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Remember The Smoking!

beautiful_example_of_imagination_mushroom_cloud

Grab your guns; we’re heading for the Alamo! On October 19th gun enthusiasts will be participating in a “Line In The Sand” armed rally in St. Antonio, Texas. Participants are encouraged to carry their “long guns” and the event is billed as family friendly. It is not a protest in the traditional sense, as Texas has some of the most lenient gun laws in the land; it’s more of a show of arms if you will. The assumed intent is to create a powerful visual of gun slinging American families. To encourage a wholesome atmosphere participants are asked to remove bullets from chambers before marching.

Once one gets past the image of a John Wayne (or Mel Brooks) movie, the conceit is not that strange. People often march to express strong feelings, and clearly people feel very strongly about their guns. What is strange is that as a nation we seem to have bought into that sentiment. We continuously elect representatives who hold gun rights sacred. It’s challenging to conjure any other “right” that directly impacts the rights of others as dramatically as gun rights. We think nothing of restricting individual rights that have little if any impact on larger society. We set restrictions on; who can marry, female reproduction, child safety, and the right to die. In the past few decades we have begun to set limits on individual rights which affect the public. You can no longer drink and drive with impunity. Smoking is so restricted as to be unrecognizable as the American pastime it once was.

Smoking was once ubiquitous. People smoked in movie theaters, buses, planes, and even elevators! Ashtrays were everywhere! Freestanding ashtrays were in doctor’s offices, factories, office buildings, and schools. The smoke cloud emerging from most teachers’ lounges rivaled that of a nuclear test. Once upon a time cigarette smoke was everywhere. About twenty-five years ago C. Everett Koop (U.S. Surgeon General) published a report equating the addictive nature of nicotine to that of heroin. You’d be forgiven for not considering this a “Eureka!” moment. But keep in mind that the tobacco industry was (if not is) one of the more powerful lobbying groups in the country. Shortly after the report’s publication cigarette packaging had to include a warning box. Dr. Koop later published a report regarding the hazards of “secondhand smoke.” The first restaurant smoking sections then cropped up. Some readers might remember the bizarreness of smoking sections; everyone seemed to pretend that smoke doesn’t move. But as behavior change motivation goes, baby steps are often the way to go. Fast-forward to 2013 and most of us live in a practically smoke-free environment. Smoking is considered a private behavior and as such cannot infringe upon the larger population.

So why haven’t we been able to treat gun ownership this way? Secondhand smoke couldn’t possibly kill more people than guns. Why have we not set limits on how many firearms a registered, licensed and certified owner can possess? Where are the laws about which kind of weapons are allowed outside of a registered, licensed and law abiding gun club and which must stay secured? Why do we tolerate gun show loopholes? How can a household that includes children be allowed guns, but apartment residents with children must have window guards? There are gun enthusiasts in favor of reasonable restrictions. Not all gun fans cling to the 2nd amendment like it was an out of context bible passage. Not every person who enjoys guns holds fast to rhetoric and flag waving. So where are those voices? Where is our C. Everett Koop?

People will show up to the Alamo with their guns and children. Even if the showing is paltry the imagery will be startling. Once again we will be lulled into thinking that gun owners are monolithic. Once again the issue will be framed as all or nothing. Color me a pessimist, but once again our capital will be noticeably silent.

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Posted by on October 15, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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The Smoking (Gun) Section

Anti-smoking campaign launched

C. Everett Koop made a mark on public health in America. He was a forceful advocate for rational scientific facts that were at times in opposition to his own personal beliefs. He refused to imbue abortion with (unsubstantiated) claims of lasting psychological damage. He forced a (seemingly) reluctant administration into acknowledging and fighting AIDS. He may very well be the only surgeon general whom we can all name and picture and that is in no small part due to his anti-smoking campaign. Dr. Koop was the catalyst for the most dramatic change in social behavior in our time. Alarmed by the effects of smoking Dr. Koop, and without much support from his administration, he went up against the powerful tobacco lobby and took to the podium (in his impressive uniform.) He appealed directly to the nation to change their ways. He issued a report about second-hand smoke and campaigned for smoking restrictions in the workplace and restaurants. Through his efforts, both academic and rallying; Americans began to change their attitudes towards smoking. Smokers gradually went from the freedom to smoke anywhere in a restaurant, to doing so in a designated area, to doing so outdoors. People grumbled and even got angry, but they moved and public health improved. The air quality improved for all and smoking diminished (dramatically) overall.

Smoking became a personal behavior that must stay personal. What if we were to do the same with gun ownership? What if we were to treat guns as we do smoking, as a public health issue? People can own guns, they can shoot guns, but they most do so in the shooting section. Guns must be registered and licensed and be stored at a registered and licensed gun club. The clubs provide shooting ranges and would be allowed to sell ammunition. Licensing and registering a personal (at home) handgun would require the purchase of a gun safe. Gun security in a house in which children are allowed or live would be treated like cars and car seats. Any adult caught having an unsecured gun in proximity of a child would be subjected to the same penalties a person driving with an unrestrained child. Hunting is already a highly regulated endeavor. There are times of year in which a person is allowed to hunt particular animals and there is licensing. Hunting guns would be registered, licensed and stored at a hunting lodge (or a locker in the state police barracks.) Gun owners would be fined and have their license revoked if they don’t abide by the rules.

Would creating a ‘smoking’ section prevent illegal firearm sales or guns ending up in the wrong hands? Maybe, maybe not. But by changing what we consider normative behavior, we do change everything. What Dr. Koop did was shift our society’s perception of smoking. We moved from glamorizing a behavior to recognizing it for the blight on public health that it is. If we no longer accept that an individual’s right to gun ownership trumps that of the public good we will be that much closer to protecting our children and ourselves. If we begin to see that guns, like cigarettes, are a personal choice that must remain personal we are that much closer to controlling gun violence. People who choose to own and use guns responsibly should embrace this notion and extricate themselves from any organization that preaches personal freedoms above that of a safe and secure society. They should tear up their membership cards and visibly step away from an organization whose solution to violence is to arm elementary schools. There is a name for groups whose use of violence creates a general climate of fear in a population.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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