A Week We Would Like To Forget

This week’s Courier Herald Column:

Last week was one that many will want to forget, but few will.  It began Monday with a terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon.  As this column is being written Friday morning, it is ending with a Policeman at MIT and one suspect dead and a Boston suburb shut down searching for a suspect that remains at large.

In between a fire at a fertilizer plant became an explosion that destroyed much of the town of West, Texas.  It was an uncomfortable reminder that when there is trouble, first responders run toward the trouble, not a way from it.  The result is that many firefighters are among the missing and the dead.

Wednesday provided a 9/11 like echo to Boston’s Marathon bombing, with letters containing ricin discovered on Capitol Hill and in the White House mail room.  I happened to have an appointment in the Russell Senate office building at the time the Hart Senate Office building had been evacuated, and the Russell building was being checked for signs of the poison.

It was a bit surreal leaving Union Station and walking toward the commotion near the Capitol.  The fact that I chose to continue despite the sirens and approaching hazmat crews says that the world has changed a lot since September 2001.  The abnormal has somewhat become normal.  Emergencies and alerts happen, but most continue on.

Inside the building as I sat waiting on my appointment, I listened to the staffers answering the phones in the outer office of a Senator.  Wednesday, with all of the other news going on, was also the day that the Senate was to vote on amendments to the President’s gun control package.  The call pace was much higher than usual, and those answering the phones remained on task.

“He’s voting no mam. No on the amendment as well…”  It was almost as if they were reading a script on an endless loop, but professional and courteous to each caller.  The fact that their answers all seemed to be in the same order to the same questions indicate that the staffers were likely not the only ones who may have been provided a script.  Such is the modern activity of civic involvement, and the government response.

But those on the phones do represent the front line of our representative form of government, and are the only face of a Senator or Representative that many will ever encounter.  As such, those who are finally “fed up” enough over an issue and decide to call their elected officials often unleash their anger on these staffers who work in very small, shared office space.  They are generally paid little, especially relative to the high and rising cost of living in DC.  And who on that day were working the phones in a polite and cheerful manner despite the fact that crews were actively working to determine if their workspace was being poisoned by an unknown person.

I’ll admit that I was struck by the images I was seeing on twitter and Facebook of panic and chaos on Capitol Hill, but yet sitting inside an office, watching and listening to professionals who come to serve us as the face of representative government every day, often under unusual and trying circumstances.  It was obviously lost on many of the callers what was going on around these staffers, but that wasn’t their concern, and the staffers offered neither excuses nor left their posts.

There were other strong images to reaffirm faith in humanity this week.  The Boston Marathon runners who went directly from the race to blood banks to make donations shows that many will respond when called upon.  Acts of heroism in the face of extreme tragedy such as this are easy to spot and should be properly lauded.

But then there are those who serve us in so many capacities, every day, who just do their jobs in zones that are becoming more and more dangerous, to serve a public that is becoming more and more hostile, with thanks few and far between.

Senators and Congressmen run for office knowing they will often upset a large number of people they serve.  It’s part of the job, and they expect and understand much of the reaction.  But those who work for them don’t get most of the trappings or perks, but do get the lion’s share of public contact – and the brunt of their ire.

The next time you call you elected official, please state your mind as you see fit.  But please also remember that those who are talking to you are also just trying to do a job – and may likely also be trying to figure out if they need to evacuate their office while they’re answering your concerns.  That’s one small part of this past week we would all do well to not forget.


  1. Trey A. says:

    I too wish we could get a mulligan for last week. Make all the bad stuff go away.

    I’m sure your experience in the Russell Building was powerful, but I’m not particularly inclined to feel sympathy for the folks “just doing their jobs” answering the phones for Senators. Ambition–noble as it may be–is why they’re putting their fancy college degrees to work in D.C. and not their hometowns. Most got to D.C. through some sort of special connection. U.S. Senators typically aren’t filling their customer service posts through craigslist. True, it is admirable that they stayed at work amid the ricin scare. And their polite responses are nice–but I imagine mandatory if they hope to keep their jobs. I agree, though, that it’s just good manners for us to be polite in return.

    I know it’s off topic, but I’d love to get your perspective on why one Georgia Senator in particular voted against the expansion of background checks. I imagine there are some political reasons that I don’t fully understand. I can’t figure out why background checks (like at Wal-Mart) shouldn’t apply to gun shows. There has to be more to it that I’m not finding in the press.

    • “I can’t figure out why background checks (like at Wal-Mart) shouldn’t apply to gun shows. ”

      My understanding (and I’m sure I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong) is that background checks are already run on people attempting to purchase a gun at gun shows in Georgia. That’s inside the actual show. It’s the individual transactions just outside the show in the parking lot that there are no background checks. To me, this means that every transaction of a gun would have to be done with the assistance of a dealer / FFL holder. People would no longer be allowed to conduct private transactions without some form of intervention by the government. Some people say this is good, while others not so much. I personally fall in the latter category.

      Though I’ve purchased all of the firearms I own new through dealers, I have had the occasion where I’ve discussed purchasing one of my neighbor’s rifles not long ago. I believe I should be able to do that without having to get the government’s permission.

      • Ellynn says:

        If I buy a car from my neighbor, I have to go to the DMV to change the title, get new plates and show proof of insurance. It a bother, it’s annoying, and it’s required. It does not stop me from getting a the car unless I don’t qualify for insurance. Also note I’m not getting the governments permission to own it.

        On the flip side, if you sell a gun to your neighbor can you say 100% beyond any shadow of a doubt they would pass a background check?

        • But yet you’re not saying we should regulate bows & arrows, knives, throwing stars, axes, swords, rocks, etc. Only weapons which propel a small metal object through use of black powder / igniter?

          Why do you suppose that the Constitution / Bill of Rights is silent on any right to own horses / buggies / carriages, but specifically spelled out that the right to bear arms shall not be infringed?

          • Noway says:

            And the “shall not be infringed” appears nowhere else in the Constitution. Hmmmm…I wonder if that is significant to the The Framers’ concepts on the importance of the 2nd Amendment?

      • Trey A. says:

        My understanding is that while the number of people holding FFLs is very large, there are gun dealers who deliberately do not have FFLs to skirt background checks on their sales–specifically in and around gun shows or online through sites like armslist. It’s also my understanding that unlike auto dealers, there is no quantity threshold that demands an FFL. The stipulations compel sellers to obtain FFLs if they are selling guns and/or ammo as a “business” or a primary source of income.

        Seems to me that the as is loophole leaves a lot of sellers in a legal gray area and weakens the enforcement of FFL violations–folks on the gun show circuit who are selling without FFLs and operating as a business without labeling it as such. It seems to me that the 100,000+ folks who do hold FFLs would want to close the loophole by requiring FFLs for everyone who sells more than say, 3 or 4 guns per year.

        Again, I could be wrong. Just trying to understand it all.

    • Ellynn says:

      How does having a background check of private sales prevent you from owning a gun? You still have the right to own one – unless you don’t meet one of the SCOTUS ruled reasons not to have one, like mental health, lost of rights due to felony conviction and so forth. Yes it is a pain and annoying to get one for a private sale, which was my point of the car post.

      How does a background check prevent you from owning a gun?

  2. gcp says:

    Never understood the policy that gun dealer sales require background checks but no background checks anywhere else. You either favor background checks everywhere or nowhere.

  3. seekingtounderstand says:

    It was just another attemp to collect more taxes. Will gun tax be the new cigarette tax?
    They really didn’t submit any solution to solving the problem.
    Prediction – government will start taxing bullets and guns because they can and add “its for the children.”

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