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The July Fourth fireworks over the Washington Monument are nothing compared with the sounds of battle accompanying an uncommon war raging on Capitol Hill, gun-rights Web sites and radio talk shows.
Under fire is the National Rifle Association’s embrace in June of what some are calling the most important gun-control measure passed in the House in years.
The NRA collaborated with its usual arch-nemesis, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, to craft a bill that would close a loophole in the 1993 Brady law that let Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, purchase weapons even though he had earlier been deemed mentally ill.
While the NRA says its participation made the measure less draconian and even gained back some ground lost in earlier gun-control battles, the Gun Owners of America and even a loud chorus of NRA backers are blasting the group for its heresy.
The angry critics are vowing to bombard the bill, along with its supporters, in the Senate.
If you spend the holiday hunting or fishing, you may notice your special spot is less crowded than it has been in past years.
Preliminary data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that fewer of us are doing either these days. In 1996, more than 35 million active anglers tried their luck in the water, while last year that number dropped to 30 million, according to a national survey the service conducts every five years. Hunters showed a similar drop: from 14 million in 1996 to 12.5 million last year.
Among the reasons cited for the declines: higher gas prices, bad weather, continuing sprawl and the aging of baby boomers.
However, those factors aren’t keeping us from communing with nature in greater numbers. The survey showed that 71 million of us last year engaged in bird watching, hiking, photography or other wildlife-related recreation, compared with 63 million in 1996.
For those inclined toward more sedentary pursuits, check out the “Big Read.” From September through December, at least 117 U.S. communities will take part in a nationwide reading fest sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Akin to Oprah Winfrey’s “book club,” participating communities will choose one of 12 American classics to read, discuss and otherwise revel in as a group. Among the choices: “Fahrenheit 451,” by Ray Bradbury; “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” by Zora Neale Hurston; and “The Maltese Falcon,” by Dashiell Hammett.
Through July 31, cities and towns can sign up for grants of as much as $20,000 to help them promote and stage the events. For details, see www.neabigread.org.
An international Big Read is also in the works. It will feature U.S. communities reading “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” by Leo Tolstoy, and Russian ones poring over “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee.
Who says Congress shies away from difficult and substantive matters of major import to our nation?
Why, look at the bold action taken in recent days by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. In order to “recognize addiction as a disease at the National Institutes of Health,” the panel first voted to change the name of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse to the “National Institute on Diseases of Addiction.” (Bonus points for keeping the outfit’s acronym — NIDA — the same.)
Then, lawmakers renamed the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, dubbing it the “National Institute on Alcohol Disorders and Health.”
One might wonder whether the money to now be spent on changing all the signs and letterhead stationery, etc., would be better put toward research or treatment.
America’s nursing shortage continues to grow. Even though 20 percent of all the world’s registered nurses are in the United States, there still are vacancy rates of as much as 20 percent in many hospitals and nursing homes. By 2020 — as more baby boomers move into their infirm years — the projected RN shortage could reach 800,000.
The problem isn’t a deficit of Americans aspiring to be nurses. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing found that nearly 40,000 qualified candidates were turned away from undergraduate programs last year because there were not enough faculty members, classroom space and other resources available to accommodate them.
The Air Force just put out the word that airmen anxious to get the service’s new camouflage uniform shouldn’t buy knockoffs now showing up on the Web. The Air Force says the counterfeit clothes likely don’t meet strict specifications about everything from proper stitching to pocket placement, and may prove deadly if the material is detectable by night-vision equipment.
The new “Airman Battle Uniforms” are being issued now to those now deployed or scheduled to be, and will be available to all in October.
(Contact Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanl(at)shns.com. SHNS correspondent Lee Bowman contributed to this column.)