Dangerous stupidity epidemic in Las Vegas

I'm probably not going to make many friends with today's column, considering that I'm taking on gun extremists, owners of vicious dogs and negligent parents. Sadly, this would seem to represent a pretty fair percentage of the Las Vegas population.

Let's start with the most vocal and organized group: the gun people.

A viewpoint that gets a lot of ink in these pages holds that we'd all be safer if everyone carried a sidearm. This is not a mainstream position in most U.S. communities, but in Las Vegas it remains surprisingly buoyant.

Don't buy it, and here's why:

The notion that if everybody carried a gun, people would be less likely to use them on each other parallels the Cold War deterrence theory concerning nuclear weapons. Deterrence -- luckily for the human race -- worked, as neither the United States nor the Soviet Union ultimately pushed the button to launch its nuclear missiles.

Despite verbal hostilities between the superpowers that raised legitimate concerns, level heads in positions of power prevailed, and nuclear Armageddon was avoided.

But deterrence works only when the individuals with the power to press the button have enough sense to understand and fear the consequences and do everything possible to avoid a violent confrontation.

This is simply not the likely outcome with a large percentage of our population. It's clear that deterrence is a fantasy when armed idiots roam the streets.

I offer a classic case study, outlined in a Review-Journal story published April 11. A man driving a Jeep Cherokee on U.S. Highway 95 cuts off another man driving a Saturn sedan. The guy in the Saturn gets upset and gestures provocatively at the Cherokee. Angry words are exchanged while the two drive down the highway and they decide to pull off the road to discuss the issue further.

But instead of having a heart-to-heart chat, the Cherokee driver brandishes a gun and starts shooting. A bullet hits the Saturn driver's wife, who ultimately is rushed to the hospital in critical condition. But before she can be taken to the hospital, the Saturn driver hustles back to his vehicle, grabs a gun and fires shots at the Cherokee as it speeds away from the scene. It is believed that the Saturn driver's shots hit the Cherokee several times, shattering the back window.

OK. So, where do we start with these fatheads? First of all, deterrence was the last thing on their minds. Otherwise they would not have stopped on the side of the highway. They were ready and eager for a violent confrontation.

Second, the Cherokee driver had no qualms about putting his loaded weapon to use on somebody he didn't know whose driving he didn't like. He did not use the gun as a deterrent but to do deadly harm.

Third, the Saturn driver is equally culpable. According to the news report, the police did not charge the man for taking shots at the Cherokee because "he was protecting his wife in self-defense." This technically may have been the case toward the end of the incident, but he was the one who put his wife in mortal danger in the first place. He retaliated against the Cherokee and he stopped on the side of the road to escalate the confrontation. He put his wife at risk, and he shouldn't be let off the hook for that.

The main point is that these morons couldn't be trusted to fulfill the deterrence theory as expounded by libertarian gun advocates. They had no problem shooting first and regretting things later. They are akin to those adults who leave loaded guns lying around the house, allowing young children to blow their brains out.

The more guns circulating freely in our community, the more violence and death. This, to me, is incontrovertible.

Now let's talk about neglectful parents. It's not even very warm yet this spring and we've already seen two local children drown in backyard pools. There is no excuse for these tragedies, and it doesn't bode well for the next several months as temperatures rise.

There is no excuse because it's common knowledge that several children drown in backyard pools every summer in Las Vegas. Each time it happens, the news is widely reported. Furthermore, local agencies have publicity campaigns to remind people of the dangers. Ordinances are in place requiring homeowners to install fences and safety devices to prevent drownings from occurring. It's impossible to imagine a parent claiming he did not know that a 1-year-old could die if he falls into a five-foot-deep pool.

And yet these tragedies continue to happen.

They are "accidents," of course. But at least 95 percent of them are the result of negligence -- parents and other supervising adults who care more about themselves than the well-being of the toddling victims. Child neglect is a criminal act. In each and every case, the distraught parents can recite a litany of things they could and should have done differently to prevent the tragedy.

As a community, I think we should discuss methods to make more backyard pools safer and to crack down harder on neglectful pool-owning parents. I get sick to my stomach every time I hear about another 1-year-old facedown at the bottom of a pool.

There also is an epidemic of vicious dogs in Las Vegas and across the country. Barely a day goes by that we don't read about some pit bull, Rottweiler or other large dog attacking or even killing a kid. We had a local case last week of two loose dogs that put a 4-year-old and a 5-year-old in the hospital. It's another case of criminal neglect. We aren't doing enough to protect the community from these deadly animals.

I love pets. I grew up with dogs, and our family has two cats that we love and pamper. But some of the dogs you see and hear about in Las Vegas and elsewhere are not the "best friends" that epitomize the species. They are bred and trained to be vicious, and their owners too often let them run loose or get loose, putting children, adults and other pets in jeopardy. Law enforcement agencies must deal with this problem more aggressively.

And just to settle this point: I don't blame the dogs. I blame their stupid owners.

Geoff Schumacher (gschumacher@reviewjournal.com) is Stephens Media's director of community publications. He is the author of "Sun, Sin & Suburbia: An Essential History of Modern Las Vegas" and "Howard Hughes: Power, Paranoia & Palace Intrigue." His column appears Sunday.