A Little Good News on a Grim Anniversary

On the anniversary of the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and the day after another shooting at Arapahoe High School in suburban Denver (in a school district which borders the district of Columbine High School, famous for another school shooting massacre in 1999), which left one student in critical condition, the peddlers of guns rights faux-outrage seem to have met a fairly decisive pushback in a small town in Rhode Island.

The story is this: Exeter, Rhode Island, population 6,425 in the 2010 census, is run by a 5-member town council. The town is so small it has no police department. So the question came up, how was the town to process application for concealed-carry permits. Before 2011, all applications in the state were made to the state Attorney-General’s office. That year, however, the state changed its licensing rules and provided that Town’s “shall” issue such licenses to qualified applicants, while at the same time providing that the Attorney General’s office “may” also issue such licenses. The town council determined that it was not capable of determining qualifications, not having a police department or even a paid sheriff. So it petitioned the legislature to allow it to refer all such applicants to the state’s Attorney-General’s office. It made a similar request to the Attorney-General’s office itself. Both applications were denied.

That would ordinarily be the end of a small town municipal government’s attempt to deal with what the right-wing in this country would call an “unfunded mandate” if the issue were anything other than dealing with guns. To the right-wing, there are few things worse than “unfunded mandates.” African-American Presidents and any government action with respect to guns (other than providing them at reduced rates at Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell gun shows, perhaps) are obvious exceptions to that observation.

So the wing nuts of the town ginned up the tried-and-true weapon of reactionaries: the faux outrage. This they coupled with the gun industry’s newest weapon against anyone who would shackle our freedoms by putting the slightest burden on our fundamental right to by military weapons, conceal them and bring them into public places, regardless of our training or emotional maturity or mental stability: the recall petition. When James Madison drafted the Second Amendment, you see, he was changing the New Hampshire motto slightly: “Live Free and Die.”

The gun industry proudly took the scalps this year of three state legislators in Colorado for having the temerity to reduce the freedom of Colorado citizens by passing gun laws in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook. Those legislators should have known better, the industry had warned. After all, as we all know: guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Of course people who kill people can kill considerably more with modern guns. But that misses the point. Either we are a free people or we are not.

The concept of freedom pushed by the gun industry really doesn’t get examined by their supporters. All we hear is that the Soviets gathered up the people’s guns. And something about the Nazis. There isn’t much discussion about how free the Russians were under the Tsar, but none is needed. The public discourse among reactionaries mainly involves shouting declamations on radio, on TV and at Tea Party rallies. Had James Madison not enshrined our right to conceal Glock “Safe Action” Pistols or to bring assault rifles to presidential speaking events, we would undoubtedly be under the boots of Stalinist apparatchiks, or perhaps in a post-communist country with an underperforming economy, which is possibly a better description of Russia today. After all, if James Garfield had been packing that morning in 1881, he might still be alive today. And those strikers at the Carnegie Steel Company in Homestead, Pa: what right-winger wouldn’t support the union-organizers’ rights to use guns against the Pinkerton Detectives hired by Henry Clay Frick to bust the union? And while I haven’t heard this theory officially, perhaps the right believes that Trayvon Martin would not have been murdered had he exercised his right to carry a weapon and decided to stand his ground. (That theory must be the explanation because the right believes Martin’s killing did not involve racial animus or homicide. It therefore must have been the result of the victim not availing himself of the full panoply of American freedoms.)

So the gun-loving citizens of Exeter, Rhode Island, petitioned among themselves for the recall of the four Democratic council members who voted in favor of the two petitions. The lone dissenter was not on the ballot. And as fate would have it, the vote landed on the one year anniversary of the killing, by rapid-fire rifle, of 20 school children and 6 staff members in another small New England town. What better day? After all, the lessons the gun industry drew from that killing field was that there was an insufficient number of guns in schools. Teachers should be armed. And if they were too unwilling to be free, then volunteers should be brought to schools with their own weapons. Maybe if Adam Lanza had the chance to avail himself of such an opportunity, things would have turned out differently. You can only bottle up someone’s chances of exercising his god-given freedoms for so long.

So as the gun industry and their friends looked on, a town in Rhode Island went to vote. Rhode Island is a hopeful place for the gun industry. Neighboring Connecticut was long a base for the industry, being the birthplace of, among others, Colt Manufacturing Company. But Connecticut, also the location of the Sandy Hook massacre, restricted American freedoms in the wake of the child-killings by more securely regulating gun ownership in that state. The gun industry therefore loudly proclaimed that such “hostility” by a state government made them feel unwelcome and noisily suggested they might move to a more freedom loving state, such as Rhode Island.

Well, the votes were tallied last night. The vote took place on day auspicious for highly motivated single-issue ginned up fanatics, because New England was being belted with a large snow storm. So those undaunted guardians of the sole American freedom that they care about must have experienced the thrill of those who know they are right—seeing providential intervention on their behalf.

As it turned out, however, the recall failed. Each of the four council members received about 63% of the vote (which had been much higher than anticipated for a special election in a snow storm). A near 2-to-1 defeat is considered a thorough-going pommelling in American politics. Is this a straw in the wind that shows that people are becoming fed-up with the ginned-up false outrage and ridiculous hyperventilating of the neo-reactionaries of our time?

Probably not. The gun lobbies and the internet commentators will explain this away without  much difficulty: Rhode Island is reliably Democratic. The snow kept the real Americans away, because they were forced stay to defend their homesteads from the hordes of rioters they expected. Outside socialist groups used unfair arguments. And anyway, this really wasn’t about gun rights; it was solely about whether a small town should have to undertake the administrative burden of processing certain kinds of applications.

But nonetheless on the week that even John Boehner offered a mild pushback to national rightwing money-generating tax exempts, a small New England town, using the original version of American self-government, town meetings, brushed off another attempt to hijack American governments at all levels. That has to be considered a sweeter bell tone than the 26 tolls heard earlier that day across New England for the children and their teachers who died a year before in the senseless exercise of a perceived American “right.”

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