I got a lot of grief - tons, actually - when I told civil libertarians to shut up and quit whining about body scans at airports. So I expect this won't make them feel better, but I have to think that a Georgia legislature proposal to ALLOW PEOPLE TO CARRY LICENSED FIREARMS AT AIRPORTS IS UTTERLY, COMPLETELY, HOPELESSLY AND OH-SO-REMARKABLY STUPID THAT I CAN HARDLY FIND WORDS.
Obviously this is not to allow guns on airplanes. Apparently any space controlled by the federal government is exempt from this. But the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports folks could carry their guns in non-secure areas of the airport.
USA Today's Roger Yu reports guns would be allowed in terminals and parking lots.
"It expands on a state law passed in 2008 that allows Georgia residents with firearm licenses to bring concealed weapons onto public transportation, in parks and recreational areas and into restaurants that serve alcohol," Yu wrote in his airport check-in column/blog. "Gun advocates have since been lobbying to expand the law to include the airport."
The case is being closely watched by airport officials nationwide, Yu wrote, and I would hope so.
The Journal-Constitution said the National Rifle Association supports the bill, and isn't that a shock? Can't you just see Charlton Heston riding through Hartsfield, bare-chested on a horse, taking on all the commies and hardened felons?
Before anyone gets all "you hate Americans" on me, let the record state that I grew up in the U.S.A. and still carry American citizenship. And Canadian. I'm very proud of most of what the U.S. stands for and represents, and I feel equally strongly about my adopted country of 29 years - and three days if you want to be precise. My father used to have a gun in the house for protection - he needed it in the law enforcement-related job he had, or he felt he needed it. I grew up owning BB guns and have fired rifles and shotguns. I don't hate guns. They're quite useful for friends of mine who lived in the wilds of Idaho and shoot elk and deer for food. I have no problem with people in Ontario or anywhere else hunting animals in season. I eat venison when I see it; I can hardly moan about someone killing a deer themselves if they're going to eat it. My old neighbour in north Toronto taught hunting safety and, I believe, was a regular user of his rifle. Fine and dandy.
But me and handguns simply don't get along. There's no need for almost anyone to have one. They almost always lead to death and destruction of innocent people. And to allow people to carry them at airports? I'm stunned that even conservative lawmakers in Georgia could be this stupid.
How much security do we have at airports these days? Quite a damned lot from what I've seen. But apparently that's not enough. All those federal marshals and regular cops, God love them, and all those TSA people, they clearly can't cope with the hardened felons and evil-doers traipsing about at Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport and holding up innocent folks from Savannah waiting in line at the Budget rental car counter. So what the state legislators wanna do is allow everyone with a licensed firearm to be allowed to carry it at the airport.
Most people who own guns are responsible; I'm not going to categorize them all as yahoos. I have no idea why most of them carry one, and I suspect maybe 99.9999 per cent of them have no need for one, but that's their right under the U.S. Constitution. Fine. Carry it on the street if you feel you have to. But why at an airport? What makes anyone feel we need more guns in what might be the most secure parts of the entire country? I just don't understand.
That's my take. And now something a little more travel-related; Adrian Brijbassi's final thoughts on his trip to South Africa to check out preparations for the World Cup. Check out his previous postings for excellent, interesting and colourful reporting...
OUT OF AFRICA - SAFE AND SOUND
I can say that after 10 days in the country’s three biggest cities and its largest game-viewing region. Eight flights, many kilometres on the road, a few late nights out, a visit to one of the nation’s poorest regions, four lodging stays, and nothing was stolen or lost.
Sure, anyone in the media is going to be well-informed, if not protected, by the hotels we visit and tour operators we enlist. But there were instances, particularly in Cape Town, where no liaison or guide was with me, and I had heavy-duty camera equipment in tow. In fact, I made it a point to go out to a late dinner away from the famed Victoria & Alfred Waterfront to see what the place was like at night.
Was it edgy? Absolutely. And I wouldn’t advise anyone to venture away from the waterfront unless they had pre-arranged for a driver who they could trust to drop them off and pick them up.
But the trendy restaurant, HQ (or Headquarters), was near full and young people of all sorts were coming into the bar area when I was leaving around midnight. The manager, Darren Richards, said drinks would be served until 3 a.m. or later. (FYI, the mojitos at HQ are really good.)
During the day, I wandered from the new Cape Town Stadium, past the waterfront, got a little off track before finding my way to the marina. I met a kind retired gentleman named Lex Wysocki who – as he was walking me back to my hotel – noted what everyone else does when the inevitable crime question comes up: “You know to stay away from dark alleys no matter where you go in the world.”
The statistics, though, are frightening: 50 murders a day and more carjackings and assaults than police can handle. And police are part of the problem. In Johannesburg, the former police commissioner is currently on trial for corruption-related charges, and more than 10,000 police officers throughout the country are either in jail or awaiting prosecution.
In Umhlanga, the ritzy suburb north of Durban, bed-and-breakfast host Monica Blomefield keeps a sunny disposition despite the fact she’s been hijacked eight times and shot at twice in her life (when she worked as a sales representative). Her advice is to always be cautious and to not rely on a GPS if you’re driving, because the devices direct you through the most efficient routes to your destination, not the safest.
If I was to recommend one thing for tourists to do, it’s to not drive at all. One wrong turn in any of the cities could steer you into some dire straits. South Africa’s metropolises are home to some of the worst neighbourhoods in the world for violence and crime; partly because there are more than 4.5 million firearms, including 2.8 million handguns, registered in the country, and an additional 500,000 to 1 million unregistered firearms, according to government data.
To keep tourists safe, the hotels and bed and breakfasts will often provide car service to and from the airport, as well as around town. Five-star Cape Grace in Cape Town offers to drive guests in one of its two BMWs anywhere within a 20-kilometre radius of the hotel, and at Umhlanga’s Tega Tata Lodge, Monica will drive you herself wherever you need to go.
Of course, any tours you sign up for will take you to and from your hotel, and if you want to venture outside of town, spring for a driver. A two-hour tour around Cape Town will cost you 1,000 rand tops (about $135). With the favorable exchange rate ($1 Canadian equals 7.38 rand), you will save a lot on food and lodging, so paying for transportation shouldn’t bust your budget.
Other travel safety tips include: not walking outside with a lot of cash, keeping your hotel room locked at all times, being aware of your surroundings and, perhaps most importantly, listening to the locals.
Is it worth going to a place where you need to use such caution? Why not just keep going to Florida or Hawaii like we’ve done for decades?
Well, besides the fact that South Africa will be hosting the World Cup, the best reason to visit is the inspiring beauty of the country and the warm disposition of the people. South Africa possesses six biosphere reserves, one of the world’s largest safari destinations in Greater Kruger Park, clean drinking water, Nelson Mandela and his overwhelmingly powerful life story, fantastic wines, great food, beaches galore and sing-song place names that make you smile.
South Africans are proud of their fledgling nation and they want to shout that it’s not as bad as its reputation insists. They’re accommodating people whose colloquialism for “thank you” is “pleasure”, but pronounced “pleshaaaah”, as if to provide service is a means of quenching their own thirst.
“I wish I could tell everyone to come, it is safe here,” said Sebastien Qweshe, the first person I met on my trip. He was my driver from the airport to Michelangelo Towers in Johannesburg.
Sebastien proved to be right. It is safe to visit South Africa – as long as you keep your wits about you, prepare yourself each day for where you will be going and how you will get there, and use the resources available to research the areas you will visit before you go.
That said, it’s great to be home. Like many Canadians, whenever I travel anywhere outside of the country it always strikes me how amazingly well we have it here. One of the first things I did when I got back to Toronto was go for a walk downtown, care-free and without worry.