Why I Carry

The new millenium, No. 8, 31 December, 2000

by Paul Hager © 2000

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

Article I, Section 32, Indiana Constitution

I find myself in a reflective mood today. The calendrical odometer turns over to 2001 tonight, which means that tomorrow begins the new millenium. This numbering system is totally arbitrary so there is no rational reason to attach any special significance to the event, yet I seem to be doing so nonetheless.

Next year -- in less than three weeks actually -- a new President will take office and the long, dark night of the Clinton administration will end. In December of 1999, the Herald-Times published an editorial I wrote that predicted George W. Bush would be facing Al Gore in the 2000 election. I made clear that I would be supporting whomever the Libertarian Party nominated for President but observed that George W. would likely turn the ship of state ever so slightly in the libertarian direction. We shall see if I'm right. Expect George W. to put together a "bipartisan" commission which will include Daniel Patrick Moynihan and some other prominent Democrats (possibly Bob Kerry among them) that will be charged with recommending Social Security reform. The reform will be 1/6 privatization and it will be enacted early in 2002. Further encroachments on RKBA from the federal government will cease for now. The mid-term elections will be key, considering that the ban on so-called "assault weapons" is sunsetted to die in 2004.

The election of George W. presents us with an opportunity to build the RKBA/self-defense movement and prepare for taking the political offensive. The first years of the new millenium will be difficult but, despite my natural inclination to focus on worst-case scenarios, I have real hope that we can turn the personal freedom trend line, which has so long been negative, in the positive direction.

I'm not going to get into the details of my program for the new year. It will involve building support and guaranteeing that supporters are committed to the cause. Compromisers will not be welcome. Freedom is lost through a thousand little compromises. Freedom can be regained by forcing the other side to compromise -- a little at first, more later.

As I stated at the beginning, a new millenium is a construct having no special significance. And so, my program for the coming year is just a continuation of what I am already doing. The final week of the old millenium highlighted how much work lies ahead, but it also showed that the program is moving forward satisfactorily.

One thing that will continue to be against us in the foreseeable future is the apparent hostility of the media. I say "apparent" because some of the bias against RKBA and self-defense that we see in the media is real and some of it is phenomenological in nature. This past week provides us with a perfect example of real and apparent bias in operation.

A major national news item was the story of a Massachusetts man who killed 7 co-workers. Much was made of the fact that he was armed with "semi-automatic" firearms. We can expect that mass killings will occur from time to time, though they are rare events when integrated over the entire population. So far as I know, the only person who has made a systematic study of mass killings is economist John Lott. Lott found that, contrary to a slipshod bit of reportage from the New York Times, there is no upward trend in mass killings -- it's actually been rather constant for decades. The only statistically significant finding made by Lott was that mass killings seem to be more likely in states with strict "gun control". (Note that Massachusetts is one of the most restrictive states as far as self-defense and right-to-carry is concerned.)

Rare events, such as mass killings, are intrinsically interesting and therefore newsworthy. Commonplace events, in contrast, are generally uninteresting and therefore not newsworthy. The extensive coverage of statistically rare but dramatic events results in a widespread public misperception of the frequency with which such events occur. Generally, public assessment of the risks attached to certain activities is inversely proportional to the actual risk. This is the phenomenological component of media coverage I alluded to above. Even without any intent, media coverage can foster a public view that guns are problematic. Reporters are not immune from the effects of their own coverage, so by a process akin to positive feedback, real bias can be generated if it was not already there.

For a specimen of real bias, I offer the Herald-Times' coverage this week of two stories on the same day. The first was the aforementioned mass killing in Massachusetts. The second was a self-defense shooting that occurred in Bloomington.

Before proceeding, I'll lay out the key facts of the self-defense shooting, as gleaned from the H-T. A man allegedly broke into a woman's home and was hiding in her closet when she came home. He surprised her and a struggle ensued. She broke away from him, retrieved a .38 semi-auto pistol from her purse, and shot the man once, wounding him in the legs. She ran to a next door neighbor's house and called the police. The man had been arrested a few months ago for criminal confinement with a deadly weapon in an incident involving the same woman. This is as far as the coverage goes, but it is clear that he is either an abusive ex-boyfriend or a stalker.

The Massachusetts story was front page news, whereas the self-defense shooting was buried in the back part of the paper. The H-T does cover national news, but it also tries to be a community paper. Routinely, important local stories share the front page with national stories. (The most extreme example of this was the day in March 1981 when Ronald Reagan was shot. On the same day, Indiana University won the NCAA basketball championship. The next day's H-T banner headline was, "Indiana University wins NCAA". Below the fold, in much smaller type was, "President Shot.") Given that violence against women is rightly considered a serious national problem, and given that several local women have either been abducted or threatened with abduction in the past year (including Jill Behrman, a 19-year-old co-ed who is missing and presumed dead), the fact that a woman fought back successfully against an assailant should have been a major news story.

I must admit to a sense of personal failure at the way the H-T treated the self-defense story. Over the past several years, I've written about armed self-defense (particularly as an option for women, see Another View of Female Empowerment, 1995) in the H-T, including debating the subject with the editors. I was also a member of the H-T readers' advisory board (1997), and discussed problems with the way the paper covered RKBA and self-defense issues. I think I influenced some of the people at the H-T since coverage in recent years had become less slanted. Apparently the paper has started to backslide.

My personal experience with the H-T confirms my view that correcting media bias will have to come about as a side effect of a continuous campaign of political activism and public education. There is just too much institutional and systemic bias in the media for salutary changes to become permanent.

With respect to that campaign, I will conclude with a brief recounting of my personal activities for the week. "Brief" because a combination of the holiday season and a nasty case of laryngitis (the first I've ever had as an adult) has pretty much kept me close to home.

My one significant outing was to attend the regular Friday luncheon of a Bloomington political group that gathers in a meeting room at the Great Wall restaurant for their Chinese buffet. This group is comprised mostly of Republicans, though a few Libertarians also participate. It is an outgrowth of a group that was formed a few years back to resist the city's and county's encroachments on private property rights and their general anti-business policies. The fact that Libertarians are welcome in the group is no accident -- quite a few of the nominal Republicans are fairly libertarian philosophically. Normally upwards of 40 or 50 people show up. The holidays reduced the attendance by about half.

I knew quite a few of the attendees and everyone there knew about my "experiment" and was very supportive. (I should mention that I went through the buffet line before joining the folks in the meeting room, and none of the patrons seemed to be the least bit perturbed by the holster.) I was asked to say a few words to the group -- which I did in what amounted to a loud whisper. I ended up hanging around for an hour or so after lunch drinking coffee and chatting with a few people about politics in general and RKBA in particular. The most important topic of discussion was working together in the future in those areas where we agreed -- with RKBA being at the top of the list.

I admit it. I'm excited by the new millenium. The past few weeks have gone better than I ever expected and positive things are starting to happen. Our adversaries are just as strong and just as dedicated as ever, and they have the support many of society's most powerful institutions, including the media. We only have reason, the Constitution, and our own will. But I think that may be enough in the long run.