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