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Gun increase in eastern Iowa due in part to rampant fear

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MAY 06, 2009 7:26 AM

People are scared. That seems to be the nominal American mindset these days. What are we all so nervous about? Oh, my. It wouldn’t be so difficult to compile a list of terrors, it would just be redundant. You’re already reading a newspaper — flip a few pages, notice how the smell of headline toner is remarkably similar to the smell of fear. But a few of these lurking dangers may warrant a closer look.

In eastern Iowa, the number of concealed-weapons permits granted in various counties has spiked considerably. On average (and this is when we as a country are not on a hair-trigger freak-out) 15 permits are granted per month in Jones County. The recent explosion in gun toting resembles the spread of the Andromeda strain: four permits in December, eight in January, 32 in February, and coming to apex at 42 in March. In the first three months of 2008, Linn County granted 24 permits. In 2009, 103 permits. There’s heat in the streets, folks, and while that’s a bit of a cause for concern, the really worrying thing is the drive behind it all. What roving gang of boogie men has descended on us that every closet has to be sighted and the safeties disengaged?

Iowa Carry, an organization whose slogan is “defending your right to defend yourself,” obviously trends more to the principle of the right to bear arms rather than its mechanics. However, the group has joined the growing number of voices discussing Iowa’s applications of that right. Currently, there are 99 independent policies for how weapons permits can be granted, one for each county sheriff’s office. Decisions regarding those policies are at each sheriff’s discretion. There’s even a helpful interactive map on the Iowa Carry website detailing the names, contact information, and general probabilities of granting a permit for each sheriff in the state — a man in Jones County would have no problem getting ahold of some firepower, but it’s a no-go if he lived in Johnson County. A major mission of Iowa Carry is to standardize the permit laws of Iowa as a whole, removing to a large degree the personality from policy. That sounds great, that should happen, absolutely. But the numbers are getting higher, now, and frankly the existence of so many guns and the ability for everyone, everywhere (sort of: background checks still happen, such as they are) to get one feels scarier than arbitrary green lights.

Of course, guns may help dissolve fear, but they won’t negate the sources of fear. One of the loudest-voiced fears of the past week has been the dreaded H1N1 influenza strain, the worldwide prevalence of which prompted the World Health Organization to elevate its disease status to phase 5, one number below the official label of pandemic. The oft-called swine flu has propagated quickly, and that’s the only real danger of the flu to begin with, and especially living in a country with decent health care (relatively — let’s keep Mexico as a nice bar-setter for things like that) we have very little to panic over. But names and buzzwords get the attention nowadays, and instead of a “highly virulent strain of flu that can be curbed with adequate care and governmental cooperation” we got “swine flu.” Catchier, eh? Dirtier, grosser, more evocative, vaguely imitative of the way children whisper about summoning Bloody Mary from the mirror. Semantics carry weight, and a big part of the whole ruckus is that we heard the name before the details. (And as to that, H1N1 isn’t much better — lacks the pig reference, but this mysterious string of letters and numbers hides behind the opaque, sinister sheen of Science).

Or the Dantean epic of the American economy’s descent, or a reaction to the Obama administration’s opinions on citizens’ weaponry, or just the plain fact that guns are decent investments — when in doubt, go with water, cemeteries, jewelry and guns, the stuff people will always need and want — it ultimately doesn’t matter what we’re afraid of. We’ve settled into a pattern of clinging to fear for its own sake, it seems. And the evidence proliferates, in the guns, in the flu, in every day. It’s time to take a breath and look deeper, realize there is no monster under the bed, and certainly no need to blow him away.


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