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Outsider

Ready, aim, fire

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Well, I bet that most of you dedicated Indy readers were waiting in line Monday morning at your favorite gun shop, ready to plunk down a few bucks for a brand-new AR-15 assault rifle. It's just been a living hell for the last decade, hasn't it, with that nasty assault-weapons ban infringing upon our basic American liberties??!!

And now, thanks to True Patriots like President Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft and butt-kicking members of Congress like Tom DeLay (R-Texas), we can equip the ol' condo with some serious firepower. Don't know about you, but I'm so ready for a terrorist attack on my new abode on Woodflower Drive. It may sound like a harmlessly suburban address, but I'm totally prepared to fend off the evildoers, thanks to my trusty arsenal of no-longer-banned firearms.

Yup, it'd be fun to imagine that the expiration of the assault-weapons ban actually meant something, no matter what your position on gun control might be. If you're among the 72 percent of Americans who wanted to extend the ban, you might think that it actually had an impact on gun violence. You might even be aware that approximately 12,000 Americans die from gunshot wounds each year -- I know, you saw Bowling for Columbine -- and that no other industrial democracy has more than a few hundred such deaths annually.

Did the much-mourned ban make a difference? Nope; in fact, the Armalite AR-15, specifically outlawed by the legislation, was slightly modified to comply with the law and simply marketed under a new name. The ban was symbolism at its worst; it gave advocates a foot in the door on the way (they imagined) to comprehensive gun-control legislation, and it gave opponents (the NRA) a powerful fund-raising tool.

So, you can look at the ban simply as cynical, interest-group politicking or as an example of Congress and the president kowtowing to the NRA. But it might be more helpful to consider just why our elected officials kiss up to the gunnies, and ignore the rest of us.

When I was a rookie Council member a decade ago, then-Mayor Bob Isaac took me aside to give me a valuable lesson in political reality. "Always look at the crowd [for or against an issue]. If you see mostly gray hair, you'd better do what they want. They vote. The young ones don't. And if you want to vote with the young folks, go ahead ... as long as you don't piss off the old ones."

Mayor Bob was right -- if you're under 30, chances are you don't vote. When the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1972, fully 50 percent of the newly enfranchised voters between 18 and 21 went to the polls. In the national election of 2000, only 30 percent of those 18 to 21 voted, and among 18 year-olds, only a dismal 25 percent could be bothered to cast a ballot.

Young people aren't the only significant non-voters around. The "mentally incompetent" are barred from voting in most states, as are felons (though it should be noted that, in Colorado, felons can cast their votes as long as they've completed their sentences). Hispanic Americans, African-Americans, the unemployed and the poor also turn out in significantly lower numbers than do members of the dominant voting class.

And who are they? They're over 50, reasonably affluent, law-abiding, church-going and they are overwhelmingly (in former El Paso County Commissioner Betty Beedy's immortal phrase) "normal white Americans." They're not particularly interested in paying for programs that would benefit non-voters, like public housing, prison reform, a higher minimum wage, increased educational funding and the like. They're fine with most of the GOP agenda: more God, less gays, more guns, lower taxes.

And because politicians need only respond to the dominant voters, everyone else is marginalized -- by their own choice. I know all the excuses: Young people are turned off by politics, they don't read newspapers, the schools don't teach civics, blah, blah, blah. But let's be honest: The future of this country is in the hands of people who are totally disengaged from the democratic process.

As Marc Eisner, a professor at Wesleyan University, remarked, "Students have a very superficial knowledge of the world that's made up of newzoids and rumor and urban legend." And he's talking about students at an elite eastern university! And if even the best and the brightest are lazy non-voters, then the broad moderate consensus that has defined the American polity for generations will be lost, and we'll be ruled by cunning crackpots and smooth-talking extremists.

Like Tom DeLay and Douglas Bruce and John Ashcroft ... Oh, sorry, kids -- my apologies!! Don't bother to vote -- it's already too late. Rock on!

-- johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net

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