- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:


July 14

Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on FBI background checks for gun buys:

The FBI director’s admission on Friday that a handgun sale to Dylann Roof, who’s been charged with nine murders, should have been halted by existing safeguards is a clear indication that the system is flawed at best and broken at worst. The situation demands a comprehensive review of the federal system for background checks of prospective gun buyers.

James B. Comey has ordered a full investigation of the lapses that allowed Dylann Roof to buy a .45 caliber pistol despite having admitted to the illegal possession of a drug during an arrest in February, according to police. That should have precluded his purchase of the weapon, which police say was used to kill nine people at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church on June 17.

Director Comey explained that the information in the background check fell through the cracks because of jurisdictional issues of which the FBI examiner who conducted the background check wasn’t aware.

The feds sent a query to the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department for information on the pending drug charge. But Lexington officials didn’t have the information because the arrest had been made by Columbia police.

Under a default provision in the federal law, a gun sale can proceed after three days, if the feds don’t raise a red flag.

Clearly, the gaps in this case and others say that Congress needs to review the laws governing oversight of gun sales. That seems unlikely, however, based on the response of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, quoted by The Washington Post.

“It’s disastrous that this bureaucratic mistake prevented existing laws from working and blocking an illegal gun sale,” Sen. Grassley said in a statement. “The facts undercut attempts to use the tragedy to enact unnecessary gun laws. The American people, and especially the victims’ families, deserve better.”

Certainly, the American people and victims’ families deserve better than a knee-jerk reaction from Sen. Grassley before the FBI review of this case is complete.

Even the S.C. Legislature, which has seldom seen an expansion of gun rights it won’t support, voted to close a loophole in a state gun law to restrict access of firearms to mentally ill people. That action came in response to a 2013 incident in Charleston involving a woman previously adjudged mentally ill.

Congress should be willing to look at the efficacy of federal laws that are aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of those that the laws deem a risk. Unfortunately, even reasonable safeguards, like applying the same laws for sales at gun shops to gun shows, are opposed by the National Rifle Association. And the NRA seems to have a lock on the national debate on gun issues - at least in Congress, where it counts.

Of course, it is impossible to say whether the denial of the gun sale in this case would have prevented the tragedy at Emanuel AME. The alleged killer might have obtained a gun by other means - theft or an illegal purchase, for example.

Nevertheless, citizens should have the expectation that gun laws are effective, both as they are written and as they are applied.

At this point, it appears that the nation, as Sen. Grassley might say, deserves better.




July 14

The Herald, Rock Hill, South Carolina, on Gov. Haley playing big role in flag debate:

When the call rang out to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the S.C. Statehouse following the murder of nine people in Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, Gov. Nikki Haley could have played it safe. But instead of simply sitting back and letting others take the lead, she spoke out early and forcefully in favor of bringing down the flag, playing a crucial role in the ultimate success of that effort.

Haley, like many South Carolina politicians on both sides of the flag issue, had long assumed that the compromise of 2000, which took down the flag from the Capitol dome but moved it to a Confederate memorial next to the Statehouse, was the end of the discussion. Removing the flag altogether seemed both a political impossibility, requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, and a low priority in a state beset by many other serious challenges.

But the June 17 shooting of nine members of Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME Church, including its pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, changed Haley’s outlook and galvanized her to join in calling for the flag to come down. She said that on the night of June 19, after families of the victims had offered their forgiveness to suspected shooter Dylann Roof, she made a decision to call for the flag to come down.

Haley is a political animal, and this decision no doubt entailed political calculations. Before publicly declaring her position, she talked with legislators, community leaders and leaders with the state’s chapter of the NAACP.

But on June 22, she publicly urged legislators to take down the flag and send it to a museum.

The next day, the Legislature agreed to add the issue to its special session, beginning the process that eventually led to a vote in both houses to remove the flag. …

In the days after the shooting, Haley was highly visible both in lobbying legislators and in publicly mourning the victims. She attended all nine of the funerals and offered a moving eulogy at the funeral of Ethel Lance.

While the state Senate voted overwhelmingly with only three dissenters to remove the flag, the House proved more reluctant. Haley went to the Statehouse to make a personal appeal to House members to follow through on the Senate’s vote and pass a clean bill to bring down the flag.

Although the debate went on until around 1 a.m., with House members voting down more than 20 proposed amendments, the measure finally passed. Haley’s active participation in the process undoubtedly was a factor.

Some will say that bringing down the flag was simply a symbolic gesture. But we shouldn’t discount the power of symbols, especially one as powerful and emotional as this one.

The acknowledgment that the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of hate and oppression to many, both black and white, reverberated not only in South Carolina but also across the nation. It has helped spark a widespread discussion about conflicting views of history and how the enduring reverence for the Confederate cause has adversely affected the lives of African-Americans since the end of the Civil War.

That is no small thing. And those who worked to enable this debate by bringing down the flag more than 50 years after it was placed on the Statehouse dome deserve high praise.

We are grateful that Haley played a prominent role in putting a forward-looking and compassionate face on this state.




July 13

Aiken (South Carolina) Standard on Islamic State battle:

President Barack Obama recently delivered what could easily be described as an optimistic report in the fight to degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State. Let’s hope his upbeat attitude is right this time since he’s offered similar confidence before.

Obama, during a press conference on July 6, indicated that “progress” had been made in the fight, but once again indicated that the campaign “won’t be quick,” especially since the Islamic State is “opportunistic” and “nimble.”

After Obama’s remarks last week, his critics were quick to pounce.

“A speech isn’t a strategy,” said Cory Fritz, press secretary for U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “At no point in his remarks did President Obama indicate he’s doing anything to change course and actually build the broad, overarching plan that’s needed to take on these savage terrorists and win.”

No one has the perfect solution on how to wipe out the Islamic State. Also, while public opinion has certainly shifted more favorably, it’s hard to believe a majority of Americans would support putting an onslaught of U.S. troops on the front lines in this fight.

Plausible alternatives, however certainly exist.

Obama has said in the past that the U.S. cannot wage “a boundless war on terror.” This is true, but efforts in the region could be strengthened.

Since last summer, U.S. and allied aircraft have conducted more than 5,000 strikes on Islamic State targets in both Iraq and Syria, which have made it harder for the militants to launch large-scale attacks. But the group continues to control some of the region’s most important cities and holds influence in unpopulated areas that are more difficult for government forces to control. U.S. military personnel in Iraq have also struggled to ensure that Iraqi forces can effectively take on the Islamic State.

Despite these setbacks and challenges, defining success in this campaign in and of itself remains difficult. With that reality, the scale of troop involvement in the region doesn’t necessarily correlate to eventual triumph.

To their credit, critics of Obama, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have detailed the U.S. troop levels they would want to see to address growing concern. Graham, who is also running for president, has suggested 10,000 additional troops in Iraq, 9,800 in Afghanistan and about 10,000 in Syria as part of a regional force. Graham even boldly stated “If you’re too tired to defend this country, too war-weary, don’t vote for me.” If Graham’s anemic poll numbers are any kind of sign, then support for greater Middle Eastern involvement, at least among Republican primary voters, likely isn’t extraordinarily high.

Still, the region remains a powder keg and Obama’s mishmash strategy is doing little to instill confidence moving forward. While there’s no quick fix to the many logistical hurdles the U.S. faces, a more concrete, substantive and expeditious strategy is sorely needed.



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