Sunday, June 17, 2018

Why the delay?

At the last minute, our flight was cancelled.

That's why this blog is a week late. It's a long story but last Friday, June 8, 2018, the terminals at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport choked with passengers praying for alternative flights. Some said it was mandatory maintenance that required the grounding of our non-stop American Airlines trip to Memphis, Tennessee. Oh, how I wanted to enjoy the barbecue at the rehearsal dinner that night. Now we were just hoping to make it there in time for Saturday's wedding. Other passengers heard excuses about extreme weather from the day before that was rippling through air travel schedules resulting in delays, postponements and cancellations through a typical hectic Friday. On Sunday, our trip home was delayed until Monday!

Just that week, I had heard a radio spot comparing the safety of flying to that of large trucks on America's highways. The announcer coldly criticized 18-wheelers as unsafe, responsible for more than 10 deaths a day on America's highways. "If airlines reported those types of fatalities, who would fly?" blared my car speakers. For sure, I thought. Coincidentally, that same week, I glimpsed a report from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control revealing that 96 Americans die everyday due to gunshot wounds. Now, if truck drivers or pilots produced that kind of carnage, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration would bring everything to a screeching halt.

As my wife, Ellen, and I waited through a four-hour delay for our next flight to Memphis, news of chef and gourmand Anthony Bourdain's suicide flashed endlessly across screens throughout passenger waiting areas, restaurants and lounges. Just that week earlier, fashion designer Kate Spade took her life. I felt a certain connection to them that day. Maybe it was because I was experiencing the news in a public setting, where people were united by travel dysfunction. We were all momentarily helpless to  change the temporary insanity of rolling delays and cancellations as my phone displayed texts of flights booked and rebooked in rapid succession. I felt for the airline workers behind the counters and on the phones coping with an army of angry flyers. But it wasn't even a taste of the pressure the depressed and anxious endure as they search for healing in desperation. Some 21,000 Americans kill themselves with guns each year. Ninety percent of those who attempt suicide with a firearm succeed. Ninety percent of those who use other means to take their lives fail.

As the debate about gun violence continues to rage across our nation, even if it's largely fallen out of the headlines in favor of political wars, I struggle to understand why we don't attempt to make guns safer. Why don't more state's  pass laws requiring those whose guns are lost or stolen to report them?  Why is it that we insist on using technology to dramatically improve auto safety but the pro-gun lobby resists smart guns? If we can create computer-aided chassis systems to help reduce the likelihood of a crash by 65%, why can't we create a firearm that knows its owner and won't allow him to shoot himself. If a three year old can't start my car without holding my key fob, why can she fire a firearm without a unique electronic ID. I don't understand why gun manufacturers don't jump at the opportunity to make safer products.

As we boarded our connecting flight in Charlotte, North Carolina, I spied a teen wearing a #Enough t-shirt. We chatted briefly and he told me he planned to vote this fall. It's important we care about voting because the U.S. Supreme Court just made it easier for states to take away your right to vote if you fail to use it. No such rules for gun ownership. No matter how many mass shootings occur, no matter how many are shot at art shows, churches and in schools, no matter how much the cost of security rises, nothing changes. When second-hand smoke proved cancerous and dangerous, states raised taxes on cigarettes and planes, trains and pubs went smokeless.

If we have to boost security measures in every conceivable public environment, including churches, to try to prevent random massacres by gun, who will pay for that? We may finally reach a tipping point that puts taxes on guns to fund metal detectors, armed guards and police investigations, hospitalizations and public cleanups of blood in the streets.

If we cared enough about each other, we'd care as much about the anonymous person who shoots himself or a kid from the wrong side of the tracks as we do about a celebrity who ends his life after a lifetime battle with mental illness.

 I'm not suggesting we can prevent every murder, every accidental child death, or every wife from finding her husband slumped over his desk. It's not about perfection. lt's about loving our neighbors enough to care just enough to make the changes we need to save a few more lives each day. If we can't find the courage and the will do that, as a nation, we are committing suicide by firearms.

Why the delay? People are dying.

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