On Second Thought For Thursday, December 28, 2017

Mass shootings, volatile protests and major policy changes. Hurricane, after hurricane, after hurricane. And a solar eclipse that brought us together like never before in any living person’s lifetime. Yep, 2017 was a doozy. We take stock of the biggest news stories of the year, and the deeper conversations they sparked.

The last year was sadly marked by repeated acts of mass gun violence, including two of the five deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history. These events fuel a debate about how guns are sold, and who can buy them. Today Georgia is one of the most permissive states in the country when it comes to gun laws. But it wasn’t always this way. At one point, we led the nation in gun control. We review our coverage of gun laws,  hear from gun owners around the state and even take a hunting trip.

History will remember Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11. That’s when a rally to stop removal of a Confederate statue turned violent. Three people died and dozens more were injured. Those events renewed conversations about race relations, freedom of speech, and radicalization. We talk to Shannon Martinez about life after radicalization and violence. She once identified as a white power skinhead. Now, she’s a mother of seven in Athens, Georgia.

One of the most ambitious efforts to explore another planet ended In September. The Cassini Huygens mission to Saturn closed a twenty year long journey with a deliberate plunge into the ringed planet’s atmosphere. Georgia Tech student Michael Staab is a spacecraft flight controller for NASA. His role: to pilot the Cassini spacecraft, which traveled around Saturn and nearby moons collecting data. He describes Cassini’s grand finale to GPB’s Trevor Young.

A year ago, President Trump signed an executive order to ban travel from certain countries.  Protests immediately broke out. And 11 people were detained at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport after flying from Iran to Atlanta. GPB’s Sean Powers was there. We relisten to this story in light of a year-long fight over the ban. This month, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a version to take effect. The court’s order means the administration can fully enforce restrictions on travel from eight countries, six of them predominantly Muslim.

This hurricane season is one of only six years on record to feature multiple Category 5 hurricanes, and only the second in which two hurricanes of that intensity made landfall. In September , Hurricane Irma drove millions of Southerners from their homes. And not just humans.  While the storm bore down on the Caribbean, animals and people took shelter at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry. We look back at this audio postcard  from the evacuation by GPB’s Emily Cureton.

This year millions stepped outside in unison to watch the sun briefly disappear behind the moon. North Georgia was in the path of totality for this solar eclipse. And thousands of visitors flocked there. On August 21, 2017: the moon’s shadow fell across the entire U.S. for the first time in a century. Our producer Ryan McFadin saw it from Sanford Stadium in Athens. We revisit the audio postcard he sent back.