Patriots Day

I grew up in Massachusetts in the 1950s.  April 19th was celebrated each year as Patriots Day. The holiday commemorates the ride of Paul Revere, and the battles of Lexington and Concord in the colony which birthed the American Revolution.

The holiday is a big one throughout New England. Banks are closed, parades are held, and if the snow is less than knee-high, we break out the short sleeves and barbecue gear and get a head-start on summer. The Boston Marathon is run on the third Monday each year, on or close to Patriots Day.

I don't know if it was by design or not, but the Marathon runs from Hopkinton to Boston, in the same direction, parallel but a few miles removed from the retreat the British beat from Concord back to relative safety. I once lived right on the Boston Marathon route, a few miles from the start line, and we'd watch the racers fly by in huge packs. A few of the runners once wore redcoats and carried muskets, in keeping with the tenor of the holiday then, but likely a felony today.

Growing up in New England in the fifties, there seemed to be no great public concern about guns. At a fairly tender age, I was responsible enough to be entrusted with a BB gun, which I used to protect the household from marauding tin cans, birds in the cornfield, and squirrels robbing the bird feeders. A few years later, I enrolled in a neighboring town's NRA Youth program, shooting .22 rifles in the basement of the armory. A young boy with an air rifle or .22 drew little interest from passersby on the country roads along which I'd walk on the way to the range, or to an abandoned quarry where I often practiced. Even the local police would wave and drive on by.

And the area was awash in history. Concord was two towns removed, a summer bicycle ride away, and Lexington a school field trip several times taken. I’d visit the Minuteman Statue at the North Bridge posed with his plow, musket and colonial hat; old homes along Battle Green with glass-encased bullet holes in their outer walls, claimed to be from the guns on that fateful day, the recreations held in full regalia, with the thunder and smoke of war as it was. On to Bunker (actually Breed’s) Hill, Charlestown, Dorchester Heights. All these were accessible to this young boy, and I revelled in it.

It is little wonder that I grew up believing in that vision of America. I had been born in it and steeped in it. Our forefathers had believed so strongly in the principles of liberty and self-determination, that they were willing to stand up and shoot back at the mightiest army on earth. What puzzles me sorely, is how so many of my native-staters have forgotten, sold, and abandoned that vision.

Interestingly enough, I have come to live in Hawaii, where the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, written verbatim into the Hawaii State Constitution, is as poorly observed as it is in my native Massachusetts.

After nearly forty years removal from my home state, it has been quite some time since I'd thought of Patriots Day, truth be told. It's not an official holiday of any kind here.  The daily routine of life and business tunes out many of the old pleasures and memories.

Then I found myself today, the 19th of April, 2006, at the Hawaii County Police Department, filling out the firearms permit application, to renew my long gun permit. In effect, to ask for permission to be able to purchase firearms – only long guns, and only after a two-week wait for the permit to return, and only during the twelve-month period for which the permit is valid. Pistol permits are even more restricted, limited to one specific firearm for only a ten-day period subsequent to a two-week wait. 

I wait in line, in an anteroom between the Police Chief’s office and the Records & Firearms Section, along with a half-dozen others, each for our turn to solicit the government for their permission to exercise our most basic of rights. Several men and women with their rifles or pistols, cased and unloaded, wait for the opportunity to have its serial number recorded and all the pertinent details archived. One at a time, we pass through the magnetically locked doors, to fill out forms, get fingerprinted and surrender more personal information than required of a judge candidate or a convicted pederast. Finally, it is my turn.

I dutifully fill out all the blanks in the form, certify that I am legally competent and mentally sound enough for them to grant me their permission to exercise my withered right. I sign the form at the bottom line, then finally the line asking for the date.  As I fill it in, 19 April, 2006, both the significance of the date, and the irony of where I am and what I am doing hit me.

I ask Sharon, the very helpful and friendly clerk who handles the bulk of the firearms duties at HPD's Hilo Station (for those of you on the mainland, I know that friendly and helpful are not terms usually applied to people in such positions) if she recognizes the date. She doesn't, so I tell her about it being the anniversary of the first shots fired in the American Revolutionary War, that it was a state-recognized holiday throughout the northeast. She replies that another state holiday would be a great idea. Then I recount that it was the date of Paul Revere's midnight ride, and the battles of Lexington and Concord, where the American colonists had shot back at their rulers in response to the Redcoat's attempt to seize the guns and ammo stores of the colonial militia.

She nods with the interest given any unsolicited bit of trivia, and without skipping a beat, asks me to stand in front of the neutral backdrop so that she can take my picture with her digital camera. Perhaps some of the other ladies in the office who heard the conversation took note, recorded my name and will be passing that along with the details of my exposition to whichever agency is in charge of conspiracies and gun nuts.

My friend, Jerry, says that I'm unlikely to attract any attention, since I am pleasant and respectful even while stating the most radical or difficult truths.

So here I sit, an American patriot by original definition, in one of these United States, wondering somewhat uneasily that my observation of one of the most American of holidays has gotten me noticed in the wrong way. We'll see if Jerry is right in a couple of weeks, when my permit is due back.

Happy Patriots Day, America.

April 25, 2006