Mass shootings: A response

1021121140-00President Obama made a moving statement from the White House Friday in reaction to the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. The statement included this: "As a country, we have been through this too many times.  ...  And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics." Meaningful action. Yes, but what?

A young man in the Portland area, 22 years old, steals a rifle, puts on a mask and goes on a shooting spree at the Clackamas Town Center, killing two adults, wounding a teenager and then killing himself. In Connecticut, a 20-year-old shoots to death 20 little school children as well as six adults including his mother, then also kills himself. Earlier this year in Colorado, a guy, also in his 20s, shot up a movie theater with a rifle and then meekly submitted to arrest. In Tucson in 2010, another young man shot and gravely wounded a congresswoman and killed or injured several people with her at a public meeting. There were other such cases. If memory serves, all the shooters were young men. So what "meaningful action" could have prevented this?

Without guns, shootings would not happen. Killings would continue, though. In Philomath, a young foreign national enraged at his ex-girlfriend wanted to kill her but could not buy a gun, so he sharpened a kitchen knife and cut her throat, along with the throat of their baby. In Oklahoma City in 1995, it was a bomb made of fertilizer that killed 168 people, including 19 children under the age of 6, and injured more than 680 others

The worst school massacre in U.S. history was the bombing of a school in Bath, Mich, in 1927, when 38 people including many children died in the building and another four in the blast of a truck bomb outside. So banning guns or ammunition, even if it were possible in the United States, would not end school massacres.

Who's at fault in all these cases, and many others you can read about if you Google "school shootings"? The shooters and the bombers, that's who. Some were motivated by revenge, some by being rejected as suitors. With others, it's impossible to say. But in most cases they entered school buildings where they did not belong. Greater vigilance to keep outsiders -- especially if wearing masks and carrying rifles -- suggests itself as the only feasible response. (hh)






Accessible spaces, continued

Sign marks one of the two designated spaces near the Linn County Courthouse in downtown Albany.

Sign marks one of the two designated spaces near the Linn County Courthouse in downtown Albany.

Albany city officials say that federal law requires parking lots to have at least one space accessible to the disabled per 25 spaces. The city requires a permit if those spaces are going to be restriped once the paint has worn out, and in response to business complaints the council has just lowered the permit fee to $75 for all but the biggest lots. Someone reading about this wondered why the same requirement does not apply to the public streets.

The simple answer is that federal law does not require accessible spaces on public streets, and in any case, the presence of curbs on one side and traffic lanes on the other of most street parking spaces makes it physically impossible to provide a level spot where someone in a wheelchair could safely get out of a car or a van. As it happens, though, the city of Albany has gone beyond what the law requires and provided at least three accessible spaces on city streets. I found two of them near the county courthouse downtown, on Fourth and Fifth avenues near the intersections with Ferry Street. Another is near a state office a few blocks away, Ron Irish of the city told me. He says the spaces were located there in response to requests. They were installed close to the sidedwalk ramps at the street corners, so that if a wheelchair owner got out of his vehicle there, he could more easily get on the sidewalk that leads to the offices nearby.

So that's the answer in regard to accessible spaces on streets: They are not required, but the city administration in Albany does what it can anyway to try to provide them when it is asked. People who have trouble getting around need all the help they can get. That's why Albany, unlike some other towns, tries to makes sure parking lot spaces are properly marked, and why it goes beyond the bare-bones requirements to provide some help on city streets as well. (hh)

50 years for two murders?


The Benton County Courthouse in December 2012.

Fifty years in prison. Is that too much or too little -- or just right -- for having snuffed out the lives of a young woman and her one-year-old son? I don't know, but I do know that 50 years is a very, very long time, and I can't imagine being imprisoned for that long. In Benton County Circuit Court, 50 years was the prison term imposed on a former Oregon State University student from Peru who now is 22 and was arrested when he was 20. He was convicted of killing his Philomath girlfriend and the baby the two had together after the girl, 19 years old, told him she was leaving him.

According to the report in the papers, the sentence was a compromise between the defense, which had wanted a 30-year term, and the prosecution, which threatened to seek the death penalty.

The defendant was described as a normally sensitive and compassionate guy. I'm wondering whether he may regret the sentencing choice to which he agreed. His life is over in any case. He forfeited any chance at a normal life when he committed those crimes. If he had insisted on a sentencing hearing, he might have been condemned to death, which in Oregon means an inmate spends most of the next 20 years or so in an individual cell while the appeals drag on.

Oregon refuses to execute anyone who pursues his appeals. And the current governor just plain refuses to execute anyone regardless of the case. So this young man from Peru had a good chance of living a long time even if sentenced to death, but perhaps in accommodations better than in the general population with fellow inmates.

Maybe what he was really afraid of was the alternative for a jury reluctant to impose death. For aggrevated murder, that alternative is life in prison WITHOUT any chance of parole, even after 50 years. (hh)

From Gil Helvie: I believe the answer is to to begin obeying the law relative to capital punishment here in Oregon.  Today's culture has no problem with killing babies in the womb, even up to and including birth.  Murder is murder!


Linn County Museum, worth a visit

On a rainy afternoon in December, the Linn County Museum in Brownsville is a great place to spend some time. So is the town of Brownsville itself.

The Nike deal: A quest for certainty

When Nike says jump, Oregon jumps. That used to apply mainly to the University of Oregon athletic department. Now it applies to state government as a whole.

The governor called a special session for Dec. 14 to give him the authority to negotiate a deal with the Beaverton-based apparel company. The deal is that Oregon will not change its tax policy in regard to multinational corporations if they spend at least $150 million on new facilities and create at least 500 additional jobs. The current tax policy, as summarized in news stories, is that Oregon will tax companies on only their activities, such as sales, inside the state.

Ordinary taxpayers may look at this special treatment as unfair. Nobody ever makes a deal like that for them. On the other hand, the essence of this deal is exactly what people in general, and especially the business community, need in order to make long-term decisions. What they need is certainty. They need to be sure that at least the tax picture will not change every other year or so depending on which party or which public pressure groups have the upper hand in Salem. The same goes for taxation at the federal level.

One thing that holds companies back from making job-creating investments is uncertainty or, to put it another way, the certainty that politicians will take some of their earnings if they get the chance. The Nike deal would attempt to provide the company with an assurance that Oregon will not try to grab a share of its huge worldwide earnings. Other companies likely would  be eligible for similar deals. That would help the Oregon economy. The next step, then, to be fair, would be to provide that kind of assurance -- no changes in tax policy on your investments -- to all taxpayers as well. (hh)

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