West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Charleston Gazette on internet wealth and connectivity:
In parts of West Virginia, even slow-speed internet access can be hard to get, a barrier to West Virginians who want to participate in the new entrepreneurialism. Perhaps public places that have high speed internet — college campuses, for example — could develop access for their surrounding communities. A central place where students and aspiring entrepreneurs could connect during the workday — “maker spaces” is a favorite recent term — could make up for some of the lack of connectivity to individual homes.
Speaking of spending more time online for fun and profit, beware. The more time you spend online, the more images and shares and repeat references to crime reports or terrorist attacks, the more your primitive brain draws inaccurate conclusions about reality. “Availability bias” describes the human tendency to think that whatever you encountered most recently is more common than it really is.
Psychologists Amos Tverskey and Daniel Kahneman, author of the excellent book Thinking, Fast and Slow, identified the tendency decades ago.
“This might have been useful when we had to make life choices based on a trickle of information, but now that we have a fire hose of it, we can’t seem to be rational about the likelihood of bad things happening,” Christopher Mims wrote in the Wall Street Journal last month.
Bluefield Daily Telegraph on tourism and abandoned buildings:
As we work to promote the region as a tourism destination, officials must also take steps to expedite the removal of those abandoned and blighted structures that serve as a deterrent to growth.
While a lot of progress has been made in recent years with demolition programs, particularly in the cities of Bluefield and Princeton, there are still many eyesores across the area that need to come down.
For example, the Warrior Trail — a new addition to the Hatfield-McCoy Trail system — opened earlier this month in McDowell County. However, there are approximately 18 blighted structures located along the path of the trail that need to come down, according to McDowell County Commissioner Gordon Lambert.
Lambert correctly notes that such eyesores are not good for tourism.
That’s why State Senator Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, is working with Gov. Jim Justice, and other elected leaders, to help facilitate and locate funding for a program that would target abandoned, condemned and blighted structures across southern West Virginia, and all of the Mountain State.
A planning meeting for the effort was held on Feb. 9 in Welch. More than 100 people attended that meeting, including representatives of the Department of Environmental Protection and other state agencies.
“They were all excited,” Swope said of the initial meeting. “For the first time, an organized strategic plan will be created. Local people will make a plan to get enough done so we can be shovel ready.”
Swope’s initial idea was to enlist the help of the National Guard to dispose of the debris and start looking for money to pay for the demolitions. But the inventory of structures that need to be demolished is not yet finished. Swope believes close to 5,000 structures may ultimately have to come down in McDowell County alone. But across the state there could be as many as 50,000 dilapidated structures that need to be demolished.
Complicating matters is the high cost of demolishing individual houses. Swope says the estimated cost of demolition is about $5,000 a house and there is no funding to do so or a uniform structure in place regarding the process of working with property owners and the legal system.
“I took this to the Governor (Jim Justice) a couple of months ago and said we need to make this a statewide initiative,” Swope said. “A funding source has to be found as a high priority.”
Swope hopes to have legislation introduced next year in Charleston that would provide a uniform code statewide to ensure all counties and municipalities are on the same page regarding the process.
He believes there will be bipartisan support for the plan. “Once we get a plan and all the stakeholders agree, I think the money will show up,” Swope said. “It has tremendous potential benefits.”
The idea — while an enormous undertaking — is still a necessity. As there are far too many dilapidated and dangerous structures located in the deep south coalfield counties that need to come down.
A region that is clean, and free of potential eyesores and blighted structures, is vital if we are to attract new business and tourism growth. Tourists, and potential entrepreneurs visiting from outside the region need to see vibrancy, not decay.
The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on mass shootings and gun laws:
Monday, Oct. 1, is the first anniversary of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, where 64-year-old Stephen Paddock assembled an armory in his hotel room and fired more than 1,100 rounds into the crowd attending a nearby music festival. He killed 58 people, and 851 were injured by gunfire or the resulting panic.
A few months later — Feb. 4, 2018 — a lone 19-year-old gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He killed 17 people and injured 17 more.
As usually happens after these mass-shooting events, the cry of “something must be done” goes up. A recent review by The Associated Press of action at the state level since the two shootings shows little has been done. A few states have enacted new restrictions, but most have not. Congress has done nothing on the federal level.
“It’s exactly what happened after Newtown: The anti-gun states became more anti-gun and the pro-gun states became more pro-gun,” Michael Hammond, legislative counsel for the Gun Owners of America, told the AP.
Since Parkland, the Florida legislature has banned bump stocks, raised the gun-buying age to 21, imposed a three-day waiting period for purchases and authorized police to seek court orders seizing guns from people who are deemed threats to themselves and others. That legislation is being challenged in court by the National Rifle Association.
Meanwhile, New Jersey expanded background checks to nearly all private sales and transfers of firearms. It also now requires a “justifiable need to carry a handgun” for people who apply for a permit, according to the AP.
Republican-majority states tend to be looser on gun control laws while Democrat-majority states tend to favor stricter laws.
Since Newtown in 2012, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six adults at a school, some states have loosened their gun laws. The West Virginia Legislature, for example, passed a bill allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a license.
The most obvious response to what happened in Las Vegas would be to ban bump stocks. Those devices allow semiautomatic weapons to fire continuously by using the gun’s recoil to force the shooter to pull the trigger rapidly — almost as fast as an automatic weapon would.
The events in Newtown and Parkland also cry out for more restrictions on gun ownership by people with certain mental illnesses or with a tendency toward violence. These “red flag laws” are opposed by people who say they infringe on other rights of people who would be subject to them.
Really, now, what’s wrong with banning bump stocks? Is it impossible to enact a red flag law that removes guns from troubled people and keeps those guns away? Are the existing waiting periods working?
If states indeed are the laboratories of democracy, the law in New Jersey that expands background checks on private sales is certainly worth watching.
The steps that are necessary to eliminate mass shootings are going to take time. There are cultural issues at work. West Virginia, a mostly rural state where gun ownership and use are a longstanding tradition, has avoided having a mass shooting event within its borders. So far. People here know guns. They respect what guns can do, for good and for bad. We’ve avoided a mass shooting event so far, but things may have to change to lessen the chance one will occur here.
On the other side, people who advocate for more gun control don’t help their cause by inflating statistics of “gun violence.” That’s no way to convince gun owners to listen.
Yes, something must be done. Let’s watch New Jersey and see if that would work here. Let’s put aside our Facebook memes and face the real problems we have when people who should not have guns acquire them.