Liberty is an inherently offensive lifestyle. Living in a free society guarantees that each one of us will see our most cherished principles and beliefs questioned and in some cases mocked. That psychic discomfort is the price we pay for basic civic peace. It's worth it. It's a pragmatic principle. Defend everyone else's rights, because if you don't there is no one to defend yours. -- MaxedOutMama

I don't just want gun rights... I want individual liberty, a culture of self-reliance....I want the whole bloody thing. -- Kim du Toit

The most glaring example of the cognitive dissonance on the left is the concept that human beings are inherently good, yet at the same time cannot be trusted with any kind of weapon, unless the magic fairy dust of government authority gets sprinkled upon them.-- Moshe Ben-David

The cult of the left believes that it is engaged in a great apocalyptic battle with corporations and industrialists for the ownership of the unthinking masses. Its acolytes see themselves as the individuals who have been "liberated" to think for themselves. They make choices. You however are just a member of the unthinking masses. You are not really a person, but only respond to the agendas of your corporate overlords. If you eat too much, it's because corporations make you eat. If you kill, it's because corporations encourage you to buy guns. You are not an individual. You are a social problem. -- Sultan Knish

All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war. -- Billy Beck

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Ignorance = Fear. Education is the Key.

(h/t, Pierre Legrand)

Another article about someone who has considered the facts, all the facts, and made up their own mind:
The Way Of The Gun

A Gay Liberal Explores Ohio Gun Culture By Taking Matters - And Weapons - Into His Own Hands

By Brian Thornton

In a nondescript business complex off Interstate 77 in Broadview Heights, across the street from Radio Disney and a block away from a daycare, I've got my hands wrapped around a piece, finger on the trigger. When I awoke this morning, my irrational anxieties led me to dress as heterosexually as possible. After all, what do you wear to your first time at the range? I've chosen jeans, an orange ringer T and a green zip-up sweatshirt, a combination seemingly straight enough to pull off this charade.

To my right, in the next stall, a weapon fires powerfully, a sound that pierces through both my headphones and earplugs. I have no idea if the comically small revolver I'm gripping will create the same blast, but I'm about to find out. With my feet spread wide and arms rigidly stretched forward, I — a show tune-loving, Democrat-voting homosexual — am mere seconds from pulling the trigger on this instrument of death, something I vowed I would never do.
This is something I see a lot - the vow "never to touch a gun" or something similar. The only reason I can see for it is that such a vow makes the person feel somehow morally superior to those who are willing to defend themselves and others. It's an idea I've never been able to fathom, because these same people hold police officers - people by definition willing to kill in the defense of others - in high esteem.

It's one of those psychological conundrums I've recognized, but never been able to comprehend.
Yet here I am. The gun's hammer is cocked back, my eyes are fixed on the target downrange, instructor Jim is standing expectantly over my left shoulder, and the time has come for me to fire this .22.

How the hell did I get here?

IT BEGAN WITH A BURGLARY — or rather, a third burglary.

My friend David, a resident of Ohio City, had just been burglarized for the third time in less than two years. The first time, a thief made off with $1,500 worth of electronics. The next night, the same burglar returned — while David was home. And then, in January, an intruder disabled his alarm system, broke a window and burglarized him once again.

A few days later, I joined him for our weekly American Idol date, and we began talking about safety.

"I've considered getting a gun," he said.

I was stunned. My PETA-supporting friend, who buys fake leather and feeds neighborhood cats, had thought about owning a firearm.

"It's the first time it entered into my mind that a gun might make me safer," he said.

Over the past two years, my circle of friends has faced a mini crime wave on Cleveland's West Side. In addition to David's break-ins, I've had my car stolen, two friends were mugged, one was carjacked, and two others had their cars taken. Would we all be safer if we were packing heat?

If you listen to pundits, Ohio is the land of God, guns and gays — at least during election years. As an agnostic, liberal gay man, most days my beliefs fall on the losing side of polls in the state. Guns, in particular, confound me — why would anyone want to own a device whose purpose is to kill? In fact, handguns terrify me so much that when my cop friend Mike arrives with his loaded service weapon, I get nauseated.
This too, is common.

What is it with the fear of an inanimate object? "Why would anyone want to own a device whose purpose is to kill?" There are two reasons: One, to coerce others into doing what you want by the threat of deadly force, and Two, to convince others to leave you and yours alone by the same method. You'll note that pretty much anything can be a "device whose purpose is to kill" if the hand wielding it is attached to a mind with that intent. A rock, a knife, a crowbar, and a baseball bat will do quite well as instruments of coercion. What a firearm brings is the ability to coerce from a distance, and the ability to give the physically weak the same coercive power as the physically strong.

Why would anyone want to own a device whose purpose is to kill? You just answered your own question: To STOP those who would take what was yours, be it material items, your health, or even your life.

Why is it so hard for so many to understand this?
So if I wanted to seriously understand gun culture in Ohio, I had only one choice: I was going to have to push through my fears, load a firearm and pull the trigger.
Bravo, sir, for not only reaching that conclusion, but also carrying through with it.
GUNS WERE NEVER PART of my youth, despite growing up in a military family. My father hunted as a teenager; his .22-caliber rifle still resides somewhere in my aunt's house in Iowa. But after a neighbor's child pointed a loaded handgun at my mother's stomach when she was pregnant with my sister, she banned firearms from the house. So I was going to need to take wee steps in my exploration of gun culture.

My first stop, obviously, was Wal-Mart. In addition to charges of illegal labor practices and bad press from groups that claim the chain drives family companies out of business, Wal-Mart has faced criticism in recent years for selling firearms. But the company has scaled back its gun sales, and after fruitless stops in Avon, Streetsboro and Kent, a sales associate directed me to Middlefield, the only store in the area, she claimed, that still sold firearms.

The Middlefield Wal-Mart is a massive, glitzy affair — a bright, clean store where you can have your eyes checked, purchase art for your walls, get your tires changed and stock your aquarium with live fish. And there, about two-thirds of the way back, is the hunting and fishing section: an aisle filled with boxes of bullets, BB guns and hunting accoutrements — but no actual guns.

I flagged down the nearest blue-vested worker and asked if the store sold rifles.

"No, just this stuff," she answered, gesturing to ammunition and scopes.

"When did you stop selling firearms?"

"About three or four weeks ago," she replied.

Tara Raddohl, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, told me via e-mail that removing firearms from stores was a "business decision" based on "diminished customer demand." Whether it was the bad press or lack of sales, it seems guns weren't good business for the world's biggest chain. And if I was going to get my hands on a gun, I was going to have to abandon the relative safety of homogenized American retail and its "falling prices." I had to go hardcore.

NO ONE KNOWS HOW MANY GUNS are in Ohio, and that's a problem, says Toby Hoover, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence.

"One of the big fallacies in this country is that everyone believes that there is such a thing as registration," she says.

In fact, in Ohio, federal law requires the state only to run a background check to ensure the purchaser isn't a felon or underage, she says. "If that comes back OK, then they sell you a gun."

The state doesn't keep a record of that purchase. The feds don't, either. The only place that notes the sale is the licensed firearms seller, which means if the original buyer resells the gun privately, the firearm can disappear. And if a crime is committed with that weapon, the trail to the current owner can run cold quickly.

Hoover, whose husband was killed by a gun almost 35 years ago, advocates for background checks for those secondary sales to ensure criminals have a harder time getting their hands on guns.

"Somehow or another, we have to stop that supply to those people," she says.

Her opposition in Ohio is led by Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association, an organization that named Hoover the number four threat to gun rights in 2007. Irvine's group won a victory in March when legislation it championed changed gun laws in the state. The new law made firearms regulations uniform across Ohio, but stripped local municipalities of their ability to tighten rules.

There are no licensing requirements for gun ownership in Ohio, and that's the way it should be, Irvine says.

"It's a constitutional right," he says. "You don't need to get training or a license to say "President Bush is an idiot' or "President Clinton is an idiot.' If you're criticizing an elected official, you don't need to go get a permit.

"Second of all, it's a piece of property. It doesn't make any more sense to say you need a license to go get a knife, or duct tape or anything else criminals use to commit crimes."

But Hoover points to cars as property the government does regulate, requiring seatbelts, air bags and other safety devices. She says people put up with those requirements because they save lives.

As for requiring gun licenses, "I think that you should have to do that, and you should have to qualify for some kind of safety training," Hoover says.

But Irvine doesn't like laws that require training or licenses. "I'm a huge advocate of training," he says. "I don't think you can have enough training." Still, he favors rolling back the Ohio requirement of 12 hours of training before earning a concealed carry permit. He says people who can't afford the training are in danger because they can't get a permit.

"Concealed-carry is the best dollar-for-dollar return for society because it is paid for entirely by people who go to get a concealed-carry license," he says.

"I know close to a dozen people who have defended their lives with a firearm," he continues.

But Hoover counters, "There's just no verified statistics out there that people are any safer because they're carrying guns."

I was getting nowhere fast in my understanding of Ohio gun culture. Hoover and Irvine seemed like reasonable people with valid arguments, but I was getting the impression this was one steel-cage match that was going on way too long, with no winner, in front of a restless, disinterested audience. If the two sides are so completely opposed, where did people in the middle, like me, fit in?
Well, here for instance. My side at least encourages you to think about things rather than tell you "guns are bad, mmmmkay?"
LIKE ME, SUSAN CONNOR has little reason to think about guns.

"I don't own a gun, I've never shot a gun," she says. "I'm not immersed in the culture."

But Connor, who works as research manager for the Rainbow Injury Prevention Center at University Hospitals in Cleveland, has spent considerable time investigating gun safety and children in Ohio. Because the government doesn't track firearm ownership, studies like the one she completed in 2005 offer the few clues we have to understanding the prevalence of guns. Her study found that 22 percent of Ohio homes have guns and just 22 percent of gun owners keep their guns locked or locked up. That's about in the middle for America, she says.

But perhaps more important, her earlier 2003 study found that 87 percent of parents who were gun owners believed their children wouldn't touch a gun they found. She says those beliefs defy studies that show most children are so curious they will play with found guns — with sometimes deadly results.

"I'm interested in child safety," she says, "not gun rights."
I'm unfamiliar with Ms. Connor, but I'd venture to guess she's interested in "child safety" the same way that the Violence Policy Center is interested in "violence policy" - that is, if it doesn't involve "gun control" she's not interested. According to the Center for Disease Control's WISQARS tool, Ohio had five (5) accidental gunshot deaths for all ages 17 and under in 2004. In 2003 there were four. This is in a state with over eleven million people. By contrast there were 39 drownings and 13 poisonings. How many households don't lock up their insecticides and solvents?
From what Connor has seen, there's little middle ground to be had with pro- and anti-gun groups. "There's no reasonable discussion between them," she says.

Connor finds herself in the middle.

"I see sort of the good and the bad in both arguments," she says. "I have enough of an opinion to say that I wouldn't have a gun in my house, but it's not up to me to make decisions for other people."

But if 22 percent of Ohio households own guns, that means 78 percent do not. Shouldn't we non-gun owners be doing things to make ourselves safer, considering our friends and neighbors might be packing?

"If you don't have a gun," Connor says, "you don't think about it, truly."

I certainly don't. If I really wanted to understand, it was time for me to get shooting.

THE CARMEL-COLORED LOG CABIN nestled on more than six wooded acres gave my chosen firearms instructor plenty of credibility, but the bearskin rug and mounted antelope head inside finished the job. Jim Hardenbrook, an airline pilot husband of a friend, has been hunting and shooting guns for 47 years, and he offered to take me under his wing.

Jim was 7 the first time he touched a gun. While visiting his grandmother in Kansas, his father took him to a quarry to shoot a .22-caliber rifle his grandfather owned.

"That was a big thrill for a 7 year old," he says. "And it was just very interesting to me, the whole process of aiming and shooting and trigger control."

While he owned a BB gun during his teens and qualified on a number of weapons, including machine guns and grenade launchers while in the Navy, he didn't pursue hunting as a sport until he moved to Colorado in his early 30s.

"I felt sort of deprived after so much intense work and study, and I started doing things to just enjoy," Jim says. "It was a new form of diversion called recreation for me."

But despite the displayed bearskin trophy hung over a rail in the home, he doesn't kill simply for sport.

"I've always felt that you shouldn't shoot anything that you weren't going to eat," Jim says, "so we ate him too."

Firearms in his Hiram home are not just for hunting, as police can take as long as 30 minutes to arrive at the house in an emergency.

"Police are reactive, anyway," he says. "That is, their presence acts as a deterrence, to some extent, but if you personally have a problem, who's going to protect you, and how are you going to notify them? If you had to wait 30 minutes for somebody to come and protect you from a home intruder, what would you do?"

Jim starts me on a pellet gun in the driveway to his backyard garage. Walking outside, he's thrown a cap over his graying hair and lit a pipe. With the warm late-winter day, the thick woods and Jim's plaid shirt, I feel as if we are stalking prey. He's given me three rules: "Always point your firearm in a safe direction. Never put your finger on the trigger 'til you're ready to shoot. And always be sure that what you're shooting at is safe."

The rifle is surprisingly heavy — Jim tells me it's probably weighted because it's made of molded plastic. I'm confident; after all, how bad can it be to shoot a tiny lead pellet using compressed carbon dioxide? One Cleveland Christmas classic admonishes I'll put my eye out, but I don't expect to draw blood, even in the worst scenario.

Twelve feet away, Jim places a black target mounted on a cardboard box filled with newspapers. I raise the rifle to my shoulder, carefully lining up the two sights. I tentatively pull the trigger, the gun emits a quick, quiet poof, and I nail my mark. In fact, time and time again, I pierce the "9" and "10" zones, until the target begins to fall apart.

Hey, I'm pretty good at this.
This too is common. Shooting is fun, and almost always this is a surprise to the gun-phobe.
THE TRUE TEST IS TWO DAYS LATER, when we upgrade to real guns and real bullets. That's why we find ourselves at a nondescript brick building with black metal roof panels high atop a hill visible from I-77 south of Cleveland. Giant white letters advertise to passing motorists, "Stonewall Range and Uniforms." Inside, the first things I see are the glass cases filled with guns labeled "Beretta" and "Glock." Suddenly, every product-name-dropping rapper seems a lot more credible.

The second thing I notice about Stonewall is that all the employees are packing. That's not something you see at Dairy Queen.

I'm more nervous than in the backyard, so I hang back, letting Jim handle the details. It's $18 an hour to rent a stall in the range and $7.50 for the .22-caliber gun with "Taurus" etched on its barrel that looks more like a stage prop than something that could cause real bodily harm. We stand at a counter, reviewing the rules: Always point the gun down range, only load the gun once we're in the stall, and only put a finger on the trigger when I'm ready to shoot.

We wear earplugs and headphones, which create a buzzing sound and make everything seem as if I'm experiencing it through a fog. Jim mounts the target on a cord that's basically a clothesline and sends the target out 10 or 15 feet by flipping a switch. I load nine inch-long bullets into the revolver, snapping the cylinder closed. Jim steps back, and I stand alone in the stall — feet spread shoulder-width, both hands clutching the piece, arms locked forward creating a triangle. I need considerable thumb strength to pull back the hammer, which pulls back the trigger as well. And then, with just slight pressure from the second finger on my right hand — "POP."

The strange little explosion doesn't even feel as if it came from the weapon in my hands. And I score an "8" on the target. Another pull on the hammer and press on the trigger. "9." Again. "10." Six shots later, I am destroying the target.

"You're actually a good shot for a beginner," Jim says from behind me.

Two more rounds of nine shots blasting the center of the target, and I'm beginning to tingle with a sense of euphoria. I turn to Jim, grinning like a proud kid. "Can I try the bigger gun?"

In Jim's red bag, he's carrying his .44 Magnum, a weapon with a polished wood handle that's more Hollywood glamorous than the rented piece I'm shooting. This one shoots bullets he's packed himself in his basement workshop, and when I pull the trigger, which requires significantly more effort, there's no "pow." This is a "BLAM," and I feel it. But despite the recoil, which causes the Magnum to leap in my hand, I'm still nailing the "10."

Jim's also brought some special ammunition, which contains more gunpowder, for my final rounds. I shoot two, and I'm shaking. These shots are powerful, and suddenly I worry that the firearm could fall out of my hand from the force. I feel out of control, and I put down the gun. Finally, I've gone too far.

On the way out, I thank Jim. He gestures to the cases filled with firearms for sale. "If you liked it enough, I can help you pick out your future."

AS I DRIVE HOME, my hands are shaking slightly and I can feel my heart beating. There's exhilaration from what I've done, excitement in learning I'm an excellent shot. I call my mom, my sister, several friends. "Guess what I just did?" I ask, nonchalantly. "Fired a gun." My hand feels dry — from gunpowder? I daydream about the Magnum — if someone used it today to commit a crime, are my prints all over it?

But a couple of hours later, my high is fading, and I have a minor freak-out. I remember a moment in the stall when I saw a moving target's shadow enter the periphery of my vision. What if that had been a person running into my line of sight? What if my target was a human instead of a piece of waxy paper? There are 39 holes in the bull's-eye — dead center of where a chest would be.

I could have killed someone several times that morning. Despite how pleased I am with my shooting prowess, how proud I am for overcoming my fears, I don't think I could ever hold a gun again. I could never kill another human.

IT'S SATURDAY NIGHT, and I'm driving downtown toward Cleveland to meet friends for drinks. I send a text message to one to find out where he is. His boyfriend responds: "Dan and I were attacked. I'm at Lutheran. I'm OK. Just getting checked out."

Through text messages and phone calls, I learn that my friends were attacked by a group of teenagers as they tried to get into their car. Eddie has pains in his ribs and a scrape on his leg. Dan is just shaken up. Eddie's wallet is gone.

As I drive, I am suddenly overcome with a mix of anger, fear and frustration — emotions that again make me reevaluate my position. More friends affected by crime, and no way to protect ourselves.

But there is a way we could protect ourselves, something Jim helped me learn just weeks before: We could all start carrying guns.

It seems irrational, but fear is irrational. And I begin to understand how that fear could drive people to arm themselves. I'm not on either "side" like Toby Hoover or Jim Irvine. I, like so many Ohioans, fall somewhere in the middle. Guns still feel like the ultimate solution, something I'm not ready to embrace yet.

But if the police won't or can't protect me and my friends, taking matters into my own hands doesn't seem irrational anymore.
Back when I first started this blog, I posted "Is the Government Responsible for Your Protection?" (See the left sidebar for the links.) In that piece I concluded:
My friend's example of the “good, decent herbivores” represents the majority of the population, and this majority is largely unaware that they are the ones responsible for their own safety. They depend on the police almost exclusively for their safety and protection from crime. In their fear of violence, they fear the other "herbivores" with guns, too. They do so because some gun owners are idiots, but mostly because they’re told that guns are the cause of crime, and they don’t know any better. They don’t accept that general citizens who are willing to resist crime are an asset, not a liability to society.

So what am I advocating? I am advocating educating the citizens of our society as to their rights and attendant duties. That way they can make educated decisions as to their own protection, and that of their fellow citizens. Then if they decide that, for them, actively opposing crime is not an option, they won’t be so eager to deny the means to those who decide it’s the moral thing to do.

In other words, I trust my fellow-man to make the right decision if given all the information.
I think Mr. Thornton now has all the information he needs. The decision is his. But the opportunity to have a firearm for self-defense he owes to those who worked long and hard to ensure it.

Now I suggest that he contact James R. Rummel, and the nearest chapter of Pink Pistols.

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