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When stolen guns go unreported

Reprinted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Dec. 3.

The bumper stickers and lawn signs that quip, “This property protected by Smith & Wesson” can be a macho declaration of support for Second Amendment rights. But if the owners think they’re somehow deterring criminals, they need to think again. Such warnings actually serve as advertisements that guns are inside for the taking, and thieves act accordingly.

According to one study, as many as 380,000 weapons are lost or stolen each year nationwide because owners fail to secure them. FBI statistics suggest more than 100,000 of those thefts go unreported to police.

Instead of making themselves safer by owning guns, careless gun owners are making American homes and streets much more dangerous. They are arming criminals and evading responsibility for their own carelessness. And the National Rifle Association is complicit.

The news media organization The Trace reported in Sunday’s Post-Dispatch that reporters had identified more than 23,000 firearms recovered by law enforcers around the country since 2010. An analysis of crime reports shows the weapons were used in more than 1,500 violent crimes, including murder, kidnappings, armed robberies and sexual assaults.

The use of guns in violent crimes is nothing new. What bears deeper scrutiny is the utter laxity with which many gun owners treat these killing machines. They leave them exposed in cars, unsecured. They leave them on coffee tables or hide them in predictable places that experienced burglars can locate quickly.

Far too many don’t keep their weapons locked in gun safes, so they’re easy pickings for criminals or, worse, they’re available for children to find and play with, leading to tragic outcomes.

The Trace identified 843 firearms reported stolen in St. Louis in 2015 — nearly double the number of reported thefts in 2006.

“We have a society that has become so gun-centric that the guns people buy for themselves get stolen, go into circulation and make them less safe,” said Sam Dotson, a former St. Louis police chief.

Only 11 states require gun owners to report lost or stolen weapons. In states that don’t, law enforcers face ridiculous hurdles trying to trace stolen weapons used in crimes. South Carolina officers in 2015 seized about 3,800 firearms from a man known to purchase and warehouse stolen weapons. But prosecutors couldn’t obtain the information required to fully punish the purchaser for trafficking stolen weapons because South Carolina doesn’t have a reporting law.

Nor does Missouri. A state legislator tried to push through a reporting bill in 2014, but the NRA intervened to block it.

Gun owners’ recklessness endangers everyone, including other gun owners. The NRA might call it the price of freedom or some other silly slogan. But there is no freedom when stolen guns put the rest of us at risk. Call it the cost of carelessness.

Why the Alabama Senate race is shifting in Moore's favor

After all that has happened, the Alabama Senate race appears to be reverting to a fundamental political truth: A state that is one of the most Republican in the nation is likely to vote Republican.

Of course, there is still the possibility of some new and devastating sexual misconduct revelation about GOP candidate Roy Moore. But there is an increasing sense the old and devastating sexual misconduct revelations are receding into the distant past of two weeks ago. Now, Moore is recovering in the polls, and more Alabama voters seem comfortable with the idea of voting for him.

Moore was six points ahead of Democratic opponent Doug Jones in the RealClearPolitics average of polls before the first allegations. By Nov. 21, Moore was eight-tenths of a point behind Jones. Now, Moore is back in the lead, but by just 2.6 points.

It appears the improvement in Moore’s fortunes is being driven by a gradual change in the Alabama electorate’s view of the allegations against him. In a Morning Consult poll taken in mid-November, 43 percent said they found the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore to be credible, while 19 percent said not credible and 37 percent said they did not know or had no opinion.

In a newer poll by the same company, taken in the last week of November, 41 percent said they found the allegations credible, 21 percent said not credible and 41 percent said they did not know or had no opinion.

That’s not a huge change, but it’s a total six percentage point increase in the group of people who say the allegations are not credible or who say they don’t know.

In the poll, the number of Republicans who said they don’t believe the Moore allegations stayed roughly the same. But there appears to have been a pretty significant shift from those who earlier said they believed the allegations to those who now say they don’t know.

Among Democrats, the number who said they did not believe the allegations ticked upward. The same occurred with independents.

Part of the change — perhaps a large part — seems to reflect the idea that many voters don’t view Moore’s accusers in the same way many media figures do. A number of media reports portray overwhelming evidence against Moore. “He’s pitting his word against the word of nine women who accused him of varying degrees of sexual misconduct,” CNN reported recently. The message is that the sheer number of accusers means at least some must be telling the truth.

But it seems likely that some Alabama voters don’t see nine accusers. They see one.

That one accuser is Leigh Corfman, who says Moore sexually assaulted her in 1979, when she was 14 years old. Published in the Washington Post, Corfman’s was the first and most serious allegation against Moore, and it remains the most serious today. Corfman has seemed credible in media appearances, and Moore has not been able to refute her story. The Moore campaign realizes Corfman’s is the most compelling allegation against him.

But the Post account also included the stories of three other women who said Moore asked them out when they were 16, 17 and 18 years old, and whose cases against Moore did not involve any physical abuse or coercion.

Then there was Beverly Young Nelson, who said Moore assaulted her in 1977, when she was 16. Nelson made the mistake of retaining celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred when she made her allegations, and she also mishandled Moore’s contention that a signature in a yearbook she produced, ostensibly by Moore, might be a fake. Both moves reduced her credibility.

So that is five accusers right there. It is likely voters pushed four of them to the side, leaving Corfman.

Then there was a woman who said Moore grabbed her behind in 1991, when she was 28. A woman who said Moore asked her out in 1982, when she was 17. A woman who said Moore asked her out repeatedly in 1977, when she was 18, and gave her an unwanted, “forceful” kiss. And finally, a woman who said Moore asked her out several times in 1977, when she was 22.

Asked her out several times when she was 22 years old? That’s not the most outrageous allegation in the news these days. Four more accusers, some with very thin stories.

That makes nine. The point is not that none of the accusers is telling the truth. Perhaps some, or all, are. What appears to have happened is one very serious allegation was followed by a series of less serious, or less credible, accusations that in the end did not have the cumulative effect Moore’s opponents perhaps hoped.

The bottom line is, instead of Roy Moore versus nine accusers, in many voters’ minds the story is Roy Moore versus one accuser, Leigh Corfman. And that is where the mental calculations begin.

Corfman’s allegation is serious; she was, after all, 14 years old. But it’s not airtight. And it was in 1979 — 38 years ago. Memories fade, or change. And even if it is all true, has Moore changed in the nearly four decades since? Is there a statute of political limitations? Thoughts like that can change minds.

Finally, many conservative voters see Jones as a doctrinaire liberal whose pro-choice views on abortion would likely be enough to ensure defeat in an Alabama race. And so Alabama Republicans are more and more assessing the situation as Alabama Republicans. It would be no surprise if they vote that way Dec. 12.

Letters to the Editor Thursday, Dec. 7

Make 'em squeal


EVANSDALE -- I read an editorial from the Fort Dodge Messenger reprinted in The Courier praising Joni Ernst’s SQUEAL Act (Stop Questionable, Unnecessary, and Excessive Allowances for Legislators). Supposedly this will make Congress squeal – it won’t even make them groan. Ernst has proposed limiting the income tax deduction up to $3,000 that members of Congress can deduct for living expenses. Big deal. The average net worth of members of Congress is a little more than $1 million.

I think Ernst’s proposal should be called something maybe less catchy but more accurate -- PFSO -- Proposals For Show Only Act.

Ernst should set her sights higher and really do something meaningful to “make ‘em squeal” as she likes to say. Here’s a few suggestions that will make them squeal for real: 20 percent contributions for health insurance and pensions, minimum 80 hours per year doing actual public service work, holding town hall meetings for all constituents at realistic times and limit fundraising activities to weekends when Congress is not in session.

I’m sure if you need more ideas, your employers, us hardworking taxpayers Congress is always talking about, can supply them.

Being ready


NASHUA -- When I was a youngster my parents taught me to observe and react. Then the Boy Scouts encouraged me to be prepared, and finally the Navy showed me the value of practicing to meet whatever eventuality may occur.

So if you see me walking down the street talking to myself don't assume I've gone dotty or am certifiable. I am just practicing what I will say when I meet you, my doctor, pastor or maybe an officer when I am driving. There is a lot to be said for having an idea in mind no matter who or when you meet.

House tax bill


WAVERLY -- It's pretty disturbing to see and hear all the confusing comments coming from the Democrats to convince people they are not going to get a tax cut. I ran several different scenarios. Those who currently use the standard deduction will see a tax cut. (All examples are married filing jointly -- singles can cut the numbers in half.) The absolute lowest cut is for people who have precisely $39,450, which puts them at the top of the current 10 percent tax bracket. Their tax cut is only $59.

But everyone making more or less than that amount would see a larger reduction. Incomes of $24,400 get a cut of $360; $60,000 a cut of $675; $96,700 a cut of $1,776; $114,400 a cut of $4,077; $284,400 a cut of $8,905, and jumping to $494,400 a cut of $10,453. On a percentage basis, the $114,400 example had the highest cut at 27.4 percent. The $494,400 was a reduction of just 7.9 percent

These were examples without children. Add in the impact of the child tax credit, and the numbers are even better. A $60,000 income for a family of 4 would see a $1,260 cut in taxes; $144,400 a cut of $4,852. Not bad at all.

Charles Manson


WATERLOO -- In regards to Charles Manson's passing: No one wants to claim his body? I have a perfect solution.

Why not cremate him and flush the ashes down the toilet? After all, that's what we all do to "number 2," right?