Why I Carry

Your friends and neighbors, No. 5, 10 December, 2000

by Paul Hager © 2000

IC Title 35, Article 47, Chapter 2. Regulation of Handguns

Article I, Section 32, Indiana Constitution

"[S]edentary life becomes the last stage of civilization and the point where it begins to decay. It also constitutes the last stage of evil and of remoteness from goodness.... [S]edentary people have become used to laziness and ease. They are sunk in well-being and luxury. They have entrusted the defense of their property and lives to the governor who rules them, and to the militia which has the task of guarding them.... They are carefree and trusting, and have ceased to carry weapons. Successive generations have grown up in this way of life. They have become like women and children, who depend upon the master of the house."

Ibn Khaldûn, Muqaddimah, 1377

This is a message to you, my friends and neighbors in Bloomington and Monroe County. Starting tomorrow, and continuing on into the future, I will carry openly in Bloomington and Monroe County rather than concealed. As I've stated in a previous piece, when you've seen me around town in the past, I was probably armed, though you would not have known it. The only difference is that now, you will know when I am armed. Since you who live here are my friends and neighbors, I owe you an explanation as to why I am doing this.

There are probably equal proportions of science and politics in my action. It is as close as one can get to a statement of scientific fact in the field of sociology that if you want to break down prejudice and fear, and its uglier variants, bigotry and hatred, you must come up with a way of making the prejudiced confront the objects of their prejudice. For example, whether or not one understands all of the constitutional underpinnings behind desegregation of the government schools, that particular exercise of federal power was, for once, bolstered by science. When whites and blacks began to interact, stereotypes began to breakdown. (Of course, some aspects of the implementation -- such as busing -- had to do with exercises of power that were unscientific and detrimental, but that need not concern us here.)

In carrying openly, I will compel people to confront their prejudices, if any, about gun owners. I expect a range of reactions: tacit acceptance, open curiosity and acceptance, discomfort and possible rejection, and outright hostility. I plan on dealing with various reactions by a brief explanation of what I'm doing and a request that people come to this site and read the material.

The social sciences lack the rigor of the physical sciences. Aside from the problems posed by the complexity of the phenomena that are the subject of examination, in the social sciences there is the basic problem that I term "Heisenberg with a vengeance." Not only will the observer necessarily perturb that which is being observed, the observer is, to a greater or lesser degree, an inextricable part of what is being observed. That is going to be especially true here, since I have a high level of confidence in the proposition that individuals must have the right to defend themselves. I am not a detached observer.

I subscribe to the quintessentially American view that no person should have special rights -- everyone is equal before the law. For example, the fact that some individuals have chosen law enforcement as their profession does not make them "better" people, and deserving of special privileges. I see no reason why a police officer should be armed and I should not. The officer may have an additional, professional need to carry a firearm, but both (s)he and I have the same basic right of self-defense.

If anything, people who are drawn to law enforcement disproportionately include those with authoritarian personalities and thus likely to abuse the power they have. Due to the self-selective nature of its membership, the police as a social institution is one of the least trustworthy repositories of power. So, aside from the objection to persons, who are police, having rights I don't have, there is the objection that an institution with a monopoly on the use of force will abuse it in the service of a ruling elite. The evidence of current abuse is overwhelming. The fact that the victims are people of color is why the abuse can continue. Of course, as power expands, new victims can and will be chosen.

History (especially 20th century history) supports the proposition stated repeatedly by the Founders: governments are inherently dangerous (see, Freedom, Democracy, Peace; Power, Democide, and War, which contains the results of Rummel's research on 20th century nation-states and the types of political systems most likely to kill their own citizens). The Founders concluded that decentralized power is the only antidote to the lethal potential of government, and further that an important component of decentralization is the armed citizen. Since I do view things scientifically, it is certainly possible that the Founders were wrong (but see "Of Holocausts and Gun Control" by Daniel D. Polsby and Don B. Kates, Jr, which attempts to look at the assertion that gun prohibition facilitates genocide). However, I demand that those on the other side prove their case before I conclude that the right of personal self-defense (against thugs of both the civilian and government variety) is an anachronism.

There is so much emotionalism and mythology in the debate over the right of self-defense that rational argument is the first casualty. I discovered that with the ICLU board (who never knew that I came to every meeting after late 1993 armed). Political action as "education" seems to be the next logical step.

Frankly, I would prefer not to be doing this. I'm fairly certain that some of the negative reactions will include things like being asked to leave restaurants or stores, and confrontations in which I am insulted and vilified. It may have an adverse effect on my family as well. At this point, I see no other peaceful alternative.

The scientific part of me embraces the idea that there is no such thing as certainty. That makes me an unlikely social activist because I have no sense of personal "destiny", infallibility, or the righteousness of my cause. However, I do have a requirement that there be discussion. What we will be discussing is the fact that around 5% of your friends and neighbors in Bloomington (and an even higher percentage statewide) are licensed to carry a gun for self-defense. Just like the members of the gay community (which does include gun owners), we live among you but are invisible unless we "come out." I am "coming out" and putting you, my friends and neighbors, in the position where you will have to discuss this on some level.

In future pieces, I will document the day-to-day events relating to my action. In some respects, I will attempt to function as a participant-observer style anthropologist. However, I'm very serious about the politics so there should be no expectation that I will be detached.

A final note. Readers will observe a three-week gap between installment number 4 and this one. It has been very hard not to be swept up in the historical significance of the events surrounding the 2000 Presidential election. There were also practical considerations having to do with undertaking political action when all attention is focused on the events in Florida. Although it now appears that a resolution is at hand, the election may remain unsettled until January. I've decided that I mustn't allow my attention to be further diverted or my resolve to weaken. Accordingly, tomorrow it begins.