LETTER FROM WASHINGTON
To Democrats Abroad
30 November 2015
Executive Director Emeritus
Americans around the world know that the bloody chaos in the Middle East with its great power confrontation is the most important and immediate problem facing the United States. They also know, as well as this observer on the Potomac, what is happening in that complex struggle almost hour by hour. It is front page news around the globe.
But, the contending political forces here at home that bear heavily on the kind of America to which they may return may be less evident abroad.
There is a worrisome intersection of Islamic violence abroad and our home grown violence born in large part of the easy availability of guns.
How we should respond to these two on-going threats to our peace and tranquility divides the public and Democrats from Republicans.
Public fear of a major terrorist attack hit 81% in late November following the November 13 ISIL attack in Paris which came in the wake of the terrorist downing of the Russian passenger plane in Sinai on October 31 which followed Russia’s military intervention in Syria on September 30. In response to this expectation, majorities of the public favored increased US military force to combat ISIL abroad and opposed admitting Middle East refugees to the US. While the November polling found that 60% favored increased use of ground forces against ISIL, there appears to be little enthusiasm for any significant number of boots on the ground. It is clear that the greater the belief in a major terrorist attack, the greater the support for increased military intervention and opposition to the admission of war refugees.
While some of the present and past Republican presidential candidates (Bush and Cruz) would admit Christian refugees, the rest ( Carson, Christie, Fiorina, Graham, Huckabee, Jindal, Kasich, Pataki, Paul, Rubio, Santorum and Trump) would admit none. All three Democratic candidates (Clinton, O’Malley and Sanders) favor refugee admission with no religious test. The polling shows that 78% of the public would give equal consideration for admission to all religious groups and only 18% would give special consideration to Christians.
In September, the White House announced that the United States would admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, up from fewer than 2,000 in 2015. Republicans have both fanned public fears of terrorist attacks and attacked Obama and the Democratic candidates for their support for immigrants and for admitting Syrian refugees. Cruz made the case: “ What Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are proposing is that we bring to this country tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees. ... That is nothing short of lunacy.” Thirty Republican governors (and one Democratic) have said that the refugees are not welcome in their states and the House Republicans under the new leadership of Paul Ryan, passed a bill with a veto proof majority (including 47 Democrats), that would effectively halt the admission of Syrian refugees. Senator Harry Reid pledged that it would never reach the President who, in any event, has said he would veto it.
Hillary Clinton staked out the Democratic position: "We've seen a lot of hateful rhetoric from the GOP. But the idea that we'd turn away refugees because of religion is a new low." "We can't act as though we are shutting the door to people in need without undermining who we are as Americans."
The irony of this pre-occupation with the infiltration of ISIL terrorists is that our own domestic violence far surpasses the carnage inflicted by ISIL in Europe. It murdered 130 in Paris. We have an average of 90 deaths from guns each day with hardly a peep of alarm about that from Republicans and only recently (and only timidly) from Democrats. In the 333 days of 2015, we have had 352 mass shootings (four or more people shot in one event).
On Friday, a customer shot and killed an employee at the Waffle House restaurant in Biloxi when he was asked not to smoke. The next day the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs was attacked in a 5 hour rampage by a white gunman who killed one police officer and two civilians before surrendering.
The three Democratic presidential candidates immediately condemned the attack and repeated their support for Planned Parenthood. It took a while for the Republican candidates to condemn the killings but no time to deny that their continuing incendiary political attacks on Planned Parenthood had anything to do with the tragedy.
Obama called, again, for more effective regulations to limit access to firearms. In that, he is supported by all three Democratic presidential candidates. And, he is opposed by the Republican candidates who universally reject tougher gun regulation. While Democrats are proposing stronger gun regulation in Congress, their bills have no chance of adoption by a Republican majority. The President, having been rebuffed by Congress in his calls for tougher regulation after the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre, is looking for a way to tighten regulation by executive authority. We may find out whether his lawyers have found a way that could be defended in the courts in the wake of the Colorado Springs shooting.
The murders in Biloxi and Colorado Springs, together with the scores of other gun deaths each day that make no headlines, are certainly fed by the easy availability of guns and the atmosphere of fear promoted by the gun industry and Republican leaders. Although precise statistics are unavailable, largely because the gun lobby has barred the federal government from collecting them, it appeared even two years ago that about 37% of US households have a gun and about 79% of gun owners say that having a gun makes them feel safer. The more the public fears for its safety, the greater the demand for guns. Right-wing organizations claim that after the Paris attacks, “...Americans have flooded into gun stores to purchase new guns and sign up for concealed carry permit classes...” .
The easy access to guns is also a factor in the number of those shot dead each year by police. By late November this year, The Washington Post had documented 885 such deaths. 30 were black and unarmed. In the past 30 days, the police shot and killed 66 people. Police officers die from guns as well. The latest data is for 2014 when 48 officers were shot dead. The common justification for police shootings is the officer’s fear of being shot by the person he is confronting.
It is hard to imagine that fewer guns on the street would not mean fewer gun deaths and less reason for police officers to believe they are in danger of being shot.
Immigration, Syrian refugees, Planned Parenthood and gun control, like climate change, healthcare, financial regulation and taxation, define differences between Democrats and Republicans. In October 2015, 77% of Democrats wanted tougher gun laws but 73% of Republicans did not.
There is a grim circularity to this American dilemma. The fear of ISIL terrorists compounded with the fear of the endless succession of our mass shootings and the political appeal to the Republican base of stressing these dangers and disdain for
government promotes the rush to more guns for self protection and increased gun fatalities.
The civil war in Syria and the spread of ISIL barbarism is exacting a ghastly toll abroad of death and flight from terrorism. But, it spills over into our own mounting toll of human lives drowned in a sea of guns.
That news may not be as familiar to those living abroad as the horrors of the chaos in the Middle East. 30