A Very Highly Regulated Militia

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I had to get fingerprinted at the county Public Safety Building before I could begin my’new job. Since Sept. 11, the security forces at the building had recalibrated the metal detectors until they could detect magnetic strips on credit cards and slivers of steel in ladies razors. I barely avoided a strip search.

Since Black Tuesday, record numbers of people have been getting concealed pistol permits, a license that requires a quick dip in the ink in my state. One of these new permit holders is my father-in-law, a committed social democrat of rare doctrinairism. The day he went to get his permit, in an adjacent county, he reported the fingerprinting section was doing record· business. Along with the· more publicized run on guns, Americans have been lining up to be registered bearers of arms. We get printed, assessed, databased, and cleared and in other ways degraded to exercise the right which the Second Amendment guarantees us – although not under the murky legal theorizing that currently obtains in that body of law.

The records section where they took my prints was tiny. There were a couple of other guys· there, hunched over their permit applications at a single inconveniently small desk. I was perched on a little ledge beside the receptionist’s window trying to write in my personal info on the fingerprint card my company gave me when a guy sidled up next to me. “Registration,” he told the receptionist. She smiled and handed him a green cardstock form. “REGISTRATION – SEX OFFENSE AND KIDNAPPING,” it said. The necessary paperwork for a modern scarlet letter. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that the receptionist hands out paperwork both to this guy and me with the same cheeriness, but still …

He was over the.hill and had apparently traveled there on those proverbial miles of bad road. He wore a sweatshirt and sweatpants of a dingy gray, a tweed cap, and well-worn sneakers. He had a full white beard and watery, bright blue eyes. His cheeks were like roses, and his nose like a cherry, but even if he gained 50 pounds and a twinkle in his eye he’d never be a store Santa Claus now. Not with that green card in his file. Not in a state where they can lock you up indefinitely for sex crimes, until and unless some psychiatrist pronounces you cured. But at least he won’t have to go door to door in his neighborhood and introduce himself as a sex criminal or kidnapper. Well, not in most neighborhoods anyhow.

A typical dirty, old man, now an officially registered dirty, old man, lawfully convicted and identified as a permanent outcast. In a sense, there isn’t that much difference between him and the two upstanding, bourgeois citizens standing in the same room with him, dutifully filling in their forms so their prints could be fed into the state’s database. Their friends are liable to think they’re nuts. Their marriages may have chilled. Being a “legal” gun owner means selectively following the laws or forfeiting your supposed privilege. These licensed gun owners are restricted from entering bars, post offices, and school areas while exercising their “right.” They will walk around believing they are the object

“Registration,” he told the receptionist. She smiled and handed him a green cardstock form. “REGISTRATION – SEX OFFENSE AND KIDNAPPING,” it said. The necessary paperwork for a modern scarlet letter.


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