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February 27, 2014 8:27 am

AMEND CORNER: Staying safe in the home of the brave

Written by Don Amend

I read the other day that, in America, more than 1 million people are employed as private security guards.

Now, that sounds like a lot of guards, maybe because it’s hard for me to imagine a million of anything, but if you’re thinking in relative terms, a million isn’t all that big. The population of the U.S. is estimated at more than 370 million, for example, and compared to the more than three billion bucks in the budget the Wyoming Legislature is considering, a million is actually tiny.

But the million-plus security guards in the U.S. still sounds like a lot to me, especially considering they outnumber all the high school teachers in the country.

And that’s just private security guards, people who stand around in stores, schools, apartment buildings and other such places guarding against bad guys and gals. Throw in policemen, prison guards, the military, and all the other people who, presumably, are necessary to keep us safe, and you come up with more than 5 million people, way more than all the teachers at all levels of American education. That’s a lot more security people per capita than any other developed country, four times as many as are employed to keep the citizens of Sweden safe, for example.

I must point out that these numbers came from an opinion column in The New York Times, which means half of you won’t believe them, but I suspect they are fairly accurate. Even if they are a little off, it’s safe to say that, here in the home of the brave, a lot of people are standing around collecting paychecks to keep us safe.

This plethora of guards isn’t evident here in Powell, so when I encounter such guards it’s kind of startling, as it was many years ago when I visited a fancy mall not far from the Capitol in Washington.

Inside one of the stores was a tall guy wearing a blue shirt and a prominently displayed handgun who was keeping an eye on things. It was one of those stores that sell ridiculously priced doodads for mundane jobs such as polishing your shoes or cleaning your golf clubs, so it might attract upscale thieves, making an armed guard a good idea.

Really, though, if I were into thievery, I’d choose to lift something more practical than an ultrasonic cleaner for my putter, making it easier to fence the loot on the street. I wouldn’t go after money, because I’d most likely end up with a only sack full of credit card slips and a few twenties, hardly worth the trouble of getting the drop on a security guard.

In any case, I’m pretty sure the store produced ample profit necessary to pay the guard and buy his ammunition, something that probably isn’t true for many stores in Powell, accounting for the lack of security guards on Bent Street.

Thinking about security guards reminds me of a trip we made several years ago to Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. There were a lot of security people there, too, among them a large man who sat at the end of the hall in our hotel to protect us from brigands.

He and his fellow guards didn’t appear to be armed — Tanzania has strict gun control laws — but they looked big enough to handle any intruders.

There were also uniformed guards armed with big guns outside every bank. I remember one whose rifle was at least as long as he was tall and looked as though it dated from the colonial wars of the 19th century. He looked rather comical, and I would have taken a picture, but, while waiting for a plane in London, I had been warned by a Tanzanian native that taking pictures in the city is risky because the police might think your photos are part of a nefarious plan.

You might be taking a picture of a tree, but if there’s a government building or something like a bridge in the background, you might find yourself in custody trying to assert your innocence in Swahili. Banks, it seems, are among those photo no-nos as well.

The Tanzanian security concerns mean I didn’t take many pictures of sites in Dar, which is a shame because it’s an interesting city, but the upside is that I had lots of film available for lions and elephants during a visit to a national park.

During our three days there, we ate dinner under the stars, walked pitch-dark paths back to our tents, slept in those tents while listening to various wild noises in the dark and, on morning walks, saw evidence of nocturnal hyena visits to the camp. In spite of all that, I saw nary a firearm during our stay.

The owner and operator of the lodge not only went unarmed, he ran around barefoot, which would seem to be a handicap when running away from a lion. Interestingly, when he learned of my profession as a civics teacher, he grilled me about our government, particularly our lack of gun control, which mystified him completely.

Well, all this consideration of security guards has left me with a couple of questions. Do all those security guards really make us safer? And was I safer sleeping among the lions than I was shopping down the street from the White House or cashing a traveler’s check in Dar es Salaam?

If I ever come up with answers, I’ll write about it.

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