Now that President Obama has taken decisive action to protect the nation from gun violence, it’s time we address other pressing dangers to our children. Gun violence may horrify us with its immediate and obvious consequences, but there are several threats our kids confront on a daily basis that present equal if not more harmful hazards, as they are much more common and much more widely spread.
Let’s start with prescription drugs. New York’s Mayor Bloomberg has announced an initiative to sharply curtail the dispensation of painkillers by emergency rooms and physicians. Noting that most prescriptions are rarely completely used up, and that leftover pills sit in medicine cabinets presenting a temptation and risk to kids who find them, the mayor has decreed that city hospitals err on the side of caution in the number of pills they dispense. And what if there are too few, and the patient experiences discomfort as a result? Bloomberg spells it out:
so you didn’t get enough painkillers and you did have to suffer a little bit. The other side of the coin is people are dying and there’s nothing perfect …
In other words, suck it up. Kids are dying.
But this doesn’t address the real problem: the huge numbers of dangerous painkillers already sitting in medicine cabinets across the nation. Addiction specialists cite these caches of legal but unused pharmaceuticals as a common gateway for kids abusing and becoming addicted to drugs like oxycontin and other opiates.
Attention is now also finally focusing on violent video games. The Massachusetts Turnpike has just banned these digital perversions from their rest stops, but tens of millions of homes nationwide still play host to them. While a parent can control what their child does in their own house, there is no way for anyone to know if their kids are playing them elsewhere.
And finally, less immediately but just as dangerous — in part because of its insidious attraction to young people — are sugary soft drinks. What does it take to wake us up? Our kids are overweight, if not obese; diabetes and heart disease are among our biggest killers; and sugar has all but been proven to be as effective a carcinogen as plutonium. Yet any kid can walk into any home and suddenly confront a two liter bottle of Coke, or Sprite, or Hires, each one with enough calories to feed an African village for a week, and enough metabolic poison to fell a water buffalo.
While there are many, many other dangerous situations that our children may encounter in public and in private homes, these four — guns, drugs, video games and sugar — surely top the list. So let’s start with them. How can we be reasonably well-informed when our children may confront these situations?
Here we would suggest borrowing a page from the Journal News, the courageous New York newspaper that published the addresses of gun owners in Westchester County. While gun lovers objected, a large number of parents were adamant in declaring their support for this action, saying that they should know if a home presents a danger to their child, so that they can at least prevent their child from going there. And since publication of every site that these problems may occur is impractical we have an alternate solution to warning parents.
We call on the President to mandate by executive order a national home labeling program. Each front door of every residence should display a separate sticker with a universally-recognized standard icon for each danger — for example, a gun for guns, a syringe for prescription drugs, a skull for violent videogames, and a bottle for sugary sodas. Display should be mandatory, with stiff fines and possibly prison sentences for non-compliance. Periodic spot-checks and authorized inspections by local police would ensure that evasion is caught and punished. A national database should also be established that anyone can consult online to check the status of any address or person living at any address.
This may seem extreme to some, but we point out that what is at stake here is the safety — and the lives — of our kids. It took Newtown to galvanize our President into putting our kids before antiquated and discredited superstitions about the sacred text of an obsolete dogma (yes, I am talking about the Constitution). What will it take to get us to wake up to these equally pressing, if less dramatic, clear and present dangers to child welfare and survival?
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William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!