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Texas massacre is seized on by both sides in gun debate

Gun-rights supporters have seized on the Texas church massacre as proof of the well-worn saying that the best answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Gun-control advocates, meanwhile, say the tragedy shows once more that it is too easy to get a weapon in the U.S.

To no one's surprise, many Americans on opposite sides of the gun debate are using the latest mass shooting to reaffirm their opinions about firearms, drawing very different lessons from the rampage that left 26 men, women and children dead in a small-town church.

The bloodbath is proving to have elements both sides of the gun debate can use: Dozens were killed, from babies to the elderly. The slaughter took place in a house of worship. The killer had a history of domestic violence that legally should have prevented him from buying his guns. And a National Rifle Association member pulled out his own rifle and wounded the killer as he was leaving.

"Both sides are following the respective scripts that we have seen many times before," said Robert Spitzer, chairman of political science at the State University of New York at Cortland and an expert on firearms and Second Amendment issues.

On Sunday, Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, traveled to a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs and opened fire with a Ruger AR rifle with multiple 30-round magazines, going from aisle to aisle as he shot parishioners and their children at point-blank range. He killed himself after being shot and chased down by a church neighbor.

Kelley was able to buy the rifle and three other weapons even though the  former Air Force man was convicted at a court-martial of choking his wife and cracking her son's skull and was given a bad-conduct discharge in 2014. It turned out the Air Force did not submit his criminal history to the FBI database that is used to conduct background checks for gun shops.

President Donald Trump, a longtime supporter of the gun lobby and the first president since Ronald Reagan to address the NRA, said the attack was the work of a mentally ill man.

He said that rather than use the shooting as justification to restrict access to firearms, it should be seen as a shining example of the benefits of gun ownership. If the neighbor who confronted the gunman hadn't had a rifle, Trump said, "instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead."

There were less than 100 people in the church.

That thought resonated with gun owners around the country.

"There's an old saying: 'The best answer for a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,'" said Tiffany Teasdale-Causer, owner of Lynnwood Gun and Ammunition in Lynnwood, Washington.

Former Special Forces Col. Jim Patterson in San Antonio said "an armed society is a polite society."

"I get the emotional argument — let's ban all guns — but you're imposing a law on people who disobey the law to begin with," he said. "We are free men and women and we control our destiny. When seconds count, the police are minutes away. What do you do in those minutes? Do you hide under a table or do you retain your right to protect yourself?"

But Stephanie Ervin of Civic Ventures, an advocacy group in Seattle, said having more guns in public settings such as stadiums is "a recipe for tragedy" and increases the risk of something bad happening.

The problem of mass shootings won't be solved "by grandmas bringing guns to church in their handbags," she said. "It will be resolved by introducing and passing more laws that keep people from accessing firearms in a moment of crisis."

Since Trump's election, gun-rights advocates are feeling emboldened for the first time in nearly a decade, while gun-control activists fear the unraveling of restrictions on firearms.

At the top of the gun-rights agenda is winning passage in Congress of "national reciprocity," which would allow concealed-carry gun permits issued in one state to be valid in all others. The gun lobby also wants an easing of restrictions on silencers.

With each mass shooting, gun-control advocates have seized on the events to point to what they see as failings or loopholes in the law.

When a gunman in Las Vegas slaughtered 58 people last month in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, there was talk of outlawing "bump stocks," the device he used to enable his semiautomatic rifles to fire like fully automatic weapons.

For Sandy Phillips, each mass shooting brings back memories of when her daughter was killed in the 2012 movie theater attack in Aurora, Colorado, that left 12 people dead. Phillips, a gun owner who lives in Texas, bristles at the good-guy-with-a-gun argument.

In the Texas rampage, "they didn't even succeed in killing him. He killed himself," Phillips said. "The bottom line is people are killing people with guns and they're killing them in large numbers because we have easy access to guns."


ERIC GREGORY, Journal Star 

Joan Dawson (from left) Julie Lattimer and Chris Koslosky watch as a Lanoha Nurseries crew erects a 9,000 lb, 43-foot-tall Colorado Blue Spruce Christmas Tree in the SouthPointe Pavilions courtyard Tuesday.


Local
top story
Five-story apartment, retail building open for business at 48th and Holdrege

When Don Linscott found out that the northeast corner of 48th and Holdrege streets was going to be available for redevelopment, he thought it was a perfect site for his friend, Brad Schafer.

Schafer's firm, Schafer Richardson, has been developing apartment and mixed-use projects in its home state of Minnesota for more than 30 years.

Linscott said he thought the site was a good one for a building with retail on the first floor and apartments upstairs. Schafer agreed, and the two men struck a deal to partner on the project.

The result is Square at Forty-Eight, a five-story mixed-use building that Linscott, Schafer and others showed off Tuesday.

The residential portion of the project actually opened Sept. 1, and 29 of the 98 apartments are now leased, said Pamela Flynn with The Lund Co. of Omaha, which is managing the residential part of the building.

Flynn said tenants so far are a mix of graduate students attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, single couples and empty-nesters.

She said the interest and response so far has been good.

"People love the location," Flynn said.

The first-floor commercial spaces are vacant at this point, but Linscott, whose company, Greenleaf Properties, is responsible for the leasing, said he has some deals in the works.

He said he has a signed letter of intent from a nail salon and also is in negotiations with a coffee shop, a sandwich shop, a sit-down restaurant and a walk-in medical clinic.

Linscott said it will probably be early in 2018 before any tenants actually open.

The nearly $20 million project replaced a couple of iconic Lincoln businesses that had been around for decades: Tastee Inn and Murphy's QP.

But both city officials and neighbors are generally happy with the redevelopment.

"We love our old buildings, but we have to grow the city, too," said Mayor Chris Beutler, who noted he was happy to see a city-aided redevelopment project outside the downtown area.

City Councilwoman Cyndi Lamm, who represents northeast Lincoln, said it was exciting to see the project come alive, from planning to demolition to construction and now to an occupied building.

"This is a great project for northeast Lincoln," she said. "It's a great symbol of the growth that's going on here."


Govt-and-politics
topical top story
How will a Colorado agency sell Nebraska to U.S. vacationers?

The message had to change.

It could no longer be a polite dispatch in a small corked bottle floating in a sea of U.S. vacationers, with more colorful bobbers and buoys and even boats catching their attention and their tourism dollars. 

And so the Nebraska Tourism Commission did things differently. It entrusted the state's message to new writers and merchants from outside of the state, to get the attention of travelers who have not noticed that Nebraska might be an interesting place to drop anchor for a weekend, or a week or more. 

Twelve marketing and advertising agencies competed over the summer, including five from Nebraska, and three were chosen, all based in Denver, Colorado, or with an office there.

So, how do the agencies — all nestled within sight of the Rocky Mountains — plan to uncork that bottle and communicate anew to sell a state that can't lure visitors with the type of vistas their creative agents see everyday?

Meredith Vaughan, CEO of Vladimir Jones, the agency tapped by Nebraska's commission in September to handle advertising and media, believes there's a way. 

Vaughn grew up in the family business, founded by her parents and now entirely owned by women, a unique thing in the agency world. 

"We have had a travel, tourism and hospitality client every day since we were founded 47 years ago," she said. "We have great passion for the category. We also have a great understanding and experience in it."

Several who work for the firm are from Nebraska, including associate creative director, Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln grad Matt Sylvan, who will do some of the most important work on the Nebraska campaign, she said. 

Vaughn herself comes to Omaha at least twice a year to watch her son play hockey.

Although it is early in the process of discovering how to sell Nebraska, geography shouldn't define its perception, she said. 

The state has been ranked 50 out of 50 states people say they are interested in visiting. They are not familiar with or aware of Nebraska. That's not a good position to be in, but it makes for a "wonderful challenge" and a rare gift for the agency, Vaughn said. 

"The slate is clean. You have the opportunity to shape consumer perceptions based on what is real and meaningful, and not have to change anything that is necessarily negative," she said. 

Vladimir Jones has had a hand in campaigns for the likes of Colorado, Denver, the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, Snowmass, Aspen, the Broadmoor hotel, Garden of the Gods, Denver's Brown Palace. 

For Snowmass, a ski resort sitting in the shadow of its better-known sister, Aspen, the job was to "define the soul of a place that many people regarded as a mystery." And so they created a campaign based on love letters to dreamers.

"What if I could make you happy?" appeared in New York City's Times Square. On billboards and brochures the love continued. "Would you run away with me?" "What if nature held us close?" "What if I kissed you with snowflakes?"  

The agency shifted from what tourists can do in Snowmass to an emotional connection they can have there when being embraced by nature.

And now Vaughn and her crew are looking for such an emotional connection for Nebraska, she said, to tell the story of a state and what it can stand for.  

The Nebraska Tourism Commission needs a change.

Its former director and then-nine member board went through serious problems last year with a blistering state audit, the firing of the director, a social media blasting of the Bailey Lauerman campaign slogan "Nebraska Nice," a campaign that went over budget, and the subsequent departure of the ad agency's CEO and Nebraska Tourism Commission account manager, which the agency said was unrelated. 

The new director, John Ricks, who has decades of experience in advertising and was most recently the associate director for the Colorado Tourism Office, said Nebraskans are ready to move on, and to do it right.

In choosing the new agencies — Vladimir Jones; Miles Partnership of Sarasota, Florida and Denver, for publishing and content for multimedia, and Turner of Denver for public relations and social media — Ricks said the commission followed every rule. 

The five-member selection committee was made up of two tourism staffers, including Ricks, plus two board members and one industry representative. The agencies were chosen through a scoring system, and the judges were not allowed to talk to each other during the process. 

But at least one Lincoln businessman has questioned why all the chosen agencies have Denver connections, and no Nebraska agency was even given the chance to deliver an oral presentation to the selection committee.  

Tim Geisert of Lincoln, a chief marketing officer for an international management consulting services company, said Ricks didn't see the talent the state has to offer. 

In addition, he said, he'd rather see the more than $4 million — which comes from lodging fees — spent not on tourism but on bringing millennials back to the state to live and help businesses here build their companies.

"We need talent back. We need our people back," he said. "Think about if you could take this tourism money and put it towards that. I think you'd see a lot more economic development than filling hotel rooms."  

Swanson Russell, a Nebraska agency, did not submit a proposal to the commission this year.

"We looked at all of the circumstances surrounding the tourism campaign and the highly charged issues that were well-documented in the media, and decided it was not in our best interest to participate," said Dave Hansen, Swanson Russell CEO. 

Bozell, a marketing firm in Omaha that has worked with a number of large organizations and events that bring tourism to Nebraska, also did not submit a proposal. Jackie Miller, chief marketing officer of Bozell, said the agency did not feel this campaign would be an appropriate fit for the agency. 

Lincoln agency Firespring sent a proposal, as did Agent Branding of Lincoln, Eleven Twenty-Three of Ralston, OBI Creative and Surdell & Partners, both of Omaha. 

Kelly Medwick, Firespring executive vice president of business development, said her team talked about whether to risk jumping into the tight competition. 

They decided that even if not selected, a proposal would benefit them by building their confidence and strengths, she said. 

"Of course, our team was so excited and they would have loved to work on the account, but I think they're just as excited to see something new come out, she said. "And if it works, you know a lot of our clients are Nebraska-based businesses. It's going to help them."