Why I Carry

The birth of a movement?, No. 14, 25 February, 2001

by Paul Hager © 2001

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

Article I, Section 32, Indiana Constitution

As I anticipated, producing an article a week has proven to be a bit of a challenge. Very little of note happened the previous week, but this week has been very busy and, I'm happy to say, very productive. I had three separate speaking engagements this week. Two were in the nature of outreach - they were devoted to generating interest within the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (RKBA) community and to building a more effective grassroots organization in Indiana. One was in the nature of education - it was a talk delivered to an Indiana University political science class.

I'll say something about each of these events in due course. Before I do that, I want to say a few things about where the campaign seems to be headed. I've now encountered a few people who carry openly from time to time. Other people who carry but have never considered carrying openly have told me that they like the idea of open carry as a political statement and are "inspired" to do the same thing. I'm requesting of both sets of people that they send me reports on their experiences with open carry. I will then include those in my regular articles. I would like to extend the same request to readers - if you live in Indiana and have carried openly or have started carrying openly as a result of these articles, please tell me about it. Also let me know if I can use your name. Since carrying openly is really "coming out of the closet", please include some personal information and let me use it. This will help with the process of breaking down stereotypes, which is essential if we're to protect and extend the right of self-defense.

* * * *

On Monday, 19 February, I spoke to an intro-level I.U. poly-sci class with the title "American Political Controversies". The class consisted of around 100 students, most of whom were freshman (I ascertained this by asking for a show of hands at the beginning). Perhaps a third had visited the website and read at least some of the material before class. I was wearing a suit, so the gun was not immediately visible, though everyone knew I was carrying.

Since my undergraduate degree was in sociology, I presented a brief intro in which I talked about my own background in the social sciences and my "split" between being a detached "social scientist" and a committed activist. I also gave a little history of how my attitudes about guns had "evolved" over time, which was just a capsule of the first of my introductory pieces. The intro ran for around 10 minutes and then I opened things up for questions. The ensuing Q & A session went for about 11/2 hours.

Following are some highlights of the Q&A:

There were a number of questions about "reasonable" regulation. Some students said that they supported the right of self-defense but felt that maybe some guns were "bad" -- such as "assault weapons" -- or that there should be a training requirement. To the question about "assault weapons" I asked for a definition. The definition -- a full-auto firearm like an Uzi -- was close enough. I pointed out that the federal "assault weapon" restrictions didn't pertain to those firearms -- they actually were directed at semi-autos. I further said that machineguns were still legal, so long as one paid the $200 federal tax and filled out the necessary paper work. I also said that in Switzerland lots of homes had full-auto assault rifles in them connected with the militia system, and that in Israel, quite a few citizens carried Uzis.

With respect to a training requirement, I said that I was very concerned about a state training requirement used as a way of restricting the right. I likened it to the poll tax, or to literacy requirements that were used to deny some people the franchise. I said that, although I didn't like the public schools, there was a lot to be said for a course of instruction in firearms use.

A young woman who agreed with me asked a related question about waiting periods for gun purchases. I said that I put a waiting period for obtaining a gun in the same category as a waiting period for an abortion - I opposed both. However, I pointed out that a waiting period imposed upon a woman who immediately needed a way of defending herself from an abusive ex- actually endangered her life in a way a waiting period for an abortion (usually) wouldn't.

I was asked about guns in the home and children being around guns. I responded that the stats showed that guns are empirically way down on the list of risks to which children are exposed to in the home. Stairways are about the most dangerous. I also pointed out that the accident rate for firearms has been trending down for around half a century, so if it was a problem it was a problem of decreasing significance -- all without government regulation. I also observed that in the 200+ year history of the U.S., generation upon generation of children had grown up around guns and accidents had not been a serious problem. With respect to children and guns, I mentioned that I had first learned to shoot when I was 8 -- which produced some gasps.

Naturally, there was a question about the Columbine killings. The questioner said that "people are irresponsible". I acknowledged that some people are, but I asked if we should follow a principle of having a tiny fraction of a percent of irresponsible people govern what is legally permissible behavior for everyone else. Rather than respond to that question directly, the person tried to switch over to children being exposed to violent media and even the behavior of Bill Clinton. I said, if people are irresponsible, then is it your position that bureaucrats and politicians are more responsible and should have a monopoly on guns? You, after all, just offered Bill Clinton in your example.

A number of people said, "I agree with everything you say", which was mildly surprising. Some of these wanted to know about carry and obtaining a carry license. I said they were easy to obtain, and recommended that everyone get a license whether or not they intended to carry a gun. They might change their mind and having the license would make it easy to begin carrying.

I was asked if I felt that I "needed" to carry to protect myself. I said that I felt pretty safe in Bloomington, and that men in general probably didn't have that much to worry about, but that I actively encouraged women to carry -- citing the disappearance of Jill Behrman as a case in point.

At one point I drew some graphs on the chalk board illustrating the decline in the homicide rate, even as the gunstock increased. I also noted on the graph when carry laws started to come in. Earlier I had said that science allowed two reasonable positions with respect to citizen ownership of guns and its effect on crime: either that guns had no effect one way or the other, or that guns were beneficial and reduced the crime rate. I endorse the latter view. In presenting the graphs -- and adding the British crime increase as the guns were removed from private hands -- I said that it at least called into question the claim that guns exacerbated crime.

One young woman said that she felt uncomfortable knowing that I was armed. I asked her if she'd visited my website. She sheepishly said that she'd been busy and hadn't gotten around to it. I said that I discussed on the website the fact that I used to be anti-gun, and that I had a number of encounters during my anti-gun phase with citizens who I discovered were armed. It made me very uncomfortable then, and I understood how she felt. However, part of why I was doing this was to make people more comfortable with the idea that carrying for self-defense was a normal and acceptable choice. There was a stereotype that people who have and carry guns are "knuckle-dragging Neanderthals" and intrinsically dangerous. I hoped to encourage more people who normally carry to start carrying openly and help to dispel that stereotype.

A little later, another woman returned to a variation on the same question. She was uncomfortable and wanted to use that as a justification for not having people carry around her. In other words, since guns made some people uncomfortable, that would be a justification for preventing carry. I asked if she thought that Moslems should not be allowed in this classroom. No, she said. Aren't you afraid that they'll set off a bomb? -- that produced some gasps and murmurings. I then said that the idea that gays shouldn't serve in the military was based upon it making some straight soldiers uncomfortable, even though there was no evidence that gays made bad soldiers. Was that acceptable to her? She wanted to draw a distinction about guns -- it was the gun itself that made her uncomfortable. I said, I'm an agnostic, and religious symbols make me uncomfortable. Should we prevent people from wearing crucifixes because it makes me uncomfortable? I stated that it was not reasonable to expect that you have a huge bubble around you that governs what everyone else's behavior has to be. You may have a culturally defined personal space of around three feet which is a sort of "comfort zone", but absent direct contact or direct interference with your person, you can't control what other people do.

Although virtually the entire discussion centered on crime, I did mention the problem of governments killing disarmed citizens. In the 20th century, people world-wide were primarily killed by their own governments and not by criminals. In this vein, another young woman who said, "I agree with everything you say", wanted to know why I hadn't said anything about the U.S. Constitution and the 2nd Amendment. In answer, I said that because this was a social sciences class, I figured criminology should be my focus, though social and political systems properly should be discussed as well. I went on to say I'd be happy to talk about the Constitution and that I carried a copy of it everywhere I went - I removed my copy from my jacket pocket and held it up for all to see. I said a few things about the 2nd Amendment. I then talked about section 1 of the 14th Amendment and that it was in part enacted to prevent states in the post-Civil War south from disarming newly freed slaves, so that they could be easily intimidated or killed by white mobs.

Near the end, one fellow finally said, "I don't agree with anything you say", which produced a laugh, and I said, "good for you." He then offered a hypothetical of someone getting laid off, getting a gun, and going to my daughter's school and killing her. Would I still feel the same about guns? First off, I responded, my daughter goes to private school -- that produced a reaction from the students, but I overrode it. I continued by saying that this was an important fact because in the public school, teachers and parents, by law, may not be armed for self-defense. However, there is no such restriction in private school and I know that I'm not the only person who comes to my daughter's school armed. That created at least a possibility that I or someone else could stop an attack and save my daughter's life.

I stayed around for a while after the class and answered questions from several students for something like another half hour. A day or so later, I got a follow-up email from the instructor who thanked me for talking to the class. He further noted that the class had been much more engaged by my presentation than any other speaker so far.

* * * *

Wednesday, 21 February, I left work early and drove up to South Bend for a meeting of the Michiana 2nd Amendment group. This group is one of several that seem to have come together within the past year or two, impelled it seems by a recognition that the conventional pro-RKBA organizations (primarily the NRA) and their tactics (or lack thereof) are not proving successful.

Mark Vanderberg is the founder and head of the group. Though I had exchanged email with him over a period of years, this was our first corporeal contact. Before I spoke, Len Grummell, another member who owns a gun shop in South Bend and is a dedicated self-defense advocate, brought everyone up to date on the ordinance being proposed by the city council. Len had taken the lead on this issue, and had done an excellent job of lobbying. The problem with any sort of ordinance was that it would run afoul of the state's 1994 preemption law. The County Prosecutor agreed with this assessment, and as of the meeting, Len said that 6 of the 9 council members seemed to agree as well. The council will be deciding this matter on Monday, 26 February. Len noted that the city council had initially tried to run this ordinance through in a manner designed to discourage public input - it was only by accident that he found out about it and was able to mobilize a citizens' response. Once the council was confronted with organized opponents, they delayed votes and rescheduled meetings - a tactic often used to wear down the opposition and give supporters a chance to show their strength. It didn't work at all in this instance.

I'm developing what seems to be a standard presentation to pro-RKBA groups: I say a little bit about my background and then explain why I've become so involved in this issue. I then explain why I think it is important to engage in the particular form of political protest/action I've undertaken. As with the meeting in Wadesville/Evansville, there were a couple of people with the Michiana group who had carried openly from time to time. One of these is a young man who is an Orthodox Jew and, like me, is a member of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (JPFO). He works in his father's pawn shop, and carries openly on the job. He does this as a deterrent, since the shop is in a part of town that is deemed somewhat "unsafe." He frequently has to deposit substantial cash receipts, and has sometimes carried openly to the bank - no one has complained about this. Most interesting was that he carries openly at his synagogue. He and the rabbi discussed this early on and the rabbi had no objections. Members of the congregation have not only gotten used to his being armed - apparently they've come to expect that he'll be there as a sort of unpaid armed guard. Overt acts of anti-semitism, though rare in the U.S., nonetheless do happen. In Bloomington some years ago, Temple Beth Shalom was torched by an arsonist motivated by anti-semitism. I consider it ordinary prudence for anyone who is an observant - and therefore, obvious - Jew to be armed for self-defense. Like earthquake insurance in the Midwest, you probably don't need it but you'll be glad you have it if the unthinkable happens.

One suggestion that emerged from the meeting is worth pursing: organizing an open carry day in Indiana. I said that 4th of July seemed like a natural.

* * * *

Saturday, 24 February, I spoke at a morning meeting of the Owen County Libertarian Party. I was pleased to discover that several people who came were not Libertarians but had read the announcement in the paper and were interested in finding out more about my campaign. I was also pleased that several of the people were women. One woman who had some experience as a truck driver wanted to know if "I had" any women carrying openly. I answered, "Are you volunteering?" The answer was, perhaps. I mentioned the idea of an open carry day on the 4th, and this generated a lot of favorable comment.

Since there were a number of women at this meeting who either were already carrying or were preparing to start, I offered such limited insights as I had based upon my wife's experiences. One question had to do with the strength required to pull the trigger of a double-action revolver. I said that my wife was a small woman who was not particularly strong, and this had been a problem she had confronted when first shopping for a gun. We found that the 5 lb trigger-pull on the standard Glock was ideal for her. I further said that, with respect to having kids around the house, I greatly favored a semi-auto over a revolver. If one is going to have a gun stored in a way that it can be gotten to and made ready to fire quickly - as would be required in the event of a break-in - but still be relatively kid-safe, the semi-auto has all the advantages. A semi-auto can be kept close at hand, with the magazine in the gun but without a round being chambered. The gun can be loaded in less than a second by "racking the slide". About the best that could be managed with a revolver would be to store it along with a speed loader. It would take a bit longer to "make ready", and there is an additional fumble factor that could produce delays. I got a strength question about racking the slide, and I said that I never pulled the slide back using my fingers but worked it by grasping the handgrip in my right hand and, with my right hand holding the slide, "crossing" my hands (I demonstrated the motion). Very easy to do for any adult - though it is probably beyond young kids' ability to do.

* * * *

All in all, a very busy week, but one in which a lot of things seem to be coming together. I'll spread the word about an open carry day and see what sort of response I get. If it catches on, I can provide coordination services through this website.

Remember, if you are a private citizen carrying openly (in Indiana or elsewhere), please contact me and share your experiences. If we are going to be effective politically and change public attitudes, it's important that we have some empirical data. We need to know what works, and what doesn't.