Something to consider today

T.A. Barnhart

The day was December 8, 1980. I was a student a Bath Technical College in Bath, England. Having finished my four years in the Air Force, serving my entire post-training duty in Cornwall, England, I had decided to stay in England. I was taking a year of classes at Bath Tech so I could apply for university. But on this particular December weekend, I was attending the annual conference of the National Union of Students in Kent, and we were debating the proposed right of women to defend themselves against violence in any way they saw possible. I took part in that debate, but it was another young man who made the argument that turned the debate.

Some historical background. A few weeks prior to the confereence, on November 17, 1980, Peter Sutcliffe, the "Yorkshire Ripper," had murdered Jacqueline Hill, 20, a Univerisity of Leeds student. I remember the news coverage of her murder. She had just gotten off a bus and was walking a few short blocks to home. She did not make it. By time of the conference, the level of fear across Britain was enormous. It's hard for Americans to understand how an entire nation can feel like a small town; in the days of the Ripper's attacks, that's precisely how the UK did feel. He was literally hours from any town in Britain, and the police were clueless to his identity.

At the conference, an "emergency" debate was added to those already planned: the aforementioned women and violence topic. A debate in that format is quite simple. The topic is proposed, speakers for and against line up and take turns, and then the conference votes, yea or nay. But this topic understandably had an added element of the personal; and prior to the start of the debate, several dozen young women came to the front to sit on the floor in front of the podium. They were there to show support for the motion, to give support to the speakers, and to show solidarity against the hate-inspired violence being waged against them.

The speakers did need support, for several of those speaking for the topic had been victims of attacks. The sympathy for them, and for the proposal, was almost universal. In fact, only two people stood on the "against" side of the proposal: a young man I no longer recall — and me. It was extremely intimidating to stand on the "nay" side and have to walk through the ranks of the angry, frightened young women, especially since they thought I was against the proposal and, therefore, against their right to safety.

I did not oppose the proposal, of course. I was solidly for it. I was simply using the empty speaking slot to speak to both the responsibility of men to stand with women against such violence and to encourage the young women on the floor before not to assume that all men were violent beasts ready to attack them. (My friends from Bath were relieved by my actual words; when I went to the podium to speak "against" the proposal, they were horrified I would dare do such a thing. And later my words about men would appear on the national news covering the conference and this particular debate. I am happy to report I embarrassed neither myself nor Bath Tech.)

The other young man had a different take on the proposal. Like many men, he had been oblivious to the fear women felt when walking alone. With no regard for their fears and having no intention of any kind of contact with them, he would, even on a loate night, simply pass by women without a thought. If the measure passed, he stated, and if women did receive the encouragement, legal or otherwise, to protect themselves by whatever means they deemed necessary, he feared the terrible accidents that could ensue. He would, he said, never pass a woman in such circumstances again, instead crossing the street to clearly demonstrate no intent to interact with the woman in any way. (I have carried that lesson myself since that day.) What he feared was that a woman, understandably afraid with the Ripper on the loose might decide that a solitary walk from the bus stop to her home required an unsheathed knife in hand. Or a handgun.

And what if her fear overwhelmed her? What if he, with exams on his mind and thoughtless of other conditions, neglected to cross the street or make noise as he walked? What if she reacted to him in her fear and he, and not she, became the victim of violence? The proposal, to approve such open-ended self-judgments of what means of "protection" were necessary, was, he believed, too broad, too indiscriminate. Too apt to lead to tragedy. Yes, he said, women need the means to protect themselves and he fully supported that; he could not, however, support this particular proposal.

And as it turned out, neither could the conference. Based on his careful thoughts, we adopted a modified version, the specifics of which I no longer recall (three years before the first Macintosh commercial and well before we had the history-recording tools now so widely available). Since that time, women's groups and others have found numerous means to protect the safety of women at college and in other circumstances, means that do not include the reactive use of violence, or even the threat of violence (beyond the teaching of self-defense via the martial arts.

This episode in my life came to mind as I read of the sheriffs of Linn and Benton Counties offering those who hold handgun permits the choice on whether to keep that information private. More than half of those with gun permits in Linn, who were sent applications for anonymity by the sheriff, responded yes; Benton County did not send forms but heard from several hundred gun owners seeking confidentiality for the fact that they possess a handgun permit. As we are well aware, most gun owners in this country believe in a right to ownership that is more sacrosanct than the First Amendment's right to freedom of speech, the press or even religion. So they believe, with a fair of amount of justification — the same justification, in essence, that lies behind Roe v Wade and other privacy-based rights — that it's no one's business, other than the sheriff's office, that they have a handgun permit.

I'm not so sure. If a work colleague has a permit and carries a handgun, why do I not have the right to be protected from potential violence? Why do I carry the risk of someone in my workplace being armed and perhaps unworthy of that privilege? Or perhaps it's someone I meet for drinks and a bit of vigorous discussions on politics and other matters, a new friend I know only superficially and for whom I have not discovered their temper, their "buttons," their lack of humor or level-headedness. Or maybe a decent person to whom I am an insufferable jerk one time on the wrong day in the wrong circumstances. If the people I meet and interact with on a daily basis, or by chance as I meander through my life, are potentially able to commit deadly violence on me or others, why do I not have the right to know this?

Who in my community poses to a threat to me, my friends, my children, simply because they met a rather low set of requirements that allows them to own a handgun? Where's the opportunity for me to object and say, No, that guy is not only a tempermental hothead, he's a drunk. Who protects me from the guy with a handgun permit who decides he's had enough of bikes cutting him off even when I stay in the bike lane and obey the stop signs? They get to keep secret from me their deadliness; how do I protect myself from their stupidity, their fear, their hate, their poor judgment, their drunken rage?

As the conference ended on December 8, 1980 — the date may be familiar to some of you — my friends and I left Kent and returned to Bath. That evening, I was visiting friends near my apartment when a report of the conference debate on violence and women came on the national news, complete with me, my American accent and my Bath Tech sweatshirt (TC — Top Cat — sitting an a bathtub; alas, that mascot is gone: Bath Tech is now City of Bath College). We all celebrated I had not made a prat of myself and that I had, in fact, made a point worth hearing. I told them more about the conference, about how the rest of the Bath delegation had been hugely relieved I had not actually opposed the proposal, and then, approaching midnight, I headed home for bed.

The next was a back-to-normal school day. I slept in a bit, waking somewhat slowly. As usual, I was listening to BBC 1. I couldn't understand what the announcers were talking about and why the lack of happy talk and pop music. Still sleepy, I tried to understand why they sounded so solemn; they were not giving any information I could follow, just talking about their personal reactions to ... something. I lay in bed, puzzled but not really concerned, and then, at last, they repeated the terrible news: John Lennon had been shot dead in New York City just hours before.

I still remember how I spent that day: walking around Bath, a grey and not-quite-raining day that in time would become familiar to me when I relocated to Oregon. I took the death of my favorite Beatle with much the same intensity as millions — billions — of other fans. I continue to mourn his death, and the cruelty of his life being taken when he had learned to be a decent human being, a loving husband and a caring father. Not to mention the world being robbed of his music; Double Fantasy had been released just months earlier and showed John had reached a new level as an artist. And then, in seconds, he was gone.

I am so tired of the argument over guns, the Second Amendment and so on. We live in a world of inexcusible, ecalating and pointless violence. Every excuse for possession of a weapon is simply another pebble on the pyre we are building to immolate humanity in our lust for self-destruction. I'm so tired of it. Two hundred dead in Mumbai. Endless murders by suicide bombers. Shoot-outs at Toys-R-Us. Columbine. Daily life in any American city. Does it require a list of these tragedies to remind people how horribly and stupidly violent our world is? And though the world has always been this violent, the availability of deadly weapons, from bombs to guns, means the threat to ordinary citizens grows more dire with each passing day.

When do we say enough? When do we decide, like the British students with whom I debated in 1980, that we can find means other than violence to end violence? The argument that "that's the way the world is" does not work for me. Save it. The world is the way we make it. I choose a world that is not violent. Granted, I can only control one small part of that world — my own son will be going off to war next year, so look how far my reach extends — but the part of the world that is mine to create is a no-guns, no-violence, no-hate world. I choose to approach the world with compassion, as much intelligence as I can muster and as open a mind as I can maintain. It's not easy — Bush and Cheney did their best in that regard — but it's my choice, and there is nothing special about me. Anyone can make the choice for peace and to lay down their arms.

But I'm surrounded by thousands of people bearing handguns, and apparently I do not have the right to know who these people are (I'm not sure how Multnomah County is handling this). Yes, the right to possess guns and other weapons is contitutionally protected, but so are other rights for which citizens must be responsible. Abuse the right of free speech, and you can pay in court. Abuse the right to bear arms, and another human being may die. I can let evil words slip past me, but I have no protection when someone, especially someone who succumbs to fear, chooses to aim a gun my way.

Fear is a poor basis for a society to base its laws upon. Out of fear we attacked Iraq, an idiotic and reckless act warned against by those seeking wisdom and not fear. Out of fear, we abandon ourselves to hate, to scapegoating, to intolerance and injustice. And out of fear, people arm themselves as if it will make any difference whatsoever. Instead our guns are turned back against us, by outraged friends, by drunken lovers, by suicidal children, by thieves who buy the guns stolen from careless owners. We seek to be safe, but the cure is far more deadly than the disease. There are ways to make our society safer for all of us, but I do not believe it involves the threat of deadly force.

That is the way of violence, of tragedy, and of fear. And I apparently have no right to be protected from someone acting irrationally — and most of what we fear in our world is irrational, given how very few of us are ever attacked by terrorists or armed robbers of any kind — in that manner. I am not seeking to have the Second Amendment revoked or even for an end to handgun permits; I know I've a minority view at this point in our nation's history. What I do seek is the chance to live in a society that values peace and rationality, and true compassion, over selfishness, greed and fear. The roots of our fears are not mysteries, but carrying a handgun only lets those fears grow stronger. Declaring that violence is a rational response to the threat of violence is an act of insanity.

An insane man with a gun murdered John Lennon in front of his wife 28 years ago today. As we recall his loss, and the tens of thousands of Americans who have died at gunpoint since, perhaps this would be a good time to dedicate ourselves to not simply ending gun violence but the fear and insanity that makes too many people grasp that non-solution. Perhaps the time has come to set aside fear and grasp, instead of a gun, courage: the courage to eliminate fear and its sources in our world. We know how to do it; we really do. So maybe it's time to become sane and rid the world of hatred, intolerance and fear.

I know it sounds corny, but today is the day to make the statement: All I am saying, is give peace a chance.

Johnlennonstatue_of_liberty


Comments

  • Phil (unverified)
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    "Where's the opportunity for me to object and say, No, that guy is not only a tempermental hothead, he's a drunk."

    Tempermental hothead?

    F-You you grinning idiot!

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    If a work colleague has a permit and carries a handgun, why do I not have the right to be protected from potential violence? Why do I carry the risk of someone in my workplace being armed and perhaps unworthy of that privilege?

    T.A., you already run the risk of someone in your workplace being armed and perhaps unworthy of that privilege--but if they are really dangerous they won't bother going through the process of getting a concealed carry permit. On the other hand, allowing someone who has proven they are capable of safely and prudently possessing a firearm to have that weapon at work (or the mall) could potentially save your life. Oregon law has been interpreted to allow private business owners to set the rules for having firearms on their property. So, if a company has a policy against arms on their property, an employee who brings a gun to work is, according to current law, subject to termination. Whether or not that is a good idea is another discussion.

    But I find it odd that you believe someone intent on using a gun for a crime is going to care about whether they are carrying a gun without a permit or whether their workplace allows guns. Do you really believe that? What actually happens when you ban concealed carry permits is that you disarm the people who took the time to submit themselves to a background check. People with concealed carry permits are one of the least likely groups to break any law, let alone a serious one. You are conflating the presence of all guns with the presence of legally owned and carried guns. Big difference. Felons are not allowed to own guns. If they own and carry guns, they are already breaking the law and should be subject to arrest. Not allowing concealed carry permits does exactly what the old cliche says, it guarantees that only criminals will have them. And that increases the potential for crime.

    As far as giving peace a chance or protecting women (who ought to be allowed to protect themselves by concealed carry if they choose), there are numerous studies in the U.S. that show a direct correlation between DECREASING crime and an increase in concealed handgun permits. The basic reason is that criminals don't like armed victims. If you don't want to take steps to prepare to defend yourself, that's your decision; but remember that when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

  • (Show?)

    "there are numerous studies in the U.S. that show a direct correlation between DECREASING crime and an increase in concealed handgun permits."

    Correlative perhaps, but not causative. The studies show a spurious connection; states that did not have conceal-carry laws showed LARGER drops in crime than those states that enacted them.

    The primary thing that increases the risk of gun crime, is an increase in the number of guns, particularly those that are concealable.

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    If a work colleague has a permit and carries a handgun, why do I not have the right to be protected from potential violence? Why do I carry the risk of someone in my workplace being armed and perhaps unworthy of that privilege?

    I have a somewhat different take on the issue that is perhaps a separate issue. And that is over the whole "concealed" thing. I disagree with allowing concealed handguns because I, as a citizen, want to know who is armed so that I can take whatever precautions I deem necessary.

    When I was much younger I was a huge gun lover and have shot many guns, including military-style assault weapons. I subscribed to Soldier of Fortune magazine and dreamed of being a mercenary when I grew up. Yeah... I know, naive would be an understatement. But that's what I was into back then.

    The thing is... I came to believe fully in the axiom which says that those who live by the sword, die by the sword. Seems to me that I'm much less likely to die by the gun if I don't live by the gun. And I believe that applies to all of us. Which is why I want to know who is armed and who isn't. Not just for my sake but also for my children's sake - who I have a solomn duty as their father to protect.

    Seems to me that visible weapons serve every bit as much as effective deterents as concealed weapons may. I mean, how likely are you to go Road Rage on someone driving a pickup with an occupied rifle rack in the rear window?

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    most gun owners in this country believe in a right to ownership that is more sacrosanct than the First Amendment's right to freedom of speech, the press or even religion.

    And you know this how?

    I like all ten of 'em myself. In fact I revere the entire document, including all of the amendments.

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    As for publicizing the names of permit holders, I reference my prescience in deciding, after passing the class, that this day would certainly come and so decided not to apply for the permit.

    This allows me to keep the contents of my (legal) gun inventory private, and will encourage me and my gun owning peers to keep you and yours even more in the dark about our specific behavior than you would have otherwise been if your urge to suppress had not been so utterly predictable.

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    And that is over the whole "concealed" thing. I disagree with allowing concealed handguns because I, as a citizen, want to know who is armed so that I can take whatever precautions I deem necessary.

    Why do assume those bent on mischief are going to follow any law? And if they do not follow the law, how would such a law make you safe?

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    (attempt to end the italics)

    Kevin: "And that is over the whole "concealed" thing. I disagree with allowing concealed handguns because I, as a citizen, want to know who is armed so that I can take whatever precautions I deem necessary."

    Why do assume those bent on mischief are going to follow any law? And if they do not follow the law, how would such a law make you safe?

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    Why do assume those bent on mischief are going to follow any law?

    What led you to assume that I've made that assumption?

  • (Show?)

    Zak, did you miss the part where i said i was tired of the argument over gun "rights"? or that i know that's a battle i have lost?

    the point isn't the guns; it's the violence -- and that the more we rely on violent means to counter or suppress other people, the more violence we will generate. any (perception of) safety that guns bring is false, fleeting and will (pardon the ugly pun) backfire on us.

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    No, I saw that, T.A. You included the tangents, so I addressed them.

    I would suggest, and you might agree, that the violence in our society is driven primarily by the larger problems of inequality in education, lack of mental health services, and a misguided penal code as it relates to drug treatment vs. drug punishment than it is by other factors. These problems are tremendous sources of violence.

  • (Show?)

    Yeah we won't discuss how the gendered pressure for men to dominate and for women to submit attributes to the level of violence in this country.

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    As a practical matter I think what T.A. suggests is unlikely to have the effect that he's talking about because it is unlikely that many individual citizens would avail themselves of the information. The evidence of this post itself suggests that. It appears that the default option until recently has been permits are public record. A couple of sheriffs have offered privacy in that respect, I speculate because the internet makes public records much more public than they used to be. T.A. says that he doesn't know if Multnomah Co. has done or is doing something similar. My guess, only a guess, is no, because gun control sentiment is stronger in Portland than probably most other places in the state (n.b. I didn't say universal), so I think we'd hear about it if such privacy were offered here.

    But the more basic point is T.A. doesn't know. And he's someone with strong feelings on the subject. Many of his hypothetical situations involve hypothetical people he doesn't know well, perhaps hasn't encountered at all before the hypothetical risky encounter. Being able to check such records is unlikely to be of any risk-avoidance use in such relationships.

    It also seems that this is likely to be something with a differential impact depending on the size of the population of the county and, depending on what information is in the records, municipality if any. In Multnomah County there will be hundreds if not thousands of names. I might be able to pick out someone I knew; it could become a political topic if it involved a candidate or official, but there would still be anonymity in big numbers (plus multiple shared name issues). But in small towns or even medium sized ones the potential intrusion on privacy is much greater.

    On the other hand, Zak, you have set up something of a straw man in talking about intent to commit violent crime with a gun. T.A. pretty specifically sets the whole thing up, via his comment on the guy expressing his fears if the debate proposal passed, as concerning unplanned situations. (Before shifting to his broader points about violence in our culture and social relations, that its -- although there sort of is a link, there really are two fairly distinct arguments in this piece IMO.)

    Is it a crime in Oregon to carry a concealed weapon without a concealed weapon permit, btw? Or, if you like, a purported crime, if you believe the 2nd Amendment properly interpreted would render such a law unconstitutional?

  • (Show?)

    I was in second grade in Maine when John Lennon was shot. That's when his song "Woman" was on the radio a lot, and it was my favorite song. I remember sitting on a swing in the snow and trying not to cry.

    My daughter is five and LOVES the Beatles. George and John are her favorites. She's been saying the wants to marry the Beatles, wants to see them perform -- so I finally had to tell her that George and John had died. She tried not to cry, but broke down sobbing despite herself. I think this will be her first memory of losing someone she loved.

    She asked me how they died, and I told her that George Harrison smoked too much and got lung cancer. I left the John Lennon story for when she is older.

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    Is it a crime in Oregon to carry a concealed weapon without a concealed weapon permit, btw?

    It depends on the specific circumstances, but generally, yes, it is illegal to carry a concealed weapon without a permit (CHL) in the state of Oregon. You are ineligible to get a concealed carry permit for any number of reasons, including a history of domestic violence, drunk driving offenses, and so on. Convicted felons aren't legally permitted to have a firearm in the first place, so whether or not they are carrying concealed is beside the point.

    Not sure why you consider it a straw man argument, Chris. A specific effort is being made in Oregon at the moment to remove people's privacy when they exercise their legal rights; that's real. And knowing who has a CHL will not provide you with an exhaustive list of who is carrying a concealed weapon, though if such lists are made public, it might make it easier for stalkers to guess who isn't. Concealed carry laws turn crime into a more dangerous profession, which it should be for those who practice it. You benefit from the presence of concealed carry holders around you whether or not you intend to exercise that right. OK--don't mean to take up T.A.'s whole post; I'm done.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    If you follow the research going on at Caral, Peru, right now, it becomes obvious that violence is not inherent in human society. Trading stuff and sex, drugs and rock and roll created civilization, they weren't huddling together in fear. In fact you can make a very good case now, from hard data, that only after trading established large empires, bored power elite started to play god with the lives of their people. In parallel the population density surged to the point that you hit one of those hard-wired, social, mammalian cross-over points where individuals begin savaging each other.

    So, we can meditate to restore a "non density triggered psyche", eliminate the intrigue, reduce the population density or delude ourselves into thinking that we need to arm ourselves because that's the way nature intended it. You want to talk about injustice? In this view most people in history have been all right, but since the rise of extended city-states there have been a group of sycophants that won't leave well enough alone, twisted by some anomalous greed gene. Put bluntly, all the suffering has been absolutely for no good reason. It isn't that it's become pointless and self-defeating; it's always been that way!

    I think TA has the balance right. Sounds like you've are the point you can look at these situations (and posters) without malice and wish them better. That is something to grin about. Not saying of course...

  • DT (unverified)
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    I honor your right to be a passive sheep in the face of violence, but I deny your right to make me or anyone else do the same.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    I honor your right to be a passive sheep in the face of violence, but I deny your right to make me or anyone else do the same.

    It's the sheep mongers that are selling what you're saying, not the other way around! People that reason this way don't want a solution, you want satisfaction. They want you to make a beast of yourself. Then you're easier to herd.

    Ask the British viceroy just how passive wave after wave of non-violent protesters, allowing themselves to be beat to death and shot felt to him. He would tell you that they were a bloody minded powerful force that expelled the world's greatest empire.

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