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Discussions with Members

by Gila Hayes

At the risk of fanning dying embers into another inferno, I need to share the observations, comments and opinions of Network members who were troubled by some of the commentary published in our May Attorney Question of the Month. Behind questions about permitless carry as now allowed by a number of states, lurked the 1000-pound gorilla of mandated training as a prerequisite to possessing and carrying firearms.

A member, who is himself from the eastern seaboard, commented–

As someone who grew up in New York, regarding that New Jersey attorney I can say that in some of these Blue states like NY, NJ, CT, RI, even people who call themselves “Republicans” are generally just “Democrat-Lite”, there isn’t much Conservative values even in the opposing parties of these states. The reason being that obviously “mostly” anyone with true values of freedom leaves these States.

I responded that conservatism definitely has regional “flavors,” degrees and variations. The big question in my mind, and the one I can never resolve to my satisfaction, is the value or the danger our many variations and degrees of adherence to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights presents. I’ve heard Gun Talk Radio host Tom Gresham speak convincingly about the knife-thin split between political and liberal minorities and majorities and, if they aren’t corrupt, our elections would seem to bear out his opinion that our rights balance on a knife’s edge.

So, I look at that reality and ask myself how we can bring people with similar but not identical beliefs into the voting booth to cast ballots for conservative government? We share quite a few beliefs, like the right to possess deadly weapons, but we are diametrically opposed when defining what Scalia meant when he wrote about “reasonable restrictions.” Can we productively have discussions with and safely join in voting blocs with men and women who oppose the “all guns, all the time” flavor of gun rights? I surely do not know the answer!

Approaching the basic question about what constitutes reasonable restrictions, but from a different angle, several members wrote in to voice concerns about firearms ownership and carrying guns in public without mandated training, which often is required concurrent to licensing for concealed carry.

Over the years, I’ve exchanged ideas often with a member from the upper Midwest who manages sales of jewelry from estates and liquidation sales for jewelry stores. Because of the risks his work entails, he has good reasons to defend his rights to responsible concealed carry.

He expressed–

I am opposed to constitutional carry or legalizing concealed carry without a permit. Rights need to come with responsibilities. In the case of carrying a lethal weapon, our responsibilities include some very intense studying of both legal and moral issues.

Right now, I am running a going out of business sale for a jeweler in Michigan. Having first studied Michigan’s carry laws, which are generally permissive, and even allow appropriate force used to protect property, I asked the store owner in advance of the event whether she would like me to carry a concealed handgun while in her store. After she asked me to do so, I told her two things specifically: that I wanted her assurance that she would not tell her staff that I would be carrying, and that while I would not hesitate to use force to protect her safety or that of her staff and customers, I would not use it to protect her inventory. That is what insurance is for. 

While earning a carry permit is just a start on a path of learning gun-related laws, gun safety, and self-introspection, it is at least a place to start. The instructor who helped me qualify for a carry permit in my home state, also helped me start thinking about these things, and introduced me to the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network.

This note brought several ideas to mind and I thanked him for his thoughts on permitless carry, adding that it is not an easy subject to discuss with all of the different passionately-held opinions but discuss it we must!

The question about permits and training to receive permits may boil down to whether it is desirable or impractical to try to force responsible behavior (like mandatory training to get a permit) by passing laws. Legislation certainly won’t affect criminals.

Obviously, it would be great if there was any way for us, the community of armed citizens, to govern our own (similar to PADI certification for SCUBA divers), but is that just wishful thinking? How can we enforce our standards on others (to say nothing of how we would even reach agreement on what constitutes standards for responsible behavior)? What about enforcement? The very word smacks of government, but anything mandated via legislation is nearly certain to be overreaching, and harm someone who is entirely responsible, but did not reach that state of maturity through required training, government permitting, and so forth. Because I personally cannot get past the harm done by over-broad laws and regulatory restrictions, I can’t weigh in in favor of mandatory training. It is a complex issue.

Our member then pointed out–

I share your concern for overreach by our government in many areas. That said, I don’t oppose requirements to get a license before driving a car, or teaching school, or practicing medicine or law. I also don’t object to wearing a seatbelt, which not only makes us all safer on the road, but keeps insurance rates down.

I suppose that in some parts of the country, where kids are routinely taught gun safety and marksmanship by their parents, constitutional carry might work. In other areas I fear it would lead to results that would be catastrophic. I might be wrong.

He later related–

I recently was talking with a man who has been a father for forty years, and was complaining that the state of Michigan revoked his carry permit “just because he’d been convicted of DUI.” With constitutional carry, how do we weed out people who would pose a risk to society? They would also cast a shadow on responsible armed citizens. Criminals will always find ways to obtain guns; but at least we can delineate crimes committed with unlawfully possessed firearms from legitimate use of firearms by responsible citizens.

In response, I acknowledged that he had uncovered more hard questions and joined him in noting that I surely do not know the answers, either. Do we agree that someone who would drive drunk might also misuse firearms drunk? The might aspect of that proposition troubles me deeply, but I have no better formula. In pulling the DUI offender’s carry license are we punishing the drinker for misdeeds unrelated to firearms or are we predicting he may offend in the future?

I remain firmly convinced that blanket restrictions camouflaged under the guise of preventing possible future behavior by irresponsible or mentally deranged members of society do more harm to law-abiding responsible people while generally failing to restrict bad behavior by irresponsible individuals.

That’s one good reason I never pursued politics! My closest brush with establishing and imposing regulations on others arose many years ago with an appointment to serve on a land use/planning commission in a small city in which I owned a business. The commission needed a fill-in for times when other planning commissioners were absent and I naively accepted the appointment. If memory serves, I served for one session, voted on one or two petitions for variances and quickly abdicated. Intellectually, I know that land use and zoning is in the interest of the general public. In practice, though, telling someone who worked hard to buy their property what they can and cannot do on it really sticks in my craw.

When I apply that concern to armed self-defense rights, the issue is not about how attractive a city neighborhood is or about diminished land values caused by a run-down property. With gun regulations, if laws reflect the will of the citizens governed, I’m forced to weigh whether I have the right to tell another human what force option they can and cannot employ if someone tries to kill or cripple them. Of course, often laws fall well short of the self-governance ideal, although I suppose we have to keep trying to get it right.

A member from the Pacific Northwest wrote that unsafe firearms handling fueled his leaning toward mandatory training, while expressing concern that he would be branded “anti-gun.” I know that he certainly is not! He has gone to the effort to qualify for his state’s enhanced carry license and as a Canadian, legally residing in the U.S., possessing Canada’s permit to buy guns and ammunition, he also has the perspective of operating under a different form of government. I was interested in his concerns when he wrote–

As a Canadian Green Carder permanent resident down here in the U.S. I strongly support the Second Amendment but one issue here really stands out. Different than in the era when it was written, when a high percentage of the populace (of necessity) lived around and used guns daily, today’s situation is vastly different. And I am referring to the lack of gun savvy and safe handling practices in the populace at large nowadays. 

Here in the U.S. anyone passing the requisite background check can acquire a firearm(s). Being retired and spending many winters in Yuma, Arizona, I’d target shoot weekly at the range about 18 miles north of the city. And too often at the bench rest tables did I observe unsafe handling by the younger generation: lets say the “under thirties,” even to the extent of handling a firearm during an agreed cease-fire when others are downrange changing targets!

So shouldn’t training by the NRA – or somebody qualified – be required before acquiring a firearm? I know, I know, such a suggestion smacks of the dreaded “Gun Control” and I wish it didn’t. But what’s the answer?

Indeed! I could only reply. How I wish we as a community of gun owners did a better job of correcting “our own” as a preferable alternative to the heavy hand of government making broad restrictions that harm responsible people and rarely rein in the irresponsible ones. It is a really difficult problem, and we are all left asking “what’s the answer?”

In closing, I would be remiss if I ignored emails that stretched the words from May’s Attorney Question of the Month into more extreme opinions than what was actually stated. Doubting that there is much common ground to explore in such emotional responses, I’ll not rehash a point by point discussion, but only note that until we can identify and courageously examine the pros and cons of our own positions compared and contrasted against different beliefs, we are likely to fracture into even smaller splinter movements none of which will be able to prevail over organized anti-liberty politics. Will the real freedom-haters prove more cohesive? Only time will tell.

To read more of this month's journal, please click here.