Wednesday, March 14, 2012

When More Citizens Have Guns

Seventeen year old Trayvon Martin was an ordinary teenage boy living in Florida. His life tragically ended one night in late February when he left his home to walk to a local convince store to buy some snacks for the NBA all-star game. No, he wasn't snatched up by a sexual predator. Rather, he met his end at the hands of a "law abiding" gun owner who could be the poster child for the NRA.

He was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman inside this gated community, who admitted to killing the child. Zimmerman had seen the black teen walking down the road, and thought he appeared "suspicious." So he called 911. Had he listened to the 911 operator, who repeatedly told him to stay inside his vehicle and not confront the teen because police were on the way, this story would have ended there. But instead, Zimmerman, who is described by a Martin family lawyer as a "homeowners association loss cannon," ignored this advice and went out to confront the teen.

Although it is unclear precisely what happened next, it is believed that Zimmerman stalked the teen, following him down the road and initiating an argument. During this confrontation, Zimmerman got out his 9mm gun, and shot the unarmed teen dead in the street, just 70 feet from his stepmothers home. Zimmerman would tell police that he acted in self defense, a puzzling claim, considering the teen was doing nothing wrong and Zimmerman was the one who confronted him. It's sort of like me walking up to you at Wallmart, trying to harass you or detain you, and then shooting you dead when you resist this action and calling it self defense.

As of this posting, Zimmerman had not yet been arrested, though the case was being reviewed by the district attorney. Hopefully justice will be done, and this child killer will get the same treatment as any other child killer receives. But there is a broader issue at play here.

Gun advocated love to make the claim that lives are saved when everyday citizens tote their guns around. This is a factual lie, refuted by research. (See our publication Guns For Protection) Safety advocates know better: most gun crimes aren't committed by career criminals, but by pissed off gun owners. So the more people you have carrying around loaded weapons, the more of these "loose cannon" situations you have ready to go off. The more people carrying guns, the more chances for misunderstanding, mistaken assessments, poor decisions, and unnecessary killings.

As more states continue to encourage every yahoo who owns a gun to be their own vigilante do-gooder, even passing laws allowing someone to shoot a fleeing person in the back so long as they "feel" threatened, we'll encounter many more tragedies like this. Tragedies where gun vigilantes such as this turn an otherwise innocent situation into a deadly encounter, slaughtering a child who is merely walking back to his house after buying candy. The most sickening part of it all is that this type of 'make my day' shoot first and ask questions later mentality is exactly what gun advocates want to see more of.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Finally, An Air-Bag You Want Near Your Children

Automobile air-bags have always been somewhat of a mixed blessing. While they work well in most cases, they can be deadly to children and even small adults. This is because when airbags deploy, it1s not exactly a gentle process. They inflate with a tremendous amount of force, which for little ones, hits them in the head and neck area rather than the more durable torso. Hundreds upon hundreds of kids have lost their lives to this safety device, and each case is frustratingly tragic. I can think of nothing more horrible than to lose a 5-year-old boy or girl in a minor fender bender that barely causes any damage to the car, all because he or she happened to be sitting in the front seat when the air bag deployed - a storyline in numerous deaths we’ve followed. This is why you don’t sit children in the front seat of a car that has air bags.

After more than a decade of development, Ford motor company is about to launch the first airbag designed primarily with children in mind. It’s an airbag sewn directly into the seatbelt itself, with bags that pop out into sausage-shaped tubes in a crash. The breakthrough involved working out a new type of cold gas system that inflates the tubes. A cylinder underneath the seat (much like a Co2 cartridge) shoots its contents of cold gas through a special safety-belt buckle and into the bags in the event of a crash. Because of the way they expand, it spreads the force of the crash out over 5-times as much area, which will greatly reduce the jolt children experience, and thus, the degree of injury they sustain.

The seatbelt air bags should be especially helpful in combating seatbelt syndrome - a condition where a child’s spine is broken in a crash and they become paralyzed. This happens because of the way in which the seat belt sits on them, which causes an uneven distribution of force. (This was a primary reason for the invention of booster seats, which were intended to combat this problem by better adjusting the way shoulder straps rest on a child. Lap belts alone, however, can be even worse, causing a whiplash action right in the child's midsection.)

As an added bonus, Ford spokesman Wesley Sherwood says that more than 90% of those who tested the belts rated them at least as comfortable as conventional belts, and many said they were even more comfortable because the thickness of the bag folded inside the belts makes them feel softer. This may assist in the battle to get more rear-seat passengers to buckle up; something government data reveals only 61% of rear-seat occupants to do, compared to 82% in the front seat.

These back seat airbags will be optional, at $395 extra, on the 2011 Ford Explorer, which hit dealers this past December. Eventually, Ford plans to include the feature globally in other models and seating positions.

We seldom get all googly-eyed over a safety feature, nor do we generally openly endorse a commercial product. But this is one that, if it works as planned, could help spare at least some children the torment of a debilitating spine injury.