Civil Rights

Sensible reform no threat to gun ownership

Whether it is the horrific violence in Tucson, Ariz. the fatal shootings of 30,000 Americans every year, or a constituent's son who was murdered by a total stranger with a violent record and an illegal gun, what is often most painful and frustrating about America's gun violence epidemic is how many of these tragedies could have been prevented. There is no shortage of evidence indicating our nation's gun laws are failing the American people.

Unfortunately, in Washington, evidence is rarely enough to spawn action. There are few issues as overtly politicized as how we go about protecting our citizens' rights while reducing gun violence.

Overcoming this epidemic will require law-abiding gun owners, responsible gun dealers, families of victims, and every American to make the need for reform and compromise loud and clear to my colleagues in Congress.

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The Second Amendment should be protected

Over the past two weeks, gun control re-appeared on the national stage for the first time since the tragic events of Tucson, Ariz. This time, the debate is taking shape in the form of a privacy fight in Illinois and a larger call from President Obama to find agreement on gun reforms. 

Being from Illinois and a proud representative of twenty of Illinois’ counties, I have a keen interest in the debate that is currently taking place in my home state. Recently, a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) was denied by the Illinois State Police to release publicly the private information of the 1.3 million Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card holders in the state. In response, the Illinois Attorney General issued a directive mandating that the State Police make this information public.

A court in my hometown of Peoria has already issued a temporary restraining order (TPO) on releasing FOID information as this issue continues to navigate the courts system. This TPO is a wise decision to ensure privacy is ensured while this directive goes through the appropriate judicial channels. The worst thing that could happen would be a hastily executed effort to release private information thus endangering the lives of 1.3 million FOID card holders.

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Buffalo soldiers in our national parks

This week I introduced legislation commemorating the Army’s first all-African- American units—we know them as the Buffalo Soldiers. I believe we must recognize the very important role these individuals played in our history, and especially their often-overlooked service in the early years of our National Parks.

The brave Buffalo Soldiers were, in essence, our nation’s first park rangers, and they left a rich historical legacy in California.

The Buffalo Soldiers in the National Parks Study Act is a key step in memorializing the role the Buffalo Soldiers played in shaping the National Parks that we all care for so deeply today.

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U.S. standing on immigrant integration in the hands of senate

Funding for the Office of Citizenship, particularly its programs to support and encourage immigrant integration, was one of the many casualties of the drastic spending cuts passed by the House before leaving for President's Day recess.  As the Senate prepares to take up the Continuing Resolution, restoring the relatively tiny 11 million dollar budget of the Office of Citizenship should be something that both parties can agree on, as this is the office that works with legal permanent residents to help them prepare for the naturalization exam and overcome other obstacles to becoming U.S. citizens.

The importance of immigrant integration cannot be overstated, as a new study released this week, ranking U.S. performance in this area against European countries and Canada, makes clear.  The Migration Integration Policy Index III (MIPEX) www.MIPEX.eu, a rigorous analysis of laws and policies that further immigrant integration in Europe and North America, finds that the United States is ninth among 31 countries in promoting full integration of legal residents.  As the MIPEX authors note, "Our ever changing societies are also becoming ever more diverse.  Whatever our individual backgrounds, we all have a stake in the shared future of the communities and countries we live in, where each, in his or her own way, contributes to its economic, social, and civic life."

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EU supports democracy in Lybia

European Commission President Barroso addresses the situation in North Africa.

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,

We just had a very useful and important debate on the situation in the Southern Mediterranean in the meeting of the Commission College.

The events unfolding in our southern neighborhood are a rendezvous with history. Europe will rise to this challenge and support the current transformation processes. The Commission has a crucial set of political and economic tools that we are already deploying and that we will strengthen further in the run-up to next week's extraordinary European Council.


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Who will watch the watchers?

Government transparency and accountability proponents recently lost an invaluable ally. Glenn Fine, internal watchdog since 2000 at the Department of Justice, stepped down at the end of January. Fine’s tenure as Inspector General (IG) has been notable for his independence and assertiveness, and for the resulting increased transparency of Justice Department activities.

Replacing Fine with a successor equally independent and committed to exposing waste, fraud and abuse is crucial. That nomination, however, should be just the first step in ensuring sufficient oversight of the Justice Department’s activities going forward—in particular, the activities of the FBI under the 2008 Attorney General’s Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations. 

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No “frivolous lawsuits” here

The term “frivolous lawsuit” has become so pervasive in our lexicon that a constitutional right – the right to a jury trial – is at risk of extinction. 

Even President Barack Obama, in his 2011 State of the Union address, bought into the myth with his throwaway comment suggesting that he would work with Republicans to “rein in frivolous lawsuits” against medical providers “to bring down costs.” The president appears willing to go along with Republicans’ cruel game to throw away Americans legal rights, which would shield the health industry – that’s insurers, doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies – from accountability.

Let’s be clear: Frivolous lawsuits are rare. A recent survey of the federal judiciary found that approximately 85 percent of federal trial court judges perceived “groundless litigation” as no more than a small problem.

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A letter to the general counsel of the Department of Defense (Rep. Michael Honda)

This letter was sent by Rep. Michael Honda (D-Calif.) and signed by 11 other members of Congress to Jeh Johnson, general counsel for the Department of Defense. 

Dear Mr. Johnson,

This month, all of us have, in our different ways, honored the life and memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King left a profound impact on this nation, and on each of us as public servants, and transformed the way we think about the most contentious of topics – be it racism, poverty or warfare – conflicts with which our society continues to grapple. While we are certainly closer to the realization of Dr. King’s dreams, we still have much work to do. Violence remains pervasive in America; the gap between our rich and our poor has grown substantially.  Racism still lingers. If we are to truly honor Dr. King, then, our efforts must be devoted to transforming the structures that perpetuate violence, inequality and racism. 

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MLK and Afghanistan: Distorting his dream (Rep. Lynn Woolsey)

Earlier this week, we recognized the 82nd birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., perhaps the greatest moral and spiritual leader in our nation’s history. Each of us in our own way reflected on Dr. King’s teachings, and his message had more relevance than ever in light of the tragic shootings in Tucson. 

It’s a sign of progress that a man who was an agitator, whose ideas were considered revolutionary during his life, has achieved mainstream iconic status in death. But as we all share his legacy, there is a very real danger that some people will, in a self-serving way, distort Dr. King’s vision to justify the very policies he gave his life opposing. 

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Sudan, Ivory Coast underscore need to prevent large-scale killing

The current referendum on independence in southern Sudan and mounting tensions over the presidential leadership stalemate in the Ivory Coast remind us once again that too many people around the world live their lives under threat of large-scale killing and atrocities. While the immediate vote was generally calm, much of the last decade in Sudan has been aptly described as “genocide in slow motion.” These crises and others (Congo is a prominent example) evoke the urgent need for a comprehensive international approach to prevent the use of mass violence as a political tool.  

Encouragingly, putting a stop to deliberate and systemic murder recently became an explicit US diplomatic priority. Top policy directives now commit the United States to engage actively “in a strategic effort to prevent mass atrocities and genocide” and develop real-life plans to that effect. S. Con. Res. 71 passed in December with strong bipartisan support and calls for a “whole of government” approach to such prevention. These are major steps forward, yet still only a start. As always, translating good intentions into successful global action will be a long, hard slog. 

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