Published 12:00 am Friday, June 15, 2007

Laurel to the National Rifle Association for working with members of Congress to close loopholes in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, NICS. The NRA’s stance on any change to gun law in recent years has been a lot like former NRA president Charlton Heston’s vow about giving up his gun ó someone would have to “pry it out of my cold, dead hands.” With the NRA wielding tremendous power at the ballot box, gun laws became virtually untouchable. What changed? A mentally ill young man killed 32 fellow students at Virginia Tech, that’s what. He did so with semi automatic weapons he’d just bought, even though a judge had ordered him to get mental help. Under federal law, that court order should have been reported through NICS and disqualified him from buying a gun. But Virginia requires that a person be committed before being disqualified from buying a gun. So the gunman’s name was not in the national system ó a loophole the NRA is now willing to see closed in a proposed bill. Some attribute the NRA’s new openness to shifting political winds as well. With Democrats now in power, the NRA needs to show it is reasonable and wants the current laws to work correctly. Either way, it’s good to see the National Rifle Association agreeing to tighten up this importanty law.
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Dart to declines in the populations of 20 common American birds whose numbers have dropped by half in the past four decades, according to the National Audubon Society. They include once prevalent species such as the northern bobwhite, eastern meadowlark, evening grosbeak and black-throated sparrow. While loss of habitat and environmental degradation are largely to blame, some birds are being crowded out by invasive species that have proved more adaptable to suburbia. Meanwhile, as birds decline, bird watchers increase. The number of bird watchers in the United States has more than doubled, to 46 million, in the past two decades, according to the U.S. Wildlife Service. Unfortunately, it looks like they’ll find fewer varieties to enjoy in their own backyards.
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Laurel and a raised eyebrow to Smithfield Foods’ recent attempts to clean up the image of its Bladen facility, the largest pork-processing plant in the nation. Two things have shrunk Smithfield’s labor pool ó being cited as an example of severe workplace abuses by the international group Human Rights Watch two years ago, and recent crackdowns on illegal immigration. About half of its workforce is Latino. Now the plant that processes as many as 25,000 hogs a day needs to look like a desirable place to work, so Smithfield is running a series of commercials in the eastern part of the state emphasizing quality food and good jobs. In one, workers take turns praising the company’s benefits ó family health coverage for $100 a month ó and average wages of $12.32 an hour. Company officials say the commercials are an attempt to improve its image for its employees’ sake, but recruiting future employees had to enter their minds. The labor market is tightening up in more ways than one.

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