Prayer won’t stop guns: The hypocrisy behind the right’s refusal to talk about gun violence

By Robert Mann

In her 2014 book, “A Fighting Chance,” U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren puzzled over our culture’s maddening indifference to gun violence. “We lose eight children and teenagers to gun violence every day,” Warren wrote. “If a mysterious virus suddenly started killing eight of our children every day, America would mobilize teams of doctors and public health officials. We would move heaven and earth until we found a way to protect our children. But not with gun violence.”

Warren is right. The only deaths in America we must not discuss or address with any urgency are those caused by guns.

We saw this insane sentiment on display last week after the latest mass shooting – this one in Lafayette, La., where a demented 59-year-old drifter shot and killed two young women and injured six others in a movie theater.

In the immediate aftermath, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal made one thing perfectly clear. “The best thing we can do across Lafayette, across Louisiana, across our country, is come together in thoughts, in love, in prayer,” Jindal said the night of the shooting.

Asked about what this meant for changing his state’s gun laws (among the weakest in the nation), Jindal pushed back hard. “Let’s focus on the victims right now,” he said. “Let’s focus on their recoveries. There’ll be a time, I’m sure folks will want to jump into the politics of this. Now is not the time.”

Jindal is not alone in his desire to stall and procrastinate after a mass shooting. He’s only repeating the standard Republican/NRA mantra after similar tragedies: Now’s not the time. This is a period for mourning and prayer. There will be time to talk about how to address the problem later, but not while people are burying their dead. For now, let’s pray for them and hug our kids.

For example, Jindal responded with outrage to President Obama’s call for federal action on gun control after the June 17 shooting deaths in a Charleston church. “I think it was completely shameful, that within 24 hours of this awful tragedy, nine people killed at a bible study at a church,” Jindal fumed, “we have the president trying to score cheap political points. Let him have this debate next week. His job as commander in chief is to help the country begin the healing process.”

Funny, I don’t recall Jindal suggesting anyone wait a week to start discussing how to address the Deepwater Horizon explosion in April 2010, which killed 11 people (most of them his constituents).

Immediately after that disaster, Jindal demanded immediate action on “three challenges: stopping the leak, protecting the coast and cleaning the coast.” No one suggested that Jindal’s quick call to clean up the Louisiana coast was a “shameful” effort to “score cheap political points.”

Instead of prayers, Jindal demanded prompt action. “Officials at the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority are also working with the state’s oil spill coordinator’s office to monitor any potential environmental impact,” Jindal said within 24 hours of the explosion.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, did anyone suggest we should wait a few weeks to pray and mourn before responding to the terrorists who murdered thousands?

Continue reading on Salon.com at this link.

Jindal wrong about law he says would have stopped Houser from buying gun

Screenshot 2015-07-26 16.55.47

By Robert Mann

Gov. Bobby Jindal said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that if Lafayette theater shooter John Russell Houser had been involuntarily committed in Louisiana, that information would have been “automatically reported” to the national background check system and he would not have allowed to purchase a gun.

Jindal’s statement is not true. Louisiana law does not require private gun sellers (including those selling firearms at gun shows) to perform a background check before selling a handgun.

In his interview, Jindal told host John Dickerson:

Here in Louisiana, we actually passed tougher laws a couple of years ago, so that, for example, if Houser had been involuntarily committed here in Louisiana, that information would automatically — we would have reported that to the national background check system. He shouldn’t, he wouldn’t have been able to buy a gun; he wouldn’t have been able to go into that pawnshop and buy that gun, as he did in another state. Look, every time this happens, it seems like the person has a history of mental illness. We need to make sure the systems we have in place actually work.

Like I said, in Louisiana, we toughened our laws a couple of years ago. If he had been involuntarily committed here, if he had tried to buy that gun here, he wouldn’t have been allowed to do that.

Jindal is correct that Louisiana did pass such a law, House Bill 717, in 2013. The problem is that this law contains a massive loophole — the private-gun-sale exemption. The law certainly makes it a crime for someone like Houser to own the gun. But it would not have stopped him from buying a weapon at a gun show or from another private seller because there is no background check required in such cases.

Jindal is also wrong about gun sales being automatically reported to the federal gun database. Private gun sales are not covered by this law.

Here’s what the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence says about Louisiana law on gun sales and background checks:

Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (but not private sellers) [emphasis added] to initiate a background check on the purchaser prior to sale of a firearm. Federal law provides states with the option of serving as a state “point of contact” and conducting their own background checks using state, as well as federal, records and databases, or having the checks performed by the FBI using only the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database. (Note that state files are not always included in the federal database.) Continue reading

Jindal responds to Lafayette theater shooting with hugs and shrugs

By Robert Mann

In the days after the deadly June shooting spree in Charleston, S.C., in which nine members of that city’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church died, Gov. Bobby Jindal attacked President Barack Obama’s calls for stricter gun control laws as “completely shameful.”

Instead of doing something about the proliferation of guns and gun violence, Jindal offered only prayer and hugs. Anything else, he suggested, was inappropriate and overtly political. “Now is the time for prayer, now is the time for healing. As far as the political spectrum, this isn’t the time,” Jindal told reporters after a speech in Iowa, where he had begun his remarks by praying for the victims and their families.

“I think it was completely shameful,” Jindal said of Obama’s call for a national discussion about gun control. “Within 24 hours we’ve got the president trying to score cheap political points.”

Now that people have died in a mass shooting in his state — three dead and six injured at a movie theater in Lafayette on Thursday (July 23) — it was, again, not the time to talk about the problem of gun violence. On Thursday night, Jindal, who happened to be in Baton Rouge on a rare visit to Louisiana, rushed to Lafayette to offer prayers and hugs.

When it comes to doing something about the gun violence that afflicts Louisiana, Jindal also offers shrugs. In Jindal’s world, it’s never the right time to debate gun violence or talk about how government should address the problem. And with a mass shooting almost every week, it will never be time in Jindal’s estimation to talk about it. Only hugs and shrugs.

Jindal’s press secretary on Thursday night accused me of politicizing the situation. Among other things, I had taken to Twitter to suggest that Jindal’s sympathy for the victims and their families was cold comfort to a state for which he had done nothing to make us safer from gun violence. If anyone was politicizing the situation, it was Jindal and the NRA leaders he has shamelessly courted for so long.

On Thursday night, as many people were also praying for the victims and their families as they tucked their kids into bed, they also prayed that these deaths, for once, might not be in vain. Maybe this time, they prayed, political leaders like Jindal might be scandalized enough to do something. Maybe this time, they prayed, we might get more than hugs and prayers.

Jindal had every right – and maybe an obligation – to visit Lafayette, although rushing into the teeth of an active crime scene seemed more a distraction than a help just hours after the shooting. Perhaps he should have gone to the hospitals, instead, which he eventually did.

Jindal and his staff, however, have no right to tell the rest of us to park our First Amendment rights and remain silent about the scandal of gun violence while they remain free to defend their Second Amendment rights by attacking any suggestion of stronger gun control laws as “shameful” and badly timed.

Today is exactly the day we should talk about how to stop the violence. But the reason Jindal doesn’t want to talk about gun violence today – or any other day – is that his record is nothing but support for the NRA’s blood-soaked political agenda.

Jindal has opposed every sensible restriction on gun purchases. He’s slashed mental health services in Louisiana. He’s paraded around the country, filling his Twitter feed with odd photos of himself fondling various firearms.

Back home, meanwhile, his state leads the country in gun violence. And it took a mass shooting 60 miles from the Governor’s Mansion to finally stir him to talk to some of its victims? Jindal didn’t need to drive all the way to Lafayette to do that. Mere miles from where he rests his head on the rare occasion he’s in Baton Rouge, people are dying from gunshots almost every day.

Does Jindal ever go to the mean streets of north Baton Rouge or into the violent neighborhoods of New Orleans? Does he ever look into the sad eyes of kids who’ve lost fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters to gun violence? Where are their hugs?

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Jindal’s bad bet: He focused on Iowa, not Louisiana

By Robert Mann

It’s a good bet that our next governor will work hard to distinguish himself from Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose stewardship of the state is widely regarded as unsuccessful, at best, and a disaster, at worst.

Outperforming Jindal, however, is a low bar. Just put the best interests of Louisiana’s people over those of Iowa or South Carolina – and don’t steer the state into virtual bankruptcy – and you’ll have bested Jindal by a mile.

Assuming the Governor’s Office will no longer be a presidential operation, it still won’t be an easy job to guide Louisiana government out of its fiscal mess. But if our new governor wakes up every day thinking of Louisiana, not Iowa, he can begin moving us in the right direction.

Jindal and his advisers clearly thought it wise to use his position as a platform for political stunts. They focused on making national news and flirted with conservative voters in early primary states. Judging by the polls, that strategy flopped. Jindal not only drove Louisiana into a ditch; the politicization of his office has so far yielded him little or nothing. He – and we – got the worst of both worlds.

Perhaps running your state with an emphasis on the well-being of your citizenry and balancing the books without legerdemain isn’t enough to win the affection of GOP voters. But if you’re going to base your presidential campaign on the management of your state’s affairs, you need some tangible accomplishments, not just talking points.

Jindal is in the uneasy position of praying that his poll numbers rise but likely fearing that if they do, national reporters will descend on Baton Rouge and discover his fetid pile of fiscal fertilizer.

I don’t know if he has a better chance than Jindal, but if I were running for president, I’d rather be Ohio Gov. John Kasich, now the 16th Republican candidate in GOP field.

A veteran member of Congress and former chair of the House Budget Committee (he ran the committee the last time the federal budget was balanced), Kasich is equal parts effectiveness and compassion. He’s a fiscal hawk who balanced Ohio’s budgetwhile cutting taxes.

Jindal also cut taxes but did so ineptly. Then, faced with massive deficits, he stuffed his budgets with staggering amounts of one-time money and slashed university budgets. When the one-time money ran out and a $1.6 billion shortfall loomed, he raised taxes by $750 million. A $1 billion shortfall awaits his successor. Jindal’s disgraceful budgetary record will not survive the slightest scrutiny from journalists or GOP fiscal hawks.

While Jindal refused to take Medicaid expansion money under the Affordable Care Act, which would transform the lives of Louisiana’s working poor, Kasich took another route. He initially opposed the health care act, and still wants to repeal it, but has bent to reality and expanded Medicaid in Ohio.

Unlike Jindal, however, Kasich believes government should help the working poor. “You reach out to help people,” Kasich insists. “All are made in the image of God and deserve a chance to be what we are meant to be.” Jindal, by contrast, opposed Medicaid expansion, belittling the poor as freeloaders. “Soon there will be more people riding in the cart than people pulling the cart,” Jindal wrote in 2013. (Jindal also confronted Kasich about Medicaid expansion last spring in a closed-door meeting, accusing him of “hiding behind Jesus.”)

Kasich’s compassionate, practical approach to governing made the Ohio Republican a better governor than Jindal by any objective standard; it might also make him a stronger presidential candidate than Jindal, who boasts of phantom accomplishments (for example, Jindal has not, as he brags, cut Louisiana’s budget 26 percent).

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

The ‘amazing grace’ of Barack Obama’s Charleston eulogy

John Newton, the author of the hymn
John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace.”

Friday, July 24, is the 290th birthday of John Newton – slave ship captain, Church of England priest, noted abolitionist and the author of the popular Christian hymn, “Amazing Grace.”

By Robert Mann

In early July, not long after President Obama sang the first stanza of “Amazing Grace” at the end of his moving eulogy of the murdered Rev. Clementa Pinckney in Charleston, South Carolina, I found myself standing before a 14th century Church of England chapel in the town of Olney, about 60 miles north of London.

The ancient building was empty, but I was happy to discover one of its thick wooden doors slightly ajar. I turned the worn iron latch and stepped tentatively into the sanctuary, which rests under a 185-foot stone spire, visible from every corner of the bustling village.

The church of St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s in the picturesque county of Buckinghamshire is the sacred space where the words to Christendom’s most popular hymn were first spoken. It sits only a block from the former vicarage where John Newton, the church’s rector in 1773, composed the hymn – “Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)” – that still moves and inspires Christians everywhere 242 years later.

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The church of St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s in Olney, England.

As I roamed the nave and wandered into the chancel, surrounded by magnificent stained glass windows, the hymn’s words rang in my head. I had trekked to Olney to learn more about the life of the man who wrote “Amazing Grace” and whose remarkable personal story makes his hymn all the more compelling and evocative.

By the time Newton penned “Amazing Grace” as a meditation to accompany his 1773 New Year’s Day sermon, his story was well known to his parishioners. Born in London in 1725, he began his years at sea on his father’s ship, at age 11. Eventually, his became a sailor’s life of debauchery bred with misery. “I don’t believe that I have ever since met so daring a blasphemer as myself,” Newton confessed in a memoir. “Not content with common profanities and cursing, I daily invented new ones so that I was often strongly rebuked by the captain.”

Newton’s belligerent defiance of authority eventually got him sold into virtual slavery in Sierra Leone. At the mercy of an African duchess engaged in the salve trade, Newton nearly starved to death and, after falling seriously ill, was essentially left for dead. His flight from Africa – like so many other escapes from death, “dangers, toils and snares” – eventually persuaded Newton that God was preserving him for a greater purpose.

“I was so blind and stupid at the time,” Newton wrote of his fortuitous rescue by a friend of his father, “that I gave no thought to my good fortune nor did I seek some meaning in what had happened.” His spiritual awakening occurred during a violent Atlantic storm that almost sank his ship as it headed for England in March 1748.

The former church vicarage in Olney, where John Newton wrote the words to
The former church vicarage in Olney, where John Newton wrote the words to “Amazing Grace.”

Later, Newton became a ship’s captain and commanded slave vessels that plied the West African coast, purchasing Africans for delivery to the West Indies and ultimately to the American colonies. He gave up sailing in 1754, six years after his religious conversion – but not because he opposed slavery. He then saw no wrong in the institution. Newton renounced sailing, instead, because he missed his wife (voyages lasted more than a year) and he longed for a simpler, domestic existence.

(Much later – inspiring and assisting his young friend William Wilberforce, a member of Parliament – Newton would become a renowned abolitionist. In 1788, he published his famous and influential pamphlet Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade, in which he described the horrors of his former occupation.) Continue reading

Bobby Jindal isn’t going to be the GOP nominee, so what’s he really running for?

Screenshot of Gov. Bobby Jindal on ABC's
Screenshot of Gov. Bobby Jindal on ABC’s “This Week” on May 31, 2015.

By Robert Mann

Gov. Bobby Jindal is stuck at 1 percent or less in almost every national poll. Everything he’s tried over the past year to woo Republicans in Iowa and elsewhere has flopped or been largely ignored. Indeed, Jindal’s chances of capturing the Republican nomination for president in 2016 appear to be the same as my hopes of winning a lifetime achievement award from the Louisiana Republican Party.

Then again, there’s always the possibility that his car might break down on the way to a candidate debate at the very moment a meteor strikes the auditorium and wipes out the GOP field. Alas for Jindal, according to NASA’s Near Earth Object Program, the threat of a large meteor hitting the Earth any time soon is non-existent.

Oh, and he’s probably not going to be invited to the debate, anyway.

So, what’s Jindal’s game? He knows as well as you and me that he won’t be the GOP nominee. So what’s he really running for? Running mate to the eventual nominee? A spot on a Fox News show? Leadership of a Washington think tank or advocacy group?

Whatever is that Jindal wants, it’s safe to say that presidential campaigns – even some of the worst ones – are rarely harmful to the candidate’s bottom line.

Running for president clearly gains failed candidates some stature among a decent part of the populace who are impressed this kind of thing. I, for example, would be quite impressed if you told me you played one season in Major League Baseball — even if you hit .155 and only started five games.

In that way, Jindal is in the big leagues, sort of – but he probably won’t last long and he’ll be lucky if he ever starts a game.

Beyond the stature of forever being known as “a former candidate for president,” there’s the general fame that comes with being a contender in our quadrennial presidential pageant. Even a losing candidate can earn significant name recognition. In 2012, then-U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann and former pizza magnate Herman Cain took turns at the top of the presidential polls before fading or, in Cain’s case, collapsing.

There are, of course, the exceptions that prove the rule: David Duke ran for president in 1992 and later found himself in a federal prison. And former U.S. Sen. John Edwards’ post-campaign life was embroiled in disgrace and a costly fight to stay out of federal prison.

That said, Bachmann, Cain and, now, Donald Trump have proven you don’t have to be a serious candidate for president to derive something lucrative from the process. In the United States, fame and whatever stature comes from competing for president is a form of currency – and the losing candidates have rarely failed to cash in after they’ve dropped out.

After he bombed in 2012, Cain briefly got his own national radio show and then became a Fox News contributor. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman didn’t fare so well in the GOP primaries, but he landed on his feet and now serves as chair of a prestigious foreign affairs think tank, the Atlantic Council. Continue reading

Beware the crowdsmanship: Does the size of political rallies really mean much?

By Robert Mann

Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is drawing large crowds at rallies almost everywhere he goes. Nearly 10,000 in Wisconsin; 8,000 in Dallas; more than 7,000 in Portland, Maine; more than 5,000 in Denver; and 3,000 in Minneapolis.

That, according to some political observers, is evidence that Sanders is a threat to the Democrats’ presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton. “Sanders’s audience—in a state not among those with traditional early nominating contests—rivaled the largest drawn by Clinton and the Vermont senator in recent weeks,” Washington Post reporter John Wagner opined of Sanders’ recent Denver rally. “The extraordinary turnout was the latest evidence that Sanders, 73, has tapped into the economic anxiety of the Democratic electorate.”

Not to be outdone, Donald Trump recently bragged that the size of his rally in a Phoenix hotel ballroom “blows away anything that Bernie Sanders has gotten.” Most journalists covering the event pegged the crowd’s size at 4,000 to 5,000. Trump’s staff told Fox News that 15,000 supporters were on hand. Trump later tweeted that he had attracted more than 20,000 (in a ballroom with a maximum legal occupancy of 2,158).

Some in the media were duly impressed by Trump’s crowds on his recent western tour (he also held events in Las Vegas and Los Angeles). ABC News described the campaign events in an online story headlined, “Trump Talks Immigration to Record Crowds in Border State.” The headline of MSNBC’s story about Trump’s weekend: “Donald Trump draws massive crowds during campaign swing.”

I have bad news for Sanders, Trump, their supporters and some in the news media fixated on the numbers at candidates’ rallies: The size of rallies has long been a flawed measure of a campaign’s vitality. Journalists often survey an arena brimming with enthusiastic supporters and mistakenly use a head count to gauge the campaign’s prospects. Candidates and their staffs are eager to bolster that faulty notion, sometimes feeding reporters exaggerated crowd estimates (there’s no evidence Sanders’ campaign has done that).

Such a misreading happened in 2012 when spokespeople for President Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney bragged about the size of their rallies and pointed to enthusiastic crowds as indications of growing support. Consider this piece in Politico less than a month before the election:

It may be his supporters, or it may be those getting a glimpse of the GOP nominee for the first time, but Mitt Romney’s crowds are getting bigger in the campaign’s final stretch.

Since his strong presidential debate performance last Wednesday night, Romney has seen a bump in the number of people attending his rallies, which the campaign calls a sign of new enthusiasm in the final month of the campaign.

In the past week alone, Romney’s campaign says at least three of its rallies have, per the campaign’s crowd counts, exceeded 10,000 people: an Oct. 4 event with country singer Trace Adkins in Fishersville, Va., which was Romney’s largest event ever at 14,000 people; a rally last Sunday in Port St. Lucie, Fla., that drew 12,000; and one in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, that fire marshals estimated also drew 12,000. . .

“Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are more fired up about this election, and fired up about Gov. Romney,” Gorka said. “The debate helped crystallize that energy and it’s translating to our events.”

What Romney and Obama did was an age-old political practice. “We are entering the season of crowdsmanship, counting up the people who gather to see the presidential candidates on these autumn days,” the late political columnist Hugh Sidey observed in a Life magazine article in September 1968. “The prehistoric political ritual is being practiced in 1968 with fresh fervor.”

Unlike some political reporters today, Sidey wasn’t fooled by the hype over crowd size, observing, “it is almost worthless as a campaign measure in this age. It may even be worse – it may totally mislead the contenders and the country.” Sidey was right to be skeptical, as he noted: “Richard Nixon, a consummate practitioner of crowdsmanship, ecstatically passes out figures – 150,000 in San Francisco, 450,000 in Chicago. Victory is only a crowd or two away. George Wallace assembles 10,000 in Springfield, Mo. and claims the largest political crowd in the city’s history. It gives him nocturnal visions of sitting in the Oval Office.”

Exaggerating the size of rally crowds is a mostly a ritual in presidential races near a campaign’s end, when crowds often do grow in size and intensity. Campaign spokespeople often develop – or spin – the burgeoning size of their rallies into a narrative about a groundswell for their candidate. And the reporters following them often adopt those narratives.

(Romney’s campaign apparently took “crowdsmanship” one step further in 2012, altering on Instagram a photograph of a Nevada rally, which made the crowd appear larger. In June, Trump’s campaign was accused of padding the audience of his New York announcement rally, paying actors $50 each to show up and cheer the candidate’s speech.)

This year, the “crowdsmanship” has begun earlier than ever. All the boasting and exaggerations of campaign flacks and the creative work of Photoshop artists should give political reporters pause. These journalists often work in a protective bubble controlled by the candidate, so it’s understandable that they will occasionally be susceptible to the spin. But that makes it all the more important to be cautious and resist the urge to read too much into the size of campaign crowds because, clearly, even some losing campaigns are adept at generating large crowds. Continue reading