Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Friday 15 February 2008

Different views on gun control in the US - and far above it

A quirky one this. Through a one-line link in Andrew Sullivan's blog I came across this story which strikes me as rather bizarre, even if very understandable.

It seems that Russian spacecraft, including the Soyuz module attached to the International Space Station, are equipped with emergency kits which include guns; US astronauts who fly in Russian craft are trained in their use, although none are carried aboard US spacecraft. Former NASA engineer Jim Oberg thinks guns have no place in space and that they would be better left on Earth.

Jim Oberg's views on this matter seem to me to be uncontroversial and quite sensible. However, juxtapose this with the fact that he comes from a country in which the 2nd Amendment to its Constitution states: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. - and is moreover a country in which, within the past week, there have been four shoot-outs in educational establishments in widely different areas. Bizarrely enough I visited the most recent venue for this presumably extra-curricular activity at Northern Illinois State University in De Kalb, Illinois, many years ago whilst spending a few days with a former school friend who was at the time lecturing there; I recall it as being a very sedate mid-western town set in a rolling countryside of grain fields.

There are two ways of looking at this story. Either Jim Oberg is using his knowledge of what can happen when guns happen to be to hand when someone decides, for whatever reason (or if mentally unhinged, unreason), to shoot him-/herself or others dead and prefers to keep such a possibility out of reach of astronauts who, however well trained and disciplined they are, are also human beings subject to the same range of emotions as the rest of us - as was graphically displayed a couple of years ago by Lisa Nowak. The other more cynical interpretation of his comments is that he is being somewhat hypocritical, although on this occasion I don't think that is the right one - I am sure he said what he did out of a fear that what is so commonplace in the US might one day be replicated in space.

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