Some days, you can be forgiven for thinking that parts of the world have stepped straight into the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole.
Now, I’ve been to Illinois, just last year to Galena, Ill., a fine, slow-moving city.
I’ve been down the North Ferry Landing Road to the slow side-stream flow of the myriad of channels of the Mississippi, to where the Galena Boating Club hugs the side of the river, katydids in the trees and the green swamp stagnant and also pregnant with rafts of hidden calling frogs.
I was there on the Sunday before Labour Day, looking out across the rows of flat riverboats with their awnings sporting plenty of American flags, and along the long fingers of the wharves, the river nearly glass-flat and lapping the pilings.
Good old boys backing boat trailers down the concrete ramp — a ramp that used to be a landing for paddlewheel riverboats — and then hightailing it away in fast boats with big engines. A ginger-haired, buzz-cutted nine-year-old doing loose-gravel doughnuts in an electric golf cart — families laughing, even some singing, plenty of tall-boy cans of beer and malt liquor in sight, the sun just going down and the stacked clouds in the western sky lighting up mauve and orange. The kind of place that just exudes welcome, even to a couple of strange faces from Canada.
I have a hard time reconciling it with a different Illinois.
Now, I find myself wondering just how many of the boat club patrons were armed.
Monday, the Associated Press reported that, thanks to a new law in that state, something close to 470 state employees will now be allowed to bring their legally owned handguns to work.
Now, Illinois has tried, with some success, to limit some kinds of gun use, and has also seen gun measures blocked.
But lawmakers describe this newest measure as a simple matter of fairness.
Here’s a section of the AP report: “‘It’s a constitutional right. I think everyone’s right to protection should be recognized in the statehouse,’ said Republican Rep. Jim Lucas of Seymour, one of the new law’s sponsors. ‘Legislators aren’t any different than the people. Our lives are no more important.’”
No more important — that’s an interesting and probably accidental admission of how cheap life can be.
Equally revealing is another part of the AP story, which details an interesting restriction on carrying weapons: “A section of both the House and Senate policies say employees are prohibited from bringing handguns into any meeting related to personnel matters, including evaluations, disciplinary action and human resource discussions. Employees are expected to leave any guns at home in such situations.”
OK then. Implicit in that policy statement is an understanding that heated job situations aren’t improved by the introduction of random firearms.
But it’s not just Illinois.
“At least 20 other states allow firearms on statehouse grounds in some fashion, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center,” AP reports.
Hooray. I know I’d feel safer.
I think there will always be those who want to carry guns, and those, like me, who think that the more guns there are, the more likelihood there is that they will be misused. I’ve seen office situations where the most trivial of conflicts have blown up into pushing and shoving — hardly the kind of situation that would be improved by more weaponry.
But hey — to each their own.
I’m just reassured every single time I come home to this country, when I can take a little comfort in knowing that the person yelling at me on the phone, or otherwise angry at the world — is unlikely to show up at the front desk with a holstered, or unholstered, handgun.
Note: Here’s a note on the fast-paced world and things coming at you quickly: I wrote this column talking about legislative changes for carrying guns in Illinois government buildings — but those changes were actually in neighbouring Indiana. That being said, the error was not without value — I received a note from the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, John Lott, not only pointing out that mistake, but suggesting that I hadn’t told the whole story, in that in the 20 other states that allow the practice, there have not been any recorded weapons injuries or deaths as a result. Every piece of a debate informs the result.