Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Because We Let Them

My memory was jogged when two residents of the Carolinas were charged with trafficking firearms last month in New York City’s biggest illegal gun bust.  One of the men lives in a town less than an hour southwest of where I live in North Carolina,

Soon after being recruited to Durham in 1989, I was called for jury duty in Federal Court in Greensboro, about an hour’s drive west.  The charge was illegal firearm trafficking, and the defendant may have had ties to the same town, if memory serves me.

My memory is that the defendant’s attorneys in the trial, where I was serving two decades ago, argued that the purpose for crates of grenade launchers kept in his mother’s basement were merely collector’s items.

Fortunately, a plea bargain was reached before the trial actually began.

When voters turned control of North Carolina lawmaking over to Republicans in 2010, its leaders quickly used some unorthodox ways to propose and pass a constitutional amendment designed to ban same-sex marriages, a measure that overwhelmingly failed in diverse and accepting cities such as Durham, where I live.

Through the lens of many subsequent actions in the General Assembly such as those designed to overturn prohibitions on billboards and guidelines to protect neighborhoods and sense of place,  thin buffers along streams, strip local governance of airports etc. their actions seem quite anti-city.

In the 1970s, more than 50% of North Carolinians lived in rural areas. Today only about a third do.  Two-thirds live in urban areas and 43% live in the ten most populous counties alone.  It seems Republican strategists are adopting anti-urban policies using a coalition around issues like tolerance.

One way to describe the divide by workforce is a hierarchy defined last year by Dr. Richard Florida.  Rural means more machinists and makers while urban means more executives, scientists and engineers.

But Journalist Emily Badger wrote this month for The Atlantic Cities that across the nation, “The rural-urban divide is increasingly a point of political conflict.”  Badger had previously written about why cities are growing more democratic.

How ironic if the Republicans exploiting this divide actually have the last word on the “class warfare” they decry.  I missed it but apparently they put it in their party platform during their national convention in Tampa.

Before federal emergency crews helped rescue it from devastating flash floods earlier this month, officials in the northern Colorado’s Weld County placed a Tea Party-backed resolution on the ballot for this fall to secede and form a new state.

South of Denver, in the hours before floods devastated El Paso County and Colorado Springs, rural voter turnout narrowly recalled the Colorado Senate leader and former law enforcement officer who had introduced successful gun control legislation.

If not humbled by the storm, those obsessed with gun-rights at all costs may be sobered to know that a recent analysis of hospital costs associated with injuries due to firearms shows that 52% falls on the general public, most of which is then passed on as a hidden tax on premiums those who are insured.

The study also finds that regionally, a higher rate of household gun ownership correlates with a higher rate of visits to hospital emergency rooms, costs that should be borne by gun enthusiasts and manufacturers, not unsuspecting tax payers.

From personal experience, many gun-rights hardliners tell themselves a story that gun violence is all about black people and that accidents involving children 12 years old and younger (which happens at a rate of one every two days) are also somehow a reflection of socio-economic issues.

I assume they mean poor people.

Those I know who feel strongly about gun control are distracted by the absurd, such as large magazines for rifles, when the real problem has always been handguns, especially those sold without background checks.

There needs to be a balance, but in my opinion, gun rights are way out of balance with public health concerns.

Stigmatization around issues such as this may be what inspired a Montana Kleagle of the United Klans of America and former hotelier to recently call for five Pacific Northwest states including, I assume, my native state of Idaho, to be set aside exclusively for white people.

Of course, I can only assume he means only non-Hispanic white people.

Remember, the UKA has its roots in the resurgence of KKK activity in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation decision.  KKK membership quickly grew to 50,000 when I was a teenager in the early 1960s.

Racism today is far more subtle, not just because racists of every color are more subtle, but because so many use claims to justify a bad attitude or a sense of entitlement, possibly including being anti-city

More persuasive to me that it is still prevalent is in a study published last year.  It reveals a bias among those in the medical field that Blacks and Hispanics feel less pain and therefore require less pain medication.

Representative democracy doesn’t seem very representative these days, when a small faction of the country controls nearly half or more of the representatives.  But I agree with Badger that re-segregation isn’t the answer nor is dividing the country up in tiny pieces where we only live with people who look and think just like us.

We live in a time when we are letting tiny groups with extreme opinions on isolated issues control public policy.  They do because they can, and they can only because the rest of us let them.

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