Thursday, December 18, 2003

Vilification and Clarification

I need to clear something up.

A few days ago, I posted a comment on Mike William's blog, "Master of None" regarding my feelings towards Concealed Carry Permits (CCP). Michael, who has an excellent site that I visit frequently, posted an open letter regarding the State of California denying his application for a CCP. Here is part of my comment:

"If I were to take a live, armed weapon and carry it on my person, in public, it would eat away at my sanity just as if it were emitting lethal radiation. To know that I carried an instrument of sure and certain death on my person, available and ready to be pulled out and used at a moment's notice to possibly kill...a child. A homeless person. An innocent.

Obviously that is not your intent. You want to protect yourself - maybe that is how you feel in California. But being brought up in Eastern Tennessee I've never once felt the need to protect myself from imminent bodily harm in public. And if I were aware of a location that might be unduly hazardous - a dark alley, a badly lighted parking area - I would avoid it. I've never been mugged, nor can I readily pull up a name of any person I've ever met that's been mugged or even bodily threatened in my whole life.

What scares me most is the arbitrary nature of self-defense. What line must be crossed to signal to you that there is imminent danger or threat? Is it a criminal pulling a gun on you? In which case, unless you're a gunslinger, you're not going to outdraw him. Is it someone pulling a knife? Threatening words? Bad language or rude gestures? Where is that one point where you decide, "Yes, my life or the life of my loved ones is in danger and I must now take it upon myself to take the life of another person." What if the guy is reaching into his jacket, and you are sure, absolutely certain that it is a weapon. You pull your gun and shoot--and see he's reaching for his wallet. Or worse, you miss and hit a child running in the street. Where is that line?

The radiation would rot my brain and I would never be able to live with myself.

Maybe it's different in California. Maybe it's different in Tennessee. Maybe I don't love my family enough...maybe I love them too much. But I know myself, and know that if I surrendered to the paranoia - and I mean that in the most basic sense - there would be no turning back.

I'll stay in the light, thanks."
Then, some subsequent commentors took issue with my statements:
"You can argue the benefit of carrying a firearm, and question someone's justification if you like, but speaking of a concealed firearm as if it emits radiation says more about you than it does about anything else. I know that I'm engaging in the popular pastime of "psychoanalyzing from a distance" and I apologize for that, but really, getting so intense about the mere proximity of a gun is a little silly. It's only a tool, and if you aren't comfortable with it that's OK, but some of us are trained, comfortable, and interested in keeping one handy." (Tom K)

I have had a CCW permit for over 5 years (I live in Knoxville, TN.) At no point have I felt "irradiated" with an urge to go gangbusters on the homeless nor have I ever had the occasion to defend myself (I hope I NEVER have to). Barry, do you hear voices in your head telling you to kill people when you carry a pocket knife?...or swing a baseball bat with your kid? (Justin)

Barry: if you actually believe that crap about a radioactive gun eating away your sanity, it's time to check yourself in and get the help you desperately need. Your sanity has already been eaten. (Xrlq)

Are you so morally arrogant that you think that you've got the ethics market cornered? The fact that you don't believe in self-defense does NOT give you the right to impose that belief on others. That is as indefensible as me imposing my religion on you. (Kevin Murphy)

I support your right to choose not to carry if you don't want to. However, that doesn't give you or anyone else the right to prevent me from defending myself in the most effective possible way. I could post, oh, about a thousand pages of information to support the fact that liberal concealed carry results in a net benefit to society. I leave it as an exercise for you to expend the minimal level of effort to find this information online. (Nevada)
I had no idea I was so warped. Obviously I must've posted in Klingon because nobody seemed to understand what I meant. I finally replied:

"First of all, the "radiation" comment was a metaphor I was attempting to use to illustrate the effect possessing a gun on my person would have on my mental well-being. I didn't intend it to be taken anywhere near literally - I thought that would be obvious, but perhaps not.

Second, nowhere in my comment did I try to "impose" my belief on anyone. Nor did I attempt to be morally or ethically superior to anyone, I simply expressed a continued amazement that people find life in public dangerous enough to feel that carrying a concealed weapon is both necessary and beneficial. Several people mention they know dozens of other people who have CCW's - including a secretary who once shot someone in the chest(?) - I myself know of noone who does personally (except those I've met blogging).

Yes, random violent episodes do happen, such as the event cited by Steve, but unless I'm just missing the news they are few and far between. Perhaps I just happen to live in a sane part of the country.

And to the others, no, I don't hear voices in my head telling me to kill my children with baseball bats, nor do I feel compunctions to veer my car off the road into a crowd of people. I understand the lethal potential of a car, but it has other primary uses like, oh, say, transportation. A gun does not."
Michael did understand this, apparently:
"Hey guys, I think Barry was speaking metaphorically about his own perspective on carrying. He can have his own opinion, and I'm sure he's not alone in his feelings about guns. (Michael Williams)
But it didn't seem to matter...
"I think it's obvious that if Barry thinks handguns emit radiation he is a nutcase. Really Barry just because you are too much of a coward to defend yourself doesn't mean I can't defend myself with leathal force if neccasary [sic]. (Jim)"

Barry, a good tinfoil hat will protect you from that radiation. Go to my site for directions on making your own ! (Dennis Kucinich)
Thanks for sharing.

And that was the end of it. So I thought. I started receiving website references from some other sites: SayUncle early on, which is cool because I respect him. But then came Smallest Minority. And Hell in a Handbasket. And Richard Poe. And a couple of others, basically saying the same thing: "What an idiot for thinking a gun will rot his brain like radiation - you need psychiatric help", and "How dare you try to keep me from carrying a concealed weapon!" (In fairness, some sites like Wince and Nod seemed to understand, if not agree with, what I was saying and restrained from commenting on my mental state.)

So now I'm being trashed on several sites at once, which is always a great feeling. I understand that to state an opinion is to risk being criticized and I'm trying not to appear thin-skinned, but I'm surprised at the vehemence and nastiness of some of the comments - maybe I'm naive, but I expect fairness and good taste in public discourse. Silly me. Plus the fact they linked and commented on the original statement and not the clarification made it necessary for me to try to defend myself on the various blogs. I won't try to excerpt, but suffice to say it got to be repetitious.

So, then for the record, I'd like to just put in a nutshell what I wanted to say, then maybe that really will be the end of it. Maybe.

I would feel uncomfortable carrying a loaded weapon. Very uncomfortable that I would possibly have the means to end a person's life within arm's reach. That doesn't mean I'm going to do it, or would ever be tempted. Just that fact makes me uncomfortable.

I also would feel uncomfortable knowing that anyone on the street, in the theatre, at a restaurant, at the supermarket could be carrying a loaded gun on their person. And here's why - despite training, despite temperament, despite the best of intentions: I don't trust you. That's simply it, I don't trust you. I don't trust a person who is not a licensed law enforcement officer of some kind - someone who, by virtue of their job, I would assume they have proper gun training - to carry a weapon. You may be a great person, love your kids, go to church, would never pull a gun in anger at another person - you may be supremely confident of that fact in your own mind, but I'm not. To me, you would be just as likely to be the one sticking up the fast-food clerk as the one defending him, or - in your possibly untrained and excited state - could be the one who with the best of intentions attempts to intervene but misses and hits someone else. Or you could be the one who gets pissed off at me in traffic and, instead of the flipping me the finger you pop off a few rounds at my back window.

I'm not concerned whether there are documented cases of this happening - I am afraid that they will, when more and more people are allowed to carry concealed weapons.

I understand completely that you have the best of intentions, the best training, the best gun money can buy, and the best reasons in the world to want to defend yourself. But I'm sorry, I don't have insight into your character from my vantage point and I can't assume you can be trusted with a gun any more than I can assume you're not going to attack me anyway without a gun.

Some people have used the automobile analogy as a comparison: A car is as lethal a device as a gun - do you have ethical problems driving a car? To that I would say, no, because I have a reasonable trust in my mind that: a) an acceptable percentage of the people driving have a legal driver's license, have been driving for a number of years, and know how to operate a car. I trust myself in that regard as well. Therefore, I think the relative risk of getting in or causing an accident and vital necessity of using a car is acceptable compared to the hardship and chaos that would result in banning automobiles. With firearms, however, even with the several self-defense case story articles I've read recently, I'm not convinced that the negligible gain from carrying a gun would outweigh the high potential risk of an accidental or intentional shooting.

I'm not pushing for any legislation change, I'm not pushing for repealing the 2nd amendment or anything like that. I'm just saying that I don't think it's a good idea because inevitably - inevitably - there will be a tragedy, or tragedies. And I don't want to be anywhere near it.

Thank you. I hope I've made myself clear - please reference this post if necessary.

UPDATE, 12/19/03: Just an observation - hoplophobe sounds like someone with an unnatural fear of old Westerns sidekicks...

UPDATE 2, 12/19/03: Tgirsch at Lean Left has more.