Las Vegas Sun

August 2, 2015

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Where I Stand:

We have a right to feel safe

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In the end, they just didn’t feel safe.

Assembly Majority Leader William Horne expressed that sentiment after the very sad saga of Assemblyman Steven Brooks during the process that led to his being expelled by the legislative body to which he was duly elected.

No one should take comfort in exercising that kind of action against a friend, a colleague and a person the voters had determined was best able to represent their interests.

But his expulsion from the Legislature had to happen. It was in the best interests of the Legislature, the people of Nevada and the need to do the people’s business without fear of bodily or other harm.

Of course, a just society should also help Brooks manage whatever is causing him to act in such a harmful and threatening manner. To do less or to ignore him now that he has been expelled is to flirt with disaster. We have had too many firsthand experiences lately with the results of ignoring people with obvious signs of mental illness.

So let’s get beyond Brooks and see whether we can apply Horne’s sentiment to the rest of our daily lives. I suggest we can.

•••

Controversy over the Second Amendment notwithstanding, Americans are entitled to feel as safe as possible as they go about their business. Many people think that owning weapons puts them in better control of their own safety.

I tend to agree with that position, assuming that proper safety precautions are followed, children are not allowed near them and adults always act like adults. A huge assumption, I know.

The question is whether, in our quest to “feel safe,” we are making the right choices regarding gun safety laws. And the answer is: It depends.

It depends on whether the American people are so tired of seeing innocent children slaughtered in our schools, in movie theaters, in shopping centers and on our streets that they will finally come to the belief that “they don’t feel safe” under the current regimen of rules that govern our guns. With each passing day, the public seems to feel that not enough is being done.

And that will translate into public policy that will be uncomfortable for some politicians to deal with, unpleasant for some Second Amendment advocates to accept, and unheard of for a Congress controlled by the National Rifle Association to implement. But, just like the difficult decision that had to be made in the Brooks case, so, too, will Congress have to act with regard to guns. And act soon.

That doesn’t mean that every good idea will get passed into law, but certainly more than a few of them will. And then we will see what happens.

If gun violence decreases, if the slaughter of innocents all but disappears, then we will know that we did something good — something that made Americans feel and be safer. If it doesn’t work, we will have to look at doing more.

But for now, just like the Nevada Legislature did, we must do something.

•••

How safe can we feel about the future for our next generation of leaders if we are shirking our solemn obligation to educate and prepare today’s young people while other countries’ youths are more competent, more knowledgeable and better educated than our own?

We are long past the time for action, and no one should feel safe with the status quo.

In Clark County we have two immediate educational challenges. One is to get the Legislature to devise a funding formula that allows the higher education institutions in the other 16 counties to function but also pays heed to the gross inequity that has been Clark County’s lot. The blame is ours, for failing to use our political muscle and allowing Southern Nevada’s future to be controlled by Northern Nevada interests. We can’t feel safe with the status quo in the funding of higher education.

With the resignation of Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones, we are no longer feeling safe that our schools will be reformed to better educate our young people. That is not because there isn’t a growing will among parents to support both reform and the dollars needed to enact them; it is more because we know that we no longer have the luxury of time.

Being safe is a concept that Americans have always taken for granted. It is a basic tenet enshrined in the Constitution by words like “promoting common defense” and securing “the blessings of liberty” and “promoting the general welfare.”

We all know that protecting and defending that Constitution often comes at a great price. But in the case of Brooks, or in finding a common sense approach to gun safety, or in fulfilling our responsibility to educate our young people, the price we must pay is far from the ultimate one we ask of our nation’s defenders.

In these particular matters, all we have to do is make the decisions that make us “feel safe.”

That shouldn’t be very much to ask of ourselves.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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