Lessons from a killing
The Dallas Morning News
When a witness in a murder case is murdered just days after a high-profile trial, it is both right and appropriate for a community to want answers and want answers quickly. And so it is with Joshua Brown. But, now, as details surrounding his murder dribble out, we hope there is a lesson in all of this for all of us. We see two lessons.
First, what should be top of mind for all involved — and this includes community leaders whose comments have the power to rally the people — is that in all cases, we are better off when cooler heads prevail. In this instance, there was speculation with too little information. Some of that speculation came with the insinuation that Brown’s murder was connected to his testimony in the Amber Gugyer trial.
If that had turned out to be the case, it would have been beyond troubling and critically important for a peaceful society that the authorities find those responsible and bring them to justice. No murder should be tolerated, but targeting witnesses is a direct attack on our justice system. But to speculate wildly without any facts is itself destructive. It needlessly undermines the trust that is essential for our civil institutions to function, and therefore it harms all of us.
Now we are seeing that investigators have concluded that Joshua Brown’s murder was tied up in a “drug deal gone bad,” something that had nothing to do with what might be the highest profile murder trial Dallas has ever seen. Here are the facts we know now. The Dallas Police Department identified three suspects who allegedly traveled to Dallas from Louisiana to engage in a drug sale. That is not a conspiracy to retaliate against a witness but another separate violent crime.
And that brings us to our second takeaway. Joshua Brown was a resident of Dallas and a person who deserves justice. If it is later proven that he was himself engaged in criminal activity, no one should be sanguine or dismissive of his murder. When we turn a blind eye to violent crime — even when it comes in the commission of other crimes — we undermine the rule of law and allow violence to creep back into our streets. It should be clear that violence against any person is an offense against our community. ...
Even before the mass shooting in Odessa, Texas’ two highest elected officials knew about a dangerous background check loophole in stranger-to-stranger gun sales.
Gun reform advocate Ed Scruggs attended a meeting after the El Paso shooting in which he says Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick acknowledged the loophole was ripe for abuse and that it wasn’t a smart way to sell a weapon since Texans could be selling to a terrorist and not even know it. Both seemed concerned, Scruggs told the Texas Observer, and he was encouraged.
Then, a little over a week later, that very loophole was used by a gunman who killed seven people and wounded at least 21 near Odessa. In Texas, no background check is required for private sales between individuals. So the Odessa gunman was allowed to buy an assault-style rifle from a private seller, even though he failed a background check in 2014 because of a “mental health” issue. This revelation seemed to prompt a shift in Patrick, an ardent conservative with an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association. He broke with the gun lobby and said he was “willing to take an arrow” to support expanding Texas background checks to stranger-to-stranger sales. ...
Patrick’s about-face was as surprising as it was welcome — as was his subsequent steadfastness in the face of withering criticism from the gun lobby. Now we need other state leaders, including Abbott, to follow suit, to follow their consciences rather than their campaign contributions. To act before another mass shooting tells us what we know: Texas gun laws leave us vulnerable to more gun violence.
We’re not talking about infringing on anyone’s Second Amendment rights or gun confiscation campaigns targeting law-abiding citizens. We’re talking about tossing out the absolutism that has kept officials from passing common sense reforms. We can’t afford to see more lives lost and more families in mourning when solutions are within reach.
Let’s start by simply closing gaps in Texas laws that expose the general public and law enforcement officials to danger. ...