Gambling with suicide: the wages of sin is despair


Louisiana, Nevada tops in per capita gun deaths.
— Associated Press

In the latest public relations coup for the Silver State, a study released last week revealed "Nevada had 359 total firearm deaths in 1996 — 222 suicides, 128 homicides, seven unintentional deaths and two of undetermined intent," according to AP.

We were topped only by that major metropolis, Louisiana. Where did the liberal backwater of New York fall? Try 40th. And otherworldly Taxachusetts? Last. Lowest per capita gun deaths among the 50 states. (DC figures were not included.)

Our orgasm of guns is spawned from the way the nation's citizens perceive themselves. We are still playing cowboys and Indians.

We labor under several convenient myths. Because the titled aristocracy left as the Revolutionary War was getting underway, we think we have no ruling class in this country. Everyone is either upper-middle, middle, or lower-middle.

Alas, just saying all men are created equal has never made it so even among white men, let alone women or those of alternative tints. But it's pleasant to think we all start at the same line and that by working hard, everyone has a sporting chance of realizing the Great American Dream of success.

Interlarded into initiative is individualism, the idea that each is capable of achieving all without any assistance whatsoever.

The truth is otherwise. Teamwork and cooperation built the most powerful nation on earth. If you want to view the fruits of real rugged individualism, travel to any banana republic dictatorship.

We expropriated the Spanish vaquero, morphed him into a white guy and made him a god. Our love of the cowboy myth was not lost on marketers. Leo Burnett, creator of the Jolly Green Giant and Tony the Tiger, turned the buckaroo into a seductive cigarette and cancer salesman.

Just as red blood suffuses your body, the cowboy myth permeates your daily life. Name the product or service — beer, insurance, cars, cat food, candidates. All encourage you to express your individuality by symbolically breaking the rules and buying the same revolutionary product as millions of others.

Which brings me to the slightly noticed death of one John Clifford Millspaugh, 76, in a restroom off the bingo parlor at John Ascuaga's Nugget last Tuesday.

A Sparks resident for 11 years, Mr. Millspaugh apparently took his life with a gun at about 4:00 p.m. He thus joined that lonely 62 percent of Nevada victims gunned down at their own hands.

It seems to me there are better and cleaner ways to take yourself out, alternatives which will not inconvenience or traumatize others, but none live up to the great cowboy myth. We want to die with our boots on and a six-gun in each hand, just like John Wayne in his last film, "The Shootist," shot in Carson City and Jack's Valley.

Suicide is another way of saying despair. Red-skirted Nevada makes a living by creating that lowly emotion after jinning up a phony high by making false promises. The letdown in this party-hearty state arguably causes a harder crash into the pit.

We don't want to admit that we live off the earnings of sin and vice. For decades, Las Vegas has perpetuated the myth that it is home to more churches per capita no longer give a comparison. They've been saying it so long, it's become a slogan---more churches per capita, period. About 10 years back, a London newspaper asked them to prove it. Oops.

We rugged individualists hate welfare queens, but live under the rule of corporate welfare queens. When the brahmins of Sparks-Reno recently met behind closed doors, they fought like the greedy bastards they are over who gets what piece of the proposed new room tax. Nary a word was uttered about a token amount for frills like roads, parks, police and fire protection. What's good for business is good for everybody, dammit. When we want your opinion, we'll give it to you.

In 1991, private citizen Kenny Guinn helped Democrat Gov. Bob Miller balance the state budget on the backs of the physically and mentally disabled. Now, Republican Gov. Guinn is doing the same thing despite looming threats that mental health budget cuts will result in patient lawsuits.

Earlier this month, the Salvation Army advisory board received a report that the numbers of mentally ill have jumped by 400% at the homeless drop-in center off Fourth street in Reno.

Perhaps the death of John Clifford Millspaugh was a warning shot across our bow of additional fire to come and the prices to be paid.

Living in fantasyland gets expensive.

Get real or get hurt.

LEGISLATIVE ALERT. SB 88, Sen. Joe Neal's bill to increase the gross gaming tax on the largest, most repugnantly profitable casinos, will be heard before the State Senate Committee on Taxation in legislative hearing room 2135 on March 9 at 2:00 p.m. On March 11, same time and place, the committee will hear SB 90, the North Las Vegas Democrat's proposal to repeal Gomorrah South casino mogul Steve Wynn's tax break for art collectors at the expense of school kids.

I'm encouraging tax protestors to make the hearings a showcase on how the gambling industry foists taxes and fees on the little guy while reducing its own.

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a Reno-based syndicated columnist, a 30-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and was campaign manager for Democratic candidate for Governor, State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally published 2/28/99.

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