Last Monday night in SmithfIeld, North Carolina I spent two hours in the hallway outside the session of the Johnston County Commission. The chamber itself was packed, and the hall around it bulged with 50-75 more folks, mostly SRO.
I was there to talk about torture. Johnston County's airport is home to a notorious CIA front company that makes "torture taxi" flights. You remember, the ones where people are kidnapped and taken to very bad places and have evil things done to them for years, after which most are released without being charged with anything, all courtesy of us US taxpayers.
(Oh, did you think that unpleasantness was all over with, Citizen? Sorry; the company's still in business in this dawning spring of 2011-- in fact it's growing. Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.)
Anyway, I've been visiting the Commission's monthly meetings for more than two years. They have a public comments at the close of their sessions, and I take my turn, to remind them about the company, and urge them to take action to end their county's complicity with war crimes.
Very politely, of course; but persistently. So far, they have declined to heed this advice; but they listen, and I'm still trying. That makes me perhaps an optimist or perhaps a fool. (We report, you decide.)
Most Commission meetings deal with humdrum zoning changes--a convenience store here, a used car dealer there-- and the typical turnout is no threat to American Idol TV ratings.
Last Monday night was different. The TV news truck outside was my second clue; the jammed parking lot was the first. I figured they hadn't all come to listen to me. And once I saw the abundance of NRA caps and tee shirts, I hoped not, and
began to think that perhaps mailing in this month's comments might be the better part of valor. But I stayed, waiting to see.
The crowd had gathered because the Commission was considering a rather minimalist ordinance aimed at slightly reining in the wild shooting that goes on in many places in this once almost entirely rural, gun-oriented county. Their uncaged, free range shooting tradition is becoming a problem because a steady stream of suburbanites is moving in, spilling over from the nearby Triangle region.
Along with these newcomers have come plenty of reports about stray bullets crashing through windows, semi-automatic bursts splitting the night, and other unsettling and dangerous incidents, producing hundreds of alarmed calls to the Sheriff's office. But deputies say they had no regulatory leg to stand on.
So the County Commissioners had to do something. Now, they are all conservative Republicans, who are not about to take anybody's guns away. In fact, everybody who spoke Monday swore fealty to the Second Amendment, sacred gun rights and yada yada. Besides which, the county attorney read out a long list of exceptions just added to the ordinance, which to this layperson's ear made it sound as if its mild restrictions only applied during weeks without a Tuesday in them.
Still, amid this overwhelmingly unsympathetic crowd, the ordinance did have a few fans. Early on a young woman spoke passionately of how her husband was killed by somebody's accidental gunshot about a year ago; "my little boy will never know his daddy." Then there were locals who didn't appreciate having to offer kevlar along with baked beans at backyard barbecues. Another couple described the young hotshots who blew thru many of the big clips at a homemade "range" right next door every weekend, waving the guns in all directions.
All three of these speakers, even the bereaved widow, were avowedly "pro-gun," probably loved the cowboy president from Texas. None of which carried any weight with the crowd in the hallway.
One opponent told the Board he had been a scout in Iraq, was wounded in combat there, and warned that the Commission mustn't get in the way of the needed gun training for the 1 per cent like him who make life safe for the rest of us. (You got that? He got a round of applause.)
He was countered by a Korean veteran who also loves his guns, yet dared to speak up in favor of the ordinance after his grown daughter acquired an unplanned bullet hole in her new porch. He spoke firmly, while many in the crowd murmured their unease.
And right behind him was a hardliner who said a flat NO! to any new gun regulations at all, period. (LOUD applause.)
And on it went, till the Commission Chairman patiently said the Commissioners had heard enough and were ready to vote.
They didn't waste time either: the ordinance passed unanimously.
At this the crowd surged from the room, into the hallway and out the door, with much talk about running against the commissioners (who are usually re-elected without opposition). This was my opportunity to slip in behind them and get a seat, torture updates in hand, ready for my cameo.
But when the smoke has just about cleared, the Clerk spots me and says the Board had adjourned the meeting, and I notice that at least three of the seven Commissioners are halfway out the door.
Several others are quite apologetic when they see me, saying they were looking for me but didn't see me. No surprise, given the wall-to-wall crush. After an evening like this one, I might have offered a spell of almost-comic relief, with my novel focus on rendition, torture, and other easy-to-ignore matters.
But I say, no problem. And I mean it quite sincerely. They saw that I came; I'll put the updates in the mail, and be back next month, God (and the NRA) willing.
Am I sorry that the now-vanishing defenders of the iconic gun rights missed the chance to hear me expounding, however briefly, on some other human rights?
Only the tiniest bit. Call me chicken if you want, but hey -- kevlar just makes me look fat. Or fatter. Whatever.