Everyone deserves protection from gun violence

The tragic Arizona happenings have raised the question of protection for our public officials. All it takes is one person with a gun to harm an awful lot of people. Naturally, we have been hearing about what led one troubled soul to do this but no matter what the motive, what the orientation of the individual we learned as we have again and again in the past, what one person can do. Representative Peter King of Long Island, one of the top Republicans in the House of Representatives is offering legislation to increase protection for our federal officials. He would make it a crime to carry a gun near a federal official.

To which I say, “yeah, but what about me, or all those innocents who happened to be standing next to the targeted Congresswoman?” I’m not a federal official. Not only do these people give themselves health care that they deny to the rest of us but now they’ll have protection that we don’t get. If we solve the problem for them why not include everyone? Why not, for example, forbid people to carry concealed weapons, period? The other point to be made here is that if we are to have a democracy, there has to be contact between the public and their officials, or, at least there has to seem to be such an opportunity. The more you hike security, the less you can have that contact.

In his initial public outing after becoming governor, Andrew Cuomo made two symbolic moves. They were both brilliant. George Pataki seemed so concerned about protection that he made the Capitol into a place that people were calling “Fort Pataki.” There were cement pilings all around the Capitol. There were armed guards and police personnel all over the place. In fact, there were so many state police around that I wondered aloud who was patrolling the highways.

There were cement pods all over the street and because they were there, citizen parking and access to the stately old Capitol were severely affected. It wasn’t as if we didn’t understand why we had all this security or even what it meant to us. No one complained. But, when Andrew Cuomo announced that the cement would be removed and that reporters would be allowed to hang around the governor’s office (another no-no under Pataki) we all understood just how liberating his moves were. We breathed out.

Of course, that didn’t mean that the notoriously press shy Cuomo, would come out into the hall and drink coffee and kid around with the press people but as a symbol it meant a lot. Nope, what it did mean is that Cuomo can think in symbols like access and that he can take some very tiny steps to reassure people that he believes in open government.

I’ve been talking with congressmen since the Arizona tragedy and asking them if they intend to change their ways and I’ve been asking them what they thought ought to be done to resolve what is clearly a dangerous issue. It is as if they are reading from a common script. Each has said that they would not change the way they do things and that democracy is at stake. Yes, yes, very nice but I would bet you that they look over their shoulders in a way they have never done. We all know, and have learned, that events like these bring out the copycats. We saw it after Columbine. There are those with a pathology that craves attention no matter how they get it. Interestingly, when Barack Obama traveled to that memorial service in Tucson he made the point that our politics have become too strident and we had to embrace a more civil discourse. Here in New York state the election of a Republican state Senate majority and a conservative governor seems to assure more civility. You can already feel it in the air. Roger Ailes, one of the guys who employs so many of the screamers on his Fox networks, has already publically acknowledged that he has told his people to tone it down. One can only wonder whether he hadn’t told them to tone it up before he told them to turn it down. I think we all know the answer to that question.

In the end, it’s only a matter of balance. Sometimes it’s symbolic, sometimes it’s real but despite all the efforts to put Humpty back together again, I fear we have entered into a new place.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 1/18/11

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One Comment on “Everyone deserves protection from gun violence”

  1. Harvey Says:

    Allan I agree with the partial theme of your essay regarding handguns. Everyone must be protected from the violence of wrongful violence from firearms. Certainly the individual displaying a firearm and threatening either an individual or a crowd as we all suffered in the recent incident involving a member of the United States Congress. What is missing when this emotional topic is brought up is that firearms possessed by individuals and law enforcement folks do have a place in our society. In fact an interesting element about firearms is that many individuals are able to obtain handgun permits not out of necessity but out of notoriety or “knowing the right inflential” person. Then there are many people that offer thge appropriate conditions of the need for self-protection and are unable to obtain a handgun. Allan, I challenge you to privately poll your employees and major contributors to WAMC and find out how many anti-handgun advocates actually own handguns, without any actual need for self-protection. It is like the too many environmentalists that drive huge inefficent SUV’s and demonstrate for the environment. You may see that I am aganist damaging hypocrisy. There must be more Michael Moores and Ralph Naders and less Al Gores.

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