Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Divisive Politics

You’ve got to feel sorry for Matt Rosendale and his Republican colleagues in the Montana legislature. All they are trying to do is to keep you safe from international terrorism, and for their trouble, Democrats are calling them out as hypocrites. It just isn’t fair.

Here’s the way Rosendale, the majority leader in the Montana Senate, tells the story in a column in the Missoulian:

Last month, after the massacre in Paris, Republicans in the legislature, including Rosendale, wrote to Governor Bullock to express their concern about the safety of Montanans in the face of terrorism. They were particularly concerned, Rosendale says, by the lack of “vigorous screening” prior to allowing “vast numbers of unknown refugees to enter our state or country.” All they were doing was “trying to protect our citizens,” just being “prudent,” simply taking “every precaution.”

And how prescient they were! Just days after they wrote to the governor, 14 people were gunned down in San Bernardino, and one of the killers, Tashfeen Malik, was an immigrant who had managed to make it through the vaunted but clearly inadequate screening process. If only we had listened.

But we didn’t. No, all that happened, Rosendale says, is that legislative Democrats (I was one of them) said that the letter to the governor was “divisive politics.” And worse, the President and other Democrats took advantage of the San Bernardino shootings to again attack the Second Amendment, and deflect attention from their failure to stop people like Malik at the border. The fact that the Second Amendment allows for virtually unfettered access to guns, and that Malik took advantage of that access to arm herself, was irrelevant. What we need to do to stop gun violence is to keep people like Malik out of the country. And since that is not always going to work, what we need to keep mass murderers at bay is to arm ourselves to the teeth.

It’s hard to know where to start with this nonsense, but try this:

The Republican letter to the governor did not simply call for more vigorous screening of refugees. It called upon the governor to "use all legal means to block or resist the placement of Syrian refugees in our great state at this time." Unless the signers of the letter were inconceivably ignorant, they had to know that Governor Bullock had no means to bar Syrian refugees from the state. Their call on him to do so was at best an empty gesture and at worst, deeply cynical.

And they weren’t urging greater caution in admitting immigrants like Malik. They were asking for a ban on Syrian refugees. Those are the people, you’ll remember, who are desperate to get away from the barrel bombs and poison gas their own government is killing them with, from Russian jets dropping outlawed cluster bombs, and from the savagery of ISIS. They are the people who are so desperate to leave that they climb into rubber rafts with their little kids and try to cross the Aegean in the middle of winter. They are the thousands of people, including kids, who are drowning in the ocean, suffocating in closed trucks, and dying on top of trains under the English channel, just trying to get to safety. They are among the more than one million refugees to whom Europe has opened its arms and whom volunteers from all over the world, including Montana, have rushed to help. They are the people who hope to be among the 10,000 Syrians to be admitted to the United States, but only after being screened much more stringently than Malik was. And they are the people whom Matt Rosendale and his Republican colleagues urged Governor Bullock – impossibly - to slam the door on. How is that not politically divisive?

When it comes to guns, and the Second Amendment, it’s not hard to figure out that if Malik had never been admitted to the country, she wouldn’t have ended up slaughtering innocent people in San Bernardino. Rosendale’s got that right, but it’s hardly the point, which is that no screening of immigrants and refugees, no matter how rigorous, is going to stop the incessant gun violence plaguing this country. In 2013, more than 33 thousand people in the United States, the vast majority of them native born Americans, picked up a gun and shot themselves, or somebody else, to death. Seal the borders, and that number will hardly move.

The fact is that we are awash in guns, and any terrorist, any felon, any deranged person can, by hook or by crook, get their hands on one.  And we can’t do a thing about it, because thanks to the efforts of gun rights zealots, including politicians like Matt Rosendale, the Second Amendment has come to mean that virtually no measure to restrict access to guns, however limited, can be enacted.

So the only solution is more guns: arm the teachers, keep a pistol in your bedside table, make sure you are packing when you go out with your kids for dinner and a movie. This is the level to which we have descended, and you’d better watch your back, because nobody  - certainly not a pack of Republican legislators fretting about Syrian refugees - is going to watch it for you.

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