A couple of weeks ago, David S. Bernstein wrote about the growing "state sovereignty" movement backed by anti-government conspiracy theorists and gun-rights extremists, and touted on the syndicated radio show and Web site of deranged agitator Alex Jones.
This past week, three police officers were shot and killed in Pittsburgh by a man who, according to his best friend, was excited by the sovereignty movement, listened to Jones's show, and believed that the US government was planning to take away his guns.
It would be easy to lay this on the hands of the right-wing groups that perpetuate, or tolerate, the myths that swirled in Richard Poplawski's head as he fired at those cops. That would be too simplistic.
Such propaganda was not necessary to set off Poplawski, or to make Jiverly Wong gun down 13 innocent people before turning his weapon on himself in Binghamton, New York; or to make Michael McLendon kill 11, including himself, during a two-hour shooting spree in and around Samson, Alabama; or to make Lovelle Mixon kill four police officers in Oakland, California; or to make Devan Kalathat kill six, including himself and his two children, in Santa Clara, California; or to make Robert Stewart kill eight in a Carthage, North Carolina, nursing home; or to make Guillermo Lopez kill four, and then himself, at a Miami birthday party; or to make James Harrison kill himself and his five children in Graham, Washington; or to make Kevin Garner kill four relatives, including his estranged wife and daughter, before taking his own life in Priceville, Alabama.
In less than four weeks, those nine men left a trail of 62 lives cut short by bullets.
Of course, there were many, many more corpses beyond the headline makers. The same day as the Santa Clara and Carthage shootings, someone shot and killed a 19-year-old man and two 20-year-old women sitting in a car on Mt. Ida Road in Dorchester.
They are among the 10 murder victims by gunfire already this year in Boston; another 51 have been wounded. That's a 45 percent increase in gunshot victims from last year at this time, according to Boston Police Department statistics.
There are no simple answers, only possible contributing factors. The economic downturn appears to have played a role in some of these multiple murders. Domestic violence was reportedly at play in others.
It would be irresponsible to ignore these conditions, when lives might be saved by toning down the anti-government rhetoric, providing assistance to those who are suffering financially, and protecting families from abusive men.
Above all, it would be immoral to ignore the most obvious contributing factor, present in every one of these slaughters: handguns.
If Poplawski and Mixon were armed with knives rather than AK-47s, seven officers would likely not be dead today. Dozens of grievers would still have their loved ones if not for Wong's Beretta and .45, McClendon's four handguns and 200 rounds of ammunition, and the handgun of the shooter on Mt. Ida.
What is needed is a serious, comprehensive, public-policy initiative with multiple components — just as we have mustered in response to other public-health crises. And there is no doubt, looking at the recent body count, that handguns are a public-health crisis.
It took far too many deaths from AIDS before officials took the series of actions that checked its spread — including closing bathhouses or restricting behavior in them. Those were drastic steps, and fiercely resisted — until the death toll from the disease grew too high to ignore.
At its peak in 1995, AIDS killed 50,000 people in the US; today, it kills fewer than 15,000 annually. Meanwhile, between 30,000 and 40,000 people continue to die by firearms every year in this country. When is the nation going to wake up to the fact that handgun deaths are a public-health emergency?
What a long way we've come since those bathhouse days. Nothing against casual sex, mind you — but what a true victory it is for same-sex couples to have the option to enjoy a committed, loving marriage. As of this week, they now have that possibility in four states, including three in New England.
For several years, we heard repeatedly that four Massachusetts judges shouldn't be able to force gay marriage upon America. That trope no longer applies. Those groundbreaking Bay State jurists were joined by four high-court justices in California last May (in a decision later negated by the state's voters), four more in Connecticut this past October, and seven more in Iowa this past week. Then, this Tuesday, 123 Vermont legislators added themselves to the tally. That same day the Washington, DC, Council preliminarily and unanimously voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
Vermont's lawmakers became the first to enact same-sex marriage by statute — doing so over Republican governor Jim Douglas's veto. The margin of victory would seem to suggest that the Green Mountain State has had no negative fallout from civil unions, which they were first in the nation to adopt.
New Hampshire may be next: its House of Representatives has passed a same-sex-marriage bill that now heads to the State Senate. Maine and Rhode Island are also considering measures. We encourage them to act quickly to make gay marriage legal throughout New England.
And yet we must also remember that, irrespective of same-sex couples' rights in some states, married same-sex couples are still denied their federal rights under the Defense of Marriage Act. That unjust law is a sad legacy of the Clinton years — it is time that President Obama takes up the call and that Congress repeals it.