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Guest column | James Pettican

Gun violence shows we still live, fearfully, in 'Gunlandia'

In 1994 when I was 74, I wrote a column about a place I dubbed "Gunlandia" — a place we were all living in because of gun violence.

After 89 birthdays, I'm still around but so is Gunlandia, as the recent horrendous gun massacres from college campuses to classes for immigrants show.

Judging from the frequency of gun violence stories, the slaughter appears to be getting worse. Arguments on both sides of the gun control debate are the same as they were back then, but the intensity is growing as people are outraged by the continuing waves of senseless, mindless killings.

Our country has many positives that other nations admire, but like most of us, they recoil at the horror our lack of stricter gun control has brought about.

I recently reread my Aug. 31, 1994, column. How unfortunate that it is still relevant today. Here is a reprint of that column.

• • •

Welcome to Gunlandia. You may not think you live here, but you do. None of us actually moved here. You might say it sort of came to us.

In my case, I retired and moved to Florida about 16 years ago. It all went quite swimmingly for a while. This was lotus land, where you could dangle one foot in the pool while watching northern snowstorms on TV. Summers could be hot, of course, but you were pretty sure that no snowflake would ever invade your space again.

I guess the change began when we started hearing the word "gun" so often. It was in print, on the airwaves and a part of many conversations. It is, of course, a common word, one we always had used. But now, it seemed to pop up more and more in the words and sentences we use to stay in touch with our world.

Guns, especially handguns, were proliferating, we were told. I wondered once if more people carry guns on their person than carry ballpoint pens. On second thought, I figured I would feel better not knowing.

In past centuries, men fought duels with pistols. Even though the result might be one participant's demise, it was usually accomplished in a socially correct manner with rules and courtesies in place right to the bitter or bloody end.

Today, there still are duels fought on and off our streets. But the rules have been lost in the mists of time, and the pistols have sometimes been replaced by assault weapons so deadly that a rifle squad equipped with them plus a generous supply of ammo could have conquered the Roman Empire.

It could well be that living in the Roman Empire might be less barbaric than living in Gunlandia. Oh, I know, our currency still reads U.S.A. and trusts in God. But, as I said, we really live in Gunlandia.

There is this organization known as the National Rifle Association. It helps its favorite politicians pay for their political campaigns, and it finances its own advertising and public relations drives. It is constantly telling us that arms are to be borne and guns are to be fired — for peaceful purposes, of course. Cars, we are told, are more dangerous than guns.

Maybe so, I say, but then guns have only one function: to fire a projectile that damages or destroys whatever it hits. If they ever invent a gun that will transport me to the store or kids to school, I will concede that argument about guns and cars.

Living in Gunlandia, as we do, has changed our lives in many ways. In my case, I tend to want to blend into the landscape more than I did in the past. You might say that neutrality and non-aggression can, at times, be lifesavers in this land of ours. Not knowing where the guns are, your safest approach is to assume that they are just about everywhere.

In the past, cutting me off in traffic would have put you on the receiving end of a honking horn and, if close enough, an angry look. These days, though, I try to be agreeable in order to be survivable. So, cut me off at your pleasure. Unless it costs me some paint, you won't hear anything from me.

Convenience stores are a great American concept, but after dark, I tend to think of them as less convenient. In fact, I avoid them after sundown. Trouble is, you can be caught in the cross-fire as armed clerks shoot it out with armed robbers.

In the past, if your car broke down on a dark country road, you would be relieved to see the lights from a nearby home because you knew it meant help was near. Not in Gunlandia though, unless you want to be the victim of a gun fired through a door by a fearful householder who fires first and asks questions later.

You see two teenagers having a heated argument and on the verge of coming to blows. Will you switch into scoutmaster mode and try to separate them? You won't if you value your life. Remember, it could be that cross-fire thing again.

I understand, of course, that many of us are buying guns to make our homes more "secure." Yet, if surveys and statistics are correct, I wonder how secure some of us will feel when the shadow we shoot at in the middle of the night turns out to be a family member. As for homes that house guns and kids, incidents in them are so commonplace that we are somehow becoming inured to just how terribly tragic they are.

Despite what many of us may say, we really don't want to live in Gunlandia. We want to find our way back to the good old U.S.A. where we belong. And we have a growing movement of people who want to slay the NRA dragon and lead us back. I am hoping they will succeed if enough good people take up the cause, but there is no guarantee at this juncture.

Because I'm in my 70s, I may or may not live to see it, but I like to think that the Age of Common Sense will finally dawn. When it does, we may finally realize that although cars, buses, trains and planes may kill, they also perform a function that far outweighs their dangers.

And we may realize, too, that guns, no matter how efficient and high-tech, continue to do what they always have done and always will do as long as we permit their free circulation in our society: aim, fire and destroy.

James Pettican is a retired journalist who lives in Palm Harbor.

Gun violence shows we still live, fearfully, in 'Gunlandia' 04/13/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 13, 2009 3:02pm]
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