Tag Archives: Tulsa

Quick draw artists

Yes, I’m back after a six-week hiatus. Sometimes life gets in the way.

My town has gotten a lot of attention lately because of a fatal shooting involving a 73-year-old reserve sheriff’s deputy and a sketchy ex-con. My newspaper has had a lot to do with that attention, having ferreted out the incident’s most startling details. I’ve had nothing to do with that and am not inclined to involve myself in the discussion except to say the people working on this story for our paper know what they are doing.

More generally, the story fits into what seems to me a larger pattern of guns becoming an early option for settling disputes. Whether its two drunk guys in a bar or members of Congress seeking a solution in the Middle East, it seems Americans are increasingly trigger happy. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s always been this way and the thing that’s really changed is the ubiquity of digital media. Either way, it seems like a lot of people are being shot unnecessarily.

Some of this is political. In many cases, politics is the science and art of scaring people witless. Scared people do things they wouldn’t do otherwise, like overestimate the threat posed by others, or underestimate their own reactions under stress. Some of this is fed by people and organizations with a financial stake in keeping the public on edge. The worst thing that can happen to an advocacy group is for its particular crisis to be solved. So they have to keep the donors and the volunteers stirred up. My rule, and it doesn’t apply only to this subject, is to always take into account who is selling a book or a CD or has an election coming up.

Our fairly recent obsession with the Second Amendment is revealing. No right, including the only to keep and bear arms, is completely inviolate. Freedom of religion does not extend to human sacrifice or polygamy. Freedom of the press does not include libel. And the Second Amendment did not prevent Congress and even local governments from regulating firearms. For many years, Tulsa police confiscated guns from people they simply did not like the looks of. We accept and even advocate for infringement of the right to vote, of equal protection, from search and seizure and fair speech, but draw the line at any restriction on our right to own and use guns.

I am not against guns. I don’t understand why some people own the kinds of guns they do, or as many, but that’s their business. I just don’t want them to use one on me.

And that’s the problem. It’s not the number of guns we Americans own, it’s our attitude about them. Maybe we don’t see guns — and bombs — as a first resort, but we tend to keep them very high on the list.

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Homeland security 1.0

Not quite a century ago, during the Great War, Tulsans deemed guilty of “disloyalty” were sent to insane asylums. Unattached women of suspect morals were interned without recourse in a “detention camp” at First and Elgin; men judged insufficiently enthusiastic about their patriotic duty to buy Liberty Bonds were, in the words of an official post-war report, “made to see the light.”

This was not just Tulsa. Under color of patriotism and the war effort, very likely influenced by reaction to an influx of immigrants, the stirring of a civil rights movement, and women’s march to suffrage, the nation launched a broad attack on personal liberty.

It began, if not innocently, at least with good intentions. The National Defense Act of 1916 authorized the creation of state and local Councils of Defense. The state councils were activated shortly after U.S. entry into the war in the spring of 1917; the state councils, in turn, authorized the local councils.

Initially, the councils were to inventory industrial, agricultural and transportation assets and coordinate their utilization for military purposes. Rather quickly, they assumed or were given responsibility for monitoring the activities of regular citizens, ferreting out suspected spies and saboteurs, intimidating suspected enemy sympathizers, tracking down draft resisters and war profiteers, even pressuring clergy to stick to the script.

The Tulsa County Council of Defense was led by prominent and conscientious citizens, and most of what it did was beyond reproach. Some of it, though, fed the worst instincts of human nature.

The council maintained an investigations department that handled more than 300 cases in a little over a year, ranging from disloyalty to fraud. It also worked in cooperation with the American Protective League, a civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation bureau — later renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation — and the 1,000-member Home Guard, a force of men ineligible for regular military duty who were supposed to replace the National Guardsmen called to active duty.

Much of their work was relatively routine — background checks, identifying draft dodgers, looking out for the families of service members. But they also interrogated “alien enemies,” put a stop to German-language schools and religious services (even German classes at the local high school) and packed off an unknown number of “disloyal” citizens to the “insane asylum.”

The war ended at the end of 1918. The councils of defense and the Home Guard were disbanded the next year. But the overriding zeal of the times lingered, manifesting itself in the rise of a new Ku Klux Klan, the Palmer Raids, even Prohibition, and an insistence on conformity to a certain definition of what it means to be an American.

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