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Judge’s murder, Kavanaugh attempt, threatens all our safety

Even with the mass shooting epidemic in America — 13 last weekend — the June 4 murder of former Wisconsin Judge John Roemer stands out as the broadest, clear and present danger to every person’s right to stay alive in peace. As if that were not enough, today, June 8, Maryland police arrested a man with a gun and a knife near Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s D.C.-area home. Per NBC News, the armed man said that “he was there to kill Kavanaugh.” He’s been charged with attempted murder.

Eleven years after declaring independence, the framers wrote a Constitution that embodied their firm conviction our rights depend upon the rule of law. Without it, there is no order, and human life becomes, in the words of 18th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, “nasty, brutish and short.”

The breakdown of the rule of law is all around us. A witness aptly summarized America’s current state of terror after the June 1 murder of two doctors, a patient and a receptionist at Tulsa’s St. Francis Hospital: “You can’t even go to a store. You can’t even go to school. Now, you can’t go to the doctor? . . . [T]his can really happen anywhere.”

Each cascading act of terrorism feels worse than the next. But if one had to pick the most ominous for the rule of law, it is Judge Roemer’s killing. In 2005, Roemer had sentenced the suspect, Douglas K. Uhde, to prison for an armed burglary, carrying a concealed weapon and other gun charges.

The murder of those who enforce society’s rules is a pure and evil expression of their shattering. When judicial officers are killed for having done their job, the threat is to all of our safety. There is no safety in a society without a functioning legal system.

How did we get here? Here are three trends that need reversing:

Easy access to guns: According to the Small Gun Survey of 2020, in the United Kingdom, with its significant restrictions on gun ownership, there are 4.6 guns for every 100 people. In the U.S., the number is 120 for every 100. In England and Wales, 4 percent of all homicides involve guns. In the U.S., the number is 79 percent.

When a society is awash in firearms, felons like Uhde can easily get their hands on them — even if the law says that an ex-felon like him may not have them.

Social permission to take the law into one’s own hands. We have a history of vigilantism in the United States. Think about the more than 4,000 lynchings of Blacks in America from 1877 to 1950.

Today, multiple states with Republican-controlled legislatures have institutionalized vigilantism in a spate of state laws, or legislation under consideration, like the one in Texas that authorizes citizens to collect $10,000 for bringing lawsuits against women and their helpers in seeking an abortion.

Government empowering “justice-seeking” by individuals sends an unmistakable message of social approval. Put it together with state laws sanctioning easy purchases of firearms, and you have a formula for the breakdown of order.

Encouragement of violence by elected leaders. National leaders immeasurably strengthen that explosive formula by minimizing mass shootings as acts of the mentally ill. The vast majority are not. Inability to regulate one’s own anger or purposelessness is not mental illness. Falsely blaming mental illness is exactly what former President Trump did last Friday at the NRA convention in Houston.

Even more dangerous are statements by elected officials such as Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga), who in May 2021 compared to mere “tourists” the vicious Jan. 6 Capitol attackers whose actions left more than 140 police officers injured or dead.

Then there is Trump, who glorified the insurrectionists as “patriots” and floated the idea — if he is re-elected — of pardoning any who are convicted. That was reminiscent of his offering to pay the legal fees of anyone who beat up a protester at one of his 2016 campaign rallies, or saying that he’d like to “punch [an ejected demonstrator] in the face.”

Here’s a truth that should be self-evident: Americans need to act to combat gun violence and vote to elect in the coming mid-terms the kind of officials who will ensure that we rebuild a society where each of us is safe. Only a citizenry committed to the rule of law will keep its protections and our liberty.

Dennis Aftergut is a former federal prosecutor, currently of counsel to Lawyers Defending American Democracy.

Tags access to guns Andrew Clyde Attempted murder Brett Kavanaugh Donald Trump Gun violence in the United States inciting violence Justice Brett Kavanaugh mental illness Public safety Rule of law Vigilante Vigilantism

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