What Just Happened? A Weekly Roundup of Politics

03.22.2019 Arts & Culture
Ann Lewis
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Last week New Zealand saw their most devastating mass shooting ever with a gunman opening fire on worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch killing 50 people. While the nation and the world mourned, the governmental leaders of the country quickly stepped into action. It was announced Wednesday that effective April 11th the sale of all semi-automatic rifles and high capacity magazines will be banned. To avoid stockpiling, the government is also issuing a buyback policy to remove the now restricted guns from citizens before the ban takes effect.

New Zealand’s laws around gun ownership have been strong for years, requiring significant background checks for a license just to purchase a gun. Semi-automatic rifles required gun owners to present “endorsements” by police to obtain such weapons. But now with the ban in place, those guns will not be available for purchase or use.

Many in America are pointing out that if New Zealand can pass gun reform laws in a week, we should be able to pass at least some sort of legislation to protect our nation’s citizens. But of course, it’s not that simple.

The 2nd Amendment, which was really put into place to support militias to suppress slave rebellions — not mass shooters — will forever be a thorn in the side of gun reform advocates. While New Zealand has a high ratio of guns per person (about 1 in 4), America has more guns than it has people. Challenging the constitutional right of millions of gun owners’ to bear arms won’t end well for obvious reasons.

When the FBI investigated Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter, they were unable to find a motive aside from potentially being radicalized around the notion that the government was coming for everyone’s guns. After the shooting where he sprayed thousands of bullets into a crowd killing 58 and injuring nearly 1,000 people, the Trump Administration banned bump stocks. Bump stocks were created to allow continuous shooting, which is why he was able to hurt and kill so many people in his 10-minute assault. This is logical, as bump stocks are meant to inflict severe damage. So if banning bump stocks was a logical step, doesn’t it make sense to also ban other weapons that can cause such destruction — like the assault rifle used in New Zealand that killed almost as many people?

Attempting to ban assault rifles in a country created by conquering others with the aid of guns is an uphill battle for sure, but without comprehensive, reasonable gun restrictions America will continue to allow gun violence to take innocent lives. As New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, “Our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too.” Maybe it’s time to take them up on that offer to get paid to move there.

On Thursday, President Trump announced that the White House backs Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights, a disputed territory between Israel and Syria. Israel took Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and officially annexed in 1981. This move was widely condemned by the UN and various international players and is still considered occupied territory. As Trump does, the shift was announced via Twitter, and he was immediately thanked by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is looking at a tough re-election due to charges against him including fraud and bribery. (The Prime Minister is also set to visit the White House in the coming days.)

Both of these moves are seen as opportunities to boost Netanyahu’s standing in the race, as Trump has a very high approval rating in Israel. It should also be noted that this comes after Israel’s Supreme Court banned a far-right Jewish candidate from running in the elections, but allowed Ra’am-Balad, the Arab-Israeli alliance, to run.

Finally, the Midwest has seen more than its fair share of snowfall this winter. With some cities like Minneapolis 30 inches over their annual averages, the spring thaw has been exasperated by extreme weather. Historic flooding of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers caused by last week’s “Bomb Cyclone” which produced tornadoes, extensive rainfall, and high winds triggered the displacement of thousands and the death of at least four people. Countless levees have broken by the force of backed up ice and snow in the rivers. The breaching of one levee creates the destruction of the next, and this cumulative effect is wreaking havoc on the region. Because excessive precipitation is falling on still frozen ground, it is not being absorbed and is running off into rivers which are now at record levels. The Offutt Air Force base near Omaha even had to limit operations until water receded.

This comes as the Pentagon warned in January that climate change will likely impact national defense. “About two-thirds of the 79 installations addressed in this report are vulnerable to current or future recurrent flooding and more than one-half are vulnerable to current or future drought,” said the US Department of Defense Report on Effects of a Changing Climate.

With over $1.5 billion in damages, the region has a long way to go. Countless farmers have lost their livestock and many don’t expect they’ll be able to successfully seed their fields this season due to such heavy losses. While most farmers are struggling to break even without extreme weather, this flooding may propel prices and cause many farms to shutter their barn doors. Without addressing climate change with aggressive legislation these historic floods and natural disasters will continue to dramatically affect Americans, our food supplies, and our national security.

Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.

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