Pam's Points: Why guns and kids don't mix, and insurance sticker shock

Pam's Points: Why guns and kids don't mix, and insurance sticker shock

August 30th, 2014 in Opinion Times

In this Aug. 25, 2014, image made from video provided by the Mohave County Sheriff Department, firing-range instructor Charles Vacca, left, shows a 9-year old girl how to use an Uzi. Vacca, 39, was standing next to the girl at the Last Stop range in Arizona, south of Las Vegas, when the girl squeezed the trigger, causing the Uzi to recoil upward and shoot Vacca in the head.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Gunplay isn't play

Who thinks it is wise to give your 9-year-old Uzi-shooting lessons? Even just a one-day vacation lark?

It isn't. It wasn't. It never will be.

The New Jersey girl in pink shorts and a braided ponytail was one year older than the minimum age allowed to shoot at the Mojave Desert tourist company and shooting range, Bullets and Burgers. But she couldn't control the recoiling Uzi submachine gun when it began firing a barrage of ammunition. The gun - with slugs flying out at a rate of 600 rounds per minute - rose leftward and over her head until bullets struck the instructor behind her.

The shooting range that connects Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon is popular with tourists. It advertises four-hour packages in which tourists can be picked up at their hotels, driven to the property and given "the opportunity to fire a wide range of fully automatic machine guns and specialty weapons" including AK-47s and grenade launchers. "Lunch is served, and guests can have videos taken of their shooting experience," according to the website.

The New York Times story about the tragedy notes that news of the incident spread widely on the Internet and prompted comments from many who, like me, question why in the world parents would allow such a young child to handle such a weapon.

"Some commentators, particularly from abroad, have pointed to the episode as an unfortunate reflection of America's gun culture," the Times wrote. "Piers Morgan, the British journalist who used to host an evening news show on CNN, wrote on Twitter: 'It's illegal to eat a Kinder Surprise chocolate egg in America, on health grounds. It's fine for 9yr olds to use Uzi submachine guns.' "

Another commenter on another website wrote: "What in the name of Jesus is wrong with us, Americans? Automatic weapons as toys? And now a man is dead, for no reason, and a nine-year-old girl is scarred for life."

I couldn't and can't say it better than that. But there is one more thing. I read that an Uzi is a "compact, powerful weapon ... known for its ease of handling and simple design" and that it has been "featured prominently in popular movies and video games." I guess that's America's gun and parenting cultures at work in tandem.

No charges were filed. Chief Deputy Mohave County Attorney Jace Zack told CNN: "We have considered the parents, but if anyone was culpable it would be the instructor for putting a deadly weapon in her hands."

Teachers and insurance

Teachers and workers with the Hamilton County Department of Education got a health care cost wake-up call Thursday when the Board of Education voted to eliminate working spouses from the department's health care plan.

The vote means some of the 1,700 working wives and husbands of teachers will soon be signing up on the health plans offered by their own employers, rather than using the caddy-model plan school workers have long held. School board members had expected to save $5 million by requiring an extra $100 from the school workers who also covered their spouses, but in a surprise move Thursday, the board voted instead to scrap coverage for those spouses altogether. What's unclear is how much more savings this move will produce.

There's lots of health care insurance sticker shock going around this year as insurers jockey to make up the outrageous profit they used to make on junk policies and dropping sick people from their plans before the Affordable Care Act made those practices illegal. Similarly, hospitals and doctors are trying to make up lost dollars after states like Tennessee left federal money on the table by not expanding Medicaid. Our state GOP lawmakers' use of partisan-motivated revenge helped push up the cost of health care for the rest of us.

At the school board meeting - where teachers weren't allowed to address the board - mouthy board member Rhonda Thurman couldn't resist the urge to criticize both the ACA and teachers. Teachers' unions were part of the problem for supporting the ACA, she said.

It's really too bad that the health insurance groups didn't save the $102.4 million that America's Health Insurance Plans (the largest health care lobbying group in the country) spent in 2009 and early 2010 against the ACA. A million here, a million there. Now they have to get that money back, too, somehow. That somehow is us.