- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 13

Sane gun laws are possible, but only if outrage replaces apathy:

Last week the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that there’s no constitutional right to carry a concealed weapon. The court upheld a provision in California’s gun law that requires applicants to present a good cause for wanting a concealed-carry permit.

Sensible gun laws are still possible. The politics are difficult, but the fight must not be abandoned. What happened in Orlando Sunday morning - and in so many places before Orlando - must fuel a righteous outrage. Politicians who refuse to embrace the logic after this atrocity don’t deserve to be in office.

The 9th Circuit is the most liberal of the 11 U.S. judicial circuits. Its rulings apply only to nine western states, of which only California and Hawaii have “good cause” provisions in their concealed carry laws.

Still, the case of Peruta v. San Diego could go to the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal, which makes the question of who appoints Justice Antonin Scalia’s successor even more important. In 2008, Scalia wrote the majority opinion in D.C. v. Heller, which sets out the current interpretation of the Second Amendment.

Not only do individuals have the right to own guns, Scalia wrote, they can own weapons of the sort “in common use,” just as people did when the Constitution was written. However, he was vague on “dangerous and unusual weapons.” Not even Scalia was comfortable with a constitutional right to military-style assault rifles.

In 2013, in an interview on “The Daily Show,” Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, explained: “If you’ve been on the battlefield you’ve probably carried an M-4 Carbine. . It does terrible damage. It’s supposed to. I don’t want them on our streets. I don’t want them in our schools. I think we need to have a very serious look at why we would even consider having guns like that out there.”

An M-4 is a shorter M-16, the military version of the AR-15. Omar Mateen is believed to have used an AR-15 to kill most of the 49 victims at the Pulse nightclub. AR-15s, made by many manufacturers in multiple calibers, were part of the arsenals used in previous mass shootings in San Bernadino and Santa Monica, Calif.; Roseburg, Ore.; Newtown, Conn.; and Aurora, Colo. And more.

A bill in Congress, HR 4269, would ban the sale and import of AR-15s and similar weapons, as well as handguns that can fire more than 10 rounds. It has been buried in the House Judiciary Committee for more than 18 months.

It doesn’t have to stay buried, but outraged Americans are going to have to act on that outrage. Such a ban wouldn’t solve the problem, but it would help. And America needs help with its gun addiction.


The Kansas City Star, June 9

A promising but costly streetcar expansion plan emerges in Kansas City:

Building on an early eye-popping success story, proponents of Kansas City’s downtown streetcar system have announced a promising - but costly - plan to expand it.

The proposed route makes excellent sense: Take the line that now ends at Union Station and keep running it south on Main Street through midtown, through the Country Club Plaza and end near the University of Missouri-Kansas City. For now.

The Star has long supported fixed rail more for the redevelopment it can create than its people-moving ability. The 2.2-mile downtown line has helped attract more housing, hotels and office projects into the blocks on either side of Main Street.

The exact same thing could happen in the midtown corridor and around the Plaza and UMKC campus.

Taking the system through the heart of an area where voters in 2014 supported plans for an eight-mile expansion - one that unfortunately died because of voter opposition on the East Side - also makes political sense. Residents along the midtown corridor could be persuaded that a new, 3.75-mile line would help their property values by attracting even more housing and businesses.

Expanding the system could make it more of a public transit asset. As the initial line has shown, people are willing to take it to events near Crown Center, inside the Crossroads Arts District and in the River Market. The longer line would allow passengers to get on near UMKC and on the Plaza and ride all the way downtown, and vice versa. It also could move UMKC students from the Plaza-area campus to a new downtown arts campus if that ever gets built.

However, the new plan’s costs of at least $227 million will give many people pause. Also, will it get enough federal funds to hold down the amounts requested from local residents?

The Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance and other backers will need to roll out convincing evidence in the weeks ahead that higher sales and property taxes needed to pay for the bigger system would be worth it.

Even the most optimistic streetcar proponent thinks the longer system couldn’t open until 2022. That explains the sensible idea of trotting out the expansion plan now.

Media reports Thursday said a separate light-rail petition also is underway in Kansas City.

However, the far more realistic plan now is to stay focused on how an expanded streetcar line could benefit the urban core - and whether the right plan has been unveiled to carry out that important priority.


Springfield News-Leader, June 11

What free speech really means:

Whatever happened to freedom of speech?

Not much, actually. It works about the same now as it always has, save for a few decisions made by the Supreme Court.

However, it’s a question we hear often.

The simplest explanation is that the constitutional right to free speech, in most cases, protects you from censorship or prosecution by the government. It doesn’t protect you from all consequences.

The most common point of a confusion about this particular right is that it does not protect you from ridicule. If others disagree with something you say, they also have the freedom of speech to tell you they disagree.

It also doesn’t protect you from being fired, usually.

And that’s a somewhat sticky point in the story that’s made this question of free speech come up most recently.

A Rockaway Beach alderman, Thom Borchert, has come under some fire because of racist, homophobic and transphobic comments he’s made on social media. In interviews with the News-Leader and others, he’s mostly reinforced those comments.

The mayor of Rockaway Beach has said he and the other aldermen will seek a way to remove Borchert from office if he doesn’t step down.

Several readers have come to Borchert’s defense - not to defend his views, but to defend his right to share them.

If Borchert worked for a private company, it could easily fire him for comments the company deems inappropriate.

According to Missouri law, fourth-class cities like Rockaway Beach can remove an elected official from office with a 2/3 vote of the body, as long as it shows cause.

Back to the original question of freedom of speech - There are a few things the constitution doesn’t protect you from. Some of the most common include:

- Threatening people with violence;

- Using so-called “fighting words,” like those that are so inflammatory as to cause violence;

- Speech that incites “imminent lawless action.” You can get in trouble for yelling “fire” in a theater that is not on fire;

- Obscenities.

However, proving that speech falls under one of the exceptions is difficult. In most cases, speech goes unpunished.

Generally, there is strong protection for speech in the United States, and it’s something Americans appreciate and demand.

A 2015 Pew Research study found that Americans were more likely than people in most other countries to support freedom of speech on a variety of topics - including speech that is offensive to minority groups.

Again, that’s the right to speak without censorship or prosecution from the government. It’s not absolute protection from your employer, colleagues or the rest of the internet.

Our freedom of speech is still working.

We’re not being thrown in jail for disagreeing with the government. No one is restricting your internet access. And you’re still welcomed, and encouraged, to send your opinions to this newspaper, so you can show off your freedom of speech to our readers.

Just be aware that our readers may take advantage of their own rights to tell you what they think.


Jefferson City News-Tribune, June 8

Proactive school policies on bullying, suicide prevention:

A state law to help schools identify bullying and signs of potential suicide is a proactive policy already practiced by a number of districts.

Gov. Jay Nixon signed a measure last week to permit educators to apply two hours of training in youth suicide prevention toward their professional development requirements. The bill also adds cyber-bullying to Missouri’s existing anti-bullying laws.

We are wary of any new mandates that add non-instructional duties to over-burdened teachers, but this law doesn’t do that.

The law is designed to benefit students by including suicide prevention training among the options teachers may select to satisfy existing continuing education requirements.

Suicide is an irrevocable act that may be prevented if teachers are trained to spot the warning signs and arrange for professionals to intercede.

Larry Linthacum, superintendent of Jefferson City Public Schools, said both staff and students are trained to identify bullying behavior and signs of potential suicide.

He said the state law is “consistent with things we’ve been talking about, making sure we’re engaging with kids and connecting with kids, and when we do that, we’ll be more conscious and aware if something is out of the ordinary with a student.”

Linthacum said any modifications made by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Missouri School Boards Association will be reviewed to make the district’s policies consistent and current.

Student behavior will be a focal point in the coming year at the local public schools. After a comprehensive survey, Linthacum said, personnel and resources will emphasize consistent policies among all district schools regarding behavior, disruptions and discipline.

Fears and resentments caused by bullying, as well as classroom disruptions and distractions, all pollute the learning environment in our schools.

The new state law and the district’s policies show policy-makers and educators understand. Every effort must be made to make the classroom a safe and welcoming place where students are focused on learning.

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