Blow, Kristof and Collins

In “Taking Aim” Mr. Blow says the president’s position in the gun debate is in step with a majority of Americans. The N.R.A. is woefully out of step.  Mr. Kristof, in “Lessons From Guns and a Goose,” says if you think guns make us safer, consider this story of a goose that almost led to a shootout.  Ms. Collins has a question in “The Point of Lance:”  Once you get past that now-void race record, is there really much of anything to Lance Armstrong?  Other than a liar, a fraud and a cheat, you mean?  No.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

This week the president aimed high in the gun debate, and the National Rifle Association aimed low, despicably low.

On Wednesday, the president outlined a broad range of measures — including universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons, a ban on high-capacity magazine clips, as well as improved data collection and sharing about backgrounds of potential gun buyers. It was all intended to increase public safety over all and make an honest effort to prevent mass shootings and lessen the carnage in the event that there are more

The N.R.A., for its part, released on Tuesday an ad called “Elitist Hypocrite” that invoked the Obama children and their Secret Service security as evidence of a president who values his children above those of average Americans.

It was an outrageous, unnecessary and ultimately stomach-churning ploy to pit the value of some children against others while completely ignoring the longstanding and very real threats that presidents and their families face.

As the Christian Science Monitor reported in November, “Since 2007, the Secret Service has disrupted several assassination conspiracies — including some involving white nationalists — and arrested dozens of people who have made less-than-idle threats against the president.”

Most of us don’t have to worry that our children live under the constant threat of harm. Heads of state do. Feigning ignorance of that distinction for political expediency only suggests that you may not be feigning at all.

Furthermore, the president hasn’t voiced opposition to more school security. He has, however, said that he doesn’t believe that that’s the sole solution. In a recent interview on “Meet the Press,” the president said, “I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools.”

Lastly, as the White House pointed out in an e-mail to me last month, the administration proposed money for “Secure Our Schools” policing grants, which provide funding to improve school safety, “however, Congress zeroed out the program in 2012.”

In fact, the president’s proposal as presented on Wednesday specifically states:

“We need to enhance the physical security of our schools and our ability to respond to emergencies like mass shootings, and also create safer and more nurturing school climates. Each school is different and should have the flexibility to address its most pressing needs. Some schools will want trained and armed police; others may prefer increased counseling services. Either way, each district should be able to choose what is best to protect its own students.”

And one of the president’s executive orders reads: “provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.”

On virtually every measure, the N.R.A.’s messaging is off.

The president’s proposals, on the other hand, are very much in step with public opinion, which has shifted toward more restrictions, according to a number of polls reported Monday.

A poll by Gallup found that dissatisfaction with America’s gun laws has “spiked” to 38 percent after the Newtown shooting and the public discussions that followed. As Gallup points out, “this is up from 25 percent who held this set of views a year ago, and is the highest since 2001.” That’s an increase by more than half in one year — reversing a trend of continuous decline.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that “most Americans support tough new measures to counter gun violence, including banning assault weapons and posting armed guards at every school” and that “[m]ore than half of Americans — 52 percent in the poll — say the shooting at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn., has made them more supportive of gun control.”

And a Pew Research Center poll found that most Americans now support a federal database to track gun sales, background checks for private sales and sales at gun shows, preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns, and bans on semiautomatic weapons, assault style weapons, high-capacity ammunition clips and online ammunition sales.

But as Pew pointed out, “there is a wide gap between those who prioritize gun rights and gun control when it comes to political involvement.”

The report continued: “Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of those who say gun rights should be the priority have contributed money to an organization that takes a position on gun policy, compared with just 5 percent of those who prioritize gun control. People who favor gun rights are also about twice as likely as gun control supporters to have contacted a public official about gun policy (15 percent vs. 8 percent).”

This is where gun control advocates — those who believe that a society can be safer and more civil with fewer rather than more high-powered, high-capacity killing machines — must have their mettle tested. This is where they must take a stand, become vocal and active, and demand accountability from elected officials, not just now but also in the future.

One of the most profound lessons to emerge from the Newtown tragedy is the power of voice. Americans refused to cede the discussion to the N.R.A. and other gun interests. They refused to buckle to fear or be swayed by propaganda.

Yet too many politicians still quake at the mere mention of the N.R.A. They are more interested in protecting their jobs than protecting society.

The public must make them quake at the idea of doing nothing on this issue.

We must never forget what happened in Connecticut last month and we must never forget what happens in Washington in the coming months.

The tragedy of Newtown must herald the dawn of a new America.

But my bet is that it won’t, that nothing will change.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

When I travel abroad and talk to foreigners about the American passion for guns, people sometimes express a conclusion that horrifies me: in America, life is cheap.

President Obama announced a terrific series of gun-control measures to show that we do indeed hold life dear. But the fate of these proposals ultimately will depend on centrist Americans who are torn. They’re troubled by the toll of guns but also think that it’s reassuring to have a Glock when you hear a floorboard creak downstairs.

So, to those of you wavering, let me tell you the story of a goose.

I grew up on a farm in Yamhill, Ore., a rural town where nearly every home had guns. My dad gave me a .22 rifle for my 12th birthday, and I then took an N.R.A. safety course.

I understand the heartland’s affection for guns, and I share that sense of familiarity. A farm needs a gun or two to deal with coyotes with a fondness for lamb, and, frankly, it’s also fun to shoot.

But all those guns didn’t make us safer. Take the time we gave a goose to a neighbor.

That goose would wander off to a different neighbor’s property and jump into the watering trough for his sheep. The sheep owner was furious that the water would be fouled, and one time he was so fed up he threatened to shoot the goose.

He was probably just making a point, but, since he had a gun handy, he pulled it out and aimed it in the direction of the goose. Seeing this, the goose-owner (who had come to fetch his bird) saw the need to protect his property and pulled out his own gun. They faced off — over a goose!

Our neighbors were both good, admirable, law-abiding people, but their guns had led to a dangerous confrontation. The N.R.A. might say that guns don’t kill people, geese kill people, but in the absence of firearms they wouldn’t have menaced each other with axes or hammers.

The sheep-owner’s wife eventually persuaded the men to stand down. Good sense prevailed, the goose survived, and so did the neighbors.

But I think of that episode because it underscores the role that guns too often play in our society: an instrument not of protection but of escalation.

Lovers throw plates at each other and then one indignantly reaches for a gun — maybe just to scare the other. And then, too often, something goes wrong.

One study, reported in Southern Medical Journal in 2010, found that a gun is 12 times more likely to result in the death of a household member or guest than in the death of an intruder. Another study in 1993 found that gun ownership creates nearly a threefold risk of a homicide in the owner’s household.

Far too many Americans are like Nancy Lanza, who may have thought that her guns would make her safer, and then was killed with them. Something similar happened in Yamhill, where a troubled teenager took a gun that his grandmother owned and shot her dead. The N.R.A. is right that most guns are used safely, but it’s also true that guns are more likely to cause tragedies than to avert them.

President Obama said that there have been 900 violent gun deaths since Sandy Hook, but that was a rare error. He perhaps was speaking of gun homicides only, but he should also include gun suicides — which are even more common and certainly qualify as violent firearms deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculates that each year there are more than 11,000 gun homicides and nearly 19,000 gun suicides. That’s 30,000 firearms deaths a year in the United States. At that rate, there have already been some 2,500 violent gun deaths since Sandy Hook.

David Hemenway, a public health specialist at Harvard, says that having a gun at home increases the risk of suicide in that household by two to four times.

To reduce auto deaths, we’ve taken a public health approach that you might call “car control” — driver’s licenses, air bags, seat belts, auto registration. The result is a steady decline in vehicle fatalities so that some time soon gun deaths are likely to exceed traffic fatalities, for the first time in modern American history.

There are no magic solutions to the gun carnage in America. But in the same spirit as what we’ve accomplished to make driving safer, President Obama has crafted careful, modest measures that won’t solve America’s epidemic of gun violence but should reduce it.

If we could reduce gun deaths by one-quarter, that would be 7,500 lives saved a year. Unless life in America really is cheap, that’s worth it.

Again, there will be rational gun control in this country when pigs fly.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Right now you’re probably asking yourself: What can the Lance Armstrong scandal teach us as a nation?

It had better teach us something or we’ll have wasted one heck of a lot of time talking about this guy. And the lesson should not involve the future of cycling. Now that Lance Armstrong is disgraced, people, how many of you ever plan to think about the sport of cycling again? Can I see a show of hands? I thought so.

As the whole universe knows, Armstrong is a superfamous American athlete who developed testicular cancer, went through arduous therapy and then returned to the racing circuit as the head of the United States Postal Service Pro Cycling Team, winning the Tour de France seven straight times.

And then the authorities stripped away his medals for serial doping. Which Armstrong denied, virtually on an hourly basis, with a vengeance that made “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” sound like a confession.

The denial stage is scheduled to come to an end Thursday in an Oprah interview. After which we will discuss whether Armstrong can be forgiven.

We can certainly grant him absolution as a human being, but he appears to be in the market for forgiveness as a celebrity. And, really, once you get past the now-demolished race record, there’s not much point to Lance Armstrong, Famous Person. He has no other talents. He isn’t particularly lovable. He was once cited for using 330,000 gallons of water at his Texas home in a month when his neighbors were being asked to conserve by cutting back on their car-washing. He left his wife, got engaged to the singer Sheryl Crow. He said he broke up with Sheryl Crow because of her “biological clock.” The New York Post had him dating one of the Olsen twins.

There’s always a chance. Armstrong could demonstrate his remorse by dedicating the rest of his life to fighting rural poverty in an extremely remote section of Africa, preferably one where residents are limited to a quart of water a day. His fans would come flocking back, although Armstrong would hardly notice because the critical part of the deal would be staying in Niger or Burkina Faso forever.

Meanwhile, his foundation could pick a new spokesperson from the ranks of American cancer survivors who went back to work without violating the cardinal moral principle of their profession.

But we still need to wring a useful lesson out of all this. Let’s consider the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team. Between 1996 and 2004, our American mail system invested an estimated $40 million in this venture, in return for which Armstrong and his teammates rode around with the Postal Service insignia on their shirts.

This would be the same Postal Service that lost $16 billion last year, and I believe I speak for every stamp-buyer in the nation when I say: What?

“It really is a strong morale-building element,” the general manager of the team said in 2001, when asked what the mailing public was getting out of all this. There are, the manager added, a lot of people who “feel a little bit better about the Postal Service because of its association with Lance.”

Then it would follow that the American public feels worse about the Postal Service now that Armstrong is headed for Pariah Junction. But, personally, I’m more focused on that $16 billion.

The Armstrong heyday was back in the era when the Postal Service, having been spun off into a quasi-private enterprise, was having delusions of corporate grandeur. The era when it lost $8.3 million in a failed attempt to start a retail operation in the Mall of America. Its leaders liked the idea that “they could rub shoulders with other C.E.O.’s who were sponsoring sports activities,” said Ruth Goldway, the chairwoman of the Postal Regulatory Commission.

Goldway was never a big fan of the postal service cycle team, although she felt it was a better marketing tool than some of the other ideas put into play, like “buying free tickets for postal employees to go to football games.” And, she said, she had some sympathy for Armstrong, “until I saw how he treated Sheryl Crow.”

There still are sponsorship deals floating all around the federal government. (The Army has one with the National Hot Rod Association.) Nobody seems to keep track of exactly how much they add up to. Maybe this one little area could be a staging ground for bipartisan accord. Republicans and Democrats could join together to ban the use of federal taxpayer dollars for sponsorship of sports events. Then they would be so pleased with their progress that they could move on and pass a genuine budget. The Lance Armstrong debacle would have a point!

Although, actually, Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota proposed banning the use of taxpayer money to sponsor Nascar race teams in 2011, and she was voted down, 281 to 148.

We’ll look for another moral. Maybe something about Sheryl Crow.


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