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Guns and refugees – America’s water cooler topics

16 December 20150 comments

Two bizarre interconnected and unsettling debates are going on in the US currently about perceived threats to the nation.

And these debates – about whether or not to allow Syrian refugees to settle in the US, and whether stricter gun control laws are needed in the wake of an unprecedented spate of mass shootings – are polarising the nation like never before.

Debates about guns and refugees are at the forefront of America's water cooler topics

Debates about guns and refugees are at the forefront of America’s water cooler topics

In the wake of Paris attacks, when reports surfaced that at least one of the suspects may have entered Europe with a wave of Syrian refugees, several state governors – mostly Republicans — announced their opposition to accepting any new Syrian refugees in their state until they could be assured that security safeguards were in place.

Legal experts say that while the states cannot close their borders to refugees, they can complicate efforts at resettlement if they choose to withhold funding.

And refugee assistance groups in some states now find themselves caught in a cross fire between state and federal officials over whether they can actually help new Syrian refugees.

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson has said he is opposed to admitting Syrian refugees to the United States – despite having visited people living in refugee camps in Jordan over the weekend.

The Obama administration, which has announced plans to accept about 10,000 Syrian refugees in addition to the 2,500 who have settled here since 2011, says it already takes around 18-24 months on average for them to make it into this country.

They must pass a battery of screening requirements including interviews overseas, fingerprinting and biometric investigations. Many are women and children and only about 2 percent are single men of combat age.

And former top national security officials from Republican and Democratic administrations have urged Congress to continue allowing the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the United States.

“Refugees are victims, not perpetrators, of terrorism,” the 20 retired military, security experts and others wrote in a letter sent to all lawmakers.

“Categorically refusing to take them only feeds the narrative of ISIS that there is a war between Islam and the West, that Muslims are not welcome in the United States and Europe, and that the ISIS caliphate is their true home.”

Among those who signed the letter were former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and Madeleine Albright, retired General David Petraeus, former Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff and one time Defence Secretaries Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel and William Cohen.

In the past month, as American politicians have been spreading hysteria on the peril posed by Syrian refugees – even though in the last dozen years no refugee in America has killed a single person – guns have claimed 2,000 lives in America.

The terror attacks in San Bernadino and at the family planning clinic in Colorado Springs were the most dramatic; but there’s an average of 92 gun deaths every day in America, including suicides, murders and accidents.

So, if US politicians want to tackle threats to the safety of ordinary citizens maybe they should be talking about workable policies aimed at reducing gun deaths and not simply making scapegoats of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist