Editorials from around Pennsylvania
THE LONG GOODBYE
It surprised a lot of people last week when the coroner in Northern Virginia ruled Jim Brady's death a homicide.
After all, it had been 33 years since Mr. Brady was shot in the head by John Hinckley, in the same 1981 incident that wounded President Reagan, a Secret Service agent and a Washington, D.C., policeman.
Hinckley did a lot of damage with the six bullets he fired using a .22-caliber handgun he'd bought for $29 at a pawnshop using a false ID, but he was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1982 and has been a patient at a mental institution since the trial, although he is allowed out to visit his mother once in a while.
Mr. Brady went on to live the rest of his life physically impaired, but politically active. From his wheelchair, he led a national movement that — after years of hard lobbying —resulted in the so-called Brady Law, which required background checks and waiting periods for handgun purchasers.
Despite the coroner's ruling, most prosecutors doubt that Hinckley will be tried for Mr. Brady's murder. Too much time has elapsed, they say, to prove direct causation in a court of law.
From a legal standpoint they may be correct. From a human standpoint, there is a direct line between the bullets shot from this mentally ill man's cheap handgun and Mr. Brady's death. One caused the other.
Even if Mr. Brady went on to live an exemplary life dedicated to a good cause, he lived the life of a shooting victim, with daily reminders of the aftereffects of Hinckley's mad act. He lost use of his left arm and leg. He was usually confined to a wheelchair. He had short-term memory loss. As Mr. Brady himself pointed out, he couldn't even go to the bathroom without help.
"What I was, I am not now," Brady said in 1994. "What I was, I never will be again."
Those 15 words are true not just for Mr. Brady, but for the thousands and thousands of people like him: victims of gun violence, struggling to live a life that will never be the same.
In Philadelphia and elsewhere, we give the most attention to the victims of homicide, mourning their deaths and sermonizing about their lives.
We pay less attention to shooting victims who survive. There is not the finality of a funeral for them. They live on — often in pain and misery - for years, even decades.
Even if the wounds are minor, the scars are deep. The trauma lasts.
Last year in Philadelphia, 247 men, women and children were victims of homicide. That's a distressing number that nonetheless carries hopeful news: homicide is in the decline here and elsewhere. In contrast, there were 324 homicide victims in 2011.
In 2013, the number of those wounded by guns numbered 1,128 — nearly five times the number of homicides. Nearly half of these shooting victims were under the age of 25. Two were under the age of 10.
Like Mr. Brady, many will face a lifetime struggling with physical and mental maladies. Unlike Mr. Brady, many do not have the financial or personal resources to help them move forward. The poorest and most seriously injured end up as wards of the state, living in nursing homes as shells of their former selves.
When they die, it's likely no one will be prosecuted for their deaths. Justice has passed them by, even though, like Jim Brady, they were victims of murder — murder done in slow motion.
__ Philadelphia Daily News
CLEAN WATER NOT SOMETHING TO BE TAKEN FOR GRANTED
When we turn on the taps in our homes, we take it for granted that clean, safe water will flow forth from them.
The folks in Toledo, Ohio, certainly won't. They endured a two-day period last week when they were told not to drink water from the city's municipal system because it had been infiltrated with a toxic by-product of algae that has bloomed in nearby Lake Erie in atypical abundance this summer. The same goes for the people in Charleston, W.Va., who had to suffer through an even longer stretch without water earlier this year due to a chemical spill in the Elk River.
In fact, it's only been a relatively recent development in our history that readily available clean water has been a ho-hum fact of life. Waterborne diseases were once surefire killers in every corner of the globe, and there are still some outposts in the world, most notably sub-Saharan Africa, where the lack of potable water is a catalyst for sickness and death.
While centuries of technology and innovation led us to this moment, we can trust the water that we drink, for the most part, because of laws that have been established in the last several decades to maintain its safety. But the job is not finished. Some of those laws need to be refined and strengthened, and funds must be allocated in order to assure that one of the most basic components of our survival remains secure.
When the Clean Water Act was enacted in the 1970s, it brought to an end an anything-goes era where our rivers were dumping grounds for all manner of industrial waste and toxic sludge. Before the Clean Water Act protected these waterways, the U.S. Department of Health studied drinking water supplies around the country, and found a full 30 percent of their samples contained chemicals that were unhealthy for humans to ingest. Even those who howl and rend their garments about "big government" have to admit this is an area where federal intervention has improved the country's health and economic vitality.
Responding to court decisions that weakened the Clean Water Act during the last decade, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are now attempting to close loopholes in the law that prevents it from protecting 2 million miles of streams and at least 20 million acres of wetlands around the country. Of course, these wetlands and streams feed into rivers that are our primary sources for drinking water, so conservation efforts aimed at these tributaries would be good for us all and a boon to fishermen, since many fish spawn in small streams.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy explained in March, "These places are where we get our drinking water, and where we hunt, fish, swim and play."
The health of the Great Lakes, which border eights states, including our own, along with two Canadian provinces, must also be protected. The lakes are the largest freshwater reserve in the world, and they are in better condition than they once were. Toledo's newspaper, The Blade, recently pointed out that in the 1960s, "Lake Erie was North America's equivalent of the Dead Sea," and it took an $8 billion reclamation effort to restore its health.
Federal aid for Great Lakes maintenance was trimmed by $25 million this year, and many no doubt salivate at the prospect of further budget cutting when it comes to environmental enforcement and stewardship. But the health of the Great Lakes, and the lakes and rivers located in our communities, is something on which we can ill afford to scrimp.
__ (Washington) Observer-Reporter.
TIME TO PUT AN END TO PIGEON SHOOTS
A true sportsman or sportswoman cringes at the thought of blasting away at pigeons released from cages only yards away. Gun enthusiasts and average citizens should join in the rejection of this "sport," one with no sense of fair chase as should be the case when hunters go into the woodlands and fields of Pennsylvania in search of game.
The arguments against live pigeon shoots are sound. The birds often are only wounded and they must be dispatched.
At the infamous Hegins, Schuylkill County pigeon shoots of the late 20th century, youngsters would race onto the field and wring the necks of wounded birds. That scene helped doom the Hegins shoot, which was the site of anti-pigeon shoot demonstrations for many years.
The use of trapped animals also is an issue. It is the antithesis of animals in the wild, including pheasants rising from the cornstalks.
Now, the state Senate has before it a bill that would ban such shoots. A live pigeon shoot was held only days ago at the Wing Pointe Resort in Berks County. Again, there is outrage that live birds are being shot when clay targets would suffice, the same clay targets tossed before thousands of shooters who agree that it is inhumane to shoot pigeons out of the air.
The Humane Society of the United States endorses the ban. The National Rifle Association supports live pigeon shoots.
It is another example of the NRA, which advocates for Second Amendment rights, going over the top and actually hurting its own cause and harming the very sportsmen and gun owners that it counts as members.
The comments of Humane Society spokesman John Goodwin carry weight. Shooting live pigeons released from cages, he said, "is no more sport that shooting chickens coming out of a henhouse."
Should the Senate pass the bill, it is expected the state House would concur. The hope is that a bill will pass during the session that runs through October. The Senate Game and Fisheries Committee voted 10-4 for the bill. We urge the full Senate to promptly pass the legislation and send it on to the House.
__ The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens' Voice
INACTION ON 'PASSING THE TRASH' LEGISLATION IN PENNSYLVANIA
Absent action by the Pennsylvania Legislature (surprise, surprise), U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey is turning up the heat on Congress to approve legislation to prevent school officials from letting actual or suspected child abusers quietly resign or take teaching jobs or other positions elsewhere.
Republican Toomey is the author of a bipartisan bill (Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia, is co-sponsor) that would ban the practice known as "passing the trash."
"Protecting kids from sexual misconduct is not a partisan issue. It is simply common sense," Toomey said in a commentary on Friday's New Era editorial page.
Under Toomey's bill, state education agencies receiving federal funds would be required to perform background checks on all employees and contractors who have access to children.
The bill would require the checks to be done regularly "to prevent anyone from slipping through the cracks," Toomey adds.
The bill specifically prohibits the practice of rehiring teachers and other school employees who quietly "resigned" from a previous school after being accused of abuse against children.
Teachers and school personnel in Pennsylvania go through extensive background checks, but there is not yet specific prohibition of "passing the trash."
The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers are all in favor of protecting students. But they complain that criminal background checks have a "racially disparate impact" and that legislation aimed at preventing "passing the trash" could damage worker protections provided by union contracts.
Legislation at the state level has been introduced in both the House and Senate, but the two chambers have yet to iron out the language differences between the two bills.
Inaction on legislation, whether at the state or federal level, is disconcerting, given the seriousness of the issue.
Since Jan. 1, nearly 300 teachers have been arrested in the U.S. for sexual misconduct with children — more than one for each day of the school year. Seventeen of those arrested were from Pennsylvania.
The arrests are only for the incidents police know about. How many more incidents go unreported as schools continue to choose to "pass the trash"?
Toomey's efforts to protect schoolchildren should be rewarded by Congress passing his common sense legislation. Barring that, Pennsylvania's Legislature should pick up the ball.
Action is overdue.
__Lancaster New Era
COULD YOU SPOT AN ADDICT?
York County's heroin problem has reached epidemic proportions.
That's according to people on the front lines of a battle to raise awareness about a drug afflicting all walks of life.
"It doesn't matter how you were raised, how much money you have or what color you are. No one is exempt from being a heroin addict," said York-area resident Luci Fry, who watched several members of her family become hooked on prescription opiate painkillers, then switch to heroin when they could no longer afford to buy pills.
She and her friend, Hanover resident Tracy Lawrence, held rallies in June to spread the word about the problem — and lend support to those already painfully aware of it.
"I'm interested in getting to the people who don't know about (the heroin epidemic) or who think their kid would never do this," Fry said. "If you're not educated about it, how are you going to (recognize it) in your kids?"
The rallies were sponsored by Lawrence's group, Hope vs. Heroin, which she formed after losing her 20-year-old son Aaron to heroin in 2010.
"It's part of my therapy for grief, trying to help somebody else, because I know that's what Aaron would have done," she said.
We can use all the help we can get.
So far in 2014, the number of heroin-related deaths has eclipsed the 17 reported last year — and it's still rising.
There have been 26 confirmed deaths this year, according to Coroner Pam Gay said, and there are four more suspected heroin-related deaths her office is investigating.
The local trend mirrors what's happening across the country, which has seen a dramatic, 45 percent increase in heroin overdose deaths from 2006 to 2010, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
To combat the problem here at home, police and prosecutors are cracking down on drug dealers and suppliers, and they've teamed with Gay's office to form a heroin task force.
The focus of the task force, like Hope vs. Heroin, is education, spreading the word about a problem some people might not even notice.
Gay, Chief Deputy Coroner Claude Stabley and chief deputy prosecutor David Sunday will be the keynote speakers Saturday at another heroin information session, this time at Cross Roads United Methodist Church in Cross Roads.
We encourage people to attend the meeting — listen, ask questions, become a part of the discussion.
And, just maybe, they can become part of the solution.
The first step, however, has to be recognizing the problem.