Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Comment Rescue (for Pandora and Dorian Gray): Listening carefully about intimidation and open carry

Gun threads at Delawareliberal are frustrating exercises to read because they quickly descend (and unfortunately I am not kidding about this) into challenges and counter-challenges to send in digital photographs of various commenters' penises and other important intellectual topics like that.

Nonetheless, two bloggers/commenters for whom I have respect (Pandora and Dorian Gray) have raised issues that people need to think about with respect to the recent open carry incidents at Presidential and Congressional events.

Dorian Gray writes [and I am leaving out all the penis stuff this time DG]:

All the things a gun is used for are violent. The discharge of a weapon is by definition violent. Do you scratch your pussy with it? If and where you chose to display one to prove some arcane point has meaning.

If someone feels the need to “display openly” a firearm to prove they have a right we are already fully aware they have, what does this mean? What does this have to do with Health Care? Why not “display openly” at a tennis match or movie theater or a tractor pull or whatever it is you shitkickers do? This is a threat.

[Well, OK, I couldn't get rid of the pussy comment without losing the meaning.]

Pandora writes:

One of mike w’s problems is that he demands we all trust every gun owner, and that’s just not realistic. I have no idea who these people are – they are strangers – and, yes, I would be intimidated if I attended a meeting and there were people openly carrying guns – because I DON’T KNOW THEM!

Why is that so hard to understand? Guess what else? I don’t approach strange dogs either.

Let's try to listen to this all pretty carefully.

DG begins with the point that all the things a gun is used for are violent. I'm not going to split hairs with target shooting or collecting antique firearms--I take his point. Guns are meant to damage and/or destroy that which they are aimed at.

I will take issue, however, with the idea that all violence is necessarily evil or a bad thing. Unless DG is a complete pacifist (and I have seen no such indication in his writings), then I wonder if he would deny that certain forms of violence are necessary and justifiable. The law recognizes the fact that if you break into my home at night I do not have to retreat, and that I am--as a citizen--empowered to use deadly force against an intruder. If you punt that and say I should call 911, all I am doing is passing off that empowerment to an agent of the State, who will respond ... carrying a gun.

I have, in the early rounds of international terrorism in the 1980s, carried a loaded M-16 on guard detail at US military installations in Europe. I was specifically tasked with defending a housing area for US military dependents. Had somebody attempted to roll through there with a suspicious dumptruck crashing the fence, I would not have hesitate to use violence to protect those folks.

DG says that where you choose to display a weapon has meaning. He's right. There are essentially three different kinds of meaning that the open carry of a firearm can signify. In no particular order, they are (1) Intimidation; (2) Deterrence; and (3) a Political Statement.

Yes, there are clear cases of intimidation: I have been on the streets of Chicago and have passed gang members openly flashing weapons. Technically, these were illegally concealed weapons, since they would hide them if a cop passed through the area, but when they asked a citizen for a cigarette or walked in such a manner as to push you to the side of the curb, intimidation was clear. Yet there is an important distinction to be made here: intimidation requires the weapon to be carried with a certain attitude and an (at least) implied demand that you change your behavior to suit me because I have a weapon. Or else....

Does the mere presence of a weapon openly carried by a person who is not otherwise acting in an intimidating fashion constitute using open carry for intimidation? Only, I think, if you do not allow for the possibility of deterrence.

(2) Deterrence. I know several openly gay women who live in environments where they feel that open carry serves to deter people who might otherwise take out their prejudices on them. Several have written quite eloquently on the subject [unfortunately, because all of their work I read on paper and cannot find on the net I will have to give you a raincheck on links here]. I know women at college campuses--including campuses in Delaware--who often find themselves forced to walk across campus alone at night to get back to their cars. Many of them openly display cannisters of pepper spray, seeking to deter potential attackers. Sometimes I cannot help wondering whether the open carry of a firearm would not be more effective.

The whole point of the original Black Panther Party in San Francisco and other areas during the 1960s was that peaceful open carry would reduce police harassment tactics in the inner city--and in many areas it did.

Civilian Gun Self Defense Blog exists to chronicle cases across the country wherein the responsible use of firearms by American citizens--either in defense of their homes, or through open/concealed carry--and what is somewhat unique about CGSDB is that it covers stories where the use of a firearm went well ... and times when it didn't [Man shot intruder, turned out to be neighbor]. It is worth reading, because it discusses the cases in which not only did someone carry a weapon, but someone used it.

You don't get deterrence from concealed carry, because no one knows you have the weapon.

I'm not at all sure where you live or what kinds of entertainment you frequent, DG. But where I grew up in rural Virginia it was not (and still is not) unusual to see a farmer with a pistol on his hip shopping in the Farm Bureau. Gun racks in our trucks usually have shotguns and rifles in them. In the days before Gun Free School Zones my vocational agriculture teacher in high school kept a pistol in his office, and every year just before hunting season brought in a small arsenal of weapons to conduct gun safety class for us. That was the early 1970s--no parental permission slips necessary.

I have also lived in cities (Charlotte NC comes to mind) where it is not that unusual to see--even today--average citizens exercising open carry. They have to be careful: there are a myriad of places where it is illegal or unacceptable to the proprietors for them to carry, and the overwhelming majority are that careful. Incidents are few. Likewise, in Arizona, open carry is a lot more common that most people around here would believe.

Around here--or at a public political rally--DG, open carry definitely falls into category (3): political statement.

And maybe it's a stupid one, but intimidation? First off: intimidation doesn't require firearms, as could be pointed out by the incident with the members of the New Black Panther Party appearing at polling places in Philly last November. I have been scouring the news looking for the stories about pro-health insurance reform folks giving interviews about how William Kostic in NH or "Chris" in Phoenix have made them scared to show up and voice their opinions. Hasn't happened. All I have seen is the usual suspects in the commentary community pontificating on how it must be meant to be intimidating. Well, if so, it does not appear to have been working, does it?

As a matter of fact, the out-of-control shouting and intimidating behavior has been coming (primarily from the right) by people, 100% of whom were not openly armed.

Brian Shields made a great point in this thread (paraphrasing); the people open carrying weapons know they cannot afford to do anything provocative or illegal or they will be the first ones arrested and have their weapons confiscated. Which is also evidenced by the care that Kostic (insured he had permission of the property owner to stand there) and Chris/Ernest Hancock [advised the police in advance of their appearance and worked out the details to there would be no incidents] took to avoid a problem.

Had Kostic or Chris done anything provocative--such as brandishing rather than carrying a firearm--they would have been arrested instantly.

In fact, these individuals open carrying--as you point out in the penis envy parts of your comments--invite ridicule rather than fear, don't they?

Pandora, your reaction is, I think, rational and even widespread. I also think it creates a false dichotomy. You have every right to feel whatever fear you think is rational to protect yourself, but there is a limit to which you can project that fear on society.

I know a lot of people--good middle-class white suburbanites--who would be decidedly uncomfortable seeing large groups of young, boisterous African-American men swaggering down the street, either in Philadelphia or on Delaware State University's campus. Barack Obama discussed his grandmother having similar fears. There is an element of rationality to some of those fears--our society has inculcated people to fear young Black men as potentially violent. So should the activities and attitudes of such American citizens be curtailed based on their ethnicity because there are good people who feel uncomfortable sitting down beside them in a McDonalds?

What about the mullahs who suddenly stood up on that airplane to say their prayers, prompting people to scream terrorist last year? Because they exercised provocative behavior should airlines be able to say no praying mullahs allowed?

I would like you to consider that your reactions to gun owners exercising their right to open carry [completely independent of their motivations for doing so] are patterned by a prejudicial belief that is framed by the modern media and not substantiated by the facts.

Do some research, Pandora, and tell me what percentage of gun violence is actually perpetrated in the entire US over the past forty years by American citizens exercising the right of open carry. Not people with illegal weapons. Not people carrying concealed weapons. How many deaths, injuries, crimes, or violent altercations can be laid at the feet of people choosing to carry firearms openly?

When you find that statistic, please tell me whether it supports your worry that it is not safe to trust gun owners.

I'm much more concerned about the people with explosives in the trunk of their car than I am with somebody who announces himself or herself as armed.

Your dog analogy, by the way, is instructive. I don't really (personal admission) like or trust most dogs. My wife has been attacked twice in her life by vicious, poorly trained dogs. So we are very careful when running or walking to be aware of our environment and exercise reasonable precautions around dogs on other people's property or around people walking dogs that either do or do not have muzzles on them.

But I do not advocate that society should cater to my fear and keep dog-owners from open walking their dogs.

Nor would I assume that someone accompanied to a health care rally by his well-trained German Shepard was trying to intimidate me.

I accept my responsibility to remain situationally aware of all potential threats, and I accept the fact that I cannot force everyone else in the world to act as if my fears and perceptions should govern the way everyone else behaves.

[And I remain ready to kick the shit out of any Doberman who attacks my kids. Ooops, a little personal tendency toward violence creeping out there.]

This is not a particularly eloquent or well-organized post, but it is one from somebody who genuinely disagrees with you and who is trying to listen and engage in some real dialogue, rather than exchanging condom sizes.

Hopefully, it will give you something to think about, as both of you have given me something to think about on many occasions.


G Rex said...

Not to contradict you but rather to further the point; concealed carry vs. open carry does in fact result in deterrence, in that ne'er do wells are never quite sure that nobody is carrying in municipalities where it is legal. Also, if you are licensed for concealed carry, you don't just carry when you're expecting trouble - you carry all the time, in case trouble should happen, even in the most unlikely of places, like a lecture hall on a college campus.

Steve Newton said...

G Rex
The concealed carry/deterrence theory you advance has always struck me as weak, primarily because most people are just not situationally aware enough, even in States where a signficant portion of the population can exercise the right to concealed carry, to be deterred by it.

Most of the supposed statistical studies on the effectiveness of concealed carry laws in reducing crime are, quite frankly, badly flawed in design terms and do not take into account a whole host of other variables.

But we can disagree on that and you get my point regarding reasons for open carry.

pandora said...

Steve, you've made some good points, and I agree. However - you knew there was going to be a "however" - what I always tell me kids is this... before you do something, ask yourself what the consequences could be.

Yes, I don't like guns. I'm not advocating banning them, but I don't want to be around them. Accidents happen - and when accidents happen with guns the consequences can be severe.

I have told my kids if they are ever in a house and someone brings out a gun they are to leave immediately. They are NOT to stop and find an adult - they are to leave. Sounds callous, but if that family has a gun then that's their problem and their consequences - if there are any.

As far as dogs and guns... I'm sure most dogs are nice and I'm sure most gun owners are responsible, I'm just not willing to roll the die. Sorry if that offends someone's sensibilities.

G Rex said...

Okay Steve, then the answer is education/notification. Instead of the "drug-free school zone" signs (which nobody believes anyway) there should be "armed populace" signs. I'm headed down to the basement right now to paint one up for my development! Admittedly, there's nothing quite so deterring as a scoped Ruger Redhawk strapped to your thigh, but you get weird tan lines when you wear it to the beach.

Mark H said...

Steve, I am a first amendment absolutist, so I suppose to be consistent I should agree with you. In fact I guess that I could conceivably say that open carry is, not unlike flag burning, a protected form of speech. I don't personally agree with either of them, but I'd have to agree that they are certainly protected.
It's interesting that we in Delaware don't really have a frame of reference for the open carry as we don't see that in this state.

Mike W. said...

"I'm just not willing to roll the die. Sorry if that offends someone's sensibilities."

OK, but what does that mean? Are the exercize of rights dependent upon whether you are offended?

I could give your fears some weight if they were based on reality, but they're based on prejudice.

Anonymous said...

Mark H wrote:
It's interesting that we in Delaware don't really have a frame of reference for the open carry as we don't see that in this state.

Not true. There is an active open-carry movement in Delaware, and if you're at the right place at the right time (or wrong time, depending on your perspective) you may well see them.
Check out Delaware Open Carry at

Beto Castelo said...

I'd would add "(4) inability to obtain a concealed-carry permit" as a reason for open-carry. Not only the process is somewhat costly in DE--newspaper ad ($70 or so for the News Journal), certified training course (anywhere from $150 to $300, usually), fingerprinting/background check ($69), application ($35)--there is also the fact that DE is not a "shall-issue" state, so a judge may decline your application arbitrarily (I know of one case, personally). So open-carry may be your last resort to legally carry a firearm in DE.

tom said...

I would argue that you left out an important category that does not fit any of (1) Intimidation; (2) Deterrence; or (3) Political Statements.

call it preparedness, or risk management, or whatever. it is a valid reason to carry a gun, openly or concealed, with absolutely no intent or desire to ever use it because the consequences of not having it in a situation where you need it far outweigh the fairly significant inconvenience of carrying it with you at all times.

carrying a gun does not necessarily imply intent to use violence or to intimidate any more than having car insurance (other than the mandatory coverage) implies intent to cause auto accidents, or health insurance implies a desire to get sick.

Mike W. said...

Tom - That is something that folks like Pandora or DG simply cannot understand because they make the gun into something it's not.

They also believe intent is transferrable. That is, they decide what the intent of the person carrying is based upon their own prejudices and fears.

I don't carry to make a statement or to make someone like Pandora go hysterical at the sight of a holstered gun. Hell, I'd much prefer that not happen, since unfortunately her irrational hysteria can cause problems for me.

Carrying is like putting on a seatbelt. It's a preparedness issue. Both are tools. You hope you never need them, but in the unforseen instance where you do, they might just save your life.

G Rex said...

So anyway, it turns out that the Arizonan who turned up prior to an Obama event with an AR-15 slung over his shoulder was...wait for it...a black guy. Never mind that the infobabe at MSNBC went on a riff about white men with guns threatening a black president, or the fact that they only showed the "right-wing gun nut" from the neck down. Nope, nothing to see here.

Dorian Gray said...

Dr. Newton, I just saw this post. I'll take your point on the "political statement" bit. Also, no I am not a pacifist but I attempt to stay well clear of any place people tote guns to the General Store to pick up chicken feed and tobacco. It’s just so silly to me. The use of instruments of violence should be a very serious last resort, not some cheeky political prop.

I think you and I agree that that decision to make a political statement in the manner opens you up to ridicule so that’s part of what I did. In my view, you are on very thin ice when you use the ultimate tool of violence to make some statement about the government getting everyone affordable health care. You know like the rest of the modern industrialized world. What a crazy idea.

Oh, and Mike is such a clown. This has nothing to do with prejudice or fear, didn't I make that abundantly clear? I would so take him up on that penis challenge.

Mike W. said...

It’s just so silly to me. The use of instruments of violence should be a very serious last resort, not some cheeky political prop.

If it's silly to you then you may choose not to exercize that right. Also, a gun can't be used in self-defense as a "very serious last resort" if it is not being carried.

Also, I have to laugh at the hilarity of being called a "clown" by some guy issuing penis challenges to me on the internet in lieu of substantive arguments on his part.(because we all know, the internet is serious business.

Dorian Gray said...

I wouldn't really say it was in lieu of substantive arguments. It was more in addition to my substantive arguments. At least Prof. Newton saw some substance.

Mike W. said...

Steve - I think DG's issue, which you discussed in your post, revolves around two main points.

1. the distinction between protective violence and predatory violence.

2. Who he believes may legitimately engage in the former.

As you said, I'm sure he believes that there are times where the use of violence (with guns) is legitimate.

Most people do believe that, however many believe that such violence is only legitimate if done by an agent of the state. That's why all of the fears that DG and Pandora discuss disappear if an LEO is carrying a firearm.

In fact, these individuals open carrying--as you point out in the penis envy parts of your comments--invite ridicule rather than fear, don't they?

Steve, I think the ridicule we see is classic projection of their own fears and insecurities unto others.

Mike W. said...

DG - The penis jokes come out because when it comes to the merits of each argument you can't hang. It is the hallmark of an anti-gunner who knows he's entering the debate from an inferior position.

Dorian Gray said...

"Can't hang"... that's clever.

Your gun arguments are a tell tale sign of something too. Guess what it is?

Mike W. said...

Steve - Do you actually think Pandora will consider that her reactions to gun owners are prejudicial and not substantiated by fact?

I would love for that to be the case, but I don't have much hope that it will happen.

You also asked her to research the issue saying,

When you find that statistic, please tell me whether it supports your worry that it is not safe to trust gun owners.

I would LOVE to see her answer your call and do some in-depth research, but from my experience she seems content to stick to her prejudices in spite of evidence to the contrary.

I understand pandora's fears as she states them and would certainly like to see her conquer those fears. However, I have little respect for her fears because she advocates restrictions of my rights based on her prejudicial and factually unsubstantiated position.

Ironically, engaging in intellectually honest research on the issue would actually go a long ways towards conquering her fears, because so much of the fear we see of guns and gun owners is due to ignorance (the media has certainly helped with that)

Fear and the prejudice that results from that ignorance is more often than not something that can be solved by education.

That said, the person in question must accept that they are prejudiced and be ready and willing to learn. Some people do so, and look at things with an open mind, but many others will simply choose to dig in and cling to those prejudices when they are confronted with facts.

As far as trusting gun owners I don't think you should really trust any stranger, gun owner or not. That said, from a factual standpoint CCW holders and those OC'ing are the last people Pandora need be afraid of