Open Carry and Unintended Consequences

August 9, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Sometimes laws have unintended consequences. I’m not sure what the intended consequences of Missouri’s open-carry law are, but they surely weren’t this:

A young man wearing body armor and carrying a tactical rifle, a handgun, and more than 100 rounds of ammunition walks into a Wal-Mart in Springfield, MO. This is cause for alarm. So the manager pulls the fire alarm, and shoppers flee the store. So does the gunman. Outside the store, an off-duty firefighter holds the man at gunpoint till the police arrive. 

The right-wing media portrays this as a good guy with a gun (the firefighter) preventing a mass shooting.

That’s one version. But the incident can also be framed as a commentary on gun laws. Missouri is an “open carry” state.  With the help of the NRA, legislators in Missouri (and thirty other states) have passed laws which say that as long as you don’t threaten anyone, you can carry your guns openly.
The young man in the Wal-Mart did not threaten anyone. He made a selfie video while pushing his cart through the aisles. When the alarm was sounded, he left through an emergency exit just like many other shoppers. Looks to me like he did nothing to warrant his arrest by the police. Also, since he never did anything to even indicate he was going to shoot the guns, the idea that the firefighter “stopped an attack” is at best an open question.

If anyone broke the law, it was the firefighter that Fox and the others are lionizing. The firefighter used his gun in a threatening manner, pointing it at a man who was merely exercising his rights under the Second Amendment and Missouri open-carry law.     

The incident points out something that gun-loving legislators usually prefer not to know: guns are dangerous; guns are scary. It wasn’t the man who was scary. He was doing what any other Wal-Mart shopper might have been doing. It was the legal weaponry he was peacefully carrying.

A Springfield police lieutenant said, “His intent obviously was to cause chaos here.” But the officer cannot know what the man’s intent was. Maybe the man’s intent was to show that if people panic when someone exercises their legal rights, it’s the people’s ideas and reactions that need to be changed. After all, in some places, an African American man diving into a traditionally all-White swimming pool might also cause chaos. Maybe a White patron would threaten the man, and the man would be “lucky to be alive,” as the police lieutenant said of the Wal-Mart warrior. (As we know, some African Americans who asserted their Constitutional rights were not so lucky.)

What’s the NRA to do? They love open carry, but they also love “good guy with a gun.” Their website still has nothing to say. Maybe it’s a classic case of cross-pressure keeping them from taking a stand.

UPDATE August 11: The Wal-Mart shopper, Dmitriy Andreychenko, has now said what his intent was, and it was not to cause chaos. “I wanted to know if that Walmart honored the Second Amendment.” As for the NRA, I entered Andreychenko in the search box. His name there is still unkonwn.

Alarm in the Power 5

August 6, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

What’s alarming in big-time college football? You may have thought that it was the high rate of concussions and later-life chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) among the scholar-athletes in the Power 5 conferences. Or you may have thought that it was the amount of drinking on campus — high enough as it is but especially elevated on football weekends. (Ten years ago, Sarah Koenig did an episode for This American Life about football and drinking at Penn State. It’s still worth listening to — here).

The trouble is that you don’t get Axios Sports e-mailed to you every day as I do. Here is a screenshot from my inbox this morning showing how Axios Sportsman-in-chief Kendall Baker sees the problem. [The emphasis – those red boxes – are of course my own.]

(Click for a larger and clearer view.)

  • Alarming Problem: Students are losing interest in the college concussion factory.
  • Solution:  Let them get wasted on site. No more need for pre-gaming.

The Fear Curriculum

August 5, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

My son and daughter have been institutionally readied to be shot dead as surely as I, at their age, was readied by my school to receive my first communion. They practice their movements. They are taught how to hold themselves; who to defer to; what to say to their parents; how to hold their hands. The only real difference is that there is a lottery for participation. Most will only prepare. But each week, a chosen few will fully consummate the process, and be killed.

That’s from Kieran Healy’s blog post  yesterday after two mass shootings in a 24-hour period had left more than thirty people dead. Though neither of these were school shootings, it is schools that have institutionalized the Active Shooter Drill. It has become a ritual.

As I discovered to my shock when my own children started school in North Carolina some years ago, preparation for a shooting is a part of our children’s lives as soon as they enter kindergarten. The ritual of a Killing Day is known to all adults. It is taught to children first in outline only, and then gradually in more detail as they get older. The lockdown drill is its Mass. The language of “Active shooters”, “Safe corners”, and “Shelter in place” is its liturgy. “Run, Hide, Fight” is its creed. Security consultants and credential-dispensing experts are its clergy.

It wasn’t until I saw “Eighth Grade” that I finally realized that the Active Shooter Drill had become a regular part of the school curriculum. And it wasn’t until I read Kieran’s post, that I began to think about it as a ritual.

Rituals reinforce social solidarity. That’s why we have them. Even when a ritual is supposed to have a practical effect — to help the football team win, to make the rains come, to ensure that the deceased goes to heaven — we don’t judge it on whether that ulterior goal was reached. If everyone got caught up in the spirit of the pep rally, it was great regardless of the score the next day. The purpose of baptism is to cleanse the child of original sin, but nobody ever asks, “Does it work?” That’s not the point. The point is to have everyone get involved and to do the ritual correctly.

The Active Shooter Drill has a rational purpose — to save lives — but most schools, thankfully, will never know whether it accomplished that goal. The drill, like any other ritual, is judged on how well it is performed. But in most rituals, doing it correctly is not enough. If the people involved are not sharing a common emotion and a sense solidarity — to one another and to the group or institution as a whole — we dismiss their behavior as “merely going through the motions.” As Kieran (channeling Durkheim) says, in a ritual, the members of a group “enact their collective life in view of one another, demonstrating its reality, expressing its meaning, and feeling its pulse in their veins.”

But what is the reality that the Shooter Drill demonstrates, and what is the common emotion pulsing in the veins of the participants? The answer seems to be fear —  fear of an unpredictable and fatal attack. School is the place where children are taught to be afraid.

I guess this is nothing new. In the 1950s, duck-and-cover ritruals — crouching under a school desk as protection against a Hiroshima-like atom bomb — carried the message: fear the Russians. Kids were cynical about it all, of course, but underneath the cynicism, bravado, and joking lurked at least some ambivalence. I would guess that something similar is true of those kids in “Eighth Grade” and in real schools.

At the beginning of his post, Kieran alludes briefly to his own schooldays and first communion in Ireland. “My brother tells me that the preparation nowadays is a little more humane than the version we enjoyed.” I couldn’t help thinking of Father Arnall’s sermons in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, brilliantly constructed sermons designed to instill in the boys a deep and everlasting fear.

Maybe things are different now. At least some students, like those from Parkland who started “Enough is Enough,” are demanding that adults with the power to change things liberate then from the fear. That reaction may be spreading. When the Ohio governor spoke at a vigil yesterday following the mass shooting in Dayton, the crowd spontaneously chanted, “Do something.”

One can hope.

Convenient Language

August 2, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Sometimes words change because of the way they sound when linked to other words. A “napron” (from the French naperon) was a protective cloth. It still is, but we call it “an apron.” The same process of “rebracketing” gives us a nickname, from the Old English an eke name (an additional name). More recently, I’ve seen “bake potato” on the diner menu and  “whip butter” at the supermarket — the “d” sound of the past participle dropped or blended into the next word.

Currently, I’m out of the city. Yesterday, I needed something (calamine lotion if you must know) and did not want to drive a half hour to the nearest supermarket and CVS. I was told that the gas station / convenience store in our small town, two minutes away, might have it.

I couldn’t help noticing the sign on the row of parking spaces.

It makes perfect sense. It is, after all, a convenient store. Very convenient since it did have calamine lotion.