Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Packin' Heat (Polemic) by C.D. Phillips

by C.D. Phillips

I consider myself a political progressive, but I pack heat. By that I mean I usually have a pistol handy. I hold a concealed handgun license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety. In Texas and a number of states, this license allows me to carry as many concealed handguns as I wish on my person or in my automobile, with only a few limitations concerning the places I can legally possess a handgun (e.g., schools or bars).

And, yes, all the handguns I own are loaded. All loaded firearms in my home and automobiles reside in locked containers to which only my wife and I know the combinations or have the keys. This type of storage protects others who come into my home or occupy my cars from inappropriate access to these weapons. At the same time they give me ready access to them.

For years, I’ve derided our gun culture here in Texas and the nation as a dangerous perversion. I still believe that. When one looks at the international data, the conclusions are very clear. In a country where people don’t have guns, few people are murdered with guns. And, there are fewer total murders. It’ true, as the National Rifle Association repeats ad nausea, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people." Absolutely, it’s just that using a gun dramatically increases the odds of an assault inflicting serious or mortal damage. Other countries have violent assault rates that equal or exceed those in the USA. But, it is our assaults that demand a mortuary.

Other countries aside, analyses of the effects of gun ownership here in the United States become more complex. A best guess is that 80 million Americans own 200 million firearms. Americans are the most heavily armed citizens in the world, and we kill each other with guns more frequently than any other country. That reality seems to put paid to the NRA’s idea that an armed society is the safest society.
The US has approximately 3 million citizens in the active military or the reserves. Unless we supply roughly 67 firearms for each of those 3 million military personnel, then US civilians have far more firearms than the US military. I doubt that any other nation outside of a handful of Middle Eastern or African nations can make that dubious claim to fame.

I have the skill as a behavioral scientist to deeply and critically analyze the available research and data on guns and violence claiming that an armed citizenry reduced crime. The claim that armed U.S. citizens use firearms to protect themselves from crime at a rate approaching two million incidents per year is either a gun-nut’s pipe dream or wet-dream. I’m not sure exactly which. Despite my cynicisms about this piece of NRA folklore, I don’t do those analyses. The time required would be substantial, and any conclusions I reached would have no impact on my personal decision about firearm ownership.

I don’t necessarily like some of the company I must keep as an armed citizen. I have been thrust into a category that includes men whose pickups sport bumper stickers proclaiming “USA Out of the UN,” “Gun control meaning using two hands,” or “I miss my ex-wife, but my aim is improving.” I have no absolutely no interest in supporting the devil’s spawn known as the National Rifle Association.

I believe in gun control. Owning and carrying a firearm should be a privilege. The ability to own or carry a handgun or any firearm should be restricted in the same way that hate speech and other abuses potentially dangerous abuses of our rights or privileges have been restricted. We all have a right to free speech, but as Oliver Wendell Holmes so nicely put it over a century ago -- that doesn’t mean that just for fun, we can yell “Fire” in crowded theater. No rights or privileges are really absolute, certainly none found in the Second Amendment. And, any rights bestowed by the Second Amendment bring with them serious responsibilities. I willingly accept those responsibilities.

But all this is philosophical, and my decision about firearms was visceral. After a couple of tense confrontations a few years ago, I realized that if the conflict had escalated beyond a toe-to-toe verbal battle, I would’ve been something completely unprepared to protect myself or anyone else I wanted to protect. I wasn’t the instigator of these confrontations. But, I wasn’t going to allow myself to be bullied. I often allowed myself to be bullied, sometimes dramatically, as a child and teen. As an adult I’ve developed an intense antipathy to standing down in the face of bullying. However, after that confrontation I realized that as an adult I’d done nothing to prepare myself for one of the potential conclusions of my resistance to the capricious will of others, personal violence.

Immediately in the aftermath of those confrontations, I contemplated my own vulnerability and the implications of that vulnerability for myself and my family. On one side, I was an upper middle class male in his mid-50s, very unlikely to be the victim of violence. On the other side of this argument was what in game theory is called a “minimax” strategy. It was the latter that I chose. I decided I would minimize the possibility, however small, of a maximal loss. In this context, a maximal loss to my family or myself would occur if we faced violence and I was unprepared.

This decision has demanded changes in my lifestyle, some of which are mysterious to those who’ve known me for decades. Over the last few years, I’ve trained in two martial arts. For the early part of that time, I trained in a style that was basically a sport. Then, as my knowledge grew, I began training exclusively in a combat style. My brand of martial arts holds no tournaments. It gives out no trophies. Until recently, no one even wore belts indicating their rank. Its members simply train rigorously to assure that they’ll emerge intact from violent confrontations involving any of a variety of weapons. The unofficial motto of my chosen style is “a ten second fight is five seconds too long.” An aggressor attacks; you counter; game over. At least it’s supposed to work that way.

I have also in the last few years purchased handguns and regularly practiced with them so that I am hopefully a threat to no one other than an aggressor. All the firearms I have purchased are for home defense or self-defense. I have no interest in hunting animals, big or small. If deer or rabbits begin carrying surplus Chinese AK-47s as they raid my garden, then my views may change. But, that possibility seems remote.

I have also not begun sliding down the proverbial “slippery slope” that worries so many. I can purchase a 30 round magazine for one of the pistols I own. I might need such a magazine if I intended to rob a bank or protect myself from other drug runners. Nobody doing legal business needs a 30 round pistol magazine. No one, other than police and military units, needs assault rifles. That is what they are – “assault rifles.” Why does any civilian need an assault rifle? Who are they going to assault – the local grocery or veterans’ hall?

Face it. This country will never be Sweden. We will always have an abundance of firearms owned by the general populace. The Supreme Court seems to accept that. So, what do we do? We try as hard as we can to make gun ownership a sensible thing. Convicted felons can’t own handguns. Why should they be able to buy automatic shotguns (I don’t care how much they say they love dove hunting)? Gun shows are just our version of a Mogadishu arms markets. States that allow a person to buy more than one or two firearms a month are just asking to be part of the gun traffic to states will have strict laws.

As I have just passed my sixtieth birthday, this may all seem passably strange to any outside observer. Some may consider this behavior a desperate grasp at waning youth or a last ditch battle against falling testosterone levels. A psychoanalyst might say that I’m finally compensating for that bullying I survived as a child. Others who have known me longer know I’ve always acted like a “gay straight guy” (i.e., a straight who cooks, notices women’s shoes, appreciates stylish clothing, and can talk about feelings). These old acquaintances may surmise that I’m now engaged in some strange rite to assure myself of my manhood before I slip into my dotage.

To all of these people, I simply say, “I don’t really care.” All I know is that I’ve somehow developed a fierce desire to be capable of responding to any threat to me and mine in such a way that neither I nor those about whom I care are likely to sustain injury due to my lack of preparedness. In this day and age I think that demands I be prepared for violence, even if it is a low probability event. So, I will practice my chosen style of martial arts, and I will continue assuring my proficiency with my handguns.

These changes in my lifestyle aren’t a political statement. They aren’t about public policy. I’m still an active member of Handgun Control. I enthusiastically gave money to, worked for, and voted for Barack Obama. My choices about violence and preparedness are intensely personal. All I know is that they feel right. At my age that’s really all the justification I’ve decided that I need. I’m politically progressive; I’m trained, I’m strapped; I’m at ease with my decisions. I wish others would be as well -- politically progressive -- I mean.

Author bio:

Charles D. Phillips is a native Texan and public health professional who lives and teaches in College Station, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Flashshot, flashquake, HeavyGlow, Long Story Short, The Angler, Static Movement, Toasted Cheese, and The Vestal Review. His historical, western short stories have appeared in The Copperfield Review and Rope and Wire. Smoke Box will publish his short story, Bourbon and the Blues in fall, 2009 and one of his non-fiction essays in winter, 2010. His non-fiction essays have also appeared in Bent Magazine, Events Weekly, and Touchstone Magazine. KEOS 89.1FM Community Radio for the Brazos Valley regularly airs his radio commentaries on politics and current social issues. His short fiction has been nominated for StorySouth’s 2009 Million Writer Award, the Pushcart Prize, 2009 and for inclusion in the Best of the Web, 2009.

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