The Eyes of Mr Ratliff

A stranger visited the bookshop I managed out on the plains below Red River one year. He was courtly in that affected small town southern way, and he stood straight, and his eyes would turn up into his head like the cherries on a slot machine dial at the oddest times. I mean, he’d lean on the counter, turn to look at you, and all you’d see would be white. It was an unnerving tic I’ve witnessed from only two other individuals.

Call him Ratliff. He was a migrant typewriter cleaner. Imagine the future of that trade in 1972. But his real preoccupation was with firearms. He was nuts on the subject, was constantly dragging any conversation over to his crazed commentary on small arms fire.

We had a lot of time to discuss his topic, because hardly anyone disturbed us. The bookshop was set up for me by my stepdaddy because I wanted to operate a bookshop. However, hardly anybody else in town cared anything for books.That put some strain on our business plan but I should have known that about a village which sold buckshot by the case from every grocery.

Mr Ratliff had only a handful of points he ran over and over like a loop of a film clip, or a stump speech. The reason Hitler never invaded Switzerland was because every Swiss was trained from youth to use firearms and each had at least one rifle. ("He know’d he’d a’hadda bobcat by the tail!") Registration of firearms worked to the detriment of the People because when Hitler invaded Poland "all he had to do was go by city hall and find the firearms registration papers and go around and disarm the populace."

Ratliff’s entire scope and education apparently came out of the two pages of wisdom on any subject imparted by the NRA rag, or Readers Digest, or both. He would, possibly to shift the heat from his own hand-me-down opinions, often claim "You’re lettin’ somebody else do your thinking for you."

Now, if you wonder how the nazis could line one hundred and twenty divisions along the Russian border and send ’em east and yet be skeered of some odd rustic with a popgun in an alpine country numbering less in total population than Berlin, you are in way of discovering how delusion works out on political grounds. (We know now the Swiss were good nazis always; they returned Jews seeking assylum to the deathcamps and they very kindly fenced all the gold stolen by their comrades over the border.)

If a fact intruded at all into the Ratliff mind, he swatted it away like a gnat.

"You probably idolize the old guys like the Earps and Bill Hickock, but you must know the first order of bidness once they set up as the law in any jurisdiction was to establish and enforce gun control."

"Naw, they didn’t," Ratliff would answer simply.

"Wouldn’t do no good no way," contended Ratliff. "If they outlaw guns, you can build yer own. Look at Carbine Williams! All you’d need would be a nail and an iron pipe."

"But you have to admit, if you restricted firearms to them as would build their own, you’d cut down the amount considerably."

Shakes his head. "Nawp, all you’d need would be a nail and an iron pipe."

The benefit of firearms, as I was informed and have heard plenty of times since, was to enable treason; any force, beit the AFT, FBI, or the postal service which comes into my dooryard and I don’t invite ’em might be met with gunfire in the best of all Ratliff worlds. When they speak of Freedom, you follow them down and it means any anarchist is entitled to murder in support of treason. Now, I happen to think a little treason now and again is good for the soul of any nation, but this seems a little drastic. I have in mind the strumming of guitars and clapping along on the quad then everybody going home for supper. The added benefit of firearms for those depraved souls who get a kick out of killing harmless animals is often cited in favor of firearms, however illogically.

Now, we, all of us make collective choices inimical to our best interests. I don’t mean just the poor who vote for the wealth which enslaves ’em, I’m talking about the convenience of rapid travel; we’ll agree to fifty thousand deaths a year if ain’t us and it gets us where we’re going faster. Likewise booze and cigarettes, which kill upwards of four million a year, we allow and celebrate while criminalizing a harmless weed. We’ll agree to wars as long as it’s someone else suffering and dying. We’ll boycott Cuba and make China a Most Favored Nation because there ain’t no electoral votes in Florida against China.

There is the feature in our democracy which entitles a minority if they are well-funded and the opposition is not organized. The Israel Lobby is a prime example. But for 9 to 15 thousand a year dead by gunfire seems to me just too high a price to pay in order to brace the self-esteem of such lost souls who need it. Astounding as it might be to Ratliff and his ilk, a chart draws him a picture to demonstrate the strange correlation between firearm ownership and deaths from that source. Oddly enough, they are related. (Note hovering far below the US on the death chart but well ahead of other nations is – Switzerland.)

So is this nation governed according to the wit and wisdom of Mr Ratliff? Yes, and still, according to quotes in the news from our own Secretary of State. She concedes the problem of the Mexican drug cartels importing vast rivers of arms and ammunition from the US, but the NRA is just not a fight the government is ready for right now. So we’ll send five helicopters and fifty specialists in spotting the flow of drugs one way and arms the other – maybe by the knots-in-a-lariat method used by the old cowboys in counting the herds as they filed into the pens at Wichita and Hayes City.

The guiding principle seems to be to avoid any sudden move which might tend to cause Mr Ratliff’s eyes to roll up into his head.

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