Friday, May 10, 2013

Founding Sons of Guns

A colleague of mine posted an editorial about gun laws for our Stage Seven assignment. Her extremely conservative view on gun control caught my eye and has driven me to critique her argument.

I, like many others, am among gun-owning, hunting-loving, Texan-born Republican family members. Gun rights are a big deal in my family; I've shot guns myself, but have never been a huge fanatic of the trade, in part due to my opinions on animals rights. I don't have anything against people who hunt or own guns at all. I do, however, frequently feel frustrated with the people who are completely "gung ho" about any single issue, because this implies that they've failed to acknowledge the pros and cons of controversial topics such as this one.

I agree that guns are definitely not the direct cause of violence in today's society, just as cars are not the cause of wrecks, prescription drugs are not the cause of overdoses, etc. These variables and their occasional effects only are correlated. Those with a motive to do harm to themselves or others will always find a way. Those who really want a gun will get one. If they can't get one legally (which isn't so hard to do; see below), they'll likely steal or borrow it from someone they know.

However, while I don't believe banning guns as a whole is the solution, gun laws most certainly need to be amended, and by "gun laws" I'm not referring to the vague ones written in our constitution. I'm referring to the ones that dictate who can purchase/register for guns and how they go about doing it. I'm not sure that private gun sales are the safest route, though I do see this method's advantages. I could say I think private sales should be outlawed, but then that would bring about arguments like "Just because it's illegal doesn't keep it from happening" and "If we ban private gun sales, won't we have to ban the selling of other potentially dangerous weapons?" It's no wonder this issue is debated over so much amongst our citizens and our politicians. It's such a complex issue which doesn't seem to have any really effective solution.

As I posted in the participation topic about concealed handguns on school grounds, our background check system is severely flawed, allowing "maniacs" to obtain guns fairly easily through what is considered to be a safe and reliable process. The Virginia Tech killer obtained the guns used in his attacks by passing background checks at two different dealers. Despite being ordered by the court to have a psychiatric assessment done to evaluate his mental health, Virginia deemed him eligible to buy a gun, according to their background check database. Plenty of states report incomplete or inaccurate background check information to the NICS (National Instant Background Check System), and some report none at all. The reason the Virginia Tech killer probably slipped through the system, along with his state's faulty records, is that no one really has defined the levels of danger associated with mentally ill people in relation to weapon ownership. The system is broken; there's no doubt about it. If more people realized this, I know more of us would be supporting the changing of gun laws. It's not about individual rights; it's about public safety and the government programs entrusted by the people to promote it.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Tragic Timing

When tragedies happen, human nature obligates that we jump to conclusions. This has been observed in recent news with the many speculations about the Bostom bombings and, in this article from the Statesman, the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion. Jack Ohman, a cartoonist from California, came up with a rather insensitive piece referring to the recent explosion as a way to scorn Governor Perry's "marketing of Texas' loose regulations".

While I understand the job entails evoking emotion and thought out of readers, its requirements do not disclude a sense of empathy. While I never worked as a cartoonist, I have some college and high school journalism experience during which my staff members and I constantly reminded ourselves of where we fell on the spectrum between emotional involvement and objective observation. As a somewhat experienced editorial writer, I've given myself credibility to critique Ohman's artwork for its half-baked platform and harsh nature.

My mother works for the company that insures the plant that exploded. She briefed me on the details of what happened and its most likely cause. She told me that the plant is in fact inspected yearly by state agencies, and the explosion was likely caused by a lack of knowledge on the part of West's volunteer firefighters. Similarly, I blame the thought behind this cartoon on Ohman's lack of knowledge about the explosion. It's apparent that false information spreads even faster than it used to nowadays due to social media and new technologies (Like when CNN and other credible news stations falsely tweeted last week that a Boston bombing suspect had been arrested). I'm sure that very few "averages Joes" (and even politicans, law enforcement, etc.) ever are 100% informed on the topics for which they form opinions. When those uninformed people manifest those opinions via public forums, it merely fuels the vicious cycle of frustration and confusion.

Even if I could offer credit to Ohman for a fact-based argument, his methods of articulating his ideas are flawed. It's much too soon to depict the West disaster in the caustic, blunt, and condescending matter that political cartoons so often do. To exploit its unfortunate, sad, and violent result solely in order to further trash Perry's decisions is spineless. I feel that a cartoon like Ohman's would settle much better with the public if stalled until after the immediate impact of this upset subsides.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Big Bad Bag Ban?

For the Blog Stage 5 assignment, my colleague Maria Flores posted an editorial about why Austin should not ban plastic bags, taking the opposite point of view that I took in my Blog Stage 5 post. I respect the fact that others have managed to form an opinion about this issue, as it is apathy which, I believe, is killing youth involvement in politics. However, I have to disagree with the points made as to why Austin is better off with plastic bags.

Maria states that Austin should not ban the bags because the issue affects the majority of Austinites. This is true, as I can't imagine very many people who never go grocery shopping (besides maybe the homeless). However, the ill effects of chronic plastic bag use radiate through Austin and beyond. This is not just a city issue; it's a global one that wreaks havoc on our planet's ecosystems above ground and pollute the space beneathe our feet.

Her second argument is that the reusable bags are too large compared to the plastic bags. I believe this is actually a gain, as bigger bags means more groceries can fit in each bag and the buyer will have less to carry. The unreasonable volume of plastic bags requires up to dozens of them to be used per grocery trip. National Geographic estimates here that between 500 billion and one trillion plastic bags are used each year worldwide, or about 8 billion pounds according to this article on While Maria's comment that plastic bags can be reused is true, more often than not the bags are thrown away or end up littering the environment. If thrown away, they'll end up in landfills, where admits they can take a thousand years to degrade. If not properly disposed of, they will drift their way into oceans and twist around tree branches, polluting the Earth with toxic chemicals and potentially killing innocent creatures.

The level of product safety between the bags may differ slightly. I highly doubt product exposure or loss will be affected by switching to reusable bags. Cold or frozen goods may stay cold a little longer, however, since the handles of plastic bags can be tied into knots, keeping the temperature within them more stable. The argument that's risen about possible bacteria living in the reusable bags is the only reasonable one I've yet heard of for not using them. The Chicago Tribune reported here that much of the bacteria found in the bags is a result of using the bags to carry more than just food products (such as textbooks) and not regularly washing them. I understand it seems like a hassel to have to scrub-a-dub-dub the container you use to bring home your soaps and sponges, but it really is a breeze compared to many other household chores. Reusable bag buyers can wash their grocery bags regularly just like they wash their laundry (the Tribune states they can be machine washed, but I assume it depends on the material) or dishes.

Can you even imagine how much bacteria rests on the interior and exterior of the purses of millions of women in our country? Yet, no one has risen up in arms demanding they Clorox their Coach (I know plenty of women who carry bacteria-prone products in their purses, from make-up to food and drinks). Plastic bag advocates should stop pointing fingers at reusable bags and start pointing them instead at our food industry, in which bacteria growth most often starts, and at our own daily health habits, striving to better them in every possible way.

As far as the statement about "big plastic bags that are used to wrap big items like mattresses," I've never encountered anyone who's attempted to bag any item close to that size. There's been no ban on garbage ban use, which is what Maria seems to be referring to when she says "those [used] to dispose the trash or clean the yard".

Places like South Africa, Australia, and England have already either banned or taxed the use of plastic bags due to their excessesiveness as an "environmental nuisance", says National Geographic. There really is no better current alternative than to ditch these toxic products and jump on board toward a cleaner world. Small sacrifices will have to be made, but the outcome is worth them all.

Friday, March 29, 2013

No Plastics, Please!

In a city of such active and open-minded people, you’d think it’d be a no brainer for the people of Austin to keep around the plastic bag ban. This new restriction is a milestone in keeping the city’s beautiful streets clear and our ecosystem clean. What Austinite wants to be in the middle of an afternoon job around Lady Bird Lake only to keep trekking over dirty H-E-B bags? What could be more of a day downer than floating into a patch of ducks strangled in cheap plastic while swimming in Barton Springs?

Local stores can also bring in some money by banning plastic bags. Everyone loves an economy boost! Instead of giving away the plastic ones for free, stores can start charging to sell their customers reusable bags. It doesn’t have to be much;  a couple dollars per bag can add up fast. Reusable bags can be stylish, bright, fun, and they can represent the city of the Austin. I wouldn’t doubt that such a trendy population would deny themselves a hip “Jeremiah the Innocent” bag, would you? These bags can act as both a trend for the buyer and advertising space for local stores, bands, attractions, events, etc.

The ban is a great step toward healing the environment and preventing further damage to it. Plastic bags litter both urban and rural areas. Most of them go to waste and aren’t recycled. I can’t tell you how many bags my family throws away every week after we’ve gone grocery shopping. Not only do they dirty our towns, but they continue to dirty the planet even after people are done using them. They contribute to landfills, aren’t made from renewable resources, and can kill harmless animals all over the country.

While it may be tough to replace the “bag in tree” game on family road trips, this ban is vital to the progress of not only our lovely city of Austin but also to the world as a whole. We’re setting examples of efficiency, style, and health without sacrificing much ourselves. Is this even really a debate?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Pedal to the Metal Jail Cell Bars

On March 6th, the Austin-American Statesman published an editorial about the texting and driving ban which soon may become a law in Texas. It was published by the editorial board, whose credentials I critiqued in my previous post. No one on the board seems to have significant experience in politics, but their arguments seem valid and well researched nonetheless.

This article weighed the pros and cons of the ban. While it did cite an incidence in which texting-while-driving bans actually increased car accidents, the board scorned Rick Perry for calling the law a "micromanagement" tactic. I do see Perry's point and understand that's a common opinion, especially among conservatives. However, I have to disagree and say I believe the ban is a vital step toward safer roads in America.

It is true that laws are managing techniques. They aim to change behaviors when the people have proven that they can't be deterred simply by the obvious consequences of an action, like taking illegal drugs or driving without a seatbelt. Some may feel these laws are too constricting and that we should be given the choice to take part in dangerous activities if we so choose. I agree with this to a small extent, but I mostly find it wrong for two reasons. One: many people do not have the education or common sense to forgo risky decisions. For those people, there are laws that strive to prevent these poor decisions by invoking fear of punishment. Two: laws are created for the good of everybody.  Billy Bob may be entirely confident that he can safely drive his Ford F250 down I-35 while texting his girlfriend, but that young girl in the smart car next to him might think otherwise. Then she ends up in a hospital bed from a collision, thinking 'what if'?

What if Billy Bob had passed a cop on the highway? What if there was a texting and driving ban and he'd have been pulled over before little Sally Smart Car even got on the road? Prevention is not the enemy; ignorance is. Laws are created to protect the preventative, cautious drivers from the reckless and ignorant ones. It may not deter all perpetrators, but it's a start.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Treatment vs. Prevention

On February 11, the editorial board of the Austin-American Statesman published an editorial critiquing the state government's choices on spending for state prisons.

The paper's staff is made up of several columnists who've had previous work writing editorials about fitness, art, food, and entertainment. However, I didn't come across any whose descriptions listed any significant experience in politics or even economics. I still, however, found this article both well-written and convincing. I believe its target audience is criminals, plus their family and friends, and prison employees. However, it also is applicable to Texas' population as a whole due to its comments on state spendin, a topic we all should be concerned about.

The columnists argue that the state government is wasting its $123 million dollar investment in prison bed leases since there are just not enough inmates to fill them anymore. This is a hard statement to refute when you look at the facts; crime rates have been steadily falling over the years, therefore fewer and fewer people are being locked behind bars. Why, then, is our government continuing to fund the "brick and mortar" parts of crime treatment rather than following the road of criminal reform that lower incarceration rates have paved for it?

The columnists say this action stems from a reliance on prisons to fuel the job market. Sure, prisons require employees, but so does drug-dealing and child trafficking; a need for jobs does not justify the morality of the work. By no means am I comparing illegal activity to the hard work of the people with prison jobs; I'm merely attesting to the double-standard view that governments seem to have that "a job is a job". The work is admirable, but the job quality is poor, with low wages and little benefits, and the spots may not be needed with the lower inmate rate. While cooks and janitors are hired out the wazoo, security guards are few and far between. Yet, the Texas government refuses to make changes. It insists upon paying for  workers we don't need and beds that aren't slept in instead of joining the forces of citizens and organizations working on preventional and correctional programs within local communities. Is it conspiring to wonder whether the governments actually wants more incarcerations? Prepping the prisons instead of preventing the crimes is like shopping for a liver transplant instead of tossing out the booze.

I think the lack of reform is just another example of government stubbornness, and it may not even be backed by a good enough reason, like job creation (this is my liberal side speaking). Prisons will always be necessary, but, as the article states, the staff should be shrunk and funds redirected. I absolutely agree that the government needs to pull its money out of private company investments and work on the homefront: on our streets, in our schools, homeless shelters, and local businesses. These are the places where criminality is halted by awareness and education.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The State of Austin

Texas Monthly recently published an article about the history of racial segregation in Austin, entitled What Nobody Says About Austin. Reporter Cecilia Balli recounts feelings of being outcasted for her Latina heritage and delves in Austin's cultural and political history to uncover an explanation for why Texas' most confidently liberal city may also be its most segregated.

I couldn't empathize with Balli on a racial level, but her commentary on the whacky and unpredictable social behaviors of Austinties is something I found humorously true. Though it's a place I feel very at home, I find it hard to ever feel like I really fit in socially. Walking down Guadualupe is as much a people-watching paradise as it is a retail one; the locals choice of attire, hair style, and demeanor never cease to amaze and perplex me.

This article is almost a spin-off on our last participation question about Texas exceptionalism. While it's impossible to deny Texas' sense of being "it's own country", I think the same goes for Austin as far as being it's own little state. No where else, from San Antonio to Llano to San Marcos, is the demographic atmosphere quite as particular as it is in Austin. No doubt does this atmosphere play off of a segregational tendancy, and Balli really opened my eyes to see it. Anyone who knows Austin decently well can admit that a divide exists between classes and, subsequently, races.

Austin does indeed exemplify a unique spirit, but just how accurately does its culture represent the entire state of Texas? Based on this article, I'd say not very well. Will Austin ever redefine its reputation for the sake of a desegregated city?