- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

April 7

Fayetteville (North Carolina) Observer, on women in special ops:

It’s the last frontier for women in U.S. armed forces. The debate from the Pentagon to the A-team is whether women should serve in our special-operations forces.

The deadline for an answer is coming fast. The ban on women serving in combat was lifted in 2012, and the services have until next January to open all combat jobs to women or explain why not.

Special-ops jobs are among the most demanding. Training and qualification tests push troops to the edge of their physical and psychological endurance. Their work in isolated locations under intense stresses pushes them even farther. The attrition rate for male trainees is high.

But is this any different from objections we’ve heard since the subject was first broached? Not really. The answer for special ops may be the same as it was for other combat jobs: Let women apply, if they wish, and prove they can meet the standards - which for the safety of all soldiers, cannot be relaxed.

Some special-ops aviation jobs, including pilots, have already been opened to women. Some have qualified - there are three female Night Stalker pilots, for example.

The Army’s still trying to decide if there are reasons why other special-ops jobs can’t be done by women. But in the end, meeting standards will likely be the only measure.




April 7

Charlotte Observer on fixing state medical examiner system:

The Observer reports on the blatant failures of North Carolina’s medical examiner system. Lawmakers and the public are aghast. Committees are formed, solutions are debated, pledges are made to fix it. And then: Nothing happens.

2001? Or 2015?

Legislators in coming weeks need to prevent history from repeating itself. Sen. Jeff Tarte, a Republican from Cornelius, has taken a strong first step toward making sure it doesn’t.

After an Observer series 14 years ago about North Carolina’s flawed death investigations, leading legislators vowed to overhaul the system. But they didn’t, and last year the Observer gave an updated but equally grim portrayal of how N.C. families are let down by the state during the most anguishing times of their lives.

Medical examiners are overworked, undertrained and underpaid. They fail to go to the death scene 90 percent of the time and fail even to look at the body in one out of nine cases. The result: Inaccurate findings, life insurance payouts denied and people literally on the brink of getting away with murder.

Tarte’s bill, Senate Bill 395, proposes a number of vital changes. It would hire more full-time forensic pathologists, medical examiners and death investigators. It would require death investigators to go to the scene. It would limit the number of autopsies one person could do in a year and require continuing education and national accreditation. And it would raise the pay to part-timers for investigations from $100 to $250 and for autopsies from $1,000 to $2,800.

Those changes address the status quo’s biggest flaws: too few death investigators with too little time and too little training being paid too little to do a good job.

You would think such a bill would be embraced by legislators and the Department of Health and Human Services. It provides a specific solution to a fundamental problem, after all.

But with a price tag of some $15 million to $30 million, the reaction has been tepid. Tarte recommends that DHHS cover that by moving money around within its existing budget. He points out that it’s a tiny portion of the agency’s $19 billion budget (including federal money).

DHHS, in turn, recoils at what would amount to an unfunded mandate.

They’re both right. So they need to figure out a compromise this session. As an untold number of N.C. families can attest, a repeat of history is unacceptable. After years of failing at a core service, it’s past time for the state to fix it.




April 8

News & Record, Greensboro, North Carolina, on armed guardians:

North Carolina could license a force of armed “homeland security” marshals if a bill pushed by a gun-rights group is enacted. The newly minted guardians would even carry badges.

Even in gun-friendly North Carolina, this is going too far.

Senate Bill 708 is titled “An act to strengthen homeland security by establishing the homeland security unrestricted concealed handgun permit.” Applicants would qualify by passing a background check and completing both an advanced firearms course and a “simunition class.” Simunition, developed by a private company, is a “scenario-based training program.”

We’ll concede that people who undertake this training will be capable of defending themselves and others under the right conditions. They won’t be enrolled members of the military or sworn police officers. Yet they would be granted a badge and allowed to carry concealed firearms virtually anywhere in the state, ignoring “no guns” postings by private property owners.

“In terms of overriding property rights, law enforcement can already legally do so,” Paul Valone, president of the gun-rights group Grass Roots North Carolina, said by email. “This changes nothing in current law except to add to the number of people who are exempt from the applicable statute.”

It changes a lot. Police officers are professionals subject to a chain of command and accountable to the public. These other people, armed with concealed guns and badges, would not be. The bill would even keep the list of people holding this license confidential. They should not be entitled to carry weapons into a private business or a public place where it’s specifically posted that guns aren’t allowed.

A primary sponsor, Sen. Jeff Tarte (R-Mecklenburg) says the intent is to provide another layer of defense against mass shootings or terrorism, “to have people ready on a moment’s notice when things happen.” It’s also an attempt to head off such ideas as arming teachers, which Tarte says “is not a good idea.” The training requirement would create “a kind of marshal program” made up of individuals who would be prepared to “meet deadly force with deadly force.”

Or, as Valone said, “to increase security at areas sensitive to multiple victim public homicides or terrorist events by providing trained, armed responders during the critical first few minutes before police can arrive.”

It’s possible that could happen. It’s far more likely that nothing would ever happen because terrorist attacks, fortunately, are rare. If one did occur, the chances that one of these “marshals” would be on the scene would be remote.

The greater concern is that the state would create a class of quasi-law enforcement officers who are trained in using guns but not in any other aspects of police work. It’s usually more important for officers to know how to deal with threats without using deadly force.

Just as troubling is the license to ignore private property rights and the lack of accountability. Simply knowing how to use a gun does not make someone an agent of “homeland security.”



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