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

Will fatherhood change Rev. Billy?

It’s true. The 50-something Reverend is a new father. Rev. Billy and his gorgeous wife  Savitri, today welcomed Lena Nightstar Talen into the world. If you Facebook friend him you can see her photos.

You may not have encountered Rev. Billy. He is, however, worth encountering. Minister of the Church of Stop Shopping, occasionally the Church of Stop the Bombing or most recently the Church of Life After Shopping, Reverend Billy got out of jail in time for his daughter’s arrival. He was incarcerated (something that happens with some regularity) for creating a mountain of toxic waste from Appalachia and dumping it in the NY lobby of JP Morgan Chase in protest against their financing of mountaintop mining.

Rev. Billy, a performance artist AKA Bill Talen, puts his energies where his beliefs are in ways most of us couldn’t imagine — and certainly couldn’t pull off. He ran unsuccessfully but with gusto for Mayor of New York in the last election. Long before the gun folks targeted Starbucks the Rev was targeting them for driving out the mom and pop stores. (That particular campaign, which included preaching a one-minute anti-Starbucks sermon in every Starbucks in Manhattan, got Starbucks’ attention, prompted a memo to their outlets and resulted in a book titled after that memo, What Should I Do If Reverend Billy Is In My Store.)

The Rev supports equality, gay rights and everyday folks; he laments consumerism, corporate culture, destruction of the environment and other popular evils. His laments, though, are considerably more activist than most. This is partly because he’s gifted and funny, and mostly because he truly believes that one should stand up for principles that matter. Check him out. You may not agree with his passions or his methods, but you won’t be bored.

About those passions, what Rev. Billy wants most is a better world for newcomers like Lena Nightstar. He’s entertaining, but he’s dead serious.

So no, I doubt that fatherhood will slow him down. Congratulations, Savitri & Bill.

Your latte or your life

At last, an addiction I can be proud of. Having given up nicotine, alcohol and sin in general over the years, I was beginning to despair about the remaining unbreakable habits:  sugar, butterfat… and caffeine.  But now, suggests Wall Street Journal health writer Melinda Beck, caffeine might just be putting a little distance between Alzheimer’s and me. It might not be an anti-dementia guarantee, and it could have a few downer side effects, but still. A ray of sunshine on the addiction scene.

To judge by recent headlines, coffee could be the latest health-food craze, right up there with broccoli and whole-wheat bread.

But don’t think you’ll be healthier graduating from a tall to a venti just yet. While there has been a splash of positive news about coffee lately, there may still be grounds for concern.

  • Cancer: Earlier studies implicating coffee in causing cancer have been disproven; may instead lower the risk of colon, mouth, throat and other cancers.
  • Heart disease: Long-term coffee drinking does not appear to raise the risk and may provide some protection.
  • Hypertension: Caffeine raises blood pressure, so sufferers should be wary.
  • Cholesterol: Some coffee—especially decaf—raises LDL, the bad kind of cholesterol.
  • Alzheimer’s: Moderate coffee drinking appears to be protective.
  • Osteoporosis: Caffeine lowers bone density, but adding milk can balance out the risk.
  • Pregnancy: Caffeine intake may increase the risk of miscarriage and low birth-weight babies.
  • Sleep: Effects are highly variable, but avoiding coffee after 3 p.m. can avert insomnia.
  • Mood: Moderate caffeine boosts energy and cuts depression, but excess amounts can cause anxiety.

So let’s see. My bone reports have actually upscaled recently, so all that butterfat and a few bone meds are outpacing the latte. I can fall asleep midway through a cappuccino, and I don’t have time to be depressed. Unlikely to get pregnant. Addiction situation looks better and better. Further insight comes from Duke University Medical Center psychophysiologist Jim Lane, who’s been studying the effects of caffeine for more than 25 years, and from a distinguished addiction psychiatrist (I wonder if I should volunteer for a study) at Vanderbilt University.

“When I went to medical school, I was told that coffee was harmful. But in the ’90s and this decade, it’s become clear that if you do these studies correctly, coffee is protective in terms of public health,” says Peter R. Martin, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Vanderbilt University and director of the school’s Institute for Coffee Studies, founded in 1999 with a grant from coffee-producing countries.Still, many researchers believe that the only way to draw firm conclusions about something like coffee is through experimental trials in which some subjects are exposed to measured doses and others get a placebo, with other variables tightly controlled. When that’s been done, says Duke’s Dr. Lane, “the experimental studies and the [observational] studies are in very sharp disagreement about whether caffeine is healthy or not.”

Harmful Effects

His own small, controlled studies have shown that caffeine—administered in precise doses in tablet form—raises blood pressure and blood-sugar levels after a meal in people who already have diabetes. Other studies have found that caffeine and stress combined can raise blood pressure even more significantly. “If you are a normally healthy person, that might not have any long-term effect,” says Dr. Lane. “But there are some groups of people who are predisposed to get high blood pressure and heart disease and for them, caffeine might be harmful over time.”

[HEALTHCOLfront]

Epidemiologists counter that such small studies don’t mirror real-world conditions, and they can’t examine the long-term risk of disease.

The debate goes on. Do people remember how many cups they drink? How big is your mug? How random is your study? Did your ancestors have a history of — uh, oh, my parents met and married in Brazil where I was born. Maybe that’s where it all started.

I will welcome your comments on caffeine addictions; they will be compiled over a take-out tall extra-foamy latte.

Seeking Coffee’s Benefits to Health – WSJ.com.


Will consumerism rise again?

For some reason, maybe it’s the stock market, maybe it’s just wishful thinking-of-anything-but-wars-&-health-reform, consumerism is all over the news of late. Summer tourists didn’t tour as much or buy enough, clunkers were eagerly turned in for cars, caution abounds in the land. People are even beginning to save for the rainy days that have not yet cloudburst upon them.

A closer look at all this was taken through a couple of recent studies reported on by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Tom Abate this morning. Abate focuses on California, but the trends are all over.

California will trail the nation in emerging from the Great Recession, as consumers save more and spend less in a behavior shift that will slow growth and job creation in the short term but eventually lead to a stronger economy.

That message emerged from two separate reports released Tuesday by the UCLA Anderson Forecast and Beacon Economics, a consulting practice with offices in San Rafael.

Both forecasts characterized California as the epicenter of back-to-back consumption binges fueled by the dot-com boom and the housing bubble, and argued that now the state faces big adjustments as it recovers from ills that have long plagued the U.S. economy.

“Consumers have been on a spending binge ever since 1995,” said Jon Haveman with Beacon Economics, as soaring 401(k)s and, later, inflated home prices made Americans feel so wealthy they stopped saving money.

California, of course, rather outdid itself in the business of spending too much, buying too much and borrowing to do more of the same, but none of this was peculiar to the left coast.

It did not go unremarked, however, by one of the current candidates for Mayor of New York, Rev. Billy. You don’t know Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping? You’ve been missing something. The Rev, probably going on the ballot as Bill Talen, does not get the coverage that other candidates do, but he is dead serious about his mission and pretty raucous about delivering the message. He is seriously running for Mayor. He doesn’t like consumerism, or the corporate takeover of America, or war. At times his church becomes the Church of Stop the Bombing. In any event, if we’d been listening to Rev. Billy all these years we might have missed getting in quite so deep a mess — but we’d also have missed a lot of Starbucks lattes.

Now comes word that senior shopping at Walgreen, Rite-Aid and Family Dollar stores is going to be made more comfortable, just in time for Boomers to start turning 65 in 2011. According to a recent Wall Street Journal story by Ellen Byron, in one exercise designed to help participants in a Kimberly-Clark program understand the difficulties confronting senior shoppers, Kimberly-Clark executive Don Quigley tried going through the aisles with dark-tinted glasses, un-popped popcorn in his shoes and his thumbs taped to his palms. This rather hurts my senior-shopper feelings if it is how Rite-Aid sees me, but I will try to appreciate the effort.

It appears that we current savers/cautious spenders are not expected to change back to rampant consumerism overnight, which is good news to the senior seniors of us, brought up so rigorously in the save-first-spend-later mode that we feel better within it anyway.

Ed Leamer, director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast, said consumers usually roar back from recessions with spending that lifts production and fuels hiring, but he thinks that is unlikely during this recovery because Americans have been living beyond their means for too long – borrowing too much and importing more than the country sells abroad.”We need to turn our shopping malls into factories,” Leamer said “Our economy over the next decade is going to have to build more of the stuff we buy.”

Haveman said the painful adjustments now under way should eventually benefit California and the Bay Area, which lead in technology, biotechnology, clean energy and other cutting-edge industries.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is visible, but it’s still a long way off,” he said.

That business about turning shopping malls into factories and living within means — that’s going to please Rev. Billy.

Fundamental economic shift underlies recovery.