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Newsletter: Opinion: It’s Drone Week at the L.A. Times

A drone hovers in Utah

A drone is demonstrated in Brigham City, Utah, on Feb. 13, 2014.

(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

Good morning. I'm Paul Thornton, The Times' letters editor, and it is Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015. This might be the only thing you read this week that isn't about "Star Wars."

Imagine this: You're in the late 1990s — your investment portfolio fattened by can't-lose dot-com stock and George W. Bush is still safely ensconced in Texas — and someone from 2015 tells you about a Times editorial series called "Rise of the Drones." You envision a dystopia controlled by soulless robots and where Skynet is on the verge of self-awareness.

In fact, drones have been removed from the almost-exclusive province of geeks and military weaponry and hit the general market in a big, mostly benign but complicated way when it comes to regulating them. We're wrapping up drone week at The Times' opinion section, an examination by the editorial board and editorial writer Mariel Garza of the promise and popularity of what many people consider to be a ubiquitous, unregulated nuisance.

The gist of the series: Drones are everywhere, they’re here to stay and they need to be regulated — but not to the point that they’re grounded completely. The Times writes in its editorial introducing the series:

The demand for recreational drones grew shockingly fast this year, catching much of the country unaware — and unprepared. Once the price for a camera-equipped quadcopter dropped below $100, the aerial robots started flying off the shelves. Seemingly overnight, every major retailer had a drone model for sale. Even Macy's.

The allure of recreational drones (formally known as unmanned aircraft systems) is that they use sophisticated technology that requires little or no training to operate. Not surprisingly, as sales climbed, so did the reports of mishaps and disruption. Out-of-control personal drones crashed into things and people — including a baby girl in a stroller who was hit by a 6-pound drone in September while her mother pushed her along a Pasadena street. In the U.S., amateur operators blundered into restricted airspace with terrifying regularity, coming too close to passenger airplanes and disrupting aerial firefighting operations. In October, a drone hit power lines in West Hollywood, knocking out power to hundreds of people.

Local, state and federal authorities have responded with regulations aimed at keeping drones from being a dangerous nuisance. It's good they are now paying attention. About 400,000 drones are expected to be sold in the U.S. this holiday season, more than half of all the drones that will be sold all year. Next year is expected to be an even bigger one for recreational drone sales.

That's reason enough for regulation, but unmanned aircraft technology is not a fad that will cool off once every household has a personal drone parked in the garage.

» Click here to read more.

We've got more on drones. A lot more. An editorial welcomes the new federal registration system for unmanned aircraft. Mariel Garza brings you up to speed on how to speak drone like a pro and writes of getting her hands on the controls of a Sky Viper and becoming a "danger to society." Garza also reports that about 400,000 drones will be sold during the 2015 holiday season (so if you don't know anyone with a drone now, you probably will by early 2016). A photo gallery shows what camera-equipped drones in the hands of trained professionals can accomplish. You're thinking: This is so much drone-related content that there ought to be a single page containing all of it. There is — right here.

The gun debate: A) It's unproductive. In an Op-Ed article, Ken White decries what he calls "culture-bundling," where people "use one political issue as shorthand for a big group of cultural and social values." As long as gun-control advocates also attack conservative and religious values and 2nd Amendment supporters target liberal and urban values, those on both sides of the debate will continue to talk over each other. L.A. Times

B) It focuses too much on "assault" rifles. The term "assault rifle" is imprecise and conveys something else besides what these weapons really are: mostly regular rifles that look really scary, writes Adam Winkler. Plus, there's no evidence that the federal assault weapons ban reduced crime. There are better approaches to gun control, Winkler says, that could be enacted if it weren't for the left's obsession with assault weapons. L.A. Times

C) It's like the left's campaign against tobacco, only it isn't working. That's because, writes Jonah Goldberg, big-city Democrats who think of guns as useful only for criminals can't imagine why the millions of Americans who own them would want one: "To urban liberals, guns are like cigarettes — products that when used as intended only hurt or kill people. The real reason the war on guns has been such an abysmal failure is that they aren't alike after all. You can't hunt or, more importantly, defend yourself or your family with a cigarette." L.A. Times

Meet Ted Cruz, Donald Trump's main rival. Doyle McManus gets readers up to speed on the Texas senator's proposed tax overhaul: "Cruz's tax plan does have some virtues, but it doesn't even try to limit the federal deficit in the short run. Instead, it relies on the supply-side theories of economist Arthur Laffer, trusting that more income in the hands of the wealthy will ignite an economic boom. And the senator's sales pitch is downright slippery. That's not a desirable quality in a politician. In the case of Ted Cruz, it's a trait that bears watching. L.A. Times

"I'm 59. I have terminal cancer. And I'm dying in a yearish." Melinda Welch writes movingly of her diagnosis and the tearful goodbyes, quests for stunning sunrises and the solidarity she feels with her fellow cancer patients in her final year: "I understand that my infinitesimally tiny piece in all this is coming to a close. Letting go will be difficult, but death has its own clock. So I will take solace in the idea that, once gone, I may come to occupy a small space in the hearts of the people who loved me most. And perhaps from there, I will be a source of a few simple reminders: Time is limited. Life is miraculous. And we are beautiful." L.A. Times

How to talk to your kids about ... terrorism at school? Kerry Cavanaugh says the Los Angeles Unified School District's closure of every one of its campuses on Tuesday in response to an emailed hoax threat put her in the awkward position of having to explain what a "terror day" was to her unexpectedly homebound children. The Times' editorial board says of the drastic closure of several hundred campuses, "This is what terrorism does." New York Police Chief William Bratton says L.A. overreacted to the threat; readers respond, "Who asked him?"

Write me: Paul.Thornton@latimes.com.


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