get very, very ugly.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Forty years ago this month, the Supreme Court handed down the great abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade. To be honest, you’re not going to be seeing a whole lot of cake and Champagne. Time magazine recognized the occasion with a downbeat cover story. (“They’ve Been Losing Ever Since.”) Gallup polls suggest support for abortion rights is fading, particularly among young Americans, and that more people now regard themselves as “pro-life” than “pro-choice.”

On the other hand — I know you had faith that eventually we’d get to the other hand — the polls depend on the question. According to the Quinnipiac poll, if you ask Americans whether they agree with the Roe decision, nearly two-thirds say yes.

It’s always been this way. Americans are permanently uncomfortable with the abortion issue, and they respond most positively to questions that suggest it isn’t up to them to decide anything. “Should be a matter between a woman and her doctor” is usually a popular option.

Whatever recent changes there are in public opinion may be less about abortion than about the term “pro-choice.” This week, Planned Parenthood unveiled a pile of new research, some of which suggests that younger women don’t like labels. Or at least not that one. “We’ve been discussing changing our name for the past year or so,” said Kelsey Warrick, a Georgetown University student who’s president of Hoyas for Choice.

Maybe it’s like feminism, a word with a glorious history that’s rejected by many young people who are staunchly in favor of women’s rights. Maybe, as Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of Planned Parenthood, suggested at a press conference this week, it’s just that young women feel as though they’re up to their ears in choices already.

We may never know, although if pro-choice activists want to rebrand themselves the Movement for Leaving Women Alone, it’s likely nobody under the age of 50 would object.

One way or another, the abortion rights cause needs all the help it can get. Abortion clinics around the country are reeling under crazy new rules that make it impossible for them to operate. In Virginia, the state board of health is demanding that clinics follow the same architectural standards as hospitals, including 5-foot-wide hallways. In Texas, the Legislature is considering a law that would require that all abortions be performed in ambulatory surgical centers. When the state passed that requirement for pregnancies beyond 16 weeks in 2004, every single clinic doing that procedure was forced to shut down. Only a handful managed to reopen — in a state that encompasses more than 261,000 square miles.

In Mississippi, the state’s one and only abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is in danger of closing because of a new law requiring that any doctor who does abortions have admitting privileges at a local hospital. This would be less of a problem if the local hospitals were not all terrified of giving privileges to anybody who performs abortions. When the clinic tried to advertise for a doctor who already had the requisite affiliation, the state medical journal refused to take the ad.

“We’re just doing business as usual. Trying to be there for the women of Mississippi,” said Betty Thompson, the former director who stayed on after she retired and is now working as a counselor.

Over the last 40 years, women seeking abortions have been put through a lot of unnecessary trauma. Trips of hundreds of miles to the nearest clinic. Requirements that they have ultrasounds, or have ultrasounds and listen to the physician describe the ultrasound, or have ultrasounds and then wait 24 hours before the procedure. (In Texas, the doctor who does the abortion also has to conduct the ultrasound, creating a scheduling nightmare.)

They’re caught in the middle of a political fight over a deeply personal issue that leaves most Americans feeling uneasy. If you want to rack up a real positive response on a poll, ask people whether the women or the politicians should make decisions about their pregnancies. One of the surveys commissioned by Planned Parenthood showed 83 percent of likely voters picked the women, including 64 percent of those who called themselves pro-life.

If there’s been any permanent message in this long battle, that’s been it. No matter how conservative the state, sooner or later you will hit the point where the people object to politicians messing with a woman’s private business. Mississippi voters rejected a statewide referendum to give any fetus the right of “personhood.” Voters in South Dakota, another state with a single, struggling, abortion clinic, have twice rejected total abortion bans.

Every time the anti-abortion movement pushes too far, it reminds people that its cause, no matter how filled with moral fervor, is basically about imposing one particular theology on the rest of the country. Over the long run, the nervous, ambivalent, uncomfortable public won’t let that happen.

The “pro life” movement isn’t.  If it were it would oppose wars and be in favor of gun control.  It should more honestly be called the “forced birth” movement.


One Response to “Blow, Kristof and Collins”

  1. John Cross Says:

    At one time, I had sympathy with gun owners as hunters and people in need of self defense. But that was before I had personal experience with irresponsible or mentally sick people armed with guns:
    * Before I met a deputy sheriff who thought it was cool to impress people by flaunting his side arm.
    * Before a little playmate got into his father’s things and decided to show off his father’s pistol to my seven year-old daughter, who happily was not shot.
    * Before I saw a bumper stickers with the mentally diseased slogan, “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands”.

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