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CNN  — 

Even in a week of bleak headlines, the one about the soaring sales of bulletproof backpacks for kids stood out.

As CNN reported, one backpack is described as being able to “withstand 9-mm, .44 magnum and shotgun ammunition” – but won’t protect against “rifles or assault weapons.”

Back-to-school shopping for armor plated backpacks is one chilling sign that America is a nation traumatized by mass shootings, including last week’s in El Paso and Dayton.

Writer David Perry is looking to replace his daughter’s Harry Potter backpack and his son’s Avengers one, but he isn’t opting for the bulletproof kind: “So much of what we do in schools comes from the … sentiment that we must do something to try to calm our worst fears, even if backpacks and active shooter drills don’t actually address the root of the problem,” Perry wrote. “The problem is still that there are just too many guns.”

Other diagnoses of the problem pointed at mental illness and video games, to explain the carnage. But Peter Ambler, an El Paso native who’s the executive director of the Giffords gun safety organization, said this is just a distraction.

“There is no evidence that our country has significantly higher rates of would-be terrorists than other developed countries,” Ambler wrote. “We also have comparable rates of mental illness to similarly developed countries – and we should also never forget the vast majority of people with a mental health diagnosis are not dangerous to others. What we have is weak gun laws.

The terror threat

America also has a far-right-wing terrorism problem, according to Peter Bergen and David Sterman: Since September 11, 2001, “terrorists motivated by far-right ideology, including white supremacy, anti-government and anti-abortion views” have taken more innocent lives than the jihadist terrorists who the US mobilized to combat.

“Yet the Trump administration continues to fail to recognize the true nature of the terrorist threat in the United States. Its answer to terrorism was suspending travel from largely Muslim countries that would not have stopped a single deadly terrorist attack since 9/11.

On his Fox News show Tuesday, host Tucker Carlson claimed that white supremacy is “a hoax” and “not a real problem.” He should be ashamed, wrote Tara Setmayer. His views “aren’t just grossly irresponsible and patently false. They are also an insult to all the victims, their families and the communities who have suffered at the hands of white nationalist extremists, many of whom have seemingly been emboldened by President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and that of his sycophants, like Carlson, who continue to give him cover.”

Epstein’s death raises questions

Jeffrey Epstein’s death in a jail cell, apparently by suicide, raised urgent questions. Page Pate wrote, “It was only three weeks ago that Epstein, who pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking charges, was found in his jail cell with marks on his neck. While it was unclear whether the injuries were the result of self-harm or assault, the incident should have convinced prison officials to remain on high alert.

For the women whose statements led to federal charges against Epstein, the case may continue in other forms, including civil suits. “The plight of these women is far from over,” wrote Peggy Drexler. “The focus now should be on listening to their stories, identifying any still-living perpetrators, and putting pressure on the Epstein estate to provide financial consolation wherever possible. It’s not enough to undo the damage he’s done, but it’s a very good and important start.”

Trump and the shootings

In an address from the White House Monday, President Donald Trump called on Americans to stand together against “racism, bigotry and white supremacy.” Good, wrote Frida Ghitis. But she urged caution: “We have heard Trump read the right words from a teleprompter before, only to watch him turn around and retract them shortly thereafter. We will not know if anything has really changed until we hear what he declares to supporters in a rally, or when he speaks extemporaneously.

And when the President visited Dayton and El Paso two days later, the divisive Trump was on full display, tweeting attacks on Democrats and privately comparing the size of crowds at Trump rallies with those of Beto O’Rourke.

In the New York Times, Richard Parker wrote that other presidents might have tried to be “the unifier” on his El Paso trip but Trump just couldn’t. “Instead, Mr. Trump displayed just how small he is, no matter how big his mouth or powerful his office. He never once appeared in public…he is a shrinking president, stuck in a racist past, flying over a changing America. And I think we — or most of us — are all El Paso now.

The president’s practice of referring to migrants crossing the border as invaders is stoking hate, wrote John Avlon: “This rhetoric resonates with white supremacists. We’ve seen the language of ‘invasion’ used at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the New Zealand mosque massacre, the Poway synagogue near San Diego and now likely at a Walmart full of back-to-school shoppers in El Paso.” Avlon concluded, “Trump has a credibility chasm when it comes to combating white nationalism.”

Is it fair to lay any blame on Trump? Scott Jennings wrote that the blame game can be played two ways. (Trump suggested a left-wing motive in the Dayton shooting, citing reports the shooter may have retweeted messages praising Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Antifa, although police said they haven’t determined that there was a political motive for the massacre.) It’s always a mistake, Jennings said: “The rush to rage against Trump … seems counterproductive to people who want a meaningful policy outcome. All politicians have a responsibility to ratchet down their own rhetoric, and to ask their supporters to stand down as well.

Enough is enough

Alice Stewart is a longtime NRA member and former communications director for Ted Cruz. But now she is saying enough is enough. “In the aftermath of every mass shooting, I have opposed knee-jerk reactions from gun control advocates,” Stewart wrote. “No more – it’s time for action. It’s time to turn safety rhetoric into reality” – in the form of broader background checks, “red flag” laws, and controls on some high-capacity magazines.

This is not a time for small measures, wrote Jeff Yang. In what he described as a proposal designed to provoke discussion but which he conceded won’t become reality, he suggested requiring gun buyers to agree to serve in the US military reserve.

Citing the Second Amendment’s reference to “a well-regulated militia,” Yang argued that the amendment “doesn’t just guarantee an individual freedom; it’s also a proclamation of a collective duty, which can be seen in countries like Switzerland, where gun ownership is mandatory — specifically to be used in defense of that nation against invasion – for adult males 18 to 34 who are viewed as fit for service…how different would our gun debate be today if the focus weren’t on the selfish right to personal protection but on our responsibility to serve our country?

The Mitch McConnell factor

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader who for Democrats represents the forces of obstruction on issues such as gun control and election security, was recuperating from surgery after a fall at his home in Kentucky, where protesters were calling him out in strong terms. Scott Jennings assailed “the #massacreMitch hashtag,” saying that while it is “ostensibly a criticism of McConnell’s position on guns… there’s no question in my mind that some people mean it as a threat against McConnell.

McConnell called the shootings “horrifying,” but Jill Filipovic argued that it’s simply empty rhetoric since he declined to reconvene the Senate to act on gun control. “That he doesn’t use his position for what it was intended – to pass laws and govern according to the will of the American people – is a dereliction of duty and a profound moral failure.

Free and easy health care

When historian Laura Beers broke her elbow this year in a freak fall, she was treated by the UK’s National Health Service. An American citizen, Beers is married to an Englishman and is a UK resident. “My NHS surgeon was able to schedule me in for the three-hour surgery less than two weeks after my fall, and my physical therapist saw me weekly after the bone was healed to work on my flexion and extension,” she wrote. “Both surgery and rehab were free at the point of use, and the only paperwork I completed was my pre-operative release forms.” It’s a far cry from the US health care system, where costs are increasingly borne by patients and navigating the insurance bureaucracy can be a nightmare.

So why not adopt a public health care system in the US as Britain did after World War II? Beers argued that while Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are making a case for a single-payer system, they “not only face a strong and entrenched adversary in the American insurance industry, they also lack the broad public support for reform which characterized post-WWII Britain.

‘No tired’ in El Paso

Sergio Troncoso’s mother often told him, “There is no tired in my house.” Growing up in El Paso, the son of a couple who came to Texas from Juárez, Chihuahua as “newlyweds with only a few dollars in their pockets,” Troncoso and his sibling saw how his parents never stopped working.

“We had to clean the irrigation canal behind our house, because my parents said it would be good for the community. Of course, we didn’t own the canal. After his regular, 40-hour-per-week job as a draftsman for a construction company in El Paso, my father picked up my two brothers and me to work construction. We carted away rubble after demolition or ferried cinder block and building materials to apartments he renovated on the side.”

The white nationalists who claim their culture is being replaced are wrong, he wrote. “It is being renewed by immigrants like my parents and grandparents. They exemplify the best spirit of America.”

A fellow El Pasoan, Nicole Fernanda Pérez, wrote that her city “became a target” due to “its ethos of inclusion and community…but when hatred tries to extinguish communities like El Paso, we realize how the border forged our spirit, and made it invincible.”

There’s a striking piece of history around the cities of El Paso and Dayton, wrote Diane McWhorter: “El Paso and Dayton were the main locales where the US government secretly installed the Third Reich aeronautics and missile whizzes ‘procured’ right after World War II under a so-called ‘exploitation’ program later codenamed Paperclip. Airplane makers like Alexander Lippisch (designer of the delta wing) were plunked down at Wright Field in Dayton. El Paso’s Fort Bliss became home to the inventors of Hitler’s unprecedented ballistic missile, the V-2 ‘vengeance weapon.’”

Other takes on the mass shootings:

Irene Sanchez: El Paso horror spotlights long history of anti-Latino violence in the US

Kevin Powell: I do not want to get shot

Dean Obeidallah: What I learned when white supremacists came after me

‘Less crazy’

Bill Maher’s view of the 2020 election is simple: “All the Democrats have to do to win is to come off less crazy than Trump — and, of course, they’re blowing it, coming across as unserious people who are going to take away all your money so migrants from Honduras can go to college for free….” He argued that while Joe Biden might not be the ideal candidate, he’s like non-dairy creamer: “nobody loves it but in a jam it gets the job done.”

But that’s not really enough, wrote Julian Zelizer. Democrats need more than the “opposite of Trump.” They should push for a “candidate who can shine on the campaign trail, sidestep damaging mistakes, present a rousing vision, and offer better solutions than the rage-machine in the Oval Office. It might be that former Vice President Biden is that candidate. But playing it safe…could very well cost Democrats the White House.

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She lit the way

Jane Carr summed up the astonishing career of Toni Morrison, who died at the age of 88: Her “impact on America’s landscape of literature and letters was unmatched. From the 1960s to the 1980s as an editor at Random House, she fostered a cohort of writers of color and ushered in a new era of diverse voices by brilliance and sheer force of will…In 1987, she published ‘Beloved,’ and in 1993, she became the first African American woman to win a Nobel Prize.”

Gene Seymour wrote that Morrison “magnified her experience and the history of her people through language and imagery that made it impossible for all but the most blinkered skeptics to see something of themselves in her books.”

America lost Morrison at a time when it needed her most, Seymour wrote. “It’s sad that Morrison won’t be here to guide us out of our current catastrophe. But if more and greater books from the countless authors she inspired follow in her wake – and they have – it will be because she lighted the way for them.”