HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas

A New Ballad of Paladin

The state of Georgia has forced us to update the lyrics to “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.” Fifty-six years ago, Johnny Cash sang of the boy who, despite his mother’s pleading, took his guns to town. “Don’t take your guns to town, leave your guns at home,” she pleaded. “Town” was dangerous; a gun-toting cowboy wandering into a bar risked death. Today danger is omnipresent: churches, schools, airports. Wherever people gather, danger lurks. So safety-conscious Georgia now allows guns wherever you might have banned them (Safe Protection Act of 2014) – indeed, some of those spots have metal detectors to detect guns. We used to see churches as gun-free zones. No more. Prudent mothers today should caution their headstrong sons: “Don’t take your guns to church.”

More country music lyrics scream for an update.

In “Time to Get a Gun,” Miranda Lambert sang of a woman disgusted with everyday wrongs: the government was going to take her land for a highway; a neighbor found her car stolen from the driveway. Lambert crooned, “I could afford…One If I did just a little less drinking....When the talking is over It’s time to get a gun.”

Why wait until “the talking is over?” Wouldn’t a gun forestall that chatter? Would anybody dare take your land if you were sitting tight, holding an Uzi? What thief would steal your car if he risked being shot? Why not head trouble off at the proverbial pass with a gun? The updated lyrics: “It’s Always Time to Get a Gun”.

Another Miranda Lambert song, “Gunpowder and Lead,” also needs updating. In this song, an abused wife waits for her abuser to return from jail. She vows that this time he will find out that little girls are made of “gunpowder and lead.” The lyrics promise victory for her: “His fist is big but my gun’s bigger. He’ll find out when I pull the trigger.”

Today, that abusive ex-con is probably packing too. After all, a history of violence, of domestic abuse, of substance abuse needn’t bar an American from his Second Amendment right to bear arms. Everybody, abusive, as well as abused, spouses may well be packing. (If a legitimate dealer wants to deny anybody a gun for any reason, the would-be customer can try for a “private” and/or illegal dealer.) Crucially, a gun will no longer promise the haggard wife victory; but it will even the battle, pitting her firepower against his.

Of course, if children live at home, both spouses should take care that the children don’t inadvertently kill each other when they happen upon the familial stash of gunpowder and lead. (Legal efforts to require parents to keep guns unloaded, in locked cabinets, have largely failed).

In 1988, Conway Twitty recorded “Saturday Night Special,” a love story centered on a gun. A suicidal man goes to a pawn shop to buy a pistol and one bullet. “Oh, a Saturday Night Special is an easy thing to buy…All you gotta be is twenty-one or fifteen if you lie … Just hand the man the money and if someone’s gotta die … The broker in the pawnshop won’t even blink an eye.”

The next customer enters: a sad woman trying to hock her wedding ring. When the pawnshop owner offers her $7, the gun-purchaser grows angry. Subtly he shows the owner the pistol in his pocket: the frightened owner pays the woman two thousand dollars. The no-longer-sad customer grabs the hand of the no-longer-suicidal gunman; the two go off to Texas. Their Saturday night ends happily.

Today forget the pawn-shop. You can buy a gun on-line (Armslist). You can buy one at gun shows, at Walmart, on some city streets. If the restrictions seem onerous, find someone to purchase it for you – a straw customer. If permits seem onerous, head for a state that doesn’t require one; e.g., Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Wyoming (though they may require a permit to carry). (

So if you are feeling suicidal, you needn’t wait for Saturday night. The new lyrics: “Any Night Special.”

In the savage land that is America, we are all Paladins, or “knights without armor.” Our motto: Have gun, shoot.

Joan Retsinas is a sociologist who writes about health care in Providence, R.I. Email

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2014

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2014 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652