Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: February 2013

Gun loophole closed by Pa. Attorney General” was the subject line of many emails which hit my inbox this morning, as friends and associates forwarded the latest news surrounding concealed carry legislation and the state of Pennsylvania. As you might imagine, I read with interest the details of the latest action from Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office. You will not be surprised, I presume, that my initial reaction was one of skepticism, given the use of a particular buzz word in that headline.

“Loopholes” tend to be quite the political hot button. Whether you’re talking about tax policy, immigration, drug laws, or even firearms… one person’s “loophole” is often similarly viewed as someone else’s hoop through which they have been forced to jump in order to achieve some necessary end.

Citizens concerned with tax-dodging corporations speak of loopholes and fiscal havens in the Caribbean, even while Fortune 500 firms pay heaps of money to accountants for navigating the waters of the tax code. Isolationist politicians rail at the podium about foreigners “gaming the system” in order to exploit easy avenues to citizenship while at the same time reform-minded activists share stories of the epic struggle that other immigrants go through in their attempt to become Americans. Drug warriors decry medical marijuana laws as loopholes that users can jump through in their pursuit of the ills of intoxication while progressive doctors bemoan the struggle they face in an attempt to offer medicinal THC in a legal manner. And, yes, those of us who are no stranger to the debate surrounding guns face similar lexical doublespeak, on both sides of the issue.

My first post to this blog was one that has seemed to appeal to a surprisingly wide audience. People on both sides of this dialectic have written to me and been thankful for the effort I put into keeping the words as level-headed and emotion-free as possible. I will endeavor to continue that trend with this post, as well… although some in the gun control camp will surely notice a bit more of my personal views leaking out (it is harder to avoid since this post includes anecdotes from my own personal life) but I would urge those readers especially to continue on, so that they might reply to me after taking a look at the entirety of what I wish to ask.

 

Our new Attorney General

From the above-linked article…

The Florida gun loophole, which allowed Philadelphia gun owners to skirt the city’s strict handgun-carrying rules, was closed today by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane. Florida gun permit holders in Pennsylvania now must be legal residents of Florida.

“This is a significant step toward making Philadelphia, and the entire Commonwealth, safer for all residents,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “Modification of the firearm reciprocity agreement with Florida will ensure that all citizens with Concealed Carry Permits in Pennsylvania have met the standards set forth by our great state.”

Florida gun permit owners in Pennsylvania have 120 days under the agreement to obtain a Commonwealth-issued concealed carry permit.

Attorney General Kane’s recent actions do not come as a surprise to those of us who have been following Pennsylvania politics lately, but they are a bit disheartening, at least to me. Cut to: three months ago.

I was very pleased at the particularly clean campaign that both sides ran in the Kane/Freed AG’s race, and was fully prepared to vote for Ms. Kane on the 6th of November. In spite of those who felt she lacked experience — a charge that I did not believe was fully valid — she was far and away the better candidate as far as individual liberty is concerned. David Freed’s support of Pennsylvania’s VoterID law, his awful stance on women’s rights and marriage rights, as well as his party-line statements on the Drug War were all ways in which his platform was not in line with my own views.

However, Sunday evening — less than 48 hours before voters were headed to the polls — Kathleen Kane’s campaign released a very pointed TV spot attacking the current firearm laws and policies of the state of Pennsylvania. I found this shocking. I believe that at the time the political landscape of PA had Ms. Kane ahead by something like 8 or 9 percentage points. I sat and wrote a long, distraught letter to her campaign, expressing my sadness for being reduced to casting a 3rd party vote. (Although in the end, I was perfectly fine with my choice to vote for Marakay Rogers.)

Still, in spite of her last minute campaigning, many of us in Pennsylvania are rather surprised at this move from the Attorney General. For now, I’ll put on hold any discussion of the fact that what Ms. Kane’s office has done may not even be legal, and simply focus on why this whole matter seems to be primarily an issue of politicians attempting to put forth solutions in the absence of a problem.

 

The Florida loophole

Right off the bat, let me state plainly and clearly that I am not a fan of the current patchwork that is the Concealed Carry system in the United States. One of the fundamental aspects of our nation is that citizens have the freedom to travel state to state, anywhere within our borders, and encounter equal treatment under the law. Obtaining your driver’s license in Iowa means that you can drive a car in Michigan. Getting married in Nevada means that you’re recognized as married in Kansas (some exceptions have arisen due to legislative upheaval over LGBT unions as that issue started making headlines in recent years). And committing a crime in Oregon means that you can be arrested in Kentucky. Yes, where your feet are currently planted on the ground means you might face different speed limits, tax brackets, or prison time in the above examples… but you can usually be assured that who you are and what you’ve achieved as a citizen will follow you across state lines.

The matter of firearm possession and carry is not treated this way in the United States. And, due respect to my states’ rights supporting friends, I would be in favor of some degree of normalization of our policies if it were to allow citizens greater flexibility and freedom from encumbrance as they seek to obey our nation’s gun laws. As the system stands right now, even the most dedicated citizens — who take the time to remain abreast of current legislation and stay informed about reciprocity agreements — can find themselves in danger of failing to comply with this policy or that policy.

The part of this whole matter that is truly frustrating to me, however, is the fact that this assorted patchwork of laws and policies has given rise to the notion that while some states have “sensible” polices concerning Concealed Carry, there are “other” states elsewhere with “dangerously lax” laws. And it is these troublemakers from (spoken in one’s best Homer Simpson voice) out of state who could undermine the gentile fabric of one’s own locality.

The example of Florida is perhaps the most common refrain in this type of discussion.

Florida issues Concealed Carry credentials* to both state residents and also to non-residents. The process is the same for both parties, and it can be completed without an in-person appearance in the Sunshine State. The ability of citizens to complete this process via the mail is distressing to some, but those concerned citizens may not be aware that the process involves the same background checks, photo ID, and criminal investigation that is performed in all other states. In fact, Florida actually requires more of their applicants than some other states… Pennsylvania included.

* one other aspect of the fifty States’ disparate gun laws is the lack of a single, agreed upon term with regard to what paperwork citizens obtain when they seek to bear arms outside their homes or places of business. Terms like Concealed Carry Weapon permit (CCW or CCP), License to Carry Firearms (LTCF), Concealed Weapon Permit (CWP), and a slew of others are all virtually interchangeable… but that does not make discussion any easier. While there are those who feel very strongly that certain terms are superior to others — whether it’s best to speak of firearms specifically or weapons in general, or whether it’s healthier to consider the state giving permission or licensing this process — I tend to side step the whole syntactical issue and speak in the most general words possible. And i’m not even touching the matter of concealed versus open carry.

For many years now, Pennsylvania has honored the Florida Concealed Carry credentials since their process for handling applications and checking backgrounds was found to be adequate and commensurate with the Keystone State’s own policies. There are a few important points that should be mentioned at this time…

  • In many jurisdictions within Pennsylvania, applicants are similarly not required to appear in person and can handle the process through the mail.
  • Among the other states of the Union, each one is free to make the determination as to whether they will accept out-of-state firearm credentials, such as Florida’s. Also, Kathleen Kane’s actions are not unprecedented… some other states will only honor permits if held by residents of the issuing state.
  • The Florida process involves a mandatory training class and live-fire exercises to be completed in front of an authorized instructor. Pennsylvania has no such requirements.
  • In both Pennsylvania and Florida, the applicant’s fingerprints and government-issued ID are used to establish identity and the resulting Concealed Carry credential bears a photograph of the individual.
  • The Florida credential includes anti-tampering technology such as holographic elements. The Pennsylvania credential does not and is a simple laminated card.
  • Whether an individual is in possession of a Pennsylvania-issued credential, a Florida-issued credential, or similar ID from any one of the other twenty-five states which Pennsylvania recognizes… they still must obey all laws and policies specific to this local jurisdiction, regardless of the laws in their home state.
  • Both Florida and Pennsylvania are shall issue states, meaning that as long as the applicant does not fail to meet the necessary criteria, the state is obligated to grant their request in a timely manner.

Given the overwhelming similarity, then, between the PA and FL Concealed Carry credentials… why do we see this debate happening at all? Why would someone living in Pennsylvania opt to apply for a Florida Concealed Carry as opposed to the one available here? For most of us, it’s a matter of jumping through hoops.

 

My personal story

I obtained my Florida Concealed Carry credential when I was still a resident of New Jersey. I did this by attending a safety class, demonstrating competence with my firearm, and submitting all necessary paperwork and fingerprint cards (which were filled out by local police) to the proper offices in Florida. The process was rather effortless and not oppressively priced. The resulting ID issued to me was valid for use in 32 states. (Had I been a resident of Florida at the time, that number would have been 36.) I had to visit only one location (the local range where the class was offered allowed us to use their meeting room as we filled out the form and a police officer attended in order to process our fingerprint cards right there) and I spent little more than two weeks waiting for the final packet to arrive by mail. Since that time, I have renewed the permit through the mail and found things to be similarly straightforward.

When I moved to Pennsylvania, I sought to add the PA Concealed Carry credential to my wallet. The process for most Pennsylvanians is simple. Local Sheriff’s offices handle the paperwork (and can also fingerprint applicants) and since there is no training class or live fire requirement, little more is required short of a money order and passport-style photo. Philadelphia, however, is something rather different.

Here is where I would especially like my friends and associates who support tight gun controls to read my own anecdote carefully and then comment to me if they feel this is an appropriate way of handling the process.

Like all other applicants in Pennsylvania, I had to have my fingerprints taken. However, this must be done in-person at  the Gun Permits & Tracking Unit of the Philadelphia Police Department and nowhere else. (This unit, along with the rest of the Philadelphia Police, will refuse to issue fingerprint cards for other purposes, however. In order to renew my Florida permit I was obliged to take a day off and drive to a County Courthouse hours away just to have the local Deputies there ink my hands.) After waiting through long lines and being given a somewhat dizzying array of conflicting information, I was sent home to await additional instructions which would arrive by mail. Just inside of the state-mandated 45-day deadline, I was called back to the Gun Permits Unit to spend another unproductive day away from work, sitting in a hallway with scores of other citizens who could have all been easily accomplishing the same thing via mail. Ultimately, after spending much more time on the process while being subjected to fewer checks and tests than other jurisdictions require, I was given my Pennsylvania Concealed Carry credential. (Accompanying it was a set of paperwork which specified a number of erroneous laws and incorrect advice concerning carry of firearms in Pennsylvania. When I pointed these errors out to the desk clerk who had processed my file that day, she merely shrugged and offered no verbal response other than to grunt and direct me to the exit door with her eyes.)

Why would someone opt for Florida Concealed Carry credentials as opposed to the ones available through local channels? Some might call it seeking a loophole, but others could just as legitimately say that it’s simply appealing to jump through fewer hoops.

 

Do Florida’s laws make Pennsylvanians less safe?

So now we come to what I would hope might truly be the focus of most discussions surrounding this issue. Was it necessary for the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office to change our state’s reciprocity agreement with Florida?

The original article linked above states that some 900 city residents have chosen to obtain Florida Concealed Carry credentials as opposed to Pennsylvania ones. The wording does not make it clear as to whether any of these 900 citizens, such as myself, are holders of both credentials… but even assuming that none of them are (where this data comes from was not specified) fewer than 1000 people in a city of 1.5 million is six-one-hundredths of a percent. Hardly a significant data point, I would say. If there had been a series of cases wherein these out-of-state credential holders were found to be committing crimes or otherwise circumventing public safety laws, that would be one thing. But there is no such data.

Then we come to the real problem line of the news piece, which — again — was inserted without comment or substantiation…

Many of the permit holders previously were denied carry privileges by Philadelphia Police, which has that discretion under state law.

I find that making such a claim while reporting this story is especially misleading, and I would hope to discuss it in greater detail with the piece’s author, Sam Wood, if he is willing. Pennsylvania, as was mentioned earlier, is a “shall issue” state. Unless an individual is disqualified under the law (for being a felon, subject to a restraining order, or other such considerations to which no person could legitimately object) the state is obligated to process and approve their application.

There has been some reporting of a little-known provision in Philadelphia’s gun policies concerning the “character and reputation” of the applicant. In short, the Gun Permits Unit of the Philly Police will occasionally deny someone’s application based on rather nebulous and hard-to-refute terms. The article linked here mentions situations such as unpaid parking tickets. Other news reports I have read focus on matters such as friends or family members of applicants who may have had trouble with the law. Unfortunately, with all due respect to police officers and the sense of intuition and judgement which they naturally hone and develop through years on the Job, factors such as these have no place being considered under Pennsylvania law.

In reporting the above-linked story, local journalist Stephanie Farr was able to locate and interview nine separate individuals who have been denied the right to carry a firearm by the police, in spite of their clean criminal records and Concealed Carry credentials from other states. Would it be too much to ask for other reporters who detailed the story of Kathleen Kane’s latest decision to unearth a handful of examples, as well? If not the press, what about the Attorney General’s office itself? Surely if this problem is such a pressing matter as to demand the new AG’s attention less than a month into the start of her term there must be some evidence of an actual problem.

 

Firearm ID and Voter ID

Am I making too much of a stretch to compare the issue of Concealed Carry credentials and the new policies toward them with the contentious issue of VoterID laws? Pennsylvania has seen both of these matters appear prominently in the news now. And yet, in each case, hard evidence and examples of people gaming the system are hard to come by.

For all the talk of voter fraud in recent years, virtually no cases of it actually happening have been proven. The NAACP says only 10 in-person voter fraud cases have been proven nationally since 2000, a statistic that usually appears just about here in any discussion of this issue. (Of course, that does not mean that there aren’t more shenanigans happening on Election Day. I was born in New Jersey and dated Chicagoan for two years… I know a little something about corrupt politics.)

Likewise, the lack of any specific examples of citizens “denied in PA” who then obtained out-of-state Concealed Carry credentials surely does not mean this is a nonexistent issue. And, I would grant that local authorities are in a better position to judge someone’s known associates and civic habits than a faceless office worker at the Florida Department of Agriculture (that state’s issuing body).

However, in both cases, the onus should be on the reform-minded officials to clearly demonstrate the scope and effects of any current problem that they seek to address. New legislation and additional regulation (much like firearms) should be implements of last resort, which can only legitimately be brought out and wielded when there is clear and imminent danger that must be countered.

In the case of citizens who simply wish to exercise their voting rights or citizens who have grown wearing of jumping through hoops in the course of exercising their 2nd Amendment rights, I fail to see any of our political leaders showing any evidence at all of wrongdoing or criminal behavior.

 

 

Deviant Ollam has been a legal resident of New Jersey, Florida, and Pennsylvania during the course of his life and he currently holds Concealed Carry permits from the Keystone State, the Sunshine State, and others as well in an attempt to always stay abreast (if not out in front) of the the ever-changing laws surrounding the right to bear arms. He has carried firearms in 19 of the 37 states where he can do so legally, but never has a problem with leaving his pistol locked up at home when he visits his parents back in New Jersey for the occasional family dinner.

 

 

 

For quite some time now, people have heard me often repeating an adage that I try to live by…

“Three things it’s never a good idea to do when you’re emotional: date, debate, and legislate.”

Rarely do we succeed when we attempt to keep a cool head, at least in the initial moments of shocking or upsetting news.

Lately however, as our nation sees firearms becoming a front-and-center topic of national discussion, I have been trying very hard to stay as objective and collected as possible. In spite of my strong feelings on the topic, I have tried to be a voice of reason and moderation in chats with friends, family, and even online.

I have sought out the opinions and views of others, particularly those whose ideologies do not directly parallel my own.

And I’ve even chastened many of fellow gun-rights supporters when I’ve felt their words have been coming across too harshly. A particularly rewarding dynamic has sprung up between myself and a reporter from my own hometown of Philadelphia. Tara Murtha is a delightfully outspoken journalist and artist whose beliefs and feelings about guns are very different from mine. And yet, we manage to speak with respect to each other online. Perhaps it helps that on so many other topics — from arts to women’s issues to inequality — we see more eye-to-eye.

I am very thankful for finding in her that rarest of gifts: a smart person with whom you can disagree even while learning from one another.

Through her I learned of the “Gun Crisis” summit that was taking place in my city, and I was astounded at how I felt upon attending. Despite a name that would seem to indicate hoplophobia among their ranks, I discovered a wide spectrum of activists, church leaders, local politicians, and even just men and women from our neighborhoods who were truly engaged and passionate about reducing criminal use of guns and reforming broken social systems… not seeing the law-abiding populace disarmed.

Other conversations about guns where she or I have tweeted various comments, facts, and opinions have been similarly rewarding.

Then, just the other day, our opposing views on the topic became more noticeable, at least in terms of how conversation and debate is best served. It is little surprise that this interlude of disquiet in our otherwise amenable chatter came at a time when emotions were running high. Tara had been tweeting about a story wherein two of her strong viewpoints intersected: a story about women’s issues and gun violence.

Sharing the heart-wrenching statistic that “90 women have been shot to death by their partners in the last 8 weeks” Tara tweeted the link to the above HuffPo article by Melissa Jeltsen. Almost immediately, as is often the case whenever Tara treats the topic of guns, her twitter stream chirped away with a mix of sympathy, support, and the inevitable criticism that hot topics unearth.

However, Tara then did something which I felt was unhelpful. Instead of merely ignoring the braying masses who seek to troll people on Twitter (or responding to them with brief follow-up inquiries, as she sometimes does) Tara announced to her followers that she was “about to tweet a few of the assumptions made & insults thrown” at her in response to the article. Then began a brief — yet somewhat shocking — series of retweets of persons like John Wizeman, Ken Soderstrom, and FPS Canada.

While these individuals, and others like them, may not be out to blatantly troll and flame people on the internet all of the time, a brief scroll through their Twitter feeds reveals that they are also not exactly sound and level-headed voices of calm debate. I might be doing them a bit of an injustice by saying this, but they strike me as being rather like Alex Jones, the Texas independent media personality who made quite a stir recently, bloviating and yelling at Piers Morgan on CNN during prime time.

I am of the opinion that people such as these are somewhat unhelpful to the gun rights debate. A brief sampling of the tweets that Tara shared in her stream paint the picture as to why I feel this way…

‏@JohnWizeman
so if there were no guns these women would still be alive? Come to the real world where ppl do the killing not inanimate objects

‏@FPSCanadaEH
I wonder how long it will take before they just cry out to ban men…

‏@soderstromk
Yes. Take away everybody’s guns. Then even those who care enough to defend themselves can be beaten to death too.

‏@FPSCanadaEH
it sickens me that libtards are so obsessed with “banning” guns that will put more woman in harms way

‏@FPSCanadaEH
how many unarmed woman were raped? Or beaten? Or murdered in general?

While clearly some of these men may be trying to espouse viewpoints with which I agree on some level, the nature of their comments — riddled with an unhelpful dose of snide sarcasm and outright anger — threaten to derail their whole argument. Is anyone going to read words couched in this manner and be swayed? Are they even attempting to convince others of their viewpoints? Or are they more akin to someone who is simply shouting at the umpire because they don’t like the call at home plate?

I would make the case that comments such as these and so many others like them are not examples of people who are actually trying to participate in meaningful discussion. And retweeting them as if they are exemplars of “opposing viewpoints” serves only as a rather weak tactic to bolster one’s own credibility. I bemoaned this problem to Tara, asking her whether it “truly [helps] debate all that much to highlight and give more prominent exposure to the most extreme and bellicose voices?”

But the moment was already starting to slip further afield. She, too, was caught up to some degree in the poignant emotions which were running hot on both sides. She tweeted…

Fascinating how simply stating gun violence data is perceived as trying to “take away” guns.

… and followed this by asking…

If acknowledging gun-crime stats is inherently partisan & liberal now, is refusing to acknowledge gun-crime stats a conservative value now?

In response to my questioning of whether voices like the ones quoted above were really all that helpful to the process and deserving of retweets, Tara responded…

It’s a twitter feed, not a Senate hearing. In this context, yes.

 

It was also on this day that Tara encouraged me to blog.

Primarily, this was in response to my stating that I had similarly strong opinions about the Jeltsen piece, but that Twitter’s 140 character limit would make sane and rational discussion all but impossible. I am not totally sure if her suggestion to me was completely genuine or more of a brief dismissal, but I am inclined to think it was the former. Even with tempers a little bit piqued, I believe her suggestion came from a place of honesty and support.

So here I am.

I don’t anticipate blogging with any great frequency. I’m not going to try to develop some sort of following here. But I may use this platform from time to time when the random musings and strong opinions that surface within me fail to be constrained by the 140-character cage that is Twitter. (Fair warning — as people who correspond with me via email already know — when I do start to write, brevity often takes a back seat to expressiveness. What I might lack in frequency of posts here I’ll surely make up for in length of prose.)

 

Well, I’ve gone through all the trouble of setting up Word Press on my site. So let’s examine that article more closely.

It is chiefly a story of the tragic and despicable murder of a young woman, 21 years of age and a single working mother, shot at close range by her 18-year-old boyfriend (or ex-boyfriend, the matter is slightly unclear) who had a history of viciously abusing her and who was bound by court orders restraining him from coming near her.

Right off the bat, I honed in on one statistic that likely got the dander up when it was read by some of the voices whom Tara quoted…

an estimated 30 to 40 percent of guns are purchased without a background check

Needless to say, I blinked for a moment when I read that. Thirty to forty percent of guns are purchased without background checks? I found that hard to swallow. And yet, that whole sentence appeared as a link, visually-assuring the reader that this was no mere musing but was, rather, backed up by hard facts.

Curious, I clicked through. Interestingly, that assertion was not citing a factual study, but rather President Obama’s remarks at a political appearance. While there are indeed problems in this country with regard to how disallowed individuals get their hands on guns illegally, I would argue that it’s rather disingenuous to assert that over a third of all gun sales take place outside of established channels like gun shops, licensed dealers, and the like. (If I am wrong, I welcome stats to the contrary, and will link to them here with an edit if they are credible.)

It is unfortunate that overall the article has a very noticeable gun-control air to it, because such an undercurrent will often cause some people to tune out precisely when they should be attempting to digest and analyze many of the points being discussed. Points such as this…

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) — chief sponsor of the Violence Against Women Act… — made the connection between gun violence and domestic violence. Leahy testified in a hearing that in states that require background checks for handgun sales, 38 percent fewer women are shot by their partners.

The truth is that violence against women, particularly firearm-related violence, shows alarming numbers. The article cites various heartrending and distressing cases of abusers and domestic arguments that ended in shootings. It is a trend that does merit real discussion. All too often, the system seems to fail women and other often-abused groups right at moments of crisis when they are vulnerable.

The article notes that under Federal law, convicted domestic abusers are required to relinquish their firearms, but enforcement at the state level differs. This was surprising to me. I was born in New Jersey, where those of us who are friendly with police or Feds know stories of the “green bucket” arriving at homes where all firearms are temporarily confiscated, due to restraining orders and domestic abuse convictions. The fact that convicted abusers (not merely accused persons, but people who have been declared dangerous by a judge) can retain possession of their firearms while legal matters are being sorted out is somewhat shocking to me. And it would be a point worth discussing in greater detail, particularly among people who disagree about guns.

The article mentions that the National Rifle Association “opposed universal background checks” but it inserts this comment without further analysis or explanation. In the past, I would often be critical of a journalist who would paint the NRA with such a broad brush and not include so much as a single line summarizing the opposition’s arguments, but frankly that organization has now slid so far to the margins in the gun debate that they themselves are rarely a part of the helpful discourse anymore and therefore I’ll easily forgive Ms. Jeltsen for that sentence. Still, given that the NRA so rarely represents the views and feelings of many gun owners anymore, it may have been helpful to simply not mention them at all.

 

Of course, the hard reality that we all must understand is that simple, one stop solutions are never going to be the answer. Background checks would prevent some abusers from obtaining firearms, but surely many will acquire them illegally (or already own them and will fail to be disarmed properly).

Likewise, gun ownership is not (pardon the unintentional pun) a magic bullet that will prevent victimization. Yes, it will often level the playing field, but without training and most of all without a healthy mindset… will it make a difference? I ask you, how likely do you think it will be for a woman who has been so emotionally tortured that she could barely stop dating her abuser to actually bring her self to level a gun upon him and fire?

For all the bluster and tough talk (on both sides of this issue) the reality of living in fear and of countering stalking is very horrifying. What happens when a squad car is informed by police dispatch that they have to wrap it up for the night and return to the station after sitting outside the home of a beaten woman? What happens when a helpful Uncle who says “sure you can stay with me a few days” has only a couch to offer and a home with very little additional privacy and personal space for a family seeking shelter? And what was the victimized woman who was the focus of this piece going to do for a daily routine? Does she stop showing up for work at the meat factory whose paycheck was supporting her children? Does she pull the kids out of daycare or school, to live in their apartment with the doors locked and all the windows blacked out until debt collectors start calling?

I have worked in the security industry for decades now, and the mantra among all those who know this field well is the notion of layers. You plan multiple lines of defense and you accept that many of your protections will fail. The solution to problems like the ones in this article are not about just owning a gun or calling police or locking up abusers or inspecting mental health records. The solution touches on all of those things, and so much more.

 

But just as the pro-gun crowd is often quick to summarize advice to abused women with a curt suggestion to “get yourself a firearm” as if they are the ultimate answer, the gun control voices often decry these implements as the ultimate evil. I also encountered this line in the piece by Ms. Jeltsen…

“having a gun in the home makes a woman eight times more likely to be killed.” (emphasis hers)

The link for citation of this “fact” was to an NIH study. And, indeed, the study did conclude that the presence of firearms in the home and/or in the hand of abusers had a correlation (it was not presented as a causation, mind you, but simply as a data correlation) with situations that eventually wound up in the tragic murder of the abused.

However, the study was very detailed and made in-depth analysis of a great number of factors, all of which were found to have great relevance when matters of domestic abuse and escalating violence are being inspected. They included…

  • perpetrator’s access to a gun
  • previous threat with a weapon
  • perpetrator’s stepchild in the home
  • estrangement, especially from a controlling partner
  • living together
  • prior domestic violence arrest
  • the victim having left for another partner
  • perpetrator’s use of a gun
  • stalking
  • forced sex
  • abuse during pregnancy

 

…to boil down all of those manifold and complex facts, which were studied in detail and analyzed across a whole series of data models, to simply “if a gun is around you’re more likely to die” is disingenuous.

And I’m willing to bet that many of the readers who follow links from reporters like Tara Murtha and then see an article like this are caught in the trap of painting with a broad brush. Tara, Melissa, and others like them who hope to encourage good discussion simply wind up being tagged with the label of “anti-gun” and are therefore dismissed.

If you’re interested in reading a very different piece about women, the threat of domestic abuse, and gun ownership, I would encourage you to scroll through the brief post entitled Stalked: Girl Without A Gun by Robert J. Avrech

 

So where does this leave us, in this heated and emotional topic of women, abusers, and guns? What should we ask ourselves as we seek to understand how awful violence like this continues to happen and how we might seek to thwart it.

I’ll tell you right off the bat, focusing too much on “Why was she with him?” is not a helpful question. “Why was she still with him after being beaten and/or verbally abused?” is more a more valid inquiry, but it starts to get into very delicate territory. Can you honestly say that every single person with whom you started a relationship turned out to be just the way you imagined them upon your first encounter?

Countless papers have been written about this. Some professionals have dedicated their whole career to understanding how battered women* can repeatedly fall into unhealthy patterns, either with one partner or a series of them. Not only does inordinate focus on this kind of a question often belie a person’s lack of education on matters like the psychology of abuse, it also often comes dangerously close to victim-blaming without ever actually landing on any facts or notions that might hope to break this cycle in the future.

* I recognize that many of these issues transcend gender, and I don’t want to marginalize the hardships of anyone who has had to face abuse. Still, since the original article and the Twitter debate pertained to victimized women, I am keeping my phrasing within that context of gender. I trust that my male and trans friends will all give me a pass.

 

I tend to think it would be best to distill the question down to…

“How can we make things better/easier/smoother/safer for someone who finds herself in these situations?”

…ah, now we are coming closer to the heart of the matter.

And here is where I think the pro-gun and anti-gun folks actually all agree. People like ‏@JohnWizeman and @taramurtha would see eye-to-eye, and @FPSCanadaEH and @quasimado would stand shoulder-to-shoulder if we tried harder to keep focus on that particular question. Each and every one of us wants to see those who are victimized, abused, threatened, or scared find sanctuary, security, and peace.

 

And, frankly, i’m almost willing to bet that if there were a women’s shelter somewhere with throngs of drunken, irate ex’s roaming outside, throwing bottles and stones at the windows and screaming the trite bellows of “I’m coming in there and you can’t stop me!” you might even see Tara or Melissa willing to pick up a shotgun if they were within those walls. The willingness to protect those who need our help can supersede our discomfort with violence if people can be convinced that they are doing the right thing.

Likewise, the desire to guard against imminent violence and see victimized and helpless people protected from armed abusers could also — most likely — see John Wizeman and FPSCanada supporting improvements to the system that clearly can do more to keep guns out of the hands of violent abusers. The desire to prevent harm can overcome concerns of gun confiscation if people can be convinced that the state won’t be given additional power to harass or oppress them.

 

I would ask Tara and Melissa a very direct question:

If an abused woman, in control of her own living situation (meaning, with her own place to stay, not still cohabitating with her abuser) were faced with the possibility of this violent assailant calling upon her unexpectedly, would you be in favor of her choice to have a gun in the home or would you still prefer that she not have access to a gun in her home?

I would also ask John and FPS this very direct question:

If all gun sales were to involve a criminal background check, but said background check could be implemented in a way that the government was not maintaining records of what guns were being purchased by what people (if the NICS system was simply spitting back yes/no answers to the “is this person a felon” question) would you support wider, if not near-total, use of such a system for gun sales?

 

I can imagine a future in which the NICS database is so open and accessible that any citizen with someone’s name and SSN can type into a web form and instantly see the results of their query when they click “submit” in their browser.

Want to purchase a gun in a licensed gun shop? Fine. Go there, pick something out, and after you satisfy whatever paperwork the shop requires, the dealer punches your name and details into their laptop. You both can see the screen as it instantly returns a “yes” or “no” response. No waiting around as the dealer stands idle with a phone to their ear, endlessly on hold. No wondering exactly whom the dealer is talking to or what personal information is being discussed. And no question marks about your own approval process. Want to know if you’ll be alright in the store? Run this exact same check yourself at home before you go.

A purchase at a gun show? A sale at a pawn shop? A transfer simply between friends within the same state? The process would be no different. A web page is used, instant NICS result are returned, and a clean response means the purchase can proceed. If the system pops a negative result, the prospective customer could (in my view, surely should) be instantly be provided with some error code or detail as to why this is the case, and contact information could be displayed for the appropriate agencies who might help clear the problem if there is some error in the database.

Openness. Accessibility. And, most of all, a great degree of difficulty for the system to be abused or perverted into some additional form of control… those are the factors that would bring me to support increased background checks.

 

Could the state log which names are being run through this web-enabled check system? Of course they could. Would the data be useful at all to them? Hardly. Worried that the state might be trying to build patterns as to when and where your own name pops in the server logs? Pull your own NICS data every single day, from various computers and networks. Heck, I could see whole businesses advertising a service like this. Automated, random NICS checks happening on distributed networks to pollute the logs into random drivel if a bureaucrat were ever to try to mine it for identifying data. I can imagine gun shops and FFL dealers who tout “we use Tor networks for NICS checks” as one of the benefits for customer transacting with them.

If people like Tara Murtha and Melissa Jeltsen wish to portray themselves as common-sense gun policy advocates, would they support a system like this? If outspoken gun owners like John Wizeman and FPSCanada could rest assured that the data were not able to be used for tracking and ownership records (to the best of our abilities) would they speak up in defense of a system such as this?

I am not blind to the fact that this kind of system is imperfect. Show me just about any database that involves citizens’ personal information and I’ll show you one that might some day be used to infringe on civil liberties. Likewise, any system where background checks are a mouse-click away has the feeling of being “voluntary” or “unenforceable” to some degree. Who’s to say that, with no records after-the-fact, a private dealer at a gun show or a face-to-face transfer between citizens would actually opt to perform this proper NICS check? And let’s not get started on the possible problems with persons using false or stolen ID and passing themselves off as someone else during such a process.

But here’s the thing… no system is ever going to be perfect. The world is an imperfect place. As a society, we make due the best we can to protect everyone among us from very differing and often contradictory ills. Crime and oppression can bear down on us from lone bad actors, mobs of unruly attackers, and even from within the corridors of politics. Juggling how best to shield ourselves, our loved ones, and even men and women whom we have never met from forces such as these will never be achieved with a one-size fits all solution, nor will the “answer” ever solidify into one unified theory or be something approved of by everyone from all walks of life.

But I think a healthy place to start is to always keep in mind the virtues of debate and discussion… particularly when it involves smart people with whom you disagree. Bellicose rhetoric often makes you appear less intellectual and worthy of consideration by those who disagree, even while it garners sympathetic nods of support on the part of people who are ideologically aligned with you. Every time Alex Jones appears on TV or Mayor Bloomberg holds a dubious press conference or someone retweets a particularly nasty remark out of context or we groan as a loved one raises their voice while passing side dishes around a holiday dinner table, it simply reinforces so many stereotypes and causes viewpoints to become more entrenched.

While my friends and I all tend to be great fans of shows like Penn & Teller’s “Bullshit” wherein learned skeptics cut through shoddy research using panels of experts and appeals to logic as opposed to emotion, something in me always yearns to see more than just voices of fiery rhetoric as witnessed on that program. I often think of someone like Noam Chomsky… perhaps one of the best thinkers and debaters of our time. Chomsky is someone whose near-encyclopedic knowledge of world facts and history make him able to parry and counter-argue with virtually anyone, yet his was never a ready-for-TV style of discussion given the fact that he would refuse to shout or interrupt others, no matter how rudely they did so to him. Endlessly giving others all the time they wished in order to ramble on and on about their views, Chomsky would so effortlessly respond point-for-point, dissecting errors in logic or correcting inaccurate facts.

I do not think I have ever seen a single speaking engagement of his (in person or even on video) where the man raised his voice.

 

The world could do with more of that. It won’t make for lively chatter on Real Time with Bill Maher or two minute split-screen talking-head segments on cable news, but there’s a chance that every now and then level-headed and emotion-free conversations might make the most significant impact of all: leaving people with a mind to be as careful and critical about their own deeply-held beliefs as they are about the thoughts and views of others.

 

 

 

Deviant Ollam is a libertarian who grew up in a Republican household but voted for Democratic politicians for most of his life. The owner of many guns, he frequently organizes public shooting events, safety education, and discussions about firearm ownership. Deviant sits on the Board of a nonprofit dedicated to teaching people about mechanical systems, with a specific focus on how locks and lockpicking works. He also is co-owner of a security firm in the private sector focusing in the same field. Creator of an internet community-drive project to deliver digital care packages to men and women serving in uniform, he has also participated proudly in anti-war marches. Though raised in a strongly Catholic home, one of his best experiences of young adulthood was being part of the March For Women’s Lives.

None of us is simply one checkbox. It’s time to stop speaking as though we are and seeing others as though they are one-dimensional beings who are either with us or against us.

Over the years, Deviant has had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Penn Gilette, Teller, and Professor Chomsky. He’s still waiting on a lunch with Tara Murtha, though. ;-)

 

P.S. – If you are truly interested in trying to see some of the facts and data as interpreted and viewed by people with whom you might not agree when it comes to guns, I would encourage you to follow the following accounts…

@DefensiveUse offers a running series of links to news articles wherein armed citizens legally used their guns to stop or prevent abuse and gross physical harm, often without having to fire a shot. Anti-Gun folk would do well to read this in order to understand that far and away guns are used more often in America for defensive purposes by law-abiding citizens.

@GunCrisisNews paints a stark picture of the violence that many citizens, particularly in bad neighborhoods, have to live with every day. Pro-Gun folk would do well to read this in order to understand how repeated loss of life can get into people’s heads and make them desperate enough to think that legislation is the only answer.

 

P.P.S. – I should point out that while it appears that Melissa Jeltsen does indeed hold views very contrary to my own when it comes to the topic of guns, I don’t want this post to come across as wholly critical of her or her work. Her article on HuffPo to which I linked was not a bad one, and she did appear to attempt to treat this very important topic from all sides. Furthermore, I finder her work in other areas, such as this terrific piece on Jezebel concerning sex and dating, to be exceptional.