Have Guns, Will Travel?

One airline passenger summed up America's regional differences by bringing loaded weapons on a flight.

By SHARE
widemodern_handguns_092013.jpg
Americans are more likely to blame gun violence on the mental health system than easy access to guns, according to a new Gallup poll.

There are days when one wonders – legitimately, not just as part of some whipped-up debate on a cable TV show which has run out of divisive items to talk about – whether the union can be saved. And it's not because of all those people signing secession petitions, or even about Sen. Ted Cruz going back to Texas and announcing how glad he was to be "back in America." It's about things like the case of 23-year old Keenan A. Draughan, a Tennessee man arrested over the weekend at John F. Kennedy airport for trying to check several guns to his flight to Charlotte, N.C.

According to a statement by the Queens County District Attorney, the cases Draughan sought to check included two 9-millimeter pistols, two magazines capable of holding 15 rounds of 9-millimeter ammunition and two .22-caliber rifles. Further, one of the rifles was loaded, and both were missing serial numbers, the statement said. If convicted, Draughan faces up to seven years in prison. Said Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown:

Firearms illegally possessed in this city pose a serious and deadly threat to public safety. Before leaving home, passengers should acquaint themselves with the weapon laws of the jurisdiction that they are visiting and comply with any and all legal requirements if they choose to travel with a weapon. Otherwise, they may find themselves being arrested and charged with serious felonies – as is what occurred in this case.

Brown's statement likely sounds utterly reasonable to most residents of New York City, where the presence of a gun generally means the threat of armed robbery or murder. And it probably sounds insane to a lot of residents of Tennessee, where guns are part of the culture (hunting and otherwise), and which people don't necessarily see as a contributor to crime.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on gun control and gun rights.]

It appears clear that Draughan wasn't intent on making any trouble on the flight – otherwise, why would he tell attendants he had the guns with him? He was just a Volunteer State guy on his way to the Tarheel State via the Empire State – which to a southerner might as well be a foreign country, given how differently people view things like guns, gay marriage and the role of government.

It would be easier, just from a traveling standpoint, if all states had the same rules about guns. But that's not going to happen anytime soon, particularly as people self-select their communities so they are living among like-minded people. Such cultural differences are likely to intensify in the short term – not ease. The irony is that the increased ability to travel, to read newspapers from other states and communicate with people in other states hasn't made us get along better. It's made it harder, in some ways, because it just reminds people how different the varying regions of this country are.

When I was reporting in the Balkans during the wars there, I was particularly disappointed in the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. It was, after all, one of the few places in the world that tried to do what we try to do – have a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious state. It stayed together as long as it did in large part because the six republics had a degree of autonomy while sharing national obligations and interests. It just took ethnic baiting (which later led to actual ethnic cleansing) by former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to provoke the republics into fighting, and ultimately, separating.

Distressed Yugoslavs would say to me, you should watch it – this could happen to you someday. I replied that no, this would never happen in America. "That's what we thought here," they said. Presumably, the U.S. has interests of national security that will keep the union together even with our own culture wars. But it's a fragile alliance.