US veterans join forces for gun reform

An AR15 assault rifle. (Joshua Lott/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 08 March 2018
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US veterans join forces for gun reform

WASHINGTON: Dave Baril has served in the US Marine Corps for over 18 years, deployed twice to Iraq, and is a gun owner.
But after a teenager killed 17 people in Florida last month — the deadliest school shooting to hit the country in over five years — he took his personal AR-15 rifle to a local police station and turned it in for destruction.
Baril is one of a group of US military veterans calling for tighter firearms regulations in an effort to reduce gun violence in America, bringing their knowledge of weapons and war — and accompanying credibility — to the contentious debate.
Shootings at a Las Vegas concert last year and at the Parkland, Florida high school “really woke me up the most,” he said.
The 42-year-old said he is “all for the 2nd Amendment” to the US Constitution, which guarantees the right to bear arms.
“But that doesn’t mean that... we should all be driving around in tanks just because... the military has tanks,” he said.
And without changes to current gun laws, Baril believes the current pattern of mass shootings will continue — or get worse.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” he said.
Both the Las Vegas and Parkland shootings were carried out with AR-15-style rifles, which are similar to military-issue M4s but lack a burst-fire mode.
“If I’m gonna say that... we shouldn’t have these things out there, I can’t have one myself and say, ‘Well, I’m special,’” said Baril.
So he decided to turn in his rifle.
After the Parkland shooting, Baril started the Twitter hashtag #VetsForGunReform and asked a few other veterans if it was something they would support.
They said yes, and it has since taken off, becoming a rallying point for like-minded veterans on social media.
“This has really coalesced the group, and the reach that it’s gotten has been incredible,” Kyleanne Hunter, one of the primary Vets for Gun Reform organizers, said of the hashtag.
“Right now, we’re just sort of a little bit of a ragtag group of volunteers who also all have other jobs, and so we’re getting this going as we can,” said Hunter, a former Cobra helicopter pilot who served in the Marines for nearly 12 years, deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and is a gun owner.
“What we really want to focus on right now is amplifying the voices of these students who are driving the movement,” she said, referring to survivors of the Parkland shooting, some of whom have become prominent advocates for tighter firearms laws.
“We volunteered to go into harm’s way, they didn’t, and they shouldn’t have to experience this,” said Hunter.
She and fellow veterans aim to be “a voice of reason” in the debate on gun regulations and “bridge the gap between the left and the right,” she said.
“We’re keeping a close eye on the policy debates that are happening right now and being very deliberate as to how we want to proceed.”
Pete Lucier, who served in the Marines from 2008 to 2013, deployed to Afghanistan and was a marksmanship instructor, said he was once a “pretty strong believer” in the idea of a “good guy with a gun” countering those who would do harm in the US.
Gun violence in America played a role in changing his views, but so did his time at war.
“Seeing the chaos of a real combat environment and the difficulties involved in gunplay and in real combat hedged a lot of my views about what was possible with a gun,” said Lucier.
He no longer owns a gun but still shoots periodically, and said that veterans’ knowledge of firearms is something important they bring to the conversation.
“A lot of us come from homes or backgrounds where we appreciate firearms. We don’t necessarily villainize or demonize people who own guns. We understand guns,” Lucier said.
“Our identity as veterans... informs our position,” he said. “But it’s not in any way trying to be a shield from criticism... or represent veterans as a monolith.”
For Dennis Magnasco, who served in the US Army from 2006 to 2015, deployed to Afghanistan and is a gun owner, the shooting in Las Vegas — where the gunman used a “bump stock” device to drastically increase the rate at which he could rain bullets down on concert-goers — encouraged him to speak out.
“I saw the video of the shooting. When I heard the fire from that rifle with the bump stock on it, it sounded very similar to a machine gun. It sounded like combat,” he said.
“I had this feeling of just, this isn’t right, we’ve gotta make some changes.”
As a medic in an infantry unit, Magnasco treated a wide variety of injuries, which is “something that I carry with me, and something that I remember.”
“When I think about middle school students and high school students in the United States seeing these types of injuries in their schools to their friends, they didn’t sign up for that,” he said.
“That shouldn’t be the way things are.”


Some see signs of hope on North Korea as Trump heads to UN

Updated 22 September 2018
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Some see signs of hope on North Korea as Trump heads to UN

  • In the year since Trump’s searing, debut UN speech fueled fears of nuclear conflict with North Korea
  • The two leaders have turned from threats to flattery

WASHINGTON:North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is “little rocket man” no more. President Donald Trump isn’t a “mentally deranged US dotard.”
In the year since Trump’s searing, debut UN speech fueled fears of nuclear conflict with North Korea, the two leaders have turned from threats to flattery.
And there’s fresh hope that the US president’s abrupt shift from coercion to negotiation can yield results in getting Kim to halt, if not abandon, his nuclear weapons program.
Trump will address world leaders at the United Nations on Tuesday on the back of an upbeat summit between South and North Korea, where Kim promised to dismantle a major rocket launch site and the North’s main nuclear complex at Nyongbyon if it gets some incentive from Washington.
North Korea remains a long, long way from relinquishing its nuclear arsenal, and the US has been adding to, not easing, sanctions. Yet the past 12 months have seen a remarkable change in atmosphere between the adversaries that has surprised even the former US envoy on North Korea.
“If someone had told me last year that North Korea will stop nuclear tests, will stop missile tests and that they will release the remaining American prisoners and that they would be even considering dismantling Nyongbyon, I would have taken that in a heartbeat,” said Joseph Yun, who resigned in March and has since left the US foreign service.
Since Trump and Kim held the first summit between US and North Korean leaders in Singapore in June, Trump has missed no chance to praise “Chairman Kim,” and Kim has expressed “trust and confidence” in the American president he once branded “senile.”
But progress has been slow toward the vague goal they agreed upon — denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which has eluded US presidents for the past quarter-century. The US wants to achieve that by January 2021, when Trump completes his first term in office.
Although Kim won’t be going to New York next week, meetings there could prove critical in deciding whether a second Trump-Kim summit will take place any time soon.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has invited his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho for a meeting in New York, and Trump will be consulting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, fresh from his third summit with Kim this year. It was at that meeting in Pyongyang that the North Korean leader made his tantalizing offers to close key facilities of his weapons programs that have revived prospects for US-North Korea talks.
Yun, who spoke to reporters Friday at the United States Institute for Peace in Washington, said the US goal of achieving denuclearization in just two years is unrealistic, but the offer to close Nyongbyon, where the North has plutonium, uranium and nuclear reprocessing facilities, is significant and offers a way forward.
That’s a far cry from last September. After Trump’s thunderous speech, Yun’s first thought was on the need to avoid a war. The president vowed to “totally destroy North Korea” if the US was forced to defend itself or its allies against the North’s nukes. “Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime,” the president said.
His blunt talk triggered an extraordinary, almost surreal, exchange of insults. Kim issued a harshly worded statement from Pyongyang, dubbing the thin-skinned Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard.” A day later, the North’s top diplomat warned it could test explode a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean.
Tensions have eased hugely since then, and cracks have emerged in the international consensus on pressuring North Korea economically to get it to disarm.
The US accuses Russia of allowing illicit oil sales to North Korea. Trump has also criticized China, which has fraternal ties with the North and is embroiled in a trade war with the US, for conducting more trade with its old ally. Sanctions could even become a sore point with South Korea. Moon is eager to restart economic cooperation with North Korea to cement improved relations on the divided peninsula.
All that will increase pressure on Washington to compromise with Pyongyang — providing the incentives Kim seeks, even if the weapons capabilities he’s amassed violate international law. He’s likely eying a declaration on formally ending the Korean War as a marker of reduced US “hostility” and sanctions relief.
That could prove politically unpalatable in Washington just as it looks for Kim to follow through on the denuclearization pledge he made in Singapore.
Frank Aum, a former senior Pentagon adviser on North Korea, warned tensions could spike again if the US does not see progress by year’s end, when the US would typically need to start planning large-scale military drills with South Korea that North Korea views as war preparations. Trump decided to cancel drills this summer as a concession to Kim.
“Things can flip pretty quickly,” Aum said. “We’ve seen it going from bad to good and it could fairly quickly go back to the bad again.”