A dying breed.

Common sense is an endangered species.  

In Nevada we met Cliven Bundy, a rancher who refused to pay grazing fees in order to legally range his cattle on federal lands. While Bundy actually stopped paying the fees in 1993, it wasn’t until earlier this year that the federal government chose to confiscate Bundy’s cattle following a trespassing ruling. Rather than see Bundy as the scofflaw that he was, many people chose to make Bundy into a hero, a kind of freedom symbol. A few of his supporters, armed with assault-style rifles, took sniper positions with law enforcement officers in the crosshairs. Fortunately, no shots were fired. What did these people think… that they could be justified in shooting an agent of the federal government?

Recently, one of Bundy’s sons refused to enroll his daughter in school when he learned that she would not be allowed to carry her pocket knife to class. Sure, there once was a time when pocket knives were commonplace – I carried one myself – but once a rule is established, we have to honor it. But the younger Bundy, like his father, seeks to ignore authority.

A few days ago, a young girl was treated by her parents with a vacation trip in Arizona that included a stop at an outdoor shooting range that features specialty weapons including fully automatic machine guns. Unable to control the Uzi as it fired, she lost control of the weapon and a bullet struck and killed her instructor. Now, I have no problem with providing young people with proper instruction in the responsibly use of firearms. But we should be sure that the child is mature enough to treat that weapon with respect… and we most definitely should not give a child a weapon that she is not physically capable of controlling.

And then… there’s Ferguson, Missouri.

One thing I won’t write about here is the incident that started the unrest in Ferguson, the death of Michael Brown. I won’t get into discussing Brown’s death because there’s so much we don’t know… and will never know. Without objective witnesses – and, especially, without video of the incident – we can’t possibly know what caused Officer Darren Wilson to shoot Brown to death. We also don’t know why an incident report wasn’t filed immediately.

But what we do know, and what I will discuss, is what happened after Brown died.

In the immediate aftermath, the local police department seemed unable to diffuse what quickly escalated into a tension-filled atmosphere spanning a racial divide. Of course, it didn’t help matters when the Ferguson police chose to employ military surplus equipment and to aim their weapons directly into the crowd of protesters. Sure, there were incidents of bottles and other projectiles thrown at police officers, but for law enforcement to point their rifles into a seemingly unarmed crowd caused many of us to flashback to 1970 and the National Guard’s blunder at Kent State.

It certainly hasn’t helped to have television and radio personalities rush to cast judgment. One foolish pundit even suggested that a water cannon should be used to stop the protests. Seriously? Do we really want to see white officers aiming high-pressure water hoses at black protesters… again? Did we learn nothing from America’s struggles over civil rights?

Let’s be honest: there were some bad people in Ferguson over the past few weeks. Vandalism, looting, arson… destructive behavior by a small group of people who were taking advantage of a bad situation. But let’s not confuse those wrongdoers with the peaceful protesters of Ferguson, those who simply were voicing their concerns over what they considered the unnecessary use of force by law enforcement.

I’m a strong supporter of the police, but I will admit that there are a few bad eggs. One in particular stood out in Ferguson. A police officer lost his composure and shouldered his rifle, aiming at the faces of some of the taunting protesters. In an obvious fit of rage the officer told members of the crowd, “I will [expletive] kill you.” Fortunately, a senior officer reached out and guided the policeman’s weapon downward while escorting him away from the scene. The profane language uttered by that officer in a moment when he lost control, captured on live streaming video by a member of the crowd holding an iPhone, was an embarrassment to law enforcement in general. It has been reported since that this officer has been disciplined in the past for unbecoming conduct.

These are all examples of Common Sense Deficiency Disorder.

Think about it: if you don’t pay your bills, you risk losing your property. If you carry a prohibited weapon into a school, you risk disciplinary action. If you allow a child to handle a weapon that is beyond her capabilities, someone could get hurt.

And if you react to anger and violence with more anger and violence, the situation will only get worse.

Common sense. It takes a little effort.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald, 9/4/14)

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