RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Guns and Politics Don’t Mix

There’s always something hopeful about spring. The trees budding and bursting into flower, the daffodils and dandelions pushing their yellow heads up from the grass. The baby animals. The streams exploding back to life with little fishes and polliwogs. The bird calls. The mushy ground. Even the ticks and ants have their charms, if you’re in the right frame of mind.

Surrounded by so much optimism, we have to believe we’ll get through the next year. And that after the next two, we’ll elect Congresses and governors to put things right. At least, that’s the hope.

In the meantime, dear ones, we need to learn to live with the creeps in office. And living with them means not succumbing to violence when we meet them on the streets or go to one of their phony town-hall meetings.

Here’s how an opportunity to meet one of the scumbags can turn south:

A few weeks ago in a town near here, one well-meaning group of political watchdogs invited their legislators to a town hall at the public library. The meeting was well-publicized, drawing a crowd that maxed out the meeting room, which was rated by the fire department to hold 175 people. About 400 showed up.

Of the 400, most were not of the same political persuasion as the legislators and, as I said, the room was crowded. A few of the 400 were in a bad mood. Perhaps they were about to lose their health insurance. Perhaps their loved ones were going to lose the chance to get medications needed to sustain life itself. Perhaps they believed the leaders were corrupt, or maybe they just wanted to see the tax returns of the Supreme.

Whatever the reason, somebody said something hostile and the group picked up the sentiment. And this — did I mention it? — was in the public library, which is usually a quiet and even spiritual place for some of us.

One of the legislators, feeling threatened, went to her car for her phone and to call for protection. And—and how can I tell the rest of this story without compromising the reputation of this delicate elected official? OK. First you need to know that Missouri is a so-called “right-to-carry” state. Meaning that any gun owner can carry their gun to any public place. The only exceptions are courthouses and state houses and a few other places where elected officials are usually found. Libraries are not on the list.

So … while this elected official was calling the gendarmes, she mentioned in a loud enough tone to be overheard that she was scared and she was getting her gun from the glove compartment to, you know, defend herself.

Causing one of the patrons to enter the overly crowded room and yell something like (and I wasn’t there — this is only hearsay): “She’s got a gun!”

With a room overcrowded with citizens, including a fair number of press, the story ricocheted through the town-hall meeting, and through town, going viral as they say these days.

To complicate things, there is a sign on the door of the library that says the space is a gun-free zone. Or, I should say, there was a sign to that effect. The legislator pointed out that the sign is illegal since the law doesn’t exempt libraries from the right-to-carry law.

And, depending on which media you listen to, the story proves one of a couple of things. To the far-right media, it meant that the right to arm yourself and protect yourself from a hostile crowd is guaranteed by law and shouldn’t be challenged, even by library patrons. The legislator herself has told media that she’s talked to lots of people who carry their guns into the library. And we have no way of knowing if she’s telling the truth or not, of course, so we’ll accept her word.

For media and consumers of stories on the other side of the spectrum, the challenge is whether a library can set its own rules. And when you start talking about this side, you get deep in the weeds really fast because, as one old-time radio guy used to say around here when the law was completely backwards from what you learned in civics class, “it ain’t right, but it’s so.”

And, if you get into one of these discussions, left v. right, pulling you deeper into the weeds, someone will bring up the point that for eight years one side accused the other of all sorts of mischief, including election of a non-American as Supreme, and then the one will ask the other what that has to do with the present argument and pretty soon everyone’s hot.

But, OK, here we are with daffodils and birds and mushy ground and beauty all around. Let’s damn well enjoy it and hold our good thoughts as we enter those town-hall meetings or somebody’s going to get shot.

Margot Ford McMillen farms near Fulton, Mo., and co-hosts Farm and Fiddle on sustainable ag issues on KOPN 89.5 FM in Columbia, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2017

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