Pistols at the Pool, Machine Guns on Parade and Nothing We Can Do
Our government seems to become ever more removed from its appropriate focus on serving and protecting the public and increasing the general (rather than the corporate) welfare. John Hamilton, the mayor of Bloomington IN, writes in the NY Times:
I’M the mayor of a small Midwestern city and I’m at my wit’s end about guns. My first job is to help keep my city safe, but two recent events showed me the limits of what I can do.
Item 1: On a beautiful day this summer, our public swimming pool was full of kids taking lessons and their families enjoying the sun. A man arrived and walked around the pool, with a handgun visible on his hip. He was not a law enforcement officer in uniform. Just a parent, it seemed, unknown to most there, walking around the pool, packing a pistol. No one had any idea if it was loaded or not. You can imagine the stress and worry this led to, with the memories of Orlando (and San Bernardino and Charleston and Newtown and on and on) fresh in people’s minds.
Item 2: For our annual Fourth of July parade downtown, the sidewalks and streets were packed with thousands of children, parents, students, retirees — all in their patriotic finest. A float rolled by featuring armed men from a private firearms training center with military-style machine guns held at the ready, ammunition belts attached, atop a pickup truck. The celebration took a nervous-making turn.
This is all happening in Indiana, with a governor, Mike Pence, who has long fought against any reasonable restrictions on guns. His extreme views on this, and other issues, are apparently one reason Donald J. Trump chose him as his running mate. The nation as a whole will now get a better look at the kind of attitude on gun laws that has earned Governor Pence an A rating from the National Rifle Association — and has made it harder for me to do what my constituents want when it comes to making them safe.
The people of Bloomington expect their mayor to protect them against violence. I received dozens of calls, emails and desperate messages after the incidents at the pool and the parade, urging me to act to prevent potential disaster.
My constituents aren’t against all guns. They respect Second Amendment rights. They just don’t want handguns carried around at their public pools. They don’t want machine guns in their parades. Nor does my Police Department. Nor do I.
And in fact, my city used to have reasonable restrictions in place on the possession of firearms in parks, city facilities and at City Council meetings.
But five years ago the State Legislature prohibited cities from enforcing virtually any individual local regulation of firearms, ammunition or their accessories. The statehouse said we couldn’t restrict what kind of guns or ammunition can be carried, displayed, worn, concealed or transported, with a few very limited exceptions like courtrooms and intentional displays at official public meetings.
The state did nothing to fill this vacuum it created. It did create one exception to protect itself — prohibiting anyone but officers, legislators or judges from carrying guns in the statehouse. And in one more technical twist, the state said if any city ever tries to restrict firearms or ammunition, it would be subject to paying triple the lawyers’ fees for anyone who sues us.
So despite what a vast majority of Bloomington wants, we can’t ban a handgun from a public pool or a machine gun from a parade float. . .
I do understand his error in nomenclature: I don’t think that the weapons described as “machine guns” were capable of fully automatic fire. But that’s beside the point. Neither were the weapons used at Sandy Hook or in Orlando or in San Bernardino, but that didn’t stop mass killing of innocent people.
And with events like that in the news so very frequently in this country (and so rarely in other advanced countries, for whatever reason), I think it’s perfectly natural to feel skittish if a stranger shows up at a swimming pool, carrying a gun and not dressed for swimming. If I were at a mall and saw one or more men carrying AR-15-style rifles, I would get the hell out because I can think of very, very few reasons why such weapons would be carried into a peaceful mall on a shopping day, and one of those reasons is very bad—and we’ve seen that bad reason in action much too frequently.
Our government representatives are eager to protect (and enrich) themselves, but they don’t seem to care a damn about the public. They’re more interested in turning government functions over to private contractors.