Confront domestic terrorism
As long as mass shootings continue to shatter peace and safety in the United States, The Day will keep publishing these editorials: Get control of access to extreme weapons; expose peddlers of pernicious ideas such as "replacement theory"; acknowledge that racism, particularly the white supremacist version, decays into domestic terrorism.
Combined, these factors pose a vicious internal threat that calls for urgent response by leaders with the power to act. To continue to ignore the random, fatal threat to shoppers, fourth-graders or people at worship is clear disregard for those they are sworn to serve.
Members of Congress who continue to stare down attempts at gun control legislation are complicit. Even if all they do is to look the other way, that makes them unfit to lead. But some do even worse. Some, like the third-ranking Republican in the House, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, flirt with endorsing the repugnant notion of "replacement theory" to justify the rage that drives young white men to mass, racist violence. Other public figures do more than hint — most egregiously, Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, who regularly spews replacement theory notions to convert people into haters and stir up the true believers.
The murder of 10 people in a Black neighborhood in Buffalo Saturday is the latest in a series of episodes that horrifies good citizens. In an achingly familiar scenario, a white man not yet into his 20s feeds his brain with bizarre theories and amps up his anger until he can spell it out in online ramblings and act it out in a public place.
Propelling the New York teenager who drove across the state to a supermarket he had targeted in advance was the lethal combination of easily obtained weapons, naive acceptance of the racist idea that setbacks in a changing economy mean that others are stealing what belongs to whites, and the belief that he is part of something bigger. Disastrously, he is — a junior member of the white supremacist movement.
Replacement theory has erupted repeatedly in the United States since Reconstruction. It accompanied the spawning of the Ku Klux Klan. The theory morphs to fit the believer's prejudices and includes hatred of Blacks, Jews and immigrants — any group that the person sees as prospering at the expense of whites. An Associated Press poll released this month indicates that one in three Americans has come to accept some version of the notion. That level of gullibility should appall us all.
Experts define events such as the Buffalo shootings as domestic terrorism. They identify the use of lethal weapons in the hands of hate-filled people as the nation's dominant security threat. Each incident spawns more fear and also more copycats.
State gun control laws can only do so much, as the Buffalo shooting shows. New York has among the country's strictest laws, including an "extreme risk" provision that should have flagged the perpetrator after he made threats at his high school. Still, he was able to purchase. To modify his weapon and make it deadlier, he went to neighboring Pennsylvania to buy apparatus and could go online for instructions on how to do it.
Details known thus far in the Buffalo shooter's case tragically reinforce what we have learned before about the many steps it will take to address this cancer on American society:
- Congress must act on gun control. State laws need to be backed up by federal restrictions on who can purchase. Crossing state lines thwarts in-state efforts.
- The courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, need to balance the most good for the most Americans against the daily, random mass risk posed by individuals who hate and can carry — and conceal — guns.
- Law enforcement needs constant vigilance over the databases for flagging purchasers who should not automatically be allowed to buy a weapon. The system must be reliable, and dealers need to prove they can use it properly as a condition of licensing.
- Gun manufacturers must police themselves or be more thoroughly regulated in what they share about modifying weapons.
- Online streaming services should not be showing videos that abet would-be killers. Killing is not protected by the First Amendment. Why should killing lessons be protected? Why are they allowed if it is not OK to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater?
The First Amendment does protect free speech, but with any freedom comes a responsibility. Both elected officials and influencers of public opinion must face what their self-serving rants cost innocent Americans and their families. They knowingly incite violence — because how could they not know?
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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