Don't Regulate Guns, Do Regulate Bicycles

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass has had just about enough of my kind.

To him, I am part of a privileged, pampered, special interest group that continually demands accommodations from all levels of government, yet fights every attempt to regulate our activities.  He continually stereotypes all of us as reckless law breakers.  He demands registration, licensing, and stepped up monitoring of our behavior in the name of public safety.  He insists on holding us to the letter of the law and has zero tolerance for our infractions.

But Kass himself is the one engaging in reckless behavior in his attempts to sway public opinion against us.

He is attempting to instill a disproportionate amount of fear into the hearts of every person walking the streets of Chicago.  He perpetuates the unsubstantiated myth that anyone whose digits ply a handgrip cannot be expected to exhibit predictable behavior.  He doesn’t want you to lower your guard or forget for a single minute that the cold hard steel or expensive composite we brandish is every bit the lethal weapon he warned you about.

At any given moment and without a moment’s notice, an innocent bystander can be carelessly mowed down.  With no way to track the perpetrator or tie him to his killing machine, the victim will see no justice unless the government intervenes and intervenes now.

Bicycles don’t kill pedestrians – riders do.

Now that I have your attention, I will proceed to respond to the call for regulation of bicycling in the exact manner that gun rights activists respond to the public’s demand for sensible gun control.

A bike is an inanimate object, inherently docile without human interaction.  Just because I need my bike to reach the velocity necessary to seriously injure or kill another person, it doesn’t mean the feeling of its grip in my hand will incite me to use it recklessly.   Don’t infringe upon my bike’s right to exist unregulated.

Hold me, the rider, responsible for any crimes that I commit should I use my bike in an unlawful manner.  I can assure you that I will always operate my bike lawfully.

Don’t demand that I undergo training, testing, certification, and licensing as a condition of ownership for my bicycle.

The majority of bicyclists I know take bicycle safety seriously.  We were taught by a generation who revered the bicycle and respected its place in American history.  For many of us, learning to ride was a rite of passage.  We take pride in operating our bicycles properly and we don’t need some bureaucrat evaluating our skills.  Chances are, we know more about rider safety than any government worker ever could.

Trust us.  We don’t need to be licensed.

Those guys you see running red lights, blowing stop signs, weaving across the roadway, moving along too fast, or riding against traffic are not responsible bike owners.  They are criminals.  Throw the book at them when you catch them breaking the law.  Don’t let the actions of the few ruin it for the many – target your enforcement on the undesirable element that the bicycle unfortunately attracts.

Don’t try to regulate our distributors either.

Bicycle retailers are the salt of the earth – small business owners who create jobs and pay taxes.  Most don’t have the resources to fill out additional paperwork like warranty registration cards.  Don’t give them the added responsibility of recording serial numbers.  They are already overburdened with collecting and remitting sales tax.  Any additional requirements will force them to withhold adding the high-paying seasonal jobs that our fragile economy relies on.

Don’t put the burden of lawful bike ownership on the bike shop.

I can again assure you that no bike shop proprietor would ever sell a consumer more bike than he or she is capable of handling.  No owner that I have ever personally met would accept payment from an inexperienced novice for the identical equipment a professional racer utilizes, even if said consumer were in possession of an American Express black card with no spending limit.  The only proof you need of any shop owner’s commitment to safety is the inordinate amount of floor space he devotes to helmets, gloves, and tail lights.  Shop owners can be trusted to judge the emotional stability and overall suitability of every potential customer that walks through the door.

And don’t even think about regulating our annual bike swaps.

Swaps are the only free market exchange available to both serious bike collectors and hoarders of outdated bike parts.  The average guy selling a 1970’s ten-speed found in his mother’s basement has no way of knowing that the twenty-something wearing skinny jeans, a PBR t-shirt, and an ironic moustache intends on installing a fixed-gear hub, removing both brakes, and riding recklessly through rush hour traffic.  No responsible bike owner should be held accountable for allowing a perfectly legal bicycle to fall into the hands of a sociopath.

If the founding fathers would have meant for a bicycle to be regulated, their sincerest intentions would have been outlined in the Constitution in clear, concise, and unambiguous language in more than one run-on sentence.

Hopefully, after reading this, you will have recognized a hint of cynicism, a load of sarcasm, and a heaping helping of hyperbole.  Yet all I have really done is substituted bicycle and bicyclist for gun and gun owner.  If this entire argument seems absurd to you – congratulations – you get the point!

While there aren’t detailed statistics kept on bicycling accidents with pedestrians, it is estimated that fatalities number fewer than 5 pedestrians nationwide each year, possibly as few as 3 (almost all in NYC).  Approximately 1,200 pedestrians are injured by bicyclists.

Last year, 4,432 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles.  69,000 were injured.

According to the Brady Campaign’s website, in a single year, 31,593 people died and 66,769 people were injured by gun violence.  That’s 100,000 people directly affected annually, not including their respective families and friends.

We regulate motor vehicles and drivers for the safety of the general public.  There is growing pressure to regulate bicycles as their popularity grows from 1% to 2% of all trips taken.  Let me repeat that – less than 2% of all trips made on a daily basis are by bicycle, yet momentum is building to regulate 30-pound bicycles exactly the same way as 2-ton (and greater) motor vehicles.

Meanwhile, every single attempt to regulate guns and gun owners for the safety threat posed to 310 million Americans is shut down by the 4 million-member National Rifle Association without ever moving to public debate.  AAA and all the bicycling advocacy groups combined don’t exert that much power over transportation safety legislation, yet a single pro-gun lobby exerts defacto veto power over gun safety.

I am not trying to create a false equivalency or dismiss the debate about bicycles on our streets.  Trust me, this blog is the place for polite discussion of all bicycling-related issues.  But there is no safety hazard equivalent when it comes to cars and certainly not to guns.

With this post, I am trying to put things into perspective.  Advancing the discussion.  Hoping that there is political will to finally demand pragmatic solutions for a problem that has plagued our society for far too long.

Before you start accusing me of exploiting the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary for the attention of my own pet issue – bicycling advocacy – I want to assure you that I have been engaged in the gun control debate for at least the past five years.

My daughter Erin was a junior at Northern Illinois University on February 14, 2008 when Steven Kazmierczak kicked the door in at Cole Hall and went on a shooting rampage that killed 5 students and injured 21 more before taking his own life.

I was 370 miles from NIU finishing a business trip to Minneapolis when I started receiving phone calls from friends and family asking if I’d heard about the shooting.  For the next thirty minutes as I drove anxiously toward home, I encountered a steady busy signal as I repeatedly dialed her cell phone.  When a call came through from an Illinois number that I didn’t recognize, my heart sank as I pushed the send button to answer it.

It was one of my daughter’s friends.  She was calling to tell me that Erin was fine, but her phone wasn’t working and she knew that I’d be worried.  It was the best phone call any worried parent could ever receive.  26 NIU parents didn’t receive that call on Valentine’s Day 2008.

While my anxiety lasted but a half-hour, it was still an utterly helpless feeling that no parent should ever have to go through.  My heart went out to the parents of NIU’s victims.  It goes out to those at Sandy Hook and everywhere else this senseless gun violence occurs.

The NIU shooting was the first time that gun violence touched my life.  I took to the discussion threads and expressed my views about the ease in which Kazmierczak purchased weapons and the lack of any safeguard to prevent a mentally-ill individual from securing such an arsenal.  The gun rights crowd was out in full force using every one of the arguments I parodied above.

Debating these people became an exercise in futility and I eventually gave up.  This time, I won’t give up.  I am hoping that enough parents won’t give up until reasonable regulation can be achieved.

We can no longer let a fringe group like the NRA bribe and bully our politicians and be the only voice heard in this discussion.  Please consider supporting the efforts of The Brady Campaign and let’s continue to fight for our seat at the table.

Life is precious.  Let’s work together to prevent its senseless loss.


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Keep riding and be safe!

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