My regular American Crosscut counterpart, Joey Monson, has been very busy making Wisconsin safe for secondhand smoke, so I invited Joel Rosenberg to join me for this edition.
A common thread runs through Joel's blogging, novels and training work — guns and civil rights. To some, he's a knowledgeable and heroic advocate for individual freedom. To others, he's a fanatic who just may be compensating for something.
Which is kind of how public debate about guns tends to break down.
From reading him, though, I knew he'd welcome a discussion that didn't involve hysterics over guns, so I gave it shot...
Charlie: Two gun bills are before the legislature this session. One dealing with self-defense has gun opponents in an uproar. The other requiring background checks for gun sales in the secondary market has gun owners up in arms. We can get into the specific legislation if you'd like, but I'm more interested in the reactions underlying these proposals.
I understand why people unfamiliar with firearms are worried about guns being misused, and why their desire to suppress guns in society drives responsible gun owners nuts. Both sides seem to think the facts are on their side and their fears about the other side are justified.
Suppose you were doing a course entirely for the folks who think the Castle Doctrine/Shoot First bill is a bad idea. How would you open their eyes to your point of view?
Joel: The second step would be a little history, and I'd ask folks to combine history with common sense.
But, before that, I'd ask folks to step back, and take a look at the facts. I'd say something like, look, whenever you're trying to figure out what legislation will do, should it become law, the first three things to to look at are the legislation, the legislation, and the legislation. I'm told you think it's a bad idea, I'd say.
Okay -- and I'm not asking this to embarrass you: how many of you folks have read HF 498? Hey, it's okay -- I haven't read all of the thousands of bills up in front of the lege, either. But we're talking about this one, and Charlie Quimby has been nice enough to put this class together of people who say that they think that the bill's a bad idea. That's great, by the way; I've long had a standing offer to Heather Martens of the "Citizens for a 'Safer' Minnesota" to let me do a presentation on other laws to her followers, and over the five years that offer's been in effect, it's been ignored.
So, let's get started.
If you haven't read the bill, I think that you're here at this class under false pretenses -- you've been fooling yourself.
You don't think that this bill is a bad idea, because you haven't given yourself the necessary tools to think about this bill. If you don't know what it says, you haven't begun to equip yourself to have an informed opinion about what it will do. What you have are feelings about it, and you've set yourself up to be manipulated by unscrupulous politicians who are appealing to ignorant feelings, not appeal to your informed opinion.
So, yes, let's start off with the specifics of the bill, and then go on to the history of it -- what problems it addresses here in Minnesota, and what the history is of similar law elsewhere. And by the time we're done, if you still think that calling it "Shoot First!" or the "Shoot the Avon Lady" bill, you'll have to explain to yourself why similar laws haven't left any dead Avon ladies lying on the ground or given legal permission for gangbangers to shoot up the neighborhood
If what you're reacting to are feelings that you've gotten from what opponents or proponents of the bill have said to you, I'd suggest you ask yourself this -- after you've read the bill, and carefully: "Who's been telling me the truth about this?"
So, let's get started. If we're going to understand it -- whether you end up agreeing with it or not -- let's, well, understand it.
That's how I'd start off. And then I'd turn to the bill, and go through it, line by line. Let's get informed first, and then we can deal with feelings based on information.
Charlie: Maybe we can take the rest of the class in a follow-up session. For now, I think we likely agree that emotion, coupled with personal experiences, accounts for where most people line up on either side.
I grew up in the small town west where guns are a pretty normal part of life. We took gun safety in gym class. When my grandfather died, my dad inherited two possessions — a quarter horse and a lever action Remington 30.06. Those were venerated valuables worth passing on. I liked to shoot, but not to kill, so hunting wasn't a big part of my experience, but until I gave my rifle to my son a year ago last Christmas, I've always had a gun around.
I suspect people who've never had that normalization of guns associate them mainly with violence, power trips and aberrant thinking. And if I may go out on a limb early, people with those types of issues are probably disproportionately attracted to guns. They just don't represent the vast majority of gun owners.
On the other side, there's a strong current of aggressive defensiveness — of the "pry my gun from my cold, dead fingers" variety — that spooks gun opponents. What in your experience makes you such a staunch defender of gun rights, and why should these people not be afraid of you?
Joel: Well, okay, if you want to get into facts -- or, at least, the facts about the bill -- later on, I'm willing to do that.
I'm not sure that it's just emotion and personal experiences that do drive folks; I'm pretty sure that it shouldn't, all by itself. I think too many tend to generalize from too few experiences, and too few facts.
But, yeah, too many people are rationalizers, rather than rational.
One of the many things I respect about Felicia -- we've been married for thirty years, come this year -- is that it was facts and reasoning that brought her -- she did her own research; being an information professional, she's very qualified to do that; nobody else does her thinking for her, and smart people don't try to -- over a period of years, from being emotionally anti-gun to, among other things, being the first woman in line at the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office in 2003 to apply for her permit. (She wasn't the first person in line; there were some guys who got there ahead of her.) If you want to know what combination brought her there, ask her; she's been an adult for some years now, and is perfectly capable of speaking for herself.
And, sure, lack of familiarity often breeds fear. There's a fair number (I'm not going to claim a majority; haven't taken a survey) of white folks, particularly suburban liberals, who seem to be utterly terrified of black folks -- particularly black folks who live in the city. Of those I've talked to about it and have been willing to talk about it -- I think that many bigots have trouble copping to bigotry; most simply change the subject, at least around me -- not one has ever so much as sat down and had a cup coffee with a black guy who lives in the city. Kind of reminds me of that awful Bill O'Reilly thing where he (granted, not a liberal) went to some restaurant in, I think, Harlem, and was utterly surprised to learn that when black people eat in a restaurant in a black community, they use utensils and engage in conversation.
Sometimes I wonder what planet some people come from.
Me, I grew up in what was, in many ways, a stereotypical liberal Jewish household, at least on the gun issue. Guns were a horrible, goyish thing, and, of course, it would be utterly horrible if any Jew were ever to have anything to do with one . . . unless, of course, they had an Israeli accent and were wearing an IDF uniform, in which case it was a good thing.
That said, the importance of civil rights was part of my upbringing. Civil rights aren't just what allow a black guy with the appropriate amount of money in his pocket to sit down at a lunch counter and buy a cup of coffee, or for all of us to go into the voting booth and support the candidates of our choice (or try to vote one out of office); it's also what protects those of us with unpopular views or -- in some asshole's view -- the wrong progenitors from being hauled off in the middle of the night to disappear into Lubyanka or the Isle of Pines or Buchenwald or a swamp on Olen Burrage's Old Jolly Farm, never to be seen alive again.
Yeah, I feel pretty strongly about that.
We can get back to that, if you'd like, and how central the issue of the right to keep and bear arms is to other civil rights -- enumerated and otherwise -- if you'd like, in another round, but this is already getting long, and I haven't dealt with your question as to why people shouldn't be afraid of me, nor asked you one.
So let's get to that.
I dunno. I'm not sure that people shouldn't be afraid of me. It's okay if some are. After all, I'm a professional writer who has some tools I've honed a bit in the practice of my craft over some decades, and I think -- and hope -- a sometimes biting wit, and am, when I feel it appropriate, utterly willing to engage in criticism that is intended to be cutting and painful, and if, say, a fellow I'm not going to name on your blog still holds a grudge over how I metaphorically and very publicly raked him over the coals over the time he tried -- and failed, miserably, and embarrassingly -- to get me jumped-and-thumped by the MPD and he still wants to keep his distance, hey, that's fine with me. Hell, the more distance, the better; I'll be happy to buy him a bus ticket to Tierra del Fuego. One-way, and he's got to promise to use it, and at least stay there for awhile.
But I guess you really mean about the gun stuff. I don't get to decide what other people feel, but, hey, let's take a look at the facts. I've been regularly carrying a handgun in public -- lawfully -- since years before the Personal Protection Act passed, and have yet to take it out to kill, wound, threaten or intimidate somebody for, well, irking me. And, truth to tell, it's at least arguable that I irk pretty easy. (The Star Tribune used to worry aloud about "irked" permit holders. That irked me.)
You could ask my friends. And some folks who don't like me. Need a list?
Rationally, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, isn't it? Since I've managed to go through something like a dozen years of carrying without killing, wounding, threatening or intimidating somebody with my handgun* --
after having been, at various times, insulted in person, in print and in email; cut off in traffic; bumped into on the street; sworn at by a stumbling drunk coming out of bar; gotten bad service at any of several establishments; had my parking space stolen and my car towed; and a zillion other irk-worthy things I could list, if you'd like
-- the smart money is that I'm not going to do it today.
But, hey, even if after all that, if some folks choose to be afraid of me shooting them, I'm not equipped to deal with it, even if they'd like me to; I'm a writer, not a psychotherapist. Ask any shrink you'd care to, though; if people don't want to change, there's nothing they can do about it, either.
So far, this has been more of a Q&A than an exchange; I think it's time that I ask you a question before I take another one -- so let me ask you this: if, after all that, somebody is frightened of me shooting them, what measure or measures do you think should I take to reassure them, why should I take those measures, and how effective do you think they'll be?
* Except in my very few defensive gun uses. Let's not get into those, here; it'll get 'way too long. I've never had to put my finger on a trigger, and have never come close to being prosecuted in those very few cases. Granted, a robber or two got scared out of hurting me or my family, and that's just fine with me -- that was, after all, the whole idea. Can we leave that part of it at that, or do we need to go into detail?
Charlie: On a personal level I’d expect you to avoid threatening language and behavior and try to engage them in ways so they get to know you as a human being. You already do a lot of education, and I knew you’d be open to this, so that’s why I contacted you in the first place.
But I think we both know the issue here is not the measures you take individually — because you can’t reassure everyone, and you’re not the only conceal and carry gun owner out there. We have to deal with this as a society, too.
You don’t have to do any more than the law compels you to do, and I believe the law should be concerned with safety, not reassurance. So we have this push and pull over laws restricting or relaxing rights where these concerns about safety and liberty play out.
Since I have the ball, I’m calling time out here. This is the first conversation I’ve had with a footnote! Let’s pick up the thread in a new post a few days from now.