Saturday January 12, 2013

Don't create laws for a problem we don't have

When I was about 9 or 10 in Vermont, my parents gave me a Girl Scout jackknife. It went everywhere with me. I fixed things like my clarinet and opened packages. I took it to camp where I carved soap and cut switches for roasting marshmallows. I was surrounded by other girls I'd never met before, many wielding their own knives. My knife was one of the best tools of self-sufficiency and personal empowerment I ever had. I was very proud of it.

In 1984, my senior year in high school, my dad was transferred to South Florida. One day, I accidentally left my bag in the cafeteria and, in the middle of my next class, I was called to the office. Expecting to get my bag back and return to class, I was in for quite a shock when I got a 45-minute lecture from the vice principal about bringing weapons to school and how, if I hadn't had a lead in the school musical, I'd be expelled for a minimum of two weeks and would have to appeal to the school board to return to school.

He confiscated my knife -- for the protection of my fellow students.

For me, this story embodies the anti-gun and the pro-gun lobbies. Do you look at a Girl Scout jack knife as a tool of self-sufficiency or a weapon in the hands of a 16 year old? If you were to write this story in the local paper, would it be one about the values of scouting or how a horrible crime was averted because authorities found and confiscated an undisclosed weapon from a teenager in school?

It's easy to see how the two sides are incapable of seeing or understanding the opposing view because we are so steeped in our respective cultures. As someone who comes from the pro-Girl Scout jackknife culture, I see the anti-Girl Scout jackknife culture as one steeped in fear, dependent on protection after the attack, and reactionary. I suspect the anti-Girl Scout jack knife crowd sees me as rude and ignorant for not accepting the minor inconvenience of losing my precious knife for the protection of all students.

Here in Pownal, we have a competent constable. Like many Vermont communities, we do not have a police department. The Shaftsbury State Police barracks are 13.5 miles from my house. But, then again, we don't have a traffic light. Why would we need a police department? Our State Constitution gives us the right to arm ourselves for self-defense. We live in a culture where we rely on that right, where we learn to respect our neighbors, where our doors are unlocked, where we walk in unannounced and are welcomed with open arms.

In our rural communities, guns are used for recreation, hunting, tools of protection, self-defense, and deterrents to crime. The only person I know who has used guns (yes, plural) for active protection in Pownal, did so to save his child and some farm animals from an attacking, unknown dog. I'm glad he was able to be armed because a story in the paper of his child being maimed would have been very tragic. It most likely would not have said "If only he had a gun" but those of us who are familiar with guns as tools of self-reliance would be thinking that.

I was inspired to share my story because of an email I received from MoveOn.org which came with the subject line "The next step to ending gun violence in Pownal." In one fell swoop, they managed to insult my tools of self-sufficiency and my home town and angered me. Yes, our culture needs to have conversations about violence. Our country's culture has a huge problem with violence of all kinds, and I suspect Pownal isn't immune. But Pownal does not have a "gun violence" problem. Vermont does not have a gun violence problem. We do not need to create new laws to address a problem we don't have, laws which punish/inconvenience law-abiding, self-sufficient citizens while doing nothing to stop a motivated criminal.

We do need conversations and systems to reduce the motivations and violence in people. Rather than focusing on the fear-driven boogie man of "gun violence" that our national media feeds us, let's do it the Vermont way; the humanities way. Let's have more conversations around campfires with strangers, get to know our neighbors, sing more songs, roast more marshmallows together, talk about the weather, and carve soap with our Girl Scout jackknives.

AMY D. MOORE

Pownal

Agrees for once with Michael Reagan

I finally agree with columnist Michael Reagan when he writes in his Jan. 10 Bennington Banner column, "I'm getting real tired of people saying, ‘My [politician] is a good guy and your [politician] is a bad guy.'" This is a breath of fresh air because, of course, Michael Reagan perpetually throws angry, mean-spirited snipes at non-conservatives and is forever calling his politicians the good guys and other politicians the bad guys and worse.

So I agree with Mr. Reagan: both he and I are real tired of him.

I am glad, however, to see him get through one entire column without writing, "my father, Ronald Reagan."

STEVE EDWARDS

Old Bennington