Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Two dangers: One watched closely; the other (guns)? Not so much

           They are so profuse as to encircle the globe, so lethal that even mutual enemies agree they must be monitored and limited.

If you are thinking the "they" refers to firearms, you aren't thinking the way some policymakers are.

    No, we speak of a threat that draws undivided attention: the matter of orbiting interstellar hardware – loose nuts, bolts and more. It's called space debris.

    On space debris you get bipartisan and international cooperation.

  On firearms? To To many disgraceful lawmakers, guns are commerce alone, and hence should be left alone. However, the two matters are quite analogous.

  Not to discount the danger of space debris. One loose sprocket speeding in orbit can destroy or impair anything in its path. But the only person we know space debris has killed is that poor headless soul in the movie "Gravity."

Meanwhile, guns kill so many: innocent children, innocent adults, people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, which is anywhere.

         What do we do about it? Mostly, we bury.

Before discussing the clear and present danger of misused guns, understand how seriously our government treats a problem you probably didn't know exists.

In January 2007, China destroyed one of its own satellites with a missile. This event disrupted a worldwide moratorium on the use of anti-satellite weapons. The United States had used them. The Russians had used them. However, the resulting debris, the smithereens from the destroyed satellites, threatened and continues to threaten space programs, including other satellites.

NASA has cataloged all the space debris it can identify and is tracking roughly 500,000 pieces of "space junk" that can kill.

Now, back to the real killers, firearms: How cavalier can lawmakers be about these killing devices? So cavalier that the Republican Congress has prevented the Centers for Disease Control from studying their public safety dimensions.

Guns as lethal debris? We should treat them as such. See them around the globe in the hands of marauding bands and the criminal element. As long as we look at the matter as King Commerce or "my rights over everyone else's," nothing can be done to curb their misuse.

We have taken serious steps to curb drunk driving. We have managed to stop poisoning children with toxic paint to toxins in toys. What about the guns that make it into their tiny hands?

Much attention has been devoted to President Obama's call for universal background checks, something that eight of 10 Americans support. Less attention has been drawn to his directive to study "smart gun" technology, to make a gun so that only the owner can operate it. Not a thief, not a child, not the Taliban.

The president mentioned the technology of, for instance, using one's fingerprint to activate one's firearm.

As a citizen, I want that for every gun. I should have a say on this matter, and so should you. As a group – American taxpayers – ours is the world's largest purchaser of firearms, both for our military and law enforcement.

The federal government should insist that any firearms it purchases have "smart gun" features.

This is called a marketplace solution. If guns find their way into the hands of people who are not supposed to fire them, they shouldn't fire. The same applies to cars and keys.

This inititiave is a way to reduce the blood spilled daily on the most violent planet in the solar system. It deserves bipartisan support like no other threat one can imagine.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.


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