Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
The Decatur (Ala.) Daily on explosives:
One of the most explosive substances known is also one of the most commonly used in agriculture. Ammonium nitrate is readily available to almost anyone, yet it has been used against people, and has been the source of tragic accidents.
A study by the Government Accountability Office, obtained by The Associated Press, found that federal agencies charged with monitoring use and storage of the material are woefully uninformed of who actually has the stuff. The study also found many storage locations are within blast zones that could destroy schools and nursing homes.
The most recent tragedy involving ammonium nitrate was the explosion at a factory in West, Texas, on April 17, 2013. The fertilizer storage and distribution company caught fire and exploded, killing 15 people, injuring 160, and damaging or destroying 150 buildings, including homes and a school.
On April 19, 1995, homegrown terrorists blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City using ammonium nitrate as the base material of the bomb. In that tragedy, 168 people, including children, were killed, and 680 were injured.
About half the known storage and distribution facilities in the federal database are in the South, one of which is Alabama. Most are located in areas where agriculture is a prominent part of the economy.
President Barack Obama pledged to stiffen enforcement of regulatory requirements for ammonium nitrate after the Texas explosion, but the GAO report makes clear that so many gaps exist in reporting and data collection that a massive undertaking awaits regulatory agencies.
The report also found that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration has cited only one company for violation of its ammonium nitrate storage requirements in its more than 40-year history, and that citation was issued only after an employee of the company complained.
Outdated federal policies, poor information sharing with states and numerous exemptions for industry mean there is little federal oversight for ammonium nitrate.
One of the problems is that ammonium nitrate is not considered a hazardous material by the Environmental Protection Agency, so OSHA and other federal and state agencies seldom perform on-site inspections.
Given the volatile nature of ammonium nitrate and its potential to be used as a terror weapon, its use and storage must be re-evaluated for public safety.
Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser on Tuskegee Airmen:
Remarkable records stand on their own merits, with no reason for embellishment or exaggeration. The judgment of history ultimately rests on reality, yet those who pursue the historical truth can find themselves subjected to derision at best and outright obstruction at worst.
A perfect example of that is the effort to properly characterize the extraordinary accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen, the World War II fighter pilots who were the first African Americans to take to the skies in combat. It is one of the most inspiring stories in American military history.
In a segregated military, in a time when detractors doubted that black pilots could do so much as get a plane off the ground, the Airmen became a top-notch unit of bomber escorts over Europe. Their service record was outstanding, and their story needs nothing more than a truthful telling.
Over the years, however, an element of myth made its way into that story — the claim that the Airmen never lost a bomber to enemy attack. It was widely repeated and thus entrenched in the perception that many Americans have of the Tuskegee Airmen.
But it wasn't true. As good as the Airmen were, they did lose bombers to enemy aircraft, as did every other bomber escort unit. That's just a reality of war.
Enter Daniel Haulman, an Air Force historian who began researching the missions of the Airmen. What he found was an exemplary performance record that would make any team of pilots proud — exemplary, but not perfect. The no-loss claim defies plausibility, so it is hardly surprising that it should prove untrue. The Airmen were fine pilots, but they weren't superhuman.
"I'm not trying to embarrass anybody," Haulman told the Advertiser's Alvin Benn. "I'm just trying to tell the truth and not denigrate the Tuskegee Airmen's remarkable record against a wartime enemy and racism at home."
That's a worthy goal for a conscientious historian. Haulman deserves the gratitude of all who appreciate accurately recounted history.
With Memorial Day almost upon us, it's a good time to reflect on the record of the Airmen and what they overcame to achieve it — the real and superb record, not the myth which poorly serves their flesh-and-blood heroism.
Anniston (Ala.) Star on gun rights in America:
What America needs are common-sense gun-control laws that respect both sides of the argument and do whatever's necessary to thwart preventable gun-related violence.
Last Friday, a young man in an upscale California community killed six people and then committed suicide with legally bought handguns. Elliot Rodger, the gunman, left a trail of social-media explanations for why he sought revenge against those he felt had shunned him. In the last few days it's become apparent that Rodgers' previous encounters with law enforcement and mental-health officials weren't enough to stop this unsteady young man from committing another of these all-too-common American mass murders.
The Second Amendment — regardless of your modern-day interpretation of it — doesn't touch on one of gun control's biggest problems: how to keep firearms out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them because of health concerns.
This passage from Monday's Los Angeles Times is particularly wise. "The mental health system is imperfect, by design — a teeter-totter that weighs patients' civil liberties against public safety. Rodger existed in the middle, on the fulcrum, simmering and disturbed, just beyond arm's reach."
When it comes to gun violence in the United States, statistics are both helpful and confusing. Since the Sandy Hook shootings in Connecticut in December 2012, there have been at least 44 additional school shootings in America, according to gun-control advocacy groups Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Nevertheless, Bureau of Justice data released last summer show that the number of gun-violence deaths dropped 39 percent between 1993 and 2011.
If you want a verified statistic involving guns in America, you can find it.
Devoid of spin or political influence is this fact: guns are readily available to too many people with mental-health issues. Databases designed to prevent the mentally ill from legally purchasing guns work well in too few states. And from the law-enforcement perspective, there's this: Half or more of the people shot and killed each year by police have mental-health problems, according to a study from the National Sheriffs' Association and the Treatment Advocacy Center.
America's quest for a safer nation compels us to rethink the "teeter-totter" that's allowing guns to legally get into the hands of the wrong people. The death toll rises, yet again.