- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

June 18, 2015

Juneau Empire: Rayco jury’s decision was the right call

On Monday, a jury of five men and seven women found Juneau gun store owner Ray Coxe did not illegally sell a fugitive a weapon he later used to murder a visiting Anchorage man named Simone Kim.

It was the correct decision.

It also isn’t the whole story. According to federal law, Coxe was a terrible business owner.

For decades, firearms have gone missing from Coxe’s store, and despite repeated warnings from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Coxe failed to fix the problem.

That’s because Coxe was the problem.

By and large, Alaskans use firearms correctly. Hunting responsibly is a core value of Alaska, and Alaskans cherish the right to bear arms when they hunt. Firearms can be used for personal protection or sport shooting as well. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution enshrines Alaskans’ - and all Americans’ right - to a firearm.

But rights come with responsibilities. When we buy a gun, we’re trusted to always point it in a safe direction, to never rest our finger on the trigger, and to keep it unloaded until it’s ready to use.

Gun sellers have responsibilities, too. They’re more mundane, but they exist. Sellers are trusted to keep firearms out of the hands of those who might misuse them. Doing so means filling out paperwork and ensuring basic security.

Coxe didn’t live up to those responsibilities. Wal-Mart had better security on its shoes than Coxe did on his guns.

Again and again, according to accounts collected by the ATF, Coxe made mistakes and guns went missing. Audits revealed at least 300 guns have gone missing from Rayco Sales, and Coxe violated federal law nearly 500 times for failing to properly record what happened to firearms he sold or for failing to fill out forms for background checks.

Even after a man was murdered with one of those missing guns, Coxe failed to adequately respond to the ATF.

Coxe was forced to give up his firearms license earlier this year. On the last day of gun sales at Rayco, the store submitted its final report: Another 40 or so firearms were missing.

Coxe’s case isn’t about the Second Amendment. It’s about competence. As a gun store owner, Coxe was incompetent.

If you showed up to his store as a customer, you probably didn’t see that incompetence. More than likely - especially if you were an outdoorsman - you found a comfortable atmosphere with people willing to talk for hours. Shopping there was a pleasant experience.

The incompetence was behind the counter, where one video recorder was malfunctioning and another was loaded with a Bugs Bunny cartoon instead of a blank tape. It was on the walls, where Coxe was unable to prevent thieves from walking off with weapons. It was in the books, which didn’t correctly record sales. It was across the street, where a man was killed.

In any other business, Coxe would be sued for gross negligence. The federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, however, shields gun dealers from those claims. That protection disappears if someone sells a gun illegally, which is what the recent trial was really about.

The verdict didn’t mean Coxe wasn’t negligent. It simply meant he couldn’t be punished for it.

In decades of work, Coxe sold thousands of guns to law-abiding Alaskans, men and women who have enjoyed their firearms legally. No one will remember that legacy. Instead, Coxe will be remembered for the guns that got away and for the one that killed an innocent man. We hope there will be no more.

Ray Coxe may never sell a gun again in Juneau.

In the end, that may be the best decision of all.


June 19, 2015

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: As solstice brings height of tour season, be kind to new arrivals

Summer visitors - sooner or later, it’s a virtual certainty you’ll run into them. The summer solstice weekend marks the height both of daylight hours and tourism numbers around the Interior, as thousands from outside Alaska and the U.S. take in the midnight sun. As climate patterns shift and the state grapples with a budget in which oil is receding as a funding mechanism, the role of tourism in Alaska is likely to grow. The Interior has long had a reputation for displaying true Alaska spirit in greeting visitors; as residents share the solstice weekend with many of them, let’s be gracious hosts.

The Interior has long been a popular tourist destination. Though some visitors to the state don’t venture north of Cook Inlet, the many who do are amply rewarded for making the journey. Denali National Park near Healy is rife with natural wonders in landscapes and members of the animal kingdom. The Tanana Valley offers near-24-hour sun and warmth in the summers and brilliant displays of the aurora borealis in winter.

Accordingly, tourism has always played a major role in the local economy and the lives of Interior residents. Many Fairbanksans who grew up in town had their first job - and sometimes their first several jobs - working in the tour industry in the summer. Cleaning motor coaches for Holland America Princess, working at the front counter of a local hotel or swabbing the deck on the Riverboat Discovery serves as a résumé builder and source of funds for local young people during the warmer months.

Statewide, tourism is a major industry, even if it doesn’t contribute to Alaska’s bottom line in the same manner as oil and gas. According to figures released by the McDowell Group in late 2014, last year 1.93 million visitors - close to three times the state’s population - came to see Alaska. Those visitors spent $1.8 billion here and provided for $1.3 billion in labor income via tourism-related jobs for Alaskans. The overall economic impact of the industry rang in at a whopping $3.9 billion. It also provided $174 million in state taxes and fees, only a small part of the roughly $10 billion in total general fund revenue for the state, but a sum roughly equivalent to what a proposed statewide sales tax would bring in. Should that sales tax be implemented, it would increase the visitor industry’s contribution to the state, as visitor spending would provide an outside infusion of revenue on top of the share borne by residents.

While there are plenty of good economic arguments to be kind to tourists as they visit, the one that matters most doesn’t have much to do with the economy at all: It’s just what we do. Many of us who choose to live here like the Interior’s friendly and welcoming nature, a community character trait in increasingly short supply even within the state.

Visitors, many of whom have become accustomed to the loss of that fundamental good-naturedness and willingness to go out of one’s way to say hello or help others, notice this far more than we who live here.

So be good-natured if someone asks directions to the University of Alaska Museum of the North, restaurant recommendations downtown during the Midnight Sun Festival or needs help deciding what to do with a free afternoon in town. It’s what we’d want if we were in a similar position on our own vacations, and it’s something visitors will remember and take with them as a memory of their visit to the Interior. Word of mouth, after all, is the best advertising.

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