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9:59 PM Tue, Dec. 11th

Editorial Column: It's time to change our change

The Treasury Department recently released a voluminous study of various alternative metal combinations that could be used to make our nation's coins more cheaply.

The conclusion? No surprises there: "More study is needed."

No, it's not. I've got a solution, and it won't take months of study to work it up: Get rid of the penny and the nickel.

Those coins are useless and costly. Pennies cost more than two cents each to make and distribute, and nickels cost 11 cents. The metals used to make them - copper and, in the nickel's case, nickel - are getting more expensive.

There are 6 billion pennies made a year, according to the director of the U.S. Mint. Nickels are produced in the hundreds of millions. All so they can end up in change jars and Coinstar machines - heck, I've got a Crown Royal bag partly filled with unused small change in my room, and our newsroom has a coffee can half-filled with pennies that might, one day, pay for some newsroom beer. (Dear Human Resources: Not IN the newsroom, of course. Please don't write us up.)

The savings would be modest by federal spending standards - $200 million or so, according to information I've been able to find. And there are legitimate concerns about price rounding if these denominations are eliminated. Still, it would be worth it to get the government out of the business of producing change that nobody uses.


Here's something that's not worth doing: Arming teachers.

I can't believe anyone thinks this is a good idea. Even one school shooting is too many, of course, but while these events get a lot of attention, they are rare. Given everything that could go wrong by bringing guns into the classroom, it's inconceivable that this is a legitimate solution.

First of all, most of the teachers I've known are not the take-down-a-gunman type, no matter how much they're trained.

Exceptions are out there, of course. I'm thinking of my third-grade teachers, who were almost definitely the inspiration for Marge Simpson's sour-brained, chain-smoking sisters. I can easily see them charging down the hallway, spraying Dirty Harry .44 Magnums or maybe even .50-caliber rounds from a Desert Eagle, and they probably wouldn't have cared if a student or two got caught in the crossfire.

Most teachers would, though, and such casualties would certainly happen. Furthermore, in an instance where teachers were taking on a shooter, when police showed up, could they separate friend from foe? Or would they take out "multiple shooters," only to learn later that they shot allies?

More realistically, guns in a classroom could be grabbed by a student. Mayhem guaranteed. There are even cases where teachers have roughed up students who are discipline problems - why provide the option of pulling a gun on a room full of teenagers?

The idea of using armed police officers is slightly less insane than arming teachers, but all the problems with introducing guns into schools still apply. Plus, there are real-life examples where on-site, armed security did not stop a massacre.

We'll be hearing a lot of proposals on gun control in the aftermath of what happened in Connecticut, chief among them (most likely) a reinstatement of the assault-style weapons ban, a prohibition on high-capacity magazines and shutting down the so-called "gun show loophole." That last one is a good idea; the other two only provide the illusion of action, especially given how many of those products are already in general circulation.

The real challenge is stopping mentally ill people who want to stockpile an arsenal, pick a target and then wantonly kill people who are simply going about their business. If the National Rifle Association and related interests want to avoid the lashing that's falling on them, they'll use their money, connections and brain trusts to figure out how to meet that need.