Blow and Nocera

Ms. Collins is off today.  Mr. Blow looks at “The G.O.P.’s Bachmann Problem” and says that the Republican Party is experiencing an existential crisis, born of its own misguided incongruity with modern American culture.  In “Saving Children From Guns” Mr. Nocera asks a pretty simple, straight-forward question:  If we can insist that aspirin bottles be childproof, why not guns?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The current intramural squabbling on the right is just too delicious for words. At least for nice words.

Senator John McCain called the far-right darlings Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Justin Amash “wacko birds” earlier this month. (McCain later apologized for that burst of honesty and candor.)

Ann Coulter used her Conservative Political Action Conference speech to take a shot at New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, who was not invited to speak this year. Coulter quipped: “Even CPAC had to cut back on its speakers this year, by about 300 pounds.” What a lovely woman.

Also at CPAC, the half-term ex-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, took a whack at Karl Rove, challenging him to run for office himself. “Buck up or stay in the truck,” she said with her usual Shakespearean eloquence. Rove shot back that if he were to run and win, he’d at least finish his term. Ouch.

Donald Trump took to Twitter recently to call the conservative blogger Michelle Malkin a “dummy” who was “born stupid.” It’s hard to know whom to side with when two bullies battle.

But all this name-calling, as fun as it is to watch, is just a sideshow. The main show is the underlying agitation.

The Republican Party is experiencing an existential crisis, born of its own misguided incongruity with modern American culture and its insistence on choosing intransigence in a dynamic age of fundamental change. Instead of turning away from obsolescence, it is charging headlong into it, becoming more strident and pushing away more voters whom it could otherwise win.

Andrew Kohut, the founding director of the Pew Research Center, pointed out in The Washington Post on Friday that the party’s ratings “now stand at a 20-year low,” and that is in part because “the outsize influence of hard-line elements in the party base is doing to the G.O.P. what supporters of Gene McCarthy and George McGovern did to the Democratic Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s — radicalizing its image and standing in the way of its revitalization.”

And too many of those hard-liners have a near-allergic reaction to the truth.

A prime example is Michele Bachmann, the person who convened the Tea Party Caucus in Congress and a Republican candidate for president last year.

She burst back on the scene with a string of lies and half-truths that could have drawn a tsk tsk from Tom Sawyer.

PolitiFact rated two of her claims during her CPAC speech last Saturday as “pants on fire” false. The first was that 70 cents of every dollar that’s supposed to go to the poor actually goes to salaries and pensions of bureaucrats. The second was that scientists could have a cure for Alzheimer’s in 10 years if it were not for “a cadre of overzealous regulators, excessive taxation and greedy litigators.”

She also said during that speech that President Obama was living “a lifestyle that is one of excess” in the White House, detailing how many chefs he had, and so on.

The Washington Post gave that claim four Pinocchios, and pointed out that “during last year’s G.O.P. presidential race, Bachmann racked up the highest ratio of Four-Pinocchio comments, so just about everything she says needs to be checked and double-checked before it is reported.”

And in a speech Thursday on the House floor, she said of the federal health care law:

“The American people, especially vulnerable women, vulnerable children, vulnerable senior citizens, now get to pay more and they get less. That’s why we’re here, because we’re saying let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.”

Factcheck.org pointed out that her “facts” didn’t match her hyperbole.

Last year The Washington Post quoted Jim Drinkard, who oversees fact-checking at The Associated Press, as saying, “We had to have a self-imposed Michele Bachmann quota in some of those debates.”

It’s sad when you are so fact-challenged that you burn out the fact-checkers.

People like Bachmann represent everything that is wrong with the Republican Party. She and her colleagues are hyperbolic, reactionary, ill-informed and ill-intentioned, and they have become synonymous with the Republican brand. We don’t need all politicians to be Mensa-worthy, but we do expect them to be cogent and competent.

When all the dust settles from the current dustup within the party over who holds the mantle and which direction to take, Republicans will still be left with the problem of what to do with people like Bachmann.

And as long as the party has Bachmanns, it has a problem.

And now here’s Mr. Nocera:

For nearly two months, my assistant, Jennifer Mascia, and I have been publishing a daily blog in which we aggregate articles about shootings from the previous day. Of all the stories we link to, the ones I find hardest to read are those about young children who accidentally shoot themselves or another child. They just break my heart. Yet Jennifer and I find new examples almost every day.

Partly, I react by thinking, “How can anyone be so stupid as to leave a loaded gun within reach of a small child?” But I also have another reaction. In 1970, Congress passed a law that resulted in childproofing medicine bottles. The Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates the paint used in children’s toys. State laws mandate that young children be required to use car seats.

So why can’t we childproof guns? In an age of technological wizardry — not to mention a time of deep sensitivity to the welfare of children — why can’t we come up with a technology that would keep a gun from going off when it is being held by a child? Or, for that matter, by a thief using a stolen gun? Or an angry teenager who is plotting to use his parents’ arsenal to wreak havoc in a mall?

It turns out — why is this not a surprise? — that such technologies already exist. A German company, Armartix, will soon be marketing a pistol that uses radio frequencies that prevent a gun from being used by anyone except its owner. At the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the senior vice president for research and development, Donald Sebastian, has long spearheaded an effort to develop biometrics for “gun personalization,” as it’s called. Guns employing this technology fire only when they recognize the hand of the owner. There are others who have invented similar technologies.

Why aren’t these lifesaving technologies in widespread use? No surprise here, either: The usual irrational opposition from the National Rifle Association and gun absolutists, who claim, absurdly, that a gun that only can be fired by its owner somehow violates the Second Amendment. Pro-gun bloggers were furious when they saw James Bond, in “Skyfall,” proudly showing off his new biometrically protected weapon. They were convinced it was a Hollywood plot to undermine their rights.

Yet there is reason for at least some hope that the day when these technologies are in widespread use will soon be here. Last week, there were two important meetings about gun personalization technology. On March 13, in Washington, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. met with several dozen advocates, including Sebastian and Stephen Teret, the co-director of the Center for Law and the Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. The purpose of the meeting was to get Holder up to speed on the technologies so he could make recommendations to President Obama.

The following day, in San Francisco, Sandy Hook Promise, an organization founded by citizens of Newtown, Conn., publicly launched its “innovation initiative” in collaboration with some Silicon Valley venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. One of the leaders in the effort is the venture capitalist Ron Conway, who coincidentally threw a Christmas party on the day of the Newtown massacre. Gabrielle Giffords was among those who attended. Like so many others, Conway decided he had to do something about guns after Newtown.

The innovation initiative, which will make grants, and even award prize money for good ideas, includes an emphasis on gun personalization technology. A member of the group, Alan Boinus, who applied for a patent on a biometric technology back in 1994, has founded a company, Allied Biometrics, that is devoted to commercializing biometric gun technology. He has already begun a collaboration with Sebastian in New Jersey.

In classic Silicon Valley fashion, Boinus told me that the government has been hopeless, and that innovation and the market itself would solve the problem. “The market will prove this out,” he said. “People want to be responsible. People want safety.”

I agree with him that Congress has been hopeless and then some, unable to even work up the courage to vote on an assault weapons ban for fear of offending gun owners. But I’m not convinced that the market alone can create mass acceptance of this technology. It took years, after all, for Congress to overcome the car industry’s resistance to air bags, ultimately requiring a law that made air bags mandatory.

Thousands of lives could be saved each year if gun personalization technology became the law of the land. In mid-April, Representative John Tierney, a Massachusetts Democrat, plans to introduce a House bill requiring that all guns include personalization technology within two years.

Congress once cared enough about the safety of its citizens to pass laws about air bags and childproof bottles. We’ll soon find out if it still cares enough about the safety of its constituents to make childproofing guns the law of the land. It should.

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