Is the Sky Really Falling?
Story and photos by Bob Venners
Throughout recorded history, philosophers and writers have loved to muse on the Big One, the Apocalypse, Armageddon, the War of the Worlds, a supernova.
It isn't as if they haven't had precedents, you know. The Roman Empire declined and fell around 500 AD. Krakatoa blew its top (and bottom) in 1883. And then there were The Bombs in 1945, the first of them right here in New Mexico.
History has brought a steady stream of predictors of such calamities, the doomsayers: Nostradamus (1503-1566), Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) and, most notable of all, Chicken Little (1943- ). The famous "sky is falling" chick stars in a new Disney film, Chicken Little: This Time the Sky Really Is Falling, due to premier Nov. 4 at a theater near you.
Rick Reese, not as well known as Nostradamus or Chicken Little, nonetheless is also a predictor of an impending disaster. He is also in possession of much more supporting information than either the French seer or the bird (who, after all, had very little evidence to support his contention that the sky was falling other than an acorn hitting him on the head).
For as long as I've known Rick Reese (four years, seems like 10), he has been prognosticating a meltdown of the American economy—not just a recession or a depression, but the Big One. When you have an $8 trillion national debt, troops in 180 foreign countries and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to finance, you begin to believe something might be ripe for implosion. Maybe he's right. Maybe this time the sky really is falling.
But first let's start at the beginning.
Rick and wife Terri Reese are managers of New Deal Shooting Sports, located about six miles southeast of Deming. Their large showroom sits on a considerable number of acres out by Dragon Ridge. Like all infrastructure on the Reeses' holdings—their house, outbuildings, storage sheds—the 30-by-90-foot shop is "off the grid." A working windmill supplies the water, power generators create the juice, and the rest is provided by good old-fashioned manpower. More and more of that muscle is being provided by the Reeses' two sons, Ryin, a senior at Deming High School, and Remington, a student at Holfacket Middle School.
A big guy, Rick Reese stands a little over six foot. He has a big shock of prematurely gray hair that belies a youthful face and even more youthful eyes. He is forever animated and interacting with the customers, eager to hear their stories, meet their needs, impart some wisdom, promote a little of his ideology and philosophy of life, and perhaps teach a history lesson or two (Reese became a New Mexico certified teacher back in the 1990s). He's one of those "Most Unforgettable People" you ordinarily meet only in the pages of Reader's Digest magazine.
I learn through his stories that New Deal Shooting Sports didn't just happen. The Reeses' vision of a viable business evolved from a beginning just slightly short of minuscule, with a table or two at regional gun shows, nothing more. Later they were able to establish a place of their own where their considerable work ethic made the difference between success and failure.
New Deal is not only a weapons depot and ammo dump. It also serves as an idea factory and a fat-chewing meeting hall for those who love to talk, primarily about guns, but also about current issues of the day, much like the function barber shops and saloons had in days of yore. Customers come from the immediate environs—Columbus, Deming, Silver City, Las Cruces. And then there are those who show up regularly from Arizona, Texas and Colorado.
After 11 years, New Deal is gaining a respected name in the shooting game. In a number of ways, the Reeses offer a little more than your run-of-the-mill pawn shop or gun-and-knife shack. From the beginning they had the idea to have a shooting range on site ("Shoot It Before You Buy It" cry the slogans on their signs along Rockhound Road). They offer free advice and on-site repair. Scopes? Hard to find clips? Gun company giving you a problem? Need something no one else has? "No problem," says Rick Reese.
He won't let a beginner buy a gun and walk out the door without a serious talk about safety and shooting. He'll even take the customer for a stroll out to the range and run the gun through several rounds to make sure the buyer understands what he has purchased.
But the primary draw for customers far and wide is the gab, the confab, the schmooze, with Rick Reese supplying the majority of the talk, the clients trying valiantly to contribute the minority.
The government gets its share of criticism, the war in Iraq is fair game for those who think they know a little more than the current military leadership, and then there are those who like to discuss impending disasters, including Reese himself, whose apocalyptic views are well-known.
"Is a meltdown of social structure possible in this country?" he asks. "Yes, it is. We're in it right now, the first phase.
"We can look back to the '50s, the '60s for the beginning. They pulled religion out of the schools, the commandments out of the schools and the morality out of the schools. You can see how well the public schools in America responded." A knowing, ironic smile appears at this.
"They debased our currency," he goes on. "They started making quarters out of copper and zinc instead of the real silver. Look what the dollar is worth now."
By a "meltdown of social structure," Reese is talking about a national or international situation not unlike what occurred in New Orleans this summer. There are a number of scenarios which can serve as appropriate triggers, he suggests:
Far more likely, however, Reese argues, would be the disaster brought on by a meltdown of world confidence in the American economy. This in turn would trigger a banking crisis, worldwide monetary instability, out-of-control inflation and a weakening of the American dollar. Bank closings, riots and civil unrest would mark the beginning of a wholesale slide into anarchy.
If you think that is unlikely, read the words of noted economist Stephen Roach of Fidelity Investments: "The day could come when foreign investors (will) demand better terms for financing America's spending spree (and) savings shortfall. That's the day the dollar will collapse, interest rates will soar and the stock market will plunge." Roach later asserted that the United States had only a one in 10 chance of avoiding an economic Armageddon (that word again).
When asked about his own personal preparation for a "social meltdown," Reese seems to take the long road to the answer I'm seeking. "I don't think anyone is completely prepared for a breakdown in our society," he hedges, "but I do believe in the principals of our forefathers and the rugged individualism that they used to defend land and home. I'm sure there are those among us who are prepared, have plans for a possible disaster."
It's becoming clear that Reese isn't prepared to talk about his own personal preparedness. How about those people reading this article? I ask. How can they prepare for a national catastrophe, a monetary meltdown? At this, Reese opens up a bit and comes a little closer to an answer.
"I think if you stick pretty close to the Boy Scout motto, 'Be Prepared,' you'll be in good shape," he allows. "Even the government these days is advising having a little extra food and water around. They stop short of having a weapon, however.
"You pay insurance on your home and on your vehicle. Well, that firearm is like insurance for your survival. I do think it's a good thing to keep your vehicle gassed up, have a little extra food and water, a good sleeping bag or two. It's second nature to me, it's part of my lifestyle. There's plenty of information out there. All you have to do is visit the library or a used book store."
One of the books Reese would highly recommend is James Wesley Rawles' Patriots: Surviving the Coming Crash. Having read it myself, I can honestly say it is an excellent survival primer but not a novel for the young, or even for the middle-aged if they have a queasy stomach. Patriots is a hard-hitting story of a group of survivalists who manage to gather for mutual defense in the Northwest after an economic collapse devastates the country. The most positive results for readers are the scads of information on how to prepare for such an eventuality, the basics of how to escape a bad situation, what to take with you and where to go for isolation and safety. The advice is very specific, not only regarding equipment (including firearms), but behavior. It's a hard book to find right now, but will be available at New Deal by the time you read this.
Reese is limping a bit on the day I talk with him, occasionally letting hand go to leg to scratch an old wound—a reminder of a time when this gun instructor forgot his own lessons, especially the one about always assuming a gun is loaded.
"I had a problem a few years ago," he confesses. "I got in a hurry and didn't check a handgun and shot myself in the leg. Went right through the femoral artery. It's pretty much healed up since then," he adds with a wry grin.
"You are never bored for long in a gun shop," Reese goes on. "I've had a couple of situations when the hairs on the back of my head stood on end. A couple of individuals walked in, bam!, instant alert. You can pretty much read your clientele. Luckily, there are almost always a few law-enforcement personnel who are here or close to here all the time. They come out and use the range and have their weapons on them when they come in the store. I've only had to draw my gun once in 10 years, when a guy was trying to steal a weapon. Fortunately the law was already on the way. Luna County Sheriff Gary Ciccotelli, then a lieutenant, had a riot shotgun at the ready, cuffed the guy up and took him to jail."
As a gun-shop owner, it especially concerns Reese that 10 years ago there were more than 500,000 federally licensed places in the United States to buy weapons. Now, he says, there are only 40,000 left. "What does that mean to the American people?" he asks rhetorically. "Fewer places to purchase firearms, fewer places to gather and talk. Pretty soon we'll be like the British, where even the police can't wear firearms.
"Look at Washington, DC. Some of the strictest gun laws in the country, but it doesn't stop illegal guns. It stops only the honest citizen who tries to go through the government's gun check. It's the murder capital of the world, for crying out loud!"
The rules under which New Deal and other gun shops labor seem to increase in number and complexity every year. Reese sees a government campaign to close down and intimidate legitimate businessmen like him who happen to be in the gun business After all, you can't wave away 460,000 missing gun shops by pointing to your Wal-Marts and Cabellas alone. And besides, who would want to gab about guns in a Wal-Mart, anyway?
Fewer stores, fewer sales, fewer people talking, fewer potentially armed militia—that's the connection Reese draws. "We're not talking about the anti-gun people here," he says. "We're talking about something bigger, something much more sinister."
He pauses, shaking his head. "There were men in my youth that took care of things. They were quiet about it, but provided for their families and their community in very substantial and courageous ways," he says at last. "Now I look at people and wonder if there are enough real Americans left who want to live free and pay the price that freedom costs."
Which brings us back at last to Chicken Little and the acorn. For those of you well versed in folklore, you know that Chicken Little was a hysterical lighthead who tried to run to the King to tell him the sky was falling. He never made it. He and his pals Turkey Lurkey, Ducky Lucky, Henny Penny et al. fell prey to the hungry villain, Foxy Loxy.
The more important point of Chicken Little's story, and of the many fables and folk tales that embellish and enrich our lives today, is the sage advice they carry, carefully woven into the words. Both "Chicken Little" and "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" carry warnings reminding us that when we hear of an impending disaster, not to panic or spread unfounded rumors.
In another fable, "The Three Little Pigs," we again meet Rick Reese's basic premise: "Be Prepared." It doesn't hurt to have a little protection, whether a brick house or a little extra food, water and fuel.
Finally, who isn't familiar with "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," an excellent folk tale that examines the importance of making choices in a complex and dangerous world?
So I can't wait to see the new Chicken Little movie. I've heard the film, although a cartoon, has some twists and turns that will prove to be both entertaining and thought-provoking. As if you needed to be provoked any further. . . .