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Other View: The bare minimum

This appeared in Friday’s Washington Post.

House Republicans have said they might be open to legislation that would ban the type of firearm accessory that enabled the Las Vegas killer to fire his semiautomatic rifles as rapidly as machine guns. Given Congress’s decades-long refusal to adopt any type of gun control, any step in the right direction probably should be encouraged. But lawmakers are kidding themselves — and not serving the public interest — if they think this gesture is enough to stem the weapons that make the United States an outlier for gun violence.

The revelation that the man responsible for Sunday’s massacre of at least 58 people used “bump stocks” to transform his weapons prompted Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to revive a push to ban the devices. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., both said Thursday that lawmakers will consider the measure. Even the National Rifle Association acknowledged the devices should be subject to regulation. Automatic weapons are illegal or heavily restricted, so how does it make sense to allow a device the main purpose of which is to circumvent those rules?

But an even better question is why focus solely on bump stocks — “a goofy little doodad,” in the words of a former firearms official — while ignoring the danger posed when people are allowed to purchase and possess assault-style weapons that were designed for war, with the capacity to kill in large numbers. Citing the rising number of mass shootings as a “serious public health issue,” the American College of Physicians on Monday called for a ban on automatic and semiautomatic weapons.

Little wonder that doctors would be opposed to these weapons; they know better than anyone the devastation to human flesh and bones. “If you’re struck in the liver with an AR-15, it would be like dropping a watermelon onto the cement. It just is disintegrated,” Denver Health trauma surgeon Ernest Moore told Post reporters who interviewed Las Vegas medical personnel who were rattled by battlefield-type wounds.

It’s little wonder that assault-style rifles have emerged as a weapon of choice for mass shooters. Not only are they capable of firing many rounds of ammunition in a relatively short period of time, but a shooter doesn’t have to be particularly adept to do great damage. Semiautomatic guns were used in the slaughter of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary School, at the cinema in Aurora, Colo., and at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Assault weapons were outlawed in 1994, but the ban expired in 2004, and Congress opted not to renew it. That Feinstein narrowly tailored her bill to something even the national gun lobby won’t oppose suggests there is still not the political will to get these weapons off the streets or to explore other possible solutions.

When House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was asked if the bill banning bump stocks might be a slippery slope toward other gun restrictions, she answered, “I certainly hope so.” To which we say, amen.

Other View: Jimmy Carter: What I've learned from North Korea's leaders

As the world knows, we face the strong possibility of another Korean war, with potentially devastating consequences to the Korean Peninsula, Japan, our outlying territories in the Pacific and perhaps the mainland of the United States. This is the most serious existing threat to world peace, and it is imperative that Pyongyang and Washington find some way to ease the escalating tension and reach a lasting, peaceful agreement.

Over more than 20 years, I have spent many hours in discussions with top North Korean officials and private citizens during visits to Pyongyang and to the countryside. I found Kim Il Sung (their “Great Leader”), Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, and other leaders to be both completely rational and dedicated to the preservation of their regime.

What the officials have always demanded is direct talks with the United States, leading to a permanent peace treaty to replace the still-prevailing 1953 cease-fire that has failed to end the Korean conflict. They want an end to sanctions, a guarantee that there will be no military attack on a peaceful North Korea, and eventual normal relations between their country and the international community.

I have visited with people who were starving. Still today, millions suffer from famine and food insecurity and seem to be completely loyal to their top leader. They are probably the most isolated people on Earth and almost unanimously believe that their greatest threat is from a preemptory military attack by the United States.

The top priority of North Korea’s leaders is to preserve their regime and keep it as free as possible from outside control. They are largely immune from influence or pressure from outside. During the time of the current leader, Kim Jong Un, this immunity has also applied to China, whose leaders want to avoid a regime collapse in North Korea or having to contemplate a nuclear-armed Japan or South Korea.

Until now, severe economic sanctions have not prevented North Korea from developing a formidable and dedicated military force, including long-range nuclear missiles, utilizing a surprising level of scientific and technological capability. There is no remaining chance that it will agree to a total denuclearization, as it has seen what happened in a denuclearized Libya and assessed the doubtful status of U.S. adherence to the Iran nuclear agreement.

There have been a number of suggestions for resolving this crisis, including military strikes on North Korea’s nuclear facilities, more severe economic punishment, the forging of a protective nuclear agreement between China and North Korea similar to those between the United States and South Korea and Japan, a real enforcement of the Non-Proliferation Treaty by all nuclear weapons states not to expand their arsenals, and ending annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

All of these options are intended to dissuade or deter the leadership of a nation with long-range nuclear weapons—and that believes its existence is threatened—from taking steps to defend itself. None of them offer an immediate way to end the present crisis, because the Pyongyang government believes its survival is at stake. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement last week that “we have lines of communications to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation” is a good first step to defusing tensions.

The next step should be for the United States to offer to send a high-level delegation to Pyongyang for peace talks or to support an international conference including North and South Korea, the United States and China, at a mutually acceptable site.

Cal Thomas: Defining evil

Responding to the recent Las Vegas concert shooting that killed more than 50 people and injured hundreds more, President Trump described the act as one “of pure evil.”

One definition of “evil” sounds so inadequate in today’s culture: “morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked: evil deeds, an evil life.”

As the Supreme Court wrestled with a 1964 obscenity case, Justice Potter Stewart struggled to define obscenity, and finally settled on his oft-quoted statement, “I know it when I see it.” That seems to be the preferred attitude about evil today. Many of us can’t fully define it, but we certainly know it when we see it.

On a visit to Las Vegas, I was handed a flyer on the street advertising prostitutes. All I had to do, the flyer said, was call a number. A vehicle would even transport me to the rendezvous point, presumably for an extra charge. Is this objectively evil? Who gets to decide?

On the nightly news and in nearly every Hollywood film, there are graphic scenes showing spattered blood and bodies strewn about. Big-city news broadcasts often lead with the latest shootings and body count. Do such things desensitize us to the value of human life? Where does that value come from? We’ve come a long way from Hollywood’s “Golden Age” and from TV’s “Leave it to Beaver” and “Uncle Miltie.” Has this been progress, or regress? Does that regression promote evil, or is much of modern entertainment evil in and of itself? If you are having difficulty deciding, you may have become inured to the shift in morality and fallen victim to the zeitgeist, “the spirit of the age.”

Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, identified by police as the Las Vegas shooter, did not look evil. Except for one citation by law enforcement, he was leading a normal life. He had no criminal record. His brother and mother said they were shocked and don’t know what got into him.

Theology and mythology speak of a demonic world beyond our vision and understanding. Cold-blooded killers have been interviewed by psychologists and writers like Truman Capote to determine why they committed their evil acts. Some of these killers came from poverty, but the majority of poor people don’t kill. Some of these killers came from abusive homes, but most abused children don’t grow up to become mass murderers.

As with previous mass shootings, there will be the predictable calls for “gun control.” It is legitimate to ask whether Paddock cleared a background check and bought his guns legally. There is no law, however, that can prevent someone from committing evil acts. If there were, wouldn’t we have passed it by now?

Evil co-exists with the good. Each individual must choose which one to embrace or push away. For some, embracing good comes naturally. For others, the pushing away of evil is a lifetime struggle. Perhaps Stephen Paddock embraced evil just this once, or maybe it was waiting to ambush him just as surely as he ambushed those innocent people 32 floors below his hotel window.

Letters of Thanks

Twin Falls County thanks Cliff Bar employees 

Employees from Cliff Bar Baking Co. volunteered over 1,300 man-hours in community service on Sept. 15, painting and cleaning up Rock Creek Park and the walking trail around County West. We appreciate having a company like Cliff Bar, which encourages its employees to engage in community service, in Twin Falls County. Partnerships such as this are invaluable and are what makes Twin Falls County a great place to live.

Terry Ray Kramer, Jack Johnson, Don Hall

Twin Falls County Commissioners

Habitat for Humanity golf scramble was great

Habitat for Humanity of the Magic Valley would like to thank the community for embracing our First Annual Golf Scramble. The event was not only well received but a great time was had by all, we were told! Our thanks to our major sponsors: Goode Motors, DOW and Snake River Networking Group. Golf fabulous teams from: Patient Financial Navigator Foundation, Boise HFH-Tom Lay, KJ Lawn Maintenance & Spraying, D.L. Evans Bank, First Federal Bank, BCTGM 283G, World Financial Group, Claude Brown, Robinson Realty, Pioneer Flooring, PMT, Leah Holloway & Group, United Way, Grant III Farms, DNA Construction, Franklin Building Supply, Les Schwab, North West Farm Credit Service, Farmers Bank, Ferguson Plumbing and Andrew Smith and gang! Hats off to our Lunch Sponsor, DOW, and Cart Sponsor, Commercial Tire; and our gracious Hole Sponsors: Patient Financial Navigator Foundation, KJ Lawn Maintenance & Spraying, Apricot Home, Bills Automotive, Above Paris, Banner Bank, D.L. Evans Bank, Title Fact, Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers, Magic Valley Alarm, Claude Sports, Fly Guys Haircuts, Pioneer One Flooring, PMT, & Farmers Bank. Prizes provided by; Catus Pete’s and Dixon Golf, Fairfield Inn, Elevation 486, Putters, Sips, Jessica Larsen, Reeder Flying Service & Board Members. The winning golf ball was No. 646 belonging to golfer Nick Holtzmaster, who won $2,850 when the balls stopped falling from the helicopter flown by Silverhawk Aviation and assisted by Reeder Flying Service. It was a wonderful fun-filled day and funds raised will help to start a home in Jerome this winter with the Hernandez family of six. Mark your calendars for the 2018 Habitat golf scramble: July 27, 2018.

Everyone needs a place to call home!

Linda Fleming

Habitat for Humanity