Newsletter: Finally, a moment of Republican sanity on guns

During a news conference in Tallahassee, Fla., on Feb. 23, Gov. Rick Scott proposed banning the sale of firearms to anyone younger than 21.
During a news conference in Tallahassee, Fla., on Feb. 23, Gov. Rick Scott proposed banning the sale of firearms to anyone younger than 21.
(Mark Wallheiser / Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018. Ten years ago today, Fidel Castro himself did what explosive cigars and multiple U.S. presidents failed to accomplish: He stopped being president of Cuba. Let’s take a slightly shorter look back at the week in Opinion.

Regular readers of this newsletter know this isn’t the first time I’ve lead off with a piece on yet another mass shooting. So when I sat down to put together this weekend’s edition, I planned on featuring the handy fill-in-the-blanks statement provided by The Times Editorial Board for responding to the next episode of our recurring gun nightmare. That editorial conveyed the inevitability of the next terrible shooting thanks to Americans’ adeptness at moving on and forgetting the rage that reminded them how weak our gun laws are.

On Friday, however, a small ray of sunlight penetrated the dark clouds that have obscured whatever sanity American politicians — namely, Republican politicians — might have on gun policy: Florida Gov. Rick Scott, about as absolutist on the 2nd Amendment as they come, announced he would support several reforms in his state, including raising the minimum to buy a firearm to 21. Modest as Scott’s reforms may seem, they could represent a breakthrough, says Scott Martelle:

It's unclear how much of his change of heart arose from the striking political activism of students who survived the Valentine's Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., but they have certainly turned up the heat on the debate (which they need to convert into vote-mobilization).

The even better news is that Scott is not alone. Even as Congress refuses to slip off the gun lobby's leash, political leaders in several states say they'll push for more controls. New Jersey's recently installed Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, said he plans to form a coalition of like-minded governors to take a regional state-level approach to try to get a handle on the nation's gun-violence problem — a tactic loosely patterned after state responses to fight climate change after President Trump decided to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement. He also has said he would sign a menu of gun-control measures that former Gov. Chris Christie vetoed.

In Vermont, long one of the nation's gun-friendliest states, Republican Gov. Phil Scott reversed his prior opposition to tightening gun laws, and called for measures that would increase to 21 the age at which someone can buy a firearm (unless they have passed a training course), ban bump stocks, allow police to temporarily remove firearms from someone deemed dangerous, and said he would consider requiring a background check for private sales of firearms and banning high-capacity magazines....

Another encouraging sign: Over the last couple of days, a number of businesses that work with the NRA have severed their connections. Enterprise Holdings will end a special rate program for NRA members renting cars through Enterprise, Alamo and National. A private Omaha bank said it will end co-branded NRA credit cards. MetLife said it would drop a policy discount for NRA members. And Chubb Ltd. decided three months ago that it would stop underwriting insurance that covered NRA members for legal problems arising from self-defense shootings.

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Yes, it is about mental health. You might have read this text in a meme after the Parkland, Fla., school massacre on Feb. 14: “Repeat after me: Mass shooters are not disproportionately mentally ill.” But, write mass-murder researchers Grant Duwe and Michael Rocque, that parroted “fact” often used to argue in favor of gun control is false. According to their research, “at least 59% of the 185 public mass shootings that took place in the United States from 1900 through 2017 were carried out by people who had either been diagnosed with a mental disorder or demonstrated signs of serious mental illness prior to the attack.” L.A. Times

The David Hogg “actor” video was right-wing propaganda. There’s a YouTube piece purporting to prove that the Parkland high school student speaking out for more gun control is in fact a paid actor working for George Soros or some other liberal bogeyman. First, Hogg is in fact a student, and second, the criticism that this smear campaign is a kind of bullying misses the point. It’s something far worse, writes Virginia Heffernan — it’s propaganda, and its power to infect our minds is profound. L.A. Times

Garcetti’s presidential ambitions get a boost from conservative columnist George Will. Noticeably, some of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s statements that Will says might indicate his potential as a strong leader for his party and the country — “His immersion in immigration realities gives him standing to warn his party, which is addicted to identity politics, that ‘people do want a national identity.’ We are ‘not an ethnic nation but a civic nation,’ and Democrats must speak to ‘identity’ rather than ‘identities’” — might come across to Angelenos as the wishy-washiness we’ve come to expect from the mayor. National Review

Two opinions on the ever-changing McDonald’s Happy Meal: First up is The Times Editorial Board, which says improvements over the years in portion sizes, beverage choices and more nutritious sides make the childhood staple less of a health risk (although the best solution is not to eat fast food, the board concedes). Next is Karin Klein, who in an op-ed article points out that the worst thing about Happy Meals isn’t the no-longer-included cheeseburger, it’s the toy.

Is President Trump capable of having colluded with the Russians? Jonah Goldberg, himself no fan of Trump, doesn’t think so: “While [the Trump campaign] may have been willing to coordinate with the Kremlin, I'm not at all certain they would have been able to pull it off — and keep it a secret. Everything we know about the Trump campaign is that it was a shambolic movable feast of warring egos, relentless leaks and summary firings.” L.A. Times