God, she's cute: Your little Paula or Patti or Pammy. Sitting there on the swing set, rocking back and forth, back and forth, her brunette locks blowing in the breeze.
You watch her on the merry-go-round, spinning faster and faster. Watch her on the jungle gym, climbing higher and higher. Watch her and her little friend Annie or Jenny or Missy walking toward the trail into the woods. And you know you aren't the only one watching. You know he's watching, too. Sauntering smooth and sophisticated. Sitting casually on the park bench. Leaning cool and collected against the pavilion post. Oh, he pretends not to notice. Pretends to have no interest in anyone so young, so untouched. But all the while, he wants to make her notice him. Wants her to draw him in with every breath. Wants to fill her deep inside, to get her hooked on the very idea of him. He wants her to want him. So she'll never be able to quit him. Ever.
He was an adorable little guy. Really, he was.
Sure, when you first met him, his scent was a little raw. But if you took him in your hands, and held him just right, and let him get used to you (and you to him), well, he was kind of warm and cuddly. He made you feel tingly and
relaxed inside. Kinda like he was your best friend.
If he'd just stayed with his owner, just stayed locked up in the house or the yard, the carnage might never have happened. Not to the pretty lady passing by. Not to the little girl down the street.
But let loose, the little guy displayed all the terror of his breed: Unleashing his fangs, digging in with his claws, shredding body parts like so many Humpty Dumpties the surgeons couldn't put back together again.
In the end, he killed half the people who came into contact with him. Including your Paula, Patti or Pammy.
And still, they refused to lock him up.
If the first story were about a sexual predator-even one who'd served his time, even a "reformed" one with kids of his own-people in government would swiftly enact extreme measures to protect your Paula or Patti or Pammy from getting flashed or groped or worse.
"By God," the politicians would proclaim, "we won't let sexual offenders within 1,000 feet of a park, playground or other public place frequented by children."
And if the second story were about one dangerous pit bull who'd ripped up a nice lady's face or torn out a little girl's eye, elected officials would clamor to control the entire breed.
"Regulate them! Spay them! Neuter them! Euthanize them!" the officials would opine. "The little devils are a menace to society. We can't trust their owners to control them. So government to the rescue! Let's rid our community and our good citizens of this vicious, snarling hazard."
But the first story isn't about a sexual predator. And the second story isn't about a dog. And neither story is about the horrors of flashing, groping, biting, scratching or even rape.
These stories are about something worse (if worse is possible).
The stories are about a sure-fire trigger for the leading causes of death in the United States of America.
The stories are about a proven instigator of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, asthma and a host of other diseases.
The stories are about toxic, carcinogenic chemicals imposed on 126 million innocent bystanders by what the U.S. Surgeon General this week called "involuntary smoking."
And the very legislators who want to save your little Paula or Patti or Pammy from sexual predators in public places say of cigarettes, "Oh, it's perfectly OK to keep that predator in our parks, and on the sidewalks while the parade is passing by, and in the bar where Mommy works."
And the very legislators who want to deny pit bull owners their right to abuse little Fido or Spike or Pug and sic him on little Paula or Patti or Pammy say of cigarettes, "Oh, we know they're killers, but as long as they're legal killers, we can't deny their owners the right to do with them as they please."
And so we deny sexual offenders their right to walk through the park. And we deny dog owners their right to raise their animals. But by God, let's uphold the rights of those who wield the most dangerous weapons of all. Let them flaunt the Surgeon General's report. Let them hook the kids. Let them spread their diseases. Let them raise our health care costs. And little Paula, Patti and Pammy be damned.
Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.