Um, wow. I posted the other day without even thinking about how differently my topic would come across to various of my “international audience” of blogging-buddies. Lots of food for thought in the ensuing commentary…
The dodgy topic: my “Concealed Carry” handgun class. (There, I’m being more “international” today—dodgy isn’t an American term. I looked it up while reading Harry Potter… “Evasive, shifty,” OR “So risky as to require very deft handling.” Ha, blew that one.) Okay, the post wasn’t entirely a disaster, but I DID go merrily prancing into the topic without any forethought about the serious cultural and political differences it might stir up.
One of the early comments (from France) brought me up short: “It’s such a surprise that America has a gun problem. I can’t see how that happened at all.” Wow. Okay. But I can see his point—there I was, after all, nonchalantly waxing enthusiastic about killing my cardboard cut-out with a 40-caliber handgun.
Another reader (from the UK) inquired what a Concealed Carry permit constitutes, because their laws are so different and she didn’t have a frame of reference. Good point. Here was my explanation, which she found somewhat alarming:
Most U.S. citizens over the age of 21 can carry a weapon (that includes knives, etc. as well as handguns) but without a Concealed Carry permit, the weapon has to be in plain sight. (Exceptions to the “right” to carry weapons include people who have been convicted of a felony crime, anyone who has been deemed mentally unstable, anyone discharged dishonorably from the military, anyone on probation or parole, and anyone under the influence of drugs or alcohol.)
WITH a Concealed Carry permit, the weapon doesn’t need to be visible, so I could have one in a purse, pocket, or hidden holster, or out of sight in my vehicle—and can carry it anywhere except a courthouse, jail, airplane, or school property.
Her response brought home to me how little I had considered how differently we treat guns here: “Wow! That… that is nutty. So as long as the weapon is visible, its legal to carry one (except for those omissions). That’s most people in the US, surely? Meep! I can’t even begin to imagine that here; I’d shit bricks if I saw someone just ambling along the street with a gun on their hip!”
There’s the cultural divide. She can’t imagine seeing someone with a gun, and I’ve never thought twice about it. I mean, they’re not all over the place, you don’t see them on every second person in the supermarket, but the sight of a shoulder holster doesn’t even make me blink. Her amazement echoed in additional comments from Italy (“I’m curious, does it mean that you can walk along a street with a gun hanging on your side like in western movies?“) and from an Aussie-transplanted-to-Canada:
I’ve lived in Australia and now Canada, where wearing a gun (concealed or otherwise) is anathema in both countries, ** and although I’ve become sort of aware of it since I’ve been here, the concept’s never really ‘clunked’ into my forebrain until reading through these comments.
You’re right that it’s a cultural thing, ‘cos I can’t get my head around walking into my local coffee shop and seeing someone sitting there sipping his or her latte with a gun on their hip, and checking their facebook account!
** apart from criminals and police.
Ah, there’s the rub, in that last line. As the bumper sticker would have it: If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.
And with that pithy observation, we just hit the slippery slope of American political vitriol. In the interest of full disclosure, let me say here that I’m a Democrat. Socially and politically, I’m pretty far Left on the scale of Liberal. But then there’s this “gun thing”… The Second Amendment (Right to Bear Arms) seems, for some reason, to “belong” to the right-wing crowd. It causes some dissonance in my own brain, I must confess, on occasions when my thoughts seem to echo rhetoric from politicians whose positions I generally detest.
The topic has been distilled into political sound-bites and statistics, banalities and bumper-stickers, all of it heated to a slow boil of emotion. All the arguments seem circular, and I acknowledge the logic of both sides’ contentions. On the one hand, there’s the platitude that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” True—though the fact remains that those people would be less lethal if they didn’t have a gun to hand. That axiom about “only outlaws” having guns is true as well, and would leave the rest of the population without equivalent defense. But with the sheer numbers of guns, we get a corresponding number of incidents in which those guns are used—episodes that could not have ensued in the absence of those firearms.
I won’t pretend to have any answer to the political question of whether citizens “should” be allowed to arm themselves. I’m not interested right now in trying to decry or defend my nation’s current laws. I’m just going forward from the point where we ARE. I can own and carry a weapon, and I am choosing to learn how to use one.
Why? Well, let’s step back from the sound-bites and bumper-stickers, and bring the question back into the realm of people. The instructor of my handgun class made an observation that really hit me in the gut. He said he has been a cop for twenty years, and he’s never once arrived in time to STOP a rape or a murder. He said his job is to show up afterwards, clean up, and hope to figure out who did it. But he’s not on hand to prevent it. That is specifically why he teaches concealed carry courses when he’s off-duty.
Of the people I know who regularly “carry,” most are law enforcement officers who carry even when they’re off duty. The rest are mostly women who have previously been raped or sexually assaulted, and who are determined not to be helpless in the future. My own history on that score? I was sexually assaulted a few years back—by a sitting State Senator (Republican “family values” guy, wouldn’t you know it?—but hey, today he’s sitting instead in the county jail). If I had been armed at the time, it would have been a briefer incident—and I’m ready to swear I wouldn’t have needed to USE the weapon. Having it would have been sufficient.
That incident isn’t the driving force behind my interest in the handgun, though it plays a part. I’m not a person who devotes undue mental energy to fretting about threats, but I acknowledge their existence. I’ve faced some already, and I’ll face some in future. I sincerely pray that I won’t face any that might warrant the use of a weapon, and I hope I will not EVER have cause to draw one—let alone fire it!—outside of a shooting range.
But… A life can change—or end—in just a few moments. I’m exercising my power of choice, the chance that I could influence the outcome of “a few minutes” when they count most… should the occasion ever arise.
A couple days after I wrote about my shooting class, Keoni’s friend Mike came home from his night shift at the prison to find his wife Sherryl dead in their home, shot four times in the chest. The killer is not being charged with premeditation, which leaves us to wonder whether Sherryl might not be alive if there hadn’t happened to be a gun to hand at the time. From a “political” angle, this death might seem like a straightforward example to support gun control. Although… For what it’s worth, the murder weapon wasn’t a handgun or automatic or any of the categories that cause most contention; it was a hunting rifle. And to counterbalance the question of how-it-would-have-been if he didn’t have a weapon, there’s the reverse of that same question: what if she had? If Sherryl had ever taken the training I just finished, would Mike still have his wife? I don’t have any answers. I just have my own choice to go forward with.
I choose to know how to use a weapon, both wisely and well.
I’ll continue praying that the only use it will ever see will be in the context of “sport” and practice.
I’ll admit that I thoroughly enjoy the “sport” aspect of target shooting, but please believe me that I don’t treat guns or shooting lightly. Keoni (who was a Range Master and competition shooter with Oregon’s Department of Corrections) drilled me thoroughly in safety and protocol before I ever set foot in that class, and my finger doesn’t touch that trigger unless I’ve made a conscious choice to destroy something. (Case in point: I reprise this photo to point out the positioning… On a shooting range, sighting a cleared target… finger NOT on the trigger.)
I can’t say whether this post will prove soothing to those who were taken aback by my original, but I will say that it has been an interesting exploration of my own head! My thanks to my blogging friends for giving me so much food for thought.
Will I be starting a whole new round of controversy if I mention that our eleven-year-old son begins his Hunter Education classes this Tuesday? For better or worse, America’s “Old West” is still alive and kickin’ here in Idaho…