Monday, February 17, 2014

Bullies with Guns

I don't like going to the North Charleston Performing Arts Center.  I don't like having my handbag searched.  It seems that over the years they have evolved their search policy, and that it has become ever more ridiculous.

After 9/11, and with the certainty that the next attack would be on the Arts in Charleston, the search was for guns.  A few years ago, I learned that they were now searching for cameras.  Management explained that it was part of their contract with the theater company that was performing.  Hmm, I thought, I wonder what would happen if the New York stage began to demand confiscation of cameras from their audiences....

This year, with no other option than to submit myself to a search in order to see Arlo Guthrie, I ruminated for weeks over whether they still confiscated cameras, and did that mean that they also took away smart phones?  I never for one second entertained the possibility that they would have done away with the searches.

When I was approached at the door for the search and I asked what they were looking for, I was directed to a quite large poster board that was standing by the door, where some dozen articles of search were listed.  Dumbfounded, and having lived in Charleston long enough not to want to make a fuss, I glanced at the list, noted that it included something about water bottles and, farther down, two-year-olds, stuck out my large purse and submitted to a cursory search and walked away.

Later I did go read the sign.  Topmost was no food or beverages.  Yes they can look in your pocketbook and confiscate a bag of M & M's.  Farther down on the list, somewhere around number 5, was something like:  No bottles, cans or weapons.  And no, the two-year-olds were not confiscated, they just had to have a ticket.  And they could not be in your purse.  Although now that I think about it, I guess they could search your purse for your two-year-old's ticket.  And guns was hidden behind bottles and cans, and within the word "weapons."

So as I waited for the concert, I continued to fume about the unquestioned right of a theater to search my personal property.  This led to thoughts about the recently passed South Carolina law allowing guns in bars and restaurants.  As amazing as the fact that the response to gun violence was not just to allow more guns to be sold, was that our legislators had now given express permission for them to be carried in the most volatile scenario, that where there is alcohol.

What was circling my mind, though, was the compromise that the usually more level-headed legislators reached.  If a bar or restaurant owner did not want guns in their establishment, they could post a sign.  That sign had to follow precise rules regarding wording and font size, exactly what walls and how high it needed to be posted, AND include a precise picture of a gun, all spelled out in Section 23-31-235.  In other words, the law had more restrictions on the signage than on the weapons.

There is a lot of hot air about how the federal government infringes on the rights of business owners in South Carolina.  And yet our legislators were happy to accept such detailed rules regarding being able to refuse to serve people carrying guns.  And considered it a victory in the gun control fight.

It initially shocked me that two groups were not coming out in loud opposition to the law:  police officers and bar/restaurant owners.  But when I saw the sign at the Performing Arts Center in which the prohibition against guns was hidden under "bottles, cans or weapons," it suddenly made sense.

We are all being held hostage by the bullies with guns.  We need to tread carefully around them, because to enrage them may not be fatal (although it might) but would certainly make it harder for us to go about our business.  In the case of bar and restaurant owners, their association would not want to alienate this powerful group, because retribution by A.L.E.C. and the NRA, both of whom control our legislators, would be swift and painful.  Police groups would also face retaliation in the form of budget and jobs.  Those who post those precisely drawn signs risk the wrath of any gun bullies that may have patronized their business as well as many who do not.

And gun bullies are not afraid to rage against those that question their unfettered right to bear arms, because, after all, they are the ones with the guns.

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