Paws for Consideration | Opinion | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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News » Opinion

Paws for Consideration

Common sense is missing from Legislature



Let’s begin with a couple of questions:

1. What non-native, invasive species is killing off animals in the Florida Everglades?

2. What non-native, invasive species is killing off 10 percent of all adult birds in the United States each year?

The answer to the first is Python molurus bivittatus or Burmese python or simply “Burms” if you are a snake catcher in Florida. The answer to No. 2 is Felis catus, more commonly known as the house cat.

Pythons were introduced into the Florida swamps in the 1970s, probably by people whose cute, wriggly pets grew into big-ass snakes. Since then, the thriving python population, estimated at 100,000, has eaten most of the rabbits, raccoons, opossums and other small mammals in the Everglades ecosystem.

You can trace the house cat’s lineage to Africa, but nowadays, there are more than 90 million of them in the United States. When allowed to range outdoors, Tabby and her tribe kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds annually, according to a study published in Nature Communications. Which situation is most dire? If you take the actions of the government as an indication, the python invasion is more urgent than the bird carnage. The federal government has banned the import of pythons, and Florida Fish & Wildlife officials are organizing snake-killing contests. Earlier this year, 1,500 people each paid a $25 entry fee to compete in the Python Challenge, a competition in which a $1,500 prize awaited the nimrod who put a bullet in the head of the largest “Burm.”

To be honest, I am less concerned about the pythons in Florida than the songbirds in Utah. Moreover, I would rather have a bird in a backyard tree than a cat on a couch. So, I can imagine a scenario in which the government takes up the birds’ cause and cracks down on free-ranging cats. It would be easy enough to do. A single law stipulating that cats must be kept indoors during daylight hours would suffice.

But in keeping with the spirit of the times, the law would be ignored by an emergent, militant cats-rights movement. The government, frustrated in its effort to protect billions of birds, would resort to Cat Challenges, whereby urban hunters, clad in camouflage and toting pellet guns, could win prize money by plugging scofflaw cats.

This is not as crazy as it sounds. Remember in 2011, when Utah lawmakers went so far as to propose a bill to make feral cats fair game for shooting? The concept of urban hunting nearly struck a responsive chord in Utahns who, like gun-activist rocker Ted Nugent, “live a well-armed life.” The problem is that such a scheme fails the common-sense test: No prudent person would countenance urban hunting. However, common sense is now in such short supply that schemes nearly as far-fetched as the Cat Challenge gain traction here in Salt Lake City, especially when the smog is thick and the Republicans are legislating.

I don’t find much common sense in Second Amendment rhetoric. A case in point is the justification for buying an assault rifle or two. You don’t own an AR-15 to shoot at deer, snakes or burglars; you own one to shoot at “jack-booted government thugs” should the need arise. So says Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association. According to LaPierre, even the most modest, common-sense reform of lax gun laws “gives jack-booted government thugs more power to take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy, and even injure or kill us.”

In other words, the NRA honcho worries that there may come a day when the federal government deploys the 10th Mountain Division to wreak havoc on innocent, gun-owning Utahns. Consider a scenario as improbable as the Cat Challenge, in which modern-day minutemen take up their AR-15s, muster near Mountain Dell and fight the 10th Mountain troops as they roll down Parley’s Canyon. Utterly absurd, I say.

Common sense is often MIA in Utah’s legislative sessions. House Bill 103 is a recent example. The bill prohibits teenagers under 18 from using a cell phone while driving a car. Given the 2006 University of Utah study showing that drivers using handheld or hands-free phones are as impaired as drunks, you would think the bill would have unanimous support. Not so. Its detractors call the law a slippery slope to an across-the-board cell-phone ban, imposed, presumably, by jack-booted government agents. Common sense dictates a different response, as in a logical construction like this: 1. All drunken drivers are dangerously impaired. 2. All drivers using cell phones are as dangerously impaired as drunks. 3. Drunken driving is illegal. 4. Therefore, driving while using a phone is illegal.

HB103’s chief failing is not so much that it is illogical; rather, it falls short because it identifies a dangerous, antisocial practice while giving tacit approval to everyone over 18 to engage in it. Where’s the common sense in that? One solution to the snake and cat problem is a gem of common sense.

First, you catch a few thousand “Burms” in Florida in March. Then, in April, you release them in Frostbelt suburbs, where they spend the summer eating cats. December’s cold weather eliminates the snakes, and come spring, you can begin the cycle anew.

I don’t want to end on a frivolous note, however. That common sense is increasingly uncommon is a crisis—and a needless one at that. Certainly as needless as the $85 billion sequester, which kicked in March 1. On Feb. 28, the U.S. Senate chaplain offered an invocation in which he prayed, “Rise up, O God, and save us from ourselves.” I took him to mean that God’s intervention was needed to save us from lawmakers who refuse to join President Obama’s “caucus of common sense.” To which I say, amen!