National Politics

Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

The Dallas Morning News, Oct. 10, 2019

What the killing of Guyger witness Joshua Brown has to teach us now

When a witness in a murder case is himself murdered just days after a high-profile trial, it is both right and appropriate for a community to want answers and want answers quickly. And so it is with Joshua Brown. But, now, as details surrounding his murder dribble out, we hope there is a lesson in all of this for all of us. Actually, we see two lessons.

First, what should be top of mind for all involved — and this includes community leaders whose comments have the power to rally the people — is that in all cases, we are better off when cooler heads prevail. In this instance, there was rampant speculation with too little information. Some of that speculation came with the insinuation that Brown's murder was somehow connected to his testimony in the Amber Gugyer trial.

If that had turned out to be the case, it would have been beyond troubling and critically important for a peaceful society that the authorities find those responsible and bring them to justice. No murder should be tolerated, but targeting witnesses is a direct attack on our justice system. But to speculate wildly without any facts is itself destructive. It needlessly undermines the trust that is essential for our civil institutions to function, and therefore it harms all of us.

Now we are seeing that investigators have concluded that Joshua Brown's murder was tied up in a "drug deal gone bad," something that had nothing to do with what might be the highest profile murder trial Dallas has ever seen. Here are the facts we know now. The Dallas Police Department has identified three suspects who allegedly traveled to Dallas from Louisiana to engage in a drug sale. That is not a conspiracy to retaliate against a witness but another separate violent crime.

And that brings us to our second takeaway. Joshua Brown was a resident of Dallas and a person who deserves justice. If it is later proven that he was himself engaged in criminal activity, no one should be sanguine or dismissive of his murder. When we turn a blind eye to violent crime — even when it comes in the commission of other crimes — we undermine the rule of law and allow violence to creep back into our streets. It should be clear that violence against any person is an offense against our community.

Brown's murderer or murderers need to face justice, and we as a community need to absorb the tragedy that befell him. Hard facts in life are often hard to accept, so it may be tempting to dismiss Brown's murder as if it isn't a crime against us all. That's shortsighted and misses the point of our criminal justice system. Every effort needs to be undertaken to close the murder case of Joshua Brown in a way that brings justice to everyone responsible.

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Houston Chronicle. Oct. 9, 2019

Background check loopholes in gun sales put Texans in danger

Even before the mass shooting in Odessa, Texas' two highest elected officials knew about a dangerous background check loophole in stranger-to-stranger gun sales.

Gun reform advocate Ed Scruggs attended a meeting called after the El Paso shooting in which he says both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick acknowledged the loophole was ripe for abuse and that it wasn't a smart way to sell a weapon since Texans could be selling to a terrorist and not even know it. Both seemed genuinely concerned, Scruggs told the Texas Observer, and he was encouraged.

Then, a little over a week later, that very loophole was used by a gunman who killed seven people and wounded at least 21 near Odessa. In Texas, no background check is required for private sales between individuals. So the Odessa gunman was allowed to buy an assault-style rifle from a private seller, even though he failed a background check in 2014 because of a "mental health" issue.

This revelation seemed to prompt a shift in Patrick, an ardent conservative with an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association. He broke with the gun lobby and said he was "willing to take an arrow" to support expanding Texas background checks to stranger-to-stranger sales.

"When I talk to gun owners, NRA members and voters, people don't understand why we allow strangers to sell guns to total strangers when they have no idea if the person they're selling the gun to could be a felon, could be someone who's getting a gun to go commit a crime or could be a potential mass shooter or someone who has serious mental issues," Patrick told the Dallas Morning News.

Patrick's about-face was as surprising as it was welcome — as was his subsequent steadfastness in the face of withering criticism from the gun lobby.

Now we need other state leaders, including Abbott, to follow suit, to follow their consciences rather than their campaign contributions. To act before another mass shooting tells us what we already know: Texas gun laws leave us vulnerable to more gun violence.

We're not talking about infringing on anyone's Second Amendment rights or gun confiscation campaigns targeting law-abiding citizens. We're talking about tossing out the absolutism that has kept officials from passing common sense reforms. We can't afford to see more lives lost and more families in mourning when solutions are within reach.

Let's start by simply closing gaps in Texas laws that expose the general public and law enforcement officials to danger.

Here's another flaw in the background system that has gotten some attention in recent weeks: Under federal law, "fugitives from justice" are ineligible to buy guns, but a little-noticed federal rule change in 2017 limited the classification to people who cross state lines.

Now, in Texas, people with arrest warrants — including even for murder — issued in this state prior to indictment could legally pass a background check and buy a gun.

That means someone like Dalton Broesche, a Houston man wanted for threatening to stab his stepfather, was able to pass a background check and buy an AR-15 from an Austin gun store. The 23-year-old was arrested in July with a cache of weapons.

State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, is using that case — and what she called a "gaping hole" in the system — to amplify the need to address gun violence. She is one of 63 Democrats who signed a letter urging Abbott to call an emergency session of the Legislature.

Other states, including Massachusetts, have passed state laws closing the loophole created by the federal regulation, noted Scruggs, board president of Texas Gun Sense, which advocates stricter gun regulation.

Texas needs to follow suit. Allowing a person wanted for a crime to buy guns leaves everyone at risk — including law enforcement officers tasked with bringing suspects into custody.

"Someone should not be able to go to a gun store and stock up for when police come to take them away," Scruggs said.

Abbott resisted calls for a special session, but he has issued recommendations for ways to keep guns out of dangerous hands, including encouraging voluntary background checks in stranger-to-stranger sales.

We need more than encouragement.

"There is a realization that it is politically unacceptable to continue to do nothing," Hinojosa told the editorial board. "Texans are concerned about this and rightfully expect that our elected leaders will take action."

We need to close the loopholes that put Texans in danger. We need politicians who back up their words with action.

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Abilene Reporter-News, Oct. 3, 2019

Texas A&M banned vaping. Here's why others should do the same

The Texas A&M University System has taken a hard line against vaping, prohibiting it on all of its properties — not just its 11 universities. To fully appreciate how big a deal this is, consider that Texas has 254 counties and A&M's brand can be found somewhere within 250 of them. In addition to the school campuses there are all the agricultural extension service facilities and a health science center.

It means that the ban isn't just for college students.

Is this "nanny-statism"?

You could look at it that way. It infringes on the rights of individuals to indulge in unhealthy but legal behavior.

But you also could look at it as A&M's exercise of its property rights. A&M isn't saying you can't vape on property not owned by the A&M System — though clearly for your own good and the good of those around you, A&M wishes you wouldn't.

And there's yet another way to look at it, still from the issue of individual rights, and that's from the standpoint of an individual's right not to breathe someone else's secondhand vape. That's how we look at both vape and smoke from old-fashioned cigarettes, cigars and pipes. Nonsmokers and non-vapers shouldn't have to breathe vape or smoke, both of which harm human health. It should not be one of the hazards of venturing into a public park or onto a public sidewalk. We hope you agree. Vape-related deaths are increasing.

How unique is A&M's ban?

If you Google "Have any colleges or universities banned vaping?" it'll tell you 1,886 colleges prohibit vaping. That includes the flagship University of Texas System. The UT System banned tobacco from all 14 of its institutions by June 2017. Its policy, like A&M's, includes e-cigarettes and vaping.

Where else is vaping banned?

Massachusetts banned all vape products and Oregon's governor is considering it. Michigan just banned flavored vape and other states and cities are considering flavored-vape-only bans. Flavored vape is recognized to be a gateway to hooking children on nicotine. Banning it is a less politically risky feel-good step. It has merit, but not nearly as much as a full ban.

Where do most people stand?

Eight in 10 people agree that nobody under 21 should be allowed to buy vaping devices, according to a USA TODAY/Ipsos poll. Fifty-nine percent say a ban on vaping products will steer users to the black market. Eighty-two percent of vapers see it that way, and 72% of vapers say government regulations won't reduce the number of users, according to another survey.

These results show how a poll respondent's vested interests can affect the outcome. We can't know how bans will work until they're tried. But, wonder of wonders, vapers are more likely to say that policies or laws that make it harder for them to vape will fail. Surprised?

Any upsides to vaping?

There are anecdotal accounts of smokers who couldn't quit until they used vaping to wean themselves. A recent study found that vaping helps smokers quit cigarettes, but the risk of relapse is high. Another study found that 80% of smokers who quit with the help of vaping don't quit vaping.

Bottom line: Vaping is one of many harmful habits that regulation can't stop completely. But if it succeeds in reducing the problem, it's worth it. Public policy should err on the side of protecting the rights of non-vapers and the long-term health of children. Our university systems have a sizable under-21 population to protect. Also 21 and older. The positive impact of vaping bans could be huge.

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