Let's talk about guns.
Yes, I know it's going to get people all riled up on both sides of the gun-control argument -- but this is something that needs to be addressed.
The trouble in the United States -- the only civilized country on the planet where gun deaths are a serious problem -- is that almost everyone approaches the issue with a locked-in attitude.
Hardly a soul is willing to discuss guns with an open mind.
OK, let's say there's a shooting in Merced.
That's not much of a stretch, by the way, since Merced County recorded more handgun deaths in 2009 than several European countries.
Back to our hypothetical shooting ...
In this scenario, a few gang members wind up exchanging shots on a Saturday night, and an innocent bystander -- say, someone walking out of the Merced Mall -- dies from a stray bullet.
As news of the tragedy spreads around town, anti-gun activists begin repeating their long-standing argument that deadly weapons must be removed from the streets.
"In a gun-free society," they say, "this never could have happened."
Meanwhile, gun owners and Second Amendment defenders take exactly the opposite position.
"The problem isn't guns," they claim, "it's the terrible law enforcement structure that allowed those gang members to be walking around free in the first place."
And, of course, they're bound to add something like this: "I've got three kids, and with these punks running around, I'm damn sure going to protect myself."
OK, before we go any further, since I don't want to be misquoted by bloggers or in letters to the editor -- let me tell you exactly how I feel about guns.
Would I rather live in a country completely free of handguns wielded by private citizens?
I've spent three of the past six years in Great Britain, and it's stunning how much safer you feel on the streets.
Now having said that, I know that the United States -- a nation built on frontier spirit and individual rights -- always will have guns.
I have plenty of friends who are hunters, and I see the challenge and thrill of it -- along with the environmental truth that some animal species need to be thinned out to keep a proper balance in nature.
So where's the middle ground, then?
What can I suggest for a country where guns always will be part of daily life?
You'll probably yawn at this notion, but far tougher and rigorously enforced laws on gun ownership would be a great start.
Groups like the National Rifle Association -- which spends millions lobbying against all gun restrictions -- are not doing us any favors.
And that includes you gun owners.
Money from the NRA and other parties motivated by profit have made gun laws here so soft that a terrorist can get an AK-47 at a gun show any weekend of the year.
If Congress put some real teeth into laws concerning the sale, ownership and registration of firearms -- with jail time for offenders -- then honest civilians who want to hunt, or keep weapons for protection, shouldn't be bothered.
But as we saw once again with the gun rights march in Washington on April 19 -- the anniversary of both the Waco siege and the Oklahoma City bombing -- the ultra-right in America continues to preach that the government is trying to take your guns so it can ...
Look, as long as there are unregulated gun shows and other legal ways to purchase guns while skirting the namby-pamby regulations in place, we'll have too many weapons on the street.
And that innocent bystander is going to get shot.
Tougher gun laws surely would represent a sensible compromise, and it's a shame neither side wants to believe that.
Steve Cameron is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.