Why I Carry

Aftermath of the press release, No. 7, 24 December, 2000

by Paul Hager © 2000

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

Article I, Section 32, Indiana Constitution

The press release went out to selected Bloomington media outlets late Sunday night (17 December, 2000). It had the desired effect.

On Monday, I was interviewed by a reporter with the Bloomington Herald-Times. It was a front-page story (below the fold) Tuesday morning. The article was informative and balanced; it included reactions from law enforcement indicating that they would not overreact and would follow the law. It also contained the number of licenses issued in Indiana over the four-year period from 1996 to 1999 (300,000+). Also on Monday, I was invited to appear on a talk radio show after work on Wednesday. More about that in due course.

Tuesday after work, I stopped off at the A-1 Printing Company in Bloomington to have business cards made. I intend to give cards with my name and website to people I meet who have questions about my carrying. It has been a very cold fall in Indiana -- this past November has actually been the 2nd coldest recorded in the U.S. in over 100 years, and December seems to be following suit. Consequently, when I entered A-1's office, I was heavily bundled and the holster was not visible. The proprietor was very friendly. He offered some helpful suggestions about the layout of the card including setting the "Why I Carry" part off with small pistols. It became obvious that he'd read the H-T article when he suddenly said something along the lines of, "OK, let's see the holster." I opened my jacket to show it. He opined that people should always carry where the gun can be seen -- carrying concealed meant that a person was up to no good. After a week and a half of carrying openly, his was the first reaction. I'd call it a positive one.

On Wednesday I was scheduled to appear on WGCL (1370 AM) during the 5 PM to 6 PM time slot. Before going to the show, I went to the Uptown Cafe for coffee. I sat in a booth in the front and was facing the door. This put the holster facing out. After ordering coffee I got up and walked to the bathroom, which made it unmistakable that I was carrying. Upon returning to my seat, the owner showed up and said that although he appreciated my business, he was concerned about my carrying in his restaurant. I asked him if he preferred for me to carry concealed. He said in that case he wouldn't know so, yes, that would be preferable. I told him that since I had gotten my license 7 years ago, I had carried regularly in the restaurant.

He ended up sitting with me. Over the next 20 minutes or so I tried to answer his questions and concerns. He asked if I thought a "wild west" environment was desirable. I pointed out that the "wild west" was largely a creation of first, the dime novels and later, of the movie industry. The movie industry in particular had consistently portrayed an American west that was exceedingly violent. After all, I pointed out, the first commercial movie was Edison's The Great Train Robbery which had desperados gunning down unarmed passengers and throwing a man (actually a rather obvious dummy) off a moving train. Since then, Hollywood movies had built myth upon myth. Myths can be very powerful things, particularly if that is all we see.

I told him that at least 5% (probably more) of adults in Indiana are licensed to carry for personal protection, which means that there are probably quite a few who come into his restaurant carrying a loaded gun. I talked about Benjamin Smith's "shooting spree" and said that, although we could never know with any certainty, it is conceivable that Smith was deterred from coming into the Uptown because he knew that it was likely that some people were armed and would therefore abort his spree. That gave me an opportunity to talk about the halo effect. I then directed him to this website, which he promised to visit. By the end of our discussion, I had responded to most of his concerns. I then talked about why the Uptown was so popular with me, my family, and my friends. This was a way of establishing that I wanted to be able to continue patronizing the restaurant and that I was a good customer.

My interaction with the owner of the Uptown is instructive. I can't emphasize enough the importance of never being confrontational. My immediate question about the acceptability of carrying concealed presented an alternative and allowed me to state that I and many others who come into his restaurant actually are armed -- something he had never realized. This challenges the "wild west" stereotype in a neutral way without challenging him personally. It is also very important to acknowledge a person's concerns and treat them seriously. This is easy for me to do since I used to share them. Never be dismissive. Our battle is with erroneous ideas, not the person holding them.

Zealots and true believers won't be interested in discussing things. They will have to be handled differently. Thus far, I haven't encountered any.

After leaving the Uptown I stopped off at a bookstore and bought the latest issue of Scientific American. I then walked over to the WGCL studios, arriving about 25 minutes before airtime. The studios are located on the 4th floor of an office building with an extended atrium. The waiting area consisted of some chairs next to the railing around the atrium. I had been reading my magazine for an indeterminate period of time when I heard someone call my name. I looked around, expecting that I was being called into one of the studios, but no one was there. I realized that the voice that had called me was emanating from the 3rd floor. Looking over the railing, I saw two men: Chris Crabtree, who works for Congressman John Hostettler, and another fellow who is a long-time political activist and an acquaintance of mine. The latter person asked me if I was "packing heat". In answer, I stood and showed the holster. He patted his suit jacket to indicate that he too was carrying. (This person, incidentally, switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party a few years ago -- around the same time I switched from the Democratic Party to the Libertarian Party. I keep telling him that he's much more Libertarian that Republican. I'm not sure that he disagrees with that assessment.)

Chris said that he'd sent a copy of the Tuesday H-T article to John. I've gotten the impression over the past few years that Hostettler's people have kept tabs on me; there is an indication that some of the ideas I've addressed in my writings have influenced him. In my two runs against John, irrespective of our political disagreements, I've stuck to the issues and never attacked him personally. In fact, on a number of occasions I've defended him from unfair attacks, and in so doing, I think I've earned his respect. John is solid on the 2nd Amendment and RKBA. In the future, it will be important to have allies from all parts of the political plenum, particularly powerful ones like John Hostettler and his supporters.

Shortly after this encounter, Jerry Bales, one of the hosts of the show, came out to get me. As he greeted me, Jerry's eye's briefly dropped to the holster. I could tell that he was skeptical about what I was doing. Jerry is a former Indiana State Representative who served in the Indiana House for 20-odd years. He is a nominal Republican, though in office he was rather more an independent than anything else and viewed as something of a maverick. Over the years he developed an almost father-son relationship with Mark Kruzan, a House Democrat representing an adjoining district. This eventually alienated Jerry from a number of people in his own party who felt that he was more Democrat than Republican. He was defeated in a bitterly fought primary in 1998.

The other host is Jeff Dellinger. Jeff is a young guy with the mellifluous voice and demeanor of a radio personality. He handles most of the on-air chores and also functions as a director. Jeff had read much of the material on the site and found it very informative, which he pointed out a number of times while on the air.

Before we got started, I got a lot of off-air questions from Jerry. Many were along the lines of those I was asked by the Uptown's owner. By the end of the show, he seemed more comfortable with the idea of my carrying openly. Whether this attitude generalizes to other people is another matter.

The questions from the listeners were uniformly friendly, which I found mildly surprising. One question had to do with the disappearance this year of a 19-year-old cyclist named Jill Behrman and a couple of recent incidents in which young women were either abducted and raped or barely escaped being abducted. This gave me an opportunity to focus on the right to carry as a women's issue.

After the program, I suggested that Dellinger and Bales might want to have me on again in a few months to see how things had gone. They expressed a willingness to do that.

Thursday was the first night of Chanukah. Although we are an agnostic family, we observe a number of Jewish holidays, Chanukah among them. I try and put a practical, secular face on things. The Chanukah Menorah with its eight candles (plus the shamash or "helper" candle) has to do with the rededication of the temple (which the Assyrians had desecrated) in 165 B.C.E. According to the story, there was only enough oil for one day, but "miraculously" the lamp burned for eight. This mythical event is not what Chanukah is about as far as I'm concerned, and it's not what I tell my daughters. What I emphasize is that Jews took up arms to defend their freedom to believe what they wanted. Those Jews waged a successful guerilla war and prevailed against the Assyrians. Use of force is always a last resort, but it is sometimes a necessary one. That is the lesson of Chanukah.

On Sunday, we went to the Uptown. I had told my oldest daughter that there was a chance I would be asked to leave. She seemed to be less interested in that than the fact that the owner was also the cook who prepared those excellent pancakes. She wanted to meet him and tell him how much she liked the cornmeal pancakes, which is what she usually orders. She also said that if he was worried about people being armed, she would tell him that she was "armed with a sense of humor." I had planned on asking to take her into the kitchen to meet the owner but, because I was coming down with a cold on Sunday morning, I figured we should defer this to a future outing.

Breakfast was completely uneventful. We sat in the back as usual. I took off my coat and sat down with my family. If anyone saw the holster, no one commented on the fact. We were served. I had the whole wheat banana pancakes, which were superb.