Guns in the sun vs. safety in the snow

It’s been a long hard winter here in the Northeast.

Extreme cold fatigue set in months ago. Roadside piles of once-pristine snow have turned to filthy gray sludge. Heating oil and propane costs are exploding household budgets. Electricity rates are on the rise and hovering somewhere in the stratosphere. After digging out twice from snow dumps of up to two feet, Northeasterners recently endured an overnight coating of ice that froze doors shut and left surfaces more suited for the ice skate than the boot.

It’s been tough. Even winter-sports enthusiasts, standing knee-deep in crusty snow, are screaming “Enough!” In short, as we crawl toward the official first day of spring and continue to endure the vagaries of this transitional season, the misery index is off the charts.

Not surprisingly, there’s much talk of the Sunshine State. It seems the balmier clime has become the new Promised Land. The longing is intoned with almost religious fervor. “Next Year in Florida” embraces a nearly universal fantasy. I can imagine the scene next autumn: a massive muster of snowbirds in an open field the morning after Turkey Day. Amongst them might be more than a few of my neighbors, gingerly trying out the lift capability of their newly acquired wings and testing the nascent navigational skills they’ll need to keep them tracking south toward the Florida border.

Not for me that fantasy. I say to those who gaze longingly south and imagine life perfection as a Floridian, think carefully about the easy seductions of eternal sunshine and warmth.

Yes, it gets tiresome shoveling driveways and sidewalks and worrying about the heating system. And yes, more often than not the bite of cold gusts of wind leaves one begging for mercy. But everything changes eventually. Seasons follow upon one another with comforting predictability. The seasons mark the passage of time and help us discover how complex and adaptable we are as individuals when we are forced to change not only our clothing but also our habits and our thought processes. Living with the wrenching drama of distinct seasons, we northerners fine-tune our emotions to each one: the bitterness of winter, the ecstasies of spring, the mellowness of summer, and the splendor of fall. Even as I write this, the snow piles are receding in the nearly spring light. Patches of grass are emerging. And as the gloom of winter begins to lift, so do my spirits.

Unlike those who dream of their sunny Shangri-La, I chart the difference between our northern climes and Florida in ways other than what can be measured by the heat or cold index. Comfort, after all, is not solely measured by the thermometer’s gauge.

As a political creature, I see comfort more as a function of the social contract than of how many days there may be of temperatures above 60 degrees. True comfort resides in the belief that my rights are as important as my neighbors’ and that our responsibilities to one another and for one other’s safety are expressed through the conception and writing of commonsense laws. And so I must admit that I am more comfortable in the cold climes of New York than I am in the heat of Florida.

With apologies to the sensibilities and beliefs of socially conscious Floridians, let’s remember that Florida is the poster child for elevating the unfettered rights of some—that is, the right of the minority to bear arms—above the right of the majority to be safe. It is in sunny Florida that there are no registration or licensing requirements for owners of rifles and shotguns. No permits nor registration papers are required to purchase and own handguns. Want to purchase and own a semi-automatic assault rifle, or two or three or fifteen? Florida welcomes you with open arms. Want to buy from an online dealer an arsenal of ammunition worthy of a war zone and stash it in your open-air garage? The Sunshine State couldn’t care less.

And under Florida’s sharp blue skies it’s gotten just a bit harder to feel safe in the landscape of perfectly manicured public spaces after the state passed its Stand Your Ground law. What comfort does this law ensure? This is the law that invites individuals to employ deadly force and use “stand your ground” as a defense when they believe themselves to have been under threat, no matter how minor or disputed the altercation. The law certainly has not brought comfort to the wife and daughter of the father who was murdered in a movie theater after tossing a container of “deadly” popcorn in the face of a bully who chided him for texting a baby sitter before the movie had begun. There is no comfort, too, for the family of Jordan Davis who was shot and killed and whose only “threat” was that he refused to turn down the music in his car in a parking lot. There will never again be comfort under the sun for the mother and father of Trayvon Martin, whose only “threat” was that he was walking home in the dark wearing a hoodie after buying Skittles and soda and then was unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and encountered a stranger threateningly following him.

The contrast up here in the colder climes could not be more dramatic. Although many of my Upstate New York neighbors despise the new SAFE Act, I couldn’t be more grateful and proud of the passage of this commonsense law shortly following the tragic events at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The law bans the sale of semi-automatic rifles, regulates the sale of ammunition, bans Internet ammunition sales, establishes instate criminal background checks at the time of gun sales or transfers, and involves mental-health professionals in the identification of patients who pose a potential threat to themselves or others.

So let others escape to the fantasy of a more comfortable life under perpetual heat and blazing sun. I’ll endure the cold and feel safer for it.