Click it, cock it - stop it: Lawmakers to raise seatbelt fines, but guns are no problem

Click it, cock it - stop it: Lawmakers to raise seatbelt fines, but guns are no problem

February 21st, 2014 in Opinion Times

Tennessee General Assembly members are at it again. They are governing - or at least pretending to - in their clown suits.

House Transportation sub-committee members OKed 7-2 a Gov. Bill Haslam-advanced bill to double fines for not wearing seat belts. What was $10 would be $25 for a first offense, and $50 on second and subsequent offenses. The proffered reason is to "save lives." Historically more than half of traffic fatalities in Tennessee have involved individuals who do not wear seat belts.

Now, it's a no-brainer that everyone should wear seat belts, and authorities say 84 percent of us do. Tennessee has about 1,000 traffic fatalities a year, but Col. Tracy Trott, commander of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, told lawmakers that if all of us wore our car safety harnesses, 40 to 110 lives could be saved yearly. That would be great.

But here's the disconnect: This is the same General Assembly pandering to the gun-rights crowd and passing one bill after another pushing to put guns in every hand in every space across a state that's already No. 1 in the country for aggravated assaults -- the crime category where nonfatal shootings get tallied. By the way, Tennessee had 30,818 aggravated assaults in 2012, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Gun advocates will say more people died on highways than from guns, and that's true in Tennessee, where 251 of 390 murders in 2012 involved guns.

This is how gun advocates -- and note here that gun advocates is not the same as gun-rights advocates -- begin to smugly dismiss gun concerns. But here's the rest of the story:

Aggravated assaults, which are attacks that involve deadly weapons or cause extreme injury, make up the bulk of violent crime statistics. They should be viewed as seriously as homicide, according to Roger Thompson, chief adviser at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's criminal justice department.

"To be honest, those are candidates for homicide, but we were able to get [victims] to the hospital and save them due to the miracles of modern medicine. ... Multiply homicides by 10 and you get a better idea for what's actually going on out there," Thompson told a Times Free Press reporter last fall.

Nonetheless, the General Assembly clowns we voted for seem far more worried about saving 40 to 110 highway deaths because someone doesn't click their seat belt than they are about the more than 200 deaths that occur when someone cocks the trigger of the gun pulled from their pocket or their glove box or their lunch box.

Remember -- these lawmakers are the folks who've pushed legislation to tell employers that they cannot forbid employees from having guns in the parking lots on workplace property. These are the folks who want teachers to carry guns in schools. These are the folks who want to make sure churchgoers can be armed.

The truth is that few motorists, especially those who don't wear seat belts, make campaign contributions or pay lobbyists to wine, dine and entertain our lawmakers.

On the other hand, the National Rifle Association is a major donor with multi-million-dollar political action committees, and our lawmakers compete to get NRA endorsements.

The individual gun makers -- the real funding arm of the NRA -- are politically active, too. Ugo Gussalli Beretta, CEO and president of Beretta Holding, wrote in an opinion letter to the Washington Post earlier this month that he would move Beretta's U.S. facility from the Maryland suburbs to Middle Tennessee because Maryland's governor and legislature adopted new gun regulations that "unfairly attack products we make" and "demean our law-abiding customers, who must now be fingerprinted like criminals before they can be allowed to purchase one of our products."

Never mind that if those customers worked for the government -- even as contractors or part-timers -- they had to be fingerprinted for background checks.

Maybe our lawmakers should just adopt a new enforcement method for seat belt use. Click it! Or we'll cock it!

Second Amendment rights are important. But they were never intended to give people blanket sanction to carry and use a gun anywhere and everywhere.

Some of us do love our guns. But that doesn't mean we have to love them to death.