George Pyle: It shouldn’t be this hard to convince people to stay alive

It has become all too common in recent years for a few people who want to put themselves above the law to pack arms into a public place and double-dog dare public officials to shoot them. Which, they have reason to believe, won’t happen.

Since the days of John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde, law enforcement willingness to settle things with a blaze of gunfire has fallen into general disfavor. Which was unanimously thought to be a good thing until we started to see AR-15 toting thugs disrupting everything from the Michigan Legislature to federal wildlife preserves.

A welcome bit of comic relief in this sequence of events took place the other day in Kaysville. There, a group of oppositional defiant disorder cases won the support of Mayor Katie Witt to hold a concert that would violate — for the purpose of violating — the state’s directive to stay in small groups and distance to get a handle on the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An infinitely more level-headed city council — including nobody who is, like Witt, running for Congress — put its collective foot down in a way that not only served to stop a planned disease vector but also promised to do so without bloodshed. Just a threat to turn the park’s sprinkler system on the concert appears to have done the trick.

In 1776, 1812, 1861, 1917, 1941, 1950 and 1968 — among other dates — the United States issued a call for its citizens to be willing to lay down their lives in the service of a greater cause.

Support for those efforts was not always unanimous. Sometimes there was a widespread belief that the sacrifice, individual and national, just wasn’t worth it. That it wasn’t our fight. Individuals evaded the call for service and larger groups engaged in sometimes violent protests.

In 2020, various levels of government and expertise in the United States have issued a call for citizens to protect their own lives in the service of a greater cause.

Support for those efforts is widespread, as most of us see that it is our fight and that the sacrifice being sought is, by comparison, somewhere between nonexistent and small.

(It would be smaller still if the federal government would do its duty to financially compensate the low-income workers who, just by staying home and giving up their already meager paychecks, perform as front-line soldiers in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of using the whole panic as an excuse to transfer more wealth from the broad swath of taxpayers into to pockets of people who already have most of the money.)

Instead of asking people to die, we find ourselves working hard to convince a small but vocal, and sometimes heavily armed, assortment of fools not to die. And certainly not to take any number of innocent bystanders with them.

If there was anything that James Madison did not intend in writing the Second Amendment, it was behavior that allowed self-appointed militias to exempt themselves from legal authority by toting firearms and putting decent and/or politically sensitive public officials in the position of either letting people break the law or shooting them.

There is precedent for the latter approach, as those who know anything about Wyatt Earp, the labor movement in the early part of the 20th century or the bank-robbing crime sprees of the Great Depression can tell you. These days, cops or soldiers shooting someone who hasn’t already opened fire on them is generally frowned upon. (If, that is, the target is white.)

For too many Americans, self-sacrifice, even simple kindness, has become an expression of unforgivable weakness.

Witness the visit by the president of the United States to a factory that was ramping up the production of personal protective equipment. His Awfulness wore goggles but refused, at least while the news cameras were present, to wear a mask.

You wear goggles to protect yourself. You wear a mask to protect other people. And that tells you all you need to know about this president and his followers.

George Pyle

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, would find all this self-sacrifice a lot better if it involved more donuts.


Twitter, @debatestate