Gun questions and Nativity scenes: Time to build a bunker?

By Jayson Jacoby December 23, 2011 05:23 pm

I’ll bet you could make a pile by reviving those do-it-yourself, nuke-proof bunkers that were briefly popular early in the Cold War.

There is, it seems, much to fear these days, and myriad reasons for citizens to construct stout shelter.

It is the fashion to alert your ill-informed fellow citizens regarding certain of their sacred rights which are soon to be wrest from their apathetic hands.

You can detect in these warnings the low rumble of distant jackboots, glimpse the flash of brown shirts through a keyhole.

I’m intrigued by this propaganda campaign — not least because the purveyors seem to me to be distributed fairly equally across the political spectrum.

From the right we are beseeched to protect our guns and our Nativity scenes and our pickup truck engines with pistons the size of jumbo popcorn buckets. We must be eternally vigilant against the meddling fingers of the sensitive do-gooders, who would have us all live in structures assembled from recycled soda bottles and the soles of worn out sneakers.

From the left come breathless tales of the corporate-government cabal which aims to deprive us of a whole litany of Constitutional rights, and would send us away in shackle-equipped railcars should we dare to protest.

(Or at least give us a good dose of pepper spray right between the eyes.)

This cacophony of fear-mongering blends an entertaining mixture of the plausible — the possibility of getting pepper-sprayed, for instance, can hardly be disputed — and the ludicrous.

Last week our state senator, Republican Ted Ferrioli of John Day, was touting his victory over Kaiser Permanente. The health-care provider had the audacity to include, in a questionnaire for state workers, a query about whether they “possess any firearms.”

Now I happen to agree with Ferrioli that the question is inappropriate.

I’ll concede too that, because it’s part of a survey that also delves into such issues as workers’ driving habits, the question could be construed as implying that owning a gun falls in the same general range on the stupidity scale as driving while soused.

Yet Ferrioli attributes to Kaiser’s paperwork a degree of malevolence that no questionnaire can boast that isn’t administered by a grim-faced and heavily muscled bureaucrat.

(Although I’m tickled by the coincidence of that name, “Kaiser,” with its overtones of Prussian militarism and spike-helmeted men in feldgrau manning Maxims.)

“This was not just a violation of the right to privacy and the Second Amendment right to bear arms, it ironically put workers’ health and wellness at risk,” Ferrioli said in a press release.

“If this information was ever lost or leaked, criminals could find in one convenient database a list of which individuals own guns, and how accessible those guns are. The data collected should be destroyed and an apology issued to those who were asked to answer it.”

The exaggeration here is pretty obvious.

Even the broadest interpretation of the Second Amendment would conclude that a citizen’s rights regarding guns do not extend to never being asked whether  he owns any.

More important, though, as citizens we can tell pretty much anyone — and certainly a nosy HMO — to lay off with the gun questions.

(It’s bad enough that the outfit knows the condition of your colon, which seems to me a much more personal matter than whatever calibers you have locked up in your house.)

Ferrioli concedes as much in his press release, noting that Kaiser’s questionnaire was voluntary.

This is but one example of how, under the influence of partisanship, we tend to conflate flaccid challenges to our privileges into ruthless attacks targeting our most cherished rights.

This Christmas season I’ve tried to keep abreast of what’s become a media tradition: Covering the scourge of the secularists who won’t cease until they’ve scoured the last vestige of Christianity from the holiday.

Compared with Ferrioli’s offensive against Kaiser, the purported anti-Christmas crusade has behind it rather more substantial evidence.

In Prineville, for instance, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (I’ll bet an invitation to that bunch’s yuletide party is one hot ticket) has for the second year in a row complained about a Nativity scene on public property in the Central Oregon city.

I don’t much like the Foundation’s tactics.

Even after Prineville officials made concessions — making the property in question available for rent to any group, regardless of its message — the Foundation persisted in threatening a lawsuit.

Heck, even the ACLU, not always the epitome of moderation, conceded that Prineville’s more inclusive policy met Constitutional muster.

All that said, the Prineville case seems to me an aberration — and an unsuccessful one, at that, since the manger remains — rather than the vanguard of an inexorable national trend that will soon transform “Silent Night” into the 21st century equivalent of the “Horst Wessel” song.

The chill wind of censorship that some forecast feels to me like the gentlest spring zephyr. This is partly because I recently went to Baker High School, which is public property, and there listened to students perform several classic religious Christmas carols.

No attempt was made to muzzle the teenage musicians, even though the annual Vespers concert concluded, as it traditionally does, with a spirited (and more to the point, spiritual) rendition of the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s “Messiah.”

The bottom line for me is that I’ve seen no credible evidence of an organized effort — as distinct from the occasional whining of the killjoys — to deprive Americans of their Constitutional right to celebrate Christmas however they please. Including not celebrating.

Opposition to the Prineville Nativity scene, and similar instances, don’t qualify. Those deal with ostensible government promotion of a specific faith. I find that argument specious in many cases, considering government’s invitation to let non-Christian (or even anti-Christian) groups share space. But I also recognize that the Freedom From Religion Foundation isn’t likely to sue me if I don’t stop playing that Celtic Christmas CD on my hi-fi.

Nor am I worried about the government, or anyone else save perhaps a thief, coming after the rifles in my closet, the four-wheel drive parked outside, or the six-pack of IPA in my refrigerator.

Although Kaiser Permanente might be interested in what I’m doing with all of those.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.