Exercise your rights

When I arrived in Arizona, a coworker and I started discussing off-roading in all of the beautiful remote places the state had to offer. My coworker told me I needed 4 things:


1. A good pair of sunglasses

2. Tinted windows

3. A wide-brimmed hat

4. A gun


I'd never even handled or fired a gun until I came to Arizona. The idea of getting one both scared me and intrigued me. I'm not a conservative or a Republican, but I've always believed in gun rights from a theoretical standpoint. It has always shocked me when I hear stories of mass shootings. I always wonder, why didn't any of those innocent bystanders have a gun? The answer isn't always "because it's illegal" (i.e. school campuses). Most people have come to believe that it's acceptable to outsource our personal security to the police. I respect and admire the police. I have friends and relatives who are police officers. But realistically, the job of the police is to get there as soon as they can, clean up the mess, maybe do a little detective work, and every now and then, catch a bad guy (or girl).


"When seconds count, the police are minutes away." --bumper sticker


Living on the East Coast for so long might have had something to do with my inexperience with guns. The more-Democratic "blue" states on the coasts are much less gun-friendly than the more-Republican "red" states in the middle. Our country has an important history with guns, and that's why it's written right into the Constitution that our right to own guns "shall not be infringed." What's been happening over the past few decades, however, has been that gun rights have been infringed--er, "regulated"--more and more, bit by bit.


Nevertheless, in many places out west, it's still perfectly legal to carry a gun on your hip, with no special permits or anything. To me, an Easterner, this seems like an overtly political act. All the employees at the gun store (who are also the teachers of my gun classes) carry guns on their hips (at least when they are at work). They tell stories of being harassed by law enforcement and confronted by concerned strangers. One of my teachers said that if he's not allowed to carry a gun into an establishment, he stops visiting that establishment. Places he's been kicked out of include the local mall and the county fair. He says he hasn't been to either in a decade. After hearing those stories, I realized that it is a very political act to carry a gun, especially openly, and I admire them for it.


The biggest hassle of carrying a gun is dealing with all the places you're not allowed to go. It's absurd that a gun owner is not considered a threat outside the post office, but inside it she is (federal law). There are so many surprising and difficult-to-abide-by gun laws that almost every gun owner inadvertently violates one or two of them occasionally. This is one reason why people often prefer to carry concealed. If you have no way to be sure you're not violating a law without hiring a lawyer to follow you around everywhere, it's easier to avoid scrutiny by concealing your weapon. This can be done legally here, with a permit acquired after a couple classes in safety, shooting, and the legal issues involved with gun ownership and concealed-carry.


The problem with concealed-carry is that criminals won't have the sight of a gun on your hip to deter them, so you may be mugged even though you're carrying. Then you have to decide what to do. That's a tough decision to make, and it's an even tougher one to execute properly if your plan involves actually pulling out your gun. Usually, the best thing to do, carrying or not, is throw your money on the ground and run.


The advantage to concealed carry is you'll be harassed less by people who don't realize that guns are legal and safe when used correctly (or not used at all, which is usually the correct thing to do). It's often the police themselves that don't even realize it's legal for regular citizens to carry guns on their hips, since it happens so rarely (especially in states where permits are required and nearly impossible to obtain). The best thing about concealed-carry is that it has the potential to reduce crimes committed against everyone, even those who aren't carrying guns, since criminals cannot know who is and who isn't carrying.


The next thing to rant a bit about is the War on Drugs. I've never used or sold drugs and never will. Nevertheless, I think the drug war is absurd. One of the most frightening aspects of it is that police have abandoned the "knock and announce" procedure they used to follow when serving warrants. Nowadays, if you're suspected of a drug crime, they will simply throw small bombs (flash-bang grenades, intended as a non-lethal distraction, but which occasionally permanently injure or kill) into your house and break in through windows and doors while shouting "Police! search warrant!" Of course, home invading criminals are quite capable of shouting "Police!" just as well as the police can. Police enter homes this way because it is very easy to flush a large amount of drugs down a toilet in a small amount of time.


The problem with this is, what if they have the wrong house? It happens fairly often. What if they're acting on bad information? That also happens fairly often. These situations often lead to police officers being shot and the shooters being convicted of murder when the shooters only thought they were defending their homes against invading criminals.


What a mess.


Another thing I've come to understand is why "gun nuts" stockpile guns and ammunition.


In researching all of these arcane gun laws, I've discovered that one trick that is often used by gun-fearing legislators is to chip away at gun rights rather than take them away altogether. They will outlaw some kind of gun, but only if you don't own a gun like that already. This angers gun owners and pro-gun legislators, but since it doesn't require people to turn in their existing guns to the police, it is seen as less of a draconian violation of rights. Automatic weapons were outlawed in the 80s, but only if you didn't own one already. In Washington DC, handguns were outlawed in the home in the 70s, but if you already had one you were exempt. This pattern is repeated time and time again.


Imagine yourself as a gun owner, wanting to preserve your rights. Wouldn't it make sense to buy as many guns and as much ammunition as you could? Tomorrow they might outlaw revolvers or semiautomatics. Perhaps they will outlaw guns of a certain caliber. Perhaps they will outlaw hollow-point ammunition (it is more likely to kill, which of course makes it more useful for both crimes and self-defense). But you can rest assured that, if you own that stuff already, you'll be exempt.


No, i'm not stockpiling guns or ammo. and no, I'm not turning into a gun nut. If I could wish every gun off the face of the earth, I would. but since guns exist, I believe that I should be able to have one in case I need it. I see it as a tool. I have no emotional attachment to the hammer in my toolbox, and I have no emotional attachment to my gun.


"Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it." --bumper sticker

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Taken on May 18, 2008