As Good As It Goetz

The con­ver­sa­tion began with me telling the handy­man, who remem­bered I was some sort of writer, that I was going to report on Fri­day afternoon’s state leg­is­la­tors’ forum. Both social media and some news media noted that a likely topic would be the pro­pos­als to expand where con­cealed hand­guns could be car­ried, specif­i­cally col­leges and houses of worship.

Time Magazine, April 8, 1985, click for details(Only he’s not quite a handy­man. I’m cov­er­ing his iden­tity, but the fel­low was some­one hired to do some work at the house. Call him Handy.)

He asked me my opin­ion, on the cam­pus bill. I hes­i­tated, as that day I was a straight jour­nal­ist dis­in­clined to opine. But to draw him out, I said a law like that would “open a can of worms.”

That line is on the near side of neu­tral, yes, but it worked. We had an ami­able discussion.

I was sur­prised he dis­agreed. Surely one could be quite the squir­rel or deer hunter but still worry about the risk that guns might entail, even when car­ried under the jack­ets of licensed per­sons, in a set­ting such as the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas at Fayet­teville with its “10s of thou­sands of peo­ple from every­where,” as I phrased it with a hope to provoke.

Well, Handy hunts rab­bits not squir­rel. He lives for the annual extended-family deer hunt­ing trip that he’s gone on since a boy. Yes, he said, if he had a kid in col­lege he’d want him packing.

(Actu­ally, the bill pre­sented in Lit­tle Rock would allow only fac­ulty and staff with concealed-carry licenses to bring hand­guns to their uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges, pub­lic and pri­vate. The bill this week has been amended to allow their trustees to choose whether to allow con­cealed carry.

(Want a per­mit? Com­plete a 5–8 hour train­ing course, sub­mit fin­ger­prints and appli­ca­tion, and await the back­ground check. Oh, pay the state $147.25.)

Handy has shot guns since very young, and he’s com­fort­able with all kinds, hand­guns to shot­guns and semi­au­to­mat­ics. As an adult he keeps them locked up back at the house with the ammu­ni­tion separate.

He wanted me to know that the media have it wrong, that deal­ers at gun shows have to run back­ground checks just the same as gun stores. He said it was just pri­vate sales at gun shows that don’t fall under the fed­eral Brady law, and, “really, how could they check them?”

What hap­pens, he said, is while reg­u­lar peo­ple trade with one another, some deal­ers have their booths sec­tioned off as retail and “per­sonal col­lec­tion.” For items on the the for­mer they run back­grounds and on the lat­ter directly take the cash. Handy thinks that’s fine.

Handy is a big fan of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which “allows peo­ple fear­ing great harm to retal­i­ate with deadly force,” as The New York Times sum­ma­rized it in an arti­cle about George Zim­mer­man, who one year ago shot the unarmed teenager Trayvon Mar­tin. Handy wishes Arkansas had a sim­i­lar law.

Handy keeps a gun in the glove box of each of his two pick­ups. He doesn’t need to now, he sup­posed, but not too many years ago he ran a busi­ness where he had to take the day’s deposits to the bank every evening. He wanted to be ready should some­one walk up to his truck and rob him. That never happened.

Just let some­one try to hold me up,” he said. He’s sure he’d be freed on self-defense, but could live hon­or­ably if he had to serve some time. (That’s how I inter­preted his hints at get­ting into a “lit­tle trou­ble” as a teen.)

This didn’t bother me for the longest while. I felt com­fort­able with his phi­los­o­phy. I’ve been close to men and women like him all my life.

But I kept think­ing about it.

Rob­beries, mug­gings we used to call them, remain far more likely than a crazed psy­cho blast­ing through a class­room or professor’s office. Also way more likely are home inva­sions, break-ins we used to call them.

For decades we Amer­i­cans have armed our­selves with pep­per spray, knives, base­ball bats, dan­ger­ous but less-so. Some of us have firearms at the ready. Quite a num­ber, how­ever, were taught to let the crime hap­pen then remem­ber details to tell police who then would do the job we tax­pay­ers trained and hired them to do.

Rep­utable self-defense classes and tra­di­tional mar­tial arts schools all teach stu­dents that Rule 1 is avoid trou­ble, 2 is flee and only if cor­nered fight.

But what we’ve been hear­ing for some time now is a far more aggres­sive defense: On the least provo­ca­tion, attack. Mis­takes are not a concern.

This is where expand­ing concealed-carry to churches and cam­puses fits in today’s dis­course, despite a stun­ning lack of hard data that would show increas­ing armed civil­ians reduces the num­ber of prop­erty and per­sonal crimes. And that prowl­ing posses can be proven to scare nut­ters into never leav­ing their rooms.

We do have seri­ous num­bers about gun casu­al­ties.

If we knew each other three decades ago, would Handy and I have talked about Bernard Goetz, who in 1981 felt threat­ened on a New York City sub­way and shot four young men? None died from their wounds.

This was a time of rather high crime, both per­sonal and prop­erty inci­dents, and appar­ently of less read­ily avail­able auto­matic weapons. Goetz was in prison eight months.

But the 21st cen­tury is see­ing contin­ued decreases in crime in these United States despite the money trou­bles and anx­i­ety caused by the Good Depression.

What if Handy left a pair of pli­ers in my house? Know­ing what I do now, would I run up to his truck as he leaves my dri­ve­way, wave my arms and tap on the pickup to get his attention?

I’d rather not.

Copy­right 2013 Ben S. Pollock

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