August 25, 2007

A Very Scary Thing in the West

High County News, the environmental news magazine, was started by an environmentally concerned Wyoming rancher. I myself have been a subscriber off and on since those Wyoming days.

In the 1980s, Eastern transplants Ed and Betsy Marston took over. It is sort of telling that I once heard Betsy admit that prior to moving to Colorado's Western Slope as a middle-aged woman, she had never driven on a gravel road.

HCN continued to provide a kind of environmental coverage that you do not find in any Western newspaper--not The Denver Post or any of the other big one.

But there were some holes in the Marstons' editorial viewpoints. For one thing, they just did not "get" wildlife-related stories unless they were presented in simplistic ways with Good Guys and Bad Guys. You know: endangered species good, all ranchers bad.

I sold a few stories to HCN in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but I never felt like I could produce the Good Guys/Bad Guys writing that they wanted.

Now HCN is trying to be cultural. In a recent issue, writer Ray Ring Viewed With Alarm the fact that (news flash) Westerners own guns. (Then why are some of the best gun bloggers in Tennessee?)

To support his view that this is a Very Scary Thing, Ring talks to few gun owners. That would be too obvious. He might learn that Americans (not just Westerners) own firearms for several reasons (in no particular order):

1. For self defense, a natural human right
2. For hunting
3. For target shooting, a test of mind and body
4. For collecting interesting human artifacts with historical associations of one kind or another.

For instance, he turns to experts whose ideology supports the thesis of Scariness:

In a phone interview, Professor Burbick says the gun-rights movement began not only in reaction to gun laws, but also as a reflection of white men’s anxiety about the civil rights movement

Had he wanted to do actual historical research, he might have turned, for example, to the work of Stephen P. Halbrook, a black legal scholar who points out in his book That Every Man Be Armed an interesting fact: Many early gun-control laws were directed at freed slaves, lest they defend themselves in the post-Civil War South.

But Halbrook's book was published by the University of New Mexico Press, located in Albuquerque, hence Westerners, and hence in Ring's view probably Fascinated With Firearms.

As someone who teaches 19th-century American literature, Joan Burbick's historical horizon ought to extend to the 1870s, but maybe not.

Being a longtime HCN reader, I hate to see it turn into an anemic imitation of The New York Times Magazine with all that publication's ideological blinders. That is probably not what Tom Bell had in mind.

If Ring's article is HCN's take on cultural reporting, you are better off with Mountain Gazette.

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