Following the World Trade Center attack of Sept. 11, 2001, there was scattered freelance response around the nation. President George W. Bush cautioned Americans not to let their anger toward the Trade Center terrorists become bigotry toward Muslims. It was one of President Bush’s finest moments.
Here in Clatsop County, then-Sheriff John Raichl announced he would form an armed “civilian defense force” to patrol for terrorists. That lasted about a week until Gov. John Kitzhaber and the attorney general reminded Sheriff Raichl that only the governor was empowered to raise a militia.
Most sheriffs in Oregon enforce the law and run their departments competently. Our state has nothing like Arizona’s Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, who has become a celebrity sheriff, notorious for his innovations in punishment.
But some Oregon sheriffs fired pre-emptory shots at President Obama, threatening not to enforce laws which they believe are not constitutional. Steve Duin’s column about these sheriffs appeared on this page Tuesday.
There are at least two elements of dissonance here. When we hear a sheriff saying he won’t enforce the law, there is a faint echo of what went on in the South over decades of the 20th century. Sheriffs in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia looked the other way while white mobs lynched blacks.
Secondly, the sheriffs are buying into the politics of gullibility, which the National Rifle Association feeds. While President Obama has made no proposal to confiscate firearms, that is the constant thread in NRA talking points. And why not? It works on the gullible. And as many analysts have pointed out, the NRA is largely a creature of the gun manufacturers. The mid-20th century image of the NRA as a hunters’ and sharpshooters’ organization is obsolete.
Reckoning with gun deaths is a public health issue. When more than 30,000 Americans die of a certain cause annually, public health must pay attention and should fashion solutions. We used to accept higher death tolls from automobile accidents and tobacco. It must be remembered that automobile manufacturers fought safety measures as being too expensive.
Incremental choices, such as more extensive background checks and outlawing the kinds of mechanisms that are only about killing large number of people quickly, will make a difference.