Thank God Our Elected Officials Are Looking Out for Us!

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I live in California. There was a time when saying that would have made me the envy of practically everyone in America who didn’t live in California. After all, what’s not to like: lovely, temperate climate; beautiful and varied terrain, with something for everything; almost a thousand miles of breathtaking coastline; vineyards galore; world-class restaurants in practically every city; some of the greatest universities and colleges in the world; some of the most spectacular natural wonders the world has to offer, from Yosemite to giant sequoias to the redwood forests to… The list goes on.

Unfortunately, all of those positive delights are outweighed by the negatives, which can be summed up in one word: politicians.

Pretty much of all of them stink, but one of our state senators, Dianne Feinstein, has raised the bar for egregious hypocrisy and stupidity. Let’s take a quick look at the hypocrisy first.

Senator Feinstein has gone on record as stating that, if she could, she would confiscate every firearm in private hands in America: “If I could have gotten one more vote in the senate, it would been, ‘Mr. and Mrs. American, turn them all in.’” And yet, while she was still a supervisor in San Francisco, she herself had a coveted concealed carry permit and carried a handgun.

No hypocrisy in that. I’m responsible and trustworthy, but you, little insignificant you, are not.

“As a supervisor, I had no protection, so I got a gun permit and learned to shoot at the Police Academy. When I became mayor, I succeeded in passing a measure banning handguns in San Francisco…”

And certainly no hypocrisy in that statement, by golly.

Of course, one could argue that whatever training she received at the Police Academy was just enough to make her almost as much of a menace to society as getting elected, because she clearly didn’t learn the fundamental rules of gun safety, such as never, ever putting your finger on the trigger of a firearm until you are ready to shoot. Look at the photograph above. It does make you tremble to think about those law enforcement officers in the city by the bay.

Now let’s take a look at the stupidity.

Senator Feinstein’s “Assault Weapons Ban,” (and I won’t waste your time enumerating the fallacies and inaccuracies of her bill) was delayed when Senator John Coryn (R-Texas) tried to include a provision that would allow military veterans to purchase “assault weapons” the same way that retired law enforcement officers are allowed to. Here is Senator Feinstein’s verbatim response to the proposal:

“The problem with expanding this is that, you know, with the advent of PTSD, which I think is a new phenomenon as a product of the Iraq War, it’s not clear how the seller or transfer of a firearm covered by this bill would verify that an individual was a member or veteran and there was no impairment of that individual with respect to having a weapon like this.”

Try parsing that sentence. English we speak here very much. But let’s examine the content of her garblings. If you’ve read my memoir, An Accidental Cowboy, you know that I spent ten years dealing with the effects, both direct and corollary, of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so this is something I feel qualified to comment on. PTSD is not merely the product of war. It can be caused by rape (which might have been prevented, had the victim been allowed to carry a firearm), by a non-fatal assault, a natural disaster, a car accident, virtually any traumatic experience which causes the victim to feel helpless. It can even be caused indirectly by, for example, the sudden death of a loved one, or witnessing a traumatic event. So while PTSD is certainly most commonly associated with war, it is not the exclusive provenance of man’s inhumanity to man.

But what really caught my eye and made my blood pressure go up into quadruple digits was the phrase, “…with the advent of PTSD, which I think is a new phenomenon as a product of the Iraq War…” I mean, how ignorant do you have to be to get elected as a public servant? It just so happens I am currently reading Son of the Morning Star, Evan S. Connell’s coruscating portrait of George Armstrong Custer and the battle of The Little Bighorn, and the evening before I stumbled across Senator Feinstein’s eloquent and graceful and oh so insightful thumbnail of PTSD, I read about Captain Thomas Weir, one of the very few survivors of that horrific day. This is Connell: “Less than six months after the battle he died. He was thirty-eight. His physician told Elizabeth” (Custer) “that when Weir arrived in New York he was depressed and nervous. He spent most of his time in one room, avoiding everybody. Toward the end he became so nervous that he was unable to swallow.”

“The advent of PTSD?” “A new phenomenon?” “A product of the Iraq War?” I think we can safely say that PTSD has been with us as long as war has.

Senator Feinstein continued: “I think we have to—if you’re going to do this, find a way that veterans who are incapacitated for one reason or another mentally, don’t have access to this kind of weapon.” Incapacitated?

Well, well, well. Ms. Feinstein, my dear Ms. Feinstein, wouldn’t it be nice to have at least some rudimentary grasp of issues before you pontificate on them? First of all, your implication is that PTSD is the exclusive provenance of veterans. Do you really think that police work is such a stress-free walk in the park that retired law enforcement officers, who are allowed to own what you inaccurately refer to as “assault weapons,” are invariably free from any of the residual effects of shooting and killing people, or being shot at, or just by seeing some of the unimaginable horrors that make up their daily work? And what makes you think PTSD is universally and invariably “incapacitating?” Was William Manchester, who suffered from PTSD and its corollary depression (a result of his service in World War Two, before PTSD existed, according to you) “incapacitated?” (You might want to read his brilliant account of his “incapacitation,” Goodbye Darkness.) Is your colleague, John McCain, “incapacitated?” How about British comedian-actor-writer Spike Milligan? He managed to accomplish quite a lot in spite of being “incapacitated.” My wife claims I am incapacitated every time I try to balance the checkbook, but leaving that overrated activity aside, I’ve managed to hang on without perpetrating any grotesque crimes. How about the countless thousands upon thousand of veterans who have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD who live quiet and productive lives and are at least as responsible as any idiot who poses in the senate with her finger on the trigger of a gun.

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