What is Provided, What is Taken

Communities provide and take away, two forms of power that reinforce and balance each other until they do not.

Bigger communities, such as cities, states, or nations, provide opportunities to earn a living; infrastructure such as roads to get to work and the store; and mutual aid—firefighters save our homes while we teach their kids. Some communities provide equal access to medical care and education, adequate help for those in need, and cultural enrichment.

Communities also take things away to perpetuate themselves, including money (taxes), time (jury duty), land (eminent domain), and sometimes lives (military service, usually by proxy in the United States). One of the roots of the word is “reinforced by its source.”

There are also things taken away that we tend not to think about until we do, such as the freedom to behave in certain antisocial or dangerous ways, and even beyond that, the tribute we must pay to community by “respect[ing] the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others,” as the feds put it.

But the powers of providing and taking away are always shifting in relation to each other, like tectonic plates grinding away until one breaks or is subducted under the other.

In Louisiana, the state currently provides the opportunity for any stranger over the age of 17 (federal law says 18) to wear his strap-on Glock into your favorite burrito joint, where he will stand, stiff with his own power but incapable of choosing between guac or salsa, two feet from your sons’ beating hearts. Or he could bring his rifle or shotgun, with unlimited ammo, though it will be harder to carry his tray to his seat. This is not considered, legally, either disturbing the peace or brandishing a weapon. No permit, licensing, or waiting period for the weapons is needed, no background checks are done, and there is neither a limit to the number of guns he can buy from mysterious bayou-dwellers, nor oversight on getting junk guns (Saturday Night Specials), assault rifles, or .50-caliber machine guns.

To say this is overkill in the name of individual rights would be a perverse joke, but it is true. How many rampaging gators wait in the parking lots of strip malls in Lake Charles for bearded men to step from their pickup trucks? How many evil-doers wait to insult one’s honor in the Shreveport Starbucks, in hopes of starting a gunfight?

The price to the community for providing these rights and respecting many locals’ beliefs and opinions is death. Louisiana has the third-highest rate of gun deaths in the country, provides more crime guns to other states than two-thirds of the states in the union, and imports the fourth-largest number of crime guns to use at home. It trafficks in death.

In the nineteenth century people called this mindset “the law of the bush,” and even then thought it retrograde; the new covenant beyond the era of those newfangled steamboats was meant to be the rule of law, not vigilantism. Perhaps one day we will decide fear of this magnitude is antithetical to civil society because it does not reinforce the source of the community.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.