Assault Rifles and Coal

I love West Virginia. Although I was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and wouldn’t have ever personally considered living across the Blue Ridge, my father’s choice to teach at a state college in Fairmont led to my high school, early college and professional years to be nurtured enjoying the natural splendors of the Mountain State. I had read Michael Harrington’s The Other America before settling there, so I was not surprised by the poverty and cultural wastelands that pocked the steep hillsides and river valleys; those inclines and valleys hid the rich coal resources that fed its economic lifeline and our nation’s factories through most of the 20th Century. I moved on in the 70s, just as the state was to begin a momentous decline, driven by competitive coal from abroad. The state has struggled in the last several decades, attempting to tout the occasional political pet project as its new future while strongly promoting its recreational resources as an inviting respite from the technological current of progress.

One of its attempts to challenge cheaper coal from abroad has been the assault of MTR, or mountaintop removal mining, which uses substantially less labor than underground mining and has weakened the UMWA, long the union that spoke up against big coal, the business interests that own the industry. MTR also destroys the pristine beauty of the state because it clears the trees, levels the mountains and essentially turns the remaining hill into a slide when the winter storms dump moisture. The process is also polluting because of the labor-saving machinery and the chemicals utilized in the different process steps. In short, it wreaks havoc on the environment and the surrounding communities, but saves big coal lots of money and the nuisance of employee problems. Sure, the coal companies replant grass and trees once they have depleted the seam, but they have raped majesty and left its people with mud, unexplained ailments and little future. The coal is gone and there’s not really any reason for tourists to visit.

I use the word “assault” to start the previous paragraph for a specific reason. A high school classmate — born in West Virginia, from a proud mining and military family that still call the state home — has begun posting NRA and “patriot” propaganda on his Facebook page. I cannot answer him directly because he recently responded to one of my posts that I was “full of crap.” So, I post here, in the echo chamber of my blog, my response to his current posts. He is especially upset that assault rifles are being targeted by many of us as unnecessary. I am hopeful that he can find his way to this post and understand the analogy of an assault rifle to assault mining and moderate his fatalist view of common sense approaches to gun control. Just as MTR mining is still coal mining, assault rifles might still be just guns. But there are nuances in civility that require temperance and moderation, and all we are asking in the gun control debate is some tempered, moderate thought and rational, civilized approaches to regulation. Your state is being scraped away at a rapid-fire pace — lives are being bulleted away by assault weapons. Neither will end well for any of us.