As we come upon the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, I find it unfathomable that America is still in a stalled response. In my most right-wing-NRA-toting nightmare I would never have believed that December 14, 2012 would not have been enough for Americans to demand the changes needed to halt our present school shooting epidemic.
As of 2013 there have been approximately 162 school shootings in America. School shootings. Yes, I am only discussing shootings in schools. The place where children go to learn about rivers and stars and algebra and Huck Finn. Where they and their friends eat mac and cheese in a noisy cafeteria, and still stick gum under their desks while being asked to imagine making the world a better place. Where they are encouraged to dream and explore and fail. Yes, dream and explore and even fail because it takes all…
WASHINGTON — The bloody attack in San Bernardino, Calif., last week revived fears about threats from groups such as the Islamic State in America and also fused two fraught policy debates central to the presidential contest: gun control and how far to go in the fight against terrorism.
“What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic weapon?” Mr. Obama asked in a prime-time address to the nation. “This is a matter of national security.”
The proposal, which has divided lawmakers along party lines, failed in the Senate last week, with just one Democrat and one Republican persuaded to switch sides on the issue. The four senators who are running for president — Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz — all voted against the measure.
Mr. Rubio, of Florida, cast the idea as another example of Democrats’ having too much faith in government, posing a threat to due process and potentially violating the rights of law-abiding citizens.
“The majority of people on the no-fly list are oftentimes people that basically just have the same name as somebody else, who don’t belong on the no-fly list,” Mr. Rubio said on CNN on Sunday, estimating that the majority of the more than 700,000 people on the list did not belong on it. “These are everyday Americans that have nothing to do with terrorism.”
Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, agreed with Mr. Rubio. He noted that Senator Ted Kennedy had been stopped from flying on multiple occasions because of problems with such lists and suggested that relying on a no-fly list would do more to slow innocent passengers than it would to stop would-be terrorists.
“This is not a list that you can be certain of,” Mr. Bush told ABC. “The first impulse of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is to have gun control.”
Proposals to impose any restrictions on guns have been a nonstarter in Congress in recent years, despite the increasing prevalence of mass shootings. Opponents of gun control argue that gun laws will not deter people intent on committing murder, and they assert that it is safer to be armed in a dangerous world.
But not all of the Republicans seeking the White House were so certain that gun rights should apply to people who the government thinks could be plotting terrorist attacks. For candidates who have claimed that they would be the toughest against terrorists, the idea of letting homegrown radicals easily buy guns was a concern.
Taking it a step further, Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio characterized imposing gun restrictions on people on the no-fly list as an obvious measure. “Of course, it makes common sense to say that, if you’re on a terrorist watch list, you shouldn’t be able to go out and get a gun,” Mr. Kasich said over the weekend.
And Donald J. Trump, who has been leading the field in most national and state polls for months, said that he also would be open to preventing terrorism suspects from buying firearms.
“I would certainly take a look at it,” Mr. Trump told CBS on Sunday. “I’m very strongly into the whole thing with Second Amendment. But if you can’t fly, and if you have got some really bad — I would certainly look at that very hard.”
The quality of the no-fly list and the criteria for being placed on it have been subject to debate over the years as high-profile passengers and regular travelers alike have been erroneously stopped in airports.
Being removed from such lists can be a challenge. Elizabeth Pipkin, a trial lawyer in California, spent nine years in litigation to get a client, Rahinah Ibrahim, removed from the list after she was stopped from flying in 2005 at San Francisco’s airport. Ms. Ibrahim, a Malaysian citizen and Muslim who was studying at Stanford University at the time, finally had her name cleared last year.
“There is really no criteria for these lists,” Ms. Pipkin said, arguing that using them to restrict gun purchases should worry anyone who is concerned about the Second Amendment. “The government can put anyone on it for any reason. It’s not the cure-all that some might think it is.”
But studies have shown that terrorism suspects do readily have access to guns. A report to Congress from the Government Accountability Office this year found that from 2004 to 2014, more than 2,000 people on the terrorist watch list were able to buy guns from dealers in the United States. Just 190 attempted transactions were denied.
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately comment on the list, but a former senior counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, pointed out that the no-fly list is a small subset of the overall watch list of more than a million people, and that it is carefully vetted.
“The silliness of objecting to restricting gun purchases by people on the no-fly is exceeded only by how limited that step would be,” the former official said.
It’s become a standard response to mass shootings in America: If only more “good” Americans were armed, the “bad guys” wouldn’t have a chance to kill.
Ted Cruz said it on Monday, arguing in a radio interview that “you don’t stop the bad guys by taking away our guns. You stop the bad guys by using our guns, and a free and armed American citizenry is how we keep ourselves safe.”
But Jerry Falwell, Jr. took the argument to a new extreme on Friday, telling students at Liberty University, where he is president, that “if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walk in and kill.” He urged students to get their own permits so they too could carry concealed weapons and, apparently, shoot Muslims: “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”
His comments are chilling because they imply that Americans should use concealed weapons to “end” Muslims simply on the basis of their religion. On Saturday Mr. Falwell clarified that he was referring only to Muslims who commit attacks. It remains unclear how an armed Liberty University student is supposed to decide which Muslims are about to commit acts of terror before they do so.
But Mr. Falwell’s remarks are disturbing beyond their obvious bigotry. He and Mr. Cruz conceive of an America in which every citizen is essentially obligated to carry a firearm and be ready to use deadly force at all times.
Such a system would, as Francis Clines has pointed out, create serious problems for law enforcement. If everyone at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino had been armed and firing, the result would have been an even more chaotic situation in which police would not have known whom to target. Many more lives might have been lost in the crossfire.
Our country would be far more dangerous than it is now if everyone brought a gun to every argument, as Matt Valentine illustrated at Politico in October.
Nor are ordinary citizens prepared for the responsibility of serving as de facto law enforcement. An online class is enough training to qualify for a concealed-carry permit in some states, while soldiers and police officers are trained for months or years. Even this training has not been sufficient to keep some police officers from fatally shooting unarmed black men and boys. Do we really think an online certification is enough to enable average Americans to take the law into their own hands?
And do we, as Americans, really want to do this? The responsibility to kill is an incredibly heavy one, and the consequences of exercising it can be severe. Some police departments offer therapy to officers who fire their weapons. The military has only begun to reckon with the devastating psychological toll of combat. We are not prepared for every American, all the time, to feel and behave like a police officer in a firefight or a soldier at war. We should not have to prepare for it.
One of the great benefits of a civil society is that it selects and trains people dedicated to keeping everyone safe. This group, in the United States, is not perfect. But the alternative — everyone, always, a potential killer — is far worse.
Hillary Clinton: We can’t hide from hard truths on race
In San Francisco, Hillary Clinton spoke at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors on the need to address systemic racism in the wake of the shooting in Charleston.
Thank you! Thank you all so much.
It’s great to be here with all of you. I’m looking out at the audience and seeing so many familiar faces, as well as those here up on the dais.
I want to thank Kevin for his introduction and his leadership of this organization.
Mayor Lee, thanks for having us in your beautiful city.
It is for me a great treat to come back to address a group that, as you just heard, I spent a lot of time as senator working with — in great measure because of the need for buttressing Homeland Security, as well as other challenges within our cities during the eight years I served in the Senate.
And it was always refreshing to come here because despite whatever was going on in Congress or Washington with respect to partisanship, a conference of mayors was truly like an oasis in the desert. I could come here and be reminded of what Mayor LaGuardia said, “There’s no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage. You pick it up, or you don’t pick it up.” And I loved being with people who understood that.
I’ve learned over the years how important it is to work with city hall, to try to make sure we are connected up as partners and to get whatever the priorities of your people happen to be accomplished.
So it pays. It pays to work with you, and I am grateful to have this opportunity to come back and see you.
When I was Senator from New York, I not only worked with the mayor of New York City, of course, I worked with creative and committed mayors from Buffalo to Rochester to Syracuse to Albany and so many other places.
And I was particularly happy to do so because they were always full of ideas and eager to work together to attract more high-paying jobs, to revitalize downtowns, to support our first responders, to try to close that skills gap.
And I want you to be sure of this, whether you are a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent: If I am president, America’s mayors will always have a friend in the White House.
Now, as I was preparing to come here, I couldn’t help but think of some of those who aren’t with us today.
Tom Menino was a dear friend to me, and to many in this room, and I certainly feel his loss.
Today, our thoughts are also with our friend Joe Riley and the people of Charleston. Joe’s a good man and a great mayor, and his leadership has been a bright light during such a dark time.
You know, the passing of days has not dulled the pain or the shock of this crime. Indeed, as we have gotten to know the faces and names and stories of the victims, the pain has only deepened.
Nine faithful women and men, with families and passions and so much left to do.
As a mother, a grandmother, a human being, my heart is bursting for them. For these victims and their families. For a wounded community and a wounded church. For our country struggling once again to make sense of violence that is fundamentally senseless, and history we desperately want to leave behind.
Yesterday was Juneteenth, a day of liberation and deliverance. One-hundred and fifty years ago, as news of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation spread from town to town across the South, free men and women lifted their voices in song and prayer.
Congregations long forced to worship underground, like the first Christians, joyfully resurrected their churches.
In Charleston, the African Methodist Episcopal Church took a new name: Emanuel. “God is with us.”
Faith has always seen this community through, and I know it will again.
Just as earlier generations threw off the chains of slavery and then segregation and Jim Crow, this generation will not be shackled by fear and hate.
On Friday, one by one, grieving parents and siblings stood up in court and looked at that young man, who had taken so much from them, and said: “I forgive you.”
In its way, their act of mercy was more stunning than his act of cruelty.
It reminded me of watching Nelson Mandela embrace his former jailers because, he said, he didn’t want to be imprisoned twice, once by steel and concrete, once by anger and bitterness.
In these moments of tragedy, many of us struggle with how to process the rush of emotions.
I’d been in Charleston that day. I’d gone to a technical school, Trident Tech. I had seen the joy, the confidence and optimism of young people who were now serving apprenticeships with local businesses, Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, every background. I listened to their stories, I shook their hands, I saw the hope and the pride.
And then by the time I got to Las Vegas, I read the news.
Like many of you, I was so overcome: How to turn grief, confusion into purpose and action? But that’s what we have to do.
For me and many others, one immediate response was to ask how it could be possible that we as a nation still allow guns to fall into the hands of people whose hearts are filled with hate.
You can’t watch massacre after massacre and not come to the conclusion that, as President Obama said, we must tackle this challenge with urgency and conviction.
Now, I lived in Arkansas and I represented Upstate New York. I know that gun ownership is part of the fabric of a lot of law-abiding communities.
But I also know that we can have common sense gun reforms that keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and the violently unstable, while respecting responsible gun owners.
What I hope with all of my heart is that we work together to make this debate less polarized, less inflamed by ideology, more informed by evidence, so we can sit down across the table, across the aisle from one another, and find ways to keep our communities safe while protecting constitutional rights.
It makes no sense that bipartisan legislation to require universal background checks would fail in Congress, despite overwhelming public support.
It makes no sense that we wouldn’t come together to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, or people suffering from mental illnesses, even people on the terrorist watch list. That doesn’t make sense, and it is a rebuke to this nation we love and care about.
The President is right: The politics on this issue have been poisoned. But we can’t give up. The stakes are too high. The costs are too dear.
And I am not and will not be afraid to keep fighting for commonsense reforms, and along with you, achieve those on behalf of all who have been lost because of this senseless gun violence in our country.
But today, I stand before you because I know and you know there is a deeper challenge we face.
I had the great privilege of representing America around the world. I was so proud to share our example, our diversity, our openness, our devotion to human rights and freedom. These qualities have drawn generations of immigrants to our shores, and they inspire people still. I have seen it with my own eyes.
And yet, bodies are once again being carried out of a Black church.
Once again, racist rhetoric has metastasized into racist violence.
Now, it’s tempting, it is tempting to dismiss a tragedy like this as an isolated incident, to believe that in today’s America, bigotry is largely behind us, that institutionalized racism no longer exists.
But despite our best efforts and our highest hopes, America’s long struggle with race is far from finished.
I know this is a difficult topic to talk about. I know that so many of us hoped by electing our first Black president, we had turned the page on this chapter in our history.
I know there are truths we don’t like to say out loud or discuss with our children. But we have to. That’s the only way we can possibly move forward together.
Race remains a deep fault line in America. Millions of people of color still experience racism in their everyday lives.
Here are some facts.
In America today, Blacks are nearly three times as likely as whites to be denied a mortgage.
In 2013, the median wealth of Black families was around $11,000. For white families, it was more than $134,000.
Nearly half of all Black families have lived in poor neighborhoods for at least two generations, compared to just 7 percent of white families.
African American men are far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than white men, 10 percent longer for the same crimes in the federal system.
In America today, our schools are more segregated than they were in the 1960s.
How can any of that be true? How can it be true that Black children are 500 percent more likely to die from asthma than white kids? Five hundred percent!
More than a half century after Dr. King marched and Rosa Parks sat and John Lewis bled, after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and so much else, how can any of these things be true? But they are.
And our problem is not all kooks and Klansman. It’s also in the cruel joke that goes unchallenged. It’s in the off-hand comments about not wanting “those people” in the neighborhood.
Let’s be honest: For a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young Black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear. And news reports about poverty and crime and discrimination evoke sympathy, even empathy, but too rarely do they spur us to action or prompt us to question our own assumptions and privilege.
We can’t hide from any of these hard truths about race and justice in America. We have to name them and own them and then change them.
You may have heard about a woman in North Carolina named Debbie Dills. She’s the one who spotted Dylann Roof’s car on the highway. She could have gone on about her business. She could have looked to her own safety. But that’s not what she did. She called the police and then she followed that car for more than 30 miles.
As Congressman Jim Clyburn said the other day, “There may be a lot of Dylann Roofs in the world, but there are a lot of Debbie Dills too. She didn’t remain silent.”
Well, neither can we. We all have a role to play in building a more tolerant, inclusive society, what I once called “a village,” where there is a place for everyone.
You know, we Americans may differ and bicker and stumble and fall, but we are at our best when we pick each other up, when we have each other’s back.
Like any family, our American family is strongest when we cherish what we have in common, and fight back against those who would drive us apart.
Mayors are on the front lines in so many ways. We look to you for leadership in time of crisis. We look to you every day to bring people together to build stronger communities.
Many mayors are part of the U.S. Coalition of Cities against Racism and Discrimination, launched by this conference in 2013. I know you’re making reforms in your own communities, promoting tolerance in schools, smoothing the integration of immigrants, creating economic opportunities.
Mayors across the country also are doing all they can to prevent gun violence and keep our streets and neighborhoods safe.
And that’s not all. Across our country, there is so much that is working. It’s easy to forget that when you watch or read the news. In cities and towns from coast to coast, we are seeing incredible innovation. Mayors are delivering results with what Franklin Roosevelt called bold and persistent experimentation.
Here in San Francisco, Mayor Lee is expanding a workforce training program for residents of public housing, helping people find jobs who might have spent time in prison or lost their driver’s license or fallen behind in child support payments.
South of here in Los Angeles and north in Seattle, city governments are raising the minimum wage so more people who work hard can get ahead and support their families.
In Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter is pioneering a new approach to community policing to rebuild trust and respect between law enforcement and communities of color.
In Houston, Louisville and Chicago, the mayors are finding new ways to help workers train and compete for jobs in advanced industries.
Cities like Cleveland and Lexington are linking up their universities and their factories to spur a revival of manufacturing.
In Denver and Detroit, city leaders are getting creative about how they raise funds for building and repairing mass transit.
Providence is helping parents learn how to become their children’s first teachers, and spend more time reading, talking, and singing to their babies at critical stages of early brain development.
Kevin Johnson, who has led both Sacramento and this conference so ably, calls this renaissance of urban innovation “Cities 3.0,” and talks about “open-source leadership” and mayors as pragmatic problem-solvers.
That’s what we need more of in America.
And Kevin is right, we need to reimagine the relationship between the federal government and our metropolitan areas. Top-down, one-size-fits-all solutions rarely work.
We need what I’ll call a new Flexible Federalism that empowers and connects communities, leverages their unique advantages, adapts to changing circumstances. And I look forward to working with all of you to turn this vision into a reality.
I’ve put Four Fights at the center of my campaign:
First, to build an economy for tomorrow not yesterday;
Second, to strengthen America’s families, the foundation of everything we are;
Third, to harness all of our power, our smarts, and our values to continue to lead the world;
And fourth, to revitalize our democracy back here at home.
Mayors are vital for all four of these efforts. You know what it takes to make government actually work, and you know it can make a real difference in people’s lives.
But you also know that government alone does not have the answers we seek. If we are going to re-stitch the fraying fabric of our communities, all Americans are going to have to step up. There are laws we should pass and programs we should fund and fights we should wage and win.
But so much of the real work is going to come around kitchen tables and over bedtime stories, around office watercoolers and in factory break rooms, at quiet moments in school and at work, in honest conversations between parents and children, between friends and neighbors.
Because fundamentally, this is about the habits of our hearts, how we treat each other, how we learn to see the humanity in those around us, no matter what they look like, how they worship, or who they love. Most of all, it’s about how we teach our children to see that humanity too.
Andy Young is here, and I want to tell a story about him because I think it’s as timely today as it was all those years ago.
You know, at the end of the 1950s the South was beginning to find its way into the modern economy. It wasn’t easy. There were determined leaders in both government and business that wanted to raise the standard of living and recruit businesses, make life better.
When the closing of Central High School in Little Rock happened, and President Eisenhower had to send in federal troops to keep peace, that sent a message of urgency but also opportunity.
I remember Andy coming to Little Rock some years later, and saying that in Atlanta when folks saw what was going on in Little Rock and saw some of the continuing resistance to enforcing civil rights laws, opening up closed doors, creating the chance for Blacks and whites to study together, to work together, to live together, Atlanta made a different decision.
The leadership of Atlanta came together, looked out across the South and said, “Some place in the South is really going to make it big. We need to be that place.” And they adopted a slogan, “the city too busy to hate.”
Well, we need to be cities, states and a country too busy to hate. We need to get about the work of tearing down the barriers and the obstacles, roll up our sleeves together, look at what’s working across our country, and then share it and scale it.
As all of us reeled from the news in Charleston this past week, a friend of mine shared this observation with a number of us. Think about the hearts and values of those men and women of Mother Emanuel, he said.
“A dozen people gathered to pray. They’re in their most intimate of communities and a stranger who doesn’t look or dress like them joins in. They don’t judge. They don’t question. They don’t reject. They just welcome. If he’s there, he must need something: prayer, love, community, something. During their last hour, nine people of faith welcomed a stranger in prayer and fellowship.”
For those of us who are Christians, we remember the words of the scripture: “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
That’s humanity at its best. That’s also America at its best. And that’s the spirit we need to nurture our lives and our families and our communities.
I know it’s not usual for somebody running for president to say what we need more of in this country is love and kindness. But that’s exactly what we need more of.
We need to be not only too busy to hate but too caring, too loving to ignore, to walk away, to give up.
Part of the reason I’m running for president is I love this country. I am so grateful for each and every blessing and opportunity I’ve been given.
I did not pick my parents. I did not decide before I arrived that I would live in a middle class family in the middle of America, be given the opportunity to go to good public schools with dedicated teachers and a community that supported me and all of the other kids.
I came of age at a time when barriers were falling for women, another benefit.
I came of age as the Civil Rights movement was beginning to not only change laws but change hearts.
I’ve seen the expansion of not just rights but opportunities to so many of our fellow men and women who had been left out and left behind.
But we have unfinished business. And I am absolutely confident and optimistic we can get that done.
I stand here ready to work with each and every one of you to support your efforts, to stand with you, to put the task of moving beyond the past at the head of our national agenda. I’m excited about what we can accomplish together.
I thank you for what you’ve already done and I look forward to all that you will be doing in the future.
This morning the radio clicked on at 6:00 am, and as my spouse and I usually do after hearing the morning headlines, we both reached for our iPhones to check emails, texts, Facebook statuses and Twitter feeds. Yes, we like a broad picture of the wide world beyond our valley vista before feet hit the solid ground. What stayed with me was an emotional Facebook status posted by a strong and smart young mother: “Sometimes I lay awake at night and I think about that guy shooting all of those innocent babies in an elementary school…….and there is not a damn thing anyone can do about it, then, now, or ever.” As I laced up to head out for a morning run I wondered how many other mothers feel the same today, in mid-July…feel that crippling powerlessness parents all over our country feel every time they wave goodbye and watch the yellow school bus pull away with their child…
Like most of the plugged-in world, I awaited news of the Zimmerman verdict. At first I was stunned by his acquittal, then sickened, and like all such shocks, that bitter emotion lodged itself into my fiber and I felt an ache all over. I followed the trial coverage peripherally due to my naive sense this would be an easy decision; after all Zimmerman was found standing over Trayvon’s lifeless body, smoking gun in hand, and volunteered his confession of murder. It is only in the aftermath of the shameful verdict that I became aware of the NRA’s role and Florida’s ALEC funded “Stand Your Ground” law in this case.