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.

One more (anti)-gun law progresses

Glock 19 Pistol,

Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday the California state Assembly approved a bill 45-25 that would ban “Open Carry” — the carrying of unloaded handgun in public. The bill now goes to the Senate.

The measure by Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, D-San Diego, came in response to advocates who have been toting unloaded pistols in public in an attempt to expand Second Amendment gun rights.

She and other Democrats behind the measure, AB1934, called it a public safety issue and said law enforcement groups support the bill. Republicans said the measure targets law-abiding citizens.

Visitors to this space reading earlier posts about the Open Carry debate were essentially unanimous in saying I have no constitutional right to feel safe in public; 45 state Assembly members apparently see banning Open Carry as a way for people to be safe in public. Or more so, to some extent. The debate continues.

Assembly bans openly carrying guns in public.

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.

Gun buffs push 'Open Carry' agenda

Whatever those framers of the Constitution meant, their second amendment writing seems to have kept us all up in arms, so to speak, since about 1791. The latest battleground has gun buffs lining up in California to take aim at AB1934, a bill now pending in the state legislature which would make it illegal to carry an unloaded gun in plain view.

On one side are the “Open Carry” folks. They have taken offense at the fact that everyone who applies for a permit to carry a concealed weapon is not immediately granted that permit, even if he or she is a law-abiding citizen. You want to pack heat? The Open Carry folks think nothing should stop you. And since it is quite legal to carry an unloaded gun anywhere, any way you want, they have taken to strolling around with pistols tucked in their belts in protest. AB 1934 would interfere with this pleasant activity.

The bill’s author, Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, D-San Diego, is quoted as saying, “What I’m concerned about is people, who have no training, can carry a gun for no other purpose than to make a public statement.”

Ah, but according to Sam Paredes, Executive Director of Gun Owners of California, carrying an unloaded gun is just no problem at all.

Making public statements is an American activity. The “open carry movement” is driven by the inequities and unfair withholding of concealed-carry weapon permits.

The intimidation that the lawmaker, or others, may feel is no reason to make another law. Imagined fears are not justification for punishing laws that threaten innocent citizens. “Fears” were addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1960s when the court ruled that people’s “fears” were not justification to deny civil and constitutional rights.

Once California becomes a “shall issue” state, and all those who apply who are capable and law abiding are permitted to carry concealed weapons, the concern over empty guns carried in open view will fade.

Does this make sense? Perhaps as much as Paredes’ argument that since: “(w)e all know that the police cannot be on the spot immediately with every crime,” so let’s just let everyone pack a gun and be ready to take matters into his own hand.

Emeryville (CA) Police Chief Ken James is not so sure that’s a good idea.

Law enforcement officers are taught that guns are a dangerous and deadly threat to their safety and the safety of the public they serve. They understand that any encounter involving a gun is grave.

“Open carry,” the practice of carrying an unloaded handgun exposed in a belt holster, unnecessarily subjects our officers and the public to tense encounters that have unforeseeable consequences. The police officer who approaches an “open carry” subject must rapidly assess the subject’s behavior without knowing if the individual has a permit to carry a gun or a gun license. The officer knows only that he or she must detain the subject only long enough to determine whether the gun is unloaded.

An officer has more authority to check on whether a driver is legally driving a car than to stop an individual to verify if the individual has the right to carry a gun.

The officer doesn’t know if the individual is a law-abiding citizen or an individual prohibited from owning or carrying a gun. The officer does know that an unloaded weapon can become a loaded weapon in less than 1.3 seconds.

Paredes and James will face off in the company of University of California, Berkeley law professor Franklin E. Zimring next week, on a panel moderated by San Francisco Chronicle editorial page editor John Diaz at the Commonwealth Club of California, a local public affairs organization with national reach.

In the meantime, there seem to be people carrying guns — hey, it’s legal, probably — in public places, and the public hopes they’re not loaded.

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