Montana Editorial Roundup
Billings Gazette, Oct. 4, on Las Vegas mass shooting:
Despite its best efforts at marketing, what happens in Las Vegas rarely stays in Las Vegas.
Nowhere is that as true as Sunday night’s mass shootings in Las Vegas at an outdoor concert that left 59 dead and more than 500 injured.
We’ve seen violence before — at a club in Orlando. We saw violence as jets smashed into the Twin Towers. We’ve seen it at Columbine and Sandy Hook.
The genesis for these unbelievable acts can be different and the means the perpetrators used are different. However, they all share one commonality: Whoever plans and carries out these attacks, whether as a group effort or as a “lone wolf,” suffers from serious mental problems. Mental illness and the resources meant to combat it need immediate attention.
A mass shooting like this also requires some kind of conversation about gun control.
We don’t mean banning guns.
However, we do suggest continued background checks and having those databases contain some kind of corresponding information about those who have been treated for serious mental illness.
That being said, in Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock’s case, that would not have worked. And that proves another powerful lesson: We’re not likely to avoid or anticipate every major tragedy.
But just because we won’t be able to anticipate every scenario or build a foolproof system doesn’t mean we shouldn’t implement commonsense measures.
Some of that discussion must turn to reasonable restrictions on guns. According to reports, Paddock had purchased conversion kits that transformed his guns into fast killing machines. The purpose of these kits and guns is not hunting nor target practice. Truthfully, these kits are meant for one purpose: killing humans. And they’re perfectly legal.
We have to take at least commonsense measures to keep some of these weapons from such easy purchase. No, it may not thwart someone determined to do harm, but it may make it much more difficult or alert officials to an emerging problem.
However, before noon Monday, Congress was already mulling gun control in the same fashion it has previously, which is to say, bickering and gridlock. Some said it was not the proper time to talk about gun control. That’s the same line we heard after Sandy Hook.
It says plenty when the most eloquent and thoughtful words on the subject seem to come from late-night television. Seth Meyers put it this way:
“Every hour we hear more stories about the incredible bravery by the people who risked their lives to save strangers. It always seems like the worst displays of humanity in this country are immediately followed by the best. And then sadly, that is followed by no action at all. Then it repeats itself.
“So we have talked about gun violence on this show before, and I am not sure what else I can say. I also know nothing I say will make any difference at all. To Congress I would just like to say, ‘Are there no steps we can take as a nation to prevent gun violence? Or is this just how it is and how it is going to continue to be?’
“Because when we say — which you always say — ‘Now is not the time to talk about it,’ what you really mean is: ‘There is never a time to talk about it.’ It would be so much more honest if you would just admit that your plan is to never talk about it and never taking any action. Congress won’t take any action.
“Congressman Steve Scalise, who, in a truly wonderful moment, returned to the House floor four months after he was shot, said that his being alive is proof that miracles really do happen.
“Is that the best plan D.C. has for gun violence when there’s a shooting? We just pray for a miracle? Maybe that is it. But, if you’re not willing to do anything, just be honest and tell us: This is how it is and this is how it will continue to be.
″ ... If it’s going to be thoughts and prayers from here on out, the least you can do is be honest about that. Fortunately, there are plenty of people who are willing to do the most they can do — our first responders and all the heroes that we saw last night.”
We must have that conversation, and we must confront the fact that America has more deaths by gun violence per capita than virtually any other peacetime country in the world.
We’re not talking about trampling the Second Amendment. Instead, we’re talking about reasonable restrictions on certain firearms, the same way that virtually every other freedom enshrined in the U.S. Constitution has reasonable limits.
We’d suggest there are other important things to take away from the Las Vegas shootings.
First, we continue to keep the victims and the families of those killed or injured in prayers and thoughts. We must do whatever we can to make sure they’re supported.
President Donald Trump struck the right tone in the wake of the tragedy to urge unity and support.
“We cannot fathom their pain; we cannot imagine their loss,” he said. ” ... Our unity cannot be shattered by evil.”
Two things that may help to stop the next mass shooting are safety and security measures and mental health funding.
No one likes the idea of more security and “big brother” surveillance, especially not in a place like Las Vegas known for its openness and anonymity. Yet, this would seem to be the perfect situation to use for learning. Were there security measures that could have been taken to protect the crowd? And, what can be learned for the future to stop someone from taking a cache of guns to a hotel room?
We’d argue that a topic equally as challenging as gun control seems to be mental health care. Counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and the programs needed for better assessment and counseling would take much more money than gun control or even more metal detectors on the Vegas strip.
Instead, if we’re concerned about the problem of gun violence and mass shootings, we have to be investing more money in mental health care, which may help detect a struggling individual sooner. We must demand leaders in Congress spend the money — not slash the budget — when it comes to mental health services. And we must focus on ways to make sure those who are struggling with mental issues do not have access to guns. In that respect, it’s not about making more gun laws, it’s about making the laws that we have on gun ownership better and more responsive.
The problem with conversations like Las Vegas is that they also seem to zero in on the weapons that were used and disregard the mental state of those pulling the trigger.
Until that changes, we worry that Las Vegas will be just another in a long string of places marred by gun violence.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Oct. 3, on managing grizzly bear numbers:
There were nearly 350 conflicts between humans and grizzly bears in the greater Yellowstone region in 2016. That’s a big number, but it shouldn’t come as a big surprise.
It’s estimated that nearly 700 bears inhabit the region, more than three times as many as there were when federal Endangered Species Act protections were established for grizzlies in the 1970s. And grizzlies are now ranging outside of already established habitat in the region.
Given its slow reproductive rate, the recovery of this iconic species in this region will certainly go down in history as one of the greatest success stories of the Endangered Species Act. Wildlife biologists have devoted entire careers to the effort.
But the number of people who live and recreate in the area has increased dramatically as well. The number of visitors to Yellowstone National Park alone has doubled since the 1970s to more than 4 million in 2016.
You don’t have to be math whiz to figure out that all those numbers add up to a sharp increase in human-grizzly conflicts. And the numbers are going to go even higher. And these conflicts spell trouble for bears as well as the people involved. In 2015, 59 grizzlies were killed in the region for a variety of reasons, including repeated conflicts with humans.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lifted federal protections for the species earlier this year. That hands responsibility for managing the bears to the states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, which opens the possibility of grizzly hunting seasons. But multiple wildlife advocacy groups have challenged removal of federal protections in court.
The debate over the future of Yellowstone region grizzlies is far from over, and the courts will have to hash out the arguments of the litigants. Part of the solution to the bear-human conflict issue lies in education. Those who venture into grizzly habitat need to inform themselves on the best ways to avoid confrontations and act accordingly.
But reasonable bear advocates must acknowledge that — even if we are not there yet — there must come a point when protections should be lifted and management measures must be taken to control bear numbers and behavior.
Missoulian, Oct. 1, on giving the EPA the tools it needs to do its job in Montana:
Montanans know all about frustration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. From Butte to Libby to Missoula, some communities in the state have logged decades of experience dealing with — and waiting on — the EPA to move forward with Superfund cleanup.
Superfund sites are supposed to be a public health priority for the agency, but that doesn’t mean cleanup is necessarily quick or easy. The EPA must often coordinate with dozens of other local, state and federal stakeholders, identify responsible parties across complex histories of private ownership, and separate the sometimes muddled layers of cleanup options.
It also must ensure reliable scientific testing is conducted before, during and after the entire process, while maintaining open communication with the local community and public transparency throughout. That’s a tall order - one that requires a great deal of public resources to fill. And unfortunately, any Montanan who lives within spitting distance of a Superfund site can tell you that the EPA has a long history of filling it agonizingly slowly.
Yet the EPA under new administrator Scott Pruitt is currently making plans to grind through its duties even more slowly. Its current proposal would reduce its $8 billion budget by about one-third — including a 30 percent reduction to the Superfund program. No one in his right mind can argue that losing nearly $327 million will make the program more efficient.
Then, just last week, the New York Times reported that the EPA is also considering cutting off more than $20 million in funding for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Justice Department. This is the division that sues polluters on behalf of the Superfund program to force them to pay for cleanup.
If Montanans thought it was difficult to get the EPA to clean up Superfund sites in a thorough, timely manner before, it will be even more difficult if the agency has less money to oversee cleanup and no way to collect money from the companies responsible for contaminating the sites in the first place.
Worse still: On the national list of priority sites, the unfortunate reality is that smaller, more rural communities usually fall to the bottom. That’s why it’s important for Montana communities to band together, to amplify the volume of voices calling for urgent action on long-languishing Superfund sites in our state. And for Montana’s elected officials to unite across party lines to push for sufficient funding to get the work done.
While Missoula County residents certainly have our own Superfund sites to worry about, right now we should also be lending our support to our upstream neighbors in Anaconda and Butte. Consider that the Milltown Dam was added to the National Priorities List in 1983 - the same year as the Silver Bow Creek Superfund site. Now, 34 years later, Missoula residents are enjoying a restored confluence and new state park - while Butte residents still don’t even know if they are being contaminated by heavy metals from hundreds of long-abandoned mines.
Last week, an internal report produced by the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General pointed to the various results of agency understaffing, including the possibility that an area in Butte called West Side Soils could contain “potential health threats” such as “direct contact with and ingestion of contaminated soil, surface water and groundwater and inhaling contaminated soil.” The EPA isn’t quite sure what the risk is, because it does not have the data it needs to make an assessment. And it doesn’t have the data because the agency’s Region 8 lacks enough staff to handle the workload. This the region that covers six states, including Montana, as well as 27 tribal reservations.
As it stands, the West Side Soils area has no project manager, and the EPA has not yet identified the party responsible for it. With no firm timeline or even defined boundaries, this site has yet to take even the first steps in what will doubtless be a very long process.
It’s not for lack of attention on the state’s part. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has requested more than once that the EPA launch the Superfund process, arguing that an evaluation of the human health risks is clearly warranted despite the agency’s limited resources.
But individual states — and even individual neighborhoods — should not have to compete with others for basic information on the environmental health risks they may be living with. Assessments of this nature should be enough of a priority to warrant the EPA’s attention.
Montana is home to 17 known Superfund sites. All of Montana must band together to urge our delegates in the U.S. House and Senate to push for greater transparency and accountability from the EPA. That means first making sure the agency has the budget it needs to do its job effectively — and then following up to make sure it is doing it.
As budget discussions begin in Congress this month, Montana’s U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines, and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, must not allow the proposed cuts to the EPA to take place, and must fight together to keep funding for the Superfund program intact.