The politics of violence

The politics of violence

By Hastings Wyman –

President Obama was correct when he described the latest mass murders, this time in San Bernadino, as a “pattern.” The causes are complex. Some are motivated by the current wave of Islamist terrorism, in Europe and here in the US. Others, more difficult to explain, are the products of – no other word fits it – wackos.

Just as difficult is coming up with effective preventive measures. More restrictive gun laws might help, particularly with more thorough background checks and a ban on assault rifles. A more aggressive policy that leads to the destruction of, or at least a severe blow to ISIS, or more restrictive immigration policies, such as amending the visa-waiver program, might also help.

Tighter gun laws, however, whether effective in curbing mass shootings or not, are not in the cards. Democrats and liberals favor this approach, but don’t have the votes to make any significant changes in the laws affecting access to weapons, assault rifles or otherwise.

What is even more depressing, however, is that even if strong limits on gun ownership were to become law, it is unlikely that there would be that many fewer guns on the streets. All sorts of recreational drugs – cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana, heroin – have been illegal for decades, and drug addiction is as prevalent as ever, if not increasing. Similarly, too many guns are already out there and if more of them were made illegal, the profit in smuggling firearms would likely soar. Thus, the violence, by terrorists and criminal gangs, would likely continue.

However, some restrictions on gun ownership might inhibit the ability of emotionally disturbed persons to obtain weapons, and thus curtail some of the “wacko” murders. But don’t look for Congress to do anything in this direction soon. Republicans and conservatives generally see this as curtailing 2nd Amendment rights, and have demonstrated time and again that, in an alliance with the National Rifle Association, no major revision of guns laws is likely to make it through the legislative process.

At the same time those on the left are putting all their eggs in the gun control basket, politicians on the right are calling for stricter immigration requirements and, in some cases, a greater US effort to destroy ISIS in its Middle East strongholds. This approach is more likely to become reality than more gun controls, but here again, it’s hardly a sure thing. Most military experts say troops on the ground is the only workable approach to defeating ISIS. No Democratic presidential candidates and only two Republicans – Lindsey Graham and, more recently, Jeb Bush – have advocated more American boots on the ground in that violent part of the world.

This partisan divide was apparent last Wednesday night when news of the San Bernadino massacre was coming to light in dribs and drabs. Fox News, the most rightwing friendly channel, was the first to name the shooter, whose Arab-sounding name – Syed Rizwan Farook – strongly suggested a connection to terrorism. CNN, probably best described as center-left, kept up the workplace angle for as long as it could, even trumpeting the FBI’s view that no motive for the killings had been discovered, as if slaughtering Americans was not motive enough for Islamist terrorists.

There have also been calls for better mental health policies. In at least one case, at Virginia Tech in 2007, the assailant’s mother had been to county officials for help with her son, whom she deemed disturbed. Moreover, the assailant’s counselor had told university officials that he was dangerous. Privacy laws, however, prevented any intervention before the fact.

Removing some of the privacy protection laws in order to help authorities prevent violence outbreaks has divided both the right and left. Tea Party-oriented Rand Paul boosted his national reputation by his successful opposition to the National Security Agency’s authority to collect bulk data on telephone calls in this country. Many Democrats, though not the White House, supported this restriction, which may soon be reinstated.

Depending on the outcome of the 2016 elections, the solutions on the right, in one form or another, might have a better chance of becoming law, even if Hillary Clinton becomes president. Nevertheless, the outlook for any new major anti-mass murder policies is not good.

So either shelter in place, or if you venture out, if you see something, say something.