On December 14th, an unspeakable tragedy occurred in Newtown, Conneticut. Twenty-six people, including twenty children, were massacred by a lone gunman.
As so often happens when a tragedy occurs, people rush to figure out how to prevent something similar from happening again. One possible method of prevention is tighter gun control laws. Of course, putting tighter restrictions on guns is not so simple from an economic point-of-view. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, there are 129,817 firearm dealers in the United States. If you add up all of the employees that these dealers have and all the manufacturing jobs that are needed to make the guns themselves, the industry easily provides more than a million jobs. In America, a huge percentage of manufactured items say “Made in China.” Guns, however, are made right here by American workers.
There is also the civil liberties aspect of gun control. The constitution guarantees the right to bear arms. Why should millions of Americans have their rights taken away because of one gunman? That sounds a lot like collective punishment.
And finally, from a statistical point of view, private swimming pools are a lot more dangerous than gunman. The odds of a gunman attacking a child in school is less than one in a million. So if politicians really want to save lives, the best way to do that is to ban private pools.
Society, of course, can’t just look at statistics when deciding how to act. The Talmud says “In Gilad murderers are found…” Not only was there a disproportionate number of murders in Gilad, but a disproportionate number of them were from negligent behavior. When human life is cheap, there is no incentive to be careful. Nobody wants to live in a society where human life is cheap. Nobody wants to live in a society where financial sense is used to determine whether someone lives or dies. We don’t let folks drink themselves to death because it’s cheaper than paying for rehab. In this day and age, I think we can agree that human life is not cheap. Thus, tighter gun laws are in order.
…that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone…
Last week, I addressed Bloomberg’s proposed soda ban. After stewing on the issue for the past several days, I realized I had even more to say…
There are many compelling reasons for the government to try to get people to eat better. According to a recent Lehigh University study, obesity-related illnesses cost the United States approximately $190 billion per year, twenty percent of the nation’s total medical spending. In other words, 4% of the GDP is used to treat obesity. If politicians want to cut spending and create a balanced budget, encouraging Americans to eat healthier is a good way to start.
The American Medical Association estimates that 46% of our sugar intake comes from soft drinks, so Bloomberg’s soda ban proposal makes sense. Many people, however, feel that the government is overstepping its boundaries when it tries to tell us what to eat and drink, and Coca-Cola went as far as saying that Mayor Bloomberg’s plan was an insult to New Yorkers. The bottom line is that Bloomberg’s proposal does infringe on our civil liberties, and the government should not control our personal choices. Adult individuals need to take responsibility for their own actions—it’s not the government’s job to babysit us and to make sure that we eat the right things.
There is another aspect of the debate, however, which has not been addressed: Why is it that the average American is eating so much more? According to the Center for Disease Control, the average restaurant hamburger in the 1950s was 3.9 oz. Today the average is more than three times that. French fries servings used to be 2.4 oz; today they are 6.7 oz. And of course, super-sized soft drinks didn’t even exist decades ago. Studies have shown that looking at meals on TV makes people hungry, and the food industry spends billions of dollars each year trying to get us to spend more on their products. There is the Taco Bell “Fourth Meal” campaign; McDonald’s promoting super-sized, three-thousand-calorie lunches; and Pepsi trying to quench our thirst with sodas that contain sixteen packets-worth of sugar. The fact is that if Pepsi did not air that commercial, you might have reached for water instead.
Bloomberg should not be trying to restrict our eating or drinking. If somebody wants to eat a fried cheeseburger with two donuts as a bun, that’s their own business. When big business, though, invests billions of dollars in manipulating us into eating more of the wrong sorts of foods, perhaps then it’s time for the government to set some advertising regulations. After all, one of the largest advertisers of the 1950s was cigarette companies, but the government put an end to televised cigarette ads because of proven health risks. Today’s food giants are acting as immorally as the tobacco industry was.
So let me finish with a question: Why is it that cigarettes are taxed, gambling is regulated, prostitution is illegal, and drug peddlers are jailed, but food pushers and soda dealers are allowed to do whatever they want?
When a person commits a sin and repeats it, it becomes permitted for him. Does it really become permitted to him? Rather for him it becomes permitted.
Michael Bloomberg recently announced that he wanted to ban soft drinks that were larger than thirty-two ounces. Public reaction was extremely negative, and he was dubbed “Nanny Bloomberg” by several news organizations. People in my synagogue argued that it’s the parents’ job to decide how much sugar their children consume. If weight is such a problem, they added, why doesn’t Bloomberg call for more gym classes? Even the United Nations Human Right Committee took time off from the civil war in Syria for an emergency session to discuss whether this was a violation of human rights and warranted crisis intervention. I guy I met on the street told me that the problem isn’t sugar, drugs are the problem. So why has Michael Bloomburg declared war on Coca Cola?
Apparently the answer is as follows: New Yorkers have an average life expectancy that is three years higher than the rest of America (the national life expectancy rate is 79; in NYC it’s 82). Part of the reason why New Yorkers are living longer is because of Bloomberg’s crackdown on trans fats and cigarettes. There is no good reason for restaurants to use trans fats when they could use alternate products that taste just as good but are much healthier. Similarly, when the city banned smoking in bars, many smokers either quit for good or began smoking significantly less. Obesity, which is caused in large part by excess sugar, will soon be the number one killer in America (even more than tobacco). There are two ways to make sure that obesity-related complications do not take that number one spot: either encourage people to make healthier choices, or encourage people to keep smoking so that tabacco stays on top.
The Talmud explains that bad habits form fast. In other words, it’s easier to get into the habit of eating a tub of ice cream every night then it is to get into the habit of going to the gym. It’s a reality of the human condition that bad habits are easy to form but difficult to break, and sugar is addictive. Of course, the obesity epidemic is not just a health issue, but a quality of life issue. Many overweight people, myself included, feel that their lives would improve if they where in better shape. Michael Bloomberg is addressing this. There is no way his war on soft drinks bill will ever become law, but that’s not the point. The point is that he’s starting a conversation about a serious problem.
One of the Bloomberg-approved campaign signs