Death by Paranoia: Everyday Life in the State of Georgia
The 9-year old mentioned above, on vacation from New York, is caught on video by her parents seconds before she accidently shot her instructor in the head.
"We have met the enemy and he is us." — Pogo, by Walt Kelly, 1970.
Georgia’s new gun law goes into effect July 1, allowing firearms in bars, nightclubs and government buildings without security checkpoints. Georgia churches can permit parishioners to come armed to services.
Euphemistically called the “Safe Carry Protection Act,” the new law lifts restrictions on individuals convicted of certain misdemeanors from obtaining a gun permit. Gun dealers in Georgia are no longer required to keep sales records. A stand-your-ground law will expand and police will not have the right to ask armed citizens whether they have a license.
For those shocked by the massacre of Connecticut school children in 2012, or uncountable shootings in American offices, movie theaters, streets and homes, Georgia’s decision to invite more guns into more places with fewer restrictions might seem counter-intuitive or even insane. But part of the point of this legislation seems to be to give the finger to rational “liberal” expectations.
Radically relaxed gun controls may only be an interim step. Last year the town of Nelson, Georgia passed an ordinance requiring mandatory gun ownership for its citizens. In Nelson, you do not have the right not to bear arms, a proscription of freedom that stands the Second Amendment on its head.
We can already predict certain outcomes of Georgia’s legislation. More children will shoot themselves or others with firearms they happen upon in their homes. Rick Santorum says, “A well-armed family is a safe family.” Of course, the opposite is true. More arguments will turn fatal as shouting matches and fist fights escalate into impulsive, opportunistic gun homicides before folks have a chance to cool off and stand back, simply because the guns are at hand.
One proponent of the new Georgia law, Jerry Henry of GeorgiaCarry.Org, claims it will “restore our right to carry and be allowed to protect ourselves anywhere we go. Bad guys are all over the place, in case you haven’t been reading the paper or watching TV. If you disarm me to where I can’t protect myself or defend myself, all you’re doing is empowering the bad guys.”
The person who shot and killed a man in a Florida movie theater for texting on his cell phone was a retired police officer. Good guy or bad guy? That’s a false distinction. Was the new bride who shot and killed her niece in an argument (over who should be the designated driver) a good person until possessed by demon rum? Do we let the courts decide? That’s a little late for the victim.
“And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” — Barack Obama, 2008.
Bad guys are in the news. Television news especially shows us a mad, dangerous world. As do cop shows and violent movies. But who are the bad guys? Foreigners? Most of our murderers are homegrown. What about Muslims? Non-Muslim killers outnumber them overwhelmingly in the USA. Racial minorities? Political terrorists? The United States kills many civilians with drones in various countries. Targeting bad guys while murdering good guys, women and children.
In our modern, militarized society we live with obscene euphemisms — such as “collateral damage” and “friendly fire” — to obscure the horror and death our foreign policy inflicts on human beings around the world. We have officially chosen “enhanced interrogation” — a.k.a. torture — as acceptable national policy. Violence begets violence. Capital punishment is state murder, enhancing the climate of violence. The murder rate is highest in states, like Georgia, that execute people.
We respect the sovereignty of no nation other than our own. We plant our military bases wherever we want and invade countries as we will. Millions around the world fear our trigger-happy ways. To them, we are the bad guys.
Road rage, hair-trigger arguments over sporting events or parking spaces, politics or religion, drunk or sober . . . these situations may spark the violent anger that resides just under the skin of many Americans who are waiting an excuse, however trivial, to ignite. Easy access to firearms converts this incipient anger into a potentially fatal incident. We are afraid of the bad guys in one another. We are afraid of ourselves.
We know who we are. Our people took the lands they wanted by force. That is our heritage. We killed or enslaved anyone of any race who opposed us. We tamed the American frontier with a rifle in one hand and a Bible in the other. The Bible rationalized our superiority over others of different hues and views. The rifle has enforced it.
We are the inheritors of that Manifest Destiny, turning our kill-or-be-killed values on one another as our patrimony slips away and those values are exported around the world. In our fear and our anger we lash out at one another, cursing immigrants, infidels, minorities, the government or those of different political persuasions. Thus we forfeit our moral leadership in the community of nations. We are dinosaurs by choice, refusing evolution not only for our ancestors but for ourselves. Indeed, there’s nothing like bullets for cutting through complexity — even as we fire at one another.
Religious beliefs are often enlisted to reaffirm our differences, instead of our common humanity.
We have lost our way and we know it.
Does it take a gun to restore our sense of potency? We have proven over and over again in many ways that we cannot surmount our differences with violence. Sadly, religious beliefs are often enlisted to reaffirm our differences, instead of our common humanity.
Left alone long enough, children of different races, nationalities and even languages tend to find ways to play together. Instead of digging deeper into our entrenched beliefs, arming ourselves for battle to the death, we might put down our weapons and open ourselves, like children. As we create our own sense of hell, so can we create — or reclaim — our own vision of a universe in harmony.
Change is not as easy as remaining set in our ways. You have to want it.
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JAMES MCENTEER is the author of several books, including Shooting the Truth: the Rise of American Documentaries (Praeger). He lives in Quito, Ecuador, almost directly on the equator at about ten thousand feet. "Better to worship the sun," he reports. Except for some nearby snow-covered volcanoes, it's all downhill from where he lives — east to the Amazon, west to the Pacific Coast. He's hoping Julian Assange might soon be able to move into the neighborhood. The rents are bound to rise.