Why, someone once asked H. L. Mencken, did he continue to live in the United States when he was so critical of it.
Mencken's response: Why do people go to zoos?
That exchange came to mind the other day while I was reading an account of de facto President Cheney's visit to a coven of Utah Republicans and the attendant flap over guns. Cheney's appearance was nearly cancelled because some delegates balked at having to check their firearms at the door.
That, I submit, is a scenario that could not have taken place in any other supposedly civilized country on the planet. It turns out that in Utah there is no place you can't take a gun. A couple of years ago the governor tried to push through a law that would have barred Utahans or whatever they're called from toting weapons into churches and schoolhouses, and that dangerous move nearly cost him his job.
The Secret Service, however, has a different point of view, possibly reinforced by the fact that in the last 40 years we've had one president killed (Kennedy), one nearly killed (Reagan) and one shot at and missed (Ford).
The SS said take your choice: Cheney or guns inside the tent, but not both.
The gun nuts finally gave in, but not gracefully. Members of the Utah Gun Owners Alliance picketed the gathering. By way of mollifying those worthies, the state's Attorney General decreed that party campaign funds would be used to pay for lockers in which convention attendees who had arrived packing heat could store their hardware free of charge.
So Cheney got to speak, and after he finished and decamped, the UGOA pistoleros hastened out to reclaim their six shooters and shore up the imperiled Second Amendment.
Only in America.
If I were a member of the National Rifle Association I probably wouldn't have to ask this question, but I'm not so I will. Why would a person in full possession of his faculties feel the need to go armed with a lethal weapon to a church service, a PTA meeting or a teacher conference?
To put it another way, why should a person, other than a law enforcement officer, who tries to enter a schoolhouse or a house of worship toting a gun not be considered a threat to those around him, and why should he not be disarmed and detained?
The answer you usually get from the NRA and similar organizations that exist to feed the fears and fantasies of their true-believing members is that you never know when "they" or perhaps just one of "them" might try to take over, and should that happen, outfits such as the Utah Gun Owners Alliance would be our first line of defense.
They never really explain who "they" are, but it's enough to know that they're out there, just waiting for us to let our guard down. Some of the more enthusiastic of those crackpots even think "they" might be our own federal government. Some of them don't just think it, they know it.
It was a near thing for abut a half hour back on Aug. 25, but Utah's defenses are once again at full preparedness.
Rossie is associate editor of the Press & Sun-Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Write to him c/o P.O. Box 1270, Binghamton, N.Y. 13902-1270.
© 2001 Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin