My neighbor would like to write this op-ed, but she is too afraid.
A mother of three young children, she responded to a recent Facebook post by Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum in which he urged “citizens of Ulster County who are licensed to carry a firearm to PLEASE DO SO.”
“You are encouraging people to carry their guns in light of recent events?” she wrote on Facebook. “How can this be a real post? Disgusting. Utterly.”
Perhaps even more disgusting than a public official essentially deputizing his citizens – virtually begging vigilantes and drunken bullies to have their day – was the stream of invectives immediately directed at my neighbor, culminating with, “Maybe ISIS will come to your house and we’d all be better off.”
“As a mother, I felt utterly threatened, and not only blocked all of these users but also deleted my comment immediately,” my neighbor told me. “I do not want to have my name out there and simply felt afraid. Now isn’t that a shame? Sheriff Van Blarcum claims to want to protect people, but his supporters are bullying and threatening those who wholeheartedly disagree with his statement.”
Yes, it’s a shame – a shame that a mother fearful for her children’s well-being can’t voice her opinion without receiving hateful comments and threats – ironically, taking a page from the way terrorists try to strike fear in our hearts with their threats of harm.
It’s also a shame that an elected local official would encourage people to carry firearms despite a body of evidence showing time and time again that the result of more people carrying guns is more violence and death. A Harvard University study earlier this year found that homicide via firearm is nearly three times more likely in states with the most guns compared to states with the least, while firearm assaults are nearly seven times more likely.
In the U.S., there are about the same number of guns in civilian hands as there are civilians – a whopping 310 million, according to recent figures, many times more than in any other developed country. In Germany, by contrast, there are 25 million civilian firearms and 15 times fewer gun homicides – that’s 1.9 homicides per million people compared to 29.7 per million people in the U.S., according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Yet people like Sheriff Van Blarcum, who didn’t respond to requests for comment, and his legions of followers – his post on Facebook had drawn nearly 3,500 “likes” by press time – are unfazed by the facts. Ulster County District Attorney D. Holley Carnright tried to smooth over the issue, writing in a blog post, “I am not convinced more guns in the hands of untrained or unskilled civilians is the answer and nor do I believe does the Sheriff. I discourage anyone from misreading the Sheriff’s comments.”
There is nothing to misread here. The sheriff’s call to arms by ordinary – and, by definition, untrained – citizens is clear. About 10,000 Ulster County residents – more than five percent of the county’s population of 180,445 -- have a permit to carry a firearm. It’s not enough to hope they don’t take the sheriff’s advice too literally. It’s time this country -- and this county --caught up with the rest of the world.