You can’t drive down to Champaign without loving America just a little bit more. All that open space. The miles of brown September corn. The decaying red barns. The communications towers against big blue skies. The fact that the crazy 55 mph speed limit finally went back up to 70, a sign that our nation still retains the ability to repair our errors, at least the minor ones.
There are, of course, ominous signs as well — literal signs, like the “TRUMP-PENCE” billboard in one farmer’s field. Or another announcing “GunsSaveLife.com,” an Illinois pro-guns-everywhere group formed, apparently, because the NRA just isn’t busy enough. The website’s top story is headlined “ARE NO GUNS MALLS SAFE?” and begins “Are America’s malls with ‘NO GUNS’ polices safe for you and your kids and grandkids to visit? That’s a great question given a pair of Muslim terror attacks a week apart at malls that shared policies and/or signage that prohibits law-abiding good guys from carrying guns on their premises . . . .”
I somehow screw up the courage to go to Northbrook Court without an AR-15 (which, I suppose I must point out, Maxon Shooter Supply notwithstanding, I could easily and legally buy if I chose to, which I don’t). But I understand others find this prospect terrifying.
Give GunsSaveLife.com credit for moxie. Guns actually kill people, and when you look at the stats — hard to do, with Congress obstructing research into gun violence — you see that states with looser gun laws suffer more random gun violence. Because terror attacks — even two a week — though scary, are exceedingly rare compared with the daily slaughter that having handguns everywhere encourages.
That’s just a fact. Don’t hate me for telling you.
To be honest, we didn’t think about guns for the next 24 hours. Downtown Champaign on a Saturday looked quite populated and cosmopolitan — the Pygmalion Festival was going on, a weeklong celebration of music, food, technology and literature, now in its 12th year. We happily wandered. There was a booth set up by Wolfram Research, and we stopped by to see what the company founded by genius British mathematician Stephen Wolfram and improbably headquartered in Champaign is up to. A search engine to rival Google, I was told, paring away the crazy and inaccurate in favor of the verifiable and true.
“Kinda bucking against the current, aren’t you?” I thought, but did not say.
There was a poetry slam-type event, a “Literary Death Match” where I was one of the judges, hearing the work of contestants such as the powerful Tyehimba Jess, or winner C. Russell Price, “an Appalachian genderqueer poet living in Chicago.” He fired off a series of sharp epigrams, the best being, “My sex education consisted of touch-kiss-AIDS.” I bet that sums up sex-ed for many.
We took in the set of Maryland band Future Islands. I had seen them perform on David Letterman and was taken by its lead singer, Samuel T. Herring, pounding his chest, growling, dropping to his knees, flailing like Joe Cocker.
At midnight, we walked Kitty around the downtown park.
None of this made the news of course. The news we heard driving back up Interstate 57 the next morning was of gunfire. Around the time we turned in and a mile away, four people were wounded and one killed in a pair of shootings, possibly related, near the University of Illinois campus. Not that such a thing shouldn’t be news — “Big festival celebrating joys of life” isn’t news; “Boob gets in argument, shoots people” is. But what you will never see on GunsSaveLife is that chasing the fantasy of being the good guy who gets the drop on the terrorist at the mall sparks 10,000 tragic accidents and unwise shootings like the one in Champaign. It’s worse than tragic, it’s dumb, and if we were a nation that copes with our problems instead of sanctifying them, we would realize that. Oh well, at least we got the speed limit back where it belongs. Maybe there’s hope.Tweets by @neilsteinberg