Why I Carry

Always on duty, No. 15, 18 March, 2001

by Paul Hager © 2001

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

Article I, Section 32, Indiana Constitution

If you are a political activist, it is axiomatic that you are always on duty. It was certainly my expectation when I began my carry program that this would be the case. Yet, I found myself unprepared to confront the consequences of this fact on at least one occasion. The incident in question occurred at the Bloomington YMCA at what I call the "political barycenter of southern Indiana": the Y hot tub.

I've been aware of political discussions going on among the soakers in the hot tub at least since the first time I used it, which was years and years ago. No topic has been off limits and some have generated intense controversy (note: I'm not counting discussions about I.U. basketball and Bobby Knight as "political" - those have often been very heated). Normally, no matter how intense the pre-hot tub workout, I'm ready to engage in spirited debate on virtually any topic. However, a couple of weekends back, I found myself just wanting to lie back and relax - and to be off duty.

Naturally, a fellow entered the tub and began to make a series of challenging statements about libertarianism. Although I don't recall ever having met him before, he obviously knew who I was. I responded to his statements with what I thought was my usual professorial detachment: "Yes, I think that you've raised an important issue with respect to the role of government in promoting research and development - my views in this area have undergone something of a transformation in recent years, blah, blah, blah..."; or, "I'm sort of on the fence with regard to government regulation of monopolies - though I'm now leaning in the direction that the government cure may be worse than the disease, blah, blah, blah...". The guy was clearly trying to be provocative, and not having much success. He suddenly switched topics and commented on how crazy it was to carry a gun around town - he wanted to know if I was the guy doing it. Yes, I said ... and things degenerated from that point on.

The biggest part of the problem was that I really just wanted to relax and talk about neutral subjects. This in turn explains why, when he raised every half-baked prohibition argument that I've already answered in editorials in the local paper, I began to lose patience. What I wanted to say to the guy was, "If you know who I am, how is it possible that you haven't read my answers to everything you're saying? And if you have read them, then why are you bothering me?" I actually started out providing answers: to the usual argument that the dependent clause of the 2nd Amendment limits the RKBA portion I said, "are you arguing that the language in the 1st that says "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances", limits legitimate protest to submitting a petition? How about the "right of assembly" - what does that have to do with the "right of association" which is never directly stated in the Constitution - are you saying that doesn't exist? More to the point, reproductive rights aren't even mentioned indirectly - you want to argue those away? Isn't it possible that there is a fundamental right of self-defense included in the "right to keep and bear arms?"

Ultimately no answer was satisfactory - when his points were shot down, he just switched to new objections. Nothing new, nothing I haven't dealt with before, but I just got tired of answering him. There were 5 guys in the tub at this point - two sided with me, one sided with the other guy. I found because I started to become sharp with the guy, the level of argument deteriorated and the two "sides" resorted to canned pro and con statements. I ended up leaving while the two sides went at each other.

I later did a post mortem of this encounter, and I realized that my one error was forgetting that whenever I'm in public I'm on duty. This is true even when I'm sitting in the Y hot tub and not carrying a sidearm. Of course there are zealots who can't be reasoned with and there is little to be gained by engaging them in protracted argument in any one-on-one encounter. But, in a public confrontation, protracted argument may be necessary. There may be fence sitters who can be influenced by what they hear. There may also be allies present who can benefit by observing how the zealot is handled.

Of course, being on duty involves considerably more than maintaining control in informal public debates. My carry campaign is also about dispelling the stereotypes that revolve around gun owners. Thus far, I think I've made some limited progress in that area. However, real progress won't come about until more of my fellow Hoosiers who also carry join me in my campaign.

I've recently verified that something between 1 in 12 and 1 in 11 adult Hoosiers have Indiana personal protection (PP) licenses. This is based a low estimate of 350K and a high estimate of 400K people with PP licenses out of approximately 4.4 million adult Hoosiers. In other words, between 8% and 9% of Hoosiers may carry - this compares between 10% and 15% of Israelis. As I've noted before, a citizen openly carrying an Uzi is a ho-hum affair in Israel. Because it is quotidian it elicits no reaction whatsoever.

In my previous article, I mentioned the suggestion of an "open carry day" - probably on the 4th of July. I have begun to promote this idea among my contacts in the Indiana RKBA community. It is early yet, so I haven't gotten much feedback one way or the other. However, I'm convinced that to decisively turn the RKBA issue in our favor, we need to engage in mass action -- large numbers of citizens carrying openly.

I'm not asking for everyone who carries to be "on duty" all the time - merely that they devote one day to the cause.

For now, I ask you to think about it.

In the coming weeks, I'll have more to say about "Hoosier Open Carry Day".