The University of California has backed off its benighted plan for a new "improved" logo. Normally I would say a lot about that, but it will keep for a day or two. Back to today's news:
Over the years I've occasionally remarked that I belong to "my" version of the NRA. That would be the AOPA -- the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, of which I've been a loyal dues-paying member for many years and many of whose activities I support. Its magazine, AOPA Pilot, is one of my several "favorite" publications -- along with the Atlantic, China Daily, All About Beer, the Redlands Daily Facts, and so on.
The one thing I don't like about AOPA is its NRA-like, no-compromise, absolutist-absolutism on certain issues of public policy. In much of the world, governments or transport ministries impose "user fees" for takeoffs and landings, some air-traffic control services, and so on. According to the AOPA, there cannot ever be any fees of this sort, of any level, for any service, at any time, or else America is on the way to the hell of Hayek-style serfdom.
The merits of the user fee debate are not my point right now. (Summary of the AOPA side: non-airline aviation activity already "pays its way" through the quite hefty tax imposed on each gallon of airplane fuel, plus providing all kinds of ancillary benefits to the country. I agree about the benefits and that the American aviation scene is the envy of the world.) Rather it is to introduce a comparison between AOPA and the real NRA. This comes from my friend Garrett Gruener, a successful Bay Area entrepreneur and venture capitalist who is also a longtime pilot. In the 1990s he even took an around-the-world trip, with his wife and daughter, in their turboprop airplane. He writes:
I had an interesting conversation with my Republican, gun loving [colleague] after the Aurora massacre. I said to him that I have my NRA in AOPA - they are very effective on the Hill and zealous in the defense of my right to fly, even to a point of being more uncompromising than I would prefer.
The difference is the overwhelming focus on safety. I feel that AOPA is the FAA's partner in trying to reduce the number of fatalities in aviation, while the NRA never gets beyond "guns don't kill...".
My colleague agreed there was a difference, although I'm not sure he saw any fault in the NRA's stance. He went on to say that NRA discussions are dominated by a fear that the Gov't is going to take their guns away, and hence there is little bandwidth left for a sensible conversation on how to avoid future massacres. Given the huge and ongoing carnage in America from guns, seems to me it is time for the NRA to publicly commit themselves to reducing the body count.
What Gruener says about the AOPA rings true to my experience. The only thing the AOPA talks about more than user fees is safety, and the individual and system-wide changes that can reduce the accident level.
NRA, that's the test. Let's hear you, now, join the rest of the country in saying "Enough!" and working with your "responsible gun owners" on bringing that about. That's what "my" NRA does. Otherwise... well, otherwise the NRA deserves an all-out assault from people sick of having children slaughtered.
Update. Here's what the real NRA has contributed to the discussion today. There is zero mention of the Newtown shooting on its blog. And here, as of 13 hours after the shooting, are the most recent entries on its @NRA Twitter feed:
Update An obvious and constructive implication of Garrett Gruener's argument is that the ongoing discussion should be about gun safety, which any reasonable person should be in favor of, versus gun control, a phrase that provokes all-out immediate hostility from a significant number of Americans.
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James Fallows is a staff writer for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the new book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, which has been a New York Times best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.