Tennessee editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
The Commercial Appeal on gun safety standards:
Three days in Memphis, three children killed or critically injured because no one thought to protect them from the risks posed by negligently stored firearms.
Friday, Aug. 18 — A 4-year-old girl is taken to a hospital in critical condition after picking up a gun and shooting herself in the neck at her Fox Meadows home.
Saturday, Aug. 19 — A 4-year-old boy dies in the hospital after shooting himself in the head in his East Memphis home.
Sunday, Aug. 20 — An 8-year-old boy dies at the hospital after shooting himself in his Southeast Memphis home.
A three-day punch in the gut for Memphis, but sadly familiar in the city that leads the nation this year in unintentional shootings of young children.
As of the deadline for this page, these so-called “accidents,” which are typically caused by gross negligence, totaled nine so far.
Nine children whose lives would not have been so drastically altered or ended if the adults responsible for them had cared enough to follow a few simple rules about firearms storage.
Or simply decided that it’s too risky to keep guns in homes where curious children live and play and explore.
Tennessee lawmakers, following the dictates of the powerful gun lobby, have allowed guns to proliferate far beyond what common sense would allow.
They have compounded the error by failing to advance MaKayla’s Law, which would hold gun owners criminally responsible for leaving firearms loaded and unlocked when they fall into the hands of children under 13.
The legislation, whose primary sponsors include state Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, and leading opponents include the National Rifle Association, is named after 8-year-old MaKayla Dyer of White Pine, Tennessee, who was fatally shot Oct. 3, 2015, by her 11-year-old neighbor after he removed his father’s shotgun from a closet and took aim at MaKayla from his bedroom window.
The boy was found delinquent by reason of first-degree murder and ordered held in state custody until age 19. No one else was charged in the case.
Violations of MaKayla’s Law would result in a class A misdemeanor at minimum. A class E felony would be lodged if the child injures someone, a class C felony if the child fired a shot resulting in death.
Some of these instances result in negligence charges, but not all. One Memphis father faces reckless homicide charges — a first-degree murder charge was dismissed — in the firearms death of his 3-year-old son last month.
MaKayla’s Law would give police and prosecutors another tool to work with when adults violate safe storage standards and put children at risk.
Tennessee is one of seven states with a disproportional number of unintentional shootings, according to a Johns Hopkins study published last year. None of those seven states have laws requiring the safe storage of guns.
The state also needs a statute that holds adults accountable when their negligence harms or results in the death of a child by firearms.
MaKayla didn’t get the protection she needed when she was alive. Passage of MaKayla’s Law won’t change that, but it would be a life-saving tribute.
Johnson City Press on earmarks:
One of the top things on its list when Congress returns to work next month is passing a budget for the new fiscal year. That means we will hear debate on “earmarks” once again echo through the chambers of the House and Senate.
Earmark is political slang for what used to be called “government pork.” We forget there once was a time when congressmen actually bragged about bringing home the bacon.
Touting such political prowess is now considered to be profane. Even so, we wonder what the late Congressman Jimmy Quillen would make of this mindset if he were serving in Washington, D.C., today.
Quillen was never shy when it came to boasting of his own skills in bringing home the bacon. The legendary 1st District congressman, however, was somewhat cagey in how he went about it.
Quillen, who retired in 1996 after serving three decades in Washington, would often vote against government spending for so-called “entitlement programs” — only to line up later to bring as much of those same entitlement funds that he could back to his conservative district.
This strategy worked fine for years. Quillen voted the party line, so to speak, but also made sure his constituents saw some of their federal tax dollars returned to their neighborhoods.
Many members of Congress now simply refuse to bring home any earmarks. Has this strict pork-free diet been healthy for the people of their congressional districts? Perhaps there is nothing wrong with a slice of bacon once in a while.
The Daily Times of Maryville on providing military equipment to police:
Images of the confrontation between law enforcement officers and protesters in Ferguson, Mo., made “police militarization” a catchphrase three years ago after the shooting death of a young black man by a policeman.
Photographs of lines of police officers equipped with war-fighting gear and supported by armored vehicles led to critics calling for an end to a policy whereby the Pentagon gave surplus equipment to police to assist in the battle against the illegal drug trade, and later to fight terrorism.
The outcry after Ferguson resulted in President Barack Obama sharply curtailing the program. Ever since, police officials have urged the program be restored. On Monday, President Donald Trump did just that. He had promised as much during the presidential campaign, citing rampant increases in crime in America. Data doesn’t back that up, despite hotspots of criminal violence in Chicago and some other cities. According to FBI statistics, there have been significant drops in violent crime and property crime since the early 1990s. That’s not the perception of the public, however, which regularly is the case. And who tried to claim that grenade launchers and bayonets and weapons using ammunition .50-caliber and above were needed by police?
There was, though, proof enough that there are drug lords and terrorists who would utilize whatever weaponry they could acquire to further their aims. And it’s not like police departments and sheriff’s offices were clamoring for bayonets. As for armored vehicles, they wanted those.
But what about the actual effects of providing military equipment to police? That had never been studied — until now.
On Wednesday, the University of Tennessee’s Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research issued a release on a study published in the current issue of the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy. It was written by Matt Harris, Jinseong Park, Don Bruce and Matt Murray and titled “Peacekeeping Force: Effects of Providing Tactical Equipment to Local Law Enforcement.”
The paper is the first to evaluate the consequences for local communities of local law enforcement agencies acquiring military armaments through the Pentagon-to-police equipment program. The federal government has transferred more than $5.2 billion in decommissioned tactical military gear to local law enforcement agencies since 2006.
The finding: The acquisition of surplus military equipment through the U.S. Department of Defense Law Enforcement Support Officers 1033 Program does not cause police to be more aggressive.
Results indicate that acquisition of tactical items from the federal government reduces citizen complaints and assaults on police officers, and does not lead to increases in offender deaths. But the authors add caveats. They stress that the limitations of the paper are as important as the findings.
“The paper is not a referendum on police militarization, which is the product of several factors including who is hired, training, leadership, procedures, practices, department culture, equipment and other factors,” Harris said. “We only consider the role of a single factor — surplus military equipment acquired from the federal government.”
Harris described the key takeaways: “While the military kit makes for a striking image, our findings imply that the path to improving police-community relations is about the people, not the equipment. Second, more oversight and transparency are needed. Our research used the best available data, which was quite limited in some instances.
“Police departments are funded by the public to provide a public service in the form of public safety. Knowledge of equipment acquisition and the good and bad outcomes resulting from that provision should be public, and informed by standardized reporting practices.”
Bottom line, hardware makes a difference but the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies ultimately depends on their people — just like with any organization.