Gun Rights? How About No-Gun Rights?

This column is about guns, and the fact that I do not like them.

Guns1I wrote about all this once long ago, on the late lamented news aggregate site True/Slant, and the vitriol that landed upon my page in response made me very glad that my T/S readers didn’t know where I lived. I mean, it was if the NRA had put out a worldwide hit on me. I’m now counting on the belief that most of my current readers are kinder and gentler – since you can sure find out where I live if you don’t already know. And I’m satisfied that most of my angry T/S readers long ago quit following this blog. We’ll see.

What has my dander up is the recent ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that somebody’s right to carry – and show off – guns in public overrides my right to live in peace without having to worry about people swaggering around with their guns in my face. Say what?guns2

I have a lot of gun friends whom I love and admire. They use their guns to hunt legal game, and I think that’s good and proper. As far as I know, none of them feel compelled to strut around their local Starbucks with pistols on their hips.

My dislike of guns could be more correctly defined as fear. I’m not afraid of guns in the holsters of law enforcement officers, believing that their carriers are properly trained (and having grown up white I never had to fear police.) I’m just afraid of guns on the hips of unknown macho guys. If they’re swaggering around at Starbucks, I will definitely throw up my latte. Do I not have ANY right to drink a latte in public without throwing up?

Guns3When I was a child of about 12 someone broke into our home – well, nobody locked their doors in Ashland, VA in 1945 so he probably just opened the door and walked in – and made his way to the second-floor bedroom of my oldest sister Jane, who let out a mighty scream. The intruder left multiple hand prints on the newly painted walls as he swiftly descended the stairs (and left by another door.) But by the time the Richmond police arrived they pronounced the fingerprints too dim to be of use, so our nocturnal visitor was never identified. My family (4 girls + parents) that night morphed from 6 people in five beds to 6 people in two beds – Jane in between my mother and father; the other three of us in one double bed. (It took us several weeks to expand back into our individual beds.) The next day, our father bought a gun. It went to reside on a shelf in the closet of our parents’ bedroom. We all knew where it was; once or twice my sister Mimi and I stood on a lower shelf and looked at it. But instead of making us feel safer and protected, the thing created more fear. Despite all his stories about working on somebody’s ranch in Texas as a boy, my sisters and I (and our mother, I regret to report) feared our father’s probable ineptitude with a gun more than we feared another intruder. We had belatedly also begun to lock the doors. All five of us – mother + 4 daughters – also feared the fearsome instrument on the closet shelf more than we feared anyone who might be confronted by it. Overruled by us all, my father soon (I think it took less than a couple of weeks) took the gun back to wherever it came from.guns4

I had one more encounter with a gun. Working as a reporter for local newspapers in Decatur, GA in the early 1960s, I was convinced by some misguided other newsperson to go to a shooting range, in conjunction with some sort of story. The people there convinced me everything was just fine and I would see how easy it was to hit the target. Eventually I fired the stupid thing, and the noise, jolt and whatever nearly frightened me to death. I probably missed the target by more miles than was ever before known.

I submit the above only as argument that people who fear guns should have SOME rights to balance whatever the “Open Carry” (read: people who want to strut around showing off their representative lethal weapons) Second Amendment rights purportedly are.

Guns5 You need to swagger manfully around with a pistol on your hip? Fine. Swagger somewhere else – like, on a shooting range. Just stay out of my Starbucks. All I want is to drink my latte in gun-free peace.

Take that, Ninth Circuit. I only wish you would.

Do Lives Matter? Or just guns?

Vigil with Chiu

California Assemblymember David Chiu, whose district includes The Bayview, speaks to Vigil participants

Candles lit, holding signs that read SPREAD LOVE, NOT VIOLENCE or COMMUNITIES AGAINST GUN VIOLENCE the group stood waiting to start. But nearly half of those expected were missing. It seems there had been a shooting several blocks away. One dead. A lot of police involved, traffic blocked.

 

The vigil to protest gun violence, delayed by gun violence, eventually got underway.

This was on a recent wintry night in San Francisco, when a group from Grace Tabernacle Community Church in the city’s Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighborhood gathered for one of the regular vigils they have long held in memory of those killed by gunfire. It is a long list. The Bayview holds the unenviable record of having the most deaths and injuries from gun violence – by a large margin – of any area of San Francisco. It would be almost impossible to find anyone in the community who has not lost a family member, friend or acquaintance to gunfire; yet it is still home to generations of good people who continue to work for a better, even gun-free future.

Joining the Grace Tabernacle vigil group were a number of friends from Calvary Presbyterian church in the city’s Pacific Heights neighborhood, an affluent community which holds the unenviable record of having the city’s highest suicide rate. Some by gunshot.

Once the latecomers made it past the scene of the latest shooting, the group walked candles-aloft to a nearby corner where a young man had been killed not long ago. A collection of burned-out candles in colorful holders, some now broken, surrounded the parking meter at the spotVigil memorial.1 where he had fallen; the police had given up on it and let the site remain as a memorial. His name was Otis. No one knows who shot him; possibly he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Grace Tabernacle’s Bishop Jackson said a prayer and the group slowly moved on.

Occasionally they sang. (This Little Light of Mine . . . We Shall Overcome.) The wind repeatedly blew out candles, but there always seemed to be a flame somewhere. One candle-holder said to another, as she re-lit her candle by his, “I was shot in the shoulder on that corner a block away.”

The day after the vigil, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr., presumably confident that no troubled person would ever be a student at Liberty, urged his students to arm themselves.

Also on that day the Senate once again failed to pass gun control measures, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill that would have prevented people on terrorist watch lists from being able to buy guns with which to commit terror.

Several days later, some who had attended the vigil heard John Weems, at Calvary Presbyterian, address the issue of gun violence. Weems had been part of the vigil, and made a biblically appropriate metaphor of the candles being blown out by the wind, but constantly re-ignited. Darkness, he said, cannot overcome the light.

At the end of his sermon Weems lifted a stack of 8 x 10 sheets about three inches thick, and a few helpers distributed them among the congregation. There were 353 sheets listing the date, location and number of people killed or wounded in each of the mass shootings (four or more killed or wounded) in the U.S. this year according to the only-in-America website shootingtracker.com. Another 45 sheets bore the names of the known 2015 victims of gun violence in San Francisco, the city named for a compassionate saint.

Gun collage

It would be impossible to know how many firearms are in private hands in this country, but it’s safe to say at least a few hundred million. Some of them – “assault weapons,” “semi-automatic rifles,” “sporting guns” by whatever name you choose – can kill more people faster than others; any of them can kill or maim. A wide range of weapons were used for the 353 mass shootings of 2015; all of them succeeded in wounding or killing human beings. The three sheets left to this distributor read:

DURHAM, N.C.; 8/21/2015. WOUNDED: 8. DEAD: 0

ROSWELL, N.M.; 8/21/2015. WOUNDED: 1. DEAD: 3

CINCINNATI, OH; 8/21/2015. WOUNDED: 5. DEAD: 2

It’s hard not to think about how much darkness might be prevented by having a few less guns in the U.S. Those who know that darkness best continue to light candles . . . and hope.

candles

 

 

 

Guns, drugs & sit/lie laws: who's got the real rights?

Discussions stirred up by the comments in this space a few days ago (see below) concerning gun rights v public safety rights ranged from the specifically pro-gun and pro-open carry (“citizens use firearms for self-defense between 150,000 and 3,052,717 times a year. The lowest estimate comes to about 410 times a day, and the highest estimate is 8,363 times a day,” says willbill; “How many times has an open carry proponent shot someone? If you use statistics rather than “from the hip” anti gun rhetoric, you will find legal gun owners are not the problem. Illegal gun owners are the problem,” says airtechjr) to the pointedly anti-gun (“Besides looking really stupid, having a gun visible – even if unloaded – is scary! Do you know how fast you can jam a clip into a Glock Automatic? 3 seconds,” says Tom Medlicott.) Emeryville, CA Police Chief Ken James says it’s 1.3 seconds.

In the long run, though, the argument is not about gun rights v public safety rights, says carlfromchicago, because I have no constitutional right to feel safe in public. And this all started because I admittedly did not feel safe while attending a panel discussion on the proposed California Open Carry ban (AB #1934 now in the state legislature) and learning that I was the only unarmed citizen within three solid rows of citizens carrying (presumably legal) concealed weapons. According to Carl,

Whether people are comfortable around guns is a very interesting and relevant social discussion. But this is not a question of two rights pitted against one another. As much as we all want to feel safe, it’s simply a frame of mind. The right you have is to think what you wish, and feel what you wish … but that compels no one, or the government, to ensure what you think or what you wish becomes reality for everyone.

This brings us to San Francisco’s currently proposed sit/lie ordinance. It says (more or less) you may not sit or lie on the sidewalk. It means, please get the drug pushers and increasingly obnoxious defecators-on-front-steppers out of the ‘hood. It arose out of frustrations in San Francisco’s famously tolerant Haight Ashbury (remember the 60s?) neighborhood where things recently have gotten somewhat out of hand.

This space is a strong supporter of humane treatment and expanded rights for homeless. Countless local and national programs, some good, some better, are in place and worth everyone’s attention; I try to make regular, teeny contributions of time and resources. But should I have the right to walk along Haight Street in broad daylight without tripping on a soiled, zoned-out kid whose dog is only loosely tied next to him? That’s the question. And should we now have a law enabling law enforcement officials to wake him up (if possible), move him along or toss him in the paddy wagon to be deposited in a jail cell? That may not be the answer. Either way, it is generating great heat and not a lot of light in my beloved hometown.

San Francisco is not alone in this dilemma. City Watchdog blogger Melissa Griffin, on her Sweet Melissa blog, reports having dug up a report (“Big pdf here,” she warns) on “Homes Not Handcuffs: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities.”

The report surveyed laws in 235 cities (including San Francisco) and made some interesting findings:

  • 30 percent prohibit sitting or lying in certain public places.
  • 47 percent prohibit loitering in certain public places and 19 percent prohibit it citywide.
  • 47 percent prohibit begging in certain public places; 49 percent prohibit aggressive panhandling; and 23 percent have citywide prohibitions on begging.

At almost 200 pages, the report provides an exhaustive discussion of the legal landscape in 90 cities. Some have definitely used creative methods:

  • In Billings, Mont., it’s illegal to “aggressively solicit” and/or lie about being “from out of town, a veteran, disabled or homeless” while asking for money.
  • In Boerne, Texas, all panhandlers have to buy a license to solicit (like other solicitors and vendors) at a cost of $115. Durham, N.C., charges $20 for a panhandling permit.
  • Las Vegas, briefly had a law that prohibited sleeping “within 500 feet of a deposit of urine or feces.”

I am getting right back on the fence. Public safety does seem to me both an appropriate issue for discussion and an individual right. How far it can be legislated (there are over 20,000 gun laws already on the books across the country, uncertain wrote in) is debatable. I still wish guns would just go away. I don’t know what to do about obnoxious sitters/liers upon the sidewalks. Both seem obstacles to the peaceful communities some of us have in our memories and all of us have in our imaginations.

Handguns, the second amendment and the public safety

One young man with a suitcase, one with a hand...

Image by State Library and Archives of Florida via Flickr

Two sides of the gun control debate squared off in San Francisco this week, focus of a mini-battle over the fully loaded question: Does your right to walk around with a loaded gun in public override my right to feel safe when I don’t know if you might go off your rocker? This writer discovered, thanks to a show of hands at the Commonwealth Club sponsored panel, that I was the only unarmed person within a back-of-the-house three-row section. This revelation guarantees discomfort but keeps you alert.

California is among the majority of U.S. states which allow anyone to carry unloaded guns in plain sight, or licensed individuals to carry loaded guns concealed. Variations of gun laws — can you have a few in the car? how about in a restaurant? suppose your taste is for machine guns? — are complex and mind-boggling. Gun proponents fall back on the second amendment; gun-control advocates tend to cite public safety and privacy rights. Reasoned debate is pretty much out of the question.

The tempest in the California teapot arose over gun folks’ dislike of the “may issue” state business. California is a “may issue” state, meaning a permit may be issued to a law-abiding applicant; as opposed to a “shall issue” state, meaning you (law-abiding citizen) will darned well get that permit once you apply. In protest over the “may issue” situation, California gun buffs recently took to the streets — or to the local Starbucks, as the case happened — with prominently displayed weaponry. Some latte drinkers were not amused. Gun buffs were defiant. Starbucks reportedly wishes they had picked Peets. Meanwhile, CA Assemblymember Lori Saldana introduced a bill, AB 1934, to ban “Open Carry,” and the battle was joined.

At the recent panel, Emeryville CA Police Chief Ken James, University of CA Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring and Executive Director Sam Paredes of Gun Owners of California restated most of the familiar arguments. Throughout, James was expressionless, Zimring frowned, and Paredes wore an expression that can generously be described as a not-too-friendly smile. There were assertions (thousands of lives are saved every year by people armed and defending themselves or their neighbors; police don’t need to be stopping people all over the place asking if that gun is loaded; police can’t do their crime-stoppers job without the help of law-abiding, armed citizens; it’s not easy to know when an armed citizen will misuse his arms…) that all have elements of truth and elements of fantasy.

Two details are worth noting, though. Zimring pointed out that in the 2007  Supreme Court decision (District of Columbia v Heller), Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the 5-4 majority, took things a little farther than they had been by specifically mentioning handguns, which had not been invented when the second amendment was written. It’s handguns in public places that tend to rile up both sides. Therefore the hoopla over open carry, Zimring said, is not where the discussion should be. Eventually, the right to bear handgun v right to public safety will need to be settled. In other words, when does your right to pack a gun interfere with my right not to be around you when you do?

At the end of the discussion, moderator John Diaz, editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, asked a question about whether panelists were packing heat during this event. Off-duty Police Chief James was not, because he feels guns invite problems. Professor Zimring was not, because he said if he tried to hit a target everyone around would be in trouble. Citizen Paredes was. A concealed weapon, because you never know if another citizen might need you to leap into action. Was it loaded? Yes.

Somehow, this did not make me feel safer.

Who needs 'open carry' guns?

Guns in public view… guns loaded or unloaded… guns at the Starbucks counter… if you’re a supporter of the Brady Center, the current activism of the pro-gun folks is less than encouraging. And who exactly needs all this swagger?

Several interesting comments about gun-toters and gun stats appeared in the Letters section of today’s San Francisco Chronicle in response to goings-on of the “Open Carry” Movement:

In 2006, guns murdered 10,177 people in the United States, while 18 people were murdered in Austria, 27 in Australia, 59 in England and Wales, 60 in Spain, 190 in Canada, 194 in Germany, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

It is estimated that there are 283 million guns in America. We are the gun capital of the world.

It was George W. Bush who noted that an American teenager is more likely to die from a gunshot than from all natural causes of death combined.

Another reader suggested that

the “open carry” intentions of the gun-obsessed would surely lead to myriad examples of the law of unintended consequences: shootings and deaths as well as a sort of John Wayne psychology that belongs in movies, not our parks, streets and highways.

If Starbucks or any other business allows citizens with guns in their businesses, you and I should take our business elsewhere.

But perhaps the most on-target letter writer went straight to the main issue: what’s with the people who feel the need to stride around town showing off their hardware?

I searched in vain in the story about the “open carry” gun movement for the exact benefit of walking around in public with a gun on your belt – when everyone knows the guns are not loaded.

Since the guns are of no use in defending oneself or anyone else against, the “threat of violence” and the “desperate people” whom (advocate) Jeff Dunhill sees everywhere, I tried to imagine some other reasons:

a) It’s cheaper than a sports car; b) You can prove yours is bigger without risking arrest; c) It’s all that you can be.

I’ve never understood why, if guns are so central to their self-image, people like this don’t join the military or law enforcement. Unless it is because in those instances, the other side also has guns. It’s a lot safer to swagger up to the bar and demand a caramel frappuccino grande.

Letters to the editor

Guns as art and in the world

At my granddaughter’s art school, student work features what struck me as an awful lot of weapons: handguns, automatic rifles, daggers. “Well, Gran,” she replied to my comment on this high degree of angst, “we are teenagers.”

OK, I know it’s been two generations and at least 70 light years since I was a freshman art student myself, but I do miss the landscapes, still lifes and quiet figure studies. And I lament the angst.

I draw NO parallel, absolutely NO parallel between the excellent training and remarkable students at today’s art schools and the angst-level of terrorism. It is still both unsettling and heart-wrenching to pick up today’s New York Times and be greeted by a front page photo of a pretty,  baby-faced, all-innocence young girl pointing a gun upwards behind her head while in the casual embrace of her boyfriend, who is holding a larger handgun.

The boyfriend, as it happens, is a handsome young Russian who was killed by government forces a few months ago. The young woman, hardly more than a child, blew herself up in a Moscow subway on Monday, killing a lot of other innocent human beings. What is striking, among all the other ironies and tragedies of this picture, is the wealth of warmth and promise that seems to shine out of those two faces… if you cover up the guns. But those faces, and the bodies to which they were attached, are now dead.

I am holding onto my Brady Campaign membership.