Monday, August 15, 2005

Shootin' from the Hip in the Wild (Mid)West

As I was cruising my way through the mist-shrouded wilds of Wisconsin's Coulee Region this morning, I caught a call-in show on WPR about State Representative Scott Gunderson's latest re-introduction of a proposed "concealed carry" law here in the Land of Cheese and Brats. The guest was Ryan Kulik, program director for the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort. Ryan was discussing the pitfalls and problems with Wisconsin adopting a "concealed carry" law.

Gun control, in general, is a tricky issue for me for several reasons. The first is that I don't own a gun and have no plans to own one in the future. While I think tramping around in the woods looking for animals to shoot is a rather strange way to spend the day, I only have a problem with hunting when it's done purely for trophy-collecting purposes and not for food. It just seems rather morbid to my sensibilities to hang the body parts of animals, that you have gunned down, on your living room wall. For me, that's really not a morally acceptable reason to be killing an animal, even if it is overpopulated.
Second, gun violence and violent crime in general mean something very different to someone in rural Wisconsin than it does to someone on the south side of Milwaukee. True, gun violence does occur even in rural areas. The Rice Lake shootings are an unfortunate example of that. However, by and large gun related crimes are more of an urban problem than a rural one, which is why there tends to be such a conflict in views. To a person living in an urban area prone to gun violence, the argument for needing firearms for hunting seems very remote. Likewise, to avid hunters in rural areas the claim that fewer guns will equal less crime seems a crudely disguised attempt to strip them of their Second Amendment rights.
Which brings me to the third complication in the gun control issue: The Second Amendment. The Second Amendment reads as follows:

A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

Supporters of gun owner's rights will stake their entire argument on the Second Amendment, saying it clearly grants the right to bear arms and does not explicitly limit the type or number of arms, nor conditions under which they may be born. Opponents will say that the term "Arms" in the Second Amendment meant something very different in the 18th century than it does today. Gun control advocates will argue that the Framers of the Constitution experienced war with end-loaded muskets and single-shot pistols, bayonets, knives and swords. Firearms were primitive and unreliable under the best of circumstances. Moreover, the early Colonialists were living on a very real and dangerous wilderness frontier, where the threat of war from both Britain and the Native American tribes was a very stark reality. Those conditions really don't exist anymore. The problem is that, unlike other parts of the Constitution, the Second Amendment has largely escaped legislative and judicial "detailing"; that is, the Second Amendment remains widely open to personal and local interpretation. This is why gun control laws can vary so wildly from one state to the next. Personally, I tend to support certain aspects of gun control as good public policy, though I am very reluctant to advocate for curtailing the rights given to us in the Constitution. I certainly believe more debate on the issue is in order.

Now, after that monstrous preface, I get to the issue of making it legal to carry a concealed weapon (which really means "gun" though it could apply to other weapons), an idea to which I am staunchly opposed. I would like to address some of the issues raised by those in favor of Gunderson's proposal.

The Second Amendment does not distinguish between concealed and non-concealed.

Perhaps not, though as I stated above, I believe there is room for interpretation and more public discussion is needed. I believe in the mutability of interpretation of the Constitution; what may have been an unrestricted right in the time of Jefferson and Madison may not be in the public's best interest today. The Second Amendment probably needs to be more precisely defined than what it's explicit wording in the Bill of Rights dictates.

Concealed weapons help deter crime.

There is no scientific evidence to support this claim or the counter claim that concealed weapons encourage more crime. Scientists studying states that have concealed carry laws have been unable to draw a definitive conclusion either way. For my part, I think that anyone claiming that, in a state where violent crime has gone down and concealed carry is legal, the ability to carry a concealed firearm is the cause for a lower violent crime rate is falling into the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy. The evidence just isn't conclusive to support the claim.

A concealed weapon would make me feel safer.

This is what's really driving the push to legalize concealed weapons in Wisconsin (well, that and gun manufacturer and retailer profits; Gunderson is a Republican, after all). I believe it's not so much about feeling safe as it is about feeling in control and having power over life's circumstances. As far as safety is concerned, pulling a weapon in a confrontation is the very least safest action. A weapon instantly escalates the situation for both parties. The safest course is to give the mugger or car-jacker what they want, be it your wallet or your car.
However, that rankles, doesn't it? This is why concealed carry laws gain such momentum: it's the idea that when someone wrongs me, I may be able to revenge myself upon them, thus re-establishing my level of control over my environment and salving my wounded pride. While that sort of behavior may be appropriate on "Deadwood", it certainly is not the kind of Wild West justice we want on our streets, is it?
Moreover, if someone tries to steal my car by force and I gun them down to stop them, what is the net result? A potential robbery has now become a homicide! In Wisconsin, this can get me, the intended victim, sent to prison under the "equal force" statute; force used in self-defense cannot be excessive when compared to the force used by the attacker. Has a violent crime been prevented? No. Am I any safer for having that concealed gun? Not one iota. Is the cost to society from violent crime in any way mitigated by the right to carry a concealed weapon? No. Finally, is any one person's desire to "feel" more powerful worth the potential costs and dangers of a Right to Carry Concealed Weapons Law?

No, it is not.


Anna said...

All I can say is that I am glad I live north of the 49th (not that we don't have issues with guns and violence here, but nowhere near the same extent).

scout prime said...

Gunderson is such an asshat.
Sam I added you to my blogroll.

Samurai Sam said...

Thanks Scout!

What I can't get over from when I was doing research on this is how many times Gunderson's trotted out this same legislation. He's been pushing this for years!

Gifted-1 said...

I think I might just move to Canada!

Samurai Sam said...

I think I might just move to Canada!

I hear they have good beer there...