Thursday, April 24, 2008

Gun Control in Georgia

During the recently ended session of the Georgia legislature, the state's gun control laws were further ravaged by the Republican-led legislature. Georgians may now carry guns in state parks and historic sites, in restaurants, on public transportation, and in some employee parking lots. Crazy? In my opinion, yes.

I am a gun owner, and I have been around guns all of my life. I am not against the ownership of guns. However, I believe there are limits. For example, I see no need for assault weapons to be legal. The average citizen doesn't need one. They can not be used to hunt...yet. They are built for killing human beings and nothing else.

Every time I receive a catalog from such mail order houses as "Cheaper than Dirt," I shiver. It is full of parts and equipment for assault rifles and accoutrement's for equipping your private army. You can buy military helmets, uniforms, first aid supplies, body armor, and ammunition. In short you can be ready to form or join your favorite Blackwater - style private army in no time.

I also shiver when I think of these new "carrying" laws in Georgia. As a former state park administrator I remember those awful times when one of my managers would call and say I had to draw my weapon tonight. Now he/she will have to be even more cautious because everyone could be "carrying," not just a suspected perpetrator.

How many of these people who will be carrying guns on Marta, in parking lots, or in state parks have any training at all in the handling of weapons? How many were also law abiding citizens and did not, prior to now, carry weapons where they were prohibited? What happens when they feel threatened and decide to draw that weapon and shoot? Will they think about others, who may be caught in the crossfire? How many have seen too many movies and think that they can't miss and that the other person will run or, if they return fire, will miss? Then there is the chance that both are legally "carrying." That will be fun for the courts to sort out.

There is, of course, the chance that the other person will take the gun away and use it on its owner, because the owner just thought he/she could pull the trigger. I can never forget the video, often shown at law enforcement training, of the police officer in Laurens Co. Georgia, who watched while a suspect retrieved a rifle from his truck, loaded it and advanced toward the officer. All the officer did was to continue to tell him to put down the gun. The suspect walked up and shot him dead. The officer never fired a shot, and he had been trained in the use of deadly force.

I fear for where we are going. I fear for my safety in public areas. I know that the NRA has the opinion that we need to be able to protect ourselves and that criminals already have guns. I also know that there are many murders that take place after a person has legally obtained a weapon. We need to make it harder to purchase guns, not make it easier for people to carry them. The student at Va Tech had purchased his weapons legally. I wonder how many people would have been killed in the shootout, had students been "carrying" and returned fire as many advocate. If the mass killer has automatic weapons, anyone not carrying a similar weapon will be toast, unless they are very fast, calm and a crack shot.

Our Republican friends, much like their hero in the White House, have a vision of themselves as old west cowboys rushing in to save the town from the bullies in the black hats. Unfortunately, life isn't a western movie and the bad guys don't always miss.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Mountain Community Steeped in Learning and Teaching

I live in the Choestoe (Pronounced Cho - ee Sto - ee) section of southern Union County, Georgia, an area of mountains and valleys, once very isolated from the rest of the state. Union County was created in 1832, when Georgia, aided by Andrew Jackson's Administration, took over its portion of the Cherokee Nation, driving the Cherokees out in 1838. Choestoe, Cherokee for "the land of the dancing rabbits, was soon settled by a number of families, among them the Dyer, Collins, Duckworth, Reece, Hunter, Swain, Schuler, and Miller families.

It is said that sometime in the mid to late 19th Century the area was visited by an educator, who introduced these pioneer families to education and made a lasting impression upon them. By the very late 19th and early 20th Centuries, education had taken hold in the section and soon the local school became a center of activity. Frequent declamation contests were held, involving both students and adults.

As the 2oth Century progressed Choestoe produced a Georgia State School Superintendent (Dr. MD Collins), a State Supreme Court justice (Henry Duckworth), a Governor/US Senator (Zell Miller), a nationally known and published poet (Byron Herbert Reece), several county school superintendents, and countless teachers, administrators, and college professors. As I entered and progressed through the county school system, at least a third or more of the teachers and administrators were from this section of the county. My high school math teachers were all from Choestoe and consisted of two families: Dyer and Collins.

Not to be outdone by all of the teachers, the Dyer family also claims an inventor as its own. Micajah Clark Dyer, received a patent for a flying machine in 1874. Family legend has it that he actually flew the aircraft before the Wright Brothers, but this feat has never been fully documented. Nevertheless, Mr. Dyer was ahead of his time.

Choestoe is, indeed, a unique area. Today many of the descendants of these families still live in Choestoe. One educator, Mrs. Dora Allison, age 103, is still active in the community and much celebrated and loved by her hundreds of former students. Education is still a central part of these families lives. However, like so much of our area, Choestoe is changing. A large influx of retirees, absentee landowners, and refugees from Florida, threaten to change the face of this beautiful and unique area forever.