Saturday, December 18, 2010

All up in arms

We have a new business here in Holliston, set up right on the main street through the center of town and just in time for the holidays. The one little detail about the new establishment that has caused something of a stir (at least with some) is the fact that the new business is a gun shop.

I'll admit I had something of a chilled response when I first heard of it myself, but I also I had the sense that on a certain level this was somebody else's business and not my own. Holliston has actually quite a few nice businesses located in the town center: a general store, a coffee shop and a candy store, a bank or two and the library, dry cleaners and a small grocery —a funeral parlor and a hair salon. I would probably rather there was something other than guns & ammo being added to the mix —but that's me.

What bothers me much more than the nature of the new store in town, though, is the character of the discussion in response to it that I've observed. Watching the comment thread unfold beneath a news story on our local on-line news source,, one couldn't help but notice the seething resentments coming to the surface, the bubbling crude. There were the overwrought exclamations of concern about a gun shop "within shooting distance" of a playground nearby. There were one or two glib slights (I'll confess to my own among them). In answer came the comments that the new venture was to be applauded precisely because it was so upsetting to those despised "yuppies and Liberals" who comprise some loathsome "other half " of Holliston. Liberalism, announced one frothy friend of the new business, was a 'Mental Disorder' —kudos to anyone or anything that insults their senses.

Yup, I'm far less bothered by the guns than I am by the ugliness.

There was one comment that comes to mind now that I think particularly circled about the balance we need actually in play. In defense of the shop, one citizen pointed out that Massachusetts had some of the most stringent and demanding standards in terms of gun licensing, some of the most exacting regulation of the sale of weapons of any state in the country. This, the commenter argued, should put to rest the anxieties about guns in stores in immediate adjacency to a candy shop. It should cut through the clamor and quiet the valid concerns and enable the proprietor of the new gun shop to simply go about his business.

I buy that, as both a valid argument in defense of the store —and of the actual value of that much reviled Liberalism. Of course, the Liberalism I refer to is not the cartoon caricature —so popular as a target for purveyors of resentment politics. Rather it is a governing principle of our Democracy, where the instruments of power in government are made responsive and accountable to the people... all of the people, the half that "clings to their guns and religion" and the half that maybe isn't so enthused about products marketed for their kill power, that has some valid concern about the way lethal weapons are treated and traded in our communities.

Oddly enough, it is each half hearing the other half out that is the working concept for our society. Some amount of constructive exchange and cooperation even over our most strongly held differences —that is the enabling premise —I could buy some more of that.

I wish we all could. Sometimes it seems to be in such short supply.

(P.S. Please note that the picture above isn't actually from inside the new shop. I just got a kick out of the guy in the Santa hat.)