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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

August 19, 2019

Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Aug. 18

Leadership needed to address gun violence

A rapid-fire string of mass shootings in late July and early August sparked sorrow and outrage throughout our country — again. The incidents also led to now-familiar questions.

Why is the United States, alone among the most developed nations on the planet, cursed to suffer these repeated tragedies? Why are other countries, exposed to the same make-believe violence in video games and movies, not condemned to the same seemingly endless cycle of bullets, blood and grief?

After every mass shooting, this editorial board maintains hope that our leaders will shake off bullheaded ideology long enough to make meaningful strides toward reducing gun violence. That’s the only possible good that can come out of so much unnecessary suffering: that those who make the laws maintaining the balance between order and freedom will make change that matters.

We submit, again, that it’s time to offer not just thoughts and prayers but engage in frank conversations that result in effective, multi-pronged solutions.

Three mass shootings within the span of a midsummer week: Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton, the last two separated by fewer than 24 hours. In the senseless wake of 34 dead Americans and nearly 60 more wounded, our elected representatives suggested that mental health concerns should be a focus once they have all returned to Washington. “If we do not prioritize the mental health crisis in our country, innocent people will continue to die,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson.

According to Sen. Mike Rounds, addressing mental illness to identify warning signs and provide effective, timely treatment is a large piece of the solution to the gun violence puzzle. Second-ranking Senate Republican John Thune said that he believes Congress can find common ground on “red flag” laws, which allow family members to request temporary restrictions to firearm access should the person in question pose an imminent threat to themselves or others.

Enter 26 current and former South Dakota state legislators in zealous thrall to their favored interpretation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They issued a joint letter demanding that our Congressional delegation and President Trump oppose red flag laws and enact “the repeal of ‘gun-free zones.’” In a nutshell, to refuse to even participate in any conversation that doesn’t follow their gospel of more and more guns, in all possible hands and all possible places.

We are not alone in suggesting that adding more weaponry to America’s gun violence epidemic is a wrongheaded remedy. Law enforcement professionals do not generally endorse having more guns in inexperienced hands during active shooter situations.

Likewise, the free market speaks volumes regarding “school sentinel” programs, such as those enabled by a 2013 South Dakota state law passed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Districts considering training and arming teachers have discovered that insurance companies aren’t keen to cover schools that arm their teachers and staff.

Most importantly, what do the American people think? According to a Fox News poll conducted among Republican, Democratic and independent voters this week, nearly four times as many respondents believe that a mass shooting by an American citizen is a bigger threat than an attack by Islamic terrorists, and they’re ready for their leaders to do something about it.

The poll found that 90 percent of respondents favor requiring background checks on gun buyers, including at gun shows and in private sales, while 81 percent favor red flag laws and 67 percent would support an assault weapons ban.

Members of Congress should muster the courage to take a step back from lockstep lobbyist loyalty — underscored by a fear of enraging the National Rifle Association — and contemplate a wider view. Sometimes the boldest leadership stems from flexibility and a sense of independence.

If those in power can summon the willingness to represent all of us rather than merely a fanatic few, tangible steps can be taken to try to address the carnage. Will these legislative efforts solve the problem and eliminate all mass shootings? Of course not.

But running out the clock until the next cycle of tragedy and soul-searching is not a strategy. It’s a disturbing absence of responsible leadership.

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Rapid City Journal, Aug. 18

Denard search in capable hands

It’s been 196 days since 9-year-old state ward Serenity Dennard dashed into a snowy, subzero and mountainous forest without a parka to seemingly vanish. The tragic mystery of her disappearance persists despite the coordinated efforts of more than 1,000 volunteer and official searchers.

Anyone with even limited experience of a South Dakota cold snap knows the tiny girl would have perished quickly unless she happened almost immediately upon a place of warmth or winter clothing. Possibly Dennard sought protection in a well-hidden hollow or crevice whose location continues to elude searchers. It’s possible.

It’s not that searchers haven’t looked hard for it. They have collectively logged more 4,300 miles in search of anything connected to the missing girl. The searchers have included 91 dogs, their handlers and seven aircraft. And still nothing. With each additional search, it gets more difficult to find ground that hasn’t already been double or triple checked, and still they look.

There always was the possibility that somebody waiting outside collected Dennard as she ran away from the Black Hills Children’s Home south of Rockerville. Perhaps her flight was pre-arranged. While conducting searches, officials have concurrently pursued that prospect, also to no avail.

The Pennington County Sheriff’s Department has chased 195 leads in 15 states, conducted 440 interviews or contacts, and executed six search warrants. Information has been shared with news outlets of all kinds, on social media and with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, potentially reaching millions.

More than 30 stories about Dennard’s case have been printed in the Rapid City Journal alone — an average of one story every seven days since her disappearance on Feb. 3. Altogether, these articles have generated enough text to fill at least five newsprint pages — and that’s just one newspaper. Stories have been picked up by The Associated Press to be published or broadcast in towns stretching from here to Great Britain. Articles continue to be written and shared. And still, nothing substantial has been uncovered.

Meanwhile, a Facebook page called “Lynne Seeks Truth,” created and maintained by state Sen. Lynne DiSanto, R-Box Elder, has featured a lot of uninformed speculation critical of sheriff’s department efforts. Some commenters have even alleged official collusion in Dennard’s disappearance.

On Aug. 3, for example, a commenter wrote: “They seem to have every excuse imaginable as to why they are unable to look for Serenity, first its too cold, then too hot, then the terrain and tall grass now it’s the rally/bikers, LE (law enforcement) in that area is a complete joke!”

Nobody should question DiSanto’s well-meaning intent in setting up her page. Nobody should doubt her sincerity in wanting to help find Dennard. But it seems unlikely that fostering groundless speculation and conspiracy theories can serve any purpose other than to distract from serious efforts to solve this mystery. If Dennard is ever found, it will result because trained and qualified personnel with access to varied resources did their jobs. It won’t be because of a legislator’s amateur blog or because uninformed people posted critical comments.

The FBI currently has about 30,000 active missing person records for juveniles under age 18. It’s highly unlikely the vast majority of those cases resulted in searches anywhere close to what has been expended locally for Dennard.

Should the search for Dennard end? We have no idea. The sheriff’s department has that responsibility. It also has the experience and the information to best make that call. It’s what we pay them to do.

What we do know: Local officials, especially the sheriff’s department, have gone above and beyond in their efforts to find the missing girl. We applaud them. We support them. We are grateful. And we trust they will continue to do their best.

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Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Aug. 13

Noem, tribe must get on same page

Gov. Kristi Noem saw for herself last month just what the people in and around Lake Andes are enduring with the flooding in the wake of the spring storms.

Now, it may be time for her to make a return visit.

Noem was one notable target in a press release fired off Monday by the Yankton Sioux Tribe (Inhanktonwan Nation). The release was filled with anger and frustration over flood assistance (or, from the tribe’s standpoint, the lack thereof) since the storms.

Those storms nearly doubled Lake Andes lake — from about 6,500 surface acres to an estimated 11,000 surface acres — and the high water has cut off roads and hit some tribal housing developments hard. People have been displaced while their homes are sitting in water and filling with mold.

But that was the situation in June. Two months later, little has apparently changed, despite assurances of help.

“The Inhanktonwan Nation has been waiting six months for the State to stop the flooding at Lake Andes and fix the blocked culvert,” the press release said. “Our community is literally drowning due to State negligence and indifference to the health and well-being of our people.”

The tribe is also displeased with the Department of Game, Fish and Parks for its alleged failure to address the flooding issues.

“This has developed into slow-motion tragedy for our people — one that was avoidable,” the press release said. “The flooding at Lake Andes is caused by the negligence of the state Game, Fish and Parks to maintain a key culvert that replaced the natural waterway from Lake Andes into the Missouri (River).”

The tribe claims that the “state has not responded” to its calls for evidence that the culvert in question shouldn’t be replaced and to hear what the long-term plan is.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Noem told the Press & Dakotan that the state plans to raise the grade of Highway 50/281 and to raise the grade on the secondary road running between the currently waterlogged tribal housing development and the highway.

The tribe, as well as all residents in and around Lake Andes, has been hearing promises and advice all summer from state and federal officials. Meanwhile, we’ve been hearing steady rumblings of frustration from the Andes area since spring.

What these people need to see is action, because right now, from their vantage point, they aren’t seeing it.

And that’s why it may be a good idea for Noem to return to Charles Mix County and see firsthand what has and/or hasn’t been done, to hear the grievances and to offer details of the state’s plans for the area.

More than that, it’s time for these two sides to get on the same page, which they apparently do not share at the present time.

Overall, the recovery efforts that have been seen throughout the region have been very good, as federal, state and local officials have grappled with the chaos left by the March bomb cyclone and the recurring storms thereafter to at least get life moving again.

But the Lake Andes area seems like an island in more ways than one. The flood waters linger, the damage remains and the hardships are apparently not receding.

Something’s not working there.

The governor should revisit this place and assess the situation for herself. And perhaps then, the path forward for the Lake Andes area will be clear to everyone with a stake in this mess.

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