Monday, May 02, 2005

Red-state America and its discontents, continued

Many years ago, when I was a young man, of more or less typical hippie appearance, I was walking from my house to a nearby store, about nightfall, and I crossed the street, deserted except for a parked car, in the middle of the block, angling toward the parked car which was more or less in the most direct path to my destination. I was going to walk in front of it, or behind it, I forget which. As I approached the car I heard a click and suddenly realized that there was a woman sitting in the car. She had just locked the doors and was looking at me with a frozen expression of absolute wide-eyed terror on her face. It was the look on her face that struck me.

At the time, I thought mainly that this must be an everyday experience for a young black or brown guy, but it was new to me. So I remembered it.

Yesterday I saw an editorial in the Washington Post, decrying the new Florida law which allows anyone in Florida who is legally armed, to shoot (or for that matter, knife or bludgeon) anyone who causes you to feel threatened. I hadn't heard about the law, but once again, I am surprised only that Texas was not first. (To be fair to Texas, although we don't have such a statute on the books, we have a de-facto equivalency in reliable jury decisions exonerating shooters claiming very implausible self-defense against unarmed assailants.)

I thought once again about the the woman's look of horror as I approached her car, but now I have to imagine this happening in Florida in 2005, and the woman with a Glock 26 in her purse.

In reality, I don't think the Florida law will change actual murder rates much, if at all. Real life murder seems to spring more from emotion and having the means at hand, than from someone thinking "hey, I can now legally shoot this bastard, where before I couldn't." Having a Glock 26 is the important variable, not the law, it seems to me.

But the law does say something about the very unfriendly state of mind of Florida's Republican lawmakers and the people who voted them into office.

I think the unfriendly state of mind is a combination of rage and fear, possibly due to media reports of runaway crime, and in part due to the receptive soil of our national confusion between schadenfreude and justice. The fear of crime is least well-founded in the very places that the fear is most out of control, the nation's Republican precincts.

We do have a high murder rate, but, the last time I looked, not an increasing one. And not in the suburbs. And the high murder rate correlates well with the fact that guns, especially handguns, are so common. Again, the last time I looked, the UK actually has a higher rate of physical assault than we do, so we can't claim a greater cultural predisposition to violence. But assault plus gun availability does seem to often equal murder.

Now to be fair to the Florida NRA gun nuts, and gun nuts everywhere, they are not the ones doing the shooting, for the most part. They are too old and comfortable. Here in Texas, statistics indicate that the people who get permits to carry guns are overwhelmingly white, middle-class, financially secure, and male--but males of an age profile that would indicate low and declining testosterone levels and an increasing tendency to watch the golf channel on cable. Only rarely do they actually shoot anyone. I'm assuming Florida gun permit holders, and NRA members everywhere, are very much the same as our Texas handgun permit holders, socio-economically. So I don't think the Florida law, barbaric though it is, will change the overall death rate.

I guess this could be counted as optimism. But it is troubling that this is part of the new Republican mind-set. Where do these people want this country to go?

No comments: